Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Brian Aitken's "The Blue Tent Sky": bring "legal" guns into New Jersey, go to jail

Author: Brian D. Aitken
Title: “The Blue Tent Sky: How the Left’s War on Guns Cost Me My Son and my Freedom
Publication: 2014, Black Bear Books, ISBN 978-0-9906554-0-4, 273 pages, hardcover (also paper and ebook), 14 chapters
Amazon link

Author’s own publishing services website here
A note on the typesetting: it’s unusual in that paragraphs are not indented, but marked by extra double spaces, which is the way PDF’s get created from Word documents by the Word add-on.  Online free versions (not the Kindle, but the version on my “”) of my own books look like this in PDF.  I will be rethinking all of this for my own books in 2015 as I build my new “portfolio”, but that is for another time. 

I discussed the Cato book forum for this book on my Issues blog Dec. 11, 2014, and have some QA video here
The book is indeed a very personal account, a memoir.  The author, now 28, describes a somewhat checkered life with an out-of-sequence narrative that is sometimes hard to follow in detail.  He had worked in media sales, in New York and Colorado.  He met a young woman to whom he proposed, but serious problems in the marriage, leading to divorce, happened right after the son was born. 
 There is a sense of haste in the way he made some decisions.  There is some material where he expresses real anger at his former wife. Divorce (with custody and visitation battles) can be a very bad scene.  I’ve missed all that in life.
Aitken decided to move back to New Jersey from Colorado to have more visitation with his son.  He says that he checked the legal requirements for bringing his personal weapons into New Jersey carefully before the move.
Nevertheless, things got complicated for him at the beginning of 2009, he goes between an apartment in Hoboken, and his parents’ home in Mt. Laurel.  It’s not clear why his mother called 911 and dropped it, but the police got nosey, and really did go way overboard, because of some kind of left-wing profiling (and the writer is white). 

Aitken would be arrested and charged with illegally transporting his personal weapons without a permit, although his ownership of the guns in a home would have been legal.  In front of both the grand jury and then at trial, jurors were prevented from being told about the “exceptions” on New Jersey’s carry laws.

One can perhaps understand this with a grand jury (which is supposed to be the prosecution’s show) but not before a trial jury.  The judge seemed to think that the issue of whether Aitken was “moving” was not a point that a jury could legally decide. The state maintained that Aitken was keeping the guns in his car illegally out of laziness or convenience, and wasn’t really finishing a household move, but the judge wouldn’t let the jury decide it.

Aitken’s description of life in a county jail is quite harrowing.  After some machinations, attorneys would get Gov. Chris Christie (a Republican) to commute the sentence to time served, after about four months.  And most of the conviction would be overturned on appeal, except for illegal possession of “hollow point” ammunition, which is supposed to be more destructive.  Because of that one conviction, which stands on a technicality, Aitken remains a convicted felon, unable to do things like rent his own apartment.
The Daily Caller has an interview with the author here
The underlying message seems to be, if you bring guns into New Jersey and get caught, you’re going to jail. 

As I've noted before, the question as to whether someone is better off when armed is very mixed.  Twice I've met possible carjackers by just driving away.  Nothing happened.  Maybe I was lucky.  (In one case, the white perpetrator was so stoned on drugs that he couldn't have carried it out.)  Piers Morgan is always saying that incidents in Australia stopped after gun control was implemented, but look at what happened Dec. 15.  Maybe if the shop owner had been armed, the incident wouldn't have happened. Gun laws just don't seem to keep weapons away from criminals. But they may keep them away from kids and mentally unstable people.
First picture (mine): coastal New Jersey in early 2013, after Sandy. 

Update:  Feb 3, 2015

The idea of a police welfare check is explained in the HBO film "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" as explained on the Movies blog today. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Four "coffee table" books that will give you a Christmas journey to other planets

At a visit to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington last Saturday, I picked up four coffee table books to try to get as much picture material as possible on other planets that could contain life or that are somewhat interesting, both in the Solar System, and extrasolar.
The best of these was DH’s Smithsonian “The Planets: The Definitive Visual Guide to our Solar System” , edited by Ben Morgan, 2014, 256 pages. 
The Mission to Mars chapter has only four color pages.

There are great diagrams of the inner structures of Jupiter and Saturn (which have metallic hydrogen), as well as Uranus and Neptune, which the book says may not be as gaseous as we had thought, and could have both “jello” and diamond layers. 

For Jupiter’s moons, there is a better picture of Ganymede than Europa. For Titan (Saturn) there are some small NASA Cassini photos and mock-ups, and a spectacular 2-page artist’s impression of a lake shore on the surface, with Saturn in the sky and an orange twilight atmosphere. Enceladus also has a spectacular panorama, as do Miranda (Uranus) and Triton (Neptune). Note the typo on p. 211, where the text reads "Titan" when "Triton" was intended.  This is an easy mistake to make when writing (your brain makes a substitution) and hard to catch in copy-editing.  I know this as a writer myself.  

National Geographic offers “Mars: Inside the Curiosity Mission” by Marc Kaufman, with a foreword by Elon Musk, 392 pages.  This book gives the viewer the best possible chance to take a vacation on Mars from an armchair on Christmas Day, after dinner.

National Geographic also offers a “Kids’ Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of the Solar System and Beyond” (2014), by David A. Aguilar, 192 pages . Europa, Titan and Triton get good surface pictures.  There are several exoplanets shown, including one near a brown dwarf, and one in a star in a globular cluster, but nothing that would come close to supporting life.  It means a hot rocky planet recently discovered in the Alpha Centauri system.

Kingfisher publishes “Universe: Journey into Deep Space” by Dr. Mie Goldsmith, illustrated b Dr. Mark A. Garlick. There are spectacular images of Titan, and Triton, and some more encouraging extra-solar planets, including one with a coast looking Biblical, a waterworld with life, and a couple of hot melting worlds (48 pages).  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cato Institute's "A Dangerous World?"

Editor: Christopher A. Preble and John Mueller
Title: “A Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security
Contributors: Francis J. Gavin, John Mueller, Lyle J. Goldstein. Paul R. Pilla, Austin Long, Peter Andreas, Martin Libicki, Mark G. Stewart, Michael A. Cohen, Stephanie Rugolo, Daniel W. Drezner, Eugene Gholz, Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson with Sameer Lalwani, Brendan Rittenhouse Green, Christopher J. Fettweis, Bemjamin H. Friedman
Publication: 2014, Cato Institute, Washington DC, 389 pages, indexed, Introduction and 16 essays
Amazon link is here.
I attended a book forum at Cato about this book on Oct. 22; the forum is discussed that date on the International Issues Blog.
The overall tone of these essays, as for the forum, is that the existential threat to the American or western way of life from enemies (most of all radical Islam), is probably overstated and exploited, by right wing politicians as well as those who want to sell books (even right-wing oriented novels and movies).
By way of comparison, the Soviet Union, for a long time, centered around the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, probably presented a much greater threat.
Austin Long, in Chapter 5, “The Management of Savagery: Policy Options for Confronting Substate Threats” does, on p. 82, does discuss the role of the war in Vietnam, with its reliance on male conscription, in molding attitudes toward subsequent conflicts.  It’s possible that the ability to use a conscripted force in conventional war, under “domino theory” doctrine, could be construed as part of a nuclear avoidance strategy, very real then (when  was drafted) but not now.  It worthy of note that there was talk of draft resumption when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 (more traumatic than the Iran hostage crisis). 
Matthew Libicki, in Chapter 7, “Dealing with Cyberattacks” somewhat downplays the threat of a really catastrophic cyber attack on US infrastructure by asymmetric terrorists. Why are critical machines in the power grid connected to the public Internet in such a way that they can even be reached?  Other books covered here have discussed the dangers of an outright EMP attack (Maloof’s book, April 13, 2013). Libicki, however, admits that a major incident could cause policy changes that make self-expression on the Internet more difficult, and that could raise the barriers to entry.
Christopher J Fettweis, in “Delusions of Danger: Geopolitical Fear and Indispensability in U.S. Foreign Policy”, makes an astonishing commentary about inequality on p. 272   “Rich people worry a great deal about their security…{They take measures] to protect themselves and their belongings from the throngs of have-nots they assume are plotting to take what is theirs.”  (What does “theirs” refer to?  A problem in the English language.  He seems to be referring to fear of forceful expropriation or what a friend of mine calls “purification”.  “Those who have more than what could be considered their fair share , perhaps bothered a bit by subconscious guilt, worry about losing what they have more than those who live in relative penury.”  This passage may deal more with wealth inequality and income inequality, and would take a left-wing stab at inherited wealth.  Volunteerism, with all its bureaucracy, may seem like a feeble response;  but it might send a message that everyone should get a fair shake.  There’s a taste of Maoism in this kind of thinking. On p. 268, Fettweis notes that "part of the reason our beliefs are so resistant to change is because they shape the way new information is interpreted, and they filter out what appears to be contradictory."  So much for critical thinking. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

"Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy Seal's Journey to Coming Out Transgender"

Authors: Kristin Beck (U.S. Navy Seal, Ret.), and Anne Speckhard, Ph D.
Title: “Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy Seal’s Journey to Coming Out Transgender
Publication: Advances Press (McLean, Va), 2013, ISBN 978-935866-42-8, 232 pages, hardcover (available paper and Kindle); Foreword, Press Release, Preface and Prelude and Three Parts (“Lives”), with about 60 very short unnumbered chapters

Amazon link is here. I reviewed from the hardcover, purchased through Amazon. 
Kristin Beck was born as Christopher T.  Beck on June 21, 1966, and would serve twenty years as a U.S. Navy Seal, from 1991-2011, participating in thirteen deployments, seven of which were combat.
Kristin relates that she always perceived herself as a woman inside. She was brought up by conservative parents who believed in strict adherence to gender roles.  She says she was envious of her sister Hannah, who seemed privileged and protected.  Why were things expected of him (as Chris) that weren’t expected of girls?  I used to wonder that as a little boy. The “women and children first” idea made me wonder if I was supposed to be a second class citizen.  Of course, at a young age, I had no concept of how childbearing works.
Chris, however (unlike me) was fully competitive as a boy physically, and eventually went to VMI.  He let up academically after playing sports, and eventually transferred to Alfred.  After some relatively normal employment, he decided to join the military in 1991, as the Persian Gulf War, opposing Saddam Hussein, heated up. He found he could suppress his transgender feelings by extreme focus on physical military matters.
He married twice, and had children by the first marriage.  (He actually describes his first experience in sexual intercourse at age 22, where he lay on the bottom and pretended he was a female anyway, despite the male performance role.)  The deployments put strains on the marriages.
Beck retired in 2011, moved to Florida and began the transition to a female almost immediately.  In two different places, Beck describes using laser treatments to permanently remove all hair from his beard, chest and arms (“thmooth”), but being satisfied to merely shave his legs.  I’m reminded of products like “NoNo”, advertised on CNN on weekends, but as one looks around, they don’t seem to be as popular as the manufacturers would have you believe (fortunately).
The co-author, Speckhard, is a psychologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC.  Speckhard had been doing a study on psychological resilience of special troops in the military and at first did not know that Beck had transitioned to a woman until they met (as planned) in a gay bar.
CNN aired the film “Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story”, reviewed on the Movies Blog, Sept. 4, 2014. Beck spoke to the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance at a dinner on Sunday, November 23, reviewed here on my LGBT blog that date. 

It's important to note that the US military still formally bans transgendered people;  the lifting of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2011 did not pertain to transgender. In 1993, Scott Peck (the son of a marine colonel who had argued for the gay ban during the early days of the debate on DADT), conducting his own radio show Sunday nights, interviewed a transgendered person who had left the Navy but had the same job in intelligence as a civilian.  (Actually, intelligence services didn't drop "ban" on gay civilian employees until 1996, after another Clinton executive order that is little known.)
At the QA in Arlington VA Nov. 23, Kristin said something to the effect that she had given up all rights to the book.  I can find at least one complaint online (on “pissedconsumer”, from 2013, marked “issue not resolved”).  Normally an author telling her own story should not lose rights to own her material and distribute or sell her content in other ways (in my own experience as a self-publisher, where I do all my own writing).  I cannot tell online reliably how Advances Press works with authors, other than the fact that Speckhard was a co-author  – one can tell the subject matter of the press from the website here
Second picture: Portsmouth, VA harbor (my visit, Oct. 2011). 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Joseph Ruffini: "When Terror Comes to Main Street": His characterization of the old Al Qaeda sounds more like ISIS today

Author: Lt. Col. Joseph A. Ruffini, US Army, retired. With a foreword by Donald E. Addy, President of National Homeland Defense Foundation

Title: “When Terror Comes to Main St.; A Citizens’ Guide to Terror Awareness, Preparedness and Prevention
Publication: 2008, St. George, Utah, Special Operations Association; ISBN 978-0-0916987-0-0, 281 pages, paper, three introductions, 13 briefings, and conclusion. (First edition had been in 2006)

Amazon link:

I ordered this book as a counterpoint to the Glenn Greenwald book (Nov. 22).  It certain sounds like it comes “from the right”, and is more than a bit strident. 
But before I go much further, I have to say that I had  indulged in the same kind of rhetoric in my DADT II book in 2002, “Do Ask. Do Tell: When Liberty Is Stressed”.  In the Introduction, I had written, “We have a feral, viral enemy that seems diabolical enough to use the opportunities of our own technological society – particularly those related to mobility, communication and self-expression – to destroy our modern world by clandestine and asymmetric attacks from within.”  Chapter 3 of that book has been called “Terrorism, Individualism, Civil Liberties and Libertarianism: Can We Still Talk About a ‘Bill of Rights II’?”.  That chapter had related my own ironic day on 9/11, while living and working in Minneapolis.  A sneak-preview online HTML copy of this chapter had been hacked on April 1, 2002 (April Fools) right in a section where I talked about suitcase nukes.  That isn’t funny.  It hasn’t happened again.

I even spoke about 9/11 at a Unitarian Fellowship near Minneapolis in February 2002.

This book predates the public attention to ISIS (or ISIL), the “Islamic State”, and the debate as to hether ISIS really presents a significant threat to western and US homelands, from returning fighters and particularly from disaffected people who might be radicalized into committing “loan wolf” attacks against military members and maybe other celebrities.  Ruffini attributes all of ISIS savagery to the older form of Al Qaeda.  What is new, of course, is how ISIS “leverages” technology and social media, whereas Osama bin Laden’s minions were content to use land runners in the style of ancient Greece.

Ruffini also does put a broader moral perspective.  The people in Islamic countries are often poor with few opportunities.  They see people in the west as self-indulgent and privileged, in a manner analogous to communism.  They resent US policies that have propped up rules for apparently easy access to oil, even though now the US is not as dependent on Middle East oil as it had been in the 1970s.

The Foreword by Donald Addy makes it blunt. “They want to eradicate us and our value system. They seek to impose their values on us so that we behave in the way their value system demands of them.”  I’ve said the same thing, in different words, many times, particularly when explaining pre-Stonewall homophobia.  It’s easier to perform in a strict value system if you know that everybody else “has to.”

Ruffini tries to explain how the extreme violence of radical Islam can be tracked back to the life of Muhammad.  What’s apparent is that any tribal society surrounded by enemies probably needs very strict discipline among its individuals in order to survive into the future as a group.

The various briefings give the expected analysis of the shortcomings of our immigration and homeland security policies, including our inadequate screening of cargo and inconsistent TSA policies. 

The book is filled with lists, including 17 pages of "bad guy" organizations.  Around page 190, he makes some horrific predictions, including suicide bombers (as in Israel), and a dirty bomb attack (which would make a lot of real estate worthless).  He talks about infrastructure vulnerability, but doesn't get specufucally into the subject of EMP (electromagnetic pulse), as does Michael Maloof (April 13, 2013). But it's clear that Ruffini is most concerned about big attacks (he predicts 10,000 dead in one attack) whereas today the FBI and DHS is most concerned about the simple disaffected loan wolf, recruited online and not needing any direct contact with overseas radical Islam other than through social media, which goes both ways.  

In the latter chapters, most conspicuously “We Are All Citizen Soldiers”, Ruffini makes it more personal.  Ordinary people have to get used to living with an enemy, just as the Jews did during WWII (and still do in Israel today). Having a dedicated enemy can mean that someday our "system" may not work anymore for many people, and a lot of us could be suddenly impoverished -- which is what "revolution" sometimes aims for; insurance companies cannot underwrite it.  Radical Islam sees every individual (even civilian) apostate as an "enemy" to the "body of Muslims."   He also goes into the subject of schools protecting themselves from becoming targets of mass terror, even though the book was written before many of the more recent shooting rampages (which have not been Islam-related, though). Schools have indeed adapted lockdown procedures, rather than letter students go home.  This never happened when I worked as a substitute teacher 2004-2007, thankfully.  The 2003 film “Elephant” (Gus Van Sant) sounds relevant.
Ruffini’s main demands of citizen soldiers are reasonable enough: “see something, say something.”  He doesn’t ask to return to the draft, and doesn’t recommend everyone have an arsenal at home. 

But in the days after 9/11, there was a lot of talk in the media about “citizen soldiers”.  And Charles Moskos, who had authored “don’t ask don’t tell” with respect to gays in the military, came out for a draft and a repeal of DADT at the same time.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Glenn Greenwald's "No Place to Hide" is a shocking read; "Edward Snowden v. the NSA" is only part of the story of a challenge to journalists

Author: Glenn Greenwald

Title: “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State

Publication:  2014, Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt), ISBN 978-1-62779-073-4, 259 pages, hardcover (available in paper, Kindle, author download, MP3, 259 pages, five chapters, Introduction and Epilogue

The notes and index seem to be available online only at Greenwald’s site, here  I have never seen this done with a conventionally published book before.  I have to say something for buying a hardcopy and reading it on the DC Metro or NYC subway.  Doing so will attract attention and conversation from other passengers, who wouldn’t notice what’s on a Kindle or iPad.

The riveting film “CitizenFour” (Radius TWC, directed by Laura Poitras) presents the Hong Kong meeting with Snowden and  is discussed on my Movies blog Oct. 27, 2014.  But I suspect this book will become a film in its own right. The Weinstein Brothers must be pondering the idea.  
So, let me get to my own review!

In fact, this book is a shocker.  I could almost call it “Do Ask, Do Tell IV” because it talks about many of the same kind of existential problems I covered in DADT III. Glennwald probes and reflects and argues with himself about things as if he were sitting on the Supreme Court.  His writing style, sentence structure, logic flow and world view seem a lot like mine.  I've noticed the same similarity with the work of two or three other men (artists) two generations younger than me. Lawyers notice these similarities among various people!  Cognitive identity seems to be genetic.
It’s not that I necessarily agree with everything Greenwald says.  In fact, he attracted the ire of gay conservative writer Andrew Sullivan, with whom I share a lot of common views.
As part of the background, it’s important note that Greenwald lives in Brazil because US law (not yet recognizing same-sex marriage at the federal level) prevents his marital partner David Miranda from getting a visa to live in the US (Wikipedia, link  ). Change in marriage law may be an easier legal battle for him than the consequences of his participation in Edward Snowden’s disclosures, although the exact status of the latter is likely to vary with time.
The most captivating parts of the work are the “bookends”.  In December 2012, Greenwald gets a mysterious email from “Cincinnatus” and is told that there are folks who will share a lot more with him if he will learn to use encryption, particularly for email.  That is difficult for those not proficient in shell script programming, and in fact Electronic Frontier Foundation has announced an initiative, called “Let’s Encrypt”, to make encryption (related to PGP) more usable by everyone by the end of 2015. 

Greenwald let this slide for a while, until he came into contact with documentary film-maker Laura Poitras.  That led to the encounter in Edward Snowden in the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong at the end of May 2013. In the film, noted above, Snowden takes over, and seems charismatic.  No one seems to have more integrity.

The details of the encounter, reported in the book, track to the film closely.  (“Ten Days in Hong Kong”, as a title, reminds me of the movie “Seven Days in May”.)  But what gets really interesting is the idea that Greenwald would have published Snowden’s contents himself if the Guardian didn’t meet his deadline.  (How he could enforce that, I’ll come back to.)  He was going to use a new domain name “”.  That domain name does exist now, and re-directs, here. The disclosures are in many pieces, including a program called PRISM, involving major US Internet and telecommunications companies, especially Verizon.  Part of the shocker is the way the government had compelled the cooperation of Silicon Valley.

It’ important to remember the illegality of some of the NSA’s activity: that is, spying on purely domestic activity without warrants, or with (under FISA) only very weak supervision. Richard Nixon had done the same with telephones a few decades before. 

The third chapter of the book (“Collect It All”) is well illustrated with black-and-white Visio-like diagrams of how NSA surveillance works.  I suspect that a future film will animate this material (and cost some $$$ to do).  “XKeyscore” gets particular attention. Also, the NSA seems to have a particular fixation with Facebook (as opposed to all other social media companies and formats), as if Mark Zuckerberg really rules the world and has sole contact with extraterrestrials (or were one himself).  The NSA will also, as a military DOD-authorized operation, hamper communication with a target, by hacking or DDOS.  The government will probably say that this would happen only to prevent a terrorist attack.  For example, the NSA, in this theory, might interfere with someone who had returned from Syria and ISIS radicalizing others at home.
The fourth chapter is “The Harm of Surveillance” and Greenwald argues convincingly that the expectation of surveillance tends to suppress dissent and compel social conformity.  That reminds me of the paranoia of my parents in the 1960s and 1970s, both about radicalism (whether related to Civil Rights or to anti-Vietnam protests) and then my homosexuality.  My parents would talk about “subversiveness”, as something that could lead enemies to counter-attack and expropriate from those of us who led more sheltered, suburban (and in the past, segregated) lives.  That matches concerns I developed in my young adulthood, that “anti-establishment” rhetoric on the far left was about more than opposition to government; it regarded upper middle class white people as “privileged” and as potential individual targets of revolution.  It’s happened in history (look at Bolshevism) and it could happen again.  In fact, the tendency of radical Islam to target civilians is a secondary perversion of this kind of thinking.  So, in my own experience, over decades of adult life, is that surveillance is a relative thing.  It can come from government, but it might come from real enemies, too.

Greenwald explains well why "metadata" gathering compromises individual lives.  In past generations (before attitudes toward sexual orientation improved), it could have outed people as homosexual. David Mixner, in his 1996 book "Stranger Among Friends", related a 1969 sting by the government against him with male partners apparently set up by Hoover-era wiretapping.  Greenwald also argues here that metadata and other sweeping surveillance, which can install a chilling effect on personal life choices, wasn't instrumental in stopping several terror attacks that might have happened, or in preventing what happened in Boston in 2013.  Plain old ground police work is what was needed.
I’ve written often, however, that the expectation of social conformity is enforced another way: by the common practice now of employers monitoring personal social media of associates.  This is far more significant in practice for most people than NSA surveillance.
The fifth chapter (misnumbered by one) is “The Fourth Estate”, and is perhaps the most challenging of all.  Greenwald examines the apparent contradictions within the journalism world about journalistic “objectivity”.  Greenwald seems to have left his former career as a litigation attorney to become an independent journalist.  After the Snowden leaks, some members of the “formal  press” did maintain that he was indeed not “one of them”, because, well, he didn’t report to a particular editor.  But he has real contacts, with entities like Salon and The Guardian, and his own businesses.  It seems that his “blogging” and “self-publishing” has always paid its own way (a major contrast with mine).  He has always been able to “sell” his work without conventional hucksterism. He doesn’t say who paid for all these last-minute intercontinental plane fares, hotels, and special hardware. Maybe The Guardian did so, but it looks like he makes enough from his journalism himself to pay for all this.  That puts him in the category of an independent film company or media producer, rather like Oprah Winfrey (that’s probably good company).  Whether he is an “activist” or “reporter” may indeed matter to whether he can face US charges, whether he can live here again or even could be extradited. 
It’s not clear exactly what the law does demand of “reporters” if someone dumps classified material into their laps.  It also is not totally clear if the law would treat me (an independent blogger who “subsidizes” his activity from other personal assets) the same as a formal member of the “press” (which I would love to become, maybe).  In fact, particularly in the years immediately following 9/11, people did share “tips” with me.  Several times, I passed these on to authorities (and at least one of these resulted in a 20-minute phone conversation with an FBI agent from Philadelphia).  In 2002, one file on an HTML file that would become a chapter in my second DADT book was hacked, and overlaid with information that looked like it had to do with relations between Russia and Finland.  The government has not seized it, but as a legal matter, would I “own” this if the hacked information was classified?  (That sounds more serious now, given how Putin is behaving.) Later in 2002, someone sent me a map of the sites of nuclear waste all over Russia.
I have been aware of the desirability of encryption for several years, but, like Greenwald, have not had time to learn it.  That may change in 2015, as I noted.  But supposed I had learned to use encryption before the end of 2012.  With my own catchy domain name and book series title (“do ask do tell”) might I have attracted the contact from “Cincinnatus” instead of Greenwald?  Again, the biggest “disadvantage” is that I cannot show commercial success with my publishing, but Greenwald can. Maybe it helps that he is 25 years younger.  Had I been contacted, would I have dismissed it as spam?  (There were “spammy” emails warning of 9/11 Labor Day weekend of 2001; I got one of them.)  Would I have paid my own way to Hong Kong?  (I could afford it, but only because of estate money, not business operations).  Could the NSA leak have wound up on my own “” site?  Would my ISP have objected?  Does this violate “acceptable use policy”?  Again, it seems murky where journalists and bloggers have some responsibility to protect information they didn’t get legally. 

Greenwald is right that “journalistic objectivity” is a bit of a myth.  Anderson Cooper is always chiding guests on their “moral compass”.  Some of them do seem in cahoots with the “neo-liberal” establishment, and some (like Fox and The Washington Times) with conservatives.  They do tend to be partisan.

It’s worthy of note to remember that in the 1990s, a reporter for a Tacoma, WA newspaper was transferred to copy-editing for public activism for lesbian causes, and the courts agreed with the “reporter objectivity theory”.  That was then.

Even if Greenwald is right, I find myself resisting being asked to join and pimp “other people’s causes”, and people will say that I am too “stuck up” to carry a picket sign.  This can get dangerous. No, I won’t nominate someone for the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. Reason: Objectivity! I will report on things like homelessness, but keep some comfortable personal distance from it.  I might not get away with that forever, unless I become part of the “legitimate Fourth Estate”.

The final episode in the book considers the detention of Greenwald’s gay marriage partner David Miranda when he was transiting a London airport.  It’s important to note that, early in the story, the government seems to have delayed a shipment of encryption firmware to Greenwald’s home; then David’s laptop was stolen.  Greenwald talks about the idea that the government could try to destroy all of someone’s media (including thumb drives and cloud copies). 

Note that in the video embedded above, Greenwald talks with Noam Chomsky.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dov Seidman (CEO of LRN): "How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything", review

Author: Dov Seidman, with Foreword by Bill Clinton

Title: “How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything
Publication: 2011 (Expanded edition, originally published in 2007), Wiley: ISNB 978-1-118-10627-2,  344 pages, hardcover (also e-book), 4 Parts, 12 Chapters, with a Foreword, Preface (38 roman pages), Prologue, and two Afterword’s (“How’s Matter”).
Amazon link
Before I move on, let me note something about the format of the book.  There are multiple introductions and epilogues, which I know a NYC literary agent with whom I worked in the 1990s would have seen as unnecessary.  Also, I get annoyed when books have small roman page numbering for introductory material.  I say, make the title page as “1” and number on, so we can tell how long the book is.  With my own DADT III book, the half-title page is page 1.  The actual text starts on p. 9.  I call my opening a “Foreword”, but literary agents prefer the term “Introduction”. 
The author is CEO of LRN, which helps companies with regulatory and compliance issues.
Seidman also has filed trademark litigation against yogurt manufacturer Chobani, which I discuss on my Trademark Issues blog Oct, 6, 2014, over the use of a common English adverb “How” as a wordmark. 
This leads me next into noting that Seidman’s thinking and ideas are a lot like mine, in my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books (three of them), but he has made it less personal, more generic, and more suitable for commercial use in a consulting business or as a motivational speaker.  For example, he avoids all discussion of sexuality, although he does recognize there is tension between the goals of the individual (as Ayn Rand would see them) and the needs of the group.

I'll also add here that in 2003 I developed a certification exam for Brainbench on "business ethics", dealing with some of the issues in the book.  One of the most controversial ideas them that I promoted was avoiding "conflict of interest", which is definitely a "How".  
The difference between “What” and “How” comes up in systems development.  Back in 1979, a consortium of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans tries to set up a combines Medicare system project (“CABCO”), which I moved to Dallas to work for.  The group used a project management system called “Pride Logik” (rather like SDM70) with different phases.  Phase 2 was the “What” (the input and output specification for each subsystem), and Phase 3 was the “How” (Structured English, which would lead to pseudocode).  The project stumbled and failed in 1982 over the inability of the sponsoring Plans to agree on “the Whats”, not realizing that modern computing could allow users to specify not only “the How” but even “the What”. 
Seidman’s book is divided into parts related to change, thought, behavior, and governance.  Along the way, he gives a lot of interesting anecdotes, starting out with explanations of how “The Wave” self-generates at large sports events.  He has some stories from his own business, and some troubling examples of where entrepreneurs went wrong, as when a new restaurant in Los Angeles was socked with frivolous litigation from a competitor over how it had violated a local license. 
The most serious point, in my experience, comes out of transparency.  In the past, gatekeepers monitored information, which allowed individuals to lead double lives and keep past indiscretions secret, often from future employers.  Since the early-to-mid 2000’s (about the time of Myspace, which preceded Facebook – and at one point Seidman makes the point with the older Myspace, like he was Dr. Phil) employers have realized they can check up on prospective and current employees online with search engines, often pulling up information for the wrong person or getting misleading impressions.  In fact, reputation management has become a whole industry, most visibly started my Michael Fertik with his “Reputation Defender” (my own “BillBoushka” blog, Nov. 30, 2006). Reputation goes global, but it used to be more dependent on family and social station and connections in a community, the loss of which some commentators like Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”) lament (March 14, 2012).  Daniel Solove of George Washington University has also written about reputation (Jan. 12, 2008).  
In his last section, Seidman categorizes different cultures of management, starting out (after “anarchy”) with the purely authoritarian – like the military.  That culture dominated early years of my own life, when we had a male-only draft.  Most companies in my career followed “informed acquiescence” but the most progressive – and I believe this includes companies like Apple, Facebook and Google – use more self-governance.  Actually, the idea of self-managed teams was developing in the 1990s and was promoted at my own employer (USLICO-ReliaStar-ING-Voya) as Team Handbook and then TQM (Total Quality Management, which he mentions by name at least once).  I’d say an earlier stint in the credit industry (Chilton-TRW-Experian) as more like his “acquiescence”. 
I can remember, as a boy, being very concerned about my father’s ideas over authority, and the idea of doings something “just for authority”.  My father had a little “proverb” or inevitable aphorism, that is, “to obey is better than to sacrifice”.  That’s because, in his world, and really for a lot of people today in a universe of gross inequality, if you don’t step up to what you have to do, “sacrifice” can really happen and it can get ugly.  I talk about that in the “Epilogue” of the “non-fiction” part of my DADT III book.
I can provide a particular perspective on when “How” matters.  Think about the way we got grades, and in my era, avoiding the draft, or at least getting used as cannon fodder in Vietnam, depended on academic records – that’s the whole moral debate over student deferments.  But if you cheated on a test, that was no good.  I remember that, in my senior year of high school, a girl thought I had cheated on a government test because I had predicted that the teacher would ask about “institutionalism” on  a test.  Well, he did, but I had simply put 2+2 together and predicted it.  She was wrong, but the unfounded accusation did hurt my reputation a bit.
Fast forward a few decades, to the time my mother passed away at the end of 2010.  I’ve written in my DADT III book about the seven years living with her, in her (not my) home after I returned from Minnesota in 2003, when I was already 60 myself.  People put a lot of pressure on me to become more “emotionally” involved and more assertive with health care providers than I was.  This was disturbing.  I felt a bit like a parasite, the way the Left Wing sees it.  I did land rather well.  I am financially stable enough now NOT to have to look at hucksterism to  stay afoat in my own retirement, but I didn’t exactly “earn it”.  (That’s a line from “The Proles”, my underground novel some people know.)  But I get threatening proposals from people to give up my own ends and join them, or else, because inheriting wealth is not quite morally legitimate as a “How”.   But is telemarketing more legitimate?
Or back up to 2005, when I was substitute teaching.  Again, I would sometimes be confronted with disciplinary situations that required more intimacy than I was prepared to offer (as a never married, childless, older homosexual man, used to double lives).  But my undoing was my own transparency, the way one particular web posting of mine had been (mis)interpreted, as connected to other events (when it wasn’t). 

And I can back up to the mid 1990s, to another HOW.  I was working for a life insurance company (USLICO) that specialized in selling to military officers.  I had started working on my first DADT book, which would deal, in large part, with the moral controversy associated with the debate over gays in the military, following Bill Clinton's proposal.  I felt that publication would constitute a conflict of interest, because it was no longer a legitimate "HOW" for me to earn a living from a source connected to the military if I wrote about it.  So I arranged a transfer to Minneapolis in 1997. 
There is something to say about work habits – HOW you do the job is important so that you know that you did it right and that the customer can depend on what you did to work after you’re gone.  In information technology, following security procedures to the letter is part of the expected “How” now, but this has evolved over decades.  (In fact, some hierarchal separation of functions, which Dov sees as divisive, is necessary for security in some workplaces.)  My father’s prescription for “how” was “formation of proper habits” and even “learning to work”.
There’s another reason, however, that “WHAT” matters.  In these days of equality and individual rights, the purposes that one has in mind for one’s own freedom do eventually matter to others.  This was an important idea in that troubling early period of my college days, including the “hospitalization” at NIH in 1962.  But one’s desires and fantasies, if they surface, can indeed create contradictions. 
So while others would barge in on my life and concern themselves with “what” I wanted, I could rightfully ask, “WHAT do you want from me?”  Sometimes it seemed like it was surrender of the self and submission to their purposes, their authoritarian structure.  That sort of thinking is what ISIS uses to recruit teens now.  (“Why are you sitting around when we are attacked?”)  Shame itself comes full circle.
 This book should be compared to David Callahan's "The Cheating Culture" (2004), reviewed here March 28, 2006. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus" is a brief supplementary update to David Quammen's earlier book

Author David Quammen has followed up his previous book (“Spillover”, Oct. 23) with a supplement, “Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus”.  It is published by Norton, with ISBN 978-0-393-35155-2 for paperback, 119 pages, indexed, and is in 21 “sections” with an Introduction and an Epilogue.

The book does repeat some material from “Spillover” but also brings the history of the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa up to date as of early September 2014.  It does not cover the cases that were treated in Texas (including the two nurses at Texas Presbyterian) or New York City, since these occurred after the book went to press.  That’s a problem with non-fiction book publishing.
Quammen would obviously discourage public health policies that would discourage doctors and nurses from going to West Africa to help treat Ebola patients.  But perhaps a 21-day observation or quarantine period would be negotiated into an assignment, and be paid for. 

Quammen discusses the lurid hyperbolic discussions of the clinical course of Ebola in his 1994 book “The Hot Zone”, which also describes Ebola Reston (which affected chimps only).  No, people don’t really turn to slime alive and dissolve in their beds.  Many cases, even fatal ones, don’t even involve bleeding.  However, the virus does so much damage to the blood supply of vital organs that multiple organ failures often occur.
I bought “The Hot Zone” in the cafeteria at a one-day book fair where I worked in 1994 (at USLICO Corporation, soon to become ReliaStar).  After I brought it into the office and shared it, others called me “Ebola Bill”, having no idea how prophetic the book would become. 
He also provides more details on how the virus may persist in animal reservoirs, especially bats, which are much more numerous than we realize, and whose immune systems are sufficiently different from ours that they can host the virus without becoming ill from it.  The virus seems adapted to these ancient hosts, but not to humans. 
Ebola has several subtypes, and another filiovirus, Marburg, is closely related and causes very similar disease.  Quammen says that the tick-born Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic fever (caused by a different family of virus) is even more gruesome than Ebola or Marburg. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

David Quammen's "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic" follows on Garret's book in the 90s

Author: David Quammen

Title: "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic"

Publication: W.W. Norton. 2012, ISBN 978-0-393-06680-7, 588 pages, indexed, 9 long chapters, 115 short sections.
Amazon link here
Quammen, well known for non-fiction for National Geographic, has provided a detailed historical examination of almost all major infectious disease capable of causing pandemics. 

One of the most obvious reactions is the variability of the way infectious disease works and plays out.  Epidemiology principles are similar for viruses, bacteria, fungi or protists.  Many but not all infectious agents have reservoirs in animal hosts, and some are brought to humans by insects. Others arrive at the human body through cultural practices in hunting and preparing food, or sometimes having poultry or animals in close proximity to households.  Diseases spread in a variety of ways, but the three main patterns are airborne, direct blood or body fluid contact on any surface or in extremely close contact, and sexual contact or other very deep contact such as with intravenous needles.

Quammen discusses many agents that are relatively obscure, starting with Hendra in horses in Australia. But in time he gets to the important and well known epidemics.  He gives a detailed history of SARS, in Singapore and southeast Asia, where contact tracing did get it under control.  It isn’t long before he gets into the mathematics of epidemiology, with a touch of differential equations.  
In chapter 6, he discusses how viral infections work and why RNA viruses mutate more rapidly than DNA viruses.  Among RNA viruses, retroviruses behave very differently because of the use of reverse transcriptase and the use of the nucleus of the cell to create more copies. 

The book predates the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, and the recent cases in the United States (in Dallas, and as of today, New York City).  The author gives two detailed case histories of Marburg (Europeans who explored caves in Uganda frequented by bats) one of whom survived only to lose her hair, to have it grow back gray afterwards.  

There has been controversy in the media about speculation as to whether Ebola could become more contagious (it doesn’t naturally go to the respiratory tract), or whether the incubation period is longer than supposed, and maybe even asymptotically indefinite. I see that Quammen has a new short book “Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus”, published Oct. 20, 2014, which I have just ordered.  (It’s on Kindle, too.) 

But the most interesting part of the book is the history of HIV (“The Chimp and the River”), which splits into the history of several viruses.  There was a virus called HTLV-1, which causes leukemia, known before HTLV-III which became called HIV.  The author traces the original infection of man by primates in Africa, in the area known as the Congo, back in 1908.   The virus slowly percolated, causing immune dysfunction that would not be noticed at first in a society with so many diseases.  But when hypodermics were introduced (and reused because of cost), infection probably increased rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s.  Quammen maintains that infection was probably propagated then my mostly heterosexual sex.  Although transmission from women to men was not as efficient as from men to women (or to other men in anal intercourse), it was probably sufficient to sustain the epidemic (according to his calculus homework, anyway) in Africa.

I’ve often related the scary history of the politics of AIDS in Texas in the early 1980s, especially before HIV was identified and a test could be developed.  Some members of the religious right (the “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS”) tried to introduce some very draconian anti-gay legislation in 1983, claiming that gay men, as a closed group practicing anal intercourse, “amplified” the presence of the (then) putative virus to the point that I might mutate and threaten the general population.  Quammen’s book shows that the history of viruses, especially slow viruses like HIV, is so pervasive that this idea is just nonsense. 
Quammen’s penultimate chapter does deal with influenza, particular swine and bird flu, and the issue of whether avian influenza would ever become efficiently transmitted from human to human. 
Quammen’s verbal description of life in Africa is often quite detailed and colorful. 
The book is a logical sequel to Laurie Garrett's "The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance" (1995, Penguin) and even Robert Preston's "The Hot Zone" (1994).
Also consider the ABC TV movie "Fatal Contact" Bird Flu in America" (2005) by David Pearce.   

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Jenise Brown: "Down Low Sister on Top": a "re-clothed novel" about African American bisexual women, from VA Pride

Author: Jenise Brown

Title: “Down Low Sister on Top: Celebrating the African American Bisexual Woman

Publication: Jenise, Richmond VA, ISBN 978-0-9904187-5-7, paper, 196 pages, 4 long chapters

I met the author at her booth at Virginia Pride on Brown’s Island in Richmond on Sept. 27 of this year.  I deposited the price at the table and got the book in the mail, and I don’t find the book on Amazon.  I’ve talked here about the idea of selling your own book yourself at fairs and festivals.  I did some of that with my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in 1997;  I did my own first printing, and didn’t go to POD until 2000.  In fact, I handled all orders myself from Minneapolis (where I moved in September) until January 1998.  After I got home from recovering from my accidental hip fracture, I put the book on Amazon (and BN ad Borders) for the first time, in those days not realizing how desirable that would be. I also had a distributor in Minneapolis, the Bookmen.

The Website for the book is here.  I see that she links to a Paypal page, an issue that I discussed recently here (Oct. 4), a rather bizarre coincidence.   

To get to Denise’s book, it comprises and introduction and four long chapters with autobiographical narrative, and then first person narratives of a number of other bisexual women, including at least one Muslim, whom she says are “fictitious”.  So literally, the book is more a collection of stories than a novel, although it is rather bridge-like in form. Remember how early novels were often in the form of letters, and some writers, like Thomas Carlyle, experimented with form considerably in early fiction (see Dec. 2, 2013).   Back in 1983, I had experimented with the idea of taking a novel and breaking it up into “standalone stories” for flexibibility, as described on Wordpress here.  

According to the author, “Down Low” refers to behavior among African Americans that they feel they have to hide.  Specifically, it refers to black men who pretend to be conventionally heterosexual and have families, but who also have sex with men.  The term has expanded to women, who are bisexual more often than men.
The four chapters are “The Art of Lying”, “The Art of Social Networking”, “The Art in the Power of Influence”, and “The Art of Selfishness”.  One of the women talks about dealing with arranged marriages, and then about being in the military as a lesbian during the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, with a bite that reminds me of some of the accounts in Randy Shilts’s “Conduct Unbecoming”. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

'Journeys out of the Body" by Robert A. Monroe

Author: Robert A. Monroe (1915-1995)
Title: “Journeys out of the Body”

Publication: Broadway Books, 1971, ISBN 0-385-00861-9, 280 pages, paper
This time, I review an older book, that I picked up in the Blue Moon Antique Mall in Lovingston, VA Aug. 23, 2014, after a brief visit to the Monroe Institute.

The author describes a long record of psychic and “out of body” experiences from the 1950s through the 1960s, many of them near or at his home in North Carolina.

The most interesting concept is that of a “Second Stage” or “Second Body”, which is something like a ghost.  It has very low mass, but some sort of physical body, and can feel sensations, even sexual. Oddly, he mentions that there seem to be no hair follicles (or nails) – maybe because these are “dead” projections of skin cells anyway. 

He also describes  “Locale II” and a “Locale III”.  It seems that “Locale II” is something like “The Core”, or the entry into the afterlife, and it has no real physical geography, although there are sometimes some visions.  But “Locale III” seems to be like another world, another planet – maybe in this galaxy, maybe in another universe.  The lifestyles seem like that of the nineteenth century, without electricity, but there are steam trains and wagons that haul many people.  Later he reports disasters, like buildings collapsing and some kind of danger from the air, which may apply to Locale III.  This place sounds like one of the other dominions in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica” (March 28, 2006).
He mentions angels, sometimes as appealing people, who seem to have some powers (a bit like Clark Kent in “Smallville” perhaps).  He also mentions having a Faraday Cage, at one point, which is an odd reference in an older book like this.  A Faraday Cage is supposed to protect electronics from an electromagnetic pulse attack.

My own experience with certain kinds of intense dreams backs up some of his ideas.  I have seen a consistent image of “another world” where most living is communal (in dorms), where there are underground trains (that would seem to require electricity), and where some of the communities are in Venice-like layouts near water.  In my dreams, people are placed in “progressive dinner party” communities with varying levels of technology but expected to develop communications and physical skills on their own.  There have occurred a small number of very intimate encounters with a very limited list of persons over a number of years in dreams that sound very real.  I’ve wondered if the other party knows in these cases.  I suspect that is possible, and if so, “telepathy” is a lot more important that friending on Facebook.
Acquiring the ability to do OBE’s seems to require a lot of meditation, relaxation, and special sound tapes, taught in long sessions at the Monroe Institute. 

There is an appendix in which a VA physician gives a personality assessment of Dr. Monroe, which seems a bit like mine.  

Saturday, October 04, 2014

I can sell copies of my books with Paypal now, for consumers who want to use it; should authors take credit cards directly?

As I explained this morning on my “id” blog, I have found it necessary to reactivate my PayPal account for a particular event. 

That raises an interesting opportunity.  Yes, I do have some sample inventories (of at least a few dozen copies each) of my three “Do Ask Do Tell” books (a few hardcover, too, for the third of these).  So it is possible for any consumer to use PayPal to purchase from me directly, if the consumer prefers not to use Amazon or BN.  That could happen for a consumer without bank accounts or credit cards.

Officially, I’ll set the prices as the lowest among Amazon, BN, which is always Amazon. These would be as follows:

For “Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” (DADT-1, 1997-2000), it is $25.16 paper.
For “Do Ask, Do Tell: When Freedom Is Stressed” (DADT-2, 2002), it is $15.26, paper.

For “Do Ask, Do Tell: Speech Is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened to Is a Privilege” (DADT-3, 2014), it is $17.99, paper or hardcover (the latter very limited). 

The third of these is available on Kindle from Amazon and Nook on BN inexpensively. 

The first two books are published by iUniverse, the third by XLibris (both companies belong to Author Solutions in Bloomington, IN).

I do not know why iUniverse dropped Kindle on the first two books.  There may be some kind of dispute. I do have them on my own Kindle device.  (I don’t have Nook – not enough time in life to try everything).  If I learn there is some interest in Kindle for these, I will look into why this has happened, and could consider doing the conversions myself.  There are some links as to know to make a Kindle file yourself that Amazon will accept, such as at “Agent Query” (here) and at “The Book Designer” (here).

If I sell books directly, I may have to pay sales tax to Virginia, or in a few cases to other states.   I will monitor this situation (as to volume, for example) to see if this is necessary, as I have no system to do it automatically. I would "eat" the tax for now. I do have a home-based business license with Arlington County, VA (which would also cover online advertising income)   This income is small, but is reportable to the IRS and Virginia.  It has never amounted enough to result in a County tax, but it is reported in March of every year.  

When I self-published my first book in 1997 with a book manufacturer, managing it all myself, I did fill out the paperwork for a sales tax license with Fairfax County, VA (where I lived at the time), as early as January of that year.  I moved to Minnesota in September for work and did not need to fill out any paper work in Minnesota that I recall now.  However, I had to pay Fairfax County some kind of back fee of about $100 in early 1998.  I worked with a distributor in Minneapolis (Bookmen at the time), that eventually sold a lot of my stock.   I often shipped copies to individuals by Priority Mail and was often paid by check (not one check ever bounced, as I recall). A few people sent cash in the mail, and it was never lost. 
As I’ve noted before, I don’t spend a lot of time on “retail” operations.   There was a book author who had a kiosk at Gay Pride in Richmond last weekend, who took cash at the table with an address to mail the book.  I find I need to spend my time on development of new integrated content and networking with other content creators, not on traditional “selling” of copies of single items.  Media business is simply becoming too seamless these days for old marketing models to work.

If someone has a problem with the prices and could afford only a smaller one, let me know.
I wonder if Bitcoin is next.   No, I don’t have it yet.  And I don’t live in Second Life. 

"You" can contact me at JBoushka at aol,com or by Facebook or Twitter for info on how to purchase by Paypal.   (JBoushka on Twitter).  Or you can call at the cell number given at the "contact link" at "".   I'll put more details on my Wordpress Media blog soon.

Update: Oct. 13.

A reminder, I don't take credit cards.  If anyone purchases books from me directly, I don't save the purchaser information anywhere.  (I do have address and phone info for non-commercial personal contacts in "private" harddrive files that are non online -- but they are saved in the Cloud;  I wonder if that could present any real hazard.)

Book self-publishing services seem to assume that many authors will take credit cards individually, at fairs or kiosks, or on their own websites, since they try to sell large numbers of hardcopies to authors.  Because of recent security lapses in the news at large companies, running your own credit card operation seems to have become increasingly risky, something that might well be uninsurable.  It seems as though the self-publishing companies are unaware of the risk; or at least the people that would call me repeatedly (as in 2012) were unaware.
Nevertheless, a few self-published authors (and filmmakers or musicians directly selling their own DVD's or CD's) do take cards, or at least don't put their stuff on Amazon.  As a customer, I find using Amazon much easier, and safer.

Update: Oct. 14

Amazon seems to have restored Kindle access to my first two books, $3.99 each.  Well, on Oct. 15, the Kindles weren't there.  Is this an Amazon problem?  I may eventually make my own conversions.  You can read them fine in HTML online, of course (and that aligns OK on a smartphone).  But Kindle keeps the page numbers and chapters intact.  And users would like to keep all their books on one device.  If I get more feedback asking for it, I'll make the Kindle versions myself if I need to, but I've got to get other things done first.

Update: July 20, 2015

Kindle for the first two books is restored.

Note that all my contact with individual buyers is "informal".  If you go through me, rather than an e-commerce site, I handle it manually.  No purchaser information is kept (so it can't be hacked later).  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Retired double-operative: "Agent Storm: My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA" - maybe the most telling account of Islamic radicalization of a westerner (and his return) yet

Author: Morten Storm, with Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister

Title: “Agent Storm: My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA

Publication: 2014, Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 978-0-8021-2314-5, 27 chapters with an Epilogue, 403 pages, hardcover, indexed, endnotes, with “agent archive” and color photo section

The Amazon link is here

The substance of this book was presented as a one-hour documentary on CNN September 16 (and reviewed then on the TV blog).  The title of the film ended with “for the CIA” but the book title says “and the CIA”.  There is a difference.

The details of his life as a double agent, which starts near the halfway point, are labyrinthine.  Particularly interesting are the enormous resources dedicated to encryption and obscure technologies, including a USB thumb drive that downloads an entire computer automatically (although a restore disk should come close to that).  There are arranged marriages and the use of sex for spying purposes.  There are double crosses.  One strong impression is that field work overseas in the CIA is indeed concerned with enemies, and planting people with them.  That’s probably very different, in terms of the temperament of the person needed as an employee, from analytical work, as at Langley. 
In the closing chapter and epilogue, Storm, now about 40, describes his life as a spy “in the cold”, with a tenuous exit and severance from Danish intelligence, with British intelligence and the CIA unwilling to help him (it’s unclear if this is because he went too public).  Identity change, even facial surgery that would make him unrecognizable to his own son, was at least proposed.  Throughout most of his adult life he carried on a charade even with his own wife, who was arranged. 
But the most important value from the book comes from the story of his radicalization in liberal Denmark, and then his self “de-radicalization”
Although we expect European social safety nets to prevent broken families and poverty, they don’t.  In fact, later, Storm had the Danish government partially paying for his Islamic studies.

Morten had started getting into trouble committing petty crime at age 13.  His father, an alcoholic, deserted the family when he was four.  His mother married “flawed men”, he says.  He did not have a decent male role model.  We know that in the US and elsewhere this often leads to crime, regardless of race (Morten is redheaded and very fair skinned).  He would be expelled even from an alternative school, and never be able to finish his education.  He developed street smarts, and headed for a life as a runner for European versions of the Mafia, which definitely exists.

Even right here, there is a “moral” issue.  Particularly in Europe, people with better education and their own personally defined careers tend to have fewer children.  They tend to leave the “responsibility” for a new generation to the poor and the immigrants.  Get into demographic winter if you like.  When I was substitute teaching, I was sometimes confronted with middle school and (a few times) high school kids with this sort of background.  Was I supposed to be able to reach out to them from my perch?  They had no grasp of how to “make it” cognitively in an “individualistic” society based on free will, personal identity, and working in a system where the value of what you do for others can be expressed in a market economy.  They just weren’t in the same space, as me, at least.
One day, Morten, visiting a public library (where “It’s free” as in one of Reid Ewing’s videos) he discovered a book on Islam.  He spent six hours reading about the faith and didn’t want to break away from reading.  Islam seemed to be able to give his chaotic, restless life a purpose.  Other troubled young men in the US who get radicalized and recruited to go overseas to fight report this kind of experience. A common denominator is that they can’t define their own identity with their own efforts in a way normally expected in western culture and encouraged in western high school and college. 
What seems particular significant is that Islam presents a sense of group belonging.  One becomes something else, a Muslim.  (The Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri would chant “We are Muslims!”)  Then, there is the idea that non-Muslims, or non-believers or apostates (or "infidels") occupied Muslim lands (as during the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and later) and sometimes harmed Muslims.  This automatically, in the ideology of radical Islam, makes all non-believers enemies.  There is a religious duty for jihad, and to wage conflict against all non-believers, both to reclaim non-Muslim lands, but also to avenge deaths of Muslims.  In radical Islam, the death of any non-Muslim civilian can be regarded as payback for the death of a Muslim, and conferring it may become viewed as a religious obligation, on top of the obligation to go out and fight (and offer one’s life) for Muslim “victims”. 

This seems a little different from the targeting of civilians by the radical Communist Left, as happened in the 60s and 70s in Communist China and Vietnam (the latter is not as well-known as it should be).  With the radical left, it was more “personal”; the individual members of the bourgeoisie were seen as personally deserving of expropriation and possible “trading places” into peasantry and poverty, often death, or at least “purification”.  The radical Muslim ideas, as notorious as they are (for example, with homophobia) don’t really seem to be as personalized. (OK, we could compare it to North Korea if we wanted.)  I have some personal experience of contact with the radical Left in the early 70s and I know how they think.  Radical Islam (or any religious extremism), communism, and fascism, while all different in some ways, ultimately have better-off “non-belonging” civilians eventually “watching their backs”.

There’s “something else” about a rigid moral system, which radical Islam and totalitarianism promote that become very convenient.  They make it easier to blow off people who don’t “make it” as individuals.  There is no need for discomforting emotion and feeling in a personal sense for the less fortunate, when it costs something.  It can be kept at a safe distance. 

Morten’s odyssey in to radical Islam would indeed take him into adventure, as at the primitive “seminary” in the desert at Dammaj, Yemen.  Tempo increased, and he would work on the streets back in Europe to earn money to go fight in Somalia.  His journey to Somalia was cancelled after radicals lost a critical battle at the airport.  Morten soon had a sudden change of mind, after he began to see the logical contradictions within radical Islam and the interpretations of the Koran as taught to him. It’s interesting that, with his level of education, he would be bothered by contradiction, but he says that even this awakening seem to come out of an odd sense of faith, not just intellect.  One point that did not make sense to him was that radical Islam seemed to deny free will, whereas the Koran itself does not.  The idea that non-Muslims were automatically fair game quickly lost credibility, as did the idea that there could be only one religion tolerated on the planet, or even in one geographical region (the “caliphate”). 

Of course, logically, it isn’t possible for every religious creed to be literally true at the same time.  What is possible is to put together a personal faith by taking elements out of many faiths (and basic physics or cosmology) and religious writings, to carve out pieces that actually fit together.  But then the authority of one scripture (the Koran, the Torah, or the Bible, or the Book of Mormon) is lost.   

The story of the eventual demise of terrorist Anwar al Awlaki, eventually eliminated in the fall of 2011 by a CIA drone, after a couple failed attempts (one of which Storm details), as well as Awlaki’s teen son, is complex (wiki).  What is disturbing is why al-Awlaki (only 40 when he died) became radicalized, after a graduate western education (almost a PhD candidate).   He is said to have been a student of Sayyid Qutb, with the latter’s obsession with “virtue”. Again, such a focus is a convenient deflection from real caring and emotion. 

Below: Yogaville, VA, ashram shire demonstrates the common roots of all faiths in one temple.