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20181230 – Risk Savvy

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that we live in the risk illiterate society and as result people often make decisions, which are not reasonable, sometime becoming victims of swindlers or just plain mass hysteria for practically no reason whatsoever, except for this illiteracy. Author also strives to educate people about real risks and how to deal with them and makes suggestions on how to deal with it on the scale of society.

DETAILS:

Part I The Psychology of Risk

  1. Are People Stupid?

It starts with an interesting observation that people generally do not understand risks and do not understand probabilities, even if they are use it all the time. Author presents a simple example of meteorologist predicting x% probability of rains. It turned out there are multiple ways to understand it and people do understand it differently including such hilarious statement that probability 50% of rain two days in the row means 100% probability of rain over the next 2 days. Author also looks at British contraceptive pill scare causing lots of damage because women stop using the pill, risks of terrorism that caused people to expose selves to much higher risk of driving, and so on. At the end author states that:

  • Everyone can learn dealing with Risk
  • Experts are usually do not understand risks either, so they are no help in risk evaluation
  • Less is more in terms of usefulness of simple solutions for complex problems.
  1. Certainty Is an Illusion

The point here is that complete certainty really does not exist, only illusion of it. Author discusses contemporary prediction industry in economics and elsewhere and he specifically looks at test results, which are also sort of predictions. One of the reasons for this is human propensity to seek certainty of the future, which is obviously not possible.  Author provides a nice take on Risk versus Uncertainty:

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After that author discusses probability and does it in very specific terms: “Probability is not one of a kind; it was born with three faces: frequency, physical design, and degrees of belief.”

He also makes two important suggestions in communicating and evaluation risk:

  1. Use frequencies instead of single-event probabilities.
  2. Use absolute instead of relative risks.

Then author discusses intuition as a way to apply unconscious rules of thumb based on experience, that generally work pretty well.

Finally author points out to negative effect that could occur due to unreasonable search for certainty such as in case of medical test results with false positives causing more problems than resolving to true positives. Another classic example: Turkey illusion.

  1. Defensive Decision Making

This starts with examples of mistakes made even by Einstein and demonstration of visual illusions, then continue to discussion of human errors, their quality: good and bad errors, and proceed to look at different cultures some more tolerant to errors, especially good, and some not, making the latter cultures stagnant due to fear of errors and defensive decision making. Author discusses in details the expression of defensiveness in medicine that leads to huge overkill in testing and expenses with priority given to procedures over performance.

  1. Why Do We Fear What’s Unlikely to Kill Us?

To answer this question author brings in amygdala and need to be very cautious with unknown. This brings in social imitation and cultural settings that make people to be afraid of some things but not others. Author provides example for X-mas candles that Americans afraid of, while Germans not. Then he goes through a number of similar cases like lucky numbers, GMO food, Radiation, medical symptoms and other. There is also an interesting piece on validity of questionnaires, especially the closed ones. Here is example for children answering to closed and open QA:

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At the end of chapter author looks at anxiety in young people, and concludes that it is mostly linked to difference between internal and external goals, when former are more typical for older people who less dependent on others approval, while latter for young people for whom fear of failure is a big cause of anxiety.

Part II Getting Risk Sa

  1. Mind Your Money

This starts with discussion of American optimism in financial area and statements that it is not supported by data. The author moves to useless experts that do slightly worse in prediction than chimps. Good example is that nobody was able to predict market crash in 2008. Author provides an interesting piece of information about Harry Markowitz who got Noble for his portfolio management math, but for himself used just plain diversification 1/N. So here is general interpretation:

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This follows by an Austrian retirement plan story when bank representatives recommended investment in fund despite bad conditions. In some cases it was because they did not understand these conditions, but in others because it was their job. From here author provides recommendation when to trust you banker:

  1. Banker understands the featured financial products, and
  2. Banker has no conflicts of interest.
  3. Leadership and Intuition

This is about decision making at the executive level. It turned out that lots of decisions are made not on the basis of formal analysis, but rather at the gut level with formal analysis used to justify decisions. After that author discusses defensive decision making typical for any bureaucratic entity and offers suggestions on what to do and what not to do. Finally author suggest that simple strategies work better:

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  1. Fun and Games

This is about various games involving risk, which starts with example of “Let’s make a Deal” when choice in condition of uncertainty often is dun without understanding of statistics and therefore is not optimal. Author also makes recommendation on dining and shopping choices like asking waiter “What would you eat here this evening?”

  1. Getting to the Heart of Romance

This is pretty much about finding mate. It starts with Darwin’s diary and his reasons to marry or not, then continuing with Ben Franklin’s recommendations to his nephew. After this author moves to some simple mathematics and brings in notion of “Satisficing”. Then author moves to parenting and show an interesting diagram about parent effort allocation between children:

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  1. What Doctors Need to Know

This is about doctors and quite low levels of their numeracy causing unsound recommendations. The good news is that doctors are trainable so they are capable provide statistically valid estimates. The bad news is that it is against doctors’ own interest and exposes them to lawsuits when similarly innumerate lawyers could inflict lots of damage. Author continue going through a number of medical / statistical issues and algorithmic methods to obtain better care, while decreasing exposure to negative impact from testing. Probably the most important here is that author provides reference to sources like (www.the cochranelibrary.com).

  1. Health Care: No Decision About Me Without Me

This is pretty much about misleading health statistics that causes people go into unnecessary procedures that have negative impact. Here is a sample:

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Author reviews in details screening for prostate and breast cancers, their promotion and results. He provides a nice summary of Facts and Fiction for cancer screening resulting in conclusion that one would be better off doing preventive measures rather than screening, which includes diet and exercise. The interesting example is Japanese who moved to Hawaii. They change diet and behavior resulting in dramatic decrease in cases of stomach cancer and increase in breast and prostate cancers:

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The final and most important recommendation is that doctors allocate only small share of their time and attention to each patient and do not suffer consequence of mistakes or unsound recommendation. The patients do, so only the ability of individual to control as much as possible of treatment activity could somewhat improve quality healthcare decisions.

  1. Banks. Cows, and Other Dangerous Things

Here author provides a few very reasonable rules for living in our world:

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Probably the most important rule is this: ”Think for yourself”.

Part Ill Start Early

12 Revolutionize School

The final part is about schooling and what author believes had to be done to produce Risk Literate new generation. For this author suggests instead of teaching for some nearly randomly selected testable skills, teach to “Problem Solving in Real world” so that students acquire specific levels of Health literacy, Financial Literacy, Digital Risk Literacy, Self-Control, digital and otherwise.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a very good review of deficiencies of Risk understanding in contemporary Western world. It worth to add that despite all this problems the western world is much better able to handle risks and other problems than any other Cultural world either current or historical, mainly because of relative freedom of decision making and information distribution that allows wide range of opinions and potential solutions to be presented tried and, if proved successful, to be implemented. For me this book is very interesting by providing statistical confirmation to many of my gut feelings that I kind of acted upon by doing or not doing something, while feeling some very light concern that it is wrong. The statistical data and reminder to apply analytical skills to everyday life on more consistent basis kind of eliminated this light concern.

20181223 – The Optimism Bias- A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is going somewhat against the main idea of fashion psychology, which recently discovered a huge amount of situations when human brain misrepresents reality, while constructing its picture. The main point author makes is that it is incorrect approach. Whatever misrepresentation brain makes is beneficial for survival due to the simple fact that it is found in the brain of survivors who are currently alive and author uses results of extensive research and multiple real live examples to demonstrate how it works.

DETAILS:

PROLOGUE: A Glass Forever Half Full?

This starts with author being puzzled by recent research data that demonstrated how human optimism distorts reality. It relates not only to the future, but also to the past. It is now well understood that humans do not recollect something the way computer memory does. Human recollection is rather reconstruction of some consistent memory from bits and pieces contained in the brain, which is implementing in process both filtering and invention of specific facts. Similarly human brain projects future only partially consistent with known reality, adding corrections needed to achieve optimistic bias. Author presents a research that she conducted on students to support these ideas. Here is her reasoning for why it happens: “The optimism bias protects us from accurately perceiving the pain and difficulties the future undoubtedly holds, and it may defend us from viewing our options in life as somewhat limited. As a result, stress and anxiety are reduced, physical and mental health is improved, and the motivation to act and be productive is enhanced. In order to progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities—not just any old realities, but better ones, and we need to believe them to be possible.

  1. Which Way Is Up? Illusions of the Human Brain

This chapter starts with illusions that brain creates while processing reality. One such illusion was an airline pilot’s spatial confusion that led to the crash of passenger plane. After that author discusses sever visual illusions that demonstrate brain’s functionality not as a tool of presenting reality, but rather tool for constructing reality representation based on clues. After presenting some visual illusions, author discusses well-known cognitive illusions like everybody being better than average and reviews photograph selection experiment– choice blindness.  One more interesting point is that research shows that thinking too much can lead to suboptimal judgment. Author provides example with posters selection.

  1. Are Animals Stuck in Time? The Evolution of Prospection

In this chapter author moves to animals and discusses their abilities for mental representation of time researched by observing their patterns of food hiding and recovery. This leads to discussion of physiological changes to the brain when knowledge is accumulated. As usual there is reference to London taxi drivers and their increased spatial processing parts of the brain. However she brings some really new information. It turned out that these taxi drivers pay for this increase in spatial effectiveness by losing some abilities in different functions. Even more interesting is discovery resulting from continuation of observation beyond retirement, which demonstrated that when demand stops, brain returns to normal levels of development for both spatial areas and other areas that where limited by spatial overdevelopment.  The final part of the chapter is about mental time travelling.

  1. Is Optimism a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? How the Mind Transforms Predictions into Reality

Here author uses the story from sport to demonstrate that in some cases, actually great many of cases, unjustifiable optimism could motivate people to work harder, eventually not only making this optimism more and more justifiable, but leading to dreams becoming true.  Next part of the chapter is about stereotypes and how they mold relationship between people and could direct development in one direction or another. The typical example two persons one of whom stereotyped, as being better athlete because of race, indeed becomes a better athlete because of much more effort applied in athletic area. Author provides a few interesting experiments, demonstrating powerful application of stereotypes resulting in clearly observable changes in behavior and consequently result. The chapter ends with discussion of optimism saving and pessimism killing people in some cases of disease.

  1. What Do Barack Obama and Shirley Temple Have in Common? When Private Optimism Meets Public Despair

This chapter is about mass optimism or lack thereof that could be restored by popular public persona. Author refers to two such individuals Shirley Temple in 1930s and Obama. She obviously missing one small detail that Shirley Temple provided natural non-political optimism supported by everybody who was not hater of little cute girls. Barak Obama represented very political optimism of leftist kind not acceptable to significant part of population, so unlike Shirley he was very dividing and controversial person. Curiously after that she moves to samples of false hope provided by individuals like Madoff, which is actually very appropriate when discussing Obama.  After that author discusses interplay between pessimism and optimism. Which in developed countries like US often has form of: “everything is awful, but I am doing fine and expect it to continue.”

  1. Can You Predict What Will Make You Happy? The Unexpected Ingredient for Well-being

This is about what makes people happy and survey identify 5 factors from most to least important:

  1. More time with family
  2. Earning double what I do now
  3. Better health
  4. More time with friends
  5. More traveling

Then discussion goes into some of these things: marriage, finances, perspectives for bright future, and focus on some specific temporal need. She also discusses memory and anticipation of future as area where application of optimism is quite important. One of reasons author provides is this:” Our belief that happiness is just around the corner is, ironically enough, what keeps our spirits high in the present. Imagining a better future—which is attainable if we follow certain rules (or so we think) —maintains our wellbeing. “.  She also refers to biological link between optimism and mental health: “…depression is the inability to construct a future. As a matter of fact, clinically depressed individuals find it difficult to create detailed images of future events, and when they do, they tend to be pessimistic about them.”

  1. Crocuses Popping Up Through the Snow? When Things Go Wrong: Depression, Interpretation, and Genes

Here author concentrate on the complexities of life that could lead to psychological problems and even depression if there is lack of optimism. She starts with hypothetical story of two individuals in similarly difficult situation of relationship breakdown, which for one individual is just a problem to overcome, but for another complete prove that he not only failed in overcoming the problem, but also could not possibly have another successful relationship because of inherent deficiencies. From here she moves to learning helplessness in animals and people. This is not necessarily universal – some percentages of individuals refuse to do this learning and keep looking for solution even in the most impossible situation.  After that author discusses biological causes of depression and pharmaceutical treatments and other interventions. She even refers to some genetic indicator of inclination to be optimistic.

  1. Why Is Friday Better Than Sunday? The Value of Anticipation and the Cost of Dread

This is quite interesting approach to well known fact that anticipation of good or bad event often generate more happiness or unhappiness than event itself. Author supports it with experiments that demonstrate different value of the same event depending on its terminal position in the near or more distant future. From here author moves to temporal discounting – the tendency to value present more than future and experiments exploring different facets of this phenomenon. She ends this chapter with the story of Michael Jackson who demonstrated outstanding ability to lose money and commonality of such behavior for many Americans of much smaller means who fail to save because they discount future a bit too much.

  1. Why Do Things Seem Better After We Choose Them? The Mind’s Journey from Expectation to Choice and Back

This is about well-researched psychological phenomenon that when people make choice they become attached to this choice, so the value of selected item increases, sometimes dramatically. Author describes a number of experiments supporting this finding with especially interesting ones when people were deceived into believe that they made choice when in reality they did not do this. The interesting inference from this is that continuous reminding people that they selected company they work for, subject they study or whatever else, increases their commitment. Author also discusses reason for this: strive to avoid cognitive dissonance. Another reason, not necessary alternative is that selection between choices involves investment of time and effort, so by psychologically increasing value of selection one protects this investment. The final series of experiments demonstrated the process of choice is mainly subconscious by reviewing patterns of brain activity when the choices are presented: selected item initiate higher levels of activity well before selection had been made.

  1. Are Memories of 9/11 as Accurate as They Seem? How Emotion Changes Our Past

This chapter is about validity of human memories. It demonstrates quite convincingly that it is generally low. Author recorded personal recollections about such dramatic even as 9/11 a few days after it happened and then returned to the same people a few years later. Even if everybody believed that they remember every detail of this day, comparison with recorded data demonstrated that 25% had it completely wrong, about 50% were 67% wrong and only 7% were correct in their recollection.  The final and very important point that author makes is that people who were close enough to towers on 9/11 have a lot stronger memories, meaning that being there matters a lot. Research confirmed that different parts of the brain activated depending on how much person involved in recollected event, creating important emotional aspect of recollection that helps to fulfill the main objective of memory: to use previous experience to survive in current circumstances.

  1. Why Is Being a Cancer Survivor Better Than Winning the Tour de France? How the Brain Turns Lead into Gold

This comes from Lance Armstrong who was both and said that he values cancer survival because it made him a better man. Author uses it as example of important human ability to turn a lemon that life gives one into lemonade. What is interesting that people are pretty bad in predicting their condition after something like this happen. Author discusses a number of experiments with fMRI when objects selected one of two bad future events like broken leg vs. broken arm.  Within minutes after selection people change their estimate of selected condition as less severe than before. Another interesting experiment was to make students to walk some distance on campus in embarrassing outfit. One group was “high choice group” that prefer select outfit from a few options and another “low choice group” preferred to use whatever outfit was assigned. Contrary to expectation that the distance would feel longer than it was, both groups perceived it to be shorter with high choice perceived it nearly twice shorter than low choice group. The conclusion is that anticipation is very different from actual event. The final part of the chapter is about cognitive dissonance that makes people either reevaluate their views that caused it or reject reality as false and increase commitment to their views.

  1. A Dark Side to Optimism? From World War II to the Credit Crunch—Underestimating Risk Is Like Drinking Red Wine

After 10 chapters discussing mainly positive side of optimistic self-deception author moves to the negative side – human propensity to close eyes on probability of negative events. As example author uses Stalin’s inability to see very clear signs of coming German attack. Similarly people underestimate probability of serious illness, incidents, divorce, and what not. The amazing thing here is that even after being provided with statistical data for probability of negative events, people still believe that their own chances are much better than statistics. However when people encounter reality they make adjustment and go to somewhat different levels of optimism. In brief, as everything else optimism is good in moderate doses when it creates incentive to work harder and live smarter, turning into self-fulfilling prophecy.  However in excessive doses it could cause serious damage and author provides story of Sydney opera house, which was completed 10 year late and 14 times over budget.

EPILOGUE: A Beautiful Mademoiselle or a Sad Old Lady? From Prediction to Perception to Action

The brief epilogue presents one of these dual meaning pictures: young woman changes to old lady and back depending on viewer’s perception. Author’s point is that optimism is like these pictures; depending on user it could be highly beneficial or completely destructive.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is very interesting approach and wealth of research and examples make this book quite useful for understanding humans. I also think that author, willingly or most probably unwillingly, demonstrates inhuman character of all socialistic movements and their acolytes including the one she is enamored with – Barak Obama. The inhumanity of these people comes from their contempt to other people and their abilities, even while they do not understand these people and have no clue about deep evolutionary benefits of distorting reality in ways beneficial for survival. So these Sozis, Nazis, and Commies feel entitled to dictate other people how they had to live, behave, and what they allowed or not to do, using for this purposes all means necessary and available from soft “nudging” to save more money for retirement to concentration camps and mass shootings to rid of “deplorable and irredeemable”. I understand that this book would not change anybody’s mind on wisdom of leading and forcing other people to act differently to what they want, but I think it gives some good scientific information for people who resist nudging, even when they are told that their believes and actions are against laws of statistics or probability or against common sense of their betters, who in reality are severely deprived of common sense due to the lack of practice.

 

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the main ingredient of success is Grit, in other words the ability of individual passionately and persistently pursue his/her objectives. All other components that go into achievement such as DNA, hard work, and luck are secondary.

DETAILS:

Part I

Chapter 1: Showing Up

This starts with discussion of author’s experience analyzing what makes person a success in West Point where a significant number of people drops out despite very strong admission competition. This was the problem West Point was trying to resolve with the Whole Candidate Score calculated based on just about anything that could be digitized in previous history of the person. Despite this effort this Score could not reliably predict who would succeed. Author then states that she developed Grit questioner, measuring individual’s ability to persevere and it turn out materially better predictor who would stay to completion.  At the end of chapter author provides another example related to preparation for spelling competition.

Chapter 2: Distracted by Talent

Here author refer to her experience as a school teacher when she discovered that to her surprise overachievers who easily learned material often were left behind by less talented students who had much harder time understanding, but persevered until they learned.  Author also adds reference to authority citing Darwin who believed that people generally are close in talents, but differentiate in ability to persevere. After that author discusses work of psychologist William James who 40 years after Darwin concluded that humans generally greatly underuse their capabilities.  The next stop is research on musicians, which again confirmed that the best just work harder than the second best. At the end of chapter author retells her experience as McKinsey consultant, the company that dedicates lots of effort for the search of “talent”.

Chapter 3: Effort Counts Twice

Here author moves to closer look at what constitutes human ability to achieve success in some area and finds that any activity consists of a multitude of sub activities that should be painstakingly learned and repeated until they become automatic, which is not possible without hard work and persistence. Author also present a nice graphic of how something is achieved:

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Chapter 4: How Gritty Are You?

Here author provides questions, which allow reader to check his/her own level of Grit manly based on ability to be consistent in objectives and persistence, meaning not changing what one wants to achieve and not stopping working on it. Another important point author makes that objectives could be achieved only if there is clear understanding of how to do it and what are sub-objectives that had to be achieved in order to succeed:

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At the end of chapter author discusses research on historical high achievers that clarify the scale:

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Chapter 5: Grit Grows

Here author discusses again nature vs. nurture and claims that Grit is not necessarily DNA defined feature and it could grow and here is brief recipe:

First comes Interest

Next comes the capacity to practice

Third is Purpose

Finally it is Hope, which is not separate part, but rather component of all 3 above.

Part II: Growing Grit from the Inside Out

Chapter 6: Interest

This is review of the first component of Grit that author deems necessary: Interest. First author states that when she grew up she was told to do what is needed, not what she had interest in, leading for her to do staff she later gave up like consulting. Then she reviews a number of stories of high achievers to identify how exactly people develop a passionate interest in something. She concludes that process starts with Discovery, followed by lots of Development, that eventually switch to Deepening.

Chapter 7: Practice

The next step is component is Practice and author discusses work of Ericsson on Deliberate practice. She also provides a nice graph for various ways it happens:

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At the end of chapter she presents her own experience of preparing for TED talk as example.

Chapter 8: Purpose

Here author starts with defining purpose as “the intention to contribute to the well-being of others”. In this interpretation the purpose is intrinsically linked to “others”. She goes back to Aristotle to discuss ““eudaimonic”— in harmony with one’s good (eu) inner spirit (daemon)— and the other “hedonic”— aimed at positive, in-the-moment, inherently self-centered experiences.“
 The she links it to Grit in such way:

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Chapter 9: Hope

The final chapter of this Part is about hope. She defines it in relation to Grit this way: “Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. I have a feeling tomorrow will be better is different from I resolve to make tomorrow better. The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.”  Consequently she links it to the work of Seligman on happiness and development of Positive Psychology, especially its part related to being in control as necessary condition of happiness as well as extreme case of learned helplessness to be an important cause of depression. She also discusses how to help people in development of right attitude:

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Part Ill: Growing Grit from the Outside In

Chapter 10: Parenting For Grit

This is about raising kids with Grit so they would be successful in life. It mainly comes down to creating environment in which kids are challenged, but not broken. Here is nice representation of this view:

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Chapter 11: The Playing Fields of Grit

The recommendation here is mainly to get kids involved in extracurricular activities and make sure that once activity is selected there would be no “give up” option at least for a specified period. Author also discusses in some details Personal Qualities Project and testing to help trace progress.

Chapter 12: A Culture of Grit

Here author discusses culture in somewhat narrow terms as culture within group or organization. Leaders of organization usually create such culture, but author also presents example of very gritty national culture, specifically Finns. Their culture is practically built on grit, they proud of this, and they treat it as the defining feature of national character.

Chapter 13: Conclusion

The conclusion per author is very simple: want to be happy – be gritty:

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The last word is a caution that it is possible to have too much of the good things, the grit included. This could happen when some direction of activity proved to be incorrect and one has to change it.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a kind of collection of examples and research results that clearly demonstrate somewhat trivial idea that if one wants to achieve something he should work on it and not give up until either this objective achieved or it cease to be meaningful. I think that grit, as it is described here is a necessary component of success, but I do not think it is decisive component. The world is complex and one need good timing, luck, some inherent abilities from their DNA, and generally to be in right place at the right time. If one believes that grit could overcome everything, try a simple thought experiment: imagine that he exactly as he was born 20 or 200 years ago. How different would be his life and how long would it be whether he posses grit in spades or nothing at all. That said, it is clear that without this component one could not get anywhere at all.

 

 

20181209 – The Virtue of Nationalism

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that people are better off if they allowed to live according to their traditions and religion in nation states that are independent and are not subordinate in any way, shape and form to any transnational or global organization and not included as a part into any other nation with different culture, traditions, and religion. These other forms author defines as imperialist regardless of whether these are organizations such as UN or EU or plain old empires like Rome or USSR.

DETAILS:

Introduction: A Return to Nationalism

Here author discusses how the notion of nationalism turned from something noble and progressive early in XX century into something awful and unacceptable. Author provides this theoretical notion that nationalism is: “a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference. This is opposed to imperialism, which seeks to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind, as much as possible, under a single political regime.
“.
Author makes the point that reason for this change is that new form of imperialism – transnational globalism in form of UN and EU or New world order of Pax Americana became an objective that global elite is trying to achieve. Further author proceeds outlining the argument of this book in some detail.

PART ONE – Nationalism and Western Freedom

I Two Visions of World Order

The two visions author discusses here are: the vision of multiple independent nation-states based on common history, language, religion, and culture with their idiosyncratic legal and political system, peacefully coexisting without any territorial or other irreconcilable demands to each other vs. the vision of one global community with common set of values, one superior legal and political system that could impose these values to member nations by force if necessary.

II The Roman Church and It’s Vision of Empire

This brief chapter is about Western history and Universal Catholic Empire that outgrow from Roman Empire and despite nearly thousand years of attempts failed to unite western Europe into one transnational whole, ending up with multiple nation-states system established after the peace of Westphalia in 1648 and end of Christian religious wars.

III The Protestant Construction of the West

Here author links development of the world of nation states in Europe to Protestantism, which based it construction on two principles:

  1. The Moral Minimum Required for Legitimate Government and mainly based on 10 commandments from Jewish bible
  2. The Right of National Self-Determination.

Author believes that this Protestant approach led to formation of political order beneficial to national freedom and eventually led to the creation of United States, and dismantling of colonial Empires.

IV John Locke and the Liberal Construction

This chapter starts with reference to Atlantic Charter of 1941, which established notion of only liberal construction being a legitimate form of government based in individual freedom and best expressed by Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government”. Author puts against this idea what he calls protestant construction, which is based on national freedom. Author assigns all that he considered good and proper like God, family, property, and limited government to national freedom and treats individual freedom like something that denies all these. In his view some given at birth circumstances of life including cultural, religious, and family belonging are not subject to individual consent and therefore make such consent at best irrelevant and at worst detrimental. Author also rejects ideas of von Mises and Hayek about need for individual freedom for prosperity and overall classical liberalism. In his view too much individual freedom is not consistent with freedom of nation, which is community of individuals with common ethnic, religious, and cultural background.

V Nationalism Discredited

Here author discusses reasons for why nationalism was discredited, starting with denial of Hitler being nationalist, similar to socialists’ usually denying that he was a socialist. The main reason for this denial is that Hitler would not accept Westphalian approach of coexisting nation-state and was aiming to subdue the whole world to the will of German nation defined as ethnic, rather than territorial and cultural entity. Author sees continuation of this objective in after war unification of Europe, albeit without Master race ideas somewhat substituted by ideas of Management by the best and brightest recruited from all different ethnic groups. The chapter ends with discussion of American protection, which also diminished traditions of independent nation state, but provided security and prosperity after 1945 so any suggestion to return to more Westphalian order is treated as call to return to barbarism.

VI Liberalism as Imperialism

This is an interesting chapter where author defines liberalism as form of imperialism because it strives to substitute the multitude of diverse nation-states with divers cultures, attitudes, and laws by the universal super entity, which laws and rules are the same, defined by some super national elite and forced on everybody in the world regardless whether they want it or not.

VII Nationalist Alternatives to Liberalism

Here author discusses alternatives to imperial liberalism:

  1. Neo-Catholic opposition, which does not mind coercive international order as long as it is consistent with biblical teaching, which imperial liberalism actively denies in relation to sexuality, family, and human life.
  2. Neo-nationalist or statist view originated from French revolution, which raises state above nation
  3. This is author’s preferred position and he expresses it in such way: “The third alternative to the liberal order is what may be termed a conservative (or traditionalist) standpoint, which seeks to establish and defend an international order of national states based on the two principles of the Protestant construction: national independence and the biblical moral minimum for legitimate government.

PART TWO The Case for the National State

VIII Two Types of Political Philosophy

Here author goes back to Greek political philosophy that was concerned with form of government: monarchy, democracy and so on. Another issue is what author calls philosophy of political order that is what causes a specific political order: what allows a group of people to constitute one political entity.

IX The Foundations of Political Order

Here author elaborates what he means by political order that creates government and it is mainly combination of force and mutual attractions between individuals and groups, starting with family, then clans, tribes, and eventually nations.  Author calls these attractions the bonds of mutual loyalty created by common language, culture, and history. These bonds are much more powerful than various forms of universal ideology either religious or secular.

X How Are States Really Born?

Author starts with very reasonable rejection of ideas of mutual consent between individuals creating the state. He also rejects ideas of natural state when individuals were free and independent either in condition of beautiful and peaceful world of Rousseau or cruel world of war all against all of Hobbes. Author believes that it was one of two or combination of both processes: voluntary merge of tribes into the free state and/or violent conquest by more powerful tribe subjugating others. He also very reasonably notes that in either case nobody ever asks a regular individual for consent or approval.

XI Business and Family

Here author puts in opposite positions business and family, rejecting idea of state formation as kind of business enterprise with voluntary participation of consenting individuals and promoting idea that it is based on mutual loyalty between individuals, families, clans, and tribes with force routinely used against individuals who fail to demonstrate sufficient loyalty. So author’s main point is that state as business – voluntary contract of individuals, need continuing consent based on calculation of costs and benefits and therefore is unstable because cost and benefits are subject to change. The nation-state, which is based on belonging to a family or tribe is given, is not subject to individual consent, and therefore could not be dissolved easily.  Consequently his inference is that nation state is stable and therefore could be free, while multinational state, which has little if any mutual loyalty of its individuals and groups, needs force to keep it together.

XII Empire and Anarchy

Here author looks at history and suggest that most of it people lived in anarchy meaning small entities of tribes, clans, and families fighting each other, creating and dissolving loose alliances with loyalty owned to individual – tribal chief or some equivalent, which is familiar to members of the group.  This necessarily limits the size and power of the group. Empire is completely different because it is based on abstraction of universal order so loyalty owned to the abstraction and individuals from emperor down are not familiar and only in control due to bureaucratic and military organization formed around this abstraction and capable enforcing such loyalty. But it is not all. Author claims that any look underneath of empire would show that core of its bureaucratic and military machinery is actually consist of members of ruling nation bound by the same bonds of mutual loyalty as nation of nation state. Around ruling nation there is a circle of allied nations that maybe not in the core, but are loyal to empire and maintain superior position to nations downstream more recently conquered or allied with empire.

XIII National Freedom as an Ordering Principle

Here author establishes his understanding of political order in such way: Anarchy when loyalty goes from individual to individual, Empire when it supposed to go to humanity overall, and Nation when loyalty is to the Tribe and Nation – group of people with shared culture and history. Author is making case that, as an intermediate point between anarchy and empire, nation represents best off all. After that he is trying to make the case that such thing as freedom of nation can exists in form of individual submitting to the will of collective because if collective is suppressed by the will of more powerful collective, individual, who belongs to this collective could not be free.

XIV The Virtues of the National State

Here author lists virtues of National State:

  1. Violence is Banished to the Periphery
  2. Disdain for Imperial Conquest
  3. Collective freedom
  4. Competitive Political Order
  5. Individual Liberties

For each of this virtues author is trying to provide some explanation for why for example real national state would maintain these virtues

XV The Myth of the Federal Solution

Here author is trying to prove that federalism, as superstructure of nations, could not work. His reasoning is that dispute between parts of federal state could not be resolved:

  1. Voluntary adjudication. Nations in conflict choose whether to submit a dispute for adjudication, and the choice of whether to comply with the decision of the judge or adjudicating body remains in the hands of these independent nations.
  2. Compulsory adjudication. Nations are compelled to submit a dispute for adjudication by the officials of the international federal state, and compliance with the decision is likewise enforced by the agents of the international federal state.

However when author moves a step down to dispute resolution between tribes within Nation, he somehow finds resolution at the Nation level compulsory for tribes quite feasible. Author then discusses American federalism and convincingly demonstrates that it works only partially and even this was continuously diminished by more and more power shift to the federal government. At the end of chapter he similarly demonstrates that EU is moving in the same direction, albeit much faster.

XVI The Myth of the Neutral State

Here author moves to the notion of Neutral state in which individual representative of multiple nations dispersed geographically throughout State’s territory could maintain their national specificity as something separate from the state similarly to separation of religion and state. Author discusses that such Neutral state has to have something common and sacred for everybody such as Constitution for Americans or Koran for Muslims. However he rejects the idea that such document could possibly exist without relation to some nation’s cultural heritage and traditions, making it alien to individuals not belonging to this nation.  Once more he uses America as example, stating that contrary to idea of Neutrality of American constitution it is really a product of a nation, specifically English speaking religiously protestant, culturally based on European Enlightenment. Incorporation into American state of large number of Catholics, Jews, and others is nothing more that adoption into this state of other nations, which do not constitute majority in any of American states or territories. Finally author looks at example of new states created when European countries liquidated their colonies and created territorial states without any regard for national character of people living there, such as Iraq or Syria. In many cases it led either to cruel dictatorship of one nation over other or civil war, or both. As successful alternative author refer to true National State of Israel and a number of other states with overwhelming majority of one Nation allowing for stability and minimal if any oppression of minorities mainly because minorities do not have power to threaten the state.

XVII Right to National Independence?

Here author addresses an issue of self-determination to increasingly smaller entity. His criteria are quite simple: Nation’s ability to protect itself from aggression and its economic viability.  His example for this is American Civil War when Confederacy after asserting its self-determination failed to repel Northern Aggression, consequently preventing survival of Southern Nation that merged eventually with the Northern Nation, even if the process took more than 100 years. In short, author deems universal self-determination right non-feasible, while specific cases being highly dependent on military, economic, and political circumstances such as support of some serious power, even if it is temporary.

XVIII Some Principles of the Order of National State

Here is how author formulates it:

In the first place, the order of national states is one that grants political independence to nations that are cohesive and strong enough to secure it.

The second principle is that of non-interference in the internal affairs of other national states.

The third principle is that of a government monopoly of organized coercive force within the state.

The fourth principle is the maintenance of multiple centers of power.

The fifth principle of the order of national states is parsimony in the establishment of independent states.

Protection of minority nations and tribes by the national government is a necessary sixth principle in an order of national states.

The seventh principle is the non-transference of the powers of government to universal institutions.

PART Three – Anti-Nationalism and Hate

XIX Is Hatred an Argument Against Nationalism?

The point author makes here is not that nationalists do not hate, but that there is no special feature that makes nationalists more hateful than other people. Actually people who are empire builders are much more hateful because they demand and force other people to comply with their ideas, while nationalist just want space for his nation to be left alone to live in accordance with its culture and traditions.

XX The Shaming Campaigns Against Israel

Here author repeats well-known fact that international community or more precisely elites of developed countries hate Israel. However he does not link it to inherent anti-Semitism, but rather to nature of Israel as Nation state specifically created by minority of world Jews who rejected all kinds of global holistic movements, seeking one world wide perfect empire either in form of communism, United Nations, European Union or whatever else, where people of all nations would have similar lives and circumstances. For such globalists/imperialists the existence of successful Israel is unacceptable violation of laws of history, which was a historical mistake of the Western world and should be eliminated.  Author defines it as paradigm similarly to scientific paradigm as it was defined in Kuhn’s work and expresses his believe that it has similar staying power and could not be overcome easily.

XXI Immanuel Kant and the Anti-Nationalist Paradigm

Here author looks at sources of Anti-nationalist paradigm to philosopher Kant and his ideas of universal power of reason that should win over nations with their “savages who cling to their lawless freedom” and bring everybody under an universal rule of international state.

XXII Two Lessons of Auschwitz

Here author applies Universalist and Nationalist points of view to Auschwitz. From nationalist point of view it is historical event when one nation – Germans forfeit any notion of humanity and tried annihilate another nation – Jews, who did not have their own state and army and therefore where defenseless. To avoid repetition Jews created their own state – Israel, with Army that proved to be effective in defending this state. From point of view Universalist Jews created Israel in denial of common humanity and universal laws to selfishly protect themselves by all means necessary even if it means to use violence against everybody who attacks them, currently Palestinians. For Universalist there is no difference between German soldiers killing Jewish children and Jewish soldiers killing Palestinians in order to prevent them from killing Jewish children because in both cases it is nation against nation and therefore violation of universal rules of reason.

XXIII Why the Enormities of the Third World and Islam Go Unprotested

This is an interesting part where author discusses difference in attitude of western elites to offensive violence of Islam and Third world, which they generally justify, and defensive violence of Israel, which they consistently condemn. Author’s point is that it is because these elites consider Jews their equal in moral and technological development, kind of adults who should know better and avoid violence at any costs, but Third world people are kind of children who still did not achieve moral and technological age of maturity and there could not be blamed for any violent actions.

XXIV Britain, America, and Other Deplorable Nations

The similar attitudes global elite expresses towards USA and Britain, the latter mainly for its Brexit vote. In both cases people of this countries prefer their own nation and its idiosyncratic laws and mores to global order based of Reason, the attitude elites find deplorable.

XXV Why Imperialists Hate

Here author makes point that Liberal Imperialists hate probably much more than nationalists and this hate directed at everybody who is not willing meekly accept their rule. Author puts it in historical context, stating that it had always been so when some Universal Truth whether it is Christianity or Islam or Nazism or Communism or Liberalism encounter resistance from so local non-universal and practical truth adherents of which resist this Universalism. Jews with their god and covenant are usual objects of such hatred because they do not intend to comply with universal truth. Interestingly enough Jews are joined by Evangelicals, Catholics, and others former Universalists, who accept diversity of the world, forfeited ideas of dominance, and seems to be happy just to maintain their own national idiosyncrasies.

Conclusion: The Virtue of Nationalism

In conclusion author restates his believe that only national state with sufficient viability is capable to provide conditions for the flourishing of freedom and prosperity, while all and any Universalist movement will always end up where they ended up before. Moreover he expresses strong believe that humans are intolerant by nature and therefore the only way out is to maintain national state in which individual bound by common culture, history, and believes would be capable maintaining cohesiveness of society without resorting to massive use of force.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is interesting and unusual approach to the question of nationalism vs. universalism. Author makes a lot of very valid points, especially when explaining his views on reasons for hate of Israel. However I would not agree with main thesis of this book about superiority of national state and impossibility of federalism. I believe that nations as well as empires do not have brains or hearts or ability to act, all these are characteristic of individuals and nothing else. So the idea that nation is somehow less depends on force than empire does not seem to be supported by reality. It could definitely be that in a nation any given individual at the top would have more in common with any other individuals at the bottom than in empire, but they would still have enough differences to hate each other guts and resort to violence when they believe in probability of success.  I think that the effective and efficient society with minimal violence is only possible when as vast majority of decisions are done at the lowest level as possible, while costs and benefits of implementation of these decisions would be matched at the level of people who make these decision. So let’s say 60% of decision impacting individual live that have no impact on lives of others, should be done by these individual with cost and benefits accrued to this individual. Correspondingly another 30% of decisions impacting not only the individual, but also his or her family should be done at the family level with option for non-compliant individual to be excluded from the family. Finally remaining 10% of decisions mainly relevant for society defense again external and internal attacks (military and law enforcement) should be done at the level of society, again with option of exclusion for non-compliant individuals.

As for some special loyalty between individuals of one nation it could not be any higher than loyalty between individuals of multinational state, members of which have one common language, common set of rules, and constantly voluntary work together in all kinds of businesses where success or failure is accrued in the same manner for all participants. I believe that process of universalization occurred many times at lower level when clans formed from families, tribes formed from clans, and nations from tribes. Genes, or culture, or history does not define this process, albeit all above have some influence, but it is defined by proximity, ease of communications, and marginal increase in value via cooperation and interaction. We live in the world where communications became instant, any person could get into personal face to face contact with anybody else within 15-20 hours that it takes to fly from one end of earth to another and any business includes intermediate products created all over the world, assembled in multiple places, and distributed once again all over the world. In this environment Universalism become inevitable, but it could not be achieved from top down by force. It will be achieved from bottom up, by rejecting all socialistic ideologies and leaving individuals decide as much as possible what and how to do things.

As to the current struggle between Nationalism and populism on one side and elitist internationalism on other, I think it is not just the pain of the growth, but rather the beginning of massive revolutionary (hopefully bloodless) process of societies restructuring to accommodate for integrated world economy in which individuals participate in one labor / capital market where everybody has both and can have decent living on equal rights capital only and great living if capable provide labor.

 

20181202 – World War II at Sea

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use detailed narrative of events and battles at sea to show impact of naval struggle on overall conduct and outcome of WWII. Author looks at this struggle not as a collection of lightly connected events, but rather as one integrated battle with strategic resources moved from one theater to another many thousands miles away to implement some specific strategic vision. The main point however is that these events at sea often played decisive role in outcome of battles between armies on land by assuring or preventing supplies, troops transfers, and communications.

DETAILS:

Prologue

This starts with discussion of prewar attempts to restrict naval arm races that at the time were mostly about size and number of battleships. Eventually these negotiations turned out to be futile not only because sides were cheating, but also because technological development made battleship outdated, even if it was not clear before the war.

Part I: The European War

Chapter 1: Unterseebooten

This chapter is about development of German U-boat fleet in 1930 after Hitler discarded all restrictions of Versailles treaty. Luckily this was not the most important impediment to Donitz’s attempt to build ocean going submarine fleet. The bureaucratic struggle with Raeder who directed resources to building fleet of battleships was more powerful in doing this.  However Germany still developed viable U-boats, which delivered initial successful attack at Scapa Flow.

Chapter 2: Panzerschitfen

This chapter reviews activities of German battleships that consumed resources denied to U-boats. It is a story of pocket battleship Graf Spee, which attempted to implement Raeder’s strategy of avoiding naval battle and prioritize effort of raiding against merchant marine in order to starve Britain into submission. Initially successful it was caught up with several British ships resulting in serious damage and retreat to neutral port and then demolished by the captain with crew interned in Argentina.

Chapter 3: Norway

This starts with discussion of strategic value of Norway for German supply of iron from Sweden, which resulted in combined sea-land-air battle that Germany won, but at rather steep price. One of the most important strategic considerations of battle for Norway was German intent to obtain bases for submarine warfare with direct entry to Atlantic. It became mute, however, because Germans occupied France.

Chapter 4: France Falls

This is about Allies defeat in France that from naval point of view presented two important events: Dunkirk evacuation and disabling of French navy. Dunkirk, contrary to usual description, was not just makeshift operation of multitude of small boats but rather relatively successful operation mainly by navy destroyers. The small craft played critical role of moving people from the show to destroyers that could not come close due to the shallow waters. Overall British moved 50,000 to 60,000 people a day during evacuation. French navy become a problem due to capitulation, so British had to remove it from consideration. It was done partially by agreement for it moving to colonial ports and remaining inactive, but partially by directly attacking and destroying French ships at Mers-el-Kebir when it looked as Germans could take control over them.

Chapter 5: The Regia Marina

This chapter is about Italian Navy, which was build with idea to have first class surface ships and save them for the end of the war when everybody else would be exhausted. Eventually it was mainly idle because of lack of fuel and remained locked in Mediterranean. Author describes a few battles it took part in without significant success. One of interesting reasons for this was bureaucratic disconnect between Navy and Air force that made air support practically impossible.

Chapter 6: The War on Trade,

This is about the first phase of battle of Atlantic, when Germans had significant advantages and were able to get relatively close to stopping convoys movement to Britain, so American Navy provided some support, violating neutrality. While U-boat were main force doing the war on trade, at this point German surface Navy was also active and to some extent successful in intercepting convoys.

Chapter 7 The Bismarck

Author retells here the story of Bismarck, its success in battle with British battleships and sinking of Hood. However it was not capable defeating air power, got crippled, and eventually sunk by British ships.

Part II: The War Widens

Chapter 8: The Rising Sun

This chapter is about Japan and its preparation for war. Author paid lots of attention to prewar negotiations and the role they played in Japan political movement to military dictatorship. It also discusses technical developments of Japanese Navy: its battleship, cruisers, and air careers.

Chapter 9: A Two-Ocean Navy

This chapter discusses developments in American Navy and it’s initial starving for resources due to isolationist approach dominant in politics at the time. This ended in 1938 when it become clear that Japanese aggression would not be limited in any way. Author briefly describes the following build up that was far from completely expanded before war started, leaving American Navy underpowered in both Atlantic and Pacific. Despite that and formal neutrality it was increasingly active, supporting convoys and author documented how it was happening. Author also discusses bureaucratic movements in Navy command and its impact on build up and operations. The chapter ends with reference to Roosevelt’s diplomatic offence against Japan that put Japan before dilemma of either stopping aggression due to deficiency of resources, or dramatically expanding its scope in order to take resources from old colonial powers.

Chapter 10 Operation Al The Attack on Pearl Harbor

This is retelling of Perl Harbor attack with specific attention to what this attack failed to do: disable port facilities and destroy oil and other resources based there and, very important, it did not removed American Air careers, living serious force in Pacific that proved to be crucial to close gap until new ships that were in process of construction could go on line providing for huge superiority to American Navy later in the war.

Chapter 11: Rampage

This chapter is about Japanese successes during initial period of war when they practically annihilated colonial power in Pacific and advanced all the way to Australia so they bombed Darwin with its warehouses. Author retells the story of defeat of combined striking force of colonial powers ABDA that was completely annihilated by Japanese Navy.

Chapter 12: The War on Trade, II

This chapter starts with discussion of war on trade conducted by Allies: British attacks in Mediterranean against Italian merchants and American submarine campaign against Japanese. However the most active during this period was German U-boat fleet. Initially it was somewhat contained during the second half of 1941 by fear to get American involvement, but eventually Hitler removed restrictions, probably accepting inevitability of America entering the war that he obviously speeded up by declaring war after Perl Harbor. Author describes in some detail strategic situation around Malta and critical convoy of just 4 merchant ships supported by dozens of Navy destroyers and capital ships that was barely able to get through.  The first half of 1941 was nearly complete success for U-boats that sank 263 ships, but then, at least partially due to Enigma decoding it fell to 169 ships in second half. Author describes this story in some detail. Another success for Germany was initial campaign in American waters where U-boats sank 133 ships. By the summer 1942 Americans established convoy system, making it much more difficult for U-boat operation. One of the big successes of German surface Navy was practically stopping operations of northern PQ convoys that were delivering goods to Russia.

Part Ill: Watershed

Chapter 13: Stemming the Tide

This is about growing resistance to Axis actions during 1942. It starts with the story of Tokyo symbolic bombing from Hornet based B-25s.  It caused little if any material damage, but huge psychological damage, demonstrating that Japan did not achieve complete air superiority and that American Navy is still functional.  Soon after that Coral Sea battle started with big engagement between Air Carriers when both sides suffered damage, but Americans managed to repair Yorktown near by, while Japanese sent theirs home for repair, weakening their force in the area. This created somewhat of an opening for Midway where luck was clearly on the side of Americans. Author describes this battle in details because it completely changed force equation in Pacific, by removing most of Japanese Air Carriers.

Chapter 14: Two Beleaguered Islands

This chapter is about two battles for superior strategic position: Malta that controlled sea supply lines to Africa, so British continuing control prevented supplies from reaching Afrika Corps and probably prevented Germans from cutting off British access to oil. Another island – Guadalcanal on the other side of the planet featured Japanese built airfield captured and retained by Marines, providing huge unsinkable air carrier for Americans that become critical for achieving air superiority in the area. Despite allies defeat in the naval battle of Savo Island nearby, Japanese failure to destroy undefended transports left Allies with capability to continue operation at Guadalcanal.

Chapter 15: A Two-Ocean War

This chapter is about resource allocation, especially by Americans. The main point here is that despite official policy “Germany first”, they allocated lots of resources to Pacific, paying little attention to British continuing nagging to do more in Europe and USSR demanding the 2ndfront ASAP.  Author describes in details operations of the Cactus Air Force from Guadalcanal airstrip, which provided air superiority, but was not able to stop Tokyo express – overnight supplies delivery by sea. It was especially important because by this time Americans had only one air carrier left in Pacific.  Author also describes in this chapter parallel operation Torch in North Africa. At the end of chapter author describes another air carrier battle in South Pacific – Battle of Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942, which left America with no operational air carriers in Pacific.

Chapter 16: The Tipping Point

This starts with description of American landing in Africa that included delivering million tons of supplies and 18480 vehicles via 20,000 miles sailing around South Africa and Suez. This includes description of fighting with French colonial troops that at this point were allies of Germany. However it was not consistent and in some places French happily surrendered to Americans. Eventually they all stopped resistance. American Navy quickly sank a few destroyers of French Navy that attempted to fight. The net result was dramatic increase in allied power in North Africa and decrease of supplies for German troops.

Meanwhile in Pacific once again Japanese won naval battle only failing to follow through and destroy Henderson field, allowing Cactus air force successfully attack. Finally American summarily won naval battle in November due to superior radar technology, preventing Japanese from delivering reinforcements to Guadalcanal resulting in Japan evacuating its forces by the end of 1942.

Chapter 17: The War on Trade, III

It was also tipping point in the global war on trade. Author starts this chapter with the story of Laconia – British liner full with Italian and German POWs that was sunk by U-boat. After that author describes many technological improvements that occurred in anti-submarine warfare. Together with increase in quantity of escort ships and their quality it lead to increase in loses of U-boats. If one adds to this dramatic increase in shipbuilding when Liberty ships were built faster than U-boats could sink them, the battle of Atlantic was quickly moving to Allies victory. Here is an interesting graph demonstrating this process:

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While in Atlantic German submarine forces were loosing the battle, completely opposite occurred in Pacific where American submarines caused increased levels of damage to Japanese merchant fleet.

Part IV: Allied Counterattack

1943 was a year when Allies recovered from early loses and increasingly went on offence, which required massive increase in production of landing craft since the geography of battlefields required multiple amphibious operations.

Chapter 18: Airplanes and Convoys

This starts with description of the battle of Bismarck Sea when American air power destroyed Japanese convoy. Author describes a series of air battles in which japan was increasingly losing due to previous loses of experienced pilot and technological inferiority. Then he describes successful operation of eliminating Yamamoto, which was considered an important event because it caused deterioration in quality of Japanese naval leadership. Then author moves to Africa, where deprived of supplies German forces start loosing and eventually surrendered in May 1943. The end of the chapter is about diplomatic wrangling about what to do next.

Chapter 19: Husky

This chapter describes landing in Sicily where Allied superiority in air and everywhere become obvious. Author looks in detail at technology of landing craft and their quantities that become a bottleneck in conducting amphibious operations. However success was not complete because significant German and Italian forces managed to escape across the strait to Italy, providing force for future difficult battles there.

Chapter 20: Twilight of Two Navies

The first Navy that was on its way out was Italian Navy. Deprived of fuel it was pretty much disabled throughout the war, staying in ports. Author discusses the role it played in negotiation for Italy’s surrender. Eventually it become target of German air force and was pretty much destroyed because it had no air cover. The author moves to amphibious battles in Italy when Navy played role of mobile artillery suppressing German resistance in areas close to the beaches.

The second Navy to go was German surface fleet and author describes how the last battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst were eliminated.

Chapter 21: Breaking the Shield

This is about American advance in South Pacific. Author provides a nice illustration of the big picture:

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Author also provides an interesting discussion of technical duel between American radar controlled naval artillery and Japanese long distance torpedo. This followed by narrative about island hopping and American strategic discussion where to direct attacks first.

Chapter 22: Large Slow Target

Here author returns to discussion of landing crafts, their features and role in amphibian operations overall, and specifically in battle for the Italy, where their use was critical:

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Part V: Reckoning

The final part is about last period of war when allied Navies and Air forces completely controlled everything, while German and Japanese Navy lost any influence on the development of events.

Chapter 23: D-Day

There is very little to discuss here except for huge amphibian operations that was conducted practically with no serious resistance from German Navy, so author relates details of the landing. The only peculiar, even if quite damaging, event was not during landing, but during exercise when German boats attacked LSTs that were poorly protected and killed hundreds of soldiers. Despite mobilizing whatever they still had German Navy could not cause any serious damage, leave alone prevent D-day.

Chapter 24: Seeking the Decisive Battle

At the same time as D-Day in Pacific Japanese Navy tried to stop American amphibian operation in battle of Philippine Sea. This attempt failed and Japan suffered another defeat at sea. The final attack using super battleships Yamato and Musashi similarly failed due to American air superiority.

Chapter 25: Leyte Gulf

Here author describes details of Leyte Gulf battle that annihilated whatever left of Japanese Navy. It has very interesting in part because it described low level of competence of American leaders who managed to leave transports practically unprotected. Only because of heroic sacrifice of destroyers, which attacked battleships and delayed them at very high cost, the disaster was averted. Overall it was the largest naval engagement in history, which Americans won.

Chapter 26: The Noose Tightens

This chapter is mainly about success of American submarines that practically stopped Japanese transportation by sea. It meant that troop on multiple islands had to fight with whatever they’ve got with no hope for resupply or reinforcement. It ends with discussion of Iwo Jima, capture of which opened way for massive air offence against Japan mainland.

Chapter 27: Denouement

This is about the last period of war when Germany capitulated, while Japan leadership tried to use kamikaze in vain hope that they could cause such damage to Americans that they would agree to peace in some form acceptable for Japan. However not only American navy quickly learned how to deal with kamikaze and had relatively small losses, but air offensive moved way beyond anything imaginable before from firebombing cities to eventually using nuclear weapons.

Epilogue: Tokyo Bay, 1945

The final chapter is about formal end of war with Japan, which by far was mainly naval and air war with land operation being much less prominent than in Europe.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book about somewhat neglected part of WWII – naval battles. It played significant, but not decisive role in Europe, but it was main form of warfare between Western powers and Japan. Probably the most interesting part is the lesson demonstrating poor preparedness on the part of both British and American Navies, which was somewhat result of idea to achieve peace via negotiations and arms control. This idea prevented them from maintaining necessary levels of shipbuilding and Navy expansion that would convince Japan that conquest in impossible. Instead facing weakness, Japan leadership decided that it is unchangeable feature of democracy and they could start war, achieve their objectives to dominate Pacific, and then negotiate peace with opponent that has no moral power for meaningful defense. Unfortunately for Japan, if given enough time, democracy can summon will and way to expand their militaries to the levels required to win and in WWII America and Britain had this time. I do not think that similar victory by rearming during the fight would be possible now, but with nuclear weapons the massive attack becomes suicidal, so it does not make sense even if one believes that enemy morally inferior and technological behind. However I could not say that I am convinced that current decay of patriotism and unity in America would not create condition when it disarm itself under some kooky agreement with its enemies like China and Russia, which would never ever disarm in return.

 

20181125 – A Long Bright Future

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that contemporary development in societal arrangements in developed countries and technological development provided for increase longevity, which made existing lifecycle modes with predefined periods of childhood, maturity, and retirement outdated and unsustainable on the long run. Author proposed to substitute this model with the new one with much less segregated periods of activities when learning, working, and leisure/travel distributed much more evenly throughout lifespan and conducted continuously, so the person would relearn and probably change profession a few times, travel around the world not in retirement, but in young and middle age, and even avoid retirement all together by continuing doing productive activities that he/she enjoys nearly to the end.

DETAILS:

Introduction

It starts with presenting the new problem – significantly extended life span of western population. For example number of 100+ years old people quadrupled in 4 years. It extends complex social and financial problems of how to provide for people who are inactive, waiting for the end of life and assure sufficient levels of Social security and Medicare financing for these people. Author suggest that there is need to rethink meaning of old age and refers to her own experience when in her twenties she was immobilized for months after incident, staying in one room with 3 old women and learning about problems of people who cannot take care about themselves. This started her career in psychology, which eventually became centered on problems of aging. Author differentiates two different processes of aging: one for educated and affluent people who mainly remain active both physically and intellectually and another one for poor uneducated people without access to anything beyond various welfare handouts.

2 – What Is Aging?

Here author is discussing and trying to debunk 5 myths about aging:

  1. The “Misery Myth” that older people are sad and lonely
  2. The “DNA Is Destiny Myth” that your whole fate is foretold in your genes
  3. The “Work Hard, Retire Harder Myth” that we should rush to exit the workforce
  4. The “Scarcity Myth” that older people are a drain on the world’s resources
  5. The “We Age Alone Myth” that how we fare in old age is entirely an individual matter, and not a function of society

The debunking is going this way:

  1. People in old age are not miserable, they just change mode of living: value more simple everyday things, small circle of friends, stronger marriages, more specific and shorter term goals, and so on. All this makes people quite happy in old age.
  2. For this author provides multiple evidences that DNA, while important, is not definitive. One of this is:“A Harvard University study that’s been running since the 1930s, tracking the lifelong health of both Harvard graduates and people born in inner-city Boston, shows that longevity hinges largely on seven lifestyle choices, which, if made by age fifty, serve as excellent predictors of well-being after age seventy. They are not smoking, not abusing alcohol, getting regular exercise, maintaining one’s weight, and having a stable marriage, an education, and good coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s troubles.
  1. Here author supports idea that productive activity is very beneficial during aging process, but also that it is necessary because lack of financial security. So author promotes all kinds of part time and voluntary work.
  2. Here author states that it is not a problem and then for some reason discusses overpopulation, which is not happening in developed country and is in process of ceasing in undeveloped ones. Author rejects idea of intergenerational war for resources, as well as idea of older people keeping good jobs and preventing advancement for younger people.
  3. The final myth rejection based on numerical strength of baby boomers and increased easy of communication and transportation. However author stresses need for resource and its direct link to longevity: “The difference in life expectancy between the most and least affluent Americans nearly doubled in the last twenty years, from 2.8 years in the early 1980s to 4.5 years at the turn of the century. To pit extreme demographic variances against each other, affluent white women now live, on average, fourteen years longer than poor black men in America.”

     

 3 – Reenvisioning Long Lives

Here author discusses need to review the notion of live as 3 Acts play: Growing and Learning with minimal if any participation in productive activities, Act II – full time productive activities, and Act III – leisure and decay with no productive activities.

Author suggests changing it into 5 Acts play:

  1. Beginning with government provided retirement saving account with the main objective being to prepare individual to lifelong learning and easy change of profession.
  2. The increased productive activities starting sometime in 30s, but not too heavy so they would leave plenty of space for art, travel, leisure and so on.  Author think it would be a good idea to underwrite this pace by keeping parents working at least part time.
  3. Middle age when people actually take full responsibilities for their society and production of goods and services it needs. However author insists that it should also be moderate, leaving place for family and everything else.
  4. The turning point at social security age from mainly productive activities to some kind of minimized version of such activities with maybe “encore career” and/or voluntary activities.
  5. Resolution sometime in 80s, meaning slowly fading away while joining with young people in acts 1 and 2 to transfer knowledge and wisdom and do something good.

4 – The Social Side of Aging

This is about need for aging to continue maintaining social connection with other people, as absolutely necessary because humans developed to live and act in groups with no possibility of surviving alone.  Author refers to multiple studies that demonstrate deleterious effects of social isolation. Author also discusses age related changes in social interaction modes from expansion of connections in young age with quantity preferred to quality to contraction of connections with age, with intense concentration on quality of these connections. Author also looks here at institutionalized connections like marriage and grand parenting.

S – Collective Supports: Social Security and Medicare

This chapter is more about social policies providing safety net for old and unproductive people with no savings. Author discusses typical calculation of these systems running out of money if nothing change and current trends continue. Author looks at different group of SSA recipients: wealthy for whom social security provides 30% of income, middle class for whom it is 50-60%, and poor for whom it is 80% and more. After that author weights in social security funding and reform discussion, making it clear that she believes it is not insurance program, but rather social support program. She also rejects ideas of its privatization. However, she does not go to anywhere beyond Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission with its suggestion to increase retirement age and similar “lets steal more from middle class” ideas. She demonstrates similar approach to Medicare.

6 – Investing in Our Future: The Case for Science and Technology

This starts with discussion about causes of increased longevity such as improvement in hygiene that increased averages without real impact on longevity of people who did not succumb to early age diseases. Then author moves to interesting part of epigenetics and new science of human life cycle that stresses need to start working on longevity of organism right after inception.  This follows by discussion about continuing body conditions monitoring throughout lifetime that would allow early corrective interventions to prevent development of unhealthy conditions.  At the end of chapter author complains that 90% of science developments directed to serve 5% of richest people in the world, meaning citizens of countries that conduct such research.

7 – What Might Go Wrong?

Here author expresses concern that current trend of increase in longevity should not be taken for granted and lists some scenarios how it could go wrong:

  1. We fail to imagine new models of live
  2. We spend like there is no tomorrow
  3. We fail to address current health threats
  4. We let the poor stay poor
  5. We forget to plan for the children

8 – Ensuring a Long Bright Future

The final chapter summarizes author’s opinion about successful aging, which is based on her experience in life and results of scientific research such as need to be active and effective in four key areas: Relationship: Social and Family activity; Finance: Work longer, save more; Intellectual Activity: Learn throughout your life; Health maintenance: Take care of your body;

MY TAKE ON IT:

Like author I also think that existing mode of aging and retirement is not sustainable, but not only in relation to life span, but also for overall society organization because the automation is already pushing people out of work place, while health maintenance developments are making traditional pattern of intergenerational resource transfer ineffective. I think that author is too much of a socialist, even if she does not really understands it, to offer any viable solutions in economic and financial areas, but her psychological and gerontological experience makes her advice for health, both physical and mental, in old age quite valuable. I personally practice what she preaches and can confirm that it works as advertised, at least so far.

 

20181118 – The Consciousness Instinct

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate validity of author’s understanding of consciousness that he developed during decades of working with mental patients, specifically with individuals who had brain hemispheres disconnected. This understanding denies not only some immaterial mind, but also some centralized organ or functionality of the brain that creates consciousness. Instead author sees human brain as complex combination of multilayered modules, which are activated in response to external and/or internal signals and temporary take control, supplying symbolic representations of its activity that we perceive as consciousness.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Author starts with clear statement what he means by consciousness: ”Plainly stated, I believe consciousness is an instinct. Many organisms, not just humans, come with it, ready-made. That is what instincts are, something organisms come with. Living things have an organization that allows life and ultimately consciousness to exist, even though they are made from the same materials as the non-living natural world that surrounds them. And instincts envelop organisms from bacteria to humans. Survival, sex, resilience, and walking are commonly thought to be instincts, but so, too, are more complex capacities such as language and sociality— all are instincts.“He also states that consciousness is not property of some central mechanism in the brain, but rather property of local brain circuits. After historical review of the notion of consciousness and thinking about it in part I, author presents his understanding of technical architecture of the brain and it’s functionality. The part III moves in two directions – one, being somewhat philosophical, discussing animate vs. inanimate matter, and somewhat practical, discussing processes in the brain that typically linked to notion of consciousness. At the end of introduction author provides a wonderful analogy that very clearly presents his believe about work of consciousness: “Conscious linear thinking is hard work. I’m sweating it right now. It is as if our mind is a bubbling pot of water. Which bubble will make it up to the top at any given moment is hard to predict. The top bubble ultimately bursts into an idea, only to be replaced by more bubbles. The surface is forever energized with activity, endless activity, until the bubbles go to sleep.“

Part I: Getting Ready for Modern Thought

  1. History’s Rigid, Rocky, and Goofy Way of Thinking about consciousness

This starts as detour to history, discussing ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians who assigned consciousness pretty much to all natural forces. Greeks where the first who separated “It” and “Thou”, creating philosophical foundation for scientific approach when “It” (Nature) has no intentionality, only naturally existing sets of rules – natural laws that work always the same and therefore could be understood and used in human action without fear that these rules could change. Author illustrates this point by looking at thinkers from Aristotle to Descartes. Especially interesting is approach dividing human consciousness into “It” of brain and “Thou” of mind.

  1. The Dawn of Empirical Thinking in Philosophy

This is retelling of appearance of contemporary scientific approach to everything, including consciousness, in mid-seventeen century England. Author looks at thinking of several individuals who developed philosophical approach based on more or less scientific method, all the way until XX century: Hobbes, Petty, Willis, John Locke, David Hume, Arthur Schopenhauer, Franciscus Donders, Francis Galton, and Wilhelm Wundt. The chapter ends with discussion of Darwin’s evolution and Freud’ unconscious mind.

  1. Twentieth-Century Strides and Openings to Modern Thought

The chapter for XX century starts with recognition of two camps: the rationalists and the empiricists and author presents position of each camp. Author also specifies positions of pragmatists who believed that action could be caused by mental state and behaviorists who assumed that mental state could not be known and therefore only action-reaction analysis is meaningful. The behaviorist’s ideas were quite dominant in America until late 1950s when attacks from psychology, language, communication, and improving technology that provided validity for neuroscience, pretty much moved these ideas to irrelevance. Author then reviews modern philosophical approach to mind/body from Vatican supported research to works of atheist philosophers like Dennett. Finally author discusses research pioneered by Francis Crick of DNA fame, looking to establish direct correspondence between any given mental state and correlate condition of neural network in the brain. This is pretty much author’s position and he formulates it in such way: “I will argue that consciousness is not a thing. “Consciousness” is the word we use to describe the subjective feeling of a number of instincts and/ or memories playing out in time in an organism. That is why “consciousness” is a proxy word for how a complex living organism operates. And, to understand how complex organisms work, we need to know how brains’ parts are organized to deliver conscious experience, as we know it.”

Part II: The Physical System

  1. Making Brains One Module at a Time

The main thrust of this chapter is that the brain is not one integrated whole, but really a multitude of loosely related modules that were evolutionary developed to fulfill different functions beneficial for survival and what we call consciousness is really sequential activation of various modules, which in any given point more important for organisms’ survival with other modules working in somewhat subdued mode as long as their functionality does not acquire higher priority. Author supports this point by demonstrating examples when loss of some functionality of brain follows by complete removal of knowledge of this functionality’s previous existence. Similarly brain is quite susceptible to creating fictional reality if it is necessary. Based on his research with divided brain, author proposes a model of unconscious brain and autobiographical brain with main function of former being to keep organism going, while main function of latter being to give some order and make sense of perceived signals in order to construct picture of future, design survival plan, and consequently activate subconscious modules to start implementation of this plan. Author discusses in some details this modularity and its advantages. Author also compares humans and animals and concludes that based on multitude of research data there is no clearly defined qualitative difference between them. The difference is rather quantitative – amount of neurons and especially connections defined as Neuropil volume is much higher in humans.    The final point here is: “We are on the road to realizing that consciousness is not a “thing.” It is the result of a process embedded in architecture, just as a democracy is not a thing but the result of a process.”

  1. The Beginnings of Understanding Brain Architecture

Here author uses human created complex machinery like Boeing 777 to demonstrate how complex is this machine with some 150,000 modules that actually designed to do a very simple thing – move people from one place to another. This follows by discussion about “The robust, the complex, and fragile” and tradeoffs necessary to make it all work and notion and exemplars of the Layered Architecture that allows such complex system to work effectively. This feat achieved by providing some autonomy to multitude of modules at multitude of layers, consequently providing for a multiple realizability of organism’s functions.

  1. Gramps Is Demented but Conscious

In this chapter author demonstrates that conscious is deeply ingrained and practically indestructible quality of organism, which would not be possible if it was some centralized functional organ or combination of organs. Author’s extensive experience in neurological wards demonstrated that regardless, of which part of brain is destroyed by disease, and author saw just about every part destroyed in one patient or another, the consciousness still survives albeit in all kinds of perverse form often depending on which modules still work and which are not. This relates on only modules in frontal lobe that differentiate humans from others, but throughout all modules of the brain. The conclusion here is: “The incessant interplay between cognition and feelings, which is to say between cortical and subcortical modules, produces what we call consciousness.”

Part Ill: Consciousness Comes

  1. The Concept of Complementarity: The Gift from Physics

Here author moves away from his specialty into more philosophical direction discussing development of Physics from Newtonian determinism to Quantum mechanics and Statistical view of causation. Author discusses complementarity between wave and particle representations of reality, consequently declaring his believe that this principle similarly applies to mental representation of human via duality of mind and brain.

  1. Non-Living to Living and Neurons to Mind

This is about differentiation between living and non-living matter. Author again brings in Quantum Mechanics with reference to Howard Pattee and notion of die Schnitt, meaning separation of subject (the measurer) and object (the measured). Then author discusses work of von Newman on symbolic representation of replication and evolution, which is basically anti-entropy process of increase in complexity – the key characteristics of living matter.   Pattee extended it to DNA as true code. Author also discusses Semiotic closure, the link that spans the gap between living and non-living matter.

  1. Bubbling Brooks and Personal

Here author moves to the notion of personal consciousness and starts it with reference to his experience with separated brain hemispheres, the surgery that creates two personalities from one. Author describes in details how it was discovered via observation of disconnect in division of work between left and right parts. From this he makes interesting conclusion that there is no specific mechanism of consciousness neither for the whole brain nor for 2 separate for each hemisphere. It is rather consciousness works as cognitive bubbles with different system popping up to the front with each being capable to evoke consciousness. The author describes experiments that demonstrate this process in more details.

  1. Consciousness is an Instinct

The final chapter summarizes presented information and formulates the main conclusion that consciousness is an instinct. Author discusses various understandings of the very notion of instinct and concludes that it is just faculty of producing certain ends without foresight, which could be inborn or developed via experience or, most probably, resulting from combination of both. Author refers to article by William James some 125 years ago defining meaning of instinct and links this to his understanding of consciousness. At the end he presents his understanding of future development in such way: ”What will the neuroscience of tomorrow look like? In my opinion, the hunt for enduring answers will have to include neuroengineers, with their ability to eke out the deep principles of the design of things. Such a revolution is in its early days, but the perspective it offers is clear. A layered architecture, which allows the option of adding supplemental layers, offers a framework to explain how brains became increasingly complex through the process of natural selection while conserving successful basic features. One challenge is to identify what the various processing layers do, and the bigger challenge is to crack the protocols that allow one layer to interpret the processing results of its neighbor layers. That will involve crossing the Schnitt, that epistemic gap that links subjective experience with objective processing, which has been around since the first living cell. Capturing how the physical side of the gap, the neurons, works with the symbolic side, the mental dimensions, will be achieved through the language of complementarity.”

MY TAKE ON IT:

Interestingly enough, this book somewhat connects two arias of my interest: complex systems working in groups of individuals and psychology of individual based on complex system working inside the brain into one philosophically consistent model: successfully functioning complex systems that could not possibly be build as top down centralized system, but rather had to be build as multilayered networks of modules that are taking control of the system on time limited basis in response to external and or internal signals. These signals either by instincts or experiences makes it necessary for organism or group to transfer from the less preferred condition to the more preferred. In the case of individual it makes sense if, as author suggests, the consciousness of individual in possession of the brain is part of this module functionality, only loosely connected with all others.  Similarly for the group role of functional module is played by subgroup of individuals capable effectively coordinate their actions to convince or force enough individuals to move in direction of new condition. In both cases the new condition may or may not be truly preferable, creating condition for evolutionary selection or removal of individual or group.