Saturday, January 25, 2020

Laurie Garrett ("The Coming Plague", 1994) discusses control of the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic

Laurie Garrett has a disturbing article on CNN, “What it will take to stop the Wutan virus” , link
Her assessment of this development is more guarded than most, even as China has locked down about 35 million people in the middle of the company right in the middle of the Chinese New Year.

She also had a lot of experience covering SARS 2002-2003.

So far, as of this writing, it seems to me that fatality rate is low and that most people would recover on the own. With very few exceptions, most fatalities are in older men with other diseases, including diabetes.   You could almost see an epidemic like this as a biological purge, an exercise of survival of the fittest.  It sounds horrible, but that’s how nature works.  As a civilization, we have a responsibility for vulnerable members, but where does it end?

It sounds as though the male patient near Seattle has recovered and should be released.  Probably true in Texas.  Not sure in Chicago.  The US will evacuate about 1000 Americans from Wuhan. 

At some point, it would be mathematically impossible to stop a virus like this without shutting down all the urban centers on the planet.  What if you live in a high-rise condo or apartment building in the US and one person is diagnosed, but recovers normally without incident.  Do you have to watch everyone else?  That is what I would wonder about her article.

Laurie Garrett is author of “Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance” (1994, Penguin, formerly from Farrar, Giroux and Strauss, 768 pages), previously with a quick review here.

I recall graphic discussions of cases of Marburg and Ebola virus.  One man recovered naturally but lost all of his hair (permanently?)  Ebola is in the Congo now.  I think it was cleared from Sierra Leone by 2015.  Stanford engineering and pre-med student Jack Andraka spent two summer sessions working in Sierra Leone on a Truman scholarship and says (to me) he was not offered the new vaccine.  Garrett will say, he should have gotten it.  I agree. 

There was a quick review of Robert Preston’s “The Hot Zone” here Dec. 11, 2009.

When I was traveling in California in February 2002, I had a corona-like illness.  I had two evenings (several days apart) of high fever and extremely dry cough, and felt better in between. (Not much nasal symptoms.)  I took aspirin (which would get rid of the fever) and Mucinex, non-prescription (rather expensive), from a pharmacy. Was this SARS?  I had the flu shots as usual that fall preceding.  The cough had started very suddenly and was unusually dry.  Once it became productive, I felt much better and energy came back.  But a deep, rattly productive cough lasted about six weeks to two months.  This was unusual for me.  

Friday, January 24, 2020

"The Longest Book in the World" is no longer "The Blah Story"; John Fish's experiment on artificial self-expression

John Fish’s recent videos (from his gap year from Harvard working in tech in Montreal) seem to indicate an interest in combinations of things, combinatorial algebras, and the like.  Isn’t that what quantum theory is about?

So this leads him into a self-publishing print-on-demand exercise, with Amazon CreateSpace, to prove that any individual can “make” the “longest book in the world”. Making a book is not the same as writing it, which Fish admits and we’ll come back to that.  The video, at this point, does point out the ease of using Create Space as you want to (although it has ended providing its own editorial support – that’s another matter). 

Fish starts out by discussing Steven Pinker and Noam Chomsky – linguistic theories (not Chomsky’s super Leftist politics) as to how word combinations give humans the ability to express ideas with mathematical combinations. Compare this to animals – dogs and cats can make a limited repertoire of words or syllables.  (Cetaceans – whales and dolphins, especially orcas, would stimulate a good discussion – why haven’t we deciphered their languages?)

He moves on to "The Blah Story" by Nigel Tomm as the longest on record, until he (John) created one with 12 million words, by writing a program (in Python) to generate grammatically correct sentences from "parts of speech" from finite lists of vocabulary words (for each speech part). OK, if the paragraphs so generated were blog posts, AI would probably consider them "spam".   In foreign languages, this would be harder to do because of verb conjugation, adjective agreement, etc.  (I won't get into possible "pronoun controversies" here.)   He ordered one copy of each volume from Amazon Create Space.  200,000 words would be a long novel, so that would mean about 24 volumes.  He titles it “Duree  (French for “duration” or “time taken”). He stacked them in his apartment as a decoration.  No, he isn’t selling them; he will have a real one soon. As I remember it is to be called “Intentional Attention” (see his April 6 video about Casey Neistat). It sounds like the "real book" will deal with the idea of attention as a currency (comparable to crypto, a kind of virtual blockchain) that could fund a business model (maybe without persistent identifiers, causing so much legal controversy now with CCPA and COPPA?)  I wonder if Fish has a channel (I did not see him at the conference in Philadelphia Aug 31, nor did I see “Economic Invincibility” but they both would have been good choices as speakers – but so would have been Jordan Peterson).  
In fact, my own experience shows it is possible for an Internet self-publisher to have considerable political influence on certain issues without necessarily large analytics or sales volumes or supportive income as by normal accounting records.  This was my case previously, especially with the past issue of gays in the military (in the US – the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy – not to be confused with the transgender policy now) which generated my (controversial) use of the “do ask do tell” wordmark today. But it’s not hard to see why such an individualized “business model” as mine (depending on accumulated personal assets, some of them inherited maybe, and very low cost of operation compared to “real” media companies) would incur questions, as maybe lowballing “real” career journalism and hollowing out normal political activism (leaving it to the polarized extremes).  There is a real big debate today, particularly in the YouTube world, as to the value of independent journalists and political columnists in keeping big media honest.  It was, for example, independent channels that busted big media on the Covington Kids “scandal” and then blew up with “Adpocalypse” last summer.
One other question: could “The Blah Story” or John’s experiment (“I did this and this is what happened” kind of thing, like some of Luke Korns’s videos) make for a subject for a good independent bookstore party?  (See previous post.)
By the way, the first of my three “Do Ask Do Tell” books runs 187,000 words as I remember (about 580 pages in iUniverse, including the roman numerals).  The novel manuscript for “Angel’s Brother” is now about 106,000.  It will probably top out at 115,000 with supplementary materials.
John says he paid back karma points for printing so much (like I used to do at work decades ago, as CYA) by writing an app that raised money to plant trees (late Nov. video).
Adam Driver's character (a school bus driver) writes poems that sound like similar plays on words in the 2016 film "Paterson" (my review).
I can remember that in sixth grade, in December 1954, all of my Christmas presents were books (except one).  A couple of them were about trains.
Picture: Cambridge;  I visited Boston and the Harvard campus (and P-town) in Aug. 2015.  

Monday, January 20, 2020

Visit to an independent bookstore in exurban Maryland, Novel Books

Recently WJLA7 (Kevin Lewis) in Washington DC reported on an independent bookstore in the Piedmont, of upper Montgomery County, MD, Novel Books, in Clarkbsurg, in an older section of town.  

I recently visited it (Thursday, Jan. 16), and met the owner, whom the article mentions as having Parksinson’s Disease.

The store divided each bookstack between new (above) and used (below).

I bought two paperback fiction books, “Gone” (by Michael Grant,  2008, Harper Teen, 558 pages, a novel where all the grownups have disappeared leaving “the young people” who indeed must “win” (as David Hogg says).

The other book is “Pool Boys” by Erin Haft, set in a California country club with a newcomer (2006, Schoolastic, 201 pages. The members of the club have rules.
I have the first impression that survival of a bookstore like this (as explained in the article) would need someone from the surrounding community, which is changing rapidly, as do many exurbs, with new townhomes and a big outlet mall less than a mile away, on I-270 (unlike Reboboth, they do have to charge sales tax).

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Does Michael Lind's "New Class War" portend of social credit systems, if brought down to the ground on individual elites?

Michael Lind previews his own book from Portfolio, “The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite”, in the Wall Street Journal, review, Sat. Jan. 11, 2020, here.
This seems to be a cultural battle between individualistic elitism, and tribal populism with social creditworthiness, a kind of “book smarts” v. “street smarts” (sometimes called “common sense” in the Army).
It also has a lot to do with expectations of socialization.
 Anand Giridharadas has a review in the New York Times, Jan. 17, 2020, "Why do Trump supporters support Trump?"
 The reviewer believes Lind underplays the practical effect of socially constructed classes or groups like by race. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

"Galileo's Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness": what makes "me"?

Scientific American (Gareth Cook) interviews author Philip Goff, of “Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness” (Penguin).  A Facebook friend posted this yesterday. 
The book argues for panpsychism, and that even the smallest entities in the universe have “experience”.

I think an example would be when you have a muscle twitch.  You want to look at it.  The muscle has a will of its own, which produces an urge.  The instinct for sexual intercourse may be like this, but in man the cerebral cortex is supposed to control and contain these impulses.  The instinct is much weaker in some men than in others even in men totally biologically typical in all other ways, and that may explain how homosexuality can happen in humans.

Another example would be when one’s concept of self changes because one is part of a group (like in military training, or a cult) or in some situation that challenges the previous idea of self. 
Do individual bees in a hive have there own POV consciousness, or does the hive itself own awareness, or does this move back and forth. How does this idea work for a slime mold?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Financial Times gives bleak analysis of how a declining world population will affect the economy

The Financial Times offers a rather gloomy analysis “free” on Facebook (if you answer one ad question), “The Cost of a Declining Population”, by Robin Harding, link.

The article argues that lower interest rates leads to higher housing prices even with fewer people, and companies prepare for fewer consumers.  It gives Japan and South Korea as examples of how the spiral works, with eldercare costs becoming crushing.

You could say that hyperindividualism contributes to this process, and anti-tribalism, where “elites” feel less connected to others and more focused on their own identities and self-chosen purposes, the self becoming its own best friend.
But a more straightforward explanation seems to be that affluent people wait longer to have children, past education and dual career employment, when biology starts to work against fertility, even for male sperm. (That may be a surprising point.) 
The piece seems to ignore factors like climate change, which can suppress population further. 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

"The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space" (1976) and "An Easier Way" (2018)

Partly for background material for my “Epiphany” screenplay, I purchased from Amazon both Gerald K. O’Neill’s “The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space” (1976, reprinted by Space Studies Institutes Press from Northwood, CA, illustrations (BW) by Donald Davis. There are new prefaces from 1988 by the author and by astronaut Kathy Sullivan.  There are 326 pages, and 12 chapters plus appendices.

Then there is an update by Tom Marotta and Al Globus, “The High Frontier: An Easier Way”, published by the authors, 167 pages.

The authors of the newer book characterize living in space in manmade structures at lagrange points nearer Earth as much more practical than living on planets or moons, because artificial gravity can be stronger than natural gravity on the other practical bodies (Mars;  you could live in the atmosphere 30 miles above Venus in a floating space station).

The O’Neill cylinder would be about 20 miles long and a mile or so in diameter and rotate around a cylindrical axis for artificial gravity and house over a million people, who would have to be disciplined.
But the Kalpana settlement would be only about the length of a baseball field in width and length.
I will review these on Wordpress later after reading.