Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Prison author Stephen Reid dies, after the "Oceans 11" jobs early in his life, before jail

Ian Austen has an obituary of author Stephen Reid in the New York Times.  

What’s noteworthy is that Reid became an established author while an inmate in prison. Two of his books on Amazon are “A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison” (from Thistledown, 2003) and “Jackrabbit Parole” (Quality Paperback, 1986).

The author was born in Ontario and his “smash and grab jobs” were usually or always without real weapons.

This is not a topic that I would have embraced before, personally speaking.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Children's books and "radicalism"

Here’s a curious piece by Annie Holmquist on Intellectual Takeout, “Are modern children’s books training ‘little radicals’?”

Children’s books today seem to be pushing particularly group-centered social justice, especially with respect to gender identity and gender roles. 
But children may not learn how to examine changing values productively until they have grown up with some stability and consistency in what they are taught – more from established classics. 
It’s well to bear this in mind while we await the availability of David Hogg’s “Never Again” (next week, I think).  We admire Hogg’s intensity even if we disagree with specifics and tilt of some of his ideas; but no one could group up to lead a movement like this at 18 without a stable home foundation first.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Two more books to review, on gays in the military and on gender

Two more books got onto my reading list for more detailed reviews soon.

One is Lee Klein’s self-published “Two Journeys to One Wondrous Life”, from iUniverse (2018). The author was born in 1924 and provides an early example of a covert gay man in the military, long before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (and its 2011 repeal). He served in military intelligence as an enlisted man during WWII and then as an aircraft carrier pilot in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The other is a big 2017 update of a 2005 book “Why Gender Matters”, by Loenard Sax, MD, from Harmony books.

I browsed through his chapter on sexual orientation. He does subscribe to the theory that male homosexuality is often related to epigenetics in latter born sons of a family, and sees it as biologically “normal”.  He does not see transgenderism as medically “normal”, however.  He also gets into whether “sissy” boys are more like to be homosexual, and vice versa, and the answer is, sometimes, but not always. A large segment of the gay male population, probably a majority of it, is still very “cis” and fully competitive physically with heterosexual men.  But a certain population of gay men try to look like women to attract straight me, he thinks; and transgender claims often disappear as girls grow up.  But he does take on the unusual “Lady Valor” life histories.

This is going to be interesting.

Monday, June 11, 2018

More on consciousness: individual v cosmic

On p 60 of the June 2018 issue of Scientific American, there is a detailed article “What Is Consciousness?: by Chrisitof Koch;  it can be compared to similar articles reported here at the end of Oct. 2017 (also work of Koch).

One theory, called GNW, presumes a system becomes conscious when a “blackboard” of information is broadcast to an appropriate larger network.

But the Integrated Information Theory, or IIT, makes more sense to me.  A non-countable set of information, like an aesthetic experience, requires consciousness to contain it;  if the container is sufficiently sophisticated, the container becomes aware of the information and of itself.

Putting this together with earlier articles, it sounds as though individual awareness for higher animals is marked off by a kind of “event horizon”, where consciousness is regarded as a basic component of the Universe comparable to gravity. But with most living things (plants, colony animals, slime molds, even social insects), the group consciousness (or hive) is more pertinent than any individual’s.   It would sound as though religious or spiritual practices involving selflessness, at odds with normal workplace values, would enable moving the locus of awareness to some sort of medium that could survive an individual’s physical death.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

"The Science of Alzheimer's" from Time

Time Magazine has published a supermarket coffee table paperback “The Science of Alzheimer’s: What It Is, How It Touches Us, Hope”.  18 chapters divided into the three sections named, 96 pages.

There are many writers. Jeffrey Kluger writes the introduction and appears to be the lead writer.
The introduction calls it “The disease that steals the self.”
There is a chapter on early-onset Alzheimer’s.  On p. 20, there is a list of various other diseases that mimic Alzheimer’s.  There are odd sounding entities like “Lewy bodies”. 

The book covers the genetics angle, as well as many varied treatments that may delay symptoms.

The book covers the lives of some celebrities who had the disease, including, surprisingly, Rosa Parks.

The work also covers the exploding cost of care, which falls on families as nursing home custodial care is not normally covered by Medicare.  Much of the problem, however, comes from increased life spans, as people who would have died of other infirmities live long enough to get Alzheimer’s.  The disease affects women more often since women live longer.

On p. 44 there is an sidebar, “These lifestyle changes may help protect the brain as you age.”  Besides diet and exercise, there is the issue of enough sleep, and especially “be social”.  More social contact tends to preserve cognition – although that may be true of real introverts.

On p. 62 there is a paragraph “Why being single is less of an Alzheimer’s risk than it used to be”, down from 42% to 24% (for never marrieds).  That may be partly because for a minority of people, being single and involved with self-driven work actually preserves intellectual function very well, and there is more social support for less conventional lifestyles (including gay).
There is a lot of discussion of the science of amyloids, or tau proteins, and of how neural networks actually function in a manner analogous to Twitter.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Nassim Nicholas Talib's "Skin in the Game" looks like a "moral" sequel to my own DADT series!!

I don’t like to indulge in previewing books I haven’t read yet, but I saw Arnold Kling’s review on Foundation for Economic Education for Nassam Nicholas Taleb’s “Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life” , link here

The article focuses on Taleb’s “Silver Rule” which is a contrapositive of Jesus’s Golden Rule – don’t do to others what you wouldn’t have done to you.
I received the hardcover book from Random House through Amazon yesterday and started spot skimming it. 

I am rather impressed that his world view of morality so closely matches mine, especially in the last of my DADT books (“Speech is a fundamental right; being listened to is a privilege”). Indeed, I've made a lot of "speech asymmetry" which can leverage the influence of otherwise obscure individuals who never "paid their dues".  And that kind of asymmetry can morph into security asymmetry (start out by pondering the weapons and gun debate).  
The “skin in the game” title specifically and bluntly refers to the idea that people (especially in “privilege”) often take advantage of the risk taking of others, risks that they aren’t willing to share.
Like on p 189, his overview of virtue is – avoid virtue signaling and rent-seeking, and start your own business.  “You must start a business”.
Indeed, a lot of criticism of my own “publishing business model”, if you want to call it that, seems to come from the fact that I am not very interested in volume of transactions with real people.  Or with directly approaching anyone to sell things.  It’s good enough to be found.  But that seems morally suspect, perhaps, in its implications.
I also think there is a real speech issue:  On p 28, he writes “Those who talk should do and only those who do should talk”.  (Sounds like the second part of my own DADT-III title.) On p 33 “If you do not takje risks for your opinion, you are nothing.” And so on.

On. p. 186 of my own DADT III book I had written (2013), “Moral normality requires that everyone have their own ‘skin in the game’ of the whole group.”  Tribalism??

I think of Charles Murray, who said some similar things in his 2012 book “Coming Apart” – and Murray is one of those “Dangerous” (Milo-like) speakers banned from some campuses.

One point of a “real” business formally open to the public (like a McDonalds franchise) is that it is supposed to meet real needs of other people because they will pay for volumes of the items (that reasoning is far from perfect).  You could say the same about expecting people to get on your email list in these days of fearing spam – you can meet their needs.

But there’s also the question of having direct responsibility for others who depend on you.  In conservative talk, that usually starts with having children in traditional marriage – except that it needs to start earlier, and then in adult life, sometimes other people’s children should be your direct concern, despite our “mind your own business” style of individualism.  We get back to campus speech codes and calls to regulate hate speech – interpreted so broadly as meaning you have no right to address an issue that doesn’t affect you unless you will march with the oppressed or walk in their shoes.

I got into self-publishing and writing with a kind of issue creep – starting with my own ironic history concerning the male-only draft (during most of the Vietnam era, student deferments kept softer skin out of the game) and then the debate on gays in the military in the 1990s – and spread to everything.  A lot of policy issues (eldercare, paid family leave) come down to dealing with the fact we have very unequal responsibilities for others – and this cuts across all “intersectionalities” – although it probably hits “people of color” harder.  The “incel” issue may really become ground zero for Taleb’s ideas.

But remote issues can affect you more than you think.  Many things are your business – avoiding ruin and catastrophe which others can cause.  Suppose Trump, for example, mishandles North Korea and we do endure an EMP attack.  That’s just one idea of ruin.
I do remember the end of Aronofsky’s  movie “Black Swan” with Tchaikowsky’s trumph reigning down (Dec 2010)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"How My Generation Broke America": Steven Brill in Time

Steven Brill gives us a booklet-length tome in the May 28, 2018 Time Magazine, p. 32, “How My Generation Broke America”, link
Note the alternate titles (like “alternative facts”?), “How Baby Boomers Broke America” (online), or “My generation was supposed to level the playing field; instead, we rigged it four ourselves”. Cartoon illustrations by Ross MacDonald.

Born in 1943, I’m a little before the Baby Boomers, but not much.

We rigged it for ourselves starting in the 1980s with so much emphasis on short-term profits, which in the age of hostile takeovers, became virtue.  We wanted people to become more competitive.

But unfortunately a lot of our ingenuity turned to financial instruments, which tended to have flaws and not be sustainable (sub-prime mortgages).  A lot of us really didn’t know how to make things.

Then part of us broke of and created a salesmanship culture, which the rest of us ignored in the world of a do-it-yourself Internet.
Today, there was a court case where parents evicted their 30-year-old son.  It gets harder to make a living if you’re average.  But the smartest and most alert and quick-wittest kids seem to thrive. Look at David Hogg, who can turn himself into a honeypot to let the worst on the far right drown themselves.