Free Speech Under Assault

One of my maxims is:

If you cannot defend the right of free speech for the person you disagree with the most, you don’t believe in free speech.

As this article from The Economist relates, free speech is under attack around the world. It’s not surprising to see this in dictatorial countries, but suppression of free speech is alive and well in democracies. Most disturbing is how it is tolerated — encouraged even — in the American university. The purpose of universities is twofold: Preserve and pass on knowledge and history to one generation to the next; and promote the free exchange of ideas and foster new knowledge. Instead:

Free speech is hard won and easily lost…[even] in mature democracies, support for free speech is ebbing, especially among the young, and outright hostility to it is growing. Nowhere is this more striking than in universities in the United States…and an incredible 10% approved of using violence to silence [speech].

I have been following the Death of the University, which itself is a sad situation of this great institution of western culture. Just as bad is the trend of silencing speech — often by the very people who claim to be for it.

This trend must be stopped dead in its tracks.

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The Future of Humanity

“It takes more than developing and deploying human enhancement technology to alleviate pain and suffering…We need the wisdom to know how to properly implement these technologies so humanity truly benefits…the wisdom we need must emerge out of a robust ethical framework that provides motivation to spur on advances…[while guarding] against injustices and human exploitation.” – Fazale Rana and Kenneth Samples

Emerging biotech such as gene editing and stem cell therapies show a lot of promise to alleviate and eliminate many medical conditions. As with all technologies, there can be a dark side, particularly when people with power take control.

A movement known as transhumanism wants to go beyond simply helping humanity, and seeks to transform us into a new species entirely. The road to such a future is paved with potholes such as eugenics and countless ethical issues.

No longer is any of this science-fiction. Nor can we look on in passive agreement at endless futuristic films that fail to deeply examine what they portray as an inevitable future.

The new book Humans 2.0 is a needed deep, intellectual discussion on this emerging reality of bioengineering and transhumanism. You will get a crash course on state-of-the-art molecular biology, and then authors look at the various philosophical streams vying to be the foundation of our bioethics: Which lead to a world where the value of human life is upheld, and which can lead to a reemergence to eugenics?

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Apollo: 50 Years Later

“Now, 50 years later, looking back on Apollo, it’s clear how that was probably the single most significant historical event in modern times, and it really shows us and the world what you can do if you work together and you work hard, keep to the plan, and plan your mission out step by step all the way to the moon. I wish we could do that today.

“I know the difficulty of doing anything in this huge government bureaucracy…But we still do incredible things. [The International Space Station is] the most complicated thing we’ve ever done, probably more complicated than going to the moon…We can still achieve things if we work hard at it and don’t change the plan, but part of the problem is we change the plan every four years.” – Astronaut Scott Kelly

Indeed, the reason why the Apollo missions were cut short (spacecraft for three more missions had already been built), and spaceflight has been a series of fitful starts and stops ever since, is because the government runs the show. Not visionaries who look past the next election cycle. Perhaps the private sector, which has made leaps in accessing space in recent years, will finally open the final frontier. Fifty years late, but better late than never.

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Why Do We Settle?

In the documentary, Ultimate Mars Challenge, we learn of the cutting edge engineering that went into designing the Curiosity Mars rover. This shows us what we can accomplish, so why do we so often settle for less?

Why do we settle for archaic, inefficient combustion engines in our cars? Why do we accept claims that fusion energy is always fifty years away? I remember many years ago plans were made for humans to explore Mars in 2019, which seemed a long way in the future, and yet here we are. We brag about how much computing power we carry in our pockets, but what do we really use it for?

Why do we settle?

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How Does Working Only 4 Hours a Week Sound?

Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Work Week, has become a classic guide for those trying to blaze their path instead of taking the one others want them to follow. Even if you don’t end up working four hours a week, there is much to learn from this book in fine-tuning your career, and more importantly, your quest to Find Your Purpose, Find Your Story.  This is a book that you will frequently revisit, and start here with some of the many memorable quotes from Tim:

“Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.

Doing less meaningless work, so you can focus on things of greater personal importance, is NOT laziness.

Focus on being productive instead of busy.

Ask for forgiveness, not permission.

Money alone is not the solution.

Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but is useless unless applied to the right things.

Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.

Lack of time is actually lack of priorities.

Am I being productive or just active?

Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?

“Task creep” – doing more to feel productive while actually accomplishing less.

Be selectively ignorant. Less is more.

Does your life have a purpose? Are you contributing anything useful to this world, or just shuffling papers, banging on a keyboard, and coming home to a drunken existence on the weekends?

More is not better, and stopping something is often 10 times better than finishing it.

Learn to be difficult when it counts.

Blaming idiots for interruptions is like blaming clowns for scaring children – they can’t help it. It’s their nature.

An interruption is anything that prevents the start-to-finish of a critical task.

Unless something is well-defined and important, no one should do it.

Most people aren’t lucky enough to get fired and die a slow spiritual death over 30-40 years of tolerating the mediocre.

Just because something has been a lot of work or consumed a lot of time doesn’t make it productive or worthwhile.

If tolerating a punishing work environment for years at a time is a prerequisite for promotion in your field, could it be that you’re in a game not worth winning?

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June 6th, D-Day 75 Years Ago

Watch this video by British military historian Peter Caddick-Adams on the day that changed history 75 years ago:

dday

Then read the recollections of one of the few remaining survivors of D-Day.

They fought so we wouldn’t have to.

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Robert Jordan, Heir to Middle-Earth

The Wheel of Time series, which James Rigney, writing as Robert Jordan…is a true successor, a true heir, to the kind of mythically philological trail of creation that Tolkien had blazed some fifty years earlier. Like Tolkien’s Middle-earth, the world of the Wheel is a myth behind myths. The wondrous Age of Legends, the ‘far past’ of Jordan’s plot-lines in The Wheel of Time, is our mythically Atlantean past just as surely as is Tolkien’s story of the fall of Númenor from the Silmarillion. – Michael Livingston

For those who haven’t dived into Jordan’s epic 14 volume Wheel of Time Fantasy series, you’ll be hearing much more about it in coming months as Amazon Prime begins production on a television adaptation. Will they be able to adapt the voluminous, sometimes dense, successor to Middle-Earth? Or will it follow the troubled road of shows based on Shannara and The Sword of Truth? At least they have a complete book series to work from and can avoid the angst Game of Thrones fans have endured.

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Children & Books: Why #ReadingMatters

We’ve all been told how important reading is for the development of a child’s mind, not just so they can get an A in reading class, but for their intellectually well-being the rest of their life. This has become even more important in the age of electronic gadgets. Anna Mussmann writes:

[Children] must be able to hold large ideas in their minds. They must be able to recognize the differences between logic and propaganda. They must possess the self-discipline needed to focus on issues that are boring, and seek the wisdom to differentiate between what is right versus what is expedient or amusing. Most of all, they must possess the perspective of a true education in ideas so they can think outside the echo chamber of our era.

All of this is deeply connected to what and how we read. It is not that people who use their phones frequently are necessarily dumber than people who don’t. Like any tool, though, screens can be dangerous. They can fill the spare moments of life until no time is left for thought and deep learning. They can retrain our brains and make it hard to focus on a long-form conversation, whether in-person or in print.

Books are one of the best ways to guard our minds against a misuse of screens. Books aren’t magical mind-vitamins, of course. Yet in order to cultivate the ability to think, we must engage with good, wise, and true thoughts. And it happens that the works of humanity’s greatest thinkers are found in books.

She also writes on what it means to be a “reader,” and how to set an example to children. Kristen Mae shows us how to “trick” your kids into reading — in a good way. Michelle Woo details the sad truth of why some kids stop reading by age 9 — and how you can prevent this.

Reading is the gateway to all forms of thought and subject matter. It is a doorway to our past and a pathway to what our future will become.

Make sure it is wide open for your children and remove any and all roadblocks.

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Do You Trust Your Tech Too Much?

Computer technology has become so ubiquitous, millions of us pay little attention to what its creators — and those who would abuse it — are doing with that tech.

Gabriel Weinberg, founder of the DuckDuckGo search engine stated:

The American people are tired of being watched everywhere they go online. They are fed up with all the intended and unintended consequences this online tracking creates, including data breaches, invasive ads, identity theft, discrimination, and manipulation. Have you ever searched for something, only to see an ad for that very thing pop up in a mobile app, or on a different website? Our privacy policy is straightforward and doesn’t require a law degree to decipher: We simply do not collect or share any personal information at all.

DuckDuckGo was created in response to the invasive data gathering that many tech companies undertake on consumers. This is part of the premise behind the new documentary The Creepy Line, which digs deeper finding intentional manipulation. I wrote a few weeks ago:

Continue reading

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Tolkien: How His Story Began

On May 10, see the story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s early life, and how it inspired the legendary creation of Middle Earth:

tolkien

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