Sunday, August 20, 2017

Atlantic, New Yorker examine unraveling of American social and political stability

Today’s “book” will be a collection of a few periodical articles hitting the press shows Sunday.
First, for The Atlantic, Sept. 2017.

Most important is “How America Lost Its Mind by Kurt Andersen. Truth from science and logic was for the robotic elites;  human truth came from the gut.   That sounds to me like the balanced personalities (Rosenfels-speak) won out – those attuned to reacting to social needs around them than to what is their own heads.  The “Age of Reason” weakened starting in the 60s.  We saw this with doubts about civilized living and modernity from the terrorists.  Eventually we got a huckster like Donald Trump who could win other people under his wing.  Young men find that the modern world offers them little, so they get picked off.  Then why are a number of talented young men that I know in the arts and sciences, very much into their own worlds, still so sociable?  Alan Truing, remember, with his Asperger nature and outside the normal world of social interaction, still had enough charisma to use his brains to save us from the Nazis.

Also Peter Beinart leads off with “The Rise of the Violent Left” with his piece on Antifa on p. 13, where he emphasized the supposed anarchy of the group as playing into the hands of authoritarians.  Look at how the “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville goaded them to fight, into tragedy.    Antifa believes everyone who doesn’t join them against “systematic oppression” is an enemy.

The New Yorker, on Aug. 21,asks “Out of Action: Do ProtestsWork?” (p. 70) The general answer might be, well, no.  Heller manages to review Mark Lilla and “The Once and Future Liberal” (Harper) who was on CNN this morning.  I’ll leave the long piece on Wikileaks and Julian Assange for another time.

But the previous issue by Robin Wright (Aug 14) had asked “Is America Headed to a New Kind of Civil War?”  which she discussed this morning on Reliable Sources on Jake Tapper’s CNN.   There are estimates of a 35% chance of major breakdowns of law and order in the next few years, but we already saw that with Sandtown in Baltimore, and with Ferguson. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Siemens publishes e-book on cyberattacks to power stations in Washington Post

Siemens Energy (from Germany) has authored a little e-book that demonstrates how cyber attacker can shut down power stations.  The Washington Post has published the e-book pdf here.  Call it “Power Grid Systems Shutdown”.

This pamphlet would fit well into Ted Koppel’s 2015 book “Lights Out”. 

The potential capacity of a hostile rogue state to hack into a corporate utility internal network, much of it not connected to the Internet, is shocking.

Hackers (insiders) use a device called a “PlugBot”.

Donald Trump has said “No computer is safe.” 

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Interesting forum on self-publishing at 2017 Outwrite LGBT Book Festival in Washington DC

Today I visited the 2017 Outwrite LGBT Book Festival in the DC Center office space and surrounding atrium at 14th and U Streets in Washington DC.

This year I did not have my own table;  I’ll get into this elsewhere.

The most interesting part of the visit was a presentation in DC Center’s largest room (on 14th Street ground level) from LGBT book publishers and literary agents.

There was a discussion of what an author goes through if he/she wants to control the process.  It’s usually necessary to hire a copyeditor and a typesetter (who is often the same).  It’s necessary to find a book manufacturer, and prices can vary a lot (many companies exist in the Shenandoah Valley and down in the North Carolina Piedmont).  It seems that Milo Yianopoulos has controlled the production of his book “Dangerous” after Simon and Schuster dropped him after a controversy.

There was discussion of “guerrilla marketing”, and of the tendency recently for trade publishers not to offer advances, which typically have to be recovered from book sales. 

There was mention of the use of pseudonyms and pen names, and that in a real world some authors really need to keep their identities secret, usually for reasons other than just being  LGBT, like workplace conflicts or possible security concerns for themselves or others around them.  This is rather alarming.

There was discussion of “sea turtle authors”, often introverts, who do not like to be pressed to sell aggressively, and are perfectly content to let their “eggs” lie dormant.

I asked about print-on-demand publishers, like Author Solutions.  The group did not think well of this business model, and referred to it as a “shadow industry”  They felt money should go to authors directly,, but that only works if the author owns the publishing entity.  I did refer to the fact that POD companies have been pressing authors harder to buy copies of books and build their own stores and credit card operations, rather than depend on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

I did mention the SESPA bill from the Senate and the implicit threat to web speech, including eventually author websites. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Popular Science: "Are We Alone: Searching for Life in Space"

Popular Science (part of Time) is offering a supermarket glossy booklet “Are We Alone? Searching for Life in Space”. 96 pages.

There are some highlights not seen before in other booklets like this.  One is an examination of the seven earth-like planets around the Trappist M-star 39 light years away, with planet E having the best chance for Earth-like temperatures, and an artist’s rendition of the surface of a moderately cold Planet F.

There is some discussion of the earth-like planet around Proxima B. an M-star and the closest to Earth at 4.2 light years.

There is a lot of attention to Europa and its subsurface ocean and likelihood of life, as well as Encedalus.  But Titan gets mentioned only in passing with the possibility of silicon-and-methane based life.  Ironically, my own Science Honor Society project in 1960  had speculated about silicon-based life, but I was hardly as accomplished as Jack Andraka (who came 53 years later, however, and that matters).  I had tried some experiments in my father’s workshop with an acetylene torch that I recall very little about now.

There is also an article about the idea of aliens eating electricity, which has been the subject of horror movies before (“Kronos”).

There is mention of the possibility of a Dyson Sphere around Tabby’s Star, as well as other theories, and a nice drawing of what it could look like.

There’s also an essay about keeping Mars biologically clean. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Nanci Danison's "Backwards" series on the afterlife: I read her first book on Kindle

Author: Nanci Danison

Title: “Backwards: Running to our Source for Answers

Publication: 2007, AP Lee, 314 pages, hardcover and Kindle (free), ISBN  1934482005

This is the first of a series of several books in a series about the afterlife.  The most recent appears to be “Answers from the Afterlife”.  I will probably order that book later and review it in more detail on Wordpress.

Danison says she experienced an NDE while having a breast examination, from a sudden drop in blood pressure or an allergic reaction.  She describes the experience in the last section of the book.

Danison describes “God” (so to speak) as “Source” which divides itself infinitely into “Light Beings”.  Somehow a Light Being maps to a soul, which seems to be the granularity of individual identity. The soul then maps to a physical person at conception in the womb. It is possible to theorize that the microtubules in the brain cells are connected to the soul.

Her idea of higher connectedness to others does not seem to depend on blood lineage. But some religions (like LDS) do maintain that. Furthermore, other animals (ranging from social insects to possibly dolphins) seem to exhibit distributed consciousness which would seem to require genetic allele transfer of information.  But if a soul can find a prospective infant to join in the womb very shortly after conception, there is a moral argument not only against abortion but even deliberate childlessness. 

She does describe going through a “Core” or black void before coming to Light (like Eben Alexander).  But the afterlife is not a “place” in some geography.  It’s not like the First Dominion in Clive Barker’s “Imajica”. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Activist in Washington DC wants to open bookstore in underserved neighborhood to honor a slain journalist

An activist in Washington DC wants to set up a bookstore in an underprivileged area of the SE section, to be called the Charnice Milton Community Bookstore, in honor of a journalist slain by a stray bullet from gun violence in the City, Perry Stein has a story from Friday, July 14, 2017 in the Washington Post Metro Section, here.

The store would be in the basement of We Act Radio. The owner would need to raise $180,000 for the project.

In the voting district of the store, 19% of adults lack the literacy to read a newspaper.

Back in 1972 when I had moved to northern New Jersey, I remember that the candidate from the “People’s Party of New Jersey” opened a “Make Up Your Mind Bookstore” in Madison N.J. 
As I drive around rural towns, I see a more small bookstores (along with antiques) than you would expect. 

Update: Aug. 4

The Facebook page for the new store is here.  I can't find a direct site. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"The Uninhabitable Earth", by David Wallace-Wells, long piece in New York Mag

David Wallace-Wells has a long article in New York Magazine July 9, 2017, “The Uninhabitable Earth”.

 The subtitles are “Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak, sooner than you think”, and “When will the planet be too hot for humans?  Much, much sooner than you think”.

The author thinks that today’s teenagers will see the catastrophic collapse.

One of the biggest dangers is sudden release of methane from permafrost.

In some parts of the world, it will not be possible for humans to survive outside.  Their bodies just can cool fast enough.

There’s also the astonishing statement that the spurt in standard of living in the West really occurred only once, with the industrial revolution.

The author notes that it may be common throughout the Milky Way for civilizations to rise and fall.  They don’t survive long enough to have a good statistical chance of finding one another across light years.   In the video above, Harvard professor David Kipping notes that methane degrades quickly and says that Wallace could be overstating the methane risk.
It may have been possible for Venus to host life more than a billion years ago, before a sudden catastrophe led to runaway greenhouse effects.  Both Venus and Mars may be sites of tragedies and we don’t know it yet.

Nev Schulman ("Catflish") shared this in his Facebook feed tonight.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Milo's earlier article "An Establishment Conservative's Guide to the Alt-Right"

I have started reading “Dangerous” by Milo Yiannopoulos on Kindle ($2.99) since this first self-published printing sold out so quickly.  I note also that the Washington DC Metro refused to carry ads for Milo’s book.  (I don’t have the scale to advertise mine on the Metro).

I have to note already that Milo's definition of "intersectionalism" is interesting.

Milo refers to a preview essay that he and Allum Bohkari wrote on March 29, 2016 on Breitbart, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right”, which I thought I would pass along here.
Milo seems to distinguish modern GOP republicans (who would allow a strip mall to replace a historic building if it made enough money) with “natural conservatives”, who prefer “homogeneity over diversity”, etc.  Living in a large tribe or culture involves sharing common risks.  It’s a lot easier to do what you have to do, even at a personal, intimate level, if you have confidence all your peers have the sane impulse to do it, and that “norms” have some kind of cultural meaning mapped on to virtue.

All of this, however, does not clearly separate out the populist right.

The article refers to a National Review article, March 28, 2016 in National Review by Kevin Williamson, “The Father Fuhrer” – Trump indeed, even well before the GOP convention last year.
Milo says that the alt-right is about western supremacy, not white supremacy.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

New museum about writers in Chicago has few books!

Washington Post has a story by Karen Heller about  new museum in Chicago devoted to writers, but, as she asks, “Where are the books”?

It’s the American Writers Museum.  It is said to be inspired by the Spy Museum in Washington (and maybe the Crime and Punishment museum, which has closed).

You would wonder if there would be a section devoted to e-books, like Kindle.

There is still a cultural battle in the writers’ community, as to whether writers have a moral duty to help independent bookstores stay in business, and to become involved with literacy projects. It may be in “our” self-interest to do so. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

NatGeo: "The Next Earth": what if mankind does have to find a new home?

National Geographic has a special coffee table issue “The Next Earth: What Our World Can Teach Us About Other Planets”, by Tom Jones and Ellen Stofan.   Somehow I'm reminded of the 1990s series "Earth II" with Anthony Saboto.

There is a spectacular photo of Chixulub, Yucatan, Mexico, where a 6-mile long comet crashed 65 million years ago and changed the history of Earth and made us possible.

There is a lot of comparable geology of Venus and Mars, both of which have volcanoes larger than any on Earth (even the Yellowstone Caldera).

There is a pretty thorough exploration of what we know about possible life on Mars and in the ocean of Europa, and some discussion of Titan (I have a review of a BBC film about Titan today on my movie’s page).

But the most interesting photo probably occurs on p. 106, an artist’s sketch of a desert landscape on an Earth-like planet in the Goldilocks zone around Proxima Centauri B, a red dwarf star, the closest to Earth.  The planet is probably tidally locked, which would make the habitable area of perpetual twilight and mild temperatures smaller. Tidally locked planets may have strong winds.

Stephen Hawking is reported to have said that mankind has about 100 years to escape Earth (by drawings straws?)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Graduated publication of novels online, with user participation and even editing

Some authors have tried a new technique for staged publication of novels.

The idea is to post one chapter (or a few chapters) and invited comments and even editing help from readers, before moving on to future chapters or even deciding the ending.  The idea reminds me of a style of dinner theater where the audience decides who committed the murder (like "Clue").

The books of James Strauss seem to fit this model.  A recent project is “30 Days Has September”, based on his experiences as an Army officer during the Vietnam war.  (I, a draftee, was stateside at Fort Eustis and sheltered from combat at the time).

 The chapters seemed to be based on individual days in combat.  I do remember being told in Basic Combat Training that a typical infantry platoon went on patrol every third night.

The comments appear, under the name of Chuck Barton, on a blog posting by Ramsay Taplin on his “Blogtyrant” site, a post titled “What will you sell if you give away your best blog content for free?”, here.

The idea of gradual publication online to get an audience is interesting.  I think Stephen King has tried it.  But my own idea right now is to finish a complete draft, with all loose ends tied, of  "Angel’s Brother" myself (about 105,000 words) and put them through a copyeditor before it goes anywhere.  There is a draft now (all 27 chapters);  but I have a lot of polishing to do.  I guess I want to be the dictator of what happens to each character in this sci-fi, ongoing apocalypse setting.  I decide who is going to get it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

NatGeo magazine issue warns Trump on climate change, then describes artificial human evolution

The April 2017 issue of National Geographic has two very important items.

One if “7 Climate Facts You Need to Know Now”, especially in view of President Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accords.

NatGeo says that extreme weather events even now are related to climate change, and some animals are already going extinct.

But the feature article is “The Next Human” by D. T. Max, with illustrations by Owen Freeman. The article traces how life in the desert, high altitudes, and later colder climates all affected human evolution. Human behavior may have favored development of starch metabolism.  Environments seemed to encourage a “thrifty gene” which leads to obesity in some native populations when exposed to processed foods, but less so in European populations because of centuries of food preparation technology. Sometimes European men became taller and kept more body hair partly because women regarded them as more sexually attractive, but this did not happen in warmer climates.

There is a section called “Distant Future” regarding human manipulation of genetics, and particularly “Can Humans Adapt to the Red Planet?” On Mars, bodies would become tall and thin in lower gravity and hairless in an indoor controlled environment without dust.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Dean Koontz's "Moonlight": how a commercially prolific suspense novelist remains relevant as technology and politics change

During my first year of employment at USLICO in Arlington in 1990 (what would become my last main job, for 12 years and four owners), I read the Dean Koontz 1989 novel “Midnight”, and shared it (paper, Putnam was original publisher) with a few people in production control in what would become a coffee break book club.

The novel is remarkable in its huge number of chapters, and organization into three parts each with its own chapter 1.

The novel starts with a jogger running in a California beach town (Moonlight Cove  -- “In the Moonlight, Do Me” indeed) being attacked by a mysterious alien-like creature, and soon the mystery, somewhat in a “Twin Peaks” -like fashion, is examined from the viewpoint of various characters, whose narratives gradually connect.  (Irving Wallace had used this technique for building plots for Cold War spy novels back in the 1960s).  It seems as though people are getting converted into hybrid creatures and that a sociopathic computer scientist Shaddock is involved.

I would have thought that this novel would make a good miniseries on a cable channel,, even today, as the premise has less dependence on political circumstances and even technology than most sci-fi suspense novels.  Koontz sometimes gets into Shaddack’s head, anticipating the psyche of a modern terrorist, deflecting the social issues (like gay rights in one passage) in surprising ways.
I mention the novel because Koontz is often heralded in some circles as the ideal author who writes strictly to sell, and he indeed has a huge career of a long list of novels, divided into various subcategories of suspense.   Literary agents love his approach, because it is so commercial.  So do trade publishers.

One problem with developing suspense novels is that sometimes they become very vulnerable to changes in world politics, which can come suddenly and be largely unexpected by suspense authors, like the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.  Today it’s not clear who is the biggest threat: North Korea, Iran, ISIS, Russia, China.

I’ve had that problem, and my own approach to fiction has to start with my own narrative first.  I make no apologies, despite the disruptive advice and sales calls from others.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Amazon starts cutting out book distributors, at least overseas in Asia; the issue can matter to some authors

Amazon is ceasing to do business with some book distributors, at least in Japan or overseas, and wants to get books directly from publishers. Goodreader has an article on the issue today.  The Japan Times also has a more detailed story.

In the US, big book distributors (like Ingram, or previously Bookmen in Minneapolis which got bought) have been a main vehicle for both chain and independent bookstores.  POD publishers, such as Author Solutions, have been somewhat aggressive with authors to try to get them to work with bookstores and not get “lazy” with Amazon, and more passive marketing. I suppose that jobs (in bookstores) and literacy initiatives (in underprivileged communities) can be at issue when authors become less interested in their own retailing. It’s also possible for an author to buy copies POD at a deep discount and sell cheaper (probably) than Amazon or BN sometimes (that’s good for the POD publisher) but requires a lot of retail hustle from the author.  Not all books (especially in the policy or personal non-fiction areas) can sell that well. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Book publishing site reports that Amazon is aggressive in deleting less-than-valid book reviews of self-published books

A site called “Just Publishing” offers what looks like good advice to new authors especially with self-published books, especially POD.

“Why did Amazon delete my book reviews?  Because there was a problem with how you got the reviews”, link.

I can certainly understand that paying for reviews is unethical (although you would wonder if people pay for Yelp and Angie's List, which both companies adamantly say you cannot).

I can understand that family is off limits.  But the article also implies social media friends is a no-no.  That’s getting difficult, and I hadn’t heard that before.  People who network enough to sell their books the old fashioned way probably would attract quality Facebook friends and Instagram and twitter followers.  Such a policy would sound a bit self-defeating.

It is true that there are industry statistics on the expected reasonable ratio of books sold to reviews – it’s high.

I’ve noticed something else about the POD business.  POD companies often mark the list prices high, which will be only slightly discounted on the Amazon and BN sites, and perhaps some others.  Then they encourage authors to try copies themselves by buying hundreds of copies at maybe 50% off or so.  An author who really wants to operate her own wholesale (with bookstores) and retail (with consumers) could mark them up to about 60% or so and make a profit.  But that would be so time consuming that the author wouldn’t have time for new material.

It’s frankly very difficult to sell books, or sell advertising on a blog, unless you have built a reputation first in some niche that relates to something people will pay for.  Fiction sometimes provides an exception, but even then it is often niche-like.  Hopefully it’s legitimate (not porn). Given the “gofundme” culture online today (which has become much more prominent than it was two decades ago when I got into this) there is probably opportunity to “sell” in the special needs area – but I have my own psychological and perhaps moral qualms about this.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bari Wood: "The Tribe"

Today, I had a reason to remember the 1981 novel "The Tribe" by Bari Wood (that is Bari Ev Wood Posterman),

I read the Signet paperback when living in Dallas, It concerns a modern day NYC cabal of Jewish concentration camp survivors, who get chased by ghosts from the past called golems.

As I recall, the golem is something of a invention of idol worship, where the celebrant wants to invent a god on Earth.

This was a graphic and compelling novel.  As far as I know, it never became a movie, but it should have. Maybe the subject matter would drive Hollywood away, but there is a taste of "Rosemary's Baby" in the style.

I guess a "Tribe" can be a vehicle for distributed consciousness.

Immigration attorney Jason Dzubow used a cartoon image of a golem for a blog post on "The Asylumist" today, here.  Dzubow, however, called the illustration a picture of Godzilla. (v. Bambi).

Friday, May 05, 2017

NatGeo presents article "Genius" to accompany is new cable series

The National Geographic issue for May 2007 has a feature cover story on p. 30, “Genius: Why some people are so much smarter than the rest of us.”, link (paywall) here .
An important measure of genius is whether the person’s output lives throughout the ages.  Beehoven’s output takes on a life of its own. 

The article gives some attention to the life story of Leonardo DaVinci.

The years of highest probability of major output are the late twenties into the mid thirties.

An important and controversial variable would be how versatile the person is with "real life" skills.  The best of today's young adults simply are or were much more mature than I was at ages like, say 16-21. But it helps to be born later. 

However, there are real prodigies, in coding (Mark Zuckerberg) and in music.  In music, prodigy becomes harder to show after Mozart.  But Eugen d’Albert’s gigantic first piano concerto (as published, in B Minor) was composed before age 20 and shows real intellectual brilliance as to harmony, counterpoint, and form. Brahms, on the other hand, waited until his forties to compose symphonies.  Genius enters new territory in the latest years, as we know from the last nearly-complete symphony of Bruckner.

There is a new series on National Geographic Channel which I have not seen yet.

The issue also has an article on the Central African Republic, the Burning Heart of Africa, and “United in Protest” against the North Dakota oil pipeline. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Popular Science: "The Future of Space Travel"

Popular Science offers a “Special Edition” mag “The Future of Space Travel”, 96 pages, from Times Books.

There are many short illustrated articles in 5 parts, “Places We’re Going”, “How We’ll Get There”, “How We’ll Survive There”, “Other Tools of Exploration.”.

There is a wide variety of interesting information. One fact is that Proxima Centauri, in a 3-star system that is the closest to the Earth, may have a rocky planet in the “GoldiLocks” zone. The shortest time that it is technologically possible to send a robotic probe on a photon light sail with laser accelerator would be about 20 years, which means it would take 24 years to get the photos and information back as to what the planet looks like.  It is about 8000 times as far to this star system as it is to Pluto.

The other most interesting section is “The Everyday Life of an Astronaut”.  This would be very important for a voyage to Mars, for example.  It raises questions as to who would go:  what about childless or single people?  The long exposure to zero gravity is bound to cause physical deterioration, so this is not a place for pretty preppies.  Essential body functions are different.  You bathe with soap that does not have to be rinse off but stays on the skin to disintegrate. Without gravity, it is hard for your body to sense when it needs to urinate.
There is an artist’s closeup of Europa on page 8, a closeup on Pluto on p. 16.  There is an article on space mining on p. 16.  I didn't see any discussion of Titan.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Remembering Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead": At age 24 I loved it, a lot of people hate it

Here’s a curious article by Pamela Paul from the New York Times Review on Sunday, April 16, “The Joy of Hate Reading”, or, online, “Why you should read books you hate”   Sounds like good material for a monthly book club.

Paul describes her experience reading Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”(1943, the year of my birth), which became a film in 1950. I remember reading it in the fall of 1967 (the Signet paperback), my last semester of graduate school at the University of Kansas, before entering the Army in 1968.  My roommate, from a town near the Colorado border named Tribune, was a fan of Rand and objectivism, and students had an objectivism discussion group that met in the cafeteria of McCollum Hall (now torn down and replaced).

I remember Dominque, Howard Roark, and the suave but conventional Peter Keating.  I remember the climax, where the hero blows up his own building out of contempt for being made to misuse his property.

I would read “Atlas Shrugged” two years later, while at Fort Eustis VA while in the Army.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Progressive Policy Institute: "Building a New Middle Class in a Knowledge Economy"

Harry Holzer, of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University in Washington DC, has offered a position paper through “Progressive Policy”, “Building a New Middle Class in the Knowledge Economy”, a PDF with this link (34 pages).

Holzer picks up on Donald Trump’s exploitation of the disenchantment of some groups, especially older white males without college degrees, with the job market and their earnings ability.

He notes that the stability of jobs with regimentation but narrow skill sets has become less, as has the pay, not only because of foreign offshoring, but because of technology and automation. He says that families need incomes of at least $50000 a year to be middle class (possibly $40000 for smaller families) and notes the difficulties of single parents.

The most effective measure would be to improve trade or vocational education opportunities at the community college level, especially in smaller communities or rural areas.  He also mentions the value of paid family leave.

What I noticed after my forced “retirement” at the end of 2001 was the tendency for companies to resort to hucksterism to create jobs, and for the employment outplacement services and policy makers not to notice that this was happening so much. This has led to a culture clash:  aggressive attitudes in some communities about preserving telemarketing and door-to-door sales, versus resistance from consumers who see accelerating security problems. We need more manufacturing jobs to reverse this trend toward hucksterism.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Jesus and the Apostles: The Rise of Christianity" from NatGeo

National Geographic has an Easter season special issue (in supermarkets) for coffee tables, “Jesus and the Apostles: Christianity’s Early Rise”, 128 pages. This booklet succeeds "The Story of Jesus" from NatGeo, March 29, 2016 here.

The editor, Chris Johns, the Chief Content Officer of the National Geographic Society, opens with “A Matter of Faith”, starts out by saying “Faith … is a firm belief in something for which there is no proof”.

There follows a keynote essay (p. 28) by Don Belt, “Life in the Time of Jesus”.  One of the remarkable points made by the essay is the rampant lawlessness of ordinary life in the country.  That would continue past Roman times into Europe and contribute to a medieval system of feudalism.  There was a lot of vigilantism and populism in the desire to resist external Roman rule by various Jewish sects.

 All of this is carried much further in the recent film on PBS, (“Last Days of Jesus” ) which brings up the role of Roman deputy Sejanus, kept out of the Gospels out of political repression, not covered in this booklet.

Another essay, “Taking the Stage” (p. 40) makes the point (as did the film) that it is not completely clear if Jesus saw himself as a Messiah (despite the Temptation), at least until his baptism by John the Baptist and his ministry, which frankly advocated communalism and distributed consciousness.  There are the Miracles (rather like a young Clark Kent’s powers), and a Jesus imploring others to stand by their feelings for him and “believe”, indeed a moral paradox of upward affiliation.  But this was an era when people thought the end of time could come soon.  Did it make sense to have children?

When Jesus took on the money changers, it’s interesting, as the film points out, that the authorities didn’t resist much.

“The Gospels” looks at the three synoptics and questions whether there is a common hidden source “Q”.

The booklet looks at both the Gospel of Judas and later the Gospel According to Thomas, “The Secret Sayings” (of Doubting Thomas).   Could Judas’s have been a forgery?  The booklet does take up a little bit the controversy of “Judas Kiss”, and the 2011 gay sci-fi film of that name may have more to do with that then critics recognize.
The booklet goes on to enlarge the disciples into the Apostles, and account for the formal creation of Christianity by Emperor Constantine by the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

Monday, April 03, 2017

"Rich Man, Poor Man": Is Irwin Shaw's 1969 novel a template for today's debate on inequality?

I do remember reading the paperback of Irwin Shaw’s “Rich Man, Poor Man”, 1969, Delacorte, while in the Army.  The novel was a large -sized family drama moving around the world, about an upstate New York Family, the Jordache’s, whose two sons Rudolph and Thomas, who turn out so differently. While on one level the novel concerns the “rich and poor”, it also emphasizes that the social and personal connections of wealth and poverty tend to be self-reinforcing. The novel is considered remarkable in literary circles because of the way if manipulates the “omniscient observer” concept of third person narration.

The  novel became a TV miniseries in 1976 on ABC with Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte playing the two brothers.

An article by Michelle Singletary in the Washington Post Sunday, April 2, alluded to the novel as she wrote about people who have it all losing it, partly through trying to coast too soon into retirement.  The article is titled “From privilege to poverty” about Pulitzer Prize author William McPherson, author of “Falling” (2014), who died last week at 84. The online title of the article is more brazen, “The next face of poverty could be yours”.

I’d also look at Robert Samuelson’s column this morning, “Is the American dream killing us?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Time: "Innocent: The Fight Against Wrongful Conviction"

Time has a Special Edition “Innocent: The Fight Against Wrongful Convictions”, :25 Years of the Innocence Project”, 96 pages, heavily illustrated, many writers.

There are seven chapters, each with several essays.  The first one starts with the wrongful conviction f a man for a brutal robbery and murder of a money order salesman in Cleveland in 1975.
One of the biggest topics is DNA evidence.  But it has been surprisingly difficult to get cases retried with new DNS evidence,  Politically motivated prosecutors or the police entice confessions out of vulnerable defendants, especially from child witnesses in sex cases.

There is some attention to forgiveness and to reparations.

Chapter Six contains an excerpt from “Ghost of the Innocent Man” by Benjamin Rachlin, this excerpt focused on the Center for Actual Innocence in North Carolina.

The book should be interesting to filmmakers Andrew Jenks and Ryan Ferguson (who was himself unjustly convicted of second degree murder in Missouri and got out after 10 years (Andrew Jenks’s film “Dream/Killer”, Movies, Jan. 22, 2016), and the MTV series "Unlocking the Truth".

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Beer Garden Book Club" celebrates birthday with nature books

The Westover Market Beer Garden Book Club had its Fifth Birthday party tonight in Arlington VA.

The featured books were “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail”, by Cheryl Strayed (Vintage, 2012) and a children’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are”, by Maurice Sandek.  They are in the bedroom.

I had time to read the kids’ book.  The “Happy Birthday” song is copyrighted.

The “Wild” book would remind me of Ken Kwapis’s film “A Walk In the Woods” (movies, Sept. 5, 2015). 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Joseph Nye delivers major paper on cybersecurity, "Deterrence and Dissuasion in Cyberspace"

Joseph S. Nye, the University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard, has a major paper in the MIT Press Journal,  Winter 2016-2017,  “Deterrence and Dissuasion in Cyberspace”, with access link to the 71-page PDF here (free).

Nye discusses for major strategies: (1) Punishment or retaliation (2) denial or defense (3) entanglement (4) taboos or norms.   Some of his scenarios refer to LOAC, or the Laws of Armed Conflict.

Nye mentions the possibility of threats to power girds, and doubts that they can be fully prevented by “air gaps” between grid or infrastructure pieces and the public Internet

He mentions the importance of rogue states or non-state actors.  One of his concepts, of norms, would preclude attacks on targets that have civilian use only (this might include political parties). Yet that seems to be the point of attacks by entities like North Korea, or some hackers motivated by ransomware (often in Russia or former Soviet components), or radical Islamists who resent modernism.   North Korea attacked a corporate entity outside its borders, Sony Pictures, in the US, for mocking its leader.  It seems as though a sufficiently radical and nihilistic actor could be motivated by asymmetric targeting of individual speakers in the US or other western countries just to prove it could wreak havoc with all parties associated with a particularly provocative person or private business.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

First Book aims to put hardcopy books in the hands of underprivileged kids

Today, a sermon at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC mentioned a charity called “First Book”.

I visited the site, which asked for a donation before it would say much else about itself.  But I did do a $25 contribution (I prefer to consolidate contributions through one portal at a bank).

The charity seems to work with the American Federation of Teachers and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association of Tampa, FL (and others), as it explains it a recent blog post.
I would appear that the focus is specifically on children’s books, which I normally don’t cover much (but I have covered some self-published young adult books on a newer Wordpress blog).
But this is another example of a renewed interest in physical books (as opposed to e-books) to get young people into reading.  My own output doesn’t normally comport much with children’s (below, say, AP high school).

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Should authors "troll" book clubs?

There are some book clubs here in Arlington VA – one for AGLA, which meets in members’ homes or sometimes at Freddies’s, and another one at the Westover Market BeerHaus (Facebook ).

Book clubs are a bit time consuming for me, where I need to review what comes across my plate as important (I reviewed as self-published novel on bullying (and the horrific consequences from revenge for it), “Crossing the Line”, by Alan Eisenberg, although I could see it fitting in at Westover with “Diana’s Magic” by Mr. Hicks himself).

And some clubs really involve semi-radical hospitality, rotating member’s homes, rather like my parents’ shrimp creole parties in winter in the 1950s (I remember one during a 1958 Saturday February blizzard, which nearly turned into a preview scenario of the movie “The Ice Storm”).

Where book clubs would help is with authors working on fiction manuscripts that they want to sell as actual copies of books.

Erin Geiger Smith writes “When You Bomb at Book Club” here in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

"The Dead Sea Scrolls" from Life

Life Magazine offers a coffee table book “The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Race to Solve an Ancient Mystery” at sypermarkets, 96 full size pages, heavily illustrated, by J.I. Baker.

There are seven chapters, explaining how a religious sect left the area in AD 68 in a region near the Dead Sea, in today’s West Bank.

The first scroll was found in a cave by a shepherd in the winter 1946-47, and others followed.

The largest scroll contained a lot of today’s book of Isaiah.

The book also describes rural Jewish subcultures in the first century AD, most of all the group Essenes, looking for a messiah to return and lead to an apocalyptic battle.  But later on the ideas of the Essenes would lead to many of the ideas of the Rosicrucian Order (April 7, 2007).

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Newsweek's "Hitler" The Evolution of Evil" seems all too appropriate now

Newsweek offers a 100-page gloss table-top booklet, “Hitler: The Evolution of Evil” with the subtitle, “Can he happen again?”  The booklet has two parts: “The Kingdom of Hatred” and “Evil on the Rise Again”.

It used to sound amazing that a nation could be duped by someone who had been an adaptive failure early in life (and who had unrequited desire for recognition for mediocre artistic talent). 
Of course, there was hyperinflation, unemployment, the burden of reparations, and the resentment of the elites.  Individualism wasn’t possible, but hyper-nationalism was, starting as populism.  Dumb.  Low IQ.  Stupid. 

Is history repeating itself?  It’s pretty shocking that Donald Trump could mobilize the proletariat and get it chanting “Lock Her Up” and “Build that Wall” as if he were conducting an imaginary orchestra. 

 And today, there is the Wiretap Tweet Storm on about the level of Comet Ping Pong. 

This is a good place to re-mention Lothar Machtan's 2001 book "The Hidden Hitler: The Double Life of a Dictator" (Basic Books, translated from German) which sounds so blase dispensing "Hitler's homosexuality", legacy review
Here’s a typical collection of free response answers on how Hitler pulled off his swindle of the masses. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Where the Four Roads Merge: A Chronological Narrative of the Four Gospels"

Author: Tony Kessinger

Title: “Where the Four Roads Merge: A Chronological Narrative of the Four Gospels

Publication:  By author, ISBN 978-0692809006, 180 pages, 8 chapters, paper
The book presents a synoptic narrative of the four gospels, with reference charts pointing to the passages in each gospel.   Much of the material also appears in Acts.  The introduction points out that the synoptic gospels were written for specific audiences:  Matthew for Jews, Mark for Roman citizens, and Luke for Gentiles. 

A good comparison is “Gospel Parallels” by Burton H. Throckmorton, which a Dr. Bauman used to teach on television from on Sunday mornings. It's a blue hardcover with large pages that I have somewhere. 

The author does have his own idea about the Trinity.

The book was mailed to me as a sample. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Consciousness in the Universe: A Review of the 'Orch OR' Theory", by Hameroff and Penrose; getting closer to explaining individual free will

Here’s an e-booklet on Science Direct, by Stuart Hameroff (University of Arizona) and Roger Penrose, “Consciousness in the Universe: A Review of ‘Orch OR Theory”, here (see link there to PDF, 79 pages). as originally pointed to on the HuffingtonPost .

“OR” refers to “objective reduction” of the quantum state (not to operations research, my first job).  Consciousness if described as following combinations of three models (1) biological evolution (2) religious, or outside of science, or (3) a property of structures in the universe, having access to other dimensions or dark energy (perhaps origami), that “maps”’ into certain structures inside cells (microtubles) at the quantum level.  The individual human or animal brain is seen as like an orchestra rather than a computer;  a thread of consciousness is like the unveiling of a symphony (especially by Bruckner) over time (as a dimension) rather than the experience of a single note on a single instrument at one instant of discrete time. 

This leave us to wonder about the principle of identity.  I cannot wake up tomorrow morning and find I have a particular 21-year-old’s body (and learn what it would be like to be strong again, a chance I threw away); I can only know if by affiliation (which might be sex).  My identity perceives the world only through one body.  Causality is irreversible;  I (and not someone else) would experience a prison cell if I committed a particular crime as an “experiment”.  We know this from experience, but I don’t know if we can prove this mathematically.  This sounds like Godel’s incompleteness theorem.   

Consciousness may be the way the Universe protects itself from entropy.  “God” plans for independent beings to develop, capable of free will, to change course.  Biology seems to be the best way to do this. Maybe this is even consistent with the occasional need for a savior, grace, and prophets.  (We can all be Christians, Jews, Muslims, and everything else at the same time.)

If you’ve ever been “adopted” by a stray cat, a wild animal who returns to your home after hunting game in his own environment, communicates to you and “knows” you, you get a sense that there are other ways that free will develops.  It’s quite a moment (and a challenge to our ideas not only about race but even biological destiny) when another creature communicates his sense of existence to you, even by kneading on your bed and making sounds at night. You realize your sense of superiority to him is an illusion.

At a moral level, sustainability seems to go way beyond usual ideas of family and procreation, and even environment (climate change).  It seems as though we, through descendants, must get to know the entire universe someday, if we don’t blow ourselves up with someone like Donald Trump.  Maybe the “Star Wars” model really exists somewhere.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ayn Rand Institute book on radical Islamic totalitarianism banned from "free speech" event at UCLA

I don’t know whether I’ll order and formally review this book yet, but I wanted to note a story about an attempt by students or activists at UCLA to block access to it as “Islamophobic”.  The book is by Elan Jouro and Onkar Ghate, “Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond”. It’s from the Ayn Rand Institute (maybe a clue as to the student reaction), ISBN 978-0996010106, 206 pages, five parts,  many short chapters as separate essays.

“TheHill” has a blog entry, “UCLA banned my book on Islam from a free speech event”.    In this world of trigger warnings and microaggressions, his book was “inflammatory” and had to go after protestors ganged up (reminiscent of protests against Milo Yiannopoulos).
I just posted this link on Milo’s FB page, to see if he is aware of the incident.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Local Washington DC independent bookstore retools for modern competitive pressures

The Kramerbooks and Afterwoods CafĂ©, just north of Dupont Circle on Connecticut Ave. in Washington DC, has a new owner, Steve Salis, who also found “&pizza” (story in my IT jobs blog yesterday).

There are reports of some dissent among employees, and Salis seems to have an interest in items that would be bigger volume sellers, like children’s books.  The Washington Post has a major local story by Abha Bhattari Monday.

I’ve been in the store many times.  There are stacks of books on all sorts of non-fiction political, scientific, social, psychological, LGBT, and other topics.  I do not recall seeing any of my own authored DADT there, although I believe my third book was pitched there is a recent bookstore marketing campaign.  Kramerbooks tried to expand in the Clarendon area of Arlington about ten years ago, and had a store there for about a year.

Lambda Rising, the gay bookstore, used to live one block to the north. It closed in 2010. Specialty independent books stores have a hard time competing against online retailers, especially with books online through Kindle and Nook.  It’s former owner, Deacon Maccubbin, was supposed to write a book (Citypaper story),  But I don’t see a book by him on Amazon (ironically) yet.  Milo will beat him to press.

In the meantime, some self-publishing companies (like Author Solutions) have been trying to pressure authors (especially since about 2012) to work harder to actually sell physical books to stores rather than live in cyberspace, as if on a Dyson’s Sphere.  It’s really not feasible for so many self-published authors to support families selling books, and employees of publishing companies, in this age of Trumo-ism and MAGA, have to wonder about their own holding patterns.  You simply can’t stop change.  .

Monday, February 13, 2017

AWP "Political Book Fair"

I got an email about a bookfair sponsored by AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs , the article being a detailed one in Publisher’s Weekly   “AWP 2017: A Political Book Fair”.
Many participants reportedly were concerned about the expected loss of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, and some had connections to left-wing movements like Black Lives Matter.
 I’ve always been on my own.  But I remember those days back in Minneapolis in 2002-2003 networking with the National Writers Union --- how tied in some people were to “guerilla marketing” and to circles of grant-writing assignments.  Most people have to write what others want.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Remembering Clive Barker's "Sacrament"

Because Clive Barker has attracted some publicity recently for his sponsorship of a new Project Greenlight contest (Movies Feb. 10) I thought I would recall my experience reading “Sacrament” (1997), while on a weekend trip to the Las Vegas area after moving to Minneapolis in 1997.  My old legacy review is here.

This is a story of a wildlife photographer, partially reincarnated, it seems, saving the world with his special insights as a gay man having lived through the AIDS tornado of the 1980s.

Here is Clive Barker’s own site reference to it.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Frum's book-length "How to Build an Autocracy" runs in Atlantic

David Frum’s article “How to Build an Autocracy”, booklet length, from the March 2017 Atlantic, is online now, here. Frum prefers the term "kleptocracy" to "oligarchy".

It looks insidious, like “it won’t be so bad, or will it?”  The country will survive, as well as most of familiar online life.  But Trump will go after The Washington Post, which Jeff Bezos will sell to eastern European interests, and it will degenerate into a local paper about consumerism.

It seems that Trump actually will prefer amateur media (like mine) than gets picked up in “Bubbles” news feeds (no honor to Michael Jackson).

Shadowproof, in an essay by Kevim Godztola, weighs in on David Frum's unwillingness to respect mass movements in another piece, "David Frum is definitely not the right person to give advice on 'effective protest'".

The cover for January-February has a shorter piece, “Donald Trump and the Future of America” by James Fallows, which also blames Mark Zuckerberg and his news aggregation for “stupid people” for Trump’s unintended win.  He probably agreed with Hillary Clinton’s idea of deplorables.

Then Peter Beinart writes about “Glenn Beck’s Regrets”.  Beck believes that we sometimes have to pay for our mistakes.  The article traces Beck’s conversion to Mormonism.

Update: March 3

Atlantic came out with the print version of Frum (pun).  Jonathan Rauch has a piece "Containing Trump", who discusses the work of Yascha Mounk and his group "After Trump".

And Gaeme Wood writes "American Jihadist", about Texas-born John Gerogelas, now a leader of ISIS, tracing how a left-brained engineer with some physical difficulties in childhood gets drawn to a certain kind of rigid religious extremism.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Atlantic issue gets attention with "The War on Stupid People" as a prelude to "How American Politics Went Insane"

The July-August 2016 Atlantic had three booklet-like stories that caught my attention.

The most flagrant was David H. Freeman’s article “The War on Stupid People” on p. 13. “As the intellectually gifted reap ever greater rewards, we are beginning to mistake smarts for human worth.” I thought, no, Milo Yiannopoulos never said this.  True, not just Mark Zuckerberg but now people like Jack Andraka enjoy the limelight and quick financial rewards of their smarts in youth. But that’s turnabout from a time when being smart wasn’t cool.

Trump himself pitted “Book smarts” against “Street smarts” on “The Apprentice”.  I was actually called “stupid” by a couple people in Army Basic back in 1968.  Some people thought I was behind, when they came from a way-off base point (one of them had to do with “who had the spirit” at a church campfire in Texas.)
But a lot of the “whitelash” during the election concerned working people who felt left out by the intellectual “elite” who have never had a rite of passage or gotten their hands duty.
And some of it comes from certain parts of the evangelical community who want to deny science because it confounds their “simple faith.”

It sounds stupid to chant “lock her up” or “Build that wall” as part of a mob at a rally.

But I recall as a child, it you said “You, stupid”, your parents would wash out your mouth with soap.

Then, on p. 51, there is “What’s Ailing American Politics”, aka “How American Politics Went Insane” by gay libertarian author Jonathan Rauch (who had authored “Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America” back in 2004, pubbed by Henry Holt).  Rauch talks about the complete backroom deals in smoke-filled rooms in the past – like we need that now for network neutrality. But the end result seems to be the problem that intellectual people don’t want to run for office and get people to give them money.  Of course, there is gerrymandering. It’s weak parties and strong partisanship (that is, tribalism).

And Peter Beinart opines with “The White Strategy” on p. 81

Link for letters on all three pieces is here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

NatGeo: "Gender Revolution: The Gender Issue": It's complete, and some say it's controversial

The January 2017 issue of National Geographic is a special one, “Gender Revolution: The Gender Issue”.

There are many chapters, by Eve Conant, Tina Rosenbrg, Chip Brown, Alexis Okeowo.

There are introductions by Suan Goldberg, Gloria Steinem, and particularly and Facebook COO Sheyrl Sandberg’s “The Power of Peers”.

There is a vocabulary page, “A Portrait of Gender Today”, from “The Teaching Transgender Toolkit”.
There is an early section about gender-related toys.

Soon the issue gets into gender ambiguity among animals, which is quite common in invertebrates.

It also compares countries for gender equality, and the richest countries are not always the most equal.

The section “Rethinking Gender” presents two twins, one of whom is male-to-female trans as a teen.

Later the booklet notes “A recent survey of a thousand millennials found that half of them think gender is a spectrum.”

There is a world map on p 65 showing the legality of gender change by country. “Legal with no restrictions” applies in only five countries.

The most provocative chapter starts on p. 74 with “Making a Man”.  There is a detailed account of a boy in western Kenya leading up to his circumcision ritual, which even includes some bizarre homoerotic followup.

On p. 90, there is a mural, “Many Paths to Manhood”, which compares the rites of passage among different cultures in history and compares to present day in some parts of the world.  These include Sparta (where boys had to pass a “survival of the fittest” war culture), Rome (where marriage and children were mandatory for citizenship), the Middle Ages, Native Americans, and the Mafia, which it compares to ISIS.

On p. 97 Chip Brown asks why boys go through such extreme manhood rites, often exuding mindless collective fungibility (like Jahar’s “boat manifesto”)  “The disquieting answer is, of course, to prepare for war.  As anthropologist David Gilmore notes, where resources are scarce and the collective welfare uncertain, ‘gender ideology reflects the conditions of life.’”

But the last section, by Tina Rosenberg, is “American Girl”.

There is also a section on “Dads at Home”.  There are studies which show that fathers’ testosterone levels drop when they are caring for children, a point that the Family Research Council is willing to promote.
Some people (on the social-political or particularly religious “right”) have criticized the issue, claiming that gender ambiguity should not be promoted but viewed as a “handicap” sometimes.