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)

The shame of speaking only through a heckling mob, if limited to that

Recently the New York Times ran a constructive op-ed by Michelle Goldberg “The Worst Time for the Left to Give Up on Free Speech”, featuring a split demonstration poster demanding to “Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos”.

The editorial makes a central point that democratic societies typically feel they need to take certain topics off the table as legitimate content for discussion. For example, the essay gives, the idea that women and people of color should be subordinate to white men (you can expand that to cis white straight men).  The editorial relates an incident at William and Mary recently where an ACLU speaker was heckled and disrupted for supposedly working for white supremacists, which activists demand there be zero tolerance for.

There are plenty of similar examples, such as bans on neo-Nazi speech in present day Germany.  The most obvious bans are usually intended to protect groups defined by race or religion (and sometimes ethnic nationality) from being targeted again by future political developments.

By way of comparison, many people believed, back in the 1950s, that there was a legal ban on discussing communism.  The federal government, for example, who not employ people who could not ascertain they had never been members of the Communist party. Communism could be banned if it was construed as embedding violence (or the attempt to overthrow the US government) as part of its definition (as compared to socialism, even Bernie Sanders style).  But Communism generally, as defined, did not target specific races or religions (although we can certain argue that Stalin persecuted people of faith, including Jews, and so did Communist China).

You could have a similar discussion about trying to overanalyze the roots of homophobia and gender or sexuality related discrimination and persecution in the past, and today in many authoritarian countries. Much of my own writing has dealt with this for the past twenty years, especially the three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books.  I’ve generally (as in my post here Jan. 4, 2017) offered arguments that a lot of it had to do with family patriarchs keeping their own confidence in their own power to have biological lineage (procreation).  I’ve also paid heed to the past public health arguments that got made in the 1980s in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before the cause was identified.  In my writings I’ve paid particular heed to the history of military conscription and past deferment controversies.

A lot of people don’t appreciate my rehearsing the ghosts of the past (John Carpenter’s metaphorical “The Ghosts of Mars” (1995)), for fear that I could be legitimizing lines of thinking long thought debunked and bringing them back.  Sound familiar?  Is this what people fear from Donald Trump, or, more properly, the people he has chosen in his group?  (How about Mike Pence?)

Goldberg doesn’t go there, but the Left is in a real quandary when it wants to shut down all biological speech   The Left has demonstrated against and protested Charles Murray for his past writings on race and biology.  They object to James Damore for his Google memo on biology (whether this expression belonged in a privately owned workplace is a different discussion). They would probably object to Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book “A Troublesome Inheritance” (media commentary, July 24, 2017). But then what about the gay Left’s dependence on immutability to demand gay equality?  I do think there is scientific merit to discussion of genetics (especially with regard to gender identity) and epigenetics (especially with regard to sexual orientation, most of all in non-first-born men)   I don’t think that replaces libertarian ideas of focus on “personal responsibility”.  But if you want to discuss homosexuality and biology (as in Chandler Burr’s monumental 1996 book “A Separate Creation”) with possible political change as a result, you have to accept discussions of biology, evolution and race.  Admittedly, some people can skid on thin ice when they ponder these things, as they consider plans to have or not have their own children (eugenics used to be an acceptable idea a century ago).

That brings me back to a correlated area: that the identity of the speaker matters, as well as the predictable behavior of the listener of speech (possibly creating risk for the original speaker or others connected to him) — what I have called “implicit content”, a most disturbing and sometimes offensive notion.  The most obvious example in current events news is, of course, the manipulation of social media especially by the Russians to sow discord among different American classes or quasi-tribes, beyond simply influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.  The Russians and other enemies used fake accounts and posted fake news in supposedly legitimate-looking news sites and in advertorials.  All of this follows earlier concerns about the misuse of social media, especially Twitter, for terrorist recruiting (by ISIS), as well as cyberbullying or stalking and revenge porn.  The Russians seemed to have noticed that Hillary-like “elites” would not pay attention if “deplorables” could be lured by silly, divisive supermarket tabloid-like content and false flags; elites tend not to care about people “beneath” themselves in this “mind your own business” world much until those people suddenly knock at the door for personal attention (which is something that happens to speakers who make themselves conspicuous, especially on social media).

You can raise a lot of questions here. Is fake news libel?  Maybe.  Litigation is often impractical because it involves criticism of public figures (actual malice, etc). You get to Trump’s ideas about using Britain’s standard on libel.  But a bigger idea is that the fake news fiasco shows why authoritarian leaders keep a tight lid on dissent, even on individual bloggers’ speech, perhaps maintaining that the dissemination of news to the public need be “licensed” to guarantee (alternative) “truth” (sic).  That hasn’t really happened with Trump, yet at least; Trump seems to admire individual speakers even as he hates the established liberal media.

A related idea is whether political ads, and whether commercial ads, are protected by the First Amendment the same way as other speech.  That topic was covered in the second session at a recent Cato conference (Oct. 3, 2017 posting here). Generally, the answer is yes. But this topic has become controversial with regard to campaign finance reform, long before Trump.

In fact, back in the 2002-2005 period, there was a concern that even “free content” of a political nature posted by bloggers like me could constitute illegal campaign contributions (as if not everything in life can be measured by money). The June 12, 2017 post here gets to that, as does this 2005 editorial in the Washington Times, which wormed its way into a major incident when I was working as a substitute teacher then.

That brings us to what I do, which is put out my own series of article and blog posts on the news, augmenting my three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, under my own brand(s). No, this doesn’t pay its own way.  I have exactly the situation the 2005 Washington Times editorial was talking about.

I’ve been at this since the mid 1990s.  I originally entered the world of self-publishing as a way to participate in the debate over gays in the military (and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy from Bill Clinton’s compromise that predates Trump’s current transgender ban controversy).   I made a lot of unusual, very individualistic arguments, often but not always consistently connected to libertarianism.  Generally, most of what I have said starts with the individual, apart from any group he or she belongs to. The first book sold decently (in 1997 and 1998, especially) but then became old hat.  The subsequent POD books have not really sold all that well, and I get hassled about it because “other people” can’t keep their jobs based on my books, I guess.  I did have the resources from a well-paid job and from stock market good luck under Clinton (Democrats can be good for the stock market, as Hillary’s elite knows). I got lucky with the 2008 crash and that turned out well for me.  (Short selling?)

But you see where this is heading.  In line with the thinking of McCain-Feingold, one person can have political influence, with no accountability for how the funds were raised.  I actually focused on issues, not candidates (which a lot of people seem not to get), and have very little interest in partisanship.  I could even claim that I know enough about policy and am temperate enough in my positions that I could function in the White House better than the current occupant, but I don’t know how to raise money for people, or for myself.  I but I know the right people to get health care to work, for example.  (Do the math first.)

Then, there is the issue of the left-wing boogeyman, “inherited wealth”.  Yes, I have some (from mother’s passing at the end of 2010).  My use of it could be controversial, and I may not have been as generous (yet) as I should be.  But I have not needed it to fund the books or blogs or websites. (I I had, that could be a problem, but that’s too much accounting detail to get into right here.  But I can’t just turn into somebody else’s safety net.)

I do get prodded about other things I “should” be doing, as a “prole”, because others have to do them.  Let’s say, accept “the free market cultural revolution” and prove I can hold down a minimum wage job (like in Barbara Enrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed”).  My life has its own narrative, and that narrative explains my personal goals now.  They’re my goals;  they don’t need to be anyone else’s.  I don’t need to appear on Shark Tank to justify my own “business model”.  But I’m corkscrewing into a paradox: if morality is indeed about “paying your dues” before you’re heard, then it’s really not just about group solidarity.

Both sides of a polarized political debate, but especially the Left, would like to see a world where individuals are not allowed to leverage their own speech with search engines the way I have (with an “It’s Free” paradigm, after Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film, where blog postings become “free fish”), but have to march in step with larger groups that they join.  Both sides want to force others to join their chorus of some mix of relative deprivation (the alt-right), or systematic oppression (the Left).  Both (or two out of three) sides want mass movements (as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”). Religious groups often follow suit, demanding people join them in proselytizing (which is what an LDS mandatory missionary assignment is all about).  It is certainly personally shameful to walk in a (Charlottesville) torchlight march screaming “You shall not replace us”, but I find carrying anyone’s picket rather shameful.  Other’s will tell me, get over it.  Well, you get over it only if you’re on the  “right” (sic) side?  I won’t bargain away my own purposes.

To me, the existential threat is being forced or coerced (maybe even with expropriation) to join somebody else’s chorus, or hiding from personal responsibility behind a curtain of “systematic oppression”, to be allowed to speak at all. Some pleas for donation to political opinion sites (from both the Right and Left) make insulting, hysterical clams that only they can speak for me, as if I were impotent and had no right to my own branded voice.  They want to force me to join their causes to be heard at all.  It would be more honorable to become a slave on a plantation, or at least a minimum wage worker, whose turn it is now to be exploited just as he was once the undeserving exploiter, until dropping dead.  And then there is no funeral.

But, you ask, why not “raise people up” in a personal way, when they knock, in a way “you” had not considered before you were so challenged.  Is it up to me to make others “all right” in a personal way if others once did that for me?  Maybe. But that’s entirely off line. It doesn’t seem like “accomplishment” (maybe it’s a “creative” challenge for someone who did not have his own kids).  It doesn’t replace my mission of delivering my own content first.

(Posted: Monday, October 9, 2017, at 2:30 PM EDT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other people’s children

I saw a Facebook post recently from Arvin Vorha, a mathematics educator and Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Maryland, which read “If you didn’t produce a particular child, your financial responsibility to that child is zero.”

Oh, is that the real world?  How often to childless people wind up raising the kids of siblings after family tragedies? (That was the premise of the WB series “Summerland” that started in 2004.)  Or there is the premise of “Raising Helen” where raising a child is a requirement for a inheritance, although that sounds fair enough.

There is also a practical issue that, for a family or for a “people”, having children and being able to raise them is an important capacity.  A lot is said about population demographics or “demographic winter”, especially by the alt-right, which warns that populations with foreign values (read Muslim) will take over the political lives of western countries because they have more kids and at younger ages, without waiting for ideal circumstances (education and perfect job) according to narrower libertarian notions of personal responsibility.

In the workplace, at least back in the 90s, there were a few occasions where I worked overtime without pay when someone else had family issues or was having a baby.  How does that play into the paid family leave debate?

And then, when I talk on Facebook about how cheap my own health insurance was when I was “working” in my long track IT career, and I was flamed about my own privilege, for having my establishment employers subsidize my insurance with tax-free benefits. Well, they could have paid me more instead,  Then the flamethrower wrote something like “You must not have kids.”

Right, not having procreative intercourse with the opposite sex is indeed an indication or moral inferiority, a lower deserved size in life?  Is that what this means?  Is that what the equality debate is about?

Indeed, the backside of the demographics debate is the “cost” of eldercare of an aging population.  I found out two decades ago how easily I could be “conscripted” into this world, and then play the privilege card by hiring immigrant caregivers.

Then there are all the debates about race and genetics, which some see as offensive (Wade’s “Troublesome Inheritance” and Murray’s “Bell Curve”). But it seems that things cancel out if better-educated people have fewer children.

I do have to add one extra detail:  Susan Collins (R-ME) has mentioned “my” idea of using reinsurance in the revised health care play (to cover pre-existing), and Rand Paul (R-KY) wants individuals to have the same bargaining power by getting together as employees of big companies or union members today. Trump, as a businessman, has to have pondered these ideas, right?

Here’s a legacy post about the demographic winter issue, referring back to a 2007 “Manifesto” (decree from “on high”) by Carlson and Mero, “The Natural Family” as well as Phillip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle“.

(Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017 at 2:30 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)

Live a good life and feel entitled

Early Sunday afternoon, in between rounds of the Maryland Film Festival, I walked up Charles Street in Baltimore and walked into a grill, which I will not name for search engines, hoping to have lunch.  I had about 40 minutes before I needed to be heading for the nearby Parkway Theater.

There was a sign said to wait for seating, and the place was almost full.  Two employees were fixing a machine and attending to a handicapped customer.  For ten minutes no one saw me, or even looked in the direction of the entrance.  Finally I was seated and an order taken.  But the order (for a simple benedict) had to be cancelled when it was apparent it would not get cooked in time.

I walked into a McDonald’s on North Street, next to the Parkway, and even here there was no one behind the register for a moment.  Finally, I got a pre-cooked McMuffin and swallowed it and went to the movie just in time.

Lesson, you may have the money to pay for food, but somebody still has to be paid to cook it and bring it to you.

I see that Baltimore is looking at minimum wage laws, and that right now the Maryland min seems to be $8.75, probably much less for tipped workers.  But in both eateries, there was obviously less help available than needed to serve the demand that obviously existed.  I think there were only three employees in the grille; maybe someone didn’t come to work, or maybe no one will work at the wages offered.  I even wondered if we were seeing the immediate impact of Donald Trump’s ICE undocumented immigrant crackdown.  Suddenly, there is no help in places you count on for “service”.

It’s easy to blow this up into a moral lesson about privilege, class, and depending on the underpaid labor of others.

Underserved wealth and station in life can become preoccupations of leadership on both the far Left and far Right, but with different parameters.  It seems so negative to become so preoccupied with “grading people”, yet we need to see people earn rewards that are commensurate with what they deserve.  Is this like grades “according to ability” as on one grade school report card, or is it an absolute thing?

Consider how scattered “those Republicans” are with respect to who should pay for the excess health claims of the sick, and those with pre-existing conditions. I’ll lay aside the claims that Trumpcare is set up to support a tax break for the very rich.  I’ll also note a comment I added yesterday. That Obamacare apparently does have the reinsurance scheme that would help with this problem if only Republicans would allow it to be used (the fourth comment on the previous post, about an MIT economist).

In the New York Times May 7. Patricia Cohen writes “On Health and Welfare, Moral Arguments Can Outweigh Economics”.

Cohen points us to a couple of New York Magazine pieces, where rural right wing Republican say “sick people don’t deserve affordable care”  (the “Lead good lives” argument, or is it “personal responsibility”) and even “The GOP’s best health care is to stick it to mothers”.  I thought that the Republicans were worried about low birth rates in better-off white people.

Yes, it’s easy to blame bad behavior on a lot of health care issues.  You can say that about smoking, alcohol, drug abuse, and now opioids.  Vox has added eliminating sugar – all of it – to the mix (although plenty of us don’t get obese or diabetes from normal sugar consumption).  I’d have to throw in the sexual behaviors in the male gay community – remember the moral debate over “amplification” and AIDS in the 1980s?   Indeed, you look around, it often seems that the healthiest people usually have been the most intact from adolescence through adulthood.

Social conservatives often place the responsibility of learning to take care of others, the less-well off, with the “natural family” as in that 2007 manifesto by Carlson and Mero.  Courtship and dating, and then marriage – making it contain sexuality – and the rearing of children, teaching them to care for younger siblings – and caring for the less well off in an extended family – is supposed to teach everyone to learn attachments to others who do have real needs.  They can point out that inherited wealth often comes with strings attached – taking are of other family members or raising deceased siblings’ kids.

But I suppose their idea of health care parity could extend to social media.  To their way of thinking, someone in my shoes should feel morally obligated to respond to new “GoFundMe’s” for money for protease inhibitors or PrEP in my own community.  (Seriously, paying for the latter is probably a big issue in college-age health care for gay men.)  Or maybe you should respond to all Facebook friends who talk about losing coverage for stuff like MS medication, diseases that no one can avoid with “behavior”.  Particularly if you have wealth you didn’t earn.

Update: Tuesday, May 9

Laurie Garret (“The Coming Plague” around 1995) has a stinging op-ed on CNN, “Worst is yet to come on health care: GOP’s message to Americans: You’re on your own“.  She notes the “personal responsibility” argument and how it breaks down (like for genetic disease, for openers).  She also warns that the GOP plan could add to hostility to Americans from abroad personally.

Vox, in a piece by Matthew Yglesias, explains how Medicaid expansion works under Obamacare, and the consequences of GOP’s gutting it. In the 1970s, I worked on New York State MMIS (through Bradford) so I should have known to pay more attention to this.

(Published: Monday, May 8, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

On “elitism”, real life, and having “too much education”

I wanted to pull together some threads of animosity in today’s multi-polarized climate over many issues, with all the rancor surrounding Donald Trump’s election and presidency.

A key concept seems to be resentment of “elitism”. David Masciaostra has a piece in Salon on Nov. 20, “’Real Americans’ v. ‘Coastal Elites’”. The tone of the piece reminds me of a drill sergeant, when I arrived at Tent City at Fort Jackson SC during 1968 Basic Combat Training, saying I had “too much education”. Others in the barracks regarded me as a “do nothing” or dead wire when it came to risk of pain and sacrifice. Salon mentions people wanting a leader who can talk in middle school language, or “talk that way”. Voters want respect for “real life” (as my mother called it); they see elites as spectators and critics who don’t put their own skin in the game. And some voters seem way to gullible in their response to authority that can get them what they think they want, whatever it costs others; and these voters actually believe that everything that matters in life happens through a chain of command, even within a family.

I could mention a related issue right away: modern society’s unprecedented dependence on technological infrastructure. Trump hasn’t talked about it this way, but Bannon ought to be paying attention to taking care of the power grids, especially, as I have often written here before. Along those likes, I thought I would share a New York Post piece on teen digital addiction. Remember 60 years ago, middle school teachers screamed, “Read, don’t watch television”. And in those days we had only black and white.

The “real life” person doesn’t trust what disconnected intellectuals write, so the “real lifer” doesn’t think it’s important to listen to arguments about pollution or climate change. The lifer knows that she can’t afford Obamacare premiums, but has no concept of how the policy changes promised to her by huckerizing politicians could make things worse for her or for a lot of other people. Lost. By the way, in the argument about health care, is the total lack of transparency in pricing (the GOP is right about this). But the “lifer”, with her anti-intellectualism, ignores a moral precept: that looking after the planet for future generations matters. Yet, it’s only been the last few decades that we’ve come to see that as a moral idea, even given our preoccupation with “family values” – and lineage. It’s ironic that the cultural, even gender-sexist moral arguments of the past flourished in a time of higher birthrates and shorter life spans, when filial piety and taking care of our elders hadn’t become the issue it is today.

Policy problems are often presented in moral terms, but we actually tend to get used to a status quo without asking why things need to be the way they are. If we did have single payer health care (like Canada), it would become the expected public safety net, and unreasonable demands on families or of volunteerism would no longer have a place at the “morality” table. Bernie Sanders is right about this. But other status quos in the past have been “bad”. We accepted homophobia without understanding why other adults’ private lives needed to be our business. We had a male-only military draft, and a hierarchy of forced risk-taking for the country. It took a long time to change these.

We also get used to begging from politicians in terms of groups and identity politics. That works better with “vertical” groups – long, well-established common identities that policy is used to addressing. These include nationality, religious affiliation, and race, and sometimes economic groups like labor and workers.   Groups associated with gender issues and sometimes disability tend to be more “horizontal” as members appear in all the vertical groupings, causing divided loyalties. They intrinsically take longer for partisan political processes to handle. Differentiating “chosen” behavior and inheritance (or immutability) becomes much murkier. “Middle school kids” have a hard time disconnecting this from religion because of “anti-intellectualism”.

We also see appeals to become personally connected to people, as online, as transcending the barriers of the past, but still colored by “identity politics” and a tendency to entangle legitimate individualism with a sense of automatic entitlement to attention from others. We gradually learn that as we distance ourselves from our groups of origin (often families), we find their replacements (even a “resistance”) just as demanding in loyalty and obedience.

All of this leads me to pose the question, “How is the individual who perceives himself/herself as different really supposed to behave?” Maybe not the Pharisee that I became, who wants to be recognized for his original content, but doesn’t seem to care “about” individuals who can’t distinguish themselves.

Here are a couple of other perspectives on elitism: the New York Times on liberal bubbles; The NYT on leaders needing meek little followers; and a (real) “rude pundit” blogger.

(Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)de

Do “herd effects” undermine libertarian concepts of morality?

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We’re used to the libertarian idea of “harmlessness”:  as long as our choices don’t harm others more or less directly, and as long as we pay our bills, we’re morally OK. Right?

For some things in life, there is indeed a herd effect.  (I’m reminded of the Nerd Herd in the NBC series “Chuck” and the “Buy More” box stores.)

The clearest example right now is probably the vaccine denial debate.  I accept the idea that overwhelming evidence suggests that all the major childhood vaccines are safe.  But, as a philosophical matter, I can’t rule out the idea that a particular vaccine in rare cases may increase the chances of some other problem, including autism.

So parents who don’t allow their kids to be vaccinated are benefiting (as are their kids) from the herd immunity of kids who are vaccinated.

That’s true somewhat for adults with flu shots.  But I think, if anything, there are good reasons for parents of college-age students to insist on both meningitis vaccines, especially the newer Type B (which is what is responsible for some of the horror stories of amputations).  In a dorm, herd immunity is even a more important concept.

In the posting Sept. 16, I noted the herd effect with HIV, and the way the right wing had tried to blow it up in the 1980s (especially in Texas) to mount a political attack on gay men.

With health insurance, there is a herd effect.  If presently healthy people have to purchase insurance, it is easier to cover the illnesses of the unluckly, and accidents (sometimes tragic, as baseball recently learned) do happen.  In the insurance business, the applicable concept is called “anti-selection”.

With gun possession, there is also a herd effect, and it works both ways.  With so many guns in circulation, it is very difficult in practice to keep weapons away from criminals (gangs, drug cartels, terrorists, and so on).  On the other hand, there is a reverse herd effect. If potential criminals believe that most of the homeowners in a neighborhood have legally licensed weapons, then the non-gun owners are safer, too.

(Posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 11 PM EDT)

“Identity politics” is not for me, and it doesn’t solve problems

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I’m not particularly a fan of identity politics – or of abstract equality, or liberation politics either (they are all different things).

At its worst, “identity politics” leads to group combativeness, joining mass movements, and a belief that violent confrontation with the establishment and overthrow is necessary.  That’s happened a lot in history.

But more often, the process means disciplining the members of the group to become loyal to its own internal leadership and social structure, and not to distract it by allowing concerns from the outside world to seem “legitimate”.

The most obvious example right now would invoke race – the Black Lives Matter movement, which demands recognition for specific redress for past grievances, which are quite real.  It feels the counter statement “all lives matter” to be an insult (although the latter statement would invoke concerns like right to life, service, willingness to bond with others in challenging circumstances – resilience).  Identity politics would justify unrest, as in Milwaukee (maybe in Ferguson) even when the facts suggest (although maybe don’t conclusively prove) that officers had some justification for the action they took against a specific suspect.

In another worst case implementation, if you flip identity politics – you get an “Us v. them” mentality that Donald Trump seems to be exploiting.

Most often, identity politics involves a trait (like race) or behavior pattern (like religious practice) that you were born into (as part of a “natural family”), and did not choose.  Sometimes it is a kind of ethnic identity (like the Basque people in Spain). Yes, such characteristics do tend to become the targets for bigotry for its own sake.  But the underlying motive for such bigotry is usually preservation of an unearned economic or political advantage.  That’s the “Gone with the Wind” narrative of the Old South *and of Margaret Mitchell’s literary masterpiece, as well as 1939 epic film).  Nationality functions somewhat this way, as we see with the immigration debate, where race and religion obviously play in (particularly in the mind of Donald Trump).

You could consider the “worker class” (and labor union members) as a subject of identity politics.  “Workers” are indeed arguably “exploited” by capitalism – that is, people who did not do the labor with their own hands benefit from it with some degree of unseen sacrifice by workers (sometimes substandard wages overseas, even living in dormitories like pseudo-slaves).  They generally aren’t the targets of emotion-laden bigotry, but they are the subjects of political and economic manipulation by the already wealthy and powerful.  And labor leadership tends to be heavily politicized internally, demanding local loyalty of its members, sometimes with strong-arm tactics.  The Left can the as oppressive as the Right.

That brings us to “LBGTQ” (Donald Trump stumbles over remembering to say “Q” while pointing or raising his pinkie finger, as if Stephen King could serve up a nurse to amputate it (“Misery”, 1990).  Historically (much less so in more recent decades in western countries including the U.S. but still so in many Muslim and sub-Saharan “Christian” countries) there has been a lot of plain hatred and bigotry that defies rationality.  One prosecutor in (Pence’s)  Indiana tells me that he sees it just as another way for some people to feel more powerful in the pecking order (to have people “to feel superior to”).  It seems like common sense that a lot of it has to do with procreation.  “Conservative” parents may believe they are being denied a lineage (especially relevant in my case because I am an only child), or people in communal settings or less mature economies (like Russia) could believe that gay men will make other men feel less secure about having their own kids and families (which is all some people have “to look forward to” and is maybe a religious connection to vicarious immortality).  Then, in the 1980s, there was the way the right wing construed the public health “amplification” argument.

“LGBTQ” is really several communities (rather like saying Spain comprises several autonomous countries)  The cultural and personal values in the Trans community, or in black communities, can be quite different from “conventional” white gay males.   It is also usually a community someone was not born into, but “chose” (so to speak) to join, at least implicitly.  People often do not have the freedom even to make these choices, especially overseas.

But within the more challenged sub-communities, internal discipline is often strong, just as in other movements (like labor).  Leadership likes loyalty of its members.  It welcomes conventional talk of the outside world in terms of that world’s oppression of “us” as a disliked, marginalized or beleaguered group, but resists discussion of issues that would affect the prosperity or sustainability of the larger “democratic” outside world as a whole, as something that it cannot do anything about anyway.

That has sometimes been the attitude against me in the past when I have brought up the way external threats (like energy security) could compromise my life and probably “ours” (or “theirs”).  Sometimes people react as if I were playing “I told you so”, in that I could have a pretext for feeling superior to “them” if anything really happens, and have an excuse for having to share my spare or life with “them” with more  intimacy or emotional connection than I usually have shown “outside my box” in the past.

I also get the impression that I am expected to support people “where they are” when members of a disadvantaged group.  I’m supposed to support the idea that anyone who feels dispossessed by gender circumstances can automatically use any bathroom she chooses without question, as if this were the highest political priority.  I am definitely “different” myself, and grew up with the idea that it was my responsibility to learn to carry my own weight when it comes to participating in common needs (the military draft and deferment issue of my coming age helps form that narrative, but many younger people are largely unaware of it today – which is one reason why feeding historical narrative as I do is important).  But personal responsibility, and karma, would also require giving back if one has been lucky with unearned economic advantages.

If I, as someone who is “different”, am still going to take “penultimate” responsibility for what I make of myself in life, then the “global” outside world matters.  Infrastructure matters, and may have a lot more bearing on how well I turn out that particularized discrimination.  Indeed, one observation is that poor people typically live in less reliable infrastructures, and are more vulnerable to natural disasters and to negligent landlords (which may well turn out to be the case with the recent major apartment explosion in Silver Spring, MD).

Indeed, many of the “threats” that LGBTQ people face as individuals or that African Americans face, can come from the “outside world”.  If we “work smart”, we can reduce these threats.   I realize that I can drive on a city street with less chance of being pulled over by a cop.  Maybe that’s privilege now.  But how many other people understand what it was like to live in a dorm in 1961 when other men feared merely being around me could make them fail with women.  They honestly thought that.

It does seem that there are some external issues that transcend conventional identity politics and tend to draw people together to deal with complexity and moral ambiguity.  Immigration, with all the nuances of refugee and asylee assistance, is one such issue today.

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Update: Oct. 19, 2016

Here’s an essay by Shawn Schossow, motivated by the debate over voting for third party candidates (Jill Stein), which defends the idea of “intersectionality“.

(Published: Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016, at 12 Noon EDT)

Fibbies still indulge in civil asset forfeiture; a violation of 14th Amendment? Also, what DEA downgrade on pot means

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Here’s an anti-libertarian story from USA Today by Brad Heath, “DEA regularly mines Americans’ travel records to seize millions in cash”.

There are some pretty obvious red flags, like buying one-way tickets, especially with cash.  And it usually happens when people carry lots of cash, especially from the few states where recreational marijuana is at least partially legal (most of all, Colorado).

The Obama administration had pledged to look the other way (especially on Colorado) except in the most egregious cases.

But it seems that the government is using surveillance techniques that the Electronic Frontier Foundation would certainly lobby against.

And part of the problem is that federal law makes it very difficult for “legal” pot businesses to use banks or financial institutions in a normal way.

But police and federal agents can seize cash and assets (including cars) without due process, and keep them in many cases.  I don’t know how the government is getting around the Fourteenth Amendment.

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True, “Ordinary People” (like in the 1980 movie) traveling in a “normal” way buying transportation online with credit cards would probably never run into this.

Note that Vox has, in a piece by German Lopez, explained what the DEA’s keeping marijuana as “schedule 1” really means. .   The “schedule 1” refers to the drug’s not having legitimate medical uses – although the DEA says it will look at specific chemicals in marijuana as medically legitimate on their own. Can isolated component of THC reverse nausea from chemotherapy or control seizures?

(Published: Friday, August 12, 2016 at 4:30 PM EDT)

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Update: Aug. 29, 2016

Washington D.C. will cause tenants to be evicted from homes or apartments under “nuisance” laws even when tenants are not prosecuted, as in this case involving marijuana use, story by Derek Hawkins and Kate McCormick, “Forced out of a home over a marijuana joint“. Landlords, even individual homeowners who rent, are supposed to be responsible for illegal behavior on their premises.  What effect would this have on housing refugees or asylees?