Getting to the guts of intersectionality, and its problems

This is one of the best podcasts by Benjamin Boyce, in this interview with James Lindsay. There is so much good stuff here. Give it a listen.


Is there a biological reason for the rise and fall of civilizations?

This is an intensely interesting topic for me. I’ve been wondering about this for years, but I haven’t been able to locate how to approach it: What underlies the more obvious motives for constructive and destructive societal trends? The obvious characteristics don’t seem to explain enough. I’ve been hearing about r/K selection theory, and I find that compelling. Penman expands on that to try to explain the biological origins of civilizing behavior, and its opposite, which is destructive.

This is a discussion between Stefan Molyneux and Dr. Penman on this topic from July 2015.

The gist of what undergirds r/K theory, and Penman’s idea of “biohistory,” is a category of action in molecular biology called epigenetics. It’s the idea that your genetic machinery can change its behavior in response to environmental factors. Unlike the popular notion of this, it doesn’t mean that your DNA literally changes its chemical makeup, rearranging genes in healthy and unhealthy ways. What epigenetics looks at is that the cells in your body, responding to chemical signals that your body generates in response to stimuli, can dynamically turn certain genes “on” and “off,” by adding and removing what have been called “genetic markets” to your genetic code. This has physiological effects. What’s most interesting to people like Penman (and myself) is the idea that it can also have psychological effects, changing how we see our relationship to the world around us, and our expectations of it. Not much of the cause and effect of this is clear in my head yet. Not much of that has been explained. Even so, at least with r/K theory, it seems to have a lot of explanatory power in showing what’s been going on with our politics.

I didn’t find Penman’s site (linked above) that edifying, but I thought I’d reference it, since that’s where this material comes from. It links to a book, “Biohistory,” that I’m currently reading.

I thought from listening to the discussion with Molyneux that this concept is not “fully baked” yet. My impression was that Penman made what sounded like contradictory statements. I’ve noticed that can happen when someone is explaining something, but doesn’t give the background for it, because they absent-mindedly assume the audience has it. After some exploration, one can understand there is no contradiction. I’ll just reserve judgment on this for now.

A house divided against itself cannot stand

Lately it seems odd what I’ve been putting under “favorites,” because talking about stuff like this is not my favorite thing to do, but I put it here because I think it explains what’s going on in our society so well.

I’ve thought for the past 5 years that the U.S. is in a state of cold civil war. As countrymen and women of different political stripes, it is almost impossible to talk to each other. I mean that literally. So many conversations about political differences result in such putrid bile that the participants can’t stand each other, or they just don’t talk at all, or some of the participants even get to the point of harassing their opponents, or even physically causing them harm.

In the last 6 years, I’ve seen how people in institutional settings cannot even say what they think without being summarily dismissed, or at best, cast out of some privileged position, but still employed.

These two videos I think explain very well what’s going on. The first is from Dec. 2014 at Harvard, with Christopher Caldwell, called “The endless 1960s.”

The next is from June 2019 at the Heritage Foundation, “America’s Cold Civil War.”

What the panel crystalized is a fact that Caldwell talked about more vaguely, which is that we have a country that believes in two different constitutions, and we have two political parties that are defending each one. The two constitutions are labeled “the constitution of 1787,” what we traditionally call “the Constitution,” and “the constitution of 1964,” which is the Civil Rights Act that was passed that year. The Republicans defend the “1787 constitution,” the Democrats defend the “1964 constitution.” Caldwell said that the Civil Rights Act has been treated as if it’s “a kind of constitution.” The panel at Heritage treated it as if it’s a competing constitution.

What was fascinating was listening to how Caldwell talked about the Reagan presidency. He surmised that the Reagan Admin. came in thinking that their election was a revitalization of the old order (the “1787 constitution”), but they found this was not the case. What Reagan ended up doing was leaving the 1960s revolution’s welfare and “managed economy” bureaucracy intact, but “buying off the losers of the revolution” with tax cuts that allowed the “losers” to a) not bear the cost of this other system, and b) to “secede” from it. The hope was that a revitalized private economy would allow the “losers” to recover. They could realize a system of independence, and the welfare/managed economy state (the revolutionary order) would whither. That didn’t happen. People got wealthier, but first of all, the generation that Reagan dealt with was educated by progressives, not educated in how the older constitutional order thought, and secondly, corporations felt just fine getting on the dole. So, what Reagan ended up creating was “detente” between the two orders.

Caldwell further asserted that Obama’s election in 2008 was a declaration that these two orders could not stand together. One had to go (the “1787 constitution”). This leads into the discussion at Heritage, where some conservatives just laid it on the table. What conservatives don’t like to talk about (and some only murmur about it) is that it may get to the point of a hot war. They hope it can be avoided, but that may not be possible.

This discussion between Joe Rogan and Andy Ngo re. the recent Antifa attack against Ngo, I think, gets right to this point.

The problem I’ve seen is whenever conservatives have tried to talk about the “1787” constitutional order, people on the Left have racialized it, saying, “You mean you want to bring back slavery?” While it’s convenient to talk about these “two different constitutions” by the date they were ratified, I don’t think it conjures in the mind what’s actually being discussed. I’m sure when most people hear “constitution of 1787,” they think of how we had slavery. That isn’t what these people were trying to communicate. They were saying, “This is when the constitution was ratified,” but they’re not excluding the amendments that came later, which outlawed slavery, and created civil rights, the right of blacks and women, and people 18 or older to vote, etc. I think these conservatives are on to something extremely important in talking about this, but it would behoove them to use a different way of distinguishing these two social orders, because if they talk about it with a wider audience, it’s going to end up scaring a lot of people needlessly.

The conversion of universities

There’s plenty of material on this out there. It’s being expressed in a variety of ways, though only a small number of academics are generating it. The crux of it is that universities are abandoning their core mission of educating people to learn and explore, reason, argue and contend, in the small-l liberal tradition, and are substituting a progressive moral teaching that takes on the qualities of a religious education.

I’m putting this presentation here by Professor Amy Wax, because she says so much that needs to be said about this. It’s devastating. My heart sank as I listened to her talk about what’s being promoted from the top on down, inside universities, particularly the Ivy League.

I wanted to add this to a post on my Tekkie blog about higher education, because I thought her presentation was excellent, but so much of the Q&A that happened afterwards, even though there were some great, smart, to-the-point questions that cut to critical issues, was about what could be done politically. I felt like it got off the subject. The Q&A was the majority of the time.

I think I understand what’s going on with what Wax is describing, because I’ve listened to some analysis of it. A generation of academics have decided that our society is sick, down to its foundations. It was born of the original sin of discrimination, but they believe they are the leaders of a cultural revolution that will rid us of that sin. To effect that revolution, all that we need to do is promote equality of outcomes, to throw out white men from positions of power (if they will not be “allies” in this revolution), and substitute women, blacks, latinos, gay people, all of the people who have been discriminated against, now, and in the past. What they sacrifice, though, is the idea of merit, as has been traditionally defined (that you have mastered some areas of knowledge, and accomplished some things with that knowledge that produce better outcomes than past efforts), and substitute a different idea of merit: That you’re oppressed. The mythology that’s promoted in this quasi-religious belief is that those who are oppressed can “see better,” or “see interestingly” in ways that those who have been promoted for merit in the past cannot. We just haven’t been listening to them, and now we are. It will be wonderful, so the thinking goes.

As Wax pointed out, this is not just happening inside the liberal arts (where this thinking has been infiltrating for decades). It’s now infiltrating STEM fields.

What this system of morality actually promotes is the banishment of knowledge, and the banishment of any ideas of truth, because knowledge, if you pursue it deeply enough, leads to some uncomfortable ideas. Some may shake us to our very core. There are things that can be rationally asserted as true that make us feel uncomfortable. By this morality, it doesn’t matter if the ideas are true. What matters is the messaging that makes the chosen oppressed groups comfortable. Psychotherapists would recognize this as the social environment that exists inside of dysfunctional families, “Don’t upset your dad.”

Wax is right. Universities used to be better than this. That isn’t just nostalgia talking. Students are being denied a proper education while they’re shelling out outrageous tuition. As I pointed out on my Tekkie blog, this is because, as Wax said, parents don’t care. What they want is for their children to get their degrees, because they figure that is their ticket to a better life. Universities are literally selling degrees, for the most part, not an education, though they figure they still have to go through the motions to be convincing. Students still take 4+ years to get their degrees, if they finish (a significant number do not).

This does not point to a bright future for our society. We are sacrificing knowledge on the altar of people’s feelings.


From Google+

In a way, this is recapitulating an ambitious idea John McCarthy had in 1961, of “creating a space where people out in society can access computing, to do whatever they wanted to do.” He called this a “computing utility,” where people could access a time-sharing mainframe remotely, and do their own programming projects, and run practical applications on it, to do and explore whatever they wanted in the domain. This got overtaken by personal computing in the 1980s and ’90s. Perhaps this idea will follow a similar path, going from “a space” to something you can take with you.

A guy I’ve been following off and on for several years, Bret Victor, set this up, in collaboration with Alan Kay, and some other sponsors, including Andy Herzfeld, and Mitch Kapor.

Magnolia – The 68000-based Smalltalk system from Tektronix

Ever since I heard Xerox licensed Smalltalk to a select few companies around 1980 (Apple, Tektronix, HP, and DEC), I’ve wondered what Tektronix did with it. Information on what Apple did with it was fairly easy to find. They mostly used it internally, though they released a couple versions on their high-end Macs, for those who asked. They didn’t market it, so you had to hear about it through word of mouth.

I used to know about Tektronix, because they made terminals. When I was in college, there were some around that were hooked up to the school’s Unix systems.

Originally shared by Ed S on Google+

Magnolia – the 68000-based Smalltalk system from Tektronix.

“The first development generation (1980-1981) of Tektronix’ Smalltalk system was a single-board 68000 system connected first to a Tektronix 4025 raster graphics terminal, later on to a directly connected bit-mapped display. The Smalltalk base system was implemented using their own Pascal compiler (cross-compiled on DECsystem 10/20 computers).”

“This success inspired Tektronix to come up with a Smalltalk workstation product, code named “Pegasus”. It ended up in the model 4404 which was 68010-based and was marketed as an “AI machine”, featuring both Smalltalk and Lisp (as an option). As Motorola was not shipping yet a 68k MMU, a discrete MMU had to be designed as virtual memory support was considered essential for supporting Smalltalk and Lisp.”

Latest news on the attempt to build a replica of Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

From Google+

Latest news on the attempt to build a replica of Babbage’s Analytical Engine. There’s some reason for concern about that, as noted in this report: Babbage may have left significant gaps in his design.

Reminiscing about Compute! Magazine

This guy really captures what Compute! Magazine was like (except for reading out code for someone else to type in. I typed it in myself), and what it means to me.

I wrote about my own experience with Compute! at

Originally shared by Ars Technica on Google+

If you need some classics for when the news gets slow this month: One of our favorite origin stories of nerdy Ars-i-ness involves coding by hand

In memoriam: Charles Thacker

Originally shared by Kam-Yung Soh on Google+

CACM also has an article [ ] but you may have trouble accessing it.

“Charles Thacker, one of the lead hardware designers on the Xerox Alto, the first modern personal computer, died of a brief illness on Monday. He was 74.

The Alto, which was released in 1973 but was never a commercial success, was an incredibly influential machine. Ahead of its time, it boasted resizeable windows as part of its graphical user interface, along with a mouse, Ethernet, and numerous other technologies that didn’t become standard until years later. (Last year, Y Combinator acquired one and began restoring it.)”

Alan Kay’s interview from “The Machine That Changed The World”

This is the complete, unedited interview with Alan Kay, which was used in the 1992 documentary, “The Machine That Changed The World.” Only a very short clip of this (about 30 seconds to a minute) appeared in the documentary.

Originally shared by Norbert Landsteiner on Google+

A great interview with Alan Kay on the history of computing and its ideas so far and on what had then been current and future in 1990 (and hasn’t become history by now).


I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been finding similarities between pop songs. They don’t sound similar, but there are moments where something about them merges. What’s amazing to me is they’re decades apart. I don’t know how I come up with these. A modern song sounds familiar, and the older song just pops in my head.

Seymour Papert died yesterday at the age of 88

From Google+

I just heard the news that Seymour Papert, the creator of the Logo language, died yesterday at the age of 88. One of the things I’ve learned in my computer history research is that he was more influential than I at first imagined. Alan Kay credits Papert with inspiring him to understand that computers can be a new medium, which ultimately led him to think about the concept of the Dynabook, which led to the Smalltalk system. Kay helped Papert spread Logo into the schools when people like myself were growing up, and first learning about programming. Unfortunately, the reason for spreading it largely got lost in the process. What Papert intended was that it would be used as a tool for teaching mathematics to children. In most cases that’s not how it was used.

A glimpse into our future

This may just be satire, but I can’t help but think that these videos could very well resemble our future. Hats off to Neel Kolhatkar, who wrote and directed them.

Modern Educayshun


Why do I say this? A couple of segments from Bill Maher’s show illustrate.

You know the saying, “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win”? Well, the PC crowd may have won…

Further, a segment from

Lisp didn’t do well at all on 8-bit platforms back in the day, which is too bad

From Google+

You could make a Lisp implementation work on them (which was done many times), but it was too slow to be useable as a practical programming model. Alan Kay said about 10 years ago that this is the reason Lisp didn’t end up being more popular among programmers. Instead of getting used to a stack machine model, the poor hardware designs ended up getting us used to a register machine model, which is still how much of the profession views “valid” computing today.

Still, I think it’s good that there is some interest in trying to build and use Lisp on these simpler platforms. It’s an educational experience.

Originally shared by mos6502 on Google+

This week, Lisp on 6502 and 6502 in Lisp – a simple elegant CPU and a simple elegant language. First off, HACKADAY wrote up Alex Clemmer and Martin Törnwall’s efforts to write and bootstrap a Lisp on their Apple II – having no serial connection or floppies, they resorted to writing the code elsewhere and loading via the cassette port. Video within, and code at github linked from the blog at

Sadly, part 2 of the article and the assembly version of Lisp haven’t surfaced yet. Meanwhile, check the comments over at HN

As it happens, there were historical Lisps for 6502 machines: we found Acornsoft’s Lisp for the BBC Micro and Electron and P-Lisp for the Apple II – quite a resurrection story on that one, see

“my P-Lisp disk was, as far as I could determine, the last extant copy on planet Earth”

As for use of Lisp, we found COMFY-65, a mid-level language implemented in Lisp, and described as “a port of Henry G. Baker’s COMFY-6502 compiler to Common Lisp.” Originally from 1976, there’s an updated paper from 1997:

Meanwhile, over at

Andy Hefner wrote a high-level assembler in LISP and programmed his NES with it.

Finally, we should mention Brit Butler who wrote a 6502 emulator in Lisp, completing the circle: You’ll find a link within to his presentation video and slides about why he did this and what he learnt from it.

Any more Lisp links with 6502? Yes! You’ll find more at David A. Wheeler’s 6502 Languages page:

Educator opinion on Common Core

From Google+

This was a good discussion with educators who were invited to be involved with the process of approving the Common Core standard, but were taken out of the loop when they raised objections. They discuss what they predict will be the consequences of continuing with this standard, in math, and language arts and humanities, based on the restrictions built into the standard. It has implications for universities as well as public schools.

Book: “Drilling Through The Core”

William Easterly: The Tyranny of Experts

From Google+

William Easterly talks about a problem with our philosophy of foreign aid: We focus only on satisfying the material needs of the people we’re trying to help, but ignore the cultural/political/economic situations in those countries that is causing the abject poverty. He calls for aid organizations to emphasize individual rights before supplying aid.

I thought what he laid out also has bearing on our own domestic politics. He doesn’t talk about this, but when we look at our social programs, this is also what they are doing. They satisfy physical needs, but ignore the fact that the governments in the areas where they supply assistance are infringing on people’s rights, particularly their commercial rights.

Mary Eberstadt: How the West Really Lost God

From Google+

I thought Mary Eberstadt made an interesting and thorough case for why religious Christianity is on the decline in the West. She says it’s not what a lot of the critics of Christianity think is the cause (the progress of rational thought), but rather has a lot more to do with the popularity of marriage (the lack of it), and the lack of formation of nuclear families.

Peter Hanson Michael on America’s first president

From Google+

I can’t recommend this enough to American history buffs. This is Peter Hanson Michael talking about John Hanson, America’s first president under the Articles of Confederation. The significant part of this story is the fact that Hanson gave critical support to the revolution to separate from England, and then to the new government that formed after it was over. A great thing about this talk as well is that Michael gives a real sense of an emergent nation, in terms of its political institutions, going from the first Continental Congress to the Constitution.

Another striking part of the history is what happened to Hanson’s, and his wife’s burial plots through the years. It’s tragic.

Miles O’Brien commemorating the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing

From Google+

We’re at the tail end of the commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the first Moon landing. I thought this interview with Miles O’Brien on C-SPAN from July 18 was chock full of perspective on our manned space program, not just because he was talking, but also the informative callers. It’s worth a listen.

Just before this segment began, Miles and the interviewer had been watching some vintage CBS News footage of the first Moon landing with Walter Cronkite.

Ivan Oransky on the epidemic of retractions of scientific papers

From Google+

Academic fraud is not something that’s been on my mind a lot WRT science, but another topic Oransky covers in this interview, and on his blog, Retraction Watch, is mistaken overstatement of evidence, so called “significance chasing,” which is disturbingly common in science these days, so I read. It’s an important topic to consider, as these days science enters into everything from health claims, to education, to public policy.

Great piece of photographic history on the slit scan technique

From Google+

Great piece of photographic history on the slit scan technique. The end result looks a bit cheesy (good for comic relief), but I appreciated the background this guy presented.

I remember my high school graduating class was photographed using a slit scan camera to get a panoramic shot. We had to stand still for about 30 seconds while the lens panned across the crowd. This guy explains how a similar technology, using extended exposure, time lapse photography, was used to make the “space warp” animation in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and other similar effects in other familiar sci-fi shows, at least until digital video editing was invented.

A really interesting factoid he mentions is that a computer helped create the graphics for the opening sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 movie “Vertigo.” Each spiral image was painted on a surface in a fashion that was similar to how a computer would’ve interacted with an oscilloscope. I’d be comfortable calling it the first time computer graphics were used in a movie.

Related post: Were the first movie computer graphics in a Hitchcock film?

How system security gets the short end of the stick

From Google+

(This is me commenting on Paul Homer’s blog post Predictions)

Another issue related to what you’re talking about is system security. I don’t know if this has gone forward at all, but last year I heard about the U.S. government trying to get the major service providers (like Facebook and Google) to share fairly intimate information about their users (like stuff they post about their lives, what they search for, etc.) so that the government could analyze it to help track down cyber attackers. It sounded like a dumb (and dangerous) idea, preferring to track people, rather than understand how to create systems that are more secure from attack. This, again, would require research funding.

There’s already a model from the 1960s, which was funded by government research, called Multics, that, from my understanding, was the most secure OS ever created. It was even more secure than systems that are in use today. Honeywell stopped selling it in the mid-90s, and it went out of use by the year 2000.

Unix was inspired by Multics, but its designers decided to make it “lighter,” leaving out Multics’s bureaucratic notions, and so it started out less secure, though it became emblematic of a new paradigm that Multics did not embody, of distributed computing via. a network. If research had been allowed to continue in this area, I think we’d be farther along in solving the problem of cyber attacks by now.