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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On “Solutions Sunday”: “Step outside of your own comfort zone”: Does that capacity really start with families?

This Sunday morning, CNN referred today as a “Solutions Sunday”, where people were encouraged to have Sunday dinner in a home with people of another race besides your own.  Republican Senator James Lankford on Oklahoma was one of the hosts.  Lankford said “Step outside your comfort zone and invite someone into your circle”.  Maybe your inner sanctum.

Despite living in an “inherited” trust house, I really haven’t been in the “business” of having guests at home, because I’m so busy with personal projects.  Events these days are nearly always in facilities.  So there’s nothing unusual about great diversity in public spaces, but I have to admit that at home it sounds a bit novel.

When I lived in New York City, and sometimes before in New Jersey, I did sometimes have house parties or events, and I have had a few house guests over the years, mostly related in the past to college, chess clubs, or people in the LGBT community (not just “tricks”, although that happened a little in the 1970s).  I’ve stayed with people , but very little since probably the 1970s. The largest event I ever held in my own space was an “Understanding” meeting (I think it was Wednesday, May 19) with about 25 people crowded into my own little studio apartment in the Cast Iron Building on E 11th St.

But it is very hard to help people without openness to letting it be personal if it need be (countering the “mind your own business” society), and for older adults, that’s often frankly easier when “you” have had and raised “your” own kids first.

I get a lot of pressure from others these days to become more open to “gratuitous” socializing and even dating, in my own home court, partly so that I don’t (at 73) remain “an accident waiting to happen” (to quote Jonathan Rauch in his mid 1990s book “Gay Marriage”).  Yes, I prefer to remain individually productive and get recognized for my content (but not just with hyperbolic phrases like “esteemed author”).  But it seems people see a continuum bridging fixing inequality in an economic or politic sense, and the way people actually make social and intimate “choices”.

Maybe nowhere is that idea so stark as in the issue of assisting refugees and asylum seekers, all over the world, but most of all in Europe, and then Canada, with the most comprehensive private sponsorship program in the world.

The New York Times has a booklet-length story today by Jodi Kantor and Katrin Eimhorn, “Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year;  Then Came Month 13”.  Refugee families were supposed to be cut loose from dependence on the private groups (usually of 5 people or 5 families, associated with various faith-based and sometimes secular groups) for rent and many other expenses.  (In the US, where there is no private sponsorship as such, refugee families get some benefits, but generally depend on congregational offerings for some of the rent, almost always in commercially run apartments;  in the US you have about 20 families in a congregation assisting one refugee family instead of just five as in Canada).  What’s interesting about the story is that in Canada, many of the refugees did not speak English and had few job skills, and needed intensive personal attention from sponsors.  In the US, generally, most of the refugees allowed in have male providers with considerable job skills and can speak English.  “Blame Canada”, as in “Southpark“?  The country seems to produce outstanding citizens.  Look how well they do in Hollywood.

The New York Times missive bares some comparison to how the Mariel boatlift was handled in 1980, where churches asked people to put up refugees (often LGBT) in their own homes, very suddenly, mainly in southern cities.  But it turned out that many refugees would need constant attention as many did not speak English and had no skills.  Very few found “sponsors” on the spur of the moment.

Asylum seekers, as I have covered here, face a different situation, as they (usually) have already been in the country legally because of school or job skills.  (That doesn’t include those put in detention and the border, and are generally released only if there are relatives who know them.)  Canada’s reputation of relative generosity (especially relative to Trump) has led to some US asylum seekers crossing into Canada, especially Manitoba.

I’ve covered more details on my own situation on another blog, here.

(Posted: Monday, March 27, 2017 at 12:15 AM EDT)

To “make America great again” we may have to learn to respect salesmanship (again)

Have we forgotten how to sell to each other?

I sometimes wonder that as I refuse to answer robocalls, mark email as spam, and post no solicitations on the front door.  I don’t like to be interrupted when “working”.

I don’t need more auto warranties (they’re more dependable from your dealer), and I don’t need sudden travel deals (although I could imagine that some week I might).  I don’t need SEO services, and I don’t need Windows drivers from third parties advertising on YouTube.  I don’t need to replace my Medicare (and AARP supplemental) with Medicare Advantage, although I do wonder if TrumpCare or RyanCare could change that.

Yet, for 14 months while living in Minneapolis, after my career had its cardiac arrest at the end o 2001, I worked for the Minnesota Orchestra, calling for contributions to the Young People’s Concerts.  This was slightly post 9/11, but people would answer the phone then, do pledges, and even “blue money on credit”.  The non-profit word for this activity was “development”.

After coming back to DC, I worked for a company selling National Symphony subscriptions, but suddenly quit when a call recipient threatened me with arrest for calling after the 9:00 PM statutory curfew.  I will not tolerate employers’ expecting me to break the law. I could afford to enforce that then and now.

It was eye-opening to me, that someone could major in music, and then come down from Toronto to teach us how to sell music subscriptions to the masses.  I feel it’s a great honor to be recognized as a content creator.  I feel “peddling” is second-class citizenship.

From 1972-1973, living in northern New Jersey, I worked for Sperry Univac, when it was trying to compete with IBM.  My job was “site support”, providing technical interface for processors (FORTRAN, COBOL, etc) and I made beaucoup trips to St. Paul MN for benchmarks.  The whole idea was to sell more computers.  I did get the feedback that I “didn’t have a marketing profile” and would be better off in “real” development.

Indeed I spent probably twenty-six years or so largely as an individual contributor in developing, implementing, and supporting business applications, batch and online, mostly mainframe.  I was not a life that encouraged a lot of socialization for its own sake, or being part of other people’s social capital.  After I “retired”, I found out how the real world of “Lotsa Helping Hands” can work.

My father was a salesman, of sorts – actually, a “manufacturer’s agent”, for Imperial Glass, until 1971.  I remember his travel to glass shows all over the East Coast, his filling orders manually and doing the accounting with adding machines.  Mother helped him.  But he worked wholesale.  Selling for him was mostly about customer service.  It was never about cold calling or pimping.

But when I “retired” (I was well provided for by ING with the final layoff and forced retirement), I was rather shocked at the corporate culture I found with some interviews.  One of the sessions occurred in 2002 and would have involved contacting people to get them to convert whole life policies to term.  Later, I would be approached by two companies (unsolicited) to become a life insurance agent or financial planner.  Getting “leads” in that business means trolling people on the Internet to find out who to make cold calls to.  I would also be approached to become a tax preparer (unsolicited), and a non-profit mall canvasser.

One of the more provocative screening questions (in 2005 at New York Life) was, “do you every buy anything from a salesman?”  I answered yes, because I wanted to continue the interview.  But I flashed a mental image of encyclopedia salesmen (we had bought a World Book set with its great state relief maps in 1950), and even music course salesmen (Sherwood Music courses for piano, from Chicago) – again, musicians need real incomes from selling.

The term life interviewer even said “We give you the words”, and yet became defensive in front of me as a I probed whether this idea really works or is best for consumers.  (Whole life conversion will be a good idea for many people, probably.)  He (who seemed to run a franchise office with his wife) exerted the authoritarian attitude that we now recognize with Donald Trump – that you can “create facts” (or use “alternative facts”) and convince people of your vision mainly by believing it and getting others to believe it –which makes it come true (whether that’s getting a casino to make money or living forever in a hallow heaven).  That sounds like ministry, proselytizing.   Some of the tall tales about Trump University (getting people to max out heir credit cards against future real estate income) remind me of the 2008 crisis (which drove Stephen Bannon’s ideology).  I did get a couple calls about jobs selling subprime mortgages when I already realized they would crash together when then introductory (ARM)  rates went up.

I’m reminded of how LDS missions work – young adults (as in the movie “God’s Army” and then “Latter Days”) are supposed to recruit others to their faith (Mitt Romney even did this) and they even pay for the opportunity.

I’m also recalling the comedy movie “100 Mile Rule” (let alone Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross”), where the salesman mantra was “Always Be Closing.”  I see those YouTube ads, “Become a marketer” and just laugh.

When I was working, “coders” thought of management as not smart enough to deal with the nitty-gritty of tracing registers in assembler language.  But we really thought of salesmen as not smart enough to code.  It was an attitude that we could hardly afford.

And now days, I get hounded as to why I don’t sell more hardcopies of my own books, and do more to support bookstores, or kids’ reading programs.  I get it.  Salesmanship (sometimes even hucksterism) is important to other people’s jobs.  But now we have an “It’s free” culture, and a “do it yourself” world of taking care of yourself online.  Donald Trump himself said he doesn’t like computers much, because the online world (including his favorite Twitter) dilutes the importance of social capital that does help people sell.  Oh, yes, remember the good old days of being invited to Amway presentations.

People (like me) have good reasons not to want to be bothered by hucksters.  But we’ve also created a world where it’s very hard for many people to make a living doing anything else.  Donald Trump is right in saying we have to do a lot more of our manufacturing at home again (“Make America Great Again”, or “MAGA”) but not just for the parochial needs of his specialized voting base.  National security would say we ought to make more of our own transformers, batteries, communications hardware components. We need to have a reasonable percentage of working-age adults actually making goods to remain economically and socially healthy — and safe.

(Posted: March 22, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)

 

If you’ve become a voluntary pundit, don’t expect to delete yourself from the Internet

I’ve imagined a creepy horror film (maybe just a short), where you get called in for the Last Supper of your life, sent up to a hotel room, allowed to make one or two last postings, then denied access, then had your whole online existence removed.  Then the fantasy or catch or your life knocks on your door and gives you one last “peak experience” as you pass into the Afterlife, if it exists, with your karma cleaned up.  Maybe this could be a low budget movie.

Yet maybe a little more than ten years ago, “online reputation” became a trendy topic, even leading a company by that name to be founded.

Before that, I had to deal already had to deal with “what I had done”.  When I couldn’t sell enough hard copy books, I became an online pundit.  I got a reputation that way (as an “older Milo”, and probably more socially acceptable, especially to Donald Trump) but my Pharisee-speech didn’t pay its own way.  In the most extreme circumstances, it might get me or other people connected to me killed.

Earlier, I had entertained the idea that people in positions of authority over others (with direct reports) should not express their opinions in unsupervised manner because that could show prejudice or hostile workplace.  This was my own implementation of the idea of “conflict of interest”.  Again, obviously Donald Trump doesn’t respect it now (and I have only one degree of separation from Donald Trump, despite never paying the fees to go to Mar-a-Lago – maybe I can get invited).

Nevertheless, in the past, I’ve had to entertain the idea that a lot of my own Internet presence would have to be removed if I took certain kinds of jobs, as I outlined here.

But is it feasible anymore for someone to go completely dark?  Not very.  I’d say fifteen years ago it was feasible.  You could take everything down, and ask Google to remove all references to your flat files online (before blogs and social media components became SOP).

The old idea of a double life (especially for LGBTQ) seems to be gone forever.  Really, I sometimes miss the way it was in the 1970s and 1980s, even until about 1996 or so.  You had your home and your possessions, and you developed a reputation.  Arranging gatherings and social events meant more then.  In the gay community in DC, you went on adventures with Adventuring or Chrysalis.  (You still can, but my life has changed so much since the 90s that I really don’t have time).  My parents developed a presence with real world property and things – my father was very dedicated to his own workshop, filled with tools, which was much more common for people in the 1950s than now.  As I get older, I find myself mentally revisiting those years.

Here is Abby Ohlheiser’s take in the Washington Post on what it would take to go completely dark, like a white dwarf star that has completely burned out into a dark cinder.   Part of the strategy is to imitate Kellyanne and create “alternative facts” online first.  Some social media will let you change your birth date a few times.  I could imagine a pro-life change to your conception date.

I’ve noticed that there are a number of companies that offer a public records history and background investigation on anyone, for a membership fee.  Of course, if the subject belonged to the same service, he or she would know you had ordered it.  I really like my fantasies of Maslow peak experience and have no reason to spy on anyone and ruin the faith.

Update: March 23, 2017

Check out Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times March 12, “Resist the Internet“.  Douthat doesn’t want kids under 16 to use social media at all, or to have cell phones too early.  He also mentions a no-tech private school in Silicon Valley, Walforf, that many tech executives send their kids to.  The school has students learning to knit socks, and participating in many group rhetorical exercises with the teacher, who is quite engaged.

A few good links about service, resistance, and civil disagreement — and engagement

Here are a few links today that have to do with the general area of “giving back” when you are privileged, or perhaps the “Pay It Forward” idea (like the 2000 movie).

The first is a blog post from the “Mental Health Wellness Blog” of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA.  Yes, this congregation certainly has more than its share of high performers, in high school and college students, and grownups.  It’s generally mainstream liberal (more or less Obama and Clinton).  Maybe some (like the Steve Bannon crowd) would see some elitism, but in the past the pastor has introduced ideas like “radical hospitality” (right before Hurricane Sandy, which did little damage here), which might arguably matter today in the immigration (refugee and asylum seeker) issue. In fact, the congregation has sponsored one refugee family (which is thoroughly pre-vetted and housed in a regular commercially rented townhouse or apartment in northern Virginia).  Some of the congregation participates in community activities like “Lotsa Helping Hands”, which do build social capital.

The blog posting title is titled “Talking Politics”.   The tone of the post presumes that most people with “real lives” (families to raise) need to focus narrowly on things and have limited interest in the abstraction of political issues that you see all the time on CNN (most of all in the age of Donald Trump).  A couple of points stood out.  One idea is to be focused on one or two issues.  I started out that way two decades ago with “gays in the military” (in the early days of “don’t ask, don’t tell”) but, partly because of background and my own approach to “retirement”, I spread out into most policy issues, concentrically, over the years, in my books and blogs.  So I’ve been breaking that rule for a long time.  The other point is in item 3, to “volunteer” and to make sure some our your work is “offline” and uses your “body” as well as your mind.  That could get dicey.  Yes, it can start with the practical issue of service, being efficient in meeting the real needs of other people as, (in the polarity speak of the Paul Rosenfels Community – formerly Ninth Street Center  — demands on “feminine subjectives” – unbalanced personalities like me., which I wound up doing dishes for their Saturday Night potlucks back in the 1970s). But it could extend to allowing your own body and its external trappings to become fungible – like the “Be Brave and Shave” fundraisers at the Westover Market in Arlington a few years ago (for cancer).

The next point is an edgy piece on the Foundation for Economic Education, by African-American columnist TJ Brown, “Fight for a More Civilized Bigotry”.  Maybe this sounds like an oxymoron. Brown talks about the  development of his own attitude toward transgender (or non-binary gender) people. But he correctly (and with writing far gentler than from people like Milo Yiannopoulos) notes that the “radical Left” demands obedience to its demands from those who have been in some privileged class.  His column fits well into the discussion of campus speech codes, as well as violent protests.  Note the recent statement from the James Madison Program at Princeton after the unrest at the appearance of libertarian Charles Murray (“The Bell Curve”, “Coming Apart”) at a campus event in New Hampshire – let alone Milo.

Then I note a Facebook posting by Jack Andraka (Stanford University sophomore, known for inventing a simple blood test for pancreatic cancer, as chronicled in his 2015 book “Breakthrough“) today,   He writes “Development is complicated and these issues don’t lend themselves to ‘silver bullets’ If you’re thinking of going into development or really any non-profit/social entrepreneurship venture read this”.  That is, an article by Courtney Martin, “The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems”, here.   Now the word “development” in this context usually means “fund raising”, or it may mean going to a hardship area to serve.  The writer asks young adults particularly to think twice about the idea that going overseas is the best way to serve.  It certainly may be riskier (like Doctors Without Borders and Ebola recently – or the 2003 film “Beyond Borders” by Martin Campbell.

.The last reference for the day concerns “resistance”.  I think that the boundaries between service, activism, and resistance are getting blurred these days, which may be disorienting to many people contemplating their own actions (me, for one). The Invisible Team has published a handbook on Google Docs, “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”.  First, the word “agenda” catches my attention.  For a few months in 2009-2010, the Washington Blade newspaper called itself the “DC Agenda” when its parent company folded, until it got the right to use its trademarked name as an independent paper. Anyway, the Guide refers, of course, to community organizing (in the style of Barack Obama, maybe).  There is the appropriate focus on local issues, but one point stood out, to act defensively, rather than make your own policy proposals (which I do).  It sounds like saying its OK to pimp the victimhood of members of your own marginalized group.  Say how much you’re oppressed!  That never sits well, with me at least.

I do think it is very hard to make a difference with service — beyond the political value of “paying your dues” as an answer to inequality — without belonging to a group and sharing your life in some substantial, interpersonal way with others in the group, with some sense of proprietary loyalty to those persons.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)

 

Blogging: niche or general, sales-oriented or amateur; under Trump it seems to be thriving better than I had expected

I’ve become somewhat a fan of “BlogTyrant” (Ramsay Taplan, in Australia) even if I can hardly follow his advice.  My own online presence evolved over time, starting back in 1996, before I self-published my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, so I’ve used the blogs and platforms to support my content rather than as an income-generating tool per se.  What started with a focus on one issue (gays in the U.S. military back in the 1990s and “don’t ask don’t tell”) enlarged concentrically to covering most public issues from a libertarian perspective.

One of his more interesting posts recently was “One Multi-Topic Blog vs. Multiple Blogs (each) with a Single Topic” (link).

I have twenty blogs right now, sixteen on Blogger and four on WordPress (chart).  I won’t go into detail right here over how these evolved (the first of these was set up in January 2006) from flat sites, but they are “journalistic” in intent — commentary, but not “sales oriented”.  I can say from a practical viewpoint, it’s easier to get some focus on a critical issue if the blog it is on is smaller and gets updated maybe about twice a week with new posts (that seems about right for getting immediate hits).

What I do agree with Ramsay on is that most “small business” or “individual” or “amateur” blogs that actually make money are single-topic or niche-oriented. (His own original niche was physical fitness.)

It would sound hard to make a living just blogging alone – although, judging from the Adsense and Blogger support forums, many people say that they do (especially overseas).  In fact, one problem that would happen on Blogger in the past (especially around 2008) would that people’s blogs would suddenly get removed as spam blogs (wrongfully).  This sounds less likely for blogs that are equated to purchased domain names (although you can’t get https yet on custom Blogger domains, largely because of the way SSL technology is tied to domain names).

It’s well to note also that Blogger and WordPress work differently in one main area.  With WordPress, you can purchase a shared hosting plan from one of many provides (Utah-based Bluehost in particularly “specialized” in working with Automattic, which owns WordPress), where copies of WordPress and various plugins are installed on your site.  That isn’t possible with Blogger (or other packages like Tumblr) as far as I know.  WordPress is a “higher end” product with more capabilities and tends to load slower and sometimes have some security vulnerabilities and instabilities (which are being worked on vigorously in recent releases).   Blogger is “simpler” and faster to use, but has less support (only the forums) – but it has been amazingly stable over the years, with only one day-long outage in May 2011. I say simpler – the dreaded “bx” codes aren’t very transparent (but in practice a lot of them just result from bad Internet connections).

WordPress hosts are working on providing “https everywhere.”  The general idea is that all accounts need to be subdomains of one account.

Let’s move back to the subject – niche blogging.  It works best for someone who already has a business that would be successful in the “real world” (of Shark Tank, so to speak).  Most successful small businesses (outside of branded retail franchises) meet relatively specific and narrow needs and interests, so Ramsay’s ideas of email lists will work (and will get around consumer squeamishness about spam and malware).  These are businesses and supporting blogs that are “for” some base of consumers or clients or stakeholders with narrow, specific needs or concerns.  In a sense, they are “partisan”, and they may need to admit to some hucksterism, or at least overt salesmanship.

I can think of a good niche not far from me.  I do play in USCF-rated chess tournaments.  If I were better at it, let’s say, playing at the International Master level (by FIDE) I could easily envision setting up a blog with opening analysis and endgames.  It would draw a large hits and make advertising money  easily. World Champion  Magnus Carlsen has a news site (here) and is quite likeable, but I don’t see an openings analysis blog.  (Actually, his playing style is to use unbooked openings like an early d3 in the Ruy Lopez and simply outplay his opponent – I guess if he had an openings blog, he could give away his competitive plans for future battles!  But he could still do a blog on endgames.)

But I can imagine, for example, a blog where the chess player refutes a line in a published opening book (which is static).  Here’s an example of what such a post could be like.

Of course, artists and authors can have their own blogs (that is, like I have 20, and “give too much away).  Libertarian author Mary Ruwart (the “Healing Our World” series) has a nice blog here.  But generally authors need to build up some reputation just for “selling books” (at least on Kindle, and preferably in the physical world) before their blogs are likely to have a lot of visitors.

But one area that musicians and authors can explore is education – bringing music and literature into the classroom for underprivileged kids.  Music education goes along well with improving mathematics skills.

It’s well to note how successful some mommy blogs have been — most of all, Heather Armstrong’s, which she launched in 2002 after she was “dooced” (fired) for what she had said online about her job. (Heather has trademarked her wordmark, for what has become an accepted English language verb.  Subsequent “imitation” mommy blogs by others have come under criticism for being “made up” to please readers and get easier ad revenue.)  In the 2000-2006 period, you heard a lot about the potential of employers needing “blogging policies”, which morphed into a whole industry protecting online reputation.  One subtle problem was that in the early days, search engines tended to index simpler sites (like mine), meaning that someone like me could develop a reputation as dangerous to be associated with, because he could talk about you later out of “journalistic” (or “alien anthropologist” motives) — hence we get to an evolution of the idea of “no spectators” (like in the film “Rebirth“).  Everyone must belong somewhere.

I wanted to note well my previous concern for “citizen journalism” under Donald Trump (Nov. 7). Donald Trump, as we know, continues his Twitter storms (his latest tweet was about noon Monday, today), quite inconsistent with his threats in December 2015 to “shut down” frivolous parts of the Internet.  He seems to trust amateur bloggers (or the “Fifth Estate”), including me, much more than he accepts the established press.  This is not the same as what happens in Russia and China, where “amateur” dissidents are pursued as if by chemotherapy.

(Posted: Monday, March 13, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)

Vaccine development is still the best prevention against bio-terror or airline-spread pandemics

Among the major perils that can seriously disrupt western civilization as we know it would be future pandemics.

I haven’t covered the idea as much here as some other threats (EMP, cyberwar, solar storms, nuclear) and I actually don’t think that the threats are as likely.

Nevertheless, it’s good to review the various pieces in play.

In modern times, the most obvious major pandemic has, of course, been HIV, which grew in the male gay community and overseas in other communities, exploding with a kind of big bang in the early 1980s, with social and political consequences already widely covered (as with the HBO film of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” in 2014).  But HIV, as an STD, is extremely unlikely to affect the general public outside of restricted modes of transmission.  Other viruses, including recently Hepatitis C (and b) have behaved in a somewhat similar fashion without becoming enormous threats.  More recently, Zika virus has presented the idea of a virus transmitted both by sex and by arthropods (mosquitoes), which can pose some theoretical dilemmas about “amplification”.  Imagine a sci-fi scenario where a novel virus is normally harmless but can gradually make a population sterile (“Children of Men”, 2006), or pose novel results involving personal identity (as in my own novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother”).

After 9/11, the idea of bioterror took root very quickly with the almost coincidental “Amerithrax” anthrax attacks, that apparently started in Florida with an attack on a company that publishes supermarket tabloids.  In the beginning the attacks appeared to come from domestic Islamic extremism, but later attention was drawn to a scientist at Fort Dietrick, MD, with tragic results.  I do remember arrests at a Trenton NJ apartment complex (not too far from where I lived on my first job) that never got mentioned again.  Back in 1999 (two years before 9/11), ABC Nightline did a several-evening simulation of a fictitious anthrax powder attack in the BART subway in San Francisco, where powder with spores was thrown into a tunnel.  So the idea had been thought of before.  After the 2001 incidents, people were sometimes questioned by police when any powdery substance appeared in mail they had sent, an idea that would never have occurred to anyone before.

More speculation has been drawn to the possibility of re-weaponizing smallpox (as in Revolutionary and even French and Indian War times).  Daniel Percival developed this possibility in the FX 2002 film “Smallpox 2002: Silent Weapon”.  All of this depends on the fact that the practice of vaccinating Americans for smallpox has been allowed to lapse.

But the biggest concern in the past fifteen years or so has been the possibility of pandemics based on respiratory illnesses, mainly influenzas (with the Spanish Flu of 1918 the archtype) and SARS-like illnesses, caused by corona viruses, most of which are relatively harmless.  Major films on this issue include “Contagion” (2011, Steven Soderbergh), “Pandemic” (2007, Hallmark), and “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America” (2006, ABC Studios).

Wikipedia list many “avian influenza” viruses but two of the most important are H5N1 and H7N9 (which a China Today newspaper wrote about recently).  The practice of having poultry and farm animals very near houses in poor countries (or especially in Southeast Asia) raises the probability of animal-man transmission, and so far subsequent person-person transmission remains rare, but it if happens, air travel can spread it around the world.  The avian influenza issue raises the idea of “herd behavior” and how ordinarily private behavior sometimes has major secondary public consequences.

Then, of course, we have the history of Ebola Virus hemorrhagic fever, as broke out in West Africa in 2014.  A number of doctors and health care workers or relatives became infected, and a few returned to the U.S., including one death.  In fact, Ebola is a Category A bioterrorism agent  (whereas bird flu in Category C).  A major controversy developed over the need to isolate or quarantine those who might have been exposed, as on airline flights.

All of this brings up two major questions.  One is vaccine development, and the interest of the public in accepting the vaccines, given a new administration somewhat anti-science and sympathetic to vaccine denial.  Indeed, an effective Ebola virus vaccine may soon be available, which would be essential to encouraging humanitarian volunteer work overseas (again, we have an administration that has the near-sighted nationalistic “take care of your own first” value system).  I think we could become more pro-active in developing avian influenza vaccines now, as well as vaccines against corona-virus infections, because natural resistance to these agents does develop with exposure.

I note the flawed thinking behind the vaccine denial movement (as in the film “Vaxxed“), which seems, again, to stem from a “take care of your own first” value system (sometimes religion).

The other measure would be social distancing, and isolation of patients.  This has been used (as for example to stop SARS from spreading in 2003) but it hardly sounds practical in the long run, and tends to invoke draconian powers from government.

In fact, the CDC attracted controversy with its “Final Rule of Control of Communicable Diseases: Domestic and Foreign”, issued January 19, on the last day of the Obama administration.

Major reading includes (from the 1990s) Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone” and Laurie Garrett’s “The Coming Plague: Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance“.

(Posted: Friday, March 10, 2017 at 4 PM EST)

James Woolsey (ex CIA) warns CNN that North Korea might be capable of detonating EMP weapon from orbiting satellite soon, even now

Today, Monday, March 6, 2017 Erin Burnett gave former CIA director James Woolsey an interview in the 7:30 PM slot, and Woolsey defended his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning that North Korea could pose a much bigger and more immediate threat to the United States even now than we realize.

Specifically, he suggested that North Korea could be capable of detonating a nuclear device from an orbiting satellite now.

Erin Burnett herself introduced the word “apocalyptic”.  Woolsey said there is disagreement as to how many US transformers on the power grids could survive the overload that would result.  Woolsey’s op-ed calls for strengthening the grid right now.  Bannon’s infrastructure programs so far have not mentioned this problem.  One way to strengthen the grids would be to require utilities to have their own small original generating stations and be less dependent on load sharing with other companies.  (That brings back the whole AC vs. DC debate in the early 20th century, as one time documented on the History Channel “The Men Who Built America”, 2012 episode).  Taylor Wilson (who has been supported by Peter Thiel, who supported Trump) has proposed that these small stations be shielded underground fission reactors.

I do recall many scenarios (as in “One Second After”) proposed where scud-type missiles fire off the US coast from clandestine ships create a high-altitude EMP result. There are even some non-nuclear magnetic flux devices that could be detonated on the group (as in a  mystery Popular Mechanics article shortly before 9/11 in 2001).  But I don’t recall mention of the satellite threat before, not even in Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out”.

I do see, however, a report about North Korean satellites with this capability on a smaller conservative web site reported back in April 2016.    Wikipedia has details on one satellite.

There have been many reports in recent days of North Korea missile test attempts.  President Donald Trump has not said (or tweeted) much about them yet (except, “not going to happen”).  CNN has a story today, questioning whether North Korean missiles could overwhelm THAAD.

In November 2015, I was reading later chapters in Ted Koppel’s book on the Metro in Washington when a college-age young man looked over my shoulder to read it.  That someone that age would notice this subject matter is encouraging.

There are some issues, for preserving freedom for everyone, that seem more pressing to me than the bathroom bills.

(Published: Monday, March 6, 2017 at 9:45 PM EST)

Update: Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST

A Facebook friend (somewhat connected to the prepper crowd) passed on this link from a family security website discussing Woolsey’s predictions about North Korea and even invoking the “fake news” idea.  Note the mention of Popular Mechanics, which had discussed non-nuclear EMP in an issue shortly before 9/11 back in 2001. (The Washington Times discussed it in 2009).  Here is the link.

Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017  6:15 PM EDT

Common sense would say that DPRK would already need to have developed a miniaturized device that could have been placed on a satellite.  Would we know?  Or could they deploy another satellite soon? DPRK’s statements remain belligerent after the Syria intervention by President Trump.

 

 

I dodge another big storm, and maybe stretch my luck

Today, my inherited Drogheda (e.g., “The Thorn Birds”, 1983  — and, yes, the pastor played by Richard Chamberlain eventually breaks down and cries) dodged another round of violent storms.  But, with time, accumulation of more opportunities for bad luck, and, yes, climate change, I know that disaster can happen to me.  None of us is above the possibility of having to deal with life in a shelter someday.  None of us is above needing others (and I could say, needing God).

This time around, it was particularly scary indeed, as the reports of tornados in the upper Midwest, popping out of nothing, kept coming on.  Even in the relatively safer location of the Mid-Atlantic, luck could eventually run out.

Most of my life, and especially during my boyhood, I’ve experienced physical stability, without a lot of danger from the outside world.  But, throughout history, most communities (all the way to whole nations) have had to deal with disruptions from outside threats.  That reality helps create a moral viewpoint where every “citizen” has to carry his or her own weight, metaphorically speaking. People have to step up to challenges and take responsibilities they did not necessarily choose (in the past, closely tied to gender), for the good of others in their communities, especially their families.  The severe weather scare today reminds me that my luck can run out.

So people “who are different” are pressured to conform to the adaptive needs of their origins.  I grew up in a particularly ambiguous position, where it was not clear whether I was genuinely disabled, or just mooching on the manual labor and risks others have to endure, even in my place.

That’s why I experience “morality” as an individual thing.  The individual ultimately will experience “it is what it is” – for him (or her) as an individual, and in sharing the “karma” of his larger group associations (usually starting with family).  That’s also why I don’t jump to “go to bat for” someone just because he or she belongs to a marginalized group.  But it also helps explain why “upward affiliation” became so tantalizing for me.  Ultimately, I dreamt of becoming someone better than me.  That may be the high point of distributed consciousness.

This whole process obviously leads to an obvious contradiction.  Josh Groban may have it right when he sings “You life me up” and it goes both ways.

My own life narrative threads on this idea, both in my own personal experience in sexuality and in how I handled my own speech later.   The way people reacted provides some pretty good fuel for inductive reasoning.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at 9:15 PM EST)