Community engagement v. individualism, with authoritarians watching

I have a friend in the Virginia libertarian circles, Rick Sincere, who recently has run some interesting guests posts on his blog, like this recent one on Masterpiece Cakeshop.

I do have a few guest posts on my two newer WordPress blogs (“Blogtyrant” really encourages the practice) but this one will be a pseudo-guest post, a Smerconish-like compendium of some feedback from a friend in the past twenty four hours after a typical social in the “gay establishment” with all the usual abstract trappings about equality.

He shared with me the parable of Rebekah Mercer (think, Mercer County New Jersey, where I lived for my first job with RCA, in Princeton, starting in 1970), daughter of the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, conveyed in this Washington Post article January 5 by Kyle Swenson.  My friend’s narrative focused on the role of pollster and political operative Patrick Cladell in convincing the family that Donald Trump needed to become their Mr. Smith who would go to Washington and wreck the establishment.

The article focuses on the resentment of the elites by just part of the far right.  True, the Left had carried opposition to pipelines and drilling too far, if the nation really needs to go to autarky on energy. True, foreign competition had destroyed a lot of manufacturing jobs – and the hedge fund managers didn’t recognize the irony of their opposing seeing the middle class follow them into the world of hucksterism (as I found out in many job interviews in the 2000’s) when we didn’t make enough of our own stuff.  Indeed, that’s a legitimate national security concern.  Up to some point, the nationalism of Steve Bannon had to make sense to them.  And, true enough, the meddlesomeness of Obamacare hurt a lot of young adults, who were forced to pay higher premiums to take care of “other people’s problems” (like opioid) that they might be unlikely to encounter themselves.

The Mercers probably didn’t care so much about the social issues:  they just resented the idea of people fighting for different treatment for different groups instead of fighting for themselves as individuals. (Maybe that means it’s OK to be a charismatic superhero-like cis gay man [even a comic book space alien] but not a sissy  and not an earthly immigrant.)  But Robert, like Donald, shared a personal revulsion for personal involvement with “losers”. A man’s real worth was his financial network, like a grade for one’s life.

But then something else happened. Trump carried his authoritarian streak (and need for control and self-gratification as the leader) much further than the Mercers probably wanted.  But he was the best “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (Frank Capra’s 1939 film for Columbia, legacy review) that they could find.

But what happened, as we know, that Trump played to a base who see things more in terms of a strong politician taking care of them than in terms of actual policy fixes.  And as Michael Moore pointed out, a lot of people just wanted a “Blow Up”, a revolution – to disrupt the lives of the elites, even if you destroyed the country in the process.

All of this indeed leads to a county in increased danger, particularly from one particular enemy, and detracts from orderly solutions to all of our inequality problems.

Yes, it puts me on the spot.  While I leverage asymmetry online to establish myself as an individual, apart for the group, I probably ask for new dangers, from combative enemies could can also leverage the same asymmetry.

There are many existential threats out there to my continuing my own style of free speech, as I’ve covered before (the gratuitousness problem).  I’ll be coming back to some of the details (probably the Section 230 issues are more important than network neutrality) soon, but I wanted to revisit the idea of “the privilege of being listened to” as in my DADT III book.  One idea is that, before someone is “heard” as an individual he (or she or “they”) needs to show some kind of community engagement.

That sounds like almost “forced” volunteerism, a step down from national service, supervised by the bureaucracy of charities and nonprofits.

Now, there are two kinds of volunteerism to start.  One is really volunteering for political activism.  A friend suggested volunteering a little a HRC or some similar group (NLGTF) to learn what “group identity” sensitivity is all about (given all my criticism of “trigger warnings”, “microaggressions”, and “intersectionality”).  Now, like in the movie “Rebirth”, I think there is something wrong with volunteering to “look” or “spectate”.  I wouldn’t do that unless I was completely with the goals of the group (as opposed to the liberty interests of individuals in the group, which Rick Sincere’s blog above deals with).  My own father used to deploy the phrase “as a group” when he talked about race (unfortunately quoting the Bible wrong). Bill Clinton had to deny that lifting the military ban would be about “group rights”.

That said, I do engage of activism of sorts with my blogs – these days, mostly on sustainability for our civilization, where, yes, I’ve focused on the EMP issue as possibly posing a singularity-type threat.  Along the lines of the work I have done (I don’t mean with a therapist), I would love to work for a news organization and have a press pass.  Then, yes, I might be able to cover HRC activism with some objectivity.  But I can see covering events regarding, for example, net neutrality or Section 230. I don’t see marching on picket lines over these issues, however.

The other kinds of volunteerism is to help people – with real needs.  But that forks in a few direction.

I did this in the 1980s and less in the 1990s with the AIDS crisis, because it had reared up in my own life (although I didn’t get infected because of reverse Darwinism – “The Normal Heart”).  I was a “baby buddy” for a time in 1986-87 at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas.  I was also the pain that questioned the gay politicians for wanting to get out of some of the “extended personal responsibility” issues, which got dangerous  (the “don’t take the test” crowd).  In the 1990s, I volunteered one night a month for a while at Food and Friends counting donations when it was located in the Navy Yard-Waterfront (Washington).

I have spot-volunteered, like at a local church’s monthly “community assistance” dinners and handout sessions, but not found it terribly meaningful.  Some volunteer activities ask for more help than they need because they may or may not need the bodies for a short time.

Now, as with the examples I gave, you can focus volunteerism on “groups” to which you have “belonged” (whether or not you “chose to”).  You can focus on whether giving goes to that group, or to any individuals in need.  And I can’t blow off the group idea completely.  Consider Trump’s joke about Pence’s past attitude toward “LGBT people” (as a group”), “Oh, he wants to hang ‘em all”. (I remember the 1968 Clint Eastwood movie “Hang ‘em High”).  It sounds funny even on the “gay right”.  But there’s a point where it isn’t.  You can be in the wrong group whether you chose to or not.  Imagine living in Germany in the 1930s. That does help grasp the sensitivities surrounding Charlottesville.

The effectiveness of volunteerism depends on the skills you have. I could imagine directing chess tournaments in underprivileged areas – but it would be desirable to be as effective a chess player as possible first. I can imagine helping people not fall for phishing scams.

But a lot of times charities want volunteers to go out of their own boxes.  The Red Cross, for example, wants volunteers to install smoke detectors in low income homes.  That would make more sense if I had kept the trust house.

There is another direction that “real needs” can fork to — actually taking responsibility for supporting or hosting someone.

So, the bottom line is, I have to finish my own work, on my issues as I have laid them out, before I’m much good on “somebody else’s” problems and supervision.  I have my own goals and path and self-direction and strategy. It takes time and freedom from disruption to carry out. I can’t let it be negotiable.  Yet I realize that if I didn’t have this, I’d have to be more amenable to “groups” to “survive”. Maybe that is better for a lot of other people.

I’ve had some discussion with the friend telling me he cannot be open online about controversial topics. This gets back to what I’ve called “conflict of interest” over publicly available speech. I’ve covered this before with links, but it’s good to reiterate a couple things.  If someone has direct reports on the job or the ability to pass “underwriting” judgments on others, then off-the-job policy opinions that can easily be found by others (as by search engines or by public social media pages) put the relationship between the associate and stakeholders at potential risk, even legally (like hostile workplace). One way to handle this is for an employer to insist that the person’s only public social media presence be the official work one, and that all private social media communications be under full privacy settings. If you have certain kinds of jobs, you relinquish the right of “self-publication” (or self-distribution).

(Posted: Saturday, Jan. 6, 2017 at 9 PM EST)

Alexei Wood’s acquittal in the J20 trial gives independent journalists uneasy relief

Journalist Alexei Wood and five other defendants were acquitted of charges that could have led to decades in prison, after they were picked up by police in a “kettling” operation to stop the rioting in downtown Washington DC on Inauguration Day, protesting Donald Trump’s presidency.

Democracy Now presents an interview here between Amy Goodman, Brett Cohen and Mr. Alexei Wood, along with a 51-minute video here.

Other sites (such as Truthout, even more so than this one) have used this case as a reason to phrase appeals for money for independent journalism, claiming that the current government is hostile to journalists.

There is a lot going on here.  First, the Trump administration is a bit hostile (on Twitter especially) to established liberal media (like CNN).  He has not turned out to be hostile to independent bloggers or “citizen journalists” as I had once feared he might (as on my Nov. 7, 2016 post).  Perhaps he sees independent bloggers as calling out the media on insufficient reporting on some aspects of national security threats (like North Korea and EMP).   In countries like Egypt, Turkey, and particularly China, governments have been very harsh on independent media and sometimes have control of the more established channels.  Trump is nowhere close to that.  But Trump’s joking about wanting to reserve the right to jail political opponents whom he defeated (Mrs. Clinton) is not funny.

Secondly, there is the effect of social media tribalism, which now seems to have infected both the right and left.  There is an impression that someone who reports on a controversial group just to make a name for himself (if not already part of a journalistic establishment) is merely giving credibility to dangerous groups.  By that reasoning, reporters who filmed the J20 protests were giving credibility to Antifa-like protests but moreover to the violence that would accompany any “revolution”.  In that sense, the reporters are thought to have incited violence, despite the usual standard of “imminent threat of lawless action”. This sort of thinking has been particularly applied to people who might have wanted to to cover extreme right-wing groups or white supremacists.  This kind of reporting might be more acceptable if done by an established journalist supposedly from the other side (like Kamau Bell’s series “United Shades of America” on CNN covering the KKK).

I recently traveled to Washington VA and Flint Hill VA, to report the aggressive lawn pamphleting in the area by KKK elements. (Oh, please, don’t mention the People’s Party’s lettuce boycotts in the early 1970s.)  Does my doing so only give importance to such activity?   But I did not even know about the Charlottesville rightwing march on Aug. 11 in advance, although I might have been tempted to “watch” and film had I known.  I did know about the protests planned for Inauguration Day but simply stayed home to listen to the speech.  It’s conceivable that had I been there and filmed I could have been kettled and charged.  I have covered BLM marches but mainly filmed and “participated” minimally.  I visited Baltimore Sandtown right after the riots, but some independent journalists reported being pinned down by weapons fire and combat during the 2015 event.

Progressive interview with Mr. Wood.

(Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

“Twitter Purge” renews debate on what is an acceptable “group” and what is “affiliation”

After the Charlottesville riots, there was a lot of flak when Trump seemed to speak of “groups” on the Far Right and Far Left as morally equivalent, and was not willing to announce that White supremacists or KKK-like groups are morally less acceptable than, say, extreme Communist groups (or groups that claim they are just resisting fascism or white or Christian supremacy).

Conor Friedersdorf expanded on all this with an Aug. 31 piece in The Atlantic, “How to Distinguish Between White Supremacists, Antifa, and Black Lives Matter.”  (Maybe the preposition should be “among”.)

While I follow his reasoning:  historical experience with the purposes of a group does matter, I would have a few questions. First, it appears that domestic hate groups have First Amendment protections that foreign terror groups do not.  It appears that the legal consequences, in federal criminal justice, for supporting a hate group normally apply only to foreign organizations, unless a domestic organization has been found to launch a specific conspiracy to commit a specific crime (like another OKC).

Nevertheless, employers (including the federal government in the past) have certainly been able to deny employment or fire people for membership in “known” groups, and this used to be more true of membership in the Communist Party.

The question has arisen because Twitter recently announced a policy change where starting today it will suspend or close accounts of those with “affiliation” to terror groups, including domestic hate groups (usually right wing such as neo-Nazi or white supremacist). In fact, there was a high profile suspension of someone Trump had retweeted today.

Then the rather obvious question becomes, what is a “group” and what does “affiliation” mean?  Is retweeting the group evidence of affiliation, or repeatedly visiting the sites (which might be detectable, at least by hacking).  Twitter probably just means that people already well known to be connected to a group can’t use the platform to send sanitized messages to recruit people (and this could be motivated by ISIS more than by neo-Nazis).

Another interesting part of Twitter’s rules was the mention of the targeting of civilians for political purposes.  But this is indeed what some of our enemies do, as have other aggressors in most other large wars.  The US did this in retaliation, as with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another problem is that the “Left” in the US sometimes demands that others (like independent bloggers like me) go along with their combativeness if the enemy (neo-Nazis in this case) is egregious enough or poses a specific threat to a specific protected group (blacks or Jews or even gays and trans).  But combativeness (as Flemming Rose at Cato has often pointed out) appeals to the idea that “the end justifies the means” and finally can result in a group’s have intentions that are as dangerous of the enemy it replaced.  I don’t like to be drawn into passing relative judgment on groups.  It’s like saying that somehow Stalin (or even Kim Jong Un) is “better” than Hitler.  History teaches us that Leftist regimes are often as repressive as those they had replaced (although Vietnam and China have gradually become somewhat acceptable countries).

(Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

My own existentialism

Throughout much of my I.T. career, especially the last fifteen years or so, I was often preoccupied with the possible consequences of any mistakes by me as an individual contributor.  I did have to get used to it. But in retirement, the idea that one can fall by making enemies or being on the wrong side, has made a troubling comeback, sometimes with ironic recalls of pressures earlier in my life to fit in vertically to social structures set up by others, to value other people in these communities more than my own head.

There is a lot more attention to asymmetry today, and to the randomness of “bad luck” and misfortune. I’ve never been OK with playing up victimization, especially when enhanced by belonging to an oppressed group. I go to memorial services, too; but I don’t brand myself by going to bat publicly for everyone out there on social media who is losing out because of disadvantage.

One idea that seems very critical to me is that, when something happens to “you”, especially because of someone else’s wrongdoing, recovering from it still starts with “you” before anyone else.  That’s not politics or social values; that’s just plain logic.  Otherwise, life will go on without you.  Of course, the full weight of the law or other agency (like military force) can be brought against perpetrators, terrorists, or ordinary bullies. But, I’ve never seen “sacrifice” as particularly honorable.  That kind of thinking played out bigtime in the days of the Vietnam era draft, when people with less privilege wound up making more of the sacrifices in combat. Likewise, it has, even with a volunteer army but a “backdoor” stop-loss draft, followed suit in more recent wars, like Iraq. You still see this today with risky civilian volunteerism, where overseas or in local volunteer fire departments.

So, then, we come to the inequality debate, which I covered today again in reviewing Robert Reich’s movie “Saving Capitalism”.   Much of the traditional debate has to do with classes of people, groups, and the way power structures reinforce themselves.  Yet, I still feel this all traces back to what we expect of every individual.

The unpredictability of personal tragedy plays out in many possibilities.  Besides the usual risks of drunk drivers and some older street crime, we have to deal today with ideologically driven terrorism, as if reaches those who have fallen behind in a hyperindividualistic society.  That plays into the immigration debate.  It’s still true, that in the US, the risk of dying from a lone wolf terror act is much lower than most other accidental perils, and such observations are used to justify a kinder policy on immigration (including asylum) than Trump will allow (or promised his base). But it also underscores the idea that those who resent our “elitism” are sometimes turning our free speech, especially on the Internet (with ungated speech) against us, with the terror recruiting, and the ease of finding destructive information online.  (But, remember, it wasn’t that hard in print before the Internet.  Remember Paladin Press?)

I say I don’t like to get into intersectionality or helping people leverage their collective oppression. Yet, everyone belongs to something, to various groups, often starting with family of origin. Hostility happens to groups as well as individuals, so people wind up as individuals pay the price for what their groups are perceived (often wrongly) to others.

That gets us back to the grim possibility of a real national catastrophe promulgated by a determined enemy, most recently by North Korea, as in recent posts.

That is what drives the moralizing of the doomsday preppers (like The Survival Mom on Facebook), who want everyone to have local, vertical value to others in very personal ways working with their hands, before they get any traction in a more global and abstract experience.  This is not a good thing for the dilettantes of the world, although it is possible that sometimes a self-absorbed  “austistic” person like “Shaun Murphy” has such indispensable talents in some area that still fits in.  For the rest of those people “like me”, it very much becomes a matter of “pay your dues” and “right-sizing”.  A lot of people believe that, before you are heard or listened to, you need to fit in to community engagement, as defined by the needs of others. In the future this idea of “no spectators” and putting “your own skin in the game” before you speak, could get formalized.  Morality finally gets allocated down to the individual from all his groups (my “DADT-IV” sequence).

All of that means that there is a great deal of moral premium in an individual’s adapting to whatever circumstances he or she must live in, because others can be affected or targeted, or have to take risks in “your” stead.  That was certainly the case when I was growing up (when “cowardice” was a real crime against the group).  Many protest movements turn out to be manipulative or based on overblown or frivolous interpretations of policy changes, where activists try to shame others into joining and become belligerent on their own. On the other hand, once in a while, you do have to “enlist”.  You have to figure out when it’s for real.  Dealing, as an individual, with the collective combativeness of others has indeed become a real problem.

These are ominous times for individualistic speakers who map out the flaws of everyone else without any particular commitment.  Is that what my own “do ask do tell” and “connecting the dots” have come to?  Despite perceptions to the contrary (and the illusion provided by some court wins as with COPA in 2007).  Although the issue is protracted and complicated, issues like the revoking of net neutrality and of Section 230 downstream liability protections, could seriously erode the continuation of independent speech, without the tribal influences of organizations on one side of another, constantly wanting to take over my voice with their partisan pimping.  Yet, “tribalism” at least raises the questions of how much people really matter (to me), both horizontally (minorities) and vertically (“taking care of your own first”).  Why speak if you don’t care about the people (personally) whose lives you purport to affect?  This is, at least, a “puzzlement” as in “The King and I”.  Well, if they aren’t “good enough” for me (absorbed by my own world), then why will I never show up in my shorts?   And it – addiction to the leverage of one’s own past shame — can become life threatening.  But for many “victims”, it is already too late.

(Posted: 10:45 PM EST Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017)

Is my own skin in the game?

So, why am I so paranoid that some new era of censorship or regulation or some sort of national calamity could force me to give up my own ungated soap box (mostly Internet and self-published books)?

“Why don’t you just volunteer or work for a non-profit or for gay or trans rights?”  (I’m cis.)  It’s true, that in more recent months people have come knocking and sometimes border on becoming confrontational.

I think anyone would resent an outside party’s walking in the door and bargaining with him about his own self-determined goals in life.  There’s a parallel to how we felt in the workplace in the 80s and 90s when we thought our jobs could be bargained away for someone else’s shareholder value (call it rentier capitalism).

So here I am, on the other side, as the “capitalist” in a sense, partially (and perhaps unhealthfully) dependent on inherited wealth (the “heiristocracy” of Heather Boushey’s “After Piketty”). I get chased about actually making my hardcopy books sell so that people in stores have jobs (and people at publishing companies), or about ideas like running my own personalized “gofundme” for some group or cause.  Or perhaps hounded for donations by some online publication, usually Leftist, that claims only they can be my voice.

It seems that if you speak out for yourself and don’t have a specific challenge to deal with or a specific dependent needing you and then remain neutral, you’re seen as an aggressor.  I get the point about the (Confederate) statues now, but removing them would never be “my” mission.  But that doesn’t seem to be good enough for some of the angrier activists.

I’ve always viewed morality as an individualized issue:  what a person does, regardless of external circumstances, is of moral concern, and yet a person can bear personal accountability for what a (privileged) group that she depends on does (the “Scarlet O’Hara” problem).  I’ve never viewed personal morality as relative to belonging to an oppressed group.  So (at least since the early post-Stonewall days) I’ve paid little attention to group-oppression-centered activism, which can anger some people. Yet, I may sound snarky to say “shouting in a demonstration is beneath me”.  But that is how I fee;.  It’s the “watcher” problem of the movie “Rebirth”.  Indeed, activists on “both” sides often hate “journalists” including citizen journalists who don’t join up.

There does seem to be an informal expectation in social media that you’re open to personally assisting others whom you didn’t already know.  This kind of moral ecology seems to have accelerated since the second Obama term started.  And it’s often linked to identity politics: someone should be assisted specifically because he/she/”they” belongs to a marginalized group.   There’s also a willingness to display a disadvantaged person as a dependent or best friend.  That isn’t something I would do.  Until maybe five years ago, it wouldn’t have been expected.

There seems to be a break in the moral continuity of my thought.  If I comment critically on what politicians want to do about the various issues, do I really “care” personally about the people affected?  I could certainly say that I did when I got publicly involved with some of the more controversial aspects of the HIV crisis in the 1980s.  I did become a “buddy” (although a “baby buddy”) at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas where I lived.  Likewise, there is some integrity to that when I dealt with the gays in the military issue as I started by books in the 1990s.  It does seem much less true today.  I don’t automatically “care” about someone just because “they” claim to be in a marginalized group.  So, an activist or “privilege challenger” can ask, why are you even talking about this on your own if you don’t have your own skin in the game?  You have no kids, you have no standing, you have no stake.  Join up or else.  I can retort, “you” know some of your own history, but only for your own narrow interest.  I’ve commented about military conscription a lot because I went through it (1968-1970), but today’s protesters seem to have no idea that it even happened. Nor do they care – it’s only about the particular oppression of the moment.

Furthermore, my tendency to cherry pick and use upward affiliation in approaching more intimate personal relationships would make some people wonder if I “can care about people” (Ninth Street Center talk indeed).  Would I stay in a relationship if something “happened” to a partner to make him less attractive?  I’ve never been tested in that way directly, but I’ve moved away from situations where I sense this could happen in the future (in a way prescient, in the late 1970s, of the coming AIDS crisis).

This is all very sobering. I can say that I am open to personal involvement when it comes out of something I am doing.  I’ve written about the asylum seeker issue for the past year, and I did consider hosting.  But it always seem to break down when I asked for more detailed discussions about the legal liability risks I was taking.  I would remain “Outside Man”, like in the Army on KP.  I say, let’s have more transparency on the risks we expect the more “privileged” people to take.  (Remember the student deferment issue?)

I can understand, for example, the stake of a filmmaker who has filmed the story of a disabled person in in special Olympics.  But would I choose to make such a person the hero of my own narrative?  Probably not.  Indeed, there’s something disturbing about some of my own fiction projects that center around a hero character more or less like Smallville’s teen Clark Kent, without any real attempt at diversity.  If my “angels” make their Earth evacuation and leave everyone else behind (“The Leftovers”) what message does that send?  Five years ago that would have seemed mainstream sci-fi.  Now I wonder if it would be perceived as “hate speech”.

I’ll note a story in the Washington Post today , on p. A12, “From conservatives: a call for regulation of Internet firms: These Silicon Valley players are seeking government insistence on free-speech rights at tech-giants, which they say are ‘enforcers’ or a liberal point of view”.  Online the title is “In Silicon Valley, the Right sounds a surprising battle cry: Regulate tech giants”.

Well, conservatives particularly want tech giants to put more of their own skin (downstream liability) into fighting sex trafficking (at least the way they would fight child pornography), in kicking off terrorist recruiters, in stopping piracy, and in stopping cyberbullying and in  protecting children with filters (remember COPA?  VidAngel has taken this on and its own troubles).

And tech giants, in return, have shown they have a much greater awareness of fake news and “hate speech” on their platforms than they have previously admitted.

(Posted: Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 at 2:45 PM EDT)

Activism, watcherism, and subtle vigilantism: those just outside the “systematic oppression” zones

CNN has run an op-ed by John Blake, “White Supremacists by Default: How ordinary people made Charlottesville possible.”

Yes, to some extent, this piece is an “I am my brother’s keeper” viewpoint familiar from Sunday School. But at another level the piece has major moral implications regarding the everyday personal choices we make, and particularly the way we speak out or remain silent.

I grew up in a way in which I did not become conscious of class or race or belonging to a tribe, or people. I was not exposed to the idea of “systematic oppression” against people who belong to some recognizable group. My self-concept was pretty separated from group identity.

I gradually became aware that I would grow up “different” especially with respect to sexuality. But I believed it was incumbent on me to learn to perform in a manner commensurate with my gender, because the welfare of others in the family or community or country could depend on that capacity. My sense of inferiority was driven first by lack of that performance, which then morphed into other ideas about appearance and what makes a male (or then female) look desirable.

I remember, back in the mid 1990s, about the time I was starting to work on my first DADT book, an African-American co-worker (another mainframe computer programmer) where I worked in northern Virginia said that he was teaching his young son to grow up to deal with discrimination. Another African-American coworker who had attended West Point said I had no idea what real discrimination was like, because I could just pass. (That person thought I lived “at home” with my Mother since I was never married.)  I would subsequently be a witness in litigation by a former black employee whom I replaced with an internal transfer, and the “libertarianism” in my own deposition seemed to be noticed by the judge dismissing the case.

Indeed, the activism in the gay community always had to deal with the “conduct” vs. “group identity” problem, particularly during the AIDS crisis of the 1990s. Libertarians and moderate conservatives like me (I didn’t formally belong to Log Cabin Republicans but tended to like a lot of things about Reagan and personally fared well when he was in office) were focused on privacy (in the day when double lives were common) and personal responsibility, whereas more radical activists saw systematic oppression as related to definable gender-related class. Since I was well within the upper middle class and earned a good income with few debts and could pay my bills, both conservatives with large families and radical activists born out of disadvantage saw me as a problem.

The more radical commentators today are insisting that White Nationalists have an agenda of re-imposing or augmenting systematic oppression by race, even to be ultimate end of overthrowing normal civil liberties, reintroducing racial subjugation and other forms of authoritarian order. The groups on the extreme right are enemies (of people of color) as much as radical Islam has made itself an enemy of all civilization. Radicals insist that those who normally want to maintain some objectivity and personal distance must be recruited to actively fighting with them to eliminate this one specific enemy.  This could lead to vigilantism (especially online) to those who speak out on their own but who will not join in with them. Ii do get the idea of systemic oppression, but I think that meeting has a lot more to do with the integrity of individual conduct. But this goes quite deep. Refusing to date a member of a different race could be viewed as active racism (June 26).

The possibility of including ordinary independent speakers or observers (or videographers) among the complicit indirect systematic “oppressors” should not be overlooked. Look at the comments and self-criticism of Cloudfare CEO Matthew Prince, about the dangers of new forms of pro-active censorship by Internet companies. This does bear on the Backpge-Section 230 problem, and we’ll come back to this again. In a world with so many bizarre asymmetric threats, I can imagine that Internet companies could expand the list of certain speech content that they believe they cannot risk allowing to stay up (hint: Sony).

I want to add, I do get the idea that many left-wing activists (not just limited to Antifa) believe that Trump was elected in large part by white supremacists and that there is a more specific danger to everyone else in what he owes this part of his base. I have not taken this idea very seriously before, but now I am starting to wonder.

(Posted: Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)

How an article on the workplace and automation leads us back to network neutrality and other potential issues for Internet user-generated content

A guest post by 30-year-old Australian blogging (and physical fitness) guru Ramsay Taplin (aka “Blogtyrant“), in “Goins, Writer” about how to deal with the invasion of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace (when these innovations threaten to replace you) rather accidentally re-ignites the debate over the future of the Internet and ordinary speech on it in the United States.  (Before I go further, I’ve love to meet the huge cat on Ramsay’s Twitter page.)

Ramsay’s post seems to be a bit in the tradition of libertarian George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen’s book “Average Is Over,” outlining how middling people need to deal with the changing modern workplace.  At a crucial point in his essay, Ramsay, after suggesting that employed people consider starting small businesses on their own time, recommends most business owners (as well as professionals like lawyers, financial planners, agents, and even book authors) stake out their property in “modern real estate” with a professionally hosted blog site.  But then he dismissively adds the caveat, “unless the Internet changes dramatically through removing net neutrality…”

Later, he writes “make sure everything you do on the Internet helps someone,” a very important base concept that I’ll come back to. He gives a link to a compelling essay on personal and workplace ethics in a site called “Dear Design Student”, about how you can’t lead a double life and be believed forever.  You can see my conversation with him in the comments.

Whoa, there.  OK, Ramsay works (“from his couch”) in Australia, part of the British Commonwealth, and, like most western-style democratic countries, the Aussie World maintains statutory network neutrality regulations on its own turf (I presume).  But, as we know, under the new Trump administration and new FCC chair Ajit Pai, the Obama era’s network neutrality protections, largely set in place (in 2015) by maintaining that self-declared “neutral conduit” telecommunications companies are common carriers, will almost certainly be disbanded late this summer in the U.S. after the formal comment period is over.  Pro-neutrality advocates (including most tech companies) plan a “Day of Action” July 12, which Breitbart characterized in rather hyperbolic farce.

That situation puts American companies at odds with the rest of the capitalist democratic world (definitely not including Russia and China).  There are plenty of political advocacy pressure groups with “Chicken Little” “Sky Is Falling” warnings (along with aggressive popups for donations) about how exposed small companies and individual speakers online may be intentionally silenced (as I had outlined here on May 11).  Right away, I rebut by noting that not only is there to be (according to Pai) “voluntary compliance”, but also every major general-purpose telecom company in the US seems to say it has no intention to throttle ordinary sites.  In fact, most consumers, when they sign up for Internet, want full access to everything out there on the indexed web, so doing so would make no business sense.

Even so, some comparison of the world now to what it was a few decades ago, when I came of age, is in order.  Telephone companies were monopolistic but were regulated, so they couldn’t refuse service to consumers they didn’t like.  None of this changed as ATT break-up into the Bell’s happened (something I watched in the 80s-job market for I.T.)  But until the WWW came along in the mid-90s, the regulations only protected consumers getting content (phone calls), not wanting to upload it with no gatekeepers for pre-approval.  Back then, in a somewhat regulated environment, companies did make technological innovations for big paying customers (like DOD).  Pai would seem to be wrong in asserting that all regulation will stop innovation.

It’s also noteworthy that the FCC regulated broadcast networks, especially the number of television stations they could own (I remember this while working for NBC in the 1970s).  Likewise, movie studios were not allowed to own theater chains (that has somewhat changed more recently).

But by analogy, it doesn’t seem logical that reasonable rules preventing ordinary content throttling would stymie innovation where there are real benefits to consumers (like higher speeds for high definition movies, or for emergency medical services, and the like), or, for that matter, better service in rural areas.

There are also claims that new telecom technologies could enter the market, and that Obama-like net neutrality rules would stifle newcomer telecom companies.  Maybe this could bear on super-high-speed FIOS, for example, that Google has tried in a few cities.

Then, some of the punditry get speculative.  For example, a faith-based ISP might want to set up a very restricted service for religious families. It sounds rather improbable, but maybe that needs to be OK.  Or maybe a Comcast or Verizon wants to offer a low-end Internet service that doesn’t offer all websites, just an approved whitelist.  Maybe that appeals to locally socialized families with little interest in “globalism”.  That sounds a little more serious in its possible impact on other small businesses trying to reach them.

Another idea that cannot be dismissed out of hand, is that telecom companies could be prodded to deny connection access to illegal content, such as terror promotion or child pornography, or even sex trafficking (as with the Backpage controversy).

If we did have an environment where websites had to pay every telecom company to be hooked up to them, it’s likely that hosting companies like Bluehost would have to build this into their fees to take care of it.  I actually have four separate hosted WordPress blog domains.  It’s significant that Bluehost (and probably other companies) allow a user just one hosting account with a primary domain name.  Add-on domains are internally made subdomains of the primary and converted internally.  So, the user would probably only he “charged” for one hookup, regardless of the number of blogs.  (It’s also possible to put separate blogs in separate installations of WordPress in separate directories, I believe, but I see no reason now to try it.)   But one mystery to me is, that if Bluehost does have a “primary domain” concept with subdomains, why can’t it make the entire network https (SSL) instead of just one “real” domain?  I expect this will change.  SSL is still pretty expensive for small businesses to offer (they can generally outsource their credit card operations and consumer security, but there is more pressure, from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation, to implement “https everywhere” for all content).

It’s also worthy of note that “free blogs” on services like Blogger and WordPress use a subdomain concept, so there is only one domain name hookup per user to any ISP.  That’s why Blogger can offer https to its own hosted blogs but not to blogs that default to user-owned domain names.

We can note that search engines like Google and Bing aren’t held to a “neutrality” policy and in fact often change their algorithms to prevent unfair (“link farming”) practices by some sites.

So, here we are, having examined net neutrality and its supposed importance to small site owners (nobody really worried about this until around 2008 it seems).  But there are a lot of other issues that could threaten the Internet as we know it.  Many of the proposals revolve around the issue of “downstream liability”:  web hosting companies and social media companies don’t have to review user posts before self-publication for legal problems;  if they had to, users simply could not be allowed to self-publish.  (That’s how things were until the mid 1990s.)  But, as I’ve noted, there are proposals to water down “Section 230” provisions in the US because of issues like terrorism recruiting (especially by ISIS), cyberbulling, revenge porn, and especially sex trafficking (the Backpage scandal).  Hosts and social media companies do have to remove (and report) child pornography now when they find it or when it is flagged by users, but even that content cannot be screened before the fact.  And Facebook and Twitter are getting better at detecting terror recruiting, gratuitous violence, fake news, and trafficking.  But widescale abuse by combative and relatively less educated users starts to raise the ethical question about whether user-generated content needs to pay its own way, rather than become a gratuitous privilege for those who really don’t like to interact with others whom they want to criticize.

In Europe and British Commonwealth countries there is apparently less protection from downstream liability allowed service providers than in the U.S., which would be the reverse of the legal climate when compared to the network neutrality issue.  And Europe has a “right to be forgotten” concept. Yet, user-generated content still seems to flourish in western countries besides the U.S.

I mentioned earlier the idea that a small business or even personal website should help the reader in a real-world sense.  Now Ramsay’s ideas on Blogtyrant seem most applicable to niche marketing.  That is, a business meeting a narrow and specific consumer need will tend to attract followers (hence Blogtyrant’s recommendations for e-mail lists that go beyond the fear of spam and malware).  It’s noteworthy that most niche markets probably would require only one blog site (despite my discussion above of how hosting and service providers handle multiple blogs from one user.) It’s pretty easy to imagine what niche blogs would be like:  those of lawyers (advising clients), financial planners, real estate agents, insurance agents, tax preparers, beauty products, fashion, and games and sports (especially chess).  It would seem that gaming would create its own niche areas.  And there are the famous mommy blogs (“dooce” by Heather Armstrong, who added a new verb to English – note her site has https –, although many later “mommy” imitations have not done nearly so well).  I can imagine how a well-selling fiction author could set up a niche blog, to discuss fiction writing (but not give away her own novels).

Another area would be political activism, where my own sense of ethics makes some of this problematical, although Ii won’t get into that here.

In fact, my whole history has been the opposite, to play “Devil’s advocate” and provide “objective commentary” and “connect the dots” among almost everything, although how I got into this is a topic for another day (it had started with gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell” in the US in the 1990s, and everything else grew around it).   One could say that my entering the debate this way meant I could never become anyone else’s mouth piece for “professional activism” or conventional salesmanship (“Always Be Closing”).  I guess that at age 54 I traded queens into my own (chess) endgame early, and am getting to the king-and-pawn stage, looking for “the opposition”.

There’s a good question about what “helps people”.  “The Asylumist” is a good example; it is written by an immigration lawyer Jason Dzubow specifically to help asylum seekers.  Jason doesn’t debate the wisdom of immigration policy as an intellectual exercise, although he has a practical problem of communicating what asylum seekers can expect during the age of Trump – and some of it is unpredictable. On this (my) blog, I’ve tried to explore what other civilians who consider helping asylum seekers (especially housing them personally) could expect.  Is that “helping people” when what I publish is so analytical, tracing the paths of speculation?  I certainly have warned a lot of people about things that could get people into trouble, for example, allowing someone else (even an Airbnb renter!) to use your home Internet router connection, for which you could be personally liable (sorry, no personalized Section 230).  Is the end result (of my own blog postings) to make people hesitant to offer a helping hand to immigrants out of social capital (and play into Donald Trump’s hands)?  I think I’m making certain problems a matter of record so policy makers consider them, and I have some ample evidence that they do.  But does that “help people” the way a normal small business does?

Getting back to how a blog helps a small business, the underlying concept (which does not work with my operation) is that the business pays for itself, by meeting real needs that consumers pay for (let’s hope they’re legitimate, not porn).  Legitimate business use of the Internet should come from “liking people.”  If blogging were undermined by a combination of policy changes in the US under Trump, it might not affect people everywhere else (although Theresa May wants it to), and it would be especially bad for me with my free-content model based on wealth accumulated elsewhere (some of it inherited but by no means all of it); but legitimate for-profit businesses will always have some basic way to reach their customers.

There has been talk of threats to blogging before.  One of the most serious perils occurred around 2005, in connection with campaign finance reform in the U.S., which I had explained here.

(Posted: Monday, June 12, 2017 at 12 noon EDT USA)

“Nobody’s Tool”

In Terry Gilliam’s artsy futurist film “The Zero Theorem” (2013), precocious and charismatic teen Bob (Lucas Hedges) tells the besieged computer operator Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), “I’m nobody’s tool”.  (Hedges would play a similar role in “Manchester by the Sea”.)

It’s true, I “went public” with a controversial persona narrative with my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the 1990s – specifically striking a nexus between the past history of conscription with the debate over gays in the military (as it had evolved then under Bill Clinton).  I would wrap every other issue, mapped onto the tension between individualism and the need to belong to the group, around it and become a commentator, a pundit, someone who, however, needed to keep a certain objectivity and distance (even emotional aloofness) expected of journalists.

As President Trump complains, it’s too easy to criticize when you sit on the bench ad don’t play.

So, in the “aftermath” of the book(s), websites, blogs and now social media accounts, I have made it absolutely impossible for me to earn money (in “retirement”) by selling somebody else’s message, or being someone else’s spokesperson.  No, I can’t have Sean Spicer’s job.

After my layoff and forced retirement from old-style mainframe I.T. as a post 9/11 sequel at the end of 2001, at age 58 (73 now), I learned “the truth” about what the world seemed to expect of retirees: Sell! One of the earlier interviews (while I was still in Minnesota) as with PrimeVest   The interviewer became defensive about my questions over his presentation, even though I agree that for some consumers, converting whole life to term is a reasonable strategy. But a $40 trillion market?  The interview was concerned over how “analytical” I seemed. I checked and investigated everything.  “We give you the words,” he said.  To a writer who has followed his own direction, that phrase sounded very insulting, like throwing an inadequate tip at a bartender (which I once did).

There would other attempted offers to throw husckerism at me. True, life insurance agent or financial planner sounds legitimate enough. But I don’t want to troll people’s Internet ad hits in order to cold call them.

I also find myself resisting attempts to get me to “join a resistance”.  HRC is on my regular donation list, but I felt a little taken back by a recent email inviting me to be trained to become a grassroots activist or part of a resistance.  I know that Barack Obama was a “community organizer” in Chicago at one time, I have my own message set.  I don’t need to have an organization tell me what to say.

Even worse was a similar ploy from the political right. GOP candidate for a runoff in a Georgia House race, Karen Handel, writes, addressing me personally (by an automated plugin – again insulting) “This is the email I didn’t want to have to write. But after seeing the latest public polls – I have no choice.” She whines that bigwing Democrats have raised so much money for her opponent, so “Will you help me fight back?”

No, I like to think of myself as better than that (including any public participation in overtly partisan politics).  But of course I know the argument.  I saved well when I was working.  But I also have some of what the left-wing considers a poison pill, inherited wealth.  I don’t have to make everything I do pay for itself.  I don’t have to sell other people’s messages for a living. But I can imagine people thinking, if there weren’t people like me around to dilute them, they could make a living by “selling” because everyone else would have to.

I’ve railed about identity politics here before, but the way I argue policy issues is relevant here.  Of course, I agree that current GOP plans for health care (variations of the Americam Healthcare Act) could, as structured now, throw millions off affordable health insurance, while solving problems of premium hikes for unneeded coverages for some people adversely affected by Obamacare’s implementation (and probably exacerbated by some states). I agree that the changes could affect racial minorities adversely.  They could also affect gay men (depending on what happens with PrEP and protease inhibitors).  But I don’t argue something because it hurts “me” or anyone as a “member of a group” (even though “belonging to groups” has become, unfortunately, the legal cornerstone of the way equal protection of the laws works).  One of the reasons AHCA would affect people in certain groups is the way it would shift the responsibility for Medicaid back to the states.  So it becomes a federalism problem.  States should do the right things, but we know from the history of Civil Rights through the 1960s that sometimes they didn’t (and we lost young men like Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney as a result in what was the moral equivalent of crucifixion).

I don’t respond personally to “Leftist” appeals for “resistance” because this policy hurts members of their particular client groups (even if I belong to one of them, and everyone belongs to something). I think you have to solve the problem analytically.  Some countries, like Switzerland, have kept an effective private health care sector in a way that works, and we could do that. I think you can have assigned risk pools again, so that rich people with pre-existing conditions can pay their own way (an inherent advantage of the GOP setup) but you have to subsidize the premiums of people in the middle class and below (tax cuts alone aren’t enough, you need subsidies, but you don’t need to use Medicaid as the vehicle for subsidies), or use reinsurance for excess claims.  You have to be determined to make it work, and you have to pay for it.  So maybe you can’t give the rich all their tax cuts.

Likewise, I reject group-oriented resistance politics on an issue like police profiling.  I understand Rudy Giuliani’s claims about how “broken windows” policing in the 1990s made New York City much safer than it had been in the 1970s when I lived there. But I have so say, that particularly a couple of independent films (“Whose Streets?” and “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” and well as “I A Not Your Negro”) have pointed out that in some communities, police departments have regularly extorted fines from black residents with the “garbage jail” approach. This is illegal and even criminal and not acceptable.  Why won’t the usual system of litigation put a stop to this?

I’m left to ponder the mentality of the doomsday preppers, who think that civilization cannot be depended on, and that it is morally imperative for everyone to learn to become self-sufficient locally and within the family.

(Posted: Monday, May 22, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)