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.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ronan Farrow releases "bombshell" story about a coverup (Michael Cohen) in the New Yorker

Maybe Ronan Farrow is Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.  And like David Hogg (the NRA’s nightmare), he seems to be just getting started.
Today Farrow’s booklet article “Missing Files Motivated theLeak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records” shows up on the New Yorker (paywall, but $1 a week). 
The detailed narrative does show how easily anyone with a sensitive job can get into trouble by comingling with his own accounts, perhaps through shell companies.  (That can happen with trusts, by the way.)
The narrative refers to the acronym SARS, or “suspicious activity reports”.  It’s a curious irony that SARS also refers to a surveillance reporting system for Medicaid MMIS (which I have worked on).
If Farrow takes down Trump and gets him impeached, we have Pence to deal with (at least with LGBT).

On Thursday afternoon, CNN explained that banks often drop customers whose activity generates SARS reports, because they don't want the "risk".  Imagine what the Internet world would be like if monitoring for legal problems (like Backpage) were handled this way. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

"Suicide of the West": introducing a book "franchise movie" with two conservative authors

I am not ready for a full review yet (to be done soon on Wordpress), but I have started Jonah Goldberg’s “Suicide of the West” with subtitle “How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy”, from Crown Forum 379 pages before the notes.

The book maintains that civilization with the rule of law and individualism is somewhat of a “Miracle” and a geographical accident for which we should be grateful.  It probably started in England in the 17th Century.

Even more than Amy Chua, the author explains how tribalism is hardwired animal behavior, and how easy it is to backslide once social norms are broken.  It is more important to support the right “tribe” and its grievances than to succeed of be respected “in the world” as an individual, in this thinking. The aggressive tribalist demands not only individual freedom from discrimination in the usual sense but also positive affirmation from others of his or her (or “their”) group identity. 

The book is a real page turner. A lot of the material reminds me of George Gilder ("Sexual Suicide", 1973).  A particularly disturbing claim is that leftist tribalism sees "meritocracy" as a code for "racism". 

Goldberg thinks that when diverse people live in close quarters, there is less social capital -- yet what seems to be needed is people reaching across tribal divides, sometimes very personally. 

But it is also a “sequel” to James Burnham’s 1964 classic “Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism” (Encounter Books – the Kindle isn’t as pricey as print) which had followed “The Managerial Revolution” (1941).  Burnham had started out dabbling in Marxism and Trotskyism before becoming anti-Communist.  He opens this essay with with “This book is a book” and not a collection of papers, and soon says that Communism used free speech to destroy free speech.   Burnham seems critical of putting peace over liberty and wary of “moral busybodies”.  At a rough level, some of this sounds a little like Trump sometimes, and maybe Goldwater others.

I am quite shocked at how determined and coercive some tribalist behavior has become in the past four years.   Tribalism seems even to explain the reaction to James Damore’s memo (April 29).

Goldberg mentions Burnham's book on p 115 where he says Burnham thinks that the intellectual development of Communism was motivated by guilt. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"How Xi Jingping Views the World" in Foreign Affairs

Kevin Rudd has a “booklet” in the May 2018 “Foreign Affairs”, “How Xi Jingpig Views the World”, with a tagline “The Core Interests that Shape China’s Behavior” (paywall) 

All of this follows Jingping’s crowning himself president and leader of the party for life.
Trump has vacillated, sometimes in the past saying “China is not your friend” and imposing tariffs, and yet sometimes admiring Xi Jingping as a “strong man”.  Xi Jingping is undoubtedly important in controlling North Korea.

The most important of the seven pillars is that Xingping wants to make Communist Party ideology the driver of China’s future, and not economic reform for its own sake, or statecraft (or the deep state or administrative state, for that matter, an end in itself). This ultimately winnows down to “rightsizing” individual people for the sake of overall social stability, and that is where the planned “social credit score” by 2020 fits in.   Apparently in school kids have to memorize the ideology.
However, the peripheral areas, some of which are legally part of China and not sovereign (Tibet), and others which are (Taiwan, with is anti-Communist, and North Korea, which is hyper-communist) are also a major issue.
So is balancing environmental concerns with growth.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

"Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Keeping Russia Closeted": dissertation from Finland

I found a thesis online from a Finnish university of Tampere, “Out of Sight, Out of Kind: Keeping Russia Closeted: A Biopolitical Analysis of Non-Normative Sexualities in Russia”, by John Cai Benjamin Weaver, link here  (84 pages plus notes). 
The first word of the text is “Tcaikovsky”.  The author gives the history of anti-gay laws in the Soviet Union, their relaxation under Yeltsin in Russia in 1993, and then the 2013 “anti-propaganda” law, which had been preceded by some local laws like in St. Petersburg.

The author structures his argument around Michel Foucault’s theories of “biopolitics” and social control.

While Putin maintains he is not homophobic and has no problems with homosexual activity in private, Russia is very concerned with the inclusion of homosexuality and gender fluidity in public spaces, because it believes that, if presented as acceptable, people will have fewer children. The policy is designated to deal with the supposed collective well being of the Russian “nation”, but not with individual people.

Curiously, Russia has little concern with closeted homosexuality in its military, since Russia has a 12-month period of conscription.

Most of Russia's anti-gay sentiment comes from acceptance of propaganda as an important force in shaping society, with little respect for the potential of the individual for critical thinking (and Putin says he has to protect children).  It also comes from a desire to distinguish Russia from the West. 

But Russia is in demographic decline both because of low birth rate and poor life expectancy.  

The latter part of the thesis describes the surveys used and actual results.

By Cryonic07 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Sunday, April 29, 2018

James Damore's account of an "Ideological Echo Chamber" needs to become a book

Will the “Google-Memo-Guy” James Damore write a book? I wondered that on Aug. 21 when I wrote a post on the movies blog “Milo Meets James Damore”. 

But his “Memo” called “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”, which Wikipedia labels as a “Manifesto on Workplace Diversity” qualifies at least as a booklet now.  You can find it (in two formats) on James Damore’s own site “Fired for Truth”.

The original memo is well footnoted and clearly argued.  Damore seems to say mainly that employers should not focus on meeting particular numbers to achieve diversity, especially regarding gender in tech employment.  Damore’s firing apparently came after an unfooted version went viral on social media in early August 2017.

Damore has filed class-action suit against Google, explained here.  Since he hasn’t tweeted much lately, it seems logical that the relative quiet as wise for the litigation. The suit seems a bit silly.  But so does Google’s termination of Damore.  Whether it is OK to circulate a controversial memo in the workplace depends on the conduct code of the employer.  But apparently Google (unlike most corporate employers) allowed this practice, even encouraged it, and Damore’s content, understood properly, is reasonably objective and in no way hateful.  (A few of his past tweets, like one about the KKK, did seem off the mark to me.)   But he is challenging the left-wing idea of political correctness, of making policies according to groups and “intersectionality”.

In fact, The Knife, (Jens Erik Gould) has an article "The Misrepesentation of James Damore", including an addendum about the NLRB's surprising attack on him, as well as details as to how the memo was actually invited and circulated at Google.  Major media outlets characterized his memo with subjective characterizations typical of left-wing bias, and Knife says Damore's memo actually had relatively little deception language or metaphors compared to normal political writing.
As for my reaction to his memo, I’m particularly drawn to his opening table on Left v. Right biases. I am somewhat biased to the Right on his first three points, but I think that change is often good and am open to some of it.   I do see humans as competitive and personal inequality as inevitable.  But I also think that as a moral point, if those who are more advantaged don’t reach out personally to those who are not, society can become unstable and vulnerable to authoritarianism (especially fascism).
But the Left tends to mix up this ironic setting of personal responsibility (as libertarians see it) with group membership.
While Damore’s points seem, from a clinical and statistical view, to be valid, we should remember that in real life, it is the exceptions that swallow the rules.  The 2016 film “Hidden Figures” made the point about female mathematicians at NASA in the early 1960s.  Women made many contributions to computing in the early days, such as the invention of COBOL.  In the 1960s, I found it common to have women working as programmers and mathematicians in the Navy department in summer jobs, as well as with graduate school (Ph D candidates).  Female math and science teachers were common in the 1950s and early 60s, in my own experience.  When I worked for Univac in 1972-1974, I found plenty of women in management; Univac seemed more competitive then than big rival IBM.  I would generally expect to find in tech today with no particular emphasis on measuring diversity numbers by gender.

 Paul Lewis writes in the Guardian about Damore, "I see things differently: James Damore on his autism and the Google memo", here. Some autism, as in "The Good Doctor", is depicted as the hyper-masculine, hyper-logical brain.  One important supporting observation seems to follow the ideas of George Gilder ("Men and Marriage", 1986);  in a real world, men are fungible, and of all the men that have lived, only 40% have descendants today, compared to 80% of women.  This fits into an inevitable result that statistically most men will have some physical and connected personality traits that separate them from women and make them more suitable for certain kinds of work.  We don't quarrel about the fact that major professional sports are generally male-only (I think we'll have a trans relief pitcher in baseball some day.)  Damore doesn't offer any evidence that the patterns are any different for cis gay men than the general male population. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Foreign Affairs takes on the decline of democracy and the apparent success of new authoritarian statist capitalism (especially in China)

The April 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs offers several detailed articles supporting the cover theme “Is Democracy Dying? A Global Report”.

The most important article is probably the first one, by Walter Russell Mead, “The Big Shift: How American Democracy Fails Its Way to Success”, link.   The writer gets into discussing Piketty’s book “Capital” and his theory of inequality (review here July 22, 2014).   Mead argues that growing inequality, even in a low-unemployment economy, tends to drive people more toward tribal thinking and political divisiveness.  He suggests we need to consider ideas like basic income (which Finland is stopping) or other ways of redistribution of wealth.

The second article is “The Age of Insecurity: Can Democracy Save Itself?  I am reminded of Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” symphony.  The article explains that in the 21st Century, some authoritarian societies are providing a better standard of living than previously expected by libertarian and Reagan-style conservatives in the U.S.

Both writers note that a rise in the standard of living tends to take people away from materialism and tends to make liberal democracy and individualism make more sense;  but then inequality can lead to cultural backslide toward group survivalism and prepper culture.

Yascha Mount and Roberto Stefan Foa write “The End of the Democratic Century: Autocracy’s Soft Power” which has to do with greater materialistic success and a larger presence of academia in relatively authoritarian countries, like the health science centers in the UAE and even Saudi Arabia, as well as professional media.

There are two big articles on China.  Yuen Ang writes “Autocracy with Chinese Characteristics: Beijing’s Behind the Scenes Reforms” The author explains how in China politics is embedded in bureaucracy, which can then motivate its citizens with a hierarchal structure of pseudo capitalism and rewards.  China is a unary, not a federal, state.

Then there is “China’s New Revolution: The Reign of Xi Jingping”, by Elizabeth C. Economy.  There is some focus on the authoritarian control of individualism and free speech (with the firewalls against the outside world, not always effective).  Most of all, it seems that Jingping’s (and his predecessors’, post Mao) implementation of Communism (an ideology which students memorize) is predicated on “right-sizing” individual people so that they know where they must fit in according to their abilities;  otherwise they would be treated as mooches (hence the proposed “social credit score” by 2020).  The dangerous trend to arrest people who became citizens of othjer countries when they return to China is mentioned.  Jingping has crowned himself president for life and abolished term limits (which used to be part of the Chinese system of political integrity).

Ivan Kratsev explores “Eastern Europe’s Illiberal Revolution: The Long Road to Democratic Decline.”  I remember that back in 1989 the people of eastern Europe were held up to grade pride, with Leonard Bernstein recording Beethoven’s Ninth in a reunified Berlin near the Wall.  But emigration to the west (and low birth rates), followed by immigration from troubled and non-democratic parts of the world has made the remaining people feel threatened, and turn to populism, and some authoritarianism (Orban in Hungary), which the writer does not see as fascist, despite the labels. Like Putin, leadership wants to raise the standard of living for its ethnic populations by keeping them disciplined and not too loquacious.
Victor Cha (Georgetown, with Katrin Fraser Katz), whom Trump turned down for an ambassadorship after Victor criticized Trump’s aggressive rhetoric,  has an article on how to coerce North Korea, previously covered.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Fast Company covers the troll-ization ot Twitter, and the volunteerism of chef Jose Andres

Fast Company in April 2018 has a couple challenging articles.

Austin Carr and Harry McCracken, in an article ”#Hijacked” (p 58), explore how Twitter and CEO Jack Dorsey started out with a dream of free speech, and wound up as fodder for the trolls, want to spread discontent borne out of group inequality. The article discusses a lot of attempts to monitor content and Silicon Valley’s looking for imaginary solutions to their problems with tribalism. 

The article suggests that Congress will probably undo all of the intermediary downstream liability protections in Section 230, which have already happened with the Backpage matter and the FOSTA law.

The article has a 2018 Social Media Safety Report Card, where Facebook got the lowest grade, then YouTube and then Reddit.

On p 86, Matthew Shaer covers “The People’s Choice”, a portrait of master chef Jose Andres, in litigation against Trump over a hotel deal.  It covers his volunteer efforts to set up cooking operations in Puerto Rico and Houston after the hurricanes, and in California after the wildfires. Of course, he has the practical skills and business scale to volunteer like this to help rebuild. He is very good for resilience.
There is also a list of ten World Changing Ideas.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ronan Farrow has new book: "War on Peace" and it's dangerous for America to hide from the world (the Tillerson fiasco)

Ronan Farrow, now 30, one of TV’s “prettiest” cis-male journalists (from the New Yorker), has a new book, “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence”, due April 24 from Norton.

Here’s a chapter from the New Yorker, “Inside Rex Tillerson’s Ouster: The Last Days of His Brief and Chaotic Tenure as Secretary of State”. 
It seems like it was never meant to be.  Tillerson did seem to play lip service with human rights.  But a couple months ago, pundits were saying that Trump’s carelessness with keeping positions at state and ambassadorships filled was downright dangerous (the Professor Cha mess on Korea).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Zakaria interviews Madeleine Albright on her new book "Fascism: A Warning"

Today Fareed Zakaria interviewed Madeleine Albright on his GPS show on CNN, and talked about her new book, “Fascism: A Warning”, publishedby Harper (304 pages).
Albright made the pointed comment that people have lost interest in running for office because of hyperpartisanship and polarization. She is appropriately concerned about Trump’s lack of respect for the press and for truth and his tendency to play favorites, believing that might can make right for people who feel ignored (his base) by the intellectual elites.
Christian Caryl takes up the question as to whether the US is headed for fascism (rather remarkable that he feels he has to) with some criticism of her book here.  But it seems that the unwillingness of a lot of people to get outside of their own bubbles, maybe out of personal ego, adds to the risk.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

"Queer: A Graphic History": a philosophy text presented as a graphic novel

Authors: Meg-John Barker, Julia Scheele

Title: “Queer: A Graphic History

Publication: 2016: Icon Books, London, ISBN 978-178578-071-4, 176 pages, paper. 
I saw this book in the campus bookstore at Drexel in Philadelphia, run by Barnes and Noble, and picked it up on impulse.

It’s rather interesting to format a book that amounts to a historical encyclopedia on political and philosophical terms related to gay rights presented as a “graphic novel” with illustrations in black and white  The pictures take about 70% of the space in the book, whereas the rest is rather straightforward Wiki-like text. Then the authors pose characters who talk more about the concepts, as if in an animated documentary film.

The central question is, what is “queer”, which has become a fashionable term today, a reversal of a half-century ago when it was like the F and N words.

But the authors soon get into a presentation of “essentialism” v. “existentialism” (Sartre).  They see essentialism as a roadblock to gay acceptance.  Essentialism is connected to assimilation, which wa the earlier model of gay rights, starting with Mattachine and Frank Kameny back in the 1950s.  The authors continually point out moral ironies.  “The ‘it’s not our fault’ idea easily slips into portraying homosexuality as inferior” and “By focusing on the acceptable face of white, middle-class educated gay and lesbian people, they often maintain the oppression of those do not fit that (the queerer umbrella).” (p. 26).  Soon the authors visit “intersectionality”, which they attribute to Kimberle Crenshaw.

Later they explore “heterosexism” and associated privilege, which can work against you. Then on p, 134, they return to “Strategic essentialism” where an avatar says “Strategic essentialism might involve, for example, remaining quiet about the differences between individuals within the group as they fight for a common goal, despite engaging in those debates privately.” (p. 134).  Then, “a place for identity politics after all?”

There is also the point that transgender transitions may be viewed as a way of giving in to conventional gender expectations. There is a reference to Lee Edelman’s book “No Future” (2004) and its tying reproduction to “cruel optimism” (p. 160). There was no reference to Paul Rosenfels's polarity theory, which I would have expected to find. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-and-Death Crisis", NYTimes magazine "booklet"

Linda Villarosa has a booklet-length piece in the New York Times magazine on April 11 (for April 15), “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-and-Death Crisis”, link.  The tagline is “The answer to the disparity in death rates has everything to do with the experience of being a black woman in America.”  The magazine cover is dedicated to the article. 

The article goes beyond an hereditary factors (like high blood pressure associated with resistance to sickle cell) to social conditions, and maintains that there are many issues with the availability and job performance of doulas (caregivers). 

The black infant mortality rate is 11.3 per 1000 as opposed to 4.9 per 1000 for whites.

The story starts with the narrative of Simone Landrum, and notes how early morning sickness comes with nausea and ravenousness at the same time. 
This is all rather remarkable, as is the police profiling and BLM movement, even after eight years of Obama in office.

Friday, April 06, 2018

"How the Right Lost Its Mind" and fell for Trump

There is a new book “How the Right Lost Its Mind”, by Charlie Sykes, from Random House. 

Again, I’ll have to get it and read it, in time.  But there is already a lot of controversy.

It can be said that old fashioned conservatism, especially the social side, got plundered by the Internet starting in the late 90s.  A “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality could not survive.

So today, we have an understandable war about privacy, and even the idea that the “user is the product.”

But the Internet also fed conservative media a certain way, so it tended to feed a certain mindset with reactionary tribal mindset.  So conservative media lost its own way, with regards to normal journalistic standards.
Jonathan Chait takes all this up in New York Magazine here
It’s also “right” to let National Review speak up about this (in a piece by Guy Benson) since the history of William Buckley seems to be an issue.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Lam Wing-kee's story shows the problems of censorship of books in Hong Kong

Alex W. Palmer has a booklet-length story in the New York Times about the arrests of booksellers in Hong Kong, a topic covered before.

This time it is the saga of Lam Wing-kee, who was first collared in 2015 at a customs checkpoint at the mainline. 

But the story also indicates that “banned books” are actually disappearing even in Hong Kong, as mainland publishers take control. 

There is a lot of history about publlisher Bao Pu. There is a lot of history of the cultural revolution, when intellectuals were sent to the countryside to become proles back in the 1960s.

The problems of censorship increase as Xingping consolidates lifetime power, and yet Xingping's official ideology, which Chinese students memorize, sounds like a hodgepodge. 
I can remember a left-wing bookstore (“Make Up Your Mind”) in Madison, NJ in the 1970s, where the owners saw the Chinese as morally pure but not the Soviets.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

New book "The Trump White House" seems to neutralize Fire and Fury

Well, there is an antidote to Wolff’s “Fire and Fury”.  That would be Ronald Kessler’s “The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game”, available on Amazon today, 304 pages.

I can’t find any conventional “professional” reviews yet.  But Devan Cole discusses the book on CNN on an April 1 interview with Jake Tapper, where the book claims that Kellyanne Conway is the chief leaker.

The Amazon link is here   and has some reviews, some of which think the book is objective and some claim it is Trump propaganda.

I’ll order it soon for a more full review. 

Trey Yingst of OANN said he had already read it today and expected to see Trump tweet about it!   Young adults recently in college are used to hundreds of pages of reading a day (like my own 50 pages of poetry for every English class at GWU, or Jack Andraka’s doing all his homework on airplanes  -- how about memorizing nomenclature for organic chemistry).  That’s a lot more reading that Trump can tolerate, beyond his Fox news on the idiot box (or plasma screen). 
Trump does respect people (including journalists) whom he thinks could have won out on his “The Apprentice” reality show. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Campus books stores when owned by Barnes and Noble

It seems that when Barnes and Noble owns a campus bookstore, it's mostly textbooks, college paraphenalia, and a small selection of general interest.

But a good part of the general section at Drexel in Philadelphia (near 30th St Station) is LGBT books, even a graphic novel.

And one way to sell books seems to be to get the movie made first.  There were books of movies already made, like "Love, Simon" and "Annihilation".

All this one the way to a cyber security meeting. Penn is across the street.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Book shows young men drawn into extremism to find masculinity

Here is a little pre-review of a book by Michael Kimmel, University of California, “Healing from Hate: How Young Men Get Into and Out of Violent Extremism”, a book review by Dina Temple-Raston, “Masculinity, not ideology, drives extremist groups”, Washington Post, March 25, 2018, Outlook.

While Amy Chua had argued earlier (“Political Tribes”) that they were carrying out their group behaviors. Kimmel argues that they have become frustrated in attempting to experience themselves as men, because they cannot succeed in a society that demands so much restraint and abstraction.

That may be true of many groups like white supremacists and some of the European radical Islamic terrorists, although it explains less well the 9/11 hijackers.

All of this sounds Rosenfelsian.   
It’s true that upper middle class men who do succeed in academics, business or technology (or professional sports) probably never encounter other men who behave this way.  There is a movement going on to (like on Facebook) to  let boys grow up as boys (Steven Marche’s New York Times article in Nov. 2017). .  But upper class families (and higher achievers in the gay community today) would never see this. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Time's "1968" on the coffee table

Time Special Editions sells a coffee table gloss book, “1968: The Year that Shaped a Generation” in supermarkets now (112 pages).  (I never knew how big Wegmans could be until yesterday.)  The editor is Edward Felsenthal.

The back cover has a protestor holding a sign that reads “Resist!”

1968 (as in the CNN series “The 60’s”) was said to be a “revolutionary year of years”.  Or, “like a knife blade, the year that severed the past from the future.”

Indeed, on February 8, 1968 (a Thursday) I was drafted, in Richmond VA. On May 31, a Sunday, I would be in Special Training Company at Ft. Jackson, cleaning out the grease pit with a toothbrush, but I got off KP in time to overhear LBJ say on the radio that he would not seek reelection.  There would be the DC riots on 14th Street, and then the “Medium Cool” convention and Chicago, and then the last-minute win by Nixon.

A week or so later, we would be on “red alert” after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

There’s a lot in here, like about showbiz at the time (“Hair”) or the turmoil in Czechoslovakia and especially France (Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers”). 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A "colleague" review of "Red Clock": does "every child need two"?

It isn’t often that I feature “somebody else’s” book review, but Kathi Wolfe has a great account of the new novel “Red Clock” by Leni Zumas  (Little Brown [a “real” publisher], 2018, 368 pages).  The review is in the Washington Blade, March 9, "Viewpoint", p. 19.  
The novel, set in a dystopian future and probably capable of generating another LionsGate-like movie franchise, imagines a future where surrogacy and abortion has been forbidden, single people can’t adopt, and there is an “Every Child Needs Two” law.  Oh, it sounds so much like Rick Santorum a few years ago, or maybe Pat Buchanan before that.

It almost sounds like procreation is mandatory for everybody so that everyone else can find a partner.
I’m more interested, as a writer, in how a society becomes dystopian:  but with Russian meddling in our social media, weaker social capital, and a certain background complacency, all leading us to have a “President Poopiepants”, we can imagine how it starts. It's about a lot more than phony religious freedom laws . 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wired: Facebook's Two Years of Hell, and Zuckerberg's Manifesto

The March 2018 issue of Wired offers a cover with Mark Zuckerberg having undergone what looks like a bloody nose attack (or cut eyelash) from Vladimir Putin. Perhaps Putin doesn’t want to allow a 33-year-old become more powerful than Putin.

On p. 46 there appears the booklet-length essay by Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein, ”Inside  the Two Years that Shook Facebook, and the World”, link (paywall after free article allotment;  I bough a print copy at Union Station today after the kids’ “National Walk Out” gun demonstration on the Capitol Grounds).
The narrative begins with a tale of the firings of two contract employees, one of whom had done some private sleuthing of Facebook’s intended way of trying to defeat Trump in early 2016.  One of the employees was fired only for social media connection to a Gizmodo editor who released the leak. But then the article (in thirteen sections) goes back to give the history of Facebook’s energy in doing news aggregation, for the bucks. 

The article explains how Facebook has depended on Section 230, discussed widely on the blogs in connection with trafficking, especially sex trafficking and Backpage. So Facebook insisted on neutrality in presenting content to users, considering only the users’ interests according to algorithms.
Facebook wanted to have its chocolate cake and eat it too.  Newscorp (Fox) acted threatening, as Facebook was creating serfdoms to subordinate the news media, and underming Section 230 might be a way to hit back.  (That could silence individual bloggers, like me, over eventual downstream liability fears).  
By mid 2016, it had become evident that the neutrality was an albatross.  Trump’s people considered how to use the idea to feed fake stories about Hillary Clinton, and soon the Russians were doing it. Facebook was becoming a publisher of supermarket tabloid stuff while pretending not to be one.
The article discusses Zuckerberg’s 5700-word “Manifesto”, titled “Building Global Community” , from February 2017.  He does talk about Supportive, Safe, Inclusive, Informed, and especially Engaged communities.   It is the last one that is the hardest.  The new world seems to demand personalized community engagement that would have been unwelcome in the past.   But the Manifesto was written before Mark saw  all the wheels that had come off. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Atlantic" produces inner booklet with three stories of human trafficking and slavery

Rebecca Rosen edits a “booklet” in The Atlantic for March with three life stories of human trafficking.

All three are women who worked domestically.  Two are from the Philippines, one from Brazil.
They were generally involved in caregiving as live-ins, and were paid much less than promised contractually.  Some did not have good living conditions, as in Boston winters.  Some had immigration and visa issues, although the articles do not go into detail on this.

But there is “slavery” in other areas (especially caregiving) besides the sex trafficking which is in the news now because of the FOSTA-SESTA bills in Congress.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Authors push for black characters in children's books

I’m not one who will sign up to write for specific minority groups or play identity politics, but I noticed with some interest a story by Denene Millner (with her own book company) on p. 10 of the New York Times Review, “She wants more than M.L.K. at bedtime”, or, online, “Black kids don’t want toread about Harriet Tubman all the time”. 

She then writes about the need for more black characters in children’s books.
I keep getting these messages on how to sell volumes of books for specific groups, and fortunately have had the luxury of ignoring them. 
But there was a minority-focused book table at the NBC Washington Health Fair in DV this weekend.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Guardian's "Long Read" article on Casa Pound and the resurgence of fascist groups in Italy

Tobias Jones has a booklet-length article in the Guardian, “The Fascist Movement that Has Brought Mussolini Back into the Mainstream”, in a series called “The Long Read”, link here.
The article describes the muti-facted Casa Pound.  It seems to have started in bars in the late 1990s and been evangelized through rock and “fight clubs”.  The movement would get pushed in some books in the middle 2000’s and would be pushed farther by the migrant crisis starting in 2014. 
I can remember well from a freshman history course in college that Mussolini “taxed bachelors” and demanded procreation.

Andrea Mamomme has an alarming article on CNN, “Can AnythingSave Italy from a Return to Fascism? Brexit (Blogtyrant’s tweet “Whoops, England?"), in June 2016, Trump’s election, and the softening of EU have come with shocking speed after the migrant crisis.

 Illustration by Luc Giarelli on Wikipedia under CCSA 2.0 , “We dream of a Roman Italy”

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Indiana teacher's request for mental health books goes viral

A grade school teacher, Tina DuBrock, in Dyer, IND (almost on Lake Michigan) has come up with a wish list for mental health books, and the list went viral.  Here is the MSN story, and here is the Amazon link to the list.
The story says the teacher notes the “blaming” by parents on teachers and vice versa for serious discipline and security problems.

Some of the subject matter requested is pretty specific, like dyslexia.
Reid Ewing’s past discussion of his body dysmorphia might seem appropriate.  Here is a typical story in People Magazine explaining it.