Thursday, June 27, 2013

Times have changed: Four major "updates" in positions I took in my 1997 "Do Ask Do Tell" book (starting with DOMA)

In my 1997 book “Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back”, I did make a few proposals or statements that I would like to “update” now, for the record.  Indeed , “times have changed”  since I authored the book and first self-published it in 1997.
  
I will soon be publishing my plans for the newest book in the series, and other media, but I’d like to se the record straight (pun) on a few items now.
   
In Chapter 6, on page 433  (iUniverse 2000 edition), I proposed an “Amendment 29” which amounted to a statement of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996 but overturned by the Supreme Court yesterday, June 26, 2013.   At the time, I thought this was a progressive proposal, that it would allow and encourage states to experiment with both domestic partnerships and marriage in their own way.  I did not think it was reasonable to expect gay marriage to be quickly accepted by conventional activism.  There had been talk of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage even then (after the Hawaii case), and in 2004 the Senate actually had a hearing on such a proposal (right on C-Span), after the Massachusetts state supreme court had determined that laws banning gay marriage were against the commonwealth constitution.  Nevertheless, my reading of it could be questioned.  Justice Kagan, in the oral arguments about DOMA (GLBT Issues Blog, March 27, 2013) had questioned whether DOMA had been motivated by “moral animus” in Congress against homosexuality, and Justice Kennedy wrote in a majority opinion that DOMA could be particularly humiliating to children raised by same-sex couples, who are much more numerous than people think.
  
I had felt that the military gay ban, particularly before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, when asking was mandated (although asking had not been done toward the end of the Vietnam war) as a uniform policy, was a much greater insult to gays and lesbians in the environment that existed in the 1990s.  That feeling was partly motivated by my own experience growing up in a culture with a military draft, where ineligibility for military service was seen as  potential moral failure.  The ability to share risk and common responsibility was a higher priority in the culture in which I grew up.
  
I think that the “moral” emphasis, given the Court’s ruling on DOMA (and “non-ruling” on California Proposition 8) shifts more toward the ability to have a permanent adult relationship at all, and the ability to raise children and care for elders from the relationship, but not necessary procreation itself.  Singletons like myself are indeed “accidents waiting to happen” and without support for marriage (gay marriage included now), social capital in a society – it’s very sustainability – becomes weaker.

Note that the Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, the part dealing with federal recognition and benefits. It did not change the section 2 provision that states don't have to recognize (under normal Full Faith and Credit) other states' same-sex marriages.  That had actually corresponded to "section 1" of my proposed "Amendment 29";  it was section 2 in my text that had referred to federal benefits.

In the mid 1990s, there was still a prevailing sentiment that a "man" (even a gay man) shouldn't depend on others for benefits or support, so the marriage issue didn't seem as critical to a lot of us.  Gay parenting was increasing but that wasn't widely known.   Instead, there was a sense that priorities should still be on freedom to live as you want without obvious discrimination, in employment, housing, or even the military.  But that sense was changing.   I would have expected the military ban or DADT to be reversed and ENDA to pass before marriage rights were won, but the whole idea that marriage by definition demands a subsidy from others became more apparent.   I also think it is an anomaly today that we have made all these stunning legal advances and yet school systems still tolerate anti-gay bullying.   
     
Another important  issue comes up on p. 428 (also Chapter 6), Section 12 of the proposed “Right to Privacy Amendment”, which would have been Amendment 28 (I saw it as a kind of “Bill of Rights 2”), would have barred most laws banning “harmful to minors” material on the Internet (which part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, also known as the Communications Decent Act) had tried to do, in a provision overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997.  (A very important provision, Section 230, regarding downstream liability of telecommunications service providers, was fortunately left in place.)  However, my wording would have allowed such laws to stand if they allowed the mandated use of adult-id  verification to be an affirmative defense.   The inadequacy of laws that effectively require  age-screening (their general unreliability and large cost for small sites), as opposed to informal filtering, which is free or low in cost, was well established at the COPA trial in Philadelphia in 2006.  I attended one day of that trial.  The opinion is discussed on a different blog, “Some Approaches to Filtering Internet Content”, with the opinion discussed on an entry March 22, 2007; I described my visit to the Court on the October 30, 2006 entry.
    
One of the Amazon reviewers of the 1997 book criticized a couple of statements in Chapter 5, “… the only way to achieve real freedom and liberty is to radically deconstruct almost the entire federal government outside of bare-bones functions…”, presented as a libertarian proposition.  Later, I said “libertarianism would advocate the use of the established political power structure to deconstruct itself..”  This became rather like the ideology of the Tea Party, and perhaps some supporters of the NRA and even the “Doomsday Prepper” crowd.  I first stood by the statement , but I can see where it can lead to anarchy or partisan political paralysis, as with the debt-ceiling debate in 2011, which we don’t need to have again.  Yes, the government must pay the bills it has already ratcheted up.  (And, regarding the Amazon reviewer in 2006,  “algebra” was never a child; that’s fixed online.)

The reviewer also said I didn't the reader any reason to care about my positions -- but I thought that the narrative about my William and Mary expulsion in 1962 and NIH semi-reparative therapy in 1962 would establish that reason. 
  

A last point regards the way I saw and explained “homophobia” as I had experienced it throughout my life up through the 1990’s.  In the Introduction, on p. “xiv”, I wrote that “cultural conservatives see gays as cultural freeloaders”; in the next paragraph, I write “’Homophobia’ is easily rationalized by viewing homosexuality as a ‘character disorder’.  This flaw, fed by visual preoccupation with self-image, is supposed to spurn ‘responsibility’ to procreate and parent.”  In fact, at the end of the previous paragraph, I also write “Gay men and lesbians, they feel, sap the potential energy out of missionary intercourse.”  That sounds like George Gllder in the 1980s (“Men and Marriage” (this blog, April 12, 2006).   That sort of talk had been common in the 70s and 80s.  But it betrays its own inconsistency.  It sounds like “conservatives” don’t believe that most men naturally want relations with women unless prodded by moral concerns to do so, and that sounds patently ridiculous, based on experience.  (Is it “Much Ado About Nothing”?)  There was then, of course, real tension about discretionary income (of people with less “responsibility” and tax law.  (There still is.)   But I now think that these attitudes are more explained by wanting to have a simple moral philosophy that seems to apply to everything – like the Vatican’s idea that sexuality should be experienced only when there is openness to procreation and responsibility for others.  That idea obviously affects people with different tempers in varied ways, and can support an “authoritarian” power establishment, but it does impose a certain sort of “fairness”.  I think a lot of people feel they can do what they’re told is “right” and be OK with it only when they think everyone else has to, also.   
Oh, yes, that original cover:  I look like I came out of a coffin, maybe for "World War Z."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"The Wolf and the Watchman": A combat investigative journalist explains what it was like to have dad in the CIA

Author: Scott C. Johnson
  
Title:The Wolf and the Watchman
  
Publication: W. Norton. 2012, ISBN 978-0-39323980-5; 302 pages, hardcover
  
Amazon link is here

First, let me say that the title of this non-fiction story is catchy.  It seems ready made for the film market (probably the Landmark, Angelika  or AMC Independent audiences – mostly grownups).  It almost rhymes with “The Falcon  and the Snowman” (film from 1985), which itself is relevant now because of the Snowden and Wikileaks (Assange and Manning) “scandals”. 
  
The author, now about 40, was a war correspondent for Newsweek for twelve years, and his dad was a section chief for the CIA for a number of years, with a “retirement” and then a recall during the war in Iraq.

The book  hinges on the idea that investigative journalism (from a “watchman”) is similar to spying (by a “Wolf” or perhaps a house cat), except that the journalist wants to make it public, and the spy does it got the government.  Well – Assange is a “watchman” and Snowden is a “wolf” turned watchman.

The author faced more combat danger as a journalist (mainly in Iraq) than do many soldiers, and lived under conditions just as primitive.  He paid his dues.  In a sense, Scott Johnson became the “man of steel”.   
    
The book is valuable both as a “forward observer” into how the CIA “might “ work and what working for the CIA “must” be like, and also quite a tender story of his relationship with his father, which seemed to grow stronger once he was on his own.

In fact, Scott paid his dues, working dirty jobs on merchant ships, before rather lucking in to a news job when in Paris. 

As a kid, Scott talks about moving around, living at Camp Peary, near Williamsburg VA and Fort Eustis (maybe that’s where Stephen King’s “Shop” is) as his father trained, and then in Michigan, and then later Spain. 


His father “came out” to him as a spy or spook when Scott was about 14.  But Scott always had his
suspicions, given the way the family lived.  But he had thought his dad was a “diplomat”, but why live in Detroit?

His father had been gradually ‘recruited” by the CIA around 1968 when (at 28 himself) he worked as a dean at an American university in Mexico City.  The CIA was trying to get information on communist-inspired dissidents before the Olympics.  In time, the CIA trained him as a foreign “case officer”, although he sold insurance in the mean time.  CIA agents sometimes have to be able to get other “real job” – and so do investigative journalists.  
  
Shortly after Scott “knew”, the family lived in Spain, and Scott reports that one time his father helped bug a house to try to ferret out intelligence on radical Islam.  So the problems and threats of Al Qaeda were well known to the Clinton administration, even though not a lot gets written except about the missed missile hit.
   
It seems to be fairly common for professionals in various areas to work for the CIA under NOC, or “non-official cover”, while simultaneously continuing regular jobs as engineers, military consultants, insurance agents,  or perhaps professors or teachers.  In time, some become “full time” and go through all the training.
   
It seems as though a lot of the work happens through social connections, trying to find potential defectors.  But this may have been more appropriate during the Cold War specifically with the Soviets than it is today.
It would be hard to draw the lines between what the Army (and special operations units, as in the film “Dirty Wars”) do, and what the CIA does, in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. 
  
Intuitively, when looking at countries like Iran and North Korea, it sounds as though the CIA would be more concerned about the actual hardware and weapons capabilities than just the personal activities of the people.  It would be particularly concerned about novel WMD’s and whether they could be passed on to terrorists and deployed in western countries (for example, weapons capable of creating an EMP effect, as covered here before).
  
In general, intelligence would comprise tracking both the movements and communications of people, and relating it to satellite observations or ground reports on hardware.  The CIA itself says (as I wrote in postings on my GLBT and international blogs on June 10) most of its analysts stay here or in modern countries and work with computers. 

But the tendency for the CIA to look for dissidents at a campus setting is interesting. Maybe this can correlate to specific weapons or plots.  But originally there was a tendency to look just for “subversion”, from people who had trouble getting along with the expectations of “the system”.  Could I have been caught by something like that at William and Mary in 1961?

Johnson says that at one point, the CIA did a background investigation, including drug and personality tests, even of him as a family member. 
  
Everyone in the book seems to be heterosexual  (and an early 1970's BI had asked Johnson’s dad if he had “homosexual desires”),  and the CIA now admits that it would have fired LGBT employees until 1996, when President Clinton issued an executive order protecting all the security clearances of civilian employees.

Johnson offers his own theories as to why the perpetual civil war in the Muslim world is so intractable, and explains the tribal mindset of radical Islam well.  But this is a perception he developed as a combat journalists .  But he was almost an intelligence officer himself.  He need the same people skills to set up confidences and relationships/  

In my own novel (“Angel’s Brother”), I have set up a situation where a military intelligence officer is asked to leave uniformed services quietly, ironically after he has married and adopted a child, supposedly over gay concerns.  But then he is set up as a history teacher, mostly AP students.  Soon, he is “recruited” to track unusual events predicted in the writings of another character (like me), already noted by an unusually gifted college student and computer hacker, whom he meets overseas, leading him to track the hardware.   The “enemies” are aliens or extraterrestrials – but not in the usual sense; they turn out to be angelic extensions of us.  The time to find out we are no alone has come.  But how would the intelligence services really handles such a situation if it ever arose?  

Note: My apologies for initially titling the post "The War and the Watchman" (fixed this morning).  But that could have made a logical title for the book, too.  It fooled my brain as I was typing the post title yesterday and I didn't catch it until a night's sleep.  

Saturday, June 01, 2013

"I Am a Strange Loop": Douglas Hofstadter explains "I-ness"

Author: Douglas Hofstadter

Title: “I Am a Strange Loop”

Publication: 2007, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-03079-8, 412 pages, indexed, 24 chapters with Prologue and Epilogue
   
  
The book has a tagline on the back cover, “What do we mean when we say ‘I’”?
  
Really, why am I “me”, having lived the specific life that I have lived, with all its twists and ironies?  Why didn’t I experience myself at the time of Christ, or in the Middle Ages, or of the Holocaust?
  
The author seems to take the position that the open-ended  nature of mathematics makes consciousness necessary.  He spends a lot of space on the ideas of mathematician Kurt Godel, who invented a way of mapping mathematical propositions to “Godel numbers” and then “proved” that there had to be statements which would be true but unprovable.  That certainly brings back all those days of graduate school in mathematics at the University of Kansas back in the 1960s.


This sets up, in nature, a logical “feedback loop” in all things in the cosmos.  The feedback tends to contradict entropy, or the tendency for all systems to become more disordered (according to laws of thermodynamics).  The “feedback loop” sets up “patterns” which tend to organize matter in biological systems (as least as we know them on Earth).  The “pattern” eventually develops a sense of will or purpose which “feeds back” and mediates the component elements.  One could argue that biological life cycles and reproduction counter entropy and help the universe get organized – but only as it develops soul or consciousness. 
  
Yet, “consciousness” seems to become its own beast. “I-ness” continues even as all the cells in my body are recycled and replaced over the years as I age. 
  
In fact, “I-ness” roughly belongs to one body, but not exactly.  Empathy or rooting interest ties people to others, with some sense of continuity.  Consider the mediation of “personal identity” when rooting for a professional sports team.  The idea of shared identity (or “eusociality”) has moral consequences, because in most civilizations people have to make sacrifices for the “purposes of others” beyond the scope of their own “axiom of choice”,  Social sustainability depends on this capacity.
  
Hofstadter argues that sense of identity (or “soul”)  grows during childhood (is very little at birth), is reasonably well defined by early adolescence, but not complete until the early or mid-twenties, the time it takes for the brain to grow to full maturity.  Animals have “identity”, too; those of more developed mammals (carnivore, cetaceans, and primates) can certainly be compared meaningfully to ours. 
  
After “death”, the soul gradually dissipates, but remnants of it live in loved ones of the individual.  The soul may dissipate before death in some tragic circumstances, such as Alzheimer’s.
  
It seems to me, though, that, even though physical death is inevitable, it is implausible not to exist at all.  To me, it would seem logical for the soul to exist in some fashion, and the “moral” laws of karma would seem to demand that it does.  Perhaps it joins a “cosmic consciousness”, as Rosicrucians have posted.  Eben Alexander, in “Proof of Heaven” (March 30) reported that, while his cerebral cortex was completely obliterated by meningitis, the felt he was living inside the “Core”.  Perhaps once we have lived, we must live again, but in other worlds, where instead of being initialized (as on this planet), we are “updated”.  What a science fiction scenario: to travel to Gliese 581 G, 30 light years away, tidally locked with a narrow habitable zone, and find that we meet a bizarre civilization of people with recycled souls. 
  
Another idea could be that a “virus” could move “consciousness” from one body (after death), to a “super body” (an “angel” who could time-share multiple souls. 

Perhaps the only way to conquer space is to get a grip on the "afterlife" and communicate with it.  Perhaps a succeeding generation down the pike a century or so will learn to do that.  One of my first intimate partners ever (in 1976) claimed that he taught "the history of consciousness."
  


In the YouTube video, the author speaks at Stanford. 

Update: June 2

I don't think the book author would agree with a project by Dmitry Itskov, to record the contents of the human brain on avatars, and offer digital immortality by the year 2045, NYTimes Business story here