How Liberty Dies – 21st Century Version

If polls are correct, the Swiss, who were once as liberty-minded as Americans were (past tense), are about to vote themselves a step closer to tyranny. They will vote, apparently, Sunday to kow-tow (cow-tow?) to the EU’s demand that, in order to retain certain touted economic benefits of the Schengen bilateral agreement, Switzerland must gut its existing gun laws so as to conform with those of the EU. It seems a thoroughly modern rendition of lèse-majesté perpetrated by an un-elected elite. That the Swiss would meekly go along would have been unthinkable not long ago.

All so-called media reports cite how the EU tightened its gun laws following the 2015 (Islamist is omitted) mass murders in Paris – “perpetrated by gunfire.” End of analysis. No matter that the fully-automatic guns used were already illegal everywhere; that they were illegally obtained outside the EU and illegally imported. The ready knee-jerk answer of EU unelected bureaucrats: disarm the general public so as to be absolutely certain their citizens can never even think of defending themselves! (against an unassimilable mass of individuals hostile to the host culture – intentionally imported by these same elites). So the venerable Swiss, threatened with some overstated economic penalties, are apparently about vote to surrender a right their ancestors fought and died to bequeath them. This seems to be the pattern by which liberty withers and fractional slavery encroaches upon the inhabitants of Western modernity. To my way of thinking, individuals who hand over more than half their earnings to government are fractional slaves. We can disagree as to the precise fraction.

Also un-recalled is the scant evidence that European governments can be trusted to protect their so-called citizens. Actually, the evidence of the 20th century cuts quite the other way (see Death by Government by R.J. Rummel). Now the Swiss, so quickly forgetting why Hitler’s Anschluss respected only their borders, are surrendering proactively, and for lucre. Sad. And surely a harbinger of the integral (as opposed to fractional) slavery to come. As it will likely be implemented digitally (the state will control the internet and all that appears therein (see The Digital Imprimatur by John Walker)) our descendants in the West will likely inhabit an integral, digital, gun-free, near-perfect tyranny.

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Incessantly-jumping Web Pages

Am I the only one being driven to near-distraction by the fact that most web pages never seem to quit loading and even when (I think) they have finished loading, they continue to intermittently jump up or down? It seems bits of content are added, deleted or moved non-stop on many pages I visit. I have begun to flinch, curse or just quit the page following extreme frustration. I get this recurring wish that my that screen (like the windows in some public transports with a sign “In Case of Emergency – BREAK GLASS.”) had a hammer affixed for emergency exit. It is that frustrating.

Are others suffering this phenomenon? Is it dependent on platform/OS/browser (I use MacOS, Safari)?

If any of our Ratburgher experts can explain, I would appreciate it. I would also be greatly indebted for a fix.

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Septuagenarian Reflections: Acquiring a Missing Sense of Awe

As an inquisitive child, I remember asking my grandparents about their lives – what it was like when they were young, particularly before they emigrated from Ukraine/Poland to the US. All were Jews who fled ever-present danger; unlike rules for game animals, you see, it was always ‘open season’ on Jews back then (is it my imagination, or is that happening again?). My paternal grandmother, Lara, came here at a very young age with no memories of the old country. What she did have – and did not reveal until very near the end of her life – was the knowledge that her seven older brothers all had been murdered by Cossacks around the turn of the 20th century. As history unfolded, this could be classified as merely a warm-up for Babi Yar and who knows how many other unrecorded similar atrocities..

My paternal grandfather, Abraham (né Avram) told me how, as a child, he used to help his father deliver grain in burlap sacks to Kiev on a horse-drawn cart. Part of the payment they received for their farm produce consisted of the emptied burlap sacks in which grain had been delivered – from which his mother made clothing. I, from the comfort of America in the 1950’s, remember thinking how different my grandfather’s childhood world was from the one he presently inhabited (a nice apartment in Newark, New Jersey) as he told me this story. I remember imagining that he must have had to make remarkable adjustments to life which had changed so radically (even though much for the better in most ways). This insight into the course of my grandfather’s life was unusual for me, given what I now realize about my young self. It turned out to be a harbinger of the “adjustments” that were in store for me in the course of my own life…

I don’t know if it was peculiar to my particular psychic make-up or a distinguishing characteristic of my generation (I was born in 1944), but, looking back, I think I must have been jaded from birth. What I mean is that, having spent my formative years in the shadow of mushroom clouds (we regularly did nuclear blast “duck and cover” exercises in public grammar school) – so to speak – I felt immune to any sense of novelty, awe, or wonder. From my perspective (although I never could have articulated it back then), the technological advances and social reverses which regularly occurred did so simply as a matter of course, as if it were simply to be expected. My childhood attitude bordered on one of blasé entitlement, and this was markedly discordant with what I just described thinking about my grandfather. It doesn’t make sense and yet my lack of awe or wonder persisted through most of my adult life – until recently. I spent much of my life longing to be transported spiritually by some irresistible, wondrous, awe-inspiring force (say, like God revealing his existence to me), while remaining ever emotionally unmoved – as almost an outside observer in my own everyday life.

As I write, I am tending the excellent wood stove in my family room. Whenever the outside temperature is below 25 F or if it is cold, damp and rainy, I like to have a fire. It may be surprising to hear me say that this is one of the most satisfying and reassuring activities I have ever done. I warms me, profoundly, and more than in the thermodynamic sense; the acts of starting and maintaining the fire and feeling its warmth are deeply reassuring and connect me, in an abstract, yet palpable way, to my ancestors. I have a vivid early childhood memory of my maternal grandmother, Blanche, saying “I have to make heat,” and taking me down to the basement of the second-story walk-up apartment in which she lived with my grandfather. There, she carefully shoveled coal into the furnace from a small ready pile kept near the furnace door. Not a piece was wasted; even the dust was swept onto the shovel and fed to the fire.

From this memory, I can easily generate abstract images of my earlier and forever unknown ancestors – at various times and places over thousands of years – sitting near a fire to warm themselves in what must have been brief respites from hard, uncomfortable, uncertain lives. Inescapable is the realization that had a single member of the lines of humans who were my ancestors not survived to procreate, I would not exist. There is awe for me, today, in that thought. Ancillary to it is the realization that our present ability to record ourselves in durable media may forever change how we see ourselves in the stream of humanity. Our lineal descendants will be able to see and hear us, their progenitors, on HD videos going back scores, hundreds, even thousands of years. Those sufficiently interested may well suffer from ancestor overload. I realized this when I came across an old photo of my grandfather Abe who, at about age 20, remarkably resembled my 3 year-old son.

Nowadays, as my physical wellbeing declines (no identified terminal illness, yet…) in ways I can no longer deny – as I approach my end – I find nostalgia, awe and a great sense of mystery in many things I used to take for granted. The technological progress I previously considered merely due, ordinary or mundane, I have come to see as near-miraculous. The advances my grandfather witnessed – from horse cart to jet airliner – pale compared to mine, from vacuum tube to printed circuit. And from horse-cart to printed circuits (each of whose count of transistor gates keeps increasing) or, for that matter, from the invention of the wheel to artificial intelligence – has happened in mere seconds, as measured in ticks of the big sidereal clock in the sky. This realization alone, this hint of the possibility of a glimpse of the immanence of God in the mind of humanity, outweighs a lifetime of blasé shrugs. 

Nowadays, one inescapable mystery of life strikes most every time I think back on the course of my own youth. It is often a lancinating psychic pain: how have I gone from then ’til now so incredibly quickly? It feels like it was only yesterday that I was a promising, innocent young boy with much to anticipate. How I long to go back and whisper some of life’s present wisdom in that scared little boy’s ear. But I am already an old man who developed few of his talents – and even those not much to my satisfaction – with nothing left to look forward to; all life’s milestones, so exciting in the anticipation, are past but one. Where has my life gone…? Where have those lively, innocent, hopeful faces of my childhood companions gone? Many are already dead and this somehow just doesn’t compute. I shrink from the thought. I look at the cast bios while watching old movies on TCM. Those magnificent men, those beautiful women, so vibrant, so full of life…  they are all dead and gone, every one. My life now often consists of merely running out the clock with some lingering vague hope for finding meaning, recognition, affirmation or love (of a more abiding kind than the lust I once confused with love). Does the fact that I have lived make any difference, I ask myself as I count down my life one 90-day prescription refill (really seven bottles of them simultaneously every three months) at a time? Will I outlive the next refill or will it survive me? When my light goes out, all existence – as far as I am concerned – will cease. That, too, is a mystery – one I find presently painful, awe-inspiring, incomprehensible.

Several moments of nostalgia recently rose to near-physical pain. Tiny excerpts from the tale of my life. Something led me to look on Google Earth at a sleep-away camp I went to for eight weeks for each of the summers of 1953, ’54, and ’55 – age 8 – 10. It was a scary experience to go from north NJ to NYC, then by train to Great Barrington MA, to Monterey by bus. It was an all-day trip, whose separation anxiety and motion sickness led me to vomit all over the bus floor even as we arrived at Camp Monterey for boys and sister Camp Owaissa for girls.. The stench of this episode lingered and did not improve my popularity. Such gustatory ejaculations were emblematic, it seems, of my childhood fears. The first day of kindergarten, my mother walked me the half-mile to school and left me with my class. The separation anxiety was so intense I vomited there, all over the bright, shiny yellow enamel table I shared with other children seated around it. Typical of my upbringing, I only recall being given a wash and clean clothes, but not the love and reassurance I needed to assuage the fear of being separated from my mother. 

But I digress, the point I wanted to make is that, notwithstanding the anxiety of getting to camp and staying there in real time, the memories of having been there leave me with truly heart-rending nostalgia and awe. On Google Maps, there remains not the slightest trace of the rather extensive physical manifestations of the camp. Not the bungalow in which we slept, the dining hall, stables, baseball fields, shooting range or the pine grove, the site of bonfires and marshmallow immolations. Neither were there the docks on the lake where I overcame many fears and learned to swim and water ski. The memory of water skiing, in turn, led me to recall my next-door neighbor, Larry, from Elizabeth NJ. Although a couple of years older, he was my best friend through most of my childhood. He was the water ski instructor at the camp (we first learned of it from him) and I had lost contact with him when I left for college. As was my style, sadly I know now, my friends were then disposable. I rarely maintained contact with any in a given school or locale after either of us physically moved on. I remember my dad told me he had heard from Larry about 30 years ago and that Larry said he would be glad to hear from me. Alas, even then, I was busy with life and never bothered to reach out. I have searched in vain for him on the web recently. How I would love to recall with him the times at Camp Monterey and the endless stickball games we played in our neighborhood! I can only see this trait in myself as a defect of character which is self-punishing. The longing and nostalgia engendered from this self-inflicted loss indeed constitute a form of ‘just-so’ retribution.

A similar longing took hold of me was I watched the movie My Fair Lady recently. My mother was an amateur ‘Borscht Belt’ performer along the lines of Ethel Merman. She had some talent, a powerful voice and a dramatic persona. She played leading roles in numerous local amateur and semi-pro musical productions, especially Gypsy. Anyway, my parents had a collection of 33rpm renditions of all the popular Broadway musicals, including My Fair Lady. I even went with friends to see a few of these productions live. Damn Yankees, seen at age 12, introduced me to the more-than-real, ‘larger than life’ effect produced by such artful shows. A rare moment of that elusive awe I longed for. I later took the great unrequited love of my childhood, Karen, to see Camelot with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet – the original Broadway cast (It did not make her love me). Again, a brief moment of inspiration, whose impact was lost on me since the entire enterprise was in service of somehow causing Karen to ‘love’ me; a manipulation, in short, which blunted the effect that experience might otherwise have had.

As with nostalgia for Camp Monterey and longing to recapture the magic of life which eluded me in real-time, I had the same longing while I was watching My Fair Lady. I think it is a mix of many emotional threads. These musicals display a completely different culture from the present. The sheer innocence and socially docile, amenable humanity of the time seems quaint, almost child-like compared to today. The simple decency in those musical dramas and the nobility of even the fallen characters, spoke of an untainted human condition – flawed yet hopeful – today warped beyond recognition. So I think we have lost something culturally in what is today required of entertainment. More personally, these musicals connect me to whatever small part of my childhood was not fraught with fear of not measuring up to my parents expectations; that gnawing sense that I was somehow responsible for their happiness and finding fulfillment by my performance on the stage of their lives. What a burden! And these lilting refrains provided a temporary balm, easing the chronic aches in the reality of family dysfunction. A glimpse of life and love as it could be. And seeing My Fair Lady today stands, magically, for the proposition that some values are, indeed, timeless – regardless of what our fake culture now insists.

I try to avoid the intense self-conscious moments of existential fear rooted in my childhood as best I can. I have never required the admonition ‘memento mori.’ To the contrary, what I need is a time out from recalling my mortality. The best antidote I have found is keeping busy. That is precisely why I failed at retirement 10 years ago. After a two month trial off of work, I received an offer of part-time anesthesiology practice and I grabbed it. I continue to do that on average about 6 days each month. As well, I am starting a second part-time job as a physician in a drug & alcohol rehab, where I will help detox addicts four weekend days per month (so as to not conflict with my anesthesia work). I do this simply because when I work, I become the task of doing my job and this affords me precious moments of ‘memento vitae’ – remembering life, unencumbered for a time with the intense consciousness of self (self-centeredness in recovery-speak) which is toxic in the large doses which I seem unable to escape when I am not working, reading or engrossed in a good movie (of which there are few made nowadays).

Speaking of addiction and recovery, somebody once told me she thought I was a ‘meanings’ junkie. Maybe that is part of my problem..

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VDH Deconstructs Intersectional Radicalism

It is not uncommon that Victor Davis Hanson offers understanding of our times like no other. Rather than try to summarize, I will simply quote:

In such a revolutionary scramble to be the most diverse and hard left, the logical trajectory ends up with a race to transcend the physical limits of victimhood. Think of the devolution of French anti-monarchists to republicans to Girondists to Jacobins—and on to Napoleon. Or remember how the anti-Czarists aristocrats were overwhelmed by Mensheviks who were crushed by the Bolsheviks as Lenin radicalized everything prior and in the end his Soviet became Stalinized.

So now appears Jussie Smollett.

He is not just left-wing, but a rabid hater of Donald Trump. And he is not just black, but gay as well. And he is not just a victim, but a hyper-victim of white bullies. And not just bullies, but bullies with MAGA hats. And he is not just a victim of white red-hats, but a victim of ski-masked racists. And not just of their blows, but of (frozen?) bleach. And not just of bleach and blows, but of lynch rope as well. And they did not just hit, but smeared and slurred. And not just MAGA sloganeering, but anti-gay, anti-black—and perhaps, worst of all, in our performance society, they slandered his “Empire” TV show!

Progressives are like a worn rope being pulling apart at both ends. At one end, there is an effort to radicalize prior radicalization, and on the other end victimhood is heading toward parody.

And what is left is the emblematic Jussie Smollett—the logical result of the revolution, who alone has staked out the only authentic and ultimate revolutionary stance: nihilism—a state where no one can possibly rival Jussie’s revolutionary grievance credentials because they cannot exist in a reality based world.

Or put another way, when no one is revolutionary enough, the revolutionary auditors end up ridiculous in their zeal for power and celebrity—sort of like Orwell’s radical pigs finally prancing about on two legs and feasting on silver, sort of like Jussie Smollett leveraging the ultimate state of victimhood for a better deal on “Empire.

Delicious, and so very accurate.

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Contingent Democracy

If the definitive history of democracy is ever written (and, lest I misperceive the trajectory of the world, that is a big ‘if,’ though Democracy: the God That Failed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe may qualify) – and it is in the manner in which history inevitably oversimplifies – it may well record that the final curtain on popular sovereignty came down by means of criminalization of political differences. Note the parallels between the leaders of the US and Israel. Is anyone surprised that both prosecutions are rooted in leftism? Now, most every bedrock foundation on which our representative republic once rested has already been demolished, but this particular strategy – making majority rule contingent on the leftist-ruled swamp NOT manufacturing and prosecuting supposed crimes of the opposition leader – is pretty easy to identify as “the end.”

I don’t know for a fact that the law in Israel is like that in the US in this particular regard (see Three Felonies a Day by Harvey Silverglate), but in this country anyone who is investigated can be charged, bankrupted,  and/or convicted of having done something. Law this pervasive literally invites political prosecutions and this state of affairs, I think, evidences the convergent evolution of leftist totalitarian systems – the ability to charge anyone with wrongdoing (or being crazy) based upon nothing more than expressing non-conforming political views. American life has obviously become subject to “…a multitude of New Offices, and… swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” Once threatened by King George III, however, the “New Offices” have been created and, like a lethal cancer, metastasized under the supposedly-legitimate authority of the three branches of government originally designed to protect us, “structurally” from precisely what has happened through the eternal statist denizens of all three branches. The only real structural protection, it turns out, is in the form of torches and pitchforks.

The very existence of the Mueller investigation, not even bothering to feign compliance with the statute’s requirement that a specific crime must be investigated and staffed with activist Democrat partisans down the line, is all one needs to know that the US you thought you lived in exists no longer. BTW, if Mueller isn’t enough, know that, from now on, Grand Juries can be convened in any jurisdiction – like the one (or more) in the Southern District of New York (as partisan as partisan can be) – and is likely investigating every breath taken, hiccough heard, and waft of flatus emitted by one Donald Trump. If the average guy unwittingly commits three felonies a day, imagine what anyone who has made a $billion or so in the Empire State can be accused of!

And this form of contingent majority rule, dear friends, is the stuff of which revolutions and/or banana republics are made. Thanks to the left, we are witnessing the definitive end of the United States of America as it was founded and likely the rest of Western liberal democracy along with it. It is difficult, anymore to envisage a peaceful resolution when one side decides to win at any cost.

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Brief Reflection on New Year’s Day 2019

The ability to shift focus between near and far recursively – to establish context and perspective – is essential to understanding the human condition and its trajectory. John Walker is providing a stellar (pun intended) running example of this principle when it comes to understanding our little corner of the galaxy with the real-time adumbration of the nature of Ultima Thule.

John is also part of the reason for my New Year’s reflection on humanity’s delta V. Heading the list of his important books of 2018 is Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark. Thanks to that recommendation, I am now reading it. And, like other books which document our current abilities, it makes quite clear the fact that, in sidereal time, the plot of our intellectual and engineering abilities is asymptotic. Our progress beginning with the earliest records of our ancestors up until now is nothing short of breathtaking (my grandfather’s means of conveyance were his feet and a horse-drawn cart; had I the desire, the cash, and the health, this year I might join Burt Rutan on Spaceship 2 in [arguable] space). I find myself wondering whether our path is sustainable. Actually, as another book I am reading suggests,  I am not at all sure we will endure as a species. Why might I be thinking that on this holy-day?

Having recently read The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes, (not to mention having a cursory knowledge of the history of the 20th century’s warfare and wholesale killing), I was already inclined toward such thoughts. As well, I just started reading A Crack in Creation – Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, by Jennifer Doudna and Samuel Sternberg. This explains the science behind genetic engineering and the choices now available to us in manipulating our own heritable substance. The potential for both good and evil are made manifest. The title, I am sorry to say, is inapposite; not only is such control thinkable, but has already been done to a limited degree and will surely continue.

I often wonder if my sense that our times are different – that things really are worse now than in the past – isn’t the same question asked by every generation and thus without meaning. I think the above books (as well as other new understanding of life and the universe) stand for the proposition that the present does represent a discontinuity with the past. Previously, on the occasion of the New Year, people asked if this year life might be better; whether there were grounds for hope or clouds on the horizon to fear. Taken for granted, however, was that there would be a future for the world and humanity.

No longer. We are now blessed with the knowledge of things like solar storms (coronal mass ejections). We know that the sun has a lifespan and will eventually go nova and fry the Earth. We know that entropy wins, eventually. As if that isn’t enough, we possess multiple tools of our own destruction: enough nuclear weapons to obliterate most life on Earth; the biological knowledge to change our genetic makeup in ways we will not be able to predict with certainty; the computer/software design ability to create conscious machines which will redesign themselves and could well come to regard us as no more consequential than gnats or bacteria. I don’t think our forbearers had the knowledge, context or perspective which make such thoughts possible. Worse than the absence of personal hope is existential hopelessness for humanity itself. Even if you don’t think our extinction likely in the near future, it is within the realm of possibility. That thought is good enough reason for the brevity of this reflection.

Which is why I will now repair to the escape available in the form college football on TV before I continue reading and digesting the “unthinkable.”

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Revolution, American Style

I will give the French credit. When they do revolutions, they go about them properly: in the streets, at the barricades. Bodies, and particularly heads are put at risk. Not so in America; nothing so old-fashioned or crass as blood in the streets here. Above all, no risk that the failed perps’ heads will appear on spikes. No, here revolutions take place in secret grand jury rooms, where the mills (Muehlen, in German. A miller is a mueller – how about that!) of justice coups grind exceeding slow…

Much has been speculated since Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. The end result – that Trump would, with certainty, be accused of some wrongdoing – was baked into the cake at the outset. Comey, as agent of the deep state, somehow, saw to it that his friend Mueller was appointed. Were we still a nation of laws, their relationship would have been disqualifying, as should have been many of Mueller’s appointees been disqualified; they are known and vocal Democrat partisans. The fact that Mueller was never even slightly concerned with either of these blatant conflicts of interest tells just how sure of himself he is in his mission. And all of this is only possible because the “media” are now Democrat operatives; as such, they only scream about “apparent” conflicts of interest when they apply to Republicans. Blatant ones on the part of Democrats merit no mention, whatsoever. NOT news = fake news.

Trump’s ill-chosen former lawyer, Cohen, has become fresh chum strewn in the elasmobranch journalist pool, extra blood added by various Democrats of the same chondrichthyes family. All predictions aside, one thing, known to all inside the beltway is clear: no one can survive a federal investigation for anything without evidence of some felonious wrongdoing being “discovered” (or fabricated in the form of a perjury trap). The mere existence of this investigation assured the outcome: Trump will be accused of some felony or other, in the finest Stalin/Berea tradition – “You bring me the man and I will find you the crime.” Welcome to 21st century Amerika.

Let’s make a few comparisons. Hillary’s deleted emails were clear felonies, for which, still today, literally hundreds are sitting in jail – for deleting work-related materials of no national import. They will continue to go to jail in the future for this same act. Ordinary folks go straight to jail for doing this. To Comey and the media – no crime. Whatever Trump is eventually accused of will pale in comparison. Today, it is said Trump violated campaign laws by paying off women. What, by comparison, happened to women involved with Bill Clinton? Trump paid them money, Clinton and his wife destroyed Bills “bimbos.” Yet, they “love” women, while Trump hates them. And the kiss off – Obama broke the same campaign law Trump is accused of breaking, to the tune of about 10 times as much money. The result? No media coverage, no criminal accusation. Quiet payment of a small fine. End of non-story = more fake non-news, which, again is only no news when it applies to Democrats.

I have no idea how this will play out. What I do know is that in today’s America (it is no longer your grandparents’ America), all things are possible. I suspect Trump will not go down like Nixon did. That was a coup writ small. It was merely a warm-up for this, however. I hope Trump will not refrain from whatever he can do to fight and I hope he is joined – on the barricades if need be – by the righteously-irate citizens who elected him, lawfully. This is an attempted coup, under color of law, but, in fact extra-legal. It is a fake criminalization of political differences and has been conducted in secret and in slow motion. The perpetrators ought to be exposed for the treasonous revolutionaries that they are. They ought to fail and they ought to pay the heavy price of failure.

If this coup succeeds, count the moment as the definitive end of the American experiment (in my pessimism, I suspect it has already ended, but I could be wrong).

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“The Creepy Line,” a Documentary Worth Watching…

…and a subject worth reviling and fearing – i.e. the power of Google and Facebook to shape society in the image they, completely unaccountably, deem best. The title, an understatement – “creepy ‘ is much too mild a descriptor – comes from a statement by Eric Schmidt, who in 2010, told an interviewer that Google’s policy is to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”While that makes for a catchy title, it in no way captures the nefarious things being done by a company whose motto is (or was) supposedly, “Don’t be evil.” Facebook does similar things as well.

The film explains how Google began as a search engine, but became something very different. As a non-technical individual, I cannot do the topic justice. Suffice it to say, the stories told by psychologist Robert Epstein and Jordan Peterson (both of whose email and youtube accounts were suddenly shut down without explanation and without recourse) are very frightening.

Epstein recounts scientific studies which show that the the mere order in which search results are listed (and whether or not even a single one of them contains any negatives regarding a candidate) easily sway the opinions of a randomly-selected, undecided group of people. This alone should give great pause as to how we view these companies.

In addition, the tension between acting as neutral forums vs. publishers is explained and fleshed out. Today, we have the intolerable situation where Google and Facebook are regularly, if sometimes surreptitiously, acting as unregulated publishers by editing much of what they offer online. Even while doing so, they claim to be mere neutral entities, not responsible for what they show (or do not, by intentionally suppressing them!) in their links. The situation as it now exists, this documentary makes clear, must not continue.

After hearing the tales of how their email accounts were suddenly gone because they said thing Google didn’t like, I have decided it is time to migrate off of Gmail (I stopped using Facebook years ago after giving it a try and finding it “creepy”). The risk of losing all my mail as a result of political speech disliked by Google, in its arrogance (they scan every word, including discarded drafts!!), I find to be intolerable. I also find it intolerable to support a company (as the product that I am, not a customer) which has incorporated evil into the very heart of its business model. If you think I exaggerate, please watch the film, available for free on Amazon Prime.

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Review “Losing Mars” by Peter Cawdron

I had read Anomaly by this author. It was interesting and, as I recall, lacking the vices I describe here. Since it was covered by my trial of Amazon Unlimited, I figured I would read Losing Mars, that I couldn’t go wrong – yet I did. As I recall, John mentioned that some of the new sci-fi partakes of social justice warfare to the detriment of the stories.

Here is the review I posted on Amazon:

“Superfluous Moral Preening

I gave up reading about one-quarter through, notwithstanding a lot of interesting revelations about what it will take for humans to survive on Mars. For me, a major motivation for reading (particularly near-future) science fiction is to escape from the turbulent, nigh-on insane times in which we live; I need a break in which to recall humans are motivated and capable of doing amazing, constructive and even noble things. There is no shortage of media about whose raison d’être is to regale us with virtue signaling or de rigeur politically-correct thinking. Happily, there is also a good bit of near-future sci-fi which finds it unnecessary to preach. This author might very well have written the characters precisely as he did – matter-of-factly – and I would have continued and thought little of it. The fact that that was insufficient reveals an agenda beyond story-telling, however. The agenda/sermons bludgeoned the structure of the story to a point of failure, allowing the precious oxygen to be sucked out of the story/habitat, without enriching Mars’ atmosphere in the slightest.”

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President Trump, Executive vs. John Roberts, Judiciary

Once again, President Trump is stating the obvious truth. One of the major fracture lines in the cold civil way underway in America is judicial activism of leftist judges, who feel completely unencumbered by the Constitution or statute in making rulings according to their own policy preferences.

This represents a major departure from that codified in the Constitution and has been particularly apparent in a series of judicially intemperate arbitrary rulings against the President’s near plenary power to deal with immigration and foreign policy. The progressives who want to stymie the President know precisely which forum to shop. They invariable go to ‘Obama’ judges, ‘Clinton’ Judges, etc. Everybody know this. I hope the Chief Justice if only speaking from ‘institutional correctness’ according to his position. If he really believes what he is saying we are in even more trouble than I already think.

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Do Video Productions Give Flickering Insight into Modern Russia?

My wife, a great video fan, largely selects our programming from among DirecTV (soon to be shed due to high cost and emerging streaming alternatives), Netflix and Prime Video. For years, BBC has been a go-to source, usually via Prime. Alas, she is someone who usually multi-tasks with her laptop while watching TV, which has ruled out watching foreign language videos with English subtitles. Until about a week ago…

…when she discovered several Russian language video series, which came as an enormous surprise. Each consists of 8 – 10 episodes of around 50 minutes. First came Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great. Then we watched Rasputin. We are now into Sophia – the story Sophia Palaiologina, daughter of the brother of the last Byzantine emperor, who had been defeated by Ottoman Turks. Sophia was taken under Papal protection to Rome, where she was raised (ostensibly Catholic despite her having been Eastern Orthodox as a young child) and later offered by Pope Sixtus IV in marriage to Ivan III of Muscovy. This was a cynical attempt to capture the Orthodox Prince to Roman Catholicism, and much intrigue is on display in several dimensions.

All of which is outside the impressions I want to share here. When critiquing literature, we are used to reading “between the lines” as to the author and his/her times and culture. Here, I want to inquire as to the validity of searching “between the frames,” so to speak, of this near-infinite series of still images which combine through the human brain’s fortunate perceptual error, into often-stunning moving images. And they are indeed ‘moving’ in both senses of that word. What, then, can be inferred about the film’s creators and the country in which such movies are produced?

These are not your father’s Russian (or particularly Soviet) movies, and I found myself needing to challenge my own biases  (starting while I was still watching) when reflecting upon what these truly excellent productions imply about modern Russia. Had these videos emerged from my TV in English, I would have taken them for top-notch Hollywood productions, lacking only the coarse language, gratuitous nudity/sex, and wall-to-wall decadence. A certain forthrightness and innocence characteristic of pre-modern American filmmaking pervades these productions. They come from a place of quiet restraint and decency; they show nothing but respect for the majority Orthodox faith.

Technically, every component of film I can identify is extremely well-done. The story lines are credible and engaging, the characters, similarly, exude depth and texture written in screenplay fashion which is altogether polished, believable and professional. The settings are often breathtaking – some in recognizable lush historical places and buildings – all  perfectly restored. More rustic scenes show structures appropriate for the times. Costumes and implements (like weapons) in every one of these productions are unusually magnificent; fabrics are especially prominent and sumptuous.

The acting – across the board – is nothing short of superb, award-winning in its own right (and not even slightly dependent upon the actors’ having displayed the de rigeur political views du jour). The actress portraying Catherine the Great, Marina Aleksandrova was particularly striking and effective (although I cannot rule out some testosterone-weighted impression of her [pardon me while I catch my breath]). Other characters, even those evoking no humoral response in this writer, from major to minor, are uniformly excellent. The English subtitles are generally very good translations, with a few lapses in the form of modern colloquialisms inappropriate to the period.

These productions invoke in me a strong sense that the creators are intensely interested in showing the history of their nation and a desire to do so honestly, accurately and artfully. I believe it portrays a healthy nationalism – of pride in their nation’s emergence and existence – not superiority over anyone (why is nationalism such a dirty word for progressives?). Production generally appears to have taken place in an affluent country. Nowhere, even around the edges, does one see any shoddiness. Rustic homes of ordinary people appear clean and show real craftsmanship in their construction. Cinematography is just superb and scenes requiring computer graphics are every bit as good as what comes out of Hollywood.

Not usually a movie critic, I am surely leaving out many other identifiable aspects of movie-making which are amenable to description and critique. My overall impression of these films, however, has demolished whatever sense I had of Russia as a place somehow not measuring up to our “elevated” standards. I am not sure my inferences are completely valid, but suffice it to say that my opinion of Russia has markedly improved.

George Will used to say that the Soviet Union couldn’t produce poetry; that it was a third-world country with nuclear weapons. I remain unsure as to whether Vladimir Putin is really the dangerous autocrat our establishment and media insist he is. Seeing between the frames of these films this kind of creativity – which is usually upstream of politics – suggests some important, human, esthetic and ethical things are happening in a country which has only recently made itself able to afford these truly opulent productions. Considering where they came from, Russians have made obvious progress in many dimensions. Though they now even purport to possess hypersonic nuclear weapons, no third-world country can produce the poetry of these magnificent productions. 

The opening credits reveal that these films originated from Moskino Productions and, interestingly, state they were supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. Could it be they are on to something? Maybe the best defense of a nation is maintenance of a coherent, self-respecting, self-restrained culture which knows and values its own history. By way of contrast, when people ask why I no longer attend Hollywood movies, I tell them I refuse to pay money to go into a dark room only to emerge feeling ashamed to be an American and a member of the human race (oh, how could I forget – now I would also have to be ashamed of my hypo-melaninemia).

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Public Health, Immigration, and Politics

Disease surveillance at the borders of the United States has undergone a radical (that word has lots of application here, nowadays) change. In the past, prospective legal immigrants arriving at ports of entry like Ellis Island, underwent serious scrutiny for infectious diseases. Many were quarantined for significant periods of time. Presumptions clearly came down on the side of caution when loosing new immigrants on a population whose health was taken seriously by law and by immigration officials. They were committed to protecting public health and followed strict procedures in order to assure it.

This approach has been abandoned. Although I have not made a serious study of the abandonment of public health measures, the first major deviation, I think, occurred in regards to AIDS. There, it seems, the established reporting and tracing of contacts in place for all previous sexually transmitted diseases were abandoned for political reasons; former basic principles of public health were deemed secondary to political needs, ostensibly to protect from discrimination those who were suffering from a disease which, at that time,  was much less manageable than it is today. Of course, discrimination – now a forbidden word – as to infected individuals (which is, after all, equivalent  to diagnosis of the presence of a communicable disease) is the basis of preventing spread of such diseases, But this is not the point I want to make here.

The point is to demonstrate the tension which now exists between well-established principles of public health and favored political narratives. Illustrating this, parents of children who have died of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) are speaking out and accusing the CDC of under-reporting the incidence and perhaps hiding the origin of this mystery illness, which is likely viral in etiology. There have been quiet rumblings dating back to the early Obama Administration, left largely unreported by the ever-vigilant-for-only-those-things-that-fit-the-narrative MSM, about the possibility of new diseases emerging in the US coincident with the ongoing invasion of “refugees” across the southern border.

Over the past several years, members of my own family have come down with several potent and very strange viral illnesses, one of which included fever, severe sore throat, painful symptoms of urinary tract infection and bloody conjunctiva (as seen in horror movies) – unlike anything I or our doctors had ever seen. Nowhere have I seen reports about this particular illness, but I suspect there are other similar stories deemed not worthy of reporting by our betters in media. Even ordinary knuckle-dragging citizens who are aware of former public health procedures for vetted legal immigrants might question the wisdom of taking thousands of illegal immigrant “children” (many of whom look strangely like men of military age in photos) and quickly putting them on airplanes (at public expense and with zero ID’s required of thee and me in order to fly!)  and dispersing them throughout the population – as was done for much of the Obama administration.

It seems the rights of citizens continue to shrink viv-à-vis anyone who cares to cross our borders for any reason, while our duty accept the consequences (like communicable diseases and payment for the wellbeing of all comers) has no limit. Inescapable is the conclusion that a government which abandons basic public health measures as to (is it merely hundreds of thousands or is it millions?) border-crossers no longer has much interest in protecting its erstwhile citizens, now reduced to subjects, in practice. Are we not becoming postmodern vassals?

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Today’s “Journalism” in Full

As if any more evidence is needed that the MSM puts Goebbels record to shame, witness the “reporting” on the mail “bombs.” The narrative, of course, is that Trump’s execrable anti-media statements are to blame. Now, I think it is fair to say that violent rhetoric runs about 100:1::Dem:Repub; that is unworthy of mention. Did the “media” ever find fault with Obama (“bring a gun to a knife fight”), Holder (“kick them”), Booker (“get in their face”), Watters (serial lunatic ravings) etc.,etc.,etc…

The pattern of recipients seems most convenient for an October surprise favorable to Dems. Do you suppose if the shoe were reversed, the narrative might include prominent, indeed rampant, speculation that this is a false flag operation, conducted by R’s to tar D’s? It has a more than a whiff of congruency with the tactics just deployed against Kavanaugh.

The single low-resolution photo of the supposed bomb, to my eye (I claim a certain expertise, having constructed bombs as pranks in college and was actually suspended for blowing apart a 2-foot diameter Norway Maple with one) it appears to be a mock-up – a fake. I have not seen any reports they have been blown up, as bomb squads are wont to do with bombs which appear real. Again, an unreported fact suggesting the likelihood of something beyond face value – the “no story here” typical deflection of anything possibly harmful to their Dem patrons/fellow travelers.

Investigative reporting? That threat only emerges to damage Trump (e.g. his gift tax return in the NYT) or Republicans. Our so-called media’s radioactive emanations occupy a spectrum well beyond fake news. In likely collusion (a word reserved exclusively for Trump and Republicans) between legacy “journalism” and monolithic Silicon Valley social media giants, we see in the bomb narrative what has become banal, mundane: denigration of Trump and his supporters in an organized (how many anti-Trump newspaper editorials on the same day?), concerted effort by corporations, cultural elites, non-government organizations, and public institutions (FBI, IRS, who knows who else) to influence elections. Under media rubrics, such activities can only condemned when practiced (even in the imagination) by those opposed to progressive causes, never by those in favor. Even the possibility they could be undertaken by Democrats is unworthy of even the slightest examination.

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Fascinating Online Course: “Simulation Neuroscience”

In at least one of his book reviews, John Walker has linked to the “Blue Brain Project.” This is a multidisciplinary approach to simulating (or perhaps instead emulating) the function of the mammalian (eventually the human) brain. It is being conducted in John’s back yard at the École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne. It is a very ambitious project, presently studying slices of rat somatosensory cerebral cortex containing about 31,000 neurons.

Once upon a time, I was graduate student in anatomy at Rutgers Medical School studying the development and innervation of the superior oblique muscle of the newborn rat using enzyme staining of the motor end-plates and electron microscopy. I also studied neuroscience (then known as neuroanatomy and neurophysiology) and taught gross anatomy.

All the while, I fervently tried to piece together, bottom-up, all the parts of the nervous system, beginning with individual neurons (nerve cells) – their structure, electrical function and connections. As well, I learned the major connections (tracts) between various parts of the central nervous system (=the brain and the spinal cord). In my naiveté, I believed that if I only studied hard enough it would all come together, that an emergent understanding, a gestalt, would result. Wrong. It never happened. I now know that was because my brain lacked the memory and processing power.

What I was really wanting was the digital simulation now being developed at the Blue Brain Project, which is using the entire scientific literature as it pertains to neuroscience and very sophisticated in-house experiments in an attempt to assemble sparse data (it is impossible to know everything about the brain, so the researchers look for the minimally-necessary data to design algorithms) into digital simulations. These are then tested iteratively for conformance to observed biological functions.

All of which is preface to telling you about a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC – something which is new to me) and very worthwhile. Available for free online is “Simulation Neuroscience.” I have watched the first few hours of videos, describing the general approach and explaining the basic biology. I am hoping that when it gets around to the data, programming and computing (it requires supercomputers) aspects that I will still be able to follow. For the moment, at least, I am very excited to have renewed what was once intense intellectual curiosity which was left unfulfilled in the past for want of technology required to understand it. For those interested, I recommend checking it out.

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What is at Stake with the Kavanaugh Vote

Whenever I find it difficult to understand what is going on in the big picture, I turn to Victor Davis Hanson. He has several current essays which are pertinent. I recommend them and will not try to summarize them, as they are clearer than I can be and well worth reading. I will just say, as an enticement, they include words like ‘Jacobin.’

The political stakes, I think, cannot be higher. If the Republicans with their majority, fail to confirm Judge Kavanaugh, thereby defeating the unholy and anti-American tactics of the left (that, in itself, is worth a ‘yes’ vote), I expect that easily enough Republicans will demur in November to result in a blue tsunami. Should they fail, I will be freshening up my ‘the end is near’ sandwich boards.

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