What I’ve been reading

My enjoyment of texts describing the monopolistic downsides of Silicon Valley’s behemoths knows no end. Here’s another article in this vein from Noam Cohen in advance of his upcoming book, which I’m almost certain to read.

Now that Google, Facebook, Amazon have become world dominators, the questions of the hour are, can the public be convinced to see Silicon Valley as the wrecking ball that it is? And do we still have the regulatory tools and social cohesion to restrain the monopolists before they smash the foundations of our society?

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Most of my reading time is spent on nonfiction or, as I like to call it, “triction” (Why should book categories be based on false narratives?). One category of nonfiction that I do not explore enough is biography. I think the last biography I read was Einstein by Walter Isaacson. It’s a lock that the next will be Leonardo da Vinci, also by Isaacson. Here’s an excerpt about the Mona Lisa.

Stand before the Mona Lisa, and the science and the magic and the art all blur together into an augmented reality. While Leonardo worked on it, for most of the last 16 years of his life, it became more than a portrait of an individual. It became universal, a distillation of Leonardo’s accumulated wisdom about the outward manifestations of our inner lives and about the connections between ourselves and our world. Like Vitruvian Man standing in the square of the Earth and the circle of the heavens, Lisa sitting on her balcony is Leonardo’s profound meditation on what it means to be human.

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The United States has decided that the murder of 20 school children and 58 concert goers is the price we pay for a most expansive interpretation of the 2nd amendment. For reasons that pass all understanding, we take the idea of a bunch of weekend warriors dressed in army surplus camo as a check of government tyranny seriously. As Michael Shermer points out, it’s actually all the amendments (and the rest of established law) that keep our worst impulses in check.

…if you’re having trouble with the government, a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun. Politicians and police fear citizens armed with legal counsel more than they do a public fortified with guns. The latter they can just shoot. The former means they have to appear before a judge.

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In 1939, about 20000 Nazis held a rally in Madison Square Garden. That’s right, Madison Square Garden. Watch the video and try not to vomit in your mouth. At one point, there is a ruckus on stage. I’m sure there was blame on both sides.

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I finished Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen this week. If you think the U.S. is experiencing a troubling break from reality and truth these days, keep in mind that religious fanatics were among the first settlers to these shores. Since then, the nature of our delusions has morphed over the years (gold rushes, quack medicines, Scientology, speaking in tongues, anti-vaxxers, presidential astrologers…), but a propensity for the fringe of the bizarre seems to be baked into this American life.