I've read today this CNN article: 'Star Trek: Discovery' to introduce history-making non-binary and transgender characters. And it got me thinking on what this means for the Star Trek universe. It means absolutely nothing. Star Trek has had people turned into other species, duplicated, merged, their genetic code altered and fixed, made young and old. It has had species with no gender, multiple genders and various philosophies. It has interspecies relationships, including sexual.

  Star Trek has tackled intolerance many times, usually by showing the Federation crew having contact with an alien species that does the same things we do today, in caricature. It tackled race intolerance, from Kirk's kiss with Uhura to the episode with the species with black on one side and white on the other discriminating the people who had their colors the other way around. It tackled gender discrimination in multiple situations. It tackled sex change and identity change with the Trill. It featured multi sex civilisations. The happy tolerance train seems to stop with anything related to using inorganic technology with the human body, but no one is perfect and Janeway was awful with everybody.

  A person who is biologically a man yet desires to be treated as a woman would be normal for Star Trek. It would be inconsequential. If they go the way of the oppressed member of another culture that they meet, they will not solve anything, they will just have another weird alien around, which defeats the purpose. If they go with a non-binary crewmember they should not acknowledge the fact except in passing. Yes, habituate the public with the concept, let them see it in a series and get used to it, but the people in Star Trek should already have passed that point. Hell, they could go with a person who changes their sex every one in a while, to spice things up.

  What I would do is have a character who is clearly of a different sex than the gender they identify with and someone badgering them to have a proper sex change while they refuse. Now that would be a Star Trek worthy dilemma. You want to make it spicy? Have them go to the doctor and change their race instead, behave like a black person while wearing the high tech equivalent of blackface. What? Are you refusing someone the ownership of their identity?

  I really doubt they will go that way, though. Instead they will find some way of bringing the subject up again and again and again and throw it in our faces like a conflict that has to be resolved. In the bright and hopeful future, there should be no conflict about it! This CBS announcement should not have existed. You want to put some transgender people in, OK, put them in. It's not a boasting point, is it? The announcement basically does the opposite of what they claim to do: "Oh, look, we put non binary people in our series! How quaint! Hurrah! Only we do it, come watch the freak show!".

  Please, writers, please please please, don't just write stories then change the gender or race of characters because it's en vogue. Stop it with the gender swapping, which is the creative equivalent of copy and paste. Write with the story in mind, with the context, with the characters as they would normally behave. Don't add characters after you've thought of the story just to make them diverse either. Just write stories with characters that make sense! You don't know people from that demographic? Find one, spend time with them, then adjust your characters accordingly. I am so tired of tiny female action heroes, flamboyant and loud gays and the wise old lesbian. How come no one finds those offensive? It's like someone said "OK, we will have shitty black and female and non-cis characters for now. When people get used to them, we will actually have them do something and be realistic and perhaps in 2245 we'll even have them be sympathetic".

  They tried the woke way from the very beginning in Discovery, with the Stamets/Culber gay couple. They kept showing them kissing and washing their teeth together and other stuff like that, when it made little difference to the story. Most people on Star Trek are written as single, for some weird reason that makes no sense, unless their relationship furthers the story. Riker and Troi could be the exception, though, yet even they were not kissy kissy on the bridge all the time. I never understood that couple. Dax and Worf made more sense, for crying out loud! And remember Starfleet is a military organization. You may put women and men and trans and aliens and robots together in a crew, but their role is to do their job. Their sex, their gender even less, makes no difference.

  Gene Roddenberry was a dreamer of better futures, where all of our idiotic problems have been left behind and reason prevailed, but even he imagined a third World War leading to humanity changing its ways as a start. Star Trek has always analysed the present from the viewpoint of an idyllic future, a way of looking back that is inherently rational: "Imagine the future you want, then wonder what would people from that time think of you". It's brilliant! Don't break that to bring stupid into the future. To tackle present social issues you have to first be a Trekkie, already there in the exalted future, before you consider the dark ages of the 21st century with a fresh perspective.

  I've just read a medical article that seems to be what we have been looking for since this whole Covid thing started: an detailed explanation of what it does in the body. And no, it didn't come from doctors in lab coats, it came from a supercomputer analysing statistical data. Take that, humans! Anyway... First of all, read the article: A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 — and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged. And before you go all "Oh, it's on Medium! I don't go to that crap, they use a paywall!", know that this is a free article. (also you can read anything on Medium if it seems to be coming from Twitter)

  Long story short (you should really read the article, though) is that the virus binds to the ACE2 receptors - and degrades them, then tricks the body to make even more ACE2 receptors (even in organs that normally don't express them as much) to get even more virus in. The virus also tweaks the renin–angiotensin system  which leads to a Bradykinin storm which causes multiple symptoms consistent with what is seen in hospitals and leaves many a doctor stumped: dry cough, blood pressure changes, leaky blood vessels, a gel filling one's lungs (making ventilators ineffective), tiredness, dizziness and even loss of smell and taste. Also, because of a genetic quirk of the X chromosome, women are less affected, which also is shown in statistical data on severe cases.

  Quoting from the article: several drugs target aspects of the RAS and are already FDA approved to treat other conditions. They could arguably be applied to treating Covid-19 as well. Several, like danazol, stanozolol, and ecallantide, reduce bradykinin production and could potentially stop a deadly bradykinin storm. Others, like icatibant, reduce bradykinin signaling and could blunt its effects once it’s already in the body.

  Good stuff, people! Good stuff! The person responsible for this is Daniel A Jacobson and his research assistants should take all the credit! Just kidding.

  But how new is this? Bradykinin is not an unknown peptide and we have known from the very beginning what ACE does and that Covid binds to it. My limited googling shows doctors noticing this as soon as the middle of March. In fact, the original article that the Medium article is based on is from July 7! Here is a TheScientist take on it: Is a Bradykinin Storm Brewing in COVID-19?

  For more info, here is a long video talking about the paper: Bradykinin Storm Instead of Cytokine Storm?

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  If you really are into medicine, check this very short but very technical video about Bradykinin, from where I also stole the image for this post: Bradykinin | Let the Drama begin!

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  I hope this provided you with some hope and a starting point for more research of your own.

  There are a lot of fascinating ideas and anecdotes in this book, especially in the areas which I wouldn't have considered interesting before reading it. Rabid is the type of book that I love, both because the subject is fascinating but also because of the effort the author made to research and write the content in a digestible format.

  In this book Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy describe the history of the rabies virus, how it affected humankind culturally, historically and, of course, medically. We learn in this book that there is a strong possibility that the myths of vampire and werewolf stem from the behaviour of people affected by rabies, the theme of beast biting person and turning them into one of their own proven irresistible even in times where no one understood how diseases work. Was Hector rabid when fighting Achilles? Were berserkers affected by rabies? Then we go into the actual zoonotic origin of the virus, a staggering 60% of infectious diseases affecting humans being of animal original initially. An idea I found extremely interesting is that farmers took over from hunter gatherers in so little time and so thoroughly because raising animals made them get new diseases to which they developed immunity, any contact with non farming populations thus fatally destroying them. Finally, a very nice perspective on Louis Pasteur, who is more popularly renowned for developing pasteurization and thus providing us with better tasting drinks than his final triumph which was a vaccine for rabies and an institute dedicated to studying infectious diseases.

  Bottom line: it might sound like a weird subject to read about or at least one hard to digest. The authors' writing is very good, the research splendid, and the book short enough to not take too much of the reader's time. I recommend it!

  The Book of the Ancestor trilogy consists of Red Sister, Grey Syster, Holy Sister, books that tell the continuous story of Nona, a girl with magical powers who is trained as a warrior nun by the church on a feudal world called Abeth. It feels almost the same as the Harry Potter books: a school for children where they learn only exciting stuff like magic and fighting and where the group of friends that coalesces around the main character has to solve more and more complex and dangerous problems. And it pretty much has the same issues, as any of the actors in the story could have easily handled a little child regardless of her powers because... she's a child! Also, the four "houses" are here replaced with genetic lines that provide the owner with various characteristics.

  Anyway, I liked all three books, although I have to say that I liked them less and less as the ending approached. Tools used to solve some problems were not used for similar issues later on, the girls were learning more and more stuff and become more and more powerful, while all of their opponents seemed to lack the ability to reach their level even with greater numbers and funding and, maybe worse of all, whenever it was inconvenient to detail the evolution of the characters and the story, Mark Lawrence just skips to some point in the future. Thus, each of the last two books is separated from the previous one by two years!

  Another qualm that I have with the series is that the author spent a lot of effort to create a magical world, with a dying sun and with a vague history that may or may not have involved spaceships and an alien race, with various magical tools that can be combined to various and epic effects, with several kingdoms, each different from another. Then the story ends, as if all we could or should ever care about is what happens to Nona.

  Bottom line: if you liked Harry Potter, you might want to read this series. It pushes the same buttons, while getting less and less consistent as more stuff is added, then leaving you wanting more of the world that was described, even if you didn't especially liked the characters or their choices.

  The Broken Ladder is a sociology book that is concise and to the point. I highly recommend it. Keith Payne's thesis is that most of the negative issues we associate with poverty or income are statistically proven to be more correlated with inequality and status. And this is not a human thing, as animal studies show that this is a deeply rooted behavior of social animals like monkeys and has a genetic component that can be demonstrated to as simple creatures as fruit flies.

  There are nine chapters in the book, each focusing on a particular characteristic of effect of social inequality. We learn that just having available a sum of money or a set of resources is meaningless to the individual. Instead, more important is how different those resources are from other people in the same group. Inequality leads to stress, which in turn leads to toxic behaviors, health problems, developmental issues. It leads to risk taking, to polarization in politics, it affects lifespan, it promotes conspiracy theories, religious extremism and racism.

  It is a short enough book that there is no reason for me to summarize it here. I believe it's a very important work to examine, as it touches on many problems that are present, even timeless. Written in 2017, it feels like a explanatory pamphlet to what gets all the media attention in 2020.

  I have to admit this is a strange time for me, in which I struggle with finishing any book. My mind may drift away at a moment's notice, thoughts captured by random things that inflame my interest. And with limited time resources, some things fall through the cracks, like the ability to dedicate myself to books that don't immediately grab my attention. Such a book is The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

  And you know the type. It's one of those where the way the word sounds as you read it is more important that what it says, a sort of magical white poetry that is attempting to evoke rather than tell, feel rather than reason, while also maintaining a rigorous intellectual style. Alix E. Harrow is a good writer and it shows, however she is too caught up in her own writing. This story features a girl with an ability that is manifested when she writes words of power. She is an avid reader and, in order to learn about her capabilities, she receives a book that tells the story of another girl who was similar to her. And the style of that book is, you guessed it, words crafted to evoke rather than tell.

  So at about 40% of the book nothing had happened other than a girl of color living in a house of plenty, but imprisoned by rules and starved of knowledge or power. Her captor and adoptive father is a white and powerful aristocrat, cold as ice and authoritative in every action or word, while she is a good girl caught between her desires and her upbringing. I've read books like this before and I liked some of them a lot. And this may yet evolve into a beautiful story, but as I was saying above, I am not in the mood for paying that much attention before something happens.

  In conclusion, while I get a feeling of being defeated and a desire to continue reading the book, I also have to accept I don't have the resources to struggle with it. I would rather find a more comfortable story for me at this time.

  The Authenticity Project is one of those books that got great marketing and so I got to read, so there is a little feeling of getting tricked to read it, but it's not a bad book. It is, however, terribly naive. It almost begs for the Brit-com makeover transition to the big screen with its physically perfect characters that feel their lives had lost meaning, but have all the resources to change them, the courage of telling the truth leading to strong friendships and not people taking advantage of them and the serendipity for all of them to meet each other and fit together. But it is a feel good book, so why not enjoy it?

  Clare Pooley graduated from a blog turned book about her own struggle with posh alcohol addiction to fiction with this book, after feeling inspired by the power of being truthful. In the book, someone decides to write their most personal truth in a notebook and leave it around so other people can read it and maybe also write in it. This brings together these people who have been living financially rewarding lives, but spiritually empty existences. The writing is decent, the story is obvious and lacking much subtlety, so if you want to read an uplifting fantasy about people getting everything right in their lives, this is the one for you.

  However, despite the book's premise that underneath the facade people are really different, the characters are quite cardboard. Instead of them having layer over layer of complexity, which would have made the story worth reading, it's like they hold party masks over their faces and when they drop them, you get to see all they are, vulnerable and normal while being amazing. There is a twist at the end that was kind of unexpected and a good opportunity to add more dimensions to the whole thing, only it fizzled immediately after the initial shock value.

  Bottom line: it feels as real as a fairy tale. The princesses get the princes, the dragons live happily ever after and everybody gets to keep the gold. It was not unpleasant to read, but I wouldn't recommend it, either.

  A few days ago I was stumbling upon a global pandemic book that I couldn't finish because it was avoiding the exact parts that would interest me in the scenario: the disease, the cause, the immediate aftermath. Instead it used the disease as a prop to describe a world in which only children survived. Disappointed, I randomly picked another book, this time one from Liu Cixin, the author of Three Body Problem, which I liked. Lo and behold, it was about a global catastrophe that kills all the adults, too! And while it started great, I have to say that it ultimately was also a disappointment.

  In Liu's defense, it is a story he wrote in 1989, only published in China in 2003 and translated to English in 2019 because of his success with other works.

  Supernova Era has a very interesting premise: a nearby star, occluded from us by a dust cloud, goes supernova, bathing the Earth in deadly radiation. People quickly realize that the genetic damage has affected everybody and only children under the age of 13 will be able to shrug it off, while all the adults will die. Children will have finally inherited the planet. What will the outcome be?

  Unfortunately, this is where the nice part ends. The genetic damage on animals and plants is swept under the rug, logistic issues such as how children would be fed and countries run are only touched upon, the actual effects of radiation damage, its long time effects, the way it would have affected people are completely ignored. And this, also, because the supernova was only a prop to describe a world in which only children survived.

  Liu had a really weird outlook on children back then. In his mind, children are lacking empathy, are only interested in games and even after a ten month training period from adults, they can only superficially grasp the nature of the world. And even if they are as old as 13 year old, they have no sexual drives. To be fair, I doubt that part would have passed by the Chinese censors, but not even mentioning it and portraying prepubescent teens as asexual feels even creepier than mentioning it too much.

  And I remember myself at 12: I was reading five books at the same time, was interested in natural sciences and was avid for knowledge. If people would have said "Now we will teach you how to do what we do", I would have been immensely happy, at least for a little while. But one thing is certain, I loved my friends without reservation and I was always thinking of how I would change the world when I would grow up.

  Not these children. They are written more as psychopathic caricatures of their nationalities. American kids start shooting each other for fun, Brazilians play games of soccer with a hundred thousand players and one ball and the Chinese succumb to fear when they find themselves under no authority and have to resort to a quantum computer to tell them what to do. They play war games that kill hundreds of thousands, but they are emotionally unaffected. They nuke their opponents for laughs. The ending is even more confusing, as it involves switching populations between the countries of the U.S. and China, for no apparent reason and ignoring transport issues and the immediate famine that would lead to.

  Bottom line: an interesting premise that fails miserably at the end, even though the author did make the effort to finish the book. But that's exactly the feeling one gets: someone struggled to finish this, changing direction, bringing in random ideas that are never explored and ignoring the obvious.

  Station Eleven started really well. It had the fresh scene setup, the internal thoughts of a complex character, a dissection of actual motivations and emotions, rather than cardboard cliches. Because I have a bunch of books to read and when I start reading I just pick one at random, I didn't know what it was about, and so I had that feeling of "Oh well, it's not sci-fi or fantasy, but I like the writing!". I was convinced I was going to like the book.

  A chapter later and there is a killer epidemic starting. One chapter later twenty years have passed and everybody except young people are alive in a post apocalyptic non technological world. I just couldn't go on. The complex character at the beginning and the interesting setup had been completely obliterated and replaced with tired formulaic ideas. I couldn't care less about any of the new characters or what was going to happen. I don't know what Emily St. John Mandel was thinking when she started writing the book, but it is clearly not for me.

  One of the main reasons to put the book down and not continue reading was the lazy and unscientific treatment of the killer pandemic. We are talking about a flu virus that infects just by breathing for a few seconds next to someone, then disabled those people within a day. Viruses like this do not spread! Moreover, there is no way that a flu virus kills everybody. There are always exceptions, whether due to immunity, isolation or other factors. I love pandemic stories, I read them all with glee, and I did that way before the current situation, and when I see one that teaches nothing, because the epidemic is just a prop in an otherwise unrelated story, I get frustrated.

  A few years ago I was watching a movie with my wife. We both didn't quite enjoy it, but were curious on how it ended, so I told her to skip scenes to get to the end. She was skipping all the scenes I was interested in and watching the ones I couldn't care less about. This book is the same. I understand why people would like it, as I said, the writing was good, but the focus of the story and the characters were in complete opposition to my own interests.

  Almost a year ago I was reading Vaccinated, by Paul A. Offit, an ode to vaccines and their de facto promoter in modern medicine, Maurice Hilleman. Offit was angry in the book when talking about the vaccine craze started by Andrew Wakefield, a self interested psychopath that gained money and fame while feeding on the fear and desperation of parents. Yet, he is not even close to how angry Seth Mnookin is in The Panic Virus, a book dedicated solely to exposing the roots and mechanisms of the industry of fear towards vaccines.

  The author systematically dissects, with proof and careful analysis, the entire argument of harmful vaccines causing autism, mercury poisoning or damaging immunity. Let me be as blunt as he is: the theory that vaccines cause autism has been thoroughly debunked and whoever continues to spout such nonsense has not read anything about the subject other than Facebook. Mnookin talks about Wakefield, David Kirby, Jenny McCarthy, Oprah Winfrey, exposing them for the profiteering promoters of deadly lies that they are. He talks about law trials and medical trials and research papers as they destroy any leg these theories stand on, but which never reach the news. He talks about devastated families, tricked into wasting their lives and money championing harmful ideas just for the tiny hope their child might get better.  

  However it is ironic that this book suffers from the same problems that made the vaccine argument lean so much towards the emotional, dramatic, sound-bite sized bullshit: it is technical, precise, verbose, intellectual. It is difficult to read the book because it engages with your brain, assaulting it with educated language and loads of information. Meanwhile, the opponents of the Mnookin's views use animated gifs with large colorful font texts and the occasional kitten. But it is a book that needs reading.

  Consider The Panic Virus as a form of vaccine itself. You need to read it so you don't fall prey to soulless predators that would use targeted well crafted yet completely misleading arguments to sway you to their side for their own profit. I am warning you, though, this is not a happy book. It made me question the worth of the human race as a whole. If such cheap techniques can be so effective in brainwashing so many people into believing absurd lies, then don't we deserve it, all the death and suffering? Aren't we failing at... I don't know, evolution? And the sad part is that most of the affected are fairly educated people, who start to rebel against "the establishment" and branch out into alternative theories without actually employing any technique of differentiating between fact and fallacy.

  Bottom line: I will rate this book the maximum value, because it is important to be read, but it is not a perfectly written piece of literature, nor it is easy to finish. But give it a try.

   You may have heard of Richard Feynman from several sources: he was a Nobel winning physicist, he worked in the team creating the first atomic bomb, he said many a smart thing that turned into memes at one time or another and is generally considered a genius. This book is a collection of short anecdotal stories put on paper from recorded interviews with the man, in which you will be surprised to see that he didn't really consider himself very smart. Instead, he was looking at situations where the solution seemed perfectly obvious and did not understand why other can't see it.

   I found the short tales pretty amusing, but also incredibly inspiring. Here is a physicist who makes a bet with an artist to makes one the teacher of the other, so that he learns to draw - something he feels to be impossible, and the artist understands more about science. In the end, Feynman sells paintings for money and the artist is none the wiser. Here is this person who at one time started fiddling with the safes in Los Alamos holding the secrets of the atomic bomb and found how easy it is to crack them. No one else thought it was easy. And above everything, he is always pranking people, making them believe he was smarter or more capable than he really was. But the joke was on him, because every time he did something, he really became good at it.

  The title says it all: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character. If anything, he was very curious and kept his mind open to any experience. It's people like these that I admire and, of course, envy with all my being. Feynman seems not only to be a complete man, in both work, fun and personal life, but also get more from the same experience than anyone around him. I found that fascinating and therefore I invite you to read the book yourselves.

Why this article should never have been written

  It's a bit too early to do this. I am sure no one in their right mind would want to display any non-positive words about George Floyd at this moment for fear of reprisals. But I feel like that is exactly what must be done. If Floyd was an innocent victim, a hero that overcame his background only to be brought down, literally, by the heavy boot of law enforcement, then what chance do normal people have?

  I didn't want to be writing about this. I think that the entire thing has become grotesque and the only thing that could now bring these Whites and Blacks together, corrupt police and gangstas, racists and anti-racists... is me! I am sure that if I were to enter the argument, all these people angrily hating each other would come together in trying to murder me. Because while I understand both sides, I can't fully endorse any of them. Racists are just dumb. What the hell does race matter in anything? But I do understand anti-anti-racists, the ones that hate being put together with assholes because of the color of their skin. Anti-racism protesters are dumb. Well, maybe. I am sure all of this protesting is finally going to have an impact, and this is good, but have you seen some of these people? Manicaly jumping on toppled down statues and roaring in megaphones about how great they are because they oppose evil. In this whole discussion, again, normal people are left out. They are boring, they don't clump together, they don't stand out, each one has their own slightly different opinion. Well, this is mine.

The gentle giant saint versus the black monster

  Something happened today that pushed me to write this post. I saw a Facebook post that detailed the criminal record of George Floyd. Cocaine dealing, two armed robberies, one which held him back four years, addiction and, when he was arrested, metamfetamine and fentanyl in his blood and the incriminating fake twenty dollar bill. Was it true? It is a very important question to ask, because many of these things are complete bullshit. So I googled it. And the result was actually worse: almost nothing!

  There are just two websites that actually advertise Floyd's criminal record: Great Game India - self titled "Journal on Geopolitics and International Relations" and sporting articles like "Coronavirus Bioweapon - How China Stole Coronavirus From Canada and Weaponized It" and "How A Pornstar & Sci-Fi Writer Influenced WHO Policies On Hydroxychloroquine With Fake Data" - and The Courier Daily, which seems legit. Funny though, when you search for "George Floyd criminal record" you get Game India first and not The Daily Mail, which is linked in their article and who actually did the research and published the court documents attesting to that. They are fifth on the search page. More, during the writing of this blog post, the Courier Daily link disappeared from my Google search and Game India was demoted to second place, with a "gentle giant" story on top instead.

  Either way, other than Game India, no other news outlet even phrases the title as to indicate George had been a criminal. The few who tackle the subject: The Star, The Daily Mail itself and even The Courier Daily, just portray the man as a flawed individual who nevertheless was set to change, found religion and even moved to Minneapolis to escape his past. And I agree with this viewpoint, because as far as I can see, the armed robbery had been many years before and the man had changed, in both behavior and intent. But hiding this doesn't really help. The Daily Mail article was published on the 26th of May, one day after Floyd's death, and the information therein is either not discussed or spun into a "gentle giant" narrative. He was a bouncer before the Coronavirus hit and he lost his job. George the gentle bouncer?

  One thing is certain, when you search for George's criminal record, it's more likely you get to articles about the criminal records of the arresting officers or Mark Wahlberg's hate crimes than what you actually searched for.

How did George die and why it doesn't matter

  But there is more. How did George die? You would say that having a knee on their throat while they gasp for air saying "I can't breathe" would be enough. But it's not. Several different reports say different things. The first one preliminarily portrays Floyd as a very sick man: coronary artery disease, hypertensive heart disease, even Covid-19. There were "no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation", but instead they diagnosed it as a heart failure under stress and multiple intoxicants. Finally, two days later, the report admits "a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained" by officers who had subjected Floyd to "neck compression". But Floyd's family would not have that, so they commissioned their own autopsy. The result? Floyd died from "asphyxia due to compression of the neck", affecting "blood flow and oxygen going into the brain", and also from "compression of the back, which interferes with breathing". The medical examiner said Floyd had no underlying medical problem that caused or contributed to his death.

  So which was it? It doesn't really matter. He died with a knee on his neck, which should never happen to anyone, and both reports admit it was a homicide. But ignoring all of these other data points doesn't help. People just vilify the policeman and raise George to saintly status. You want to solve something? Start with the truth. All of it. Now both sides have the ammunition required to never change their minds.

  I have not found any article that makes a definitive claim on which report is the good one, if any. They all lean on believing the second, because it fits, but if the first one was a complete fabrication, why wasn't anyone charged with it?

Wikipedia v. Facebook

  So of course I would find about Floyd's criminal past from Facebook. It makes so much sense. It is a pool of hateful bile and rank outrage that brings ugly right up to the surface. But this time it pointed me towards an interesting (albeit short) investigation. Without it, I would have swallowed up the entire completely innocent victim narrative that is pushed on every media outlet. So, once in a blue moon, even Facebook is good for something.

  As you may have noticed above, I took some information from Wikipedia, which has an entire article dedicated to George Floyd's death. It is there where the information about his two medical autopsies is also published. On George Floyd's page, his early life consists of: basketball, football, his family calling him a gentle giant. Then he customized cars, did some rap and was an informal community leader. Only then did he get arrested a few times then put in jail for five years. He was charged in 2007, went to jail in 2009 and was released on 2013. It's just six years and it does not define a man, but try to say that to a police officer who has just read the fact sheet on his cruiser's terminal and has to arrest a 1.93m tall intoxicated man.

  And you may want to read the entire chain of events. The police didn't just put him on the ground, they talked to him, they put him in their car, they fought, they pulled him out, all while being filmed and surrounded by a crowd.

You will never gonna get it

  How much of this is truth and how much of it is spin? You will never know. There are so many people that have to justify their own shit using carefully chosen bits and pieces from this that there will never be a truthful image of who George Floyd was and what happened to him. He is now more than a man and also much less: he is a symbol, rallying people to cry out against injustice, as they see it. The greatest thing George Floyd ever did was die and after that he stopped being human. How sad is that?

  In truth, he was a flawed man. He was not perfect. He was your everyman. A policeman casually killing him while getting filmed doing it hurts on so many levels because that could be you. That was you or your friend or your relative somewhere. But no, they had to make it about being black and being the gentle giant and being killed by the bad psycho cop and his cronies. It sounds like a Hollywood movie because it is scripted as one. You can be certain that at this point several documentaries and movies are in the works about this. And when you'll see it, a big time celebrity will be interpreting Floyd and the cop will be played by that actor who plays psychos in every other movie because he has that face. Once you go black, you can never go back.

  I am not defending anyone here. As I said in the beginning, I am on nobody's side in this. I just hope no one will knee me or my friends to death while everybody films it down.

The world has spoken

  I find it amazing that the protests in Minneapolis have spread to the entire world. It makes me hope that they will slowly turn into protests about things that matter even more than the color of one's skin, like our responsibility as a community to carefully choose our guardians, like having to think for ourselves if something is right or wrong and maybe doing something about it. George Floyd was killed slowly, over nine minutes, while people stood around and filmed it. Not just the other officers, but civilian bystanders, too.

  There were people who did something. At one point a witness said: "You got him down. Let him breathe." Another pointed out that Floyd was bleeding from the nose. Another told the officers that Floyd was "not even resisting arrest right now". Yet another said "Get him off the ground ... You could have put him in the car by now. He's not resisting arrest or nothing. You're enjoying it. Look at you. Your body language explains it." But that's all they did. Wikipedia calls them "witnesses", but you have to wonder: what skin color were they? Were they afraid they would be next and that's why all they could was beg for George's life as he slowly died? Or did they believe the story that American TV has fed them for decades, that cops are ultimately good people who break the rules in order to protect the innocent? Or maybe a more recent belief had taken hold: that filming injustice makes you a hero and it's more than enough.

  The world has spoken. Racism must go, police brutality must go. Let's not replace them by carefully crafted fantasies, though. Let's see the truth as it is so we can make it better.

2020 is great so far

  I am not being sarcastic. After a virus that punched presidents of the free world and dictators alike in the nose, that made people question their fake feelings of safety and forced them to act, here comes this age of protesting how things are. We have been shaken awake. Will we fall asleep again? I am sure we will, but some things will have changed by then. And the year is not yet over.

  A Cavern of Black Ice is a huge 769 page long book, but only the beginning of a story that happens in a fictional realm of feudalism and magic. You just have to have the classic hero journey, starting with a young man torn from the world he knew and was comfortable to him, partially mentored by a wise and hitherto unknown relative, given a reason to trek on a perilous journey and beset by powerful, yet strangely ineffectual enemies. Of course, Deus ex Machina abilities that help him and his quarry escape tight situations are also there.

  But there is more: various clans living in a cold inhospitable North, the ambitious ruler of a city coveting the resources of said clans, a mysterious and powerful entity chained by the ruler, a strange and magical race of people even further north, a secret sorcerous society, female assassins that you can't quite remember what they look like, a dark realm where dangerous creatures await release and so on and so on.

  The thing to understand here is that J. V. Jones set to create a vast universe in which multiple interests clash to create a captivating story. The writing is good, the characters are decent, but there is something missing and while I can't quite put my finger on it, I suspect it involves editing. There is too much text for what the story wants to say and when characterisation is concerned, some actions or even complete characters are just pulled out of a hat. And remember, this is just one of at least four books in the Sword of Shadows series and it barely scratched the surface of it all.

  Bottom line: I liked the book, but not so much as to be absolutely certain I will continue to read the rest of the series. When I finished reading it I felt actual relief. If you want to spend some time immersed in a fantastic fantasy universe, this might be a good fit for you.

  It's very rare for me to have such a strong reaction to a book as I has to The Shallows. A combination of high expectations from the people who recommended it and the ironically poor quality of the book almost forced me to stop reading it. It gives me a great and perverse pleasure to summarize this book into a single paragraph: the Internet is bombarding us with information and stimuli, therefore training our brains to skim the surface of things and depriving us of the ability to "deep read", meaning slowly digesting large blocks of text and fully processing what we read is now difficult to impossible for most people. That is it! There is nothing else in this book. And the reason why this book was bad is that it brings nothing more to the original idea explored by the author in an Atlantic Monthly cover story than quotes from other people who agree.

  Nicholas Carr decries (and cries and cries) the way the medium of the information we digest is changing the way we process that information. He uses page long paragraphs filled with big words meant only to make him look well read to repeat the same things over and over again, all the while complaining about people skipping to the juicy parts. I mean, I've been known to use a few pompous words myself, but I don't think I've ever went out of my way to use complicated expressions when simpler ones would do.

  The multitude of citations from people ranging from ancient Greek philosophers to Artificial Intelligence scientists are cherry-picked to make his case of the demise of the "deep read" in favor of meaningless web skimming. Carr makes the correct case that too much information trains us to not completely absorb the content of the things we read, but he completely misses the mark on why that happens, ironically made evident by his style of writing: boring, pompous, long, verbose. In a classic (by now) bubble effect, he writes a book about his fears that no one but people who share those fears would actually be able to read.

  Also ironic is that he makes some predictions (in 2010) about artificial intelligence and how people will use the various (and nefarious) web services like Google Wave that now make one laugh out loud.

  The point, Carr, is that people who are bombarded with lots of information learn to quickly categorize that information, then send it in the correct bin. You skim an article, see that it is mostly word filling around a central idea, you extract that idea, then move on. There is no deep reading because there is no deep writing. It happens with books, too. One is quick to determine when one book is captivating, engaging and well researched rather than repetitive, single-sided and written for the pleasure of reading oneself and looking smug rather than for knowledge sharing or the pleasure of others. The point (made clearer by research in how AI systems designed after brains function) is that this is how brains have always worked: filtered out as much as possible of the meaningless and tried to absorb as quickly as possible the meaningful. It is literally a search for meaning, you buffoon!

  So, yes, no one finds the time to laboriously study a book, annotate it, keeping well received paragraphs and quips in notebooks they carry with them. But that is because there is more information out there that brings more value through its diversity. In a very sad way, The Shallows reminds me of those religious people who complained about how laic books made people not study the Bible and absorb its teachings.

  Now, the book is not completely without merit. It's just very annoying. The way we use our brains does change the abilities we later have. It's what brains are meant to do: adapt.

  Would it hurt to regularly take a break from distraction, reading something that we have decided is important and high quality, then taking the time to think and absorb and maybe reread what we thought was valuable? No, of course not. I am intimately familiar with the restlessness that comes when trying to spend more than an hour doing the same thing or keeping my attention focused on one thing only. In this, Carr is not wrong. But in assuming that slowly and carefully navigating an avalanche of information is possible, he is definitely going too far.

  Instead of complaining about how we don't absorb meaning because we are too busy filtering out noise, one could be optimistic about the ability of people, helped by technology and not despite it, to improve the way they separate chaff from wheat. Instead of decrying the size and complexity of the information that one must use, making it impossible to hold it all in one brain, why not enjoy the ability to collaborate, network and share that makes it possible for that information to be well processed by groups of people?

  Bottom line: the ideas explored in this book are conservative in nature, fearful of change, focused on what drives that change yet blind on where it takes us. It is the intellectual pompous version of the old man wagging his cane in the air, shouting in anger at young people. It is a book that examines one phenomenon without bringing one any closer to an understanding of it. Woe betide things will change! Well, duh!

  It was more than two years ago when I was reading the first four books in the series and not being very impressed. Then there was a long break in which I wasn't really interested in reading the fifth and last: The Dark Talent. But I am a big fan of Brandon Sanderson so I finally read it. It's very short, pretty pointless and ends badly. And by badly I mean written in a bad way, which is quite unexpected, but even worse, it ends in a cliffhanger, pending a sixth book.

  The entire series is tonally all over the place, but I remember for the first books it kind of grew on me, even if it was funny one moment, tense the next, breaking the fourth wall immediately after. The Dark Talent, though, I hated! I couldn't empathise with any of the characters, I found the jokes elaborate yet dull and the twists were obvious chapters before.

  I guess Sanderson can't do only good. He has to vent the silly and the bad and the weird in order to write the good ones like The Reckoners and Elantris. I am pretty sure I will not read any of the books in this series.