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Journal of No. 118

October 15th, 2018

From Bacteria to Bach and Back ; When the Sleeper Wakes @ 04:22 pm

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, by Daniel Dennett (my spirit animal)

In many ways this book ties together a lot of Dennett's idea from different areas of his interest: primarily evolution and consciousness. I think he tries too hard to smash them together into something that looks like a broader worldview, but I'm not sure he succeeds. I'm definitely on board with much of what he says, but then the intervening spit and glue that holds it together just doesn't come together into a picture for me. My verdict: just go read Consciousness Explained one more time. His best book on his hardest subject.

When the Sleeper Wakes, by HG Wells

One of those ancient SF stories that everyone recognizes and no one reads. And now I know why. Our hero falls into a strange trance and lives on through centuries. His cousin providentially invests his money wisely, and When the Sleeper Awakes, he owns half the planet. The planet is being run, more or less, by a council of capitalist pigs, while The Sleeper has sympathies with the downtrodden people.

Wells gets some things extremely right about the future: windmills for power generation, annoying advertising, capitalist pigs. And of course, many ludicrously wrong things: moving sidewalks instead of streets to carry people around.

Anyway, after the Sleeper Awakes, there is a far too overlong section of tedious chases and alarums as the people and the powers that be fight, while the Sleeper is largely a figurehead or in hiding. And then finally, the powers that be try that one thing -- that last straw to break the camel's back and get the Sleeper to exert his power and influence to overthrow the status quo. The powers that be attempt to use black people as policemen.

“I have been thinking about these negroes. I don’t believe the people intend any hostility to me, and, after all, I am the Master. I do not want any negroes brought to London. It is an archaic prejudice perhaps, but I have peculiar feelings about Europeans and the subject races. Even about Paris—”

Ostrog stood watching him from under his drooping brows. “I am not bringing negroes to London,” he said slowly. “But if—”

“You are not to bring armed negroes to London, whatever happens,” said Graham [the Sleeper - aka the Master]. “In that matter I am quite decided.”

Ostrog, after a pause, decided not to speak, and bowed deferentially.

Guess who orders black policemen despite explicit instructions not to?

“These negroes must not come to London,” said Graham. “I am Master and they shall not come.”

Ostrog glanced at Lincoln, who at once came towards them with his two attendants close behind him. “Why not?” asked Ostrog.

“White men must be mastered by white men.

So the Sleeper puts on his MBGA hat and puts a stop to this nonsense. As long as I'm spoiling this craptastrophic book, he also gets the girl with the goo-goo eyes and trembling lips.


October 5th, 2018

The Other Races @ 09:46 am

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Checking my primary choices...

Gov: reluctantly Newsom

Lt. Gov: Ed Hernandez - I think he has better chops as a politician, since Kounalakis' only real role was as an ambassador. But man, now that we have the D vs. D fights, the endorsement war is crazy. Planned Parenthood endorses Ed, while NARAL endorses Eleni.

SoS: Padilla
Controller: Yee
Treasurer: Ma
AG: Becerra

Ins: Lara
BoE: Vazquez

Senator: De Leon
Rep: Bass
SS: Mitchell
Ass: Piquado

LA Times suggests voting yes to retain all of them. 

However, if you (like me) are feeling vindictive about (State) Supreme Court Justices nominated by Republicans, of the two on the ballot, Corrigan was nominated by Arnold the Governator. She wrote a concurrence and dissent on In Re: Marriage, in which she said she personally thought gay people should be able to have marriages, but she wasn't persuaded that the majority was right in thinking that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional, and that the will of the people (as enacted in laws) was clear, and the will of the people was changing and would likely make gay marriage legal in the future.
I'm not vindictive enough to check all of the Appellate Justices to see who appointed them.

4 - Sauceda
16 - Michel
60 - Hancock
113 - Perez

Schools: Thurmond
Assessor: Prang

County W
"Revenue from the tax, estimated to amount to $300 million annually, would fund the construction, operation and maintenance of projects that collect, clean and conserve storm water. The average tax for a single-family house would be $83."

Ugh. Um. Although one of the projects would be
walking distance from me, very few other projects are anywhere nearby. And out here in the county, we don't get water from DWP, so paying for DWP projects doesn't benefit me directly. ME ME ME. It's all about me. Waaaah. It doesn't even rain any more, so how are we going to collect storm water? Waaah. OK, yes.


Water Replenishment District: 
West Basin Water Whatever:
I'm tired, I'll go with the incumbents here.


October 4th, 2018

September 28th, 2018

Entitled White Dude Adventures @ 03:51 pm

DURBIN: I — I’ll just say this: If you, Judge Kavanaugh, turned to Don McGahn and to this committee and say, “For the sake of my reputation, my family name, and to get to the bottom of the truth of this, I am not going to stay — be an obstacle to an FBI investigation,” I would hope that all the members of the committee would join me in saying, “We’re going to abide by your ... wishes, and we will have that investigation.”

KAVANAUGH: I — I welcome whatever the committee wants to do, because I’m telling the truth.

DURBIN: I want to know what you want to do.

KAVANAUGH: I — I’m telling the truth.

DURBIN: I want to know what you want to do, Judge.

KAVANAUGH: I’m innocent. I’m innocent of this charge.

DURBIN: Then you’re prepared for an FBI investigator…

KAVANAUGH: They don’t reach conclusions. You reach the conclusion, Senator.

DURBIN: No, but they do investigate questions.

KAVANAUGH: I’m — I’m innocent.


DURBIN: I’m asking about the FBI investigation.

KAVANAUGH: They’re — the committee figures out how to ask the questions, I’ll do whatever. I’ve been on the phone multiple times with committee counsel. I’ll talk to…

DURBIN: Judge Kavanaugh, will you support an FBI investigation…

KAVANAUGH: … I’ll do — I’ll…

DURBIN: … right now?

KAVANAUGH: … I — I will do whatever the committee wants to…

IANAL, and I can hypothetically imagine that this is how a lawyer (or judge) should answer these questions. Nobody idly invites an FBI investigation. But for me, this weaseliness is where Kavanaugh failed the job interview.


The whole situation also brought to mind a weird conversation that came up when I was teaching at the girls' high school. Somehow the topic of fraternities and frat parties came up. Now, my vast experience of frat parties amounts to one (perhaps not coincidentally, I was asked by a girl at the dorms, who wanted a male friend along). But having lived in an apartment building next door to a frat house, I had other observations and smellservations to judge from.

Anyway, I cautioned the girls to be wary of fraternities and not to go alone to parties. And I got a lot of pushback. No way! These were exciting boys with nice cars and excellent job prospects. And I soon felt I was just digging a hole -- I was protesting too much, probably couldn't get in, sour grapes.

Anyway, as an entitled white dude, it's easy for me to look at groups of entitled white dudes and recognize them doing entitled white dude things. And nothing in the general description of the party life in Kavanaugh's background is in the least bit surprising or eye-opening. And nothing in Kavanaugh's petulant display is either. Or the treatment he's receiving in the Senate. Not sure where I was going with this. Just venting.


September 18th, 2018

Earning the Rockies, by Robert Kaplan @ 03:22 pm

 This is the current Now Read This bookclub from the PBS Newshour/NYT.

Subtitled "How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World" I guess I was hoping for something like Guns, Germs, & Steel with a focus on the US and History.

Instead, we get Kaplan pontificating from his armchair about all sorts of things, usually about how people are in the middle of the country are fatties.

Strange that I should say 'from his armchair' since part of the writing of the book involved him travelling from coast to coast, to experience things at ground level. But he didn't seem to learn anything at all. As I wrote in the bookclub:

I'm just disappointed that it's a voyage of pontification rather than a voyage of discovery. Since he's an established thinker, he's allowed to have his own ideas, but he seems so incurious about actually finding anything out about the people he passes by. He could have written this book from his armchair given how little he seems to learn from his travels. The trip is superfluous except to confirm his preexisting biases.

How I imagine his state of mind on the trip:

Gotta pee, but I have to get to Mt. Rushmore by Wednesday. Just gonna stop here to pee, no chit chat. OMG, it smells like deep fryer oil. Jeez, those people are fat. Pretty much what I expected.
[uses restroom]
Hey that lady's dandling a baby on her knee! And that guy has a VFW hat. That's the kind of local color that will really make this book sing. Back to the road!


Once he arrives in San Diego, he gets a boner looking at the Navy fleet, and then segues into the last third of the book, which is an entirely separate pontification on the US exerting its power in the world.

One of Kaplan's few attempts to actually talk about how geography affects history is to note correctly that once the Native Americans had been steamrollered out of the way, America is quite a safe place, geographically. Oceans on two sides, and a long border with polite people on the other side to the North. Kaplan does worry quite a bit about the teeming hordes of brown people to the south, but still pretty safe. And this safety allows us to smite evil-doers here and there around the world, spreading peace and joy and democracy. And Kaplan seems to be quite eager for America to bestow these militant blessings on others around the world.

Kind of creepily, he seems to think of this as some way of atoning for the atrocities committed against the Native Americans. Someone else in the bookclub pointed out a sentence that begins "Manifest destiny may have been raw and cruel and rapacious, but..."

Sorta like 90% of sentences that start, "I'm not racist/sexist, but..."

While I don't entirely disagree with Kaplan's thesis that America is relatively safe and therefore has the power to potentially do good in the world, I don't share his conviction that we automatically succeed in doing good whenever we flex our military.

Despite being mean-spirited and wrong-headed, Kaplan also found time to be profoundly confusing instead of profound.

"The world itself has now become America’s frontier. And that has been both a blessing and a scourge. Omaha’s spatial arrangement offers a disturbing, almost subconscious explanation for America’s imperial ambition."


On the plus side, I learned that Pittsburgh is named after Pitt the Elder, and Zion National Park was originally named Mukuntuweap.


September 5th, 2018

The Bride of Science, by Benjamin Woolley @ 08:43 pm

A biography of Ada Lovelace, aka Countess Lovelace, aka the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, aka the eponym of the Ada programming language, aka the Bride of Science, aka the Enchantress of Numbers.

The book spends almost half of its length discussing Ada's parents, Lord Byron and Lady Byron (aka Annabella Milbankee, Baroness Wentworth). This is worthwhile, as it sets up some of the currents that flow through Ada's life, at least in this telling of the story (and I'm in no position to contradict it). Byron of course is the great romantic poet of the age (or any age, possibly), and Annabella was something of a mathematican herself, being called (somewhat cattily by her husband) the Princess of Parallelograms. The two separated shortly after Ada's birth (a certain coolness developed after she learned he was boinking his own half-sister) and it was quite rancorous, and society had to choose sides. On the whole, Annabella got the sympathy of most, while Byron went on being Byron and was soon out of the country, and dead within a few years in Greece.

And from then on, Ada was something of an outlet for Annabella's desire to be the wronged one in the relationship, and simultaneously, Ada had to be protected from romantic impulses, and pushed towards math and science. This worked up to a point, but... well... as a teenager Ada ran off with her tutor... so there were some strong romantic impulses there as well, it would seem.

Ultimately, Ada was found a husband that she didn't have much use for, but produced a passel of children before being pretty remote from her husband. She was further instructed in math by De Morgan, whose wife was among Annabella's coterie, who all spied on poor Ada relentlessly. But getting married got her a bit out from her mother's thumb, and she could pursue her own interests. She became acquainted with Charles Babbage, and it is this association for which she is best known. Babbage gave a lecture on his early computer ideas in Italy, which was published in French. Ada was chosen to translate the published lecture into English. Along the way, and with Babbage's encouragement and help, she added annotations to the lecture that turned out to be twice as long as the lectures themselves. Among these notes were a 'computer program' for calculating Bernoulli numbers that could be run on Babbage's designed (but never built) computer.

For this, Ada is sometimes credited as the first computer programmer. But although the first 'computer programs' were published under her name, there is little doubt that Babbage had provided a great deal of the raw material, if not the entire programs. But more to her credit, in some of her other notes, she seems to have seen quite clearly further into the Information Age than even Babbage, and understood the vast potential and flexibility of the 'computer'. 

Babbage's computer came to nothing at the time, so Ada had no chance to really pursue that, and as things turned out, she had no chance to pursue much of anything. Uterine cancer, laudanum, and fast living led to her death in her mid-30s.

September 1st, 2018

The Kingdom of Gods, by NK Jemisin @ 11:04 am


I found this a long and unrewarding slog. Clearly the author has been slugging them out of the park recently, but I wish I'd stopped at Book 2, maybe even Book 1, of the Inheritance Trilogy.

August 22nd, 2018

Scientism is still wrong @ 07:51 am

Long ago, I ranted about the is/ought problem and scientism, Not science, but scientism... the idea that because scientists find that something is true, that it therefore ought to be that way. As I wrote...

"Scientific fact: Observations of non-human animals exhibiting behavior X.
Scientismist: Humans should be like that.
Anti-Scientismist: What are you smoking?

The scientismist not only anthropomorphises the behavior of the animals, but then maps that behavior onto human beings as a prescriptive rule. Shit, that's tantamount to demanding that Queen Elizabeth II pump out hundreds of eggs a day. Stop being stupid."

Conflating ant queens with human queens seemed exaggerated enough that people would get the parodic point. No one would do such a thing, right? Take some fact about ant nature and apply it to human society as if it were also a fact?

Jordan Peterson steps into the fray.

30% of the ants do 70% of the work. Not a consequence of the West, or capitalism, in case it needs to be said :)"

We'll set aside that he seems to have misunderstood the paper he was quoting. We'll set aside that, as per usual, his remarks are actually ambiguous. Is he happy that some minority has to work hard to make the majority comfortable? 
Is he complaining that 70% of people are lazy? Who knows? But what's important is that he thinks that ant nature has some sort of necessary consequences about human nature. It's not capitalism. It's merely human/ant nature!


July 1st, 2018

Less, the something or other to Paris, Red Sparrow @ 08:52 pm

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On the international business trip of mystery, I finished reasing Less, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Andrew Sean Greer (and also a NYT/PBS Now Read This book choice). A gay novelist approaching 50, Greer chose to write a novel about a gay novelist approaching 50. While amusing but not hilarious, the book's best quality may be the slow burning build of pathos for its initially unlikeable protagonist. Hey, I realize I'm not the Pulitzer Committee, and the prize sets some expectations. This didn't meet them, for me. But maybe if that wasn't emblazoned on the cover, I would feel better about what is certainly a finely crafted novel.

On the plane back, I watched Clint Eastwood's fictionalized film of the incident where 3 Americans on holiday take down a terrorist on a French train. What it resembles more than anything else is that Traveller game where you show up and start character creation and there is only time for one encounter before you have to go home. We get the elaborate backstories of the Americans, and boy is this Clint at his hamfisted worst. 'I'm the kid who doesn't school good, but guns will complete me.' 'I'm the one with a problem with authority, but the service will make me a fine human being.' 'I'm the black one.' It is propaganda, and only became watchable to hate it and its obviousness.

Red Sparrow was about 75% stolen from La Femme Nikita, but there were a few nuggets of originality in the other 25%. Hard to really enjoy films on a plane, especially as you develop a cramp in your thumb from pressing on the headphone jack to keep the audio in stereo. But I can safely say it was a finer film than the steaming pile of crap that was 'the 15:17 to Paris'.

June 30th, 2018

The best marketers @ 07:23 pm

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What? You're not on Trump's mailing list? How else do you keep your eye on him?

<IMG SRC="https://ic.pics.livejournal.com/essentialsaltes/865384/22119/22119_900.gif">

Some points:

#1: The "FEC quarter deadline" sounds very ominous. But surely this is just... well, June ends today. That's a calendar quarter end. There is no particular reason to mention it other than as a fake way to drum up activity.

#2: Triple Matched. By whom? We are not told.

#2a: I mean, all these things are little marketing gimmicks. We've seen it all the time. For a limited time, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation will match all donations. We know that the Gateses picked some donation amount, and in order to try to elicit individual donations, these matching things are set up. And it all works out so that they give the full amount they wanted to donate in the first place.

#2b: I bet the Gateses are not triple matching your Trump donations.

#2c: It must be so encouraging to know that your donation is worth one third of that of the real big donor (whoever it is) 

Journal of No. 118