U.S. needs a missile defense against North Korea or rogue states that would approach 100% reliability; nothing less will be acceptable

One of the fundamental issues in personal ethics has to do with facing singularities in life.  We will all die someday, and face something at the end, which could be sudden and random or predictable and prolonged.  But facing sudden violence from an enemy, especially fed by resentment, is especially problematical; for me, pimping victimization just won’t get it.

We generally think about appropriateness of behavior and bearing in terms of playing by the rules of the system, of “democratic capitalism” as it is in the West, given a narrow focus on personal responsibility and transparent consequences, with the expectation that the legal and physical infrastructures will always function with stability as they do now.  People who do well in life legitimately (from any Western or reasonably stable country) generally deal with this personalized moral paradigm well.  But a sizable minority of people (at least in my own social media feeds) talk as if they believe everyone has an obligation that they could start out with nothing and start over in a post-technology world – the doomsday preppers.

While there were scattered kooky publications predicting financial ruin throughout the nineties, most of us suddenly felt we had to deal with the idea of sudden apocalypse after 9/11.  Many asymmetric threats, including small nuclear bombs and dirty bombs, as well as biological weapons, became the subject of widespread speculation.  The anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11 contributed.  An online preview of a chapter on terrorism in my DADT II book got hacked on April Fools Day, 2002, at exactly the point where I was talking about small nuclear weapons.

Like Dr. Strangelove, we’ve learned to live with all this, and the fear, from my perspective, has receded.  But the scare has returned with the increasing threats from North Korea.  There are two main threats.  The most obvious would be North Korea’s long range ICBM’s actually being able to deliver thermonuclear weapons on US cities.  Off hand, it sounds like this may be more difficult for North Korea to achieve than most reports (and Kim Jong Un’s bravado) suggest but by mid 2019 it would probably be a realistic threat.  But in the meantime, based on scattered reports (including James Woolsey’s) it sounds like North Korea might well be able to detonate an EMP weapon at fairly high altitude, from either a satellite or missile;  this may be easier to do.  Such an event would much more likely be an E1 (from a fission device) than an E3 (fusion, or Carrington solar storms) but it could severely damage the US technological infrastructure and home devices, unless they were shielded. That’s why I disagree with some speculations that North Korea would only use nuclear blasts.

While North Korea has said it would use the weapons only if it felt threatened, it has recently said that all of its nukes are pointed at the US only. (That’s absurd; only the medium or long range ones can reach US territory.)  Since most of North Korea’s people as individuals have almost nothing, Kim Jong Un can play the card of targeting US civilians for personal loss, having everything to lose personally.  This was a common tactic of revolutionary communism in the 60s and 70s (consider the Khmer Rouge, and Patty Hearst, for that matter), long before Al Qaeda brought its own horror to American civilians. I think of this as the “Scarlet O’Hara” problem, in the opening of “Gone with the Wind”, where Scarlet first contemplates that her privileged life could be taken away from her by force during war.  But she gets it back (“I’ll never be hungry again”).  But maybe the rest of us would not be so personally resilient. (Think about a similar scene in the middle of “Cold Mountain”—“I can embroider but I can’t darn!”)

The concern about EMP has been known a long time (a Popular Mechanics magazine issue called attention it a week before 9/11) but concern increased somewhat in 2009 with the publication of Fortschen’s novel “One Second After”, which has yet to make it to film. Ted Koppel’s 2015 “Lights Out” book has reinforced the concern, as has perhaps NBC’s series “Revolution” (which really offers a different explanation for the blackout).  The US has an EMP commission, which was reportedly defunded in October.  As I’ve noted, it’s mostly conservative media outlets which have been willing to talk about this, some of them reporting explicit EMP threats from Kim and reporting that Trump recently has said he understands the threat.  So far, Huffington Post is the only major “liberal” publication to deal with it in detail.

That brings us to the subject of US missile defense.  If in fact NORAD and similar systems could knock down 100% of missiles that North Korea or any future rogue state could fire, the US citizens would not have to take the nuclear threat from Kim personally, as aimed at them out of vengeance.

Mainstream journalistic reports on current capacity are not too encouraging. A Washington Post article Nov. 29 by Bonnie Berkowitz and Aaron Steckelberg talk about a GMD system that right now could handle “only” 44 missiles.  (I thought, that’s the maximum number of characters in an IBM mainframe dataset name!)  But the New York Times on Nov. 16 has an article about layered defense by David Sanger and William Broad. PBS News Hour after Thanksgiving gave a more pessimistic assessment.

What, we may ask, happened to Reagan’s Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative)  proposal of 1983?  SDI would not have defended against all kinds of threats, but one of the issues was that the very concept contradicted MAD (mutually assured destruction) so it was seen as inappropriate for the traditional Cold War with the Soviet Union and China. But it makes a lot more sense in defending against rogue nations, who also could hire clandestine terrorists (as from Al Qaeda or ISIS).

An effective defense system would have to anticipate submarine launches or possibly from rogue hijacked ships (as seems to happen in “One Second After” and is speculated in Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken”).

This brings up my own background.  Early in my career, my background seemed to point to defense, and my second full time job was working coding missile intercept subroutines in FORTRAN (later assembler) at the Naval Command System Support Activity (NAVCOSSACT) at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington DC, from 1971-1972, about nineteen months.  I worked in a four-story building near the river and Water Street which surely has been renovated by now, beyond recognition; but there were no windows inside. One of the systems was called “COMINT” and the results of the simulations were to be used in the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks). Perhaps the result of these talks was a scaling back of defensive systems.  But I know from having worked there that the mathematics and theory of how to do everything was quite advanced at the time, 45 years ago.

One reason for my leaving this job and going to Univac in New Jersey in 1972 was the issue of my getting a Top Secret Clearance (I had Secret only) given my pseudo-psychiatric history after my expulsion from William and Mary in the Fall of 1961 (for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean covertly). I would have my programs keypunched (or would punch them myself) and turn in compiles and test shots upstairs at a “production control center”.  Eventually the modules and results would be taken to an “inner sanctum” of other programmers with top secret clearances.  We surely are way beyond all this now.

While in the Army (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, 1968), I spent a summer in the Pentagon.  I do remember conversations to the effect that the draft, enhancing conventional capability, were seen as part of psychological nuclear deterrent by enemies (i.e., we could demand some sacrifice by individuals if we had to).  I’ll get more into the “McNamara’s Morons” issue in a book review soon.  But the issue of exposure of civilians to involuntary risk and inequitable sacrifice (the Battle of Britain issue in 1940) was on people’s minds.  We see that today the way we refer to Vietnam-era draft dodging (both Clinton and Trump) by politicians today. I would go to the library and read articles on the impacts of nuclear strikes on various cities (I remember one about St. Louis, and in 1983 the TV movie “The Day After” would show Kansas City in such a situation; or later, “Testament“, showing northern  California residents awaiting radiation sickness after San Francisco gets it). Even then, though, the ability of the US to defend itself with missiles was said to be considerable, following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which had unfolded suddenly while I was a pseudo-patient at NIH, and with my daytime student passes, the only one on the ward who understood what was going on.

I also worked three summers (1965 through 1967) at David Taylor Model Basin (near Washington) while finishing graduate work at KU; similarly, it seemed that weapons systems detection systems were really quite advanced then. Although computing has become personalized in a revolutionary way since then (the Internet and social media), the basic command and control hardware and software were intact in the 1960s, when we put a man on the Moon.

So, coming back to where we are with missile defense today, in short, it is not politically controversial to expect missile defense approaching 100%.  Having that capability would take Kim Jong Un’s direct threats to individual Americans (I take them personally) off the table.  Nothing less than that should be acceptable.

It would be necessary to take down missiles even before they enter continental US air space.  Missile tests that result in missiles go beyond Japan out into the Pacific should be shot down.

But, there are those in the world who want to see everyone brought equally low, to start over. That is radicalism 101.  It also relates to nihilism. (The extreme Left wants this to happen to almost everyone, like in North Korea;  the extreme Right wants to waste those whom it deems unfit to live – that’s what Nazism was all about.)  Right now, we have to wonder if we’ll have the world as we know it eighteen months from now.   There are plenty of moralizers on social media who will preach mandatory prepping for everyone;  you don’t know if thirty minutes from now, the lights go out forever.  It shouldn’t be that way.  We need to do the least controversial thing to protect ourselves, and make our missile defense solid.  Maybe then I could personally pay more attention to more localized “identity politics” which seems pretty meaningless right now.

The Libertarian Party had stressed missile defense, while avoiding foreign engagements, back in the 1990s, as Harry Browne had explained in his book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World“.  I remember his talking about this at a conference in Manassas VA in May 1996.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2018. At 9:30 PM EST)

Huffington Post has been running a series on North Korea’s potential EMP threat, and now seems to have a solution

In previous posts I have noted that the discussion of the EMP threats to the United States, from weapons acquired by terrorist organizations or (as of much more concern recently) rogue or hostile smaller states like North Korea (and possibly Iran in the future) have largely taken place in conservative media.  It is true that a fewer high profile conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich have discussed the threat, but their warnings tend to be forgotten.  The most notable Democratic (Clinton era) appointee to talk about this has been former CIA director James Woolsey, who thinks that North Korea already could have the ability to launch such an attack from a satellite as well as an ICBM.

It is also true that the Department of Energy (in Oak Ridge TN) and National Academy of Sciences have been publishing peer-reviewed papers on the threat (most notably with respect to large solar storms) for a number of years, as I found when I made a personal trip to Oak Ridge in July 2013, which I have already covered on older blogs.

On Dec. 20, Dennis Santiago, Managing Director, Total Bank Solutions and US National Policy Strategic Thinker published a piece in the “liberal” Huffington Post, “Neutering North Korea’s EMP Threat: Making the US Power Grid Impervious Is Achievable”.  (I thought, that meant neutering Kim Jong Un like he had been a tomcat, something Milo would say.) Quickly, I discovered that Santiago had presented two other sophistries (first, second) in Huffington, in  September; so my complaint that the liberals have been sleeping on the EMP threat is no longer entirely correct.  But I only found out about the current article from a tweet this evening from New Hampshire-based Resilient Grid.   The September Issue reported an explicitly EMP threat from North Korea, but Fox had reported this too.

In the second article, Santiago had covered some of the technicalities of missile defense against especially FOBS, which may be related to Shining Star and the threats Woolsey had mentioned.  It’s really quite intricate.  But the interception strategies against an orbiting device may be more sophisticated than those against a “conventional” (oxymoron) ICBM.

Santiago’s recommendations comprise three major areas.  First, he supposes that a possible EMP attack might offer a lead time as long as 90 minutes.  He recommends that electric utilities rehearse war games to draw down the grids, with brownouts or blackouts, so that transformers can’t be overloaded so much.  He and others have also talked about newer methods of grounding transformers so they are less vulnerable.  Dominion Power of Virginia has recently aired TV spots (especially on CNN) saying that it is developing a smart grid that can anticipate failures.  I hope this means they are implementing some of these suggestions.

He then points out that America as a whole needs to decentralize its power generation.  That would logically mean that most owners of single family or large townhomes ought to be incentivized to provide their own solar panels or other power sources like gas.  I recently downsized and moved into a highrise condo.  In the house, I actually had a generator that came into heavy use after the derecho of 2012. Had I stayed, I probably would have needed to consider not only a new roof but also a solar system. But making highrise condos and apartments and commercial buildings less grid-dependent sounds like a challenge.  Ironically, Dominion Power recently forced a short outage in my own new location to install new underground cables and, I hope, some of the newer grounding technologies.

He also points out that regulations often discourage decentralization (that’s normally a conservative position, rather analogous to opposing legally driven network neutrality).  The securities markets, especially bonds, could be rattled by sudden changes in energy policy, or even by unfavorable publicity, which I am probably giving them with this blog posting. But he says markets could be legally reformed rather easily to encourage local homeowners and businesses to become more self-sufficient in their own energy management, and even to be able to sell solar or wind power pack to the grid.

There’s another aspect to the newest article that seems striking: Santiago seems to suggest that the administration, most of all DOD and DHS, is well aware of the EMP threats and are perhaps paralyzed as to what to do.  The administration does not seem to want to take a public position on the issue and force reforms on utilities perhaps out of fear on the effect on the markets.  I have tweeted “Real Donald Trump” myself about the issue, and I’ve wondered if Trump cognitively understands the nature of the threat given unprecedented American and western dependence on technology.  Santiago apparently thinks the president does understand. But if the U.S, could neutralize the EMP threat, and go public with its policies, it could afford to become much more aggressive in its policies toward any future provocations (like missile tests with actual weapons over the Pacific Ocean), as the ransom of American civilian technology life would be removed from the table.

It seems more likely that North Korea could detonate a fission weapon (or some sort of microwave device) in the air than a thermonuclear hydrogen bomb; so the real practical threat to the US homeland is more likely to be the E1 threat, which affects electronics more than the grid itself, than E3, which is more like a Carrington solar storm. As I indicated before, this would raise questions about how well companies have secured their data centers from external microwave-like pulses (with Faraday-like protection and distribution of cloud data with multiple redundancies).

I won’t belabor it here much, but the whole question of decentralization also begs the question of what “we” expect of individuals and families along the line of “The Survival Mom” thinking. Hyperindividualism and weaker social structures (vertical and horizontal) become pertinent.  The gravity of this topic seems far afield from most of their irreverant complaints about the current administration and “President Poopiepants” (or, as David Brooks once wrote, the idea that the president is a child), along with fat-shaming of Kim Jong In, quoting our own president (and Milo) that you can find on Facebook.  Not only is there weaker social cohesion in out outspoken civilian society;  there is little respect for current leadership (most of all in social media), which is something, related to resilience at a citizen level, that enemies have already noticed.  Look at what the Russians have done already, and North Korea seems so much more fanatical, a kind of communist Al Qaeda.

(Posted: Thursday, December 22, 2017 at 10:15 PM EST)

Update:  Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 10 AM EDT

Various media sources report that North Korea calls the newest UN sanctions as an act of war.

There is also a threat of deploy biological agents by missile, or covertly.

If James Woolsey were right, based on his announcement in March, Kim  Jong Un could launch an E1-level EMP (frying unshielded electronics but not the power grids) over eastern US when his shining star satellite orbited into the right position, right now.

At 2 PM EST

The Washington Examiner, a conservative paper, reports, in an article by Paul Bedard,  that President Trump  will address the electromagnetic pulse threats explicitly and is the first president to do so. The implies that the topic has been coming up at national security meetings, probably even at Mar a Lago (no, I haven’t been invited, yet). I have tweeted Trump explicitly on this topic several times since early July and mentioned the important distinction between E1 (far more likely) and E3 to him.  I’ve also discussed this with OANN and with WJLA (Sinclair).  Maybe the corner is being turned.  Still, the mainstream media companies largely choke on this topic. I’d expect to see Breitbart and Milo weigh in!

One more question: how long will it take the power companies to do what Trump supposedly promise (upgrade grounding circuits, for example, which Dominion Energy seems to be doing) and for the tech companies and server farms to have their centers fully “Faraday” shielded?  Recovery won’t be as easy as the 2001 movie “Oceans 11” makes it look.

 

North Korea, EMP, and martial law: mainstream media needs to wake up and do the fact-checking now

On Sunday, July 1, 2018, a favorite gay disco of mine, Town Danceboutique (Washington, D.C.), closes (after a year of notice) for real estate development.

But Wednesday July 4, 2018, the entire country could well be in North Korea’s nuclear crosshairs, if the timetable that seems to emerge from recent news really holds. And I’ve had at least one person claim to me that by them much of the nation could see martial law.  I’ll come back to that.

We know that on November 28, North Korea tested its largest missile ever, on a parabolic path that took it 2800 miles up, to land short of Japan with no payload. Your Physics 101 test problem would have its maximum range if fired on a “baseball home run” path to be about 8000 miles over the Great Circle, enough to reach all of the continental U.S.

Experts seem to disagree on how much the weight of even a miniaturized thermonuclear weapon would reduce the range. Credible analysts also say that the missile seemed to break up on re-entry, into perhaps three pieces, and that other aspects of the North Korean photos, like the background star constellations, were doctored.  All of this may suggest that technically it is still much more difficult for North Korea to lob a thermonuclear weapon over the US than the doomsday preppers believe.  Still, six months sounds like a reasonable benchmark.

So Trump may feel pressured to create a pre-emptive attack   well before June 2018, even given the horrific predictions of what happens to South Korea, and perhaps Japan, even Guam.  “The war will be fought in their back yard, not ours”, Senator Lindsey Graham rants.  This is one game where there is no home field advantage, no walk-off win;  you have to win on the road.

Recently NBC News reported (story and video by Cynthia McFadden et al, link) on the possibility that the US could disable North Korean missile control with a stealth cruise missile or fighter attack (similar to those in this week’s controversial maneuvers with South Korea) blaring non-nuclear flux microwaves (E1 level), which would destroy electronics but not kill people, most of whom (outside the privileged in Pyongyang) live without electricity anyway. But the missiles are certainly hidden underground and perhaps shielded in Faraday fashion. Still, this sounds like the “least bad” military option Trump has.

That leaves us with one other nagging problem that the mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about.  That is, the possibility of an EMP attack, not only on South Korea or Japan, but even on the continental U.S.

Former CIA chief James Woolsey has already warned us (March 7, 2017 post) that North Korea could launch a small device from its “Shining Star” satellite.  But the more obvious question would be, is it easier technically for North Korea to detonate a weapon at high altitude in flight, possibly over north central US, than at the end of the route at a target?  No mainstream publication seems to have taken this question up yet.

Last week, Fox News ran a story reporting that Kim Jong Un had threatened such an attack (see Nov. 7) – and it’s pretty obvious that he would.  I see from YouTube that Fox has run similar stories before,  But the mainstream news sites have given very little explicit attention to these possibilities.  I do recall a story on Vox concerning solar storms (Sept 13, 2016) and a later similar one in the Wall Street Journal. And I also see that I’ve covered the mainstream media’s reticence on this matter on Sept. 8, 2017.

Still, it seems that the mainstream media owes us a major factfinding effort on questions like (1) the preparedness of the three major power grids for huge transformer overloads (there is talk of “neutral ground circuit technology”), and (2) the preparedness of the tech industry for extreme disruption, by distributing cloud data (which they already do) around the world, and the possibility of building Faraday-like protections for their servers.

Keep in mind, the electromagnetic pulse threat has two major components.  The E3 component, which is a delayed effect from thermonuclear weapons and is similar to extremely large coronal mass ejections from solar storms, is destructive to power grid transformers and other circuitry, at least with current technology. The E1 component is what destroys consumer electronics and ignitions of many cars.  (There is a good question as to whether solid state drives are more immune than traditional hard drives, for example, since they the new stuff is less sensitive to ordinary magnets).  The E1 component can come from smaller (fission) nuclear weapons (more likely from a DPRK ICBM or mid range missile or possibly satellite), and also comes from non-nuclear microwaves (which are much more local because they are usually detonated at low altitude closer to targets – the US military can use them in Afghanistan now).

With all this discussion, we should not lose sight of the cyber threats, which I think are more difficult for an enemy to carry out (against infrastructure) than popular legend suggests, but here is a prediction for an incident even this week.

Conventional reporting suggests that Kim Jong Un’s insistence on becoming a nuclear power is purely defensive.  I would wonder if the old Vietnam era Domino Theory applies:  he could later try to force us to leave South Korea or lift all sanctions.  The EMP peril is a very novel threat because of our unprecedented dependence on technology.  An enemy could conclude, if his own people will eat grass, that we aren’t resilient enough personally as civilians to recover from loss and hardship and be ever more tempted into aggression. North Korea has almost certainly tried to work with other terrorists like ISIS out of shear resentment of western values.

It does seem that the mainstream media is distracted by the more obvious stories about Trump’s presidency:  the Flynn and Manafort investigations, Trump’s claim he can get away with “obstruction of justice”, the Jerusalem move announced today.

I won’t moralize here about civilian preparedness (like “The Survival Mom” on Facebook) as I have before and will again. But that does bring back the idea of martial law, which an authoritarian president presumably could want to find an excuse to implement so that he has more “control”.

The Wikipedia article (on martial law in the U.S.) gives a detailed history of is use, most recently in 1961 in Montgomery Alabama as a response to the “Freedom Riders” – that was shortly before I graduated from high school, and I don’t recall this news.  Hawii was under martial law from Pearl Harbor until 1944.   It is difficult to suspend habeas corpus under US law, given especially the Posse Comitatus Act, which is supposed to shield civilians from military intervention – yet enemies are likely to regard American civilians as (un)deserving combatants.

I am not so cynical as to believe that Trump wants to see half the country without power for a year so he can seize control.  Consider Dan Trachtenberg’s film “10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016). That reminds me of conspiracy theories where right-wing authorities start war and live in luxury underground.  Who wants that?  The sci-fi conspiracy to escape from Earth (if possible) makes more psychological sense to me.

I would be more concerned that if a real catastrophe occurred, and most of the country were without power for months, the entire government would fall and foreign powers, which could be China, or could be Islamist, could take over.  That does bring up personal morality again, and that’s another post that’s coming.

We’d better not blow this.  It’s hard for me to join “identity groups” so concerned about narrow oppression (bathroom and “religious freedom” bills) when there are issues like this, at least as potentially dangerous to me personally as was the Vietnam War (I stayed out of combat because of education and “privilege”) and later AIDS (I never got infected).  The lessons that Scarlet O’Hara had to learn sound appropriate.

I will challenge the major networks and news outlets to get to the facts (and not leave this to conservative sites and groups like Resilient Societies), and I am available for hire (at 74, in “retirement”) to help them do this.  I’ve really collected and organized a lot of material. What a way to go back to work.  I even bought a suit and updated my Linked-In profile, while there is still time.

I wish I could get back to believing in Google’s plans for quantum computing as our future.

Update: Dec 7  (“Pearl Harbor Day”): 10 AM EST

Probably by coincidence I got a letter to my own mailbox in my condo building about a planned power outage for “improving a portion of the energy grid that serves your area.”  Upon checking, this may be related to a specific problem some months ago before I moved in. But Dominion Energy of Virginia has been mentioned as one of the few companies so far preparing to install neutral ground circuits that are supposed to protect transformers from extreme surges, as with solar storms or possibly terror attacks.

The mainstream media really does need to start “connecting the dots” on this one and not leave it to right-wing sites, amateur bloggers, and suspense and sci-fi novelists to figure out.

 

(Posted: Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

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)

Update: Nov. 29, 2017, 8:45 AM EST

Here is a typical detailed story  (Jonathan Cheng), from the Wall Street Journal, on DPRK’s highest-ever missile test Tuesday Nov. 28.  The missile may have actually broken up before landing, which could mean it is less “successful” than North Korea claims. Here’s a WSJ article from July on the reentry issue.  It does appear that North Korea could place a missile anywhere over the continental US, even Florida (the farthest Great Circle point). The media still sleeps on the EMP (levels 1 and 3) issue.  This issue will get another detailed post soon.

Also, Anthony Furey at Fox News reports that North Korea has stated an EMP threat rather explicitly, which the “non-conservative” networks haven’t picked up yet.  I will definitely follow-up on the credibility of this claim.  Resilient Societies reports that a Pacific nuclear test by DPRK would disrupt the trans-Pacific cable.

I was at Cato again Nov. 28 (see).

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)