I have to admit subscribing to a belief myself that society (and the world as a whole) will be stable if every individual has “what he (she) deserves”, that is, has undergone “rightsizing” (or maybe “Downsizing” as in the movie). In 2005, I had even made a controversial post on my legacy site, which may have created a stir where I was substitute-teaching. And the theme of my 2014 DADT III book weighs heavily on the idea that inequality can lead to instability, because people left out of the system have no real incentive to play by the rules.
We’re all familiar with credit scores (and there is more than one system) regarding financial trustworthiness, but now we see increasing attention to how far China wants to take this idea, with the full implementation of a “social credit system” by 2020.
The basic and obvious idea is to rate not only whether you pay your bills, but whether you pay your dues. The idea is to rank the social worthiness of voluntary behaviors. Buying diapers means you have kids and a family, so presumably that’s good. Spending a lot on video games is solitary and anti-social and bad – unless you work for a gaming company testing software, which it wouldn’t know. I guess hacking your own computer to prove that the Intel chip has a flaw is socially bad. This gets to sound like a war on introverts, who might take advantage of the sacrifices of others whom they then ignore and exclude.
In China the state and private sector (post-Communist) are linked as “statist capitalism” (or as Ted Koppel aired a series “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” way back in the summer of 2008 (before our own financial meltdown)). So it’s hard to say if the government is going to do the snooping and rating, or with the “private sector” do this (like advertisers do on social media in the West).
But it’s pretty easy to imagine how a system like this could assign “life points”. Being married with kids sounds like it would count, although China has to deal with the remnant of its one-child policy. Honoring filial piety (taking care of elders, which is pretty much mandatory in China) now counts. Volunteering for social service organizations, echo. Except that someone as to decide with organizations “count”. Once you have quasi-forced volunteerism, then the social service agencies have some control of citizen’s lives to make sure they are unselfish enough. Suddenly, I’m reminded of a Cato Institute forum in October 2017 about the communist idea of the “New Man”. A society of egoless people will never raise living standards.
But the social credit (or aggregate life-points score) is supposed to qualify you for certain kinds of jobs or benefits. It could even become a requirement, say, to have your own Internet domain. That is, you get heard only when you put your own skin in the game first.
With all this horror to contemplate, right out of George Orwell, it’s pretty apparent that we have a lot of this in the U.S., but in our case it is fragmentary and episodic. Way back in the 1960s, the male-only military draft was predicate on the (post-fascist) idea that some men are more “valuable” alive than others. That started with married men or married fathers (under Kennedy) and migrated to student deferments – brains gave you more life points (and deservedness to live) than brawn, all because of Sputnik. This filtered down to “McNamara’s Morons” becoming cannon fodder, as I’ve covered before.
Much more recently, but still more than a decade ago, in 2006, we started talking about “online reputation” as subsumed by search engine results (and some algorithms exploring the deep web), even before Facebook was fully available to the public (then Myspace was all the rage). It isn’t too hard to imagine companies coming up with some sort of “Online Reputation Score” to be amalgamated with your Credit Score. And recently Facebook has announced measures trying to get users to interact more with content and with each other; it’s unclear where this will really go, but I can’t relish being expected to entertain “gofundme” for 100 “friends” every time someone gets into trouble.
There has been talk of requiring a “community engagement” (volunteerism or low-level employment) from people on welfare, and it would sound plausible that some day this could required to keep getting Social Security benefits as a younger senior if otherwise able-bodied.
There’s something else about fine tuning moral behavior at a personal level. It won’t always add up. You want men to have families and become responsibly married fathers. That’s certain in tension with women’s expressional equality, as we have come to view it. Furthermore, that value system tends to encourage men to take advantage of women and “get away with it”, as we have seen from the recently escalating sexual harassment scandals, now involving minors.
Another relevant legacy piece of mine from 2005 on individualism and shared risk.
Will we all be coerced some day to “go get small”?
Are we going overboard on protecting the public from “germs”?
That’s an especially good question given the flu season.
I downsized into a high-rise condo building, so I am exposed to a lot more people (especially kids) every day. Furthermore, a garage I use in Arlington forces me into contact with people because of construction problems that lead to delays.
I did get the flu shot from the doctor in September. On New Years Day, I had the scary dry cough and a very slight fever, but it went away in 36 hours, leaving a bit of a rattle. I would like to think this was a case of a vaccination providing partial protection and making the symptoms of H3N2 mild (NY Times blog post).
There is also variation among people in how they react to flu. About half of adults can have an exposure with relatively few symptoms. That may be related to exposure size (very small exposures may be like vaccinations), or to the anti-oxidants in the persons immune system. But, we also see a replay of the 1918 H1N1 flu: some younger adults with robust immune systems die of their own overreactive immune response and cytokine storm and “drown”.
When kids are exposed to more germs through less sanitation, they are sick more often as kids, but may grow up to be more resilient as adults. NBC News as a good article on that from Dr. Ty here. That was pretty much the case with me. I had very few missed sick days during my entire career working as an adult. But I was “sickly” as a child.
In my early 40s, I had couple of strep throats, but that hasn’t happened since, suggesting natural immunity. In 2004, I had a serious periodontal infection leading to a cat scan. It went away with stronger anitbiotics and did not return probably because of immune response.
A natural infection does provide more exact protection than a flu shot, but it seems reasonable that a fly shot that blunts a subsequent natural infection is the best chance.
But there is a larger question of how far society should go in preventing infections altogether. I hear the debate on “presenteeism”, but I wonder if people just need to get tougher and more resilient.
We believe some infections are very dangerous, and have quarantined people who are exposed, as we saw with Ebola when a few people who had worked in Africa were isolated in 2014 (one in particular in NYC). We’ve also treated SARS that way, like back in 2003, with aggressive contact tracing. SARS (and MERS) are caused by coronaviruses, most of which produce only mild laryngitis or cold-like diseases; but a few of them are novel and dangerous.
We got through the H1N1 crisis in 2011. And we hear talk of bird flu (which became an ABC TV movie in 2005), like H5N1 or H7N9, with the idea that it could jump from species to humans (through other animals) and sustain transmission. In southeast Asia, the practice of having agriculture very close to homes increases the risk.
We have to deal with whether an enemy could introduce something like anthrax, as we saw in September 2001 right after 9/11, and that was dramatized on ABC Nightline in 1999. There are good reasons to think this is harder for an enemy to do than most novelists admit.
Finally, there are sexually transmitted diseases, with the outdated “chainletter” debates from the rightwing in the 1980s where HIV could become more transmissible with time (a sci-fi horror scenario) or lead to the spread of more secondary infections (like TB). But we never know when some bizarre new disease will arise and behave in an unprecedented way (as in my novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother”). Likewise, with Zika, you have the idea that a virus could be spread both by insects and sexual transmission and affect only some people (unborn kids) a lot more than normal healthy adults.
The film “Unrest” presented the idea that clusters of chronic fatigue syndrome have been noted since the 1980s. In fact, clusters of Hodgkin’s Disease had been reported in a few communities in the late 1970s, a few years before AIDS became known.
There was another thunder snow squall on the Internet this morning called “#ReleaseThe Memo” (Twitter hashtag), concerning supposed attempts (as explained in this memo) that the FBI investigation of Trump’s connections to the Russians “et al” is itself a sham.
And if classified, releasing it would be illegal, and President Trump has yet to declassify it.
That’s the background of “#ReleasetheMemo” was explained by Jane Coaston on Vox.
But then there is the matter of a supposed Russian bot that pumped Facebook and Twitter so that conservative supporters would demand releasing the memo, as explained in some detail by Ali Breland on “The Hill” and many other sources.
Then the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Tom Schiff (CA) sent a memo to CEO’s Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Tom Dorsey of Twitter, wording it like a cease-and-desist letter. “You’ve been served”. I guess I’m too small fry as a blogger to get involved in this, but for a moment I imagined a process server in my own condo lobby, as if the afterbirth of last night’s dreaming. (Sometimes I dream about things that happen the next day, rather like Blade Runner.) The social media companies are supposed to answer by Jan. 26. The concerns in the memo concern free accounts as well as the paid ads that have gotten attention in the past.
Seriously, this is another jab at social media companies (which could expand later to Internet hosting companies, for example) to try to hold them responsible for what users do. That’s the whole Section 230 debate right now, for example (Backpage has been settling down, by the way; legacy post). Moreover, in the context of the election and our democracy, it has to do with the supposed deliberate manipulation of public opinion (propaganda) by foreign agents manipulating social media feeds to aim for users who they know are extremely “tribal” in nature and who lack the critical thinking skills or inclinations to recognize questionable material. What’s interesting, again, is that until after the 2016 elections, us “elites” cared personally very little about what those in Hillary’s “Basket of Deplorables” thought. (Oh, I remember my father’s warning at the end of 1961 after my college expulsion: “From now on, you have to worry about what everyone thinks”).
Just a little over a week ago, Facebook announced it was making changes to its newsfeed algorithms to de-emphasize passive news “watching” and encourage more personal interactions among “friends”. I’m not sure what to make of this. Do “they” want users to be more open to running other people’s fundraisers on their pages (I don’t) or to respond to personalized calls for help (more use of the sharing economy, like “HomeFundMe” let alone “GoFundMe”), which I don’t do much of (outside of some independent film projects that I follow). Do they want more flirting? (I get reminded of people’s birthdays and invitations to “wave back”). I guess, “I Hate Speed-Dating” (that may become a movie). Maybe they want more activity in the way of personal invitations to events and protests — but these can easily generate chain letter problems. FB needs to define what it means by engagement. Detailed comments on others’ posts may count for something.
Facebook may have moderated this plan a bit, with recent plans to conduct surveys of which news suppliers users find most credible.
Oh,, and by the way, President Trump (“Poopiepants” in some Facebook circles) has asked staffers who they voted for. Not OK.
(Posted: Wednesday, January 24, 2018, at 4:14 PM EST)
The Trump administration has levied a heavy tariff on solar panels manufactured in China.
There is a general impression that his action won’t quickly help domestic solar panel manufacturers. In the medium run, it will hurt solar installation business, efforts to decentralize the power grid by getting more consumers to install solar and sell power back, and run counter to getting the nation off fossil fuels – as related to climate change.
Vox explains the action in a piece by Zeesham Allen here. CNN expands on the trade war possibility here. (Did Trump finally star the trade war with China? See also this: Chinese values are affecting US companies in a way that could affect us at home.)
There is some narrative that Trump actually took a middle course, and that in the longer run domestic manufacture of solar panels might improve.
I think another good question would be how builders behave. When people sell homes and downsize (as I did), will builders put in solar panels when they build “mansions” or renovate and enlarge homes for richer people (not good for the housing market in many metro areas). Generally they don’t.
The last four days or so have first reminded us of the evil of political hostage taking. If there was ever a reason to think about the Biblical “Do unto others”, it’s apparent from the government shutdown that appears as I write this to be ending for three weeks.
Imagine how you would feel if you were the adult child of an undocumented parent. The 2014 film “Documented” about Jose Antonio Vargas(a former Washington Post reporter) makes a case in point. But the fact is, our lives are bargained with by politicians all the time, on all sorts of issues. Consider my own narrative about my own experience with the military draft and student deferments in the 1960s. A lot of low-income men (often of color) and sometimes less cognitively aware men were bargained away to protect the “elite” from the domino theory.
We all know that the Democrats refused to budge this weekend, even though the deadline on the Dreamers is supposedly March 5, because they have no leverage over the anti-immigration forces if they give in (so they feel). So, the paychecks of active duty military, TSA screeners, and many other people working temporarily “for free” are put at hostage. There are even some situations where private interests (even executors of trusts like mine ) could be expected to become involved in tiding them over.
And the media is overlooking the fact that the Treasury could run out of its “extreme measures” soon on debt-ceiling issues. Although the issue of payment prioritization is complicated, it could eventually put the incomes of better-off seniors receiving social security on the bargaining table, if more aggressive means testing became policy.
The immigration debate seems to bifurcate into two parts: one is what is the GOP willing to do to help the Dreamers, but the other part is what other anti-immigration measures will be demanded, such as stopping chain migration, reducing legal immigration and green card access, undermining asylum seeking and refugee issues, and “building that Wall”. And in some circles there is a certain “us v. them” hostility to Dreamers, as if they were somehow “on parole”.
The Cato Institute has just published two articles of particular interest.
One is a piece by David Bier and Stuart Anderson, “House Proposes Largest Restriction on Legal Immigrants Since 1920”. The article links to LOC copies of HR 4760 and S 1720. Particularly noteworthy is that the House bill seems to stiffen “credible fear” concept for asylum seekers to where they would have to show a greater than 50% chance of harm if they return to their home countries. That would sound relevant to LGBTQ asylum seekers. It’s not clear that it would affect asylum cases already in the mill (or paroling out of asylum) Employers and businesses generally prefer more legal immigration, and despite Trump’s claims, studies show that lawful immigrants help the economy and rarely displace Americans from jobs they want. That is not to say, however, that there aren’t some problems with some immigrants families where the kids don’t assimilate (like the Tsarnaev’s), There is no way to provide better livings standards for most people without some random and unpredictable personal risk.
There are interesting articles, as in Think Progress, about the more “understanding” Republicans in Congress on DACA, as well as deadline pressures and DACA on Vox. But Elise Foley of Huffington Post (which, remember, just stopped accepting unpaid articles) writes that Dreamers already say they feel let down by Monday’s “deal”, link.
At the end of his 9 PM interview program Jan. 22, Chris Cuomo said that Trump had called Dreamers “terrorists”. I don’t remember hearing Trump say that.
(Posted: Monday, January 22, 2018 at 8:45 PM EST)
Update: Tuesday, January 23, at 4 PM EST
David Bier of Cato Institute made some alarming comments to Newsweek, as quoted in an article by Carlos Ballesetros, “Government shutdown vote passes, but can Democrats and Republicans ever reach an immigration deal?” Bier characterizes the problem as one of “principles” held by extremes. Hardline conservatives, stressing nativism and “taking care of one’s own first”, see Dreamers as seeking “amnesty”; Liberals apparently are adamant on keeping sanctuary cities and chain immigration. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has been critical of Democrats for shifting to the Left in the past ten years (link). As an independent blogger (“retired” and not needing to keep a “real job” in the short run), I get asked why I see joining up with a picket-waving demonstration on one side or the other in solidarity as “beneath me”, and this is getting dangerous. I am not tribal.
Vox has a stinging piece by Matthew Yglesias, showing the Republicans have opposed legislation legitimizing Dreamers since the Bush years, with no clear reason other than partisanship and nativism.
The LGBTQ community’s latest outrage at the Trump administration (not quite synonymous with “those Republicans, other than Log Cabin) seems directed at the proposal of a “Conscience Office” at HHS, to allow government employees with religious objections to certain behaviors to opt out of certain duties. HRC weighs in, for example, here.
OK, I don’t cast this as a discrimination against a separate “people”; it you have a government job, you have to follow the law and do your job for all public stakeholders. Remember Kim Davis? I can understand you might not want your personal name on some things, like a paper on how to do abortions, or possibly sex-change surgery (especially in the military). I could say (as a conservative), why people think religion compels them to mind other people’s personal business is beyond me. But I know (after listening again to Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety”) that it is indeed about “meaning”.
Although impeachment of Donald Trump, and the use of the 25th Amendment look improbable in the near future, we have to contemplate what a President Mike Pence, who can exude his own controlled creepiness, would mean.
Trump himself pretends personally to be pro-LGB (without the T), but his appointments and choices do sound awful. (Gay marriage and apparently the DADT Repeal are “settled law”.) Trump himself seems almost to admire those particular cis-gender (especially white male) gays he sees as “winners” (like Peter Thiel). Judging from his behavior last summer with those tweets trying to ban transgender from the military, it sounds like he is personally uncomfortable with witnessing gender fluidity too personally. Well, I might even “feel” this way, as a cis gay white male from his generation. We’re told Trump, based on his numbers, could be in the run for a heart attack in the foreseeable future. Well. Judging from all the chest work for the stress tests in his January 12 physical, he probably got shaved, if he has any, that is (like a particular scene from “Killing of a Sacred Deer”) And this president has already joined Milo Yiannopoulos in physically shaming Kim Jong Un for not looking masculine enough. That’s all right, though; Will Ripley’s recent film (“The Secret State”) presented North Korean beach boys as fearing European-ancestry men’s often hairy chests.
The removal of LGBT support from official White House pages may be understandable enough. The administration wants to stop treating LGBT as an “oppressed people” and simply judge everyone on their own merits, one could say. The Left never accepts anything like this (most of all for race). Neutrality is seen as continuing oppression by default.
But Trump seems to have made appointments (and running mate selection) who seem awful. So that brings us back down to what a Pence presidency would mean. First, I actually think Pence would handle North Korea (and Russia and China) more realistically and reduce the chance of nuclear war, with the possibility of EMP or nuclear blasts on the US homeland. So some of the idea that everyone needs to become a doomsday prepper (which sounds intrinsically antithetical to gay equality) could be put aside. There is, after all, a twitter feed called “real human rights”. But we have to be very concerned about Pence’s history, of expecting total abstinence or conversion therapy, buttressed by how he processed the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s as well as his evangelical Christianity (which doesn’t have to be anti-gay – ever heard of Ralph Blair’s “Evangelicals Concerned”). You can browse the accounts in Think Progress, the New Yorker, and other sources.
Pence may have hinted that now he is willing to leave private lives alone (although that certainly allows for pseudo “religious freedom”, bathroom bills, and the like). Trump however joked “He wants to Hang ‘em All”, which is not any funnier that a Charlottesville White supremacy march (think about the late Gode Davis’s film fragments, “American Lynching”). I would be concerned, for example, that not only would he roll back the more recent progress with transgender service in the military (which Trump has tried to undo but which the courts may well stop), but he could, as commander in chief, try to undo the 2011 repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” Imagine, then, if military tension continues (despite avoiding the nukes) and we start talking again about a military draft.
(Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2018 at 10:15 PM EST)
What a mess. Today, Kristjen Nielsen, head of Homeland Security, testified, largely about immigration, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, taking questions on a hearing about the “Oversight of the Department of Homeland Security. There were questions from Diane Feinstein, Dick Durbin, and John Corbyn, and Cory Booker, who would scream that her “silence and amnesia” (below) were “complicit”. .
Nielsen spoke about asylum seekers, and indicated that most seekers from Central America don’t show up for hearings when required. The idea of sponsors was mentioned, and I’m not sure what that means; the United States does not have private sponsorship like Canada.
While she is critical of chain migration, it should be noted that the process for “relatives” is actually very convoluted and this whole idea works relatively infrequently in proportion to all of immigration.
Nielsen would not answer a question about the president’s language characterizing low-income countries with non-white populations, despite Lindsey Graham’s remarks when she was there. She didn’t “know” if Norway is predominantly white (home of chess champ Magnus Carlsen, whom Trump likes).
She indicated the El Salvador may have reached a situation where extended TPS for “refugees” from the earthquake no longer complies with federal law.
In the meantime, Congress is on a merrygoround, right out of “Strangers on a Train”, maybe, over DACA, the Wall, and government shutdown. Because the specifics change every day, it’s hardly worth going over the details of the partisan bickering and the “sandbagging”.
If you are one of the young adults (“Dreamers”) affected by Trump’s administrative “suspension” of DACA, you would feel that your life is somebody else’s political bargaining chip. Durbin mentioned a young man from Mexico needing to complete medical school, internship and residency to become “a good doctor”. But particularly disturbing is the story of Jorge Garcia from Detroit.
Nielsen, however, said that DACA immigrants with proper paperwork would not be high targets for deportation, but the uncertainty would linger. MSN has reported on how the end of DACA and Congressional failure would affect industries like restaurants and construction.
What matters to a lot of people is the idea that the risk they could encounter materializes and personalizes the issues. For example, recently, there was an incident on a bus in Wisconsin perpetrated by an undocumented immigrant.. But most such crimes are caused by legally residing Americans. Many things in our society can pose a theoretical random risk, so the important thing is to find policies that actually work, not that just appeal to a base. “Building a wall” may appeal to a base, but smart technology and security is what is needed to work. Travel bans may have a theoretical justification but accomplish little in practice. This recent piece by Alex Nowrasteh at Cato would apply, in response to a recent DHS report (TWT). And if you’re going to talk about living with personal risk, look at the gambit Trump is playing with North Korea.
There is also a good question about wanting people with skills to come to the US. In fact, for years in IT I worked with people (often Muslim) from Pakistan and India, and never thought anything of it. The designer of a major software infrastructure at the last insurance company I worked at had come from Pakistan. Talent, maybe even most of it, does come from “non-White” areas of the world. But there is also a good question as to what we have expected of people who come; many have come with nothing and started businesses when they got here.
Trump will appeal a recent appeals court ruling to the Supreme Court (TWT) to allow termination of DACA is Congress drops the ball.
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.
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 exposure for 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 (the “second big question”, above) 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.
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 to prove 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 individually. 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)
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).