Is this the Current “Third Rail”?

Is this the current “third rail”?:

I think a white conservative person using the n-word (which nobody should use), is probably more of an instant pariah-making incident, but I am not sure refusing to treat a trans woman as completely a woman is very far behind nowadays.

My thoughts?

On censorship, “private company” or not: 99.9% against it (and this does not fall within the 0.1%). Also, given much of social media censorship is, at best, in alignment with governments and, at worst, at government request…I believe it is a civil rights infringement of the 1st Amendment.

On the controversy around how trans people must be treated and what should be done to those who refuse to acquiesce: I’ll have to save that for another time. Given the caustic and career-ending nature of this latest battle in the culture wars, I’ll want to make sure I have my thoughts entirely together, and that I take time to word it so as not to give needless offense to either side. Whether I agree with you or not, I care about you, your opinions, and…yes…your feelings.

Is Reading Fiction Important?

I said, more than a few times, that I prefer non-fiction books over fiction ones. Why? Because with non-fiction, if you get 100 pages in and realize you don’t like it, you can just stop reading it and move on. Not so with fiction. If you are 100 pages in, even if the writing is horrible, you are committed. You want to know how it all plays out.

Maybe not for you, but it’s true for me, and I read relatively little fiction, because of it. (Although, I probably could be happy reading a mix of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft over-and-over. :-))

Stolen Focus book cover
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That’s why I had to take a step back when I read something about a beneficial effect fiction has (that non-fiction does not) in Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention–and How to Think Deeply Again, by Johann Hari. After writing this:

I like the person I become when I read a lot of books. I dislike the person I become when I spend a lot of time on social media.

He continued…

But I wondered if I was getting carried away—these were just my hunches, after all—so later, I went to the University of Toronto to interview Raymond Mar, who is a professor of psychology there. Raymond is one of the social scientists who has done most in the world to study the effects that reading books has on our consciousness, and his research has helped to open up a distinctive way of thinking about this question.

This is where it gets tricky to elaborate on, without copying too much. 🙂 Basically, Mar and his mentor, Keith Oatley, wondered:

When you read a novel, you are immersing yourself in what it’s like to be inside another person’s head. You are simulating a social situation. You are imagining other people and their experiences in a deep and complex way. So maybe, he said, if you read a lot of novels, you will become better at actually understanding other people off the page. Perhaps fiction is a kind of empathy gym, boosting your ability to empathize with other people—which is one of the most rich and precious forms of focus we have.

(Emphasis mine.)

So they figured out a way to study it…and…

When they got the results, they were clear. The more novels you read, the better you were at reading other people’s emotions. It was a huge effect. This wasn’t just a sign that you were better educated—because reading nonfiction books, by contrast, had no effect on your empathy.

Hari then shares Mar’s explanation for why this is true, including:

Each of us can only ever experience a small sliver of what it’s like to be a human being alive today, Raymond told me, but as you read fiction, you see inside other people’s experiences. That doesn’t vanish when you put down the novel. When you later meet a person in the real world, you’ll be better able to imagine what it’s like to be them. Reading a factual account may make you more knowledgeable, but it doesn’t have this empathy-expanding effect.


I’m convinced enough that I am going to purposely mix more fiction into my reading. You?

I would buy Stolen Focus and read it…even if you already imbibe plenty of fiction. Perhaps you’ve avoided the attention-ruining effects of modern Internet, social media, and smartphone apps, but I suspect not. Although I haven’t finished the entire book yet, it is helping me understand why it is such a battle for me to sit and read more than ten minutes, and will give me some tools to correct it.

Well, enough writing…time to prep for my next podcast!

(Cross-posted on my Data Guy (Me) blog.)

Well, Maybe…

After hearing Jesse Watters talk about how politicians want to hold social media companies responsible for the negative stuff they cause with teens, I saw this:

Notice: “Teenage TikTok start Ava Majury, 15…” (emphasis mine).

Although I suspect there are some mental health issues involved, her stalkers are responsible for their actions, not Ava.

However, how about this…?:

Parents, you shouldn’t allow your 15 year-old daughter (or son) post on TikTok (at least not to develop a large following). And, if this is accurate:

“Ava’s parents allowed her to sell Mr. Justin a couple of selfies that she had already posted to Snapchat,” The Times noted…


No, I am not blaming the victim. I am questioning the wisdom of the victim’s parents.

Social media is dangerous in many different ways, even for adults. I am not saying that no kid should get access until they are 18, but if you are going to allow your child to access it, it should be controlled. Constantly.

Children deserve a period of innocence. Innocence does not last long. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Becoming an influencer before you’ve even graduated high school should be a low priority.

Finally, it is us parents, not the government, who should be protecting the young ones under our care from social media.


The Socratic Method

The Socratic Method book cover
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I just started a great new book, “The Socratic Method: A Practitioner’s Handbook” by Ward Farnsworth. Here are my first four highlights:


The Socratic method means, among other things, asking and receiving questions fearlessly; it means saying what you think, and not getting hot when others say what they think; it means loving the truth and staying humble about whether you know it. In other words, it’s about all the good things that have been vanishing from our culture of discourse.


What the teachings do offer is wisdom, but this good thing is always bought at the price of some discomfort. The human appetite for wisdom, and its tolerance for discomfort, has never been great, in ancient times or ours.


The ancient Romans built elaborate networks of pipes to deliver water where they wanted it to go. The networks were a marvel. But many of the pipes were made of lead, and the water carried the lead along with it. One school of thought regards this as part of the reason for the decline and fall of Rome: lead poisoning gradually took its toll, impairing the thought and judgment of many Romans, especially at the top. The theory is much disputed; perhaps it contains no truth. But as a metaphor it is irresistible. We have built networks for the delivery of information—the internet, and especially social media. These networks, too, are a marvel. But they also carry a kind of poison with them. The mind fed from those sources learns to subsist happily on quick reactions, easy certainties, one-liners, and rage. It craves confirmation and resents contradiction. Attention spans collapse; imbecility propagates, then seems normal, then is celebrated. The capacity for rational discourse between people who disagree gradually rots. I have a good deal more confidence in the lead-pipe theory of the internet, and its effect on our culture, than in the lead-pipe theory of the fall of Rome.


The Socratic method is a corrective. Before viewing it as a technique, consider it an ethic of patience, inquiry, humility, and doubt—in other words, of every good attitude discouraged by social media and disappearing from our political and cultural life. It means asking hard questions without fear and receiving them without offense; indeed, it means treating challenge and refutation as acts of friendship. Socrates, as we shall see, sometimes likes to define an elusive concept by asking for the name of its opposite. That approach can help us here, too. If I were pressed for a one-word opposite of the Socratic method, a strong candidate would be Twitter.

That last sentence is an instance classic. “If I were pressed for a one-word opposite of the Socratic method, a strong candidate would be Twitter.”

“To a certain degree, the lead pipe is either in your hand or sitting on a desktop.”

From this:

Comes this:

Also noteworthy, Rome saw a decline in its citizens’ behavior over the years (during its years of peace and prosperity, the city itself may have been home to 32,000 prostitutes.) And of course, there was the philosophy of “bread and circuses,” which held that if you kept the population fed and entertained, they might not notice that things were going to hell. Some have also posited that the lead pipes used to bring water to homes may have contributed to collective cognitive decline.

Which leads to this:

To a certain degree, the lead pipe is either in your hand or sitting on a desktop. And the lead poisoning it brings is astounding.

A Thought for Us YouTube Creators

Book Cover
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Whoever then wishes to be free, let him neither wish for anything nor flee from anything that depends on others: otherwise he must be a slave.

– Epictetus, Enchiridion 14

If you gape after externals, you will inevitably be forced up and down according to the will of your master. And who is your master? Whoever has power over the things you are trying to gain or avoid.

– Epictetus, Discourses 2.2.25

Trust in the Modern Age

As we consider whether it is appropriate for the government to flag misinformation for social media companies to censor/etc., this is an important thread from Glenn Greenwald (you have to click through to Twitter):

Although I am not a fan of some of the commentary in it, this article brings all (most?) of the thread together.

This is an especially important point for people who say the First Amendment only applies to the government, not to private companies. That is true, but…

If it is done under government pressure (even if the private businesses agree), then it is unconstitutional.

And, in the modern age, there is no reason to trust the government, Big Tech social media, nor the media with the power to censor. (Greenwald’s thread speaks to this too.)

Kudos LinkedIn!

Since I wrote about my disappointment in LinkedIn suspending mRNA vaccine inventor Dr. Malone’s account, I am very happy to send them kudos for reinstating it and apologizing:

Malone, the self-proclaimed inventor of the mRNA vaccine, medical doctor and CEO of a biotech and government consulting business, tweeted out a message he received from a senior LinkedIn executive on Monday apologizing for his personal account being removed from the platform for a short time. Malone said he was “truly grateful for his kind gesture.”

“Dr. Malone’s account has been fixed as of this morning,” the message from a senior executive from LinkedIn read. “I’d like to apologize on behalf of LinkedIn — we’re just not good enough at detangling complicated, subtle scientific claims concurrent with similar [but different] misinformation coming from others.

Although it would have been best if it never had happened, compared to other social media companies, LinkedIn is a star after this.

It Stole Reading from Me Too

This is an article I need to bookmark and read over-and-over (and it should be applied to all social media, not just Twitter).

Twitter is a parasite that burrows deep into your brain, training you to respond to the constant social feedback of likes and retweets. That takes only a week or two. Human psychology is pathetically simple to manipulate. Once you’re hooked, the parasite becomes your master, and it changes the way you think. Even now, I’m dopesick, dying to go back.

Twitter did something that I would not have thought possible: It stole reading from me. What is it stealing from you?

The gotcha I am having is that I am off Twitter and Facebook, but I still cannot read for long periods of time. I am addicted to constant tidbit entertainment, whether they be articles on the web or YouTube videos.

I suspect I am going to have to do something draconian to kick the habit.

Should you too?

P.S. Part of her article that is especially worth quoting (when she requested her password from her son after an agreed-upon month off Twitter):

Patrick disappeared and came back with a collection of Simone Weil essays. He said I should read “On the Abolition of All Political Parties,” but every time I saw the word parties, I should replace it with Twitter. He demonstrated, reading a paragraph aloud:

“The mere fact that Twitter exists today is not in itself sufficient a reason for us to preserve it. The only legitimate reason for preserving anything is its goodness. The evils of Twitter are all too evident; therefore, the problem that should be examined is this: Does it contain enough good to compensate for its evils and make its preservation desirable?”

Et tu LinkedIn?

Update: Kudos to LinkedIn for reinstating Dr. Malone’s account. Also, my son’s reaction to the second shot turned severe.

Original post:

I post this as my 13 year-old is dealing with, luckily, a relatively minor reaction to his second Pfizer shot yesterday:

LinkedIn zapped Dr. Malone’s personal account without explanation.

Since they have not explained, there is no way to know for sure, but it’s likely because he thinks that right now the risk/benefit ratio for children isn’t there and said so on the platform. What is ridiculous about the push-back he’s been getting is that he was the inventor of mRNA vaccines (or, at least, significantly involved in their invention).

There are real-world consequences to stifling the conversation.

“Open debate is especially important during a public health emergency when many important public health question[s] do not yet have a known answer,” [Harvard Medical School epidemiologist] Kulldorff wrote in an email. “To censor and silence scientists under such circumstances can lead to many unnecessary deaths,” which is why LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should “restore all suspended accounts.”

If you think Dr. Malone is wrong, prove it, but without falling to the argumentum ab auctoritate (appeal to authority) logical fallacy. (E.g. using “consensus” or “the CDC says” would be appeals to authority.)

Final note: My wife and I weighed the pros and cons of my son getting vaccinated, and felt it was worth it. Trying to prevent us, however, from having all the information available for that decision is, frankly, evil.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Analog Summer?

Sometimes kids need to veg out,” I’d tell them. “Screens are OK (in moderation)!”

But Americans struggle with moderation generally…

Facebook (and Other Apps) Can Still Track You in iOS

Recently, Apple made it so that applications had to ask you for permission to track you. Facebook was especially hit hard.

And, as this article notes, if you upload photos with normal embedded data…they can still track you:

The article also shows you where you can turn off allowing the apps to even ask you, so it’s worth a read.

Does it seem to anyone else that…

Does it seem to anyone else that LinkedIn is just a place for people to brag?

Don’t get me wrong, as a proud parent…I cannot complain about those types of posts too much. But, I gotta admit that the “Look at me! Look at me!” Or “Look at my company! Look at my company” stuff is getting old.

Even if I am probably guilty of it sometimes, especially the “Look at my company” posts (at least implicitly). 🙂