Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sean Penn's "El Chapo" scoop, Leo's crusade, and more Cato

Today, I’ll cheat a little bit, and cover three short booklet-like articles.

The January 28, 2016 Rolling Stone offers Sean Penn’s almost-book-length riveting account of his interview in October 2015 with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, starting on p. 44.  Rolling Stone advises that El Chapo was arrested in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico on January 9 as the interview went to press.

 The article title is “El Chapo Speaks”. There is an unflattering photo on p. 47 of El Chapo’s somewhat obese, hairless-of-bod presence.

What’s interesting is Penn’s long narrative of the journeys he took to do the interviews.  It starts in New York City about the time of the Pope’s visit, when he meets a certain Espinoza in a midtown restaurant.  Soon he flies to LA to meet actress Kate del Castillo.  Guzman had been communicating indirectly with Castillo for more public attention, a film.  The party flew a private plane to the Mexican west coast, and made a 14 hour land journey to a hideaway for a first interview.  But the main course would come later when Penn would rent a car himself in Yuma and drive through the back country, in areas supposedly safer from cartels.   The whole narrative reminds me of a rental car sequence in Russia in the 1985 Cold War novel “The Red Fox” by Anthony Hyde.   (Back in 1980, a coworker in Dallas “went by himself” into the interior of Mexico on a long weekend and came back OK.)

Penn at one point (p. 52) Penn says he takes “no payment” when he “does journalism” – which raises the whole question of “sales paradigm” I have been pestered with.  He also says that by age 55 he hasn't learned how to use laptops or technology very well.

Penn does pose the moral question, about whether the demand from consumers creates the problem. El Chapo, in the QA toward the end of the article, seems to confirm that.  But at other points Penn seems to making a libertarian attack on the war on drugs almost as if by Harry Browne. It’s very unlikely that Penn’s interview had anything to do with the re-arrest, but the actress’s activities probably did. According to the legal opinions expressed on CNN, Penn is at no legal risk for appearing to abet Chapo’s fugitive status.

Another important article in the issue is “Leo’s Crusade”, by Stephen Rodrick.  There’s a BW lead picture (p. 35) of Leonardo DiCaprio, now 41 with considerable chest hair, compared to his youth when he sacrificed himself in “Titanic” back in 1997.  D Caprio “just wants to save the planet” and has worked as executive producer for at least two small indie films reviewed on my movies blog, “Virunga” and “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret”.  Of course, there is a lot of coverage of him as an abandoned fur trapper in “The Revenant”.  My favorite role for him was in “Inception”.

On p. 28, Jeff Goodell asks “Will Paris Save the World?” and has a box with five pointers “What do we do next?” on p. 33.  He wants a price on carbon (the atmosphere is no longer an open sewer) and street activism.

The Cato Institute has a major white paper PDF by Jeffrey Miron, “U.S. Fiscal Imbalance over Time: This Time Is Different” with a supplement, “Fiscal Imbalance: A Primer”,  Miron does discuss the debt-ceiling crises of 2011 and 2013 and doesn’t sound as blasé as usual in saying that the ceiling refers only to bills we have already ratcheted.  He seems to feel that cuts in entitlements and health care are needed, and that implies more local, family and personal responsibility, and seems open  If you publish with Cato, it sounds as though you have to be morally comfortable with letting people deal with a lot of inequality on their own, very locally.

The Center for the American Experiment in Minneapolis has a white paper by Mitch Pearlstein, "Can Religious Traditions Strengthen Marriage?"with a roundtable discussion.  There is some mention of "sacrifice" in love and change of heart, but the overall focus is a religious one.  Toward the end, there is the comment that many women (who may have children out of wedlock) see many young men as "unmarriageable" (that's reported as an even bigger problem in China!)  What's missing from the discussion whether young adults who aren't interested in having their own children at all (including many or most homosexuals) "game" the system.

Stanford Law School has "Hacking the Patent System";  see my Trademarl blog Jan. 28 for details. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

"The Economics of Immigration", as edited by Benjamin Powell; but more than economics matters to refugees from persecution

Editor: Benjamin Powell (Professor of Economics at Texas Tech University)

Title: “The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy

Publication: Oxford University Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0-19-025879-5, paper (and hardcover), 248 pages.

Typical article by Powell (from 2010) is here.

This book was sold at a Cato forum on Jan. 6, 2016 (the forum itself is discussed on the Issues blog that day).  The book contents were written largely before the severity of the Syrian crisis was understood, but the Central American crisis has

The book starts with an Introduction, by the Editor.  There follow two main sections.

“Social Sciences” comprises four essays: “The Economic Effects of International Labor Mobility” by Pater T. Leeson and Zachary Gochenou; “The Fiscal Impact of Immigration” by Alex Nowrasteh; “The Civic and Cultural Assimilationo f Immigrants to the United States” by Jacob Vigdor; “Employment Visa: An International Comparison” by Alexandra Padilla and Nicolas Cachanosky.
Generally, these essays, backed up by peer-reviewed data studies, support the notion that immigration tends to be an economic plus for modern countries.  But incomes of lesser-educated local people may be reduced somewhat.

“Public Policy” offers three proposals.  “Immigration Reform: A Modest Proposal” by Richard K. Vedder proposals a free-market auction system for visas, but would primarily bring in skilled workers.  Vedder pays heed to the need for some humanitarian asylum.

Then “Immigration’s Future: A Pathway to Legalization and Assimilation” proposes a “grand bargain” in which immigration is limited but a definite plan is offered to help undocumented workers (and “dreamers”) earn the right to stay.  The author does consider assimilation a major challenge.

“A Radical Case for Open Borders” by Bryan Caplan and Vipuk Naik, is just that. But Caplan notes that illegality encourages black markets and excess criminality, in a manner analogous to criticisms of the war on drugs.

The book finishes with  “Conclusion: Alternate Policy Perspectives” by the Editor. He reviews books (as if to write an annotated bibliography for a college class)  by scholars critical of greater immigration (George Borjas, Paul Collier, and Victor Davis Hanson) and then generally supportive (Gordon Hanson, Lant Pritchett, and Michael Clemens).  In general, Powell believes that market forces, rather than separate point systems, should govern immigration.

But all of this is based on abstract policy theories. Indeed, some of the writers address the moral cases (even from the viewpoint of Christianity).  But the real moral problem today is that refugees are fleeing civil war, invasions, extreme religious persecution, conquest, and sometimes even specialized sexual orientation persecution.  The areas of the world with the most attention right now may be Iraq/Syria, and then Central America, or various areas in Africa.  Refugees, if given asylum, may need assistance in finding low level employment, housing, and developing English skills.  Faith-based agencies might pressure individual people to step up and support them, although right now government policy and law may make this illegal in many cases.  (In 1980, the “spare bedrooms” plea was made for the Mariel Boat Lift from Cuba.)  On the other hand, many speakers, mostly on the right, argue, with some substance, that terrorists could hide among the refugees as Trojans.  Reaching out for humanitarian reasons may involve personal risk-taking and sacrifice, and may not always be economically beneficial.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Michael Austin's book on interpreting the Constitution; Texas governor's call for major constitutional amendments in a new booklet

Author: Michael Austin (Foreword by Ray Smock, Ph. D.)

Title: “That’s Not What They Meant: Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America’s Right Wing

Publication: Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012;  ISBN 978-1-61614-670-2; 253 pages, indexed, with Foreword, Preface, Nine Chapters, Six Appendices.

Amazon link.

I bought this book in a physical store, in the Current Affairs section in a back part of the Barnes and Noble Tysons store.

Austin opens the discussion with a  (somewhat complicated and ironic) historical perspective on Federalism, Anti-Federalism, and Repubicanism to Jeffersonianism (and the viewpoints of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson).  He then explains the difference between “originalism” (or “textualism”),  and  discerning the “intent” of the authors of the Constitution.

In the nine chapters, he does get into several important moral policy questions as they could be affected by right-wing "originalism".  (Somehow, that reminds me of religious "inerrancy").  One is how to interpret separation of church and state – whether faith is a “collective” right, or merely a personal one (which could include atheism).  If it is collective, there is more background support for a local area’s religious community to pressure those who don’t “believe” the same things to behave according to their norms. (See Gairdner, May 15, 2015).

The author sympathizes with the conservative concerns about illegal immigrants’ having children in the US, but believes the problem has to be addressed in a constitutional way.

He also “poohs” the libertarian idea that if you don’t like the laws created by the social norms of a conservative state (like Texas), just move to a blue one.   Generally, it’s easier to find employment in conservative states (although it may pay less) and the cost of living is usually less.

Later, he considers explicit and implied powers, and discusses the constitutionality of the Federal Reserve, or national bank.  It’s interesting that Southern states didn’t see money as “real wealth”. He does mention the 2011 debt ceiling crisis (and the slight downgrading of the US credit rating), which would be played out again in 2013.  Most “conservatives” who don’t want to raise the ceiling ignore the fact that the ceiling could cause the US to default on its bills.  In fact, the idea that default could harm a lot of people doesn’t seem to bother “them” as they would drive the economy off a cliff to prove an ideological point.

The last chapter in the book concerns the mathematical tautology, that someone has to have the last word. And that’s the Supreme Court. That invokes a lot of material on Marbury v. Madison.  Jefferson didn’t think that the Constitution should apply “within the state”.

Austin maintains that the founding fathers knew well that you have to distinguish “individual” from “organizational” behavior, a big point for me personally.

The book has six substantial appendices: The Virginia Religious Freedom Act, James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments”, Thomas Jefferson’s correspondence with the Danbury Baptist Association, Federalist essays by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, and Jefferson v. Hamilton in the National Bank Debate.

Now, we come to a recent matter that seems related.  Republican Texas Governor Ted Abbott calls for a constitutional convention for several amendments, in a document published online by the Texas Tribune, “Restoring the Rule of Law with States Leading the Way”, 92 pages.

Charlotte Rampling discusses this “modest proposal” Jan. 15 in the Washington Post, “Tea Partyers love the Constitution so much – they want to blow it up.”

Abbott wants to require a 7-2 Supreme Court super-majority to overturn democratic laws, to have no power over laws within one state (how about Texas’s old 21.06).  He also wants to allow two thirds of the states to override a Supreme Court opinion.

Apparently he also talks about a “constitutional convention”.  The Left Wing was prone to doing that back in the 1970s, and that led to my big gaffe in Chapter 3 of my first DADT book, “Constitutional conventional”.

See also book by John Paul Stevens (Aug. 31, 2015).

My own first "Do Ask, Do Tell" book had proposed two constitutional amendments in the last chapter.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

"Healthy Book Festival" at NBC4 Expo in Washington leads to a sobering conversation about infrastructure security

This weekend, the NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo at the Washington DC Convention Center featured a modest “Healthy Book Festival.” I visited it late Saturday afternoon. It was run by the Barnes and Noble bookstore on the Catholic University campus.

The selection was small, and some were the conventional weight loss and fitness fare.  There were a couple of ample vegan cookbooks.  There were a couple of coloring books with interesting cities depicted.

But two “events” of some significance developed in the short time that I was there.

I purchased one hardcover, by CNN anchor journalist Tom Foreman: “My Year of Running Dangerously: A Dad, a Daughter, and a Ridiculous Plan”, from Blue Rider Press.  Yes, I’m reminded of the 1982 film about a journalist in peril in SE Asia, “The Year of Living Dangerously”, directed by Peter Weir,  with Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver Linda Hunt, a favorite of the late Roger Ebert.

Foreman was present to sign the book.  I will review the book soon in a separate post.  But I want to cover my conversation with him now. I recall Foreman’s covering critical international and domestic crises, and elections.  So I spoke up about the media’s coverage of critical issues regarding the security and stability of our electric power grids and, of course, the Internet derivative of the grids.

The major threats, of a potentially existential character, can come from cyberwar, direct terrorism (especially EMP attacks), and extreme solar storms (like the 19th Century Carrington Event, and we may have missed another one by about a week in the summer of 2012).  I’ve covered all of these in connection to one another on my blogs, especially this one of book reviews, and the reviews can be easily aggregated or correlated from the Blogger label facility. Foreman immediately mentioned Ted Koppel’s “Lights Out” (Nov. 10, 2015).  I’ve covered that, as well other non-fiction accounts and two major novels, as well as technical studies published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (which I visited in July 2013 personally) and the National Academy of Sciences.  While Koppel’s recent book stresses the cyber-threat, most of the others (except for Dorgan’s novel) stress space weather and EMP as the primary threats.  It’s noteworthy that the EMP threat does not require nuclear detonation, but few sources have covered “conventional” flux weapons, outside of the Washington Times and (back in 2001), Popular Mechanics.  (See my “Cautionary” or “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” blog, Jan. 3, 2016, for more details.)  Much of the problem is augmented by the fact that major transformers cannot be quickly replaced and most are manufactured overseas.

I mentioned to Foreman that none of the major news networks (CNN, Vox, Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS) have really tried to aggregate all of this material and present it to the public in a coherent, systematic manner.  I seem to have covered it about as well as anyone so far.  I will help news networks cover it if they ask me.  (I’ll add that I was formally employed by NBC in the 1970s.)

Our whole civilization has become dependent on electricity and communications, so a global or regional catastrophe of unprecedented dimension is possible, even more urgent than climate change.  Sources of material on these problems are quite credible, and not limited to the right-wing “doomsday prepper” crowd. '

But the mainstream media seems asleep on this issue, as is government (although there are stories abou underground statements from past DHS officials), and particularly political candidates.  Why don’t Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Hillary Clinton talk about security for our electric infrastructure?

I can definitely imagine CNN (more than any other network) doing a 2-hour special report on this whole area.  CNN should do it.  Foreman, Anderson Cooper (AC360) or Fareed Zakaria (GPS), for example, could produce and host it.

It is common to find dire prophecies about the financial system, too (as from Porter Stansberry).  These generally are much less credible, unless they were caused by a collapse of physical infrastructure.  (In sum, we’re not in another 2008 right now, but the ability of the developing world to grow given concerns about climate change and debt is indeed cause for great concern.)

Let me move on to one other interesting event Saturday.  I did attend the presentation at 4 PM, which happened to be from Lou Schuler, author of “Strong”, which was being sold at the fair.

Schuler explained how he channeled his writing on fitness to more specific audiences, namely women.  Once he did so, he says he found that sales on older books improved,  which sounds like an unusual observation for the book business.  But Schuler’s narrative, as he explained it at the forum, does show the value of writing for specific audiences, which is not something I do myself.

Update: Jan 16

With a visit to the Westover Market in Arlington VA today, I learned, in the checkout line, that owner David Hicks has authored a book.  I'll look into this more, but here is a link from Outskirts Press.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Someone actually asks about borrowing old book copies

Here’s another little incident that speaks to the value of physically printed books, especially older classics, and even "used" copies.

Recently, as a contractor was about to leave as I paid him the bill, he noticed the array of Rosiscrucian books (two of them reviewed here April 7, 2007) among others in a tall bookcase in the den.  (That  particleboard bookcase had been assembled from a poorly documented kit on a Christmas day about twelve years ago, but that’s another matter). He was very interested and asked if he could borrow them, as if I were “The Library” where “It’s free”.

I told him he should just buy them on Amazon.  I checked – they’re available;  and now they have ISBN numbers – AMORC republished them all in the 1980s and 1990s.  I do look at these occasionally. Of course, it takes a little disposable income to buy physical copies of books -- some older ones are very cheap, others are collectors' items (even one of my original printings is such), and some are kept a moderate prices if in everyday circulation by publishers -- books on this subject matter don't become obsolete as quickly as do modern policy non-fiction.

It’s rather interesting that a random contractor would notice this particular philosophy (which is interdenominational)

Other important titles include “Mansions of the Soul”, and “The Conscious Interlude: A Cosmic Connection”. These books tend to emphasize the “soul” as a kind of collective entity, almost like the overmind in Arthur C. Clarke’s writings (like “Childhood’s End”). There is also “The Symbolic Prophecy of the Great Pyramid” and “Lemuria: The Lost Continent of the Pacific”.

Back before the Internet, book clubs were popular, and I even gave in to a Zondoveran series “All the (object) of the Bible” (like “All the Women of the Bible”).

The family has a lot of major Christian books popular in the early 1950s.  There was a large sized “Gospel Parallels” by a Dr. Baumann at American University which I could not locate.

The family also has "Gospel Parallels: The Eternal Gospel and Our Contemporary Society" by Dr. Edward Pruden, from the Judson Press, long term pastor of the First Baptist Church of Washington DC from about 1940 until 1969.   Pruden does go into the question as to how a Christian nation (Germany) could fall for Nazism.

Monday, January 04, 2016

"Paperwhite Narcissus" creates the world for gay college students during the Vietnam era draft (novel by Tom Baker)

Author: Tom Baker

Title: “Paperwhite Narcissus

Publication: 2014, iUniverse, ISBN 978-1-4917-5143-5, in hardcover, softcover, and e-book, 180 pages.

Amazon link: (There is another novel by the same author reviewed here March 22, 2012).

Mr. Baker creates another period piece about the life of a collegiate gay man in the 1960s, maybe three years before Stonewall.  And he manages to bring in all the pertinent issues of the era, of which today’s younger gay men seem largely unaware.  From a political viewpoint, many of the issues are covered in the first two chapters of my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book and then again revisited in the second chapter of my third book.

The main character is Tim Halladay, a senior and English major at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA.  He has been told that a twin brother died at birth, and has always missed “Jeffrey”, which provokes emotional problems and creates a goal for the plot of the book.  But this used to be relatively common;  it has happened on my mother’s side of my own family.

Another event was the passing of a drama mentor and soap opera star, Red, from “Another World”. For college graduation, his Aunt Blade plans to take him to South America for a summer adventure before starting graduate school.  The flower that provides the title of the novel was Red’s favorite.
But a major threat is being drafted for the Vietnam war.  Tim does not have a science or math background that would be likely to keep him deferred or that would probably keep him further from combat if he did go into the service – which is how I wound up handling it (I went in the Army in February 1968 after getting my MA in mathematics).

Baker talks about the box for “homosexual tendencies” on the draft physical.  That was indeed present when I took the first draft physical in September 1964.  Classified 4-F when I admitted psychiatric treatment, I believed I was shamed or defamed (which is what Tim believes will happen to him).  I retook the physical in Kansas City (when going to graduate school at KU) in April 1966, and moved up to 1-Y.  I retook it a third time in August, 1967 and was classified 1-A.  Besides J. D. Salinger, I may be the only person who challenged a 4-F for reputational reasons and eventually served.  But in 1966 and 1967, in my case, the question about “homosexual tendencies” had already been removed.

In the novel, Tim does not want to get out of the draft for that reason, although others do. Few novels today deal with the moral issues of the draft the way Baker's does.

The novel has a lot of flashback material, such as his work as a summer camp counselor at age 18.

In a couple of spots, the novel mentions the political conflict in the Middle East, explicitly naming Syria, as if to suggest that even in the 1960s, Vietnam was the wrong battlefield.