Facebook faces litigation for “allowing” anti-Semetic terrorism promotion; serious questions about downstream liability and “gatekeeping” persist

IMG_1561

Facebook has been sued for $1 billion by the son of a 76 year old man from the United States killed (by shooting and stabbing) on a bus in Jerusalem by a Palestinian or Hamas militant(s) on October 13, 2015.

NBC News has a story and video by Paul Goldman here today.

The father was a retired Connecticut school principal, Richard Lakin. The plaintiff and son is Michal Lakin Avni.

The theory seems to be that the US anti-terrorism act would not allow a “free speech” defense or similar downstream liability out like Section 230 for an Internet content platform.  Apparently the law allows liability for acts committed against US citizens overseas if a US company was “involved”.

This would be a good question for the “Legal Guys” on CNN.  At this point, I’m not sure if the plaintiff is simply referring to the Patriot Act.

The plaintiff claims that Facebook should be expected to search its databases for terrorism promotion the way if would search for child pornography.

Generally, social media companies say they take down content that violate their terms of service but need to be notified of infractions by complaints from other users.  There are many examples of objectionable material on social media being taken down after some publicly violent incident happens, but not before.

Social media and content companies also say they could not exist and allow ungated user generated content if they had to prescreen every post for potentially illegal content.  That would throw us into the pre-Internet world where most publication required the help of third parties and “getting published” had to be “earned” somehow.

This seems like a very important case that is getting overshadowed by media coverage or the GOP convention, Turkey, Nice, Dallas, and Baton Rouge.

There are a few videos on the litigation.

Even though the story surfaced today, the litigation seems to have been going on since the beginning of the year, and other Israelis have joined the suit.  PBS explains, with the help of George Washington University law professor Johnathan Turley.

The suit seems to focus on the graphic nature of the “inciting” videos.  On the other hand, Facebook can obviously say it cannot take sides on other peoples’ political conflicts.  Palestinians are enrage not only by religious issues regarding locations in Jersualem, but also by Israel’s settlements on the West Bank and taking land without compensation.

I see that the Washington Post had covered this matter as early as Oct. 30, 2015 in a story by Michael Miller.

This litigation needs to be processed in the context of reports, for the past two years, that ISIS recruits vulnerable young adults on Twitter.  But previously the sites, especially Facebook, had been instrumental with the Arab Spring, which then crashed.  As I noted June 30, abuse of these sites can be perceived as a serious homeland security threat.

(Published: Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 10 PM EDT)

Are social media sites really for “social connections”, or for ungated news distribution?

DSCNF210

Are social media sites really intended to facilitate social interaction, or are they really intended as channels for personalized news feeds?

The recent launch of Facebook Live provides “case in point.”  When girlfriend Diamond Reynolds streamed the bleeding put of Philando Castile at a traffic stop near St. Paul, MN on July 6, the whole world knew immediately (although some factual questions remain as to whether she really reported everything).  Her broadcast apparently contributed to the mindset of Micah Johnson when he launched an unbelievable commando lone-wolf attack on Dallas Police at a peaceful demonstration the next night.   But for a while during the incident, I wondered if this was an ISIS attack, exploiting the confusion and demonstrations inevitably following a police shooting. It wasn’t, but it could have been. But any kind of terrorism is as bad as any other kind, whatever ideology motivates it.

Today, Newt Gingrich streamed on Facebook live a presentation arguing that we are “at war” (with an enemy without uniforms).

Facebook has indeed delivered the most “pertinent” stories for my own world view.  It saves time checking the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Vox, local television stations, and several friends in movies, music, books and other arts.

This is no surprise.  It’s easier to get reaction and other comments on Facebook pages (or in one’s comments on other people’s pages) than it is on your own blogs – although that fact has developed a lot since about 2009.  I used to get a lot of comments to my own books and sites by direct email, back in the good old days before 9/11, and before so much spam. I could also get comments in forums, like the Independent Gay Forum, or on AOL forums.

Myspace had somewhat less success doing the same thing.  But some people, notably actor Ashton Kutcher, had used Myspace as an effective blogging tool around 2004.

Twitter is less “effective” with news itself because of the high volume and reverse time sequence. I don’t use Instagram a lot, but it seems it can deliver news, too.  I do use Google+, and get surprising amount of comments on music-related postings.

But, originally Facebook was conceived as true “social networking”.  In the movie “The Social Network” the 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) says “I will map all social interactions online”.  It was, at first, limited to college campuses.  It didn’t become really important until about 2008, about the time of the financial crisis.

Now, I do have a couple friends who announce everything they do on Facebook, and try to get others in their “groups” to do the same.  Is this about organization?  About solidarity?  Is it about having friends who will watch your back if you watch theirs?  That does sound like some people’s concept.  It doesn’t seem real to me.  You can only “know” maybe 5-10 people really well, outside of immediate family and romantic partners, well enough to want to know their “movements”.  Indeed, a lot of my contacts in social media (in the “arts”, etc) are important to me personally, but it wouldn’t seem appropriate for me to expect to know the details of their comings and goings.  I couldn’t have “minded other people’s business” in the pre-Internet world.  I don’t think Facebook should change this.

There is indeed a debate about “courtesy” in the social media community.  Some people think it is rude to respond to tweets from people who don’t follow you.  Some people think it is rude to forward tweets to Facebook, as if not everyone wants bad news (“I told you so”) from “me”.  But then, what do people really want from others on social media?  It varies so much.

cell002hickory

The nature of social media, however, is relevant to what I call the “conflict of interest” debate. You can set up your social media profiles (of “friends” or “followers”) so that only known people can see your content.  That would be relevant for people whose professional positions (making judgments on others as part of the job) makes it inappropriate for them to broadcast their personal views without gatekeepers and let others just find them. I’m a little surprised that I don’t hear this point made more often.

I could add a comment about dating sites.  I’ve recently gotten communication from a couple of them.  I can’t see the point of needing a corporate service to “meet the right people.”  Maybe somebody can explain it.

(Published: Friday, July 15, 2016 at 4:15 PM EDT)

An amateur journalist (me!) covers disasters (the W Va floods), and incurs self-righteous resentment

DSCNF230

Tuesday (July 12) I attempted to survey the West Virginia flooding as part of a brief 3-day trip.

Northbound on I-77 from I-1 in Virginia, I had passed through the Big Walker Tunnel and then the East River Mountain Tunnel. A rig almost clipped me while illegally changing lanes and cutting in inside the tunnel, which would have led to a Stephen King-like catastrophe.  After I was in West Virginia,  I stopped at the first “visitor center” which was a little hard to get to, requiring getting on to public streets, off I-77, now called “The West Virginia Turnpike.” I went in to look for a state map and asked about road closures through the affected areas.

The information desk did not have any of this, and the woman (at the customer service desk) acted offended that anyone would travel through the area out of “curiosity” if he weren’t a “volunteer”.  I went back to the car, and finally found a road closure list on the website of a Hungtington W.Va. television station. I went back inside and showed it to her.  She became even more upset, even unhinged.  She insisted that “they” didn’t want people traveling in the region at all unless they were there to help.

I drove on to a service plaza, and got somewhat the same information, although the person was much more courteous.   I would then have a bizarre “character test” in the parking lot (narrative here ).

IMG30131

I had heard in Washington DC news media (like station WJLA) that the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs had re-opened (it had housed people displaced by the floods).  So I decided to go only through the southern section along I-64 (and not try to go through Richwood, a town I have visited numerous times before) on SR 39, even though WSAZ said it was open.

I got off at Lewisburg, where there was a “Traffic Jam” unrelated to the flooding     But I drove down to Ronceverte, W. Va., down in the valley along the Greenbrier River.  Most of the buildings downtown showed evidence of high water up to about two feet, but businesses were open.  I had lunch in a cash-only family restaurant fried chicken buffet, and picked up a West Virginia news paper that talked about a library in Rainelle W. Va. that had a Gofundme to replace its books.   Remember, at the Public Library, “It’s free, it’s free.”   Homes near the water appeared damaged but it seemed most people were still able to live in them, and a church was undamaged.  Only one street was closed to non-residents because of a bridge safety problem.

IMG30132

I then drove to White Sulphur Springs, where the relief activity was much bigger.  Along the main street into town there was a lot of refuse piled up, near the Greenbrier Golf Course, which itself appeared to be pretty much restored. There were numerous signs “Sulphur Springs Strong” and “West Virginia Lives” or words to that effect.  There was a relief station at the St. Charles Catholic Church and one other one downtown.  Businesses appeared to be open and welcoming.  Toward the river, just north of downtown, businesses and homes appeared damaged, but again it appeared people lived in them.  Most of the people needing relief would appear to have come from more rural areas down the river.

The West Virginia Daily News covers the disaster with many stories, such as this one about the volunteers, or this one about therapy dogs.  The newspaper has articles on how FEMA works, and addresses the question of whether homeowners had procured flood insurance.  After disasters in lower income areas, we always hear horror stories about people without reasonable property insurance.

IMG30136

I have visited the Greenbrier area numerous times before.  I placed one copy of my first DADT book there in a store in 1997, and I took the tour of the Greenbrier nuclear bunker at that time (another story).

IMG30139

I had visited WSS overnight in December 1996 right before an important meeting about my “conflict of interest” problem that I have discussed elsewhere (May 30).

IMG30141

There is also a “tunnel to nowhere” just south of WSS.

I have visited disaster areas before, without issues, such as after the February 2016 tornado near Tapapahonick. VA.

IMG27978

I saw the aftermath of the 2014 tornado in Tupelo MS, where many homeowners were still rebuilding and considerable debris was still left (hotels were open but some wireless services didn’t work)

IMG_9561

And I noticed the effects of the  2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL, where some areas south of campus haven’t been rebuilt.

IMG_9503

In March 2013, several months after Hurricane Sandy, most areas of the Jersey Coast and southern Long Island were open, but one community Rockaway Queens as closed, and various streets or neighborhoods in coastal towns (like Seaside Heights) were still clearly marked as closed except to local traffic.

IMG_4819

Generally, after most disasters (like large tornadoes, wildfires and earthquakes), authorities (usually the governor) clearly announce which areas are closed to the public (sometimes open only to residents with identification).  This does not seem to have happened this time in West Virginia, maybe partly because of the widespread area of damage.

Should “amateur blogger journalists” cover disasters?  Should someone “like me” play real-life “Star Reporter” (that very geographical 1950s board game, now forgotten)?  This really is not about earning ad money off of other people’s tragedies (which is what that first clerk could have been thinking).  Note that this blog doesn’t even carry ads yet.  “Amateurs” after all, probably haven’t paid their dues covering conflict journalism and taking the risks (look at what happened to Bob Woodward).  Anderson Cooper and Sebastian Junger both started out by “paying their dues”.  I came to all this on my own as a “second career”.

Should amateur bloggers claim that expected journalistic objectivity is a good thing?  Or should they be ready to “join in” “other people’s” causes, with some self-directed passion?

(Published: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 3:15 PM)

IMG30155

Update: Sunday, July 17

Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA said this morning that a youth volunteer group will go to the Richwood area and live and work under somewhat primitive conditions. Whatever the media reports, word of mouth suggests that conditions along SR 39 may be more difficult than what I saw along I-64, twenty or so miles to the south.

Update:  Thursday, Sept. 8

img30707

I drove through the WVa 55 and 39 area, through Richwood and other communities on Aug. 26.  Most of Richwood was high enough not to have damage, but a few houses were destroyed by rockslides, too.  Along streams, homeowners seemed to be doing repair work themselves.  People who live in this part of the country are self-reliant and know how to do construction on their own, even without hiring many contractors. Outside volunteer help in the area did not seem to have been that significant.

img30729

Selling books, getting people to actually pay to hear you (it’s not always about “What in life is free?”)

IMG29566

Although this history is covered on my “Do Ask Do Tell Footnotes” site , let me start by recapping my own self-publishing history.

I did my own print run (about 400 copies) of my first book and released it on July 11, 1997.  I did “sell out” the printing by 2000, and went to POD in August 2000.  The second book was published in December 2002, and the third, in February 2014.

The paperback (and for DADT III hardbound as well) do have high list prices, with small discounts on Amazon and BN, which I do not set.   A few copies of the original printing are available from a few resellers at “collector’s item” prices, which I find flattering.   The Kindle items are much less expensive. It would not be surprising that, in this environment, sales of physical books, especially non-fiction as it ages, would be slow.

I did not hear much about this for a number of years, but in 2012 the self-publishing companies became much more aggressive in calling me with schemes to increase actual physical book sales.

Now, I have attracted visitors, and contributed a lot to debate (especially on gays in the military back in the 1990s and thru the 2000’s) by simply posting the text of the books online where “it’s free, it’s free” and competing with myself (which Kindle does anyway).  That’s not quite as effective today as it was, say, from 1998 past 9/11 to about 2004 or so, because social media has changed the way people get their own personalized news and participate in debate.  Today, people are more likely to comment on major news sites’ Facebook pages (or on their articles) than on forums or amateur blogs, whereas ten years ago (maybe until after the financial crisis of 2008) comments on blogs (mine, at least) were fairly common.  (I started using Blogger in 2006, and I did fairly well with Adsense on Blogger right after the financial crisis; people did seem fascinated with “bad news” or an anti-gospel.)

Most authors, including non-fiction, however, tend to set up professional web pages under their own personal names (or pseudonyms sometimes), and offer nothing where “it’s free” (unless you let Reid Ewing escort you to “the library”).  I first offered additional footnotes online, and then made all the text available in mid 1998 (before getting involved in the COPA litigation). But I get a general reaction that an author should fix in one place what he or she has to say about something, and move on.

Also, I first named my site “hppub.com” after my business name “High Productivity Publishing” and then started using the “doaskdotell” domain name in 1999.  I did not use my own real name (“John W. Boushka”) or nickname (“Bill Boushka”) as a domain name until 2006.  This gets into an area (domain names and potentially into trademarks) that I’ve dealt with on Blogger and will discuss some issues here at some later time.

IMG30202

Many authors have a sales site, with just one affiliated blog.  Self-publishing companies have recently tried to pressure authors into buying large quantities of books at a discount and “beat Amazon” by selling the books themselves and taking credit cards (even on new smartphone attachments) and paypal on their own, rather than depending on third parties (although larger ISP’s can set up well secured credit card operations for authors). When you’re already famous, a trade publisher promotes your work. If you’re new, you’re supposed to start a real business, even capable of putting other people to work. That’s the new cultural mentality.  “Print on demand” gets replaced by the idea of networking with other small-publishers to do mini-print runs and then offer “deals” to consumers, to compete with the big outsources (Amazon and BN).  But I want to spend my time on more content, not on running retail or quasi-franchising, even if that is “real life” (and might give some more people low-end jobs).

So, how to “sell” books?

It is very hard to make one’s own personal narrative “sell”, however compelling it seems to the author, and however unusual or ironic and didactic (in teaching unusual or layered “moral lessons”) it may seem to be.  That’s why trade publishers rarely publish personal accounts except by established celebrities.  But on a few occasions, younger adults have such unusual accomplishments that they do get published, such as Jack Andraka’s “Breakthrough”, or Taylor Wilson’s “The Boy Who Played with Fusion”, which was written by a third party hired author.  These books have sold well, because of the obvious importance of what these young people have already accomplished with technology.  And there are already some successful biographies and films about Mark Zuckerberg.

It isn’t hard to see, then, that if someone found absolute proof of alien life (on Mars or anywhere else), a well written book on the subject would sell big.  Some books purporting to prove “heaven” have sold fairly well.

In non-fiction today, one thing that sells fairly well is “lifting up” other people who in the past wouldn’t have been popular or been seen as needy.  I’m not comfortable with doing that got money, and this wasn’t something that was done when I was growing up, but social media (and the “gofundme” culture) have created an environment where some consumers seem to want this.

What about, in my case, getting out of my own narrative and writing someone else’s?  Had I played things differently, I might have cultivated an opportunity to do this maybe 10-15 years ago.  (Here’s one example )  But even these are hard to sell if they seem too “narrow” or somehow self-serving.

That brings me to fiction.  First, I’m very comfortable with the idea of fiction based on real mysteries, especially science fiction, where it’s not necessary to “pimp” political correctness or “diversity” in the choice of heroes (because most big-time sellers in the past didn’t really do that – plot and concept was everything). I’m aware of the popularity of genre fiction, and particularly in the self-published world, where I get enormous numbers of tweets about horror, science fiction or especially fantasy. It’s hard to believe that many of these really sell, but there are plenty of YouTube videos on how to sell on Amazon, especially by getting reviews first, and my researching what sub-genres really sell first.  That’s the “write what other people want” idea.

Here’s a tip on getting reviews.

Here’s one on how to manipulate genres.

As a consumer, I buy these books only infrequently, possibly because of some kind of contact with the author.   I tend to buy policy books, and often prefer a physical copy.

But is it OK jut to put a book “out there” because you want what you have to say to be noticed or to affect a debate?  The POD industry acts like is it starting to get nervous about this model from some authors (me) who don’t “need” the income right away. This could discredit the idea for other authors who do.

Further, there is some evidence that the independent bookstore business is returning.  Small towns, often in resort areas, have “used book” shops attached to antique stores.  I’ve visited a few of these over time. There are also literacy projects, providing books to underprivileged children.  Yet, I’ve never found – or made – the time to get into these explicitly.  I’ve tended to go along with the idea that it’s “easier” to get stuff online, and a lot of it is free.  Our curse, newspapers are rebuffing this idea somewhat now with paywalls,

I will provide a couple of links comparing Amazon Creative Space and Lightning Source (I don’t use them).  One on Huffington, one on Goodreads.

cellbookfair

(Published: Friday, July 8. 2016 at 2:20 PM EDT)

Update: July 17

Can self-published authors really make a minimum-wage at selling books? Here’s a perspective.  Same question could be asked about web ad revenue.  Here’s another perspective, on how to maintain a sales rank with Kindle or other e-books.

Two major shootings by police, protests nationwide, and then snipers attack police in downtown Dallas, call it terrorism

IMG_0822

The problem of police profiling of African Americans and sometimes shooting them with little provocation during arrests, has exploded today.

After the cases (#AltonSterling in Baton Rouge, LA and #PhilandoDastile near St. Paul, MN), peaceful protests developed spontaneously this evening in many cities, including Washington and New York, and Dallas.

The fiancé in St. Paul recorded much of the incident for Facebook, with much coverage in the Star Tribune.

The protest in Dallas has turned violent with at least two officers wounded and at least one shooter at large, reportedly armed with an AR15, story.    WFAA continuing coverage.

Trey Yingst, whom I met one time at a WJLA-7 “Your Voice Your Future” forum, is covering this on Twitter right now.

IMG_2931

My most obvious reaction is that police (mis)conduct can seriously undermine law enforcement in the case of foreign or external threats, including enemy states or groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS or even other domestic groups. It’s possible at this point that the Dallas situation could be that risk happening.   There are reports of up to 50 rounds, others wounded (including DART police officers), and two men in custody.  (Latest:  at least three officers dead, 10 shot, by two “snipers”.  One hotel guest downtown reports seeing shooter.)

On the other hand, as compelling as the story and video of Diamond Reynolds sounds, we don’t know what the version of the police officer is yet.

Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota said that he did not believe this would have happened with a white person stopped.

Charles Blow of the New York Times said on CNN tonight that parents of black children have to “clip their kids wings” in telling their kids how to behave around police.

Gay and black CNN host Don Lemon (recently featured in DC’s “Metro Times”) said today, “I comply with police to stay alive.”  Lemon says he has never been in trouble with the law but feels as vulnerable to police as anyone.

Back in the mid 1990s, in the workplace in Arlington VA, an African American co-worker told me he was teaching his son to deal with discrimination and profiling.  That was during the time of the OJ trial.

I lived in Minneapolis from 1997 to 2003, and in Dallas from 1979 to 1988.

Some of the violence in Dallas happened near El Centro college downtown.  I actually took an “open door to Spanish” course there on Saturday mornings during the Cuban refugee situation in  1980.

This incident in Dallas seems to have been planned right in expectation of a protest gathering.  CNN coverage continues.

Update: Friday, July 8, 2 PM

ABC News has an up-to-date story.  The primary suspect, now dead, apparently was not motivated by foreign ideology, but indeed by “race”. But this is still domestic terrorism.

And would you believe, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called protestors and implictly even some bloggers or social media users “hypocrites” who endanger long term public safety and invite terrorism, AP and New York Times story here (Friday PM).

(Published: Thursday, July 7, 2016 at 11:5 PM EDT)

Updates: July 13

CNN publishes a piece “What Black Men of Dallas Need You to Know” by Mallory Simon.

CNN also published new details on the Castile case in Minnesota, by Rosa Flores and Catherine Soichet.  Police say that the officer thought Castile matched the description of a suspect.

Sinclair Broadcast Group publishes sudden dire warning about future EMP or cyber attacks on US power grids

IMG26209

On Tuesday, July 5, 2016, WJLA affiliate station WJLA broadcast (at about 5:55 PM EDT) a 4-minute report  (by Jeff Barnd) from the Sinclair Broadcast Group  (near Baltimore, in Hunt Valley) about the security threats to the three big power grids.  I could not find the story on Sinclair’s own site. WJLA gave the story the title “Next terror target: Our power grids?”

IMG29986

The report correctly called the Texas grid as the “Texas Interconnect”.

The report suggested that the main threat would probably be a high altitude blast from a hostile state enemy, like North Korea (Alaska and the US Pacific Northwest, within a couple more years, possibly) or Iran (which could try an attack on Israel or even Sunni neighbors), throwing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) wave(s) over a large area, perhaps most of the country in extreme cases.  The report said that ISIS probably does not have the expertise to mount such an attack.

The report also suggests that a major threat could come from cyber hacking of the grid.  Either a major blast or cyberwar could overload parts of the grid suddenly, because of the “overconnecteness” of power companies selling power for profit.

It’s less clear, to me at least, that an outside actor could even reach the power control systems through the public Internet.  It should not be possible to reach the grid control from my own computer, according to any mathematical topology.   However Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” may have been a factor in Sinclair’s report.

The report did not mention that smaller conventional flux weapons can produce localized EMP effects. It also did not mention solar storms.

The report described massive fatalities from prolonged electricity loss like those in the NBC series “Revolution” or the novel “One Second After”.

The report also suggested that an EMP attack might be followed by a physical attack on the homeland, like in the movies (like either “Red Dawn” movie).   That sounds more likely if the aggressor is Vladimir Putin himself.

It has been very unusual for mainstream media to discuss the EMP threat. Only Ted Cruz has mentioned so far, among presidential candidates, but I suspect Newt Gingrich would discuss it as a VP candidate.  When will Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton talk about this openly?

Could my own blogging (June 17) have drawn attention to the problem?  Maybe.  Some people at WJLA know me and I have discussed my concerns about it with their reporters  in person at least twice at “Your Voice, Your Future” forums in Arlington.

Important films on the topic include “American Blackout” (National Geographic Channel, aired Oct. 27, 2013, and CNN’s “We Were Warned: Cyber Shockwave” in February 2010.

To me, this topic deserves a lot more attention than something very narrow (affecting a cohort group close to me personally) like the North Carolina bathroom bills (but there is an iceberg or “slippery slope” effect even from small issues).  But throughout my adult life, many have resented my bringing up external issues and threats when I seem less inclined to live communally as part of a closely knit “helping hands” intentional community.   I’m still a lot more into winning arguments than counting partisan converts.

Anyway, “I told you so”.   But I’m not better than you, and couldn’t live with you in a 19th Century society.

(Published: Tuesday, July 5 at 9:45 PM EDT)

DSCNF053

Update: July 9

I got an email from a site called “Fiscal Beacon” reproducing what it claimed was a story from Fox News about the devastation that could come from a power grid attack, bringing ordinary Americans to their knees in a personal way (that would include me).  The email offered sales of a home solar power generator, so it has a doomsday prepper flavor.  I could not find the source online, but Fox does have a couple of stories about the FBI’s comments on the issue, especially in view of a hack in the Ukraine, here by Victoria Craig, as well as a later one in April by Bill Gertz. It’s possible I got the email in response to this blog post about the Sinclair story, but I could not verify its authenticity quickly.

Here is a video on a typical solar power generator, this one apparently in Utah and popular with LDS.

Update: July 16

The Wall Street Journal carries, on p. C5 of the weekend edition, a book review (by R. Tyler Priest) of the book “The Grid” by Gretchen Bakke, from Bloomsbury.  I will purchase the book and provide my own review soon.

IMG30134

Update: July 26

The Wall Street Journal also published a major article by Rebecca Smith, “How America Could Go Dark” on July 14, with illustrations, and some focus on the physical attack in 2013 at PG&E’s Metcalf facility in the Silicon Valley, CA.  There is an LTE today about “unsecure technology”.

Yes, society, starting with the family, expects those of us who are “different” to fit in; talk about “social capital” and “rightsizing”

nyc7

It’s a given that gender itself is biologically immutable.  I’ve never been a fan of depending on classifying people by “born this way” groups.  But it’s pretty clear that a lot of other characteristics associated with gender are at least largely biological, maybe epigenetic.  That would include sexual orientation and gender identity, which gives you “2**3”  or 8 combinations.  If you add the personality specifications developed by Paul Rosenfels (the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s), that is polarity (psychologically feminine or masculine – again different from all the others) and action bias (subjective or objective), you get “2**5” or 32 combinations.  No language could come close to having 32 pronouns or case endings for all possible gender-related personality combinations. Maybe an alien civilization 1400 light years away (Tabby’s Star, which might have a Dyson’s Sphere around it) could have done this with digital languages and reproductive robotics. “I will accept nothing less.”

Dyson_Swarm

Most societies develop expectations about how people with various kinds of dispositions fit in.

A critical question will be, does the society value all “human” or “personhood” life within the group?  If so, it will develop expectations for the way everyone is socialized.  Now some societies (like Nazi Germany in the past) did not value even all of “their own”.  (Sparta in ancient Greece sounds like a good comparison.)  Others, like hyper-communist societies (Maoism during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and later groups like the Khmer Rouge (of Pol Pot) or today’s North Korea) pretend to achieve “equality” by bringing almost everybody equally low and poor, and then often eliminate the weakest members in Nazi style anyway.  (We could get into a discussion of whether Stalin was worse than Hitler.)

Societies may actually be fairly egalitarian with their own people, but very brutal with any other groups that they perceive as “enemies”.  That could be said of ISIL, where cult-like religion identifies the group.  (ISIL actually has programs for the disabled among their own “believers”.)

DSCNF123

For an individual living in any of many cultures in the world today, he or she (up to 32 pronouns, again) is faced with carrying his/her own weight as a member of the group – which can extend concentrically, from nuclear family to extended family, to community, to country, maybe to religious affiliation, maybe to some adult-chosen activist identification.  Ultimately, the ability of the individual to relate well to people in the rest of the world depends both on the politics of the group he/she grew up in – the enemies issue – but also this his/her own personal outreach (becoming a “doctor without borders” being one of the best possible outcomes personally).

But it’s important to understand that most cultures need to expect people to grow up learning to take care of their own first.   That expectation goes along with the historical fact that personal privacy is relatively new (coming with wealth and increasing standard of living) and most families have had to deal with shared family beds and restricted living space, that is, forced intimacy.  In western cultures, some people (like me) will place more emphasis on personally defined accomplishment (and having it recognized) and less on meeting the immediate adaptive needs of others in the family group.  (This gets in to Rosenfels’s ideas about “adaptiveness” v. “creativity” which becomes a digression in itself.)  I behave this way partly because of my own biologically mediate temperament (male, gay, male, feminine, subjective).  But there is a risk that I will take undue advantage of the sacrifices of others in the group who participate more conventionally in building the group’s social capital, and my doing so, while publicly visible with my own agenda (as an “unbalanced” personality) could undermine the social development and relationship building and reslience of others around me.. This brings up the whole idea of “right-sizing“, sometimes mentioned in Christian service settings, but itself almost a moral oxymoron.

The last years of my mother’s life, along with other incidents (documented in my books) showed that intimate engagement with others and providing for them is often expected even without having one’s own children.  The idea that this capacity doesn’t happen until one “chooses” to have children is an over simplification of moral responsibility, and means that “family values” (and the place of marriage) is a lot more nuanced than a lot of us would like it to be.  But, when a sequence like this happens late in adult life, it is much “easier” to deal with for someone who has had and raised his/her own children.

When I was growing up, there was a definite expectation that young men and women needed to learn to develop practical skills in providing for one another at least in part related to gender.  These “skills” would make the eventual appropriation of sexuality to marriage and raising children

Ironically, these skills seem more relevant today was the aged live longer and are more likely to have severe disabilities late in life.  At the same time, there is more emphasis in providing a sense of “value” to those with individual disadvantages through public measures (social media and “gofundme” campaigns) than there was when I was growing up, when disability and inequality were obviously visible publicly, and the prevailing sentiment was that “the natural family” should provide a sense of value through the family’s own internals social capital.

In western societies, most of all the U.S., we value individual initiative and independence, and personalized critical thinking, sometimes to the point that marriage and family, so privatized (the “License expired” idea), gets viewed, especially by political libertarians, as a cultural afterthought.  But the idea that, within a family and concentric groups surrounding it or to which a person belongs, one doesn’t “need” anyone else (because his knowledge makes him/her “better” than those whose lives are more interdependent) can become destructive, and lead the disadvantaged to believe that modern civilization has no moral point (and incite “mass movements” as by Hoffer’s 1951 book “The True Believer“).  I saw this angry point from the radical Left way back in the early 1970s, well before the discontent expressed in today’s religious mass movements. On the other hand, the intellectual singleton (or even “schizoid”) is less likely to be seduced by radical ideology or belief for its own sake, just to “belong”.

A supplementary piece from one of my legacy blogs is “What Other People Want” from January 2016.  David Brooks covered similar territory in the New York Times with a “process piece” that I discussed April 30 while heading for the PA turnpike tunnels.  I guess I have to make sure I don’t go “less bad” myself.

IMG29570

I have an old article from 2005 “Hyperindividualism v. Solidarity” which refers to a Mother Jones article “Are We Better Off? In Search of Common Ground”, current location here.  The magazine cover had read “A Nation of Ones.”

Peter Wehner, in a NYT op-ed “The Theology of Donald Trump” does talk about ideas of personal worth (comparing Christ to Nietzche or maybe Ayn Rand), with a reluctance to elevate the “weak”.

Wikipedia attribution link for drawing of hypothetical Dyson Swarm, under CCSA 3.0.

(Published: July 3, 2016 at 11:50 PM EDT)

New York Times publishes detailed narrative on Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program

IMG23957

The immigration debate continues with a booklet-length, illustrated front page article in the New York Times Friday, July 1, 2016, by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn.  The title is “Refugees hear a foreign word: Welcome; How Canadians adopt Syrian families with nowhere else to go.”

The article describes in detail how many individuals and groups raise funds for private sponsorships of Syrian refugees.  Generally, the refugees do live in separate apartments, and are expected to become more self-sufficient and work after some period of time.  But private sponsors have a great deal of 1:1 personal involvement with the refugees, often helping them learn English.  The sponsorship has enabled many unusual interactions, such as openly gay sponsors working with Muslims.

IMG_2896

The authors have a sidebar that explains which countries allow private sponsorship. The title is “Who else can sponsor a refugee? The list is limited, for now.”  Canada is unusual in allowing individuals to sponsor non-relatives, but  Australia  is starting one and New Zealand will. Some areas of Germany allow it but Switzerland shut it down.  The U.S. does not allow private sponsorship, but does have a limited, carefully monitored program with slow and considerable vetting of those seeking asylum.  Again, there is a difference between asylum and other immigration status.  The article says that some private sponsorship of Cubans and Soviet Jews (and Vietnamese) during the Reagan years, but actually private sponsorship of Cubans from the Mariel boatlift was quite active in 1980 under Carter and involved the gay community in southern cities like Dallas where I lived.  It could be very demanding on sponsors (probably not possible for those with full time jobs).

The US has many more immigrants total than Canada, but fewer from Syria and Iraq.

Tonight, Anthony Bourdain’s CNN series “Parts Unknown”, in presenting Cologne, Germany, discussed Germany’s welcoming of refugees, and the problem with some crimes and sex offenses committed by young male refugees.  Donald Trump has made an issue of the number of refugees being young males rather than women and children. Bourdain talks about doing the “morally right thing rather than the wise thing” and the “I told you so” (that is, like Trump’s) attitude of the right wing in most Western countries.

I still remember a sermon on “radical hospitality” at an Arlington VA church (Trinity Presbyterian) where the pastor said that a gift of service is real “only when it costs you something” or makes you take an existential risk.

With the asymmetric terror threat against civilians increasing in recent attacks, it’s not likely the US position will become as open as Canada’s, given our northern neighbor’s low population,, huge land mass, and need for workers.

(Published: Friday, July 1, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

Update: July 10

The Washington Post has a story by Fenit Nirappel, “More and more Syrians are settling in the United States, despite governors’ angst”.  The story implies that private organzations do help settle refigees whom the government has already cleared, but this is no the same as Canadian private placement.

Can social media recruiting by enemies cause it to be shut down in a Trump-like show of national “strength”?

IMG29501

Has the growth of social media (preceded by older forms of user-generated content such as discussion forums, blogs, and even many flat sites) actually created a new threat for national security in the US?

The most obvious concern, much reported in the media for the past eighteen months or so, is the recruiting of vulnerable young men and women (often but not always in Muslim communities), most of all on Twitter, and then “going dark” as apparently recruiters groom “candidates” on encrypted channels.  Heritage has as good an explanation of the process as any (June 2015).

Social media, and its inherent asymmetry, allows a sociopathic person like the Orlando perpetrator to create excessive theater when creating an event.

The other alarming idea is the wide availability of information on the web of how to make and use all kinds of weapons, some of which could be exotic devices like local flux EMP’s (roughly, like in the movie “Oceans 11”).  It’s very easy to find this stuff, and I suspect that most of the directions you could find wouldn’t really work.  It’s alarming that media reports (now after the Turkey attack) that there are lots of instructions on how to make suicide vests that work automatically when a terrorist is shot by police.

More socially acceptable would be the wide variety of videos of how to defend your home, how to live without electricity (there are videos on starting your car after an EMP event, for example).  Knowing how to take care of yourself and your family in a “Revolution” world sounds like a good thing. You might not be able to log on after such an event, so print it all out now.

I think it’s pretty obvious that a demagogue like “The Real Donald Trump” can easily suggest we just “shut down those tubes” (that’s a Facebook friend’s paraphrase of a December speech he made) as a security measure, saying we’re effectively at war.  Trump especially could build on the point that a lot of user generated content (including mine) doesn’t pay its own way, in helping actually make a living or support families.  I’ll come back to that again soon in the whole topic of “selling books” and my being prodded to become more “commercial”.

To counter such an idea, I’d add that “revolutionaries” have always been dangerous, and most of them knew pretty well how to blow things up when I was coming of age, long before the Internet instantiated itself. Think about the history of radicalism and terrorism all the way back to the 70s (well documented in the CNN series).  In the past, censorship of print and downstream liability for print has been an issue.  Consider, for example, the case of Paladin Press and the book “Hit Man” (and the 2000 movie “Deliberate Intent”).  I remember a lot of incidental discussion of this book in Minnesota shortly after I had moved there after publishing my own “Do Ask Do Tell” book from another author quite interested in Second Amendment issue (in the Minnesota Libertarian Party).

In the gun control argument, we say people kill people, and that inanimate weapons don’t.  And we say the same with propaganda – words don’t kill, but unstable people inspired by words and graphic images (and group hate ideology, including homophobia) may do so.  There are ways where the gun control debate can influence the speech debate.

But we need to look at what really makes people who go on these rampages tick.  It looks less and less like religion alone all the time, when we see “radical Islamic terrorists” as lone wolves inspired online from overseas.  Often they have conflicting familial influences and many serious personality disorders (including narcissism) that drives them to want to stage theater that makes the whole world seem to be about them, using religion as a proxy (as David Brooks explains  as “Religion’s Wicked Neighbor”).  But there is something to the profile of young men (and many young women) drawn to extremist ideology, often overlaid with religion.  They see a world where privileged overlords above them don’t really have to earn what they have, and wonder if the rules of civilization really mean anything.  They start living on the edge, as develop nihilistic outlooks.  Young men may look for camaraderie and a place to a “belong” after not being able to succeed in an individualistic world that stresses abstraction (you know, why do I have to learn algebra?)  There was a recent episode on “Days of our Lives” with a female character who seduces a minor male character that illustrated that point chillingly.  A world where everyone has to “pay your dues” on a few levels might reduce the appeal of extremism to some young adults.

(Published: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

Thoughts about the afterlife, and why I don’t warm up to “selling” victimization

IMG10864

Yes, I’m a little conscious of the idea of “The Bucket List” (a movie I haven’t bothered to see yet) as I approach age 73, as I know that any kind of incident could have irreversible outcomes.  I don’t mean to be negative or morbid, but I did want to explore “the afterlife” or “life after death” and why it matters to “policy” and “morality”.

kansas18

I think there are two aspects of physics and cosmology that argue for pre-existence of consciousness.  Call it God or Allah or Jehovah, or anything your faith wants. Yes, I think there is intelligent design of the constants of physics so everything works (although I understand there is an anthropic argument that we are just living in the right statistically occurring matrix or simulation). The two aspects of science are the apparent incompleteness of mathematics (Godel ) , and entropy in thermodynamics.  Systems or societies or cultures of conscious living things help reverse entropy and fill in the blanks for mathematics.  Gode’s work makes me think that it is impossible to prove that the initial position of a chess game is winnable by White or drawable by Black.

Hofstatler’s book “I Am a Strange Loop” may explain how “I-ness” maps to the developing child’s and teen’s brain, and then departs at end of life, as well as anything else.  My own sense of continuity of self goes back as far as age 3, when I opened a train set on a Christmas morning, and gradually increases in “density” through childhood, with a real pickup at about ninth grade.  High school is still pretty vivid, although, for example, I don’t quite recall the act of writing out my big D Minor sonata in ink, which I know I must have done on snow days in early 1960.

The human brain does map to self for most of one’ life, but there are signs that it doesn’t completely at the end of life, such as with accounts of lucidity in Alzheimer’s patients at the last hour or so of life.

With animals, it gets interesting.  Dogs and cats definitely show a sense of self, with dogs more integrated to the pack than humans are.  A cat an “adopt” a human, run free like a wild animal and hunt small game outdoors during the day, and remember where home is and return to a kind and welcoming “owner” at night. (This happened with me when I was living in Dallas in 1979, and a black tom named “Timmy”).   Some wild animals (like crows) will develop attachments to humans on their own volition. Most mammals smart enough to hunt for a living “know who they are”, and this seems true of others like elephants, and, of course, other primates.   Cetaceans (whales and dolphins, most of all the orca) display almost-human problem solving ability to the point of being called “non human persons”, but may share a more “distributed sense of consciousness” than humans.   Is this just a hyper kind of social and emotional empathy, or is this really a transfer of sense of identity, like in science fiction (even in my own novel manuscript, “Angel’s Brother”)?

Then, go down the phylums to consider social insects.  Does “self” in ants or bees rest with the entire hive?  You could ask the same thing about the aliens of “Independence Day”.

There are plenty of books and Christian films talking about proof of heaven, but the one I like the best is Eben Alexander’s, where the writer describes existing in a dark “Core” for some time before being brought into a community.  I talked about the literature on it in a legacy post in December 2015 here.

I’ve also covered the literature on the Afterlife from by the Monroe Institute in my blogs, link.

I do relate to these flexible views of the afterlife, even the idea of a family of souls.  I think there is more to it that the naïve idea of a hollow heaven.

Do I “think” a Savior exists? I could say that quantum theory could predict one “eventually”.  No one can be “right” all the time, because mathematics itself says this is impossible. Nature is amazingly impersonal in the way its “laws” work, and yet in rarest cases miracles seem to happen.  Imagine what it would have been like (for me at least), to live through the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension as someone close to the disciples, admiring a figure who has always been presented (ironically) as the “ideal man” in modern gay fantasy – the ultimate experience of upward affiliation.

One big question, regarding karma, would be, does having children (or not having them) affect the “experience” (for want of another word) of the afterlife?  Is there some connection that continues?  I have no clue.  I don’t buy the Mormon idea of eternal family as having any evidence to support it.  But the Monroe Institute talks of a larger “soul family”.  Does openness to transmitting life – the agent for more consciousness to expand – affect karma and the afterlife?

We can also pause to think about whether “karma” crosses civilizations on other worlds.  Advanced civilizations seem to be extremely scarce in the Galaxy, but it is conceivable that, in our distance from the center, there could be one every 2000 light years or so.  (Yes, that structure around Tabby’s Star really might be a Dyson Sphere, even with some hotel rooms.  Mark Zuckerberg must wonder how he will get around the speed of light barrier to implement Facebook in other civilizations.)  What’s more relevant is that the Universe is relatively “young” and that over billions or trillions of years other Earths will form and have civilizations where our future selves could emerge.

But I do think there is an aspect of death, or end-of-life, that must be irreversible. In fact, I’ll take it further.  If you are decapitated (like at the end of the movie “Wolfen”) and momentarily “know you’re dead”, you know you aren’t going back or “taking it with you” – not just money or possessions but even not any history of accomplishments or ego.  Yet, I think that in time, “you” may “know” what reputation or legacy you left Earth with – but not right away.

A particularly sensitive issue comes up if you die at the hands of someone else’s violence.  This could happen because of conventional crime (including events like drunk driving accidents), war, or terrorism.  But when I was coming of age it could also happen after being drafted into the military.  There was always the idea of “sacrifice” and a certain acceptance that, no matter what the personal circumstances, others have their own lives to lead and must move on without you.  (I’ll mention, I lucked out when an errant driver almost collided head-on with me on a curve on a 2-lane road in rural Virginia recently.  I was able to avoid him at the one spot that had a shoulder.)

I don’t see “victimization” as particularly honorable.  The fact of logic (not politics or religion) is that when you’re life is taken, you leave this world and deal with your own karma “as it is” at the moment.  The idea that your death is someone else’s fault is largely irrelevant.  This is not about “blaming the victim”;  it is just logic.  But part of your karma could include “ill gotten gains” based on the unseen sacrifices of others. In some parts of the world, enemies view individual people as on the hook for what their government’s did.  As a matter of simple logic, we all are.  How we deal with the idea of “enemies” is a big deal, and, yes, there is plenty about it in the Bible (the New Testament) and in the Torah and Koran, for that matter.

In these days of medically extended lives, death during old age from natural and inevitable aging can be ugly, too.  My father died rather suddenly just short of  age 83, and always did what he wanted right up to the end.  He never had to understand helplessness or disability, and was a bit insensitive about it (saying “I’ll never be a burden”).  But my mother, after getting about eight good years from coronary bypass surgery, slipped into helplessness during the last three years.  It was not pretty.

Do I believe in reincarnation or future lives?  It seems quite reasonable to me, maybe inevitable.  Occasionally, people are born so gifted that it seems that they must have access to prior lives’s knowledge.  This may be true of great composers in music, prodigies in tech.  How could a teenager understand nuclear physics and advanced math like fusion-entrepreneur Taylor Wilson (22 now)?  I could name a few others (start looking at Stanford or UCLA).  Boy, it sounds like getting to have a fit, slender 20-something body again to pick up where you left off is a pretty good deal from your karma.  I guess I wouldn’t mind having the inborn ability to hit home runs or pitch perfect games.  Was that earned in the past? Conservative columnist George Will once wrote bluntly, when talking about baseball in relation to his own family, that there are those who are gifted and those who are not.

How do I respond to loss of others?  Yes, I go to fundraisers.  I may add different organizations to charity lists.  I generally don’t get involved about a particular “victim” unless I already have some connection to the person for some other independent reason.  I don’t like to “sell” the idea of hardship or loss to others.  It rubs me the wrong way. I do realize that I perceive hardship of others through the veneer of my own somewhat aloof personality, as I mentioned in the previous post.

(Published: Monday, June 27, 2016 at 3:15 PM EDT)