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.