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.