Friday, April 19, 2013

Arvin Vohra: "Lies ... and College Admissions", and some hyperindividualism

Author: Arvin Vohra
Title: “Lies, Damned Lies and College Admissions; An Inquiry into Education”
Publication: Roland Media, ISBN 978-09801446-3-5, 204 pages, paper, ten chapters, and five “Interludes”.

Amazon link is here.
The author ran for the Maryland House of Delegates as a Libertarian in the fall of 2012.  I saw him at the Libertarian Party booth at GLBT Pride in Washington in June but did not get to talk to him.
The author (b. 1979) has a degree in Mathematics from Brown, and started an education company at around the age 22, as documented on his website . He says he has developed the Synapse line of learning software.  I wonder if he would merge with the Khan Academy some day. 
He also has an earlier book “The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel at Math” (2008).
His basic thesis in this book is that college education in the United States has become somewhat like an extortion system, setting high tuitions with government support, playing “Mother May I” with student finances, putting people into debt, all as part of playing the role of ranking people. He makes a useful analogy to the way the Catholic Church sold indulgences starting in the 14th Century.
Education, he says, should be viewed as a consumer service.  When people pay to learn, they should presented the material in as straightforward a manner possible.  Instead, they are often bemused my material deliberately made obscure to eliminate less “worthy” students. 
And course content is censored.  That’s hardly news.  He mentions an organic chemistry course that deliberately skipped a chapter on how to make controlled substances (and that has wider implications for potential censorship attempts on Internet speech). And he discusses at some length economics courses that deliberately stilt basic mathematical theory toward a political interpretation favoring collectivism.
He is particularly concerned that public (and religious) schools and undergraduate university education stresses “obedience” and submission to the goals set by others.   That’s a double-edged assertion, of course.  
I can related to his concerns about “ranking” students, including insistence that they parrot back what they were “taught”.  When I was in college and graduate school, young men were concerned about student deferments and about the kinds of assignments they would get if drafted (for Vietnam).  College seemed to be a way to weed out who was “expendable” to become cannon fodder for the war.   At the University of Kansas, I was an assistant instructor and had the authority to test and rank students.  This was an algebra class for students with below-par skills and I must admit that did flunk a lot of them (maybe 50% got D or less).  Was this a “power trip”?  It was certainly consistent with the times.  Other graduate students would say things ranging from, “They’re dumb” to :”If the student didn’t learn, the teacher didn’t teach” (Vohra’s point). My completion of duties as an "assistant instructor" and completion of an M.A. in Mathematics was followed by immediate immersion into the authoritarianism of Army Basic Combat Training, where obedience is the only virtue. I had gotten to dish it out before I had to receive it.  I would never again have such an "opportunity." 
He also notes that students, particularly when writing class themes or admission essays, are encouraged to “look inward” and see where their difficulties could indicate essential moral weakness or sin, rather than the possibility that the system above them is corrupt (looking outward). Obedience seems like a particular virtue in authoritarian systems, where it become synonymous with "stability" because all ordinary people are "equally" poor. 
He also is critical of the entire financial industry, of doing nothing productive, but of manipulating and lobbying government tax policy for their own benefit.  He calls financiers “college educated parasites”. But I used to hear that in the Army!
On the “Interludes”, he ventures sometimes into some of his own social and political views and religious interpretations.  He presents Jesus as practically a Clark Kent superman, intent on overturning political corruption and injustice but demanding obedience himself from disciples, who were encouraged to have no possessions to lose.  The apostle Paul, on the other hand, tweaked the Gospel to emphasize obedience to those in authority in the church community (and in family relationships).  He also notes the apparently anti-homosexual writings in Paul’s epistles, used by the religious right for gay-bashing.  (But if it is "only" better to marry than to burn, why is homosexuality a big deal anyway, when the End is nigh?) Jesus, on the hand, did not care about the way adults picked intimate partners and never took the problem up.  (In his campaign in 2012, he did support marriage equality in Maryland and noted that people who feel that gay marriage will undermine traditional marriage have no confidence in their own abilities in life).
Vohra often talks about knowledge and understanding as important for becoming a “powerful individual”.  It’s certainly true that many people are held back to satisfy the needs of others for some sort of social control, that they may see as connected to family, marriage, lineage, and social stability (and the ability to remain engaged in these).   Yet other people stumble because of factors beyond their control, ranging from genetics or medical to (ironically) wrongdoing by others.  What is to be our attitude toward the less able?  Vohra stumbles around on this troubling point, talking about how professors handle the topic of social Darwinism (or British philosopher Spencer). 
On p. 166 he criticizes the practice of requiring community service, am writes, “What could be more wasteful than taking an overachiever who knows calculus and requiring him (to) ladle soup in a soup kitchen? What a waste of brain power?”  This is not really how one of Ayn Rand's heroes would talk.  
I wonder how Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”, March 14, 2012), with his emphasis on voluntary altruism and social capital, would view this statement?  True, “community service” is often bureaucratic and volunteerism can become another world demanding obedience.  But it needs to happen.  

In the YouTube video above, Vohra teaches speed-reading. In high school in the early 1960s, we had speed-reading machines.  Note what he says about prepositional phrases.  They matter. "Fred sat on the porcupine."

An angry email I got from someone from Australia in 2006 may seem relevant here (to the attitude toward volunteerism and others in general).  "You are not more creative, wise, and all-knowing. What gives you the right to the idea that you are intellectually above the 'cretins' of the world?  Education is a tool, not a weapon to threaten anyone with. If a majority of people are not able to understand your train of thought, as you have observed, then it is you who is not communicating efficiently."

On April 20, 2103 Paul Sullivan offered a relevant article in "Business Day" in the New York Times, "Measuring College Prestige vs. Cost of Enrollment", link here.

An obviously well-related topic would be the rise of "for profit" universities (especially "online degrees") and the practice of internships, and earning academic credit for them (or for "volunteerism").
Also interesting is the comedy film "Admission" (about Princeton), reviewed on the Movies blog March 30., 2013.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"A Nation Forsaken": F. Michael Maloof warns of EMP, radio frequency or flux gun weapons, and solar CME's: is there life after technology?

Author: F. Michael Maloof, with a Foreword by Dr. Peter Vincent Fry

Title: “A Nation Forsaken: EMP: The Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe
Publication: 2013, WND Books, Washington, D.C.  ISNM 978-1-936488-56-8, hardcover, 161 pages, 9 Chapters.


The author is a former security policy analyst at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), an office at which I might have been stationed myself when I was in the Army in 1968.  He should be credible,  Maybe he believes he wasn’t “listened to” when working for ISD.   The claims in this book are disturbing and shocking, and I have heard them for years. 
The book lays out an existential threat to our way of life, already encountered in the novel “One Second After” (July 20, 2012 on this blog).  In that novel, multiple high altitude nuclear blasts from missiles launched over the US from the Gulf of Mexico from a cargo ship by terrorists launch an electromagnetic pulse that instant fries the power grid for the whole country and sets it back 500 years.  In a year, 90% of the people die, and the country is vulnerable to totalitarian militias, as in the NBC television series “Revolution” (by J J Abrams), which presupposes that a “virus” can suck power out of the air and shut down the country.  That idea is scientifically preposterous, but Maloof’s book here outlines several ways that catastrophe can happen.
In fact, I don’t know of any other non-fiction book to this point that outlines all the threats in one brief exposition,

The first chapter outlines the least known but most probable of the terroristic threats, which do not require nuclear weapons.  That is, RF (radio frequency) devices, of varying sizes.  The smallest can disable the electronics of a single car or building and could be useful for criminals.   They have been used overseas and may have been used for some car thefts recently in Long Beach, CA.   The basic weapon is called a “flux compression generator” or “flux gun”.  Larger weapons could fry a few city blocks, maybe a whole neightorhood, and produce less damage for miles.    The author claims that such weapons are in development by terrorists and criminal organizations, and can even be built by amateurs for a few hundred dollars, with instructions on the Internet (I won’t reproduce the links).   That may be an exaggerated claim, but one week before 9/11, an article to this effect appeared in “Popular Science”.  Apparently this was based on another article in “New Scientist” in May 2001 by David Scrhiner or Schriner Engineering.  I found this article online, "Wave of Destruction", link here.  

Later in the book, Maloof notes another larger non-nuclear pulse (or microwave) generator AESA, or Active Electronically Scanned Array. 
On March 4, 2010 I visited the US Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, MD, and wrote a posting about it, including a picture of an RF device (it may have been AESA) used in Iraq.  The device had been mentioned in a story in The Washington Times in 2009.   I also remember hearing discussions about RF weapons when I was in the Army (mainly in 1969).
Given the obvious danger to the public from such devices, it seems surprising that there is no public debate on regulating them, while we debate gun control, assault weapons bans, and background checks.  Piers Morgan, where are you?
Maloof does provide some technical discussion of how EMP from a high altitude nuclear blast works.  The pulses come in three waves, E1 through E3, and the technical difficulties in protecting equipment (as with grounding or Faraday Cages) are different from each pulse.  He also talks about how much our utilities have invested in SCADA (supervisory data acquisition and control) technology.
Maloof acknowledges that missile defenses may well knock out high altitude missiles (the bellicose rhetoric from North Korea sounds horribly prescient now), but might not detect lower altitude artillery from offshore ships, which could knock out smaller areas but perhaps whole cities.

Maloof provides a laundry list of terror or enemy organizations that would have a psychological motive to participate in this sort of asymmetric terror.

He also provides a chapter detailing the way coronal mass ejections from the Sun ("solar flares") work, warns that we could be “due” for a big blast in 2013 or 2014, and discusses major power failures from previous CME’s (like Quebec in 1989), and provides detailed accounts of the Carrington event in 1859. 

Maloof  has a chapter “Why Haven’t We Been Told?”  He does summarize various bills in Congress meant to shore up the power grid, and details how the problem has been known for decades, but kept behind the scenes.  An “EMP Commission” produced a report in 2008.  There have been major papers from the National Academy of Sciences and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (reviewed on this blog).  The Pentagon seems schizophrenic, willing to rely on a commercial grid that is apparently so easily targeted. A trade group, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (or NREC) has apparently sugar-coated the issue and made the industry look better prepared than it actually is.

Maloof ends his book with a survivalist’s guide.  I rather cringe at the “Doomsday Prepper” or survivalist mentality and value system, resulting in a feudal world run by warlords.  If our world suddenly collapses – and I think it could – it would have no use for someone like me.  It would be best if I died immediately. Here I would be, 69 or older, with no children. Who would want to bring children into such a world, anyway?  Well, some people would, and some people would think my comments and admissions as subversive, enticing to enemies.  I understand that – even though this sort of discussion doesn’t happen much in socially acceptable circles.  A better question would be, what happens with teens and twenty-somethings who grew up in a technology driven world, and have no skills to live in a “real one”?  Actually, the possibility of real catastrophe uinderscores the idea that social structure and compact (and even a belief in a biological future or lineage)t really is important, even if it tends to make society vulnerable to authoritarianism.

Actually, maybe I could back off on my negativity just a bit.  One of my screenplays   (actually it is called “Do Ask  Do Tell Manifesto” right now)has a character (based on “me”) abducted by aliens and then forced to train and live in communities with progressive levels of technology.  But of course in a post-technology world the movie could never be produced, the screenplay never read online.
At least old fashioned pianos and musical instruments would work.

Note: I bought a hardcopy of this book, not the Kindle e-book.  I'll still be able to read it in the daytime after an EMP attack from Iran or North Korea. Also, among the major politicians, why do only Newt Gingrich and Roscoe Bartlett talk about this?  Where are the major media outlets on this issue?

It's like saying, "the Earth is falling into the Sun and they just aren't telling us?"  Well, Al Gore is telling us,  It's our fault.  It's an Inconvenient Truth.  

Monday, April 08, 2013

Mary C. Neal: "To Heaven and Back": a more "usual" account of the afterlife, with more emotion and raw faith

Author: Marcy C. Neal, M.D.
Title: “To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account pf Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again
Publication: Colorado Springs: 2011, WaterBook Press, 978-0-307-73171-5, 222 pages, paper, 33 chapters, Prologue, Introduction, Q&A.
Aamaon link is here
Like Alexander (previous review), Neal is a physician – a surgeon – and is well versed in the mental discipline of science.  Her account of a near-death-experience is more “conventional” and less structured than Alexander’s and she apparently did not undergo the total loss of cortical function that Alexander describes. 

Mary Neal’s NDE occurred after a drowning resulting from an accident while whitewater kayaking in Chile in 1999.  I’ve had one experience myself with kayaking, and I “chickened out” of it; I describe it on the “BillBoushka” blog Oct. 9, 2007.  Her description of drowning is not as harrowing as the details given by Sebastian Junger in his 1997 non-fiction classic "A Perfect Storm".  

Neal describes the usual light tunnel, and says she was drawn into a large hall, as might be inside a cathedral or castle.  She was also told that it was not her time do pass on yet.  Her description of “Heaven” is not as structured as is Alexander’s.  There is no account of lying mute in a “Core” at first.  (By the way, Alexander’s idea also appears in the film “Astral City”, reviewed on the Movies Blog , Nov. 7, 2011, a film I recommend in conjunction with these two books).

Neal also describes conversations with angels, apparently in the Heaven space.  They were somewhat indistinct in appearance, with their extremities and features usually covered by cloaks.  She also describes the idea that angels can appear on earth – in one case, she thinks that an owl she saw spare her cat was an angel.

Neal’s “attitude” is more yielding and eager to accept the “Will of God” than is Alexander’s.  This is a life approach I often see among “evangelical” people, who have sometimes approached me about my apparent lack of willingness to accept “direction” from God.  As a teenager, she went on a mission in Mexico where she was expected to help deliver babies, before she had any college or medical training. She seems to have been more thoroughly “socialized” early in life than was Alexander.  She often resorts to appeals to faith and scripture in her writing, whereas Alexander does that much less so, preferring to reconcile faith and science or physics at a more intellectual level. 

I do think that “consciousness” is on a par with matter and energy and may well precede it.  Does that mean that a “God” plans people’s lives in detail?  I find that notion contradictory to free will, but there are certain Mobius-like twists to trace.  Neal chronicles several other tragic events in her life, especially the death of a wonderful 19-year-old son hit by a car by a driver distracted by a cellphone, as foreshadowed in a way that seems supernatural. 

I do feel that there are some critical moments in my life, where things could have gone very differently, that depend on “coincidences” that seem to improbable to be accounted for even by statistics. Most of these have happened “on the road” (my movie review yesterday), with accidental discoveries with epiphany-like qualities that led me to make certain decisions.  One of these may have taken me out of the firing like of the HIV virus.  That gets complicated, and I won’t get into that here (but it doesn’t call for moralizing – and by the way Neal discounts conspiracy theories, including one concerning HIV). 

It still seems to me that a “soul” is an identity of its own, and that it continues to exist after “death”.  But a child who dies tragically cannot know the free will of an adult without living again, maybe on another planet  (like the purplish outdoor theater world in AMC’s corporate trademark) or in another universe.  One cannot express an ego in the afterlife;  one must live physically to experience self-hood. 

I also wonder if an angel really can exist or live among us on Earth as an “ordinary person”.  He or she would seem to be immortal and not need reproduction;  that runs into the idea of entropy in physics.  In the NBC series “The Event”,  the computer whiz Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) discovers his capabilities and possible immortality and realizes he may be “one of them” even though he is out to save humanity from “them”.    Neal mentions that angels often intervene on Earth in critical moments, beyond what can be expected from coincidence.  I can remember getting a ride on US 301 in Maryland in 1992 when I had gotten lost from my group on a bicycle trip.