Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Gay Press, Gay Power": anthology tells the story of gay media, and of coverage of LGBT people in mainstream media


Editor: Tracy Baim, with Foreword by John D’Emilio, many authors.

Title: “Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America

Publication: Chicago: 2012; Prairie Avenue Publications and Windy City Media Gorup, 468 pages, paper, heavily indexed, 39 chapters.

Amazon link is here

I received this anthology as a sample, and found the early chapters, about the way the mainstream media portrayed gay people in the days before Stonewall the most interesting. I recall, on New Years Day, 1976, in New York City, I met my first “trick” at the Ninth Circle, and his main theme was “the abuse of the media”.  I see what he meant. 

Why did people say and believe these things about people who weren’t harming others?  It’s partly because others believed it.  It’s hard to shake bad habits of thought.  But I think that in those old days of McCarthyism and civilian government witchhunts (even before the gay ones of “don’t ask don’t tell”) there was a feeling that engaging in homosexual sex was a defiance of a “responsibility” to reproduce, to have the same “full responsibilities of life” (Baim’s opening essay) as everyone else.  To not do so, at least in McCarthyist thinking, made you the enemy. 

D’Emilio, in his foreword, notes that the “infant gay press” in early, pre-Internet days was vital for the community, that otherwise would be bullied over by main media.

One of the most interesting essays is a history of the Washington Blade by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.  I wasn’t aware that he had worked under a pseudonym when he joined the Blade in the 1970s, to protect another job.  I also wasn’t aware of the street attacks on gay men in the 1990s, when I was living in the DC area again – in the gays when Tracks, one of the greatest gay clubs ever (with its volleyball court) was open, before real estate development ran it over. Chibbaro describes the acquisition of the Blade and other gay papers by Windows Media (with William Waybourn, whom I had known in Dallas in the 1980s), and the bankruptcy of the company and sudden closing of the Blade, it’s re-emergence as “DC Agenda” in 2009, and its reaquisition of its archives and right to use its trademarked name soon.

Paul Schindler’s piece, “Gay City News”, covers the history of the New York Native, the newspaper by Charles Ortleb, founded in 1980, which carried so much detailed information on AIDS. In February 1986 I actually saw the Native’s secure headquarters in SoHo.  I corresponded by mail with Ortleb a little by mail, but he didn’t seem to like to be questioned.  He published a lot of material by Lawrence Mas and John Beldakas, much of it on conspiracy theories ("Exposing Mathilde Krim") and exploring ideas that AIDS could be exacerbated by African Swine Fever Virus, an arbovirus studied at Plum Island on Long Island by the USDA.  However, had AIDS been spread by mosquitoes, that would have fed right wing theories that AIDS, after amplification by gay men, could eventually endanger the general population.  (Randy Shilts had covered these fears in “And the Band Played On”).  I used to say to Beldakas that Ortleb was paranoid, and Beldakas would say he has a right to be paranoid.  
  
The history of the Dallas Voice is covered by David Webb, along with the Dallas Gay Alliance, in the days of Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo, when I was living there.  Actually, Webb doesn’t cover the dangerous legislation that the Texas legislature considered in 1983 which would have reinforced its sodomy law and banned gays, military-style, from many civilian jobs like food handling and teaching.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rohit Bhargava's "Likeonomics": simplicity and passion count a lot more in business than just short term "profits"


Author: Rohit Bhargava

Title: “Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action

Publication: 2012, John Wiley and Sons; ISBN 978-1-118-13753-6, 184 pages, indexed, Three Parts, plus forty pages in roman page numbers with prologue, introduction, and author’s note.

Amazon link is here. 

First, let me get a technical matter off my chest (and I don’t look like Bradley Cooper on “Ellen”).  The book has forty(!)  pages of introductory material with lower case roman numerals for page numbers. That’s annoying.  Better to number them starting with page 1 as part of the real “Book”.  An Introduction is essentially a “Chapter 0”, the part of the movie before the opening credits.  I numbered only in integers myself when I self-published “Do Ask Do Tell” in 1997, but when I converted to Print on Demand with iUniverse in 2000, iUniverse renumbered my Introduction in roman case.  I don’t like that practice.  A book is as long “as it is”. 

I picked up an autographed copy of the “orange” (hint: ING) book at the Potomac Techwire “Social Media Outlook”, near Tyson’s Corner, VA.  (The group had another session today on venture capital, which I did not get to.)   The author spoke at the session about social media trends.

Part I of the book covers the “Modern Believability Crisis”.  That’s right, most of us think that 90% of the advertising we see on the web or in our inboxes is junk, and most of us don’t want to hear from telemarketers.   The author introduces the idea that we like to do business (and support or promote) people or associated companies that we “like”, and that much of what we “like” is based on relatively distant, infrequent personal contacts, sometimes with people in other cities.  We often get jobs through people we know “casually” but “like”.  I can speak to that.  After my own career layoff in 1971 (before 2001, that is) , I quickly got a federal government job through somebody I “knew” through chess clubs.  (I  had won the majority of, but not all of, our chess games.)  I could say that knowing something about the Sicilian Defense or Queen’s Gambit  (or whether the “Marshall” is sound) could help you get an unrelated job.  It might. Chess has a way of modeling life.

He also discounts the usual perceptions of networking.  It’s not just about “elevator speeches” or accumulating a count of “Likes” on Facebook or YouTube as if “likes” were the new fiat currency to follow the Fiscal Cliff.  (The Federal Reserve won’t think so.)

The middle ("Part II") of the book gives the Five Principles of Likeonomics.  I think these are ideas that would come out of Donald Trump’s show “The Apprentice”.  (No, you don’t have to get your legs waxed to “take one for the team.)  But the most successful companies have all followed these ideas, by breaking some of the stereotyped expectations of quick short-tern earnings.  Why did Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon thrive after the dot-com bust in 2001, and why has Facebook done so well since then?  A particularly interesting concept is his notion of unselfishness, which might better be described as “enlightened self-interest”.  I would give Ayn Rand more credit than he does.

Bhargava gives some interesting stories of sudden success.  Early in the book, he explains the viral success of Portuguese songwriter Ana Gomes Ferreira. His afterword  “Story Book”  ("Part III)" includes the small country of Bhutan,   the Green Bay Packers (as a small market pro-football team away from any big city), “slow cooking” chef Anupy Singla, and particularly Salman Khan and his Khan Academy. I personally love Sal’s videos, such as his lively proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.

The author also discusses the success of ING Direct, as an example of his “simplicity” concept.  Actually, ING Direct (“Orange”) was developed from ReliaStar Bank in St. Cloud, MN when ING bought ReliaStar, where I was working in I.T., in 2000.  I think that the “simplicity” idea needs to be better applied in software products and gadgets, where companies overload consumers with rarely used capabilities (and excessive automatic updates) that can interfere with basic functionality.

I want to throw in one more idea.  A lot of major companies really do need to do a much better job of customer service.  As someone who works alone right now, I am very dependent on customer service to keep my infrastructure running.  It isn't as robust and dependable as it needs to be.  


Thursday, December 06, 2012

High school English for me was "grammar and literature"; Common Core standards could gut reading fiction in high school


I remember my first day of school in tenth grade, at Washington-Lee High School, in 1958, fourth period, in English class, in a hot third floor classroom, musty with the aroma of “good books”, and a fairly good-looking ex-football player as a teacher, Mr. Davis.

English class then rotated between “grammar and literature”.  The first major piece of literature we read was Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”.  I wish I could remember the test questions (generally short answer or short essay); we had to know “the eight parts of the theater” including the “proscenium doors”.  I think there were exam questions about the motives (and ironies thereof) in the characters like Antony and Brutus, and I won’t get into that now.  It was hard to study for these tests.  (When subbing, I remember that a student teacher started out by talking about the cobbler.)  Later, as a novel, we would read George Elliot’s (pseudonymous) “Silas Marner” and I do remember that Silas had to get off his high moral horse when the little girl Eppie appeared.  (That was on the test, and Dr. Phil would be pleased today.)  And we would read some short stories, which we had to know “in detail”.

In “junior English” we would get a lot of Hawthorne (“The Scarlet Letter” and “The House  of Seven Gables” and Poe.  The female spinster teacher actually liked horror.  I would write a handwritten term paper on James Fenimore Cooper’s treatment of women, and have to read “The Deerslayer” (I remember the suspenseful early passages about the ark across the forest lake) and “The Last of the Mohicans” (Daniel Day-Lewis not at his best).  In fact, “The Pathfinder” was one of the first films I ever saw.  I also read “The Spy” which I remember being tedious (it wasn’t like 007).  I’d have to take the bus to the District of Columbia public library downtown (where the Convention Center is now) to find everything.   We also read “Tom Sawyer”. In history, we read some literary non-fiction for in-class book reports, including JFK’s “Profiles in Courage”, and the teacher grades us on whether he “learned anything new” from the book report.   I think I read Lloyd C. Douglas’s “The Robe” that year. 

Another English teacher was sponsor of the chess club.  He also taught junior English, and said "I teach appreciation of literature".  His tests looked harder than the ones I had.  

In senior English, we had two fall term papers (one had to be on a Shakespeare play, and I chose Hamlet, and the other could be on anything – I wrote about composer Mahler and his influence on Schoenberg and Berg).  In class, we read both Macbeth and King Lear.  We read Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” in class, and had to read one other Hardy novel (“The Mayor of Casterbridge”).  For book reports, I also remember reading H. G. Wells’s philosophical “Meanwhile” (with its discussions of stoics and epicureans), Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities" and Nevil Shute’s “In the Wet”.  (Authors from the British Commonwealth were OK.)  The teacher (a Mr. :D.E." Gibbs) always said that "English literature is the better literature." 

In French we read Victor Hugo and "Les Miserables" and also read one of the Dumas sequels to "Three Musketeers" (I think it was "The Iron in the Iron Mask").  Some time in high school I also read Thomas B. Costain's "The Moneyman" and loved it.

I can’t find the (Junior) Cooper term paper anywhere (I think it might be in the attic), but I did find notes for a government class (senior) term paper comparing US and USSR science education – twenty months before the Cuban Missile Crisis and only a few months before the Berlin Wall crisis.  

We would read “Huckleberry Finn” in freshman English in college (at GWU in my case), before writing the term paper, the point of the course.  I remember a bizarre passage about an old urban legend that (white) men with hairy arms and chests would get rich (link). Maybe that would make a good Millionaire Question of the Day.

Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" was all too new (but pertinent) when I was in high school, but I wonder what English teachers would have thought of "The Fountainhead" or her other books.  Critics, remember, had been hard on her at first.  

There’s controversy now, as the Common Core State Standards in Englsh would replace a lot of fiction assignments with “information-rich non-fiction”.  I think my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book fits into that category!  The Washington Post has a front page story  (“Common core sparks war over words”) on the matter by Lyndsey Layton on Monday, December 3, 2012, here.  


When I subbed, most students had to read Elie Wiesel’s “Night”  (abridged) and Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies”.  A chum had read that my senior year in high school (it’s English).  Another favorite (especially of mine) is Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird".   Teachers would give daily “reading quizzes”, which could be rather detailed (like "video worksheets" on films), on the assigned chapters.  Making up a reading quiz is a good way for a novelist to check all the loose ends in a novel manuscript.  I got the hang of it.  

I remember another chum in college days who once said (at a summer job), “What we need is to go back to the classics.”  



Sunday, December 02, 2012

Eberstadt (and others): "A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic"


Author: Nicholas Eberstadt, with responses by William A. Galston and Yuval Levin

Title: “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic

Publication: Templeton Press, 2012,  978-1-59947-435-9, 134 pages, paper


This booklet is part of a series called the “New Threats to Freedom” series and it offers an “opposing viewpoints” technique I’ve discussed here before (September 19, 2006). 

The book comprises a long primary essay by Eberstadt, “America’s Growing Dependency on Government Entitlements: The Rise of Entitlement s in Modern America, 1960-2010”, with many detailed illustrative graphs, followed by “Dissenting Points of View” by William A. Galston  (“Have We Become a ‘Nation of Takers’”, and Yural Levin  (“Civil Society and the Entitlement State”), followed by an Epilogue, a “Response to Galston and Levin”.

When I hear the word “taker”, I think of Ayn Rand’s notion of “second-hander” in her novel “The Fountainhead”.  And it is true that America depends on welfare benefits administered by governments (states and federal) much more today than it did generations ago, when families had to take care of their own.  I can remember being annoyed in convenience stores when people in front take so much time using food stamps.  That sounds hard-hearted, but could only be answered if more people were willing to support others directly, in and outside the family, and not just their own children.

I do have to agree with Galston and disagree with Eberstadt to the extinct that he considers practically all benefit programs “entitlements”.  Eberstadt views Social Security retirement as a Ponzi scheme, predicated on future sacrifices of the unborn (even unconceived). 

Most social security retirement beneficiaries receive a benefit actuarially related to what they (and their employers or spouses) contributed over the years with the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) Tax, which began in the 1930s.  It is true that the first beneficiaries had contributed no premiums, so logically the government is always paying benefits of current retirees from current taxes in informal return to pay the worker an actuarially fair annuity benefit upon that worker’s retirement in the future.  It is acceptable to delay retirement age or reduce benefits as the lifespans increase. 

There is controversy over whether FICA is really a “tax”, because the Supreme Court has actually ruled (in Fleming v. Nestor (1960)) that no one has an “accrued property right” based on FICA or self-employment taxes.  In practice, for most people, the collection has been tied to a future benefit, an observation which may negate some of its regressivity and may counter the idea that it is a welfare “entitlement” that should be means tested.

The practical problem is that, not only are life spans increasing, but workers are having fewer children, so the number of people from whom a tax must be collected to pay a certain level of benefits decreases.  This has sometimes been called the “demographic winter” problem.   Galston points out that a well-constructed retirement “annuity” would not itself provide “moral hazard” problems that discourage work and self-reliance, but demographic changes, as well as gender-related issues, might.  In his reply, Eberstadt points out that the use of means-tested entitlements by people with reasonable incomes has increased over the decades.

The Mike Huckabee Show interviews Eberstadt:
This little book is critical for the Fiscal Cliff debate. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Timothy Kurek: "The Cross in the Closet": "Gay like me?"


Author: Timothy Kurek

Title: “The Cross in the Closet: One man’s abominable quest to find Jesus in the margins

Publication: Blue Head Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9835677-4-5, 331 pages, paper, 4 parts, 35 chapters

Amazon link is here

Readers may know the 1961 book (and  1964 film) “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin, in which the protagonist used certain medications and an ultraviolet lamp to look black for a social experiment. Former Naval Academy midshipman had mentioned this book in his own “Honor Bound” in 1992 (Oct. 10, 2007 on this blog).  I’ve just added the film to my Netflix queue. Will Kurek’s book become a film, too?

Kurek, raised in a fundamentalist church in Tennessee, decided to conduct his experiment after a lesbian friend was thrown out of her family.  For a whole calendar year, he went undercover and lived as an “open” gay young man.  Of course, he didn’t have to change his body (although he did try a little light drag once).
    
He got to know the bar scene around a place in Nashville called “The Tribe” (an ironic name). He traveled to New York to join a protest against the Vatican for refusing to support a UN measure to stop anti-gay legislation in the “third world” (that is, in countries like Uganda).  He worked for a gay coffee house, which closed late in his year and he really feared its change to “family” ownership.  He even traveled to Topeka, Kansas, to try to “interview” staff at the Westboro Baptist Church, which he depicts as having bragged about its hatred. Kurek also notes how churches and conservative groups raise money and lobby to take away gay people's rights.  He admits that one time as a teen working in a fast-food restaurant he pressured a gay manager who accidentally brushed against him at work. Those kinds of accusations are all too easy. 
    
He also discovered a layer to love that he didn’t know existed, as he built friendships with some of the men in the community. I found particularly interesting his account of the gay softball league.  In 1984, I played in one such league in Dallas, where a team could forfeit a game if it had “too many straights”.  I remember the Smith brothers, the quiet younger gay one being an accomplished tennis player, and the older extroverted straight one showing up at the Dallas TMC bar and saying one time “Hairy chests are for sissies”.    I wasn’t good enough to play on the team regularly (I couldn’t compete with “Thunderbuns”), although I remember an opposite field single (hard to do in slow pitch) in a 13-9 win for JR’s, and a real opposite field home run (over the wall) in a practice game.  And I remember an 18-inning women’s game that ended 4-3.  Good slow pitch can be very difficult to hit.  I also remember a bar softball league in NYC in 1978 where I played for Boots ‘n’ Saddle (on Pride Day)  and got a bases-loaded single to keep a rally alive in a 13-4 win in a field on Leroy Street.  The fence was so close that clearing it was only a double.  (For those who remember, 1978 in NYC was the Year of Bucky Dent.)

Since the 1990s, the thrust in the “gay rights movement” has focused on equality: in opportunity, benefits, responsibility, and sharing risk.  But back in the 1950s, when the Mattachine formed, it was all about simply being left alone.  Visitors to my blogs know my own story (from my “Do Ask Do Tell” first book in 1997) about my “expulsion” from William and Mary for telling the Dean of Men (under pressure) that I was gay.
Why did these things happen?  It has seemed like a brutal twist that it was more offensive or traumatic to the community to say that you were gay (or be “found out”) and presumably disinterested in having children at all, than to get a girl pregnant by “mistake”.  Moral standards seemed to have contradictions, or what I call “wind shifts” like those that accompany  cold fronts.  Sometimes the spun in circular reasoning like tornadoes.

Of course, the book attributes most of this to “fundamentalist religion”.  It is certainly true that people turn to “authorized” interpretations of “scripture” when they can’ resolve seeming moral contradictions by science and intellect alone. This leads to authoritarian social structures (often abused) and intellectual childishness.  But it’s important to look even beyond “teachings of the Church” to see what could drive them.

One good starting point for grasping this is to look at the Biblical idea of not placing too much stock on your own material situation on Earth.  In short, bad things happen to good people. Families and many communities need to maintain a lot of social cohesion or “social capital”, just to survive and have a future.  In such a culture, any challenge to the importance of having children and proving the optimum environment for them (mother and dad, married) is not tolerated.  Given sustainability problems today, these ideas could return.  There was also the myth that homosexuality undermines the ability of men to fight collectively to protect women and children in a community, an idea that some people tried to leverage in the 90s with the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military, although sometimes it sounded like “do ask, if necessary”.   One of Kurek’s anecdotes involves a Marine tossed out under DADT.  In the 1980s, when AIDS surfaced, the religious right tried to add hyrdrocarbons to homophobia by raise the idea of an indirect threat to general public health (the “amplification and chain letter” argument, which fizzled out with time. )

There is, also, the “windshift”.  Once people say that scripture says that a person has a particular life issue because of “sin”, other people are confronted with the “love the sinner” paradox.  It’s a lot easier to hate the sinner to get out of this discomfort.  There’s another paradox that older homosexuals remember, at least those who were not physically competitive like me (and that was more of an issue in the 1950s than it is today).  I was told I was unfit, but suddenly people changed windage and wanted to see me married and making babies to carry on the family anyway (I’m an only child).

In the long run, this has been an issue where “reproduction rules” until people get smart about the rules of engagement, which often invoke the idea, "If I have to play by these rules, so do you."  It’s a sort of psychological communism.


Wikipedia attribution link for picture of downtown Nashville.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alternative book formats for the disabled raise copyright issues; Amazon as a publisher


Carolina Rossini has an article at the Electronic Frontier Foundation regarding the proposal to change an international treaty regarding copyrights to give the blind, visually impaired or with print disabilities more rights in accessing other versions of conventionally published books. 

The debate goes on at at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Alan Adler speaks for the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which is resistant to the idea of corporate publishers giving up any ownership rights in a manner that sets a precedent for situations for which publishers already have well established practices.

The link for the EFF story is here.

The story is provocative for me for another reason.  In 1997, when I self-published my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book with 350 copies from a book manufacturer in Gaithersburg, MD, I remember the issue of controlling costs.  There was no way I could have presented my book in a variety of other formats, such as large print, braille, or audio tape, had that been expected.   

With print on demand, such possibilities may emerge as practical capabilities of print-on-demand companies, which, so far, have many been interested in e-book alternatives, particularly for the Amazon Kindle.  In fact, some small, mainly self-published, books have been available by Kindle only.

On that issue, I still like to have a hard-copy of a book if possible.  I like to have something I can use even if the power is out or there is no Internet connection (although you don’t need one once you download the book) – even on a camping trip, even in the Third World some day.  Yet Amazon says that sale of Kindle are booming in comparison to hard-copy.  I see Kindles on the Metro (that is, either in Washington DC or the NYC Transit System) all the time, and on the Amtrak train and plane. (Yes, I’ve been to the Big Apple a lot in the past year.)  Amazon has created a flap by becoming a “publisher” itself, as in this Wall Street journal story Oct. 17 by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, link here

Barnes and Noble was unwilling to stock Amazon titles in its stores – not even right next to my favorite Landmark Theater.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

National Academy of Sciences releases booklet on the risk of "smaller" terrorist attacks on the power grid


The National Academy of Sciences (National Research Council) has released a new report, “Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System”, when can be downloaded for free as a “guest” at tha NAS site.  A purchase of a hardcopy for $49 is requested.  The ISNB is “0-309-11404-7”. The book runs 165 pages.

The report, which includes work back to 2007, stresses that terrorists could cause extreme, long-lasting disruptions in the power grid with conventional attacks on substations possibly from rockets fired from publicly accessible areas near the properties.  All power stations are on secured, heavily guarded private property.  Some have visitor’s centers (for example, Dominion Power’s visitor center for a nuclear station NW of Richmond is quite informative), and some are near highly traveled interstates with nearby parking areas.

Previous reports on vulnerability of power grids have focused on the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack from high altitude, only mentioned here in the appendix.  There has also been attention to the possibility of widespread damage from coronal mass ejections from solar geomagnetic storms, which has generally considered much more likely. Newt Gingrich, in particular, called attention to these vulnerabilities with an op-ed after last summer’s derecho.  However, this report shows that much smaller attacks could cause huge disruptions.  Conventional attacks could not affect home electronics and cars, but localized microwave-based EMP effects (as in the movie “Oceans 11”) are conceivable.
 According to the new report, one of the biggest problems would come from replacing specialized large transformers that step up and down electricity. Most are imported from overseas and are so large that they are difficult to transport quickly. 

There was an exercise in March 2012 transporting a specially designed transformer from St. Louis to Houston after a mock hurricane.

Deregulation of the power industry into components that generate and then distribute power has led to security vulnerabilities, the report says.

The report also suggests decentralizing some critical power infrastructure and loosening technical interdependencies within the grid, and putting more infrastructure underground, which the NAS believes could be done more efficiently than has been the case in the past.

It appears that the online version of the report may be enhanced once there has been a security classification review. 

See a review of an earlier NAS report on solar storms here Aug. 9. 
  
The New York Times discusses the report in an article by Matthew L. Wald on p. A23 of Wednesday, November 15, 2012 paper. I’ll cover this more soon on the Issues blog. 



Monday, November 05, 2012

O.S. Guinness: book on "sustainable freedom"


Author: O.S. Guinness

Title: “A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future

Publication: 2012, IVP Books, ISBN 978-8308-3465-5, 224 pages, indexed, 7 Chapters

“Sustainability” has not always been a moral buzzword.  The early Christians expected the “end” to come soon.  In most of the twentieth century (and previous centuries) the welfare of a country and all its constituent social groupings had a lot to do with surviving external threats from enemies and with throwing off political tyranny and authoritarianism, migrating toward liberal democracy with increasing recognition of diversity and individual rights.

In recent years, we have indeed started to question how we can sustain our western lifestyles, not just against competitive enemies (like radical Islam) but from climate change and “demographic winter”.
Guinness generally keeps his reasoning high-level and abstract, as if he were proving a sequence of theorems about political or social science.  He starts out by focusing on “the American experiment” (not to confuse this term with the name of a conservative group in Minneapolis), comparing America to other great empires, and the American revolution to other traumatic changes in history. 

He comes up with a nice idea of a “triangle” of sustainability:   Freedom requires virtue, which in turn requires faith, which in turn requires freedom, closing the triangle.  The problem is that virtue cannot be derived purely by intellect alone, because some moral issues – especially those having to do with the relationship of the “special” individual to the group – tend to lead us into contradictions.  For example, it seems good to like or prefer people who seem “virtuous” (or who “look” virtuous), but then we are putting down the less fortunate.  (Perhaps that means, if I was lifted up, I owe it to “society” (or God) to lift someone else up.)  We tend to resolve these moral conundrums by looking for  absolute moral teachings in scripture (for example, the way the Vatican interprets scripture as “the Teachings of the Church”).   The scriptures play umpire, defining the size of the pitcher’s strike zone.  But no  one can really experience faith until he or she is free to do so without external pressure from the external, paternalistic state.  And that brings us into some paradox concerning what “freedom” at the individual level must mean if it is to remain sustainable.

Guinness defines a concept called “negative freedom”, that is, the insistence on being left alone (mentioned in a couple of famous Supreme Court opinions).  We need to let ourselves be bothered with other people’s needs because our own output in life means nothing except in its ability to meet the real needs of other people (although “real life” can become quite broadly construed, despite my own late mother’s ideas about this.) Guinness decries the weakening not only of marriage but of most social structures.  He says that real freedom is the province only of those who “belong” to others and to purposes larger than themselves.

I always have a problem with the idea of belonging to someone else’s purpose, because you could wind up playing on the wrong team.  Who wants to “belong” to a crime family, however pious? Individualism is indeed a good check on corrupt leadership.  People who are “different” but talented find themselves in a precarious position in these kinds of revolutionary debates; the asymmetry of their efforts can topple things over back toward exclusion of others who are even less talented and maybe to certain kinds of authoritarianism (even fascism).  In an individualistic culture, people are supposed to take care of themselves and “mind their own business”;  but it is still necessary to learn how to be attentive to others and take care of others, at least in a family setting, and this responsibility is inherent and occurs long before any decision to have children.  Indeed, the whole meaning of marriage becomes something that ratifies one’s ability to channel his deepest sense of satisfaction and purpose toward real needs around; but marriage doesn’t cause it.  It becomes a chicken and egg problem, or another endless loop, a moral spin or low pressure system.

Guinness never mentions homosexuality or gay political issues, but he does criticize the notion that sexuality is (or has become in western society) a private, self-serving experience rather than part of the process of socialization.  He seems to think that deference to scriptural notions of right and wrong are necessary to get around apparent surface contradictions.  He sees libertarianism as "selfish", but that's also how he sees the self-serving behavior of much of American business.  Freedom, he thinks, more about doing the right things out of "habits of the heart", for the good of everyone (including other generations), in concentric rings around immediate family.

The book implies that the willingness of people who are "different" (me) to become other-centric, and not too invested in their own chosen purposes, can become critical for the sustainability of a whole free society.  

Amazon link is here




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bob Woodward: "The Price of Politics" and partisanship


Author: Bob Woodward

Title: “The Price of Politics

Publication: 2012, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-1-4516-5110-2, 428 pages, hardcover, 40 chapters, indexed.

Maybe it takes long memories now to recall the bitter debt ceiling debate during the summer of 2011. During that time, it appeared, at least to the casual blogger, that “Tea Party” Republican congressmen and (to a lesser extent) Senators were willing to torch the entire American economy to prove an ideological point: that taxes on profitable businesses or individuals not be raised to pay for the needs of others.  This was a job for “families.” For his part, President Obama may have added some additional fuel to the fire by some intransigent veto threats, because he rightfully didn’t want to face a debt ceiling crisis every six months.

Woodward does indeed, around p. 327, describe the potential for financial apocalypse were default to occur and not be remedied quickly.  I had covered this on my “Issues” blog in July 2011.  In the worst scenario, cash itself could have become worthless and ordinary savings could be wiped out, according to some sources in the book.  Maybe that what extremists want, a righteous (or right wing) revolution.

There was a lot of hype that summer on “entitlements”, and sometimes speakers forgot that Social Security benefits are related, substantially but not absolutely, to FICA tax contributions by former workers and their spouses.  They are essentially annuities that have been earned.  Were current beneficiaries really to be stiffed?  Yet, Woodward mentions the possibility of means testing at least for some high income (or high net worth?) persons already on some means testing (I wasn’t sure that happens now, I’ll have to check). 

The style of the book is a bit perfunctory, with lots of short paragraphs and detailed narratives of all the meetings and exchanges of the debate, including the famous Friday afternoon breakdown between Boehner and Obama.

In the last chapter, Woodward presents his views on the leadership failures of both Boehner and Obama. 
Call this book, “The Price of Partisan Politics”. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

National Archives Foundation has glossy book on Cuban Missile Crisis


Authors: Stacey Bredhoff, with message by David S. Ferriero  (Archivist of the United States)

Title:To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis

Publication: 2012, The Foundation for the National Archives, Washington DC, ISBN 978-0-9841033-9-6, 90 pages, full sized, gloss, paperback, very heavily illustrated, sold at the Gift Shop at the Archives in Washington DC for $19.95.

The book contains illustrations based on the exhibits at the Archives, where no photography is permitted.  All the major intelligence memos, conversation transcripts, and CIA assessments are included.  There are multiple photographs of the sites in Cuba and even of a model fallout shelter.

The Administration had been concerned about possible Soviet activity in Cuba ever since Kennedy took office and the Bay of Pigs failed.  It had called up Army reservists in September 1962 for a year of active duty.  It’s a little surprising that it took until Oct. 16 for the first official evidence of Soviet missiles to reach the president.  Mrs. Kennedy was in Middleburg, VA on Oct. 16 and rejoined JFK on that day, six days before the crisis was made public by Kennedy’s famous speech Monday evening Oct. 22.

The booklet also contains photographs of CIA assessments of the personalities of Castro and of Khrushchev.  The CIA was particularly concerned about Castro’s egotism, narcissism and even the nihilism known in today’s terrorists.  That personality pathology certainly contributed to the bellicose nature of Castro’s behavior.  Castro had assumed that the US would invade Cuba immediately, but was willing to see Cuba sacrificed to see capitalism obliterated in nuclear war.  Castro seemed to want the end to come out of spite.  Khrushchev had badly miscalculated that the US could tolerate the presence of missiles in Cuba, since the Soviets had “tolerated” the outdated missiles in Turkey.

The booklet has a picture of the DEFCON-3 elevation telegram on Oct. 23. 

Here is a CSPAN video on the tapes that Kennedy made of the conversations.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, California energy company have paper on the danger of solar geomagnetic storms


Oak Ridge National Laboratory has an important PDF booklet (198 pages), “Geomagnetic Storms and Their Impact on the U.S. Power Grid”, by John Kappenman, with (free) PDF link here

Although the booklet is on the ORNL website, the author comes from Metatech corporation in Goletaa. CA (near Santa Barbara, ironically mentioned in another book review recently on  Sept. 19).  The link for that company is here

The booklet is even more detailed than a similar paper by the National Academy of Sciences reviewed here Aug. 9, 2012. It comprises four major chapters:  (1) Overview (2) Details of the 1989 geomagnetic storm that caused major power failures centered in Quebec (3) Assessment of threat from extreme geomagnetic storms, and (4) specific assessments of predicted damage to large transformers

There are a couple of buzzwords:  “GIC” means geomagnetically induced current, “MVAR” is a mega unit of reactive power, and “EHV” (Extra high voltage) transformers.  Previously we've discussed "coronal mass ejections" from solar storms (popularly called "solar flares", a bit of a simplification).
    
Here’s the “bottom line” (it sounds like an oncologist’s prognosis):  On P. 110 (Page 1 of Section 4), the paper states that a severe geomagnetic event could knock out 70% of the nation’s power grid (an event many times the size of the August, 2003 outage in the northeast), and that some sections of the country could face several months without power.  The risk is pervasive throughout different latitudes, but the nature of risk becomes more diffuse (related to “ring effects”) at more southerly latitudes.  One significant problem is the logistical difficulty in re-manufacturing and transporting EHV transformers, which are huge and cannot be fit onto normal highways.  This was a bit of a problem in some parts of the mid-Atlantic in 2003 after Hurricane Isabel.  Homeland Security has a paper on the EHV issue here

There were some outages in the US from the 1989 incident, and they would have been severe from a similar event in 1921.  The most severe known geomagnetic event in history was the “Carrington” storm in 1859, before the nation had a power grid.

On P. 120, the paper compares its findings with those of the NAS.

As with NAS, ORNL regards a major geomagnetic storm a much more likely scenario than a high altitude EMP blast launched by a terrorist, and perhaps less catastrophic, but still extremely damaging to the US (or to any region of the world affected) economically.  Automobiles and personal electronics would probably not be affected by a geomagnetic storm.

Geomagnetic storms have occurred during the lowest phase of the sunspot cycle.  The paper somewhat disagree with opinions from other authorities (like NASA) that the danger is necessarily greatest as sunspot activity increases in 2012 and 2013.


Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Knoxville, TN, near Oak Ridge.  I last visited the area in October 1991, and previously in June 1988.  

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

"No Easy Day" is an exciting read, of the raid that took out Bin Laden


Author: Mark Owen aka Matt Bissonnette, former US Navy Seal, with Kevin Mauer

Title: “No Easy Day: The Autobiography of a Navy Seal

Subtitle: “The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden

Publication: Dutton, 2012; ISBN 978-0—525-95372-2, 316 pages, hardcover, Nineteen chapters with Prologue and Epilogue

Amazon link

Coordinated post: “60 Minutes” interview of author, covered on TV blog, Sept. 10, 2012. That interview had identified the pseudonymous author as part of “Seal Team 6” and second “in the bedroom”.
This is the second consecutive book I’ve reviewed where there was some kind of “conflict of interest” or putative confidentiality violation over its publication. This time, the government claims that the author should have submitted the book through official channels for clearance of possible disclosure of classified information. Owen denies that any such disclosure is possible,  It’s not clear that the government has a legal case against him or will pursue one as of now. 

I’ve had my own experience with book publishing and “conflict of interest”, which I detail on my “BillBoushka” blog Sept. 27, 2010, and on my “GLBT Issues Blog” October 8, 2012.

The author gives quite a bit of detail on training and on how the expedition was carried out.  While it is fairly high-level, it may well be the case that it has disclosed some important aspects of covert operations. 
At the same time, I have to say it is an exciting read.

One of Owen’s important points is that apparently Osama bin Laden did not try to defend himself at the end, and Owen sees that as a contradiction of what he expect to find as part of the enemy’s own idea of “honor”.  In this area, Owen’s detailed account of the raid differs somewhat from other published accounts.

His earlier accounts of training, including that with DEVGRU (United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group)  is interesting, in its intensity and in the fact that single men and those with families were treated exactly the same.  Unit cohesion and teamwork are paramount, but the physical demands are so great that attention is never diverted.  Owen never mentions the controversy over gays or “don’t ask don’t tell”; and the environment is so demanding that it is hard to imagine that it would come up.  It sounds unlikely, though, that the environment is in any way “homophobic”.

The way he found out about the mission is somewhat happenstantial –  he was a day late getting to a training orientation in North Carolina, driving alone through 200 miles of coastal plain pine forest to ponder what was up.

He does discuss the presence of the female CIA analyst, whom he calls Jen (or perhaps “Jenny”, as in “The Swiss Family Robinson”), and her confidence that she had identified bin Laden’s “panic room” was absolute.  The book, however, gives little idea as to how the CIA really works to gather such information, or what a civilian analyst’s job is really like.

I may be going on a limb to say this, but I do have a friend in that agency, and he sent an email about wanting to go out and “club” before an especially heavy weekend, as that weekend started.  When I heard Sunday night that president Obama would come on national TV, I “connected the dots” and thought that Qadaffi  had  suddenly fallen in Libya, because NATO had suddenly attacked the day before (a convenient coincidence and diversion of world attention).   But even a happening like this shows how innocuous remarks in emails or social media could possibly compromise a major mission, because ordinary people (including bloggers) can try to make inferences, and sometimes they’ll be right. It’s amazing how much information people without clearances find out or can infer. 


In his afterword, the author encourages people to work for causes greater than themselves, and particularly to support veterans.  It’s hard to work for “causes” without replacing your own goals with those of other people, however. 

NBC News has a story reporting on the secret CIA training site for the raid, here

Monday, October 01, 2012

Bryan Craig's booklet "It's Her Fault": It got him fired from a school system, and he is suing; he does say something valuable


Author: Bryan Craig

Title: “It’s Her Fault

Publication: Author House, ISBN 978-1-4772-5459-2, 8 chapters with Foreword and Afterword: 45 pages, paper.

Amazon link:  

This little booklet has attracted controversy because its author (he says “written by” on the cover) was fired  (after first being suspended) from his job as a guidance counselor and girls’ basketball coach at Rich Central High School in Olympia Fields, IL. (near Chicago), after this self-published book appeared.  The “writer” is suing the school district for $1 for wrongful termination, apparently based on his free speech rights as a public employee.  There is a long history of litigation over where public speech rights of teachers or school employees end – when it could interfere with instruction in the classroom or discipline in the school.  The Huffington Post has a story about the matter (witn embedded interview of the author on CNN) here.

Most teacher firings in recent years have occurred over social media, rather than published books.  But self-published books may seem to test the waters – as they don’t go through as much oversight.  Is there a conflict of interest issue?  I had to deal with that myself when I self-pubbed my own “Do Ask Do Tell” book in 1997 because I was working for a company that specialized in selling life insurance to military officers. (I'll be covering a principled controversy about a book by an ex Navy Seal here soon.)  I can well imagine that some of his explicit comments about physical matters (below) could create the impression among students that he could be prejudiced against some of them -- leading to a legal variation of the "hostile workplace" problem, this time in a pubic school system.

The booklet, however brief, was valuable to me.  Craig, who says he is married, starts out by describing courtship and subsequent marriage as a mental con game in which the man knows that the woman is “superior” in terms of potential brain power and stability (that was George Gilder’s argument in “Men and Marriage” back in the 1980s – see April 12, 2006), but needs to fool his own brain into believing that he has the upper hand in power games. In a 1993 book, Warren Farrell had made similar points, from a socially liberal perspective, in his "The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex" (Simon and Schuster).  "Disposable" essentially means "fungible". 

All of this might not be so controversial (conservatives go along with most of it), but then Craig gets quite explicit about some intimate matters, especially those primary sexual characteristics of women that (he says) makes women more “satisfying” to the egos of men.  He gets quite explicit as to race.  Now some stuff like this (more about the “secondary characteristics”) I used to hear young men talk about in college dorms and Army barracks during my own coming of age, so it is nothing new.  But the level to which he takes this heterosexual fetishism is new to me.

As a gay man, I don’t experience what he describes, but I experience something comparable, with respect to “the secondaries”, about other men (as was an issue with my "therapy" at NIH in 1962).  Maybe that helps support the idea that sexual orientation is immutable.  Psychologists (and conservative writers like George Gilder) call this process “upward affiliation”, and cast it in a negative light.  The implication is that a man will not be able to love anyone (or at least remain in love for a lifetime of marriage) who does not feed his ego by being “good enough”.  Ever heard the phrase, “He can do better than that?”  Craig at one point uses the phrase, “You do the math.”  There’s still deeper point, too: should our ability to experience compassion and participate in reinforcing the social capital of others depend on our “having what we want” in our own relationships first?  I have the impression that the healthiest marriages were not predicated on prerequisites of ego satisfaction (I don't think this was true of my parents, married for 45 years).  

Craig (whose picture shows him to be African-American), by the way, is quite explicit that men ought to play the field before marriage.  (Our acronym in Army barracks was “SIBM”.) The old religious idea of reserving sexuality for marriage with one person can’t possibly work, in his view.

Here’s YouTube video by “Interactive Healing” in which the speaker discusses the authors’ “objectification of women and girls”.  But should psychological traits revealed in published writings disqualify one from working in a public school system?


For my own experience with this issue, see my “BillBoushka” blog, entry on  July 27, 2007.

The booklet is inexpensive to download to Kindle, but a but pricey for its length in hardcopy (it's done by print-on-demand).  

Last picture: from a Hooters (restroom sign) in Waco, TX. 
                

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Aaron Belkin and the Palm Center: "How We Won": Kindle Book traces the history of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and its ultimate repeal


Author: Aaron Belkin

Title: "How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’"

Publication: Kindle, from The Huffington Post Media Group, ASIN: B0005NDLMVK, 108 pages, ten chapters

Amazon link

I was able to find this book only on Kindle; no hardcopy seems available.  I don’t know whether it would work on the Barnes and Noble Nook device.  So I finally bought a Kindle, which up to now I had not needed.  I find it a little distracting that the Kindle needs its own wireless access; why not just download everything on the laptop and migrate using the USB port?  Amazon lists the book as 108 pages, but they seem to be two columns per page;  one page on the Kindle is really one column only, so the real length was 216.

The book is timely, as on Sept. 20, 2012, “we” will mark the first anniversary of the full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Dr. Belkin is a professor of political science at San Francisco State University, and previous was an associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and previously, the City University of New York.

In the 1990s, Belkin headed the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSM),  which became the Palm Center a years ago, always hosted at the Santa Barbara campus (link).  

In February 2002, shortly after my own “forced retirement” from my final “legacy employer”, I  met Dr. Belkin at his office during a trip to California.  I had sent him my own “Do Ask Do Tell: a Gay Conservative Lashes Back” book, and in his office, effectively the CSSM office at the time, he housed a large physical library of books on matters pertaining to the military gay ban and the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. 

Dr. Belkin did tell me how difficult it was to get major media outlets to take the DADT issue seriously, now that it was overwhelmed by the more obvious issues associated with 9/11.  I do remember my conversation with him.

Let me say at the outset, I am impressed with the amount of historical detail – of  the military ban since 1993 -- in this relatively short work.  It is a good complement to Randy Shilts’s “Conduct Unbecoming” which stops in 1993.  (But it needs to be available in print.) . It’s important to note here that Palm Center has helped published two other books in the interim: one is Dr. Belkin’s own "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Debating the Gay Ban in the Military" (2003, Lynne Rienner), and Nathaniel Frank, “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” (2009, St. Martins), reviewed on this blog March 11, 2009).

Of course, Belkin’s position will be that his own effort (and that of people he hired and contacted) was crucial to the repeal.  The book suggests that it would be very difficult for a future hostile (GOP?) president and Congress to undo the repeal and reimplement the military ban (maybe the “Old Ban” of 1981 with “asking”).  However, in recent press stories, Dr. Belkin has indeed expressed this concern (see my GLBT issues blog, Sept. 9, 2012.

Belkin starts his book by laying out what he sees as the right arguments to attack. While progressive activists concern themselves with fairness and equality, the productive argument is to show that the practice of banning gays does not contribute to military effectiveness; it may be counterproductive or even dangerous.  Abstract ideas about morality are not the issue.

Belkin does, however, quickly get on to the most conspicuous early arguments made back in 1993, that allowing gays to serve (at least “open” gays) violated “privacy” in the barracks where a degree of forced “homosocial” intimacy must occur.  Over time, this argument has gotten overlaid with a more nebulous notion of “unit cohesion”, as was explained in the 2011 HBO Film “The Strange History of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’”, movies blog, Oct. 13, 2011). Belkin sees this argument as morphing into a more generalized moral disapproval of homosexuality (or of homosexuals as people).  Indeed, as he points to writings by Elaine Donnelly  (of the “Center for Military Readiness”) which “warn” that acceptance of gays in the US military would tend to promote of homosexuality in civilian society at large.  (Belkin mentions Republican Senator Alan Simpson as once saying that gays [relative to procreation] weren't part of the "human family" but then changing his attitude and agreeing that the ban should be lifted.) That corresponds to my own theory (as in my own 1997 book) that the military, because it has had the ability to conscript men in the past (as with me, during the Vietnam era) has a lot of influence on the moral culture of a society as whole, particularly in nebulous ideas about duty and obligation (outside of normal parameters of choice and personal responsibility) and how these ideas about social (familial, tribal, communal, religious) cohesion (as an expansion of “unit cohesion”) affect those individuals who grow up being “different”.

Belkin, for example, points out that the whole “stop-loss” policy, practically a backdoor draft (and the “Individual Ready Reserve” clause signed at enlistment)  might have been unnecessary during the “second Iraq War” (and post 9/11 war in Afghanistan) had all the gay discharges not occurred.  He also discusses the security threat in the loss of linguists, which could have been a contributing factor in failing to stop 9/11 (although Jesse Ventura has other ideas on this matter!)  I reviewed Paramount’s film “Stop-Loss” on my movies blog March 29, 2008.

A major part of Belkin’s narrative concerns the effort of his group to get articles written in major media sources by major columnists and also by others with obvious expertise and stakes, like retired military.  He says this was difficult, and he provides interesting observations on how the Associated Press, in particular, works.  (I’ve covered AP issues on my main blog in conjunction with copyright controversies on the Internet.)  He had to “watch his step”, since more military officers seemed to favor the ban at first, although gradually changed their views.  After Barack Obama became president in 2009, Belkin got into disagreements with SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) over whether there was the political will in Congress to support direct repeal.  Belkin supported a plan that Obama issue an Executive Order to stop enforcement.  Even the White House expressed misgivings about the legal or constitutional logic of Belkin’s suggestion.  Belkin also disagreed with Log Cabin Republicans over the wisdom of litigation, but in the end, LCR turned out to be right, as the lower court’s decision effectively nullifying the law put pressure on Congress to agree to a staged repeal.

The later part of 2010 saw initial disappointment with the likelihood of repeal., until activists (with the help of Senator Joe Lieberman, whose view on lifting the ban had become much more supportive over the recent years since 9/11 and the linguists’ fiasco) came up with the idea of a stand-alone repeal bill, during the lame duck session in December.

I personally attended the mid-day rally at the Capitol side (near Union Station) on December 10, about when the bill was introduced.  As I got off the Metro to go, right to the rally event, I got a call from a caregiver at home (in suburb an Arlington VA) that my own mother had suddenly gotten much worse and would not survive more than a few hours.  I stayed for the rally (hearing Michele Benecke, who had headed up SLDN, speaking almost immediately), and after I got home Hospice was taking her to the Hospice facility for her final four days.  She lived  just long enough for a lifelong project of mine to come to fruition., and then, at age 97, let go.

We all know of what would follow, the surveys and the “certification process” that would finally end in formal repeal September 20.  And, I have to admit, I am concerned about what could happen if social conservatism takes control of the White House and Congress, and then blames or scapegoats the nation’s economic ills on the visibility and personal values of those who are different.

There’s another interesting embedded story in the book about the late Northwestern University sociology professor Charles Moskos, who had, along with Sam Nunn, raised the “privacy” issue in the barracks back in 1993.  He says that, during most of his activity in the past decade, Moskos cast doubt on repeal.  Yet, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Moskos argued for restoration of the military draft (to include women), as had some others, such as Sen. Levin of Michigan.  I got into an email conversation with Moskos then (I was living in Minneapolis at the time), who wrote to me “Gays should get behind conscription.  Then the ban would be lifted.”

In fact, SLDN told me, sometime later, by email, that it was looking into the ramifications of the possible restoration of the military draft.  As I noted above, it has always seemed to me that a combination of conscription and a ban together provides an excuse for making gays second-class citizens in civilian life (and for denying security clearances), which was the world in which I had grown up.  But, of course, when we had a draft, the military was actually more concerned that people would use it to get out of military service, and it tended to look the other way during the Vietnam era on concerns over gay soldiers.  (The Navy even at first tried to resist discharging Keith Meinhold when he outed himself, but did so under political and public pressure.) 

Moskos had, in fact, at one time paid attention to the issue of gay students in college dorms, and argued that they should be segregated.  It was roommate issues that catalyzed my own expulsion from William and Mary in 1961.

Belkin also notes the Veterans Administration made a goof in 1996 by calling homosexuality a mental illness in trying to deny some veterans benefits.

I found this debate (85 minutes) from early 2012 of a debate between Aaron Belkin and Elaine Donnelly on DADT at Maxwell Air Force Base on YouTube.


I haven’t watched it yet – time considerations.  Note that the debate takes place in Alabama. 

Here's the link to a Wikipedia picture of UCSB.

Monday, September 17, 2012

"It's Simple": Collection of essays by Dean Hannotte, for the Paul Rosenfels Community


Author: Dean Hannotte, with Introduction by Rachel Bartlett

Title: “It’s Simple: Ordinary Common-sense Explanations for Everything You Haven’t Figured Out Yet

Publication:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing. ISBN-13 978-1477670767, paper, 144 pages, indexed,  four parts.

Amazon link

Dean Hannotte and Rachel Bartlett run the online presence for the Paul Rosenfels Community, which followed (or descended from) the Ninth Street Center that Dean and Paul Rosenfels formed in 1973 in the East Village in NYC. The “Community” link   (“Social progress through personal growth) is here

There is a review here on April 12, 2006 of Paul Rosenfels’s core “dissertation”, “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process (1972), to which Dean appended a strong introduction to a 1986 reprinting by the Ninth Street Center.

This book comprises about thirty-two (by my count) short essays about everyday “perceptions” and the pieces come across as a bit like blog posts.  They would correspond more to Chopin’s etudes than his preludes.  The first “part” asks “What is life? What am I doing here?”; the second goes on to psychology, the third to what matters in life, and the last, to where we are going.  The very first chapter asks “what is natural?” 

The overall philosophy is pragmatic (as one can judge from the title).  People make up religious or political agendas that control others because of their own cravings for self-aggrandizement.

What matters to the author is life and personal growth on Earth, not who “created” us or where we may go afterward.

Toward the end, however, the chapters do get more metaphysical.  At one point, the author discusses the progression in science from physics, to chemistry, to biology, to social sciences, each stage less deterministic and more macroscopic than before.  I recall a lesson like this in a middle school text when I was substitute-teaching.   The larger the level, the more important free will, individual consciousness, and psychology become.

There is a midpoint chapter that compares the difficulties of writing fiction, non-fiction (like my "Do Ask Do Tell"), textbooks, and poetry. I think that fiction is the hardest.  Poetry -- you need the gift for verse (and for comedy, like that of Seth Meyers).  

The author certainly takes a skeptical view of religious ideas of an afterlife, creation, intelligent design, and the like.  There is a degree of objectivism in the writings.  Absolute equality cannot exist in nature.  Socially and politically, it is a goal that is necessary to provide a climate stable enough for people to explore personal growth. The author discusses two films in conjunction with personal growth: “Sundays and Cybele (1959)”, and “Splendor and the Grass” (1961), the second of which I saw during my lost freshman semester at William and Mary.

On the issue of “afterlife”, I have to agree, what matters is how well one lives here – and that takes on a certain objective reality which can be destroyed by misfortune or by the wrongful actions of others, somewhat dependent on luck, and regardless of whether justice is done.  Really, there are no "victims".   I personally think that consciousness must persist somehow (maybe time stops and we stay in our last moment forever, so it had better be blissful) – and I don’t think that, even given a concept like Christian Grace, we simply live forever (with “family”) in a condo in Clive Barker’s First Dominion.

Dean has a chapter “Are gay brains different from straight brains?” and offers the idea that sexual orientation might change the brain physiologically – reversing the usual argument.

I would like to take this point and expand  and suggest a few other possible essays – I’ll be writing them at one time or another.  But a big problem is that it is very difficult to sequence my thoughts in any structure that would resemble a mathematical argument or proof (like in graduate school). So I'll argue "inside out".  

For example, why do gay activists insist that sexual orientation is immutable?  Such insistence hints that there is something intrinsically wrong with homosexual attraction if it is somehow willful.

So why have, historically, many (maybe most) cultures persecuted homosexuals for what is normally seen as private “victimless” activity, often pursuing it more than heterosexual infidelity?  Ok, “it’s simple” – religion.  But that only begs more questions.
   
I can give a particular glimpse because of my own stance as an only child.  I will not be able to give my parents a lineage.  Many marriages probably depend on this sort of hope for sexual interest to persist as a couple ages together. 

There’s a deeper issue, that I can come back to after going beyond the issue of sexual orientation and look at the broader drive for self-expression and recognition – especially for someone with my personal bent, which seeks a psychic reward not only in discovering but sometimes in exposing “inconvenient truths” about the conventional drives of others (which get discussed in the book a lot).  This issue looks further to the position of those who seem “different” in society, and asks why society sometimes goes after and bullies its outliers.  That question is much broader than just why homosexuals have been “oppressed”.

It’s easy to come up with “simple” reasons.  Many people see life in terms of mastering social combat, and see “those who are different” as suitable for subjugation.  Nature often works that way.  More relevant, many sees the “difference-people” as threats, who can and will expose their own weaknesses.

There’s a particular aspect of this that has surfaced in the Internet area (or era):  people can draw attention to themselves for their speech or artistry (or auteruship, perhaps) on the Web, without necessarily being open to taking personal responsibility for others in a conventional way, which for people like me, can involve a lot of risk and dealing with a lot of shame (to be distinguished from guilt) after “falling short”.

Taking responsibility for others, for someone with my history, can be a particularly daunting task.  I have been brought up to abhor competitive failure.  It seems as though “society” wanted me to perform competitively “as a man” and when I didn’t, it tried to back down a bit and still interest me in conventional marriage and fatherhood – because if I remained single and visible (and didn't add personally to "social capital") I could really become a “threat”.  (Society has often viewed “failures” as expendable or as cannon fodder – look at how we handled the draft during the Vietnam era.)  There is a logical breakdown in thinking here, somewhere.  It seems as though sometimes I am challenged to “give up” my own expressive goals to take care of others and learn fellowship with them, when the whole process of interacting with “them” earlier in life simply was humiliating.  All the normal protective “feelings” for family members – connected to conventional heterosexual attraction and an expectation that one will pass one’s lineage on to children – come to seem repulsive. Fantasy, based on finding angelic perfection, takes its place. I'm particularly "offended" in situations where I am expected to intervene personally to make someone else seem "all right".

It seems that “society” does have a practical “vested interest” in maintaining a culture where people will be able and inclined to make an maintain emotional bonds that actually respond to real need and augment the welfare of other members in an extended family, which is set up (ideally) by married parents.   People like me refuse to show emotion (or experience it) when it is normally expected.  Whole moral philosophies (particularly the “camel’s eye” metaphor in the Gospels) grow around this sort of experience.  This capacity for "aethetically realistic" love, as a moral requirement (quite possible in same-sex "polarities" context), seems to arrive as a corollary of the need to make every human being in a civilization (that is, all of "the people") "valuable".  It’s easier for a lot of people to develop emotionally in a “communal” sense when they believe everyone else has to (and when no one is allowed to depend on the crutch of upward affiliation).  Totalitarian systems get set up to feed on this need.  One of Dean’s chapters, “Why are some cultures better than others” gives some interesting history about the connections of Paul’s family to communism.