Sunday, August 12, 2018

"Democratic Socialism Threatens Minorities": Atlantic article gets to the root of the proble,

Conor Friedersdorf has a nice “booklet” article in the Atlantic, Aug. 9, 2018, that it is at least (or at most) a “constructive criticism” of democratic socialism as Ocasio-Cortez could deploy it.  (David Hogg seems to be supporting her on Twitter, by the way.)
The article best title is “Democratic Socialism Threatens Minorities.”  The byline is “Nothing better protects victims of bigotry than a system where they can pursue their needs and wants outside the realm of popular control.”

Conor takes pure socialism to mean, the people decide what will be produced and consumed and control the means of production.  That is, more or less, the workers and their families. Ocasio hasn’t really said she would go that far, and neither really did Bernie Sanders.  Hogg will grow up into full adulthood practicing capitalism for himself, to be sure.  (After all, there’s nothing wrong with that, nothing “to be ashamed of”) . 

What Conor winds up describing is pretty much the early days of the Soviet Union, where they really did try statist planning of everything.  The Soviets continued, and eventually imploded.

China is a little different, and we need to look at why it works better than we would expect it to.  But China is cracking down on its Muslim minorities in the western provinces (which are, to a lot of people's surprise, largely white or Caucasian). 
I remember when in France I bought some antihistamines for a cold.  I paid for them privately, in a country with socialized medicine.  It is much cheaper and more efficient to let me take care of this myself.
Conor’s point is well-taken.  In a decentralized, capitalist economy with libertarian values, Muslims, evangelical Christians, LGBTQ people, minorities can produce and sell the items that meet the real demands of people in their own communities without central interference, according to a free market.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Masih Alinejad ("The Wind in My Hair") explains how the anti-shah revolution in Iran destroyed women

Fox News last night briefly interviewed author and journalist Masih Alinejad, a woman from Iran who lives in exile in New York City.  It was not immediately apparent if she had won asylum in the usual manner.

Her latest book is “The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran”, from Little Brown.
She told Fox that before the 1978 revolution, deposing the Shah and installing the Ayatollah, with the hostage crisis at the embassy which Jimmy Carter flubbed (EDS made the daring rescue), women did well in Iran and the society was socially reasonably progressive.  The lesson of the revolution is that economic inequality and tribal strife can indeed cause the loss of civil liberties for everyone as revolutionaries expropriate from the privileged or force religious rules on everyone.
Masih has been active in women’s chess, and has led protests regarding forcing Muslim women to adhere to dress codes at international tournaments.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Amazon CreateSpace has ended editorial services for authors, but POD continues

As I get closer to working on my own novel manuscript, I will start looking more closely at the self-publishing options, including POD, as well as convention agenting (the post on Sunday Aug. 5).

I have just noted that Amazon ended its own CreateSpace services for authors on April 18.  This did not affect the actually affect the print-on-demand.  It means you have to go to a third party company for the same services.

I’ll give the link to 1106 Design here

A user forum on CreateSpace itself presents questions from writers on the future of the POD itself.  There are no comments from Amazon on the future of the program, and the POD continues now as it always has, but you would wonder.

There is a basic business model problem with the issue as to whether consumers really buy these books in sufficient quantity, even though there is vanity value to authors who don’t need to sell to make a living – this is a big philosophical problem in the business now.  This could affect all POD companies, which may explain their notably more aggressive behavior with authors since about 2012. It’s also crept into the classical music world, where getting commissions is a touchy subject for composers. 

Curiously, YouTube doesn’t seem to be up to date on this issue.  I’ll keep tabs on it.

Update: Aug. 12

At least for now Amazon seems to allow books with poor reputations and skimpy reviews to stay up.  Look at Jason Kessler's "Badland Blues" (Kindle) and the one-sentence reviews.  I won't give the Amazon link, rather Ian Shapira's Metro Section Washington Post article today.  Some people do try to rescue themselves with creative writing, unsuccessfully. 

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Outwrite 2018 book fair in Washington DC

I attended some sessions this weekend at Outwrite 2018 for LGBTQ authors and writers in Washington DC.

The session on “How to Pitch Your Book” offers this worksheet 

It was authored by Marcos L. Martinez from Georgetown University.

There were examples of books published by Stillhouse Press in Fairfax, VA.  One of the books was “Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories” by Wendi Kaufman.

There are also three small books of poetry by Bryan Borland, including “Tourist” and “DIG”.
On Saturday I attended a session on “WorldBuilding” in fiction (which applies especially to period stories and sci-fi or horror).
Under public pressure, Amazon has removed Nazi and white-supremacy rated products (visible symbols).  It is not clear if books are affected (a children’s book by George Lincoln Rockwell was said to have been removed).

Apple and Spotify have removed podcasts or other materials from the Alex Jones channel as conspiracy theories or hate speech, Yahoo story.  Trump had actually promoted Alex Jones as real media in his 2016 campaign. Will Amazon follow suit?  Later Monday it was reported that YouTube and Facebook had removed it.  Blacklisting is contagious. 

Thursday, August 02, 2018

UK bookseller website that specializes in independent publishing is for sale

I got an email advising me that an online bookstore site in the UK, emphasizing independent publishers and probably self-publishers, was for sale.  It is called “Look for books”, here.
I note that it doesn’t, on its home page, invoke https.

It also has an adult section.

It’s noteworthy for a couple reasons.  Sometimes websites alone are sold as businesses (just as Ramsay Taplin recently sold his Blogytyrant to a Wordpress guru – haven’t seen any changes to it yet). The email and website itself does not give a price.

Here’s my reaction.  I get questioned on why I don’t try harder to retail my own or other people’s books with normal retail operations, with volume discounts, promotions, and the like.  The short answer is that I am still interested mainly in developing new content (novels, music, and the news in these blogs) and not in operations – so I would never time.

But I note the cultural shift, which started about five years ago, and which accelerated maybe in 2014 with tensions overseas and then really crashed with the foreign manipulation of “amateur journalism” in conjunction with the 2016 elections by “the Russians”, etc.  Starting around 2012, self-publishing assist companies (especially POD) realized that their business models probably weren’t sustainable indefinitely even from author fees (typically around $3000 for high-end services) unless the books actually sold as copies (not just as e-books or Kindle) to consumers. So they started pressuring authors to be more interested in business and not just to leave everything to Amazon.
And then there is the whole “skin in the game” think of Nichokas Taleb’s book of that name (May 23). “You must start a business”, Taleb orders, rather than just talk or virtue-signal.  
Still, I keep my distance on this one.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"The Peculiar Math that Could Underly the Laws of Nature": how tuples generate string theory, and more

Wired Magazine has published several important articles on the way deep laws of mathematics drive physics and biology.

The most recent, July 28, is by Matalie Wolchover, and is titled “The Peculiar Math that Could Underly the Laws of Nature”.  It’s also in Quanta Magazine here

She is a mathematician from Waterloo University in Ontario, and has worked with Penn State on this issue.

Her argument reminds me of the progression to real variables to complex variable in graduate school in mathematics (in my case, at Kansas University in the 1960s). Complex gives us some beauty, like the Mandelbrot set;  and Liousville Theorem may explain why the Universe seems infinite from any point.

From complex variables you get to quaternions, and from those to octonions. 

Now quaternion field theory doesn’t follow the commutative law, and octernions don’t even follow the associate law.  I remember giving my students quiz questions on those laws when I worked as a graduate student assistant instructor (many of them couldn’t restate the concepts).

From octonion math you can deduce string theory, the 11 dimensions and why time behaves the way it does.  You can also explain the fundamental forces in physics, maybe, and build quarks.
I hope you can’t build a contagious strangelet to make gray goo.

I could wonder, though, wouldn’t these tuples behave like vector spaces? Remember linear independence?

Here are a couple other big Wired (paywall) stories on theoretical mathematics. 

John Rennie on July1, 2018 writes “This Mutation Math Shows How Life Keeps on Evolving.”

And on Dec. 17, 2017, Kevin Hartnett published, “Secret Link Discovered Between Pure Math and Physics” , the work of Minhyong Kim at the University of Oxford, getting into “series of spaces”.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Atlantic Health Issue examines "When the Next Plague Hits"

The July/August issue of The Atlantic is “The Health Report”, has two long articles of particular importance.

Ed Yong’s “When the Next Plague Hits”, pp. 58-72, really is like a short book.  The article particularly notes that Trump, with his diffidence to science, is much less likely to take maintaining public health defenses seriously in the homeland than was Obama.

The article spends some space on the latest Ebola outbreak in the Congos, and notes that today there is a modern road to Uganda along which it can spread.  In 1995, when there was a previous outbreak, a drive would have taken much longer. Therefore Ebola or a similar filiovirus disease like Marburg, might spread much more quickly than even in 2014, when parts of West Africa had a notorious outbreak. The article gives some details as to how care for Ebola patients is provided at a medical center at the University of Nebraska, and the burdens on medical personnel are quite extraordinary.

CDC recommends the new Ebola virus vaccine for people going to areas of the Congo now, but not elsewhere.  This could lead to greater risks for people who work or intern today some of the other countries, like Liberia or Sierra Leone or West Africa, than might have been expected.  A new epidemic might spread even more quickly now throughout the continent than it did even a few years ago, ironically because Africa is modernizing econonically so quickly.  
The article also covers the science of influenza, including the 1918 pandemic and the reoccurrence of H1N1 in 2009.  We don’t seem very far along with bird flu strains like H5N1 and H7N9. There is a lot of attention to using cellular nanotechnology (an interest of Jack Andraka, also here March 18, 2015) to engineer an immune response to a more stable part of most influenza viruses so that a universal influenza vaccine could be engineered without the time delay of egg manufacture.

There is also some discussion of contact tracing and conventional infection control, as with SARS (2003). Nigeria, normally not known for an efficient government, was successful in stamping out Ebola in 2014.

On p. 74, Olga Khazan provides a long article, “Being Black in America Can Be Hazardous to Your Health”.
The article focuses on the Sandtown section of Baltimore, site of the riots in April 2015 after the police shooting of Freddie Gray.  The article suggests a life expectancy less by as much as twenty years because of the cumulative effects of compromised opportunity and toxic environment and dangers in the ghetto.

Wikipedia attribution link for p.d. diagram by Chloe Cryhanand 

Friday, July 27, 2018

"The Birth of a New American Aristocracy" in "The Atlantic"; Matthew Stewart warns us all

Matthew Stewart offers “The Birth of a New American Aristocracy”, p. 48, photographs by Craig Cutler, in rgw June 2015 issue of “The Atlantic”.  This is indeed a booklet, in ten sections. Here is the link

The tagline duly scolds me. “The class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem.”
You could say that the article seems like an existential attack on meritocracy as an ideology that stabilizes inequality. “It is one of the delusions of our meritocratic class, however, to assume that if our actions are individually blameless, then the sum of our actions will be good for society.”
The problem is that the actions of the top 0.1% demand nothing from the next 9.9% (I’m probably in the lower portion of that decile)   Instead, us 9.9-crowd plod along as if we were responsible people, and it is the labor or the lower 90% that props us up.  That may sound like Marxism.

There is particularly the case of assertive mating and segmenting of social capital (which should worry Charles Murray).  There is restrictive zoning of housing, occupational licensing (a favorite target of libertarians), and politicized public schools that add to the inequality.

Toward the end, Stewart provides ample warning on how the politics of resentment works – it got Trump elected, and then Trump’s policies started hurting the bottom 90% even more.  But the problem  is that could gradually become the bottom 95% as people like me become politically expendable.

Stewart seems to want federal solutions, like single-payer health care, gun control, much more education assistance, stronger unions, and more identity politics, to solve the problems.

The problem, as good Democrats know, that makes it too easy on us personally.  The question, as his essay ends, is how involved should we (or must we) get personally. “We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for people who aren’t our neighbors.”  Maybe that does get personal. “We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.”  That sounds more conventionally political.

The best way to protect your own freedom, if you got any hand up at all, is to pass the hand up to someone else, individually.  That’s “pay it forward” in reverse gear.  Indeed, I find myself watching my own back, fending off spammy but threatening disruptions from those who can’t make a living in the current setup. It is very difficult to become personal with people who seem hapless and not personally appealing (we get into the issue of drugs – opioids --, obesity, illiteracy – and I do think the correlation to race is overblown).  ';m not someone to make someone else whom I did not think well of "all right."  False meritocracy is self-reinforcing. And probably not sustainable. Personal fascism begets political fascism (as the end result of "purification"). Then, you’re not a victim if what you had gets taken away from you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sean Spicer's "The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President" reportedly talks about Trump's position on LGBTQ rights as a political compromise for the 2016 convention

Sean Spicer’s new book “The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President” reports that a backroom deal was made with Trump before the Republican National Convention in 2016 to modestly back LGBTQ rights in order to defeat a petition to remove Trump from consideration.
Sam Gillette reveals the details in a People Magazine interview.  Ironically, it was a Washington DC delegate named Sinners who needed to be won over.

But this has been called a sham, as Trump has surrounded himself with anti-gay appointments, including running mate Mike Pence, who at one time had advocated conversion therapy as a strategy for fighting HIV.  Pence denies he believes that now, but Trump once joked “He want to hang ‘em all”.

However Trump has made very strong statements that foreign enemies -- radical Islam -- have targeted gay people.  I wonder what he thinks of Putin's attitude and Russia's 2013 law. 

Trump has also taken down the LGBT page from the White House site, on the grounds that the White House does not need to recognized special groups.

The book, 256 pages, comes from Regnery Press, a conservative publisher sometimes associated with the Washington Times. 

Spicer gave in to Trump’s demands to misrepresent the crowd size on Inauguration Day.  He settled down to become more temperate in his press conferences.  OANN reporter, Trey Yingst, probably the youngest White House correspondent on record, often asked the most challenging questions, especially about foreign policy, in the briefings.

Spicer was the target of parody on Saturday Night Live in 2017, where he was played with a falsetto voice.

I wouldn't want a career predicated on repeated other people's positions and defending them in public. I state my own.

The book became available on Amazon July 24. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Books that try to explain the rise of Hitler and fascism in Germany, with a warning for us

The Thom Hartmann Program asks “What Is It Going to Take to Stop the Rise of Fascism in America?

The Thom Hartman show on Patreon discusses the book by Milton Mayer and Richard J. Evans, “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45” from the University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Roger Lowenstein reviewsThe Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic”, from Henry Holt, 2018, by Benjamin Carter Hett. 

But I think that Hartmann has it right.  The impulse toward fascism happened so gradually nobody noticed, at least “average Joe” gentile Germans who were employed again.
But I think that there is a personal aspect to it, something the gay community sees as “body fascism”, te tip of a moral iceberg, a small personal skin cancer that becomes like a melanoma if it gets into politics, a bad scene.   It has to do with shame, and getting off on it.  And it has to do with not wanting to make something in someone else if we need our own use of the shame associated with it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Vox interviews Will Storr: "Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed"

Sean Illing has an important interview on Vox of British author Will Storr, and a sneak preview of the new book “Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It Is Doing to Us”, from the Overlook Press, 416 pages.
Storr’s comments seem to follow those of Amy Chua, indicating that social identity is hard-wired in our genes and western hyperindividualism is a bit of an aberration.
He gave an example of an experiment of western people and tribal people from East Africa on whom they admired in an aquarium of “free fish”.  The western people identify with the big flashy leader, the east with the meek little followers.
Westeners get challenged by others when their individual self-expression is seen as at least indirectly trampling on those in disadvantaged groups, and then get mental health problems if they are asked to become “losers” themselves.  Trump has leveraged this problem. It also leads to mental health problems.

Back in 2004, Phillip Longman had written in "The Empty Cradle" that many adults have become too self-absorbed to even have children. And even libertarian Charles Murray has criticized the weaker impulse for social ties in "Coming Apart" (2012)/ 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

GQ has booklet article on David Hogg's early activism, and how even mainstream conservatives have choked on it

Here’s a booklet-length article in GQ (Gentleman’s Quarterly), “The Sliming of David Hogg and Emma Gozalez”, by Mari Uyehari 

It is dated late March, 2018, just before David’s 18th birthday (Aries).

But the article notes how the conspiracy theories on Hogg et al moved from the lunatic fringe to almost the conservative mainstream. 

It also notes that Hogg definitively does not call for repeal of the Second Amendment, which former Justice Stevens called for.

David Hogg has practically “ordered” his followers to get active in political campaigns rather than just pontificate on their own.  That requires social salesmanship, not just intellect and reason. In fact, I have resisted involvement in partisanship, but that’s another discussion.  He’s also very recently taken up the incarceration issue.

There is a recreation in animation of Cruz's movements on YouTube, here

Sunday, July 15, 2018

When children's books become like small alien cities

When you reach something in Dutch (like a tweet from actor/singer Timo Descamps) looks like slightly scrambled English; then even spoken Dutch is almost understandable to English speakers. So Michael Erard offers an opinion, “What Dutch Children’s Books Can Teach Adults”.  

These “zoekboeks” are picture books of whole imaginary kingdoms, circulated through seasons, almost like board game templates. That’s the zoekbook, which invites the reader to go on a low tech Pokemon search. The German counterpart is the Wimmelbuch.

Speaking of board games, there really aren’t that many based on a geographical layout of a place.  I remember vaguely there was a game called Mr. Ree, which was more complicated than Clue. But there was also a game called Star Reporter, which had an imaginary country with a capital called Urbana, and a network of roads, rail, and airplanes.  In this age where Trump calls journalists enemies of the people, we ought to bring it back.

Reid Ewing has been tweeting about working on a graphic novel, and recently posted a work-in-progress  video for “The Winchester Half-Tragedy”, which happens in a high school and environs. The outspoken kids (exploring dysmorphia, fluidity, rebellion) eventually brush up with real tragedy. There is irony (a high school principal becomes a “principle” but that happened to me in 2005 when I worked as a sub.) The video has the text and still hand-drawn images, and some plain text.  An animated film would be interesting (would run about 15 minutes instead of 27). I hope Reid gets somewhere with this commercially.
All this reminds me of comics, which I don’t read, but I had at least two coworkers who were fans of Doonsbury (like today’s about delayed brain development in guys).

Monday, July 09, 2018

Malcolm Nance's "The Plot to Destroy America" previewed

Salon, in a long interview article by Chauncey Devega, offers a long and troubling interview with Malcolm Nance, an African-American former Naval intelligence officer and author of “The Plot to Destroy America: How Putin and his Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West” (Hachette Books, 2018). 
I looked at a preview of the book, and it calls Vladimir Putin the first Russian president of the United States, with Donald Trump as essentially his avatar.
The Russians got mad, indeed, of American sanctions and about the tanking of their economy in their early days of capitalism.

But Nance describes a global conspiracy, right out of the James Bond movie world, to control the world for the benefit of the oligarchs and put most ordinary people into obedient submission.
The interview describes the Russian malware hack in detail (with Cozy Bear, as does the opening of the book).

But the Russians infiltrated by looking for the most intellectually weak but gullible segment of the USD population, the less educated white “nationalists”, to organize. They also knew that “elite” American mainstream liberals didn’t care personally about these people or about their own underclass. So they wouldn’t notice if the underclass was persuaded by fake news driven by bots. This was Nietzsche turned upside down. 

Nance thinks we are "on the verge of losing the American constitutional republic forever."

It’s odd, but a lot of intellectual pundits (myself included) took no responsibility for the relative contextual illiteracy of a lot of their readers.

It seems as though maybe the Russians even set up “The Apprentice”, complete with Troy McClain’s leg waxing scene. Why did Trump fall for it?

Thursday, July 05, 2018

"The Perfect Weapon": another book, this times from a NYTimes writer, warns on destruction of the power grid by enemies

Nicholas Kristof has a book preview and warning on p. A19 of the Thursday, July 5, 2018 New York Tines, the opinion article titled “To Hackers, We’reBambi in the Woods.

The book at issue is “The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age”, by Kristof’s “Times colleague” David Sanger, from Crown publishers, about 380 pages, somewhat expensive.  I have just ordered it from Amazon.

The book’s premise seems to be that the cyber attacks already launched, such as against Ukraine’s power grid and then Russia’s hack in 2015 of the Democrats, may presage a massive cyber attack against the US power grid, such as Ted Koppel had described in “Lights Out” (Nov. 10, 2015).  North Korea’s attack on Sony in 2014 counts, also.

Of course, I’ve been much more concerned about the possibility of an EMP attack, probably from a high altitude nuclear blast, than a massive cyber attack on facilities that are not supposed to be connected to the public Internet. An E1 (which knocks out electronics) is easier to carry out than an E3 (which knocks out the actual power transformers), and E1 weapons could be non-nuclear. 
But the article insists the Russians planted malware in our grid in 2015. Sinclair Broadcasting has also issued such stories.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Curious pitches from these companies: Top Link, Page

I often noticed my smartphone going off at unwelcome times (when driving, when touching it is a no-no, or at the movies): I can feel it despite the silencer.  The only exception is at a chess club, where there is an absolute no cell phones policy (so it stays in the car).
So I got a couple of messages from TopLink Publishing.  The claim is that my self-published book retail prices are too high (I agree with that), and that they can take over (for an upfront fee, probably) and republish for lower retail prices.  They also make a comment about supposed appraisal of your books and your work.  
Here is the Better Business Bureau website list of reviews.  As you can see, the results are mixed.  I don’t have any further information, but I would investigate (a lot) further before doing anything.  Note that it is not BBB accredited.
I’ve also listened to a number of cable TV ads from Page Publishing, with BBB review link here.  I am surprised to hear a pitch on a television ad say, “If we accept your book…”.  Most self-publishing companies seem to accept everything that is lawful, and not obvious hate speech.  But some (as reported in an Oct. 16, 2013 posting) do select only submissions that can “sell” as printed books.  (I don’t know if Page is POD.) 
There is a narrow range where an author can self-publish and make money with this sort of publisher.  Normally, when someone already established and well known in a field (may be a politician, or might be a teen science fair winner) trade publishers step in and the books do sell.

There is another company pitching self-publishing for Christian books only.  Again, the limitation sounds odd. 
Here’s a quick picture story about a book store in China, “The Infinity Bookstore” with the books arranged in a tunnel.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Matthew Blackwell reviews Haidt, Sowell and Pinker in examining left-wing combativeness in Quilette article

Matthew Blackwell has a booklet-length article from March 2018 on Quillette, “The Psychology of Progressive Hostility”, link here

Blackwell covers the combativeness of the Left in academia, and the tendency of some “Progressives” to label people with conservative counter-speech as enemies who must be kept at bay.  He notes that economists and mathematicians tend to become conservative (at least in fiscal issues, though not on social issues) or somewhat libertarian, leaving teaching college, from softer social sciences, to the classical Leftists.

There is also a division in whether people should be viewed first as individuals, or as members of groups, possibly intersected. Conservatives tend to use reason more and respond to emotion less.  Conservatism, of the kind Andrew Sullivan espouses, for example, looks at the world as complex, needing pragmatic, well though out and analyzed solutions to issues like health care and immigration. Ultra-progressives demand utopia immediately, which does not exist.

Progressives may feel daunted by conservative obliviousness to some emotion.  For example, James Damore's Google article angered many people yet the article says nothing personally offensive when read closely; it does challenge some superficial beliefs on what equality should mean. Damore, who says "I see things differently" and says he is mildly autistic (Asperger) simply presents the research and the logical implications of what he finds, without regard to how people will react. The same could be said about Milo Yiannopoulos's book "Dangerous" when read carefully (and separated from the emotions). 
Progressives are also more dependent on the mechanics of conventional activism, which demands aggressive recruiting, loyalty and solidarity.  When a large number of libertarian-leaning conservatives become conspicuous writing and acting alone, it is much harder to organize a base.  But the aggregation of content by social media according to the consumer may make individualized writing less effective than it used to be, and therefore less of a distraction for activists.

Blackwell mentions and briefly reviews three books:

Jonathan Haidt: “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” (2013, Vintage).

Thomas Sowell: “A Conflict of Visions” (2017, Basic).
Steven Pinker: “The Blank Slate” (2003, Penguin).

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Edit Sheffer's "Asperger's Children": Nazi ideas about socialization

I wanted to note a shocking book review in the New York Times review, Sunday, June 24, 2018, p. 12, “A Deadly Spectrum” A history of autism rooted in Nazi Germany and its program of child euthanasia”, or more startling online, “Was autism a Nazi invention?” 

The book is “Asperger’s Children: The Origin of Autism in Nazi Vienna”, by Edith Sheffer, from W.W. Norton and Company.

The work as based in part on a German psychiatrist, Lorna Wing, after Asperger’s death.  Asperger probably was complicit with Nazi euthanasia of children who showed poor social bonding skills, of lack of “Gemut, the ability to form deep (social) bonds with other people”, for the sake of the Volk – populism indeed.

Today, Asperger’s is rolled into the autism spectrum disorder – and yet people with it sometimes are very brilliant and make great contributions to science.
Michael Burry, a former doctor, may be an example.  Not liking to follow the crowd, he founded a hedge fund that anticipated the flaws in the system that brought about the “Black Swan” of the 2008 financial crisis.  People with this sort of disposition often see dangers to the “crowd” before others do, part of the whole “skin in the game” issue.

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.