Heiser Christmas Letter 2013

Edward Snowden

He’s a real hero in my book, with the courage to accept personal hardship in altruistic service. He carefully vetted and organized the documents he released. They are all distributed now and he has nothing to hide. Julian Assange has said that harassing whistleblowers produces higher–grade whistleblowers. Snowden has made prescient choices, and has been lucky as well. How he eluded the CIA and the world press for a month inside the Moscow airport transit area is amazing. Revoking his passport shouldn’t have immobilized him; Eldridge Cleaver used to travel with only a California driver’s license and a wanted poster. Until Snowden’s revelations, ACLU lawsuits were being dismissed for lack of proof of being spied upon.

The answer to the excessive collection of telephony and internet data is for the NSA to stop collecting it and to use specific warrants to search telco and ISP records.

Dick is shocked that we’re only upset about spying on “US Persons,” as if foreigners shouldn’t expect privacy. American cloud computing companies will pay a big price overseas unless they can secure their data from US government prying. The NSA Study Committee recommends treating US and foreign persons the same.

Writing a letter to John Kiriakou, who is imprisoned for whistleblowing about torture, Dick realized that torture, drone strikes and spying are all self–inflicted injuries. We can stop any time.

Daniel Ellsberg promised to unveil some secrets about nuclear weapons policy, but hasn’t delivered yet.


Steven Pinker has written The Better Angels of Our Nature, describing the reduction (yes, reduction) in violence over the years. War, homicide and domestic violence have all declined steeply. We should learn how to assist and speed this trend. Dick is planning to lead a PLATO Society study/discussion group about this. We have to get rid of the nuclear weapons too.

Driverless Cars

Dick loved the Stanford online course on programming driverless cars; they’re going to be wonderful. They’ll be here soon, just in time for when they take Dick’s car keys away. Robot drivers will have fewer traffic accidents, and shared cars will be more convenient and affordable; they’ll be driverless taxis!

Stack Ranking

Dick tried this at The Computer Store back in the 70s. Everyone has to rank all the co–workers. What could be more informative than that? Well, there was an insurrection, and we abandoned the idea, but Microsoft used it until recently. Bob Cringely says it’s Machiavellian and causes sabotage. Vanity Fair says it causes fear of working with talented people.

Internet University

Lately, Dick has been sloppy about taking some online courses. This is OK. We wouldn’t criticize someone for not finishing a magazine article. Low completion rates are OK for online courses, too! The best way to see whether a MOOC is interesting and useful is to watch a lecture. Since enrollment is free, you should sample some of it, like getting a free taste of something at Costco.

Some of the courses have been awesome. iversity.org is particularly promising; and Dick is really excited about a course on crystallography coming in April. Free online courses, along with Wikipedia and maps, are amazing gifts that deserve support and protection.

Online courses are particularly suited for working people who want to advance, for high school students who can’t get the AP courses they want and for lifelong learners interested in updating what they know.

Memory Games

Giving docent tours at the Weisman Art Foundation exercises Dick’s memory; there are no labels on the art. He’s delighted to discover that many memory lapses are temporary, lasting only moments. Still, that’s too long to keep museum visitors hanging, so he’s been experimenting with strategies to smooth his presentations and avoid hesitations. Sometimes it pays to verbally march up to the gap and float across. Sometimes what to say can be reworded on the fly. It never helps to agonize or struggle! Dick likes the lumosity.com memory and concentration puzzles.


We’re supporting Bob Olmsted for sheriff and Sheila Kuehl for county supervisor. They’re both outstanding candidates with solid records of service and compassion.

Jim Eninger publishes the weekly clickable chamber music newsletter for Los Angeles. To subscribe, email JEninger@yahoo.com. For excellent chamber music on demand, visit curtisperforms.curtis.edu

☯ Family news

Loretta has set up our electric trains this year!

We are grateful for good health, leisure and friends, and hope you will have the same good luck.

☮ Peace & love! Best wishes for 2014!