Why user-generated content (mine at least) seems to be near a precipice

Recently, Facebook announced it would make various changes to its newsfeed algorithms and policies to encourage people to interact personally more online and engage less in passive news posting and -gathering behavior. We can debate exactly what they want to accomplish and whether this policy change will reduce fake news (there are signs from overseas it might not, and other criticisms), but it is right to stop and wonder how we balance broadcasting our thoughts to others online (or in other vanity efforts like self-published books or vlogs) with real interactions.

Recently, a good friend on Facebook (whom I do see personally and whose professional career has him dealing with some of the national security questions I pose on this blog – and I don’t know any specifics) wrote an in-line post critical of the gratuitous nature of free content on the Internet.  We expect our writers to work for free, he essentially said.  We can’t expect that of plumbers or electricians or people with “real jobs”.  Oh, I can recall debates back in the 1980s as to whether (then mainframe) “data processing” gave us “real jobs”.

My friend’s post begs the question, what is a “writer” anyway?  Is he/she someone who writes what others want so that it will sell (like Joan Didion or Armistead Maupin, both the subjects of indie film biographies last year)?  Or can someone who wants to write a personal manifesto and achieve fame with it a real writer?  Manifestos, however “from on high” they seem, remember, have a bad rap;  a few authors of these screeds have then done some very bad things (like with guns).

So that comes to my own content, which appears to be “free” in the most anti-competitively abusive sense.  I think of Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film “It’s Free” set in a public library (to be followed by “Free Fish”).  Most of my online content appears in four WordPress blogs (set up in 2014 and then 2016) or one of sixteen “Blogger” blogs (starting in 2006).  But there is also a lot of older legacy content on “doaskdotell.com”, all flat html, and this includes all the text of my books.  And, yes, “it’s free”. Like attending my first gay talk group in February 1973.

It’s true that I have Google Adsense on Blogger, but right now my WordPress blogs and flat sites have no advertising, no pop-ups,, no donation jars, no “calls to action”, and no email lists  (The WordPress does invite the user to share on Facebook, Twitter. Or Google-Plus when brought up, with comments, as an individual post).  I don’t run “other people’s” donation (or political candicacy) campaigns on my sites, and I don’t pimp causes from a partisan stance. To a lot of people, it seems, that means I won’t “play ball” with them.

Yet, I’m a fan of Australian blogging guru Ramsay Taplan’s “Blogtyrant” world, and most of his recommendations do apply to small, niche businesses that want to reach consumers, sometimes even some “real” authors (like what Author’s Guild means) and musicians (who sell on Bandcamp as well as Amazon).  Aggression with mailing lists and promotions pays if you have legitimate customers whose needs you can really meet. Otherwise it would fall into spam.

So that brings me to the question, how can I sustain this?  The transparent answer is that I have other money, so it hasn’t had to pay its own way. A lot of it was saved when I was working, because I was able to avoid debt.  (Not having kids means no big mortgage is necessary.)  Some of it is inherited (and that gets into the issue of my own and mom’s trusts, out of scope here).  And I got lucky in 2008.  I probably benefited from it. (Seeing it coming, and some conservative values, helps.)  So call me a rentier, an abusive capitalist, ripe for expropriation by Antifa if you like.

It’s useful for me to go back and recall how I got into self-publishing, long before the Internet became available to newbies.  I probably got my first little article published in 1974, where I argued for gay rights from a libertarian perspective, a “mind your own business” plea to the world.

In the 1980s, I did network with the medical and public health community, the Dallas Gay Alliance, and right wing elements, all by mailed letters, trying to get some sort of political compromise, during a time when Texas (in early 1983) considered passing a very draconian anti-gay law.  I was quite concerned about the shallowness of arguments sometimes put out by traditional “activists” seeming to expect to be viewed as victims merely by belonging to a “class”.  I was particularly attentive to the clinical information as it unfolded.  There was a period when the conventional way of resisting was “don’t take the test” once an HIV test was available.  I did volunteer as a “baby buddy” at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center during that time.

In the 1990s the issue of gays in the military came onto center stage.  The components of the debate at the time (such as “privacy” in the barracks, as well as “unit cohesion”, not quite the same thing) cut across many other issues in an unusual way. I began getting published in some LGBT and libertarian journals (list).  I wanted to get the arguments right at an individual level, without appeals to morally dubious claims of group oppression. Because of my own situation and personal history, I entered the debate, and in August 1994 I decided firmly, while on vacation in Colorado, to write my first DADT book, which I finally issued in July 1997.  Partly to avoid a public conflict of interest which I have explained elsewhere (as in the DADT III book), I took a convoluted corporate transfer to Minneapolis at about the same time. I actually did sell copies of the book reasonably well for the first 18 months or so, but by the middle of 1998 I had discovered I could draw a lot more attention to my work by simply placing the book text online and letting the search engines find it, which they did.  (I paid nothing to do this, other than the nominal fees for a domain – the guy operating the service was a personal friend through work – and I did not need to code metatags or secure SEO to get it found.  It seemed use of free content online for self-promotion was rather novel at the time;  during the dot-com boom, not that many people really did it this way.)   The search engines proved to be effective.  On a few occasions, when I made a controversial addition to material on the site, I got email feed back the next day.  My use of the “It’s free” technique seemed very effective but came under threat from the 1998 “Child Online Protection Act” for which I would become a sub-litigant under the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s sponsorship.

Over time, my commentary would cross over many other issues, particularly with regard to libertarianism for most social and economic issues, and expand out after 9/11 into how you protect personal liberty in a world with external threats, sometimes borne out of populist “politics of resentment” as well as religious fundamentalism (by no means limited to radical Islam) and possibly resurgence of communism (North Korea now). After 9/11, one or the proponents of Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue”, Charles Moskos, argued publicly for resuming the military draft (to include women), and dropping the military ban altogether.  That fit into my arguments perfectly.  As personal and job circumstances changed over the years (DADT III again) I kept my material online, and my staying out there so long played a significant repeal in the eventual repeal of DADT in 2011 with Obama in office.

I have contemplated ideas like “opposing viewpoints” automation (book series), which sites like Kialo and Better Angels take on, and I well look into these. Hubpages could provide another opportunity.

Over the years, there have been various threats to the sustainability of the way I work.  These include the undoing of network neutrality and the weakening of Section 230 (the Backpage controversy) as well as various efforts by established media to tighten copyright and trademark laws, not only to combat real piracy (a legitimate concern) but to undermine competition from people (like me) who could compete with them with much lower costs by staying outside the union and guild world.  Another issue, less important in the US than in Europe, is the supposed “right to be forgotten”, which my own use of search engines confounds. As this gets back to libertarian issues (right to work) and to the SOPA debate in 2011.  A critical concept behind all of this is that social media companies and hosting companies not share undo downstream responsibility or liability exposurefor the actions of their users, otherwise they could not let us create user-created content without gatekeepers.

Another possibly grave threat could be personal targeting from (foreign) enemies, or causing others (family members) associated with a speaker like me to be targeted.  I actually was concerned about this while my mother was alive.  This has not happened to me as I don’t seem to be as visible a target as, say, Milo Yiannopoulos (or Pam Geller or Mary Norris), even though I share and communicate some similar beliefs.  But, if you think about this with a Tom Clancy-type novelist’s mind, you can imagine this as another way an enemy could subvert American democracy.  That’s the Sony hack issue at the end of 2014 from North Korea.  Instead, Russia, in particular, noticed that speakers like me tended to be noticed by the “choir” (other academics and policy makers) but not by the “average joe’s”, whose everyday needs we seemed oblivious to.  So the Russians pumped Facebook and Twitter with fake news which gullible people would believe and such a way that Asperger-like people like me (not quite the same as schizoid), trying to influence policy with passive search engine strategy, wouldn’t even notice or care.  For them it worked, and Trump won.

I think a fair criticism of me would be that I don’t actually have anything to sell to customers that meet their needs, so no “Blogtyrant” strategy of playing ball could work. Do I have content that people would “want” and would pay for?  Well, that’s the novel (and to some extent the fiction in DADT-III, which could make a nice two-part indie film), and the music.  In fact, I have worked on my own composed music (finishing what I had started in high school and the early college years, at about the time of the William and Mary expulsion) and, because it is post-romantic, it may actually be capable of “crowd pleasing” in a way that a lot of the manipulative music from established young composers today (under 40) does not.

I do need to “stay on point” with my own work, so it is very difficult for me to respond to pleas from other parties to join their efforts, in activism and resistance.  It is also difficult to give away time in “service” unless I find niche-like service opportunities that are closer to my own skill set.   A good example could be directing chess tournaments which invite underprivileged youth, or arranging concerts for other musicians.

I do get concerned over two big questions.  One is that the permissive environment that has allowed so much user-generated content to reach readers and consumers may not be sustainable for a combination of reasons:  rampant user abuse, security, and the ability of companies to make money legitimately without fake news, bots, intrusive ads, and all kinds of questionable technique.  I don’t know if, for example, Google and WordPress would find it profitable to keep their free platforms forever.  And I can imagine ways it could become much harder in the future to get reasonable hosting than it has been until today.  The recent incidents where alt-right sites (at least one) were banned by most hosts over their content is part of my concern.  You can have a specific objection to, say, neo-Nazism, but then it’s a slippery slope:  radical Islam, communism (Stalinism or gulag-ism, which is where Antifa could find itself headed), all kinds of other complaints based on “intersectionality” or “populism” threaten the whole expectation of legitimacy of free speech.  You could, for example, require that every website, by certain accounting rules, show that it pays its own freight (although that would seem to invite porn back, wouldn’t it).   It’s hard to “pay your own way” without admitting to group preferences and “partisanship”, and showing social “loyalty” and even “community engagement”.  All of this is in tension with my insistence on looking at human rights as an individual’s property, regardless of any membership in a group that claims some sort of systematic oppression (and eventual intersectionality).  But there is no constitutional principle that guarantees that anyone has the right to distribute his own personalized speech without the cooperation of others.

This brings me back to the whole idea of social contract between the individual and his society.  You can call it “rightsizing”, but that’s a dangerous idea that leads to authoritarianism, either on the far right (or alt-right) or far left.  (Yup, a smaller country like Singapore can get away with this, and China is trying to come up with some way to grade people’s social compatibility by 2020!)  Yet, on a personal level, there’s something wrong when we think of others as “unworthy” of becoming prioritized to enter our lives because they aren’t “good enough” and didn’t “make it”.  That used to be hidden more, but there is an implicit understanding that if too many of us think that way, we invite especially right-wing totalitarianism in the door (consider Logan Paul’s movie “Thinning” as a warning).  That may be one reason why I do see so much “pimping” of “other people’s causes” with appeals for “calls to action” all the time.  On one level, I resist getting involved with all these public “knocks on the door” but I probably can’t avoid them forever.  As Martin Fowler wrote in his 2014 book, everyone belongs “somewhere” in some group, and has to bond with people who are imperfect, far less than teen Clark Kent’s.  Everyone’s karma, and whatever fragmentary after life follows (and I think there is one, however fleeting and combinatorial) is greatly affected by what they depended on – and that means groups.  I resist “joining” resistances (and marching and shouting in demonstrations for specific groups), but I know that eventually there comes a point where it is probably impossible to survive without doing so, even without coming in your shorts.

There is a political point here.  If legal or practical considerations made it impossible for businesses to allow me my own platforms, changing what has has been the case since late 1996, I would be forced to work through groups, and advocate for or personally assist people who individually I did not approve of apart from the group.  But this could be better for a lot of people and could address some of the underlying causes of inequality.  This all relates to the “implicit content” problem with free speech, or the “skin in the game argument”.

Perhaps what I am seeing is something like an attack on introversion, a demand that every endeavor somehow relate to other people’s needs. Yet, as “The Good Doctor” shows us, every introverted people sometimes meet real needs, and save us.

Earlier legacy piece on the “free content” idea.

(Published: Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 6:30 PM EST)

U.S. needs a missile defense against North Korea or rogue states that would approach 100% reliability; nothing less will be acceptable

One of the fundamental issues in personal ethics has to do with facing singularities in life.  We will all die someday, and face something at the end, which could be sudden and random or predictable and prolonged.  But facing sudden violence from an enemy, especially fed by resentment, is especially problematical; for me, pimping victimization just won’t get it.

We generally think about appropriateness of behavior and bearing in terms of playing by the rules of the system, of “democratic capitalism” as it is in the West, given a narrow focus on personal responsibility and transparent consequences, with the expectation that the legal and physical infrastructures will always function with stability as they do now.  People who do well in life legitimately (from any Western or reasonably stable country) generally deal with this personalized moral paradigm well.  But a sizable minority of people (at least in my own social media feeds) talk as if they believe everyone has an obligation that they could start out with nothing and start over in a post-technology world – the doomsday preppers.

While there were scattered kooky publications predicting financial ruin throughout the nineties, most of us suddenly felt we had to deal with the idea of sudden apocalypse after 9/11.  Many asymmetric threats, including small nuclear bombs and dirty bombs, as well as biological weapons, became the subject of widespread speculation.  The anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11 contributed.  An online preview of a chapter on terrorism in my DADT II book got hacked on April Fools Day, 2002, at exactly the point where I was talking about small nuclear weapons.

Like Dr. Strangelove, we’ve learned to live with all this, and the fear, from my perspective, has receded.  But the scare has returned with the increasing threats from North Korea.  There are two main threats.  The most obvious would be North Korea’s long range ICBM’s actually being able to deliver thermonuclear weapons on US cities.  Off hand, it sounds like this may be more difficult for North Korea to achieve than most reports (and Kim Jong Un’s bravado) suggest but by mid 2019 it would probably be a realistic threat.  But in the meantime, based on scattered reports (including James Woolsey’s) it sounds like North Korea might well be able to detonate an EMP weapon at fairly high altitude, from either a satellite or missile;  this may be easier to do.  Such an event would much more likely be an E1 (from a fission device) than an E3 (fusion, or Carrington solar storms) but it could severely damage the US technological infrastructure and home devices, unless they were shielded. That’s why I disagree with some speculations that North Korea would only use nuclear blasts.

While North Korea has said it would use the weapons only if it felt threatened, it has recently said that all of its nukes are pointed at the US only. (That’s absurd; only the medium or long range ones can reach US territory.)  Since most of North Korea’s people as individuals have almost nothing, Kim Jong Un can play the card of targeting US civilians for personal loss, having everything to lose personally.  This was a common tactic of revolutionary communism in the 60s and 70s (consider the Khmer Rouge, and Patty Hearst, for that matter), long before Al Qaeda brought its own horror to American civilians. I think of this as the “Scarlet O’Hara” problem, in the opening of “Gone with the Wind”, where Scarlet first contemplates that her privileged life could be taken away from her by force during war.  But she gets it back (“I’ll never be hungry again”).  But maybe the rest of us would not be so personally resilient. (Think about a similar scene in the middle of “Cold Mountain”—“I can embroider but I can’t darn!”)

The concern about EMP has been known a long time (a Popular Mechanics magazine issue called attention it a week before 9/11) but concern increased somewhat in 2009 with the publication of Fortschen’s novel “One Second After”, which has yet to make it to film. Ted Koppel’s 2015 “Lights Out” book has reinforced the concern, as has perhaps NBC’s series “Revolution” (which really offers a different explanation for the blackout).  The US has an EMP commission, which was reportedly defunded in October.  As I’ve noted, it’s mostly conservative media outlets which have been willing to talk about this, some of them reporting explicit EMP threats from Kim and reporting that Trump recently has said he understands the threat.  So far, Huffington Post is the only major “liberal” publication to deal with it in detail.

That brings us to the subject of US missile defense.  If in fact NORAD and similar systems could knock down 100% of missiles that North Korea or any future rogue state could fire, the US citizens would not have to take the nuclear threat from Kim personally, as aimed at them out of vengeance.

Mainstream journalistic reports on current capacity are not too encouraging. A Washington Post article Nov. 29 by Bonnie Berkowitz and Aaron Steckelberg talk about a GMD system that right now could handle “only” 44 missiles.  (I thought, that’s the maximum number of characters in an IBM mainframe dataset name!)  But the New York Times on Nov. 16 has an article about layered defense by David Sanger and William Broad. PBS News Hour after Thanksgiving gave a more pessimistic assessment.

What, we may ask, happened to Reagan’s Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative)  proposal of 1983?  SDI would not have defended against all kinds of threats, but one of the issues was that the very concept contradicted MAD (mutually assured destruction) so it was seen as inappropriate for the traditional Cold War with the Soviet Union and China. But it makes a lot more sense in defending against rogue nations, who also could hire clandestine terrorists (as from Al Qaeda or ISIS).

An effective defense system would have to anticipate submarine launches or possibly from rogue hijacked ships (as seems to happen in “One Second After” and is speculated in Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken”).

This brings up my own background.  Early in my career, my background seemed to point to defense, and my second full time job was working coding missile intercept subroutines in FORTRAN (later assembler) at the Naval Command System Support Activity (NAVCOSSACT) at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington DC, from 1971-1972, about nineteen months.  I worked in a four-story building near the river and Water Street which surely has been renovated by now, beyond recognition; but there were no windows inside. One of the systems was called “COMINT” and the results of the simulations were to be used in the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks). Perhaps the result of these talks was a scaling back of defensive systems.  But I know from having worked there that the mathematics and theory of how to do everything was quite advanced at the time, 45 years ago.

One reason for my leaving this job and going to Univac in New Jersey in 1972 was the issue of my getting a Top Secret Clearance (I had Secret only) given my pseudo-psychiatric history after my expulsion from William and Mary in the Fall of 1961 (for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean covertly). I would have my programs keypunched (or would punch them myself) and turn in compiles and test shots upstairs at a “production control center”.  Eventually the modules and results would be taken to an “inner sanctum” of other programmers with top secret clearances.  We surely are way beyond all this now.

While in the Army (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, 1968), I spent a summer in the Pentagon.  I do remember conversations to the effect that the draft, enhancing conventional capability, were seen as part of psychological nuclear deterrent by enemies (i.e., we could demand some sacrifice by individuals if we had to).  I’ll get more into the “McNamara’s Morons” issue in a book review soon.  But the issue of exposure of civilians to involuntary risk and inequitable sacrifice (the Battle of Britain issue in 1940) was on people’s minds.  We see that today the way we refer to Vietnam-era draft dodging (both Clinton and Trump) by politicians today. I would go to the library and read articles on the impacts of nuclear strikes on various cities (I remember one about St. Louis, and in 1983 the TV movie “The Day After” would show Kansas City in such a situation; or later, “Testament“, showing northern  California residents awaiting radiation sickness after San Francisco gets it). Even then, though, the ability of the US to defend itself with missiles was said to be considerable, following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which had unfolded suddenly while I was a pseudo-patient at NIH, and with my daytime student passes, the only one on the ward who understood what was going on.

I also worked three summers (1965 through 1967) at David Taylor Model Basin (near Washington) while finishing graduate work at KU; similarly, it seemed that weapons systems detection systems were really quite advanced then. Although computing has become personalized in a revolutionary way since then (the Internet and social media), the basic command and control hardware and software were intact in the 1960s, when we put a man on the Moon.

So, coming back to where we are with missile defense today, in short, it is not politically controversial to expect missile defense approaching 100%.  Having that capability would take Kim Jong Un’s direct threats to individual Americans (I take them personally) off the table.  Nothing less than that should be acceptable.

It would be necessary to take down missiles even before they enter continental US air space.  Missile tests that result in missiles go beyond Japan out into the Pacific should be shot down.

But, there are those in the world who want to see everyone brought equally low, to start over. That is radicalism 101.  It also relates to nihilism. (The extreme Left wants this to happen to almost everyone, like in North Korea;  the extreme Right wants to waste those whom it deems unfit to live – that’s what Nazism was all about.)  Right now, we have to wonder if we’ll have the world as we know it eighteen months from now.   There are plenty of moralizers on social media who will preach mandatory prepping for everyone;  you don’t know if thirty minutes from now, the lights go out forever.  It shouldn’t be that way.  We need to do the least controversial thing to protect ourselves, and make our missile defense solid.  Maybe then I could personally pay more attention to more localized “identity politics” which seems pretty meaningless right now.

The Libertarian Party had stressed missile defense, while avoiding foreign engagements, back in the 1990s, as Harry Browne had explained in his book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World“.  I remember his talking about this at a conference in Manassas VA in May 1996.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2018. At 9:30 PM EST)

Community engagement v. individualism, with authoritarians watching

I have a friend in the Virginia libertarian circles, Rick Sincere, who recently has run some interesting guests posts on his blog, like this recent one on Masterpiece Cakeshop.

I do have a few guest posts on my two newer WordPress blogs (“Blogtyrant” really encourages the practice) but this one will be a pseudo-guest post, a Smerconish-like compendium of some feedback from a friend in the past twenty four hours after a typical social in the “gay establishment” with all the usual abstract trappings about equality.

He shared with me the parable of Rebekah Mercer (think, Mercer County New Jersey, where I lived for my first job with RCA, in Princeton, starting in 1970), daughter of the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, conveyed in this Washington Post article January 5 by Kyle Swenson.  My friend’s narrative focused on the role of pollster and political operative Patrick Cladell in convincing the family that Donald Trump needed to become their Mr. Smith who would go to Washington and wreck the establishment.

The article focuses on the resentment of the elites by just part of the far right.  True, the Left had carried opposition to pipelines and drilling too far, if the nation really needs to go to autarky on energy. True, foreign competition had destroyed a lot of manufacturing jobs – and the hedge fund managers didn’t recognize the irony of their opposing seeing the middle class follow them into the world of hucksterism (as I found out in many job interviews in the 2000’s) when we didn’t make enough of our own stuff.  Indeed, that’s a legitimate national security concern.  Up to some point, the nationalism of Steve Bannon had to make sense to them.  And, true enough, the meddlesomeness of Obamacare hurt a lot of young adults, who were forced to pay higher premiums to take care of “other people’s problems” (like opioid) that they might be unlikely to encounter themselves.

The Mercers probably didn’t care so much about the social issues:  they just resented the idea of people fighting for different treatment for different groups instead of fighting for themselves as individuals. (Maybe that means it’s OK to be a charismatic superhero-like cis gay man [even a comic book space alien] but not a sissy  and not an earthly immigrant.)  But Robert, like Donald, shared a personal revulsion for personal involvement with “losers”. A man’s real worth was his financial network, like a grade for one’s life.

But then something else happened. Trump carried his authoritarian streak (and need for control and self-gratification as the leader) much further than the Mercers probably wanted.  But he was the best “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (Frank Capra’s 1939 film for Columbia, legacy review) that they could find.

But what happened, as we know, that Trump played to a base who see things more in terms of a strong politician taking care of them than in terms of actual policy fixes.  And as Michael Moore pointed out, a lot of people just wanted a “Blow Up”, a revolution – to disrupt the lives of the elites, even if you destroyed the country in the process.

All of this indeed leads to a county in increased danger, particularly from one particular enemy, and detracts from orderly solutions to all of our inequality problems.

Yes, it puts me on the spot.  While I leverage asymmetry online to establish myself as an individual, apart for the group, I probably ask for new dangers, from combative enemies could can also leverage the same asymmetry.

There are many existential threats out there to my continuing my own style of free speech, as I’ve covered before (the gratuitousness problem).  I’ll be coming back to some of the details (probably the Section 230 issues are more important than network neutrality) soon, but I wanted to revisit the idea of “the privilege of being listened to” as in my DADT III book.  One idea is that, before someone is “heard” as an individual he (or she or “they”) needs to show some kind of community engagement.

That sounds like almost “forced” volunteerism, a step down from national service, supervised by the bureaucracy of charities and nonprofits.

Now, there are two kinds of volunteerism to start.  One is really volunteering for political activism.  A friend suggested volunteering a little a HRC or some similar group (NLGTF) to learn what “group identity” sensitivity is all about (given all my criticism of “trigger warnings”, “microaggressions”, and “intersectionality”).  Now, like in the movie “Rebirth”, I think there is something wrong with volunteering to “look” or “spectate”.  I wouldn’t do that unless I was completely with the goals of the group (as opposed to the liberty interests of individuals in the group, which Rick Sincere’s blog above deals with).  My own father used to deploy the phrase “as a group” when he talked about race (unfortunately quoting the Bible wrong). Bill Clinton had to deny that lifting the military ban would be about “group rights”.

That said, I do engage of activism of sorts with my blogs – these days, mostly on sustainability for our civilization, where, yes, I’ve focused on the EMP issue as possibly posing a singularity-type threat.  Along the lines of the work I have done (I don’t mean with a therapist), I would love to work for a news organization and have a press pass.  Then, yes, I might be able to cover HRC activism with some objectivity.  But I can see covering events regarding, for example, net neutrality or Section 230. I don’t see marching on picket lines over these issues, however.

The other kinds of volunteerism is to help people – with real needs.  But that forks in a few direction.

I did this in the 1980s and less in the 1990s with the AIDS crisis, because it had reared up in my own life (although I didn’t get infected because of reverse Darwinism – “The Normal Heart”).  I was a “baby buddy” for a time in 1986-87 at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas.  I was also the pain that questioned the gay politicians for wanting to get out of some of the “extended personal responsibility” issues, which got dangerous  (the “don’t take the test” crowd).  In the 1990s, I volunteered one night a month for a while at Food and Friends counting donations when it was located in the Navy Yard-Waterfront (Washington).

I have spot-volunteered, like at a local church’s monthly “community assistance” dinners and handout sessions, but not found it terribly meaningful.  Some volunteer activities ask for more help than they need because they may or may not need the bodies for a short time.

Now, as with the examples I gave, you can focus volunteerism on “groups” to which you have “belonged” (whether or not you “chose to”).  You can focus on whether giving goes to that group, or to any individuals in need.  And I can’t blow off the group idea completely.  Consider Trump’s joke about Pence’s past attitude toward “LGBT people” (as a group”), “Oh, he wants to hang ‘em all”. (I remember the 1968 Clint Eastwood movie “Hang ‘em High”).  It sounds funny even on the “gay right”.  But there’s a point where it isn’t.  You can be in the wrong group whether you chose to or not.  Imagine living in Germany in the 1930s. That does help grasp the sensitivities surrounding Charlottesville.

The effectiveness of volunteerism depends on the skills you have. I could imagine directing chess tournaments in underprivileged areas – but it would be desirable to be as effective a chess player as possible first. I can imagine helping people not fall for phishing scams.

But a lot of times charities want volunteers to go out of their own boxes.  The Red Cross, for example, wants volunteers to install smoke detectors in low income homes.  That would make more sense if I had kept the trust house.

There is another direction that “real needs” can fork to — actually taking responsibility for supporting or hosting someone.

So, the bottom line is, I have to finish my own work, on my issues as I have laid them out, before I’m much good on “somebody else’s” problems and supervision.  I have my own goals and path and self-direction and strategy. It takes time and freedom from disruption to carry out. I can’t let it be negotiable.  Yet I realize that if I didn’t have this, I’d have to be more amenable to “groups” to “survive”. Maybe that is better for a lot of other people.

I’ve had some discussion with the friend telling me he cannot be open online about controversial topics. This gets back to what I’ve called “conflict of interest” over publicly available speech. I’ve covered this before with links, but it’s good to reiterate a couple things.  If someone has direct reports on the job or the ability to pass “underwriting” judgments on others, then off-the-job policy opinions that can easily be found by others (as by search engines or by public social media pages) put the relationship between the associate and stakeholders at potential risk, even legally (like hostile workplace). One way to handle this is for an employer to insist that the person’s only public social media presence be the official work one, and that all private social media communications be under full privacy settings. If you have certain kinds of jobs, you relinquish the right of “self-publication” (or self-distribution).

(Posted: Saturday, Jan. 6, 2017 at 9 PM EST)

Trump seems to be bargaining with individual American’s lives when he tweets on North Korea; Senator Kaine’s plan for diplomacy and treaty

Well, here we go again.  President Trump responds to a New Year’s Day message from Kim Jong Un with a tweet about button size (I can think of an analogy, as can we all).  One immediate problem is that Trump is implying an unstable nuclear standoff is acceptable to him because “we” would win the warz’. That means Trump is willing to bargain away the lives (or personal futures) of many individual Americans in more vulnerable areas because we have something to lose, while the average North Korean has nothing at all.  That’s not to mention South Koreans and Japanese. This is deeply offensive in a personal way.  A life that is ruined by the actions of another is still ruined.  It’s time for some objectivism and existentialism.

I could say that Twitter ought to consider suspending Trump’s account as a matter of national security and possibly preventing an unintended war, maybe even with catastrophe to the homeland, as speculated by Jeffrey Lewis of the Washington Post on December 8.  I’d say, “We Were Warned”. (That’s ironically the title of a 2007 film about an earlier fuel crisis)  I’ll balance this with an earlier Huffington piece by Elvibyn Aghayev.   If you connect the dots with the Sony hack over a movie from Sony Pictures in 2014 (“The Interview”), you have to wonder if it is possible for asymmetrically delivered content from private company or even citizen to provoke war.  Although North Korea blocks the world wide Internet to its own people, some of it leaks, and Kim Jong Un obviously has access to everything and seems easily insulted.  Young and personable CNN correspondent Will Ripley (“Secret State: Inside North Korea“) has expressed specific concerns on the insult risk.

Tim Kaine, democratic Senator from Virginia, outlines a broad plan to start some kind of diplomacy after all.  A key concept is whether North Korea and South Korea would accept a formal peace treaty (technically they are still at war) with North Korea’s calming down its missile programs.  Another key problem is whether the United States would have to lower its presence in the region, particularly if North Korea broke the treaty later. This sounds like the old McNamara Domino Theory from the Vietnam days (and from my own summer in the Pentagon while in the Army in 1968, as I outline in Chapter 2 Section 10 of my own DADT-1 book).  Kaine gives a useful reference to an AP article on Bloomberg by Richard Gardner on the authority of Congress to supervise the president on going to war.  Congress needs to be more diligent on this.   Senators like Feinstein, McCain, Graham, and various House Armed Services Committee members need to be actively involved. Congressional supervision needs to be bipartisan.

I’ve written here before about another complication, the EMP wildcard.  The media, seeming noseblind, have not provided reliable reports on whether North Korea is capable of detonating fission (E1) or even thermonuclear (E3) weapons in space from orbit.  For example, instead of a missile launch North Korea could do another satellite launch and claim EMP capabilities, which we don’t seem to be able to deny.  That follows on James Woolsey’s claims last March, and NPR has a spoofy piece on this here.

The idea that the threat of war can affect private citizens has certainly been with us since 9/11 with respect to radical Islam (even more so in Europe recently), but now Communism or post-Communist statism seems to be roaring back.   Russia arguably was able to affect the 2016 election and sow more divides among the American people because Putin correctly senses that “elite” Americans don’t personally care about people in disadvantaged classes or pay attention to how the latter perceives information (even the film “The Florida Project” which I saw yesterday seems to make that point).  Putin managed to turn the asymmetry of Internet debate, which I have leveraged myself, on individual speakers.

I also have experience in my background with the Vietnam era draft, with the student deferments on one side and “McNamara’s Morons” as cannon fodder on the other. (I will soon review Hamilton Gregory’s book “McNamara’s Folly” soon.)  I know what it means for governments to play with individual people’s lives.  I guess when I was a math instructor at the University of Kansas as a grad student before I was drafted myself I was complicit in the process.  What karma.

(Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018, at 11 AM EST)

Update: Friday, January 5 at 3 PM EST

Again, let us reinforce the singularity of the existential threat to our way of life the EMP (especially E-3) could lead to. It hasn’t happened. In a difficult time of my own life, when I was a patient at NIH in the fall of 1962, after my own college expulsion almost a year before, we lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I wondered if we “deserved” to live if something happened.

The Washington Times (again, a conservative paper) has an op-ed Jan. 4 by Henry Cooper summarizing how we have slept on this threat, here. Where is is The Washington Post on reporting this?  The article doesn’t distinguish E-1 (a lot more likely in practice) from E-3 but it correctly notes that Kim Jong-Un would not need to demonstrate re-entry survival to use EMP.  It also notes that Russia has in the past delivered “low yield Super EMP technology” to North Korea (it sounds like E-1).   It mentions the threats also to transoceanic cables.

I also note that, despite other recent reports that Trump has become aware of the EMP issue (Dec. 22), the administration apparently shut down the EMP Commission in October (“The Hill” report).

On the other hand, there seems to be a “ray of hope” in the diplomacy between North and South Korea before the Winter Olympics (CNN analysis).  But, as we know from the “McNamara Theory”, even this diplomacy has its downstream risks.

The Trump tax policy allows work-arounds, it seems

Trump may be anti-elitist in that he believes, and seems to enforce, the idea that authoritarian tribalism makes the world function better for “your own people”.  The new GOP tax law, which is largely Trump’s first “achievement”, seems to reinforce that idea in several ways.

The tax policy is said to penalize residents of states with high state and local taxes and high state services. It is said to reward the “real world” economy supposedly in midwestern and southern states at the expense of the intellecuality and abstractions of the coasts.  Sounds like my first attempt at a book, “The Proles”.

James M. Pettit explores this idea in National Review, where he shows how blue states lose residents to red states.  Despite the situation right now in 2018, this could help “conservatives” in the long run. But we’ve seen this before.  I left New York City at the beginning of 1979 (a few years after NYC’s own “drop dead” financial crisis in 1975) for the lower taxes and living costs of Dallas.  Along with that came more conservative social values.  There was a tendency for families to segregate and for companies to move to the far northern suburbs (like Plano) to “get away from the blacks”. Moving probably delayed and prevented my own exposure to HIV, but we had to deal with a mean anti-gay climate in the early 80s when AIDS was first being publicized.  But generally, “conservative” areas want to see outlier people (like me) socialized into vertical tribes (extended families) so that governments don’t have to do as much.

But Vox (Dylan Matthews) proposes a scheme where blue states go to employer payroll taxes as opposed to state income taxes.  This would mean lower wages at first but possibly workers (and many employers) come out better after taxes are done, under the new scheme.

On January 1, Noam Scheiber (in Business Day, New York Times) suggested that the new tax law will encourage more workers to become independent contractors, because sole proprietorships will now be able to deduct some expenses. If I really sold more individual copies of my own books (or really tried and got more advertising revenue from my blogs) this could help me.

And today, David Herzig (p  A15) suggested that states are losing sales tax revenue when you buy online (except through Amazon Prime, which collects it). One issue is that states (according to an earlier Supreme Court ruling, which may get overturned) can only enforce taxes in states where they have physical presence (and Amazon is building its own stores). I actually started filing sales tax with Virginia in 2016, and have made a practice of paying it to Virginia wherever books are sold (like Washington DC book fares). In a few cases I have given complimentary copies and reported them as sales and paid a small tax. I stopped for a while when I moved because of possible issues regarding business licenses and the new condo residence (my “downsizing”) but I expect to resolve this by March.

All of this suggests I need to get more serious about “selling” on a transaction level myself, and I’ll get into that soon.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 2, 2019 at 10 PM EST)