“Stability” really matters, for people who already have capital (earned or inherited)

OK, I am “retired”, and I “depend” on past accumulated wealth, much earned but some inherited, to keep these blogs going because they don’t pay for themselves.  They don’t require much money (or Piketty-style capital) to run in the grand scheme of things, but they depend on stable infrastructure, security, and stable economic and personal circumstances for me.

Yes, stability.  And judging from the “outside world” events of recent weeks, it doesn’t sound like something I can count on as much as I have.

For most of my adult working life, I was very much in command of the possibility for my own mistakes to undo me and possibly end my stable I.T. career (as with bad elevations into production).

But early in my life I was forced to be much more aware of eternal demands by the community I was brought in.  Gender conformity had to do with that.  Then came the military draft and Vietnam.  There was an expectation of eventually having a family even if running a gauntlet that could expose me to some personal fair share of community hazards.  This had much more to do with my own “mental health” problems in the age 19-21 range than I probably realized (including a brush with nihilism in 1964).

It is true, of course, that my employment could be affected by outside business events like mergers and takeovers, but in my case these actually worked out in my favor.  And earlier in my work life I was concerned about staying near a large city (New York) where it would be easier for me to “come out”;  the energy crisis was actually a threat to my mobility, as was potentially NYC’s “drop dead” financial meltdown when I was (finally) living there.

So it is, in retirement.  If you have accumulated wealth, you want the world to be stable so you don’t have to watch your back, and face sudden expropriation because of political deterioration (maybe combined with a natural catastrophe).  You want to believe if you pay your bills, make good choices, and play by the “rules” you will be OK.  And you find people knocking for attention your life, and you have to deal with the knowledge that they didn’t have the situational stability that “you” did.

It’s possible to find one’s life suddenly becomes a political bargaining chip. For example, Congress could try to means-test Social Security recipients (even current one) as part of its debt (and debt ceiling) issue.

I have to say I do have a gut reaction from “extremists”, whether associated with Communism (North Korea) or radical Islam, who make threats that sound personal, as if they saw someone like me as a personal enemy.  I do understand the racial contact, that some people will take statements (hate speech) made on the alt-right that way, also. But combativeness has become a problem that I had not anticipated throughout most of my working life.

It is true, also, that the most extreme scenarios from foreign enemies could reduce me personally to nothing.  The conservative Weekly Standard, after 9/11, liked to use the term, being “brought low” because of the resentment of others.  In the North Korean threat, there are many nuances.  The right wing talks about EMP, and the major media refuses to mention it.  It could become a real threat, but my own probing of the utility world suggests it is making some progress in making transformers less vulnerable (to “E3” threats, also posed by extreme solar storms).  (The power companies won’t say exactly what they are doing, for good security reasons.)  Personal electronics, cars, and data can face threats from a different mechanism (“E1”) which actually might be easier for an enemy (including retaliation by the DPRK) to pull off.  This is a developing topic that the major media just doesn’t want to cover yet (outside of cyberwar, which is better known, as with the psychological warfare implications of the Sony hack).

I have to say, too, that for one’s life to come to an end out of political expropriation or violence is particularly ugly.  I was privileged enough to avoid Vietnam combat, and I was “safe” enough not to get HIV, which previously could have been the most dangerous threats I faced.  I was economically stable for my entire work career, which sometime after 9/11.  I did have some family cushion.

The basic reaction from most people is to “belong” to something bigger than the self.  I think all this relates to “the afterlife” and I won’t get into that further right here. In retirement, I’ve had to deal with constant reminders of how narrow my capacity for personal intimacy can be, even if it can be intense in the right circumstances.  Yes, now I have to throw the “psychological defenses” (Rosenfels) to maintain my personal independence and stop being dragged into the causes as others.  Solidarity alone seems rather alien to me, even if I can’t count on affording that kind of attitude forever.

Again, as to the “belonging” idea, throughout history, individuals have suffered because of the actions of their leadership.  In Biblical times, it was considered morally appropriate that all members of a tribe be punished together for “disobedience” (to “Jehovah”).  In modern times, it’s the “everybody gets detention for the sins of one in middle school” problem,

I want to reemphasize my intention so see all my own media initiatives through.  That includes getting a novel out in early 2018, trying to market a screenplay, getting some of my music (written over 50 years, some of it embedded in two big sonatas) performed.  The best chance to make some of this pay for itself would be to get some (perhaps conservative) news outlets interested in some of my blog content, especially in undercovered areas (power grid security, filial responsibility laws, downstream liability protections in online speech scenarios including copyright, defamation, and implicit content (which can include criminal misuse like trafficking).  The intention is to help solve problems in non-partisan manners away from the bundled demands common with “identity politics”.

I tend not to respond to demands for mass “solidarity” with so many other causes, and I usually am not willing to “pimp” someone else’s causes as my own.  But I realize I could be riding on partially unearned privilege, which can become dangerous.  Indeed, having inherited wealth subsumes a responsibility to address needs as they arise;  to ignore them would be tantamount to stealing. I tend to think that helping others is easier if you are in a relationship or have had kids (that became an issue when I was working as a substitute teacher).  I think there can be situations where one has to be prepared to accept others as dependents and “play family” (and this often happens in estate and inheritance situations anyway, although it did not specifically in my own situation). We saw this idea in films like “Raising Helen” and in the TV series “Summerland”.

I’ll mention that it looks like I’m selling the estate house and moving out in October. That would remove the hosting opportunities for now; but, after downsizing, it could make other volunteering much easier and even open up the possibility of volunteer travel (although I need to stay “connected” at all times when traveling as it is now).

I have to add that taking on dependents grates against complacency. It means more willingness to sell other people’s messages rather than on sticking to your own.  Our culture has developed a certain split personality: resistance to sales people or middlemen and to being contacted by cold calls (the robocall and cold call problem), yet an expectation of voluntary personal generosity and inclusivity online.

The sudden announcement of the intended termination of DACA is a good example of how instability affects those less fortunate. Although I really believe Congress will fix it in the required six months, today “dreamers” would have to deal with employers or schools who are uncertain as to what their legal status might be in less than a year.

(Posted: Tuesday, September 5, 2017, at 7 PM EDT)

People in “groups” need to pay heed to the outside world; we can lose it all

It’s important to keep up with the outside world.  Generally, throughout my adult life, I’ve often gotten feedback from some people who say they don’t need to get scary news from the political world from me (unless it’s about their own tiny bubble).

As I’ve noted here before, I don’t necessarily rush to elevate every victim in every marginalized group, including my own.   I have to agree with Peter Thiel, speaking at the DNC, that LGBTQ people have more pressing issues that bathroom bills – although I have to say that North Carolina’s recent HB2 “repeal”, under pressure from the NBA, is a bit of “bait and switch”, even in the language of Barbara Ehrenreich. In fact, major league sports have recently become the :GBTQ community’s ally out of self-interest.  Major League Baseball, for example, though it has very few if any openly gay players right now, knows it eventually will have them.  It is quite credible, for example, to imagine a transgender person as a relief pitcher or “closer” for a pennant winning team.  (And one wonders about big league sports and the rare cis females who happen to able to play.)

Over history, collective security for a country or a group is a big influence on respect for individual rights.  Whatever our internal squabble, a common enemy or peril can force us to come together.  We found that out suddenly after 9/11 (which I do think Al Gore would have prevented).

While Donald Trump has first stated that ISIS is our most dangerous enemy (because of its unusual asymmetry and targeting of civilians).  Trump has gotten a rude awakening (“foreign policy by ‘Whiplash’”, complete with Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons) from Assad’s chemical attack on his own people this week, and may suddenly realize how dangerous it is to remain bedfellows with Vladimir Putin.

it’s quickly becoming apparent that our most existential threat may indeed come from North Korea (whom we got a rude shock from in cyberspace over the  Seth Rogen and James Franco movie “The Interview”).  This morning, on p. A14 of the Washington Post, Anna Fifled has a frightening and detailed article, “Does North Korea have a missile that can hit the U.S.?  If not, it will”. Online the title is more blunt. “Will North Korea fire a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland?  Probably.”

The article goes into the technical challenges of actually directing a nuclear warhead thousands of miles.  But North Korea is making progress faster than we had thought.

The article does play down the satellite EMP risk discussed here earlier (March 6).  There’s a valid question as to whether NORAD would find and intercept such a missile (My classified computer programming job in 1971-1972 in the Washington Navy Yard was about just such capability. ) Fifield notes that it may be harder for US spy satellites to spot the missiles as they become mobile on the ground.  And a pre-emptive first strike against North Korea would invoke the obvious problem of making South Korea an instant target (as well as Japan).  This is no time for the president of the United States to have an adversarial relationship with his own intelligence services.

It’s also a time to ponder national resilience again, at a personal level.  I am not a member of the doomsday prepper crowd, although I have several Facebook friends who are.  There is something reassuring about being able to take care of yourself (with guns, and your family (with firearms if necessary), and property, in a world suddenly radically changed by “Revolution”. I can see how some people (mostly on the far right, to be sure) see this as a component of personal morality.

There is some debate as to whether DPRK can threaten all of the US (by Great Circle routes) or “only” Alaska, Hawaii, and the West Coast.  But imagine life with Silicon Valley and Tinseltown gone. (I’m reminded of the second “Red Dawn” film particularly, as well as “Testament“).  After Hurricane Katrina (and just before Sandy) there was some discussion of “radical hospitality”, as to whether ordinary homeowners with some extra space should prepare themselves to house strangers after a catastrophe.  The idea has obviously come up in Europe with the migrant crisis, less so in the US (but somewhat in Canada).  As I’ve noted here before, the idea can be tested with asylum seekers (and it hasn’t gotten very far yet).

I’d mention here that a bill to require women to register for Selective Service has passed he Senate, quietly.  A prepper friend posted this on Facebook.

Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT

Consider this recent piece in the April 11, 2017 of Time Magazine about loose radiocactive waste in the former USSR and possible terrorist “dirty bombs”.  Victims in an incident could be too “hot” to treat, and then there is real estate whose value goes to zero, a definite attack on the rentier class.  Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (with some recent articles about North Korea including charts and timetables) warned about all this in the 45-minute 2005 film “The Last Best Chance“.

Trump has pitched the virtues of living “locally” at his “thank you” rallies

One of the points Donald Trump tried to move his crowd with at a “thank you” rally in Ohio was the idea that people want to live locally and take care of their own business locally, and that people should live relationally and locally.  That goes along with his more recent speculative comment (in relation to Russian hacking of both major political parties) that “no computer is safe.”

That sounds like a potential, anti-intellectual anathema for someone like me, who likes to play the role of global observer, a sort of alien anthropologist which Mark Zuckerberg has become much more successfully than I did – but I had first helped forge “a path ahead” in the 90s.  Indeed, in the LGBT community there is a certain sort of cosmopolitan gay male who seems himself this way – Milo Yiannopoulos, the quintessential bad boy, anticipated by “bad boy” Shane Lyons’s character (played by Timo Descamps) in the now classic sci-fi fantasy “Judas Kiss”, linking modern world values to the ironic moral problems associated with the notorious Biblical character’s betrayal of Jesus (as in the CNN series “Finding Jesus”). In the “straight” world (again, ironically), people have perceived celebrities like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and punk-master Ashton Kutcher this way.  (Any one of these three would have been fit to be president now.)

Local values have played out in different ways.  Back in the 70s and 80s, people were moving to the suburbs, and companies followed them from the cities, to provide safer and more segregated lives for their “families”. This was bad for a singleton like me, who needed geographical mobility as a kind of “power” (and in my case, in the early 70s, to “come out”).  Now, the genie is instant self-broadcast in public mode online, influencing “strangers”.

Local values are more or less commensurate with “family values”, being able to find meaning in the emotional connections to others, of varying ability, in one’s immediate “family group”, before moving out into the world.  Finding emotional connections meant local focus, and it also emphasized hands-on practical skills at home.  For example, this used to mean conformity to gender-related expectations.  All of this can be quite challenging to someone who is “different” and is likely to move into a different community as an adult.  Yet, when someone does, he or she is likely to find a comparable expectation of loyalty and openness to emotional connectedness, and resentment of cherry picking, in a new social community.  But local values can impose original family obligations, meaning everyone needs to learn to be hands-on taking care of the elderly and even other people’s children;  “Raising Helen” scenarios are indeed unpredictable.

Local values may grate against “identity politics”.  People are born into families and communities (subsuming socially constructed races and politically constructed nation-states) and often expected or goaded into accepting these as their “groups”, which indeed remain the objects of “zero-sum thinking” political barter.  But people often perceive themselves as members of other self-defined marginalized groups (especially with respect to gender and sexuality).  Religion is somewhere in between.

“Local values” are also commensurate with “doomsday prepper” values.  These precepts include the idea that everyone should have the practical skills to survive in a small social unit without dependence on modernity. These included self-defense (responsible gun ownership), mechanical skills, to do repairs on home and automobiles, and some ideas of chivalry, like that men should be able to change tires for women.  There is an idea that one should be “good” with this before moving on to the bigger world “on the outside” as an adult.

Sometimes these ideas seem anti-intellectual, prone to pressure to accept religious dogma and fellowship as dictated by others as truth (partly because it is so easy to rationalize anything “globally”).

But, again, the point is for the individual to consider just what will be expected of him and her, by a society that may look at him as beholden to others by definition. It certainly invites authoritarianism, even feudalism. Information is handed down along with political and social authority, and limited to what can achieve immediate practical results for the community.  Personal creativity is discourage for all but the very few who “make it”. Everyone else must live and reproduce for the good of the group.

When one does acquire fame and wealth and the things “adults” typically want in a modern western society (“democratic capitalism”) one is challenged by the idea that one is obligated by the sacrifices others in his “family groups” have made.  But he’s also inherited karma from these groups.  If his family lived off of ill-gotten gains, he or she may wind up on the hook for it.  That’s sort of the lesson Scarlet O’Hara learns and lives through in “Gone with the Wind” – but perhaps Scarlet was a prepper after all (“I’ll never be hungry again,” and she wasn’t.)  Remember how the novel begins, with her denial of the talk of war, which could disrupt her comfy life (funded in an ill-gotten way by slavery);  then at the end, she has gotten it all back, but loses another man (Rhett).  It’s easy to imagine many situations where people face the same thinking today:  young people who grow up in settlements on the West Bank, for openers.  Do you really inherit ancestral rights as part of a religious group or nationality?  I’ve never believed that as a moral precept.  Things can be taken away from you so easily.

Preppers may be on to something else.  They often believe that existential shocks to civilization are inevitable and happen cyclically, even if civilization is to survive for millennia and some day move to other worlds – which will provide new moral problems (how to select who gets to go). So they believe everyone needs to be willing to participate in a world where their old lives could end and where they still have to hand over a world to future generations. But I think we have to get smart enough at some point that we take care of our planet and don’t let our way of life get away from us.  Yes, we can.

(Posted: Monday, January 2, 2017 at 3 PM EST)

Families of victims of Orlando Pulse attack sue Twitter, Google, and Facebook in federal court in Michigan, outflanking Section 230

Three families of victims in the June 12, 2016 attack on Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL (about one mile south of downtown) have filed a federal lawsuit against three major tech companies (Twitter, Google, and Facebook) in the Eastern District of Michigan (apparently not in Florida). The complaint against Google seems to involve its wholly owned YouTube video posting service, and possibly Adsense or other similar ad network products, but probably not the search engine itself or the popular Blogger platform.

The PDF of the complaint is here.

The “Prayer for Relief” at the end of the document mentions civil liability under United States Code 2333(a), and 2339(a) and 2339(b).  The statutes are at 2333  Civil remedies  2339  “Harboring or concealing terrorists”   https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2339    I don’t see an amount specified, and I do see a trial by jury requested (apparently chosen in Michigan).

I have previously described the preliminary news about the litigation on one of my legacy blogs, here.

Points 148 and 149 in the Complaint try to establish that perpetrator Mateen was likely radicalized on these social media sites. But compared to other biographical information about Mateen now well known, it seems to many observers that social media influence on his intentions was probably small compared to many other factors in his life.

The most novel aspect of the argument seems to be the way the plaintiffs try to get around Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (also known as the “Communications Decency Act”), test  Section c-1 says that no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as a publisher…

The plaintiffs claim that the aggregation of user content (as written by a terrorist recruiter), including any text, still images, and video, is regarded in the context of the user himself or herself, and also in the context of an ads generated and shown on the web page, either a computer or mobile device.  This new context or “intersection data” (to borrow from IBM’s old database terminology from the 1980s) is regarded as new content created by the social media company.

It should be noted that all the companies do have algorithms to prevent advertiser’s content from being delivered to offensive content.  For example, Google adsense will not deliver ads on pages when Google automated bots detect offensive content according to certain criteria which Google necessarily maintains as a trade secret. This would sound like a preliminary defense to this notion.

Also, as a user, I don’t particularly view the delivery of an ad to a webpage as “content” related to the page.  Since I don’t turn on “do not track”, I often see ads based on my own searches on my own pages. I am generally not influenced by the appearance of ads on web pages.

The plaintiffs give many details as to how foreign enemies (particularly connected to ISIS (“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”) used their accounts on these platforms, and how, supposedly, attempts by the three companies to close accounts when they were discovered were insufficient.  A quick reading of the complaint does not show convincingly how potential enemies could reliably be prevented from establishing new accounts, but some failures (like related user names) do seem detectable. It would sound possible (to me, at least, as colored by my own military service in the distant past) that the idea that specific foreign enemies treat US civilians at home as combatants could become legally relevant.

User generated content, as we know it today, would not be possible if every item had to be approved by a “gate keeper” which was generally the model in print publishing before the Internet (outside of self-published books).  Even in traditional publishing, authors usually have to indemnify publishers against unexpected liabilities.

Nevertheless, there are some functional differences between what telecommunications providers (like Comcast or Verizon), hosting companies (like Verio, Godaddy, or Bluehost), and self-publishing platforms (like Blogger and WordPress, the latter of which is usually provided by a hosting company but doesn’t have to be), self-publishing companies for print-on-demand books (and e-books), and social media companies (which were originally envisioned as meetup tools but have tended to become personal news aggregation platforms) – provide for end-users. Add to this mix entities like chat rooms and discussion forums (like Reddit).   A loss by the defendants in this case (at least after appeals) could affect other kinds of providers.

Companies do have a responsibility for removing and reporting patently illegal content when they find it or when users report it (like child pornography).  But they don’t have a responsibility to pre-screen.  Nevertheless, companies do have some prescreening tools to apply to images and videos using watermarks to compare to databases for possible copyright infringement, and for child pornography (as maintained by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children).  Google in particular has a lot of expertise in this area.  But it is hard to imagine if this technology could screen for terror-promoting content.

Downstream liability for publishers has been assessed or at least conceded in the past, after crimes have been committed based on published material.  For example, consider the history of Paladin Press with the book “Hit Man” (Wikipedia account )

This case sounds very uncertain at this time.  More details will be provided here (in comments or future postings) as they become known. .

There have been a few other downstream liability suits against social media companies in relation to the Paris attacks in 2015. Brian Fung has a story in the Washington Post, “Tech companies ‘profit from ISIS’ allege families of Orlando shooting victims in federal lawsuit“, and notes that under Trump a GOP Congress is likely to weaken Section 230 when foreign enemy manipulation is at issue.

The pictures are from my visit to Detroit (Aug. 2012), and downtown Orlando festival and then the Pulse (July 2015).

(Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 at 11:45 PM EST)

Trump’s foreign policy ideas focus on ISIS because of the deliberate targeting on American civilians, as “warfare”

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First, Donald Trump’s erratic behavior after winning the election does worry me – making statements (in “Twitter storms”) that would ignore Supreme Court rulings (flag burning), complaining about “illegal voting” without apparent factual evidence.  Some of the people he courts seem to be “science deniers” and have ties with extreme positions on a number of issues (race, LGBT) in the past, even if some of these people claim their views have changed somewhat with the times.

I can even understand the preoccupation some people have with “family” or “tribal” loyalty, with the “take care of your own first” idea, and with respect for authority, and the idea that a lot of people who complain or protest are moochers or “second-handers” (to borrow a term from Ayn Rand in “The Fountainhead”) looking for attention.  I’ve leave all that aside for now.

I do share some of Trump’s concerns over national security, even the idea that the nation is in some peril (as the Washington Post characterized his speech at the GOP convention in Cleveland).  I would want to make “infrastructure” great again – but I would focus much more on some specific areas (like power grid security) and in general, would develop ways to make renewable energy use profitable and cost-effective.  I think that a progressive attitude on climate change is actually good for business and jobs.

I also share Trump’s concerns over the Left’s obsession with identity politics, and elevating victimhood, which I personally don’t find honorable.

So if I were the president-elect, I could make strong statements on some of these issues, without suggesting retaliation against opponents or critics, and without showing disrespect for the Constitution, and without baiting various racial, religious or gender-issue-associated groups.  Both parties would be fine with what I would say, especially the GOP mainstream.  And, yes, there are some things seriously wrong with the way Obamacare works now, and it hurts some people.

Before getting to foreign policy in this post, I want visitors to look at Christiane Amanpour’s speech about the developing threat to journalism. I also want to call attention to the hard-hitting journalism by Trey Yingst of OAN, with a story about him here .  Yingst has done some live discussions on Facebook about the carnage of civilians in Aleppo.

Washington Post editor Martin Baron has a major op-ed in Vanity Fair on the crisis,  His advice: do our jobs.

Margaret Sullivan talks about “access” and “accountability” forms of journalism and then says “Get over it, journalists, and then adapt.”But access journalism, as she defines it, would seem to violate objectivity (if you have to “join the team” first to have access — that’s a problem with bloggers and volunteer groups).

And to the best of my knowledge, it appears that most of the carnage seems to come from Assad, and maybe Russia, claiming to eliminate terrorists.  But in much of the rest of Syria and in northern Iraq, of course, ISIS is responsible for all the atrocities and carnage.

At this point, it’s appropriate to note that Donald Trump’s planned foreign policy seems to emphasize eliminating ISIS rather than also opposing Assad, or opposing Russian intervention in former Soviet republics.  NBC News has a good summary here.  Another source is the WSJ, here.  RT claims that opposing Assad would jeopardize US-Russia relations, here, but RT is a Russian site, so you expect that.

Trump seems focused on ISIS because of the asymmetry of the way ISIS seems to be encouraging its followers to target civilians at home in western countries, through social media (especially Twitter) recruiting and the “Dark Web”.  ISIS is effectively treating civilians in western countries, including the US, as combatants who bear the moral hazard of what their government does, and exposure to sacrifice.  It’s a kind of thinking that recalls to me my own journey with the Vietnam era draft, and the privilege of escaping the risk-sharing through student deferments.  It brings back a style of moral thinking of a half century ago when physical cowardice was viewed as a mortal sin.

So Trump can reasonably claim he is protecting individual citizens’ lives from personal peril by emphasizing ISIS, instead of the more distant and conventional threats posed by Russia and particular North Korea.

Along these lines, the latest information about the Ohio State perpetrator, Abdul Azak Ali-Artan is particularly disturbing, as in this CNN story.   Artan seems to be a “second generation” refugee, whose mother and sisters were fully vetted by DHS and State before he came to the US with a green card in 2014 from Pakistan, having fled Somalia (one of the world’s most lawless places – “Black Hawk Down”, in 2007).  It will be of concern to see if Artan was himself recruited first on “amateur” social media (or searchable websites) here, or if his radical views had come from living in Pakistan.  I’ve covered how Trump is likely to view this on Nov. 7 and 27.  Breitbart has pointed to material on Vocativ covering ISIS claims and training videos. Indeed, if social media and user-generated content platforms are being “weaponized” by foreign enemies, from a legal and constitutional viewpoint, this can be a grim development for the future of everyday Internet speech as we know it,

Can Trump “constitutionally” censor or shut down what is going on?  I’ve covered some of this before, but the idea that American civilians are being drawn into war as combatants sounds, to me at least, like a good theoretical (“war time“) justification which most Internet users in the US would not really grasp yet.  Trump seems to believe (as do I) that you take “real enemies” seriously at their word.   After the Paris 11/13 attacks, the FCC said it does not have the authority to shut down ISIS or terror-promoting websites, as in this article in The Hill (Note the analysis below of the weak infrastructure for reporting outages.)   Information on how to build pipe or pressure cooker bombs, flux weapons and even nuclear devices has abounded in published books even before there was a widely used public Internet (the “library” where “It’s Free”).  Remember the liability that Paladin Press incurred for one of its books, “Hit Man” (Wiki) – that didn’t need the Internet.   France has tried to make it a crime to visit terror websites, an activity that would normally be hidden with SSL and use of https (Reuters story ), and which Electronic Frontier Foundation will say a lot about.  Nevertheless, one can imagine the idea of making “possession” of certain terror-related materials a crime on par with possessing (and distributing) child pornography. Precise definition would be a problem (we are not Russia).

As someone who has followed some of the “doomsday prepper” crowd on Facebook, with all the talk of TEOTWAYKI, I would think that more emphasis on the bigger threats (as opposed to loan wolves) is appropriate.    Trump is critical of Obama’s deal with Iran, but some on the right (even Newt Gingrich) think that Iran  would be the most likely foreign power to try a mass EMP attack like what happens in “One Second After” (which NORAD might stop).  North Korea seems to be accelerating its belligerence with its nuclear weapons program.  In the past, some observers have claimed that North Korea would be able to reach northern Michigan through the Great Circle route with a nuclear-armed missile.  Now CNN recently reported that such a missile could reach Washington DC within four years.  And Kim Jong Un, who can throw a tantrum over a Seth Rogen and James Franco movie (“The Interview”), probably will do something provocative on Trump’s first day on office.  And Trump could reach with the red button himself, without preparation.  Here’s a recent article in FP about US Missile Defenses.  The Daily Caller has a map (Feb. 2016) showing the claimed range of the Taepo Dong 3 as 13000 kilometers, encompassing the entire US.  Of course, a long range missile could be contemplated as a high-altitude EMP blast over the middle of the US, and there is a good question as to whether NORAD (Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado — “War Games“) would stop it from ever getting here.

(Posted Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at 5:43 PM EST)

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P.S. (later tonight)  Check the New Yorker article today, by Monchillo, “The Hand of ISIS at Ohio State“.  That article links to a pdf image of Rumiyah, which ironically has an illustrated page on “character”, not as David Brooks defines it.  If you look up “Rumiyah” (“Rome”) on Google, you don’t find a direct site (maybe blocked) but you find foreign server sites with various spellings (Trend Micro hasn’t rated them, but it would warn on any it gets around to visiting).  I tried one on an iPhone (waiting for a movie to start) and it required login.  I could say that the magazine is rather like porn, or it is like an explicit slasher horror movie that’s “bad for you” if you’re young and impressionable.  If taken out of religious context, it’s just the kind of stuff most parents don’t want their kids to see, and some filters would take it out.  That takes us back to the kind of debate we had with the CDA and COPA. We’ve been in this place before, talking about 11/13 in Paris, Santa Barbara, and Pulse.

ABC covers painful controversy over paying ransom to terrorists, or letting families do it privately

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Tonight, both ABC 20-20 and ABC Nightline approached the incredibly existential and sensitive topic of paying ransom to terrorists, especially whether families should be allowed to raise funds privately to do so. The broadcast was called “The Girl Left Behind” (detailed review on Blogger) and concerned the story of Kayla Mueller, kidnapped in Aleppo while working with Doctor’s Without Borders, and finally murdered by ISIS after an excruciating series of events.

Maybe the New York Times has the best answer for this dilemma, which only governments or states could implement, here, in an op-ed by David McAdams, Feb. 3, 2013.

The US government, of course, maintains that paying ransom can encourage more kidnapping overseas, as indeed it would. The State Department maintains that Americans should follow travel advisories closely, as it claims that one of the purposes of these warnings is to point out that the US government might not be able to protect “you” in certain hostile or less developed countries, especially those with dictatorship, war or conflict or religious intolerance (or sometimes abuse of specific populations, like LGBT).  Good questions come up, for example, with helping journalists covering conflicts and possibly living with or traveling with troops (which would presumably protect them).   Questions come up about the intrinsic value of normal diplomatic relations.  The government says that, short of an unlikely Special Forces rescue, there may be nothing it can do without endangering other Americans abroad. More recently, the Obama administrations seems to have intimated it will “look the other way” on privately funded ransom payments, which have been regarded as illegal. If they are allowed, in some circles private citizens could be pressured to participate against their own belief systems.

One other question would be, what happens if foreign enemies were to abduct people inside western countries (even inside the US).  Could ransom be offered then?  (Recently the government has said that it might be open to this in “sting” operations.)  This could become a dangerous development in the future.  It wouldn’t necessarily be confined to “radical Islamic terrorism”, to quote Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.  China has been known to abduct its own journalists in other countries, like Thailand.  Could this happen to Americans? Trump has indeed said, “China is not your friend.”

Still an opposite-leaning question is that major humanitarian organizations (like Doctors with0ut Borders) and sometimes faith-based groups send professionals or other young adults as volunteers into conflict-torn or unstable areas.  They could not send volunteers there if at least their own private supporters were not allowed to get them out.

(Published: Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016 at 1:30 AM EDT)

So, why do I always “write it up”? Hint: Hustle and Flow; and I may need “Identity politics” someday

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I recall back in fifth grade, probably in the spring of 1954, we were shown a black-and-white film about the Mexican Revolution.  The only match I can find is the pre-code “Viva Villa!” (Jack Conway), 1934.  I’m not sure why it was shown; maybe it was cleaned up.  (When I worked as a substitute teacher, the 1932 film “The Most Dangerous Game” was shown in ninth grade after the class had read Richard Connell’s short story – then to do a comparison of story to film, and also an essay on the relative virtues of “brains” v. “brawn’. Back in fifth grade, after we had watched the film for about an hour and a half, the teacher, a Miss Craft, ordered us to “write it up.”

So that’s what I do now on my blogs with most of the media I see.  It’s fair to ask “why”.  What do I accomplish?

I know the verse 1 Corinthians 13:11, and can wonder about childish things.  Indeed, there’s been a lot of fantasy in my life.  Isn’t model railroading a fantasy creation?  Isn’t writing fiction novels?  I remember as one summer in Kipton, Ohio started, maybe around 1954, we started to build a “play city” of blocks and toys on the outside sidewalk leading to the old potty (past a maze of grape vines).  Mother didn’t like out continuing “baby play”. But we just changed to fantasy baseball.  Back in 1955, I set up a whole fantasy baseball season with cardboard stadiums, whiffleball, and softball engineered to fit into back yards (sometimes over the fence was out).  This seems healthier (with outdoor play with real sports objects) that fantasy leagues on websites in casino style today.  (I won’t get too much into the libertarian arguments that the government should leave fantasy sports and onlne gambling alone – but I think it should, as would Gary Johnson.)   One day, I “gave it up” and threw away the paper records of the fantasy league.  I wish I still had them; they’d make for good antiques and history of life in the 50s.

In the summer of 1954 my cousin and I also made film strips (my best one was “The Land of the Bible” but there was also “Squish” (horror) and “Pie Face”.  Some of these had been real movies.

I finally settled into tournament chess, which still can become addictive.  Oh, it’s too much a game of skill for Las Vegas (unlike poker).  But on any given day, anyone can beat anyone else (almost), just like in MLB or the NFL.

All this goes against what my late mother used to call “real life”.

So what’s the point of all my blogging and writing in retirement.  I’m “lucky” enough that it doesn’t need to make much money, but that leads to another moral discussion later.

It started with the books, now in POD, and all of this was originally generated by the “gays in the military” issue, as I wrote here May 28.

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There was a backdrop of libertarianism – the idea that government should stay out of your pocketbook and out of the bedroom – a concept most Americans really prefer (but that neither major party can endorse because of historical entanglements).  The military issue was colored by the idea that military personnel, in practice, still have personal lives to be respected.  On the other hand, the idea that we need to have people to serve in the military (even with the draft “suspended”) means that there can be tension among what individual people – especially outliers like me, some standard deviations away from the social norms —  do and broader group (“societal”) needs driven by external factors, including enemies – which tends to make some of us dependent on the unseen sacrifices of others.  The military problems of “privacy” and “unit cohesion” seemed to have  parallels in many other areas of life.

So even in writing the books, I dealt with a lot of other concentric issues, like tension among different kinds of families (including singles and childless people v. traditional families), which could branch out into sustainability issues like climate change, national security, an aging population, and most of all, “ungated” user-generated speech.’

I believe, in writing the books and then in maintaining the material online (mostly in an “It’s free, It’s free” mode), I am playing history teacher.  We need to understand the pressures on people (our own families or “ancestors”) in the past.  I know I get flack for bringing up “external threats” or issues why acting as gawker or alien anthropologist, when I could reasonably “join in”.  (Remember how in the movie “Rebirth” the commune has a rule, “No spectators!“) Of course, I grew up in a culture that “expected” or even demanded that men become “protectors and providers” (if “I” didn’t do it, someone else had to risk the “sacrifice”), and that women become mothers. That doesn’t fly today, but it seems like a lot of people today don’t realize that is how it used to be (maybe out of necessity), and how it is in much of the rest of the world (the “authoritarian” and “religious” parts).  I realize you have to jump in sometimes and learn to have one another’s backs — but it’s important to hear independent voices on what the external world is doing.  Sometimes there is more you can do about it (outside of political correctness) than you think.

In time, I found I could attract visitors by maintaining my material online, first in footnote files connected to the books, then in a variety of essays and “editorials”, and finally blogs, and even more finally, modern social media.

Yet, I could take advantage of accumulated savings (from having less debt than most people because of childlessness)  and later inheritance.  That gets into a “reactive” moral discussion that I leave largely for later.  I didn’t need to make money from the postings, so I could afford some amateurism.  That’s where the whole “fantasy world” model comes back into play.

Nevertheless, I think that by covering a number of topics not ordinarily covered adequately by the normal media, I, as the “5th estate”, help “keep them honest” – merely by the fact that I always stay online, to be found by search engines, playing devil’s advocate for everything.  Some of these issues include matters like power grid security, downstream liability, Internet business model sustainability, and downstream liability exposures.   The bigger op-eds go on the commentary blogs; the smaller news items (about matters that could have surprising effects on things that matter to a lot of us) stay on the legacy blogs (and get circulated through social media news posts).

There are those who say it is harmful for “devil’s advocate” messages to come from the wrong person.  Very combative people, instead of ignoring unwelcome viewpoints, might target speakers or others connected to them.  Recently, I was criticized on Facebook for a posting that recognized the idea that civilians are being regarded as combatants by terrorists and foreign enemies, as if an “amateur’s” evening mentioning the idea makes it more likely that actual enemies will act on it.  But, this isn’t about ideology, it is about observing reality.  The same kind of thinking goes into legitimate arguments supporting capability for self-defense.

I don’t have much personal use for participating in “identity politics”, although at a certain intellectual level I recognize there is some necessity in it – if you belong to a group, then “all lives matter” to you in the group, something that is really not possible with total globalization of personal attention.

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I would indeed have to come off a “Dr. Phil” high horse to become more focused on specific people – to prove that helping them meant something beyond upward affiliation.  I can imagine a thought experiment (a favorite term of Andrew Sullivan, as I recall), where I do a “reset” (like in the movie “Jackrabbit”, July 27, where it’s forced on the world, making it dystopian) where all my online content is erased — something that was contemplated at one time to pursue a “real” second career selling stuff or teaching, to get around “conflict of interest” problems — a bit like throwing into a sanitary landfill the records of 1955 fantasy (“baby play”) baseball.  In churches (especially in Texas), indeed, I’ve heard people raise their hands and scream “I’ve given up everything, Lord, now I’m yours.”  How can I help others personally without an anchor in my own expressive identity, even made very public, first?

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I won’t get much further into this compulsive thinking too much now, other than to point to a comment made by a user on a friend’s website (that’s Vox technology and policy analyst Timothy B. Lee, who helped arranged on of my book talks when I was living in Minneapolis, when he was a student at the University of Minnesota.)   A male teacher writes here in the comments on June 4, 2016,  “Please, spend more time working with poor people disabled people, people in hospice, abuse victims, and explain to all of them what is your idea of a living wage.”  And my gut reaction would be, there’s no honor in becoming a victim, I just have to be strong enough to prevent it.  That sounds like Donald Trump, without the “takings sides” and baiting. The speaker would say, You have to get over that to be heard.  After all, the subtitle of my third book is, “Being Listened to Is a Privilege” (with this reaction).  Indeed, “It’s hard out here for a pimp.”

(Published: Sunday, August 7, 2016 at 11:50 PM EDT)

Assessment of Donald Trump’s “nation in peril” claims: it’s the quality (and novelty), not quantity, of threats that matters

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So, let’s take another look at Donald Trump’s vision of a “nation in peril”.

The progressive establishment says that total crime and violence is down compared to decades past. Quantitatively, that’s probably true.  Since WWII, “I’ve” lived through a lot of history.  Despite racial violence today, there was much more of it in the early days of the Civil Rights movement. Mob, organized crime, and drug-related violence was legion.  Rudy Giuliani’s cleanup of New York in the 1990s did make it safer (for Trump, especially), although probably exacerbating police racial profiling problems (bolstered by some notorious wrongful convictions, like “The Central Park Five”).  Some of this lingered for a long time (Rodney King) before resurfacing in many cities recently.

In fact, until probably the late 1970s, it was generally true that the big cities were less safe places to live (even in high rise buildings) than the suburbs.  That gradually changed in the 1980s, even as “white flight” continued with many corporate relocations (especially in southern cities). With a large classical record collection, I was concerned about property crime then, and I had a couple of narrow misses for burglaries in NYC and Dallas (in suburban-looking settings) from the late 70s into the 80s. Over time, technology has provided a lot of assist in protecting property (especially automobiles).

The real question seems to be about the kind of threat, and who could be in its cross-hairs.  It is a larger concern for “upper middle class” people today (especially whites) than it used to be.  Trump is right about that.  It’s useful to walk through the main changes in “quality” and play devil’s advocate for each point.

The first point seems to be that the pace of mass shootings and mass-casualty events have gradually increased since 1982, if you follow a Mother Jones report.  Supplementary charts at the Washington Post and CNN are helpful.  Most of these events were perpetrated by mentally unstable individuals with relatively little coherent ideology (although a history of bullying and workplace or school problems is common). But one can add to these (besides OKC) some mass casualty events overseas, especially in Europe, some by means other than assault weapons.  Radical Islamic terrorism has indeed (since 2014) increased rapidly as a threat to civilians, especially in Europe, and especially as a result of the implosion of Syria and Iraq. While Obama’s policies may have something to do with this vacuum, more important are European social and policy problems.  Peter Bergen’s recent perspective on CNN is relevant. There’s also an interesting counter-perspective today in the WSJ by Max Boot, “The Terrorist Past Has a Message for the Terrorist Present”.

All of this argues, it seems, and especially in a “law and order” campaign advocated by Mr. Trump, for a progressive position on gun control (background checks, closing loopholes, banning civilians again from assault weapons), and indeed gun control might prevent a lot of “ordinary” crime.  It seems that it does in Britain and Australia, but it doesn’t in some areas of Chicago.  Once so many weapons are out there, it’s pretty hard to keep them to the “good guys”.  And gun control (as we’ve seen in France and maybe other places, even Orlando) might weaken the public from self-defense against very deliberate, very malicious attacks.

The second point has a lot to do with our growing dependence on technology, especially the power grids, and the communications (less so transportation) that emanates.  I’ve already discussed the possible extreme disruptions from large solar storms, or from large scale terror events related to electromagnetic pulse or maybe cyber-war.  Again, it’s important to reiterate that this threat is more likely from enemy states (like Iran or North Korea) than ad hoc terror groups. It’s also important to understand that non-nuclear pulse threats exists, although they have never been deployed on civilians in the West yet.  It’s important to note the possible danger of a radioactive dispersion device (“dirty bomb”), which, in Donald Trump’s world, would be an existential threat to real estate values (he never mentions that, ironically).  Bioterror remains significant (was with the anthrax attacks in 2001) but a natural pandemic (like avian influenza or a SARS-like illness) is more likely (Zika seems relatively small in the grand scale of things, however tragic for the children affected).  The best protection for the public from biological threats remains rapid vaccine development.

I’ve just gotten Gretchen Bakke’s book “The Grid”  (not to be confused with Byron Dorgan’s novel “Gridlock”)   In the introduction, Bakke mentions “microgrids” that already exist (set up by financial institutions and technology companies) and these do help to start to decentralize the grids, making them more secure.  She also notes that some utilities will not allow consumers to hook up home solar systems to their grids.  Major security concerns include also the lack of ability to repair or re-manufacture large transformers and transport them.   As the CBS interview with Ted Koppel (“Lights Out”) above indicates, the perhaps inadvertent connection of many larger utilities to the  public Internet is risky and troubling.

New Gingrich mentioned the nuclear threat at the RNC, but not the EMP threat explicitly.  It’s true that an enemy could decide to go “all out”.  But against the kind of some of our enemies, the old MAD doctrine (“Dr. Strangelove“) no longer holds, as it had against the Soviet Union and Communist China.  An existential attack on our way of life seems even more sadistic.  I was in a bizarre situation at NIH in 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded, a point that seems ironic today.

It is indeed true that “we” have faced quasi-existential “way-of-life” threats before — the Arab oil embargo of 1973 was a starting point.  These  potentially affected personal mobility (and lifestyle choice) then — and, however clumsily at first, we worked and produced our way out of these problems, only to find newer ones.

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The third major area is even a bit more disturbing.  I remember back in 1968 during Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, the topic of the Geneva Convention.  We were actually tested on it before graduation.  Donald Trump says he wants to gut it.  But one of the most disturbing aspects of recent attacks is the idea that ordinary civilians should become bargaining chips for retaliation for US foreign policy.  We heard this back in the fall of 2001 when the U.S. allowed Osama bin Laden’s “speech” to be broadcast on a Sunday afternoon after George W Bush announced the start of operations in Afghanistan.  Even more offensive is the idea that civilians bear personal moral responsibility (even in a religious sense) for what their governments do.  There’s no question that this was the attitude expressed explicitly by terrorists in some attacks (Boston, with Jahar’s “boat manifesto” and Paris, with explicit statements made at the Bataclan).  Indeed, as with Orlando, military style weapons have been turned on civilians, resulting in war injuries that need to be treated by military combat surgeons and rehab programs, not just by “gofundme” drives for medical bills.   Even more disturbing are scenarios that could target ordinary civilians in novel ways (as long as persons connected to them as in families) to make ideological points.  Donald Trump may have baited this idea in the past by threatening the families of individual suspected terrorists.  It’s this sort of thing that can be manipulated into rationalizations to clamp down on user-generated speech online (like “we’re at war folks”, like many European civilians during WWII, going all the way back to Londoners during the 1940 shellings, recently discussed by Sebastian Junger in his book “Tribe“).  Another personal aspect of this problem is the idea that there is something morally wrong is someone has “made enemies” even if the enemy is in some abstract sense morally wrong, too.  This was an attitude common in my early upbringing that was largely forgotten for much of my adult life, but that seems to have come back in the post 9-11 world.  Sometimes enemies appear because they feel we have brought them into a world where nothing is “earned” and where they have nothing to lose. Suddenly, as Donald Trump has (however crudely and with a lot of hypocrisy) forced us to face, it seems not so honorable to become a victim.  You still pay for the crimes of others yourself.

As for Europe especially, a booklet-length story by Rukmini Callinachi in the New York Times, front page, Thursday Aug. 4, 2016, reinforces all these concerns.

(Published: Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 4 PM EDT)

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Note: I gave a 38-minute sermon on 9/11 at the Dakota Unitarian Fellowship in Rosemount, MN in Feb. 2002.

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Retail chains have policies forbidding employees to resist crime: is this a good idea?

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Many retail chains have employment policies requiring clerks to abstain from resisting robbery attempts at their premises.  Most will terminate employees who do so.  The policies have a lot to do with liability lawyers and insurance companies, who point out that a clerk who resists could put customers in jeopardy and other employees.

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There was an incident recently in Frederick, MD where a clerk was fired after successfully disarming a violent intruder, but then, because of popular support, reinstated.  Jeremy Arias has a story in a local newspaper (paywall).

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It’s a good question, too, how consumers should behave if encountering such a situation.  There was a spectacular incident in De Soto, TX, south of Dallas, where a consumer shot an armed robber (story by Tom Steele).  The government has generally refrained from issuing specific advice.  Maybe that’s a good thing, because of a consumer’s behavior is unpredictable (if he is a “good guy with a gun”) that might help act as a deterrent.  That’s also true about policies for employees.  There is a community, herd effect beyond a franchise owner’s understandable desire to avoid liability exposure. If some clerks are armed and able to protect the premises and unpredictably so, some criminals might be deferred from trying.  I think Ben Carson made that point in one of the early Republican debates.

Many minimum wage or low paying jobs expose workers to danger from crime.  Think about it.  What would it be like to deliver newspapers by car in the wee hours of the morning in bad neighborhoods.

I have my own  short fuse on this sort of thing.  One time I quit a “telemarketing” job in late 2003 after someone I called after 9 PM threatened to sue me personally – zero tolerance.  I have said that if I am caught in public in a hostage situation, my own life, as an individual cannot be bargained for against someone else’s (policy ).  But even that, if widespread, could open a door to some kinds of attacks.

I write this returning home from a mountain day trip, as Donald Trump finishes his dark-toned speech about law and order.

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(Published: Thursday, July 21, 2016, 11:55 PM EDT)

Two major shootings by police, protests nationwide, and then snipers attack police in downtown Dallas, call it terrorism

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The problem of police profiling of African Americans and sometimes shooting them with little provocation during arrests, has exploded today.

After the cases (#AltonSterling in Baton Rouge, LA and #PhilandoDastile near St. Paul, MN), peaceful protests developed spontaneously this evening in many cities, including Washington and New York, and Dallas.

The fiancé in St. Paul recorded much of the incident for Facebook, with much coverage in the Star Tribune.

The protest in Dallas has turned violent with at least two officers wounded and at least one shooter at large, reportedly armed with an AR15, story.    WFAA continuing coverage.

Trey Yingst, whom I met one time at a WJLA-7 “Your Voice Your Future” forum, is covering this on Twitter right now.

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My most obvious reaction is that police (mis)conduct can seriously undermine law enforcement in the case of foreign or external threats, including enemy states or groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS or even other domestic groups. It’s possible at this point that the Dallas situation could be that risk happening.   There are reports of up to 50 rounds, others wounded (including DART police officers), and two men in custody.  (Latest:  at least three officers dead, 10 shot, by two “snipers”.  One hotel guest downtown reports seeing shooter.)

On the other hand, as compelling as the story and video of Diamond Reynolds sounds, we don’t know what the version of the police officer is yet.

Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota said that he did not believe this would have happened with a white person stopped.

Charles Blow of the New York Times said on CNN tonight that parents of black children have to “clip their kids wings” in telling their kids how to behave around police.

Gay and black CNN host Don Lemon (recently featured in DC’s “Metro Times”) said today, “I comply with police to stay alive.”  Lemon says he has never been in trouble with the law but feels as vulnerable to police as anyone.

Back in the mid 1990s, in the workplace in Arlington VA, an African American co-worker told me he was teaching his son to deal with discrimination and profiling.  That was during the time of the OJ trial.

I lived in Minneapolis from 1997 to 2003, and in Dallas from 1979 to 1988.

Some of the violence in Dallas happened near El Centro college downtown.  I actually took an “open door to Spanish” course there on Saturday mornings during the Cuban refugee situation in  1980.

This incident in Dallas seems to have been planned right in expectation of a protest gathering.  CNN coverage continues.

Update: Friday, July 8, 2 PM

ABC News has an up-to-date story.  The primary suspect, now dead, apparently was not motivated by foreign ideology, but indeed by “race”. But this is still domestic terrorism.

And would you believe, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called protestors and implictly even some bloggers or social media users “hypocrites” who endanger long term public safety and invite terrorism, AP and New York Times story here (Friday PM).

(Published: Thursday, July 7, 2016 at 11:5 PM EDT)

Updates: July 13

CNN publishes a piece “What Black Men of Dallas Need You to Know” by Mallory Simon.

CNN also published new details on the Castile case in Minnesota, by Rosa Flores and Catherine Soichet.  Police say that the officer thought Castile matched the description of a suspect.