Emma Goldman’s Courage

Living My Life by Emma Goldman is one of the most vivid books I’ve read in the past half year.

Emma Goldman, one of the world’s most famous anarchists, believed ‘free speech’ in the United States was a joke because the government often suppressed her own speech. Many times local police shut down her public lectures, and the government sometimes prevented her from publishing her writing by seizing all copies distributed through the mail and even raiding her office and confiscating her manuscripts. Right-wing vigilantes in San Diego (which the police ‘mysteriously’ could not control) threatened her with violence and forced her to flee to Los Angeles – though she returned to San Diego years later to prove that the vigilantes could not silence her. Even when offered police protection, she refused it unless coerced because, as an anarchist, she was anti-police. She was imprisoned for two years because of her public opposition to the United States entering World War I.

World War I was a revelation to her because many anarchists she looked up to – including her idol Peter Kropotkin – supported the war. She herself refused to side with either the Allies or the Central Powers, claiming that war hurt the ordinary masses of all countries involved. She saw many allegedly like-minded people support the war. On the other hand, some socialists and other non-anarchist leftists who she previously regarded as flaky came out against the war, despite economic, legal, and reputational risk. Continue reading

Testing My Resolution to Quit Books Which Grip Me Not: The Lying Life of Adults

Recently, my resolution to quit the books which fail to engage was tested again.

I dropped The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante about 40% of the way through. Facing this was hard.

I was so pumped up. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet is one of my favorite works of fiction I read in the past decade. Naturally, my expectations for her latest novel were high. I did not even apply my first hundred pages/first third cutoff. Continue reading

Ninth Blog Anniversary Post

For so many years I’ve been astonished at how long I’ve kept this blog active that, this year, I’m no longer astonished. I’m saving my astonishment for the 10th anniversary next year.

What has gobsmacked me is that ten years ago to the day, I first arrived in Taiwan. It still feels like yesterday. How did ten years pass so fast?

If ten years pass so quickly, my life has little time remaining. Unless some extraordinary advances in increasing human life spans happen soon, my remaining life expectancy is measured in decades at best. Fast-moving decades.

The one major change I’m making to celebrate this anniversary is banishing the ads. I finally got so sick of the WordPress ads (is it just me, or did they get more annoying every year?) that I finally upgraded to a paid plan.

Recently I’ve been studying self-editing and applying what I’m learning to new blog posts (and sometimes going back to old blog posts to practice my editing skills, I’m fortunate to have so much material for practice).

My recent foray into self-editing reminds me of the early years of this blog when I held myself to a 500 word maximum. I learned a lot about self-editing by imposing that limit, but not as much as I’m learning now by intentionally studying the techniques.

Thank you, all of you who read this blog, whether you’ve been a frequent reader for years or only now stumbled on this humble little blog.

How Far Has My Ancient Greek Come, and Where Is It Going?

In September 2019, for the first time in a decade, I plunged into Ancient Greek. (I can hardly believe I spent a whole decade away.) Though I never spelled out my goal, it’s obvious in hindsight; not being able to pick up a book and simply read in Ancient Greek irritated me. I wanted to read Ancient Greek with the same ease as I can read modern Chinese.

A year and a few months later, I still can’t read Ancient Greek as well as I read Chinese. By now I know my Ancient Greek will never rise to that level (despite studying Ancient Greek years before I started learning Chinese). The reasons are twofold.

First, I can’t create an equally rich environment for Ancient Greek as I have for Chinese. By ‘learning environment’ I don’t mean moving to a place where Ancient Greek is spoken as an everyday language (though that can count). I mean having many ways to experience the language: chatting with people, listening to radio programs in Ancient Greek, watching movies, that kind of thing. Even the variety of reading material available in Ancient Greek is infinitesimal compared to what’s available in Chinese. Continue reading

Making Lists of Ten Ideas Per Day Is Sweet

I came across this article by Shaunta Grimes, which says:

I came up with ideas for friends. Ideas for silly apps I’d love to have. Books I want to write. Fairy tale tropes. Ideas for a new newsletter. Ten people I want to meet and how I can do that.

One of them was James Altucher, who writes a lot about the power of writing down ten ideas a day. I asked him if he minded if I included it as the I in WRITER. He didn’t.

My goal for this spring: Same as the last time. Just get back to writing my list of 10 ideas a day, every day. It’s on of the most effective habits I’ve ever had.

Ever since I came across that over a month ago, I have been writing at least one 10-idea list every day. The results are… splendid. Continue reading

From the Guy Who Analyzes Local Votes

I have a neighbor who has been obsessed with local voting patterns for decades. After every election, he studies the results from every precinct. Last week, I attended the (online) neighborhood association meeting where he shared his conclusions about the most recent election. Practically the first thing he said was that Trump got more votes in our neighborhood, San Francisco as a whole, and California as a whole in 2020 than in 2016. He has never seen a Republican presidential candidate get so many votes in San Francisco. Trump did particularly well in certain (though not all) working-class neighborhoods with many residents of color. To him, this feels like the beginning of an important trend. He believes that if this trend continues, then Trump supporters are going to build a real power base in the city and increase their influence over local politics. He also went into more detail about the California-wide votes and how it reflects that California Democrat Party is losing ground. Continue reading

What I’m Learning from Not Finishing Books

Two months ago I shared my resolution to stop finishing books which fail to engage me. My goal was to spend more time reading engaging books. I did not expect to learn so much about my reading experiences.

Before, when I tried to finish every book I started unless I couldn’t stand it, I didn’t ask ‘Is this book worth reading?’. Thus I read less attentively. Now, I pay much more attention to my engagement level. Wondering why I did not feel like continuing A Thousand Li after a hundred pages inspired this post.

I’m playing with where I draw the cutoff lines. Now I have two cutoffs: the hundred-page and one-third marks. The hundred-page mark doesn’t work for very long or short books; the first third may be too little or too much. Therefore, at both cutoffs I ask, ‘am I engaged?’ Continue reading

To Understand Voters, Understand Where They Grew Up

A few weeks ago, I communicated with a Chinese woman in Thailand who was shocked that most Chinese-Americans support Trump. I was shocked that she thought most Chinese-Americans support him, since I had presumed that a majority of Chinese-American voters would choose Biden.

Curious, I found this (pre-election) survey. Their results were that 56% of likely Chinese-American voters planned to vote for Biden, 20% for Trump, and 23% were undecided. I was right to guess that a majority of Chinese-American voters planned to vote for Biden, but that majority was smaller than I expected.

In my research, I found that Chinese-Americans who immigrated as adults were more likely to support Trump than American-born Chinese (ABCs) or Chinese-Americans who immigrated as children. This did not surprise me.

Continue reading

Are Post-Humanism and Trans-Humanism Anti-Humanist?

In the same interview I commented on in last week’s post, Frank Pasquale claims that 1) post-humanists and trans-humanists are pushing for AIs/robots which simulate humans and 2) this is anti-humanist. I quote:

How, specifically, are these positions anti-humanist?

In part, an essential element of being human is accepting and understanding our limitations. Our frailties. And that effort to transcend it and say, “Well, here’s an immortal entity; let’s treat it as being above and beyond the human,” is problematic. It involves rejecting the fact that we are mortal. That we feel pain. We have a limited amount of things that we can spend our attention on.

I do not understand how trying to deal with our limitations is a rejection of their existence. As far as I can tell, this argument could also be used against writing; our human minds have limited memories, so we should embrace that and stop writing down things that we might otherwise forget. By writing things down, we are rejecting our forgetfulness, which is an essential human quality. Continue reading

What Is the Argument Against Replacing Human Professionals with Qualified AI Professionals?

I have not read New Laws of Robotics: Defending Human Expertise in the Age of AI by Frank Pasquale, but I did read this article.

Perhaps because I only read the interview and not the book, I do not understand his argument for the first new law: “Digital technologies ought to ‘complement professionals, not replace them.'” At first, I was wondering if his argument was that AI simply cannot replace professionals, but upon closer reading, it’s clear that he’s open to the possibility that AIs, in the future, might be entirely capable of doing some of these jobs on their own. Therefore, his position is that they should not, not that they cannot. And yet, later on in the interview, he seems to be in favor of AI/automation taking over blue-collar jobs such as supermarket cashier “unless people who are in those positions can say, ‘Hey, there’s a reason why you need human judgment and humans in control of this process. And if you take us out of the loop, there’s going to be a big problem.'” I do not understand (at least without reading the book) why he wants to automate away blue-collar by default but is adamant that digital technologies only supplement, not replace white-collar professions. If his position were simply ‘preserve human jobs because our political-economy is structured so that people are forced to sell labor in order to meet their material needs’ would that not apply to all jobs? Does the cashier not need to pay their bills just as badly as the doctor? And if he’s okay with ‘automating away’ cashier jobs, why not the same for doctors, teachers, etc.? Continue reading