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)

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)

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)

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)

Donald Trump’s idea of “sacrifice” denies a basic requirement of civilized living

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I could introduce today’s missive with Ted Gup’s column, “Why Trump is not like other draft dodgers”  or, in print in the New York Times today, “From one draft dodger to another”, on .p 21.  We don’t need to rehearse Trump’s varied deferments here.  Bill Clinton also got them.

Or we could read the op-ed by Ghazala Khan, whose son Humayun Khan, made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq, serving in the all-volunteer (since 1973) Army as a captain, in the Washington Post, “Trump criticized my silence. He knows nothing about true sacrifice”.   Father  Khizr Khan has actually temporarily taken down the website for his law practice out of fear, according to the Wall Street Journal, story.

But it was the interview on ABC with George Stephanopoulos where Trump unveiled his lack of “social graces” (to borrow an Army Basic term) to say the least.

Trump says that helping people maintain their (online) reputations, or giving people jobs, or setting up veterans’ memorials, is a “sacrifice”.

Then, he needs to listen to Ezra Klein’s video on Vox, “Donald Trump’s slander of Captain Humayun’s Family is horrifying, even for Trump”. Klein goes on to wonder what Trump would be like even as a neighbor, let alone president. This is about character, folks.

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I could proceed this subject step-by-step.  I’ve outlined my history with respect to the Vietnam era draft ad nauseum in my books.  To summarize, I took the draft physical three times after my William and Mary expulsion for “homosexuality” in 1961.  I went from 4F to 1Y to 1A. Basic Combat Training was difficult, with a stint in Fort Jackson’s “Tent City” for “Special Training Company”.    After having the advantage of a graduate degree (how often did I announce my “Master’s degree in Mathematics” to drill sergeants at Fort Jackson?),  I was pretty well protected from the risk of combat and state sheltered stateside by my “01E20” MOS, which I believe was eventually eliminated.  One other person at Fort Eustis in similar circumstances actually volunteered to go to Vietnam right after I got out.  But during Basic especially, my relatively privileged situation did cause resentment among some other recruits, especially African-Americans. I could “serve without serving.”

What’s “worse” is that I worked as an assistant instructor while a graduate student, teaching quasi-remedial college algebra to some freshmen who were not the cream of the intellectual (or privileged_ crop.  Many got “F’s” and I probably contributed to their winding up in draft-driven combat.

Generations today have little concept of the moral quandary posed by the student deferment system of the 60s (replaced by the lottery in 1969, as explained in the NYTimes piece above).  Earlier, Kennedy had wanted to defer married men and then just married fathers, but that was all put to bed.  A lot of soldiers in Basic had allotments sent home to spouses with kids.  And relatively few pay attention to the fact that we still have a Selective Service System, with mandatory registration for men (according to birth gender). Recently, the debate over drafting women (as practiced in Israel) led to appropriate counter-debate on whether Selective Service should be abolished altogether.  But we had a similar debate shortly after 9/11, spurred by (now late) Charles Moskos, who proposed reinstituting the draft while at the same time completely cancelling “don’t ask don’t tell” and (despite the privacy and cohesion arguments of 8 years before) allowing open gays into the military.  Even Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin said we might consider that. (The 1993 DADT law actually mentioned the possibility of “ultimate sacrifice” inherent in military service.)

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But my own personal narrative about the draft skims on top of a deeper schism of what it means to be a member of a family, community, nation.  I can recall, during the 60s, other students saying, if they were drafted and maimed in war, they didn’t want to come back.  I would say that, as I didn’t see being a casualty (let alone “victim”) of violence (state driven or not) particularly honorable.  I was appalled at the idea that an adult, maimed or disfigured in war, would need to make demands of a loved one in an intimate relationship for the rest of their lives.  But the willingness of people to deal with this (including intimate partners and spouses) has a lot to do with the resilience of a free society.  That’s why a focus on lookism and “desirability” can set a culture up for totalitarianism later (or for demagogues like Donald Trump).

A lot of socialization during growing up has to do with meeting real needs, and with living with others under circumstances less than ideal when some external circumstance, unpreventable according to the general resources of the people, forces it.  We don’t like this.  And the “inequality” debate has a lot to do with the extremely varied amounts of hardship and deprivation that people encounter when growing up.  Changing demographics will confront people, even those who don’t choose parenthood, with situations where they have to provide for others – as with eldercare – and make “sacrifices” in doing so.  That feeds back and completes my own narrative, which has many other disturbing moments where I was tested as to my own flexibility to “step up” and did not always do so.

It is true, that “culture wars” coupled with asymmetry (much of that involving the Internet) can put ordinary citizens in harm’s way of politically motivated violence, as if civilians should accept the idea that they can become involuntary combatants (which feeds the thinking of terrorists).   While extremely offensive to many, there is some truth to this today, and that idea does help feed right-wing ideas (as in the gun debate) that people need both the right and responsibility to defend themselves along with their immediate families and communities.  In modern times, most civilians in the US have gotten accustomed to the idea that their main risk of combat comes (only) from possible conscription of young men – but around the world that has generally not been the case.  This is not ideology, it is simply historical fact, and we have to deal with it. (There has occurred some recent flak on Facebook over comments about an “American Conservative” posting about US atrocities against civilians in Vietnam.)

But “sacrifice” means, your life changes course, not completely out of your own choices or agendas, and you step up and do things for others that really cost you something.  In some situations, doing the “right thing” is not always the same as the “wise thing” when it comes to narrower ideas of personal safety and interest. “Sacrifice” sometimes refers to an involuntary duty one must carry out for others.  “You’ve got to” is sometimes the case. “Not to do so” sometimes amounts to the long forgotten meaning of cowardice.

(Published: Wednesday, August 3, 2016 at 6:30 PM EDT)

Why “gays in the military” was and still can remain an “iceberg” of an issue

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“Gays in the military”, as an issue through most of the 1990s and 00’s, has receded largely from public attention, replaced by marriage equality and transgender issues.  There are practical reasons why specifics in human rights debates changes over time, and why pressure groups like “catch words”. But this was the issue that pivoted me into a second career as an author and then “just” a blogger.

Of course, everyone equates the issue with the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, whose repeal finally was made official in September 2011 (I was in the line at SLDN’s party on K Street) but that public equivalence is a bit misleading.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice had outlawed sodomy, Article 125, for decades (back to WWI, at least) and it’s technically still on the books (NBC article from 2013).  The individual services all had rules requiring discharges of servicemembers found to commit homosexual acts, even consensually off base with adult civilians, either by their own statements or credible evidence.  The services had asked about homosexuality upon entry as a “character and social adjustment” question. But during the Vietnam war, the Army started backing away from enforcement, not wanting homosexuality to become a way to get out of the draft. By 1966, the Army had stopped “asking” draftees about sexual orientation during physicals, so an unofficial DADT was practiced.  Just before Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the Pentagon promulgated its notorious “Old Ban”, the 123 words starting with “homosexuality is incompatible with military service” (GAO link  ).  There was a sugar coating that discharges could normally be honorable, but could contain secret “SPN” codes.  Sometime in 1992, Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, admitted that the policy had become an “old chestnut” based on myths and collective comfort.

Because the draft ended under Nixon in 1973, the gay community tended to remain largely indifferent to the ban.  For one thing, AIDS as a major preoccupation in the 1980s.  In the days before “equality”, the gay community tended to live a “separate but almost equal” existence in urban exile, tending to become focused on the internals of its own world as homosexuality gradually became more acceptable to the public.  A few cases, like that of UASF Tech Sergaent Leonard Matlovich, sometimes got public attention.  (Note: mandatory Selective Service registration for young men did not end, and that plays into the debate today on “slavery” for women, too.)

The scene changed abruptly in the early 1990s, after the spectacular Persian Gulf War pushed back Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and threat to the oil business in Saudi Arabia (which would become a controversial country regarding 9/11, but that’s another discussion).  In 1992, a few high profile servicemembers “came out”, including Petty Officer Keith Meinhold on ABC in 1992, and soon Navy flier Tracy Thorne.  Joseph Steffan’s book “Honor Bound”, detailing his ouster from the Naval Academy for “telling” just before he would have graduated third in his class from the Naval Academy in 1987, attracted attention (especially mine, after a major book-signing party at Lambda Rising).  In the 1990s, major anti-gay measures, such as a mean one in Oregon in 1992 and later Colorado’s Amendment 2, would fail; the tide was truly changing.  In this climate, candidate Bill Clinton promised to life the ban if elected.

On his second full day in office, the Clinton brought the topic up, and soon there was a vitriolic debate in Congress.  Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, a conservative Democrat (and very valuable for his contributions in controlling nuclear waste of the former Soviet Union) and Northwestern University Professor Charles Moskos, repeatedly brought up the fight over “privacy” in the barracks.  “They don’t go home at night like you and I do,” Nunn had said in a television interview just before the inauguration.

Never before had a topic quite this sensitive (in terms of forced intimacy) been debated in public before.  (Maybe that’s not quite 100% true.  In the 1970s, the New York Daily News objected to a gay anti-discrimination ordinance on the idea that in fire departments, men live together in firehouses, even the old one on 99 Wooster that was the HQ of GAANY!) The concept of “privacy” became comingled with a more subtle idea, “unit cohesion”, which I began to see was a proxy for a lot dynamics in civilian society, that is, socialization, which could explain why homosexuality had previously been a public taboo in civilian life as much as in uniform.  A significant part of the picture was the belief that the mere “presence” in an intimate environment of people (normally men) known to be gay could provide an indirect distraction for others. The issue would be debated repeatedly on major media, especially Ted Koppel’s “Nightline”, where Thorne (now a judge in Virginia) was invited to speak several times.  Keith Meinhold would lead a rally in Washington, and I would later sit near him at an HRC event at RFK Stadium (pre-Nationals) in April 2000.

My attention to the topic was drawn by a curious and ironic parallel with my own life.  I had been thrown out of William and Mary as a freshman in November 1961, partly out of concerns over “privacy: in dorm life that seemed to anticipate the debate that Nunn and Moskos had staged.  That concept overlapped into “cohesion”:  my “presence”, even with no overt behavior other than a little “scoping” (to borrow a term from “Smallville”)  could make heterosexual young men less secure about themselves later when it came to dating and marriage and even procreation, so it seemed (that seems to be Vladimir Putin’s idea in Russia today).  My reputation sundered, I would take the draft physical three times, moving from 4-F through 1-Y to 1-A, and finally get “drafted” after finishing graduate school in 1968. Many specific moments from my Basic Combat Training color my memory today and influence my writing, and they are in my books.  I may be the only person (besides J. D. Salinger) who went through this specific sequence of repeated physicals to finally get drafted.

My history with security clearance investigations for civilian jobs also figured into my concern.  I abandoned “defense” in 1972 when I left the Navy Department and went to Univac, to make this a non-issue.

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Bill Clinton would “compromise” with his famous July 19, 1993 speech at Fort McNair, where he would announce the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policy (and unfortunately, “don’t pursue” would get overlooked in the following years)  and speech text ).  Congress would codify the policy into law with the Defense Authorization Act in November 1993, which would begrudgingly admit that the services should not “ask” sexual orientation at entry.  The law reinforced a disturbing concept of “propensity” to commit homosexual acts when there was no evidence to prove they had taken place. The Pentagon would implement the policy in its own words with a policy document in February 1994, with a document softer in tone  as to what is “credible evidence” (“going to a gay bar is not a crime”).

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I’ve detailed my own entry into the debate, with my three books, and job transfer to avoid “conflict of interest”, a narrative filled with ironies and twists like any movie plot (hence my screenplay drafts). It would turn out that the day I attended a rally for the introduction of the bill that would repeal DADT, Dec. 10, 2010, would be the day my own mother went into hospice to pass away four days later.  She had lived long enough (97) to see me accomplish my mission.

I think of “don’t ask don’t tell”, or, more properly, the entire subject of the military ban, as an “iceberg” issue.  It directly affected relatively few people (but look at the discharges chart on the Wikipedia article)  but the issue considered matters normally very sensitive and personal (forced intimacy) in a way that seemed unprecedented, and connects to many other problems that affects to civilian life.  A few of these issues include conscription (where bills requiring women to register for the non-existent draft float in Congress ) , security clearances for civilians, and the past withdrawal of Pentagon funding for universities who denied access to military recruiters on campus over their own non-discrimination policies (Solomon Amendment).  Also was the idea that gays discharged from ROTC programs could be sued for recoupment.  The military had, in practice, become a major employment opportunity for lower income people (as well as a source for college and even medical school scholarships), a major force toward equality of opportunity otherwise.

The conscription issue had intersected with my own narrative.  I believed that if you told someone he or she was unfit to take part in defending the country or his community in time of dire need, you had an excuse to consider the person less than equal.  Sharing common risks had been a major idea in my own moral upbringing, and physical cowardice from men had been considered heinous (in a way that is largely forgotten today).

So had the security clearance problem become important.  Jimmy Carter had supposedly promised to work in the issue in a second term that he never won.  In practice, the security clearance problem gradually got better on its own, and particularly so during the first Bush presidency (during the Persian Gulf War), until Clinton signed an executive order in 1995 which official allowed open gays to serve anywhere in intelligence and defense as civilians (as we now have an openly gay Secretary of the Army). In my first screenplay, “Make the A-List”, I had envisioned a subplot where an closeted gay man in the Army has a relationship with an openly gay CIA analyst, leading to security compromise. At least I got to air this possibility before a screenwriting group in Minneapolis back in 2002.

I even wonder if the positions of Elena Kagan (CNN story), now a Supreme Court Justice, but a dean at Harvard in the fall of 2003, regarding military recruiters, could have entered the mind of Mark Zuckerberg, then a sophomore there, in the months before he came up with and launched Facebook (in early 2004).

It’s natural to ask if there is an analogy to the transgender issue today.  The Pentagon is very slowly making progress in figuring out how to accommodate transgender troops, who in a few individual cases seem capable of extraordinary achievement, especially in intelligence services.  (Chelsea Manning is the sad exception.) Consider “Lady Valor”.  The political climate associated with the “bathroom bills” does not help.  My own feeling is that it isn’t unreasonable to expect a transgender person to register her/his change on an official document as to how she/he lives.  But again, there is an iceberg effect, that a lot of discrimination exists underneath. And there is still a nagging question, is to just what society should expect of those who are “different” as they assimilate, when the problems are “real”.  In the case of the military ban, the problems of “privacy” and “unit cohesion” have not turned out, in practice, to be as pressing, with a younger generation, as Colin Powell or John McCain had expected.  Avianne Tan discusses the “iceberg” effect of transgender issues for ABC here.

I do have a concern that Donald Trump could reverse the gains in the military, on the theory that when dealing with enemies (like ISIS) we can’t afford the “distraction”, which would then imply that non-gender-role conformity does burden society if circumstances are serious enough.  Hopefully the influence of tech financier Peter Thiel, as a major Trump delegate but otherwise libertarian himself, would reverse this possibility.

Back in early 1993, Scott Peck, gay son of a Marine Corps general who had testified for keeping the ban, had a radio show on Sunday nights.  I sometimes called in.  Frank Kameny discussed the state of security clearances for civilians, which had been rapidly improving even under Bush (but it was not a “do it yourself” challenge).  And Peck interviewed a transgender former Naval NCO who had resigned the service before a sex change to female, but still had almost the same job as a civilian in Naval Intelligence, and was living as a “lesbian” rather than a heterosexual man.

A reading list would include Randy Shilts “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S, Military” (1993, 1994, St. Martins).

A viewing list would include HBO’s “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by Bailey and Barbato and Marc Wolf’s “Another American: Asking and Telling” based on his monologue stage play

(Published: Saturday, May 28, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)

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Update: July 25

Donald Trump’s idea that you could just “ask” if an immigrant passing the border practices Islam, says something about the whole idea of “don’t ask don’t tell” for anything.