Wednesday, June 23, 2021

"How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict over Critical Race Theory" (Christopher Rufo)


Selma, AL 2014

Benjamin Wallace-Wells offers a surprising eyecatcher in The New Yorker, in the “Annals of Inquiry” column, “How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict over Critical Race Theory”, with the tagline, “The Christopher Rufo, a term for legal scholarship looked like the perfect weapon”, link .

I have to admit, I had not heard much about critical race theory until shortly after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, when I noticed Robin DiAngelo appearing in the media and lecturing us on our own subconscious inherited racism (us white older men like me).  I reviewed her book on Wordpress on July 21, 2020, after a few personal walktrough’s of Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC. 

All the sudden I realized “allyship” could be demanded of all of us, maybe as a condition to stay online at all some day.

Appealing young white male YouTubers or otherwise public figures from the university or college worlds (the corporate Left’s “Smart America” in George Packer’s parlance) would stumble into this.  John Fish would promote BLM in a conspicuous video, without first realizing there’s a huge difference between supporting Bryan Stevenson’s work (“Just Mercy” which I support 100%), and supporting Robin DiAngelo’s mandatory collective guilt trips (which have hoodwinked corporate HR departments).  Jack Andraka (famous for inventing a pancreatic cancer test for a science fair and active in coronavirus work at the time) would support it dutifully on his own social media, and then stop posting altogether. People put black pages in their feeds.  Capitalistic people, not noticing the Marxist origins of this ideology.  Then they would find out.  Screenwriting guru Tyler Mowery, at least, keeps all of his videos very abstract and in terms of “first principles” without having to use any loaded terms at all, as he calls out behaviors on the far right and far left about equally. Well, so does Tim Pool. 

In Washington, BLM would replace June gay pride, which would get canceled because of the pandemic, which had created enormous ruptures in complacent “liberal” “smart” society, meritocratic people largely escaping the virus themselves who thought they were simply color blind, officially, but not when doing personal dating.

And now Karlyn Borysenko is trying to sever critical race theory (which she defines reflexively) from “anti-whiteness”, which she says could cause a new white supremacist blacklash.  

The Washington Post wrote up Rufo with a long article by Laura Meckley and Josh Dawsley June 22 (with links) and then walked back some of it, according to Dave Rubin. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

How do you organize a lot old books, if you move into a smaller space (as of 2017 for me)?


book collection

Here’s a provocative (for me) article, “Why bother organizing your books?  A messy personal library is proof of life”, by Mark Athitakis, Washington Post

This has also been true of CD and vinyl record collections, for those of us who came of age decades before the Internet and cloud storage were around.  When I was writing my first three books (1997, 1998, 2002) I needed to keep old periodical hardcopies around that had been reference material, too. That’s not necessary now.

I usually order physical books that I want to read from Amazon (right now I am half-way through Connor Franta’s “A Work in Progress”, 2015, how to write a book about yourself – and he has two more to follow).  It’s easier for me to find stuff and experience it rather than finding something on a Kindle or Nook.

When I move into a place, usually I can keep my most important books organized.  When I moved into the Churchill Apartments in Minneapolis in 1997, I placed all the hardcopy books on gays in the military in the low case right next to my bed, because that was what I was working on.  But many other older books (outside of some special ones from the family) get randomized.

Furthermore, some of the book cases are old.  Stacking them in a smaller apartment now (during downsizing, which I did in 2017, out of a house) could actually create hazard of collapse.  Younger people seem to be better at assembling new kits than I am.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

“The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America”, by Carol Anderson, previewed on CNN


Atlanta, 2004

John Blake reviews a book by Carol Anderson (Emory University), “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America”, published by Bloomsburg, 272 pages.  The book sees the Second Amendment in terms of support of white supremacy in the early 19th Century. 

The review contains some questions to her, about the focus on anti-blackness.

Back in early times, in southern states, white men were required to join militia to help stop slaves from escaping.  It’s true, I haven’t heard this argued before.

She mentions Philando Castile, and several other controversies. 

She says the Texas bill will lead to a “slaughterhouse.”

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Vox now offers the penultimate examination of the lab leak hypothesis for coronavirus

Pride 2019 DC

Vox now has a penultimate booklet article, by Umair Irfan, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis, Explained”.  The tagline is “We may never know for sure if the virus that causes Covid-19 leaked from a lab. But that won’t stop the debate.”

This article pretty much covers everything.

If points out that there were two slightly different variants in Wuhan in January 2020.  Had a lab leak started the pandemic, that sounds unlikely.

On the other hand, the article really doesn’t address the claim by some recent experts (like Quay in the WSJ) that the PRRA insert into the genome, allowing the spike protein to perform furin cleavage, was unknown in coronaviruses and hasn’t been seen even in the closest bat viruses (the Majoing Caves variant in 2012).  It’s important to nail down when this codon was first seen.  Some virologists say that such an insert could happen in nature if an immunocompromised animal or human were infected at the same time with an unrelated virus with the cleavage.

Looking back in time, it sounds as though having a large portion of people infected with HIV might have exacerbated other infections or viruses – but in fact there’s no real evidence that it actually did.  That’s a speculation the religious right could indulge in the 80d.

It’s also curious to remember that there was more than one HIV, and there are other retroviruses around that infect humans (and other mammals).  One was HTLV1, which caused a T-cell leukemia and otherwise caused AIDS-like immunosuprression, and was prevalent in Japan in the early 1980s and apparently disappeared.  It never became a big epidemic.  What you wonder is, could there be some other bizarre agent out there in nature that caused the SARS cleavage that we don’t know about yet.

Update:  Daily Beast has a long piece by Harry Siegel, "Dr. Larry Brilliant spoke with Harry Siegel about why it’s too late to hope for herd immunity despite the “magic” of vaccines, and much more."  Larry was the driver of the smallpox vaccination decades ago.  Brilliant points out that the virus is moving between humans and many animal species, which increases the possibility of radical mutations. 

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

George Packer: "How America Fractured into Four Parts" (like the four temperaments: free, smart, real, just)


Rehoboth, 2021/6

OK, read George Packer’s Atlantic manifesto, “How America Fractured into Four Parts”, with the tagline, “People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, values, and meaning.”  Is reconciliation possible?  

First, there are two Americas:  Free and Real, and then Smart and Just.  Well, those break into the four parts. “Real America breaks down the ossified libertarianism of Free America” and “Just America assails the complacent meritocracy of Smart America”.

The most telling part is the last one, the Just, where he defines identity politics, intersectionality, and effectively critical theory.  But the most notable part of the Just America paradigm is that it seems to defeat the idea of assessing an individual’s place outside of a group at all;  it would have no part of Maoist China’s social credit scores, which give grades to individuals, after all (and maybe could put them on the block chain, which probably most alien civilizations have done).  There is no recognition of reason, just the “’lived experience’ of the oppressed”.  Then the essay goes on to admit that “identity politics inverts the old hierarchy of power into a new one: bottom rail on top”. And “oppression” is not an individualized experience, but a shared “alienation” from “constant exposure to the dominant culture”.

He also writes “Structural racism …. Is real.  But so is individual agency, and in the Just America narrative, it doesn’t exist”.  You wonder if Packer has been reading Tyler Mowery’s YouTube series “The Writer’s Mind” (esp. Episode 29).

He writes that things started to change in 2014 (the year Ferguson happened), the time I released by DADT-III book.  I saw my position in the world in terms of an expectation that the world’s moral frame was fixed, it was up to me, as an outlier who was ironically privileged anyway so as to be able to outflank others and get indirect power of reach, to fit in with some degree of individual social credit after all.  But “Just” America made it all about groups, pure communism.

A world in which my own identity was hopeless and hanging on to “living experience of oppression” would give me no reason to continue my own life.  And yet that is what solidarity “on the bottom” demands.

Look at this Twitter thread by Karlyn (and me) 

Update: June 13:  George Packer has a new book "Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal" from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 226 pp and it is reviewed today by William Galston.  The reviewer feels Packer is wrong on why the white working class turned away from the Democrats, among other things. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Major paper on "Alpha" coronavirus variant; new book "The Plague Year" previewed


Reboboth, 2021/6, recent visit

Biorxiv has a preprint of a major article on the “UK”, or now "alpha" coronavirus variant “Evolution of enhanced innate immune evasion by the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 UK variant”, Thorne et al, PDF here. 

Carl Zimmer of the New York Times offers a review of the paper (how the virus variant became "powerful"), explaining in layman’s terms how the variant delays a productive immune response by manipulating some obscure proteins, making the symptoms (nasal and throat) more explosive when the body kicks in, making the virus more transmissible.  It is still interesting to wonder why it took us until late 2020 to recognize it. 

The article sounds scary, yet the major vaccines seem to be pretty effective against it, even if you need two shots.

Furthermore, Carlos Lozada reviews a new book “The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid”, by Lawrence Wright, from Knopf, 322 pages, in the Washington Post.  The book seems to have a “protagonist”, Matthew Pottinger, deputy national security adviser in the Trump white house, who says he understood the problem in January 2020.  We all know this missteps by the CDC and WHO in the early days.

But one problem you keep hearing from the moralistic Left – American individualism and selfishness on issues like masks, vaccines, and even accepting lockdowns, allowing the more vulnerable to die (having to go to work, living in large households, more health problems) when it is looking more like China’s Wuhan lab leaked the virus indeed – a foreign enemy, comparable to war?  Well, the US had subsidized their gain o function work as had other countries.   (Only two labs in the US can do it, in Galveston TX in hurricane country, and in Chapel Hill NC, maybe at UNC). 

Three mistakes:  denial of entry into China, failure of a testing plan (and to understand asymptomatic spread), failure with early mask use.

Wright had authored “The Looming Tower” about the early warnings before 9/11. 

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Vanity Fair surveys all the theories about COVID, including lab-leak; a preview of Michael Lewis's "The Premonition"


NIH Clinical Center, 2004 

Vanity Fair treats us to a booklet-length survey ("The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID19's Origins") of the history of all credible theories about the origin of SARS-CoV2, by Katherine Eban (paywall).  And she does trace the gradually re-visit of the lableak theory as one that must be looked at, however politically dangerous.  She also provides embeds of several partially redacted PDF’s of internal papers along the way.

The article has twelve Roman chapters, and closes with an invocation of Nicholas Wade’s Medium essay on the likely origins of the virus, in which he makes a strong case that the furin cleavage might have come from gain-of-function research, reviewed here May 7.  That idea had been expressed by Peak Prosperity (Chris Martenson) on YouTube as early as May 4, 2020. 

The conclusion also refers to Donald MacNeil’s quirky Medium article May 17, 2021, a takeoff of Strangelove, “How I learned to stop worrying and learn to love the lab-leak theory”.  MacNeil had originally offered a paper (not published) supporting the natural theory, and now slides toward accepting Wade’s ideas.  It was a complicated process in his mind, that even crisscrossed the idea that SARS_CoV2 might even share the immune-destruction properties of HIV, as a contagious form of AIDS, an idea that the religious right (thankfully unsuccessfully) had tried to spawn in the early 1980s to shut down gay male life forever (it didn’t work, again thankfully, but I remember those days in Texas).  In fact, somewhere else I’ve read that the virus can enter some T-cells (sometimes) but does not reproduce inside them.  MacNeil even resurrects an old article from late January 2020 from the Washington Times speculating about bioweapons.

But then there was an article in Nature in Feb. 2020 that mentioned the bat cave virus from the Mojiang Mines

The Vanity Fair article covers this in detail, in Part VII, about the Mojiang miners (you need to remember the spelling).   The virus involved, RatBtCov 4991, is the closest virus in an animal so far to SARS_CoV2 and raises the idea that the virus could have jumped from bats directly without an intervening animal. Possibly in one immunocomproised person a major cleavage insertion could have happened from another virus. 

On the other hand, cleavage has definitely been done in labs with other viruses and is considered a major tool in gain of function research.  Scientists now sympathetic with the lab-leak theory point out that there are very small parts of the SATS-CoV2 genome that are very hard to explain naturally.

But, of course, scientists from around the world probably have visited the mines and caves in past years, which could explain occasional findings of SARS-like antibodies in European wastewaters.

I just received a hardcopy of Michael Lewis’s new book, “The Premonition: A Pandemic Story” from Amazon, USPS this time, WW Norton, Introduction (romans), Prologue, Epilogue, 304 pages, no index or endnotes.  It’s more like a non-fiction novel, story-telling for a movie.  Nicholas Confessore reviews it for the New York Times May 6) as “Michael Lewis Chronicles the Story of Covid’s Cassandras”. Fareed Zakaria has interviewed Lewis on GPS. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

NIH preprint "booklet" study complicates the theories on how SARS-CoV2 coronavirus started sickening humans, and where; nature is even more complicated than we think


NIH Clinical Center, Bldg 10, March 2015

I am placing this article as a subject of my “book review blog”, as I have used it since mid 2016 after I moved the actual major book reviews to Wordpress.  This a long medical article from NIH in Bethesda, MD, from Sept 2020, not peer reviewed yet, but like a booklet, and possibly very important in understanding the origin of Covid.

It is titled “An evolutionary portrait of the progenitor SARS-CoV-2 and its dominant offshoots in COVID-19 pandemic”.  The authors are Sudhir Kumarm  Qiqing Tao, Steven Weaver, Maxwell Sanderford, Marcos A Caraballo-Ortiz, Sudip Sharma, Sergei L K Pond  and Sayaka Miura with .Meredith Yeager, Associate Editor.  It is a preprint also published by Molecular Biology from Oxford University Press.

The article claims that some genomes sampled from China in December 2019 are missing (up to three) SNV’s (single nucleotide variants) later found in Wuhan and in very early samples from the US in Europe. 

There is an article (called an “Expression of Concern”) in the Tumori Journal in Italy “Unexpected detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in the prepandemic period in Italy”, Nov. 11, 2020, authors Giovanni Apolone*, Emanuele Montomoli*, Alessandro Manenti, Mattia Boeri, Federica Sabia, Inesa Hyseni, Livia Mazzini, Donata Martinuzzi, Laura Cantone, Gianluca Milanese, Stefano Sestini, Paola Suatoni, Alfonso Marchianò, Valentina Bollati, Gabriella Sozzi, Ugo Pastorino. 

The paper discusses finding SARS-CoV2 antibodies in asymptomatic persons as far back as September 2019 in Italy.

Both of these references appeared in a comment in the Washington Post May 27 to an article by Aaron Blake in a featured “The Fix” column, “What a proven coronavirus lab leak theory would mean”.

I offered the following comment on the Post article:

"The NIH article dates back to Sept 2020 and seems consistent with the Italian article.  I've seen reports of the virus in wastewater near Barcelona as early as March 2019.  So China might be credible in saying it came to Wuhan from an outside country. Yet the Majoing Mine virus from 2012 is very close to the SARS_CoV2 virus. Generally, it sounds as though scientists working with the virus could have become infected without symptoms, and spread it inadvertently.  The virus might have mutated in an immunocompromised person much more radically than usual (maybe because of cross reaction to other viruses or toxins in such a person), leading to spread of virulent disease, and it could have happened more than once. This sounds like a science-fiction movie plot, I know, but it makes some sense.  (Yet this did not happen 30 years ago with other viruses in people infected with HIV, when it could have?)  Somehow we have to put every strain on the table and solve a big jigsaw puzzle to figure this one out." 

 I would add now that it sounds plausible that scientists from multiple countries, including Italy, Spain, and USA could have visited an area with a bat reservoir of a very similar virus, possibly the Majoing Mine in SW Chia, and could have developed trivial or asymptomatic infections which they then passed on to immunocompromised persons accidentally.

Someone offered a wisecrack comment that I work for China!  No.

The post has an editorial to consider alongside this information, “Who were the first coronavirus cases?” 

Of course, this enumerative discussion leaves a lot of loose ends, and we’ve really got to start connecting the dots and solving the puzzle. I will add, personally, that unusual "coincidence" seems to happen in nature more often than you would intuitively expect.  It has in my own life, to say the least. Sometimes it seems like the observer changes the result! 

And yes, I would count myself as a “conservative” in this assessment.

Monday, May 24, 2021

New York Times uses "3-D staging" to present the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921; also, looting of small businesses by leftist extremists in Chicago



The New York Times has a special “3-D” article (“Interactive Race Massacre Article" where you can tour the Greenwood section of Tulsa, OK just before the May 30, 1921 white-committed massacre of the “Black Wall Street”, article and 3-D art work by Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Anjali Singhvi, Audra D.S. Burch, Troy Griggs, Mika Gröndahl, Lingdong Huang, Tim Wallace, Jeremy White and Josh Williams

The 3-D technique would appear to be useful in stage presentations of historical events.

The article describes the callousness of the attacks, which came from the air also, and the refusal of insurance to cover the losses.

The picture above is a Wikipedia embed of the actual fire, click for attribution. 

Chicago 1940 

I also wanted to share a Chicago Sun Times piece by Manny Ramos, “Small businesses hit by looting reflect on night chaos;  It was kind of like ‘The Purge’”.  This is the story of the losses and rebuilding by Tess Porter, who owns a style shop emphasizing black fashion in Chicago. .

Friday, May 21, 2021

Jake Tapper, CNN anchor, also a novelist with "recent history" based fiction (hard to pull off)


White House, Dec 1, 2007

Jake Tapper, a CNN anchor, is getting quite successful as a novelist, with the second novel in his series of “Charlie and Margaret Marder” mysteries.  The first one had been called “The Hellfire Club”, set in the 1950s, and the sequel now is “The Devil May Dance”, 336 pages, from Little Brown.

The plot gimmick is that Attorney General Robert Kennedy, in 1961, contacts Charlie to infiltrate the “Rat Pack” to see if the mafia has intentions against the president.  Presumably all of this would have to be wrapped up well before Nov. 22, 1963.

There was controversy over the idea that the novel refers to a song with the same title as the book, and there was concern over copyright or trademark, and Tapper had to reassure everyone the song is fictitious.  He also put such disclaimer in the book.  Now, I could compose a song for him and work out a deal.  (I’ve already offered such to the David Pakman show, which was thinking about a musical jingle theme song and then wondered about the legal mess that could result.)

But what’s more remarkable is the idea of constructing an involved historical novel about national security in the past with fictitious characters as well as real people (like Hollywood stars of the day).  I’ve been leery of the idea because, well, the past has already happened and is settled.

Janet Maslin reviews the book in more detail for The New York Times, and mentions some of the problems of the day, such as the military draft.  Kennedy did not believe we could do without it.

I wonder how long the (adaptation) movie deals will take to materialize, and who will do the screenwriting. This material may lend itself more to miniseries treatment (sounds like Netflix).  One particular film pops into mind, "Seven Days in May" (novel by Fletcher Knebel ("The President's Plane Is Missing", which I read in 1971 when I was working for the Navy Dept) and Charles W. Bailey II.  Of course we can wonder about "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962 version, Richard Condon novel).  

The Kennedy assassination event and the period to follow as in some ways uniquely traumatic for me. But that’s another discussion.

Monday, May 17, 2021

NYTimes booklet article on law enforcement overreach in "entrapping" possible "predators"

Kiggins Theatre-9


Michael Winerip offered a disturbing NYTimes “booklet” article on Aug. 20, 2020, “Convicted of Sex Crimes, But with No Victims”.  The tagline, “an online sting operation to catch sex predators snared hundreds of men.  What were they guilty of?”

The article describes the history of Jace Hambrick in Vancouver, WA.  He answered an ad from a girl that jokingly claimed she was 13 but that came from an adult website that supposedly screened its users for being 18 or over (he believed she was well over 18).  Now this gets into what caused COPA (Child Online Protection Act) to finally be declared unconstitutional in 2007  (and is probably an Achilles Heel for a similar law proposed now for Canada). 

When Jace went to meet the girl we has arrested, and the magazine article goes into the gory details of plea deals and sentencing and the judge’s own temperament.  And the quirks of Washington state law. The upshot is that there is too much political gain for pursuing these kinds of cases.

In fact, the case sounds like one that would have fit onto NBC’s series “To Catch a Predator” which Chris Hansen, in the mid 2000’s.  On that series, many of the john’s were foolish and not very reputable people.  So it was easy to build public interest (and ratings) in the series.

This case sounds a little different, if you read his mom’s blog.

The legal hooker might be whether the defendant really had a right to assume the contact had been screened.

He says he intended to have a conservation with her to encourage her to get off Craigslist.

Dr. Phil’s video shows him taking a lie detector test.

A fictitious screenplay called “The Sub” that I wrote and uploaded in early 2005 depicts a substitute teacher who helps a mature teen student make a fake id and gets arrested in a bar, and then the sub himself gets arrested and labeled a s.o.  At the time, the concept of the screenplay created a lot of controversy (Main blog, July 27, 2007 post).  There is some similarity to this case in that the subject perceived the teen as an adult.

Kiggins Theater in Vancouver WA, Wikipedia embed, click for attribution

Monday, May 10, 2021

"The Making of a Myth": Washington Post booklet on how a Texas security company paved the way to January 6


Landing at DFW 2018 

Emma Brown, Aaron C. Davis, Jon Swaine and Josh Dawsey provide a little booklet, “The Making of a Myth”, in the Washington Post May 9 (paywall).

This is a narrative of Russell J. Ramsland, Jr., who started his campaign in 2018 in a closed hangar in Addison, TX (near Dallas), in a windowless place where everyone turned in their cell phones first.

The article becomes a saga about Ramsland’s company, the Allied Security Operations Group, became a focal point on providing a want:  showing election fraud favoring Democrats existed when it probably did not.   The article maintains that this effort, with all the crazy litigation around “stop the steal” and the countersuits by Dominion Voting Systems, wound up driving the mob to the Capitol on January 6.

 There is interesting exposition on how, after the 2000 election and chad fiasco in Florida, there was great emphasis on automating machine counting, and I worked with those machines (on Windows XP) when I worked as an election officer a few times in the 2000's in Virginia.  Sometimes they could stall and have to be rebooted. 

I’ve embedded a video from Fox News with Lou Dobbs (who used to do Moneyline on CNN) from Nov. 17, 2020 and will remind the reader that there are “countervailing views” – Joe Biden is the president. 

Sunday, May 09, 2021

On Australia's Sky News, Sharri Markson previews her own book "What Happened in Wuhan", available Sept. 29, 2021

Rolling stock NO. A62 of Wuhan Metro Line 1


Sharri Markson, on Sky News Australia, discusses her new book “What Happened in Wuhan”, due on September 29, 2019, from Harper Collins, link. .

The video goes on to describe a 2015 Chinese document discussing the possible weaponizing of coronaviruses.  It also goes into some ironic  Chinese conspiracy theories.  

Sky News is a “conservative” channel, rather like US Fox News.  It vehemently opposed Australia’s lockdowns (especially in Victoria).

Picture:  Wuhan Metro line, Wikipedia embed, click for attribution 

Friday, May 07, 2021

"Origin of Covid—Following the Clues", long paper by Nicholas Wade

6VSB spike protein SARS-CoV-2 monomer in homotrimer

Here is a booklet-length paper on “Origin of Covid—Following the Clues", a long paper on Medium by Nicholas Wade, who writes for Nature and Science. The tagline is “Did People or Nature open the Pandora’s Box at Wuhan?” 

Wade points out the conflicts of interest, at WHO and even in the US NIH, which deter totally honest I investigation of the work going on in Wuhan Institute.

Wade discusses furin cleavage, comparisons to earlier forms if SARS, and some statistical observations that lead to the idea that the lab has something to do with it.

Spike protein monomer, Wikipedia embed, click for attribution. 

Update:  May 10:  Sky News has an interview with Wade.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Is "self-help" more helpful to readers than fiction? A better investment of effort for authors? (Or vice-versa)


clearing after storm

Alice Cappelle gives her impressions on whether self-help books are a better use of a reader’s time than fiction.

The same question could be inverted and asked of authors. This even affects how authors treat social issues (especially "intersectional") in non-fiction.  Handbooks seem to meet readers "where they are" if they need to be "won over", in comparison to fiction, analysis, or (auto)biography. 

In general, she chooses fiction.  Stories can give us a lot more to work with in the transitions and philosophical conflict challenges people face (especially during political polarization).

Tyler Mowery and John Fish, in their video channels, have expressed similar ideas about the importance of stories.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Pandemic drives people away from bookstores, hurting new authors; but there are exceptions (like "Where the Crawdads Sing", in production now as a mystery film)


Wilmington NC, Feb 2019

Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth Harris discuss the effect of the pandemic on independent bookstores and on smaller chains  and on the ability of newer authors to find an audience, April 18, 2001.  The article discusses particularly the salvation of Chronicle Books.

People tend to shop online more, as I do (even though I like physical copy books) and algorithms tend to present best sellers automatically.   

Yet a few new books have stood out, Snoop Dog’s cookbook “From Crook to Cook” and a inward-looking first novel.

Alexandra Altra discusses the best selling debut novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Putnam, 400 pages) in a barely prepandemic review Dec. 2019 , by wildlife biologist Delia Owens, about a woman who has been growing up by herself in the deep South, coastal North Carolina (rather around Cape Fear, maybe). Imdb reports a film is in production: a woman raised in the coastal marsh becomes a suspect in a murder of a man she had once been with, a little bit like Dateline.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

"Antiracist Baby": Ibram X. Kendi's children's book


Detroit, 2012

Author: Ibram X. Kendi, with illustrator: Ashley Lukashevsky

Title: “Antiracist Baby”; Subtitle "Picture Book"

Publication:  Kokila (Penguin, Random House), ISBN 978-0-593-11050, July 2020, 27 pages, heavily illustrated.

I picked up this book at Target today on impulse.

The book comprises a poem with illustrations, and two pages of advice for parents.

It’s a little odd to name a newborn child “Antiracist Baby” as if that were a legal name.  He does say that racial attitudes are “bred”, not inborn.  And that babies must be taught that there is no neutral ground between racism and anti-racism.  You can’t be Sweden or Switzerland during WWII.

One idea is that children who grow up in largely all white neighborhoods need to be taught intentionally that race is a major concept in our society even if it is a social construct and not scientific. He says children should not expect to be “color blind” but should be able to name what race (or possibly other intersectional group?) a person belongs to, and that categorization of people, which was taboo twenty years ago, is necessary today.

The book does distinguish between “equity” and “equality of opportunity”, the latter foreclosed by collective (and government-adopted) policy choices.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Gelfand's "Rule Makers, Rule Breakers" (2018) will matter for the pandemic


Rules matter when you fly 

Just a quick preview of Michele Gelfand’s “Rule Makes, Rule Breakers: Tight and Loose Cultures and the Secret Signals that Direct our Lives”, 2018, Scribner, paperback.

Right at the beginning, she credits humans for developing social norms because they are so necessaru, relative to other animals.

And there are tight and loose cultures, often related to the degree of external threats the cultures have faced in recent years.

Singapore is one of the tightest. She gives the narrative of Michael Fay, who got a caning in 1994.

But it seems that there is a big difference between social norms about waiting in line, to privacy invasion norms about forbidding homosexual acts, to even educating people into how they must find (opposite sex) partners, as was common there in the 1980s.

The social norms of religious cultures like Islam are often very strict because of the troubled tribal history of the past.

Prospectively, the message in this book will certainly matter for the COVID pandemic.

Monday, April 12, 2021

How to make "low-content books" that sell online (without writing); it's about "commercial viability" folks!


Central Virginia, day trip, near intentional communities

Kat Theo has a video, 20 minutes, “Make thousands a month selling books online, no writing required” (March 2021). 

The emphasis is on “low-content books”.

Examples:  puzzles, cookbooks, coloring books, notebooks.  (John Fish’s growth book is an example, see his YouTube channel).

She presents “Bookbolt” as having the toolkit to manufacture the books, for sale on Amazon. 

This sounds like a “commercial viability” concept, like how to build a money-making video channel without filming your own videos (main blog, April 9).

I wanted to mention, I got an email promoting a small publishing activity for trans and non-binary people, called Gendercool.  Promoting that culturally is not my own cup of tea, but I wanted to pass the news along.  The idea of this material for age 5 seems a bit challenging.

  I don’t write children’s myself, but I get a lot of questions about it, as it seems like a cash cow for many booksellers.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

“Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals”: Karlyn Borysenko reminds us of one of its most shocking ideas in describing the "investigation" of a non-woke professor

LWTech Allied Health Building 2


I need to mention another older book on this blog, Saul D. Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals”, as analyzed here on infed by Mike Seal.    The book, 196 pages, was originally published in 1971 by Random House.

One of its most shocking quotes: “He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of ‘personal salvation’; he doesn’t care enough for people to ‘be corrupted’ for them.”   That is, “the end justifies the means”.  If I had to give in to this, I would prefer not to exist at all.

Another one “He who sacrifices the mass good for his personal conscience has a peculiar conception of ‘personal salvation’; he doesn’t care enough for people to ‘be corrupted’ for them.”/

Or, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it (Alinsky 1972: 130). This is perhaps Saul Alinsky’s most controversial rule and is the counter to the common idea that we should not make things personal.

The book comes up at the start of Karlyn Borysenko’s video on the trials of Elisa Parrett, a newly tenured professor of English at the Washington Institute of Technology, who was investigated for 8 months after objecting to segregated sessions teaching white fragility and critical theory at the workplace (although she visited the Trump rally Jan 6 but did not go into the Capitol).  Reason magazine describes the whole situation in an essay April 5 by Jesse Sengal. 

 Update: April 11  I want to supplement this review by referring people to Graeme Wood's Atlantic essay "The Next Decade Could Be Even Worse".  He talks about Peter Turchin (professor and sci-fi writerm "War and Peace and War" (2006), and the idea that we are producing too many elites who can't do their own manual labor. Too many people in the ruling class.  Too many equivalents of Saudi princes. A bit neo-Marxist. 

Embed of Wikipedia picture, click for attribution. 

Monday, April 05, 2021

Don Lemon previews “This Is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism”


New Orleans, French Quarter, early 2006

Don Lemon, CNN night anchor at 10 PM, gives an interview to Time Magazine (March 29, p. 104), Jannell Ross, about his new book from Little Brown, 224 pages, “This Is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism”, link.

An interesting part of the interview is how Lemon distinguishes “point of view” from “opinion”.  Indeed, in my own life, a succession of episodes, one leading to the next and always with irony, establishes a “point of view”, where I am unwilling to go along with a superficial idea of group-centered tribal justice.

The interviewer challenges Lemon on his earlier comments five years ago to black youths, “pull up your pants”.  He says there is no real contradiction among his statements of position.

There is mention in the online (not print) review of the Online German Coast Slave Uprising on the Mississippu River in 1811.   

Friday, April 02, 2021

"Reimagine Safety: A project of the Editorial Board in consultation with outside voices" by the Washington Post

BLM Plaza, DC, June 2020

The Washington Post has a six-part booklet style (with illustrations and murals) opinion, “Reimagine Safety: A project of the Editorial Boardin consultation with outside voices.”

Part 1 is “Police reform is not enough.  We need to rethink public safety”.

Part 2 is “Whom can we call for help? Police should not always be the only option.”

Part 3 is, we should change the physical environment of neighborhood schools to make them safer

Part 4 is, we must focus our resources on those with the highest risk to prevent violence

Part 5 is, we need to empower community leaders with resources

Part 6 is, we must deal with police unions.

But we also have to deal with how much stability we expect when there is so much inequity.  That seems to be what “Antifa” screams at us.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Shanna Swan's "Count Down", a book about pollution and declining sperm counts


Ocean City MD, 2014

There are sporadic reports online about shrinking male fertility and even “primary organ” size, as a result of chemical pollution.  TRTWorld proffers the article “What’s behind the epidemic of shrinking genitals and low male fertility?”  It warns that boys are poisoned in the womb, and are growing up with low drive, obesity, diabetes, and lack of masculinity.   

But the article leads to a discussion of a book in GQ, review by Andrew Zalewski, book by Shanna Swan, “Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race”, from Scribner, Feb. 2021, 304 pages hardcover.   Zalewski interviews Swan, who warns we face a dystopian world like “The Handmaid’s Tale” (or maybe the 2006 film "Children of Men").

  Some of her findings are based on an Oxford Update  ("Human Reproduction Update" from 2017), to which she contributed. 

It’s ironic that, with all the talk of non-binary status, gay men desire masculinity and potency from partners strictly out of upward affiliation rather than procreation. Swan may be hinting at what George Gilder had called “Sexual Suicide’ in a 1973 Quadrangle book.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Bret Weinstein effectively reviews new book by Ibram X. Kendi, "Be Anti-racist"


BLM Plaza, Washington DC, June 2020

DarkHorse Podcast Clips with Bret Weinstein offers what amounts to a book review of Ibram X. Kendi’s  Be Antiracist: A Journal for Awareness, Reflection and Action”, from One World, Oct. 2020.

The philosophy of the book forces everyone into a binary state.  There is no in between (not racist and not actively and publicly anti-racist as a public ally).  The video explores the logical contradictions that come from such a position, resulting that eliminating the possibilities that are inconvenient happen only out of seizing power, not out of moral rightness in itself.  Weinstein points out some internal logical contradictions in the idea of equity as compared to equality. Jordan Peterson has done the same in the past. 

I don’t see that this was covered in John Fish’s survey reviewed here June 6, 2020 (even in the comments).

Kendi has many other related books, including children’s, at this Amazon link.

Kendi’s work seems to have taken over the controversial “diversity training” lesson plans from Robin DiAngelo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Cathy Park Hong, author, interviewed in the Atlantic on anti-Asian racism, and "allyship"


San Francisco

Morgan Ome, assistant editor of The Atlantic, interviews author Cathy Park Hong, “Minor Feelings: As Asian American Reckoning”, in this article saying “this time it feels different’.  The paperback reprint is from One World (March 2, 2021, 224 pages).

Yes, after four years of Trump, and the international politics of COVID.

But before, Hong writes, there was often competition among different minorities, especially in Los Angeles, as they settled different neighborhoods and developed enclaves of business.  Today the idea of expected “allyship” seems to have spread.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

New York Magazine: two big articles on COVID19 ("The Lab-Leak Hypothesis", and "How the West Lost COVID19".


Corcoran Hall, GWU, where I attempted organic chemistry in 1963

Let’s cover two very strong and detailed New York Magazine articles about Covid19, in the Intelligencer series.

The first is Nicholson Baker, Jan 4, 2021, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis”, with the byline “For decades, scientists have been hot-wiring viruses in hopes of preventing a pandemic, not starting one. But what if…”?

Let me make the biggest observation from this piece of all.  Somehow, he says that Wuhan is the only foreign lab the US has supported for significant time, cut off by Obama, apparently resumed briefly under Trump.

The booklet article comprises fourteen (roman numeral) sections.  The last starts with “Here’s what I think happened”.  It starts with the Mojiang Mines incident in 2012, with a sample winding up in Wuhan Virology Lab (and other places), attracting the attention of Peter Daszek and Shi Zhengli. A SARS-like coronavirus sample called BtCoV/4991 (also called RatG13, as in videos by Peak Prosperity’s Chris Martenson, May 4, 2020) was studied extensively, resulting in papers. However, the Mojiang virus does not seem to have been as transmissible, particularly before or without symptoms, person to person. A change called furin cleavage accomplished that (when the spike protein opens up the receptor).

Now other sources have told me that furin cleavage does occur in nature, even in influenza, particularly in persons or animals with more than one simultaneous viral infection. And there is other evidence that humans, in China, maybe Europe and even the US, had mild cases in late 2019.  It ‘s possible that the virus was transmissible among humans by the early fall of 2019 if accidentally introduced, and that increased contagion happened with a mutation in a human, maybe immunocompromised.  We’re seeing that pattern with variants, which have become more troublesome since this article was published.

Still, workplaces have accidents.  In my own career in IT, there were two mishaps that were particularly troubling, one in 1976 and another in 1991, and either one might have become career ending.  Lab accidents will inevitably happen.

And there is a lot of other reliable reporting of coincidental news from China in late 2019, including the October 2019 communications blackout at the virology lab.

Personally, I was a klutz in the lab myself, dropping chemistry (at GWU) as a major in late 1963 (just before the assassination) after an accident where I cut my hand severely, while working in my first job in rheology at NBS at the old Van Ness Street location. I wound up in math. The computers.  Then my own brand of journalism.  But I remember the trips with a dolly to the oil shed.

The other big article is more recent, March 15, 2021, “How the West Lost COVID19”, by David Wallace-Wells.  The byline is “How did so many rich countries get it so wrong? How did others get it so right?”

One important point:  the real lighter for the epidemic in the west was northern Italy.  It spread out much more quickly than from China.  In Italy, the virus had a minor mutation (from a “D” to “G”) which seemed to make it more amendable to superspreader transmission events, although it didn’t change the clinical course.  That says that the virus is capable of engineering itself a lot to escape defenses, just in nature.

The countries that suppressed the virus quickly were either (1) isolated (New Zealand) or relatively low population density countries (Australia), or (2) willing to subject citizens to automated contact tracing and mandatory strict quarantines and isolation (South Korea, Taiwan), or frankly authoritarian (Vietnam, besides China itself).

Just how remarkable is SARS_CoV2 for a respiratory virus for causing long term damage to many organs in protracted cases?  Measles can do that, but our vaccine for it is nearly 100% (I got measles in 1950 before my 7th birthday;  maybe it did affect my coordination and strength later).  But most viruses that cause long-term damage and auto-immune disease are enteroviruses (sometimes arboviruses).  

The regard that governments should have for disruption of individuals, suddenly, is something we haven’t covered systematically enough.  It goes beyond surveillance, as Electronic Frontier Foundation would see it.  It certainly causes job losses.  In China and maybe other countries, it has led to personal property destruction, too. The argument for becoming so strict on individuals, rather than hoping for herd immunity and vaccines, is what if the virus really is much more deadly, down the road.  What if it caused an airborne-transmitted variety of "AIDS"?  Or maybe sterility in most people? ["Children of Men", 2006 film.] Or inevitable intellectual decline in most of the infected?  We don't know that this couldn't happen.  (But arguments like that were hurled by the religious right at gay men in the 1980s.  You can't prove a negative, and "there is always a first time".)  We were shocked by how quickly we were thrown into personal crises by unimagined circumstances, and that we could individually be held responsible for the possibility that our contaminated bodies had become deadly weapons (the mask issue). Perhaps that could force us into top-down localization, which China already has. 

The far Left, Umair Haque of Eudaimonia, has scolded Americans for their hyperindividualism and unwillingness to identify with the common good of the larger group, and blamed capitalism.  Indeed, it’s quite disturbing, that in retrospect, the whole pandemic, with its Goldilocks property of being a mild disease for maybe a majority of people but deadly for some, and catastrophic life long for others (the long haulers), could have been imagined as designed to conquer the West with communism with a plausibly deniable biological attack.  That is what drives some of the fury on the right, having lives they did not earn taken away from them.  There is also the implication that letting people make up their own minds as to how to behave (like on masks) could have resulted in a "survival of the fittest" scenario which can be viewed as a preview to eventual fascism. 

The enclosed video comes from New York Magazine on April 30, 2020, when students volunteered to be infected with SARS_CoV2.  The magazine is definitely defined as part of mainstream media commentary, and is not advancing extremism in broaching a very sensitive topic for some people.