Non traditional families and singles can (often) adopt children; should they be expected to?

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Should same-sex couples adopt?  It seems likely settled, in historic turnaround, that they can, in all 50 states, after a decision turning down Mississippi’s anti-same-sex-couple adoption law this spring, with opinion shown in this Huffington article.  I’ll add an article supporting the idea that children raised in homes of stable gay couples do as well as anyone.

I must prefix the rest of this by noting that the DC Center for the LGBT Community in Washington plans an information forum in November 2016 on adoption and foster care.  It may be intended mainly for couples, but there is a suggestion that all are welcome.

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There’s no question that suitability of a parent depends on the character of the parent.  It’s pretty easy to imagine Alan Turing as an ideal father figure because he had such unusual integrity and charisma, even though he never tried that role.  As a single “straight” man. Edward Snowden comes across the same way to me, because of focus on a moral ideal.

When I was working on my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the 1990s, I was surprised to find out how far the subject of gay parents had advanced (when compared to the debate on gay marriage, which was just then livening up in Hawaii). I read a book “Getting Simon: Two Gay  Doctors’ Journey into Fatherhood” by Kenneth Morgen, about how determined a Maryland gay couple was to raise a son.

But I want to come at this question through a back door.  Should non-traditional parents adopt children?  That means not just same-sex couples but singles as well.  It also includes ancillary questions like offering foster care, or even overseas sponsorship.

That would seem to depend on the overall level of need, about which evidence online is quite variable and inconsistent.

But if the need is great, that could imply a moral obligation for those who are able to consider adoption.

Adults seem to vary widely on whether they want children.  Some couples struggle with fertilization and it is their narratives that sometimes gives valuable clues to the need, as in some cases couples don’t find that there are that many “suitable children” to adopt.  A poster at Babycenter notes this real-world experience of many (traditional) couples.

But other sources point to the need for adoptive families for non-white children, or children with special needs.  And then consider this blog post.

I recall my last year living in Minneapolis, 2003, where I would see seats or signs at bus stops indicating a need for single people to adopt or offer foster care.

There is also a lot of tension on the Internet over whether all capable adults should be prepared to raise children, or if there is something wrong with not “wanting” them.  There’s no question, that the “educated middle class” perceives a loss of economic opportunity (men as well as women) and considerable economic risk in having kids at the most “desirable” ages (mid to late 20s).  Student debt is a problem.  The issue obviously interacts with the intellectual shallowness of the paid family leave debate (like who pays for it?)  In a real world, single people often wind up raising siblings’ children (sometimes as a condition for inheriting estates).

The idea that not every adult “wants” kids seems to rankle some people.  As this article from Australia suggests, some see it as a kind of “draft dodging”.  The BBC reports  that people who say outright that they don’t want kids being bullied on social media.  Time Magazine even dismisses the reasons for not wanting kids as inappropriately self-serving.  The Federalist   even refers to a book  “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster”  I note the idea of the “personal (mis)use of sex”.

An important process behind this kind of thinking is the idea that much of what is interesting in life only works when “everybody else has to do what you have to do.”  In an individualistic world, no one has a right to expect that sort of mandatory solidarity from others.  But that’s how authoritarian societies (probably inhabiting whole planets) work.

So, let’s comeback to the questions: can (and should) single people adopt?  Parents magazine (generally conservative) gives a guarded “yes”.   “Unmarried equality” backs this up with more specifics  and notes that some states have specified precedence rules requiring considering married couples first.  There’s also the synopsis of a debate from Brazil on whether single people should be allowed to adopt.

Besides adoption and foster car, there is the idea of informal sponsorship of children overseas, which many charities propose.  These involve having correspondence with a particular child.  To me this now seems a bit inappropriate unless “you” are ready for full responsibility, could travel there and try to adopt.

There is a cold, existential reality that “people life me” face.  It is hard to feel personal connection (beyond intellectual empathy) to children of the next generation needing to be supported and reared, without having successfully connected to a member of the opposite sex through sexual intercourse, with a total surrender of self implicit in the process, however temporary and usually reversible.

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Update: Oct. 1

A group called UMFS (United Methodist Family Services) had a booth today at northern Virginia LGBT Pride and told me that single people, at least for foster care and probably adoption, were needed.  The spokesperson said that couples who claim they cannot find children to adopt usually are “picky” about who they will accept (by age, race, and lack of special needs). Older children who have been in foster care often do have behavior problems.

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An aunt in Ohio took care of two foster children on a farm in the 1950s when I visited in the summer.  The boy played baseball and was an avid Indians’s fan — and I saw many games in the “Mistake by the Lake” in Cleveland (with the Senators).  The girl became a journalist in the Cleveland area.

(Posted: Friday, September 30, 2016 at 3:30 PM EDT)

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)

Think tank reports that support for private refugee sponsorship is growing in the U.S.

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The Niskanen Center in Washington DC reports, in a new article by Matthew La Corte, that private refugee sponsorship is gaining some political traction in the United States, link here.

The article links to a petition from Care2, “Tell the U.S. to legalize the private sponsorship of refugees”.

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Of course, an underlying question is going to be, how can private organizations vet people before they come over here.  DHS and the State Department have their hands full with a 10000+ quota this year, as a recent ABC Nightline broadcast (“Flashpoint: Refugees in America”) showed. Vetting a much larger number would obviously require private resources.

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The answer to that question may harken back to a church youth sermon back in 2012, with a touch of “Mission in Belize”: It gets personal (post).  The people who are likely be able to vouch for particular people seeking to emigrate to this country are those with familial, social or business contacts already with the individual people and families.  This seems to be the case in Canada and in some specific communities in the United States (in California’s central valley, in Michigan, for example). In many cases, it would be Muslim communities who have these contacts.  So the sponsorship initiatives probably would not be noticeable to non-Muslims.  However, there are Christian or other non-Muslim refugees who need to emigrate from some areas, as in Iraq.  I worked with a woman who had relatives in Mosul when I lived in Minneapolis.  The “less than six degrees of separation” idea seems to grow indeed.

The video above shows how the “Group of 5” private sponsorship works in Canada.  Individuals participating in groups must be capable of providing both personal financial support of refugees (as dependents) and social or familial support.  This involves more than just housing or “spare bedrooms”.  In the United States right now, it is more likely to be a group of 20, with government financial support for a while.

In Canada, health care for refugees would still be covered by government. But a big problem in the U.S. in a proposed private sponsorship would be paying for unpredictable health care costs of refugees.  Would these come out of sponsors’ pockets?

I’ve added a lot of links on various questions that keep arising on not only the refugee but also the asylum seeker issues, especially on “comments” to posts of July 21 and Sept. 20.  Here’s another story in the Washington Blade, from June 24, by Michael Lavers, “Brexit vote could adversely affect LGBT asylum seekers”.   That could indirectly put more pressure on Americans (or Canadians).

At some point, it’s impossible to prove that there is no risk in offering a “hand up”.  That’s obviously the case even when taken care of others who are closer to “being our own”, but we may believe that we know more about the risks with “us” than with “them”.  It’s true, when an individual makes this decision, he could (if inadvertently) increase the possibility to risks of others associated with him or her.  A lot of moral questions in life have to do with the way people are willing to share risks in the commons.  It does get personal sometimes.

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P.S. — picture I took “on the road” Sept. 24 of the detention center near US 30 in York, PA, where some asylum seekers who enter the country “illegally” are detained.

(Published: Friday, September 23, 2016 at 2:15 PM EDT)

September is “National Preparedness Month”: the arguments for “doomsday prepper” culture

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As the fifteen anniversary of 9/11 passed, we were indeed reminded that September is “national preparedness month”.

First, some of us are luckier than others in being able to live in areas that are less exposed to major natural disasters:  floods, tornadoes, major hurricanes, major earthquakes, and, especially in more recent decades in western states, wildfires, and even sinkholes.

Some of us don’t get to “choose” our level of exposure.  I would not like having to be prepared for evacuations if I lived in a coastal area – and that’s one reason I don’t care for Florida.  If I had “inherited” property in such an area, I would definitely have a well thought-out plan to move a lot of gear (especially electronics and computers) to a designated place inland.  I’d probably have storage inland.

And even in some parts of the country, some areas have more risk than others.  Wildfires present the greatest risk (usually) on the edges of exurban development.  (That wasn’t enough for residents of Fort McMurray, Alberta).  Large tornadoes are more common well north of Dallas, into Oklahoma and Kansas, than south in the Hill Country.  Even in the mid-Atlantic, which has a “safer” climate than most, there are areas that are more tornado prone.  Southern Maryland, and then north-central Maryland are miniature “tornado alleys”, the latter largely because of the exposure to southeast winds off the Chesapeake Bay, which add shear to low pressure cells inside thunderstorms (northern Virginia gets much less shear).  There is economic benefit, and more risk, in living near water.

I can recall a sermon by a local pastor (at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington) the Sunday before Hurricane Sandy in 2012, called “radical hospitality”, which encouraged people to be prepared to house each other in case of disasters.  As it turned out, Sandy, although creating 60 mph winds for as long as an hour, caused relatively little damage and few power outages, compares to New Jersey and New York.  In Manhattan, residents south of 34th Street did without power for a week because Con-Ed had not disaster proofed its transformers sufficiently against floods.  If you want to live in New York City, it’s safer if you pick a place over 100 feet elevation (much of the City is very low, even though you don’t realize it when you are there).  By comparison, the DC and Baltimore areas have much more of their residential areas above any conceivable flooding.

What many area homeowners face is the danger of massive destruction to their homes from falling trees – often neighbor’s trees that they can’t legally or safely do a lot about (legal article).

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Any homeowner who can afford it is well advised to provide an alternate source of power for his/her of the family’s home.  Solar is often the best option.  Another choice in many areas is a natural gas generator.  Typically, it costs about $10000 to power an entire house.  Gas lines are underground and cannot be damaged by falling trees, but they could pose a theoretical, although remote, risk of leaks.  A gas company hookup, properly installed by a licensed and approved contractor, is better than a propane tank setup.

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So, all of this aside, how important is it to learn all the skills (including self-defense) advocated by the “doomsday prepper” movement?

On Facebook, “Survival Mom” has a very bombastic page  where she refers to her blogs “The Survival Mom” and “Preparedness Advice” .  Some of her advice seems quite demanding in the essential wilderness survival skills to be expected even of kids (and one wonders if some of them, like hands-on CPR, should be high school graduation requirements).  Some of it is quaint (sewing skills), and some of it has an interesting moral tone (join a volunteer fire department, rather than depend on others to do this for you – Mormon-raised baseball p[layer Bryce Harper wanted to do this but his MLB contract won’t let him).   She also sometimes provides an evangelical Christian context which would not be the same as my own spiritual thinking. She also has a book, which I could get and review later.   I like her recent “top ten excuses for not prepping”.  She does use the term “Teotwawki” (“The end of the world as we know it”).

Is “Doomsday” inevitable?  I have always maintained we can “work smart” on climate change and power grid security, which I have written several articles about on this blog already.

There is another way to interpret this, however.  Our advanced technological civilization is very recent, compared to the entirety of human history.  Think ahead, how will future generations survive and prosper for millennia, maybe millions to hundreds of millions of years, maybe long enough for more civilizations to arise in “nearby” star systems and eventually become reachable.  It would sound that over the course of so much time, setbacks and cataclysm are inevitable.  Of course, evangelical Christianity has often professed “end of days” with debates over post v. pre tribulationism (which I used to hear debated on a car radio a lot when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s). But the “moral” need to provide future generations even in extreme circumstances sounds more compelling if it is our destiny to go for billions of years and finally leave the planet and solar system when our Sun becomes unstable and enlarges.  Imagine the moral debates of the future, over who gets to go on an “evacuate Earth” spaceship (actually a movie).  Procreation becomes a necessary virtue again.

I could compare humans to dolphins and orcas, who have about the same cognitive ability as us; but due to their aqueous environment and lack of usable “hands”, live a collective culture, even with distributed consciousness, depending on nature to grow their communications hardware biologically. They’ve been around millions of years longer than us and are pretty close to our equals as “aliens”;  but, because their environment doesn’t allow our kind of individualism to inspire quick innovation, they’re suddenly defenseless, against us.

I caught a bit of this, vulnerability to external catastrophe from enemies, growing up during the Cold War.  The Berlin Wall controversy erupted shortly before my own expulsion from William and Mary (covered elsewhere).  While I was a “patient” at NIH, I in 1962, I was the only patient who knew about the gravity of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I would “bully” or taunt other mental patients about their “worthiness” to survive an apocalypse.  Sounds very right-wing-y.  (Most men there would remain 4-F as for the draft.)  I recall, later, a 1965 British short film “The War Game” where survivors of a blast whine, “I don’t want to do anything” and lie down and perish.  Yet, I can understand how someone can believe readiness to go on and provide new generations is a moral ukase.

If surviving anything is a moral requirement, then it does seem morally incumbent on everyone to do his or her own share of preparation, so as not to burden others if and inevitably when something bad happens.   The ability to go on (and to build and keep marriages) would seem to add to resilience, the lack of which will get noticed by enemies.

One of the photos above is from the aftermath of the terror attack in NYC on September 17, which I cover more on another blog.

(Published: Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 3 PM EDT)

On immigration, race, IQ, and real need: science doesn’t seem to follow political ideology

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I had some discussions all day Sunday in New York City will old friends connected to my past experience at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s and the Paul Rosenfels Community.

Some of that video should appear later, and other materials will also

I wanted to make some specific note of comments regarding my prospect for becoming more directly helpful to other people, especially with respect to the refugee and asylum seeker needs.

One comment concerns the “generous” treatment of refugees in western Europe, especially Germany, where the government reportedly built many new apartments from them.  Reportedly, when some time limits expired, some refugees expected to be kept housed in relatively luxury at state expense.  And there have been cases of burglaries and sexual assaults reported by a few young male refugees, and prosecutors are unwilling to pursue those guilty energetically for political reasons, leaving female victims without justice.

It was reported that western European governments, especially Angela Merkel’s Germany, have interfered with the press and media, and even amateur bloggers have gotten in trouble.  We usually hear this kind of things about China, Russia, and Middle Eastern countries.  There is “no freedom of speech” because the Welfare State wants to protect itself.

There was also some discussion as to whether immigration from poor countries is good for established countries today.  I’ve written before of the pro arguments from libertarian think tanks like Cato and Niskanen, and of the papers showing long term economic benefits of active immigration. Immigration helps the United States maintain its population at replacement levels.  But in Europe, the original populations we think of as “white European” are declining and replaced often by Muslim immigration and by less educated people with higher birth rates, to the point that implementation of Sharia law in some areas can no longer be viewed as a right-wing fantasy.  The “Aryan” birth rate plummets despite generous paid family leave, because taxes to support the welfare state (and immigrants) have been so high. At least, this is some of the thinking of the “Brexit” right.

Immigration may also be “brain-draining” poorer countries., who should be given more nudging to build their own infrastructure and economies, even with the help of ideas like private micro-lending.

But does immigration of poor and especially non-white populations weaken the “peoples” of the new host countries?  This gets into the taboo topic of genetics and race, that a few libertarian-leanings scholars (not just Charles Murray) have been willing to explore.  Here’s a piece from May 2014 by Nicholas Wade in Time Magazine.

Wade argues that populations, separated in different parts of the world, will usually develop some genetic differences that can affect IQ, cognitive sentience, and individual self-concept.  One important idea is the ability to delay gratification, which generally is associated with greater cognitive development, “seeing around corners”, and social maturity – and more accomplishments as individuals even at young ages.  It’s also generally associated with individualism and relatively liberal social values, but rather literal expectations of the rule of civil law, as we know it in the West.  Cognitive ability also resists tribalism and, with some nuance, a lot of religious fundamentalism, or a tendency to be drawn in into cults and mass movements.

Poorer populations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have lower IQ’s because of childhood disease, poor nutrition, poor maternal care, and a host of reasons.  Some practices, like familial intra-marriage, affect genes (as do sickle cell).

It’s also important to remember that, when it comes to race, it’s not really about skin pigment itself (although evolving in a cold climate may stimulate innovation).  It’s more about geographical separation for long times.  Most Middle Eastern peoples are still “White” or Caucasian.  It seems possible that Caucasians in some areas may have inherited some Neanderthal genes, and kept me best ones in adapting to cold climates.

Interracial marriage and child-bearing may improve genetic variety in a people, because the genes of opposite-raced people may be more different with less possibility of genetic disease.  But marriage with a people of “inferior” genes because of some factors associated with historical isolation could weaken descendants. So racial intermixing, from a “natural selection” viewpoint, is indeed a mixed bag.

If someone is contemplating becoming involved deeply in helping refugees, that person might want to think about which refugees and asylees, and how valid the moral claim on his or her time or resources seems.

Some asylum seekers (as I noted on a comment posted today on my July 20 posting) may have indeed entered the country under legally questionable circumstances (such as smuggling through Mexico).  Donald Trump would be justified in stopping these kinds of entries into the country to start with (but then Trump, appealing to “lower IQ” voters, runs away with his profiling promises.  Some (like in my circumstances) might want to consider the “moral” claim underneath.  In the LGBT cases, it seems that the most disturbing aspect is that the asylum seeker had expected to return home after expiring a visa, when the home country (like Russia or Nigeria) passed a horrific law, so hosting an asylum seeker would, at least, be making a personal contribution to promoting international human rights.

One fact that I’ve so far overlooked, by the way, is that apparently in the LGBT cases, asylum must be applied for within one year of arrival (Jacob Kerr article from May 2015 in the Huffington index on LGBT asylum problems).

When it comes back to the question as to whether American private citizens should accept more personal risk and sacrifice to help refugees fleeing violence, many good questions arise.  Why don’t we have more aggressive sponsorship or housing programs (even involving private homes) for our own homeless or domestic violence survivors?  Why don’t we expect rich Muslim countries (like Qatar, UAE, etic) to do a lot more?

All of this sifts down, as I ponder what should be “expected” from me, having “inherited” a house that I don’t fully “need”.  I get the potential left-wing lectures (and sometimes hear them).  I must say, it could make sense to have responsible person living with me as I get older.  I wonder if there are programs to match domestic homeless with seniors, but I never hear about them at local churches.  I can imagine the benefits, and the difficulties.  If I get involved in this, it should be sometime that I know about and have written about.  Yes, the Russian problem sounds like it could be very much my business.

But the skepticism that many people feel about their being expected to welcome refugees and help asylum seekers does have some reasonable basis.  Donald Trump, though, appeals to the lowest common denominator – with irony.

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As for what I should do (and those Ninth Street Center talk groups would have demanded that I be “concrete” and use my own experience, not externalities in the world), I’m struck how housing someone means letting him depend on “me”.  That gets into issues like sponsorship or guardianship (legally murky at best).  The person I met with thought that being prepared to adopt or foster-parent children sounds more valid and perhaps prerequisite to housing refugees or asylees from foreign violence or discrimination.  And that would be easier to “contemplate” had I fathered my children (at least one).  She even thought that it is important for people entering marriages to accept the idea that the other partner may become dependent on them financially (most obviously during motherhood, but also illness).  I have to walk back to the irony of the conservative, meritocratic value system that precluded me from feeling interest in parenthood as I came of age.

(Published: Monday, Sept. 19, 2016 at 11: 45 PM EDT)

Blood donation policy in US still excludes most gay men in practice; is this really necessary for public health?

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I don’t think I have given blood since 1982.  I remember having outstanding blood pressure numbers then.

During that time, some gay men would sit all day in plasmapheresis centers, their forearms taped in a robust push to develop a Hepatitis B vaccine.  And Dallas banks would include “become a superdonor” with their statements in the early days of blood component and even bone marrow donation research.  I would get a Hepatitis B vaccination (two shots) from my own private doctor in the fall of 1982, covered by normal workplace health insurance.

I would learn that MSM (men who have sex with men) should exclude themselves from donating blood rather suddenly at an AIDS in formation forum at the old Metropolitan Community Church in the early spring of 1983.   This would also apply to organ donation (and I had signed an organ donor card around 1977).

So fast forward almost a quarter century   Finally, the FDA in the United States is willing to allow MSM to donate blood, but only those men who have abstained from gay sex for at least one year.  That even holds for men in longstanding monogamous relationships, not legally recognized as marriages.

In fact, no one is supposed to give blood if he or she has had sex with someone in a “risk” group in the past year.

Wikipedia has a chart of the rules, for the US and around the world, here.

Blood testing for HIV is quite thorough, and includes live antigen tests as well as antibodies.  Logically, with blood from a definitively higher risk source, there is a marginally higher statistical risk that an infected unit gets through.

This gets to be an ethical problem a bit like welcoming refugees –  asking members of the public to take a very small personal risk for a supposed common good.  It has to do with herd effects, like the vaccine debate.  It can invoke the idea of “sacrifice” (like military service).

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MSM supposedly have a higher risk of undetected infection because of the herd “chain letter” effect – women cannot give HIV (and maybe certain other blood-born viruses) back to other men as easily as men can give it to one another.

This epidemiology seemed particularly the case with HIV (originally called HTLV-III).  It’s speculative whether it could be the case with something like Zika, or perhaps Hepatitis C.   But in early 1983, right wing elements in Texas tried to use this speculative “sci-fi horror” theory to justify a very draconian anti-gay law, which would have banned gays from most occupations (let alone the military), but fortunately it never got out of committee in the Legislature (the Dallas Gay Alliance was busy with this one).

I needed a blood transfusion (one unit) after my acetabular hip fracture after an accident in a convenience store in Minneapolis in January 1998.  I would be comfortable with receiving a unit if the waiting period were less, say 90 days.

I did not give blood after the Pulse attack in Orlando, although I would have been eligible.  I live in Virginia.  Had I lived in Florida, I probably would have.  ( I had visited the Pulse myself in July 2015).

But it’s notable that Floridians (women and non-gays) gave blood to save the lives of those not legally able to reciprocate.

In fact, in Russia, some lawmakers tried to use the “unsafe blood” argument as justification for the anti-gay “propaganda” law in 2013.  (That Putin sees all speech as “propaganda” is itself troubling.) That sort of thinking presumes people have a natural obligation to offer sharing of their organs and body parts.

The blood ban was personally embarrassing to me once.  When I was working for USLICO, a company that specialized in part in selling life insurance to military officers, I was approached about a blood drive by another employee in 1993, and he sounded oblivious as to why the request could be problematic.

The blood policy would appear to apply to the Armed Forces, where MSM have been able to serve openly since 2011.  But emergency battlefield transfusions are rare in practice today.

When I was growing up, there was not as much that could be done about many life-threatening diseases, and (apart from local blood drives) organ donations were not talked about much.  Technology has ironically created a moral dilemma about one’s claim to his own organs, and when it’s important to “step up.”

(Published: Friday, September 16, 2016, at 6 PM EDT)

Does mandatory national service make sense now, in a free country, to promote risk-sharing and “egalitarianism”?

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Sunday, September 11, 2016, I looked at the Selective Service system, now possibly redundant, for any future military conscription.  It’s natural to ask whether it would make sense to extend the idea to national service.

I remember hearing proposals for national service after all the insider trading scandals on Wall Street starting in the late 1980s (or earlier, as in R. Foster Winans’s book “Trading Secrets”).

In early 2002, shortly after my “career-ending” layoff at the end of 2001, I did look at volunteering for the Peace Corps, and I went to an orientation session in Minneapolis.  But when I looked at the application form, it turned out they were looking for people with much more active social interaction (with children, for example, or the disabled) than I had experienced in the IT workplace as an “individual contributor”.  They even wanted personal references who could attest to the candidate’s interpersonal skills.  And, yes, the web presence I had built up in conjunction with my books could have been a problem overseas in underdeveloped countries.

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I recall, back in the 60s, that VISTA (Volunteers in Service for America) had some traction.  After 9/11, the government tried to promote Americorps but it seemed lost in its our bureaucracy.  The “Teach for America” program seemed to have some merit.

I think it’s unlikely a federal government bureaucracy can run service programs nearly was well as private non-profits, especially those that are faith-based (where, unfortunately, LGBTQ discrimination could still happen in some religions).

I think college-age people learn a lot from overseas projects that churches sponsor, with some risk, in the summers.  And churches often sponsor bus “camp” trips to volunteer after domestic disasters, but a lot of times volunteers are the ones who have to learn from more resilient rural residents who have to eke out a living in more hazardous places.

When I grew up, there was an expected time progression.  You were supposed to be in college by 18, and be graduated by 22.  Student deferments from the draft, morally controversial, somewhat sheltered the better off (and white), kept young men on this schedule if their grades were good enough. .

It’s natural  to think that national service could help solve the student debt problem,  Yes, there is help for veterans (link)   The Peace Corps has rather limited assistance that can help (link ).

I think the “libertarian” answer to student debt would more be that students should work more during their college years and often enough, start out adult lives with their own apartments and cars sooner.  This is particularly appealing for colleges located in technology areas (whether Silicon Valley, Austin TX, or the Research Triangle Park corridor in North Carolina), where there are plenty of companies that can give students a head start on the real world of work.   In fact, Peter Thiel gives fellowships to gifted students to drop out of college and start tech companies.

I recall in the summer of 1965, when I was still “living at home” and going to George Washington University, taking organ lessons at First Baptist Church from an 18-year-old organist Bill Evans who was a freshman at Peabody in Baltimore at the same time.

There are plenty of sites online that take sides on the national service debate.  This one mentions the mandatory risk taking (like the military).    Brookings offered a thoughtful discussion in 2002 by E J Dionne and Kayla Meltzer Drogosz.  Karen Whitney offers a piece for the “liberal” Huffington Post in 2012.   (Huffington has a piece against Teach for America.)   Richard Stengel proposed a detailed national service plan in Time Magazine in 2007 (“A Time to Service: The Case for National Service“) with many provocative components, including a Baby Bond, and various corps, such as Disaster Response, Senior, and Green. and a “summer of service”.   Most of the “pro” pieces come from a mindset of a certain forced egalitarianism, communitarianism, and statecraft.

During the time of “don’t ask don’t tell”, national service could have become relevant if the draft had been reinstated (as after 9/11).

One other facet off this comes to mind.  When I drive into rural areas, I see signs asking people to join volunteer fire departments – with all the risk-taking – everywhere.  Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had once mentioned the idea of joining one – I don’t know if MLB contracts would allow it.  I’m also reminded of the idea of Mormon missions – which the missionaries pay for themselves – but which sound like they involve so much religious proselytizing. Fire departments (as we say on CNN’s documentary on 9/11) involve a lot of communal living, just like the military, and back in the 1970s, before the lifting of the military ban could be taken seriously, their “forced intimacy” was sometimes used as ammunition against anti-GLBT discrimination laws.

Sebastian Junger offers a rather interesting argument in the video above, noting that humans are wired to survive together as a group and serve the common good, when necessary (see review of “Tribe” May 31 ).

Update: Oct. 1:  Hillary Clinton has proposed “National Service Reserve” on her own website.  She made some bluster of the fact that she tweeted about this at 3 AM while Donald Trump was indulging his fantasies about women’s desirability on Twitter.  While her proposal focuses on the service of young adults, it wounds logical to conceive as national service as periodic throughout a lifetime, but that would have a big effect on the courses of lives (like mine). Back in 2002, I did hear about a Peace Corps volunteer who had joined at 82.  On the other hand, not every (or even most) volunteer commitment should be viewed as “national service”; that would drain local volunteer projects.

Pictures:  from AARP’s “Meal Pack Challenge, as it ended, Monday, September 12, 2016.

(Published: Wednesday, Sept, 14m 2016 at 3:30 PM EDT)

Vox publishes groundbreaking “big idea” post on existential danger to modern civilization of extreme solar storms

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Vox has provided serious coverage of the power grid security issue today with an article by astrophysicist Lucianne Walcowicz, “How the Sun, our Greatest Friend and Enemy, Could Knock ot the Internet”.  This is part of a new series, “The Big Idea”, on Vox with articles by experts on critical topics not covered well enough by mainstream press.

The writer explains how an extreme coronal mass ejection could overload and burn out todays huge transformers, and apparently considers an extreme solar storm a more probable way this could happen than cyberterror or an EMP attack.

She also introduces the idea that an extreme solar event could disable much of the Internet without necessarily knocking out everything else electrical.  Few scientists have said this. But the detailed physics of comparison of an EMP event with solar storm suggests that an EMP event might be more catastrophic in terms of destroying personal and automobile electronics.

She mentions Gretchen Bakke’s book, which does not really go into a lot of detail on existential threats to the grids as does Ted Koppel’s.

This is one of the first major articles on the issue from a main stream news outlet, although the Wall Street Journal broached it a few weeks ago, and Sinclair Broadcasting provided a “Your Voice Your Future” broadcast that did not get very wide publicity.

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have mentioned the issue yet, although both are finally getting around to talking about infrastructure in broader terms.  But Ted Cruz mentioned it, ironically one day before the Brussels attack, to Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

In fairness to Vox, I see that Brad Plummer had produced a pretty comprehensive story about solar storms on June 30, 2014 here , noting again that the Earth dodged a bullet in the summer of 2012 (while I was playing “on the road” and not ready for a “bottom of the ninth”). Plummer gives some suggestions on resilience for the grids, which may have a lot to do with decentralization and less dependence on large load-switching transformers.

(Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 3:30 PM. An earlier version of this article was deleted due to WP formatting problems.)

On 9/11: Ponder, do we still need a Selective Service System? “Do Draft, Do Tell”

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On Friday, September 14, 2001, three days after 9/11, late in the afternoon on CNN, after I had returned home to my downtown Minneapolis apartment on the Skyway, I was a little started to hear the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-MI), admit that he might favor reinstating conscription.

Soon, Charles Moskos, the military sociology professor from Northwestern University in Chicago (and, along, with Sam Nunn, “credited” with the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military from 1993 to 2011) was writing op-eds that we should reinstate the draft.  One of them would appear in the Advocate, and is still searchable in Google Books as appearing in a 2003 article titled “Do Draft, Do Tell”, link here   or excerpted here.   Moskos also had an article in the Washington Monthly and a Post article, and today only a summary is “free” from the archive (even for subscribers, some old articles have to be “bought”, an observation I can return to later with Jack Andraka’s “open access” debate”)

Moskos, as I recall, was arguing that reinstating the draft would make the enlisted ranks of the Armed Services much more representative of American youth, economically, than it is now.

And Moskos was advocating the end of “don’t ask don’t tell” as it had been implemented then, and replacing it with a more lenient conduct-related policy (such as Bill Clinton had first wanted), although he was not specific on how to do it.  One obvious possibility is that people would claim to be gay to get out of the draft (as it had sometimes happened during Vietnam).  Moskos even emailed me in November 2001, “Gays must come out for conscription; then the ban would be lifted”)

Later Charles Rangel would make similar arguments in politically motivated proposals to reinstate the draft, as in the Christian Science Monitor story from 2006.

Much more recently, there has been some political flak over proposals to force women to register for Selective Service.  The Senate had voted for such a measure this spring, and the House (led by the GOP) voted to bar any requirement to require women to register, as summarized in this story by Richard Lardner, July 7, here.

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I spent a lot of energy in my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book going over the history of the Vietnam era (and previous wars’) draft, especially my own personal history with it (and 1968 bout with Basic Training at Fort Jackson, complete with a stint in “Tent City”, or Special Training Company).  I recall a weekend trip to Ohio (from northern Virginia) in the late summer of 1996, where I went to a steakhouse for dinner and took out all the information I had accumulated by mail from the Selective Service System. John Kennedy had wanted to exempt all married men from the draft, but that idea was scrapped about the time off Gulf of Tonkin when LBJ was in. (Kennedy had once said that an all volunteer Army would become an “all black” Army.) The student deferment systems, which I personally took advantage of (and compounded further by flunking bad students as an assistant instructor in math) was developing into the moral quandary of the day, as it seemed to encourage extension of inherited privilege.  Other papers from Selective Service indicated that Bill Clinton wanted to keep a draft in reserve (even with a “don’t ask don’t tell” compromise around) to make sure he had access to medical expertise in any real emergency.  In the 1990s, North Korea was feared more than Al Qaeda as capable of someday causing existential threats. (Maybe it still is.)

So today, we still face the potential of rehearsing the run-around of the same issues again.  The Selective Service System Website has a thorough history on women and the draft here.  Selective Service rules still require that people register according to their birth biological sex (link), a requirement which would sound open to legal challenge (with regard to transgender people) now.

So we must winnow down, and ask, does it make sense to keep a Selective System at all if we don’t intend to reinstate the draft at all?  People can still “volunteer” to serve on “draft boards”.  Seniors, maybe?

The moral questions are many.  One is the notion that conscription do defend freedom sounds like a logical oxymoron.  Another is that the draft incompatible with the right to life, especially as evangelical Christians sometimes argue the concept.  Still another is the idea that the male-only draft would constitute unconstitutional gender discrimination.  The Supreme Court struck down this idea in 1961 in the case “Rostker v. Goldberg” although today the Supreme Court might rule differently if it heard the case again.

I grew up in a time when society placed more weight on the common necessity that men, even acting in groups like in the military, be able to defend women and children, and in a sense protect future generations (even when they don’t exist yet).  The effort to get women to work in factories and in support military roles during WWII was partly motivated by the idea of “freeing the men to fight”, now another oxymoron – and indeed some women (and especially transgender people) seem completely capable of serving in units like Navy Seals or Special Forces.

There is, possibly, some validity to the idea that proven conventional combat capability actually reduces the risk of nuclear confrontation.  This idea was popular after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and current during my own time with the draft.  It seems less relevant today in a world of asymmetric threats.

But this means that, for every male, his life can become fungible if the state decides its need for collective security is legitimate enough.  Our democracy has certainly rationalized this idea in the past.  It also means that spouses need to be able to stay in marriages with profoundly wounded men, or even be able to consider entering into relationships to start with — a social resilience idea that is becoming important again.

I’m not covering national service (including civilian service) as an expansion of or replacement for a draft, but I’ll come back to it soon.

(Published: Sunday, September 11, 2016 at 4:30 PM EDT)

EU rulings could eventually chill bloggers’ hyperlinks

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There are ill winds, particularly on copyright, from the European Union (not sure if Brexit would exempt the UK), which could affect the legal safety of bloggers with hyperlinks, something we take for granted now. Much of what follows is motivated by the increasing difficulty of legacy news and media, especially with print, to make original content profitable when competing with “barely legal” user-generated content (where “it’s free”, or nearly so).

One problem is a ruling in a case of Sanoma Media in the Netherlands v. Playboy, where a court ruled that a publisher can be liable for hyperlinking to content it reasonably suspects is infringing when it also has commercial purposes.  Probably hosting ads would qualify as commercial.  Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story Sept. 6 by Jeremy Malcolm where he predicts a “new dark era for hyperlinks”. The ruling contradicts an earlier ruling in Spain in 2011 (story).

Sporadically, in the past few years, I’ve reported on the possibility that people could be held liable for hyperlinking to defamatory content in the US, although the possibility is remote.  There were some flurries around 2000 when a few companies in the US did not want to allow “deep hyperlinks” to their sites, until a court ruled against these companies, saying that hyperlinks are like footnotes in a term paper.  I am not aware right now of a case in the US about linking to infringing material.  There have been a few claims concerning deliberate embeds of infringing material, but usually the embeds just disappear.

Very occasionally, I get emails about broken links on my own legacy sites, and it is possible that these links could have gone dark because of infringement.

I don’t think there is a practical risk yet that US sites (or bloggers) would be sued over EU complaints, even though treaties would theoretically allow these suits.  (Ask Hillary Clinton.  If she doesn’t know her email server, she probably doesn’t know this.)  I would wonder about Australia, because of the world’s most outgoing blogging consultants (Blogtyrant or Ramsay Tamplin) operates there.

EFF has also warned about a proposal in the EU to impose a “link tax” (story, and protest link for “save the link”), at the will of original news publishers, and I find it hard to see how this could work.  Maybe it could be connected to Google’s content-id, but it could also cause a lot of news results to disappear from search engines, at least in the EU.

On another matter Ted Cruz has an article in the Daily Signal warning about the possibility of giving ICANN much more power (taking it from the US Commerce Department) at a time when authoritarian countries have a lot more sway than they used to.   This may be related to TPP and will need to be delved into further.  I’m not sure Cruz has explained exactly how what he fears would come about.

(Published Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)