Who “gets to be recognized” as a legitimate “journalist”?

So, who gets to call the self a journalist?

The recent queasiness in Congress and the FCC about matters like Section 230 and network neutrality bring this question back.  Yes, I’ve talked about the controversies over “citizen journalism” before, like the day before the Election on November 8, 2016.  And recently (July 19) I encountered a little dispute about access requiring “press credentials”.

The nausea that President Donald Trump says the “media” gives him seems to be directed at mainstream, larger news organizations with center-liberal bias – that is, most big city newspapers, and most broadcast networks, and especially CNN – he calls them all purveyors of “fake news” as if that were smut.  More acceptable are the “conservative” Fox and OANN.  Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos (with his own new site) seem to be in the perpetual twilight of a tidally locked planet.  Perhaps I am in the same space;  Trump doesn’t seem to have the same antipathy (or hostility) to “independent” or “citizen” journalists (which I had feared he would when he said he didn’t trust computers), but a lot of other people do.

I digress for a moment. Coincidentally has set up his “Trump News Channel” on Facebook (Washington Post story) but the URL for it reverts to “Dropcatch”, with Twitter won’t even allow as a link as supposed spam.

The basic bone politicians and some business people pick with journalists is that “they” spectate, speculate and criticize, but don’t have to play, like right out of the script of the Netflix thriller “Rebirth”.  Politicians, hucksters, sales professionals, and perhaps many legitimate business professionals, and heads of families – all of them have accountabilities to real people, whether customers or family members.  They have to go to bat for others.  They have to manipulate others and concern themselves with the size of their “basis”.  Journalists can do this only through double lives.

I could make the analogy to kibitzing a chess game, rather than committing yourself to 5 hours of concentration in rated game.  (Yes, in the position below, Black’s sacrifice hasn’t worked.)

But, of course, we know that renowned journalists have paid their dues, most of all in conflict journalism. Sebastian Junger broke his leg working as an arborist before writing “The Perfect Storm”. Bob Woodruff has a plate in his skull but recovered completely after being wounded in Iraq. Military services actually have their own journalists and public affairs.  Young American University journalism graduate Trey Yingst helped found News2share before becoming a White House correspondent, but had done assignments in Ukraine, Gaza, Rwanda, Uganda, Ferguson, and was actually pinned down at night during the Baltimore riots in April 2015.

That brings us back to the work of small-fry, like me, where “blogger journalism” has become the second career, pretty much zoning out other possible opportunities which would have required direct salesmanship of “somebody else’s ideas” (“We give you the words”), or much more ability to provide for specific people (maybe students) in directly interpersonal ways.

Besides supporting my books, what I generally do with these blogs is re-report what seem like critical general-interest news stories in order to “connect the dots” among them.  Sometimes, I add my own footage and observations when possible, as with a recent visit to fire-damaged Gatlinburg.  With demonstrations (against Trump, about climate change, for LGBT) I tend to walk for a while with some of them but mainly film and report (especially when the issue is narrower, such as with Black Lives Matter).  I generally don’t venture into dangerous areas (I visited Baltimore Sandtown in 2015 in the day time).

I generally don’t respond to very narrow petitions for emergency opposition to bills that hurt some narrow interest group.  What I want to do is encourage real problem solving.  Rather than join in “solidarity” to keep Congress from “repealing” Obamacare by itself, I want to focus on the solutions (subsidies, reinsurance, the proper perspective on federalism, etc).  But I also want to focus attention on bigger problems, many of them having to do with “shared responsibility” or “herd immunity” concepts, that don’t get very consistent attention from mainstream media (although conservative sites do more on these matters).  These include filial responsibility, the tricky business of reducing downstream liability issue on the Web (the Section230 issue, on the previous post, where I said Backpage can make us all stay for detention), risks taken by those offering hosting to immigrants (refugees and asylum seekers), and particularly national security issues like the shifting of risk from asymmetric terror back to rogue states (North Korea), and most of all, infrastructure security, especially our three major electric power grids.

My interest in book self-publication and citizen journalism had started in the 1990s with “gays in the military”, linking back to my own narrative, and then expanded gradually to other issues about “shared risks” as well as more traditional ideas about discrimination.  I had come into this “second career” gradually from a more circumscribed world as an individual contributor in mainframe information technology. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” had suddenly become a particularly rich issue in what it could lead to in other areas.  So, yes, I personally feel that, even as an older gay man, the LGBTQ world has more to worry about than bathroom bills (Pulse).  I think the world we have gotten used to could indeed be dialed back by indignation-born “purification” (as a friend calls it) if we don’t get our act together on some things (like the power grid issue).  But I don’t believe we should have to all become doomsday preppers either.  We should solve these problems.

A critical component of journalism is objectivity and presentation of Truth, as best Truth can be determined. Call it impartiality. You often hear Trump supporters say that, whatever Trump’s crudeness and ethical problems, what Trump promotes helps them and particularly family members who depend on them.  Of course many journalists have families without compromising their work. But this observation seems particularly relevant to me.  I don’t have my own children largely because I didn’t engage in the desires or the behaviors than result in having that responsibility.  I can “afford” to remain somewhat emotionally aloof from a lot of immediate needs.

In fact, I’ve sometimes had to field the retort from some people that, while some of the news out there may be dire, I don’t need to be the person they hear it from.  I could be putting a target on my own back and on others around me.  Indeed, some people act as if they believe that everything happens within a context of social hierarchy and coercion.

My own “model” for entering the news world has two aspects that seem to make it vulnerable to future policy choices (like those involving 230 or maybe net neutrality). One of them is that it doesn’t pay its own way.  I use money from other sources, both what I earned and invested and somewhat what I inherited (which arguably could be deployed as someone else’s safety net, or which could support dependents, maybe asylum seekers if we had a system more like Canada’s for dealing with that issue).  That means, it cannot be underwritten if it had to be insured, for example.  I can rebut this argument, or course, by saying, well, what did you want me to do, get paid to write fake news?  That could support a family.  (No, I really never believed the Comet Ping Pong stuff, but the gunman who did believe it an attack it claimed he was an “independent journalist.”  I do wonder how supermarket tabloids have avoided defamation claims even in all the years before the Internet – because nobody believed them?  Some people obviously do.)   No, they say. we want you to use the background that supported you as a computer programmer for decades and pimp our insurance products. (“We give you the words,” again.)  Indeed, my withdrawal from the traditional world where people do things through sales middlemen makes it harder for those who have to sell for a living.

The other aspect is that of subsumed risk.  I can take advantage of a permissive climate toward self-distribution of content, which many Internet speakers and small businesses take for granted, but which can be seriously and suddenly undermined by policy, for the “common good” under the ideology of “shared responsibility”.  I won’t reiterate here the way someone could try to bargain with me over this personally – that could make an interesting short film experiment. Yes, there can be court challenges, but the issues litigated with CDA and COPA don’t reliably predict how the First Amendment applies when talking about distribution of speech rather than its content, especially with a new literalist like Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

A lot of “Trader Joe” type people would say, there should be some external validation of news before it is published.   Of course, that idea feeds the purposes of authoritarian rules, like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, or perhaps Donald Trump.  But we could see that kind of environment someday if we don’t watch out.

(Posted: Monday, August 7, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

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

Have we forgotten how to sell to each other?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Media outlets still fear Trump will try to deport “Dreamer” students and productive workers


CBS News tonight echoed fears that children of undocumented immigrants face an uncertain future in the Trump years, with this report.

The president of Pomona College wrote a letter to the president-elect, now signed by 250 other colleges, asking the new administration not to disturb children brought here by undocumented parents while getting their educations.  Some are on scholarships.  One female student interviewed by CBS came here at age one month as a baby and did not know she was undocumented until almost a teenager.

The  Washington Post this morning ran an op-ed by Zachary Price, analyzing the legality of how any mass deportation would work, saying that Trump cannot legally use information given by immigrants’ children when apply for DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) status under Obama’s rules, as that would violate due process.

Julie Hirschfield Davis and Julia Preston, on Nov. 14, for the New York Times,  analyze Trump’s more modest proposal to target criminals (first), with “What Donald Trump’s vow do deport three million immigrants would mean”.  The writers claim it would tear up communities.

Here is Donald Trump’s interview with Leslie Stahl, as Trump speaks to a divide nation on CBS 60 Minutes Nov. 13, link.  No “toddler CEO” and “Is that a question?” this time. (But maybe in 2020, when Mark Zuckerberg is old enough to be president.)

Large scale deportations, even limited to criminal records, could divert law enforcement resources and intelligence sources, and undermine the effort to stop terror, so it does not sound likely.  Still, some scenarios could have some students leavings school and scholarships, and some people not allowed to work.  Although there are rules on filing for asylum (like within a year of arrival), in some cases there could be more asylum seekers, who present a much more challenging problem for volunteer agencies than fully vetted refugees.  I personally don’t expect the large deportation effort feared by these media reports, as they would be totally impractical to carry out, to say the least.  But Trump is likely to deny future DACA status, under a tribalistic “you take care of your own first” mentality.


Update: Nov. 26

The Washington Post has a Metro Sections story by Arelis R. Hernandez about how different members of an undocumented family fleeing gang violence and extortion in Hondouras (El Salvador is even worse) are managing in Montgomery County, MD, “A family reunited in Md., but for how long?”  The father had crossed the Texas border illegally and managed to drift and find work in Maryland. The rest of the family was held in detention later when “caught” at the border and asked for asylum.  INS did allow the father to buy them a plane ticket to Baltimore and to house them.  INS currently will allow asylum seekers to be released to other relatives who are themselves undocumented when the other relatives don’t have criminal records (another wrinkle in the asylum system of which I wasn’t aware).  Trump could undo this, but again it looks very impractical for him to do so.

(Published: Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 at 11 PM EST)

Could “Trump” (or his “values” in Congress) stop citizen journalism?


Three years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece maintaining that enjoying college football (and presumably pro football too) as a fan is “morally problematic” because the sport is inherently dangerous, exposing young men to a not completely controllable concussion risk.  (Is it OK for actor Richard Harmon to tweet about the Fighting irish?)  I’ll leave the link to my coverage of it on a legacy blog.  I’ll leave this particular point about conditional morality out in view for a while, as I return to my own situation.

My own situation is that I do get criticism and questions about the way I manage my web presence and books, particularly questions about the fact that I don’t seem to be trying hard to sell them to make money, as if I had to make a living from them.  I don’t.  I covered this matter pretty well here with a blog posting July 8.   Likewise, I get questions about the point of my blogs and websites.  The normal free market would say that it would be very difficult for most bloggers to make a living from advertising revenue from their sites, but some niche bloggers (like “dooce ”, the famous mommy blog by Heather Armstrong) have done well.  Australian blogging guru Ramsay Taplan  (Blogtyrant ) has written lots of tutorials on how to make niche blogging work, but you have to be very serious about the business aspects and become aggressive. Adsense support forums on Google indicate that a number of bloggers, especially overseas, do try to make ends meet even on Blogger.

It’s important, for the moment, to retrace how I got into what I would now call “citizen journalism” (or “citizen commentary” would be more apt)   It all started with my incentive to write my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, which I first totally self-published with my own print run in 1997.  I was originally motivated by the debate over gays in the military.  My own life narrative, even up to that point, had displayed an unusual irony (much of that having to do with the Vietnam era military draft)    But my arguments moved into many “civilian” areas, including workplace discrimination, “family values”, public health, and law.  I proposed some constitutional amendments, which I thought fit the temper of the mid 1990s.  Some of what I proposed (I was very cautious on the marriage issue) has become outmoded by the progress of history since then.

It had become possible to publish text essays on Hometown AOL in the early fall of 1996.  I got my own domain (called “hppub.com” then, for “High Productivity Publishing”) in the summer of 1997 at the same time as the book publication.  Originally my intention was to maintain footnotes from the book as more events regarding the various issues unfolded.  By the summer of 1998, I decided to post the html text of the book online for viewing.  Copies of the book did sell fairly well the first two years, and by 1999, volume of hits on the site was quite significant (even from places like Saudi Arabia).

I would go on to accumulate a large amount of material about various issues regarding personal liberty, organized in a concentric fashion. Soon I would add movie-tv, book, and stage event (including music) reviews, with an emphasis on how major issues were addressed in books (including fiction) movies (both conventionally acted and documentary).  The tone of my material, in the personal liberty area, took a somewhat alarming turn after 9/11 in 2001, but that resulted in more attention to my coverage of some issues (for example, after 9/11 there was talk about renewing military conscription).  Eventually I would migrate to placing most of my new content on Blogger starting in 2006, and then gradually started a migration to hosted WordPress at the start of 2014 (as I published my third DADT book, POD).

During most of this time, I was a litigant (through Electronic Frontier Foundation) against COPA, the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, which would finally be overturned in 2007 (after a complicated history including two trips to the Supreme Court).

I think my “value” to the world  — and what gave me a sense of “identity” for the second half of my life (since the mid 1990s, and especially after my official “retirement” at the end of 2001) is that I keep all the arguments about a “network” of liberty-related issues on the floor, available at all times.  Even with a modest number of unique visitors (who don’t know me), there is an influence on policy way beyond my own numerosity of 1.  I could say I’m “keeping them honest”.  I’ve had very good up time reliability over all the years, and in the earlier years, the simple organization of my sites with simple html caused many articles to rank high in search engines (above those of established companies and organizations), with no optimization, even without attention to metatags.

So, you can imagine my annoyance at appeals for donations from sites that purport to speak for me as a member of one group or another.  And also my annoyance of the slogans and baby talk of most political campaign ads.  In fact, I don’t donate to candidates.  Here we get more into my head.  Ironically I perceive needing to have a “strongman” protect me from would be a sign of my own status as a “loser” (and how does that come across as “Trump-talk”?)

Likewise, I have some inner disdain for the idea of being a “marketeer” (something touted by some ads on my sties even).  I remember a job interview onetime in 2002 where the “sales” person (for a financial service) said “We give you the words.”  I don’t need anyone to do that for me.  That sounds like something to appeal to someone not “smart” enough to do anything other than hucksterizing.  I don’t like to manipulate others, and I don’t get manipulated (just like I don’t join mass movements as in Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer“).   But I know this sounds like posturing from a position of “unearned privilege”.  The tone of numerous solicitations I got after “retirement” seemed to be that I was mooching and should grovel for customers like everyone else (indeed, even if that meant manipulating people to get subprime mortgages), so that the selling playing field was fairer to “them”.  “Always be closing”, indeed!

OK, I can think back, and remember even Mark Cuban said the other day, he had a knack for selling door-to-door, as his first job selling sneakers at 12 (story).  Today, when I think of door-to-door I wonder about home invasions;  and with telemarketing, I wonder about robocalls and scams.  You can see how false pride and insularity, as it becomes more common,, only adds more divisions in our culture and makes it harder for a lot of people to earn a living at all.  Make America Great Again, indeed!

This biggest “objection” from some quarters seems to be that a presence like this that doesn’t pay its own way (in terms of the way a business other than a proprietorship would have to report) represents a possible public risk (getting back to the Gladwell reference on football that I started out with).  It requires a permissive legal culture for me to be able to post anything I want under my own “publicity right” with no gate keepers.  One of the mechanisms that makes this possible, as I have explained elsewhere on legacy blogs, is limits on downstream liability for service providers (Section 230 for defamation or privacy issues;  DMCA safe harbor for copyright).  Without these protections, user-generated content as we know it now (and “citizen journalism”) would not be possible.  Only content that made money on its own could get published (which was pretty much how things were until the 1990s), and “getting published” meant something.

The implicit security problems, of course, are abuse, particularly recruiting of young people for criminal or enemy activity (as by ISIS), and the issue of cyberbullying, as mentioned by Melania Trump recently. It’s all too easy for me to imagine Donald Trump saying in a speech shortly after winning (if he won) that there is no legitimate reason the country should tolerate these risks, given the peril.  Web sites, he could argue, should carry their own freight, and be able to pay employees and support families if they stay up. Remember how he measured teams simply by “money” on “The Apprentice”?  He could indeed become “The Accountant” in a very narrow sense.

That is to say, the permissiveness that benefits me, allows danger to others, especially less advantaged parents raising kids.  (Well-off kids with educated parents don’t usually have as many problems with this, and generally well-off kids learn to “make it” in the real world.  This is definitely related to economic class and even race.)

As for the national security and ISIS risk, one could probably counter that most of the recruiting material is actually accessed from the Dark Web anyway, off shore, in encrypted and untraceable fashion;  and most of this illicit activity involes P2P, BitTorrent,. TOR, and other “clandestine practices” like digital currency.  All of these things have morally legitimate uses (especially in other countries with authoritarian leadership) and their own followings and adherents. (A lot of people have invested their hearts into bitcoin just as I have done with my own versuon of “citizen journalism”.)

Still, Trump, late in 2015, made some vague proposals for “shutting down” much of the Internet, and some in Congress (like Joe Barton, Nov. 5 posting) have wanted to shut down much of social media (the companies already say they shut down accounts that facilitate terrorism, but it’s impossible to stop new ones from growing like mushrooms).  I can imagine the hit on Wall Street if Facebook and Twitter were forced to close.  One could imagine another model, however, where social networks on line mean exactly that: they are much smaller, and only accessed in white-listed, private mode.   I, for example, use Facebook and Twitter as publication adjuncts;  I really don’t use them to flirt or find “companionship”.  So I have little use for a service like Snapchat, because I don’t need a lot of day-to-day interaction with lots of people. I don’t announce where I am going or what events I will attend on Facebook – for security reasons.  So I don’t “play ball” with friends whose life model is to organize others.

Would the Supreme Court continue to protect speakers from this kind of development (as it seems to have done with COPA and the earlier CDA)?  One problem, it seems to me, is that conceptually, distribution of speech (which used to require gatekeepers, based on profitability) is somewhat a distinct potential “right” from the mere utterance itself.

I do wonder about the business models of many Internet service facilitators (and even POS companes), if they can sustain themselves indefinitely with content that consumers don’t pay for.

It seems that to “sell”, you have to offer something more focused that people want.  Citizen journalism and commentary is not something that you would normally expect to “sell”.  Of course, some socially “questionable” things (porn) do sell “easily”.  So do focused “special interests” (and that bemuses Trump’s message as he often delivers it). But one way to improve “popularity” (and actual sales potential) is meeting special needs.  For temperamental reasons (as I covered yesterday) that isn’t something that I want to identify me as something to be known for.  Meeting need is one thing, but “pimping” need is another.  As I said yesterday, this whole area of “indulgence” drags me down the rabbithole of being identified by other people’s causes, not the ones I chose.  But I can see how it fits the idea of “right-sizing”.

For me, the future of “citizen journalism” comes very much into question, especially if Trump wins.  I understand the questions about the legitimacy of the practice ( well laid out in Wikipedia ) but that journalism is often mixed with original analysis (sometimes from unusual life narrative perspectives, like mine, as well as from professional surveys and studies) and commentary.  The New York Times has an interesting perspective today, “Journalism’s next challenge: Overcoming the threat of fake news”, in the New York Times, by Jim Rutenberg.  Timothy B. Lee of Vox has a relevant piece Nov. 6 “Facebook is harming our democracy...“, with its user-mediated newsfeeds, which has the effect of diluting “real” journalism with amateurism (let alone “clickbaiting”).  On CNN, Ted Koppel (“Lights Out“) told Chris Cuomo  that the public doesn’t trust professional journalism any more.  (On Nov. 11, New York Magazine’s Max Read claimed “Donald Trump won because of Facebook“. My own role is not to replace traditional establishment media but to keep it honest by supplementing it with material that confounds reporting and organizing according to traditional identity politics — but some people just stop reading traditional media altogether and see only what they want to hear from amateurs, reinforcing their “UFO” beliefs.)

I’ve approached these problems before, from the viewpoint of “conflict of interest” (Aug. 7, or here ).  We saw this first back around 2001 (before 9/11) with talk of the need for “employer blogging policies”, especially for associates who have direct reports or make decisions about others.  (That’s what drove Heather Armstrong to go solo and then to invent the word “dooce”).

While Gladwell’s idea of unaccounted “moral hazard” subsumed by others (as well as authoritarian ideas about “right-sizing” individual speech as with Russia and China) ( could cause Trump and some in Congress to want to crimp user generated content, it’s indeed (fortunately) hard to see any straightforward way he could do it.  But (to make “A Modest Proposal”) one way would be to prevent  (“nuisance”) domains from being owned by (or even renewed) by entities that don’t offer full public accounting of their funding, even self-funded proprietorships like mine.  Accounts could have to “pay their own way” with their own revenues (that sounds like Trump’s style of thinking, valuing everything in terms of money).  But, then again, Trump has a lot of trouble disclosing his own good fortune in life very publicly.  But so does Hillary.  This kind of problem could intersect with the Network Neutrality debate, if Trump guts neutrality and allows ISP’s to charge businesses for access to their networks (which wasn’t a problem in practice before 2015, however — and some say that this could be a problem “only” for high-volume “porn” sites).

If my “accomplishment” were taken away from me, from public sight, what be left?   My own model is horizontal, using prior content to build more content (for example, for eventually getting my music performed), but that content must remain public, even if it doesn’t pull in short term revenue, to remain strategically effective. Pimping victimhood or group loyalty?  I’d love to get on with a real news outlet reporting critical things that the media just hasn’t covered well (like electric power grid security, as with Koppel’s book).  Or should I just “merge” with Wikipedia?  Actually, there’s no article on me there yet.

(Posted: Monday, Nov. 7, 2016 at 4 PM EST)


When facing change due to coercion from others, one needs to have a certain conversation with the self


First, let me recount a nice incident, that invokes some wonder.  One early evening in September 2012 I was driving (to the movies) along a major Arlington VA street when I spotted some kids on the sidewalk, walking against traffic, with a popular, well-liked teen, whom I recognized immediately from a local church, walking on the outside toward the street. He stumbled momentarily into the street.  My foot came off the pedal instantly, but curiously the engine died (and this car had an automatic trans).  Nothing happened, no accident happened.  Miracle maybe?  The car restarted normally and I got to the movie.   Never has happened again,

One three occasions, people have asked me for roadside assistance starting cars in parking lots or at service plazas.  I did help one time on a New Years Eve and nothing happened.  The other two times I did not. One of the situations (in Ohio in 2010) sounded like a real carjacking threat (I got away and called state police);  the other situation was a woman (in West Virginia) who probably was legitimately in trouble.  Mark Zuckerberg reportedly “escaped” a possible carjacking or robbery at a gas station right after moving to California at age 20 (Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires”).

Recently, I’ve considered the possibility of offering to host an asylum seeker(s).  I can’t go into any detail now, but I find that people become nervous when any prospective volunteer starts asking questions about potential risks and liabilities, and seems “outside” a supportive socially cohesive group.

I think that anytime someone offers to take a significant and not entirely predictable risk to help others, that someone needs to have a conversation with the self about living with the consequences of “near worst case scenarios”, where the person’s own life could be forced to change course in a significant way.

But many “good Samaritan” situations occur with no warning.  So one must have thought through one’s values, and the idea that external circumstances could suddenly test these values and force them to change.

I’ve become much more aware of this since “retiring”, so to speak, at the end of 2001.  Yes, I “inherited” some wealth at the end of 2010 with the passing of Mother.  I used to perceive most risks as under my control, particularly with matters that concern performance in the workplace, or mishaps with work.  In more recent years, I’ve had to contemplate how external events can force change on me.

I don’t consider ordinary health decline with age as controversial, and death from some cause will happen to (“almost”) everyone. (I’m not sure I would subscribe to Peter Thiel’s ideas about longevity.) So “ordinary” illness or medical challenge is not itself at issue.  But I do consider coercion from others as more challenging now than it had been when I was working – more challenging than any time in my life since I was in the Army (draft) 1968-1970.  Standing alone, I can quickly be erased or made into nothing as an unintended or expandable consequence of someone else’s priorities. I would be a casualty, but not a victim, given prior privileges. Yet the next person I conveniently overlook could have been brought low by someone else’s greed.  Karma is a brutal idea.

It can make sense to “act” (as a Good Samaritan) sometimes, even out of self-interest, because “bad things can happen to previously good people anyway.”  Challenges can come from random events (crime), and changing some behavior can reduce this risk.  It can come from being targeted (legally or physically) for online behavior (I would describe this as a marginal risk in terms of “storm prediction center” terminology).  It can came from authoritarian policy changes, especially in the free speech areas.  But some of the danger to me comes from “expropriation” (or what one friend once called “purification”).  If you didn’t earn all you “have” and somebody yanks it away from you, then you don’t get it back.  Values can change, toward more authoritarian or tribal systems, which to some people still seem self-contained and “logical”.

There’s a disturbing sequence of logic that must follow.  As my father once said, I don’t “see people as people”.  I care about my own perceptual world and people that I “choose” to idealize.  But I don’t “care” about someone (in the emotional-body sense) who would depend on me.  I do tend to see people as intrinsic “winners” or “losers” (as does Trump) and don’t “Care” personally about the “losers” whatever the reason for the loss.  “You are what you are”, or “it is what it is” or “it is what you see.” Call it “karma” or even your eventual “right-size”.  But, unlike Trump, I don’t particularly value having some social position in relation to others in some hierarchy of command or authority.  Power, in his sense, is of no importance to me.  The ability to influence thought of others (through art and writing) does matter. That could be lost.  There’s a certain logical disconnect (on my part) in wanting to perturb the “values” of my culture (by being found online, mainly  — and this really works, right now) and not having more emotion (love) concerning real people who would “consume” my insights.

In the WB series “Everwood“, piano prodigy Ephram Brown (Gregory Smith) once said that his fatal flaw as his “inability to change”.  For the 1983 hit movie “Staying Alive” (directed by Sylvester Stallone), John Travolta (“Saturday Night Fever“) created an existential metaphor of change by waxing his bod for the role of a fighter-turned-dancer.  One can be forced to “change” by the “priorities” of others, sometimes, particularly by people who see meaning in enforcing the connections of social hierarchies (who will be particularly aggressive against those whom they perceive as having unearned wealth or influence — Jeffrey Toobin’s book, “American Heiress” about Patty Hearst-Tania in the 1970s [which I am reading] is indeed a “worst-case” example).  My own religious values say that ending one’s life if forced to change, even at a gunpoint, would be cowardice, and would condemn one in the next life (although I don’t think a “hollow heaven” offers much).  Yet there exist some limits, some lines I would never cross.  I have a general idea of where those are.  I don’t guarantee that I would be around after just anything.  I don’t watch other people’s backs and nobody watches mine.  Of course, I had that same self-reflection during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and when  entering the Army.  It could happen again.

There is warning in all of this.  If there were too many “people like me” who became visible and effective (without covering our own subsumed risks and without becoming more personally responsive to others “in need” or to potential non-biological dependents, even within a largely familial or tribal context) aggressive politicians could find it easier to rationalize authoritarianism and even fascism, ultimately threatening “my” own freedom and personhood. Donald Trump provides a potentially chilling example.

(Posted: Sunday, November 6, 2016, at 6:45 PM EST)

Donald Trump’s authoritarian values (and the values of his quasi-“deplorable” followers)


There are a lot of articles in the media today characterizing Donald Trump as an existential threat to democracy that respects individualism as we know it now.  Here is a sample.

Who Goes Trump?” by James Kirchick, Tablet   This piece characterizes many Trump supporters as actually well-off, but psychologically insecure, of questionable character, uneasy about the legitimacy of their own prosperity and particularly needing authoritarian values to be imposed on them and others to give their lives meaning.  A significant danger is that other people in the administration, who “support” Trump, would not constrain him from dangerous or impulsive conduct, because they share similar values.

The Dangerous Acceptance of Donald Trump”,  by Adam Gopnik, the New Yorker.

The Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton”,  by David Frum, The Atlantic

America and the Abyss”,  by Andrew Sullivan, New York.   This is one of the darkest pieces, put in terms of voting for fascism.

Is this scaremongering by the ‘elite left” (or by “progressive” or “compassionate” conservatives)?  Some people I talk to in person, who I don’t think would fit into Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” seem to think so.

Amanda Taub of Vox Media explains Trump’s appeal to people who believe in authoritarian social values (which are not always connected to one party or another but have tended to migrate to the Republican Party because of the party’s suborn (sometimes religion-driven) resistance to some gender and race related social changes.  Authoritarianism is associated with a need for “strongman” leaders who can use threats to “bargain’ for their constituents, and who see violence as inevitable in a dangerous world. Authoritarianism usually values conformity and obedience to creativity and “dependent” independence.

Let me walk back a few impressions.  First, my recollection of Trump’s behavior in conducting the “Boardroom” in “The Apprentice” is generally positive.  He nearly always made appropriate comments, however sharp-tongued he was, in deciding who to fire in a particular episode of “rank and yank.”  The people he hired seemed to be responsible young adults and even role models.  (That includes Omarosa Manigault, as well as Troy McClain, who survived a public leg-waxing “for the team” and whom Trump put through college.) He did have LGBT contestants on his series (living in the hotel with other contestants, quasi military style), but I don’t recall if an LGBT person won an “apprenticeship”.

So at first when I heard, maybe in early 2015, that he was serious about running for president, I thought this was a good thing.  He had said that he supported solving the health care issues once and for all, even if he wanted to get rid of Obamacare.  He seemed fine with Social Security and Medicare.  I felt he could be “safer” than some of the conventionally Santorum-like Republicans.

So I was disturbed at many of Trump’s most boorish proposals. Some of them seem to disregard due process and the rule of law (which Trump says he wants).  I won’t re-elaborate here, as do the articles above.

Trump does come across as someone with narcissistic personality disorder.  He seems unwilling not to get his way.  He sounds like the evil side of someone like Shane Lyons in the movie “Judas Kiss”.  (In the movie, Shane displays the homosexual equivalent of Trump’s heterosexual musings and attractions, someone who always gets what he wants – “Danny”.)

I have to share a certain commonality with Trump of my own.  Just as Trump pretends “only I can make the country great” by manipulating everyone into submission. I pretend that I am unique in the ability o keep tabs online of all “knowledge”, keeping everyone else “honest”.  The “ethics” of this is something I’ll cover again later.  I also share Trump’s aversion to elevating or honoring victimhood, to making weakness “all right” in personal interactions.  Like Trump, I feel that “victims” really pay for the crimes of their perpetrators, which sounds like a moral paradox but unavoidable logically driven fact.   (Trump said of John McCain, “He’s a war hero who was captured. I like war heroes who weren’t captured.” That is, there are no victims.)

So I do share Trump’s appreciation for the unprecedented asymmetric nature of externally-driven threats that ordinary American civilians can face, from “enemies”.  I understand his leverage of that “Russian roulette” scene from “The Deer Hunter“.

I am also concerned that the “asymmetry” argument could be used to justify new controls on some kinds of “gratuitous” speech, but I’ll get into that later.

Trump does appeal to people who relate to the world by their hierarchal relations with others, where manipulating others to get them to behave a certain way (like buy from you) is seen as a critical life skill, apart from the validity of the product or service or belief or goal being addressed.  Trump appeals to people who value “power” (or “right”) rather than “truth”. People of this persuasion typically believe that families and communities must be cohesive and must discipline and “right-size” their own members, who will then share in the fate of the entire community.   Trump (with Pence) is more likely to appeal to certain segments of the Christian evangelical community (despite his own behavior) who accept the idea of proselytizing, or to people who like to sell to others (“always be closing”) and manipulate others for their own sakes, but who may not have an intellectually deep or analytical grasp of their world (and may not respect modern science as opposed to their local “street sense”).

I ran into many people with this world-view after my “retirement” from I.T. post 9/11 at the end of 2001. In many job interviews for more people-oriented positions, I found some employers to be surprisingly concerned about my diffidence concerning any interest in directly manipulating others or getting them to respect me “just for authority” (as I used to say to my father).  One interviewer became particularly unnerved and defensive in front of me when I asked the normal “rational” questions about the credibility of what he (actually a husband-wife team)  wanted to sell and how he wanted to manipulate potential consumers.  Trump’s values seem all too common with a lot of “average Joe’s”.

The pity is that many of Trump’s concerns about national security are actually well founded.  But there are constructive solutions to these problems he could talk about without race baiting. He needs only to ask Peter Thiel.

I might be supporting him if he really solved the problems without resorting to strong-armed tactics and vitriol.

(Posted: Friday, November 4, 2016 at 11:45 PM EDT)

Trump could crack down on journalists and bloggers in various ways, but even Obama has been more aggressive with classified info leaks


As the chances that Donald Trump comes from behind on the road and wins the presidency in extra innings (and holds off the courts in the bottom half of the inning) journalists and bloggers have to watch out.  One of the items pointed out by the New York Times as something Trump could do by Executive order is prosecute and jail journalists who publish leaked classified information.

Generally, the literature says that right now the government cannot enjoin publication of a leak, it could conceivably prosecute in some cases, probably under the idea of “mens rea”, that the writer is reckless and wants to inflict harm.  Well, harm to whom – the political establishment, or to real people or real troops in the field?

The obvious incidents that come up are, for example, the Pentagon Papers, unveiling the damaging secrets of the Vietnam War (which affected my life), then Wikileaks (centered around Chelsea Manning) and then Edward Snowden.

Trump could conceivably order many more prosecutions, or take other measures like putting people on the TSA No-fly list(which Laura Poitras had to deal with for a while)   .   In fact the Obama administration may have been more aggressive in a few cases than Bush was, and Hillary Clinton could prove more assertive on this issue than we expect.

Generally, mainstream journals take the side of journalists.  But the Huffington Post ran a piece in 2013 by David Schanzer that emphaszes the criminality of many leaks.  He also mentions amateur bloggers, who might feel incentivized to circulate a leak “because they can”.

But the “Law Fare Blog” discussion on freedom of the press and classified information, and an Atlantic article by Conor Friedersdorf, present a picture more favorable to journalists. Both (especially Atlantic) point out that cracking down on journalist won’t prevent a “criminally” inclined DOD (or NSA or CIA) contractor from leaking again.  The Atlantic article, referring to another piece on NPR, refers to the issue of possibly “licensing” journalists (Aug. 23) and having distinct tiers of journalism.  To a minor extent, we already have that – I can’t get “press credentials” easily to go to a White House briefing.  A professional blog posting on Reuters explains a couple of obscure cases where prosecution was pursued.

One aspect of this whole discussion is asymmetry.  In the age of ungated user-generated content, it’s more likely that an “amateur” really will “stumble” on major classified information.  This could particularly be the case with subjects like the location of hazardous waste or weapons components, or with known fugitives or terror suspects.   In the period after 9/11, on a few occasions, apparent “tips” were actually passed to me.  The most recent occurrence like this happened in the summer of 2005.  I did call law enforcement at least three times (and did not reveal what had been sent), and in 2005 I did have a 20-minute phone conversation with an FBI agent in Philadelphia over an email concerning OBL.  The “blessing in disguise” of social media (for security) is that amateurs may actually learn of threats that escape authorities because of more specific knowledge of monikers or clues buried in social media. ”See something, say something” matters.

On the other hand, some “in power” don’t like the idea that “amateurs” can magnify matters that don’t directly concern them (something I have called “gratuitous speech” on my legacy blogs).  This viewpoint could lead to pressures in the legal area to weaken downstream liability protections for providers (like Section 230), or to more occurrences of litigating even over people who provide mere hyperlinks (or embeds) to defamatory material first published by others.

Observers have expressed concern that Trump will try to undermine first amendment protections for speech normally legitimate –  under current standards, criticism (or “the Opinion Rule”) is not libel. But technically it is already illegal to republish material the speaker knows is legally classified, and probably it’s technically illegal even to link to it in a mere tweet.  But changing standards of defamation law may actually be harder to get past a conservative, Scalia-like court than it would be with our current SCOTUS.

Melania Trump spoke today about the “harshness” of Internet communication, especially in a world accessed by kids and teenagers, and she did say she wanted to address cyberbullying as potential first lady. That seems ironic given her husband’s sometimes crude behavior online. But Trump himself has been heard to say, people have become too dependent on the Internet and computers, they aren’t completely safe anymore.  That doesn’t sound good.  But he was critical of the US surrender of control of domain name registration to ICANN, on supposed deference to free speech.  If he gets elected, we’ll have to figure this out fast.


Update: Nov. 5

With Trump close in the polls, I want to reiterate what sounds like a call to do emergency shutdowns of some social media sites (or is it just specific accounts, which already happens), made in a hearing (at 1:10) in November 2015 after the Paris attacks (regardinf ISIS recruiting and maybe steganography, an idea that was circulated a lot after  9/11 and then forgotten). The ARS Technical story by Jon Brodkin refers to Joe Barton, and is called “To stop ISIS, let’s shut down websites and social media.”  I do get the “moral hazard” idea he is clumsily suggesting.

(Posted on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 at 2:15 PM EDT)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Update: Oct. 14

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

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