Monday, June 29, 2015

Why we need Grace


Here’s a Monday morning wakeup that sounds like a Sunday sermon (but fit in any faith), an essay in the Washington Post Style section (front page) by Sarah Kaufman, “A return to the grade of God and of man”, link here

Grace is not earned or “merited”, it is not something we “deserve”.

But it is essential to survival.  Without grace and the ability to forgive, anyone takes on the responsibility for the sins of anyone who wrongs him or her.  I’ve written recently that there is no honor in being a victim.  A “victim” still lives with the damage done by the greed, anger,  hostility (personalized or not), or indignation of an attacker.  Justice does not change that fact.

And grace is necessary because no one can be “right” all the time.  The principle of entropy in physics guarantees that.
  
Picture: scene from Fort Eustis, VA, yesterday, visit.  I was stationed there from Sept. 1968 to Feb. 1970, in an important episode of my life.  Details soon on a Wordpress blog. 


Thursday, June 25, 2015

The outside world comes knocking sometimes: a single immigration lawyer is invited to become a mother, suddenly


The Style Section of the Washington Post on Thursday has a narrative by Ellen McCarthy that is prescient about how the outside world can throw sudden responsibilities upon the “me’s” of the world, with a certain moral dimension. The print title is “A woman had a dying wish, Care for my daughter”, she said.”
  
Online, the title is more explicit. “This life: one woman’s dying wish made another woman a mom”, link here. The included video is called “An unexpected chance at motherhood”. 
  
The story concerns single, childless immigration lawyer Linda Rahal. One of her clients, from Serbia (who had stayed with her at one time), called her years later to ask Linda to adopt or raise her child as the client was dying of an aggressive breast cancer. 
  
At 180 degrees away from this kind of situation is the libertarian idea of morality and personal responsibility: you make your own choices and live up to their consequences.  That’s especially true about sex, in all kinds of areas, from pregnancy to STD’s and HIV. 
  
It’s now easy to challenge this with the newer narratives about eldercare, as our parents live longer, and so will we (with fewer of us, as people can afford to have fewer kids).  But the challenges go way beyond family and sex, to question fundamentally the way we let people into or exclude them from our lives. These reach back into moral areas.
  
It seems that most people one encounters in life have fewer legitimate opportunities to make real choices that most of us who may be “better off” and insular realize. 
  
So the outside world can indeed come knocking, very suddenly.  The gay asylum crisis provides another potential way this could engage me.  I have a lot of work to do before I could use my own content in a way that could support others.  I can run out of time, and wind up having to “pimp” someone else’s work or causes whether I “like it” or not.  
  


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How Vox blends news interpretation and journalism with "sponsored content", a controversy?


CNN Money has an interesting article from December 2014 explaining how Vox Media works as a business, here.  It refers to a Linked-In post by Vox here. 
  
The company has long had various niche news websites and more recently launched its main news site, simply called Vox, around the end of 2013.  It is like a digital news network without a cable channel corresponding to, say, CNN, with a progressive to liberal political view.  But its emphasis has been more on interpreting the news than on breaking it.  For many issues, it has developed yellow “card stacks”, which are now sometimes embeddable, which discuss all the aspects of a specific issue (like same-sex marriage) often showing there are multiple viewpoints, not just two “opposing viewpoints”.  For some issues, it issues “Vox sentences” to summarize what is known at a particular point.  It’s approach to breaking news is restrained, a “what we know” presentation.

That’s why a CNN article that says that Vox partners with some key advertisers to create detailed content is interesting and maybe perplexing.  (“Native advertising” is denied;  “sponsored content” is another buzzword.)   That could sound like it could blur the lines of “objective” journalism – but the again, can “interpretation” every be totally objective.

Pando convers the issue here:


I wonder if my “do ask do tell” concept could fit in to the whole picture.

I'll show an example of an embedded card-stack, on global warming, in conjunction with the Pope's recent comments on climate change.


I note one other matter from my own perspective as to how I got into blogger journalism.  The employees and editors have their own twitter feeds, and seem free to express their own views.  In the past, according to “conflict of interest” concerns I raised about my own situation (back in the 90s) covering gays in the military while working for a company that served them, that might have seemed questionable.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Eventual reorganization of legacy material


Here I go again, more “strategic planning” (June 9). I outlined then the work that needs to get done (novel ready for submission, screenplay ready for presentation, comprehensive video, and music (the "big" Sonata). 
  
There’s a real question about so much old information on my legacy sites.  I’ve left it up so as not to disrupt the search engines.  But I agree it would be very desirable to cull all the media reviews (movies, TV, books, stage plays and music, and special cautionary items) into one format.
   
I see a lot of email in my inbox and Twitter feeds offering SEO, and some about website design.  Most of the services would work best for small businesses with a limited scope in content (“niche”) and a need to sell items.  Sometimes, niche websites do make money just from ads on their own content (that is, like Heather Armstrong’s “Dooce” and other mommy blogs).  That’s getting harder all the time.  One example that has been somewhat successful for a few writers is soap opera summaries and similarly detailed television episode summations.
  
Help in redesigning the platform for all my legacy content, and merging it with more recent reviews (since 2007) would be more expensive.  There are some good products connected t Wordpress, based on the idea that WP runs off MySQL  (source).   
  
Before doing any coding, I would have to do the “systems analysis”, just like we did when I was “working”.  You specify the “whats” before the “hows”.  Call it almost a business analyst effort.  I’d have to figure out how they should be aggregated, how they should appear, where ads would be, all kinds of things. I’d have to estimate space, but I doubt that would be a problem.
  
There is a lot of reason to think the “reviews” should be on a conventional site, indexed by title (and director, writer or composer) rather than “blogs”.  But the news blogs still provide a valuable history on how an issue evolved over time (like ending “don’t ask don’t tell”, or the Section 230 and DMCA and even SOPA controversies).  I my case, the postings on “ethics” often belong in the “food chain” because they consider the “downstream liability” or “brother’s keeper” questions so often.

I’ll have to get to this in the fall, when the four big tasks are done, along with a few more travel items. This would be a good time to get to the https SSL issue for all content. 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

"Writing a manifesto" gets viewed as a dangerous sign


It seems that the concept of “Manifesto” gets more negative with each tragic incident.  The latest news is that twitter users found a 2500-word “Manifesto” by Dylann Root (presumably, by evidence; CNN and Mother Jones are careful on that point), who killed at least nine persons at the Emmanuel African Episcopal Methodist Church (AME) in Charleston SC on Wednesday night. Of course, even in high school, we had learned to associate the word "Manifesto" with Karl Marx, and then with expropriation. 
  


  
The textfile on “LastRhodesian” is no longer available.  But there is a Google cache, which may not be available for long, here.
   
CNN has a narrative story here; Mother Jones here
   
There are plenty of accounts of what it says.  This includes the idea that Root was provoked by the Trayvon Martin matter.

There have been plenty of “manifestos”.  Ted Kaczynski made a spectacle of getting newspapers to run his just before the Internet era began,
  
It seems, off hand, that writing a “manifesto” is a reaction from someone who is somehow offended by what society, or those in his own peer group, demands of him for presumed common good, to provide rationalization for how he would like to see the world work and what he can do to make it happen.  The manifesto-creation represents an inability to “fit in” to society in a way that doesn’t lead to some other kind of shame.
  
My own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book was sometimes called “The Manifesto” by my own friends back in 1997.
  
I'm not particularly interested in what's in the “manifesto” described in the news today as to claims of a specific ideology, but I am concerned about the individual morality involved. This new "manifesto" expresses a belief that people should always be processed as “objects” who are members of adversarial groups.  This is very much the case with religious terrorism (as in the Middle East), and with Nazi and other totalitarian ideologies of the past (Communism is a little more complicated).  But if that is so, then no one is “innocent”, and other members of the group should pay for the “crimes” of their peers merely because they belong to the group. 
   
I have always acted and written as an individualist.  It’s true that I grew up (in the 1950s) with certain notions about the external trappings of manhood where I would, in my own mind, attribute a moral value to various individuals based on what I interpreted as “virtue” in what I saw. This affected (and still affects) my level of interest in some sort of personal relationship with the person.  But it had nothing to do with the idea that the person belongs to a particular group.  It never could have justified aggression against someone else just because of some kind of arbitrary “disapproval” (of any behavior or trait). The philosophy was “do no (direct) harm”, but that may not be good enough for sustainability.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

"My Twitter Life" ups the promotion of niche-only blogging


Today, in "My Twitter Life", I was greeted by the confrontational “Bloggers, go niche or go home!”, with this link.  That sounds like Regal Theaters “Go big or go home”.  (Oh, why then does Regal Ballston Common show big films in small auditoriums?)
  
The Twitter-er followed with an example of a real niche blog, intended for physical fitness customers who don’t like formal gym programs, here.  Reminder, yes, I haven’t made it to LA Fitness for a while. (Remember the gorgeous facility visible from I-10, I think in Ontario, CA?)
  
He also gave a link to another tip-list for “professional” blogging here
  
Seriously, I’ve seen a lot more promotion of the idea that all blogging should be niche blogging for $$$, that you should write what people want and will pay for, not what you have to say.
  
I’ve also seen a lot more aggressive behavior in promoting services and products (including self-published books) in direct messages, that sometimes show the same level of courtesy as telemarketing or robocalling.
  
I do what I do. “It is what it is.”  I got into blogging after my first self-published book (way back in 1997), leading to flat HTML sites.  In the early days, I ranked high in search engines with no effort because my files were simple HTML and loaded fast compared to corporate sites, that hid their content unintentionally behind scripts and databases.  The content (the confluence of gay rights – especially lifting the military ban and DADT) with libertarianism seemed novel at the time.  Sales of the self-published book were reasonable until about the 9/11 period. 
  
Of course, with time, any political message gets less interesting to consumers.  I moved on to other areas encompassing what had started with the military – the whole terror, security and privacy questions, and the need to protect infrastructure from both terror and natural events (including climate change).  I also became interested in sustainability and social demographics.  I became concerned that we can lose our freedoms if we aren’t vigilant.  But I also thought that a lot of hardships could be avoided if we work and behave “smarter”.
  
This sounds like an “eat your vegetables” message that will attract the “choir” with normal passive search engine presence.  It indeed does, and I am able to network with individual persons and parties that I come to know over time, but these individuals tend not to be (or come across as) particularly “needy”.  People with more specific “needs” can be attracted by more direct marketing of content, but this is not a part of the world that seems very interesting.  Yes, for example, I support “marriage equality”, but when that is the only focus of some content out of related context, it doesn’t mean a whole lot (to me, at least).    I still think my presence is “politically” effective, just by being there.  But I realize that in time, conditions can change. Business models of bloggng services and hosting may not always be as amendable to users who don’t actually generate profits with their particular content.  Weakening of Section 230 at some point in the future could become relevant.
  

We have a schism in our culture, where “critical thinking”, learning and development of science for its own sake, is seen at odds with socialization and helping people, organized into specific and narrow communities, with their more immediate needs. 

But there is also this "idea" that you're not a "real" writer unless you will work for other people and get paid to say what they want you to say.  I do get pestered by this thinking. 
     
I’ll note another article, maintaining that content isn’t a commodity any more, here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wall Street Journal piece suggests Apple doesn't need to keep on producing PC's in 21st Century


The Wall Street Journal has touched off controversy today with an op-ed by Christopher Mims, suggesting that Apple should ditch its PC’s (e.g. the MacBook) and focus strictly on “21st Century products”, link here
  
It’s not a good idea to leave the entire PC world to Microsoft,  The Apple MacBook is superior, in my experience, with video editing and music composition.  It may not be quite as efficient in some business environments (although Mark Zuckerberg seems to prefer it personally). It is generally more stable, boots and updates faster.  It’s a little more expensive for most users. 
  
The WSJ seems to take a silly view on what users want, superficial apps that help them with consumption behaviors.  Smartphones are the product of choice when you want to find the lowest price item at a grocery store, or a quick Uber, Lyft or taxi ride, or check who won a pro sports game, but not to watch a movie at home or author a book or a video.  Real content still requires a real computer, including a real keyboard.
  
   
The WSJ is acting like a short-term bean counter, like much of Wall Street.  Timothy B. Lee of Vox has a piece on Vox explaining why this is WSJ’s worst ever tech idea, here
   
There’s another debate going on, as to whether home users will even continue “buying” music (for collections, especially classical) at all, and this can have an effect on Apple.  I’ll take that up soon on the music blog. 
  
Picture: from Quartermaster Museum, Fort Lee VA, last week's visit 



Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Twitter expands capacity to block undesirable users


Twitter has announced an expansion of its block list tool, allowing people to share the list with others in a community, as explained here. This capability, off hand, would sound open to abuse, to easy “blacklisting” of political or economic competitors.  Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an article by Nadia Kayyali and Jillian York, gave support to the expanded capacity, but with some reservations over the possibility of abuse and false blacklisting.
  
  
It’s also possible to report abusers for spam.
  
Just as a personal note.  I personally don’t think it’s cool to ask people to retweet one’s posts, or to send direct messages to people just to “sell” “your” latest service (whether it’s another self-published fantasy novel or children’s book, or SEO optimization).  Messages directed at specific parties should relate so some common purpose or experience that has been building up over time, not just trying to pimp a product. 
  
That goes along with what kind of approaches to “me” work.  Yes, I am interested in collaborating with people on projects (film, especially documentary, or news, or music) where there is some sustained commonality of substance (particularly with past media work) or general vision or world view.  Workplace jargon would be “good fit”.   But I’m not very approachable just to go out and work suddenly for someone else’s agenda (like, raising money for a specific political candidate or isolated cause).  Some of the pleas get annoying. (And, no, I’ve never been another family’s backup plan or insurance policy.)
  
Sorry, I guess I don’t practice “radical solidarity”.  And, as I wrote before, “It’s hard out here for a pimp”.

  

Sunday, June 14, 2015

New site supports creation of one's own daily newspaper


It is possible now to put out your own online newspaper, with a site called “Paper.li”   The TLD appears to correspond to the country Liechtenstein.
  
An example is Rick Sincere’s Daily Paper site here. The paper seems to come out almost every day and present a few news stories that the editor thinks are the most important to his own readership.  Sincere also has one Blogger log with similar content, here.   Some of the material is similar to topics I often cover.  Rick was president of Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty in its glory days, the 1990s (which were pretty interesting in retrospect – how I miss “Tracks” “Trumpets”). 
   
This site could provide a simpler manner of blogger journalism than maintaining separate blogs as I do now. Wordpress also provides some advice on how to start one's own newspaper here


Friday, June 12, 2015

How to Be Good


I saw a tweet Wednesday, while “on the road” for the day, “How you make others feel about themselves is perhaps the best indication of your quality of character”.  I retweeted without comment.
    
I suppose I will run into this idea while reading the book “The Road to Character” by David Brooks, as I contemplate the “Big Me”.  Right off the bat, I contemplate a tweet from actor-singer Timo Descamps from a West Hollywood (I think) restaurant on the big Santa Monica Blvd last month, “Happy birthday to me.”  It was his 29th.  But he didn’t post the expected selfie, but rather an Instagram of a delectable oyster and clam spread.  Something to share, something away from the visible self. The “other Timo” (classical composer and pianist Timo Andres) also often tweets pictures of food spreads.  It can be hard to tell their Instagram work apart. 
  
I ponder the spectacular success of teen inventor Jack Andraka, now 18, and just finished with a European book tour (“Breakthrough”, about his innovative pancreatic cancer detection test for a science fair).  His older brother, Luke, also had a major achievement with a project about acid spillage from coal mines, which in a world of climate change could turn out to be as important in the grand scheme of things.  Yet the media simply overlooks him for the most part (maybe it’s easier that way).  You look up “images” of him on Google, it’s his younger brother who fills the page.  
  
Then I notice the tweets of Reid Ewing, somewhat afar from his world of comedy movies and "Modern Family" role and even his very innovative short films (about “free-dom”), often quoting "inevitable epigrams" from moral parables out of English novels and especially the Russian playwright Chekhov, almost what a literature professor would expect undergraduate freshman students to write about on an essay exam.  I love his narrative about animal consciousness.  Again, we’re in the world of David Brooks.  
  
And I’ve written before about the need for personal recognition and accolades (Sept. 30, 2014), and I and getting the expected counter dose from Brooks’s book already – a third the way through.  
    
I think back to the difficult days after my William and Mary expulsion in 1961 (which opens my DADT-1 book), where I was castigated for sharing with the Dean of Men that I had considered myself a “latent” homosexual.  Therapists actually claimed that I was trying to “step on people’s toes”.  It didn’t occur to the therapists to ask why others were so concerned about whether I would follow their impulses and date girls and marry and have children one day myself, leading toward their taunts.  The tweet I mentioned above seems most relevant.  Standing apart from them, at some distance, almost like an alien from a nearby solar system, I was in a position to judge “them”, as to how they should feel about their own “desirability” as future fathers.  (The word “de-sirable” became quite popular in Army barracks in 1969.)  I could indeed make them comfortable with themselves by not going along with them.  I could, figuratively, fight with my fingernails.  In these days of stopping bullying, that sounds more understandable.  But at the time, m behavior was certainly double-edged.  
  
A couple of films currently around, “Geronotophilia” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” seem to weigh in on this problem.  And so does the Twitter profile of Richard S. Harmon (“The greatest of all time”) who calls himself “just a big ball of sunshine”. There are a couple of films with that word, not only "Little Miss Sunshine" but actually the 2000 historical epic film by Istvan Szabo called "Sunshine"





Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wikileaks bounty on TPP raises question of journalists' paying for stories


It’s not OK for journalists to pay for stories. (I sometimes wonder if senders of email I get realize that.)  But recently, Wikileaks has created a stir by offering a “bounty” for parts of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty so that it can leak pre-publish them.
  
Kelly McBride has an op-ed about this problem in the New York Times Tuesday, June 9, 2015, p. A21, “when it’s O.K. to pay for a story”, link here.
  
There is a big problem in the secrecy of the negotiations and the possibility that they could affect users, especially in third world country.
  
  
Of particular concern are the narrowing of fair use interpretations of copyright, the narrowing of the protections of DMCA-safe-harbor protections, and the loosening of procedures for filing copyright complaints.  It could also increase downstream liability for intermediaries, and force them to police users.
   
But it isn’t clear that this would affect any content within the US or between the US and all countries.  But even so, allowing some content to be available in many countries could become a big headache. Electronic Frontier Foundation has an Issues page on it here


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Could I trade myself (as a free agent) from the Nationals to the Mets or Yankees (maybe even Rangers, or Dodgers?)


It’s time for me to take a checkpoint on my own “work”.  

All of this concerns material I would like to see “published” or “performed” in regular commercial venues. At age 72 (almost), I have to think about putting it into a shape where others could work with it if something did happen to me. (No, “Timo”, I can’t tweet “I’m still young” the day before a “Happy Birthday to Me” image. 
  
I have am fairly comfortable with the draft that I have of my sci-fi-political novel “Angel’s Brother”, about 110,000 words.  I have created a Microsoft Access database that helps me keep track of all the “loose ends”, particularly character backstories (which can be “fact or fiction” relative to the narrative stream).  I have been documenting this on Wordpress, for example here
  
I am now reviewing the detailed treatment of the screenplay “Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted” and I am building a similar database to track backstories.  I will probably “rewrite” the 110-page Final Draft Script.  I think that this effort would take roughly 60 clock hours.  In Tinseltown economics, that means development of an acceptable shooting script would probably cost about $12000.   
  
As for my music, the biggest effort is to lay out the Finale of my Sonata #3 on Sibelius in a manner that others can work with it.  I think I have a pretty good handle on the flow of it, but some thematic interrelationships are still a bit in flux.  One of the major themes came to me in a dream three years ago. Time to do: 40 clock hours.  
  
That would mean, I can use my own music for a film. 
   
The other mini-project is the non-fiction video, that covers the material in the three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, assuming the reader hasn’t read either of the first two.  That will be kept simple at first, with the help of organizing shots in Power Point, and only then Final Cut Pro.   Time to so: 80 hours.
That totals 180 hours, or about one clock month regular work hours.  It will be spread out over more than that.  
   
The Blogger journalism will continue, and I need to get at least two short trips done.  It’s important that all the logistics works, and given the perilous world we live in, I’m dependent on infrastructure provided by others, even when paid for.    (Airlines are included.) 

It's necessary to use social media and self-publication vehicles to reach large audiences with techniques that often involve "free" content or low short-term income.  It's not possible to do this on the ground just with white-listed real people first, partly because any one group of people's focus will be too narrow.  
     
But I do network with some specific other parties, about the possibility of some kind of collaboration.  I won’t name them here, but “you know who you are.”  
  
So it looks like a busy summer.  But at some point, I will need to streamline.  That could man reducing redundant services (such as Cloud, cable, steaming, anti-virus).  I’ve waited on this until I reach the next “breakpoint” (that is, the 180 hours, the length of time, by the way, it takes to get a teaching license in Virginia, by coincidence).  
  
It’s also possible after getting to the breakpoint to consider eventually moving.  There is reason to believe that eventual teardowns will increase in my neighborhood (for future “mansions” or maybe even townhomes and new street cut-throughs).  I have no specifics, but this could happen in five years, I think. It’s a bit unpredictable.  It raises questions involving property-flipping and interim rental markets.  But downsizing and living in a smaller, modern, secure urban space would solve some “logistical” problems in letting me focus on my career.  Where would I go?  It’s easier to network if one is in New York or La, of course (or maybe Texas, like Austin).  In NYC, Brooklyn (the northern part), Queens, or some parts of the Bronx might work, with access to 24-hour public transportation, where “everybody is”.  I guess I could get traded from the Washington Nationals to the New York Mets (who are doing well again), just in time.  (OK, the Yanks are in the Bronx. It’s ironic that the Nationals play the Yankees in New York tonight the day I write this post.)  
  

Over the years, I’ve gotten unsolicited (and unwelcome) invitations to “do something else”.  Having made the argument that I made in the first book (and supporting websites) around “don’t ask don’t tell”) and bringing in an ironic and double-edged personal narrative so publicly, there’s no way I can use my “right of publicity” to do anything else.  I tried ten years ago to make this work out with possible “career switch” to teaching math – and I’ve documented what happened.  I got calls from life insurance and tax preparation companies to become agents for them – as if it were my moral duty given the domestic situation at the time.  (That tracks back to the posting Friday June 5).   
    
It’s also not “possible” for me to “pimp” one issue by itself right now.  Yes, I believe in “marriage equality” (and this is the week for Capital Pride), but to focus on “raising money” for one issue alone (or one needy “go-fund-me” client alone) would seed an incomplete and misleading message.  (The military gay ban of the recent past was an unusual “octopus” in that it naturally invokes so many other questions about social capital.)  I know this sounds pompous, perhaps dangerously so, that I am above “need”.  But I have to stay on track in order to get anywhere and do others real good with integrity.  

Update: Oct. 13

No kidding, shortly after I wrote this post, the Mets started winning, and whisked the NL East title away from the Nationals.







Monday, June 08, 2015

"Cultural critic" stirs up secondary controversy by bragging about defaulting on student loan: i.e., what is a real "writer"?


A Facebook friend posted an angry comment about this op-ed in the New York Times by Lee Siegel Sunday, “Why I defaulted on my student loans”, here.  He's proud of this! Indeed, the article opens up a can of worms for me.  Don’t misconstrue, I don’t have a student loan or other debt problem (in fact, after my own William and Mary expulsion in 1961, my parents actually paid for the tuition to “live at home” and go to GWU, when the tuition was orders of magnitude less than it is now – and in graduate school, I paid my own way with teaching and research (computer programming) assistantships – and, yes, I had some pre-DADT military service).  
   
Siegel gets into some typical “class warfare” left-wing sorts of arguments, that are more or less true. Indeed, a lot of people who are stable financially are luckier (come from wealthier families that gave them head starts).  Indeed, a lot of inherited or rentier wealth or excessive executive compensation is in some way “underserved”.  I’ve heard a lot of that before (particularly when I “came of age” in the 60s and 70s).   But then he says, don’t take bad credit seriously (funny to someone who worked in the credit industry for six years in the 1980s from an IT perspective, and later as a debt collector) or marry or “love” someone with good credit.  That’s pretty silly, at best; at worst, it’s offensive. 

What’s more provocative is that he says that taking any job to pay the bills was beneath him.  We all know, that kind of attitude doesn’t cut it.  I my post 9/11, post-career-ending-at-age 58 layoff in 2001, I’ve worked some minimum wage jobs or had a taste of what the “low wage” world lives on.  Fortunately (maybe like Barbara Ehrenreich) I had a cushion and avoided the worst.  

He says he didn’t want to waste his life on a job that didn’t reflect his “particular usefulness to society”.  Well, anything that pays a wage at all reflects his real “usefulness”.  If working at McDonalds at minimum wage is the best he can do, then that’s his usefulness.  Does he even have the self-discipline to work wearing a uniform in a regimented job?  Can he even work?  There is a bit Maosim, I know, in my reaction.  He wouldn’t survive a “free market cultural revolution.”  

In "fairness" to Siegel, I suspect that he found that a lot of lucrative jobs involved pimping somebody else's ideas and work rather than his own.  (Even Wall Street sometimes is like that.)  "Sales" as a career, used to be respected.  Now, nobody wants to be called or contacted cold by a "sales person: and it's viewed as a second-rate career by a lot of us.  My father was a "wholesale" sales professional and built a world around it as I grew up in the 1950s.  I deeply respect how my parents built their world and how they raised me.  But my parents didn't grasp how radically the world would change during my own life.  My dad's life paradigm doesn't really exist today.  
   
That raises, of course, another question.  What did Siegel get his degree in?  What were his skills?  I know college kids now with enough skills (mostly in server programming, developing apps, sometimes even security) to earn a living while still in college and start their “adult lives” (car, apartment, credit cards) in a new city (albeit a college town, away from the parents’ nest), and they love it.  True, I don’t see them as often.   

He says he would have to give up what became his self-expressive vocation – being a “writer”, now.  I guess he didn’t major in journalism.  He could have started as a local reporter.  True, newspapers are having a harder time.  Maybe he could have gone into local television station.  (I know folks at WLJA and WRC in the DC area, and a little bit of the TV world from previous roots in Texas).  Maybe he could have gone to Vox, which advertises for openings (I know people there).  

At this point, it’s well to point to some other articles about Siegel’s “online reputation”.  The visitor can check for herself, like here or the Wikipeida article on his controversy (as a “cultural critic”) here.  
   
There’s then the obvious column, how much does he make from his columns now? 
   
Let’s then get into the area, who deserves to be called a “writer” anyway?  Author’s Guild says (or used to say) that it is only someone who gets advances for his work (when getting a book published).  Some people feel that a real writer is someone who can be hired to “write what other people want” (an old chestnut from Writers Digest) or will “pay for”.   That sounds like free market idea doesn’t it? 
  
A variation of this idea is that an “author” should be able to write about others besides himself.  For example, in many of my posts, and especially in the first book where I went into great detail about gays in the military, I did tell the stories of several servicemembers based on my own debriefing them.  But I also compared their narratives to my own (which presents an unusual paradox).  It’s true that I cover a lot topics and concerns, but can usually almost any controversial concern back to some circumstance previous in my own life – perhaps decades ago.  Is this real writing?  I think it is, but it is sometimes harder to get people to “pay” for it, because it isn’t exactly what they “want” – but maybe the “truth” that they need. 
  
Then this leads to the practice of  “amateur” blogging (mine, indeed with some “cultural criticism”) from people who make relatively little (they may have other wealth or other income) from actual self-publishing but have the “freedom” to say what they (not others) want – in a sense, to get readers to go (intellectually) vegan (like Bill Clinton) and “eat their vegetables” and broccoli (yup, George W. Bush hates it).  Such a blogger (or author) fills the gap that he or she feels established partisan politics and paid lobbyists won’t touch. 
  
This is not for everyone.  I’ve explained before that this is different from niche blogging, which has become a business of its own with its own skill set (as so well explained by Australian “BlogTyrant” Ramsay Taplin (like this post )). The impulse toward this kind of writing occurs later in life, particularly if one thinks one’s experiences or life narrative has something unusual enough that it needs to be kept out in front of the public, in perpetuity. 
  
For 31+ years (after grad school and Army service) I worked in mainframe IT as an “individual contributor”.  I didn’t self-publish until 27 of these years had passed. But once I did, there was no turning back.  Putting out double-edged and controversial (possibly self-deprecating in the minds of some people) autobiographical material (to help contribute to a major debate, which started with “don’t ask don’t tell”) can create “conflicts of interest” in the workplace and lead (if gratuitous and not self-supporting) lead to implicit content questions (that is, indirect enticement) that I have presented here before.  In legal and business areas, a lot of this is still very murky, even in 2015.  The Supreme Court, however, has consistently supported self-generated speech and broadcast whenever the legal complications arrive on their bench.
  
So, in the long run. I don’t see why Siegel couldn’t have earned a good enough living to pay his debts and gradually migrate to writing what he really wanted and needed to say later in life.  That’s what I (sort of) did. 

Friday, June 05, 2015

More about what others "should" expect from "me"


I want to return for a moment to considering “what should be expected” from those of us who see ourselves as “different” (even “special”), last taken up May 6.  

Let’s cast in a more specific way what we tend to “expect” of everyone.  It’s going to be pretty secular, within Western values, but most major mainstream religions (even moderate forms of Islam that we have worked with in the US for decades) follow these ideas.  

First, start with the libertarian idea, “do no harm”, and “keeping promises”, or, as the Cato Institute often puts it, honoring contracts you have made voluntarily.  That’s what is usually legally required.  Marriage is often viewed as a contract, so that means, don’t cheat.  And if you have children (whether or not married) by a voluntary act, you are responsible for supporting these children and raising them so they can earn a living on their own once they are adults.  Simple enough, right?  

But there are at least three more areas.  

So, second, family responsibility that we don’t “choose” often comes our way.  I had my does of that for the last seven years of my mother’s life, and there were issues back in the 1990s.  Eldercare is more likely to affect the childless now than in the distant past because people live longer with disability (especially Alzheimers) and have had fewer children.  Families often expect older children to learn to take care of younger siblings. (I’ve even heard Dr. Phil review the retort, “They aren’t MY children.”) Sometimes, after family tragedies, other siblings (who could be childness) are expected to raise the orphaned nieces and nephews.  “Social conservative” writers Mero and Carlson have made a lot of the “other people’s children” issue (Books, Sept. 18, 2009).   So it’s reasonable to suppose that, as a general matter, everyone should learn to do personal care of others, including both children and elderly adults, even before dating.  
  
The third area concerns inheritances.  Yes, I have an estate, which is fortunate for someone who is almost 72 himself.  Inherited wealth is generally not “earned” (except, of course, by caregiving).  The radical left has wanted to eliminate it (at least, there was rhetoric like that when I “came of age” un the early 60s).  So is it reasonable for strings to be attached?  They really aren’t in my case, in a way that I can see, unless I have missed something, and it’s always possible for something to crawl “out of the woodwork” (to borrow a phrase from the 60s series “The Outer Limits”). But some wills come with strings.  There can be a “Raising Helen” provision, raising a deceased parent’s other kids or dependents. Sometimes a bequest is available only if someone marries. That’s the scenario of the comedy “The Bachelor”.  That could be pertinent to the gay-marriage debate.  But today, some probate judges might not enforce such a provision, thinking it’s bad public policy.  Provisions like this are not very good for the institution of marriage.   

It’s possible also to require that someone remain employed full time or earn a minimum amount on his own each year before being allowed the bequest, so that he can’t “free ride” on it.   

But in a more general sense, it may be reasonable to expect a beneficiary to become more open to actual involvement in providing assistance to others (beyond normal structured, tax-deductible charitable giving to institutions and organizations through a bank, which I do).  For example, one could become involved directly in housing the homeless (Issues blog post, June 2).  One could be expected to become able to adopt or provide foster care for abandoned children.   

One can flip the viewpoint around from the beneficiary to that of the “disadvantaged” in society.  It could be viewed as a very personalized way of countering inequality and the possibly socially provocative idea of the “rentier” (as on Piketty, Book reviews, July 22, 2014).  So it could be viewed as a strategy to promote social stability (as in my DADT-3 book (Press release, April 2014, here ).  It could be suggested that the situationally disadvantaged have a “right” to expect that others who fall into unearned wealth will reach out to them.  
  
Social media fits in to this idea because appeals for assistance (like “gofundme” and campaigns like “Make a Wish”, “Ice Bucket” and “Be Brave and Shave”) for very specific causes and “clients” can be circulated quickly, whereas that was not possible when I was growing up.  In my coming of age, giving was more formal and institutionalized.  There was not as much in the way of personalized calls.  

That get’s to the last point, which is more ambivalent.  This is the idea that if you regularly speak out on an issue publicly (especially in broadcast mode), you really should have a stake in it, particularly stemming from someone who depends on you.  Before you’re “listened to” or even heard, you should have some of the responsibilities and risks and obstacles that others have.  I sometimes get this idea from people who “have” to make a living selling things, whereas the culture is making us very unwilling to be approached by sales people (“hucksters”).  

One variation of this idea (and a fourth major moral expectation) is that your content (if self-published, in books or on the web), should pay its own way (May 25).  That means, there is someone who actually “wants” it and will pay for it.  There is someone who benefits from it.  It’s no longer “preaching to the choir”.  I have indeed seen a lot more of this idea in recent months.  There is some controversy in the “writers” community – in that a “writer” can tell stories that other people want, not just their own (which is seen as generating “gratuitous” speech).  I could flip this and remind everyone that topic-specific or client-specific speech is often “partisan” and not very objective (June 3).  If you want to become a citizen journalist, you have to be objective and you can’t just tell people what they want to hear – you have to make them “eat your vegetables”.   

But that begs the question, is “citizen journalism”, self-broadcast, always protected as a fundamental right.  Is it something any of us have a right to do?  Authoritarianism, for example, maintains that everything should be vetted first before the public can see it – but then we find ourselves in the world of Russia (Putin) and China. But, after all, authoritarianism does protect stability, but at a price. 

Putting all this together, you can see that I was rather disturbed by calls I would get over the years, encouraging me to drop everything and become a life insurance agent, financial planner, or tax preparer, “like everybody else”.  You can see the tone of it. (Teaching gets more complicated).  

It is very difficult for someone who was not competitive socially in the past, who has never had “procreative sexual intercourse” or had children, to take on taking are of other people’s families.  I keep seeing calls to do this.  I can’t define the rest of my life in terms of “their” (or OPC) needs, unless I succeed in my own terms first.  So I need to see this citizen journalism and media all the way to the end (Sept. 30, 2014).  Please respect that.   

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Interesting short blog post attacks permissive attitude toward "amateur" criticism online



I got a tweet today pointing to a blog posting by Seth Goldin, very brief (here), saying “the critic is an amateur hack” and that we’ve made it easy for “unpaid, untrained, amateur critics” to be heard.  Call “them” the “Pharisees” (although the latter were an established, paid priesthood, usually).  Goldin’s blog is quite interesting, and a lot of it seems to apply to how to sell your ideas in the workplace, something for another day.  It’s interesting that the tweet, with a quick paraphrase, came from Jack Andraka (Books blog, March 18). 

Of course, this post relates to “user generated content”, indirectly protected by Section 230 (and DMCA Safe Harbor).  We’re used to contemplating that idea with respect to major social media platforms today, where “whitelisting” or a list of likely recipients is a major concept, but in earlier days (starting in the late 1990s) it was more about self-broadcast to anyone who could find it in a search engine.  And, like it or not, that was an effective way to get political arguments in front of people’s eyes.  And, yes, often it was “unpaid”.  (Here I go again, Reid Ewing’s 2011 mockumentary short film “It’s Free”, which needs to come back.)  Often it was amateurish.  Call it grass-roots. it is more than just criticism, but it is personal history that hosts nuanced criticism of established adversarial policy positions.  
  

On the flip side, of course, there has always been the world of K Street, in Washington DC, paid lobbyists (“professionals”), whose careers and mortgage payments are based on pitching one-sided positions for specific clients.  (Probably they do some entertaining these days at Nationals Park, since the baseball team has become formidable.)   To be very frank, it’s easier to “commercialize” (even in books and other media) one-sided positions on almost any issue, including (now), gay marriage (and, a decade ago, gays in the military).  “Unpaid” speakers are more likely to be able to look at both sides of the issue and point out logical flaws in thinking. In fact, I recall, back in August 2001 (a month before tragedy) a corporate sales meeting where a "paid" expert speaker predicted a 35,000 Dow!
      
Even so, in recent months there has been a lot more talk about making speech – whether in blogs or self-published books – pay its own way.  Implicit are trademark and security concerns, as well as equality, in the way speakers actually have accountability to others before they speak.
  
In the meantime, our economy – and our dependence on underpaid labor – forces a lot of people into hucksterism and “taking sides”. So does the top-down nature of most advocacy organizations.  


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The subtle inference from a libertarian author's comments on "restitution"


I thought I would point to a “FAQ” by Dr. Mary J. Ruwart, from her “Short Answers to Tough Questions” (1998), following “Healing Our World”, from her website, about restitution, here.  

I wanted to call some attention to her point about whether there is “mercy” in a “libertarian society.” She points out that “any debt incurred by an aggressor represents a real injury or loss to the victim.” In other words, there is no honor in “getting to play victim.”  The victim, in effect, contributes to paying for the acts of the criminal or thief, in terms of real losses or at least station in life.  In religious terms, particularly in Christianity, this idea could be seen as justification for the need for a savior.  No one can be “right” all the time.  In my own thinking, I sometimes prefer the word “casualty” rather than “victim”, at least if there sharing of the risks to civilians posed by common enemies. 


Monday, June 01, 2015

SCOTUS overturns "Facebook threat" conviction of Elonis, but questions remain to be settled by lower courts


The Supreme Court has tossed out a conviction of Anthony Elonis in federal court in Pennsylvania, for “threats” made on a Facebook based on previously performed (maybe copyrighted?) rap lyrics by Eminem.  NPR has a typical news story,by Bill Chappell, here. The Court ruled that the judge did not adequately instruct the jury on what constitutes a real threat in ambiguous circumstances like this.  When is a metaphor a threat?  SCOTUS said that “how a reasonable person would perceive a statement” is not an adequate standard, but wants a lower court to review the case on determining the appropriate standard.
  
There were seven concurring votes, one dissent (Thomas) and one mixed (Alito), which appears to be important. 

It would seem conceivable that another trial could happen, but unlikely.  

I had gone to the oral arguments form the three-minute line Dec. 1, 2014 (posting that day), exactly six months ago.

  
CNN has a story and video (no embed code given) by Ariane de Vogue here. The story says that this the “first time the Supreme Court has rules on social media and free speech”.
  
The slip opinion is here.
  
The opinion would seem to relate to my concerns about “implicit content”, with regard to my incident in 2005 as a substitute teacher.  The Court probably would have sided with me. Alito’s comments may be more relevant to what my situation could have become.  I will have to study it with more care later. 
   
In another matter, there are demonstrations near Facebook today on its “real names” policy, which the company says it is reconsidering. 

Update: Jun 6

Jeffrey Toobin on CNN discusses the Supreme Court's "inner libertarian" here.