Thursday, December 27, 2018

Harvard undergraduate makes a pitch for audio books, and explains the value of fiction

I thought I would share this video from Harvard undergraduate John Fish on the value of reading fiction.

He makes a case for the idea that in identifying with a character you can learn about yourself.  He presents the all too familiar experience of studying Shakespeare in high school.  I remember reading “Julius Caesar” (10th grade), and “Macbeth”, “King Lear”, and (for a book report) “Hamlet” in twelfth grade.

I think I can turn this around and imagine this idea from an author’s point of view. Many of my older manuscripts are about “me” as the central character, who migrates through apocalyptic change and finds success, in his own terms, in relationships through this navigation.  Finally, for the manuscript (“Angel’s Brother”) that I am working on now, I tell the outer story through other two characters, a very gifted graduating college-student (whom Fish, ironically, I might be able to compare to based on his videos), and a middle aged covert CIA agent whose family and marriage is on the verge of breakup. The student, a gifted hacker, has discovered “the plot”, so to speak, through decoding the unpublished works of “Bill” (me) and now wonders if he is an alien himself (that’s a little bit the idea of NBC’s “The Event”, where Jason Ritter’s character doesn’t know that he is an alien). Of course, this leads to heavy layering of levels of plot.

Fish also makes a (sponsored) pitch for Audio Books, and recommends Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932) .  Conservative author George Gilder, in his book “Men and Marriage” in 1986, and probably even “Sexual Suicide” in 1973, mentioned this book and often made the point that the retreat from the traditional family (as already developed in society by the 1980s) would invite genetic engineering of babies for perfection and remove the personal risk of dealing with people with disabilities. Yup, the idea could be made to sound fascist.
Getting audio books made sounds like an expensive process, probably not practical for many self-published authors.  It also takes much longer to listen to a book than read it, and often the books are abridged. I have had friends who buy them.  
Fish has several other videos describing his relation to reading books by well-regarded authors, one a week. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Anthology of psychiatric assessments of Trump's mental health

Donald Trump’s behavior the past week has rattled markets and seemed to indicate instability.

There is a book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President”, edited by Bandy X. Lee, from Thomas Dunne Books, ISBN 978-1250-17945-6, 2017, 384 pages, publisher link

A former staff member of Trump wrote this piece in the NYTimes about being the adult in the room back in Sept. 2018  

The same writer put a piece in “The Conversation”.

This book seems especially relevant now that Mattis is gone. 
Some of the pieces admit reluctance by some psychiatrists to discuss a patient they haven't treated/

Attention by Congress, especially Republicans, should need to be placed on the president's cognitive fitness. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

David Mixner's work and the birth of "don't ask don't tell" under Clinton recalled in Blade, right after Mixner's own book "Stranger Among Friends" (1996)

Karen Ocamb has an article about David Mixner and how “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” happened in the Washington Blade (p 12) and Los Amgeles Blade, Dec 21. 

The subtitle is “Mixner on how it happened – and Clinton’s Betrayal”.

That refers to Clinton’s DADT policy announcement at Ft. McNair on July 19, 1993. But it was an “honest compromise” with Sam Nunn at the time, and included the other logline, “don’t pursue’.

The article includes details about the cases of Keith Meinhold and Tracy Thorne.  The video above comes from the 1993 March on Washington. 

This all brings up the issue of David Mixner’s 1996 book “Stranger Among Friends”, Bantam, ISBN 0-553-10073-4.  I read this while working on my DADT-1 book in the 1990s.
Mixner had recounted how he was “setup” in 1969 by imposters from the FBI to find out he was gay.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Wind-up Train Book": a model train little toy world (3 of them) inside a children's book

Here’s something different, and maybe a Christmas present.

It's a mechanical train-set that offers three micro worlds to live in, as if they were O'Neill nodes on a space station. 

Usborne Farmyward Tales presents the “Wind-Up Train Book with Model Train and 3 Tracks”.

It is illustrated by Stephen Cartwright. It’s based on stories by Heather Amery, designed by Helen Woodm rewritten by Alex Forth, edited by Gilliam Dpherty, with additional illustrations by Erica Harrison and Non Taylor.
There are three layouts where a windup engine can run and switch directions through loops, which is not possible when a rail is electrified. You could prove mathematical theorems about how many times a train can change directions in a particular.

Maybe you could make a toy like this with a true Mobius strip.

I bought this at the Greenberg trains show at Dulles Airport in Virginia. 
There is an ISBN 978-0-7945-2192-9.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Two major reports sent to the Senate on Russian leveraging of US social media

Here are two of the reports sent to the Senate regarding Russian infusion into American politics since about 2014, maybe earlier.

One is from New Knowledge, in Austin, TX is “The Tactics andTropes of the Internet Research Agency”. It is authored by Renee Di Resta et al from NK (see the pdf for the list), and Jonathan Albright (Tow Center for International Journalism, Columbia University in NYC, and Ben Johnson (Canfield Research, LLC).  
The other is from the Computational Propaganda Research Project at Oxford University in London., and at Graphika.  The authors are Philip N. Howard, John Kelly et al (see link). The title is “The IRA and Political Polarization in theUnited States”, 

The New York Times has several articles and editorials today. Scott Shane and Sheera Frenkel have a long analysis
The IRA (“Internet Research Agency”, not “Irish Republican Army” or “Individual Retirement Account”) particularly targeted African Americans. They would show truthful videos about police mistreatment of African Americans after profiling, and get them fed through the algorithms of many social media platforms (esp. Instagram), not “just” Facebook and Twitter.  (I doubt they bothered with Gab.) Then once they had an audience, they would send out posts recommending that POC vote for the Green Party, or at least not for Hillary, breaking up her coalition and allowing Trump a better chance through remainder math of plurality.
Legally, of course, it may be a crime for a foreigner to impersonate an American when using an online service (that’s what the indictments are about),  Were Facebook able to identify their origin, they could have labeled them as such and not fed them into the algorithms (they missed the signals – the use of rubles, and the Russian language – like they should have hired “Paul” from Language Focus on YouTube to help ferret out non-US sources.  

But the content itself would be perfectly legal and ethical.  There would be nothing wrong with a domestic user pumping the system with valid videos of police misconduct, and then encouraging people not to vote for Hillary. That’s the First Amendment.  If you don’t want this to happen, get rid of the Electoral College (which gives rural “places” more electoral clout).  As “Economic Invincibility” has pointed out on YouTube, you can consider major changes in voting systems if you want. It is very hard to change the Constitution, of course (as it must be).
The Russians were amazingly fluent on American culture, and were especially uncanny on the divide between the intellectual elites and the less educated “proles”, and on the deep divisions over gender and sexuality – and even the prospective population demographics (fewer children in higher income people).  They may have gleaned that from “elitist” blog posts, from people who would not fall for their mass “spammy” campaigns.
Alex Ward has a higher-level analysis on Vox. 

Here is New Knowledge’s own high-level takeaway on its work. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

"Content or Context Moderation?" Booklet by Data and Society looks at challenges for platforms with user-generated content, but seems to miss some big developments

Data and Society published, in mid November 2018, a 50 page paper “Content or Context Moderation? Antisanal, Community-Reliant, and Industrial Approaches”, by Robyn Caplan, at this link (downloadble PDF)

The three basic strategies parse according to the kind of service.  Patreon, Medium, and Vimeo are said to you antisanal (context-based) approaches;  Reddit and Wikipedia use community volunteers; Facebook and Google (especially YouTube) use industrial approaches with considerable automation (such as Google’s ContentId).
There are many areas the report doesn’t mention. For one thing, the upcoming implementation of the European Union’s Copyright Directive (especially Articles 11 and 13) could increase moderation problems for platforms even for users in the rest of the western world.
The article discusses Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act in the US, with a “good Samaritan” policy to allow platforms to set their own moderation standards. Recently CDA230 has been weakened by FOSTA, the new ant-trafficking law.  Violet Blue’s Engadget article (“Congress JustLegalized Sex Censorship: What to Know”, March 2018) gives a detailed rundown on the self-protective behavior of many platforms.  

Caplan doesn’t mention the parallel DMCA Safe Harbor for copyright. It does compare how downstream liability works in Germany, where there is a visitor size threshold and where hate speech is illegal, to the US.
The recent bannings by Patreon (crowdfunding) on a rule based on “manifest observable behavior” as defined in 2017 by CEO Jack Conte, seem to be based on an inflexible (rather than context-antisanal) approach to the use of bad words or slurs. Increasingly platforms are willing to ban for off-platform behavior (beyond the obvious cases of criminal convictions) and associations, partly out of fear of the alt-right and of covert and hostile foreign (especially Russian) influence.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Two big reports show how many people self-radicalize on social media, esp. toward the alt-right by reinforcing algorithms

VOX-Pol (no connection to Vox in the US), in Europe, recently published a large booklet report as a PDF, by J. M. Berger, “The Alt-Right Twitter Consensus: Defining and Describing the Audience for Alt-Right Content on Twitter”, link here.

A shorter but more explosive report comes from Bellingcat and Robert Evans. It is titled “From Memes to Infowars: How 75 Fascist Activists Were ‘Red-Pilled.”.

The term “red-pilling”, from the Matrix movies, means converting someone from a moderate ideology to a much more extreme and combative one, usually emphasizing loyalty to the group or tribe.
Vox (in the US) analyzes these reports in a piece by Zach Beauchamp, suggesting that YouTube has become “infested” as a honeypot for the alt-right.  It's interesting, though, that the Bellingcat report read literally doesn't point to YouTube (75 cases) but the Vox piece does, perhaps jumping to conclusions. 
Before going to far, it’s good to give the Wikipedia reference for “alt-right”, which shows the wide variations in the meaning of the term. But generally many of these forms are quite extreme and emphasize extreme tribalism, such as “national anarchists”. They are generally anti-intellectual and anti-individualistic, and want “socialism” within a patriarchal tribal structure.  They see this as a way to rectify individual inequality of ability

The Vox article shows how the algorithms, in a manner similar to Facebook, drive repeated users into echo chambers.  More moderate users will never be aware of the problem, as they will generally not even see the content.

However, the article shows that populations are susceptible to propaganda, and that less cognitively intact people can be driven into radical areas and convinced to join radical movements.  Intellectually sound people will not even notice this is going on.
Practically all the speech involved is protected under the First Amendment and downstream liability largely protected by Section 230.  This is quickly shaping up as an enormous public policy problem.
Oddly, the danger of promoting radicalization may be greater from users who don’t sell anything or raise money for causes in a conventional way.  Independent journalist Tim Pool has been especially skeptical of reports like this from larger media, who are challenged by low-cost competition from independent media. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

"The Tablet" looks at hidden "intersectional" bigotry within the Women's March

Leah McSweeny and Jacob Siegel have a booklet-length analysis on “The Tablet” about the Women’s march movement, “Is the Women’s March Melting Down?   There is a correction on Twitter by Yair Rosenberg.

The Washington Times, a conservative paper, has boiled down the problem in a short summary by Valerie Richardson, “Women’s March leaders blame bigotry for issues; didn’t address report on anti-Semitism” (p. A8, Thursday, December 13, 2018).

But the Tablet article, in various places, gets into intersectionality and the idea that groups are systematically oppressed by those in privilege, as such, and need to be dealt with that way.

My own take is that we are finding out that individual rights work well locally, but when they are deployed publicly and internationally in a world with such gross inequality, it is inevitable that runaway abuses with what seem like legitimate self-expression, will occur.  There is a problem that many less educated users don’t grasp meta-speech or the use of abstract conjectural thought.  Frankly, there is also a body of thought emerging saying nothing gets done until everyone is organized (which is how it is in socialist countries, though).
Kevin Roose had continued this idea with a piece about “frictionless” apps, especially on Facebook, “Is Tech too easy to use?”, which makes it too easy for extremist groups (or undemocratic governments) to use social media against people in more vulnerable groups.  This comes back to other recent suggestions to “slow the Internet down”.
See my International Issues blog post today for a preview of Van Jackson's "On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War". 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Scammell writes that Solzshenitsyn, as a writer who emigrated to the US, may have brought down the Soviet Union himself

Michael Scammell is author of “Solzhenitsyn: A Biography” (W.W. Norton, 1984).
Today, Wednesday, December 12, 2018 he has an op-ed in the New York Times, p. A27, “The writer who beat an empire.”   Solzhenitsyn started out with a novella “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” about a Stalinist labor camp, where he (the person) was sent to a labor camp for writing to a friend criticizing the soviet system.  As in early colonial America, letters were read by authorities.
The little book was published in the west in 1962 by a small literary magazine Novy Mir.  Further autobiographical novels would include “The First Circle” and “Cancer Ward”, and then “The Gulag Archipelago” in 1973.  The Soviets expelled him, and his arrival in the US out to prove to conservatives and especially Trumpians the desirability of some immigration.  His writings helped bring down the Soviet Union in 1991. But Solzhenitsyn did want a nationalist country with religious and conservative family values, rather than Boris Yeltsin’s freewheeling republic, but he got what he wanted with Putin in 2000.

The op-ed also discusses the clandestine publication of Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago” which had become a massive motion picture by 1966.
When I became a patient at NIH for the second half of 1962, my roommate had a copy of “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoyevsky. We would scape past the Cuban Missile Crisis will I was still a patient.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Sandy Hook papers on and by Adam Lanza released and published by Hartford Newspaper

The Hartford Courant is making available all the court papers in state police custody concerning Adam Lanza, perpetrator of the Sandy Hook killings on Dec. 14. 2012.

The main link for the publication is here, as a Courant Exclusive. The reporters are Josh Kovner and Dave Altimari. 
The article provides a link to an editorial explaining why the newspaper decided to release the papers.

There is no “manifesto” as such, but many scrapbooks and loose writings, like “Big Book of Granny”.
Lanza’s mental state seems to be extremely disturbed, starting with autism, which usually does not take this kind of path.  He hated any kind of personal contact with anyone. There are references to what he perceived as sexual abuse from physicians, doing normal examinations. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The "Homebrewed Christianity" series:Bill Leonard's "Flaming Heretics"

Author: Bill Leonard

Title: “Homebrewed Christianity: Church History: Flaming Heretics and Heavy Drinkers

Publication: Nashville: Fortress Press, 2017, 238 pages, paper, 8 chapters, endnotes.

This orange book is one of a series called “Homebrewed Christianity”, edited by Tripp Fuller.

The basic premise is that Christianity is practice has been a bottom-up religion, defined by how it is practiced by real people, who are compared to chess pieces (Bishop, Elder, Deacon, Acolyte). Yet the tone of the book presumes people want to act together and belong, not be so much on their own. 

Indeed, the first chapter is called “herding ecclesiastical cats.  As the reality of actually witnessing a resurrection and ascension, which would have seemed like ultimate truth to those who happened to live at a time and place where they could see it, receded, and became a matter for “men of faith”, it became a member of socialization and organization to figure out who really should be in charge and who should deliver the messages and how people would follow.

Perhaps that has meaning today as individual speech itself becomes questionable and we wonder who has the “privilege of being listened to” in a secular sense.

The church has always had to deal with the paradoxes of hypocrisy.  It doesn’t know who walks with the Lord. Only people do. The latter part of the book gets into specific episodes, like the Jim Crow laws and Scopes Trial (movie “Inherit the Wind” and the “old time religion” scene). 
Copies of this book were sold at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC last spring.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Independent bookstores can now do print-on-demand on the premises (some of them)

CBS News reports that independent bookstores are making strong returns after being almost wiped out in the middle 2000s. 

The resurgence of independent bookstores is related to “localism”, and some bookstores can now to print-on-demand on the premises, which could be an interesting development for me.

One of the largest indie bookstores in the DC area is Kammerbooks at Dupont Circle.  Recently I went to a reading at One More Page Books in Falls Church VA. 

CBS has a story in 2003 concerning some bookstores' purging customer records when Congress passed the Patriot Act! 

Heavy rain hampered “shop small” Saturday in the DC Area, although I had a chance in Ellicott City MD Sunday.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Time offers "Great Scientists" for your coffee table

Time Magazine sells a supermarket coffee table booklet “Great Scientists: The Geniuses and Visionaries Who Transformed Our World.” The Editor is not named.

The book starts out with a lot of material on Stephen Hawking (by Brian Greene, who passed away of ALS in 2018 at age 76, living extraordinarily long since it started when he was in college.

Hawking came up with the theory that black holes may not be completely black, but could evaporate with Hawking radiation. That could theoretically mean that (mini) black holes could store and retransmit information (about someone’s life).

Hawking also believed that the Universe might have started with a singularity inside a black hole.
On p. 72 the booklet presents Paul Crutzen, who discovered the ozone holes which, adjunct to climate change, can threaten future generations.

On p 31, the booklet shows how Muhammad al-Khwarizmi invented Algebra I around 800 AD.

It would be nice if a booklet like this could cover Jack Andraka’s “Science Fair” which appears to have invented a cheaper blood test for many cancers (not just pancreatic).

I would be nice also to cover the work of Taylor Wilson, who invented a fusion reactor in 2008 at age 14.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

"The Land that Failed to Fail": New York Times starts massive booklet on what makes China work

Philip P. Pan and photographer Bryan Denton are offering a serialized book about China “The Land that Failed to Fail”, link.

The byline is "China rules." That is, "They didn't like the West's playbook.  So they wrote their own."
It seems that statist capitalism (what Ted Koppel called “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” ten years ago in a Nightline series) has worked out very well.

There is a curious combination of nationalism, consumerism, and psychological socialism – personal right-sizing and forced participation in social capital – that seems to be working.  The idea seems very threatening.  But in a sense China expects everyone to know their place and act before speaking.
There will be more installments, particularly about the Internet censorship.

Wikipedia photo attribution: By Alex Needham - English wikipedia , Public Domain, reference.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Author of novel "Occupation" in China gets prison time for depicting gay sex; book had sold well online

A female fiction author, “Liu”, in China has been sentenced to ten years in prison for writing and publishing a novel called “Occupation” that describes male homosexual acts.

The sentence was laid down by the People’s Court in Wuhu in Anhui Province.

All this despite the fact that homosexual acts are legal in China. The situation seems parallel to the 2013 Russian anti-gay propaganda law, but Chinese attitude toward gay rights gets much less attention than Russia’s (and the middle East and sub-Saharan Africa).

The book had sold well online in China. 

The Metro Weekly in Washington DC had a detailed story by Rhuaridh Marr.

The Global Times in China has a source story.   The BBC offers details here

Friday, November 16, 2018

NYTimes offers booklet giving a chronicle of Facebook's gradual change of heart on the need to monitor user speech

On Tuesday’s New York Times, five writers: Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia King, Matthew Rosenberg, and Jack Nicas, describe the Facebook saga:  "Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leader’s Fought Through Crisis", in a booklet-length article
At this point I need to mention Siva Vaidhyanthan’s book “Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracyhere  as well as several films and articles on that blog concerning Facebook. I attended a panel discussion about this matter in San Francisco in mid September, 2018.

The article notes that Sheryl Sandberg was at first angry at general counsel Alex Stamos for “throwing the company under the bus” as evidence of foreign (especially Russian) misuse of the site mounted in 2016.
Zuckerberg, as late as 2015, insisted that Facebook was a utility, not a publisher, and could not screen content for political consequences.  That is partly about Section 230.

Now the company is very choosy about accepting page boost for issue-oriented content separate from normal commercial business advertising, and seems unwilling to monetize controversial independent journalism (as News2Share and Ford Fischer have recently found out). 
Vanity Fair has a special issue “Moguls and Masterminds” in supermarkets now, with an article by Nick Bilton “Status Change” about Mark Zuckerberg on p.42. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains”, according to Facebook ex-president Sean Parker (from “The Social Network”).  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Illegal", by John Dennehy, self-published on a blockchain site (Steemit)

I have started looking into Steemit (with the idea of signing up soon with some special material) and I did find that some authors, at least one, publish e-books on it.
There is a book “Illegal”, by John Dennehy, first chapter link is here.  The subtitle is “A True Story of Love, Revolution, and Crossing Borders”.

The author, a “na├»ve New Yorker”, travels to Ecuador and falls in love with Lucia, and gets deported back to the US after “getting involved”.

He is up to Chapter 20.

To buy a copy, it looks like you have to join Steemit (which I will do soon) and get your cryptoaccount set up first.  It can take some time to get your account verified first.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

"Inside Animal Minds", from NatGeo

Brandon Keim’s “Inside Animal Minds”, 112 pages, National Geographic, is available in supermarket checkout stands in November 2018.

The subtitle is “what they think, feel, and know”.  It's a lot that we don't know.  They're already doomsday preppers. 
There are three main sections in the book: Intelligence, Feelings, Relationships.

But there is a great emphasis on the likelihood that every individual animal has some minimal self-awareness.  Even a worker bee in a hive knows that it is a prole and obedient to the will of the hive.
Animals (even birds) have more language capabilities than we realize, and more tool-using.  They engage in altruistic behavior.  Among some fish, males will guard the females eggs, and if a male is eaten by a shark, another male, like a soldier on guard duty, will take its place.

Even some invertebrates, especially mullosks, have surprising intelligence.

There is a YouTube video of a cat encountering a stranded octopus on a deck near the ocean.  You find yourself “rooting” for the cat because she seems more like us than a mullosk, but an octopus may have intelligence comparable to a cat or dog.

Biologists disagree on the significance of the mirror recognition test (elephants, cetaceans, primates).
Some dolphins (especially orcas) may have human-equivalent problem solving ability and arguably should have the legal rights of persons.

Mammals vary as to whether they are solitary or live in colonies, which tend to have authoritarian tribal structures like early human tribes. Lions and tigers are very similar genetically, but split off, with lions living in prides and males developing manes as a sexual secondary characteristic not needed by solitary tigers. 

There are many videos which show that wild animals, especially carnivores (including most wild cats) learn to recognize people in their environment.  In Colorado, a rancher finds that the same four mountain lions appear on his property for water, and seem to remember and trust the rancher as a human individual.  When I had a house, a fox got to the point that he did not run when he saw me in the yard.

When I lived in a garden apartment in Dallas, a male cat simply invited himself in.  He would disappear for days and then return and remember the apartment, and bring birds to me.  He was called "Timmy" and seemed to have an interesting life.  He knew who he was. 
A friend and tech journalist and his wife have two daughters and a female cat who preceded them. The cat watched each baby as if the cat thought they were hers to raise (to learn to hunt). 

Bobcats are common in the Dallas area and often become illegal pets if they get used to finding food on a homeowner’s premises.  They cannot usually live inside a house but some will roam a large territory and return to people whom they like (who fed them).
In South Africa, in one film, a cheetah became a member of the family despite being allowed to roam.  He would always return and even knew how to turn on a television with a remote and knew that the images were not real.

There are some controversial videos on YouTube of bobcats and servals grooming and playing with teenage boys.  Maybe dangerous.  But for an adolescent to learn to communicate with a wild animal is a great way to develop social skills for life.

Back in 1993 there had been a Time magazine cover asking, “Can animals think?”  Yes they can.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Prager U exposes far-Left propaganda in established children's book industry

I open November with a video from Prager U, “Leftist Books for Brainwashing Kids” (Oct. 30)

"Story Time with Will" (that is, Will Witt), presents children’s books “Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights” (Rob Sanders and Jared Andrew Schorr) (from Barnes and Noble) and “The Little Book of Little Activists” (by Penguin Young Readers, a corporate author).   Yup, would four year-olds have jobs they can go on strike from?  What should they “resist”?  Maybe the volunteer banner is OK.
Will (the presenter) is certainly photogenic in the video (and youthful).

Maybe this video helps explain the “snowflake generation” with its safe spaces and trigger warnings.

I looked up these booklets on Amazon, but I will refrain from emedding my usual Amazon Associates ads on these ones (my own "censorship" as a private person). It rather scares me that major publishers seem to support books like with age-inappropriate borderline Marxist propaganda, when some Big Tech companies are deplatforming conservative voices (although the lines between constructive speech and what may be hate speech are very subjective-- especially given "intersectionality"). 

Imagine what it would be like if, to be online, I had to write for pay what other people demanded of me.  Somebody got paid to do all this.  I can also remember in a summer "notehand" class in 1961, when I practiced my note-taking skills at a GWU class on "children's literature" in the English Department. 
If the Left were really able to get most individual Internet speakers shut down so the Left could control the message, I hate to think what the next generation would grow up to be like.  As it is, super Leftist (sometimes almost Marxist) columnist Umair Haque is optimistic in what looks like an open letter to David Hogg, here.  But David is actually much more “capitalistic” in the way he can use the media to grab attention and pull levers on irresponsible companies (related to the NRA issues) than a true socialist could ever accept.

Outside of nature (the Universe, cosmology, the biosphere) wealth and standard of living do not create themselves.  Any alien civilizations far enough along to discover the mathematics of blockchain know that.

Monday, October 29, 2018

"Do Nuclear Weapons Matter?" Controversial Foreign Affairs issue to end 2018

The November/December 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs has an eye-catching issue title, “Do Nuclear Weapons Matter?

There are six articles. “Nuclear weapons don’t matter, but nuclear hysteria does”, by John Mueller; “The vanishing nuclear taboo? How disarmament fell apart?”, by Nina Tannenwald; :”If you want peace, prepare for nuclear war; a strategy for the new great-power rivalry”, by Elbridge Colby; :”Armed and dangerous: when dictators get the bomb:, by Scott D. Sagan; :”Beijing’s nuclear option; Why a U.S.-Chinese war could spiral out of control”; “Moscow’s nuclear enigma; what is Russia’s arsenal really for?”

The most critical piece might be the Sagan one, where the writer characterizes North Korea as the first “personalist” dictatorship to acquire nuclear weapons, especially possibly thermonuclear with ICBM’s. The writer fears that this will set examples for other small state dictators (most of all Iran). But in much of 2017 there was increasing talk of the reach of DPRK missiles and, along with Trump’s reckless rhetoric at the time, the growing idea that an area of the continental US could face a nuclear strike someday, or at least an EMP incident, as a result of Trump’s intransigence to wipe out the country. We all know that during the February winter Olympics things started to change and the result was the controversial Singapore embrace of Kim and Kim’s unconvincing claimed start of disarmament. That logically can lead to doomsday prepper ideology (and influence the domestic gun control debate).  But it could also lead to a broader idea about the contingent responsibilities of citizenship.

The last article posits Russia’s (post Communist) “escalate to de-escalate” idea. Russia could have an incentive to develop novel tactical nuclear weapons (or flux devices) for action in the Baltics, or even conceivably Finland (where there was a bizarre assassination at the border in May 2016).  Russia created controversy last spring with claims of a new missile that could evade any NORAD defense.  

When I was in the Army (1968-1970), at both the Pentagon and later Fort Eustis, there was a common belief among many enlisted men that nuclear war with the Soviet Union was a real peril. The willingness to draft men to fight on the group in Vietnam was seen as a buffer. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Connecticut Supreme Court rules Adam Lanza's(from Sandy Hook) book-like manuscript notes must be released

CBS and other news outlets report that a court (the Connecticut state supreme court) has ordered the release of the writings of Adam Lanza, the perpetrator in the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut on December 2014, link.    This contradicts and reverses a ruling reported two years ago in the video below.

Lanza apparently had maintained a child-like notebook (maybe handwritten, maybe like a scrapbook) of a compendium called “The Big Book of Granny”.  It is reported to include a number of disturbing rants and stories.  It would seem likely that it (the text) will eventually be available for free browsing available online (as with Eliot Rodger, etc) but it is conceivable that, given recent public pressures since Charlottesville, that protest activists would pressure any hots to take it down.  Sandy Hook families had sued Alex Jones over his conspiracy theories and no doubt these plaintiffs had a role in the eventual deplatforming of Alex Jones from social media.

In retrospect, the Lanza incident, however tragic, shows the difficulty of keeping weapons away from very determined if demented people.

Picture: New London, CT, Coast Guard Academy, personal 2011 trip 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

"The Nation" examines an activism handbook ("Hegemony"), and its use in Trump country around Lancaster PA

The Nation (now with a paywall) offers a detailed booklet length article by Jimmy Tobias, Oct. 18, “Can a Group of Scrappy Young Activists Build Real Progressive Power in Trump Country?”

The narrative describes a couple Jonathan Schmucker and Becca Rast, who returned to Lancaster County, in SE Pennsylvania, in order to organize a “populist” bi-partisan presence to resist extremism in both parties, somewhat reminiscent of “Better Angels”.

The article does describe “door knocking” and “bird dogging”.  Now, when I had a house, I had a no-soliciting sign and tended to regard unannounced knockers as a possible home invasion, so I don’t know how you get past that mentality.
The article mentions a book by Schmucker “Hegemony How-To: A Handbook for Radicals” (2017, AK Press).

Monday, October 15, 2018

Ben Sasse's new book "Them" recalls an earlier book by Charles Murray

Here’s another preview, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE): “Them: Why We Hate Each Other, and How to Heal” (288 pages, St. Martin’s). 
CBS carried an interview with him on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Oct. 14 
Like Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”, March 14, 2012) .Sasse criticizes the erosion of social capital, particularly in stable neighborhoods.  It’s easy, got example, to be critical of people who “choose” to live in riskier areas (hurricanes, as recently, floods, wildfires, maybe earthquakes) but often it’s the social capital of their communities that enables them to see things through.

His views are well explained in his Wall Street Journal article, “Politics can’t solve our political problems”. His concept of “mobile”, “rooted”, and “stuck” is interesting.  I am definitely a “mobile”, partly because I don’t form intimate relationships easily (as to create or adopt children). “Rooted” implies social competitiveness.  What he describes as “loneliness” may be the way introverted or even mildly autistic or schizoid people outflank or lowball the system and manage to live very productive lives as individual contributors (even though some people find their ability to lowball others as disruptive).
Sasse is also author of “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis, and How to Build a Culture of Self-Reliance”. Yes, he is concerned with trigger warnings, microagressions, and pseudo-safe spaces. But self-reliance can contradict widespread social cohesion, although it does encourage social capital within extended families.  

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Former NSA Director Michael Hayden discusses his "The Assault on Intelligence" at the "Fall for the Book" fair.

I wanted to offer a preview of former NSA Director Michael V. Hayden’s “The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies”, May 2018, from Penguin.

I attended a session today where Hayden spoke at 1:30 PM at the “Fall for the Book” fair in Merten’s Hall at George Mason University in Fairfax VA.  The session was called “The Assault on American Security”.
Hayden talked about the post-truth era, after the influence of the “age of enlightenment”.
He also discussed Trump’s lack of “meta-cognition”, and the idea that truth for people is whatever their leadership creates for them.
He did discuss how social media had unintentionally driven people farther way into their own echo chambers.  The Russians exploited this capacity of Facebook and Twitter because Russia understood that American "elitists" did not care personally about illiterate people who were targeted by Russian bot campaigns.  He explained this in the context of how enemies can conduct combat without contact. He discussed the difference between cyber war and information war. 

He gave a detailed answer to my question on EMP, here

(Something bizarre happened when I opened the video I’ve embedded.  An ad appeared for a depilatory, that shows men epilating themselves with one wipe, and played for 1:45.  It did not identify the product.  It was almost like soft core. What if they showed doing it to somebody else? Then the time tracker for the video would not show until I closed and reopened YouTube.) 

Monday, October 08, 2018

Anthology on mental health in young adults: "(Don't) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health"

Editor: Kelly Jensen

Title: “(Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health”.

Publication: Oct. 2, 2018: Algonquin Young Readers, paper and Kindle, 240 pages, ISBN 978-1616207816, five chapters, parsed into 33 essays.

I learned about this book from Reid Ewing (@media_reid on Twitter) who has an essay on p. 95 “I underwent cosmetic surgery for my body dysmorphia and I wish I hadn’t”.  The detailed account is harrowing.  Reid sought the attention in 2008 of a plastic surgeon at age 19 when he thought he had to make his face “better”.  He got taken by unscrupulous doctors, it sounds like.  There were a few micro surgeries to fix this an that, and at one time he was mistaken for a “monster” in the California desert. What’s amazing is that in his public shows (including “Modern Family” and various films starting with “Fright Night” in 2011) and YouTube there is absolutely no hint of this history in his appearance (nor is there on Twitter).  Following “In the Moonlight (Do Me)” he actually made a second spirited song-video in 2012 called “Imagine Me Naked”.  While I’m at it, I’ll mention that I haven’t been able to find a potentially powerful (and now suddenly even more relevant, given politics) film about unwanted pregnancy that he appears in, “South Dakota” (2017), by Bruce Isaacson from Lionheart Films). Reid has developed an interest in manga and animation and may be moving in that career direction for film projects.

I’m getting ahead of myself here.  The five mega-chapters are (1) “What’s Crazy”; (2) “Where ‘Crazy’ Meets Culture”; (3) “The Mind-Body Connection” (where Reid’s piece appears); (4) “Beyond Stress and Sadness”; (5) “To Be Okay”.

The very first chapter gets into the idea of “Defying Definition” (Shaun David Hutchinson).  The Ashley Holstrom follows with essays on topics like hair pulling and various habits.

Heid Heilig has an important piece in Part 2, “What we’re born with and what we pick up along the way”.  She talks about how mental illness is portrayed today in young adult fiction.
All of this is somewhat relevant to me because my own experience at NIH in the fall of 1962, which I describe in detail .  I recall displaying a certain tendency to berate other less intact patients for having even more trouble conforming to the demands of “society” to fit in to proper social and gender roles than I did.  I remember a ping pong tournament where I used a strategy of “keep the ball on the table” and let the “crazies” beat themselves with wild slams, and then scream with anger at how I was lowballing them.

It strikes me that some of the more violent members in all of “these” demonstrations (either on Antifa or the alt-right) have disguised mental health problems.  And the paparazzi love to film them to make themselves look well and strong in comparison.
 By the way, "33" is the number of variations in a major Beethoven work (the Diabelli Variations). 

Friday, October 05, 2018

Scientific American: "Wonders of the Cosmos"

The editors of Scientific American offer a challenging e-book “Wonders of the Cosmos” (2018).
There is an introduction by Andrew Gawrelewski, “Mysterious Universe”.
There are four sections: (1) “How did the universe begin”?;  (2) “Cosmic Cartography”; (3) “”Life Wild Phenomena”; (4) “Life Off Earth”.

The book opens with an essay by Niayesh Afshordi et al “The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time”. The essay offers the idea that our Universe is a three-dimensional shell around a four-dimensional black hole, after an implosion. There is an interesting image “Before the Big Bang” at the 7% page.
Adam G. Riess and Mario Livio discuss “The Puzzle of Dark Energy” which exists essentially because of the asymmetric weak nuclear force.

Npam I. Libeskind and R. Brent Tully discuss “Our Place in the Cosmos” with particular attention to how gravity has a locus with out own galactic cluster Laniakea, and this could predict the eventual cold end of the Universe (ours, at least).  It could also explain emptiness like the Bootes void.
Juan Maldacena discusses “Black holes, wormholes, and the secrets pf quantum space time.”  Maybe the wormhole  would give the possibility of a teenage Clark Kent to live among us.

In the last section, Lee Billings discusses “The Search for Life on Faraway Moons”. He mentions Triton but does not seem to discuss Titan.

Kimberly Cartier and Jason T. Wright bring a gospel, “Strange News from Another Star”, that is, Boyajian’s Star (or Tabby’s Star), about 1450 light years away.  Is there an alien megastructure, a Dyson’s Sphere, around the star?  I want a hotel room with a view, and Internet access (assuming Mark Zuckerberg is an alien himself and has conquered the speed of light).

Frank Postberg et al discuss “Under the Sea of Encedalus” with some persuasive arguments for some kind of primitive bacteria-like life around the vents.  Titan is a much more interesting place geographically.

Christopher McKay and Victor Garcia explore how to look for life on Mars. 

Rene Heller discusses the idea of a “superinhabitable earth II”.  It’s likely such a planet might be a little larger than Earth, and around an unusually stable M star (old enough to give enough time for life) or perhaps a main sequence star a little smaller than our Sun.  A bigger planet would have fewer mountains, likewise a large water surface, and a somewhat thicker atmosphere (maybe people could fly like birds, as in Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End”) – like the crow that keeps visiting my balcony and watching me as if I were his own “human”.
In the video above, note how the surface of a black hole (3D to 2D) is viewed as a hologram saving all the information falling on it. 


Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Andrew Sullivan opines on tribalism in NYMag: "America Wasn't Built for Humans"

Andrew Sullivan has a searing booklet-length piece in New York Magazine Sept 18, 2018 (not “The New Yorker), “America Wasn’t Built for Humans”.  His byline is “Tribalism was an urge the Founding Fathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become out greatest vulnerability”.
 The link is here
Once again, we’re confronted with the fact that most of us are genetically hardwired for tribal preferences. Rooting for a favorite sports team is at least mild tribal behavior. (Yes, the Cubs lost last night, at home.)   It does seem that lot of this discussion started with Amy Chua.

I’d like to think that the smartest among us overcome tribalism, and in setting our own goals, some of us do – the more unbalanced personalities in Rosenfels polarity theories. But that generates some of the problem: the winner-take-all economy expressed by extreme capitalism, especially as it developed, surprisingly, post 9/11 (but had started during Reagan) simply leaves most people behind to scrabble now with the no-benefits “sharing” economy.

That’s one reason why I’ve paid so much attention to morality on an “individual” basis – the “pay your dues” idea (2004). Now that seems to miss “the point”.

Sullivan is particularly chilling as he explains how tribalism has infected a lot of academia, and how the idea of “hate speech” has expanded to incorporate crime.  Even my speech, because of its gratuitous funding, could be reviewed as indirect “hate speech” by some – this gets into the area of “implicit content” that I have described. 

He also gives the story of journalist Chadwick Moore, who was sacked by the gay mainstream after showing intellectually balanced appreciation for Milo Yiannopoulos.  In fact, if you actually read Milo’s book (“Dangerous”), it is not as extreme as everyone thinks. 

Likewise, he sympathizes with James Damore – whose work I have mixed feelings about.  The comments on Sullivan’s article are not sympathetic.

The problem is that for many people, they have to stick together and live in solidarity with one another to survive – so they must become combative, and not tolerate any insults to “the group”.  That explains the malignant growth of “hate speech” as a concept. 

Sullivan describes two mega-tribes: the urban-coastal (globalist and intellectually elite), vs. the rural (local and socially driven).  He notes that the end of conscription after the Vietnam war helped keep the tribes apart (and like me, Sullivan made this point in the 1990s during the debate over gays in the military). 

I have to admit that I snicker with some degree of personal contempt when I hear people chanting “lock her up” at Trump rallies, as if they were Manchurian zombies who had abandoned their own personhoods.

But tribal social orientation – and the capacity to put the local group above the self, and regard outsiders as enemies (even if that feeds racism) probably got hardwired into the genes of most people in pre-modern generations.  Some of us seem to have fewer of these genes, stand out, and find ourselves watching our backs.
Sullivan recommends “individuality” as opposed to individualism (in 2004, people were just starting to talk about hyperindividualism  -- Ayn Rand style – as the opposite of solidarity).  And he recommends forgiveness.

Monday, October 01, 2018

City of Philadelphia has literacy program offering books to families with newborn babies, and literacy by all by fourth grade

The City of Philadephia Department of Public Health has announced a couple of literacy programs in a press release today.

One of these is “Read by 4th”, which means “Read by Fourth Grade”, with site (no https yet) here  It is offered with the sponsorship of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

There is also a “Baby Book Club” which will distribute children’s books and other literacy materials to every family with newborns in Philadelphia.

The press release from Lauren Ryder from the Department of Public Health did not have a URL to give, so here is a brief excerpt:

“The Health Department will be working with medical staff from each of the city’s six delivery hospitals to ensure every infant born in one of the centers will leave home with at least one book appropriate for babies to start his or her first library.
“Books will be in English and Spanish and will be distributed based on inventory and family preference. The books will also include a code for parents to sign up for a free one-year subscription for National Wildlife Foundation magazines for babies.