Monday, July 13, 2020

Toby Ord warns us about our civilization's "making it" in "The Precipice"

As a globalist who doesn’t feel allegiance to any particular minority, I do think more about existential threats to “our way of life” and the meaning of my own (schizoid) “independence”.  I think the power grid (or the pandemic) is a more important issue than bathroom bills – although the pandemic and anti-racism do come together.

(Interview video above is at the Future of Humanity Institute.)

Fahreed Zakaria has recommended Toby Ord’s “The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity”, published in May 2020, 480 pages, from Hachette.

The book apparently starts with the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico in 1945 for the Manhattan Project. People didn’t know if it could start a chain reaction to destroy the world (like a strangelet).

Stepan Jerabek provides a nice overview in Science Magazine.

There is a tendency when you look at your own life to realize that if you avoid death by one means (your own health) you face more risk of an end brought on by the actions of potential enemies.  The perception of the greatest risk changes. 

Ord apparently does fear a deliberately introduced pandemic based on political motives, one that is like Covid (asymptomatic people spread it) but much more inevitably deadly, like a casually contagious form of AIDS.  He also fears runaway artificial intelligence.  A virus, after all, is in a sense, a kind of chemical intelligence, evolving ways to reproduce itself merely through quantum opportunity which we seem to have underestimated.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Izabella Hickle's Summary of Robin DiAngelo's 'White Fragility'

It isn’t real common that a controversial book gets summarized by another writer.  Jordan Peterson summarized his own “12 rules”.  No one has done me that honor with my three “do ask do tell” books.

Izabella Hickle apparently has written these for a few controversial books.  I’ll briefly go over her “Summary: White Fragility: Why It’s do Hard for White People to Talk About Race”, 62 pages, ISBN 9798661267184, 12 chapters, paper.

First, as to the writing.  Sometimes it is hard to tell if she is restating what the white person feels (as an assertion, in subjunctive mood, which is much easier to do in most foreign languages than in English), or stating Diangelo’s prescriptions. 

The sin of the white person is not their own decisions or actions in the normal sense of individualized personal responsibility;  it is the historical fact that they have unfairly benefited from systemic racism hardwired into the economic and social system and must now take responsibility to pay something back for this ancestral wrong. Many examples include segregated schools, redlining real estate, and especially police profiling, which seems to result from a mental reinforcement of past ideas.

In Chapter 2 she does provide some interesting detail about physical attractiveness, mentioning skin color, (scalp) hair texture, and eye shape.  It is not clear from what is given whether she (or Robin) thinks it is “wrong” to refuse to date out of your race (if you are white). One artifact on skin color;  Caucasian skin is generally not as thick.  The only reason for the difference in skin color is adaptation to distance from the equator.  People who live with a lot of sunlight need the pigment to protect them from too much ultraviolet light;  people with less sunlight need to make Vitamin D.   The hair comment is interesting.  Only whites normally (although not always consistently) have significant differences in body hair between men and women, as a secondary sexual characteristic. Hickle doesn’t mention that.  I’ll find out if Robin did when I read her book on Kindle (I couldn’t get hers in print, which is easier to follow;  I did get Hickle’s in hardcopy.)

My main issue so far is proximity. I do live and work alone and I don’t really have social situations where these issues come up. 

I will review DiAngelo's full book (Kindle) on my featured Wordpress blog as soon as I finish it (next week) 

There is one more book I don’t think has been mentioned here, Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist”, 320 pages, One World Press, 2019.  

There is also “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism”, here, by Layla F. Saad, 258 pages, Sourcebooks, 2020, and this looks more like a personal instruction manual when looked at on Amazon (mentioned in video).  It reminds me of the Perry-Ellis "Do Ask Do Tell" workbooks on gay rights from the mid 1990s. 

Friday, July 10, 2020

"What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane" (Atlantic, 2019)

Good Night Malaysian, Three-Seven-Zero”, from the July 2019 print edition of The Atlantic, long story by William Langewiesche, Internet title “What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane”,  with the byline, “Five years ago the flight vanished into the Indian Ocean.  Officials on land know more about why than they dare to say.”

“The Event” with Malaysian 370 started on March 8, 2014, the good old days for me.

The gist of the article is that they found an artifact near Reunion Island (belonging to France), so many of the conspiracy theories involving Russia and the Ukraine disappear.

The airlines may have depressurized suddenly, resulting in quick loss of consciousness and death before the plane ran out of fuel and flew into the sea, maybe a hijacking.

For the passengers, no funerals, no remains to bury.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Should books by "problematic" authors be read and reviewed?

“Reading Books by Problematic Authors”, by the Artisan Geek.

Well, she really means to include “reviewing books” too.

As for authors with (today) unacceptable views, she thinks makes a material difference whether the author is still alive or is deceased, even long deceased.  She seems to give some heed to cancel culture, which almost any sin can trigger.  She mentions HO Lovecraft (horror) as an example, with his apparent racism.

If the author is still with us, then there is a question of their social creditworthiness, "the privilege of being listened to." 

She also considers whether the author committed an major crimes, or whether the behavior was criminal during their lifetime.  She mentions Lewis Carroll and notes that interest in underage girls was more acceptable (ironically) in Victorian England than it is today.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Coronavirus lockdowns slow down the traditional book publishing business, because they need in-person encounters all the time

Here’s a strategically important piece by Elizabeth A. Harris in the New York Times, “Books are a great fit for a quarantine; the Book business, not so much”, June 25.

This article seems to carry on a discussion here May 12 about how literary agents really work.

There’s a lot of business socializing among agents (who “intern”), and editors, and sometimes authors.  A lot of that has moved to Zoom, which is a little awkward.

What seems more relevant is that authors would not be able to set up booksignings at bookstores, especially independent bookstores, which were back on the rise until Covid hit them so suddenly in March.  Combine that with, say, the opportunities of Booktube.  I don’t yet know how this can come back.

The article links to another Times article about an online Book Expo event.

Monday, June 29, 2020

“This Is Nathan Wolfe: We Should Have Listened to Him”, about pandemic reinsurance (in Wired)

Evan Ratliff writes in Wired, This Is Nathan Wolfe: WeShould Have Listened to Him”.  Had he earned my “privilege of being listened to?”

We Can Protect the Economy from Pandemics.  Why Didn’t We?” “A virologist helped crack an impossible problem. How to insure against economic fallout from devastating viral outbreaks. The plan was ingenious.  Yet we’re still in the mess.”

It’s July/Aug 2020, p. 40.  The concept is massive reinsurance for pandemics.  He had designed a product.  Nobody bought

The article gives the history of Metabiota, the disease surveillance company he bought in 2013, as a disease surveillance company.  That sounds a bit like Avi Schiffmann’s tracking databases for coronavirus today.  

In 2001, ReliaStar, the subsidiary of ING where I worked in Minneapolis, had reinsured many companies in the World Trade Center in NYC, which was sometimes cites as one reason for the layoff I finally exited in.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

"How the Virus Won": Picture booklet by the NYTimes (with lots of animated drawings)

Derek Watkins, Josh Holder, James Glanz, Weiyi Cai, and Jeremy White explain “How the Virus Won” in a New York Times booklet today.  

The article maintains “invisible outbreaks sprung up everywhere.”  Many of them died out.

It also traces the West Coast v. East Coast strains, and there are some indications that the East Coast version has an extra spike protein (D614G mutation) that makes it more transmissible.

Some of the outbreaks were attributed to specific spring break activities, like Mardi Gras. 

People in the US don’t seem to accept the self-sacrifice for the group that authoritarian societies like China demand.

Update:  June 28

The New York Times followed up Sunday with a News Analysis by Sabrina Tavernise, Frances Robles, and Louis Keene: "After Asking Americans to Sacrifice in Lockdowns, Leaders Failed to Control Virus." 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"The Coming Bank Collapse" in The Atlantic

Frank Partnoy examines “The Looming Bank Collapse” in The Atlantic.  The tagline is “The U.S. financial system could be on the cusp of a calamity. This time, we might not be able to save it.”

This time the poison is “collateralized loan obligations” or CLO’s and they don’t contain mortgages or default swaps.  But they can be badly undermined by the collapse of so many “non essential” businesses as it is so difficult for any enterprise dependent on people coming together for large events or for rapid travel.

The latter part of the article goes into worst case scenarios, with some virus-like diagrams showing that most CLO’s have failed, undermining the values of (apparently) most bond funds (even those invested mainly in Triple-A’s).

Tyler Mowery, a screenwriting guru (April 3, 2020), also advocates bitcoin and digital currency as ultimately more stable given the upcoming crisis, and cites this thread by Public Citizen

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Vox reviews the idea of a bottom-up power grid (but then wants to integrate it all into a national system anyway)

Vox has republished a November 2018 article by David Roberts, “Clean energy technologies threaten to overwhelm the grid: Here’s how it can adapt.”  There are animated graphics by Javier Zarracina.  

It does not appear I had covered this article before.

It has also updated the article with an addendum, "A national US power grid would make electricity cheaper and cleaner". The article works backwards in five parts. 

The original article was motivated in part by the wildfire catastrophes in California.

It also discusses the legal authorities, which overlap between state and federal, and the ownership structures of utilities, which in turn are bunched into three top-down structures: the Eastern, Western, and Texas grids, which the newer article proposes integrating. 

But the capacity to generate power locally (with DER’s, or distributed energy resources, or “microgrids”) changes the games, and, however flexible it needs to be, fits in to what is necessary for climate change.

The article does not discuss power grid security, from cyberthreats to air gaps, or from physical attack or even international (North Korea). But it makes sense the decentralization could make recovery of power more feasible after a catastrophe.  Taylor Wilson has proposed decentralization with small underground fission reactors. 

(Picture: solar power farm N of Altoona PA, 2019)

Friday, June 19, 2020

Foreign Affairs looks at "The World After the Pandemic"

The July/August 2020 issue of Foreign Affairs offers four major essays on “The World After the Pandemic”  (subscription paywall).

Michael T. Osterholm (University of Minnesota)  and Mark Olshaker write “Chronicle from the COVID-19 Failure – Before the Next Outbreak Arrives”, p. 10.  This article reminds us that we need to take the novel influenzas incubating in Asia (H5 and H7 strains of “bird flu”) and have vaccines ready should they become more transmissible among humans.  They argue that a universal flu vaccine is an urgent national security need.  That may be true of coronaviruses.  There is some evidence that cellular immune resources do remember “similar” viruses that you don’t have antibodies on the shelf for.

Francis Fukuyama writes “It Tales a State”, (p. 26, which is a little more testing than Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village” (I never did a book preview on that, or did I?)

Danielle Allen writes, “A More Resilient Union: How Federalism Can Protect Democracy from Pandemics”, p. 33    Federalism has meant states managing their own stay-at-homes, reopenings (although they are making regional agreements among governors) and rebounds of cases, it looks like now.  Federalism is a controversial idea in political theory of democracy (Vox’s Ezra Klein likes to question it, as has leftist Carlos Maza).

Stewart Patrick writes “When the System Fails: COVID-19 and the Costs of Global Dysfunctions”

How can you explain how 17-year-old Seattle high school student Avi Schiffmann realized in December that COVID that this virus in China would explode and needed to be tracked?   Did the CDC?  CIA?  Trump didn’t take it seriously, of course.

Even John Fish (20, involved for a while in a project to make ventilators cheaply in Montreal, while on his gap year from Harvard) says he didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation until February. 

The young people own this problem now.  David Hogg, where are you?  Maybe we need to lower the minimum age for the presidency below 35. 

Picture: Skyway in Minneapolis (mine, Sept. 2019). 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

"The Problem with Booktube" (and "Black Lives Matter")

“The Artisan Geek” (an author, black and female) explains “The Problem with Booktube”.

She says, “Staying silent means you do not care about a particular part of this community”.

Yet earlier Booktube had done an interview of Bryan Stevenson.

At about 4 minutes she describes a personal incident that I would have a hard time following. 

"Subscribers and followers give you power."  Yup. Note her list of diverse reviewers. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Many children's books deal with racism, even anti-racism

Smithsonian Magazine has an article recommending ten children’s books teaching them about racism and anti-racism.  

I don’t know how much into the science it goes (distance from the equator, ultraviolet and vitamin D).

There is a recommendation for anti-racism, by Tiffany Jewell, “This Book Is Anti-Racist.”  That would seem to install a since of duty to take action deliberately.

And there are books on protesting, like Julie Merberg, “My First Book of Protest”.

The books are recommended by the new African-American History Museum on the Mall.

The Washington Post has a similar article by Martha Conover. 

The video discusses a book “Anti-racist Baby”.  There are real questions as to whether babies are “color blind”.

Friday, June 12, 2020

"A Guide to Allyship" (for Black Lives Matter): it is indeed very confrontational and "collectivist"

A Guide to Allyship: A Guide to ‘Black Lives Matter’ and Why ‘All Cops Are Bastards’”: What Happened on May 25th? -- was suggested to me on Facebook. 

This is a Google Doc that is essentially a booklet. It has been posted by Nicel Mohammed-Hinds on Facebook, but I am not sure if she is the author.

But the page-booklet certainly grabs your attention. It does give justification for the idea that some protesting needs to be violent, and that people who have losses imposed on them need to realize they are learning what it is like to lose privilege and be like everybody else.  Yes, it sounds Maoist.

I don’t encourage anyone to follow this, but you should know about it and understand where it is coming from.

Breonna Taylor's murder in Kentucky in March sounds every bit as outrageous (maybe even more) but did not get as much attention at the time.  Protests then might have stopped the lockdowns. 

R.H. Lussin writes in The Nation (paywall), “In Defense of Destroying Property: We Cannot Conflate the Destruction of Plateglass with the Violence that Is Being Protested”.

Andrew Sullivan writes in NY Magazine: The Intelligencer, “Is There Still Room for Debate?” and talks about the need for “moral clarity.” To be woke is to recognize that everything is “oppression or resistance”.  At an individual level it is not.  But you have to have your own agency outside of a group or mob. (My William and Mary expulsion in 1961 is a good case in point.)  “White Silence = Violence.”  But so was my skipping out on a hazing ceremony.)  Sullivan also talks about Trump’s Plummet.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Trade publishers called out on not paying black authors (advances) equitably with white authors

Concepion de Leon and Elizabeth A. Harris warn authors seeking trade publishers that major houses don’t seem to treat black and non-black authors equally (as far as advances and royalties go). The article title is telling “#PublishingPaidMe and a day of action reveal an industry reckoning; A viral hashtag invited black and nonblack authors to compare their pay; publishers pledged to improve their diversity efforts.”

Authors have been discussing this problem on Twitter with the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag

The article notes activism by Farrar, Straus and Giroux working on books specifically by black authors (with donation of pay).

The video above by Judayah Murray maintains “Black books don’t sell’ so black authors self-publish”.

I can imagine the debates to come about inclusion of black characters in fiction novels and screenplays with “mainstream” or even other focus like LGBTQ.  My own work is based on my own experiences and perceptions over decades.  Yes, I do have some diverse minority characters (in high places, like in the CIA), but I don’t present an intimate relationship that I would not have wanted, for example.

There is a question of reading and literacy in some communities that would otherwise be customers of book publishers.  Covid19 has badly damaged efforts to make independent bookstores  (or channels like Boomtube) more active in this area.

 I wanted to note also that I personally don't feel I have a racial or ethnic group identity at all. The alt-right wants to claim one (Charlottesville), but now a writer like Diangelo seems to insist that I have one and don't get to choose not to have one, to accept my share of responsibility for group privilege (?)  But I've also gotten that complaint from the right, like why don't I promote Israeli sovereignty for Bethlehem if I am a Christian?  That seems to be a problem with "spectator" journalists.  If I drive down to Richmond to take a picture of the fallen (Confederate) Lee statute and use it (under my own copyright) in my own neutral "news" blog, then why am I too smug to raise money for their fight or join their protest?  

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Pueyo offers a new paper, examining the "herd immunity" approach to coronavirus, rather than his "Hammer and Dance"

Tomas Pueyo has offered another detailed mathematical article updating his “Hammer and Dance” strategy for controlling coronavirus. That is, “Coronavirus: Should We Aim for Herd Immunity like Sweden?

Pueyo argues that the United States (partly because of its federalism and the political difficulty of doing uniform policies, even from an authoritarian like Trump) is effectively following a “herd immunity” approach as many states, particularly away from the coasts, are re-opening their economies without convincing evidence that they have put the pandemic under control.

He offers a very interesting chart at the end, color-coded, showing the progress of each state in number of (confirmed) cases per day. New York and New Jersey have improved recently because they did take stricter measures than did, say, southern states.

Pueyo does not believe that the U.S. should or will return to lockdowns with future waves, but believes states should ban out-of-state visits by quarantine threats from hot areas.

He offers some sobering discussion of case fatality rate and infection fatality rate.

Personally, I believe that there are more people getting “trivial infections” (including those who lose smell for one or two days and then regain it) where their immune systems do catch it in time, than is being reported. These are not asymptomatic (which also happens) but fortunately short-term symptomatic, which usually doesn’t get medical attention and doesn’t get tested (in the U.S.)  Some of this perspective is based on my own conversations with people in Zoom sessions.  I think more attention is needed to T-cell health (the virus can enter T-cells but cannot reproduce inside them, compared to HIV).

I also believe that in general countries have not paid attention to the tremendous economic losses or personalized conscriptive sacrifices incurred to citizens caught in "quarantine traps" against their will (when they are not even sick); there is not nearly enough attention to compensating them.  It is true that in the US, the various state "stay and home" or even "shelter in place" (a leading term) orders were not as draconian in practice as in other countries, and neither is the contact tracing. Were I in some of the other countries, I probably would have lost my Internet work, which I might not have been able to maintain or been allowed to stay up (and there are indications tech companies in the US are having more trouble keeping up than they have been letting on -- starting with Cox). 

Pueyo, born in France, has engineering degrees from Stanford and is “young” (age 38).  I would wonder if he has met  or communicated with Jack Andraka (now a graduate student at Stanford working on the wastewater issue, not sure of his future plans yet judging from social media), Avi Schiffmann (who has developed and maintained one of the world’s largest coronavirus statistics databases, as a teenager, and also maintains a list of activist and charitable groups), and, for example, John Fish (previous post). I don’t find a Wikipedia article for Pueyo, which surprises me.

Picture: Demonstrations in Washington DC, my photo (June 3).

Update: June 22

Notice his other papers, esp. the one April 1 about the U.S., where he compares the coronavirus to an invading enemy of secret agents. 

Saturday, June 06, 2020

"Black Lives Matter": John Fish reviews a number of important books on the topic (that is, on hidden racism) and gives his own personal perspective

John Fish presented a video today (“Black Lives Matter”) where he described some books on the subject.  He also highlighted one user comment, to the effect that the phrase reestablishes the humanity of black people after it had been systemically stripped away, by long-established and ancestral structural racism.

I wanted to mention a couple of those books here (even if I haven’t read them yet, and a lot of my reading recently has been on free speech issues and more traditional liberty interests).

Robin Diangelo’s book is “White Fragility: Why It Is so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism”, 2018, 192 pages, Beacon, so it is fairly short (which may make it easy for me to read soon, once I finish a book on Section 230!)  There is a foreword by Michael Eric Dyson.

Chapter 1 starts with a section “We don’t see ourselves in racial terms.”  Correct.  I am a white gay male. I don’t see my race as part of an identity, because it was never socially constructed for me.  I am supposed to see my sexual orientation as a source of identity, and that is more complicated. As belonging to a group of people or new tribe that I owe loyalty to, no, I don’t see it that way.  As for a set of values and attitudes toward people that I grew up with, yes, these ideas did shape my adult identity, as my adult life went through various episodes over many decades with one episode linking to the next (and a “new normal”) after some kind of unusual moral irony that later makes sense.  Even this period of Covid (I have not been ill but was probably exposed at one point – and should be tested) fits into this sequence of ironies.  And ability to resist this disease seems genetic and biological (as well as circumstantial – avoiding doing certain service jobs, living in crowded housing) – and will take us back to the same moral quandary.

I really don’t think I see others in racial terms either, except in the special compartment of contemplating, entirely in mind, the idea of an intimate partner. But not in terms of otherwise productive social interaction. I mainly care about whether someone can communicate fluently in the same language (regardless of what they look like, and that would be true of gender, even fluidity, too).  Yet, I must say, with people who grew up in inner cities (or for that matter, rural people who may be on the other side of political extremism) I have no proximity (an idea Bryan Stevenson has talked about) and no communication with.  But this has no connection to “group identity” in my mind.  The idea of tribe is not of much use to me personally. I have to admit, I think I have cognitive empathy, but relatively little emotional empathy with a lot of people. 

I looked quickly at the later chapters on Amazon. Yup, the “repair”.  I can say that in the workplace, back in the 1990s, a couple of “black” employees did share with me their concern about hidden discrimination (and mentioned the police issue) and said I could “pass” without attracting attention and they could not. That sounded odd.  One of the men said he thought I lived with my mother (because I was not married). I was shocked at his assumption (I had my own apartment, paid my own rent – but mom, widowed, was still in the nearby Drogheda house. But ten years later, in mom’s last years and after my own retirement, I would be living with her, so his assumption about me, in a time travel sense, wasn’t completely wrong after all. )

Then there would be litigation in the company, from a black person who was fired. I actually gave a deposition. It was dismissed.  But it was apparent (even to the lawyers) that different employees had very different ideas about personal responsibility, family loyalty, and even racial identity which, for white people, was like empty space in the universe. Another idea comes to mind, that a decade before (in Dallas) I had worked for companies that wanted to move further north into the wealthier suburbs with "better" school districts, reinforcing the idea of redlining and de facto segregation (structural racism indeed). 

Another book (besides Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”, which I have already discussed in my blogs) will be Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, 2020, the New Press, 352 pages.  An obvious point is going to be, this war on drugs, with libertarians want to end, and which seems so set up to entrap black people, given the way the world still works 150 years after the end of slavery.  Stevenson’s book and movie did examine the self-prepared conclusions about guilt, and lack of presumption of innocence in practice.

Another friend of mine, filmmaker Ford Fischer, will read John Hendrix’s “John Brown: His Fight for Freedom”, from Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2009, 40 pages about Harpers Ferry, to a grade school class (online) soon.  This brings up a curious event that happened when I visited there on my birthday in 2013, and again last December (after a train wreck there, picture above) but I won’t go into that here.

I have to say, I don't "do things" with the idea of solving a problem just for people belonging to a group;  I don't follow intersectionality in my own thinking, and I don't really see people as defined by group identity in a way that is psychologically meaningful.  So there is no way I can, in good faith, set out to practice or publicly promote "anti-racism", as some kind of quid pro quo for my other speech.  I need to warn people about that, the way this issue is playing out.  Is there such a thing as being "non tribal"?  Is that like being an inert element on the Periodic Chart, or a metal that is relatively non-reactive? Is that like living "orthogonal" to other people rather than in their same plane? 

There are related posts here Jan 1, 2020 and Feb 7, 2020 (about Booktube).  Some films (besides "Just Mercy") I have reviewed (on Wordpress blogs) that relate to this include "D.C. Noir", "Always in Season" (about Leon Lacey), "Waves", and especially "Queen and Slim" where a police profiling incident in Cleveland leads to catastrophe. If there was ever a time to finish the late Gode Davis's film "American Lynching" (which I have some connection to and which I think PBS more or less controls now), it is now.  Yes, I would help with that. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

"Silas Marner": That little novel from high school English class -- and a fable about accidental parenting

Silas and Eppie

 In 10th grade English, starting in the fall of 1958 at Washington-Lee (now Washington-Liberty) high school in Arlington VA, we first read “Julius Ceasar” (Shakespeare) and then took on “the novel”, that is “Silas Marne: The Weaver of Raveloe” (1861) by George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans).

The plot in this relatively short novel is rather intricate and deals with the misfortunes of a relatively modest man Silas, who is framed for crimes and loses his savings.  In the middle of the novel, he rescues a small girl (Eppie) from another tragedy and raises her.  Becoming a parent while otherwise childless himself (and not have ever had the chance to have his “masculinity” validated in more usual ways) becomes an existential challenge which he accepts.

I can remember quizzes and I think we had two tests on the novel (just like we did for the Shakespeare).  Later we would move on to reading short stories.

I do remember that many of the quiz questions involved Eppie and the lost cache of gold, and some of the other familial relations in the novel.  I think that on the final exam there was an essay question concerning stepping up into parenthood.  (The teacher was a young male and former football player but quite articulate.)  Given the course of my life since then, it sounds a but ironic.

The novel does lend itself to audiobooks.  See also Dec. 6, 2012 posts. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

"Everything You Need to Know About Section 230", booklet from The Verge; Kossef's "The 26 Words that Created the Internet"

Casey Newton has an online booklet on “The Verge” (a Vox Subsidiary) called “Upload: Everything You Need to Know About Section 230:The Most Important Law for Online Speech”.

A good place to start is with the text of the statute, 47 US Code, Section 230, from the Cornell Law School Site.  This is a provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, or Communications Decency Act.,   It was crafted by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep Brian Cox (R-CA). There was a case. Stratton-Oakmont v. Prodigy, where Prodigy was held liable for anonymous defamatory content in the 1990s, because Prodigy had moderated the content, creating a “moderator’s paradox”.  That case had referred to a more blanket downstream liability concept in Cubby v. CompuServe (1991). 

The most critical provisions are Section C.

“(c)Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material

(1)Treatment of publisher or speaker

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

(2)Civil liabilityNo provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—


any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or


any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph (1).”

 Note that the wording specifically refers to “good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material”, and then the statement that the provider or user of an interactive computer service is not treated as the publisher of material by another speaker, but the second section anticipates that the usual remedy is removal or blocking of offensive content.  The wording does not imply that the operator of a platform cannot have its own overriding partisan political bias.  

Again, the centering of the language around moderation of content comes from the Prodigy case. Bloggers generally are not responsible for comments posted by others (although I use filters for spam comments and have a few times removed offensive comments aimed at others, where Section 230 protects me directly.)

Note also the changes to the law made in 2018 to carve out “exceptions” for “should have known” provisions regarding sex trafficking (FOSTA).  This change has not been very effective in the result it wanted, and may have led even more to targeting of minority women or even trans persons.  But some sites have taken down “hookup” ads or discussion boards out of caution.

Note also that the Verge maintains that European and British commonwealth countries have similar liability laws. 

Section 230 needs to be appreciated in conjunction with the DMCA Safe Harbor law, which applies a comparable liability shield to platforms with respect to copyright infringement (as set apart from most of the other common torts, like defamation).

Together, these two provisions make user generated content on the Internet (most obviously on social media, but also with conventional hosting) possible.  There has been a lot of controversy lately over the Safe Harbor given a recent paper by the Copyright Office, but that is legally a separate discussion not covered by Donald Trump’s Executive Order signed May 29.

Donald Trump’s XO aims to discourage political bias against conservatives in the way platforms apply “good Samaritan” clauses under 230.  There is legal controversy over how the law, as written, would apply and his order will certainly be challenged in court.

It should be noted that Joe Biden has said he wants to eliminate Section 230 completely, and both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren expressed concerns that user generated content permitted by the platforms amounted to hate speech (as generally outlawed in the EU) that could radicalize less intact people, particularly on the “alt right” or in the white supremacy area.

Great Seal of the United States (obverse)

In Europe we see a similar sentiment, plus the fact that in the Copyright area, there is a general impression that user generated content intended for global distribution should not be presumed as a natural right, but that people should earn some social credibility (personal “social credit”) before they have the right to be heard by the entire world. That is closer to the formal situation today in China.

There is a new book "The 26 Words that Created the Internet" by Jeff Kosseff, from Cornell University Press, 328 pages.  Kosseff appeared on Smerconish on CNN on May 30 and suggested that without 230 there are 3 alternatives (1) Platforms vet speakers just the way publishers do (although there would be more speakers, or (2) No moderation at all, or (3) A takedown system like DMCA Safe Harbor for copyright.  I ordered the book and will review it on Wordpress. 

(Great Seal of the U.S., click for wikipedia attribution, in article on 1996 Telecommunications Act, p.d.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"The Haunting of Girlstown" by Daniel Hernandez (in both Vox and New York Mag)


Both Vox and New York Magazine have published the booklet-length article “The Haunting of Girlstown”, by Daniel Hernandez .

A long narrative about an outbreak in a Catholic girls school in Chalco, Mexico. The “heroine” is Jovita, growing up in Tuxtepec.  (Somehow that reminds me of a character’s name “Tovina” in my own screenplay).

She winds up at the school, where the discipline is incredibly strict.  Some importation of the occult happens, and controversy erupts, and girls are expelled.  But a lot of them become ill with paralysis, which is thought to be a psychiatric disorder.

The incident happened in 2007. Some of the women became immigrants, many of them illegal, feeding today’s issues. 

The idea that a major “outbreak” could be related to the occult sounds interesting, perhaps distracting, in these times with a real pandemic.

The article reminds me of a short film "Saria" about a fire at a girls' school in Guatemala (review). 

Map is embedded from Wikipedia;  click for CCSA attributions. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

"EFF's Guide to Digital Rights During the Pandemic" (Cindy Cohn), downloadable e-book

Electronic Frontier Foundation offers an e-book, “EFF’sGuide to Digital Rights During the Pandemic”, edited by Cindy Cohn.

The book (130 pages) may be downloaded free as a PDF, or into mobile or Kindle apps.

A donation is requested.  I did $65 and will get a T-shirt, too.

The book comprises five sections:  Surveillance, Free Speech, Government Transparency, Innovation, and Living More Online.

 The Surveillance section explains the difference between convention cell phone location tracing, and Bluetooth Low Energy Proximity Tracing, which is thought to be more reliable and is in development by Google and Apple.

It also discusses the risks of aggregate location data.

One problem is that people are not told in advance of the exact consequences of being identified in a contact tracing event, and as to what restrictions will be placed on them and what considerations (if any) are offered for their involuntary economic or job loss.

There are other ideas on the table for more compulsory monitoring, such as facial recognition (as China uses it) to amplify contact tracing, and even mandatory devices like wrist oximeters.  The sci-fi author in me wonders about Holter monitors as next (just kidding).

I would also add that in many cases manual contract tracers being added are working with their own home computers and connections, which sounds like a big security exposure.

The Free Speech section hammers, especially, the attempt by platforms, especially YouTube and Facebook, to stop “misinformation” out of fear that the platforms will cause people not to comply with stay-at-home orders.  Youtube, for example, has threatened to take down content that contradicts the World Health Organization which, as we found out, was wrong on many details and some newer independent channels (like Peak Prosperity) were actually more accurate.   Independent news sources tend to keep “the establishment” in check and perform important review and watchdog functions (as we found in early 2019 from the Covington Kids incident.)

The government surveillance section is more self-explanatory. I would add that many people have trouble grasping the abstract moral reasoning of why they should wear masks and stay home if they feel well, especially when guidance (especially on masks) was changed so abruptly right around the first of April.

On Innovation, the book advocates open access (looking back to Aaron Schwartz and some of the Ted Talks of Jack Andraka).  But also notes there are patent and trademark issues in the medical innovation community, with therapeutics and tests. Already law firms are writing papers (like in National Law Review, Trademark Blog, April 9, 2020) about this problem.

The “Living More Online” section discusses the lack of efficient broadband in poor or rural communities necessary for learning online.  It’s also important to consider whether the doing of everything online will strain networks and whether tech itself can keep up in a work from home environment.  The booklet mentions Telehealth possibilities “outside of HIPAA”.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Time supermarket booklet: "The Science of Epidemics" (as of March 2020)

About a month ago I picked up the special Time edition 96 page booklet, “The Science of Epidemics”, 96 pages. It did not give as many credits as other Time supermarket books. Bryan Walsh seems to have edited it.

The secondary titles are “What we have learned: Fighting the World’s most challenging outbreaks” with a special yellow tag, “Coronavirus: The facts and truth about Covid-19”.

The booklet has 17 short chapters.

The eighth chapter, “The 9 deadliest viruses” starts with Smallpox, influenza and HIV; it does not include any SARS virus or Ebola/Marburg.

However it discusses Ebola (the outbreak in 2014) separately. Oddly, graduate students sent as Truman scholars to Sierra Leone the past summers did not get the new Ebola vaccine (they should have), and it is endemic again in the Congos.

It mentions dengue, as a mosquito born virus in the tropics, one with unusual problems in vaccination because of ADE, antibody-dependent enhancement reinfection or reactivation.

The last chapter discusses Zika, which produced birth defects, and could have produced a moral paradigm reminiscent of HIV. It didn’t.

I wasn’t aware that in 1916, babies with polio were taken away from families and isolated.

The booklet explains why the 1918 H1N1 influenza was so deadly to young adults, who had missed having the antibody protection of older generations, but instead had been exposed only to H3.

The information on COVIDE-19 is current as about late March, and it is still changing.

The chapter on p 20 discusses Moderna Therapeutics in Massachusetts, which has developed an nMRA vaccine for Sars-Cov-2.  Today the media announced some success in finding neutralizing antibody in vaccine subjects, with larger doses (with side effects) resulting in more antibody.

One think that is curious:  Sars coronaviruses are single strand RNA viruses but are not retorviruses (like HIV).  Yet the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test looks for reverse transcriptase anyway.  Could this provide a clue for prophylactics?  Could something biochemically like a Truvalda drug (for HIV) work for Sars viruses? Call it “gay medicine”.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Why one literary agent quit; an illuminating look at the world of "agenting" (and this does affect authors)

IWritely explains why she quit agenting (working “for” a literary agency).

She describes the process from the viewpoint of the author seeking (trade) publication:  the query, the call, the submission.  If the book is accepted, then there are various editing steps.

Publication of a book with conventional corporate entities takes months to years, which can make the book less timely if it is setting or recent-history dependent.  If your novel has a fictitious virus (mind does), the real one might duplicate what you imagined (on, you were smart and cunning enough to think of it) before you can get the book out.

But what was really interesting his how agents work.  Typically a literary starts as an unpaid intern (reading queries) and has to have a regular job “for the privilege of becoming an agent”.  That observation will shock many authors.  Then you have to compare all that to how the self-publishing and POD world works.

It’s interesting that she says authors are expected to promote their books before publication, by networking and trading blurbs and accolades with other authors.  That may account for sudden tweets and “requests” from other authors to back them up, in social media, which may seem rude or pushy if you weren’t aware of the practice.  This practice (in social media) is also common among independent filmmakers.

She also explained how authors get paid (advances and royalties), and how agents are paid on commission. Authors’ Guild allows membership only to authors who get advances to earn a living (or at least it used to). I had my own experience with a literary agency in NYC (Mark Sullivan) around 1996 when he read my first draft of my first "Do Ask Do Tell" book (1997, self-published).

 I also had submitted a novel in 1988 to Scott Meredith and certainly got an interesting response and analysis. Some agents will give you criticism (reading fee) if you submit some chapters of a novel;  this is more likely with science fiction, spy thrillers and the like. Today, those sorts of novels can become dangerously prescient. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Children's authors responding to demand for books that prepare children for sudden behavioral changes needed to avoid novel coronavirus

Children’s books authors have indeed responded to the dilemmas posed suddenly by Covid-19.

The IASC (Interagency Standing Committee)  of W.H.O. hired a collaborative team to write “MyHero Is You: How Kids Can Fight Covid-19”.  You can download the booklet free.  There is a little more text than I recall seeing from the earliest grade school readers.

Of course, the writers are trying to manipulate kids into accepting sudden paradigm changes for behavior that seem bizarre even to adults.  There is even the idea in some literature that heroes wear masks.

There is Elizabeth Verdick’s 2014 booklet ‘Germs Are Not for Sharing” (preview).

Of course, the bigger concept is that in nature, many more germs are beneficial and necessary (like in your intestinal tract) than harmful, and the beneficial bacterial compete with the dangerous ones. That is one more reason why the concept will seem so arbitrary and dictated by authority.

 And then there is a "Germ Book" (video). 

Pictures: from a boyhood train set, maybe around 1953.  I just found this in the estate stuff so I used it.  

Monday, May 04, 2020

Written in public health isolation: "5 Reasons I Love Being a Literary Agent"

I thought I would show a video from a literary agent made during the coronavirus lockdown.
Here, Jessica Faust from BookEnds gives “5 Reasons I Love Being a Literary Agent”.
The website says she comes from Minnesota and lives and works in New Jersey now, presumably in the northern suburbs.
She compares the work of being an agent to working for a publisher, where you get to work with only one genre (like maybe romance, if fiction, or health, if non-fiction).  She can work on any genre she wants.
I will have to give some aspects of my own novel manuscript some serious consideration soon (a separate Wordpress blog post coming) as to some aspect.  First, there is a fictitious virus, which ironically does many of the same things the novel coronavirus does.  Sci-fi authors can be prescient as to what could really happen (and maybe this is dangerous?)  But I did not envision the long-lived lockdowns all over the world (I did not think about “Contagion” [Cf blog 2011/9/8] that much, and was more interested in covert, little noticed spread), and right now I have major characters flying around (even internationally) more than might sound credible.  I’ll have something to say about that soon.
Picture: Historic house (Edison?) in Caldwell NJ on Bloomfield Ave.  I lived on Espy Road in apts from 1972-1073.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal" after Covid settles down; David Rubin's meta-book

The Atlantic has a rather shocking long essay by Jack Goldsmith (Harvard Law School) and Andrew Keane Woods(University of Arizona), “InternetSpeech Will Never Go Back to Normal  In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely right and the U.S. was wrong.”

The tone of the article is a bit Marxist, heeding to the discipline of China’s social credit system and saying that tech companies are being nudged by the general climate of social justice (more centered around inequality than anything else) to implement social credit de facto.

The Coronavirus problem creates a real emergency. Tech companies can reasonably fear that well-intentioned videos or blog posts could make social distancing look like a debate, that na├»ve or illiterate people will be persuaded by a misread of a poster’s intentions, disregard legitimate medical and local government orders to stay home, and more lives will be lost.

But as the article points out there have been tremendous problems of other kinds of harm accumulating, perhaps since about 2014.  Ten years ago, the writers argue, the accumulation of systemic harms (particularly against less literate people) had not really started to accumulate exponentially.  The authors talk about Snowden’s revelations in 2013, and the Russian trolls in 2016 with the election of Trump (not to mention Cambridge Analytica).

I think the inequality makes many users cynical about what they see online, as those who criticize them don’t have skin in the game or have to pay their dues.  That’s the “privilege of being listened to” in my own third DADT book.   

Tucker Carlson, above, mentions this article, and interviews David Rubin on his "Don't Burn This Book" (July 2019, Penguin).  Amazon lists an audio book with a 5+hour listening time.  

Monday, April 27, 2020

Lawrence Wright's novel "The End of October" overplays the virus

There is a new novel “The End of October”, from Knopf, by Lawrence Wright, to be released April 28, as reviewed by Dwight Garner today in the New York Times.  

The novel describes an Ebola-like virus that wipes out 7% of the world’s population and leads to complete societal breakdown, with people defending their homesteads with guns.

The novel has a scientist, or microbiologist, as a protagonist.

There is a major episode involving the hajj in Mecca.

The question is, did the author come up with the plot before the real coronavirus became public? Probably so.  Sci-fi authors can often predict how viruses will behave ("The Stand") with chilling prescience, enough to make one wonder if an enemy could try to replicate a fictitious virus in a lab. 
It is external shocks that take people off pedestals they have never earned their rights to live on.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"" fills in as Amazon's book business apparently slows down competing with medical items; a new lift for independent sellers?

The Washington Post, in an article by Sindya N. Bhanoo, explores “The little book sellers who could; How indie stores took a slice ofAmazon’s business,” in the Sunday business section, of course.
The story concerns Bookshop, which is now shipping books and benefiting from the disruption of Amazon, which is slower to ship them because of having to ship so many COVID-related items.

I found only the first of my three books on their catalog, at list price.  I find them all on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million. (The original 1997 print run is not available, it sold out in 2000; I have a few of them at home.)

Amazon is encouraging Kindle right now because the shipping business is overwhelmed by items from the pandemic (like masks).  Also, I’m starting to notice more authors are starting to sell PDF’s themselves with a PGP third party credit card engine.

In the video (“A People’s Guide to Publishing”, from Portland OR), the commentators criticize the publishing industry for not trying hard enough in marketing.

I have thought about Booktube (in January John Fish did a big video with them).  Coronavirus has certainly gotten in the way of starting things.

Update: April 27

Publisher's Weekly has an article with some constructive criticism of Bookshop by Alex Green.

PW (Ed Nowatka) also describes a campaign by James Patterson to raise money for independent bookstores. Other sources credit Bookshop with actually helping with the fundraising.