Cato Institute holds forum on North Korea and escalation of tensions while Trump visits

On Monday, November 6, 2017 the Cato Institute in Washington DC held a three-part, three hour forum (9AM -noon), “How Do You Solve a Problem Like North Korea?”

I did not have time yesterday to get to it, so I watched the live feed.  It’s pretty effective, although the volume is low and sometimes the sound is out of sync with the lips.  Here is the basic link for all of the video.   The link gives the syllabus and identifies all the speakers.

But what was said is critical.

In the first session “Pyongyang’s Capabilities and US Policy”, the last speaker Joe Cirincione from the Ploughshares Fund was quite blunt.  He said that the U.S. probably does not have the capability to stop all incoming missiles over the U.S. once North Korea masters the ability to send them with thermonuclear weapons.  There was some mention of the probabilities of war (some as high as 50%), literally like at the beginning of “Gone with the Wind“.  Earlier Joshua Pollack (“The Nonproliferation Review”) said that North Korea had only to master “old technology” well known from the Soviets and from China. Suzanne DiMaggio, of New America, spoke also (her NYTimes piece, “How Trump Should Talk to North Korea“, followed).

The last session, “New Approaches to Solving the North Korea Problem”, saw Michael Austin (Hoover Foundation) in particular raising questions as to whether being South Korea’s protector indefinitely could remain a sustainable best interest of the United States. Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute seemed to echo a similar concern. While some speakers today agree with the theory that Kim Jong Un’s insistence on having nuclear weapons is simply his strategy for surviving (given what happened to Saddam Hussein and Gadaffi) there was also some skeptoicism, that, once he has the ability to hit the U.S., Un might start demanding that the U.S. halt all exercises near South Korea or even withdraw completely, or lift sanctions. That sounds like the “domino theory” that led to the escalation in Vietnam during the Johnson Administration, where I wound up getting drafted myself in early 1968 (setting up, ironically, my own subsequent involvement in repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” decades later).  Bandow, particularly, talked about how the Soviet Union and particularly Communist China (as during the Maoist Cultural Revolution of the 1960s) were seen as an existential “political” threat to the American way of life that North Korea cannot be, as repulsive as the regime may be now. But the speakers also noted the apparently docility and gullibility of the people, who will sacrifice and “eat grass” for their fat little leader (“fat little Rocket Man”, to quote Donald Trump with a little seasoning from Milo Yiannopoulos, although not during Trump’s current Asia trip).

Will Ripley had reported on North Korean people on CNN recently (the notorious “no chest hair” line) and now reports on CNN on Trump’s trip. Trump wants to put the DPRK on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and indeed there is concern that Iran or terror groups in Muslim world will get nuclear technology underground from North Korea.

No one on the panel or in the audience mentioned the possible EMP threats from North Korean missiles.  I did tweet a question about it but it was not read.

Wikipedia link on North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

Here is a link with the text of Trump’s speech in South Korea later Tuesday (Wed AM there).

UBS (n September) created a link for its investors with discussion of North Korea, with a link to a 37-minute podcast to a retired admiral.  The audio says that US atmospheric defenses are much more advanced than deep space systems, which have slowed down on the theory that the Soviets could have overwhelmed anything Reagan had wanted to do with his “Star Wars”. There is also a whimsical note that people watch the Pentagon parking lot and Metro for increased activity.  There really hasn’t been much lately. I make mental note on Uber or cab rides home from the bars late weekends.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 7, 2017, at 9:30 AM)

McCain’s recent comments makes one wonder if he favors resuming the military draft (for women, too?); even more so with Kelly

John McCain, starting a statement that at first would have accused Donald Trump (like Bill Clinton) of draft dodging, seemed to demur as he then criticized a system in the 1960s that allowed rich kids to get doctors to write them medical disqualifications, while poor people went. Dan Merica has a typical story on CNN.  At first glance, it may sound to male millennials or even younger men that different moral standards are applied to men of earlier generations than to them or to women.

Actually, there was a sequence of privileges that I outlined in the footnotes to my DADT-1 book, after 48b, where it says “Chapter 2 additional conclusion” and I supply a table.

For a while, during the Kennedy years, married men with children were protected, and then married men without children were protected until a single-male pool was exhausted.  The marriage and paternity deferments were ended under LBJ in 1965, but the student deferments, which figured so much into the course of my own life, continued until the lottery started in 1969.  In my case, deferemnt meant that I was much less likely to see combat or even go to Vietnam when I went in, in 1968.

It is well to look at statistics of Vietnam War deaths by race, and also by conscription status (War library; world history)

McCain blithely speaks of an obligation to be available to serve your country.  Of course, it sounds a lot more credible from him than Trump. But it’s always seemed like a contradiction to the idea of the “right to life”. For a while, men who did not consummate procreative sexual intercourse with women were more likely to be drafted.

The Supreme Court, in Rostker v. Golberg, had upheld the male-only Selective Service registration iin 1981, but recently there have been bills in Congress to require women to register, as in Israel.

The capacity to share risk and sacrifice was a major part of the moral climate when I was growing up. Cowardice was a real crime. If you evaded your share of the risk, someone else had to pick it up in your place. That certainly complicates the moral compass compared to the more linear idea of personal responsibility and harmlessness in libertarian thought in more recent times. It also complicates the meaning of marriage.

The deepest “meaning” might have had to do with community resilience.  Most men experienced the sense of shared duty to protect women and children, with some degree of fungibility or interchangeability. Some duties in life were very gender-based.  Milo Yiannopoulos said as much, that manhood included willingness to lay down one’s life for others, although I can’t find the best link right now, here’s a related one.  But spouses of men who came back from war maimed and disfigured were to be expected to remain interested in their partners for life – an expectation that my projection of fantasy life in my days at NIH attacked.

There are other ways men take risks – dangerous jobs of the Sebastian Junger viariety help men “pay their dues”.  Yes, women can do them sometimes, maybe most of the time.  But I didn’t see any women as hotshots in “Only the Brave”, about wildfire firefighters. All of this invokes the low-level hum of debate over national service.

McCain’s echo of the obligation to offer oneself to military service needs to be considered in light of his reluctance to support the end of “don’t ask don’t tell” at the end of 2010.  Yet today he seems to support the service of some transgender members, and he opposed Trump’s brusque attempt to re-impose a transgender ban on Twitter.  But I advanced arguments in my first DADT book that the possibility of future conscription (or even the “Stop-Loss” backdoor draft of the Iraq war) added to the moral urgency of ending the gay ban and DADT. Few writers tried to make this argument.  My staying in this way may (online with search engines, letting my content go to “It’s Free”) have helped with the repeal.

There is a way that people today take risks that weren’t expected in the past – that is, in going all out in very personal ways, like organ and bone marrow donations, to save lives.  That’s partly because medicine makes such outreach – using your own body components — possible as a new kind of sacrifice.  This gets personal and intimate in ways that were unknown when I was growing up.

The New York Times has a couple of impressive pieces on this topic. Michael Stewart Foley describes “The Moral Case for Draft Resistance” in the 1960s here.  Even more challenging may have been John Kelly’s ancillary statement about the ignorance of Americans who haven’t served in a NYTimes “editorial notebook” piece by Clyde Haberman, which argues for the return of the draft, or maybe some kind of national service (civilian service could recur into old age).  Remember how Charles Moskos had helped author “don’t ask don’t tell” but decided the whole ban should be lifted after 9/11 when he started arguing for return of the draft.

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 at 4:45 PM EDT)

We need to be prepared, as a nation, to house people quickly after catastrophes

I can remember, even living in Arlington having returned to look after Mother, the shock in that late August morning of 2005 learning when I got up that Hurricane Katrina had been much worse than expected.

I would volunteer some time at the Red Cross in nearby Falls Church (mixing the shifts with substitute teaching at the time) finding with many callers there was very little we could do but tell them to wait hours on the line for FEMA.

Over time, a few hundred people settled temporarily in the DC area.  Many more settled in Texas, and I believe that in some cases families, or especially individuals, were housed in private homes.  I at least wondered if we could be asked to do this.  I’ve entertained this kind of emergency before (May 18, 2016).

The Sunday before Hurricane Sandy (which came inland on a Monday night in late October 2012) the pastor at an Arlington VA church gave a sermon on “radical hospitality”. Fortunately, there was little damage in this area from the storm.

I’ve also documented on this blog some of the issues with hosting asylum seekers, which I have suspended as I consider moving (no more details right now).

And I’ve noted the somewhat informal private hosting website “Emergency BNB”. And the sharing economy, developed by companies like Airbnb, many people, especially younger adults, may be used to the idea of keeping their homes ready to be shared, which is not something that would have been very practical for me during most of my own adult life. Younger adults may be less interested in collecting possessions that could be put at risk from a security perspective. Music and film could be stored in the Cloud.

Younger adults living in “earthy” neighborhoods (like New York City’s East Village) or in certain rural areas, even in collectives or intentional communities, and used to social interdependence, may be more willing to share their spaces with less attention to personal, material or legal liability risks.  Many do not have an economically realistic choice, beyond building on common social capital, as Rick Santorum or Charles Murray would describe the idea.

Along these lines, then, I wonder again about emergency housing in the context of disaster or catastrophe preparedness.  I see I took this up Sept. 22, 2016 (before the Trump election) in conjunction with preparedness month.

A few of my friends on Facebook do indeed come from the doomsday prepper crowd, and it rather alarms me how much they are into it.  A sizable number of people do not believe you can count of civilization to last forever.  They see personal self-reliance in a rural home as a moral prerequisite to participating in a world that goes beyond the immediate surroundings. Indeed, ever since 9/11, we have been warned that at some point, whole generations of people may have to rebuild the world from scratch, as in NBC’s series “Revolution” which predicates a bizarre kind of EMP event.  I say I would have nothing to offer such a world at 74,

We could indeed face a grave threat to personal security in the homeland even in 2018.  War with North Korea might be impossible to avoid, and at least a couple small nuclear strikes on the US homeland might be impossible to prevent.  As a matter of policy, what happens to the people who survive but lose everything?  Insurance doesn’t cover war (whether it covers terrorism is controversial).  Will the government indemnify them?  (It more or less did a lot of this after 9/11.)  Or will we depend on the volunteerism of “GoFundMe”? which to me has sounded self-indulgent and tacky sometimes.

It does seem that we need some kind of “national discussion” or town-hall on this.  Would seniors aging alone in oversized homes be able to take people in?  Would we expect that?  Well, we really don’t do that now with our own homeless.

Any North Korean domestic nuclear strike would probably involve a small low-yield nuclear weapon. If you look at charts like this one, you see that the number of casualties and total property damage in a city might be less than one expects.  The radiation damage is another matter.  But one can imagine calls for people in distant states to house and take in the “victims” as they may never have an uncontaminated habitable home neighborhood to return to (even with Katrina that did not hold).  It is appropriate to consider how effective the manufactured housing industry can be (with Katrina the result was not that good).

Again, another issue is the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse, which would damage all electronics in a very wide region.  Have Silicon Valley companies protected their infrastructure from this sort of thing?  One day we could find most of the Internet (and “GoFundMe”) gone forever if they haven’t.  There is very little written about this.

Nobody likes talk like this to be “thinkable”.  But the preppers have a moral point.  Resilient and prepared people are less inviting targets for an otherwise determined enemy.  Maybe that’s what “America first” means.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)

Trump’s transgender ban for the military by Twitter confounds Pentagon, compromises America’s credibility in the face of North Korean threats

Two mornings before North Korea fired an apparently successful parabolic missile test of its longest range device to date, President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender service members in the US military by a 3-part tweet, limited by the 140-character limit (until you embed).

Trump didn’t even “bother” to craft an Executive Order, maybe having been burned by the multiple travel bans.  Presumably he can do that, or he can give the Secretary of Defense Mattis direction to implement what he said in the tweet.

In fact, Mattis was apparently blindsided by the tweet, having expected to have until January 2018 to issue a report on the financial and practical issues about accepting transgender people into the military and possibly offering them sexual reassignment care during their military careers.  The Pentagon will take no action without formal action of some kind from the White House.

As a practical matter, it sounds, off hand, that the Pentagon could stop allowing people to enlist who say they are transgender, and could refuse to continue to pay for surgery.  But existing transgender personnel probably could stay in only if they did not start new treatment.  Even before Bill Clinton started the whole “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, there had been at least one case where a male-to-female enlisted person in Naval Intelligence had been honorably discharged, had surgery on her own, and (under Bush) been hired back into almost the same position as a civilian with the same security clearances.

There was no immediate talk that the measure indirectly threatened the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for (cis-gender) gay men and lesbians in the military.  In fact, the talk even from most Republican members of Congress now was that LGBT people (cis and trans), including John McCain (who had resisted the repeal at the end of 2010) should continue to serve without discrimination.

Previously Missouri congresswoman Vicki Hartzler had introduced a rider to ban transgender troops, claiming that they cost too much money (KCMO, Politco).  Rand (which had authored a huge volume on gays in the military in 1993 which I had used writing my first DADT book) had estimated the annual cost to be something between $2.4 million and $9 million, very small.  Various pundits referred to earlier writings, even by Mattis, critical of social experimentation in the military. That made me wonder in the back of my mind about the 2011 DADT repeal.

Arguments about military readiness and unit cohesion, and the compromised privacy of servicemembers who don’t have the same opportunity for double lives as civilians, have shifted over time.  Generally the military has been less concerned about it during times of real need, as the Army even quietly dropped asking about sexual orientation at draft exams as earlier as 1966.  “Asking” returned after the draft ended (although Selective Service continues, male-only and based on birth gender, although recent bills to require registration of women complicate the debate).  Then we all know “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Privacy and unit cohesion were touted as big issues in 1993 by Nunn and Moskos, but in actual practice (as the 1991 Persian Gulf War had already reinforced) these seemed to be non-issues for younger soldiers, and the same flexibility has included respect for transgender troops.  While in actual practice distraction of troops by diversity was minimal in an authoritarian command environment, socially conservative pundits have always made these “privacy” arguments, even for civilian fire departments back in the 1970s in response for proposals to end gay employment discrimination.

My own personal take is that one of the biggest reasons why discrimination by the military (outside of clear-cut fitness and medical issues and age) is a moral problem is that the rest of the world sometimes looks at all civilian citizens as potential combatants.  This goes back to my own experience with the military draft in the 1960s, when the ability to field a conventional ground force was possibly a strategic component of deterring nuclear war, part of the domino theory. Today the theory gets reinforced by the idea of asymmetric terrorism, as well as the fact that that Internet (and “online reputation” issues) have made double lives impossible.  But in historical perspective, it’s nothing new.  Consider the Battle of Britain, which followed Dunkirk (where civilians rescued soldiers) by a few weeks.

Transgender plastic surgeon Christine McGinn, who has experience as a Navy doctor, appeared on Smerconish today on CNN.

Did Trump simply play a cheap-shot to his base, which he has not been able to enlarge? In a less elite world, indeed there is a sense that gender conformity is needed to defend against external threats, as “common sense”, the way that phrase was used against me during my own Army Basic.  But in a modern world that can evolve into something new, it is not so simple.  Trump doesn’t want to move into the hypermodern world, and neither do a lot of other people, who would be left behind. Gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos had some harsh comments about trans in the military and women in combat, as quoted in another Washington Post article.

I’ll add as of this writing Trump expressed glee at the idea of “watching” Obamacare implode after the GOP failed to pass the Skinny Repeal.  “Watch.  Deal”.  And there are reports he wants to cut off some subsidies now.

There are also reports that new chief of staff Kelly will try to force Trump to stop using his personal Twitter account altogether.  That raises new questions of how he could wage war on the media.  So far (contradicting my early fears) he hasn’t disturbed the standalone bloggers.

(Posted: Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT)

Bloggers, press credentials, and “legitimacy”

Last week I went to a small demonstration about the lapsing of network neutrality on the Capitol grounds.  After all the speeches, Sen. Markin (D-MA) asked if there were questions, from the press (non-restrictive, I thought). But when I didn’t have a media company employing me (I said I was “independent”) I was “silenced”. Here is my legacy blog account of the incident.

Then, yesterday “it” happened again.  I got an email from a PR company about an opportunity to interview a particular transgender activist, who was going to speak in Washington at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers.  I asked if I could just go to the meeting.  Apparently, only if I worked for a media company.  I got the impression the PR person wouldn’t have offered the interview had he realized I work solo.

In fact, I get a lot of emails asking if I would interview someone.  Some, but probably a minority, of them mention the possibility of articles on one of my legacy Blogger sites (like “Bill of GLBT Issues”) which obviously don’t come from a “professional news organization.” Most of these invitations are with persons with very narrowly focused niche issues (sometimes embedded in identity politics), or sometimes very specific products or services to sell (of the “self-help” variety), not of broadband interest, so I usually don’t try to follow up.  But what if I got an invitation to talk to someone involved in an issue I view as critical and underreported by the mainstream press, like power grid security?

One of the best links on this issue seems to come from NPPA, “The Voice of Visual Journalists”, which poses the blunt question “How do I obtain press credentials if I do not work for a newspaper or magazine or I am a freelancer?”

There is a US Press Association which appears to offer cards for a membership fee, and I’m not sure how well recognized it is by the industry.

Some videos suggest that “YouTubers” and Bloggers can get press passes for trade shows (like CES) if they are persistent enough.

But many other sources on the Web (for example, WikiHow) suggest that you need to work for someone, and get paid for what you do, at least with a contractual agreement if not an actual employee.   It would be a good question if you can work for your own company in this sense.  Maybe you would have to register your business with the state you live or work in, or show that it pays its own way with normal accounting.

Of course, it’s obvious that many events have to keep the audience small and limited because of space and security reasons (White House briefings).

On the other hand, many events (such as QA’s for newly released motion pictures at film festivals) are open to the public (buying tickets) and take questions from anyone.  Most of the video I present on my parallel “media reviews” blog (older than this one) come from this setup.

There’s a potential dark cloud down the road regarding the issue of press credentials or legitimacy (v. amateurism).  Imagine a world a few years from now where all network neutrality has been eliminated, and only the websites of “credentialed” organizations can be connected to ISP’s   Sounds like Russia or China, maybe.

On the other hand, Donald Trump has expressed a dislike of mainstream “liberal” media companies (CNN, most of the television broadcast networks, most of the big city newspapers), but respects only outlets like Fox, OANN, and maybe even Breitbart, maybe even Milo.  Maybe he actually respects me.

For the record, let me say that I am interested in working with news outlets on some critical issues.  I can’t give more details right now.

(Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 11 AM)

Personal aesthetics can shape an identity before sexuality does: the debate over privatization of marriage

There were two developments during my own childhood and adolescence that established “who I am”.  They seem intrinsic and deep-rooted, and set up a paradox that affects everything else  These evolutions deal with music and sexuality.

I started taking piano in third grade, in February 1952, when we got a Kimball console piano.  That’s gone, and now replaced by a (much lighter and more portable) 88-key Casio, which hooks to Sibelius (on the MacBook) for composition and really is pretty good as to tone and dynamics and pedal.  In fact, I need to up my skills in using these tools to really make my compositions interesting to professionals.

I don’t remember “why” I wanted to take piano.  But once I started, it seems to install my identity.  I don’t have a specific past-life recollection, but it seemed to make my existence indefinite, preceding my birth and even conception (in 1942).

I started composing around age 12, leaving to a series of works of increasing complexity as I’ve documented on my “media reviews” blog (here).  My esthetic relation to music was one of submission to a certain experience of feeling.  I progressed quickly up through high school, winning some awards in festival concerts.

I had an old RCA record player in the basement, that tracked heavy (at 10 grams).  Slowly I accumulated some mono records of major works.  By 10th grade or so, I became conscious of the “chills and fever” effect of the way some romantic works ended, particularly piano concertos and symphonies.    The formula for a big cyclic work in a minor key was to end in the Picardy major with a triumphant “big tune”.  I think the first work that introduced this experience to me was Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, Op. 18, in C Minor. (Today, I like the more subtle Third, Op. 30) better.)  I learned a few of the Op. 32 Preludes, including the triumphant D-flat Major prelude that concludes the set. The other work that introduced me to this experience at first was Grieg’s A Minor Piano Concerto.

I remember much better my relation to music as a young adult, starting about the time of the William and Mary Expulsion (well documented in my books) in 1961.  I attempted a couple large works, including a Third Sonata which I started over the winter 1961-1962 before reentering college at GWU.  I more or less have an “acceptable” manuscript in pieces (a lot of it in Sibelius) today, as I have spent more time on it in the past two years (on the Finale).

During that “terrible” hiatus at home after the Expulsion, I did get a recording of Bruno Walter’s performance of the 3-movement form of Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. I’ve discussed completion versions, especially Letocart’s, elsewhere, but one interesting detail was that the first side split the Scherzo in the middle of what Letocart calls the “Hallelujah” theme. The record player cartridge and stylus had deteriorated, leading to inner-groove distortion of that theme.  I could not earn my own money yet, and my father resisted spending money on music when I couldn’t and needed to pay for college. Nevertheless, it got fixed, and I had a VM stereo in the fall of 1962.  Getting used to multiple speakers and then stereo (with all the problems of inferior players and record wear back then) provided a new level or aesthetic “submission”, especially with a few Mahler Symphonies and then Beethoven’s Ninth.  Throughout most of my working adult life, I collected records, then cassettes, and then CD’s, and still do buy CD’s of emerging artists.   But in recent years, like everyone else, I’ve gotten used to playing classical music on YouTube or from the Cloud.  But the conclusion of the Bruckner Ninth would create a personal irony (as demonstrated in a short film that Letocart provides) which I would in outlining the conclusion to my own Sonata.

One aspect of this whole experience was that “aesthetic submission” provided what seemed like access to real feeling, and made relationships (dating, courtship, marriage, parenthood) seem like an afterthought, a totally privatized experience, with “different stroke for different folks”. I can link all this up to the Polarity Theory of Pail Rosenfels and the Ninth Street Center, which, as a “subjective feminine”, I’ve already discussed elsewhere.

But the other big “development” that filled in my identity would be sexuality, particularly homosexuality. I started “noticing” men gradually, but I was quite aware of my sensitivity on these matters of proper male body image probably by age 12 or so.  There would be a few small incidents over the years that would reinforce this impression.  But at age 18, in August 1961, when I was with a particular companion to whom I felt attracted, I felt extreme arousal.  I don’t want to be graphic here (I’ll stay in PG-13 territory) but the event was transformative for me.  The other person did not “respond” but I would have gone through with it if he had.   I found that experience of “getting excited by …” could happen in certain other situations that ordinarily imply losing or submission Later, as I was in my adult life in the 1973-1975, becoming fully “human” with that “true” first experience became quite a preoccupation but it would happen. I would of course gradually learn about heterosexual passion intellectually, but my father’s prediction that “one day blue eyes will confuse you” seemed irrelevant to defining me, beside the point.

What seems remarkable about the sexuality is that it was stimulated, ironically, by conservative values.  I was attracted to young men who “had it all”  I saw undisturbed maleness as a “virtue” with almost religious passion.  I viewed the prospect of what could happen to young men’s bodies in war, or from disease, or eventual aging, as desecration.  I actually viewed with contempt the rare male (in those days who make a spectacle of gender bending or today’s “gender fluidity”. I needed to believe in my idol to be able to experience sexual pleasure at all, even in a fantasy mode.  This counteracts the practical need for emotional resilience needed in marriage, where a partner needs to remain intimate even if the other person has a physical calamity, whether from war, terror, crime, disease, or just growing old. This pattern also undermines getting personal satisfaction out of interacting with cognitively distant people in need, as through intense volunteerism.

Therefore, I tended to look at people very critically. An close connection with someone who had “issues” could not be emotionally important to me.  This seems to bear on areas that Milo Yiannopoulos, in particular, has taken up in his tirades about, for example. “fat shaming”   Complicating the picture is that I grew up in (in practical terms) a racially segregated society.  My ideas of “desirability” for erotic “upward affiliation” pertained much more readily to white males than any other (“people of color”).

This has a bearing on any sense of belonging today.  It’s much easier to find real meaning in helping others if you “belong” to groups, and it’s easier to “belong” if you go through the socialization of courtship and conventional marriage and becoming a biological parent first.  Becoming a parent upends upward affiliation, and makes the experience of having others depend on you real and valuable,, But you have to be open to intimacy (“the family bed”) under mutable circumstances and sometimes externally imposed hardships.  I was not.  It sounds a little cowardly of me.  One eternal consequence is that I have no lineage, and, as an only child, neither do my parents; it dead-ends with me.

There were other factors that indeed rounded out my sense of identity. I had a certain fascination with “abstract geography” and a sense of elevation and place (as when I took up hiking later in my teen years) as a grounding in science.  I also relished the mathematical abstractions of competitive chess, as if that were an oxymoron;  chess games seemed to map to “real” team sports.  (The map is probably cleaner to American football than to baseball or even European soccer, because in NFL football, the defense can score points.)  That led me to one experience of group affiliation, rooting for a baseball team, who were the various incarnations of the Washington Senators (Twins, Rangers, Expos, Nats), with that horrible 18-game losing streak in the summer of 1959 (and that blown 7-run lead in the bottom of the ninth in Boston in `1961, right after high school graduation).  I would skip out on Tribunals but “take one for the team” a little bit when I was finally drafted, after graduate school, in 1968.  I would make a sacrifice, incurring slight hearing loss and tinnitus in the right ear from my experience on the rifle range at Fort Jackson. Even today, as shown on a recent Sinclair News Channel 8 discussion (“Government Matters”) it’s not clear that the “need” for conscription (probably gender neutral) can’t come back (and in my mind this always had a bearing on “don’t ask don’t tell”).

The whole conscription and student deferment issue was the moral issue of my own coming of age. In my own mind, it connected to the idea of “station in life” (as intrinsic and not necessarily equal to everyone else’s) and “right-sizing”.  Grades were my currency during my youth, which was actually an eventful, rich time. But I had to succeed in school to have a legitimate and honorable place in the world and not simply become a fungible sacrifice for someone else’s tribal agenda.

Alyssa Rosenberg today, in the Washington Post, relates how overt “submission” to art and sexual imagery attracts terrorists as “idol worship” and apostasy, in her column “Why terrorists attack concert halls” concerning the Manchester attack on May 22 (and earlier attacks, especially Paris).  Ii think you could add comments about alienation of certain young men who feel wired into brotherhood and tribal behavior. Along these lines, look at a recent column by David Brooks on how democratic capitalism (so good for me) has failed “them” and made me seem like an enemy to them.

On Vox, Sean Illing takes up these issues with an interview with Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky, “Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Worst and Best”.

(Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

Families of San Bernadino terror attack victims sue Facebook, Twitter, Google over “propaganda” arguments that evade Section 230

Families of victims of the fall 2015 terror attack in San Bernadino, CA are suing the three biggest social media companies (that allow unmonitored broadcast of content in public mode), that is Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Similar suits have been filed by victims of the Pulse attack in Orlando and the 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

Station WJLA in Washington DC, a subsidiary of the “conservative” (perhaps mildly so) Sinclair Broadcast Group in Baltimore, put up a news story Tuesday morning, including a Scribd PDF copy of the legal complaint in a federal court in central California, here. I find it interesting that Sinclair released this report, as it did so last summer with stories about threats to the power grids, which WJLA and News Channel 8 in Washington announced but then provided very little coverage of to local audiences (I had to hunt it down online to a station in Wisconsin).

Normally, Section 230 protects social media companies from downstream liability for the usual personal torts, especially libel, and DNCA Safe Harbor protects them in a similar fashion from copyright liability if they remove content when notified.

However, the complaint seems to suggest that the companies are spreading propaganda and share in the advertising revenue earned from the content, particularly in some cases from news aggregation aimed at user “Likenomics”.

Companies do have a legal responsibility to remove certain content when brought to their attention, including especially child pornography and probably sex trafficking, and probably clearcut criminal plans. They might have legal duties in wartime settings regarding espionage, and they conceivably could have legal obligations regarding classified information (which is what the legal debate over Wikileaks and Russian hacking deals with).

But “propaganda” by itself is ideology. Authoritarian politicians on both the right and left (Vladimir Putin) use the word a lot, because they rule over populations that are less individualistic in their life experience than ours, where critical thinking isn’t possible, and where people have to act together. The word, which we all learn about in high school civics and government social studies classes (and I write this post on a school day – and I used to sub), has always sounded dangerous to me.

But the propagation of ideology alone would probably be protected by the First Amendment, until it is accompanied by more specific criminal or military (war) plans. A possible complication could be the idea that terror ideology regards civilians as combatants.

Facebook recently announced it would add 3000 associates to screen for terror or hate content, but mainly on conjunction with Facebook Live broadcasts of crimes or even suicide. I would probably be a good candidate for one of these positions, but I am so busy working for myself I don’t have time (in “retirement”, which is rather like “in relief” in baseball).

Again, the Internet that we know with unfiltered user-generated content is not possible today if service companies have to pre-screen what gets published for possible legal problems. Section 230 will come under fire for other reasons soon (the Backpage scandal).

I have an earlier legacy post about Section 230 and Backpage here.

(Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

Duty, risk-taking, helping others, and self-promotion

It’s a vague and general principle in the insurance business that some activities are more readily underwritten when there is outside, third-party supervision of the endeavors.

That gets to be testy when the aim is to help others.

I wrote my three books and developed my websites and blogs without supervision. The lack of peer supervision was actually an issue back in the Summer of 2001 when I was turned down for a renewal of a “media perils” individual policy that National Writers Union was selling as an intermediary.

Yes, I took some risks, and I probably knew what I was doing better than a lot of amateur writers, with regard to areas like copyright and defamation. I did become infatuated with the implications of my own narrative, which are considerable.  I did look forward to the fame, or at least notoriety. But was I helping anyone?

Well, the central topic of the first book was “gays in the military,” and in fact I knew a number of the servicemembers fighting the ban (and the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy) well, at least by correspondence.  I would not have desired a romantic relationship with any or many of them, but I did feel legitimately connected in some personal way. I think I helped, although indirectly.  My staying in the debate for so many years in the search engines did help make the final repeal in 2010-2011 more likely.

But I also had made some unusual arguments.  They were based in part on accepting the idea of duty, of the necessity for shared sacrifice and resilience.  Specifically, I talked about the Vietnam era military draft and my own experience with it, and about the idea that it was still possible to reinstate it.  I recalled all too well the controversy over student deferments, implied cowardice, and the connection between risk and vulnerability.

I’ve thought about the “duty” concept in connection to the need for refugees and asylum seekers for assistance, sometimes very personalized.  One idea that comes through in discussions, especially with lawyers, that anyone offering hosting or major support should have some third-party supervision.  That usually would come from a social services agency, or possibly a faith-based group, as well sometimes local or state agencies.  Of course, the capacity of individuals to offer this has become muddled by Donald Trump and all his flailing and failing travel bans.  The desirable supervision is much better established in Canada (and some European countries) where sponsorship comes with some legally-driven responsibilities comparable, say, to foster care.  In the United States, given the political climate, the volume of people assisted is lower, and the risk or cost, whatever that is, gets spread out among more people.  The situation is even murkier for asylum seekers than for refugees, since their access to benefits and work permission is less, as has been explained here before.

I don’t yet know how this will turn out for me, but I agree that any adherence to “duty” would require some supervision.  So, I am fussier with this than I was with the risk management for my own writing.  But what about the people?  True, I don’t feel personally as connected to the people in this situation as I was with the military issue.  I have to admit that I have led a somewhat sheltered life.  For most of my adult life, the “system” has actually worked for me, and I have been associated with others who more or less play by the rules and benefit from doing so.  Since retiring, I’ve seen that the interpersonal aspects of need do bring on a certain culture shock. The system simply does not work for a lot of poorer people, who sometimes find that they have no reason to play by the same rules, but who do tie into social capital.  The system also fails “different” people, some not as well off as “Smallville‘s” teen Clark Kent. I can understand duty (accompanying “privilege”), but the meaning expected to be attached to helping others in a much more personal way is rather alien to me.

The whole question of housing refugees and asylum seekers (and I’ll even limit the scope of this remark to assuming “legal” presence in the U.S.) fits into a bigger idea about social resilience and radical hospitality, most of all for those (like me) with “accidentally” inherited property.  I do recall that after Hurricane Katrina there was a call for helping to house people in other states (sometimes in homes, sometimes with relatives).  Even though most people want to be near their homes to rebuild after disaster, this sort of need (a kind of “emergency bnb” lower-case) could come back again after earthquakes or major terror strikes or even a hostile attack (North Korea is starting to look really dangerous).  In the worst cases, the nation’s survival could depend on it.

(Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

The electronics “travel ban” (from a few overseas airports for now) begs big future questions about staying connected “on the road”, especially for small businesses

In late March, the United States and then the UK instituted a ban on most electronics (larger than a smart phone) in the cabins of direct flights from a number of airports in the Middle East and Africa, largely Muslim countries.  The UK list is slightly smaller than the US list.  So far, other western countries have not yet followed suit.

NBC News produced a story by Harriet Baskas March 22 on how travelers were irked here.  Obviously there could be issues about cancellations and trying to change to connecting flights in Europe.  I’ll come back to that.

Firday, March 31,  CNN produced (in a story by Evan Perez, Jodi Enda, and CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr) what it calls an exclusive story on the intelligence behind the travel ban.  The claim is that associates of Al Qaeda, largely in enclaves in Yemen, have developed ways to hide plastic explosives inside laptops, possibly in a DVD bay, in such a way that laptops would still start if travelers are challenged at airports.  There is concern that terrorists might have acquired prototype screening machines to test their devices.  Presumably these devices can be detonated only manually.  But theoretically, devices could be improvised that could be detonated by cell phones even if stored in cargo bays, if close enough to other similar devices.

DHS would obviously be concerned that terrorists could communicate in different parts of the world and spread this “expertise”.  Through the dark web, such information might become available to disaffected “lone wolf” or small cell groups in the U.S.,

Confounding the logic of the ban is the recent concern over the safety of lithium batteries in cargo. A few older laptops from the middle 2000s have caught fire, at least when charging, as happened with some teens in California recently.   But the concern for safely of lithium batteries in laptops is much less than for other devices, including some Samsung smart phones (some makes may not be brought onto planes) and hoverboards, which have caught fire in apartments and private homes while charging.

Also countermanding this picture are recent reports of research (as at Stanford) showing that aluminum based batteries may be safer than lithium and could be engineered to be acceptable replacements for many devices.

AC360, Anderson Cooper’s news analysis program, interviewed some experts on May 31,  Saturday, April 1, 2017. CNN interviewed Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General for the US Department of Transportation.  Later Robert Baer was interviewed.  Most of these guests expressed the obvious view that the Mideast cabin laptop ban begs the question as to whether it will be expanded, and could eventually become routine, even on domestic US flights.

DHS says that it has multiple layers of security, which includes the latest screening machines.  DHS apparently believed that airports in the affected countries did not have the same level of security.

Some observers have even claimed that the laptop bans were instituted out of Trump-style “protectionism”.

Business travelers generally need to carry their electronics with them and work on planes.  Owners of small businesses also would need to, as would “professional” journalists.

The worst case scenario would be sudden bans of all electronics on flights, even though in the West hundreds of millions of people fly with no intention of harming others.  This sounds like the “trojan horse” argument in the immigration debate, which Donald Trump has leveraged.

Tech companies could envisions solutions.  Until now, the TSA has always told air travelers not to check laptops and tablets, possibly because of the lithium issue, but largely because the devices are likely to be damaged.  It is possible to imagine sturdy (and explosion-proof) containers in which they could be packed, with the cases sold on Amazon or by stores like Best Buy.  It is possible to imagine expedited services to ship electronics for longer trips by UPS or FedEx to airport stores to be picked up on arrival, for use  after arriving.  There have been issues with bringing conventional photo film home on planes in the past, and I have mailed it home (just USPS)  before to get around the issue.

Frida Ghitis wrote on CNN about her experience with having to pack her laptop and other devices suddenly. CNBC reports that at least two Mideast airlines loaned passengers corporate laptops for inflight use, which works for passengers who have saved their data on memory sticks or in the Cloud.

Its also possible to envision a ground rental industry comparable to car rentals (maybe rented with cars).  But security for the devices would be a huge issue requiring innovation.  Right now the travel industry is not prepared to offer these services, because it has always assumed (since the late 1990s at least) that most travelers want to carry their own electronics.

Hotels do have business centers, which are generally inadequate with only one or two not very secure computers.  I use these only to print boarding passes before returning.

Back in the period between 1997 and up to 2006, after I had established my online sites (doaskdotell.com and the prior hppub.com) I sometimes traveled without electronics.  At the time, it was common for airports to require laptop startup (not always).  More recently, laptops in TSA-approved bags have not had to be started.  But in the early 2000’s there were more facilities in hotels or nearby Kinkos’ stores for checking email.  At that time, I often checked my sites to make sure they were up but did not try to update them online.  I did use my AOL email online.  I did this one on week-long trip to Phoenix and Las Vegas from Minnesota in 2000, probably checking email four times.  One hotel had Kinkos next door.  In Europe, in both 1999 and 2001, I carried a primitive cell phone, but no computers.  A hotel in Bilbao, Spain had a really large business center with very good response time and plenty of terminals.  I was able to find well run Internet cafes in London.  But I don’t know if I could find this level or service today.

Since taking up blogging at the start of 2006, I feel it is important to be able to update Blogger every day (almost), and WordPress blogs like this one somewhat less frequently.  Were I to receive a “complaint”, I need to be able to fix a problem when “on the road”.  (I don’t get the last at-bat, by analogy to baseball.)

My understanding that only “mobile” blogs on Blogger can be updated by phones (this may have changed, typical link). Mobile blogging on WordPress is possible (link).  I am not sure now whether these techniques could work with my setup now.  A small keyboard would help.  The last time I tried, Blogger could not be updated from an iPad without third party apps.  All of this I would need to check into later.

All of this could preview an environment where eventually web hosting companies could require third party contacts to update content in case of complaints and the owner could not be reached.  I’ve never heard this idea mentioned, but it sounds plausible.  (This would lead to discussion of the digital executor issue, which I’ve covered on my main legacy blog on Blogger).

Conventional social media (Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram) are much more easily used in a mobile-only environment without access to computing resources.   But these don’t serve the same self-publishing interests that true web hosting (including embedded Blogging) services.  I can also become relevant whether one is posting on a “free blog” or whether it is hosted (which right now, to my understanding, happens only with WordPress).

The ability to stay connected on the road is potentially very critical to the way I conduct my own business.  I will stay abreast of it and report.

(Posted: Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

Update: Wednesday, April 5, 2017, 12 noon EDT

CNN has a report that more airports and countries may be added to the electronics ban, but expansion of the ban is not necessarily eminent.

Updated: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT

CBS reports that the TSA and DHS are considering adding all or most European and UK airports to the electronics ban.  The policy would seemingly affect only flights to the U.S.  It is not clear if it makes sense to put a lot of lithium batteries in checked luggage, and the policy would contradict previous TSA guidance that laptops are likely to be damaged in checked luggage.  Can proper containers be designed and sold?  Could users instead just ship laptops back home by FedEx, UPS (or ordinary mail)?  I used to do that with photographic film because it could not survive carry-on security machines.  Do we need to build an adequate computer rental (like car rental) business for travelers. at least for international?

 

Vaccine development is still the best prevention against bio-terror or airline-spread pandemics

Among the major perils that can seriously disrupt western civilization as we know it would be future pandemics.

I haven’t covered the idea as much here as some other threats (EMP, cyberwar, solar storms, nuclear) and I actually don’t think that the threats are as likely.

Nevertheless, it’s good to review the various pieces in play.

In modern times, the most obvious major pandemic has, of course, been HIV, which grew in the male gay community and overseas in other communities, exploding with a kind of big bang in the early 1980s, with social and political consequences already widely covered (as with the HBO film of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” in 2014).  But HIV, as an STD, is extremely unlikely to affect the general public outside of restricted modes of transmission.  Other viruses, including recently Hepatitis C (and b) have behaved in a somewhat similar fashion without becoming enormous threats.  More recently, Zika virus has presented the idea of a virus transmitted both by sex and by arthropods (mosquitoes), which can pose some theoretical dilemmas about “amplification”.  Imagine a sci-fi scenario where a novel virus is normally harmless but can gradually make a population sterile (“Children of Men”, 2006), or pose novel results involving personal identity (as in my own novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother”).

After 9/11, the idea of bioterror took root very quickly with the almost coincidental “Amerithrax” anthrax attacks, that apparently started in Florida with an attack on a company that publishes supermarket tabloids.  In the beginning the attacks appeared to come from domestic Islamic extremism, but later attention was drawn to a scientist at Fort Dietrick, MD, with tragic results.  I do remember arrests at a Trenton NJ apartment complex (not too far from where I lived on my first job) that never got mentioned again.  Back in 1999 (two years before 9/11), ABC Nightline did a several-evening simulation of a fictitious anthrax powder attack in the BART subway in San Francisco, where powder with spores was thrown into a tunnel.  So the idea had been thought of before.  After the 2001 incidents, people were sometimes questioned by police when any powdery substance appeared in mail they had sent, an idea that would never have occurred to anyone before.

More speculation has been drawn to the possibility of re-weaponizing smallpox (as in Revolutionary and even French and Indian War times).  Daniel Percival developed this possibility in the FX 2002 film “Smallpox 2002: Silent Weapon”.  All of this depends on the fact that the practice of vaccinating Americans for smallpox has been allowed to lapse.

But the biggest concern in the past fifteen years or so has been the possibility of pandemics based on respiratory illnesses, mainly influenzas (with the Spanish Flu of 1918 the archtype) and SARS-like illnesses, caused by corona viruses, most of which are relatively harmless.  Major films on this issue include “Contagion” (2011, Steven Soderbergh), “Pandemic” (2007, Hallmark), and “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America” (2006, ABC Studios).

Wikipedia list many “avian influenza” viruses but two of the most important are H5N1 and H7N9 (which a China Today newspaper wrote about recently).  The practice of having poultry and farm animals very near houses in poor countries (or especially in Southeast Asia) raises the probability of animal-man transmission, and so far subsequent person-person transmission remains rare, but it if happens, air travel can spread it around the world.  The avian influenza issue raises the idea of “herd behavior” and how ordinarily private behavior sometimes has major secondary public consequences.

Then, of course, we have the history of Ebola Virus hemorrhagic fever, as broke out in West Africa in 2014.  A number of doctors and health care workers or relatives became infected, and a few returned to the U.S., including one death.  In fact, Ebola is a Category A bioterrorism agent  (whereas bird flu in Category C).  A major controversy developed over the need to isolate or quarantine those who might have been exposed, as on airline flights.

All of this brings up two major questions.  One is vaccine development, and the interest of the public in accepting the vaccines, given a new administration somewhat anti-science and sympathetic to vaccine denial.  Indeed, an effective Ebola virus vaccine may soon be available, which would be essential to encouraging humanitarian volunteer work overseas (again, we have an administration that has the near-sighted nationalistic “take care of your own first” value system).  I think we could become more pro-active in developing avian influenza vaccines now, as well as vaccines against corona-virus infections, because natural resistance to these agents does develop with exposure.

I note the flawed thinking behind the vaccine denial movement (as in the film “Vaxxed“), which seems, again, to stem from a “take care of your own first” value system (sometimes religion).

The other measure would be social distancing, and isolation of patients.  This has been used (as for example to stop SARS from spreading in 2003) but it hardly sounds practical in the long run, and tends to invoke draconian powers from government.

In fact, the CDC attracted controversy with its “Final Rule of Control of Communicable Diseases: Domestic and Foreign”, issued January 19, on the last day of the Obama administration.

Major reading includes (from the 1990s) Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone” and Laurie Garrett’s “The Coming Plague: Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance“.

(Posted: Friday, March 10, 2017 at 4 PM EST)