Friday, January 31, 2020

The "woke" controversy over the novel "American Dirt"

So we now have controversy, that an author was not entitled to write about a young mother (and her kids) trying to escape a drug cartel in Mexico, because she is white?  That refers to “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins (400 pages, Flatiron Books, January 21, 2020).  It started out in “Oprah’s Book Club” and she had to postpone it (below).  Oh, and by the way, Ophah didn’t run for president.  Somehow the title reminds me of the movie “American Honey”.

Slate reviews the book itself, with contributor Leon Krauze, as not really depicting what a typical mother facing this situation in Mexico would be life.  The review itself is interesting, and the reader can judge for “theirself”.
It is bad that there would be safety concerns over “who has the right to represent a book” or wokeness in the way certain images or “motif” is thought to be “harmful” to minorities. This reminds me of the casting diversity controversy in Hollywood, because in some movies it really is important that a particular character (even in multiplicity) have a certain look.
Here's a NYTimes LTE, "Who gets to write fiction?"

The comments on this video of mine show that a least one visitor thinks I don't have the write to write about Mexico. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Ezra Klein's "Why We're Polarized", preview

I did order Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized”, Avid Reader (Simon and Schuster), 2020, hardcover, 312 pages, indexed, Introduction (roman) and ten chapters.

Ezra Klein is one of the founding partners of Vox Media.

The New York Times offers a book excerpt of how Democrats became Liberals and Republicans became conservatives, here. This leads to a review by Norman J. Ornstein.
Klein notes that the big change occurred in the 1990s with the switch between limitation of information to local newspapers and broadcast or cable channels, to choice of information on the Internet from search engines.
For a long time, individualists tended to be craftier that old-school people in looking for information (my mother, who passed in 2010, never learned to use a computer or the Internet).  There was a bigger schism between individualists and tribalists.  Once modern social media appeared, people could be driven into echo chambers.

Fareed Zakaria also discusses Klein's book (Washington Post)  here

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

"Boys and Sex", book preview and interview, author Peggy Orenstein, on Vox

Hope Reese has an important book preview on Vox (a series called “The Highlight”), of “Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity”. By Peggy Orenstein. It’s an audio book with listening time 7 hours and 20 minutes, from Harper, according to Amazon.
Let me stop there. John Fish has advertised (as a sponsor) audio books on his channel, and they do take longer to consume and some are condensed.  I think he has said this works out well at the gym, to play them with an earjack Bluetooth if your workout takes three hours or so.  Otherwise, it would contradict his idea (earlier posts) of reading large volumes of books in short time periods.  To go to a movie in a theater takes 4 hours (more if by Metro).  I can generally digest a non-fiction policy book for my blogs in about that time.

Orenstein has earlier books like “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” and “Schoolgirls.”

The article is titled “What is wrong with American boys?” and proceeds with an interview.

When I was growing up, boys and men were supposed to be fungible, willing to take their turn at sacrifice (war) collectively in order to protect their tribe’s women and children.  As a reward, they were offered a chance to compete for power.

Now, for some men, feminism is a real threat, as old-fashioned manhood is no longer needed.
Reproduction and mating is instinctual for many males.  For many others (often not first born sons) it is less so (epigenetics may factor in) and many such biologically normal men use their cerebral control to mediate the instinct to father children.  Some will find a reason for upward affiliation and sometimes homosexuality (of the usual kind, not fluidity or trans, which are totally different). She doesn’t quite get there.

Monday, January 27, 2020

John Bolton seems to get the idea of "Do Ask, Do Tell" with his unnamed manuscript under national security review, and GOP Senators suddenly have noticed

John Bolton’s upcoming book has been submitted to the National Security Council’s Records Management Division for review, where apparently Bolton suggests a Quid Pro Quo in Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine. Still, this interpretation is challenged by Tim Pool and other commentators this morning.
GOP Senators are viewed this morning as more likely to want to hear the testimony. 
Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt have details in the New York Times Monday here
The book does not seem to have a title yet and is not yet available on Amazon for pre-order.  It would be interesting if Bolton wanted to use my wordmark in the title, “Do Ask, Do Tell”.  I’d say, go ahead.

Trump says he hasn’t seen the manuscript and has heard that “he is writing a book”.  Anyone with previous access to classified information has to submit a book to review.  Theoretically, that could ahave applied to me back in 1997, maybe? 

I think John Fish (2 posts ago) picked a good time to get people interested in reading more books.  Maybe that includes Republican Senators.  Canada can influence us. 


The proposed title is "The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir" and the Trump administration is trying to squash all publication (at least gutting the classified info), even if Bolton uses my wordmark and black and white cover design look. I think Bolton could manufacture another long "blah" book.  
Update:  Jan 31
Jameel Jaffer and Ramya Krishnan write on p. A27 of the New York Times today, "We may never see Bolton's book".  The intelligence agency review (there are 17 of them) is too open-ended and doesn't have guidelines. If course, we have the NYTimes article already. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Laurie Garrett ("The Coming Plague", 1994) discusses control of the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic

Laurie Garrett has a disturbing article on CNN, “What it will take to stop the Wutan virus” , link
Her assessment of this development is more guarded than most, even as China has locked down about 35 million people in the middle of the company right in the middle of the Chinese New Year.

She also had a lot of experience covering SARS 2002-2003.

So far, as of this writing, it seems to me that fatality rate is low and that most people would recover on the own. With very few exceptions, most fatalities are in older men with other diseases, including diabetes.   You could almost see an epidemic like this as a biological purge, an exercise of survival of the fittest.  It sounds horrible, but that’s how nature works.  As a civilization, we have a responsibility for vulnerable members, but where does it end?

It sounds as though the male patient near Seattle has recovered and should be released.  Probably true in Texas.  Not sure in Chicago.  The US will evacuate about 1000 Americans from Wuhan. 

At some point, it would be mathematically impossible to stop a virus like this without shutting down all the urban centers on the planet.  What if you live in a high-rise condo or apartment building in the US and one person is diagnosed, but recovers normally without incident.  Do you have to watch everyone else?  That is what I would wonder about her article.

Laurie Garrett is author of “Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance” (1994, Penguin, formerly from Farrar, Giroux and Strauss, 768 pages), previously with a quick review here.

I recall graphic discussions of cases of Marburg and Ebola virus.  One man recovered naturally but lost all of his hair (permanently?)  Ebola is in the Congo now.  I think it was cleared from Sierra Leone by 2015.  Stanford engineering and pre-med student Jack Andraka spent two summer sessions working in Sierra Leone on a Truman scholarship and says (to me) he was not offered the new vaccine.  Garrett will say, he should have gotten it.  I agree. 

There was a quick review of Robert Preston’s “The Hot Zone” here Dec. 11, 2009.

When I was traveling in California in February 2002, I had a corona-like illness.  I had two evenings (several days apart) of high fever and extremely dry cough, and felt better in between. (Not much nasal symptoms.)  I took aspirin (which would get rid of the fever) and Mucinex, non-prescription (rather expensive), from a pharmacy. Was this SARS?  I had the flu shots as usual that fall preceding.  The cough had started very suddenly and was unusually dry.  Once it became productive, I felt much better and energy came back.  But a deep, rattly productive cough lasted about six weeks to two months.  This was unusual for me.  

Friday, January 24, 2020

"The Longest Book in the World" is no longer "The Blah Story"; John Fish's experiment on artificial self-expression

John Fish’s recent videos (from his gap year from Harvard working in tech in Montreal) seem to indicate an interest in combinations of things, combinatorial algebras, and the like.  Isn’t that what quantum theory is about?

So this leads him into a self-publishing print-on-demand exercise, with Amazon CreateSpace, to prove that any individual can “make” the “longest book in the world”. Making a book is not the same as writing it, which Fish admits and we’ll come back to that.  The video, at this point, does point out the ease of using Create Space as you want to (although it has ended providing its own editorial support – that’s another matter). 

Fish starts out by discussing Steven Pinker and Noam Chomsky – linguistic theories (not Chomsky’s super Leftist politics) as to how word combinations give humans the ability to express ideas with mathematical combinations. Compare this to animals – dogs and cats can make a limited repertoire of words or syllables.  (Cetaceans – whales and dolphins, especially orcas, would stimulate a good discussion – why haven’t we deciphered their languages?)

He moves on to "The Blah Story" by Nigel Tomm as the longest on record, until he (John) created one with 12 million words, by writing a program (in Python) to generate grammatically correct sentences from "parts of speech" from finite lists of vocabulary words (for each speech part). OK, if the paragraphs so generated were blog posts, AI would probably consider them "spam".   In foreign languages, this would be harder to do because of verb conjugation, adjective agreement, etc.  (I won't get into possible "pronoun controversies" here.)   He ordered one copy of each volume from Amazon Create Space.  200,000 words would be a long novel, so that would mean about 24 volumes.  He titles it “Duree  (French for “duration” or “time taken”). He stacked them in his apartment as a decoration.  No, he isn’t selling them; he will have a real one soon. As I remember it is to be called “Intentional Attention” (see his April 6 video about Casey Neistat). It sounds like the "real book" will deal with the idea of attention as a currency (comparable to crypto, a kind of virtual blockchain) that could fund a business model (maybe without persistent identifiers, causing so much legal controversy now with CCPA and COPPA?)  I wonder if Fish has a channel (I did not see him at the conference in Philadelphia Aug 31, nor did I see “Economic Invincibility” but they both would have been good choices as speakers – but so would have been Jordan Peterson).  
In fact, my own experience shows it is possible for an Internet self-publisher to have considerable political influence on certain issues without necessarily large analytics or sales volumes or supportive income as by normal accounting records.  This was my case previously, especially with the past issue of gays in the military (in the US – the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy – not to be confused with the transgender policy now) which generated my (controversial) use of the “do ask do tell” wordmark today. But it’s not hard to see why such an individualized “business model” as mine (depending on accumulated personal assets, some of them inherited maybe, and very low cost of operation compared to “real” media companies) would incur questions, as maybe lowballing “real” career journalism and hollowing out normal political activism (leaving it to the polarized extremes).  There is a real big debate today, particularly in the YouTube world, as to the value of independent journalists and political columnists in keeping big media honest.  It was, for example, independent channels that busted big media on the Covington Kids “scandal” and then blew up with “Adpocalypse” last summer.
One other question: could “The Blah Story” or John’s experiment (“I did this and this is what happened” kind of thing, like some of Luke Korns’s videos) make for a subject for a good independent bookstore party?  (See previous post.)
By the way, the first of my three “Do Ask Do Tell” books runs 187,000 words as I remember (about 580 pages in iUniverse, including the roman numerals).  The novel manuscript for “Angel’s Brother” is now about 106,000.  It will probably top out at 115,000 with supplementary materials.
John says he paid back karma points for printing so much (like I used to do at work decades ago, as CYA) by writing an app that raised money to plant trees (late Nov. video).
Adam Driver's character (a school bus driver) writes poems that sound like similar plays on words in the 2016 film "Paterson" (my review).
I can remember that in sixth grade, in December 1954, all of my Christmas presents were books (except one).  A couple of them were about trains.
Picture: Cambridge;  I visited Boston and the Harvard campus (and P-town) in Aug. 2015.  

Monday, January 20, 2020

Visit to an independent bookstore in exurban Maryland, Novel Books

Recently WJLA7 (Kevin Lewis) in Washington DC reported on an independent bookstore in the Piedmont, of upper Montgomery County, MD, Novel Books, in Clarkbsurg, in an older section of town.  

I recently visited it (Thursday, Jan. 16), and met the owner, whom the article mentions as having Parksinson’s Disease.

The store divided each bookstack between new (above) and used (below).

I bought two paperback fiction books, “Gone” (by Michael Grant,  2008, Harper Teen, 558 pages, a novel where all the grownups have disappeared leaving “the young people” who indeed must “win” (as David Hogg says).

The other book is “Pool Boys” by Erin Haft, set in a California country club with a newcomer (2006, Schoolastic, 201 pages. The members of the club have rules.
I have the first impression that survival of a bookstore like this (as explained in the article) would need someone from the surrounding community, which is changing rapidly, as do many exurbs, with new townhomes and a big outlet mall less than a mile away, on I-270 (unlike Reboboth, they do have to charge sales tax).

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Does Michael Lind's "New Class War" portend of social credit systems, if brought down to the ground on individual elites?

Michael Lind previews his own book from Portfolio, “The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite”, in the Wall Street Journal, review, Sat. Jan. 11, 2020, here.
This seems to be a cultural battle between individualistic elitism, and tribal populism with social creditworthiness, a kind of “book smarts” v. “street smarts” (sometimes called “common sense” in the Army).
It also has a lot to do with expectations of socialization.
 Anand Giridharadas has a review in the New York Times, Jan. 17, 2020, "Why do Trump supporters support Trump?"
 The reviewer believes Lind underplays the practical effect of socially constructed classes or groups like by race. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

"Galileo's Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness": what makes "me"?

Scientific American (Gareth Cook) interviews author Philip Goff, of “Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness” (Penguin).  A Facebook friend posted this yesterday. 
The book argues for panpsychism, and that even the smallest entities in the universe have “experience”.

I think an example would be when you have a muscle twitch.  You want to look at it.  The muscle has a will of its own, which produces an urge.  The instinct for sexual intercourse may be like this, but in man the cerebral cortex is supposed to control and contain these impulses.  The instinct is much weaker in some men than in others even in men totally biologically typical in all other ways, and that may explain how homosexuality can happen in humans.

Another example would be when one’s concept of self changes because one is part of a group (like in military training, or a cult) or in some situation that challenges the previous idea of self. 
Do individual bees in a hive have there own POV consciousness, or does the hive itself own awareness, or does this move back and forth. How does this idea work for a slime mold?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Financial Times gives bleak analysis of how a declining world population will affect the economy

The Financial Times offers a rather gloomy analysis “free” on Facebook (if you answer one ad question), “The Cost of a Declining Population”, by Robin Harding, link.

The article argues that lower interest rates leads to higher housing prices even with fewer people, and companies prepare for fewer consumers.  It gives Japan and South Korea as examples of how the spiral works, with eldercare costs becoming crushing.

You could say that hyperindividualism contributes to this process, and anti-tribalism, where “elites” feel less connected to others and more focused on their own identities and self-chosen purposes, the self becoming its own best friend.
But a more straightforward explanation seems to be that affluent people wait longer to have children, past education and dual career employment, when biology starts to work against fertility, even for male sperm. (That may be a surprising point.) 
The piece seems to ignore factors like climate change, which can suppress population further. 

Thursday, January 09, 2020

"The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space" (1976) and "An Easier Way" (2018)

Partly for background material for my “Epiphany” screenplay, I purchased from Amazon both Gerald K. O’Neill’s “The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space” (1976, reprinted by Space Studies Institutes Press from Northwood, CA, illustrations (BW) by Donald Davis. There are new prefaces from 1988 by the author and by astronaut Kathy Sullivan.  There are 326 pages, and 12 chapters plus appendices.

Then there is an update by Tom Marotta and Al Globus, “The High Frontier: An Easier Way”, published by the authors, 167 pages.

The authors of the newer book characterize living in space in manmade structures at lagrange points nearer Earth as much more practical than living on planets or moons, because artificial gravity can be stronger than natural gravity on the other practical bodies (Mars;  you could live in the atmosphere 30 miles above Venus in a floating space station).

The O’Neill cylinder would be about 20 miles long and a mile or so in diameter and rotate around a cylindrical axis for artificial gravity and house over a million people, who would have to be disciplined.
But the Kalpana settlement would be only about the length of a baseball field in width and length.
I will review these on Wordpress later after reading.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Is this "cooperative" book publishing? (Calumet Editions, "Letters from Elvis")

I got an email or tweet about this publishing company, Calumet Editions, which appears to be a cooperative publisher, which does not take all comers, but seems to welcome new authors more than traditional trade publishers.

My impression is that their service might be interesting for a fiction submission.

I suppose this arrangement could work for handbooks or how-to books that are narrow and where the author has very focused commercial experience with the subject matter.

The company offers some videos about a book called “Letters from Elvis” by Gary Lindberg,  about some sensational material about Elvis Presley.
You can find material critical of this company on YouTube, so be forewarned.  Do some more of your own checking.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

"Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People", controversial paper

I ran into a rather challenging long article in the Arrow-Journal, by Kelsey Blackwell, “Why People of Color Need Spaces Without White People”,  Aug. 9, 2018, link
I looked this up after seeing on Google a search result from an obscure site called “NPCDaily” calling Tim Pool a “dangerous hate agent” because he had “spoken out against whites-free safe spaces for people of color.”  The idea sounded so preposterous as a reason to label someone essentially a supremacist or to call such speech by a journalist “hate speech” that I had to look further.  This seemed to be a clue to all the leftwing smears and de-platformings in the last two years.

The long article does answer the “regression to segregation” argument with a syllogism that sort of parallels quantum mechanics.

I think there is something missing from our perceptions of this issue.  Generally, we associate it with extreme measures like excluding whites from a campus for a day (like Evergreen tried to do with a “Day of Absence”).  Public accommodations and universities and colleges should not provide regular spaces where people are excluded by anything.

However, colleges do have their own subgroups which use meeting spaces and which may tend to be limited in membership in practice.  For example, campus LGBTQ groups, although you could call them “gay-straight alliances” if you want.  You can have an NAACP chapter meet but it does not need to exclude whites or anyone by definition from the meetings.  Likewise a Jewish group does not need to exclude gentiles.
I’m quite struck by the group identarianism in the article.  I am a gay white cis male (older) but I don’t perceive any such group identity that way that requires exclusive experiences, even though gay bars, for example, generally attract people who want to find others with similar interest (and some say so). In fact, there are little subgroups within a typical dance floor gathering.  Generally, interracial dancing is very common, as is “heterosexual” dancing, in the larger clubs.  What is much less common is dancing between cis people and non-binary people. 
It's possible to talk about oppression in terms of cluelessness about economic class and cultural elitism (as Joan Williams does, Dec. 24, 2019 post) at an individual level rather than racial identarianism.  That's how I like to talk about it.