ACLU sends petition regarding Central American asylum seekers

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Saturday, the ACLU sent an email with a petition concerning Central American families (often from E; Salvador) seeking asylum after crossing the border from Mexico, link here.

The link and email describe the detention camp.   The email says they tried to ask for asylum but were locked up and deported.

In fact, when immigrants enter “illegally” and ask for asylum, they are (supposed to be) kept in detention until (sometimes) private organizations or individuals convince INS that private interests can take care of the people financially.  That sounds a little like private sponsorship of refugees, which is technically illegal in the U.S., although with asylum seekers a comparable process seems to exist.  But the legal details are obscure, even among lawyers (so far) with whom I’ve discussed the problem. There is no transparency in how this works.   Nobody seems to know exactly what is lawful.

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A couple of quotes (the letter is addressed to me by computer)

“I’m 15 years old. My mom and I fled our home in El Salvador after gang members took over our neighborhood and threatened to kill us both if I didn’t join them. People I know who refused to join the gang disappeared — we think they’re dead.”

“We tried to ask for asylum from immigration officials, thinking we’d get protection. Instead, we were locked up and told we’d be deported back to El Salvador. We didn’t even get a real chance to explain our situation to a judge.”

That is all to say, the people apparently crossed illegally but were deported before being allowed to ask for asylum.  Refusal to join a gang is probably a valid reason for asylum, although it’s a bit discretionary.  But it seems as though application could have been taken.

The mystery as to what is really going on continues. Donald Trump may actually be right about this.

The Cato Institute held a forum on refugees on Monday, Oct. 3, video below.

 

(Posted: Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 12 Noon EDT)

A cursory introduction to “radical solidarity”, maybe

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Frequently, I see appeals for donations to publications that purport to speak for “me” (Truth-out is one of them, begging readers to “keep independent media alive”, of which I am my own example), and, yes, I get irritated.  I’m askance at the idea of needing someone to speak for me publicly, as part of some identity politics exercise.

But I also realize that we’ve developed an amazingly permissive environment for online speech ever since the Internet and WWW went public for ordinary people in the early 1990s.  If someone like Donald Trump got in office, I’m not sure we could count on the environment to continue forever.

I also cringe when President Obama, in a speech a few days ago, pimps volunteerism to get Hillary elected, trying to get as many millennials as possible to volunteer to get people registered to vote and get them to polls.

As I look back on my entire life of “speech” and individualized activism, I’m struck by the idea that organization and solidarity matter.  There is a tendency for most pressure groups, especially those representing disadvantaged minorities, to develop their own internal political power structures, and to demand loyalty from members.  Of course, throughout history, labor unions have probably been the “worst offenders”.

I can remember the politics of the Dallas Gay Alliance in the early 1980s.  One of the biggest problems, right after I had moved to Dallas in 1979, was police harassment in the gay bars.  It took a lot of work to help defendants who had been wrongfully accused of “public lewdness” until we finally got an acquittal in early 1981.  There was activism about “getting out the vote”, and about informal lobbying concerning Don Baker’s challenge to the Texas sodomy law back in 1982.

Then as AIDS exploded, new political threats came.  A “conservative” group wanted to lobby the Texas legislature for a draconian anti-gay law drafted in early 1983, long before HTLV-III/HIV was identified.  I played it alone an contacted the group myself, creating uproar and controversy among the activists.  But in the end, the psychology of looking deeper for facts worked;  the bill never got out of committee in the Texas house.  Later, when HIV was identified and a test was available, conventional activists lobbied people “don’t take the test.”  I opposed them.  Eventually, the “rationalism” forces that encouraged testing and development of medications (AZT was the first) prevailed.

Still, however, I understand that advances in human rights happen only when people work together.  Sometimes people who speak out and insist on recognizing intellectually legitimate arguments from the “enemy” can cause an initiative to fail.  It’s very hard to imagine political systems that perfectly account for every person’s own “moral hazard” all the time.

Even so, I personally revile at the “us v. them” mentality of so much activism, where leadership tries to keep weaknesses of its side positions out of the media.  Donald Trump’s use of “angry uneducated white men” as a group, needing an electoral Molotov cocktail (as Michael Moore calls it) to fight what group other activism has taken from them, makes case in point.

In fact, on a couple of occasions in the early 1990s, I was “criticized” for not staying in sufficient social contact with others in groups for which I had volunteered, to really “know” what was going on.  Turning this idea around, a lot of groups want to help their own allies “under the table” without attracting media attention or investigation from bloggers (like me) who want to “connect the dots”.

In practice, successful political activism often means that people need some cohesion to work and live together socially in other areas.  They need to develop community and bridging “social capital”, which sometimes means sacrificing individual expressive goals.   On some issues, like immigration, the idea of people “knowing one another” first seems particularly critical.  Maybe we need an idea like “radical solidarity” to accompany “radical hospitality”.

(Posted: Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016 at 6 PM EDT)

New York Times offers detailed story about one Toronto private sponsorship group, dealing with more relatives overseas

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The front page of the New York Times on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 offers a booklet-length narrative by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn, from Toronto, “Haunted by the Ones Left Behind: They Took In a Refugee Family, but Families Don’t Have Borders”, link here.

Online the caption is even more detailed: “Thousands of Canadians enlisted in an unusual mission to help Syrian refugees start new lives. Now they face a gut-wrenching issue: the relatives half a world away; What does it mean to help one family?”

The story focuses particularly on a geography teacher who helps the family, where the inability of the adults to read and write hampers learning English well enough for the husband to get a decent job within one year (the sponsorship period).  The sponsors ponder whether they can help relatives from Lebanon come over to Canada.  And at one point they consider helping with medical bills of the relative overseas (Canada would not cover them until they are actually approved to come to Canada).

There is some concern that Donald Trump would completely stop accepting of refugees from Syria and some other Muslim countries in the US by executive order during the firs 100 days if he were elected.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of suburban Toronto, by E Victor, under CCSA 4.0

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

SLAPP lawsuits can still force amateur speakers into silence

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A recent lawsuit being filed against certain interests and bloggers in the “doomsday prepper” or “survivalist” movement reminds me of the need to revisit the subject of SLAPP lawsuits, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

SLAPP suits are genuinely “frivolous” lawsuits aimed at bullying defendants, forcing them to spend money of legal fees to keep on speaking, especially online, when their speech doesn’t itself make money in a commercial way.  They tend to be filed by unusual business interests on the more extreme ends of the political spectrum.  The far Left has been guilty of SLAPP suits as well as the Right, although “red” states tend to have weaker anti-SLAPP protections.  The sort of party who files them tends to believe that social and political stability is achieved by “keeping ordinary people in line”.  This sounds like the mentality of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and China. Plaintiffs tend to have business models based on public perception and high volume of activity concerning some very narrowly focused product or activity – a niche.  They tend to believe they have others depending on them (“family”), and that speakers have no real standing to be heard.

Wikipedia’s article lists 28 states that have some anti-SLAPP protection for speakers.  These include California (one of the strongest), New York, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, but not Virginia.

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an article by Sophia Cope, discusses the Speak Free Act of 2015, HR 2304 .  The bill would authorize bringing bills from state court to federal court, and would clean up many jurisdictional ambiguities which the article (and Wikipedia piece) explain that tend to encourage “forum shopping” by plaintiffs.

Libertarian-leaning journalist John Stossel, back in the late 1990s, in an ABC 20-20 broadcast, had covered the idea of “loser pays” (common in Europe) as a way to discourage frivolous suits.  Sometimes this is true of copyright cases.  Objections to “loser pays” laws often come in the medical area, concerning accident or malpractice victims.  But the idea would seem to make sense in defamation and privacy cases.

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I’ve posted a story on the litigation against “Survival Blog” on a legacy blog here . One of the issues I the suit appears to be whether one can successfully litigate a defamation claim against a defendant merely for providing a secondary hyperlink to another defamatory article.  (In this case, there may be an issue of a brief characterization of the plaintiff by the defendant in a post.) It’s interesting that the action was filed in Ohio (Cleveland) where there is no anti-SLAPP suit.  The hyperlink issue could come up with video (YouTube or Vimeo) embeds.  It also may exist with copyright claims, especially “deep hyperlinks”, although back in 2000 a federal court had ruled that a deep link is like a footnote in a high school or college term paper. (English teachers to the rescue!)   On my blog post, you can follow Blogger labels like “hyperlinks” and “SLAPP” for historical development of these issues.

Some authorities say that a “rule of first publication” should prevent secondary downstream liability for both defamation and copyright.

The psychology behind filing SLAPP suits reminds me of patent trolling (and variations of these models have occurred with copyright trolling – Righthaven, of a few years ago – and trademark name trolling).  There is considerable controversy specifically over software patents, which often are overly “conceptual” in nature.  I have wondered if the problem could be controlled by requiring patent owners to actively market their own products or services.  But that would be like saying authors have to be able to sell their books directly rather than depend on Amazon!

(Posted: Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 at 12:45 PM EDT)

Muslim assimilation in the US seems almost complete, was never questioned before 9/11 (but Bergen points out troubling cases); more on hosting asylum seekers

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Cato’s David Bier has published a blog post “Muslims rapidly adopt US social values”.

The posting is based largely on a Pew Research Center survey from 2014. A significant portion of the posting shows that Muslims living in the US are much more willing to accept mainstream (tolerant to accepting) positions on homosexuality than in their countries of origin.  This sounds likely in Canada, to, and much less likely in European countries where Muslim populations are much more “ghetto-ized”.

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I can certainly reflect from my own experience in the information technology workplace, from 1970 through the end of 2001 (after 9/11).  From the late 1970s on, I regularly encountered programmers who had grown up in India or especially Pakistan.  At ING in Minneapolis around the 2001 period, the chief architect of the internal system integration bridge (mainframe to server) owned his own company and had come from Pakistan.  In at least two occasions I reported to people from these countries.

I never heard any mention of religion or homophobia.  I actually never saw any religious observance at work.   (This compares to various incidents in Dallas in the 1980s where evangelical Christians would single me out for “ministry”.) These employees tended to be well off, own large homes and sometimes had larger than usual families, which socially somewhat kept to themselves.  But they were always well integrated into the workplace.  Sometimes they were quite interested in following US financial markets and were quite committed to personal belief in western style capitalism.

It was also common to encounter some workers (even managers) from Vietnam or China.

The general reaction to 9/11 was total surprise.  No one from these countries had any idea something like this would happen.  I’m quite sure of that.

I’ve worked with people who had worked as contractors in Saudi Arabia, who reported having to deal with religious police despite living on separate compounds.

Socially, I know of one gay Jewish man who had biked in Saudi Arabia in winter without incident.

Later, after “retiring”, I knew someone at a symphony orchestra where I worked who had (I believe Christian) relatives in Mosul.  They are likely to have been severely affected by ISIS, The degrees of separation in one’s personal life can be small indeed.

Current DHS vetting for immigrants from the Middle East is very strict, does not admit as many immigrants from Islamic countries proportionally as Canada (which allows private sponsorship). At some point, one gets to a philosophical consideration of the expectation that members of a community be willing to share a very small but non-zero risk.

Nevertheless, Peter Bergen’s book “United States of Jihad” (2016) does document unusual cases of radicalization, often by offspring of immigrants (as with the Tsarnaev’s).  My discussions with someone who had lived in Germany in mid September (Sept. 19) indicate serious problems in Europe indeed, as most recently indicated by this Washington Post story by Stephanie Kirchner today.

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Update: Oct. 15

While at a breakfast this morning for ALGA, I learned about this appeal by Eric Stults dated Oct. 7 in the Washington Blade for individuals to consider offering housing (or “hosting“, which logically is a more open term as to methods) for LGBT asylum seekers.  The need for housing was mentioned only once at an Oct. 6 reception (by one of the award winners), story.

Housing asylum seekers poses questions similar in nature to those of Canadian-style private sponsorship, and more will be said about this soon.  There’s talk, and sometimes there is action.  One idea could be to fund purchase of a building as a shelter. This would still be a way “to host”.  But “sponsorship” or “mentorship” goes beyond even hosting, and may need to have more precise meaning in the law.

(Published: Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 at 10 PM EDT)

Freedom does not preclude duty

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I’ve written a few posts recently on things one could be made to do or has some kind of duty to do: on subjects like military conscription, national service, community service requirements for donation, the idea that people could be expected to become parents, conservative Vatican ideas of sexual morality, and, previously, filial responsibility laws.

So do I believe in freedom?  Or in duty?  Maybe I believe in both.

I’m most of all concerned about the moral dilemmas faced by those of us who are “different”, most of all in areas like sexuality and gender identity.  I don’t believe that we automatically are entitled to special treatment from “identity politics” just for being “born different”, because that could mean others make unwilling sacrifices for us.

“Unwilling”.  That reminds me, that one of my own mother’s favorite adverbs was “willingly.” That modifier seems to connect the idea of free choice – and expressing our identities with our choices – with duty, and dealing with things when others knock on the door.

Roughly speaking, there are two ways a lot of us go wrong in life.  We impose ourselves on people who don’t want us in their lives.  That one is pretty familiar.  Women often say no to the advances of aggressive, hereditarily passionate men.  That’s the most familiar moral environment for a lot of people – women are supposed to tame men into family life.  But the other side of the coin in more subtle.  We avoid people who need us, and keep on with our own pursuits.  After all, it takes a strong individual to go into an adult relationship, right?  The idea of being accomplished first certainly comports with the emancipation from rigid gender roles of the past – in western society.

I get challenged a lot to play ball (even adversarially) with other people, after I try to make my own work and own voice heard.  Sometimes this gets as far as saying I need to have my own personal stake in the world – my own kids – to validate being heard.  Indeed, with my own skin in the game, I wouldn’t have to be so vocal about sharing other people’s moral hazards.

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It’s a lot easier to “play ball” if “you” are socialized in a conventional way – starting with having the “natural” or even “biological” drive to have children – something I don’t have.  That’s how it was during my own coming of age – the social changes of recent decades give new opportunities for some “non-conforming” people to get started with families that I didn’t have, but it was important to start with a relationship that seemed satisfying even if the resilience of the relationship would inevitably be challenged over the years – by time, accidents, disease.   So I compensate(d) with self-expression.  That sounds like good advice for the individual – do your own work, write a good novel, become accomplished with piano, or astronomy (finding aliens), or medicine (new cancer tests or cures), or building your own fusion reactors, or something monumental.  But the sad reality is most of the world is dependent on seeing people do mundane jobs and raise kids, often in accordance with gender and “natural roles”.  We who make ourselves above this risk become seen as parasites.  If you lose what you have to people who feel you leave them a world with nothing to lose, you don’t get it back, and it gets pretty ugly.

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So the way you have to deal with this is to make the lives of others who actually need “you” more valuable to “you”.  That’s a very personal matter, something coercive and likely to be refused in many specific challenges.  It sounds like it would be easier for people who got started off on the right foot in marital relationships — except that we see so many moral problems for people who pretend to be married but still claim the raw egos of undisciplined singletons.

There’s a line in the film “Judas Kiss” where charismatic bad-boy Shane Lyons tells young filmmaker Danny, “most people walk in the direction they’re heading.”  Or, most people head in the direction they’re walking.   When someone (like me) doesn’t seem to have enough of his own skin in the game, people look at the derivative – the direction I’m headed, the rate of change, and the windage (maybe with parametric equations).

For me, “feelings” had that kind of alarming derivative.  I learned I could “feel” from the thrilling climaxes of some classical music – not from the groupie experience of pop or gospel praise songs (and all their repetition).  I found I could become aroused around seemingly “powerful” young men with all the “right” trappings (which could get pretty arbitrary, even race-tinged).  I could even become excited by losing an arm-wrestling match.  I wanted the “freedom” to pursue the expressive potential of my own identity – became very focused on the logistics of my own needs (especially with my “Second Coming” when I moved into the City in the 1970s)   I succeeded at this for the most part.  But people seemed very concerned what this “meant”.  There seemed to be excitement in staging shame (which used to be an idea in occasional gay porn publications).  There seems to be an idea that not everyone is going to make it, and so if you go down, you might as well eroticize it.  That sounds like an idea that would encourage Fascism – the disgust with losers (listen to Donald Trump).  But it sounds understandable – even if ironic.  After all, 20+ years after winning WWII, we were willing to send our “losers” as cannon fodder to the Vietnam era draft, and some of us actually rationalized the whole system with its deferments and privileges.

We’ve gotten used to seeing policy questions in terms of which groups have taken unfair advantage of other groups, and solving things politically (or with armed conflict, sometimes).  Individuals can only be socialized when they start out within the groups (families) into which they are born.  With freedom, they can move out into new settings.  But if we want to sustain freedom, we have to value all lives, and sometimes we really have to answer when the door knocks.

(Published: Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

How Trump (and Putin) believe you create Truth by manipulating people (it’s witchcraft)

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There is something about Donald Trump’s paradigm in doing business that he is trying to carry over to what he says a strong presidential leader should do:  that is, you create truth my manipulating people.

There are many accounts online of Trump’s deals in business, with all the debt manipulations and bankruptcies, and litigation (and threats).  The New York Times and Fortune have typical accounts.

But the most disturbing story of all seems to concern the treatment of gaming securities analyst Marv Roffman in 1990 at the time of the opening of the Atlantic City casino Taj Mahal.  The Los Angeles Times calls it his nastiest deal ever. CNN’s recent documentary on Trump “All Business: The Essential Donald Trump” (correlated to “Unfinished Business: The Essential Hillary Clinton”) aired on Sept. 5 covered this affair.

Trump’s thinking seemed to be, if he could silence the media with threats, then bondholders or other sources of finance wouldn’t get wind of things, and he would, with his grandiose plans, be able to create his own reality and make the place work.  That’s the essence of witchcraft. You create your own reality, by force if necessary.

That also seems to be the strategy of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and, in some ways a bit more complicated, of China also.

For someone like Trump, absolute Truth does not exist, and cannot be discovered with science.  It must be created with political or business power or the ability to manipulate people.

That’s something I remember about a few of my job interviews in the early 2000’s after my “career ending layoff” and forced retirement from ING in the post 9/11 days at the end of 2001.  A few employers were bemused by my absolute disinterest in manipulating people to get them to do someone else’s bidding.

I’m not bothering to get into tonight’s debate performance – his threatening like a dictator, to put Hillary Clinton in jail if elected.  Or his comparing his sexual banter to not being as bad as Bill Clinton, or saying he isn’t as bad as ISIS.

Truth is to be discovered.  Yes, chess players, analyzing obscure opening variations (like in the Sveshnikov Sicilian) know this all too well – and live on the edge of that discovery.

Science is to be discovered – although sometimes we think (when we look at the achievements of teens like Jack Andraka and Taylor Wilson) it gets invented on the fly.  But you can only build a fusion reactor or a new cancer treatment when you fully discover the “true” science behind it.

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Update: Oct. 14

There’s been a lot of talk about Trump’s behavior with women and his threats to sue the New York Times (and probably NBC) over the stories.  The New York Times has an editorial on Trump and a free press today, here. The Washington Post (Paul Farhi and Robert Barnes) explains that Trump would have a very high bar to overcome to win a libel suit since he is a public figure. (Gawker was different because it was partly about privacy.)  Theoretically, Trump could sue anyone who even tweets the link to one of the stories about his alleged behavior, but that would probably only make his targets rich from the publicity.  But it is possible to be liable for a mere hyperlink (but the plaintiff would have to show malice and recklessness in the social media user if the target were a public figure). Commentators think that Trump’s threats are about intimidating other women who may have been accosted from coming forward

(Posted: Sunday, October 9, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

More details on how refugee resettlement sponsorship by congregations works

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Late Saturday, during the “intermission” at a benefit concert, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA shared more information about how support of an arriving refugee family by a participating congregation works.

The State Department settled one or two immigrant families a week in the greater Washington DC area (not sure if this includes Baltimore). A family typically arrives between two weeks and ten weeks of the time that the congregation is notified of the selection of the family. Immediate notification, of impending arrival and need for pickup at an airport and settlement, may be only two or three days.

In northern Virginia, there are about 25 or so commercially managed apartment and townhome communities participating in renting housing.  Many are located fairly close to Interstate 95, although a few are in newer areas like around Merrifield;  Some are as far south as Prince William County (the Woodbridge or Potomac Mills areas).  Generally the communities are near bus or rail lines and near commercial areas that could offer especially retail jobs (the new developments in Merrifield are a good example of what is desirable).

Volunteers who spend significant time with the family will need to pass DHS background checks performed by the intermediary, Lutheran Social Services.

Participating congregations must provide a long list of household and furniture items.  The social service agency however handles public school placement.

Refugee families do receive assistance (including health care), but will need donations from the congregation to cover the high rents in the metro area, particularly until securing employment.  But generally refugee adults are expected to secure some employment in a short time, as they will have work permits and all documentation (not the case for asylum seekers, as has been discussed in this column).  Some refugees do arrive with considerable skills, especially in information technology.

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The countries from which refugees might come could include Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, Myanmar, Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran.  They do not include China, Russia or former republics (like Ukraine) right now, or North Korea, right now (but would sound plausible later).  It sounds plausible that they could include some Central American countries.  Largely, they are countries with uncontrolled conflicts, which may be religious, autocratic (Assad), or drug-cartel related.

The process involves many more people (perhaps 25-30) per refugee family than in Canada, where private sponsorship encourages the formation of guardian-sponsorship groups of just five.  Health care support would sound easier in Canada since it has single payor health coverage.

(Posted: Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at 11:50 PM EDT)

Do moral debates wind down to personal risk-taking?

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Can we reduce some of our debate on “moral” issues, to the equitable sharing of personal risks?

The most obvious example of that question in my own life was probably the way the male-only military draft played out in the 1960s, during the Vietnam war, especially with the student deferment system, eventually replaced by the lottery.

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Today, we see some of the same idea expressed in Mark Rowe’s series “Somebody’s Gotta Do It”.  Yup, us city slickers seem to have a false sense of individualism, when we contemplate the fact that people serve in volunteer fire departments out of a sense of belonging, not to be recognized for accomplishments.

As for emergency services, I wonder if we will have police departments able to protect us from the indignation or nihilism of others, if we keep prosecuting police for “mistakes” when having to assess risks the see on the streets with people.  I’m a little bit with Donald Trump on this.  Blue Lives Matter.  Remember, feudalism — the ultimate “doomsday prepper society” — developed during the Middle Ages because there was no law and order in the countryside.

There’s another part to the risk.  If you get hurt and really maimed and disfigured, your partner will still love you and remain intimate with you.  Or, if something happened when you were too young, you’ll sill be able to find someone who will.  That’s a herd matter which demands a certain amount of “aesthetic realism” in personal affairs from everyone.

Having children means taking risks.  Parents never know if they will be unlucky with genetics or mishaps.  They can have more kids.  Adopting children with needs really means taking risks.  Long term intimacy — a commitment to it — involves “real life risks”.  Sometimes, community events are set up involving the appearance of a personal sacrifice of one’s own surface values to make intimacy easier for others.  The “Be Brave and Shave” marathons at the Westover Market outdoor veranda a couple years ago, to benefit cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or even bone marrow transplants, comes to mind.  (This might be a “no spectators” type of event.) But so hazing “tribunals” at colleges and fraternities of the more distant past.  So does the end of a short film “Bruckner’s Ultimate Finale” by Nicholas Alispahic, enacting a sacrifice before a “Second Coming.”

So, indeed “all lives matter”. But assisting those who have been at real disadvantage – such as refugees or asylees – also means personal risk-taking.  While one may want to get everything right legally before jumping in, in practice people able to help others are used to having others’ backs and accepting the idea the need others to have theirs.  You could obviously say that about housing, employing, or helping the homeless, or those with past criminal convictions.  Helping others sounds identity-transforming, where the group around provides all the relevance for the self.

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“Real people” supporting “real families” have to play ball and take some risks. If you really need to make your Internet website support your family, you need customers, so you need some aggressive sales tactics, and you need to get around finicky attitudes about popups, ads, and email lists.  You need to remember the Golden Rule.  You need to be open to letting people approach you and sell to you, sometimes.  You might need to be able to answer the front door for a door-to-door salesman, and have family or support watch your back in the rare incidence of home invasion.

So if you want to “matter”, you need skin in the game.

But somehow the “middle section” of the 1978 film by Michael Cimino, “The Deer Hunter“, with the Russian roulette scene in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, comes to mind.

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

Why did “old time religion” try to restrict sexuality to proceative marriage for everyone, without exception?

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Maybe 80% or a little more of American young men (from mid or late teens on) feel enough “innate” attraction to women that they “want” intercourse – to complete an act normally capable of procreation. I feel pretty sure of that from everything my father said, and from what roommates (especially my first one at William and Mary) said in dorms during my own college dorm years in the 1960ss, and yes, from what I remember of Army Basic and later.

Whatever the moralizing that will follow, this seems pretty hard-wired, by genetics, epigenetics and biochemistry.

So, when young men used to hear the “no sex outside of marriage” dictum, it indeed seemed like wise, self-interested behavior, to prevent unwanted pregnancies, before teens or young adults were far enough along in education and careers to raise a family comfortably.  The dictum certainly seems intended to protect women from unwanted advances. Back around 1965, when there was a line in the Elmer Bernstein musical of James Michener’s “Hawaii” (properly screen-written by Dalton Trumbo) about the importance of getting married, that was what everyone thought.

Indeed, heterosexual couples learn that waiting until after marriage to “go all the way” increases pleasurable tension, even suspense.  And then there is the observation (by George Will and others), that “women tame men”, maybe 80% of the time.

But less “conventionally” competitive men –  including gay men, and sometimes transgender, find something sinister in all this. They are no threat to become rivals for girlfriends or to cause unwanted pregnancies.  Still, this old idea (and it has, at least until Pope Francis, laid at the center of Vatican ideas of sexual morality), when implemented aggressively, as in many religious anti-gay cultures (and in most of US society until at least Stonewall in the late 1960s) seems designed for force all men to find wives, form families, and have children within them.

In fact, that seems to be what is behind, rather specifically, the “anti-gay propaganda law” in Russia passed in 2003. The whole idea seems to be that talking about homosexuality in public would allow “marginal” men (“waverers”) to nurture the idea that having families as kids isn’t important – in a country with a severe  problem with low birth rate.

As one of these unconventional, “wavering” men, I grew up in a culture (largely in the 1950s) that was determined to maintain the expectation that all men born as biologically male accept their fair share of the community risk in protecting women and children (as by being subject to the military draft, and as by being pressured to play contact team sports), and, when the time came (hopefully by the mid 20s at the latest) start giving the extended family or tribe its next generation.  In this world, you took care of your own – but that was easier if everyone else had to do the same thing.

So one way to implement this idea on less secure men was a universal application of the Catholic idea – no sexuality outside of marriage.  No fantasy, no masturbation.  It put a lot of pressure on men for consummation their wedding nights.    The Catholic Church also came up with an idea for men it knew weren’t up to the usual challenges of lineage: a celibate priesthood, a curious institution of lookers and judges who pretend to surrender a function that makes them human.  We know it doesn’t always work out.

There’s somewhat of a moral paradox in a society that calls itself free and wants to maintain the idea that every human life has value – and this goes way beyond the usual debates about abortion or even euthanasia.  Collectively, it’s not OK for people just to remain in their comfort zones  of upward affiliation (playing on championship teams, so to speak) when engaging others in situations that pose interpersonal challenges.  To allow everyone the psychic luxury of unlimited upward affiliation is to invite elitism, exclusionism, and eventually authoritarianism – maybe of the Trump (or Putin) kind, but sometimes much worse, as history teaches us. So, in many “insecure” cultures, it seems critical to get everyone to be willing to tie their own sexuality and intimacy to actually accepting dependence of others within one’s own group or family, and only then branching out.

In a society of increasing freedom and selfie-driven individualism, there is increasing social pressure to join very public efforts to help others – and render everyone “OK”.  This “gofundme” attitude is something I resist. As a paradox, I find I want to hold on to my standards that enable me to idealize certain people.  I don’t want just anything, even if caused by unavoidable natural disability, to be OK.

Indeed, I look back and see a paradox in Christianity itself.  We are to honor a historical young man whom the modern gay world probably would have scored as a “perfect 10”, someone ageless, still perfect when He ascended into Heaven (“where everything is fine”).  Yet, we are to love others without expecting a mirror of ourselves, but pro-actively, from something within, something that can sometimes produce new life, even if we’ve been tested and purged by rituals designed us to look and feel all the same, all one.

Those of us who kept our use of sexuality personal, for purposes other than future generations, sometimes find ourselves challenged by circumstances not of our volition.  These might include eldercare, having for some reason to interact parentally with other people’s kids, or even raise them.  This is a lot easier for someone who had and raised his own kids (and for someone with the strong inborn drive to procreate).  It seems as though exposure to the interpersonal “risks” of parenthood is a factor in the equality debate, at least within any cohort. That goes against a culture that, since the 70s perhaps, has emphasized individual visibility and treated marriage and child-rearing as a personal afterthought — maybe with dangerous demographic consequences over time.

It all sounds like mandatory socialization, something that ignores inherited dispositions (like introversion), or sexuality and identity issues, and demands certain facilities from everyone, so those of us who are somehow “special” don’t take undo advantage of the risk-taking of others in the group.  That’s how it was when I grew up.  I’ve never been able to simply go along with the idea that being “different” automatically means that all of your needs go to the front of the line when compared to others. That sounds like “identity politics”.

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A recent example of this kind of thinking is shown by a Washington Post story (by Julie Zauzmer) about Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which leads campus religious organizations at over 600 institutions around the country, will involuntarily terminate any employee who publicly disagrees with their position that sex (or sexuality) should occur only within heterosexual marriage.  I think I ran into someone who had been fired by the group when I was living in Minneapolis.  As a “libertarian”, I support the “right” of a religious employer to control its employees as it sees fit, but I would ask the employer why “what others do” is so important to them.  I think it’s another example of herd morality:  it’s a value set that is supposed to give less advantaged people a chance and incentive to have children. But it puts the employer or other authority figure in a position of being concerned not only that an adult take responsibility for the choices he/she has already made (to engage in acts that can produce children) but also that “outlier” people compete in their game and share the contingent responsibility for raising future generations.

Here’s an essay on old fashioned “Vatican” morality on my legacy site, dated 2006.

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Oh, how I remember that “old time religion” scene in the 1960 film “Inherit the Wind” (about the Scopes trial).  Bipartisan Report has an article saying “Before European Christians forced gender roles, native Americans acknowledged five genders.”

(Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2016, 11:15 PM EDT).