Saturday, March 30, 2019

James Salter: A Sport and a Pastime (documentary)





The documentary James Salter: A Sport and a Pastime is now available free to Amazon Prime subscribers.
This 54-minute documentary traces the writer James Salter's lifelong love affair with France, unforgettably expressed in his 1967 masterpiece, A Sport and a Pastime. The film captures the great purity of Salter's prose and the essence of his power to evoke the erotic. Salter's own reflections on his writing and life offer rich insights for reader and writer alike.
If you enjoy it you may also like this history of The Paris Review, also free on Prime video.

See also James Salter, James Salter (1925-2015), and The Life of this World.

The excerpt below is from his 1993 interview for Paris Review's The Art of Fiction.
INTERVIEWER

When A Sport and a Pastime came out you were hailed as “celebrating the rites of erotic innovation” and yet also criticized for portraying such “vigorous ‘love’ scenes.” What did you think of all that?

SALTER

The eroticism is the heart and substance of the book. That seems obvious. I meant it to be, to use a word of Lorca’s, “lubricious” but pure, to describe things that were unspeakable in one sense, but at the same time, irresistible. Having traveled, I also was aware that voyages are, in a large sense, a search for, a journey toward love. A voyage without that is rather sterile. Perhaps this is a masculine view, but I think not entirely. The idea is of a life that combines sex and architecture—I suppose that’s what the book is, but that doesn’t explain it. It’s more or less a guide to what life might be, an ideal.

INTERVIEWER

People seem to have different opinions of what the book is about.

SALTER

I listen occasionally to people explaining the book to me. Every few years there’s an inquiry from a producer who would like to make a movie of it. I’ve turned the offers down because it seems to me ridiculous to try and film it. To my mind the book is obvious. I don’t see the ambiguity, but there again, you don’t know precisely what you are writing. Besides, how can you explain your own work? It’s vanity. To me it seems you can understand the book, if there’s been any doubt, by reading the final paragraph:

As for Anne-Marie, she lives in Troyes now, or did. She is married. I suppose there are children. They walk together on Sundays, the sunlight falling upon them. They visit friends, talk, go home in the evening, deep in the life we all agree is so greatly to be desired.

That paragraph, the final sentence, is written in irony, but perhaps not read that way. If you don’t see the irony, then the book is naturally going to have a different meaning for you.

INTERVIEWER

It has been said that Dean’s desire for Anne-Marie is also a desire for the “real” France. It’s a linked passion.

SALTER

France is beautiful, but his desire is definitely for the girl herself. Of course she is an embodiment. Even when you recognize what she is, she evokes things. But she would be desirable to him even if she didn’t.

INTERVIEWER

There’s a postmodern side to the book. The narrator indicates that he’s inventing Dean and Anne-Marie out of his own inadequacies.

SALTER

That’s just camouflage.

INTERVIEWER

What do you mean?

SALTER

This book would have been difficult to write in the first person—that is to say if it were Dean’s voice. It would be quite interesting written from Anne-Marie’s voice, but I wouldn’t know how to attempt that. On the other hand, if it were in the third person, the historic third, so to speak, it would be a little disturbing because of the explicitness, the sexual descriptions. The question was how to paint this, more or less. I don’t recall how it came to me, but the idea of having a third person describe it, somebody who is really not an important part of the book but merely serving as an intermediary between the book and the reader, was perhaps the thing that was going to make it possible; and consequently, I did that. I don’t know who this narrator is. You could say it’s me; well, possibly. But truly, there is no such person. He’s a device. He’s like the figure in black that moves the furniture in a play, so to speak, essential, but not part of the action.

...

INTERVIEWER

What do you think is the ultimate impulse to write?

SALTER

To write? Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be the prose and poems, the books, what is written down. Man was very fortunate to have invented the book. Without it the past would completely vanish, and we would be left with nothing, we would be naked on earth.

Friday, March 29, 2019

MSU Research Update (video)



Remarks at a recent Michigan State University leadership meeting. MSU is currently #1 in the US in annual Department of Energy (DOE) and DOE + NSF (National Science Foundation) funding. There are ~30 institutions in the US with larger annual research expenditures than MSU, however in all but a few cases (e.g., MIT and UC Berkeley) this is due to a large medical research complex and significant NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding. I discuss MSU's strategy in this direction: a new biomedical research complex and new $450M McLaren hospital on our campus.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

#RussiaHoax is the new WMD



No, there was never any Russian Collusion. But there was illegal spying on the political opposition by the Obama intelligence services. With the Mueller investigation now out of the way, I hope to see important, previously hidden, information declassified in the near future:

1. Multiple FISA applications to spy on anyone within "two hops" of Carter Page (i.e., the entire Trump campaign and transition team)

2. Originating Electronic Communication (EC) from CIA Director John Brennan to FBI Director James Comey. The two-page EC gives Brennan's justification for operation “Crossfire Hurricane” to investigate the Trump campaign (July 31, 2016).

3. Sworn testimony by Strzok, Ohr, Page, McCabe, etc. etc.

See, e.g., Spygate in 20 Minutes and Deep State Update.

If you took the #RussiaHoax seriously, and have any pretensions to rationality, then you must update your priors concerning the reliability of the media, and of our security and intelligence services.

Below, an excerpt from Matt Taibbi's forthcoming book Hate Inc.
It's official: Russiagate is this generation's WMD

The Iraq war faceplant damaged the reputation of the press. Russiagate just destroyed it

Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.

As has long been rumored, the former FBI chief’s independent probe will result in multiple indictments and convictions, but no “presidency-wrecking” conspiracy charges, or anything that would meet the layman’s definition of “collusion” with Russia.

With the caveat that even this news might somehow turn out to be botched, the key detail in the many stories about the end of the Mueller investigation was best expressed by the New York Times:

A senior Justice Department official said that Mr. Mueller would not recommend new indictments.

The Times tried to soften the emotional blow for the millions of Americans trained in these years to place hopes for the overturn of the Trump presidency in Mueller. Nobody even pretended it was supposed to be a fact-finding mission, instead of an act of faith.

The Special Prosecutor literally became a religious figure during the last few years, with votive candles sold in his image and Saturday Night Live cast members singing “All I Want for Christmas is You” to him featuring the rhymey line: “Mueller please come through, because the only option is a coup.”

The Times story today tried to preserve Santa Mueller’s reputation, noting Trump’s Attorney General William Barr’s reaction was an “endorsement” of the fineness of Mueller’s work:

In an apparent endorsement of an investigation that Mr. Trump has relentlessly attacked as a “witch hunt,” Mr. Barr said Justice Department officials never had to intervene to keep Mr. Mueller from taking an inappropriate or unwarranted step.

Mueller, in other words, never stepped out of the bounds of his job description. But could the same be said for the news media?

For those anxious to keep the dream alive, the Times published its usual graphic of Trump-Russia “contacts,” inviting readers to keep making connections. But in a separate piece by Peter Baker, the paper noted the Mueller news had dire consequences for the press:

It will be a reckoning for President Trump, to be sure, but also for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, for Congress, for Democrats, for Republicans, for the news media and, yes, for the system as a whole…

This is a damning page one admission by the Times. Despite the connect-the-dots graphic in its other story, and despite the astonishing, emotion-laden editorial the paper also ran suggesting “We don’t need to read the Mueller report” because we know Trump is guilty, Baker at least began the work of preparing Times readers for a hard question: “Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?”

The paper was signaling it understood there would now be questions about whether or not news outlets like itself made galactic errors by betting heavily on a new, politicized approach, trying to be true to “history’s judgment” on top of the hard-enough job of just being true. Worse, in a brutal irony everyone should have seen coming, the press has now handed Trump the mother of campaign issues heading into 2020.
Here is the Wall Street Journal:
WSJ: Mueller Is Done. Now Probe the Real Scandal

Attorney General William Barr has reported to Congress that special counsel Robert Mueller has cleared President Trump and his campaign team of claims of conspiring with Russia during the 2016 election. This is more than an exoneration. It’s a searing indictment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as a reminder of the need to know the story behind the bureau’s corrosive investigation.

Mr. Mueller’s report likely doesn’t put it that way, but it’s the logical conclusion of his no-collusion finding. The FBI unleashed its powers on a candidate for the office of the U.S. presidency, an astonishing first. It did so on the incredible grounds that the campaign had conspired to aid a foreign government. And it used the most aggressive tools in its arsenal—surveillance of U.S. citizens, secret subpoenas of phone records and documents, even human informants.

... None of this should ever have happened absent highly compelling evidence—from the start—of wrongdoing. Yet from what we know, the FBI operated on the basis of an overheard conversation of third-tier campaign aide George Papadopoulos, as well as a wild “dossier” financed by the rival presidential campaign. Mr. Mueller’s no-collusion finding amounts to a judgment that there never was any evidence. The Papadopoulos claim was thin, the dossier a fabrication.

Which is all the more reason Americans now deserve a full accounting of the missteps of former FBI Director James Comey and his team—in part so that this never happens again. That includes the following: What “evidence” did the FBI have in totality? What efforts did the bureau take to verify it? Did it corroborate anything before launching its probe? What role did political players play? How aware was the FBI that it was being gulled into a dirty-trick operation, and if so, how did it justify proceeding? How intrusive were the FBI methods? And who was harmed?

...

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Manifold Episode #6: John Hawks on Human Evolution, Ancient DNA, and Big Labs Devouring Fossils



Show Page    YouTube Channel

John Hawks on Human Evolution, Ancient DNA, and Big Labs Devouring Fossils – Episode #6

Hawks is the Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He is an anthropologist and studies the bones and genes of ancient humans. He’s worked on almost every part of our evolutionary story, from the very origin of our lineage among the apes, to the last 10,000 years of our history.

Links:

John Hawks Weblog

Ghosts and Hybrids: How ancient DNA and new fossils are changing human origins (Research Presentation)

Transcript

man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Annals of Psychometry: 35 years of talent selection

David Lubinski kindly shared the recent paper linked below. He and I will both be at ISIR 2019, the annual meeting of the International Society for Intelligence Research.

Psychological Constellations Assessed at Age 13 Predict Distinct Forms of Eminence 35 Years Later (Psychological Science 2019, Vol. 30(3) 444–454).

The paper studies two populations:

1. 13 year olds identified through talented and gifted programs, all of whom scored in the top 1% in at least one of Mathematical or Verbal ability (based on SAT score; some scored at the 1 in 10k level). They were also assessed using a preference inventory (SOV = Study of Values). About 10% of this cohort of 677 were identified 35 years later as having achieved "eminence" in their careers -- e.g., full professor at R1 university, senior executive status, ...

2. Exceptional STEM graduate students at top 15 PhD programs, evaluated using GRE and SOV. If I'm not mistaken many or all of these students were NSF Graduate Fellows. About 20% of this population of 605 had achieved STEM eminence 25 years later.

I would estimate that only about one in a thousand individuals drawn randomly from the general population attains eminence as defined in the paper. Thus, the talent selection used to form cohorts 1&2 (e.g., SAT administered at age 13) produced success rates as much as 100 times higher than in the base population.

See related posts: 1 2 3
Psychological Constellations Assessed at Age 13 Predict Distinct Forms of Eminence 35 Years Later

Psychological Science 2019, Vol. 30(3) 444–454

Brian O. Bernstein, David Lubinski, and Camilla P. Benbow
Department of Psychology & Human Development, Vanderbilt University

Abstract
This investigation examined whether math/scientific and verbal/humanistic ability and preference constellations, developed on intellectually talented 13-year-olds to predict their educational outcomes at age 23, continue to maintain their longitudinal potency by distinguishing distinct forms of eminence 35 years later. Eminent individuals were defined as those who, by age 50, had accomplished something rare: creative and highly impactful careers (e.g., full professors at research-intensive universities, Fortune 500 executives, distinguished judges and lawyers, leaders in biomedicine, award-winning journalists and writers). Study 1 consisted of 677 intellectually precocious youths, assessed at age 13, whose leadership and creative accomplishments were assessed 35 years later. Study 2 constituted a constructive replication—an analysis of 605 top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduate students, assessed on the same predictor constructs early in graduate school and assessed again 25 years later. In both samples, the same ability and preference parameter values, which defined math/scientific versus verbal/humanistic constellations, discriminated participants who ultimately achieved distinct forms of eminence from their peers pursuing other life endeavors.
Note that even within both cohorts SAT / GRE were useful in predicting achievement outcomes. Click figures below for larger versions.



Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Othram: the future of DNA forensics


I've blogged frequently about the impact of the genomic revolution on embryo selection in IVF and precision health (complex disease risk prediction).

DNA forensics -- the use of DNA for identification of criminals, victims, military remains, etc. -- will also be transformed by inexpensive genotyping and powerful informatics.

The existing FBI standard (CODIS) for DNA identification uses only 20 markers (STRs -- previously only 13 loci were used!). By contrast, genome wide sequencing can reliably call millions of genetic variants. For the first time, the cost curves for these two methods have crossed: modern sequencing costs no more than extracting CODIS markers using the now ~30 year old technology.

What can you do with millions of genetic markers?

1. Determine relatedness of two individuals with high precision. This allows detectives to immediately identify a relative (ranging from distant cousin to sibling or parent) of the source of the DNA sample, simply by scanning through large DNA databases. In many cases this narrows the pool of suspects to ~100 or fewer individuals. With only 20 CODIS markers this is not possible. Some notorious cold cases have already been solved using this method, with more examples every few weeks.

2. Phenotype and Ancestry reports: in addition to ethnicity, we can now predict cosmetic traits such as hair color, eye color, skin tone (i.e., light to dark), baldness, height, BMI, and bodyfat percentage. (The last two are the least accurate, although outlier are still identifiable.) Again, not remotely possible using CODIS markers.

I'm a co-founder of Othram, a startup providing 1&2 above to law enforcement, the military, and other customers.

Recently I visited Othram's brand new 4000 square foot lab which will be entirely dedicated to forensic applications of advanced sequencing and genomic prediction. The lab has specialized air handling and sample processing infrastructure, and will soon be home to an Illumina NovaSeq.



On the legal status of large DNA databases, such as those of 23andMe and Ancestry: these firms have genotyped 5M and 10M individuals, respectively, with both numbers set to double in the next year. These datasets are large enough to, e.g., immediately return a first- or second-cousin match for most searches on DNA from someone of primarily European heritage. With such resources the majority of crimes with DNA evidence become easy to solve. The Genomic Panopticon is nearly a reality.

Both 23andMe and Ancestry have, on grounds of customer privacy, resisted law enforcement requests to search for matches to forensic DNA. However, one of their smaller competitors, FamilyTreeDNA, revealed that it is routinely collaborating with FBI. I do not believe that 23andMe or Ancestry can resist a court order if vigorously pursued. The situation is similar to that of ISPs and web email providers in the early days of the internet. They also resisted cooperation with law enforcement on privacy grounds, but in the end had to capitulate. All such firms today have compliance departments that process law enforcement queries on a routine basis. I would be very surprised if 23andMe and Ancestry don't end up with a similar accommodation, despite their current posture.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Human Nature (film) at SXSW



I'll be at SXSW for the premiere of this documentary on CRISPR and genetic engineering. First screening is March 10 (Sun) at the Atom Theatre; I'll participate in a Q&A afterwards.

There is a launch party that evening for which I have an extra ticket. Taking bids from interested parties 8-)

Human Nature SXSW Schedule.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Manifold Episode #5: Kaiser Kuo of Sinica on Modern China and US-China relations



Show Page    YouTube Channel

Kaiser Kuo of Sinica on Modern China and US-China relations -- Episode #5

Kaiser Kuo is a host and co-founder of Sinica, a current affairs podcast originally based in Beijing. Sinica guests include prominent journalists, academics, and policy makers who participate in uncensored discussions about Chinese political, economic, and cultural affairs.

Tags: China, Globalization, US-China Relations, East Asia, Xi Jinping

Links:
Sinica Podcast
Social science study of Xi Jinping's anticorruption campaign

man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Kip Thorne on Caltech and Black Holes



See LIGO Detects Gravity Waves and The Christy Gadget.
Techno-pessimists should note that detecting gravity waves is much, much harder than landing on the moon. LIGO measured a displacement 1/1000 of a neutron radius, in a noisy terrestrial background, accounting even for quantum noise.

https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/: 9/14/15 detection of BH-BH (~ 30 solar masses) merger at distance 1.3 Gy. The energy in the gravitational wave signal was ~3 solar masses!

Here is the paper http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.061102

When I was an undergraduate, I toured the early LIGO prototype, which was using little car shaped rubber erasers as shock absorbers. Technology has improved since then, and the real device is much bigger.
As Kip makes clear in his talk, the detection of gravity waves was a ~50 year project involving large numbers of very smart physicists and engineers, with the sustained support of some of the most impressive scientific institutions in the world (Caltech, MIT, NSF, Moscow State University). Entirely new technologies and areas of theoretical and experimental physics had to be developed to bring this dream to fruition.

I learned general relativity from Kip when I was at Caltech. The photo below was taken in Eugene, Oregon. Physics as a Strange Attractor.

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