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. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

"Bookbub" likes to proclaim the world's reading lists for everyone; tips on how authors get on it

A site called Bookbub has set itself up as the arbiter of what ought to be on everyone’s lifetime reading (bucket) list.  It’s called “49 Books that Everyone Should Read in their Lifetime”.  (OK, “they” is a singular pronoun.)  That is, 7 times 7. 

The list blurs as you browse, and the site forces you to join a free email list.

There seem to be 26 fiction books and 23 nonfiction. Some of the fiction have been movies.  To Kill a Mockingbird”, “1984”, “The Book Thief”, “Catch-22”, “Pride and Prejudice” and many others have been movies.

The one concept here that seems pretty important is that some books do outlive the historical circumstances under which they are written.  That’s pretty hard with most modern spy or action novels.

No, my “Do Ask Do Tell” isn’t on the list.  Neither is Nicholas Taleb’s “Skin in the Game” (or any predecessors). “Into the Wild” and “On the Road” were both interesting road-trip movies (the first of these becomes tragic). I do remember the film version of “Angela’s Ashes”.

The existence of a list like this gives POD publishers ammunition to try to prod authors into trying harder to sell their own older books.

Writer Garrett Robinson explains (YouTube video above) how to promote your book on Bookbub and says boxed sets help. Should I make a boxed set of my three DADT books?

I checked Garrett on Amazon and he seems big on fantasy.  He appears to have several series.  I’ve heard of Nightblade.  I don’t know if these have led to any films.

I tend to perceive fantasy as a boiler plate genre.  But I’ve seen coworkers devour fantasy during lunch or when on-call the way you could consume Stephen King (especially “Misery” – you know, she chops off his feet.)  I know of some sci-fi and spy projects comparable to mine which get into very esoteric stuff that would be hard to mass produce in a series.  But remember, if you escape from Earth and find another planet with a civilization, you can come up with sequels. Ridley Scott will consider it.  Sci-fi and fantasy really are different “genres”, however, with very different creative problems.