Why user-generated content (mine at least) seems to be near a precipice

Recently, Facebook announced it would make various changes to its newsfeed algorithms and policies to encourage people to interact personally more online and engage less in passive news posting and -gathering behavior. We can debate exactly what they want to accomplish and whether this policy change will reduce fake news (there are signs from overseas it might not, and other criticisms), but it is right to stop and wonder how we balance broadcasting our thoughts to others online (or in other vanity efforts like self-published books or vlogs) with real interactions.

Recently, a good friend on Facebook (whom I do see personally and whose professional career has him dealing with some of the national security questions I pose on this blog – and I don’t know any specifics) wrote an in-line post critical of the gratuitous nature of free content on the Internet.  We expect our writers to work for free, he essentially said.  We can’t expect that of plumbers or electricians or people with “real jobs”.  Oh, I can recall debates back in the 1980s as to whether (then mainframe) “data processing” gave us “real jobs”.

My friend’s post begs the question, what is a “writer” anyway?  Is he/she someone who writes what others want so that it will sell (like Joan Didion or Armistead Maupin, both the subjects of indie film biographies last year)?  Or can someone who wants to write a personal manifesto and achieve fame with it a real writer?  Manifestos, however “from on high” they seem, remember, have a bad rap;  a few authors of these screeds have then done some very bad things (like with guns).

So that comes to my own content, which appears to be “free” in the most anti-competitively abusive sense.  I think of Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film “It’s Free” set in a public library (to be followed by “Free Fish”).  Most of my online content appears in four WordPress blogs (set up in 2014 and then 2016) or one of sixteen “Blogger” blogs (starting in 2006).  But there is also a lot of older legacy content on “doaskdotell.com”, all flat html, and this includes all the text of my books.  And, yes, “it’s free”. Like attending my first gay talk group in February 1973.

It’s true that I have Google Adsense on Blogger, but right now my WordPress blogs and flat sites have no advertising, no pop-ups,, no donation jars, no “calls to action”, and no email lists  (The WordPress does invite the user to share on Facebook, Twitter. Or Google-Plus when brought up, with comments, as an individual post).  I don’t run “other people’s” donation (or political candicacy) campaigns on my sites, and I don’t pimp causes from a partisan stance. To a lot of people, it seems, that means I won’t “play ball” with them.

Yet, I’m a fan of Australian blogging guru Ramsay Taplan’s “Blogtyrant” world, and most of his recommendations do apply to small, niche businesses that want to reach consumers, sometimes even some “real” authors (like what Author’s Guild means) and musicians (who sell on Bandcamp as well as Amazon).  Aggression with mailing lists and promotions pays if you have legitimate customers whose needs you can really meet. Otherwise it would fall into spam.

So that brings me to the question, how can I sustain this?  The transparent answer is that I have other money, so it hasn’t had to pay its own way. A lot of it was saved when I was working, because I was able to avoid debt.  (Not having kids means no big mortgage is necessary.)  Some of it is inherited (and that gets into the issue of my own and mom’s trusts, out of scope here).  And I got lucky in 2008.  I probably benefited from it. (Seeing it coming, and some conservative values, helps.)  So call me a rentier, an abusive capitalist, ripe for expropriation by Antifa if you like.

It’s useful for me to go back and recall how I got into self-publishing, long before the Internet became available to newbies.  I probably got my first little article published in 1974, where I argued for gay rights from a libertarian perspective, a “mind your own business” plea to the world.

In the 1980s, I did network with the medical and public health community, the Dallas Gay Alliance, and right wing elements, all by mailed letters, trying to get some sort of political compromise, during a time when Texas (in early 1983) considered passing a very draconian anti-gay law.  I was quite concerned about the shallowness of arguments sometimes put out by traditional “activists” seeming to expect to be viewed as victims merely by belonging to a “class”.  I was particularly attentive to the clinical information as it unfolded.  There was a period when the conventional way of resisting was “don’t take the test” once an HIV test was available.  I did volunteer as a “baby buddy” at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center during that time.

In the 1990s the issue of gays in the military came onto center stage.  The components of the debate at the time (such as “privacy” in the barracks, as well as “unit cohesion”, not quite the same thing) cut across many other issues in an unusual way. I began getting published in some LGBT and libertarian journals (list).  I wanted to get the arguments right at an individual level, without appeals to morally dubious claims of group oppression. Because of my own situation and personal history, I entered the debate, and in August 1994 I decided firmly, while on vacation in Colorado, to write my first DADT book, which I finally issued in July 1997.  Partly to avoid a public conflict of interest which I have explained elsewhere (as in the DADT III book), I took a convoluted corporate transfer to Minneapolis at about the same time. I actually did sell copies of the book reasonably well for the first 18 months or so, but by the middle of 1998 I had discovered I could draw a lot more attention to my work by simply placing the book text online and letting the search engines find it, which they did.  (I paid nothing to do this, other than the nominal fees for a domain – the guy operating the service was a personal friend through work – and I did not need to code metatags or secure SEO to get it found.  It seemed use of free content online for self-promotion was rather novel at the time;  during the dot-com boom, not that many people really did it this way.)   The search engines proved to be effective.  On a few occasions, when I made a controversial addition to material on the site, I got email feed back the next day.  My use of the “It’s free” technique seemed very effective but came under threat from the 1998 “Child Online Protection Act” for which I would become a sub-litigant under the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s sponsorship.

Over time, my commentary would cross over many other issues, particularly with regard to libertarianism for most social and economic issues, and expand out after 9/11 into how you protect personal liberty in a world with external threats, sometimes borne out of populist “politics of resentment” as well as religious fundamentalism (by no means limited to radical Islam) and possibly resurgence of communism (North Korea now). After 9/11, one or the proponents of Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue”, Charles Moskos, argued publicly for resuming the military draft (to include women), and dropping the military ban altogether.  That fit into my arguments perfectly.  As personal and job circumstances changed over the years (DADT III again) I kept my material online, and my staying out there so long played a significant repeal in the eventual repeal of DADT in 2011 with Obama in office.

I have contemplated ideas like “opposing viewpoints” automation (book series), which sites like Kialo and Better Angels take on, and I well look into these. Hubpages could provide another opportunity.

Over the years, there have been various threats to the sustainability of the way I work.  These include the undoing of network neutrality and the weakening of Section 230 (the Backpage controversy) as well as various efforts by established media to tighten copyright and trademark laws, not only to combat real piracy (a legitimate concern) but to undermine competition from people (like me) who could compete with them with much lower costs by staying outside the union and guild world.  Another issue, less important in the US than in Europe, is the supposed “right to be forgotten”, which my own use of search engines confounds. As this gets back to libertarian issues (right to work) and to the SOPA debate in 2011.  A critical concept behind all of this is that social media companies and hosting companies not share undo downstream responsibility or liability exposurefor the actions of their users, otherwise they could not let us create user-created content without gatekeepers.

Another possibly grave threat could be personal targeting from (foreign) enemies, or causing others (family members) associated with a speaker like me to be targeted.  I actually was concerned about this while my mother was alive.  This has not happened to me as I don’t seem to be as visible a target as, say, Milo Yiannopoulos (or Pam Geller or Mary Norris), even though I share and communicate some similar beliefs.  But, if you think about this with a Tom Clancy-type novelist’s mind, you can imagine this as another way an enemy could subvert American democracy.  That’s the Sony hack issue at the end of 2014 from North Korea.  Instead, Russia, in particular, noticed that speakers like me tended to be noticed by the “choir” (other academics and policy makers) but not by the “average joe’s”, whose everyday needs we seemed oblivious to.  So the Russians pumped Facebook and Twitter with fake news which gullible people would believe and such a way that Asperger-like people like me (not quite the same as schizoid), trying to influence policy with passive search engine strategy, wouldn’t even notice or care.  For them it worked, and Trump won.

I think a fair criticism of me would be that I don’t actually have anything to sell to customers that meet their needs, so no “Blogtyrant” strategy of playing ball could work. Do I have content that people would “want” and would pay for?  Well, that’s the novel (and to some extent the fiction in DADT-III, which could make a nice two-part indie film), and the music.  In fact, I have worked on my own composed music (finishing what I had started in high school and the early college years, at about the time of the William and Mary expulsion) and, because it is post-romantic, it may actually be capable of “crowd pleasing” in a way that a lot of the manipulative music from established young composers today (under 40) does not.

I do need to “stay on point” with my own work, so it is very difficult for me to respond to pleas from other parties to join their efforts, in activism and resistance.  It is also difficult to give away time in “service” unless I find niche-like service opportunities that are closer to my own skill set.   A good example could be directing chess tournaments which invite underprivileged youth, or arranging concerts for other musicians.

I do get concerned over two big questions.  One is that the permissive environment that has allowed so much user-generated content to reach readers and consumers may not be sustainable for a combination of reasons:  rampant user abuse, security, and the ability of companies to make money legitimately without fake news, bots, intrusive ads, and all kinds of questionable technique.  I don’t know if, for example, Google and WordPress would find it profitable to keep their free platforms forever.  And I can imagine ways it could become much harder in the future to get reasonable hosting than it has been until today.  The recent incidents where alt-right sites (at least one) were banned by most hosts over their content is part of my concern.  You can have a specific objection to, say, neo-Nazism, but then it’s a slippery slope:  radical Islam, communism (Stalinism or gulag-ism, which is where Antifa could find itself headed), all kinds of other complaints based on “intersectionality” or “populism” threaten the whole expectation of legitimacy of free speech.  You could, for example, require that every website, by certain accounting rules, show that it pays its own freight (although that would seem to invite porn back, wouldn’t it).   It’s hard to “pay your own way” without admitting to group preferences and “partisanship”, and showing social “loyalty” and even “community engagement”.  All of this is in tension with my insistence on looking at human rights as an individual’s property, regardless of any membership in a group that claims some sort of systematic oppression (and eventual intersectionality).  But there is no constitutional principle that guarantees that anyone has the right to distribute his own personalized speech without the cooperation of others.

This brings me back to the whole idea of social contract between the individual and his society.  You can call it “rightsizing”, but that’s a dangerous idea that leads to authoritarianism, either on the far right (or alt-right) or far left.  (Yup, a smaller country like Singapore can get away with this, and China is trying to come up with some way to grade people’s social compatibility by 2020!)  Yet, on a personal level, there’s something wrong when we think of others as “unworthy” of becoming prioritized to enter our lives because they aren’t “good enough” and didn’t “make it”.  That used to be hidden more, but there is an implicit understanding that if too many of us think that way, we invite especially right-wing totalitarianism in the door (consider Logan Paul’s movie “Thinning” as a warning).  That may be one reason why I do see so much “pimping” of “other people’s causes” with appeals for “calls to action” all the time.  On one level, I resist getting involved with all these public “knocks on the door” but I probably can’t avoid them forever.  As Martin Fowler wrote in his 2014 book, everyone belongs “somewhere” in some group, and has to bond with people who are imperfect, far less than teen Clark Kent’s.  Everyone’s karma, and whatever fragmentary after life follows (and I think there is one, however fleeting and combinatorial) is greatly affected by what they depended on – and that means groups.  I resist “joining” resistances (and marching and shouting in demonstrations for specific groups), but I know that eventually there comes a point where it is probably impossible to survive without doing so, even without coming in your shorts.

There is a political point here.  If legal or practical considerations made it impossible for businesses to allow me my own platforms, changing what has has been the case since late 1996, I would be forced to work through groups, and advocate for or personally assist people who individually I did not approve of apart from the group.  But this could be better for a lot of people and could address some of the underlying causes of inequality.  This all relates to the “implicit content” problem with free speech, or the “skin in the game argument”.

Perhaps what I am seeing is something like an attack on introversion, a demand that every endeavor somehow relate to other people’s needs. Yet, as “The Good Doctor” shows us, every introverted people sometimes meet real needs, and save us.

Earlier legacy piece on the “free content” idea.

(Published: Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 6:30 PM EST)

Pondering “loss of net neutrality” and Masterpiece Cakeshop — the underlying debates are similar

There are useful parallels in the issues behind both the network neutrality debate (that is, the Trump administration’s determination to end it all on Dec. 14) and the Masterpiece Cakeshop case regarding (in over-simplified rhetoric) balancing anti-discrimination (against gay couples) with free speech and property rights (the latter may be more relevant in the end).  True, net neutrality isn’t back in court yet, but it probably soon will be.

I’ll walk this plank starting with the net neutering (pun?) first.  I have to admit, I personally would feel more comfortable if telecom companies were forced to keep the legal designation as utilities (common carriers), which will end some time after Dec. 14.  But regulating the designation category of any business can have unintended consequences.

So, first, we have to ask ourselves:  may we regulate very large businesses more closely than some small businesses?  Libertarians may not like the idea, but in practice the need to do that is very well established in our system.  We needed “better regulation” after 2008 of large financial institutions to prevent massive Ponzi setups.  Likewise, we’ve long had some regulation in broadcast television.  We’ve had rules that prevent movie studios from owning theaters (they seem to be circumvented sometimes), supposedly to prevent too much power in which films consumers see staying with the largest studios. It’s easy for me to imagine extensions of these rules that would prevent me from producing a film literally from my own books, in order to enhance employment opportunities for union writers. Ajit Pai is correct in opposing too much regulation.  But – it’s true – with big companies, we have different concerns, like anti-trust laws.  The FTC and DOJ can still enforce these against anti-competitive practices by the Comcasts of the world.  As a single author and micro-business person, I can’t monopolize an industry or threaten it.

So then we ask, what is a “utility”.  A telephone company (Ma-Bell in the past) is a utility, but a TV network is not – the later is a content company (and it is regulated because airwave space, like real estate, is finite).  A cable company, however less regulated than a legacy airwaves network, is a content company.  A telecom company offers Internet, digital voice phone, and cable, so it is a hybrid of common carrier and content company.  A social network like Facebook is a content company (and that gets into Section 230 as to whether Facbook is really a “publisher”).  A hosting provider like Blue Host functions like it was a utility for Internet content publishers, but it’s possible imagine that such a company has some influence over content (look at what happened after Charlottesville and the Daily Stormer problem). Most of these companies have fiduciary responsibilities to investors, so regulation is a sensitive issue.  Where does the public interest fit in?  There seem to be competing interests and various ideological scenarios that can play out.  For example, I could imagine (after Charlottesville) some day winding up with a system where no one self publishes until he/she demonstrates some “community engagement”.  But it’s also hard to imagine how such a rule could comport with economic self interest (even if the abrogation of net neutrality would let it happen legally).

I do think that over time small business has reason to worry, if Congress and the courts don’t force some sort of regulatory balance.  Small business could be forced into franchising to afford the branding that large favored websites have.  They could have new requirements for security (https everywhere), website rating, or “pay your own way” reportability some day.  And hurting “really small business” in favor of the oligarchs will not promote local manufacturing; it will not “make America great again” as Trump wants.  So the “Dems” have some reason to want to regulate.  Yet, I have no right to demand that the regulatory environment protect me from more accountability myself, even if that means that a couple years from now many consumers might not be able to access this posting through their own Internet Service provider (which I still doubt will really happen).

I’ll interrupt myself for a moment – and note the PBS interview where one speaker notes that in Portugal, there is no net neutrality and only one provider, and consumers have to pick “bundles”.  Can ordinary sites be accessed in Portugal, like on a hotel’s broadband?  (I was there in 2001 and could.)   The important thing from my perspective is that a consumer be able to get access to everything as today in one package, still reasonably priced if at the high end (as with cable offering all possible channels).

A quick check of Godaddy and other hosting companies still shows inexpensive hosting and an expectation that their business would continue as usual.

I’m left grasping for straws on what the principled answer to Aji Pai’s libertarian-leading claims should be.  You need some regulation, but where do you draw the line?

So then, we circle back to “gay rights” and “marriage equality”  — where we’ve made so much progress even as the safety of the country is threatened (previous post) and as tribalism frays the political process (as with Trump’s election and his horrible appointments in some areas, even if Trump is all right on gay people himself). And we come to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, argued before the Supreme Court Tuesday.

There are three areas at issue:  property rights, free speech (as connected to religion), and discrimination.  Although I sympathize with the libertarian focus on private property rights (as Jacob Hornberge explains on Intellectual Takeout), civil rights law with respect to public accommodations (retail businesses open to the public) is well established.  The owner can’t rightfully refuse to sell a cake to a gay couple.  Saying we don’t serve “gay weddings” is a bit more ambiguous. I am sympathetic to the idea that the cakeshop owner shouldn’t have to design a cake showing a same-sex couple as décor – but what if his business is based on made-to-order cakes?  What if an artist at a county fair refuses to draw black people, or even transgender people?  The artist has made himself a public accommodation.

How all these things could affect me – it’s all pretty distal.  I could, for example, start a small press (I’ve thought about it) or a small movie production company – because I’m aware of a few projects around the country that could use help that have something in common with what I do.  As a small business – yes, unfettered Internet access from the public would matter (so net neutrality could matter). But the right to chose my own content to promote would matter.  Publishers, and movie studios, like any content-oriented business, pick the content that they want to promote. “Property rights” is what allows them to do that (which they can’t do the same way in places like Russia and China, where the government demands the content producer serve some higher statist common good, just like movie studios had to during WWII). It’s all too easy, though, once I start selling to consumers with a store – what about providing for other kinds of consumers – like blind ones – that I don’t have the scale to serve. I’ve been pestered quite a bit in the past few years to become more involved with scalable operations – to the point that it jeopardizes my time to spend on content and research.

Supplementary legacy posting in network neutrality ending.

Supplementary legacy posting on Masterpiece Cakeshop and legally married same-sex couple in Colorado.

(Posted: Friday, December 8, 2017 at 11:30 AM EST)

Update: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at about 8:30 PM EST

I visited the start of the FFTF demonstration and vigil at the FCC today, my video here.  Note also the Wall Street Journal links, like that on the fake comments.

Does Christianity demand communism or at least socialism?

Here’s an arresting opinion in the Sunday New York Times, Review, Nov. 4, p. 4, “Are Christians Supposed to Be Communists?”, by David Bentley Hart, a Notre Dame fellow (Richard Harmon’s fighting Irish) and author of “The New Testament: A Translation”.

Pastor David Ensign at the Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA has in the past talked about the hyper-socialism of early Christianity. It was not a political mass movement in the sense of more modern history, as this was not possible then.  It was more a refuge, a passage from one trying circumstance to the next world.  It was like living on a spaceship. One wonders if this comports with the idea of a science fiction writer describing an advanced civilization without the presence of currency or money (a strictly human invention as far as we know, most of all block chains and bitcoin, which might indeed be “universal”).  At the end, Hart admits that modern civilization is impossible without the idea of property, at least personal property.

Hart discusses the idea “koinon”, or common, and one’s life in koinonia, literally expected to become a koinonikoi, a member of a hive.  Accumulated wealth is viewed as having been stolen from the labor of others, the ultimate surrender to the ideology of some sort of Marxism, and maybe the whole ide of the “New Man”, as recently explored by the Cato Institute Oct. 16 in the forum, “Terror, Propaganda, and the Birth of the ‘New Man’; Experiences from Cuba, North Korea and the Soviet Union.”

I’ve seen a little of this by visiting a couple of intentional communities, especially “Twin Oaks” in central Virginia in early April 2012  (report).

(Posted: Sunday, Nov. 4, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

David Brooks explains how losers resent winners as they delve into identity politics

David Brooks, the conservative who wants to teach us how to be good, has an op-ed in the New York Times today that looks like it was penned by me, “Upwsingers and downswingers”.

Brooks points out that both major political parties have their own winners and losers.  Economic growth adds wealth to society, but tends, by creating efficiencies, to provide gains to some at the expense of others, especially traditional workers. Further innovation tends to smooth things out and the cycle repeats.  In my own 2014 DADT III book, I characterized innovation (paired with ego) as in tension with equality (as paired by belonging to the group).

On the right especially the “losers” (to borrow from Trump, ironically) tend to find identity in a zero-sum world in ethnicism, nationalism, and sometimes religious fundamentalism and even racism. People who don’t do well in a society where they have to make a lot of their own choices and get held responsible for them, tend to gravitate to identification with the group, and identity politics. They may become combative and try to deny people outside of their own circle of victimhood a right to be heard, and also tend to view speech as attacking group rights already achieved. Along these lines, we should also read Katy Steinmetz’s recent piece in Time, “The fight over free speech on campus isn’t about just free speech.”

Brooks notes the slope between economic, political, cultural, and even personal cycles. He criticizes hyperindividualism, as needing to be curbed by ways to get the “leavers” to do “penance” – a process I have called “right-sizing” here in previous posts. It can also be called “pay your dues”, although that doesn’t quite cover all the ground.

What would those dues be?  National service?  Some sort of encouragement of people to put their own skin in the game before they are heard?

Brooks notes that the cultural resentment gets personal, when the “losers” resent those who think that the winners are really better than losers.

My own interest is in looking at moral ukase though the eyes of the individual. I am a bit of an existentialist: what happens to someone is what happens, and there is no honor in claiming that victimization changes it. Ultimately, we are all responsible for ourselves, but we are also responsible for what we inherit and become complicit in. Past persecution of one’s group does not change this or demand special treatment for the individual.  Along these lines, this piece by Frances Lee on callouts, shared today on Facebook by DC Center’s David Mariner, is interesting.

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 at 10 PM EDT)

Lower-Income Children Raised in Counties With High Upward Mobility Display Fewer Behavioral Issues, Perform Better on Cognitive Tests

PRINCETON , N.J. (by B. Rose Kelly and Princeton University)—Children who grow up in urban counties with high upward mobility exhibit fewer behavioral problems and perform better on cognitive tests, according to a study led by Princeton University.

Children in these counties display fewer behavior problems at age 3 and show substantial gains in cognitive test scores between ages 3 and 9. Growing up in a county with higher intergenerational mobility reduces the gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes by around 20 percent.

The study, published Aug. 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides further evidence that place, measured at the county level, has a significant influence over the economic prospects of children from low-income families.

“Broadly speaking, our findings suggest that the developmental processes through which place promotes upward mobility begin in childhood and depend on the extent to which communities enrich the cognitive and social-emotional skills of children from low-income families,” said contributing author Sara S. McLanahan, William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The study results are based on data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, of which McLanahan, who is founding director of the Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, is a principal investigator. The study is a population-based birth-cohort study of children born in 20 large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000.

The new research builds upon a series of papers by economist Raj Chetty of Stanford University and others who used income tax data to show that the economic prospects of children from low-income families depend on where they grow up. However, Chetty’s work does not explain why children growing up in some counties do better than others.

This question is what motivated McLanahan and her collaborators, which include lead author Louis Donnelly, Princeton University; Irv Garfinkel, Columbia University; Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University; Brandon Wagner, Texas Tech University; and Sarah James, Princeton University.

For their analyses, the researchers looked at 4,226 children from 562 U.S. counties whose developmental outcomes were assessed at approximately ages 3, 5 and 9 years old. The researchers divided these children into low- and high-income groups based on household income at birth. Children from low-income families were born in households earning below the national median household income (mean of $18,282), while children from high-income families were born in families earning above the national median (mean of $73,762).

Behavioral problems — like aggression and rule-breaking — were assessed by parents and teachers using the Child Behavior Checklist, a report used in both research and clinical settings, along with the Social Skills Rating Scale, a system that evaluates social skills, problem behaviors and academic competence. Cognitive abilities were assessed through a series of vocabulary, reading comprehension and applied problems tests in the children’s homes. Both assessments were collected as part of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that children from low-income families who grew up in counties with high upward mobility had fewer behavior problems and higher cognitive test scores when compared with children from counties with lower mobility. These differences were significant even after controlling for a large set of family characteristics, including parents’ race/ethnicity, education, intelligence, impulsivity and mental health.

Children who grow up in counties with higher intergenerational mobility show steady gains in test scores between ages 3 and 9, compared to those who grow up in counties with lower intergenerational mobility. These gains first appear at age 5 and accumulate over time, which is consistent with the argument that high-quality pre-K and elementary schools are an important part of what makes growing up in a high-mobility county beneficial, the researchers wrote.

The pattern for behavioral problems was somewhat different. For this outcome, the advantages associated with being raised in a county with high intergenerational mobility appear by age 3 and neither grow nor decline after that.

These two findings — early appearance and the lack of cumulate effects – do not point to specific community institutions that cause fewer behavioral problems. However, according to the authors, community factors that may account for these findings include programs that affect children directly, such as access to high-quality health care or preschool, or programs that affect children indirectly by reducing parents’ economic insecurity, like housing.

Importantly, for children from high-income families, growing up in a county with high intergenerational mobility is weakly associated with most developmental outcomes, which suggests that conditions favorable for disadvantaged children’s development do not come at the expense of advantaged children’s development.

The paper, “Geography of intergenerational mobility and child development,” was published in PNAS on Aug. 14.

Funding for this study was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Funding for the Fragile Families Study was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grants R01HD36916, R01HD39135 and R01HD40421 and by a consortium of private foundations.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at 3:30 PM as a guest post and press release Full credit:

B. Rose (Huber) Kelly
Communications Manager & Senior Writer
Princeton University
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
205 Robertson Hall, Princeton NJ, 08544)

 

Pictures: first is mine, 2010 visit to Princeton; second supplied by author of the Woodrow Wilson School

 

Breaking down hyper-partisanship and polarization: it gets personal

I have traveled around in rural areas some after Donald Trump’s election and presidency, and often I have found people not too concerned about Trump’s (to the media) rather glaring leadership integrity problems, with allowing criticism. Perhaps some people buy the idea that a leader needs to have the confidence of his base that the leader can withstand criticisms and challenges and “protect” his own people. I’m personally not wired that way. My attitude is, do the math and solve the problem (or, “solve the dump” as they used to say at work with production abends in overnight computer data center cycles).

I didn’t find that people really bought the “fake news” stuff – the birtherism, or the rumors of sex rings (the Comet Ping Pong fiasco). The one issue that got mentioned sometimes was health care . Some younger adults with heavy dent – student loans – simply cannot afford mandatory coverages and Obamacare premiums. Yes, if I was in office, I would to the math and solve the problems and fix it. But I don’t know how to ask for money to run for office, because I don’t personally walk in other people’s shoes. I watch, observer, and journal, but I don’t always play. Oh, yes, I ought to play rated chess more often, maybe get better at winning again (holding those endgame leads like a bullpen closer) and maybe offer to direct tournaments for underprivileged kids. Maybe get the Washington Nationals to have a chess event. It would be good for the players.

On July 2, the Wall Street Journal ran a big article by Amanda Ripley, “America, Meet America, Getting Past our Toxic Partnerships”. The writer starts with the extreme hyper partisanship (augmented by gerrymandering) in our culture today – it’s getting downright dangerous when you get to issues like the debt ceiling (which, by the way, absolutely must be raised by October). She claims that the partisanship is personal. It’s a kind of xenophobia that turns, ironically, into oikophobia, rather like rain on the snow.

The article expands on foreign student exchanges with an account of domestic experiments where people in rural areas or red states go to spend summers with families in blue states or cities, or vice versa.

I have two gut reactions. One is that mainstream churches are still focuses on overseas outreach. Sometimes this challenges the law, as with some efforts to shelter undocumented immigrants in border states run by some faith-based groups. Often, this consists of youth programs in Central America and sometimes Africa. I noted in the previous post how this came come across. Church groups have often sent youth to volunteer domestically after floods (ranging from Katrina to West Virginia deluges) and found being of real help harder than it seems – sometimes the people that live in these areas (especially the mountains), with their prepper lifestyles, are more self-sufficient than we give them credit for.

The other is that, closer to home, we really don’t walk in others’ shoes very much. Look at what I ran into when I started looking into whether I could personally host asylum seekers – an effort put on hold now as I consider possible relocation myself (I’ve “announced” this on Facebook). There was a great dependence on social capital, belonging to a group of people with some degree of personal fungibility, which is foreign to me. Because of the legal environment and lack of certain structures (compared to how refugees are handled) there is more persona risk for the people who would assist unless they are already bound into a social group. Really, a lot of early activism in most areas (race and later gay rights) sometimes worked this way, even though I never wanted to deal with it on a group level. The irony is that belonging to a group (especially a “resistance”) means connecting to people with different kinds of cognition in novel ways, something Paul Rosenfels had called “creativity” at the Ninth Street Center back in the 1970s.

I think a recent column by “do good” David Brooks “Getting Radical about Inequality,” where he talks about the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu, seems to apply here. As David says elsewhere, we have to live with the fact that right now the free world is led by a child. And, no, blind loyalty to a “leader” does not come across as an essential moral value to me.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

OK, I am a political hobbyist, too, and I don’t have to put my own skin in the game; I plead guilty

The New York Times ran an op-ed by Eitan D. Hersh, “Political Hobbyists Are Ruining the Country” in the Review Section Sunday July 2   Online, the title is “The Problem with Participatory Democracy is the Participants”.  This sounds like a series of choices on a “My Weekly Reader” reading comprehension test in grade school, “the best title for this story is ..”  Oh, that was third grade (1951) when the smartest girl in the class only got 44 out of 60 and poor little Bill got 16.   There’s a similar story in the Boston Globe “The Most Dangerous Hobby” by Hersh, inspired by the WB classic film “The Most Dangerous Game” based on a story by Richard Connell.  We read and watched that in 2005 when I was substitute teaching, in the middle of an incident caused by my own political hobbying.

So I’m one of the problem hobbyists.  OK, when do I “pay my dues” and do my part?  I do vote in all elections, including primaries.  I have worked as an election judge three times in retirement, although not recently. I do talk to neighbors about elections.  They’re both conservative to libertarian.

But I don’t raise money for candidates or issues.  I don’t knock on doors.  And don’t take orders from party operatives or pressure groups on what it is OK to say in a book, social media, or a blog.  And some of the mail I get for partisan contributions (I got one from Donald Trump) is plainly ridiculous. (Back in 1984 I got a very bossy letter from the Dems on how much money I “owed” to help Walter Mondale.)

And I generally don’t respond to urgent pleas to text or call law-makers about very narrow, niche issues.  I feel that if I did, that would dilute my effectiveness on when I have something unique to say. Sometimes I do sign online petitions.  I think I signed one to free Chelsea Manning, which Obama did.

What’s more significant is that I have never run for public office.  I can’t imagine asking people for money.  But in 2000 I almost ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Minnesota.  Another candidate, a gun enthusiast, would run instead and get himself arrested at Mystic Lake to make a point on the right to bear arms.  You see how polarizing this gets.

We don’t encourage the right people to run.  If someone like Anderson Cooper were president right now, the country would be just fine, with no scandals.  I think Anderson would listen to Lindsey Graham and become hawkish enough on North Korea and ISIS (and Russia).

I don’t join mass movements for revolution right now, although I can never say never.  Rather than put all my eggs in some revolutionary idea like single payer, that I know won’t pass, I try to solve problems within the existing system.  Like, if you want to allow a barebones health plan for the young and healthy, accept the fact that you have to subsidize the already sick a lot more, and reinsure them, to deal with the anti-selection problem. If we already had single payer, it wouldn’t be controversial or debated – except that we would have to deal with waiting lists and sometimes end-of-life decisions.  There is no way to escape the math.  Life is not a zero-sum game, but you can’t get something for nothing.  E is still M-C-squared.  So, yes, I am a conservative. And gay.  Welcome to Milo’s world.

The real problem is probably the gratuitous nature of my speech.  I report to no one.  I try to play devil’s advocate for everything, bring up all possible arguments.  I would be more useful, say, working in intelligence, which might have been my career had I grown up in a later, more tolerant or accepting time.

As Milo has pointed out, a lot of times the Left especially (and sometimes the populist alt-right) doesn’t want to allow constructive counter arguments to be made, especially by intelleculoid “Uncle Tom’s” in their midsts.   What partisan leadership sees is resurrecting old chestnuts that could be brought back to oppress or marginalize less competitive individuals in their groups.  After all, at a certain moral level, almost any goal can be “rationalized”.  A good example of this problem has occurred with HIV issues, when public health arguments, while valid (up to a point) can be used as an excuse for stigmatization or exclusion of gay men, a problem we had in the 1980s.  Leadership of activist groups want obedience and consistency of messages among supporters, not people who ask (and particularly self-publish) analytic policy questions on their own.

But that is what I do.   I want to keep an eye on the big picture, especially civilization -changing threats, not just local issues tied to my own identity groups.  That is how I make a difference, in the long run.  At least now   Maybe not forever.

So much for “Hobby Lobby”.

(Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 9:30 PM EDT)

On “Solutions Sunday”: “Step outside of your own comfort zone”: Does that capacity really start with families?

This Sunday morning, CNN referred today as a “Solutions Sunday”, where people were encouraged to have Sunday dinner in a home with people of another race besides your own.  Republican Senator James Lankford on Oklahoma was one of the hosts.  Lankford said “Step outside your comfort zone and invite someone into your circle”.  Maybe your inner sanctum.

Despite living in an “inherited” trust house, I really haven’t been in the “business” of having guests at home, because I’m so busy with personal projects.  Events these days are nearly always in facilities.  So there’s nothing unusual about great diversity in public spaces, but I have to admit that at home it sounds a bit novel.

When I lived in New York City, and sometimes before in New Jersey, I did sometimes have house parties or events, and I have had a few house guests over the years, mostly related in the past to college, chess clubs, or people in the LGBT community (not just “tricks”, although that happened a little in the 1970s).  I’ve stayed with people , but very little since probably the 1970s. The largest event I ever held in my own space was an “Understanding” meeting (I think it was Wednesday, May 19) with about 25 people crowded into my own little studio apartment in the Cast Iron Building on E 11th St.

But it is very hard to help people without openness to letting it be personal if it need be (countering the “mind your own business” society), and for older adults, that’s often frankly easier when “you” have had and raised “your” own kids first.

I get a lot of pressure from others these days to become more open to “gratuitous” socializing and even dating, in my own home court, partly so that I don’t (at 73) remain “an accident waiting to happen” (to quote Jonathan Rauch in his mid 1990s book “Gay Marriage”).  Yes, I prefer to remain individually productive and get recognized for my content (but not just with hyperbolic phrases like “esteemed author”).  But it seems people see a continuum bridging fixing inequality in an economic or politic sense, and the way people actually make social and intimate “choices”.

Maybe nowhere is that idea so stark as in the issue of assisting refugees and asylum seekers, all over the world, but most of all in Europe, and then Canada, with the most comprehensive private sponsorship program in the world.

The New York Times has a booklet-length story today by Jodi Kantor and Katrin Eimhorn, “Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year;  Then Came Month 13”.  Refugee families were supposed to be cut loose from dependence on the private groups (usually of 5 people or 5 families, associated with various faith-based and sometimes secular groups) for rent and many other expenses.  (In the US, where there is no private sponsorship as such, refugee families get some benefits, but generally depend on congregational offerings for some of the rent, almost always in commercially run apartments;  in the US you have about 20 families in a congregation assisting one refugee family instead of just five as in Canada).  What’s interesting about the story is that in Canada, many of the refugees did not speak English and had few job skills, and needed intensive personal attention from sponsors.  In the US, generally, most of the refugees allowed in have male providers with considerable job skills and can speak English.  “Blame Canada”, as in “Southpark“?  The country seems to produce outstanding citizens.  Look how well they do in Hollywood.

The New York Times missive bares some comparison to how the Mariel boatlift was handled in 1980, where churches asked people to put up refugees (often LGBT) in their own homes, very suddenly, mainly in southern cities.  But it turned out that many refugees would need constant attention as many did not speak English and had no skills.  Very few found “sponsors” on the spur of the moment.

Asylum seekers, as I have covered here, face a different situation, as they (usually) have already been in the country legally because of school or job skills.  (That doesn’t include those put in detention and the border, and are generally released only if there are relatives who know them.)  Canada’s reputation of relative generosity (especially relative to Trump) has led to some US asylum seekers crossing into Canada, especially Manitoba.

I’ve covered more details on my own situation on another blog, here.

(Posted: Monday, March 27, 2017 at 12:15 AM EDT)