Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Atlantic offers major articles on John Bolton (national security advisor) and on pragmatic immigration policy

April 2019 issue of The Atlantic offers to important articles.

On p, 44, Graeme Wood asks “Will John Bolton Bring on Armageddon or Stave It Off? Bolton brought some fear when McMaster was ousted in March 2018, and became national security adviser on April 9. Bolton was said to have a very hawkish reputation, and wanted to tear up past agreements, as with Iran.

Trump had left the impression that he might do a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea, but after the winter Olympics he rather suddenly softened his position, leading to the summits in Singapore and recently Hanoi.

Bolton, in a recent interview on CNN, said that the “failed” Hanoi talks may not that bad – he still thinks that Trump’s offering an eventually more prosperous economy, at least for the Communist elite in North Korea, would be in Kim Jong Un’s best interest and safest for the U.S.  Trump, a few times in mid 2018, actually said that his buttering up Kim was necessary to prevent possible (nuclear) war now.

Bolton (from Baltimore, a “blue” city) has been described as OK on social issues, like supporting gay marriage.

On p. 64, David Frum (photo work by Oliver Munday and Patrick White), asks “How Much Immigration Is Too Much?  (Online his subtitle is, “If liberals won’t enforce borders, fascists will”.)  Frum, normally conservative, is quite objective on the various ways immigration policy would affect various subgroups of Americans, and his arguments are quite double-edged.

Generally, increasing legal immigration would help wealthier Americans but could hurt some low-wage Americans.  It’s quite true that lower-wage (and sometimes undocumented) immigrants do the labor-intensive, manual jobs Americans don’t want to do, including housekeeping and particularly caregiving. Increase legal immigration will improve economic growth, even as native born Americans have lower birth rates (which is sometimes an ideological weapon of the alt-right).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Again, the Christchurch incident gives the idea of a "manifesto" a bad name

Indeed, I do have a tag “objectionable books” on this blog, and this includes “manifestos” of a few notorious criminals.

OK, the author is apparently Brenton Tarrant, one of three people charged in the Christchurch attack. I read the 74 page screed on Document Cloud;  it now gives a 403-forbidden. (Elliot Rodger’s is still there and accessible.)

The manifesto also refers to a 1500-page screed by Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik,

Given the notoriety, I won’t give the links and determined users can probably find them.  I personally think that users need to know how people like this think, so it should be available in archives. Students need to know what "great replacement" means, even if the idea is repulsive.  Kaczynski’s has long been online.

There are stories Sunday afternoon that the prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand had received an email with the manifesto about 10 minutes before the attack but had no idea where it would be.

The important point to note about this document is the way it manipulates the reader into feeling that some fake points and false leads need to be reacted to. The author wavers between ethnic nationalist fascism, and outright communism.

A detailed analysis by Aja Romano on Vox explains the manifesto as a “shitpost”.  Ford Fischer (owner of News2Share) had explained the concept in a Facebook post Friday morning.

But the term "shitposting" usually refers to placing spam-like posts in a forum to disrupt it. Back in 1998, the Libertarian Party of Minnesota used a listserver (a predecessor to today's social networks) that one person kept disrupting with rude comments derogatory of other people. There was also an Independent Gay Forum around 2000, managed from Washington DC by someone associated with GLIL (Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty) that experienced these kinds of problems. When applied to one booklet-length post or long essay, it would seem to imply to illogical flow of argument intended to distract the reader or intimidate the reader -- which would seem to fit with the idea of emailing it to authorities to taunt police before committing a crime. But it could also be just an "English 101" composition problem.
One of the most alarming aspects was his naming others (besides Breivik) as “inspiring” him (starting with PewDiePie) although soon it is apparent this becomes a “joke”.  This could be dangerous to an Internet personality without not enough popularity and clout.  It also contributes to the (socially Marxist) notion that speakers are partially responsible when unstable people connect them with their crimes.

The shitpost idea also brings back a persistent problem that was controversial on the internet ten years ago – spam blogs –  their detection (sometimes with false positives) got a lot of attention in the summer of 2008.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Atlantic discusses discoveries about multipartite viruses; why they could make fodder for doomsday science fiction (they may be really common on alien worlds)

The Atlantic has a new science essay by Ed Yong that looks, at least in science fiction, to have possibly sudden and explosive impact on public health someday in an asymmetric fashion.

The piece is “A New Discovery Upends What We Know AboutViruses” with the subtext “a plant virus distributes its genes into eight separate segments that can all reproduce, even if they infect different cells”.

Generally, plants have the potential to be larger than animals (like California redwood trees) and some fungi even larger still (like a fungus underground in Michigan that has the DNA for the same organism for 37 miles). It has been speculated that on other worlds, it may well happen that single-“paper sheet” organism population species exist (like on Titan), with cells hundreds of miles apart (a little like slime molds).
So it could be useful for a “multipartite” virus to split into parts so it can produce separate infections in separate kinds of cells feet apart.

Since many plants have cell walls, the idea that they can spread more easily than in animals is hard to grasp.

These viruses are rare in animals, although they have been found in some insects – moths and mosquitoes. Already you see where this can head – arthropod transmission to higher animals, maybe mammals and people.  Is it true that “there is always a first time?”  Quantum theory says, well, “yeth”.

A virus that could split into different viruses might be sexually transmitted sometimes, and airborne other times – imagine the apocalyptic nightmare from the 1980s had this been possible with a certain retrovirus.  It didn’t happen. Or it might produce varied kinds of diseases, where eliminating one kind with a drug or even environmental change (as in my novel) allows another to flourish, and we don’t know about it.  In fact, Truman Bradley's "Science Fiction Theater" back in the 1950s predicted that a virus could change a human into a plant.

Multipartite viruses have a very specific meaning in the world of computer malware.

Martin Goldberg (“Economic Invincibility”) recently said in a video that he was working on a sci-fi novel and the idea would be shocking.  Is this his idea?  It’s already in my “Angel’s Brother”.  Maybe he has something credible that is even more shocking.  Bird flu is already trite.

Monday, March 11, 2019

"Your Brain on Nationalism" in Foreign Affairs (Sapolsky)

The early Spring (March-April, 2019) issue of “Foreign Affairs” has a major piece on tribalism by Nicholas Sapolsky, “Your Brain on Nationalism: The Biology of Us and Them”.

The picture shows a chimpanzee at the Singapore Zoo.  Indeed, chimpanzees (not bonobos) are fiercely tribal and their social organizations are geared for conflict with rival groups.

His article stresses that humans, with even larger brains, are able to belong to more that one group at the same time. Besides setting the stage for intersectionality, it creates new opportunities and challenges for cooperation.

Tribalism is relative.  There’s a video of a cat encountering an octopus on a pier. My own inclination was to “bond” mentally with the cat, who is more like me than an invertebrate octopus (whose intelligence is actually comparable). Race, based on the most superficial of characteristics that first develop when populations are isolated from one another, still generate tribal feelings of us and them.  Many people, myself included, could not imagine sexual desire for someone of a different race.

But nationalism is more than just ordinary tribalism, it is aggregate tribalism, that set up the modern state system.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Time: "The Science of Memory": what makes a person

Highly recommended from the supermarket is the Time booklet “The Science of Memory: The Story of our Lives”.  The subtitle is “Build a Sharper Mind; Erase Bad Memories; What Animals Recall”. The editor is Edward Feisenthal, for 96 pages.  There are four chapters with many sections.

On p. 22, there is a short piece “An Elephant Never Forgets” (Courtney Mifsud), which explains why for a pachyderm, the elephant has intelligence and self-identity approaching man.  It’s comparable to cetaceans and apes.  There are other facts: chimpanzees remember some details better than humans.  

When I lived in Dallas in a garden apartment in 1979, I was adopted by a tomcat (“Timmy”), who recognized the sound of my car and ran to my apartment door when he heard it.  He would disappear for a few days and then return, to look after me, bringing trophy birds. He had a rich vocabulary of sounds and at night could come into the bedroom and communicate he needed to go outside for the bathroom.

On p. 67, Joshua Foer describes “The Battle of the Big Brains”, and memory contests. But consider how world chess champion Magnus Carlsen can play multiple simultaneous chess games while blindfolded, even winning complicated endgames. He tells journalists that he is always pondering some theoretical position in his mind all the time.

On p. 42 Su Meck and Daniel de Vise present “A Life Lost to Amnesia”.  In 1988 a ceiling fan fell on Meck, costing her all previous memories. She had both retrograde and anteretrograde amnesia. They recovered only very slowly.

Patrick Rogers, on p. 37, looks at why we forget most of our early childhood memories, even though as toddlers we have them.  My earliest memory may be of my father opening an electric train set when I was 3 on Christmas morning in 1946. I have some kindergarten memories at age 5 (the red chair), but in grade school there is more continuity as I become a person.  To a child or teen, school seems indefinite and time passes slowly, because that’s what he or she knows. School and home is the universe. An older person makes up for lack of quickness and immediacy of short term memory with a rich database of a lifetime of experience, as if one could watch a video of a typical day of any period in one’s life. In the space-time sense, they seem equidistant.

Even during a lucid dream (especially if of a desired intimacy, or of a problematic escape situation) one feels like the same person with the same identity. Then memories of many dreams disappear suddenly unless written down, erased from experience. But some remain for life.

The adult brain is fully formed by age 25.  But how do you explain prodigies?  Jack Andraka not only invented a major medical test at age 15 for science fair; he keeps up with school work even as an undergraduate at Stanford while globetrotting.  Taylor Wilson demonstrating knowledge of physics and engineering to build a fusion reactor (effectively a sun) in his garage at age 14. David Hogg was dyslexic until puberty, when he suddenly blossomed into a teen able (getting started at 17) to lead a revolution against the gun lobby and outwit lobbyists and conservative media personalities, putting some on the ropes.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

"Washington's Golden Age": a biography of Post editor Hope Ridings Miller (preview)

Today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC was selling copies of Joseph Dalton’s non-fiction biography “Washington’s Golden Age: Hope Ridings Miller, the Society Beat, and the Rise of Women Journalists”.  Dalton is her first cousin twice removed.

Miller was a member of First Baptist Church for years, dying of congestive heart failure in 2005.

Hope became the Washington Post’s society editor in 1937, so she covered society life during the New Deal and then World War II.  Her career at the Post continued through the Lyndon Johnson administration, past the time of Kennedy.  She was the only woman on the Post City desk and edited the Diplomat Magazine.

Here’s a netgallery preview of the book.

The book is published by Rowman and Littlefield. The book comprises sixteen chapters, 238 pages, hardcover.

The former pastor of FBC, Edward H Pruden (pastor until 1969), wrote “Interpreters Needed” in 1951 (Judson) and “A Window on Washington” (Vantage, self-published, 1979).

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Washington Post explores the business unexpected success of independent bookstores in DC area and country

Fritz Hahn offers an article in a “from the cover” series on p. 15 of the Washington Post Weekend magazine from Friday, February 21, 2019, “That old stack magic: The indomitable – and the new – indie bookstores.”  

The article examines at least eight independent bookstores in or near Washington DC.  They are flourishing as community centers despite the low cost competition from Amazon.

What is striking is that some of them are niche bookstores, as for African American readers and authors in some cases.  Lambda Rising used to be a thriving chain for the LGBT community but it gradually disintegrated because of low cost competition from Amazon (after 2009).  But in the 1990s it was a good place for readings and debates on topics like gays in the military (Joe Steffan had a booksigning at the DC Connecticut Ave. store in Sept. 1992). Maybe they got out too early.

I’ve been approached about the idea of buying quantities of my own books and dealing with independent bookstores.  Because my most recent book is now five years old, I have been reluctant;  most stores will do readings only for books in their first year of publication. This idea will become important for my novel “Angel’s Brother” and I will work the local bookstore idea on that.

A possibility would be to encourage independent bookstores to advertise on my Facebook page (FB has suggested allowing them administrator access, which I don’t quite understand and which sounds risky, given the recent purges).

There has been an increase of 35% in independent bookstores in the United States since 2009.

Picture: One More Page Books, East Falls Church, VA.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Stephanie Land goes from maid to "established" trade-published author with "Maid"

When I have more than one substantial book to read, I sometimes put one of them in the queue and do a preview here before a full review on my Wordpress site. I’ve got a treatise on climate change to do right away, so I’ll do a preview today of Stephanie Land’s “Maid”, from Hachette Books (2019), 2t chapters, 268 pages, hardcover.  The book is easy to find on Amazon and should be at most bookstores now.

The full title is “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive”.  There is a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich (“Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America”, 2001; and “Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream”, 2005.

The author, raised in the state of Washington near the coast, had desired to become a writer, the formal way through a college education and formal employment. But some indiscretion led to a pregnancy, and unsatisfactory marriage and divorce, and raising a daughter on her own, working for near minimum wage without benefits, and depending on various assistance programs, such as food stamps, WIC, and Section 8 housing.  I have to say that even so far, the description of Section 8 is quite disturbing.  You don’t want to lose your own housing independence.

The author would become a writer indeed, and get published by an industry trade company, and not do it herself like I did.  She would get others to pay for her work and not do this for vanity. She paid her dues.

 I visited Anacortes in 1996 driving back from Olympic National Park with a rent car to SeaTac.

CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Sneak preview of Joel Simon's "We Want to Negotiate" about governments' ransom dilemmas

Jason Rezaian writes a combo op-ed and book review in the Washington Post Outlook Sunday, February 24, 2019, “What will the U.S, do to get hostages back?

That embeds a book review of Joel Simon’s “We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages and Ransom”, 189 pages, paperback, Columbia Global Reports, published Jan. 22, 1989.

The United States does not appear to have a completely predictable policy, and for national security that is probably good.  Trump hasn’t said anything – but of course it was the return of Otto Warmbier from North Korea, effectively kidnapped, that sets the tone (as Trump sits down with Kim Jong Un this week in Hanoi).

In fact, as an aside, Japan and maybe a couple other countries have had to deal with possible kidnappings in their own territory, and China seems to have indulged the practice.

More common, of course, is when a westerner or American, especially a journalist or high-profile business executive, is taken abroad, even in western countries.  There was a case where someone was taken in Italy in 1978 and deafened in captivity by loud music.

Of course, the US government believes that if it negotiates with kidnappers, it encourages more incidents. But otherwise, the victim is essentially sacrificed .

Since I did inherit a big part of an estate at the end of 2010, I have become more sensitive to the idea. I have a statement on a Wordpress blog that I cannot be bargained for, worth linking here.

Private ransom payments have been illegal, but Obama was willing to look the other way (2015 US News story).  A good question for a social media platform or hosting company would be whether it violates an AUP or TOS to do a fundraiser for a private ransom payment.
I’ve reviewed a few films on my sites and blogs on this problem (“Ransom”, with Mel Gibson”) before.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

"Total Invincibility", according to Martin

Author: Martin Goldberg, aka “Economic Invincibility” YouTube Channel

Title: “Total Invincibility: How to Crush Failure and Maximize your Human Potential

Publication: Digital, 2019/2/16, Amazon Digital Services LLC/Self, 115 pages, Kindle only (no ISBN listed), 9 chapters.

The author, who looks and says he is in his late twenties, as I recall, and I believe lives somewhere in Florida, runs the “Economic Invincibility” YouTube channel.

Today (Saturday morning) was the first time that I saw mention of the publication of the e-book on his channel.  I downloaded ($7.99) it and read it in about two hours.  Better use of my time and money than Netflix.

The matching video today was called “The Cure for Modernity” pretty well explains his moral philosophy.  You could say it is a kind of libertarianism with a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility,  but with awareness on the possibility of suddenly needing interdependence with others.  Charles Murray might be a fair comparison.  He says he is independent and denies any party and criticizes blind tribalism and political partisanship. You get the impression that if he were president he would get things done and put “Trump” to shame (even though he supported Trump, with no orange balloons).  OK, Peter Thiel is old enough to be president – oops, born in Germany. So maybe Thiel should fix the madness in the EU (like Article 13?) Nevertheless, I like the idea that “the young people will win”.  That could be Martin, David Hogg, and now Nick Sandmann, young people of various political persuasions who give you the feeling that they can make things happen. OK, any of a number of young people I can think of would have become “The Apprentice” (including Martin) and would make a real difference.

The book is aimed for young adults, with particular advice toward school (college, grad school, b-school, Ph D, trades) and work and staying out of debt.  He talks a lot about credit cards, savings, 401(k), rents, mortgages, and how credit scores work (without getting into China’s experiment by extending to “social credit scores”).  He also talks about job interviewing and dealing the politics in the workplace, especially the risks of accidental involvement in supposed sexual harassment.

He believes people should be strict with their own self-assessment.  Don’t go to college just because you do well on tests.  Can you do manual labor?  Can you change your own oil?  Can you camp out.  (OK, science fair winner Jack Andraka – “Breakthrough” [March 18, 2015], was an avid camper in high school and kayaker today – and finishing at Stanford – I think EI would approve.)  There is some recommendation of an almost Maoist humility.  My phrase for that was always "pay your bills and pay your dues."

He also advocates minimalism and even talks about living out of a van as a possibly effective lifestyle.  He likes rural communities.

What’s interesting is his views on free speech and social media, and how this relates back to self-assessment and how one regards others. In the past, he has been critical of people's naïve belief in their "rights" on platforms run by private entities, and has said that at some point if you want to he heard with sustainability, you need to play ball with the political system that is there and run for office or support candidates, even if you think some of it is corrupt; only "you" can make it better.

Toward the end, he does insist that critical thinking is important, and the capacity to speak for the self (without going through activist organizations) matters.  Yet he discourages most people from using social media very much, particularly if they get addicted to popularity or followers.  For many people, social media will be a valueless trap where one slip-up or wrong impression will mark one for life – and it is so easy for misleading content (from trolls) to go viral. He mentions his concerns about video channels as a source of income, given the recent scandals (Patreon, which he doesn’t name specifically, payment processor and advertiser queasiness).  Many people will be in positions where they have to be very careful about their personal privacy and the possibility of targeting (or even framing) by hostile others. But he thinks that books, or more permanent items (like real films or peer-reviewed articles) are a better way to engage media.

Martin never mentions the idea of suspect class or oppressed group. His views of personal resilience follow those of Haidt, for example (“The Coddling of the American Mind”), or Taleb (anti-fragility). Sometimes he seems to denigrate people whom he sees as weak, gullible, or incompetent, but other times he talks about the need to help others and cooperate.  He advocates localism and personal fitness, ranging from cooking one's own food from ingredients, to vigorous fitness physical fitness (large numbers of situps, pushups and even pullups, at least for men).  He warns that technological dependence makes us vulnerable and that the Internet or modernity could be taken away by a determined enemy or even natural event with no notice (no direct mention of EMP of extreme solar storms, but that may be what he refers to).

There's just one homonym error in the text, "right" as a verb when "write" is what was intended. But his vocabulary, finding rich metaphors in some little used old English nouns and verbs (like "dollop") is striking. That keeps the writing terse with fewer adjectives and those dreaded adverbs.

He makes a useful reference to Lin Yutang's "The Importance of Living" a real life, because you never know when artifices can be taken away by "Black Swans" (Taleb's concept).  Despite his rather Ayn Rand-like outlook, he does remind us that anything can happen to anyone (car accident, criminal violence, or cancer).

Martin has said he is working on two novels, a fantasy, and a sci-fi scenario (I wonder if it's about who gets to evacuate Earth and start over.)

Friday, February 22, 2019

Natgeo long article: "Life probably exists beyond Earth"

Jamie Shreeve has an article “Life Probably Exists BeyondEarth; So How Do We Find It?” on National Geographic.

The photos are by Spencer Lowell, with art by Deena Barry.

The article mentions a software designer who has spent ten years in rural northern California supporting an array of radio telescopes, and Russian venture capitalist, Yuri Milner, who is looking for alien civilizations.

Many of these might be around smaller M stars and be located in twilight zones of tidally locked planets. That would be politically dicey.

Relativity says you can’t even pass information faster than the speed of light (partly because with quantum entanglement the observer affects the particles – who don’t like to be stared at) –  so if you could pass a person’s consciousness through a wormhole shortcut – could the person rent a body on a visit to another planet, maybe the same body with every visit?  Like renting a car or Airbnb.

The article (from March 2019) darkens and asks you to log in.  I did, and it asked for the account number from the print version, which I don’t have (I have the digital account, but has the print expired?).  How clumsy.  But you can still read the darkened vision.  Maybe I can find a print for this issue at the supermarket tomorrow.

(Picture: Baltimore science museum)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Patricia Nell Warren, author of "The Front Runner", passes awat at 82

Numerous sources provided an obituary for author Patricia Nell Warren, who passed away Feb. 16 at age 82.  For example, Daniel Reynolds writes for the Advocate, here.

She is best known for her pioneering gay novel “The Front Runner” (1974), published by William Morrow and Company.  I read the paperback around 1977 when I was living in New York City. The novel never quite became a film; it should have.

The novel concerns an ex-Marine who has led a straight life and impregnated a woman, but is driven, by rumors, out of his athletic coaching career to a job in a small school, where he meets and falls in live with Billy, who also has led a straight life. (Somewhere I remember a transvestite character.)  Billy finally qualifies for the 1976 Olympics race in Montreal.  Much of both major characters’ lives had been led pre-Stonewall.

Warren wrote several sequels and other novels.

She should not be confused with actress  Patrician Neal ; and the book should not be confused with an unrelated political film of the same name.

Wikipedia attribution for second picture, 1976 Olympics in Montreal: Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0716-0111 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich / CC-BY-SA 3.0 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff's "Surveillance Capitalism", previewed

A 691-page dissertation by a Harvard Business School professor needs a book preview here. That is specifically, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power”, by Shoshana Zuboff, hardcover, Public Affairs, New York, 2019, ISBN 978-1-61039-569-4.  . The book has four large parts and eighteen chapters. Here's a detailed sample review on the Intercept by Sam Biddle.

The real book ends at p. 525, with a lot of endnotes and index.

And her writing style is like mine, especially in my “Do Ask Do Tell” books and she gets into some of “m”" old themes and takes them much further. I’ll do a full review on Wordpress when I’m done.

But I wanted to note some highlights.

There is a Definition page for Surveillance Capitalism, that serves the same purpose as the Hamlet battlefield quote (“fust in us unused”) in my own DADT-1 book. But the alternative dictionary definitions are all rather Marxist.  Does the Axiom of Choice follow?

Harvard undergraduate John Fish (computer science major) recently said in one of his Friday afternoon videos that managerial capitalism isn’t just replaced by surveillance capitalism – it’s that transactional capitalism is replaced by attention capitalism – like attention compares to dark matter in the Universe. Well, transactional life is the heart of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “skin in the game”; attention capture is just virtue signaling.  “Economic Invincibility” is bound to do a video on these ideas soon.  It’s hard to apply Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” (2014/7/22) to its dark version.

Zuboff’s idea of a “human future” comes right out of Paul Rosenfels in the 1970s (April 12, 2006 on this blog).

Here exposition is Taleb-like.  The paradigm for surveillance capitalism is unprecedented.  But so were many other stages of social development.  Zuboff describes how the basic essence of individual self-concept must have evolved among her ancestors, when a century ago you were born into roles that you didn’t question and had no individual right to be heard; you were part of a tribe.  But modernity went through three phases, she writes, the first one recognized by Ayn Rand as making way for individualism. But individualization is not the same thing as individualism. The irony of surveillance capitalism is that it drive everyone back to life in a hive (like on the spaceship in the 1996 movie “Independence Day”, where Bill Pullman is much less convincing as president than a future David Hogg.

She points to the date of Wednesday, August 9, 2011 as important for several reasons, one of which was the establishment of “the right to be forgotten” in Europe.  That has mattered a lot in my own “second career”.

But I wanted to jump to the conclusion, “A Coup from Above” (that is, "a manifesto"), where she deploys the epigram “No More!”, which is lifted right out of David Hogg’s amazing speech to the March of our Lives crowd in Washington March 24, 2018.

Hogg starts as a freshman at Harvard in the fall of 2019 after his gap year and surely will have courses from her. But he has already started running for president himself, at 17. And it’s surveillance capitalism that gives “the young people” every advantage for winning.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Life: "The Day Kennedy Died"

Life Magazine has another historical coffee table book, “The Day Kennedy Died”, Nov. 22, 1963, edited by Robert Sullivan, 112 pages.

The  coverage of the day of the assassination doesn’t start until page 38, “That Day in Dallas”. The preceding pages cover the Camelot “royal” family and then the events like Bay of Pigs, Berlin Wall (ironic now for the US), and Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kennedy was making the trip to shore up his shaky political base, and Dallas was said to be a “city of hate”.  The Kennedys had stayed in a hotel in Fort Worth and made the very short flight to Love Field.

The book starts its frame-by-frame analysis of the Zapruder film on p 88 with the most critical probablt being 262 and 313. The book does not come to a definitive conclusion as to whether Oswald was the only shooter.

This all happened in a troubling period of my own life.  The Kennedy assassination occurred slightly less than two full years after my own William and Mary expulsion. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred while I was a “patient” at NIH, about 13 months before the assassination.

I had started my first wage-earning job at the National Bureau of Standards on the old Federal City college on Van Ness St, in the oil viscosity (rheology) lab.  My boss came into the lab at about 1:50 PM EST (one hour ahead of Dallas) and announced the shootings and turned on the radio. Within about 45 minutes we heard that the president was dead, and we were dismissed for the day. The announcement didn’t come until 1:38 CST even though he was pronounced at 1:00 PM CST.

The CBS video above was from the soap “As the World Turns” and the soap as allowed to run for a while after the first announcement. News was slow then.

I can recall the classical station WGMS playing the Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, on the old Zenith radio in the basement where I had heard the Washington Senators lose a lot of baseball games (1963 was a particularly bad year, although the MLK March had happened in August).

On Sunday, we were at the First Baptist Church at 16th and O, and leaving and I was riding down 17th St with my father driving, with radio coverage of the transfer of Oswald.  I literally heard the shooting over the car radio.  “He’s been shot”.

The wound to Kennedy’s head from the second shot was particularly gruesome.  There is no way it could or should have been survivable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Atlantic offers big article on animal consciousness

Ross Anderson, in the March issue of the Atlantic, explores what consciousness is. “Scientists Are Totally Rethinking Animal Cognition”.   He talks about the intelligence of crows in solving problems in getting at food (dropping nuts at stoplights). Crow brain structures are complex but very different from mammalian; there is no cerebral cortex. Crows also seem to recognize people in their environments and will revisit them (so do mockingbirds) to “check up on them”. I had a crow scream at me to get inside the day of Hurricane Sandy.

Later he gets into the consciousness of fish and even social insects, and possibly one-celled organisms. But he doesn’t get into integrated information theory as have some other articles.

One thing of interest to me is when wild animals do make friends with people (bobcats, foxes).

Back in 1993, Time Magazine had an article, “Do Animals Think?”

In January 2017. Geoffrey Smith had written about research in the consciousness of the octopus, which is considerable, even if the brain is distributed through the body.  It may resemble wavering among dream-like states.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Life Magazine redux: "The 1960s: The Decade Where Everything Changed"

Life (as part of Time) is offering a supermarket coffee-table paperback, 112 pages, “The 1960s: The Decade Where Everything Changed”, edited by Robert Sullivan.

In January 1960 I was a junior in high school, and in history class we were just about to cover the War Between the States.  At the time, “negro” was an acceptable word, even in class.

During the summer we would hear the Nixon-Kennedy debates, and Kennedy would start out with the “Ask Not” inauguration speech on a day after a sudden thunderstormy blizzard in Washington.

As I’ve documented elsewhere, the early 60s were still quite homophobic, as would continue into the middle 60s with Dean Rusk’s firing people from the State Department and CBS’s 1967 documentary “The Homosexuals” with Mike Wallace.  But it would start to change fairly suddenly with Stonewall.

But the pivotal years were 1962 (Cuban Missile Crisis), 1963 (Kennedy Assassination) and 1968, when I was drafted.  I was in BCT when I heard Johnson’s non-acceptance speech on March 31.
There would be a Poor People's March on Washington in May 1968, just as a major even in 1963 with MLK.  When MLK was assassinated we were on "red alert" at Fort Jackson.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

"Asylumist" blog recommends some children's books on immigration

The Asylumist” is a blog run by Washington DC attorney Jason Dzubow, and today he has an unusual and inviting post, “Some Great Immigration and Refugee Books for Kids”, link

A couple of the books are actually in the format of graphic novels.

I’ll mention maybe three of them.

Two White Rabbits” (2015), by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yochteng, translated by Elisa Amado. 32 pages, Groundwood books, tells the story of a migrant journey through Central America from the viewpoint of the kids, sometimes riding on top of trains, facing the border, wall or not.

Illegal” (2018) , by Eoin Coffer and Andrew Donkin, and Giovanni Rigano, 144 pages. Sourcebook Jannerwocky tells about a journey to Europe from Niger across the Sahara.

An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yosuf Omar” (2015), by Reinhardt Kleist, by Self-Made Hero, 152 pages, represented Somalia in the 2008 Olympics on Beijing, and lost her life on her journey home.  This graphic novel is based on a true story.

Monday, February 04, 2019

"Kids These Days" by Malcolm Harris, explains why millennials act the way they do -- because "capitalism" has exploited them and disposed of many of them

Sean Illing gives a preview, in an interview, of a new book from Little Brown by Malcolm Harris, “Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials”, 272 pages.

The Vox article that does the review is called “Why are millennials burned out? Capitalism”.  This sounds so much like Umair Haque. 

Harris seems to feel that there is something morally corrupt about turning labor into capital. The article leads back to an earlier article about Steven Pearlstein, who wants to save capitalism from its excessive shareholder-driven form. Managerial capitalism isn’t so bad – but it comes down to keeping individuals socialized and getting too deep into their own fantasies about meritocracy. That’s supposed to happen in the families, but you have to get individualized out from under that into intermittent periods of national or community service, he thinks.

Harris admits the influence of Marxism, and seems to think you can’t save neo-liberalism because it is too lost in its own idea of self-concept.  Like people need to join up. 

Saturday, February 02, 2019

John D'Agata and Jim Fingal, "The Lifespan of a Fact"

Authors: John D’Agata (essay author), Jim Fingal (fact checker)

Title: “The Lifespan of a Fact

Publication:  New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2012, 124 pages, paper, 9 chapters, ISBN 978-0-393-34073-0

This is a most unusual book, another innovation like Thomas Carlyle’s “Sartor Resartus” (Dec. 2, 2013), a meta-book.

On 2003 Harper’s magazine approached author John D’Agata (“Halls of Fame”) to write a lengthy piece motivated by the suicide of a teenager (Levi Presley) by jumping in Las Vegas. It was not accepted, but another periodical, “The Believer” assigned a fact-checker, Jim Fingal, to examine the piece.  The piece (“What Happens There”) would eventually morph into D’Agata’s “About a Mountain” (concerning the storing of radioactive waste in Yucca Mountain).  The latter topic actually fits into an early incident in my novel “Angel’s Brother”.

So this new compendium book presents the essay, with continuous fragments centered on each page, surrounded by Fingal’s extensive fact checking remarks.  So this is a “book about a book” or a “book about an essay”.  Imagine this being done to one of my longer blog postings.  Harvard undergrad John Fish (previous post) should find this interesting to read.

The meta-book has become a Broadway Play, at Studio 54 (with Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale), but the show has closed.  I was in New York Jan 7-9 but to go to another event and didn’t have time to see it.  I wonder if it will become an arthouse film.  Actually, we need a documentary on Yucca Mountain, too.
The New York Times has an analysis (2012) by Jennifer B. McDonald, "In the Details". And Alice Gregory writes "Truth and Consequences" for NPR in 2012. 

Baseball player Bryce Harper has a home near Las Vegas.  We’re wondering where he will sign for 2019.

Monday, January 28, 2019

John Fish: Growth Book

This post will be very simple.

After watching a few of Harvard undergraduate John Fish’s videos, I took him up on his offer of a notebook, his Growth Book.

Each page has space for a schedule, to-do, goals, motivation, happiness.

You have to put in the date yourself.  I didn’t see a preprinted calendar with holidays and days of the week in each month (perpetual calendar, which is an easy java method).

The cover has a growth tree on it.

I've noticed teenagers raised in Canada (around Toronto) seem to do much better in life than American kids.  Look at actor Richard Harmon now.   Maybe the system really does matter. 
I got the book “free” as an Amazon Prime reward.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Time Magazine takes on how to fix social media now, with one of Facebook's founders

The January 25, 2019 issue of Time Magazine has several long articles of major importance.
The cover story is by Roger McNamee, “I helped create this mess, here’s how to fix it.” The inside address, so to speak, is “How to fix social media before it’s too late; an early investor on how Facebook lost its way.” 
He says he mentored Mark Zuckerberg. He gives the usual argument now that the business model is predicated on creating echo chambers to serve users more ads based on passed likes.  It’s so scalable that eventually and actors and would-be authoritarians would sabotage it.  He talks about democracy, privacy, control your data, regulation, and humanizing.  Then there is tech addiction, and protection of children (especially from cyberbullying). The biggest proposal is predictable – break up Facebook into competing companies. 

Then Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, writes “It’s time for action on privacy; we all deserve control of our digital lives.”  Hate has no place on his platform.

There follows a particularly disturbing story by Philippines journalist Maria Ressa, “Facebook let my government target me, but the social-media giant could yet fulfill its original promise.”  The problem is that in a country like the Philippines, Facebook “is the Internet”. 

Laurie Segall writes :Be Afraid, Very Afraid” (I use that phrase in my DADT I book, Chapter 6).  One of the most curious ideas is “neural inequality”, with brain nanochips.  But actually, there is a great spread in IQ naturally among people – not necessarily because of race itself but because of environmental and upbringing differences that accumulate over generations. 

Eli Pariser writes “Restoring Dignity to Technology”, “how to design tools to set write what has gone wrong online.”

Donald Graham writes “Facebook will thrive: I would bet on its efforts to fix mistakes.”

Then the issue changes tone, with a big piece by Aryan Baker in Williston N.D., “The Survivor”, about the victims of sex trafficking, especially in the Midwest and in native American lands. She focuses on the deprivation of the young women who become vulnerable through gradual steps to pimps.  But the article does not get into the Internet or online liability issues that the controversial FOSTA law took on.

What is missing from all of this is the perspective of the individual speaker on the Internet.  He has taken for granted as a quasi-fundamental right what is more of a privilege.  True, the elimination of most downstream liability in 1996 (Section 230, and then Safe Harbor in 1998) gave me a new career, but what first kept politicians and media honest has suddenly grown into a runaway train where speakers who don’t have all their skin in the game now fuel the resentment that leads to action you don’t want.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"I Know My Rights: A Children's Guide to the Bill of Rights and Individual Liberty", at LibertyCon2019 conference in Washington

Author: Rory Margraf

Illustrator: Andreea Mironiuc

Title: “O Know My Rights”

Subtitle: “A Children’s Guide to the Bill of Rights and Individual Liberty

Publication: 2018, Self, ISBN 079-1729436165, paper, heavily illustrated, 44 pages (unnumbered), published in Columbia SC (also Philadelphia, Phoenix)

The author seems to be a teen/young adult who says he was unaware of his Fourth Amendment rights in an incident at age 16 when he allowed an illegal search by police.
The book was sold at a table at LibertyCon2019 in Washington DC at the Marquis Hotel on MLK weekend.

There was another table nearby with some other libertarian books, largely non-fiction, some self-published.

The book gives simple explanations of all the first ten Amendments in the Bill of Rights (179, now 228 years ago).
He describes the rights as “natural entitlements”.

His discussion of the First Amendment refers to the right to “share any idea” but others don’t have to listen.  He does not say that Internet access by itself is presumed as a right.

He discusses the idea of “self-ownership” and the idea “only you are in control of your life.”  This idea has become challenged especially by the political Left because it presumably leaves to chance resolution of hereditary inequality (of opportunity).  Property is considered part of self-ownership.

The Tenth Amendment is referred to as being about “states’ rights” which was a contentious topic when I was growing up.

He lists all the other amendments.  The Fourteenth has the incorporation clause, which often precludes state laws that take away individual rights.  It sounds shocking but some on the Right talk about repealing the Nineteenth Amendment, which provides for women to vote.
My own 1998 booklet “Our Fundamental Rights” discusses these rights in a “reorganized” conceptual fashion.  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

"Impeach Donald Trump": Atlantic releases booklet article by Applebaum due in March 2019 print issue

The March 2019 print edition of The Atlantic will include a long article by Yoni Applebaum, titled bluntly “Impeach Donald Trump”. The online was released today.

Applebaum relies on the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson to build his argument.  I had not been aware that Johnson was so unwilling to honor the Fourteenth Amendment (maybe I don’t remember all my 11th grade Va and US history) and nearly leading to a Second Civil War.

An impeachment would so weaken and preoccupy the presidency that the president would have to modify his behavior – maybe.
But if the shutdown continued (it could end with 2/3 vote overrides) private trusts would have to be tapped to pay federal workers. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

"The Age of Surveillance Capitalism" and Facebook's experiments, before 2016

The Wall Street Journal offers a “Bookshelf” preview of a new book by Soshana Zuboff, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” with the subtitle “The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power”, published by Public Affairs, 704 pages, published Jan. 15. 
Frank Rose authors the review; he is a senior fellow at the Columbia University School for the Arts.
The problem is that the business model doesn’t sustain free services unless you become the product for sale.

Maybe regular hosting (like we used before social media) and search engines worked better – when we had just Web 1.0.  I flourished then.

The author teaches at Harvard and will surely have David Hogg in her class.

“When you’re immersed in something it is really hard to notice it.”  She talks about “economies of action”. Remember Facebook’s “contagion experiments”?  How about social comparisons? Youtube gay videos are metaphors for something much bigger.
She says Facebook is depriving most users of the ability to think for themselves – except for the well-educated.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Christopher Browing's missive "The Suffocation of Democracy" in the New York Review of Books

Book author Christopher Browning  (“The Origins of the Final Solution”, 2007) offers a lengthy piece in the New York Review of Books in Oct. 2018, “The Suffocation of Democracy”. 

The author points out some similarities of Trump’s history to that of Hitler.  In the early 1930s, the extreme right in Germany made a “deal” and installed Hitler.  There are many more institutional checks and our situation today was a lot more stable than Germany in the 1930s, but not as immune to group resentment as we had thought. Trump has no Army of “brownshirts” in comparison.  But he did have conspirators, ranging from the Bannon crowd (apparently ultimate connected to ideas of returning white supremacy disguised as “Christianity” or something) to Vladimir Putin himself.  It is rather shocking to us that Trump fell for them, as he didn’t seem extreme in running “The Apprentice”, just badass.

Browning also notes at the end the legacy Trump could leave, over the slow motion catastrophe of climate change.

Friday, January 11, 2019

"Russian Hack Exposes Weakness in U.S. Power Grid" (WSJ "booklet")

On Friday, January 11, 2019, the Wall Street Journal offered a booklet-length article by Rebecca Smith and Rob Barry, “Russian Hack Exposes Weakness in U.S. Power Grid” with the subtitle, “Worst known system breach involved attacks on small contractors”, link
The story starts with a description of a hack of a construction company in Oregon in March 2017, that would not be detected for several months by DHS, which found that Russia had placed malware that intercepted every internal email.  Maybe 30 or more states have small contractors, targeted by Russians, serving utilities.

Actually, early probes go back to the summer of 2016, before the election, when Sinclair Broadcasting had run a few stories which didn’t get much public attention.

The article discusses the concept of a Scada server, pr a utility’s supervisory control and data acquisition system, which could effectively perform a software “airgap jump”.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Atlantic article today examines how a "national security emergency" centered on the Border Wall could affect the Internet and most attempts to assist asylum seekers

I’m treating this January/February 2019 Atlantic article by Elizabeth Goitein as a “booklet” because I want to introduce the topic, which will surely cause a lot of controversy in the next days or even hours.
That is, “What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency”.  The subtitle is very scary: “From seizing control of the Internet to declaring martial law, President Trump may legally do all kinds of scary things.” 

The situation could come about any time now, with little notice, since Congress seems mysteriously paralyzed on re-opening the government.  First, it’s clear that if enough Republicans (both houses) were willing to override a veto right now for a continuing resolution, the problem for now goes away.
Also, so far, most press coverage has suggested that the only effect of the declaration would be to allow the president to use “unallocated money” within the Defense Department to build his wall. He doesn’t really need to do anything else.

In fact, maybe that would be OK.  I don’t see a harm in building wall in areas where it is apparently needed (and Trump has some credibility with some specific locations).  I don’t understand why the Democrats are so intransigent on this point.

But normally a declaration of a national emergency means war, pandemic, enormous natural catastrophe, maybe even alien invasion. The Atlantic article outlines the other powers that are of great concern.

Could Trump concoct such a movie scenario?  No, my book hasn’t come true (yet).  But if, for example, there was credible evidence of WMD’s (nuclear materials, biohazard, chemical, possibly opioids) being smuggled in some locations a genuine emergency exists. A wall might not be able to stop this (tunneling of drugs has happened). There were various (credible) reports of some violence in a few of the caravans, and that some were organized by agitators wanting to create a spectacle.  That sounds more like a scenario that can justify a shutdown. On the other hand, most of the caravans were reported by insiders as peaceful and populated by the extreme needy.  But it of course it is possible to set up a trojan attack this way.  It’s possible that should a specific WMD plot be discovered that some sort of martial law could happen.  The Trump administration has offered no real evidence that this exists, however.  

Most national security pundits are concerned that catastrophe can come from a cover terrorist missile (for EMP) from offshore (NORAD intercept), or overt attack from a state, right now, North Korea.  But, for example, a Russian invasion of the Baltics or Finland (my book, again) could set up a genuine emergency.  My own feeling is that as a whole, the southern border is not our worst threat, as much as I have ties in Texas (from having lived there) who are very concerned about it. Most sources say that such a declaration would be challenged in court; but SCOTUS, with its current makeup, might well say it can't question a president's judgment on how close some of these hypothetical scenarios could be to actually happening. (The fact that DHS, FAA and TSA are compromised could counter Trump's argument, however.) The New York Times (as noted on my "issues blog") did, late Saturday, provide a stronger argument against the idea that Trump could pull this off. 
The “obvious” risk is that once Trump declares a (legally credible) emergency to get his Wall, he doesn’t stop with the Wall.  Yes, he has to worry about impeachment.  That’s where the other big dot points in the article matter.

Point 2 is the dreaded “Internet Kill Switch” that sometimes came up during the Obama years. Both Trump and amazingly Hillary Clinton threatened to use it in emergencies in December 2015 pre-campaign speeches.

The article suggests a partial cutback, limiting access to certain websites, or altering results of search engines.  This would certainly result in immediate litigation, as the article admits.  It’s credible that not even Gorsuch or Kavanaugh would allow the alteration of search results for political purposes.
 But it would be possible to cut off social media sites altogether, with catastrophic effects on the securities markets. Again, remember the careless rhetoric in Dec. 2015, "shut down those tubes". 
Very recently, there has been a lot of attention on social media about payment processor pressure on platforms (like Patreon) to deny supposed alt-right speakers access to be heard.  This is thought to come from pressure from the extreme Left.  But in the past six months or so, as I have discussed a few times in other posts and had a couple big meetings about, there is also a concern over the future of free content, like mine, which is funded by accumulated resources.  There are several “ideological” or political problems with search-engine-driven older content.  They are perceived as non-transparent (who paid for them) and vulnerable for feeding into algorithms for spreading divisions. Speakers (like me) are thought to be diverted from more conventional political participation (voting isn’t enough – they need people to raise money and drive people to polls), leaving it hollowed out (the solidarity argument) and vulnerable to the tribal extremes.   Speakers like me are also diverted from voluntarism or building more “reality-based” interpersonal contact, partly because we don’t like taking orders from other activists as in a legitimate non-profit. Or we may not like “real people,” with all their imperfections and flaws, enough.  This line of thinking can go into a rabbit hole really quickly.

Most of all, free content doesn’t help platforms make money, which has long been a problem with business models.  The problem could even spread to continuing to list self-published books that don't justify their public existence (and latent political influence) by actual book sales.   It influences opinion but doesn’t deliver wealth or “support families”. This gets back to Nicholas Taleb’s “skin in the game” argument.

So I can see a scenario even after an emergency was over, where platforms would not allow political content unless it was self-supporting. That could apply the the platform that supports this post. 
The last part of the essay talks about the possibility that individuals could be cut off from financial resources or detained, for certain offenses, like providing any help at all to an undocumented person.  This could be catastrophic for many faith-based communities sheltering them, and certainly brings up the sanctuary city argument. In the LGBTQ community there is a lot of attention to asylum seekers here, who are generally here legally (if they have made their application on time, before overstaying).  But a declaration of an emergency could make it much more dangerous for volunteers to help them or especially personally host them.

Update: January 13, 2019

Fareed Zakaria covered this on GPS today with the Atlantic writer and one law professor. The general impression is that Trump's authority to reallocate monies for the Wall as less clear legally than some of the other powers, such as severely restricting the Internet.  The biggest danger is that Trump finds another, more credible emergency to attach this border problem to, and I can certainly think of some of these myself.  This is "Milo"-dangerous stuff indeed, and Congress needs more control of the president than it has. And the GOP Senate needs to step up and become adults in the room, really fast.

Cato Institute published a discussion by Gene Healey of the Atlantic article.  I didn't pick up her speculation on preparation for war with Iran as the pretext.  North Korea is much more dangerous (and we barely missed war late last winter, probably).  A competent authoritarian might have turned off a lot of the Internet by now, as Cato notes.  You listen to vlog videos by "Economic Invincibility" and you realize he could get a Wall built if he were in office with very little trouble.