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20171027 – A Sovereign People

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The main idea of this book is to review history of 4 challenges to the newly created American nation that had to be overcome in order to create truly sovereign state:

  • Internal threat of Whiskey rebellion that was generated from the bottom of society
  • French attempt to subvert American sovereignty and force it to act under French control
  • Disruption that America brought in to existing diplomatic order by rejecting core value of European politics – bribery and corruption
  • Another Internal threat, this time generated from the top of society that represented an attempt by political parties to become dominant by using legal system to suppress opposition.

The objective here is to demonstrate that all these challenges were extremely dangerous, were successfully met, and how exactly it was done.



Here author describes purpose of this book as an attempt to present history of formation of American sovereignty via prism of 4 well-known, but poorly understood crises of founding era that occurred in years after acceptance of constitution and before the first in history mainly peaceful and democratic transfer of power from Federalists to Democrat Republicans.

PART I The Whiskey Rebellion

This is the story of an interesting and deeply American rebellion of population against government. It was not something quick and dirty with big military encounters that end in victory of one side and executions leaders and others of losing side. Rather it is slow, several years long process with government victory, no executions, but rather somewhat grudging acceptance of this victory.

Chapter 1

The first part describes formation of the first American government and distribution of power between future competing forces led on one side by Hamilton with support of Washington and Adams, and on other side by Jefferson.

Chapter 2

Obviously the first order of any government is to obtain funding and it was especially challenging for the new country that just went through victorious revolution in no small extent driven by resentment of government taxation. In March 1791 Hamilton succeeded in moving through congress tax on Distilled Spirits.

Chapter 3

This part describes nature of Whiskey use as regular and important farm product of multiple uses including its use as a form of money. Probably the most important reasons for rejection Whiskey tax were not that much related to the taxation per se, as to details such as requirements to pay tax before product was leaving distillery, creation of bureaucratic apparatus to control production and trade of Whiskey and reality that this apparatus was quickly populated by well-connected individuals with lots of nepotism added to the mix. The response was also quick: combination of protests, intimidation and sometimes violence against officials, and, most important, plain and simple flaunting of the law by ignoring it.

Chapter 4

This chapter is about discussion of the law and its consequences in Congress that took place in 1792 with Hamilton strongly supporting the law against westerners and southerners. An important point here was necessity to prove that Federal government actually is capable to enforce its law, so the bill was passed to allow president to raise militia to suppress insurrection.

Chapter 5

This describes raising tensions and specific cases of violence when local population and its representatives frustrated any attempts on enforcing the law, which in Washington’s view threatened sovereignty of Federal state and on September 15 1792 he issued proclamation against rebellion calling on local authorities to provide enforcement.

Chapter 6

This is description of political maneuvering around excise law compliance when Washington did everything possible to encourage compliance and avoid any hint on use of regular army. Interesting here is interplay between federal and local power such as Pennsylvania Governor Mifflin who tried to assure one side that law is enforced and other side it would be somewhat ignored.

Chapter 7

This is description of event of 1793 and 1794 when resistance to excise law was sporadically raised in various places, noncompliance and plain ignoring of the law was widely spread, and even talk about secession started in Kentucky and Georgia.

Chapter 8

This chapter about events in Pennsylvania where violence made it clear, that peaceful resolution become impossible. The locals started formation of militia against federal government

Chapter 9

This chapter moves to the summer of 1794 when Washington and Hamilton started to form militia to suppress rebellion, while still working with Mifflin trying to resolve situation, even if everybody by this time understood futility of this effort and need for raw power.

Chapter 10

Throughout August of 1794 both negotiations and preparation for military action continued in parallel. Eventually by September it became clear for leaders of rebellion that their chances are slim and that the best course of action was to submit to the law.

Chapter 11

This is description of further events of the fall of 1794 when incompliance continued leading to the new proclamation by Washington, who tried position rebels as a small minority dictating norms of behavior to majority.

Chapter 12

This chapter describes final preparation by Washington for military action to the delight of Hamilton. Washington was informed that government officials intimidated and many believe that there is no popular support to the tax. At this point Washington start moving troops.

Chapter 13.

Federal troops start moving in November 1794 and many leaders of rebellion were arrested. There was no serious resistance and by the end of November 1794 militias returned home and majority of participants in rebellion were pardoned with other accused rebels freed by the summer of 1795.

Chapter 14

This chapter is about post-rebellion finger pointing on who is to blame and such.

Epilogue 15

The epilogue discusses historical lessons stating that Hamilton had military approach trying to act quickly to suppress rebellion, while Washington acted as experienced politician using delay tactics to form opposition to rebellion, generate feeling of futility among rebels, and use military power more for intimidation than for actual fighting. Author makes important point here that this story demonstrated critical value of George Washington personality and popularity that allowed to resolve the crisis in such way, that led to establishment of the new loyalty not to personality of Washington, but rather to the Constitution and Federal government.


PART II The Genet Affair

Edmond Genet was revolutionary French government minister to USA who tried to force Washington to move US to French side in its conflict with Britain. In process he blatantly violated usual diplomatic norms trying to build support, including military support, for the French side by going directly to government opponents and even to the people, signing up volunteers, privateers, and sheltering bounty.

Chapter 1

This is brief description of immediate result of the French revolution in America when initial enthusiasm for it disappeared as soon as its excesses become known. As usual in American politics one side – Jefferson republicans continued their support, while other – federalists withdrew it.

Chapter 2

This is about Genet personality and objective that French had sending him to America: expedite payment of American debt and get America involved in supporting French side.

Chapter 3

This chapter describes Genet’s arrival and initial enthusiasm for him as the minister representing fellow republic. It also describes rejection of American government to take French side in conflict and Washington’s proclamation of neutrality that was developed out of contest between Hamilton and Jefferson pro and contra direct support.

Chapter 4

This is about Genet initial reaction and attempts to raise American enthusiasm for the French republic. It also discusses his attempt to start naval privateering based on US soil, specifically in Charleston with support of Jefferson and despite strong opposition by Hamilton.

Chapter 5-15

These chapters describe details of Genet intrigues, their eventual failure, and at the end his rejection of France after Jacobins taking power. The most interesting here is the description of attempt to reject American sovereignty, that was shown by Genet’s manners and actions, and believe that the new country could be controlled and manipulated to somebody’s else benefit. The part ends with Genet becoming an American and with discussion of lessons for the weak state that faces pressure from more powerful states to become their agent, rather than independent principal.



Chapter 1 – 10

Here author describes diplomatic event that demonstrated a very serious impact of the new American State on the way international business is done and, most important, the formation of American attitudes to international business. The case started with American delegation of three people sent to France negotiate relationships with this country, which demonstrated tendency to interfere in American internal affairs by supporting men and parties more responsive to French than to American needs. After consistent deterioration of relations during late 1790s American attempt to start dialog by sending minister Pinckney in 1796 was rejected by French with insult. Even more important was French decision to start naval attacks on Americans ships carrying trade with Britain. All this brought America to the brink of war with France and in attempt to resolve crisis Adams sent 3 men delegation: Charles Pinckney, Eldridge Gerry, and John Marshall. Author provides very brief history of Talleyrand and how he came to be the top French diplomat and then describes in details story of his attempt to extract bribe as a necessary condition for starting diplomatic discussion. This typical European approach to state business turned out to be unacceptable for America and led to scandal with some interesting details of quarrels between American delegates and behind the scene maneuvering. All this was to no avail and delegation come back with nothing in 1798. The most interesting part came after that, when American press both Federalist and Republican started very hot polemic on the issue resulting in US abrogating the treaties of 1778 with France and started preparation in line with unofficial slogan: “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute”, which greatly increased popularity of Adams administration. However its failure to follow through despite increase in taxes and expansion of federal army under control of Hamilton caused suspicion that federalists are just trying consolidate their power. As result Adams popularity plummeted. Eventually the new delegation was sent to France, accepted by Napoleon, and signed treaty of 1800. Author characterizes this episode as important step in formation of American national identity.



PART IV The Alien and Sedition Acts

Chapter 1 – 7

The final case that author reviews is Federalists’ attempt to suppress opposition by using their control of legal and state power via set of laws known as Alien and Sedition acts. It led to imprisonment of some editors, journalists, and even bystanders who managed to say something wrong in a bar. The interesting thing however happened in America that never ever happened before in any other place: the population did not accept violation of free speech and despite or maybe because of very light level of enforcement: only 21 arrest were made, the opposition to suppression by far outweighed any other issues eventually leading to federalists’ loosing election and bringing Jefferson into the White House. Author notes that ironic part of it was inability of Federalists to suppress opposition probably was result of their adherence to traditions of due process, but it is impossible to know because both sides acted mainly within constitutional framework, paradoxically affirming viability of the main Federalist achievement – Constitution of the United States.


It is a great historical book demonstrating how these 4 crises formed American system by turning principles implemented in the paper document into ideas imbedded into minds of people and driving action of these people. Either accommodation found between the needs of government for money and unwillingness of people to give this money shown in whiskey rebellion, or establishment of loyalty to the American state above loyalty to some general international ideas of brotherhood, revolution, and such demonstrated in case of citizen Genet, or application of business rules of honesty in diplomacy and rejection of bribes demonstrated by XYZ affair, or massive rejection of attempt to suppress opposition to party in power, all these were the new features practically unknown to other countries. These other countries’ systems mainly were based either on high transnational ideas of religion combined with monarchial powers of kings, while the new country – America was based on ideas of individual freedom and voluntary cooperation, practically non-existent in explicit form anywhere else at the time. The one thing that I think author is somewhat missing in relation to the most important of these cases – sedition Acts, I think, is the role of potential violence in preventing Federalist from massively enforcing these acts and fixing or even canceling elections. In short they just did not have power. The Hamilton’s army was in infancy, while states militias, especially Virginia militia under control of Jefferson were much more potent force, making the idea of opposition suppression for the greater good by force highly problematic. The Federalists’ adherence to due process came not from their innate goodness and respect for the law, but rather from the weakness of their military capabilities.


20171020 – Destined for War

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The main idea of this book is to raise alarm about potential clash of the USA with China by demonstrating applicability of history of interactions between dominant and raising powers that more often than not ended in military confrontation. This historical analysis spans from ancient Greece to the latest confrontations of XX century. The second point is to review all conceivable ways that growing confrontation between USA and China could develop in conflict and, finally, to provide recommendations and alternatives for future actions.



“The Biggest Player in the History of the World”

The first part of this book is about raise of China over the last 30 years and its movement to becoming number one economic power in the world. Here is a small graph illustrating this process:

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A lot of the narrative here based on PPP data that obviously provides numeric advantage to China’s estimates just because its population is about 4 times bigger than USA, but author quite reasonably suggests that growth in economic power would prompt growth in all other aspects of the country power including technological and military, so eventually it will lead to change in world balance of power.


Athens vs. Sparta

Here author moves to review history of international power rebalancing starting with ancient Greece and raise of Athens that threatened to dominant power of the time – Sparta. Eventually the competition between Sparta as the dominant land power and Athens as dominant naval power led to Peloponnesian war that Sparta won, but at very high price of weakened all Greek city-states.

Five Hundred Years

Here author moves from the first well-documented specific case of the dominant versus the raising power clash to general overview of such clashes over the last 500 years mainly within Western civilization and their outcomes:

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Author specifically reviews the most recent cases:

  • Japan vs. United States in mid XX century
  • Japan vs. Russia and China in early XX century
  • Germany vs. France in mid XIX century
  • England vs. Dutch Republic in XVII century
  • Hapsburgs vs. France in XVI century

Britain vs. Germany

Here author looks at what seems to be the most applicable case when dominant power of Britain, while being much bigger Empire due to colonies, started to rapidly lose competition to Germany in areas of technology and industrial power. Here is graph representing this change:

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The British response to this was increase in resources allocated to maintain advantage in military power especially navy, but it was clearly inadequate despite success in maintain advantage:

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Eventually the competition turned into war and it was fought mainly on land.


Imagine China Were Just Like Us

This is a typical litany of Americans being imperialistic: pushing Spain out of its American and Pacific colonies, creating and enforcing Monroe doctrine, creating new country Panama because Columbia would not allow build canal on American conditions, buying Alaska from Russia and quite forcefully defining borders with Canada. In short as raising power of early XX century America did not show a good example of behavior towards declining power or weak states. In order to provide some feeling of what it would look like now, author compares Teddy Roosevelt and current Chinese president Xi pointing out that it would be quite a nightmarish scenario.

What Xi’s China Wants

This chapter is an attempt to look at things from China’s point of view. This point of view is a mix of pride, humiliation, and strives for restoration. It relates not only to the country as whole, but also to the personality of its leader who went from high living of child of important party official through humiliation of Cultural revolution, and back to the top of power. The key point here is that Chinese believe that their rightful place in the world is at the top and would do everything to get there by all means necessary. Author also discusses potential difficulties such as loss of party control over society, slowdown of the economy, demographic consequences of one child policy and so on, but so far Chinese leadership feels strong enough to start challenging USA in South China Sea – possibly the first tremor of coming earthquake.

Clash of Civilizations

This chapter starts with the story of Lord Macartney mission to China in 1793 when both side where so far away culturally that no effective communication was possible. Author analyses potential clash of the West as represented by USA and China, which he believes is highly probable due to superiority complex that both sides have. Here is a nice table to compare cultural approaches:

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These innate cultural differences lead to demonstratively different approaches to just about everything: economy, diplomacy, education, and what not.

From Here to War

This chapter is pretty much a list of hypotheticals about all conceivable situations that could lead to US-China war. It starts with historical factoids of Korean War and China-Soviet mini war and goes through various scenarios from accidental collision at sea outgrowing into the war, so economic conflict pushed all the way to military confrontation.


Twelve Clues for Peace

Here author returns back to the history trying to identify specific factors that prevented war between dominant and raising power in previous conflicts. Author presents 12 different clues that served to avoid open military conflict:

  1. Existence of higher authority that both sides would listen to
  2. Competing states are embedded in larger political, economic, and security institutions
  3. Politicians on both sides could find way to accommodate each other with formerly dominant power recedes gracefully
  4. Dominant power missing opportunity to stop raising power on its track as Britain could possibly do if they supported Confederacy, breaking America in two weak states in process
  5. Cultural commonalities could prevent conflict as it happened between formerly dominant Britain and raising USA.
  6. Nuclear weapons, which make any large scale military conflict literally deleterious for both sides
  7. The same as 6, but formalized as MAD strategy
  8. MAD could not be justified
  9. But for MAD be effective leader should be ready to use it all and convince others that they do.
  10. Thick economic Interdependence
  11. Alliances should be under strict control
  12. The final and most decisive factor: domestic performance

Where Do We Go from Here?

These are author recommendations:

  • Begin with structural realities: if China continues on current path of growth and USA on current path of relative decline, China will become economically dominant and military dominance will follow
  • Apply History: it has a lot of examples to learn from and lessons that are applicable to current situation
  • Recognize that American strategy is a contradiction: the strategy “engage and hedge” allows everything, but prohibits nothing. This strategy founded on believe that democracy and freedom are universal aspirations and therefore applicable to China, but they are not. Idea of equal “citizenship” in “community of nations” is alien to Chinese hierarchical culture and besides would not be acceptable to it anyway because traditionally some “citizens”, namely USA are more equal than others.
  • Review all strategic options even ugly one: the bottom line here is: accommodation should stop.
  • Accommodate: this obviously contradict the precious one and basically means just accept China dominance in the future
  • Undermine: revive the believe in universality of democratic values and try to push them on China
  • Negotiating Long peace: delay any possible confrontation as much as possible by finding agreements
  • Redefine relationships: achieve common understanding that win-loose is not possible due to nuclear weapons so it is better to find win-win than stumble into loose –loose.


The conclusion once again stresses need for clarity of vital interests, understanding of Chinas aspirations, striving to act more at strategic level, and always keep in mind paramount value of controlling domestic challenges first.


This book provides pretty interesting historical and political analysis and quite convincing lead to necessity of confronting China before it is too late. I personally believe that China threat is about 90% product of American misunderstanding of the world and misplaced believes that everybody mainly just want a good live. It seems to me that for Americans the very notions of national and ethnic greatness, conquest just for power sake, and achievement of superiority over others, are deeply alien and basically inconceivable. Americans can understand giving all to achieve or protect freedom, but could not understand giving all to deprive others of freedom so for them China or for that matter former Soviet Union are just incomprehensible. Generally I agree that something had to be done and this something already start happening: limitation on uncompensated transfer of intellectual know how to China is just around the corner, pressure on trade is coming, creation of strong cyber defenses are not that far away, so all these measures could quite possibly stop China’s march to economic and political dominance. So far China’s raise was to the huge extent parasitic one: use of foreign capital, including massive transfer of technology and building production facilities aimed to use cheap Chinese labor to produce goods for Western population. This period of rapid parasitic growth is coming to the end and quite quickly. For once automation makes Chinese cheap labor irrelevant, consequently making technological knowledge transfer paid by profits from cheap production unpalatable for Western businesses. The general absence of respect to property, especially intellectual property quite possibly will put China on “no business” list and it could happen soon. The probability of China developing its own technological prowess is very problematic if one takes into account absence of intellectual and political freedom. Humans are quite complicated creatures so if one limits freethinking in one area, let’s say political and philosophical, it is virtually guaranties the decaying of freethinking and consequently success in technological area. The final point is that Chinese population advantage is on somewhat shaky ground taking into account that West includes not only 300+ millions of Americans, but also 500 millions EU, plus additional billions of people in countries like India, which in any conceivable confrontation will reside with the West rather than bow to Chinese dominance. All this would probably prevent any war because the equation of force both economic and military will always be against China, while odds of China’s joining democratic world as full pledged equal member will grow in proportion to decrease in opportunities for parasitic growth.


20171013 – Superforecasting

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The main idea of this book is to relate the new developments in author’s work when he found a way to obtain funding from IARPA and start Good Judgment Project, which includes systematic analysis of forecasting processes using thousands of volunteers. This project allowed author to identify a group of successful forecasters, analyze how exactly they work, and produce a pretty good description of successful patterns of behavior and processes.


  1. An Optimistic Skeptic

Author starts with the point that we all are forecasters trying to predict future events with different results. He refers to his earlier work on quality of forecasting conducted back in the 1980s that demonstrated very poor quality of forecasts by experts and pundits that become source of pessimism about this popular activity. The new research that he discusses in this book provides some reasons for more optimistic view on possibilities of improvement in forecasting quality. This research called Good Judgment Project (CJP) is sponsored by IARPA and based on formal forecasting and result analysis processes done by mainly self-selected volunteers. These processes allowed identify a group of super forecasters who were able to beat control group by 60-70%. The final part of the chapter refers to recently developed AI capabilities that promise in conjunction with humans achieve significant improvement in the quality of forecasts.

  1. Illusions of Knowledge

This starts with some examples of mistaken medical diagnosis and correspondingly forecast, then expand it to discuss human blindness to facts and multitude of historical cases supporting the notion of its severity and hugely negative consequences such as common medical practice of bloodletting that led to doctors’ killing multitude of patients, probably including George Washington. The contemporary result of growing understanding of deficiencies in human thinking processes led to development of the new procedures in medicine and resource allocation to analysis of the process of thinking. The final part discusses popular notion of “blink” vs. necessity of systematic thinking and Kahneman’s work on the fast and slow thinking.

  1. Keeping Score

This chapter is about difficulties of keeping score of forecasts. It uses example of Steve Ballmer who famously made statement seemingly underestimating iPhone potential. The actual statement nevertheless had enough wiggle room to spin it as pretty good forecast. After that author discusses an interesting example of important forecast failure – Soviet Union dissolution. After that he goes to some technical aspects of forecasting: over / under confidence, its decisiveness and calibration:

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Author also establishes here the main criteria for quality of forecast: Brier score with correlations: 0 perfect, 0.5 random, and 2 perfectly false forecasts.

Author also returns here to results of his 1980s study and it’s findings about impact of personality type on quality of forecast with foxes being much better than hedgehogs. The final part is about “wisdom of crowds” aggregation that sometime drastically improves forecast if diversity of views good, meaning wide enough to achieve healthy cancellation of extremes.

  1. Superforecasters

Here author reviews finding from his recent project with IARPA that allowed identify individual with significantly better forecasting results than average. The bulk of discussion here is related to differentiation between luck and skill, which author mainly does by tracing regression to the mean, the absence of which indicated prevalence of skill over luck.

  1. Supersmart?

This is about notion of smartness or intelligence and how it is defined via IQ testing or Fermi questioning (number of piano tuners in Chicago). After that author applies these notions to the real live forecasting question whether it will be found or not that Israelis poisoned Arafat. Here is an interesting concept of Active Open Mindedness (AOM) developed by Jonathan Baron based on agreement/ disagreement with questions:

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  1. Superquants?

This is about application of math and statistics to forecasting and need for preciseness (use of % in forecast rather than verbiage: likely/unlikely). Here is a typical use of verbiage that allows granular, but not precise analysis:

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At the end of chapter author looks at difference between probabilistic and deterministic approaches.

  1. Supernewsjunkies?

This chapter is about successful forecasters from the project, their methods and cases of over or under forecasting of actual events. It is also a bit of discussion about Bayesian equation and how it approves forecast when the new information is being taken into account.

  1. Perpetual Beta

This chapter is very valuable because author not only discusses need of practical experience rather than theoretical knowledge in forecasting, necessity of failure, and imperative of thorough analysis and adjustment, but also provides features of model superforecaster derived from his experience:

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  1. Super teams

Here author discusses value of teamwork in forecasting initially questioning validity of team approach in such deeply intellectual activity as analysis and forecasting. The conclusion is that generally team is more cumbersome, but results in accuracy about 23% better than the same people individually.

  1. The Leader’s Dilemma

This chapter starts with very interesting deviation into military history discussing little known quality of German military that made it so formidable power during two World Wars: culture of independent thinking and consistent encouragement of decision making at the lowest level of hierarchy if it is consistent with the highest level of competence relevant for this decision. Author contrasts it with rigid and hierarchical decision making in American military and how difficult it is to overcome. One important lesson in this is that even if German military was clearly force for evil, it should not prevent good analyst from learning whatever strengths it had and apply this knowledge.

  1. Are They Really So Super?

Here author discusses tendency of people to ignore information that contradicts their preset opinions and stress the one that supports it. He uses recent political development on Middle East to demonstrate how bureaucracy often fails anticipate changes in situation and how black swan events tend to pop-up elsewhere. Another point author makes is that failure to collect real data often leads to mistakes that could be easily avoided if analysts apply real data rather than preconceived ideas. He provides a nice example with income distribution when formal application of normal distribution leads to incorrect estimate of possibility for somebody to be a billionaire as one in trillions, when in reality Fat Tail actual income distribution makes it much more probable:

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  1. What’s Next?

This is an interesting take on future of forecasting where author correctly identifies objective of a forecast as to promote well being of forecaster with accuracy being a useful, but not ultimate parameter in achieving this objective. As example author discusses political events of Romney election and difficulties of implementing Evidence based medical policies. In both cases objective data pushed aside when they undermine well being of political analysts in the former case and medical profession in the latter. Interestingly, author also discusses vulnerability of all objective facts and numbers to manipulation, but that it is still best methodology that we have. The author also makes a point about post factum situation when experts often manage to spin results to such extent that makes failed forecast justifiable and, somewhat laughably, successful.


The final world is that superforecasters such as one of participants of Good Judgment Project Bill Flack, who is often right about future events, and “strategic thinkers” like Tom Friedman, who was consistently wrong, in reality are complimentary because people like Friedman are good at raising question, even if they typically could not provide meaningful answer, leaving this job open for superforecasters like Bill.


I think it is a great book that significantly expands on initial work of author that demonstrated low levels of ability of typical experts and pundits to correctly forecast future events. The success in trying identify and somewhat formalize the method of effective forecasting is very important and may in the future lead to creation of some independent sources for analysis and forecasting of political, economic, and legislative decisions. Nevertheless, I personally believe that world is way too complicated for anybody or any combination of humans and computers to be able correctly forecast future events so the best way to prosperity and good outcome is to minimize need in complex high level decision making, by decreasing role of governments, big corporation, and legislature in everyday live pushing decision at as low level as possible and practical, consequently dramatically decreasing cost of errors and unintended consequences.

20171006 Abrams, Floyd – The Soul of the First Amendment

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The main idea of this book is to review realities of history and contemporary application of the First Amendment that guaranties freedom of speech. It also includes extensive comparison of free speech in America with other democracies and demonstrates the exceptional character of American approach.



It starts with the anecdote about author’s son not being admitted to the movie in Europe because of age and then claiming his First Amendment right to see it. The anecdote is provided to demonstrate how deeply this amendment ingrained in American minds. After that author compares it with typical European attitude to the freedom of speech and demonstrates the deep difference between these two approaches. The introduction also describes the structure of the book.


This is historical part tracing debates about the First Amendment at the time of Constitutional convention and its ratification process. The main dispute was between those who believed that it is not necessary enumerate rights since constitution already put restriction on government power and those we demanded clear articulation of key rights such as free speech. After this author discusses somewhat surprising fact that the First amendment was dormant for a long time and really become very active only in the second half of XX century and remains in the focus of public discussion and Supreme Court decisions ever since.


This chapter compares levels of free speech protection in USA and other countries. Author refers to hate speech laws in Canada, label laws in UK, and privacy protection laws in Finland that limit free expression to the extent inconceivable for Americans. Overall it is a good piece of information for anybody who has doubt about exceptional character of USA.


This chapter reviews legal case of 1941 Bridges vs. California that established exceptionally American understanding of the freedom of speech. It initially discusses obscenity laws that were used widely, but then concentrate on Patterson and Supreme Court decision affirming the First Amendment right to criticize judiciary.


This chapter discusses American deviation from Europe in understanding of relationship between privacy and free speech. Specifically it discusses European “right to be forgotten”, which is drastically limit speech on Internet.


This chapter discusses American deviation from Europe in understanding of relationship between money and free speech. In short in Europe a government limits spending and consequently ability of people and organizations to distribute their views. In America right to use resource for support of one’s speech was consistently supported by the Court.


Here author goes beyond legal approach to the First Amendment and looks at controversies related to its use in responsible way, especially when it relates to classified materials and other forms of information that if made public could cause serious negative consequences. In short, in America the freedom of speech takes precedence over national security at least as it was decided in cases of Pentagon papers and many others.


I think that the First Amendment and freedom of speech that it supports is one of the most important factors that led to American prosperity. It keep in check, at least to some extent, people in power and allows powerful tools for organizing and creating political pressure for people out of power. However I think that some serious problems presented in this book are not dealt with properly and I would suggest this for each if key problem:


Libel and Privacy: I would not limit it by any means, but rather expand access to refutation of label and other untruthful information to such extant that court could upon deciding that information provided was maliciously distorted force allocating of the same amount of space and place in whatever printing or electronic form it was produced. For example if New York Time or Breitbart News published some clearly libelous piece against Trump or Obama correspondingly, they would have to publish rebuttal on the same page with the same amount of space and, in case of electronic format, keep it for the same amount of time as original piece. It would allow consumer of information to obtain rebuttal information and in some murky case make decision for self.


Hate Speech: Again I would not limit it by any means, but would punish producer in case somebody actually acted on this speech. For example, if some preacher calls to kill infidels he should be punished as accomplice when and only when somebody acts on this call, even if there is no direct connection between talker and actor. I think it would go long way to preventing incitement of violence.


National Security: I believe that it requires legislative action that would clearly define what type of information could be classified, whether it is technological specification, or political discussion, or diplomatic mail. With contemporary technology it is possible to assign clearance on person/document basis and keep track of who accesses what, when, and why. The security will never be provided if some generic classification of Top Secret allows some clerk with clearance such as Manning or technician as Snowden to access millions of classified documents that they not only have no business to access, but would not be even able to look through even if they spend every second of their lifetime doing it.

20170929 – Deep Thinking

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The main idea of this book is to review author’s experience as the first chess champion loosing to AI and using this experience to discuss past, present, and future development of AI and consequences of this development. The main objective here for author is to find reasons to be optimistic and demonstrate that advance of computers does not mean decline or even obsolesce of humanity.


ONE The Brain Game

Here author discusses the nature of chess as the brain game and commonly recognized link between ability to play chess and intelligence. Correspondingly this game was often used in all discussion of AI as a benchmark of its abilities. After that author moves to his experiences as chess prodigy in the Soviet Union where this game was treated as an important factor in competition with Western world for superiority in the area of intellectual development. Author briefly reviews history of chess related Cold war episodes and his role in them when he became world champion in 1985 just before Soviet Empire started its rapid move to demise.

TWO Rise of the Chess Machines

This chapter briefly reviews the story of development of chess related software and hardware from the earlier attempts when computers just started in late 1940s to Deep Thought specialized computer that was able successfully play at the Grandmaster level.

THREE Human versus Machine

Here author describes how computers were introduced into chess world and what kinds of strategic algorithms were used from initial stress on material weight to brute force positions crunching. He also discusses his own participation in the development of chess computers. The pinnacle of initial achievement was the program called Chess that was capable to win in a week human tournament.

FOUR What Matters to a Machine?

This is more about strategy and tactics used in development of AI algorithms and use of Chess for their development where the clear rules of game and complete information defined by rules provided a type of experimental tool similar to use of drosophila in biology. It is also about deficiencies of such approach because the main assumption about working of mind similarity to a computer proved to be incorrect.

FIVE What Makes a Mind?

Here author moves to discussion of properties of human mind and psychological aspects of chess. In process he discusses popular, but not necessarily well-founded idea about 10000 hours required for mastering any skill. Author claims, based on this own experience both as progeny and later as teacher, that initial genetic makeup of individual could not be discarded and 10K hours would produce different results in different people. In the second part of the chapter author discusses various anti-computer strategies that he developed to overcome computer’s advantage in tactical calculations and lacking of psychological component that could be debilitating for human player.

SIX Into the Arena

Here author briefly returns to his experience playing for championship against Karpov – KGB preferred winner, then moves to discussing DARPA initial development of AI. This follows by author’s discussion of complexity of rules in culture and lives, which is dramatically different and higher than simplicity of rules in chess. As example he looks at machine translation of human languages. The last part of the chapter is the story of author’s match against Deep Thought computer in October of 1989, which author won, but it was already a serious game.

SEVEN The Deep End

This chapter is the first part of the culmination of the story because it is about the match with Deep Blue. Author still won this match, but it was not that easy any more and Deep Blue demonstrated that it is getting close. Author also briefly describes chess revolution that occurred with dramatic improvement of PC that obtained enough computer power to provide vast majority of players with a partner at the level they want to have, even if it is pretty high level.

EIGHT Deeper Blue

This starts with discussion of improvement in computer power that practically eliminated need for super complex algorithms by bringing to the table tremendous computer power. It follows by the story of the second match with Deep Blue, but not before author reviews meaning and advantages and disadvantages of rematches. At the end author discusses prelude to the second game and his overestimation of time needed to Deep Blue team to fix problems and achieve significant improvement in its game. He also points out that IBM hired quite a few Grandmasters to work with Deep Blue.

NINE The Board Is in Flames! TEN The Holy Grail

These two chapters represent very detailed game-by-game and nearly move-by-move description of the second match when human chess champion (author) actually lost to the computer. It also includes discussion of several related controversies and author’s psychological ups and downs that had significant impact on the quality of the game.

ELEVEN Human Plus Machine

The final chapter is about combining AI and human intelligence in teams, which allows for better performance than either of them separately. Author discusses quite a few areas like GPS where AI added tremendously to the quality of life and our ability to achieve results. This obviously includes chess where computer programs dramatically improved training opportunities for players. One very interesting point here is that young players now learn quite differently from the old school that author went through. They are playing a lot more and consequently obtain a lot more practical skills, while learning a lot less theory. Then author discusses AI impact on innovation. Specifically in chess Grandmasters now have opportunities to run any innovation with AI before using it in high stakes game, allowing them to test much more approaches than was possible before. At the end of chapter author discusses more details of human vs. AI strengths and weaknesses and how to combine them to achieve maximum effect.

Conclusion: Onward and Upward

The final conclusion is pretty much that future is bright. The author believes that while humans good at developing machines to do their work the work itself will not disappear, but rather expand providing more and more interesting things to achieve and tasks to complete because humans have purpose and AI does not.


It is very interesting recount of the human vs. AI struggle in probably one of the simplest computer friendly applications that become proving ground for initial AI development. I am mainly in agreement with author that it is not a threat to humanity as long as humans would not decide to make it a threat either from military or some other considerations. Actually I am believer that humans are to the high extent are product of their experiences, so even if we create AI and feed into it huge amount of information and allow it to get skills via experience like self-teaching AI program, it would not be substitution for humanity, but rather just another tool, granted a very sophisticated one. The key feature that makes humans what they are, in my opinion, is their self-directed character that provide for ability to obtain idiosyncratic experience and form unique personality. I would not exclude possibility of AI computer that is designed to do just that: to learn from “parents”, obtain unpredictable experiences, direct its own development in some direction not necessarily controlled from outside, and eventually develop its own self and personality. I am pretty sure that it will occur in some kind of experimental form. However I do not think that it would go anywhere beyond experiment because eventually if it is successful all that we going to get is another human being with silicon rather than biological basis, but human being nevertheless. And since we have much easier and cheaper ways to produce those and all advantages that such AI person would have from more memory or higher speed of calculations could be easily matched by non-personified AI acting under human direction, it will probably never go beyond experimental stage.