Equal Rights Libertarian

Home » 2018

Yearly Archives: 2018

20181230 – Risk Savvy

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.37.07 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.37.29 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.37.36 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.37.43 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.37.57 AM

  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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.38.04 AM

  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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.38.11 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.38.17 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 8.38.24 AM

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

Screen Shot 2018-12-22 at 10.17.32 AM

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.

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.13.48 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.14.27 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.14.36 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.21.56 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.14.46 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.14.59 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.15.07 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.15.15 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 1.15.22 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-12-09 at 9.30.44 AM

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

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 9.03.30 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 9.04.00 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 9.04.10 AM

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:

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 9.04.17 AM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 2.37.56 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 11.27.58 AM

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.

20181111 – AIQ

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 8.15.40 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate in greatly simplified form how AI works, how statistical methods used, illustrate it with multiple entertaining examples, and assure people that AI is coming, but it is not scary and will work together with humans even if it sometimes will control many functions controlled currently by humans such as driving, robotic surgeries, and so on.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Here author discusses AI and its popularity. Author defines it as trainable algorithm when programmer does not define how process goes, but rather how program trains itself by processing multitude of data and the rules of probability. Then he goes through a brief history of AI and discusses anxieties it created due to resent dramatic improvement in its performance.

  1. The Refugee

The chapters starts with discussion of Netflix, the company that excel in using probabilities derived from huge customer base to propose movie selection. It is using conditional probability to do it. The author retells the story of Abraham Wald – refugee from Hungary who developed statistical analysis methods to generate recommendation on survivability and consequently protection of different parts of a bomber plane, and improve quality inspection protocols to decrease production defects.  His work with planes included adjustments for survival bias, by using same assumption for all types of damage and calculating survival probability.  After that author demonstrates application of Wald algorithm to Netflix processing.

  1. The Candlestick Maker

This is about pattern recognition. It starts with the funny story of thieves stealing toilet paper rolls in Beijing, which led to implementation of face recognition in public toilets and draconian requirements it caused for people to present their face in readable by computer form. The author goes a bit into details of pattern recognition based on statistical evaluation of inputs and outputs. After that author moves to astronomy and the story of Henrietta Leavitt who developed method for calculating distance to starts by using pulsation and brightness. One of results was reevaluation of distance to various starts and Hubble’s discovery of Andromeda being far outside of Milky Way. From here author formulates key ideas of pattern recognition in AI:

  1.   In AI, a “pattern” is a prediction rule that maps an input to an output.
  2.  “Learning a pattern” means fitting a good prediction rule to data set.

Here is a graphic example:

Screen Shot 2018-11-11 at 8.14.49 AM

Author makes a very important point that in image recognition AI now can outperform humans. For example image “Alaskan Malamute” produced 5% error rate for humans, but only 3% for AI in 2016, down from 25% in 2011. This result was produced by 22-layer neural network.

  1. The Reverend and the Submarine

It starts with components of intellectual designs that go into self-driving car and how its software processes external objects. Then it goes to robotics revolution and SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) problem. To illustrate the problem author retells the story of missing submarine Scorpion and search for it, linking it to multistep Bayesian processing.  Then author also links it to various applications from investing to medical diagnosis.

  1. Amazing Grace

This is about languages both natural and programming. Author suggested that we had 2 revolutions – one for each language: programming in 50s and natural language now, going from purely algorithmic construction to more probabilistic one. With this development computers had been achieving parity with humans in speech recognition. Author looks back at history to find tipping point of this development and for some reason uses story of Grace Hopper. Then he moves to history of computer software development from compilers to speech recognition.

  1. The Genius at the Royal Mint

It starts with the use of coin toss in sports and then moves to discussion of probabilities and anomalies, that allow identifying cheating. As illustration author uses Newton and his tenure at royal mint when he tried to fight money debasement and clipping by using Trial of Pyx – when accumulated over year samples where tested by the jury of experts.  This method was not completely effective due to variability and Newton failed to fix the problem. After that author trying to demonstrate that contemporary statistical method would easily handle this challenge.

  1. The Lady with the Lamp

Here author moves to Florence Nightingale and her role in improvement of healthcare system, and use of statistical methods to achieve this. Author even calls her “The Mother of Evidence-Based Medicine”. It follows by illustration of contemporary problems and discussion of how AI could fix a lot of them.

  1. The Yankee Clipper

Somewhat unexpectedly author starts this chapter by cautioning against excessive enthusiasm for AI and pointing out at its dependence on assumptions that could easily lead to greatly diverse solutions produced with the same mathematical tools due to slight variance in assumptions.  As illustration author uses data for Joe DiMaggio and some other examples, concluding at the end: Bias IN – Bias Out. As the final word author suggest that AI, even if it is unbiased and does better job than humans in many areas, should not be allowed to make decisions on its own, but should rather be used as quality of decision multiplier for humans.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is generally correct description of ideas and math in foundation of AI, but I think that idea of AI working always under human control generally not realistic. AI is too fast and takes into account too many factors for humans to understand what, leave alone how it is doing something, so any detailed control is just not feasible. At the same time AI is just a tool, which is not conscious and therefore has no objectives or ability for self-direction. In short Self-Driving car would drive one anywhere, processing more information in seconds than this person could process in lifetime. However this car would never decide to go on car trip across the country for fun. In short I believe that AI will take over all routine and semi-routing jobs that human do for living both blue and white color. However since humans are the only self-directing entity in humans created environment, they will always decide “Where” and “When” to drive, even if reasons “Why” will always be sketchy, leaving to AI complete control over details of “How”.

 

20181104 – On Grand Strategy

Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 1.38.45 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to formulate meaning of grand strategy that author defines as “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities”and provide a wide ranged confirmation from history and art to support this idea. It mainly demonstrates superiority of flexible approach to ways and means to achieve adjustable objectives over rigid subordination of everything to overreaching objectives.

DETAILS:

ONE – CROSSING THE HELLESPONT

This narrative starts with discussion of Xerxes decision to cross Hellespont despite advise of his advisor and uncle Artabanus, who pointed to unpredictable character of the future struggle. Xerxes’ position is: “if you were to take account of everything . . . you would never do anything. It is better to have a brave heart and endure one half of the terrors we dread than to [calculate] all of the terrors and suffer nothing at all . . . Big things are won by big dangers.”

From this initiation author moves to Isaiah Berlin and his discussion on hedgehogs and foxes, applying it to Xerxes vs. Artabanus and defining Xerxes as a big idea man and Artabanus as “how to do” man, who can see complexities of undertaking. This follows by discussion of Tetlock’s finding about predictability power of experts, which is very close to none. The author moves to the main point of the chapter – need to establish a proper relationship between ends and means and discusses how exactly hedgehog Xerxes and fox Artabanus both failed: “The tragedy of Xerxes and Artabanus is that each lacked the other’s proficiency. The king, like Tetlock’s hedgehogs, commanded the attention of audiences but tended to dig himself into holes. The adviser, like Tetlock’s foxes, avoided the holes, but couldn’t retain audiences. Xerxes was right. If you try to anticipate everything, you’ll risk not accomplishing anything. But so was Artabanus. If you fail to prepare for all that might happen, you’ll ensure that some of it will.

Next author brings Scott Fitzgerald and his definition of the first class intellect:“the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
, the quality both Xerxes and Artabanus were lacking. Author then goes into literary discussion of several famous artworks that he believes are relevant, consequently formulating the main point of this book. The final part of the chapter discusses training and planning as forms of preparation to action, stressing that it is not possible to plan for all contingencies and to be trained for all variants of the future, but both are necessary if not sufficient for concentration of resources and development of skills, which in combination with bold improvisation and effective behavior during action dramatically increase possibility of success.

TWO – LONG WALLS

Discussion in this chapter is built around Peloponnesian war and Athenian reliance on the long wall and Navy versus Spartans reliance on impromptu actions and improvisations.  Author discusses strategic value of expensive defense infrastructure, which often froze resources in places that may turn out to be not very useful because the opponent would take walls into consideration and would go around them. There is also very important psychological component: Athenians build walls on the back of farmers around the city, who were not really protected by these walls, so this strategy led to resentment of Athenians’ most important allies. Another downside was that by moving resources to infrastructure they starved warriors of weapons, training, and professionalism. It democratized war by removing class of professional warriors, but deprived Athens of effective human military component. Author then reviews details of the war and demonstrates how exactly the failure of strategy produced actual defeat. At the end of the chapter author links the hedgehog strategy and its inherent failure to American war in Vietnam, which was a classical case of such strategy.

THREE – TEACHERS AND TETHERS

Here author moves from Greeks to Chinese – San Tzu and their round about way of discussing strategy and everything else. The author finds here a way to tether a few principles to the practices, of which is many. The next teacher is Roman Imperator Octavius – great nephew of Caesar and very successful practitioner, since he did a lot and died in his bed of old age. Author reviews history of his actions in fight for power, especially fluidity of his alliances with Antony in fight with Sextus Pompeius. At the end of chapter author praises Octavius for his strategic success of turning dysfunctional republic into somewhat functional empire.

FOUR – SOULS AND STATES

This chapter starts with work of George Kennan who researched Siberian native tribes in 1870s. It is about divine representation of reality in the minds of people. The eye-opening event here is the ease with which Kennan nearly moved from his native Christianity into polytheistic believes of natives.  This moves discussion from military and power struggle strategy to ideological strategy or strategy for salvation as Augustine and others practiced it. Author discusses “Confessions” and “City of God” in which Augustine concerned himself with tensions such as: order vs. justice, war vs. peace, and Caesar vs. God. Resulting standards that Augustine framed were presented in form of checklists that become foundation of his teaching. After that author moves to Machiavelli and his strategic advice to a prince, eventually offering analogy for Augustine as hedgehog and Machiavelli as fox who promoted the “lightness of being”. Consequently author discusses strategy of Borgia and his use of Machiavellian technics in power struggle. Author stresses importance of power balancing and provides corresponding quote from Machiavelli’s “Discourses”: “[I] t is only in republics that the common good is looked to properly in that all that promotes it is carried out; and, however much this or that private person may be the loser on this account, there are so many who benefit thereby that the common good can be realized in spite of those few who suffer in consequence.”

At the end author again invokes Berlin and his interesting interpretation of fraise of tolerance:  “[T] here are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational,” Berlin insists, “capable of understanding . . . and deriving light from each other.” Otherwise, civilizations would exist in “impenetrable bubble[s],” incomprehensible to anyone on the outside. “Intercommunication between cultures in time and space is possible only because what makes men human is common to them, and acts as a bridge”

FIVE – PRINCES AS PIVOTS

The chapter starts with the statement that princes are always pivots around which society turns and thinkers such as Augustine or Machiavelli, while themselves being pivots of Western thought during their lives, were dependent on princes they served. Then author looks at two of them who competed in XVI century: Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of England and strategy they applied. Here again author refers to rigidity of Philip and flexibility of Elizabeth to some extent explained by huge size and therefore inertia of his holdings and small size, compact, but with strong flexible arm of navy of Elizabeth’s realm. Her background gave her additional advantage of superb political training since her very survival was dependent on political skills and luck. Author refers to eventual triumph of Elizabeth as the strategy of small, but flexible force of England wearing out big and rigid force of Armada. One of the key elements of Elizabeth strategy was refusal to commit to anything as much as possible, always trying to leave place for maneuvering. At the end of chapter author discusses counterfactual novel about possible historical changes if assassin eliminated Elizabeth with all her foxy skills.

SIX – NEW WORLDS

Here author moves close to our time and discusses Monroe doctrine, which at the point of its establishment by John Quincy Adams in 1823 could not be realistically supported by USA due to its weakness. It is also interesting that at the time Spanish America, which USA were going to protect from Europe, was much bigger than its northern neighbor. Author stresses diversity of USA at the time when its states differentiated from each other far more than countries of Spanish America. Author discusses specificity of American population as it emerged from English development and freely developed in environment of benevolent neglect from mother country, allowing establishment of democratic institutions, armed and independent population, and unusual culture of self-reliance. Author briefly reviewing American developments starting from 1760s, which he separates into 2 revolutions – one of 1776 for independence and another – constitutional revolution of 1786-88, which created highly functional Union of the states with innovative method of rule via representative democracy. Interestingly enough, author stresses difficulty of this method confirmed by the fact that many countries find it extremely difficult to support, typically falling into some kind of authoritarian rule.

SEVEN – THE GRANDEST STRATEGISTS

Here author discusses theoretical strategists: Tolstoy and Clausewitz. He provides samples from both – writing about chaotic character of real battle and difficulty, or even impossibility, of making sense of any developments on the spot. Author looks at contradiction in their approaches when both promote determinism at the same time as being amazed by consequences of individual actions of actors such as Napoleon. After that author applies this thinking to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and its consequences. Author provides concise summary for this: “(a) that because everything connects with everything else, there’s an inescapable interdependency across time, space, and scale— forget about distinguishing independent from dependent variables; (b) that, as a consequence, there’ll always be things that can’t be known— breaking them into components won’t help because there’ll always be smaller components; (c) that owing to what we can’t know, we’ll always retain an illusion of agency, however infinitesimal; (d) that while laws may govern these infinitesimals, they make no difference to us because we can’t feel their effects; therefore (e) our perception of freedom is, in practice, freedom itself.”

EIGHT – THE GREATEST PRESIDENT

This starts with comparison of John Quincy Adams to Napoleon in the scale and complexity of his initial intention when he became president with minority vote. It was also showed similarly clear lack of understanding of challenges of practical implementation of this vision. Then author praises Adams for his persistence after he lost reelection and became congressmen in petitioning against slavery and placing the Constitution within the frame of Declaration – all men were created equal. After that author moves to Lincoln and reviews his development into unusual non-patronage politician who put up containment of slavery as his key position, linking pragmatism with passion of realigning practice with Declaration. Author looks at ideological competition between Lincoln and Douglas in famous debates that made Lincoln into viable presidential material. Author also reviews developments of Civil War, discussing Lincoln’s underestimate of Southern resolve and his development as strategist. Unlike previous examples, in this case the big rigid and slow moving side of North won over flexible, mobile and tactically superior South, but only after slick generals like McClellan were substituted by dogged and commonsensical commoners Grant and Sherman who were fighting to win at any cost.

NINE – LAST BEST HOPE

This starts with description of fear of Americans that British Victorian Prime Minister Salisbury experienced together with contempt for democracy. He was afraid of Americans starting Napoleon like ideological war and would dream about helping Confederacy in order to keep America divided. Such interference did not occurred and ideological war also did not happen because of democracy, the system when regular people have say in politics, albeit in roundabout way. Eventually British increasingly democratic monarchy and Americans become more and more allied. After that author moves to Mackinder strategic paper “The Geographical pivot of History” and Mahan’s work on strategic significance of naval power. Author also discusses geopolitical and colonial strategies leading to WWI and then WWII and people who developed and applied them.

TEN – ISAIAH

Here author returns to the live and wisdom of Isaiah Berlin. He discusses Berlin’s role as analyst of American politics for British and his attitudes to Soviet Allies whom he correctly identified as the evil challenger to democracy. Then, after brief discussion of Roosevelt presidency, author moves to define liberty as positive: “hedgehogs trying to herd foxes” or negative:“foxes with compasses who  “had the humility to be unsure of what lay ahead, the flexibility to adjust to it, and the ingenuity to accept, perhaps even to leverage, inconsistencies. They respected topographies, crafted choices within them, and evaluated these carefully once made.”

At the end author refers to political correctness and uses example of Robert Kennedy’s statement about unfairness of USA’s war against Mexico and its territorial gains, to which he was replied with question: “do you want to give it all back?  Author uses this example once again to define grand strategy as art of proportionality: “the alignment of potentially infinite aspirations with necessary limited capability”.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find the main thesis of this book about realignment of objectives and capabilities very reasonable and, despite its triviality, very difficult to implement. The many reasons for this include usually very sketchy understanding of objectives. The simple example is “the world peace”.  At first thought it is great, but who would really want to live in the peaceful world based on Hitler or Stalin ideology, so any freedom loving person would wage war to the death on such “peaceful world”.

Another point of author – generally more successful approach of foxes vs. hedgehogs is also much more complex than it appears. The perfect fox has practically unlimited flexibility, but it is not possible in real live because of complexity of human action and its multistep character. This necessarily creates commitment that with each step forces continuation of initial direction. The simple example: any topographical allocation of resources based on plan A, makes it increasingly difficult to change suddenly to plan B that would require different topographical allocation. Overall it is a meaningful analysis of strategy albeit slightly overloaded with repetitive illustrations of the same point.

 

20181028 – Peak Secrets of Expertise

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 12.21.52 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present results of author’s extensive, decades long research of human learning process and resulting method of learning that author called Deliberate Practice. This method pretty much substitutes studying with doing, with continuing increase in complexity of tasks so they would be challenging, but not frustrating, controlled by experienced trainer who understands both tasks and student, consequently assuring maintenance of the golden point in process. Author also refutes idea of innate talent that allows some prodigy to achieve perfection without really trying. His research quite convincingly demonstrated that beyond generic intellectual ability and some specific hard work of Deliberate Practice there is no need for superb genetic abilities to achieve real success in just about any field.

DETAILS:

Introduction: The Gift

This starts with the perfect pitch – probably one of the most widely known ability commonly linked to genetic endowment. After retelling story of Mozart as typical genius author present an amazing experiment of Sakakibara who managed train a group of regular children to have a perfect pitch. Then author discusses overall objectives of the book and its main lesson:“The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else.”The sort of practice author refers to – the “Deliberate Practice”, which is qualitatively different from practice as a repetitive exercise of some function. It is different in use of planning, modelling, and feedback processes that are consciously developed and then consistently applied in order to achieve expertise in some area.

The Power of Purposeful Practice

This is retelling of author’s work on using deliberate practice with a subject called Steve to develop meaningless, but difficult skill of remembering large numbers of random numbers. The regular person, Steve included has ability to remember about 7 numbers at most. After about a year of deliberate practice Steve achieved 82 digits capacity. After that author moves from individual achievement to cumulative achievement in sports when year after year generations of competitors develop new technics and methods leading to continuing increase in performance, so contemporary middle level sportsmen easily do staff that 20 years ago would be Olympic level achievement.  After that author discusses usual method of obtaining a new skill when progress, initially slows down and then stops when some acceptable level of performance had been achieved. Here author introduces notion of purposeful practice when objective to achieve is constantly moving, but at the pace consistent with achieved level. This would necessarily include barriers when improvement stops. This does not mean that more progress is not possible. It most often just means that new method to proceed should be discovered and applied. At the end of chapter author reviews limitation inherent to purposeful practice and states that deliberate practice allows overcome these limitations.

Harnessing Adaptability

This starts with discussion of human adaptability, including brain adaptability as demonstrated by famous London taxi drivers, which author discusses in detail. After that author moves to pushups and other physical examples. In short there is no qualitative difference between adaptability of brain and other parts of body. A very interesting point author makes here is that adaptability is directly caused by the need for homeostasis because it would not be possible without constant adjustment to changing environment.  The important point is to move just beyond existing level – a bit more would lead to the crash and a bit less would be not enough to move.

Mental Representations

This chapter starts with reference to blind chess playing when master can keep in mind a number of active games simultaneously as example of human capability to have mental representation of many complex systems. The key point here is that information if highly organized and easily compressed so it could be effectively managed. Author points out that it is not chess only, but practically all known human abilities, both mental and physical, depend on mental representation. For example, in addition to chess it also includes words, like dog or ability to walk or anything else conceivable. And since the main point of deliberate practice is to obtain expertise, here is how author defines what it is: “The main thing that sets experts apart from the rest of us is that their years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.”. After that author proceeds to review use of mental representation in planning, learning, and so on.

The Gold Standard

The gold standard for deliberate practice could be found in musical training, which is highly developed from technical side and generally conducted by professional trainers with high levels of expertise. Author conducted research of what makes a great musician and found that what differentiate good from better and from best. The research included time study and concluded: That nobody likes practice per se, but the crucial finding was that: there was only one major difference among the three groups. This was the total number of hours that the students had devoted to solitary practice. Specifically, the music-education students had practiced an average of 3,420 hours on the violin by the time they were eighteen, the better violin students had practiced an average of 5,301 hours, and the best violin students had practiced an average of 7,410 hours.

Principles of Deliberate Practice on the Job  

This chapter starts with well-known example from Vietnam War when Navy started training program for its pilots imitating as close as possible real life combat. The trainers remained constant while pilots changed with every new group, allowing trainers accumulate expansive experience and provide specific instruction. Author describes it as an example of Deliberate Practice. The next step is going beyond practice as an activity separate from work to practice while doing the work. After discussing examples and methods, author moves to definition of difference between knowledge and skills, stressing superiority of the latter providing as example a medical practice of surgeons when after some 500 surgeries they usually stop killing patients.

Principles of Deliberate Practice in Everyday Life

Here author moves to practical application of process of deliberate practice, which starts with finding a good teacher. Author provides some advice on how to do this. The next important thing is to be engaged as much as possible. The formal approach would not cut it.  Author also discusses the problem of teacher unavailability. Here is his advice: “To effectively practice a skill without a teacher, it helps to keep in mind three Fs: Focus. Feedback. Fix it. Break the skill down into components that you can do repeatedly and analyze effectively, determine your weaknesses, and figure out ways to address them.”
.  The next important issue is inevitable achievement of plateau in development when it seems to be no progress occurs. The key here is to keep trying, analyzing, and diversifying approaches until breakthrough to the next level of performance occur. Final point here is the need to maintain motivation without which success is not achievable.

The Road to Extraordinary

Here author provides a number of success stories for deliberate practice such as female chess players raised by father psychologist specifically to be grandmasters. In such situation when somebody start training a child to achieve top levels of some activity, the important part is achieve child’s commitment to the process without which nothing is achievable.

But What About Natural Talent?

In this chapter author reviewing a number of well known example of prodigies and concludes: “The bottom line is that every time you look closely into such a case you find that the extraordinary abilities are the product of much practice and training. Prodigies and savants don’t give us any reason to believe that some people are born with natural abilities in one field or another.
 However, author does not stop here and does give some credit to innate characteristics, but more as a necessary initial condition for achievement, rather than as sufficient condition. Here is the point he makes about IQ:“A number of researchers have suggested that there are, in general, minimum requirements for performing capably in various areas. For instance, it has been suggested that scientists in at least some fields need an IQ score of around 110 to 120 to be successful, but that a higher score doesn’t confer any additional benefit. However, it is not clear whether that IQ score of 110 is necessary to actually perform the duties of a scientist or simply to get to the point where you can be hired as a scientist. In many scientific fields you need to hold a Ph.D. to be able to get research grants and conduct research, and getting a Ph.D. requires four to six years of successful postgraduate academic performance with a high level of writing skills and a large vocabulary— which are essentially attributes measured by verbal intelligence tests. Furthermore, most science Ph.D. programs demand mathematical and logical thinking, which are measured by other components of intelligence tests”

Where Do We Go from Here?

This chapter starts with description of experiment with students when group trained using deliberate practice method learned more than twice as much as regular class. Basically in came down to switching from feeding information to students to make them practice under direction of instructor and rather then receiving and reproducing information they where compelled to acquire skills. At the end author suggests that it is the way humans were developed evolutionary and that correct name for our species should be not Homo Sapience, but rather Homo Exercens.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a great book for anybody who needs or wants to achieve something in any area of human activities. I experienced this in my own live some 45 years ago when I was a student in University. Our professor of mathematical analysis for some reason liked to call me up not regurgitate some previously presented theme, but to start a new part of our curriculum. I guess she knew that I am a lazy person and, while I am pretty good problem solver, I was not smart or diligent enough to read the next chapter of curriculum. In short she would present a new problem and call me upfront to try solving this problem without real clue of how to do it. So I would come up with various suggestions, some of which she would immediately shut down, some she would allow to move on for a while until dead end arrived, and some would lead to solution, often clumsy, but correct. After that she would present real solution demonstrating the beauty of mathematical analysis that was developed by much more intelligent people than we lowly students, hinting at the same time that not all lost and if we work hard enough and smart enough we eventually be able achieve something in the range of this perfection. I enjoyed this process tremendously and I think anybody who is lucky enough to become part of such process of Deliberate Practice would enjoy both the process and final result.

20181021 – In Defense of Troublemakers

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 6.25.11 PM

MAIN IDEA:

Author explicitly expresses the main idea of this book as such: “Consensus narrows, while dissent opens the mind. Both affect the quality of our decisions. The take-home message of the research presented in this book is that there are perils in consensus and there is value in dissent.” The dissent is often detrimental to the well being of dissenters and requires courage of conviction, but without dissent, the price paid by the group that suppresses it is often very high indeed.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION: FEAR CONSENSUS, LOVE DISSENT

Here author defines objective of the book as improvement in decision-making process. Interestingly enough, author defines dissent as necessary condition for good decision-making: “When we are exposed to dissent, our thinking does not narrow as it does when we are exposed to consensus. In fact, dissent broadens our thinking. Relative to what we would do on our own if we had not been exposed to dissent, we think in more open ways and in multiple directions. We consider more information and more options, and we use multiple strategies in problem solving. We think more divergently, more creatively. The implications of dissent are important for the quality of our decision-making. On balance, consensus impairs the quality of our decisions while dissent benefits it.” Author provides quite striking real live examples of necessity for dissent and stresses that correctness of it is pretty much irrelevant. Its value not in it, but in its ability to make people think beyond the consensus, resulting in evaluation of wider range of option an increase in possibility of better solution.

At the end of introduction author points out a number of books and ideas that are widely accepted, like “The Wisdom of Crowds”, but in reality, are of very little application due to the very constrained character of their effectiveness.

PART I MAJORITIES VERSUS TROUBLEMAKERS: THE ART OF PERSUASION

This part is about persuasion and how majority and minority use different tools to achieve it.

1 NUMBERS RULE

This is about human nature that in majority of cases makes people to comply with majority; whatever strange and/or weird is majority’s behavior or decisions. Author starts with example of “Face to the Rear in elevator” and proceeds to discuss ease with which majority persuades people to join. As real live example she refers to her jury consulting practice that demonstrated 90% certainly that initial majority will prevail. After that author describes conditions when majority has advantage – for example when individuals in crowd has diverse opinions that give better produce better average result than any individual’s opinion. Author also refers to Solomon Ash study demonstrating power of the group and then discusses mount of conformity and its dependence on multiple variables. The level of conformity with obvious error is usually around 75% with only 25% consistently non-conformist individuals. It is very interesting that even these individuals admitted that they majority probably correct but could and would not overcome their own perception of the truth. Autor also provides multiple examples when business and/or ideologues use this propensity to conform. At the end of chapter author discusses anonymity provided by computer networks as a tool to reduce conformity comparatively to face to face communications.

2 EVEN ONE DISSENTER MAKES A DIFFERENCE

This is an interesting chapter on break of unanimity when even one dissenter can unshackle people from conformity at any cost and dramatically change dynamic of the group. She describes a few experiments that demonstrated this point. One interesting experiment was with writing opinion on the paper vs. on the erasable board before learning majority opinion, which clearly increases commitment to one’s point. After that author discusses courage that is required to express dissent and experiment that demonstrates change of attitude of majority to dissenter, which could become quite harsh. Interesting thing here is that after rejecting dissenter, majority internalizes this behavior, resulting in quite dramatic decrease in conformity in the next setting of experiment – all the way down from 70% to 14% of conformity with clearly wrong opinion of majority.

3 DISSENTS AS AN ART IN CHANGING HEARTS AND MINDS

This is about technics that dissenter can use to change hearts and minds. It starts with Galileo and Sigmund Freud, then looks at Snowden, and eventually ends with recommendations if dissenter really wants to achieve results (could be posthumously). These are: be consistent; compromise sparingly – negotiate deal, but do not change attitude, compromise late: “It was the “late compromise” condition that had it both ways—both public and private attitude change. When a dissenter compromised at the last minute, he did two things. He appeared consistent and, at the same time, flexible enough to achieve an agreement. He did not change his position. He simply offered a concession. As a result, he achieved both outcomes. This was the “sweet spot.” He got the other participants to make public concessions and he changed their private attitudes.”. Finally, keep in mind that dissenter, even if losing, typically creates doubt in the minds of majority, and, if it is developed consciously and consistently, could turn things around. As example author discusses in detail “12 angry men”.

PART II CONSENSUS VERSUS DISSENT: CLOSED MINDS VERSUS OPEN MINDS

This part is about how different approach to persuasion by majority and minority stimulate different modes of thinking and deciding. The key difference between majority opinion and dissenter opinion is that majority opinion changes thinking in ways that are narrow and closed with main objective to comply with existing opinion, while dissent opinion opens range of thinking because objective if not to squeeze into existing mold, but rathe find the new one that would attract support.

4 CONSENSUS NARROWS THINKING—AND KILLS RATIONALITY

The starting point here is that consensus makes the majority formidable forcing people to seek ways to join it even if there is very little they agree with. Then author proceeds to review real life events and research supporting this point.  She starts with the story of suicidal cult of the Peoples Temple, analyzing how it happened that people voluntary committed mass suicide and concluding that it was result of strict maintenance of consensus. After that she reviews results of Berkley study that illustrated how majority opinion prompts people unconsciously seek confirmation information and reject contrarian. This has negative impact on problem solving because it limits the range of possible solutions under consideration. Author discusses multiple lab experiments like anagram solution demonstrating this dynamic. Similarly, majority opinion narrows focus, which become a liability when looking for solution of non-trivial problems. Author discusses experiment that vividly demonstrate this feature and then returning to the story of flight 173 that crushed due to the super narrow focus of the crew.

5 DISSENT DIVERSIFIES—AND STRENGTHENS THINKING

Here author moves to the necessity of dissent for effective problem solution and decision-making. It comes from the nature of dissent, which by definition means to go against majority opinion and therefore forces dissenter to look widely and deeply at the problem at hand in order to find convincing reasons to support dissenting opinion. The author refers to a number experiments when sole dissenting opinion suddenly dramatically changed levels of conformity, even if this opinion was obviously incorrect. One point that an author stress often and strongly is that correctness of dissent opinion is generally irrelevant. Its value is in its propensity to liberate people from conformity and prompt them to look outside the box of their biases. Also, very important insights author obtained watching jury deliberations. It was not that much opinion change that dissenters caused – they usually failed to cause any, but rather quality of deliberations that improved significantly by the presence of dissenter and need to respond to dissent opinion. Then author discusses a few of real life cases: about Snowden, drones, surveillance, and such. Finally, author looks in details at technic of brainstorming and critics its core rule of not criticizing new ideas.

PART III GROUPTHINK VERSUS GROUPS OF THINKERS

The final part is about groups, their complexity, how they obtain consensus, and how unsuppressed dissent increases the quality of decision-making process.

6 GROUP DECISIONS: OFTEN IN ERROR, NEVER IN DOUBT

Author starts with the statement that groups operate in “a way that “strains” for consensus”, which pretty much means groupthink. In reality it often means just compliance with opinions of group leader, so the lower positioned members of the group strive to accommodate to them, suppressing in process whatever doubts they have. As example author refer to Bay of Pigs story. Then she moves to result of research that demonstrates poor outcomes for direct leadership when leader offers his/her opinion upfront, limiting opportunities for discussion and making dissent costly. Another problem with groupthink is that it promotes search for consensus within at any cost and polarization against groups of others. When groups are generated within wider populations they tend to move in different directions. More risky individuals joined in a group become riskier than any of them while more cautions individual in a group also move to extreme caution. Author also goes through examples of manipulating people into doing something they would not necessary do themselves. Author discusses two theories of polarization: one is persuasive argument theory, and another is “social comparison” theory. She concludes that both have merit. Another interesting finding is that people in groups tend to share information that they have in common and hide information that could undermine consensus, resulting in decrease of quality of opinions and decisions. Author refers to meta-analysis of 65 studies that demonstrated that groups with openly shared information both positive and negative have eight times higher probability to find solution than groups were information is hidden.

7 BETTER DECISIONS: DISSENT, DIVERSITY, AND DEVILS ADVOCATES

This is about decision-making and how dissent or lack thereof impact quality of decisions. It starts with rejection of false diversity when instead of diversity of opinion people promote diversity of skin color or sexual orientation. As example author uses two trials of O.J Simpson – one, criminal, intentionally moved to locality where neither victims nor accused lives and far away from the place of crime occurred. The intention of move was to find sympathetic jury and it succeeded in acquitting OJ and another civil trial at actual location found him guilty. The point author makes that both decisions were poorly made, and both were based on tribal affiliation. This point is confirmed by the multitude of experiments demonstrating how easy it is to create competing groups even by randomly allocating similar people to teams and then observe in-group favoritism that starts immediately. Author discusses in details different types of diversity and different value of it for organizations and decision making, which is sometimes positive, but sometimes not. However regardless of whatever levels of type of diversity exists nothing could substitute value of dissent in decision making that would amplify positives of diversity and suppress negatives.

Another very interesting point author makes is that often used formal technic of “devil advocate” does not produce expected results mainly because in order to have impact the dissent should be real and passionate, formal moves just wouldn’t do that. Author discusses history of this technic and reviews a number of experiments analyzing its impact on quality of decisions.

8 CONCLUSIONS

In this chapter author summarizes massage of this book as twofold: danger of consensus for quality of decisions and necessity of real dissent for increase this quality. She also points out that it is not about anger, suppression of dissent, arguing, or contrivances. It is about authenticity and conviction, speaking up, protecting different views, and encouraging debates. Finally, it is all not for the sake of harmony or moral imperatives that people and organization should protect and even nourish dissent, but as indispensable tool for achieving high quality of decisions and better solutions for all kinds of problems.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is nice to encounter book that provides lots of scientific and experimental support to the way one lives his live. Somehow, I often find myself in the state of non-agreement with whatever is discussed or whatever conventional wisdom is. This contrarian view at just about everything served me well because it forced me to compare different attitudes and approaches before making decision and prevented me from automatically accepting somebody else’s opinion. It has downside of complicating matters, slowing down process of about anything, and delaying action. Therefore, I can wholeheartedly agree with author of this book about value of dissent and danger of suppressing it. Such suppressing is especially dangerous at the level of society as whole because it leads to disappearance of dissent and consequently to dramatic degradation of quality of decisions and eventually quality of live. One can look not only at psychological experiments, but at huge real life experiment with Russian Empire in XX century when decades of suppressing dissent and killing or pushing out of country dissenters turned quite prosperous country of early XX century with world class writers, musicians, scientists, and intellectuals into miserable shadow of itself by the end of XX century.

 

20181014 – Growth Delusion

Screen Shot 2018-10-17 at 8.32.24 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review history of economic measurements – specifically GDP, discuss its multiple problems, and review new developments such as Internet that makes it more and more meaningless to use old methods of calculating economic activities designed mainly for material production. Author also has an idea to propose a few different methods for measuring economic activities that would be more meaningful than GDP.

DETAILS:

The Cult of Growth

The book starts with overall discussion of GDP, how it was created in 1930s and how it became the most important indicator of economic conditions of society. It is also critic of very notion of necessity of growth for prosperity, stressing that infinite growth just plain impossible.  At the end author states a contrarian point of view that growth and prosperity are two different things referring to Japan, which is not really growing for decades, but is a very prosperous country anyway.

Part One: The Problems with Growth

Chapter 1: Kuznets’s Monster

This chapter, after brief discussion of economic history, moves to Simon Kuznets and his invention of GDP, which come around during the WWII as necessary tool to estimate American capacity for production of war material and consequently to build effective military strategy. Author discusses Kuznets’ attempt to leave government out of economic calculation and how it failed under the pressure of Keynesians who believed that government activity should be important part of economy.  Author also discusses another failed attempt to include only “productive activities”, while excluding things like advertisement, gambling, and such.

Chapter 2: The Wages of Sin

Here author jumps directly to our time discussing well-publicized economic case of counting input into British economy by prostitutes. It caused all kind of funny staff related to various calculations of duties, debts, and so on, defined as a share of GDP. Foe example increase of GDP by counting prostitutes’ income would increase Britain duties to NATO defined as 2% of GDP. Similarly changes to GDP formula caused other countries to report quite ridiculous numbers. From here author goes to discuss meaning of GDP vs. GNP and how complex it really is because of multitude of intermediate products and services. Another big issue is that even this numbers are not hard numbers, but rather result of questionnaires, samples, and statistical manipulation.

Chapter 3: The Good, The Bad. And the Invisible

Here author moves to the topic of impact on GDP from various idiosyncrasies of different countries, looking at American Medicare, which inflated payments clearly overstate the numbers. Another important topic is calculation of input from government expenditures. It is quite easy to calculate, for example, inputs into free education such as teacher wages and school building. But is this a real input into economy if government schools produce illiterate graduates? Yet another, somewhat opposite problem, is very valuable input that is not included. As an example, author discusses production of mothers’ milk for baby, which is not counted, but could add billions to economy. These counted/ uncounted / wasted economic artifacts could be discovered in many areas, opening huge opportunities for manipulation.

Chapter 4: Too Much of a Good Thing

This starts with the story of Iceland financial industry prosperity that was followed by crisis.  Author makes the point that financial industry could not bring prosperity and at some point, its input into economy becomes illusory because it is just play of numbers. The new financial instruments that used to generate paper profits do not really serve its main economic purpose of efficient allocation of capital because they based on correct assumption of government intervention that would socialize any losses from failure, while keeping private benefits of success.

Chapter 5: The Internet Stole My GDP

This is an interesting discussion of Internet impact on real economy and on GDP. Basically, for real economy it is great. People get information from home they used to be spending lots of time and effort to obtain. Business thrives on low transaction costs, and improved analytics. However, all this decreases GDP. From this point of view driving in a car to Movie Theater and sitting there watching movie adds a lot to GDP from cost of gas to cost of building to salary of people running Movie Theater. Watching the same movie in comfort of one’s home subtracts all these from GDP, which shows decreased economic activity even if entertainment consumption improved dramatically. Then author compares Internet with multiple inventions of XIX and XX centuries that brought electricity, multitude of machines from home, telecommunications, utilities, and transportation that change lives a lot more then Internet ever could.  At the end of chapter author reviews difficulties of calculating and taxing services comparatively with manufacturing.

Chapter 6: What’s Wrong with the Average Joe

This starts with discussion of deterioration of health and life expectancy of average western lower middle class, which has difficulty to handle loss of semi-qualified manufacturing and service jobs and resorts to suicides and opioids despite safety net that provides relatively high level of consumption with plentiful food, merchandising, and practically unlimited entertainment. The most impressive statistics for this is a gap in live expectancy between educated / high income and uneducated / low income Americans, which grew from 5 years in 1970s to 15 years now. From here author moves to the growing inequality, which he blames for many of presented ills.

Part Two: Growth and the Developing World

Chapter 7: Elephants and Rhubarb

This chapter is about alternative evaluation of economic activity. It starts with estimates of artificial lights intensity at night. Then author discusses difficulties of estimating it in poor and corrupt countries where lots of economic activity is hidden. Detailed studies estimating economic output of one product, for example milk demonstrate huge variance from official data up to 20 times. Author discusses details of this in several African countries.

Chapter 8: Growthmanship

Here author moves to discuss countries that made significant progress such as South Korea and India. Author makes the point that even if this book is about GDP and growth being often misleading and poor indicator of wellbeing, the poor countries are really benefiting from growth and should be evaluated differently from the rich ones. Author also discusses ideological struggle about economy in India and work of Hans Rosling.

Chapter 9: Black Power, Green Power

This starts with discussion of environmental impact of growth on China. He states that China embraced GDP growth as main objective and directed main efforts to it, all other considerations pushed aside. Here there is an interesting discussion of how Chinese economists calculate its GDP, making it into whatever if should be according to party decisions. However, a lot of this growth is real and environmental and human costs are real as well, causing increasing resistance to single minded industrial development.

Part Three: Beyond Growth

Chapter 10: Wealth

This starts with discussion about wealth, its misleading averages, and difference between income statement and balance sheet each of which give only approximate idea of the wealth of any entity because a lot of wealth comes from knowledge and skills, which not easily converted into monetary units. Similar difficulties occur in calculation of environmental costs.

Chapter 11: A Modern Domesday

This starts with reference to Doomsday book – an attempt to count all wealth in Britain in 1086. The author discusses contemporary, even more ridiculous attempt to monetary estimates like 33 trillion for value of the Earth. Author analyses these attempts, but more importantly he presents idea of qualitative rule that “The aggregate level of natural capital should not decline”.

Chapter 12: The Lord of Happiness

This chapter starts with anecdote about stolen head of Jeremy Bentham that was returned for ten pounds in 1975. Author uses it just to move to evaluation of economic value of human happiness and he starts it with Easterlin’s research, linking it with Bentham’s utilitarism.  Moving to contemporary time author briefly discusses happiness by country with usual Scandinavians at the top and Burundi at the bottom then moving to more interesting estimate of events on happiness. The table below demonstrates this approach:

Screen Shot 2018-10-17 at 7.50.43 AM

Finally, he refers to Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness, which somehow does not attract people for moving to Bhutan.

Chapter 13: GDP 2.0

This starts with that GDP was turned into a proxy of wellbeing, which it is obviously not. Author discusses the story of Maryland where local authorities come up with “enhanced” Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) that included all king of subjective measurements:

Screen Shot 2018-10-17 at 7.50.52 AM

Eventually it completely did not work.

Chapter 14: The Growth Conclusion

The last part starts with the praise to GDP, which somehow manage to squeeze all human activity in one number. However, author highlights its negative side – it become measure of everything and driver of policy. It has significant problem of garbage in – garbage out, and so on and on. Author’s suggestions for better measurement of economy are:

  • GDP per capita
  • Median Income
  • Inequality
  • Net Domestic Product
  • Well Being
  • CO2 Emissions

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think the GDP is an interesting case of invention that begins to live on its own, doing something that its inventors could not possibly anticipate. So GDP instead of tool for resource planning and allocation during wartime became measurement of prosperity or lack thereof, tool for comparison between different countries, benchmark of dues allocation to countries for international organizations, and a lot of other things.

I for one think that it really does not make a lot of sense beyond its original use of allocating material resources to produce war materials. It works for this only because the war is simple – just a few thousands of different types of machines, no need to worry that nobody would buy them no need to think about human tastes and wishes. Even more important, as tool of measurement its necessity implicitly assumes that it would be used by some top managerial authority that can control economy and society overall, which is not a case in free market economy to the extent that it is free and it is market, rather than semi-free and semi-market. As to all other uses, the best comparison between countries would be direction of people’s flow or at least its intentionality. Bhutan well may have 10 times higher levels of “National Happiness” than USA, but somehow people from Bhutan as well as from many other countries trying move to USA, while Americans in their pursuit of happiness do not move in mass to Bhutan. Similarly, payment to international organizations should not be defined by countries GDP, but rather by willingness of citizens of these countries to transfer their earnings to these international organizations. In short, free and market economy does not need the crutches designed for the planned economy of the country at war.

 

20181007 Factfulness

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 12.02.46 PM

MAIN IDEA:

Author uses this book to demonstrate that humans were evolutionary developed to make quick and easy decisions and turn them into actions without careful analysis of underlaying facts, which results in many an error, so such actions should not be taken. However, the main idea is that we are not doomed to keep doing it and that our intellectual and communicative abilities could be used to develop a set of tools to handle a variety of typical “instincts” that become impediment to good decision making. Author presents just such set of tools that he combines into what he calls Factfulness.

DETAILS:

Introduction

This starts with author’s recollection of his fascination with magic, specifically with the sword swallowing and how he learned to do this trick, which is based on human anatomy. He makes a point that even being a doctor did not help him to understand how to do the trick until he learned the specifics. After that he moves to a small quiz, which quite convincingly demonstrates that people, even those interested in politics and economics greatly underestimate progress made in last few decades in many areas so that currently developing (poor) countries have quality of live as good or batter that developed (rich) countries had just a few decades ago. Then author links it to optical and other illusions and fast / slow thinking that was evolutionary beneficent for hunter-gatherers but become somewhat of impediment for understanding the world in our time. The remedy is to develop process of factual confirmation in order to avoid ideas and action based on false understanding of reality.

Chapter One: The Gap Instinct

This chapter starts with misconception of child mortality. It turns out to be a lot smaller than people in western world think. This is result of progress in knowledge and its application that moves a lot faster than people perceive. In reality developing countries catch up with developed in this parameter. Here is picture demonstrating this thesis:

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 11.34.02 AM

After discussing a few more parameters author presents the real picture of people distribution by 4 levels of income and he defines it in very clear form for all 7 billion people living now:

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 11.34.56 AM

Author then discusses Gap instinct – human propensity to break any phenomenon, object or group into two qualitatively different objects like rich and poor. It is also often supported by propensity of bringing everything to averages, when in reality there is much more different statistical distribution often overlapping. Here are two examples:

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 11.35.11 AM

Author also discusses relativity of comparisons and propensity of comparing extreems. For example poverty level in USA is somebody at level 3 of income, so typical reader of this book would have difficulty to understand what real poverty is.

Author presents the the key point of this chapter in such way:

Factfulness is … recognizing when a story talks about a gap, and remembering that this paints a picture of two separate groups, with a gap in between. The reality is often not polarized at all. Usually the majority is right there in the middle, where the gap is supposed to be. To control the gap instinct, look for the majority.

Chapter Two: The Negativity Instinct

Here author starts with recalling his background as child of Dutch family in Egypt and how he nearly drawn in the ditch as toddler because sewage ditches where not walled out. Then he proceeds to discuss that humans generally prefer negative picture of reality because evolution selected out over optimistic individuals. He supports this thesis with multiple examples for live expectancy, mortality, criminality, and others. The final inference:

Factfulness is … recognizing when we get negative news,and remembering that information about bad events is much more likely to reach us. When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world around us, which is very stressful. To control the negativity instinct, expect bad news.

Chapter Three: The Straight-Line Instinct

This is about human tendency extrapolate any sequence as straight line into the future, creating typically false expectations. Author starts with panic about Ebola epidemic, and proceeds to other extreme applications like population bomb. He provides a very interesting graphic presentation of the process:

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 11.37.49 AM

The chapter conclusion:

Factfulness is … recognizing the assumption that a line will just continue straightand remembering that such lines are rare in reality. To control the straight-line instinct, remember that curves come in different shapes.

  •    Don’t assume straightlines. Many trends do not follow straight lines but are S-bends, slides, humps, or doubling lines. No child ever kept up the rate of growth it achieved in its first six months, and no parents would expect it to.

Chapter Four: The Fear Instinct

The next stop is fear and author recalls his own fit of fear when he mistakenly thought that WWIII started. Then he proceeds to discuss various causes of fear both rational and not so much and role of attention directed at them in huge exaggeration of real dangers. Here is summary:

Factfulness is … recognizing when frightening things get our attentionand remembering that these are not necessarily most risky. Our natural fears of violence, captivity, and contamination make us systematically overestimate these risks. To control the fear instinct, calculate the risks.

  •    The scary world: fear vs. reality.The world seems scarier than it is because what you hear about it has been selected—by your own attention filter or by the media—precisely because it is scary.
  •    Risk = danger × exposure.The risk something poses to you depends not on how scared it makes you feel, but on a combination of two things. How dangerous is it? And how much are you exposed to it?
  •    Get calm before you carry on.When you are afraid, you see the world differently. Make as few decisions as possible until the panic has subsided.

Chapter Five: The Size Instinct

This is basically about triangulation and resource allocation. Once again it is based on author’s experience in 1970s as a doctor in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world where he had to make difficult decisions to stop helping dying child before him in order to provide help to many more that were not directly in his presence. This decision caused protest from outsiders and author points out that decisions could be valid or not only if the proper scale of factors selection is applied. The size instinct that author refer to is the human tendency to overstate importance of everything visible on hand and understate importance of everything note visible, getting things out of proportion. Author also discusses Pareto rule 80/20 and human propensity to forget about ratios. As example he provides graph from the field of energy where popular discussion of sources is way out of proportion with real production:

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 11.40.30 AM

The final word for the chapter:

Factfulness is … recognizing when a lonely number seems impressive(small or large) and remembering that you could get the opposite impression if it were compared with or divided by some other relevant number. To control the size instinct, get things in proportion.

  •    Compare.Big numbers always look big. Single numbers on their own are misleading and should make you suspicious. Always look for comparisons. Ideally, divide by something.
  •    80/20.Have you been given a long list? Look for the few largest items and deal with those first. They are quite likely more important than all the others put together.
  •    Divide.Amounts and rates can tell very different stories. Rates are more meaningful, especially when comparing between different-sized groups. In particular, look for rates per person

Chapter Six: The Generalization Instinct

This starts with author experience of eating unusual for him and culturally disgusting food. From here he jumps to why it is so and concludes that it is generalization instinct when people assign new things to familiar group. He uses as example incorrect believe of rich westerners that children in poor countries are not vaccinated. Another non-statistical example is the story of generalization of elevator technology in western world to India, where it could cause bodily damage because elevators in India do not have usual safety features. This effect often leads to situation when people “know” something that just is not so. Then he proposes to correct it by using his 4 levels of income scale and discusses how it is applicable pretty much independently of culture and geography everywhere in the world. Here is author summary:

Factfulness is … recognizing when a category is being used in an explanationand remembering that categories can be misleading. We can’t stop generalization and we shouldn’t even try. What we should try to do is to avoid generalizing incorrectly. To control the generalization instinct, question your categories.

  •    Look for differences within groups. Especially when the groups are large, look for ways to split them into smaller, more precise categories. And …
  •    Look for similarities across groups.If you find striking similarities between different groups, consider whether your categories are relevant. But also …
  •    Look for differences across groups.Do not assume that what applies for one group (e.g., you and other people living on Level 4 or unconscious soldiers) applies for another (e.g., people not living on Level 4 or sleeping babies).
  •    Beware of “the majority.” Themajority just means more than half. Ask whether it means 51 percent, 99 percent, or something in between.
  •    Beware of vivid examples. Vivid images are easier to recall but they might be the exception rather than the rule.
  •    Assume people are not idiots.When something looks strange, be curious and humble, and think, in what way is this a smart solution?

Chapter Seven: The Destiny Instinct

Author defines it this way: “The destiny instinct is the idea that innate characteristics determine the destinies of people, countries, religions, or cultures.” The he proceeds to demonstrate that it is not so and neither people nor cultures unchangeable referring to development in Africa, which is, while still being behind the West, nevertheless achieved levels of West in 1970s at least in terms of income levels. The author review fertility rates as one of the clearest examples of how attitudes change with change of income and conditions. So here is his summary:

Factfulness is … recognizing that many things (including people, countries, religions, and cultures) appear to be constant just because the change is happening slowly, and remembering that even small, slow changes gradually add up to big changes. To control the destiny instinct, remember slow change is still change.

  •    Keep track of gradual improvements. A small change every year can translate to a huge change over decades.
  •    Update your knowledge.Some knowledge goes out of date quickly. Technology, countries, societies, cultures, and religions are constantly changing.
  •    Talk to Grandpa.If you want to be reminded of how values have changed, think about your grandparents’ values and how they differ from yours.
  •    Collect examples of cultural change.Challenge the idea that today’s culture must also have been yesterday’s and will also be tomorrow’s.

Chapter Eight: The Single Perspective Instinct

This is about failure to diversify sources of information that one uses to form opinions. The point here is that ideas are simple and beautiful, and people tend to use them as abstractions always applicable when in reality everything is messy and complex and blind application of abstract ideas is often harmful. Summary:

Factfulness is … recognizing that a single perspective can limit your imaginationand remembering that it is better to look at problems from many angles to get a more accurate understanding and find practical solutions. To control the single perspective instinct, get a toolbox, not a hammer.

  •    Test your ideas. Don’t only collect examples that show how excellent your favorite ideas are. Have people who disagree with you test your ideas and find their weaknesses.
  •    Limited expertise.Don’t claim expertise beyond your field: be humble about what you don’t know. Be aware too of the limits of the expertise of others.
  •    Hammers and nails.If you are good with a tool, you may want to use it too often. If you have analyzed a problem in depth, you can end up exaggerating the importance of that problem or of your solution. Remember that no one tool is good for everything. If your favorite idea is a hammer, look for colleagues with screwdrivers, wrenches, and tape measures. Be open to ideas from other fields.
  •    Numbers, but not only numbers.The world cannot be understood without numbers, and it cannot be understood with numbers alone. Love numbers for what they tell you about real lives.
  •    Beware of simple ideas and simple solutions. History is full of visionaries who used simple utopian visions to justify terrible actions. Welcome complexity. Combine ideas. Compromise. Solve problems on a case-by-case basis.

Chapter Nine: The Blame Instinct

This is about human tendency to blame people and groups for whatever bad happens, without even trying to understand real causality of events. Author looks at multitude of examples, but summary is simple:

Factfulness is … recognizing when a scapegoat is being usedand remembering that blaming an individual often steals the focus from other possible explanations and blocks our ability to prevent similar problems in the future. To control the blame instinct, resist finding a scapegoat.

  •    Look for causes, not villains.When something goes wrong don’t look for an individual or a group to blame. Accept that bad things can happen without anyone intending them to. Instead spend your energy on understanding the multiple interacting causes, or system, that created the situation.
  •    Look for systems, not heroes.When someone claims to have caused something good, ask whether the outcome might have happened anyway, even if that individual had done nothing. Give the system some credit.

Chapter Ten: The Urgency Instinct

Here author looks at “Now or Never” attitude that impose urgency and prevents careful analysis of options and actions. As usual author brings a few examples from his experiences in third world countries, summarizing it all in such way:

Factfulness is … recognizing when a decision feels urgent andremembering that it rarely is. To control the urgency instinct, take small steps.

  •    Take a breath. When your urgency instinct is triggered, your other instincts kick in and your analysis shuts down. Ask for more time and more information. It’s rarely now or never and it’s rarely either/or.
  •    Insist on the data.If something is urgent and important, it should be measured. Beware of data that is relevant but inaccurate, or accurate but irrelevant. Only relevant and accurate data is useful.
  •    Beware of fortune-tellers. Any prediction about the future is uncertain. Be wary of predictions that fail to acknowledge that. Insist on a full range of scenarios, never just the best or worst case. Ask how often such predictions have been right before.
  •    Be wary of drastic action. Ask what the side effects will be. Ask how the idea has been tested. Step-by-step practical improvements, and evaluation of their impact, are less dramatic but usually more effective.

Chapter Eleven: Factfulness in Practice Factfulness Rules of Thumb

This starts with the true story when author found himself before enraged mob ready to kill doctors on suspicion in evil magic that was causing harm – not unusual for illiterate people everywhere in the world. He claims that ability to think things through based on facts on the part of one authoritative woman in the mob prevented lynching and saved his life. At the end author provides graphic summary of his ideas:

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 11.47.16 AM

Author’s daughter in law and son wrote the final part describing his death from cancer that he had been fighting when writing this book.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This book is a wonderful example of relatively clear thinking and very clear presentation of ideas. Ideas themselves are not very new and were researched extensively in the last 50 some years by behavioral economists, psychologists, philosophers and what not. It would be obviously useful if people start taking Factfulness into account, but it is not at all clear how to achieve it. It seems to me that author was missing intentionality in facts misrepresentation, which is actually a very serious factor in great many bureaucrats and politicians’ wellbeing. Either the counterfactual believes in God granted status of a king or similarly counterfactual believes in dangerous global warming, there are always people who are depended on these for their livelihood. Correspondingly these people, and they are usually in control of education and mass media, do all they can to prevent every generation from learning skills necessary for using Factfulness either in their ideological position or in their everyday activities. As result people necessarily develop Factfulness approach in their profession and job, often at the steep price of many failures, but they often fail to develop the same in their philosophical and ideological attitudes, resulting in unnecessary long continuation of awful ideas such as socialism.

 

 

20180930 – Why Liberalism Failed

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 8.36.41 AM

MAIN IDEA:

Here is author’s main point: “Liberalism has failed—not because it fell short, but because it was true to itself. It has failed because it has succeeded. As liberalism has “become more fully itself,” as its inner logic has become more evident and its self-contradictions manifest, it has generated pathologies that are at once deformations of its claims yet realizations of liberal ideology.”

The main inference that author provides is:” A rejection of the world’s first and last remaining ideology does not entail its replacement with a new and doubtless not very different ideology. Political revolution to overturn a revolutionary order would produce only disorder and misery. A better course will consist in smaller, local forms of resistance: practices more than theories, the building of resilient new cultures against the anticulture of liberalism.

DETAILS:

Introduction: The End of Liberalism

At the beginning author defines liberalism as philosophy, which conceived human individuals as rights bearing entities who could pursue happiness according to their own understanding. It supported limited government, rule of law, and independent judiciary. Then author complains that in current American society it all deteriorated, so Americans do not believe in existing institutions anymore and do not trust them. It resulted from raising division of population into elite and regular people with different resource availability, different believes and overall different life experiences.  In short – liberalism achieved equal opportunity meritocracy that led to huge division of society into successful few and unsuccessful many eventually resulting in their separation into different layers of society with the next generation deprived of equal opportunity. Author reviews the most important areas of live and tries to demonstrate how liberalism failed in each of these areas:

  • Politics: limited government was substituted by practically unlimited administrative state with unelected bureaucrats and incumbent politicians controlling nearly everything.
  • Economics: division of population into very rich and well to do living in completely different economic world than poor and lower middle class. The former benefiting from globalization, when cheap low skills labor from all over the world combined with expensive high skill labor in developed countries dramatically increased wellbeing of these participants at the expense of latter’s dramatically deteriorated wellbeing, leading not only to their material deprivation, but to the existential crisis of these people who are not productive and dignified members of society anymore.
  • Education: division of population when children of upper classes provided education and access to technology that make them increasingly more productive, while lower classes provided indoctrination in leu of education resulting in their hate to productive individuals and inability to become productive themselves.
  • Science and Technology: Its triumphs led to creation of contemporary world, but now liberalism turned against it in form of environmentalism, the ideology of rich who are seeking psychological satisfaction at the expense of others’ suffering.
  • Culture: Liberalism’s struggle against cultural and religious limitation imposed on individual freedom turned into political and ideological limitations, which rapidly becoming as onerous as the old ones. For example, the demand for freedom from religious turns into denial of freedom of religion.

ONE. Unsustainable Liberalism

This starts with the statement that liberalism is committed to liberty and self-government and author goes into history of these ideas starting with Romans and Christianity, which produced Liberal ideology and idea of individual rights. Author however characterizes original Christian approach as an attempt to prevent tyranny by promoting virtue and education in virtue. He points to Machiavelli as the thinker who moved away from this unrealistic approach to the new realistic approach that accepted not very nice human features such as greed, pride, and selfishness, but seek to temper these features via division of power, so different interests conflict with each other, consequently limiting each other and forcing some compromise and accommodation for common good. Author provides more detailed discussion of the nature of liberalism and claims that it became the last standing ideology in 1989 when competing communist ideology practically fall apart. However, after that liberalism itself started falling apart in a number of areas because per author it is running out of cultural foundation that it inherited from religion and previously established society mores. Specifically, unabridged self-interest undermined and made irrelevant virtue that used to be it the core of behavior, mastery of nature produced unacceptable ecological costs, loosening of nearly all social connections undermined voluntarism, leaving individuals mainly on their own and directing all support to needy via formal tools of government. Author characterized this as 2 revolutions: The first: switch from communal objectives and actions to individual, and the Second: war against nature.

Two. Uniting Individualism and Statism

Author begins this chapter with history of left and right all the way back to French Assembly’s division between revolutionaries and royalists and going on until current American political division between conservatives (classical liberals) promoting individual liberty from governmental control and progressives (liberals) promoting collective liberty from limitation on the leaders of collective by either laws or individual rights. Somehow author combines them into one, claiming that both are liberal positions in their philosophical sources and practical implications: classical liberals via idea of social contract, while progressives via idea of social whole (we as people). Both were united in their struggle against aristocracy, but became enemies when aristocracy was gone, leading to interesting result of dual expansion of the state and individual autonomy.

THREE. Liberalism as Anticulture

This chapter is about transformation of culture that occurred under influence of liberalism. The old religion and cultural norms were mainly destroyed by leftist liberal who were seeking to undermine cultural cohesion of the society that impeded their social experiments in forming new humans that belongs to liberal super state rather than to family, religious, and local community. Author defines 3 pillars of liberal anti-culture: conquest of nature, denial of past as it was and its continuing redesign according to contemporary views, and change of notion of place, making it fungible and disconnected from individual’s background. Author reviews in details each of these pillars and concludes that it led to rise of leviathan, but even more important fact is that parasitic liberalism sustainable only until there are still remnants of culture it is trying to annihilate, which provide some cohesion to society. When these remnants eventually liquidated, society would not held together, leading to its demise, which would take liberalism with it.

FOUR. Technology and the Loss of Liberty

It starts with the note that infatuation with technology is a product of modern times and did not occur before. Author discusses a number of cultural artifacts prophesizing awful future catastrophes, and then points out that it could be result of foreboding about powerlessness before technological and societal developments. Then he goes to technology of liberalism that he defines as technology of self-government with interesting quirk that self-rule of collective actually suppress individual’s ability to do as he wishes, which comes only after liberalism become dominant, while before that objective was increasing liberty of individual. Author also discusses political technology such as Constitution and related ideological and legal artifacts that constitute technological society. All this also linked to actual technological infrastructure such as Internet and social media.

FIVE. Liberalism against Liberal Arts

The main point here is that liberalism generally attempts substitute culture with anticulture resulting in substitute of liberal education with servile education. Author discusses here attacks against liberal arts, which were currying on traditions of the culture. He documents multiple examples of these successful attacks in universities that become bastions of liberalism. Author also opposes conversion of universities into what he calls multiversity, which substitutes humanities with purely technical and scientific instruction.

SIX. The New Aristocracy

Here author discusses how anticulture brought in by liberalism and promotion of statist ideology led to creation of new aristocracy that crosses national borders and consists of people all over the world who went to the same universities, obtained the same believes and enjoy upscale lifestyles supported by income from positions in bureaucracies and government supported industries. These people often quite contemptuous to majority of their countries who do not have elite education and similar opportunities and make living in difficult global market place where they are not competitive with low paid works with similar low-level skillset from developing countries. Author also discusses his believe that this new aristocracy came from classical liberalism, which promoted free market place and support for meritocracy at the expanse of commonality. Author reviews a number of recent books dedicated to discussion of these issues.

SEVEN. The Degradation of Citizenship

In this chapter author looks at liberalism’s attack against citizenship and use of democracy as paramount value that justifies suppression of real and previously protected rights such as freedoms numerated in bill of rights and their substitution by materialistic and unrealistic rights like good job, decent income, free healthcare, right not to be insulted, and so on. Interestingly enough liberalism managed simultaneously to idolize democracy in theory and suppress it in practice everywhere where it is possible.

Conclusion: Liberty after Liberalism

Author conclusion is somewhat paradoxical: “Liberalism has failed because liberalism has succeeded”. It succeeded in its destructive function removing old aristocratic system, but it filed in its constructive function to provide something better for individual happiness. Author posits that there is no return and proposes initial steps that he believes would help to move beyond liberalism:

  1. Acknowledge achievements of liberalism and accept their finality
  2. Outgrow age of ideology and instead “focus on developing practices that foster new forms of culture, household economics, and polis life.”
  3. Out of this new practice generate a better theory of politics and society.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that there is quite a bit of confusion that author demonstrates all the time. If by his definition liberalism is about individual freedom and limited government, how one can state that it failed by creating big administrative state that increasingly stifle economy by regulation and keeps subverting constitutional guaranties of Bill of Rights? This confusion probably comes from poor understanding of real or classical liberalism vs. leftist, name-stealing liberalism. As ideology of liberty liberalism in XIX and early XX century was directed against businesses united with state and local, authorities via massive corruption in their struggle to suppress independent business and labor. These independents either presented too much of competition or limited business options by creating unions that tried monopolizing access to labor. At this point of history, the main ally of these groups was federal bureaucracy, who had limited opportunities for enrichment via corruption by virtue of being too far away and above from real cash flows of mainly small and middle size business. This bureaucracy was handily supported by top level journalists and intellectuals deeply infected by socialist ideas that pretty much boiled down to believe in supreme effectiveness and efficiency of big bureaucracy, preferably at the level of total control over society’s nationalized means of production. Early in XX century when old aristocratic forces practically self-destroyed during WWI, liberalism was highjacked by its socialist branch, living only small group clinging to ideas of individual freedom and limited state. The vast majority moved to socialist ideas, with half moving fully into collectivistic direction rejecting both individual liberty and limited state, consequently producing Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes. Another half also forfeit limited government and moved to create ever-growing welfare state, while still retains individual liberty, including limited property rights and some remnants of legal structure. Both failed: the first half quite dramatically as result of losing in WWII for Nazis and in Cold War for Commies, while the second one – Sozis failing much less dramatically now.

In my opinion the solution could not possibly be “outgrow ideology” because there is no possibility of human society without ideology. Neither it is possible to return to liberalism of limited government mainly providing security and legal framework without some serious changes in societal foundations that would support individuals ability fully practice both their individual and economic freedom with such arrangement that would guaranty everybody real access to resources needed for this even if human labor does not have lots of value for production of goods and services.

One such arrangement could be equal rights for natural resources that would allow individuals less capable to efficiently and effectively use these resources for generation of consumable resource would be able obtain such resources by periodically selling their rights to individuals capable to use these resources better.

 

20180923 – The Expanding Blaze

Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 8.44.13 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use historical events starting from American Revolution until 1850 to convince reader that there were two different enlightenments. One was good – radical enlightenment promoting human rights, all things nice, and mainly represented by French revolution and Thomas Paine’s side of American Revolution. Another one bad – moderate enlightenment, promoting populism, nationalism, property rights detrimental to non-propertied people, and mainly represented by other side of American revolution: Washington, Adams, and later majority of politicians of both parties. The Paine’s side is responsible for huge impact of American Revolution on the political development in Europe and America in direction of more democracy and freedom, while Adam’s side is responsible for decline of this influence and transformation of America into ugly caricature by 1850s.

DETAILS:

Introduction: The American Revolution and the Origins of Democratic Modernity

From the very beginning author sets up his position of dividing American revolution into two: somewhat conservative national revolution of Franklin and Washington seeking freedom from British aristocracy and mainly retaining institutions of American society, and Atlantic revolution of Jefferson and Paine that was seeking equal rights for all and fundamental change of society’s institutions in manner closely associated with French revolution. Author stresses that both sides were not entirely consistent, nevertheless he defines them as mainly unreconcilable aristocratic republicanism vs. democratic republicanism. He then discusses similar division in Britain, France, and other western European countries. Author stresses that this book traces impact of American revolution on the developments in the world, where it prompted such latent division to develop in some cases into violent French-like revolution, in some cases into British-like peaceful reform, some cases mix of all above, but in all cases moving humanity away from previous hierarchical order of kings and aristocracy of birth to the new world of formal equality and aristocracy of success.

  1. First Rumblings

The chapter starts with Adams’ letter to Jefferson where he pointed out that revolution actually occurred before 1775 and it happened in the minds of people. From here author discusses developments of 1760 – 1775, which created huge gap between Britain and its citizens that happened to live in America. As usual this gap was mainly between regular people that were trying to use opportunities created by the new country and elite that had different considerations. Probably the most important was imperial decree of 1763 that established limits on western settlement. This followed by increase in duties, monopolization of trade and multitude of other decisions that against interests of regular people like Stamp act of 1765. Author traces these measures and increasingly negative reaction to them that was obtaining more and more violent character. The chapter ends with events of February 1775 when Parliament reaffirmed its supremacy over colonies

  1. A Republican Revolution

This chapter is retelling of events of 1774-1776 that lead from growing rejection of British rule and recognition by colonials their need in creating the new entity of United States, if they to keep the democratic self-rule as it developed in 13 American States. In addition to narrating events author looks at philosophical underpinning of these events that he defines as Philadelphia Radicalism connected to Thomas Paine and represented by Philadelphia Constitution in competition with conservatism of John Adams and Hamilton. Author also briefly reviews events of Revolutionary war.

  1. Revolutionary Constitutionalism and the Federal Union (1776-90)

This starts with discussion on dichotomy of two opposing principles that author calls “aristocratic” and “democratic” and how it was played out in States constitutions. The general approach author takes here is that Pennsylvania constitution, with its one level legislature, was democratic, while other constitutions with 2 levels of congress and senate were aristocratic since it provided superior representation in form of senate to the top layers of society. After is reviewing a few states and literature on the issue. After that author moves to Federal government and provides similar analysis. At the end of chapter author discusses issues of church / state separations.

  1. Schooling Republicans

This is about intellectual struggle preceding the constitution. Author puts Paine, Franklin, and Jefferson on the side of democracy and Locke, John Adams, and Washington with their somewhat conservative views on opposite side. Author expressly stands against “moderates”, their fear of powerful government, and attempts to prevent it by dividing power.  One important issue was education with “democrats” pushing for government controlled universal mass secular education, while “moderates” saw it as local issue to be handled without unified control. Similar attitude was extended to everything else from roads to poor relieve. The remaining part of the chapter was about establishment of colleges and general failure of “radicals” in the face of the second Great Awakening that returned many Americans back to their religious and moral roots.

  1. Benjamin Franklin: “American Icon?

Here author retells story of Ben Franklin and his evolution from prosperous British citizen into American revolutionary who risked everything by getting to the side of revolution. Then author reviews events of French revolution and Franklin’s situation in Paris during preceding period. Author’s conclusion is that “though not classed as radical, Franklin became a leading light of “Radical Enlightenment”.

  1. Black Emancipation: Confronting Slavery in the New Republic

This starts with trivial accusation of Americans in hypocrisy: “all men are created equal” in country with slavery. Author correctly stresses that the accusers, whether British or loyalists, really did not believe in equality of black and were as racist as anybody but found it useful tool against American patriots. It follows by look at the revolutionary war in which British tried to use attacks against slavery and liberation of slaves in their war efforts with some success. After that author discusses early abolitionist movement in America of 1780-90 mainly based on religious ideals, despite general believe in inferiority of blacks. All this eventually led to slowly moving, but sustainable process of slavery abolition in the North over period of 1780 to 1848.

  1. Expropriating the Native Americans

This chapter is about another eternal sin of Americans – expropriation of Native Americans. This was also a very long process mainly dependent on arrival of new settlers and their demand for land. Author description of this process follows typical narrative of broken treaties, violence, cruelty, and sometimes genocide. Also, as usual, author forgets to mention that overall numbers of Indians were very small, their societies tribal and poorly organized, even if quite competitive militarily, and constantly fighting between themselves. So the struggle was not between Whites and Indians, but rather between different tribes of whites (French and British) with allied with them Indian tribes.

8 Whites Dispossessed

This chapter is about poor whites and frictions between them and other population. Author discusses economic situation in Pennsylvania in late 1770s when inflation and deficiencies led to armed mob gangs fighting each other and government. Author describes in more details fight over price regulation and other issues. Author laments that radical revolutionary leaders failed fully support the mob against merchants. The net result was the change in Pennsylvania that eventually led to elimination of author’s beloved constitution and switch to more typical American type with main beneficiaries being property owning middle classes. Naturally, author also goes through Shays’ rebellion (1786-87) and related problems caused by machinations with revolutionary debt that ended up with enrichment of well-connected and practical robbery of poorly connected who were first given promissory note in exchange for goods and services during the war, which they sold at small fraction of the nominal to speculators and then had to pay taxes so the speculators could obtain full value of the notes. All this did not go that well for relations between top and bottom of American society.

9 Canada: An Ideological Conflict  

This is about failure of American invasion of Canada that left this part of America in the hand of British that then was greatly reinforced by American Tories, resulting not only in it’s staying within British Empire, but also in forming completely different culture to significant extent countering American culture. Author describes an interesting interplay between French Canadian Catholics, British, and Americans resulting in defeat of American efforts. All this did not end with the end of revolutionary war, but continued afterword, all the way until the end of war of 1812, which mainly settled the issue.

  1. John Adams’s “American Revolution”

This chapters starts with Adam’s diplomatic effort during revolutionary war when he was quite successful in getting loans and other help from Dutch but proved to be no match to Franklin in dealing with French. From here author moves to discuss Dutch colonial problems in South Africa and elsewhere, caused by American example, and eventually to Anglo-Dutch war. Author discusses complex fight between moderates and radical that eventually led to Orange coup of 1787.

  1. Jefferson’s French Revolution

The author’s take on Jefferson is as an ideologue who somewhat opposed British enlightenment and supported French philosophers. Author retells Jefferson’s diplomatic efforts in France and his strong support for French revolution all the way to the brink of treason against America when he was close to violating Washington neutrality policy. After that author is going into details of French revolution and following years, making the point about American influence on these developments. Author describes Jacobin terror with, not if approval, then with somewhat of understanding, at least when it was directed at “moderates”. However, he points out that it was way too much for Jefferson who believed Robespierre to be betrayer of revolution.

  1. A Tragic Case: The Irish Revolution (1775-98)

The chapter on Irish revolution does not present some American sponsor like Jefferson for France. However, author still traces it to the American Revolution as the 4thcountry after Canada, Holland, and France prompted to revolution by American example. In addition to national movement against Britain it also had catholic vs. protestant angle that did not make it any easier. Author describes the process of maturing of Irish revolution, which eventually explode in 1798.  It failed mainly due to low levels of understanding and support from masses.

  1. America’s “Conservative Turn”: The Emerging “Party System” in the 1790s

Here author discusses birth of American two-party system that he relates to two opposite revolutionary traditions. One was the party of Federalists and another of Democrat – Republican. Author links Federalists not only to Americans, but also philosophically to Adam Smith and Burke. Correspondingly the other one is linked to French philosophers from Rousseau to Brissot and Condorcet. This follows by the story of citizen Genet and his attempt to establish French control over American republic and push it to the war with Britain. As part of this discussion author brings the Whiskey Rebellion, as and example of struggle between these two directions of democracy. Eventually, this struggle somewhat decreased after Sedition act and its rejection that brought Jefferson to power.

14 America and the Haitian Revolution

This is unusually detailed and very interesting story of Haitian Revolution that first time in history created republic of lacks, mainly former slaves who successfully, albeit with big help from tropical diseases, conducted war against France and managed to obtain and maintain independence not only through war, but also through diplomacy maneuvering between France, America, and Britain. Despite seemingly similar republican ideals, USA rejected to provide serious help and left Haitians alone as well as did all other European powers after massacres of whites. Author seems to be not considers these massacres as a good enough reason for rejection of Haitian state that USA maintained until 1862.

  1. Louisiana and the Principles of “76

For some reason author starts this chapter with detailed narrative of the story of Thomas Paine and eventually failure of his vision of American revolutionary movement. Author links this to changes in Pennsylvania constitution that until that represented this ideology.  Then author moves to the narrative of Louisiana purchase story, which is much more realistic and makes a lot more sense than usual narrative of Napoleon needing money and not knowing what to do with this huge territory. Actually, Napoleon had pretty good plan of strengthening New Orleans and then moving up on Mississippi, cutting off American western movement and creating powerful extension of French Empire in North America.  This plan, however, became quite unfeasible, forcing Napoleon to make choice either to take money in exchange for land or just loose it to Americans without compensation. He obviously made a wise choice.

  1. A Revolutionary Era: Napoleon, Spain, and the Americas (1808-15)

The next stop in review of American influence is Spanish revolution of 1808-14. Author reviews penetration and development of enlightenment ideas in Spain and especially work of Francisco Cabarrus. Author looks at interplay between developments in Spain and in Spanish America, which kind of fed on each other, while moving development to revolution. It was also linked to French occupation of the Spain. The result of this movement was Cadiz Constitution of 1812 that limited role of monarch and to large extent echoed French approach and rejecting American. It lasted only until end of Napoleonic rule and was completely removed by Fernando VII after return to power. After that he sent expeditionary force that successfully suppressed budding republics of Spanish America, returning them under monarchic rule. However this success for only temporary and from 1819 till 1830 Bolivar succeeded in creating multiple Latin American republics with highly corrupted and unstable regimes that continue in this mode pretty much for the next 200 years.

  1. Reaction, Radicalism, and Americanisme under “the Restoration” (1814 – 30)

Here author moves back to Europe to look at restoration period after defeat of Napoleon. While it looked like monarchy and aristocracy coming back to power everywhere and revolutionary turmoil of the last 25 years left behind, the reality was that population attitude changed and despite restoration of preexisting old order by Vienna Congress, there were no real way back. Author describes initially latent resistance to restoration elsewhere in the world. One of the clear signs of these restorations was laxity with which officials treated former revolutionaries and promoters of radical ideas. During this period democratic America remained the beacon of enlightenment, albeit of conservative, moderate type. Author describes in some detail cultural movements of period, especially romanticism that clearly undermined loyalty to the monarchy. Author also looks at Spanish revolution of 1820-23 and how it led to the end of Spain’s American empire. In short – restoration, while on the surface successful, was anything but, demonstrating internal cracks just about everywhere.

  1. The Greek Revolution (1770-1830)

Here author describes the Greek’s struggle for independence against Ottoman Empire that was massively supported by European countries, based not only on religious motivation, but also on expansion of ideas of Enlightenment and culture of Romanticism. In this light author reviews the career of Adamantios Korais who promoted Enlightenment ideas especially in their French radical form throughout this period.  The Greek revolution failed to create coherent power system and eventually was pushed away by the monarchy imposed by the members of Vienna Congress. In this case as well as in cases of other failed revolutions of the period author looks at American influence on these development, even if it was purely ideological with little if any material resources transferred.

  1. The Freedom Fighters of the 1830s

Here author initially looks at culture that was developed after 50 years of war and revolution, which was mainly culture of Radical Enlightenment that was targeting removal of monarchy, aristocracy, and religious powers and substitution of these powers with some form of new power structure that would be not as rigid and provided more space for free thinking, communicating, and political acting. Eventually it led to French revolution of 1930 and author again links it to cultural and ideological influence of America. Similarly author discusses the Belgian and Polish revolutions of this period.

  1. The Revolutions of 1848: Democratic Republicanism Versus Socialism

The next stop in this journey are revolutions of 1848 when the new ideological engine start working –socialism. These revolutions started in Scandinavia and only then moved to other European countries: France, Germany, Italy and many others. The two forces moving these revolutions: Democratic republicanism and socialism proved to be not exactly reconcilable, eventually weakening these revolutions and leading to their morphing in something intermediate between old regime and democratic republic, nicely represented by French regime of Napoleon III.

  1. American Reaction (1848-52)

In this chapter author returns back to America and discusses American attitude to revolutionary events in Europe and its own development into political crisis. Author looks at various movements in America from collectivistic commune in Ohio to Dorr’s war – militant movement against property qualification for voting that included small scale armed confrontation in Rhode Island. Overall European revolutions of 1848 were met with huge enthusiasm in America. From here author somehow moves to discussion of slavery in America, Wilmot Proviso, fugitive slaves controversies, and overall increasing tensions about these issues. Finally author discusses ideological stand off between Conservative Populism and Socialism with emerging divide between America where socialism mainly lost and Europe where it mainly won. The final part of the chapter discusses American “Forty -Eighters” – European radicals who escaped to America after defeat of revolutions and immediately started building foundation of future American leftism including treasonous communist movement of XX century and educational subversion that came to fruition in early XXI century – nearly 200 years after its seeds were planted.

Conclusion: ‘‘Exceptionalism,” Populism, and the Radical Enlightenment’s

The conclusion of this lengthy book is that American Revolution had huge impact on political and cultural development of the whole world. It especially obvious in European countries culturally and religiously close to emerging American state, which become ideological and cultural superpower prompting and sometimes supporting such developments morally and sometimes materially, long before it become military and industrial superpower in XX century. However author strives mightily to demonstrate that American Revolution is not logical development of British Culture and history and especially the Glorious revolution of 1688, somewhat opposite to French revolution, but rather product of Enlightenment common for both American and French revolution with Paine and to smaller extent Jefferson pretty much in synch with Robespierre and his ilk. Author discusses this controversy and then somehow concludes that victory in America of “moderate enlightenment”, populism, and property rights led to situation when America “ceased to represent a universal model”, become country of “bigotry and prejudice”, and by 1850s was not an internationally inspiring spectacle”.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that this book represent the great collection of historical data, nicely summarized and thoughtfully presented. However its ideological underpinning sounds ridiculous for me. I agree that there were two different enlightenments, but I would not call any of them moderate. Both were radical and both were directed to taking power away from aristocracy and substitute monarchy by the new form of government. The difference was in believe who should have this power. The answer of British / American enlightenment is: nobody. The power of state should be limited; people in power interchangeable, and it should be divided in smaller chunks, so that nobody could usurp it. The answer of French enlightenment is: highly educated intellectual elite, that always know “who WE are”, “what WE want to achieve”, “were is ARK OF HISTORY going”, and be ready and willing to use all violence and deception necessary to force and/or cheat all members of society to move in “correct” direction.

The first one – American Enlightenment brought in single-family house with 2 cars, unlimited amounts of food, soap operas, and all other lowbrow staff that regular people want and elite despise. The second one – French entitlement brought in Jacobins, socialism, and communism with their mass killing, concentration camps, and other niceties.

 

 

20180916 – The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.45.09 PM

MAIN IDEA:

Here is how author defined the main objectives of this book:“The aim is to integrate as much as possible of the dynamics of public opinion within a cohesive theoretical system. The ideas necessary to accomplish this integration are few and surprisingly simple. The first is that citizens vary in their habitual attention to politics and hence in their exposure to political information and argumentation in the media. The second is that people are able to react critically to the arguments they encounter only to the extent that they are knowledgeable about political affairs. The third is that citizens do not typically carry around in their heads fixed attitudes on every issue on which a pollster may happen to inquire; rather, they construct “opinion statements” on the fly as they confront each new issue. The fourth is that, in constructing their opinion statements, people make greatest use of ideas that are, for one reason or another, most immediately salient to them.”

From all above the very interesting inference follows: polling can easily be used to obtain whatever answers pollsters want to obtain and therefore results should be approached cautiously with full understanding of pollsters’ objectives and integrity or lack thereof in achieving these objectives.

DETAILS:

  1. Introduction: The fragmented state of opinion research

Here author states the aims of this book and discusses methodology of building theoretical framework for opinion polling. His approach is not just statistical data collection and processing, but also attempt to understand how people convert political information and argumentation into opinions. In other words, author considers it as a study in political psychology. Author also provides plan of the book and discusses data sources.

Chapters 4 and 5 deals with the nature of political attitudes – or more precisely, how individuals convert the ideas in their heads to answers to closed-ended survey questions.

Chapter 6 turns to the substantive content of people’s attitudes, showing how elite opinion leadership, individuals’ level of attentiveness to elite cues, and differences in individual political values interact to affect opinion statements. This chapter, however, deals only with static distributions of opinion, such that can be observed in typical, one-shot opinion surveys.

Chapters 7 through 10 shift the focus to attitude change by developing a dynamic formulation of the argument used in Chapter 6. A source of possible difficulty in these chapters is that they conduct tests in many different issue domains, skipping from one topic to another (from race to presidential popularity to judgments of the performance of the national economy to support for the Korean War) in order to take full advantage of the limited amount of pertinent data. In consequence, this part of the book seems to be somewhat disjointed. However, author hopes that chapters have a compensating theoretical unity, as they test increasingly complex ideas on how the public responds to competing communications of unequal intensities or “loudness.” The fullest tests of the model appear in Chapters 9 and 10.

Chapter 9 analyzes the evolution of mass attitudes on the Vietnam War over the period 1964 to 1970, and Chapter 10 examines the formation of candidate preferences in contested elections (presidential, Senate, House, and presidential primary). Although the two types of cases seem quite different, the dynamics of attitude formation and change in each seem to be exactly the same. Following the presentation of the core arguments of the book in Chapters 2 through 10, author presents what are, in effect, two concluding chapters. The first evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the model developed in the body of the book, suggests some corrections and extensions, and illustrates the form that future theorizing might take. The second of the concluding chapters is an epilogue that stands somewhat apart from the rest of the book. It shows how elements of the system of political information in the United States are linked to the model of attitude formation sketched in the earlier part of the book.

  1. Information, predispositions, and opinion

This chapter introduces the principal theoretical concepts and model based on them. Author defines opinion as combination of information and predisposition. Author believes that the information mainly comes from elite discourse and he defines elite as unknown “others”: politicians, officials, journalists, and experts. Author refers to Lippmann’s “Public Opinion” to discuss how regular people fed with information and inferences preprocessed by elite for easy digestion so they would develop elite’s preferable opinions. After that author discussed some specific stereotypes created either over long period of cultural development such as representation of historical events or recently created such as “the homeless”. Competitive stereotypes of some phenomenon supplied by different parts of elite could define attitudes and consequently political actions for example for the level of support for poor. Correspondingly in cases of united elite, the public usually follows elite’s lead mainly without deviations as in case of war.

Author then discusses specific issue of race and how it was processed via elite discourse. He provides a series of graph demonstrating how it moved attitude for elite and population:

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.43.31 PM

Then author moves to analysis and measuring elite discourse followed by analysis of mass attention to this discourse. After reviewing elite discourse and its pushdown to the general public, author discusses predisposition that may or may not allow this pushdown. Consequently, author defines political opinion and discusses process of obtaining reports on mass opinion and problems with such reports:

  • Over time instability
  • Response effects
  • Question-wording effects
  • On spot opinion formation with no or little preceding interest in the issue.

AT the end of chapter author discusses overall background of the question-answering model.

  1. How citizens acquire information and convert it into public opinion

This is about the process of acquiring political information that people do not deal with in their everyday live and how it is converted into political opinion. Author defines a few terms for this discussion: considerations –reason that induce individual to decide on political issue, which is combination of cognition and affect; he defines two types of political messages: persuasive message– arguments or images prompting individual to take a position, and cueing messages-information about ideological implications of persuasive messages. After that author defines his model as build on Axioms:

A1. RECEPTION AXIOM. The greater a person’s level of cognitive engagement with an issue, the more likely he or she is to be exposed to and comprehend – in a word, to receive – political messages concerning that issue.

A2. RESISTANCE AXIOM. People tend to resist arguments that are inconsistent with their political predispositions, but they do so only to the extent that they possess the contextual information necessary to perceive a relationship between the message and their predispositions.

A3. ACCESSIBILITY AXIOM. The more recently a consideration has been called to mind or thought about, the less time it takes to retrieve that consideration or related considerations from memory and bring them to the top of the head for use.

A4. RESPONSE AXIOM. Individuals answer survey questions by averaging across the considerations that are immediately salient or accessible to them.

Author discusses each of his axioms in details and then explains use of the model in this book.

  1. Coming to terms with response instability

Here author discusses one of the most interesting points: different answers to the same question by the same person at different times. Author describes how it was discovered and how pollsters attempt to go around this devastating problem. He brings in his model based on 4 axioms – RECEIVE-ACCESS-SAMPLE (RAS) and makes some deductions based on it. The first is tendency towards ambivalence and author discusses supporting data and measurements. The second is the relationship between responses to open ended questions and direction of opinion statements. Then author provides somewhat mathematical analysis of response instability overall depending on waves of questioning.

  1. Making it up as you go along

This is about polling in circumstances when people really do not know what they are talking about. As example author uses result of polling about congressman that nobody really knows. Actually, it is an important point because only 12% follow local politics, 45% look at it now and then, and 22% has low interest and know pretty much nothing. After that author discusses another deleterious effect for value of polling: situation when response if at least somewhat defined by random factors such as sequence of questions.  Author makes point that it is well described by RAS model, but it is still disturbing that results of polling are not only inconsistent, but easily susceptible to manipulation, turning it from tool of opinion measurement into tool of opinion formation. Author provides detailed analysis of different methods of framing and priming, concluding at the end that majority of people are ideologically inconsistent and polling results could be manipulated to extent of 30-40% as it was demonstrated with the example of poll 3 weeks before such high-profile event as Gulf War in 1990 after about a half year of extensive coverage in the press and political statements. The final part of chapter discusses relationship between public opinion and democracy and unstable, even contradictory character of political actions in democracy.

  1. The mainstream and polarization effects

This starts with the story of Nixon’s wage and price controls and how it was supported by republicans who before where strongly pro-market. Author uses it as an example of elite communications that directs mass opinion according to party affiliation, overriding ideology. Author then analyses mainstream effect when elite developed consensus on the issue. In this case it usually able to transfer this consensus to mass opinion even if before it supported an opposite attitude as it happened with race relations. Quite different dynamic occurs when elite is divided, and consequently mass opinion breaks down and moves in polar directions. Author traces how such process is flowing from elite to more politically aware individuals to less aware until groups move far away from each other. Here are some examples of the process:

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.43.43 PM

Author also discusses attitude constrains that lead people to support a number of ideologically consistent position across issues.

  1. Basic processes of attitude change

Here author presents mathematical model of attitude change as two-step process: reception of persuasive communication and then acceptance or rejection of its content. The first step is highly dependent on awareness, with more aware processing communication easier, but acceptance for them is much more complicated and more difficult because for highly aware individuals it may or may not be consistent with their ideological values.

  1. Tests of the one-message model

The chapter has three parts. The first analyzes two message-level determinants of attitude change: the intensity of the change – inducing messages, and whether the messages deal with a familiar or unfamiliar issue. These factors create predictably different patterns of opinion change. The second part examines the dynamics of movement from resistance to persuasion at the level of the RAS model’s primitive term, considerations. Finally, the chapter uses the model to shed light on the classic problem of opinion research: generational differences in receptivity to new ideas.

  1. Two-sided information flows

This chapter expands the model from one source of information – dominant flow from elite, to two sources by adding secondary flow of contradictory information. Author uses history of Vietnam war to analyze how initially unified support was divided when part of elite moved to withdraw its support and then moved to resist the war, turning it from mainstream to polarizing issue. Here is graphic representation of this process:

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 1.44.09 PM

10. Information flow and electoral choice

This is application of author’s ideas to the situation of election when public divided into two camps by definition. Author looks at inertial resistance and incumbent advantage, which plays big role in House elections. The information flow in this case is pretty much limited to politically aware and therefore mainly serves as confirmation of already existing positions. Defections occur, but not that often. Here is graphic analysis of the process:

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 2.42.39 PM

After that author asks anotehr question: “Who leads whom?” (leaders or masses). His response is that it depends, but mainly elite shapes mass opinion via communications. Author provides examples from American history demonstrating how elite moved masses without initial popular support: Brown vs. Board of Education, Nuclear freeze movement, Economic boom of 1982 when change in mood preceeded real economic data, Persian Gulf war of Bush I.

At the end of chapter author reviews critic of basic axioms of RAS model.

  1. Epilogue: The question of elite domination of public opinion

The main point here is that “the voice of people is but an echo” of elite opinion and it sounds in unison when elite opinion is unified and is divided when elite is divided. Author reviews here methods of elite dominance implemented via the political communications system of the United States: Press, Experts, and Mass Media. In conclusion author expresses his believe that people do not have lots of wisdom, but neither do experts and elite, so it is probably works more or less fine since elite is usually divided and the key for maintaining effective democratic system is guaranteeing the existence of vigorous competition among opposing ideas.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a wonderful book from the point of view of technical analysis of polling processes and their deficiencies of which are many. The most important and detailed here is the dominance of elite opinion over people’s believes and political actions. However, in years since this book was written we had communication revolution with dramatic increase of peer to peer and one to multitude Internet communications that are cheap to the nearly 0 level and have only one practical limitation – to get noticed. I think that in the view of this new development, polling is pretty much become an outdated process of collecting information and, I believe, it will be pushed out pretty soon by AI applications supporting in depth many-to-many interactions with individual opinions in search of latent massive support fro some ideas, moving them up from the sea of opinions to forefront and, after some period of continuing polishing, graduating them into viable and actionable tools for legislative and cultural change.

 

 

 

20180909 – The Happiness Curve

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 7.54.55 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present a human life as U curve of happiness / unhappiness with bottom achieved in the middle age. The book is based on psychological research and author’s own experience, which he extensively uses to support various topics related to this idea, as well as multiple examples from other people’s lives.

DETAILS:

  1. The Voyage of Life

It starts with discussion of series of pictures from XIX century by Thomas Cole representing journey through live as sailing along the river and then it intertwines with the stories of a few middle age individuals who express phycological difficulties of middle age that seems to have no reason and author’s own experience of the same. Then he discusses the situation that occurs later with age, when this changed and to his somewhat dismay it changed to the better despite usual bodily deterioration.

  1. What Makes Us Happy (and Doesn’t)

Here author moves to discussion of what actually makes people happy and uses work and life story of his colleague Carol Graham. She did research in Peru and discovered that even very poor people are quite happy, even if people whose income changed to the better were less happy. The same phenomenon of disconnect between objective economic situation and perception she found in Russia and China. Then he moves to Easterlin and his research that found impact of material condition on happiness is quite limited. Author presents long going discussion of these paradoxes and then discusses nature of happiness and its variations such as evaluative happiness= subjective wellbeing and affective happiness= momentary emotional condition. Author summarizes it as 6 factors:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 7.55.44 AM

  1. A Timely Discovery

Here author moves to the story of discovery of happiness curve, the phenomenon common not only for humans, but also for apes. First it was kind of discovery of middle age crisis in 1965 by Elliott Jaques for which there is still no hard-scientific evidence. However self-reporting provides data that about a half of people are going through some distress during this period of their lives. Then author moves to British economist Andrew Oswald and his research on subjective economics – evaluation of one’s situation based on others’ situation. This research was based on big data, covering some 37 countries and thousands of people. This led to discovery of age dependent U-curve of happiness. Author also discusses some challenges to this theory, referring to dependency of happiness on personality and combination of big 5: neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. All of these are heavily dependent on genetic make up of a person, which links it to another research, this time on Chimps, conducted by Alex Weiss, Mark Enns, and James King, which provided support that age dependent psychological condition could be clearly demonstrated in animals.

  1. The Shape of the River

This starts with discussion of author’s polling of hundreds of middle age people. Generally, they reported unease and hope for change. Here is a nice illustration:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.19.32 AM

After that author discusses less obvious results that indicate that age dependency is not that clear, but claims that after controlling for health income and such, the satisfaction curve still stands. The next topic is the scale of age impact. Authr refer to research by Oswald and Cheng demonstrating that moving from 20 to 45  compares to negative impact of unemployment or divorce. Author even presents a simple formula:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.19.38 AM

The final part of chapter is about international research demonstrating qualitative simolarity for all with various levels of happiness depending on the country.Here is part of this comparison:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.07.17 AM

  1. The Expectations Trap

Here author moves to search for reasons for the curve. It basically comes to the variance between expectations and reality. It is nicely illustrated by this graph:

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 8.07.44 AM

It is not only change in ratio between expectation and reality, but also impact of regrets: youth has little regrets – everything is in the future. With age time is more and more limited, so by the middle level of regrets is high and variance between expectations and results is high. With expectations are getting lower; disappointments also are getting lower, while regrets are not that acute any more. Author also discusses how expectations change and refer to works of Tali Sharot on optimism. Finally, author discusses the work of Jonathan Haidt on meaning of happiness and his analogy of the elephant and rider.

  1. The Paradox of Aging

Here author moves from middle age to older age, and tries to answer to question why older people are happier:

  • Stress declines after about 50
  • Emotional regulation improves
  • Old people feel less regret

However older people are not depression-prone, especially at the very old age.

On the bright side per Tarot: “Optimistic bias increases in older age”. Overall conclusion is that pick of emotional life comes around seventh decade. Even when health starts giving up, older people manage to stay happy despite deterioration. At the end of chapter author relates research of Laura Garstensen on emotional and social live of old people. The inference here is that old people careful with their emotional investments and highly value remaining time of live, resulting in higher satisfaction of its use.

  1. Crossing Toward Wisdom

The chapter starts with the story of Andrew Sullivan who walked away from his successful blog and author uses it as an example of middle live transition. After that he discusses much more difficult transition with depression and mental problems. It leads to presentation of Dilip Jeste and Positive Psychiatry as extension of Positive Psychology. After that he moves to the notion of “wisdom”, which somehow is considered a taboo. He brings in work of Monika Ardelt who demonstrated quantifiability of wisdom. It was done along 3 domains:  Quantitative, Affective, and Reflectiveand author goes into details of what it is and what it is good for.

  1. Helping Ourselves

This chapter present discussion with Joshua Coleman, who is practicing psychologist, about ways to handle most difficult points on happiness curve and here are key points:

  • Normalize
  • Interrupt the Internal Critics
  • Stay Present (Mindful Presence)
  • Share
  • Step, Don’t Leap
  • Wait (It gets better)
  1. Helping Each Other

This as mainly about Self-Help being not sufficient in some cases so one may need help from others. Author stresses need for psychological support from close people but warns against medicalization and substitution such as buying sports car in early 50s. After that author moves to overall life cycle starting with childhood and adolescence (recent invention of wealth society, which actually was created in 1904). Then he jumps to older ages and discusses ENCORE.ORG – organization supporting the second and following chances in life. Author also discusses various forms it could take.

  1. Epilogue: Gratitude

The final word here is about Gratitude for life and for opportunities for happiness it brings. He ends with the point that U curve of life, when one achieves the top on the right side in happy old age, makes Gratitude easier to come and therefore worth to struggle through life to get there.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is a nice book to read for somebody like me who is rapidly moving up on the right side of the U curve. Actually, I do no remember being at the bottom, but it was probably because my middle age happened to be at the time when I was too busy getting out of the old USSR and building a new life in USA. Somehow this kind of staff consumes too much time and effort, leaving very little for self-digging and psychological complexities. On other hand, being very simple-minded person is, probably, also quite helpful in avoiding psychological complexities of contemporary upper middle class life. Anyway, it is a nice review of life cycle that could be helpful for somebody going through difficult time or somebody just interested in human psychology. It has quite a few interesting references and also provides some information that in my opinion support the idea that humans have evolutionary selected features influencing individual’s psychology and correspondingly action that are instrumental in fine-tuning individual behavior to promote group survival. It seems to be no accident that periods of happiness corresponds to periods when individuals have the highest value for the group: young age with its energy and readiness to make sacrifices for the group, act quickly, decisively, and with little thought applied – eventually making the future of the group; and old age, when accumulated over decades wisdom makes individual into valuable asset for decision making and directing all this youthful energy to some meaningful cause. From this point of view, the middle age with lower energy and not enough accumulated wisdom had to be a lower point when individual’s value to the group is at the bottom.

20180902 – A Short History of Truth

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 8.07.32 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to analyze and summarize the meaning of truth, its different presentations in various areas and its interaction with non-truths, half-truths, and such. Also the important point is that truth is complicated and could not be easily presented without understanding of background and believes of both sender and receiver of message, because depending on this the same message could be identified at completely different levels, sometimes contradictory.

DETAILS:

Introduction

This starts with author’s recollection of free magazine from 1980 called “Plain Truth” and contemplation on intertwining of “plain”, “truth”, and linguistical meaning of this. Then he moves to philosophical meaning of truth. This kind of distorted everything, so author finds that problem is not “with what truth means, but by how and by whom truth is established”. Overall author concludes that despite all “post-truth” ideas and discussions, truth does exist, only one should be careful to consider complexity of issue, because this complexity provides for all different kinds of truth and author in this book is trying to define how evaluate truth-claims for different type of truth.

  1. ETERNAL TRUTHS

This starts with the “Truth” of Mormons and proceed to discuss situation when majority of minority believes in some revealed text, but majority of majority believes that most revealed texts are not revealed. From here author discusses various “eternal truths” of religions and deviations from literal understanding as a method of reconciling them with reality and science. From here follows method of peaceful coexistence – various truths either religious or scientific exist in parallel moral and intellectual universes and therefore do not intersect and could not conflict.

  1. AUTHORITATIVE TRUTHS

This starts with Indian sect of Sai Baba and goes to discuss how validations of epistemological authority are expertise or divine. Obviously, the underlying foundation is the notion that truth exists. After that it is only question of who can confirm authority, but it could not rely on one’s experience only because it is necessary very limited. It had to rely on communications about this from others.

  1. ESOTERIC TRUTHS

This starts with discussion of 9/11 truthers and claim that it is not possible to know if their idea completely false or have some truth to them and it was intentionally hidden. It leads to an interesting point: “One of the perennial challenges of being a critical thinker is to be appropriately skeptical without being indiscriminately cynical”.

4 REASONED TRUTHS

This starts with experimental truths as in Jefferson’s “American Experiment” of governing by reason and truth. However, that experiment is complicated and contains lots of contradictory facts. Author brings in Western tradition of constructing “truth” via reason. He discusses in some details Spinoza and his search for truth via formalized reasoning, which now pretty much out of fashion. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful tool if combined with experience.

5 EMPIRICAL TRUTHS

This starts with reference to Francis Bacon – original promoter of empirical method in formal philosophy. Eventually it became what is normally called science. Author provides an interesting example of controversy whether regular Cold is caused by cold or by virus. Eventually it was proved that virus is suppressed by immune system when it is warm, but much less so when it is cold. It demonstrates complexity of reality and a simple fact that real science never provides the final answer, only some approximation to reality, often good enough for practical improvements. It is interesting that this understanding logically forces author to admit that “climate deniers” could be right, which is not an easy thing for Western academic.

  1. CREATIVE TRUTHS

This chapter starts with Bush’s “Mission accomplished” truth or non-truth. Author uses this to discuss complexity of declaration when truth of simple facts is mixed with hopes and believes. From here author moves to a notion of “illocutionary truth” when “by saying something we do something”. However, it is a complex and not always consistent process so sometimes truth can be created by words, but sometimes it is not, however creative are these words.

  1. RELATIVE TRUTHS

It starts with difficulty of proving or rejecting popular meme that Intuits have 50 words for snow. It actually depends on interpretation of words and there is even approach of Relativism, which states that the meaning comes only from interpretation, not facts, so truth is always relative. Author somewhat defends this approach based on idea of conventional meaning of language and words. He also discusses contextual meaning that complicates things even more. Eventually it comes to existence of “real truths about relative truths”.  The final point here is important in and of itself: “there are no alternative facts, just additional facts” that may or may not change perception of truth.

8 POWERFUL TRUTHS

Autor starts with diets: widely propagated for many years untruth that saturated Fat is cause of diseases. Author claims that it was intentional by powerful interests that wanted to protect sugar. The point here is that truth of health impact of different foods is not defined by scientific facts, but rather by relative power of industries producing different foods. This is an important demonstration of how power to define truth could be converted into financial and other benefits.

9 MORAL TRUTHS

It starts with obvious statement that such truths are culture dependent and author condemns “arrogant oppressors”, but right after that says something about rape and other niceties of non-western cultures are not necessary acceptable and position “Who are we to judge?” is often not really tenable. This follows by funny discussion of passions being a master and reason the slave, so it is not really possible to be tolerant to something that is completely unacceptable for a person morally. The author discusses choice vs. nature moral problems such as “homosexuality could not be morally wrong because it is genetic makeup of the person, not a choice”. Author also discusses in some details Hume’s idea that morality is rooted in “moral sympathy” and how it is impacted by facts.

  1. HOLISTIC TRUTHS

It starts with discussion of true believers in such things as Bible’s defined creation of universe and note that these believes are logically consistent and so are many other believes. Consequently, one cannot change mind by providing any factual or logical truth if there is not agreement on what to consider as such truths. Author discusses how believes form webs and often filter incoming information to fit these webs. The only way to get to the truth is to keep own believes in check and use diverse sources of information, while keeping filters in check.

Conclusion Future truths

In conclusion author summarizes his typology of truths as such:

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 7.53.47 AM

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that idea of truth is quite complex and analysis of different types of truth, while useful, could not provide what people need most – tool to differentiate truth from non-truth. There is also very important part of it that is usually missing, which is absence of “I do not know” position. Another thing often missing is gradation and relevance of truth. I believe that the only relatively reliable method to define truthful understanding of the subject is analysis of confirmation or rejection of prediction about future. Without this any truth is tentative, especially if it is based on believes that are not subject to empirical falsification. Eventually all really important believes are logically consistent and therefore could not be changed by direct contest. They only could be changed by demonstrating real live consequences of acting or not acting in accordance with such believes, then allowing people to decide which type of consequences they prefer and then decide for themselves whether believes adjustment is required or not. This practically means that acquisition of truth should be done carefully with lots of small-scale experimentation before rolling it out, and preferably without u-e of violence. As example I would offer to review socialism of Robert Owen vs. socialism of Lenin / Stalin / Mao. The former was voluntary and on small scale, but clearly demonstrated socialism’s flows and failures at the cost of a few disappointments and slightly shattered lives. The latter demonstrated the same flows and failures times billion, but at the cost of hundred of millions lives lost and billions destroyed. If humans in XIX – XXI century had a bit better philosophical understanding of truth, the Owen’s experiment would be enough and all this billions of lives would be saved.

 

20180826 – Skin in the Game

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 6.35.03 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the skin in the game is necessary for effective functioning of any system containing humans and functioning via actions of these humans. The main cause of many societal problems is that people, whose action cause these problems, have no skin in the game so they act in their narrow interest causing system overall to fail.

DETAILS:

Book 1: Introduction

Prologue, Part 1: Antaeus Whacked

The main point of this part is that the knowledge and skills obtained in the real live by doing something is far superior to abstract formal knowledge obtained in class room, and author compares it to the Antaeus’ link to earth. After that author moves to discussing USA interventions in Middle East and defines deficiencies of people who designed it:

1) They think in statics not dynamics,

2) They think in low, not high, dimensions,

3) They think in terms of actions, never interactions.

Author especially points out that these people unlike warmongers of the past do risk their own lives and livelihood in these interventions and therefore have no skin in the game, which makes them reckless and dangerous. Similarly, in financial area author points out to Bob Rubin type of trades when government supported people’s financial operations, helping them to win every time because any lose was covered by taxpayers. The final point here is that skin in the game is the necessary condition for successful learning and without it error could be much costlier and even catastrophic.

Prologue, Part 2: A Brief Tour of Symmetry

Here author looks at his “skin in the game” from the point of view of symmetry. He starts with Hammurabi code that established symmetry between actions and counteractions even for extremely rare “tail” events. Author provides a nice table this:

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 6.37.34 AM

He also compares golden and silver rules, prefer latter over former:

The Golden Rule wants you to treat others the way you would like them to treat you. The more robust Silver Rule says do not treat others the way you would not like them to treat you.

After that author refer to Kant and his Universalism as unworkable in practice even if it looks great on the paper. As usual he brings Fat Tony (supreme common-sense personality) to expresses his philosophical approach in the series of aphorisms.

This follows by discussion on modernism that created a huge educational apparatus with its extension to consulting of all kinds about things that consultants never actually did, but rather learned in school. What makes it dangerous is absence of skin in the game. Author also discusses regulation vs. legal system noting that former has risk of regulator’s malfeasance because cost is always goes to somebody else. The next part is about soul in the game, which is honor that used to be important, sometimes even more than life. Author then discusses people who are by nature have skin in the game and it is more important for them and material returns: Artisans and Entrepreneurs. Finally, author talks about his American Citizenship that he consciously chosen, even if it means that he has to pay more taxes on his international income.

Prologue, Part 3: The Ribs of the Incerto

This part of prologue discusses author’s work over many years and a number of books all that he calls Incerto (kind of uncertainty).

Appendix: Asymmetries in Life and Things:

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 6.37.43 AM

Book 2: A First Look at Agency

This is a deeper exposition of symmetry and agency in risk sharing, bridging commercial conflict of interest with general ethics. It also introduces us briefly to the notion of scaling and the difference between individual and collective, hence the limitations of globalism and universalism.

Chapter 1: Equality in Uncertainty

It is reference to ancient adage and basically about advises given by people who themselves do not risk anything, but also about inequality of information access between sellers and buyers. Yet another point here is scaling when moving up or down the scale qualitative changes the game. Author makes important point here that “general kills particular”. Here is a nice example from political scaling:

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 6.38.01 AM

Book 3: That Greatest Asymmetry

This is about the minority rule by which a small segment of the population inflicts its preferences on the general population. The (short) appendix for Book 3 shows:

1) How a collection of units doesn’t behave like a sum of units, but something with a mind of its own, and

2) The consequences of much of something called social “science.”

Chapter 2: The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dominance of the Stubborn Minority

It starts with reference to kosher food that majority does not care about, but minority pushed through special designation on packaging. Author provides multiple other examples when minority gets accommodation because majority does not care. Author calls such minority intransient group and majority – flexible group. Author discusses renormalization and provides graphic representation of the process:

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 6.38.09 AM

Thenauthor discusses Popper-Goedel paradox of tolerance for intolerance. At the end author provides summary:

Society doesn’t evolve by consensus, voting, majority, committees, verbose meetings, academic conferences, tea and cucumber sandwiches, or polling; only a few people suffice to disproportionately move the needle. All one needs is an asymmetric rule somewhere— and someone with soul in the game. And asymmetry is present in about everything.

Appendix to Book 3: A Few More Counterintuitive Things About the Collective:

  • The average behavior of the market participant will not allow us to understand the general behavior of the market.
  • The psychological experiments on individuals showing “biases” do not allow us to automatically understand aggregates or collective behavior, nor do they enlighten us about the behavior of groups.
  • Understanding how the subparts of the brain (say, neurons) work will never allow us to understand how the brain works.
  • Understanding the genetic makeup of a unit will never allow us to understand the behavior of the unit itself.
  • Under the right market structure, a collection of idiots produces a well-functioning market.
  • It may be that some idiosyncratic behavior on the part of the individual (deemed at first glance “irrational”) may be necessary for efficient functioning at the collective level.
  • Individuals don’t need to know where they are going; markets do

Book 4: Wolves Among Dogs

This deals with dependence and, let’s call a spade a spade, slavery in modern life: for example employees exist because they have much more to lose than contractors. It also shows how, even if you are independent and have f*** you money, you are vulnerable if evil corporations and groups can target people you care about.

Chapter 3: How to Legally Own Another Person

It starts with reference to church and monks and their relationship with monks being financially free for the lack of financial assets were controlled by the rules. Then author goes to contemporary world when employees are kind of owned by employers and discusses trade-offs between employment and contracting and other peculiarities of contemporary work places.

Chapter 4: The Skin of Others in Your Game

This is about personal responsibility or lack thereof for organization men. This mainly comes in the form of conflict between action of organization and individual’s acceptance/rejection of these action and cost of either option. Then author moves from individual to individual’s important persons and discusses their costs that could be caused by individual’s action. As example he uses suicide bombers who seemingly have nothing to lose, but still have family and/or something that is dear for them.

Book 5: Being Alive Means Taking Certain Risks

Chapter 5: Life in the Simulation Machine

This is about how risk taking makes you look superficially less attractive, but vastly more convincing. It clarifies the difference between life as real life and life as imagined in an experience machine, how Jesus had to be man, not quite god, and how Donaldo won the election thanks to his imperfections.

Chapter 6: The Intellectual Yet Idiot

This chapter “The Intellectual Yet Idiot,” presents the IYI who doesn’t know that having skin in the game makes you understand the world (which includes bicycle riding) better than lectures.

Chapter 7: Inequality and Skin In the Game

This chapter explains the difference between inequality in risk and inequality in salary: you can be richer, but then you should be a real person and take some risk. It also presents a dynamic view of inequality, as opposed to the IYI static one. The most egregious contributor to inequality is the condition of a high-ranking civil servant or tenured academic, not that of an entrepreneur.

Chapter 8: An Expert Called Lindy

This explains the Lindy effect, that expert of experts who can tell us why plumbers are experts, but not clinical psychologists, why The New Yorker commentators on experts are not themselves experts. The Lindy effect separates things that gain from time from those that are destroyed by it.

Book 6: Deeper into Agency

This book looks for consequential hidden asymmetries.

Chapter 9: Surgeons Should Not Look Like surgeons

This shows that, viewed from the standpoint of practice, the world is simpler and solid experts don’t look like actors playing the part. The chapter presents BS detection heuristics.

Chapter 10: Only the Rich Are Poisoned: The Preferences of Others

This shows how rich people are suckers who fall prey to people complicating their lifestyle to sell them something.

Chapter 11: Facta Non Verba (Deeds Before Words)

This explains the difference between threats and real threats and shows how you can own an enemy by not killing him.

Chapter 12: The Facts Are True. The News Is Fake

This presents the agency problem of journalists: they will sacrifice truth and build a wrong narrative because of the necessity to please other journalists

Chapter 13: The Merchandising of Virtue

This explains why virtue requires risk taking, not the reputational risk reduction of playing white knight on the Internet or writing a check to some nongovernmental organization (NGO) that might help destroy the world.

Chapter 14: Peace. Neither Ink nor Blood

This explains the agency problem of people in geopolitics, and historians who tend to report on wars rather than peace, leaving us with a deformed view of the past. History is also plagued with probabilistic confusions. If we got rid of “peace” experts, the world would be safer, and many problems would be solved organically.

Book 7: Religion, Belief, and Skin in the (same

This book explains creeds in terms of skin in the game and revealed preferences: how atheists are functionally indistinguishable from Christians, though not Salafi Muslims. Avoid the verbalistics like “religions” are not quite religions: some are philosophies, while others are just legal systems.

Chapter 15: They Don’t Know What They Are Talking About When They Talk About Religion

This starts with author’s motto: “mathematicians think in (well, precisely defined and mapped) objects and relations, jurists and legal thinkers in constructs, logicians in maximally abstract operators, and… fools in words.”

It is an interesting observation that could help understand different approaches to reality and role that worlds play in politics and culture. Author proceeds to discuss the difference in meaning of “religion” for people with different cultural background.

Chapter 16: No Worship Without Skin in the Game

This is about another interesting approach to religion as the method of creating skin in the game, by using high-level demands on resources and dedication that person needs to demonstrate that he is true believer.

Chapter 17: Is the Pope Atheist?

This is very reasonable approach to the posed question: if the Pope really believer, why would he need medical services, security protection and other similarly secular things if everything is under control of the god anyway. In short, the real attitude is demonstrated by deeds, not words.

Book 8: Risk and Rationality

Book 8, “Risk and Rationality,” has the two central chapters, which author elected to leave for the end. There is no rigorous definition of rationality that is not related to skin in the game; it is all about actions, not verbs, thoughts, and tawk.

Chapter 18: How to Be Rational About Rationality

This chapter deals with human perception and its distortions. Author makes an interesting point that these distortions are necessary for survival. It seems to be obvious by definition, but his point is that distortions that exaggerate risks and consequently help to avoid loss much more useful than correct perception that would lead to loss, especially in cases of tail risks. He links it to the idea of bounded rationality that helps to heuristically process overwhelming amount of information at the levels good enough for survival. Here are 3 maxims that kind of formulate this idea:

  • Judging people by their beliefs is not scientific.
  • There is no such thing as the “rationality” of a belief, there is rationality of action.
  • The rationality of an action can be judged only in terms of evolutionary considerations.

Chapter 19: The Logic of Risk Taking

This chapter summarizes all author tenets about risk and exposes the errors concerning small-probability events. It also classifies risks in layers (from the individual to the collective) and manages to prove that courage and prudence are not in contradiction provided one is acting for the benefit of the collective. It explains ergodicity, which was left hanging. Finally, the chapter outlines what is called the precautionary principle. Here is author’s view of this:

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 6.38.33 AM

At the end author provides his summary:

  • One may be risk loving yet completely averse to ruin.
  • The central asymmetry of life is: In a strategy that entails ruin, benefits never offset risks of ruin.
  • Further: Ruin and other changes in condition are different animals. Every single risk you take, adds up to reduce your life expectancy.
  • Finally: Rationality is avoidance of systemic ruin.

Epilogue

The final wisdom:

When the beard (or hair) is black, heed the reasoning, but ignore the conclusion. When the beard is gray, consider both reasoning and conclusion.

When the beard is white, skip the reasoning, but mind the conclusion.

 So author finishes this book with a (long) maxim, via negativa style: No muscles without strength, friendship without trust, opinion without consequence, change without aesthetics, age without values, life without effort, water without thirst, food without nourishment, love without sacrifice, power without fairness, facts without rigor, statistics without logic, mathematics without proof, teaching without experience, politeness without warmth, values without embodiment, degrees without erudition, militarism without fortitude, progress without civilization, friendship without investment, virtue without risk, probability without ergodicity, wealth without exposure, complication without depth, fluency without content, decision without asymmetry, science without skepticism, religion without tolerance, and, most of all: nothing without skin in the game.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is interesting to read something so close to my own thinking, expressed about 37 years ago, that caused some problems for me with KGB and eventually resulted in learning English, getting out from USSR, and drastically improving my live. It is obviously written by much more educated and erudite man, but the core is the same – without “skin in the game” or what I called real responsibility and proper feedback loop, no human system such as society could function efficiently. It does not mean that it would not be able function somewhat effectively, but with huge waste in resources and, most importantly, human lives. Even so this inefficiency would necessarily cause such society to lose competition with any other, even slightly more efficient society, at least over sufficient period of time. Correspondingly “skin in the game” or “proper feedback loop” could be represented as well functioning democracy with complete freedom of speech, association, movement, actions, and availability of enough resources to make all these freedoms real for practically all members of society. Contemporary Western world, especially USA is pretty good on declarative part and opportunities to obtain resources for individuals with average and higher abilities. However, since about half of population has abilities lower than average, it still has a lot to achieve so all declared freedoms become available for everybody.

20180819 – Happier

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 8.40.41 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review the field of positive psychology as it developed after WWII, somewhat as reaction to its horrors. Started by to significant extent by Holocaust survivors who were trying to make some sense out of senseless tragedy, it developed into massive industry supporting typical American creed of Pursuit of Happiness with psychological, medical, and statistical research and expressed in nearly infinite number of self-help books. As everything American it expands all over the globe and impacts human behavior and decision making from individual level to all the way up to ruling governmental entities.

DETAILS:

Introduction

It starts with the anecdote about business owner who reduced his salary to $70,000 based on the psychological research claiming that more money does not make people happier. Author uses this to discuss role of psychology, especially positive psychology and happiness studies. He provides a brief overview of happiness discussion in history going all the way back to Aristotle and then moving all the way to contemporary time with its “positive thinking”, “Gross National Happiness”, and such. However, he points out that in our time massive research of happiness coincides with mass unhappiness caused by the great recession, stagnant wages, and political deadlock in USA and other developed countries. Then he brings in Positive psychology that provides highly contested and complex view on human happiness and its relation to material consumption and social environment. Author stresses that Positive Psychology became a powerful movement, which aims not only to help people with problems, but provide tools to regular people without any psychological problems to improve quality of their live through better understanding of what could make them happier.

  1. From Helplessness to Optimism: Martin Seligman and the Development of Positive Psychology

This chapter starts with reference to Seligman’s address in 1998 to American Psychological Association (155,000 members) when he called to use positive approach to strive for achieving human flourishing and preventing conflicts. One of the most important goals was to handle new situation when increased material affluence led to higher levels of depression and unhappiness. The emphasis should move away from mental illness to wellbeing of all individuals.

After discussing speech and overall new direction of psychology, author moves to review bio of Seligman and some other personalities who created foundational work for positive psychology and happiness studies. Paradoxically quite a few of them were Jewish and, one way or another, related to Holocaust either as survivors such as Victor Frankl or their children and other relatives. Interesting here also is somewhat negative attitude to self-esteem and other “humanistic” psychology movements, which often promoted “unwarranted self-esteem” undermining readiness to apply hard work necessary for achievement. Author, however, stresses connections between earlier humanistic psychology and positive psychology and continuation of its effort to understand people in order to improve their wellbeing.

  1. Misery and Pleasure in the Origins of Happiness Studies, 1945-1970

This is going to the beginning of positive psychology that occurred in years right after WWII and Holocaust. The interesting point here is that people think about happiness more when they are not happy, especially when their relatives and friends get killed and they find themselves in concentration camps as Victor Frankl. However initial background of positive psychology was in psychological treatment of WWII veterans and victims. Author also discusses here Norman Peale and his Power of Positive Thinking. This movement started in 1952 and was based on the idea that whatever real problems exist in the world; the individual thinking could manage perception and direct action in more productive way than just lamenting uncontrollable events. The next step in this direction was Victor Frankl’s “Search for Meaning”. Here idea was that positive thinking and ability to preserve some internal intellectual freedom and dignity increased chances of survival in concentration camps and eventually allowed person to grow. Frankl also practiced as a therapist, moving away from Freud and concentration on the past to concentration on life’s meaning and future. The next figure author discusses – John Bowlby was member of British elite who suffered corresponding adversities: being sent to boarding school, separation from wife, and other unhappy events, which influenced his work on separation and social isolation. He developed attachment theory especially for small children, which pointed out need for social interaction. The next is Aaron Beck and his work on depression and recovery through cognitive behavioral therapy. This method was based on attempts to help patient to overcome “misconstruction of reality” and develop realistic goals for improvement and handling of life events. Next part of this review is Abraham Maslow and his pyramid of motivation, especially his idea of self-actualization. One of more important points is Maslow’s insistence on analysis of psychology of healthy people in search of understanding what makes them healthy. He also expanded it to societal impact suggesting that self-actualized people are not interested in hate and violence making society better for everybody. The next figure – James Olds had more technical approach – he was searching for pleasure centers in the brain. He found it in rats and proved that direct electric stimulation of the brain could cause all-consuming pleasure. Another researcher Frank Berger moved to chemical stimulation developing drug Miltown to prevent depression and increase happiness.

The next part of review for this period includes discussion of happiness studies that were conducted in USA and other countries. The final part refers to Alan Watts and related move to Asian religions in search of ancient wisdom that would provide road to happiness.

Author concludes that for the period before 1970 the main thrust was to overcome misery of tragedies of war and find way to achieve mental stability and comfort either via positive thinking, meaning of life, and/or anything else available: electrical / chemical stimulation, Asian religions, or whatever else would work. The most important here is that it signified shift from overcoming misery to obtaining happiness.

  1. Crisis of Confidence? 1970-1983: Providing the Groundwork for the Study of Positive Happiness

This period included growth in happiness research with contemporary decrease in happiness and optimism in the Western world due to economy, Vietnam, and other negative events. It also included new approaches based on rejection of purely materialistic approach, such as “Hedonic Treadmill”. It featured Brickman and Campbell with their Adaptation theory, which denigrating value of achievement because it would never deliver on expected levels of happiness and therefore had no real benefit. Moreover, it was linked to idea of diminishing resources that pointed to counterproductive nature of material improvements. Author then discusses Paul Ekman’s research on evolution of emotions and facial expressions. This demonstrated power of positive emotion transmitted via expressions. The next point is Robert Trivers and his “Reciprocal Altruism” as source of happiness. Moving on it is Edward O. Wilson and his “Sociobiology”, demonstrating Evolutionary processes behind human behavior and conditions. Alisa Iven and Paula Levin then continued it in study “Effect of Feeling good on Helping”. Philip Kunz researched issue of communications for helping in his experiment with Christmas cards. Another classical research was by Richard Easterlin who demonstrated that difference in levels of happiness between rich and poor are small and concluded that money has little impact on happiness. Yet another approach to happiness was demonstrated by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who researched condition of deep emersion into productive task and found what he defined as flow – condition of happiness from the process of achievement. Another study by Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff demonstrated stability of individual levels of happiness by looking at condition of lucky winner of lottery and unlucky individuals who suddenly become paraplegics. In both cases in a few months after big change people return to pre-existing levels of happiness, albeit it was not completely so for incident victims.

The next area of research in these years was about decision making under risk. It was done my Kahneman and Tversky who demonstrated that these decisions were far from purely rational as it was assumed by economic profession. Together with Thaler’s research on consumer choice it practically started behavior economics.

Author also discusses growing number of surveys conducted in these years and their methodology. These surveys generally found decreasing link between material and psychological wellbeing.

Yet another direction was search for better leaving via relaxation and use of Asian religious thought to handle life’s events. Author describes work of promoter of this approach – Herbert Benson.

Somewhat different, but in the same line was an attempt by Timothy Leary to use chemicals such as LSD in search of happiness, which was kind of continuation of popularity of Miltown in 1950s and Valium in 1960s. All this led to extensive research on operation of these drugs and their influence on brain and author provides a sketch of results of this research.

Finally, author discusses popularization of psychological research and increasing search for happiness and dissatisfaction with existing situation that grew in American society. In conclusion of the chapter author refer to other works in psychology not directed at happiness and wellbeing such as Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences, Goleman on Consciousness and Awareness, and some other. Interesting also is reference to Nozick’s “Experience Machine” in which he suggested that humans need more than experiences, they also need real, tangible results for their activities.

  1. Morning in America, 1984-1998: Assembling Key Elements in the Study of Happiness and Positivity

This part describes period of change from Reagan through Clinton and renewed optimism in America. Author considers this period as turning point in history of happiness studies because of its acceptation by Library of Congress as a separate subfield of psychology.  It was also period when thousands of studies were published in this area and field expanded a lot. One of important new areas of research was about the problem of endogeneity – difficulties of separating causation and correlation. Author stresses importance of article by Ed Diener: “Subjective well-being” and discusses it in detail. Especially important was search for link between happiness, age, work environment, family, and social relations.

The second part of the chapter is about brain research that received a big push in late 1980s. It involved experiments with Alzheimer patients, but also famous research with Buddhist monks and meditation. He also discusses careers of Ryff and Peter Kramer who promoted a better life through chemistry of Prozac that he used extensively in his clinical practice.

The next researcher author discusses is Kabat-Zinn who founded the Stress reduction and relaxation program based on meditation, which spawned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs that promoted idea of close link and unity of mind-body with stress on inner life and somewhat neglect of external circumstances. Author also discusses a few longitudinal studies tracing the same people over long periods of time and Cutler’s work on it with help of Dalai Lama, resulting in bestseller “The Art of Happiness”.

The following part of the chapter returns to behavior economics and discusses it in conjunction with Hedonistic Psychology. One interesting part of this discussion came from Kahneman’s research demonstrating difference between current and later perception of well-being and that duration of condition did not matter that much – discomfort for period of time with improvement at the end was perceived as better event than period of comfort followed at the end by deterioration.

After that author moves to Festinger and comparative evaluation of one’s status in all relevant areas to define own happiness. Yet another approach came from David Lykken and Auke Tellegen was about genetics. Their research on twins claimed to demonstrate that about 50% of happiness level came from genetics.

There is also interesting discussion on international comparison, which demonstrated variance in understanding of happiness between collectivistic and individualistic societies. Overall research demonstrated dependency of happiness levels in different countries on their culture.

  1. Drawing (and Crossing) the Line: Academic and Popular Renditions of Subjective Well Being, 1984-1998

This period of “morning in America” preceded final formation of positive psychology and included move to popularization of this research by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi and author reviews their books in details. There were also multiple books on happiness with strong push into self-help format.

  1. Building a Positively Happy World View

This is about events and discussions after Seligman’s presidential address in 1998 that established Positive Psychology as clearly defined field of research. It starts with description of reaction in mass media – articles in Time and such. It also refers to Jeffrey Kluger’s essay about American pursuit of Happiness and Happiness of Pursuit mainly about relation between consumption and happiness. Then author moves to discuss development of professional infrastructure for positive psychology: university programs, training classes, textbooks, and such. Author allocates lots of attention to Martin Seligman’s work during this period. He also discusses “How to” literature, such as work of Sonja Lyubomirsky who provided kind of formula for happiness (50/40/10 – genetics / intentional activity / circumstances), and quite a few of other books on the happiness topic published in early XXI century. Author also identified the key 3 issues around which all discussion is mainly conducted: Money, Measurement, and Meaning of Happiness.

  1. The Future Is Here: Positive Psychology Comes of Age

Here author reviews the key findings and directions of research related to different parameters of happiness: Character, Gratitude and Altruism, Resilience, and Spirituality and Religion, Author also discusses the latest scientific tools used in happiness research. Part of this is international research and he provide an interesting statistical graph:

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 8.41.07 AM

There is also interesting discussion here on political ideology and positive psychology noting that it is somewhat related to neoliberalism that he defines as self-government by individual rather than by group or government. At the end author discusses in details critic of positive psychology which grew exponencially with the growth of its popularity.

  1. The Business of Happiness

This is about business of promoting positive psychology and overall happiness. Whether it is TED talks or “Happy Corporate Life” or Oprah. Author also discusses penetration of these ideas in schools, mass media, and all kinds of Happiness coaching. As any other mass movement, positive psychology has philanthropic support in form of foundations, government organizations, and Academic entrepreneurship.

Coda: The Happiest Place on Earth

This starts with description of author’s attendance of the Fourth World Congress of Positive Psychology in 2015. It included 1,200 participants from 48 countries. After that author discusses how big become this movement and how much happiness it created at least for people who making living from positive psychology. Author ends on very interesting note that out of some 800 people present at presentations on positive psychology influence on culture only some 20 were conservatives. Others were mainly center left and they did standing ovation to the speech of Csikszentmihalyi about need to increase push for equality, social justice, and environment.

MY TAKE ON IT:

The pursuit of happiness in last 70 years moved away from simple strive to be well fed, have decent shelter, and maintain positive social connections with other people; to much more sophisticated strive to achieve psychological satisfaction with one’s life in which these simple things are taken for granted. This naturally caused serious research in what it means to be happy and the whole industry of advisory services to help people in this. I think eventually the biggest discovery still ahead of us and it will be discovery of simple fact that happiness is deeply, individual condition that occurs even for the same individual differently in different moments of time and space in this individual’s life. As such no statistical and/or psychological help could work consistently because of this dynamic character of the state of happiness. The most that could be done is to assure that all individuals have resources to do whatever makes them happy, agency to be able to use this resources the way they want to do it, and protect them from external violent interference in their live by other individuals who are in control of whatever the powers are in society.

 

20180812 – The Case Against Education

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 9.21.58 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main ideas of this book are very clearly presented in introduction:

  1. Contemporary education educates in areas that have little relation to realities of life when it goes beyond literacy and numeracy.
  2. It is not disputable that education provides high returns on investment, but it comes not from acquired knowledge, but from signaling that the person with educational credentials is more valuable employee, than person without.
  3. Consequently, massive investment in education does not produce any returns for society overall because it just inflates cost of signal – where bachelor degree was a pretty good signal in the past, now, when everybody has bachelor degree, one needs master degree to send the same signal.

DETAILS:

CHAPTER 1 – The Magic of Education

This chapter starts with confirmation of education value for individual career and statement that statistics proves that. It follows by review of what is actually taught, including author’s own experience as economics professor and conclusion that it really has nothing to do with the skills required to do a job. These real skills are acquired on the job, not in the classroom. The author asks the question – what is the magic that turn diploma into higher income? The answer is – signaling. Employees look for individuals with specific personal qualities: intelligence, consciousness, conformity, and so on. Possession of these qualities is not obvious and it requires some investment of time and money to recognize them in individual. Education provides short cut to this information. Author specify what qualities education signals and why it so in some details, such as individual’s ability to apply raw intelligence to achieve the specific objectives. For example, two individuals with high IQ, easily tested in a couple hours, would signal completely different level of job fitness if one of them has PhD in some esoteric area and another one did not move beyond high school diploma. This job fitness includes the whole package of traits, which author again boils down to trifecta: intelligence, consciousness, and conformism. Author also discusses objections to the signaling. One objection he actually accepts is that signaling is not the only one thing and education sometime does provide valuable skills and knowledge. However, he believes the signaling is the thing because it allows recognizing absence of easily fakeable traits: consciousness and conformity. Individuals who spend years getting diplomas are not faking these traits.  Author also provide an interesting point in support of signaling: education is practically free if one wants to listen to lectures, read books, and do exercises. Nevertheless, people are paying huge money for credentials, which are nothing more than confirmation that one did all this. This refers to author’s main contrarian idea – human capital model, which states that it is knowledge and skills obtained via education that creates value for employee. His interesting reply: what would be better for getting the job: Princeton diploma without knowledge or knowledge without diploma – the answer is obvious: diploma wins.

CHAPTER 2 – The Puzzle Is Real: The Ubiquity of Useless Education

This chapter looks in details at curriculums to demonstrate how little it relates to real life. Here is breakdown for high school:Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.04.58 AM

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.05.11 AM

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.05.19 AM

Discussing signaling author points out at legal limitations on use of cheap methods like IQ and other tests. However he rejects this, pointing out that huge difference between cost of formal credentials as signaling and cost of test so much different that people would find way to avoid laws if the test’s signal would be comparable.

Author also discusses positive impact of eduction on unemployment numbers.

At the end of chapter he presents what he believes are real rewards of education: signaling.

CHAPTER 4 – The Signs of Signaling: In Case You’re Still Not Convinced

Here author provides additional support for this signaling theory. He discusses the Sheepskin effect when value added not by years of education, but by credentials only. The estimate of this effect is highest for High school diploma and Bachelor degree – about 30%. Interesting also is analysis of misemployment when people work jobs where their education is irrelevant. Author demonstrates that even in this case High school graduates command premium of about 100% over dropouts, but even more amazing is that college graduates command 30-40% premium over High school graduates. Author summarize Human capital vs. Signaling in such way:

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.05.28 AM

CHAPTER 5 – Who Cares If It’s Signaling? The Selfish Return to Education

Here author stresses benefits of educational credentials for individuals, regardless of reason it happens. He does somewhat funny math calculating total cost of education not only in payments, but also in cost of sitting in boring classes, enduring stupidity of professors, and lost opportunities of doing something productive. He concludes that it is definitely worth it and provides a bunch of nice graphs to support this conclusion. Here is one of them:

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.06.19 AM

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.06.42 AM

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.06.51 AM

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.07.14 AM

A very interesting point author makes when he shares his experience of discussing this issue. Typically people relatively easily agree that educatinal spending is wastful, but strongly resist to any cuts. After that author reviews a number of related issues, mainly demonstrating that governemnt interference makes things worse by removing incentive to select meaningful forms and subjects of education that would provide good returns, and substituting them with easy subjects that would not provide good returns, if any. At the end he states his recommendation – austerity in eductional expenses.

CHAPTER 8 – 1>0 We Need More Vocational Education

This chapter on vocational training makes a very interesting point: students are underachievers before they start vocational training, but then get much better. Overall this small table summarizes the comparison:

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 10.07.33 AM

Author also discusses child labor that was substituted by eduction and reasonable claims that on job training superior to formal education for learning this job and should not be limited by age.  Finally he quite reasonbly points out that learing Latin or Medival history is really not generic education, but is rather technical education of very narrow specialty with little application in real live.

CHAPTER 9 – Nourishing Mother: Is Education Good for the Soul?

This is discussion of the very notion of Alma Mater that every college trying to develop in their students and alumnus. Author clearly and strongly support humanitarian side of education, but separates it from practical education. The first one requires students consciously and enthusiastically participate, otherwise being just waste of time – which does regularly occur in contemporary educational system. After that author reviews what is popular: books, other cultural artifacts, and demonstrates that it is far from high culture taught in schools. There is also very funny part of this chapter referencing political correctness as paper tiger. Mainly the point here is that Marxist professors are not capable to instill their ideology into students and therefore are somewhat benign. The final part basically demonstrates that force-feeding culture and ideas does not produce cultural and idealistic people. It produces cynics and manipulators, trained to demonstrate characteristics and believes that are required for achieving their objectives regardless of possession of these characteristics or real support for this believes.

CHAPTER 10 – Five Chats on Education and Enlightenment Conclusion

The final chapter is about interaction between education and enlightenment. Author presents it in the form of 5 chats with invented character:

  1. Education what is good for
  2. College and Catch-22s
  3. How Educational Investments Measure Up
  4. Why Do You Hate Education?
  5. Education Against Enlightenment

CONCLUSION:

Here author repeats the main points: Education is overrated from social and humanistic point of view, but beneficial from individual materialistic point of view by providing necessary and important signal to employees about this individual’s abilities and characteristics. Author expresses pessimism that anything will ever happen to change this, but he does hope that some austerity in educational expenses will eventually arrive.

MY TAKE ON IT:

Signaling is a pretty good explanation of economic function of higher education in USA and I believe that author absolutely correct that education provides individual benefit, while causing societal loss of resources. What in my opinion is missing here is more clear presentation of welfare aspect of education. Out of nearly trillion dollars spent every year, only a small fraction supports transfer of real knowledge and skills to next generation of producers, but huge proportion goes to providing income to non-educators, administrators, and others not related to any instruction: from new school building to professors’ pensions. It is by far the biggest welfare program that exists and the question is what would happen to all these people if USA moves to education austerity. The answer is – millions of semi educated people often trained in some kind of socialistic thought, deprived of expected levels of income and therefore extremely angry at the society and political system that caused their grief. It is hard to imagine better receipt for revolutions and civil war. On other hand the current trends are unsustainable not because education costs too much – a small number of effective producers with support of technology so far were able produce enough goods and services for all including welfare recipients from bottom dwellers of slums with their $4 dollars / day food stamps to women/ethnic/diversity/lgbtqqcc studies professor with 400k income. It is not sustainable because society in which huge number of people doing something meaningless, while being included in some hierarchy, meaning suffering all indignities of being dependent on superior bureaucrat and consequently losing their agency as human beings, could eventually produce an explosion as powerful as they could produce if deprived of income.

I believe that austerity would not help. It is rather creation of opportunities outside of rigid educational system, including teaching and learning opportunities and slow and deliberate movement of resources from governmental redistribution to voluntary market exchange could resolved this growing danger of explosion. As to signaling, employers would not need credentials if they can easily admit people on voluntary basis to work for them in exchange for skill acquisition and productivity linked on profit share basis. With current level technology it would be not a problem to keep databases with reliable auditing, maybe even by government bureaucrats providing records of projects participation and detailed activities of all people willing to have such proved record. This would eliminate need for employer to look at credentials from college and allow them to select the best people for a job at any time and at marketable price. In any case I think this book will generate lots of discussion and will be an important input into coming huge societal change.

 

 

20180805 – End of Era ( China)

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 10.13.35 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the Era of reform in China ended. The result is advanced economy with authoritarian government, which is, while very impressive from outside, it nevertheless contains huge internal pressures probably not easily controllable by communist party in power. It is not clear what will be next, but it is clear that this “next” will be very different from “now” and probably not very happy.

DETAILS:

Introduction

The introduction starts with reference to Three Gorges dams as symbol of contemporary Chinese society – huge but fragile construct that changed natural flow of things, providing benefits at first but threatening catastrophic consequences in the future if dam breaks. The author’s point is that economic success of Chine hides internal tensions that are moving the country closer to explosion as evidenced by growing unhappiness on social media that from time to time leads to protests and even violence. Author also briefly summarizes content of the chapters that follow.

  1. Overview: The End of China’s Reform Era

This chapter starts with discussion of the raise of authoritarianism elsewhere in the world, which is fed by seemingly miraculous success of China model. After that author looks in details of China’s development from late 70s on when Den’s reform opened China to foreign investment and kind of capitalism controlled by communist party. Author makes point that during reforms communist party moved to building institutions for collective control for its rule, including changeable leaders with term limits. It also included expansion of education and bureaucratization of society at the same time opening some space for private business and civil society as long as it was not threatening party’s control. It worked fine for a while, but at the early XXI century system run out of steam due to increase in dissatisfaction of population with corruption, environmental degradation, pressure from the bottom to increase quality of live, especially in provinces, increased unhappiness of western companies with illegal technology transfers, and slowdown of economy. The response, so far was concentration of power at the top, removal of restrictions on personal rule, massive stimulus of economy, and complains against corruption of intraparty competitors. Also revived was ideological push, this time in the form of Chinese Dream and great leader Xi’s writings. Author characterizes all this as the beginning of counter reform era.

2.Society and Economy: The Closing of the Chinese Dream

Here author looks on Chinese Dream development. First it was Imperial Dream – meritocratic raise through education and exams going back to the 900-1000 AD. The raise mainly meant high place in Imperial bureaucracy. It lasted until 1911 when resulting relative military and economic degradation led to revolution and fall of Qing dynasty. The following up power play practically lasted until reforms end of 1970 and included wars, interventions, and such ideology-made disasters as cultural revolution. The reform somewhat restored road to success via education, albeit restricted for provincials by hukou (individual’s assignment to locality), causing mass illegal migration to cities. Also, huge increase in number of college graduates put a lot of pressure on society because it produced entitled intellectuals with not enough place in bureaucracy and lack of marketable skills. Another point author makes is growing differentiation between educated elite and educated non-elite that undermines meritocracy when inequality is growing:

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 10.14.01 AM

The inequality during reform period was aliviated by opportunities in private business, but party response to slowdown of economy decresed these opportunities leading to frustration and sometimes to violent outbursts. At the end of chapter author discusses XI’s Chinese Dream of innovation society and hope to supplunt USA as preeminent source of new technology rather than cheap labor, but author is sceptical that it would be possible.

3.Politics: Internal Decay and Social Unrest

Here author suggests that China’s resent success was linked to “Partial political institutionalization”, meaning somewhat stable norms of party’s bureaucratic machine. However, it did not go anywhere close to establishment of at least somewhat democratic institutions and all attempt to their establishment like local election or independent courts eventually failed when bumping into supremacy of one party rule. Consequently, attempts of technocratic organization turned into mass corruption problem as it is supposed to according to theoretical agent-principal problem. Author looks at recent history and, interestingly enough, points to Mao’s Cultural Revolution as attempt to solve this problem by mass removal of corrupt bureaucrats. After Mao initial development of institutions stopped in 1989 when it clashed with communist party controls. After tracing the failure of institutional development author moves to increased tensions in Chinese society linked to conditions of migrant workers and labor over all. It is represented by the growth for legal and labor disputes:

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 10.14.08 AM

The situation become quite dangerous, stressing and undermining bureaucratic and technocratic cohesion that mainly maintained over the period of reform. Eventually, now it looks as the solution the party leaders came up with is mainly return to upgraded to contemporary conditions Mao’s practices with the new leader XI esteblishing himself as the leader for live and significant number of top level party oficials purged via anti-corraption compain.

4.Religion and Ideology: What Do We Believe?

This is about religion in China, which is, as in all formerly communist countries, a mess. China is still communist country, but official communist religion of atheism mainly become meaningless so both top and bottom of society are looking for something else. There is an attempt to go back to Confucian teachings, but it is not that forceful yet. Author provides estimate for religious affiliation: 300 mil folk religions, 250 mil Buddhists, 68 mil Christians, and 25 mil Muslims. Author reviews religious history, stressing that government usually selected one and suppressed others. Communist party did the same, but its official religion – communism become quite hollow, opening space for others. Party’s attitude represents wide variety mainly of neglect, but sometimes strong, even violent response when popularity of some believes system becomes too big, creating potential competition. Author discusses in details Falun Gong as one example of this. Overall party is looking for some effective substitute for dead Marxism, which would support its current nationalistic direction.

5.China in Comparative Perspective

It starts with reference to Americans inability to understand that people in other countries often do not have real experience of democracy and often used democracy-like institutions such as election, formal division of power, and independent judiciary only for show without investing them with meaning and real power. Author in depth discusses some Asian countries like Taiwan transfer to democracy, only to demonstrate huge difference between circumstances of these countries and China, which are so much different that their example is not applicable.

6.Possible Futures

The last chapter is about different versions of future that author foresees:

  • Demise of liberal dream, complete elimination of possibility of democratization, and continuation of authoritarian rule
  • Rejection of established by reforms semi-capitalism with private property and return to totalitarian system
  • Populist Nationalism with anti-foreigner tint.
  • New Dynastic cycle as it usually happened in China before
  • Regime collapse leading to civil war and war lords taking different parts of the country.

At the end author analyses what would be meaning of this for the world and how USA could respond.

Conclusion

In conclusion author makes a valid point that society’s governmental system is highly dependent on overall culture. So, in America democracy does not start at the top, it starts at the level of individual experience – high school elections, PTA meetings, and infinite number of events of collective decision-making and elections of individuals into position of power, however small or big power it is. These institutions are foundation of democracy and China’s reforms failed to develop such institution. Author compares result of this failure with Three Gorges Dam and expresses fear that the big earthquake is coming. On the bright side he offers, as an alternative, example of another project – Dujiangyan irrigation system built around 256 BC, which successfully merged with environment regulating water flow without dams, regulating water flow by the using topography enhanced my multiple channels. Author ends stating that it is up to Chinese to decide which way to go.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that it is correct that the era of reform ended, but it is not actually Chinese decision or even purely Chinese development. This Era is ending because it was based on integration of China into Western capitalist world as provider of low cost labor and environmentally indifferent manufacturing network. As such it was built on the number of historically abnormal circumstances:

  1. Ability of communist party elite to obtain both wealth and security by receiving share of proceeds from western investment into China, while buying popular support with material improvements
  2. Acceptance by Chinese people, who were providing this labor, dramatically lower wages comparatively to people doing the same work in western world, corruption and limitation of their human rights, and decrease in quality of live due to environmental disaster caused by industrial production not burdened by limitations on pollution.
  3. Willingness of Western businesses to investing in China even if it meant sacrificing some intellectual property and creating new competitors
  4. Willingness of Western population to tolerate deindustrialization and massive loss of jobs in exchange for cheap goods made in China, at least until enough money provided to buy them via government transfers and make-believe jobs.
  5. Support of Western elites that were happy to have well-paid governmental and semi-governmental (education, healthcare, non-profits, and such) jobs and really did not care about their less well-heeled compatriots.

All above is not valid anymore Instead new factors are playing increasing role:

  1. The labor cost in China rose to levels that become comparable to the West: 7/1 instead of 15/1, but much more important – recent developments in AI that are making labor cost much less potent issue.
  2. Chinese people are in process of withdrawing acceptance of much lower quality of live than it is in Western countries, while elite is in search of substitute to non-ideological support based on material improvements it was able obtain from population until now with something else- probably nationalist ideology and aggressive posture that would cause pushback by the West that elite could use to justify call for sacrifices.
  3. Western businesses increasingly recognize downside of technology transfer, which already put quite a few out of business, population is becoming restless in search of economic improvements in form of more income rather than cheap goods, and politicians recognize military downside of technology transfer

In short China will probably have a few tough years and only decisive behavior of Western powers – mainly USA, could prevent catastrophic unwinding of current global system, which is quickly becoming become unsustainable.

20180729 – From Cold War to Hot Peace

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 12.39.41 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this somewhat biographical book is to present resent history of Russia and Russian-American relations via the prism of initially young and idealistic American supporter of democracy in love with Russian culture and people who actively participated in Russian democratization after the fall of Soviet Union, who later become diplomat and eventually American Ambassador to Russia at the time when this country was in process of transfer from temporary democratic aberration to normal for Russia authoritarian rule. One of the most important objectives of the book is to justify actions of Obama administration in relation to Russia and demonstrate that these actions had no bearing on negative developments in this country.

DETAILS:

Revolution

  1. The First Reset

Here author narrates his story as an American who was born right after Caribbean crises of 1962. He grew up during Cold War, being indoctrinated into leftist politics and scared of Reagan. All this caused him to develop deep interest in Soviet Union, learn Russian, study International relations, and enroll in language program in Leningrad in 1983. In Leningrad author found Soviet Union neither scary nor oppressive, obviously it was true for American student in love with Russia. He came back in 1985, this time to Moscow to spend a semester there, somewhat losing his excitement about Soviet System and learning to recognize, at least somewhat, depravity of real socialism. This followed by description of the next few years of Gorbachev when Soviet system was falling apart while author worked on his PhD dissertation. The diminished political power of Communist party signaled coming of revolution and opened space for various democratic NGOs. Author could not stay away, so he moved to Russia and become an active participant of one such organization – NDI organizing meeting, supporting other logistics, and interacting with wide variety of people all this time being on Fulbright fellowship. In process he got into sights of KGB as probable American intelligence officer.

  1. Democrats of the World, Unite!

Just 2 months after completion of author’s fellowship in 1991 Communists tried coup and failed, opening gates for wholesale change not only in the political system in Russia, but also for complete dissolution of the Soviet Union.

  1. Yeltsin’s Partial Revolution

At this point in 1994 author moved to Russia with his wife and joined Carnegie Moscow Center, actively participating in political discussions with various political players, promoting democracy in mass media, and supporting Yeltsin and his administration through elections of 1996. After this the gap appeared and start growing between USA and Russia initially in international relations: former Soviet East European allies joining NATO, conflict in Serbia, and war in Chechenia. The final blow was Russian economic collapse of 1998 leaving Yeltsin’s regime in shambles and forcing peaceful and barely noticeable transfer of power to KGB forces represented by Putin.

  1. Putin’s Thermidor

Here author discusses Putin’s strategy of semi-restoration of whatever left of the former Soviet Union that included creative recombination of old Soviet power structures slightly repainted such as KGB renamed into FSB, formal retention of the new democratic institutions like political parties and non-governmental media, while making impossible for media to remain independent or for other parties really compete for political power. Even symbolic things were reshuffled into combination of new and old such as return to the old Stalinist era Soviet anthem from 1940s with the 4threwriting of its words. Also, very important was Putin’s deepening of market reforms in economy, albeit with retention and increase of top-level government control and forceful suppression of oligarchs who potentially could become base of competing political power. Author also describes USA-Russian relations of the period that moved from Putin’s sincere help on 9/11 at the beginning of decade to his anti-American speech in Munich in 2007. Author also refers to his writings about Russian affairs that caused protest from Russian Embassy and, as author believes, make him an enemy to Putin. However, the chapter ends with Putin formally complying with constitution and ceding kind of supervised presidency to Medvedev, while moving into less visible position of prime minister and retaining real power.

Reset

  1. Change We Can Believe In

This is about author’s participation in Obama’s campaign and formulation of reset policy towards Russia. Here is author’s formulation of its objectives:

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 12.25.06 PM

  1. Launching the Reset; 7. Universal Values; 8. The First (and Last) Moscow Summit

The continuation narrates an attempt to actually implement this policy and achieve these objectives. Mainly it is about interplay between Obama’s diplomacy, Medvedev and Putin. Medvedev was Putin’s placeholder when Putin in compliance with constitution stepped down from his position as president. It pretty much comes down to good cop/bad cop game, which was somewhat successful for Putin since he got pretty much what he wanted.

  1. New START

This is about arms control treaty that was left over from Soviet/American improvement of relation in Reagan / Gorbachev era. Obama’s objective was officially: the world without nuclear weapons, but per author’s description there were significant problems from Russian side who sincerely supported Obama’s intention as long it was limited to American weapons and were very reluctant to decrease any Russian weapons and even pore reluctant to allow onsite inspections.  Per author narrative it looks like main barrier to extreme decrease in American weapons was outside Obama’s administration – Pentagon and Senate. It is also interesting how they achieved ratification by the Senate.

  1. Denying Iran the Bomb

This chapter about Obama’s outreach to Iran has a bit misleading header. In reality it is more about strenuous effort to help theocratic regime to survive and assure international support for its legitimation. It includes lots of interaction with Russia in effort to increase sanction in order to convince mullahs that it would be better for them to follow Obama’s path of low-key acquisition of bomb with international help, but without much of blustering.

  1. Hard Accounts: Russia’s Neighborhood and Missile Defense

This is about difficulties of working with countries – former Soviet satellites convincing them that accommodation to Russia and Iran are in their interests.

  1. Burgers and Spies

This is about Obama’s meeting with Medvedev in 2010, which was seemingly successful, but then was negated by discovery of Russian illegal spies network in USA.

  1. The Arab Spring, Libya, and the Beginning of the End of the Reset

This chapter is interesting by author description of Obama’s administration approach to Arab Spring. They were pretty happy to see secular dictators like Mubarak and Kaddafi overthrown and substituted by representatives of Islamic movement. Interestingly enough it led to public disagreement between Putin and Medvedev with former expressing strong unhappiness about pushing out these dictators, while Medvedev demonstrating willingness to follow Obama to support “democratic” empowerment of Islamists.

  1. Becoming “His Excellency”

The final chapter of this part describes process of author’s becoming American Ambassador to Russia just when Reset policy start moving to dust been of history. It happened after Medvedev, despite making some weak noises about running for the second term, opened road for Putin’s return to formal power.

Reaction

  1. Putin Needs an Enemy—America.

This part is about author’s tenure as USA ambassador to Russia at the time when Putin came back as president and decided that it would be beneficial for him to use America as symbolic enemy. Author describes how demonstrations against voting irregularity impacted Putin and his regime. This follows by description of harassment and use of link to American Embassy to accuse people in treason against Russia and in being American agents. There is somewhat interesting part of people that author knew during his activities in 90s as democrats that slowly, but reliably become Putin’s apparatchiks, executing very undemocratic policies against others.

  1. Obama and Me Photos

This is just a set of pictures relevant to author’s story.

  1. Getting Physical

This is more detailed narrative of multiple cases of harassment against author, his family and other Americans in Russia by Putin forces.

  1. Pushback

Here author is trying to present Obama’s administration response to Russian hostilities in many areas, but it really sounds funny, especially when author characterized as most important pushback attempts to remind Russians about good old times of reset and win-win relationships. Overall it was somewhat meaningless propagandist mini war.

  1. Twitter and the Two-Step

This is description of author’s seemingly successful attempt to use twitter to communicate directly with Russian public.

  1. It Takes Two to Tango; 21. Chasing Russians, Failing Syrians;
  2. Dueling on Human Rights

This is description of various failed attempts to maintain meaningful relations with Russia and several areas: arms control, business, human rights, and internationally, especially on Middle East.  Author pays special attention to the story with Syria, trying present in the best light Obama’s actions or inactions.

  1. Going Home

By summer of 2013 author and his family run out of power and decided that enough is enough. This chapter describes process of resignation and disengagement from Russia and people there.

  1. Annexation and War in Ukraine; 25. The End of Resets (for Now)

This is about events occurring after author’s return home when US-Russian relations completely nosedived with Ukraine revolution against Russia propped forces, Putin’s annexation of Crimea, and little war against that country. All this caused implementation of sanctions against Russia and put it in the most hostile position against USA since the end of Soviet Union.

Epilogue: Trump and Putin

This is a typical dribble of Obama’s official against Trump, mainly repeating standard democratic narrative and demonstrating only that author has no clue about what Trump and his movement is, what they are trying to do, and why they actually quite successful in doing it.

  

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a nice narrative of leftist’s travel from enchantment with Soviet union from afar, deep disappointment of close encounter, euphoria of semi-revolution or, more precisely, falling apart under the weight of corruption and dysfunctionality of the real socialist system, period of hope for something new and beautiful, not really fully conscious participation in the Obama’s leftist movement aiming to bring America in the same place where Soviet Union was before, and the first row observation position in the process of Russia going back to its traditional authoritarian roots. It is also a nice example of encounter of typical American academician with practically non-existent real live experience with tough KGB bureaucrat used to dealing with such naïve guys in interrogation room. It does not relate only to the author, who at least did deep diving into Russia for a while, but to the whole Obama team. It would be funny and a nice plot for comedy if not very sad consequences: much more strong and assertive authoritarian Russia, slow moving war in Ukraine, somewhat more energetically moving war in Syria, and reappearance of Russia as military power, albeit without any serious underlying economic power. In short – without Obama Putin would be history and non-authoritarian Russia would probably be much friendlier to USA.

20180722 – The Republic of Virtue

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 8.54.16 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to review history of corruption in Democratic society, especially in USA, and demonstrate how it worked in the past, how it works now and propose some technical measures to diminish corruption and some legislative measures that could curb it at least somewhat.

DETAILS:

  1. THE UNITED STATES OF CORRUPTION
  2. Our Machiavellian Moment:Pay-for-Play Networks Republican Virtue

Author starts here with a movie plot when FBI set up sting operation when agent pretending to be foreign businessmen bribed American politicians. Then author somehow links it to “Citizen’s united”. From here author goes to real “Pay to Play” operations like Clinton foundation. Author uses this to present Republican Virtue as counter force that was acting in America since it’s beginning and actually was a part of the reason of its creation as reaction to corruption of British officials.

  1. Excusing Corruption:The Mutual Protection Association; The Polemarchist;

The Apologist.

This chapter refers to Tocqueville who clearly saw political corruption in America and compared it with family centered aristocratic institutions of France that he preferred. The interesting thing here is an idea that politics is kind of remedy against American individualism, creating sort of mutual help society, which just one of many mutual help organizations that were so popular in America at the time, but now declined with expansion of government. Author also discusses here Polemarchism that he defines as different attitude of network member to fellow member vs. out-of-network others. He illustrates it by referring to rich experience of Clinton and Obama networks. Finally, author presents a point of view of Apologist who basically states that for example Clintons should be allowed to be corrupted, because they do a lot of good and/or because they comply with various formal procedures.

  1. The Silent Killer: Rent-Seeking; Measuring Corruption; The Cost of Corruption; The Rule of Law

To estimate cost of corruption, author refer to TARP and sugar subsidies, but does not come up with any quantitative estimate.  It follows by discussion of rent seeking behavior, regulatory capture, and a couple examples of how it is done. Then author presents estimates of corruption via polling:

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 8.54.57 AM

  1. The Dream of a Virtuous Republic: The Separation of Powers Federalism;

Money; Three Proposals

This starts with deviation to history and reference to earliest dreams of virtuous republic without corruption. After that author reviews ideas that were supposed to prevent this problem at American foundation, but mainly failed to do so:

  • The separation of Powers
  • Federalism
  • Limitations on money in politics.

Instead author proposes his own 3 rules to curb corruption:

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 9.00.37 AM

Il. THE SEPARATION OF POWERS:

  1. An Anticorruption Covenant:The Constitutional Convention Filtering Virtue; Choosing a Virtuous President

This is about Constitutional convention and how founding fathers tried to set up rules that would prevent corruption. Franklin suggested unpaid public officers so it would make it unattractive for individuals without sufficient wealth. Madison and majority preferred division of power with checks and balances and with general election of a virtuous president. It was expected that limited franchise would produce electorate of self-sufficient men who would not be easy to bribe, consequently assuring elected official acting in interests of common good for all people.

  1. What Corruption Meant to the Framers:Republican Virtue; Extensive Virtue; Governing Above Faction Private Virtue; Religious Virtue—and Vice

This is an interesting peace because 250 years is a long time and culture changed a lot. So, the notion of corruption was somewhat different. It was based, for example, on experience of king James who just used treasury at will and other processes of wealth transfer typical for monarchy – gifts, patronage, and such. Founders were looking to instill republican virtue, which meant work on behalf of public with no pecuniary interest whatsoever. Author defines supporters of this vision as Country party. Other vision was that individuals always greedy and it is inevitable that voters will be bribed. Therefore it is necessary to have powerful and wealthy leaders and independent voters so these leaders could not be corrupted. Author also discusses different types of virtue, as it was perceived at the moment, including, private and religious.

 

  1. The Promise of Virtuous Government:Reining in the Presidency; Electing a President; Impeachment;

This is about the debate that followed decision to establish powerful presidency that involved search for methods of limiting this power just in case when president happen to be not that virtuous. The first step was clear separation of power, preventing members of legislature to be included into executive power at the same time. It was done mainly to prevent corruption observed in British parliament. Another issue was presidential election, that was decided by Electoral College, which originally gave power to choose electors to the states and only over time moved to much more democratic form of nearly direct elections when majority within states and their weighted representation are deciding, leaving open possibility of minority of voter effectively distributed providing for majority in Electoral College. Author also discusses solution for vice-presidential position and election that proved to be ineffective and was changed early in the history of Republic. Finely, some serious attention was paid to Impeachment process to prevent Executive power from taking over.

  1. How Did That Work Out?Minoritanian Misbehavior; The Democratic Presidency Power and Corruption; A Grim Logic

The final part is about how did it eventually worked over the next 250 years and it is not the pretty picture. Congressmen bring home bacon, bribing voters and, as result, stay congressmen for live. Interest group capture legislation all the time, getting nice staff like indestructible sugar subsidies, and so on and on. Democratically elected president courting specific groups of population in strategically selected areas to obtain college majority and often does something in interest of small group of supporters at the expense of majority. In short American Constitution proved to be no match to human ingenuity in pursuit of corruption. However, it is still the best working system comparatively with all others ever tried.

Ill. FEDERALISM

  1. Federalism and Corruption:Bigness and Badness; Smalliness and Badness

It starts with discussion of origins of American Federalism. It was not an original intention of founding fathers, but rather necessity to accommodate small states without which any agreement would be impossible. Madison’s original idea of federal veto over state led to nowhere and eventually the principle of federal power as controller of interstate interactions rather intrastate live was established. Over time state power diminished and federal power grew dramatically and consequently corruption distributed among the state moved up to federal level. One exception is power of courts and author discusses in some details corruption of local courts in one specific case of money extorsion from Canadian company Loewen.

  1. The Mississippi Story: Mississippi Burning; Mississippi Cashes In

This is discussion of another clash between local Mississippi courts and Federal power, this one the older case of civil rights era. The second part of the chapter is about more contemporary story of tort lawyers’ extortion racket backed up by unwavering support of local judges.

  1. Designing a Virtuous Justice System:The Genius of the Framers’ Constitution; Genius Frustrated

This starts with discussion of design of American Justice system. It was based on 3 main decisions: selections of judges, their removal if corrupted, and allocation of judicial power between state vs. federal courts. All three decisions were based on multiple compromises and author briefly describes the final system established by the Constitution. After that author discusses complete diversity precedent established by Supreme Court in 1806 and how it allows everybody to sue everybody in any court, creating a mess and huge opportunities for corruption.

  1. The Silver Bullet: The Way Back; State Judicial Elections; A Judicial Aristocracy

After condemning American plaintiff friendly justice system in the previous chapter author points out here that there is no simple solution. He starts with discussion of McDonald coffee case that he presents not as aggreges as it is usually thought. The solution author proposes: state court should be permitted to compete in their judge made rules for out of state parties; Class action Act should be modified and author proposes how; State judicial elections processes should be modified. Finally, author praises American quasi-aristocracy of federal judges.

  1. MONEY
  2. Bribes: The Ordeal of Francis Bacon Corruption of the Heart; The Limits of Bribery Law

It starts with warning about problem of corruption of judges and then moves to the story of Francis Bacon, his bribery and eventual confession. After that author discusses contemporary bribery case when judge took bribes to sentence juveniles to prison terms in order to supply prisoners for private jail. The final part of the chapter is about political bribery when everything done without direct money transfer and often is not even possible to clearly identify as a bribe.

  1. The Republic of Defection: The Dismal Dialectic; Crimes of Democracy; The U-Curve

Here author compare what he believes are low and high trust countries: USA and Canada. He uses immigration issue in which Canada provided more assistance and on better terms than USA with wide support of all political forces. As crimes of Democracy author reviews cases of Dinesh D’Souza and his unusually harsh treatment and operation of political democrats in Wisconsin against Scott Walker. Finally, discussion moves to overall dynamics of Anti-corruption laws that usually are not very effective and often just become a tool for corrupted officials. Here is graphic representation of this dynamic:

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 8.55.07 AM

  1. Policing Crony Capitalism: What Doesn’t Work; Disclosure Requirements;

Contribution Limits; Spending Caps

The next stop is Crony capitalism when government helps some private businesses at the expense of others. Author demonstrates how typical legislative measures: Disclosure, Contribution Limits, or Spending Caps work to this end.

  1. Three Reforms: Mandated Anonymity; Suspect Donors; Chinese Walls

Here author suggests a few reforms that he believes could help to limit political corruption:

  • Mandated Anonymity – politicians should not know who gave them money
  • Completely forbid donations from donors suspected in expectation of potential payback, such as government contractors
  • Similarly to suspected donors, Chinese wall between donors, bundlers, or lobbyists and appointments to various government positions

17.The Heavenly City of the Enlightened Reformer

Here author reviews various schemas for keeping politics clean such as public financing or voter vouchers for political donations and demonstrates that they basically not really workable. Author ends quite pessimistically pointing out that in election of 2016 highly corrupted Hillary Clinton received majority of votes indicting that people in democracy do not really object to corruption that much.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is an interesting review, but it does not touch at the core of corruption common for all societies democratic or not. This core is ability of individuals with place in political/bureaucratic violent hierarchy of society to use this place for control over application of violence resulting in transfer of resources produced by other people to themselves. The idealistic form of corruption, when these people use control over violence to satisfy not their material, but rather psychological needs by forcing other people do something they do not want or not do something that they want, somehow is not considered as corruption, even if it causes people often much more pain and suffering than any amount of taxes and bribes could ever do. It is also often demonstrates that power is fungible, meaning that forbidding something, for example homosexuality creates opportunity for individuals in power exchange laxity of enforcement for bribes.

This corruption is inevitable and will always be with us as long as we have violent hierarchy of society involved in any activity that is not prevention, retaliation, or retribution for violence. As long as such hierarchies of individuals in power are involved in the redistribution of resources and/or control over individuals, they will always use this power to satisfy their needs and wants, which is practically definition of corruption.

20180715 – Neither Ghost not Machine

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 12.18.22 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to discuss origin of live based on the new idea that it resulted not from random mix of different organic chemicals, but from similarly random dynamic interaction of constrains that result in origination of regularity and local rejection of the 2ndlaw of thermodynamics. Author presents notion of autogen – self-generator created by dynamic constrains of Autocatalysis and Capsid formation and defines it as the bridge between material world of cost and effect and living world of selves and aims they try to achieve. It is also an attempt to derive implications of this approach for multiple philosophical questions from determinism vs. free will to science and values interaction.

DETAILS:

  1. OVERVIEW

1 THE MYSTERY OF PURPOSE

Author starts with the statement that this book is about purpose and how it emerges from purposeless phenomena. The ambition here is to use science to provide explanation for this. Author defines here the main notion used in this book: self, which is practically everything living from grass to humans and then defines four questions:

  1. The Nature of Selves
  2. The Origin of Selves
  3. The Nature of Aims
  4. The Origin of Aims

He also defines reasons for this:

  • Link between Selves and their aims.
  • Link between Origins and Natures

After defining his objectives, author discusses attitude to these “mysteries”, commonality of everything living, the very notion of purpose, which he links to self-direction. He also discusses the mystery of live and the facts, that so far nobody was able demonstrate, of how non-living matter becomes living. Author claims that the question of origin of live is solvable and presents approach of his lead Terrence Deacon who concentrates on transition from Cause and Effects to Means and Ends behavior. The qualitatively different approach here is that Deacon removes assumption that one need addition to achieve new quantity, positing that it could be achieved by additional constrains, or in other words by subtraction. Author points out that molecules in a body are the same that elsewhere and therefore could move freely. Constrains are what limits these molecules to move only within body, creating conditions for self-regeneration, which is the key feature of living.

  1. THE BIGGEST MYSTERY WE EVER IGNORE

The mystery here is appearance of selves and their difference from non-selves. Author posits here the difference between non-selves and selves as difference between Cause-Effect pair and Means-Ends. Where former is just happening naturally, while latter defined by selves’ actions. After that, author looks at the notion of information as something specific for selves or machines working for selves.  Author discusses bridge in human notions between selves and non-selves that is difficult to close and looks at various attempts typical for human culture to insert invented selves elsewhere where there are gaps in understanding of reality. It is especially interesting when humans hit transformation point from selves to non-selves as at the point of dying.

  1. DEACON’S SOLUTION IN BRIEF

Here author presents the brief version of his teacher’s solution to the problem of appearance of highly organized selves in the world of the 2ndlaw of thermodynamics. This solution is based on the idea of random constrains that occur naturally, limiting range of movement for molecules of non-selves, which in some cases could lead to increase of local orderliness. Author defines emergent vs. imposed constrains and posits that these constrains could lead to emergent self-regulation, which in turn could lead to regeneration and consequent establishment of circular self with somewhat dynamically stable conditions of birth – live with continuing intertwining of deterioration and self-repair – reproduction by creating another self that combines similarity with variation – death. Author concentrates on the notion of self-regeneration, which includes: self-protection, self-repair, and self-reproduction. Author introduces here idea of autogen that includes higher and lower levels of emergent constrains that causes self-generating selves.

Il. FRAMING, THER MYSTKRY

  1. TWO SOURCES OF CHANGE

Here author going into details of changes process. He discusses two toolkits: cause and effect, which is purely material and happens consistently all the time; and means and ends, which depends on selves and happens with great variety depending on selves and their internal and perception of external conditions at the moment.

  1. SELVES

This is look at what is self and author pretty much defines it as everything alive and then goes into discussing differences between human vs. non-human selves. Then he goes a bit into Descartes Body/soul (self) dichotomy. Somehow author comes to conclusion that selves are non-material based on the strange idea that living and dead bodies are materially the same (which they are obviously not).

  1. TWO GHOSTS, TWO MACHINES

This starts with discussion of supernatural ghosts that author obviously rejects and equivocal ghost or homunculi that kind of manage us from inside. This is also rejected as unscientific. The right approach is emergentism, which seeks to explain transition from one state to another via cause and effect dynamics to selves with time. After dealing with ghosts author moves to machines and defines them as either functional or non-functional depending on whether they serve selves or not. The final part is discussion of teleonomy, meaning impression of purpose, resulting from Couse/effect laws of nature.

  1. INTERPRETATION

It is about typical notions that make sense only in relation to selves such as: FOR-NESS, ABOUT-NESS, and interpretations of behavior.

8.AIMS

Similarly, author discusses aiming as constraining meaning that when selves aim at something to de-liberate them from something else. Author looks at differences between human approaches to aiming, which is pinpoint aiming in both time and space, but it is much less precise for other selves. Author also discusses here determinism, which is rejected and then pairs: determinism vs. probability, and probability vs. possibility.

  1. EVOLUTION’S LIMITED LIMITING ROLE

The final chapter of this part is about evolution and author stresses its aimless character. However, he points out that only selves have aims that could evolve because of variance: generation, not replication. The final point here is that Darwin’s “Origin of species” is somewhat a misnomer because we do not know about origin, we only know about transformation. The origin itself – that is production of living self from non-living materials, is still a mystery.

III. DEAD ENDS, LIVE CLUES

  1. THE HISTORY

Author starts this with example of various functional causes going back to Aristotle:

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 11.53.31 AM

From here author goes to discussion of Christian and Islamic attitude to causes and tendency to insert god into causal relationship whenever gaps in understanding occur. This tendency was greatly undermined by development of scientific approach, which makes god a lot less necessary for understanding the world and practically useless for predicting future outcome of actions.

  1. EVOLUTIONARY THEORY’S ELUSIVE SELF

The next stop is discussion of evolution. First it discussed from the Darwin point of view and then going to Dawkins with his “selfish gene” and “blind watchmaker”.

  1. INFORMATION ABOUT NOTHING FOR ANYONE

Here author moves to Shannon and theory of information, which is basically theory of imperfect communications.

  1. THE ENGINEERED GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINES

Here it is computer that is object of discussion or more precisely its ability to imitate humans and Turing test. Author seems to believe that computers could eventually become selves, but we are far away from that. Finally, author discusses “reverse engineering fallacy” that means science first. In reality engineering often comes first when something is done and works without doer understanding how it works. There is a nice statement here “The map is not territory”.

  1. SMALL IS DUBIOUS

The final peace is about small particles approach to the search of understanding of live in quantum mechanics and physics. Author provides a brief review of a number of approaches, none of which he considers valid:

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 11.55.58 AM

  1. GROUNDING A SOLUTION
  2. PROCESSES OF EMERGENT ELIMINATION

This starts with discussion of materialism vs. naturalism. Author states that naturalism is wider notion because it includes absences, which materialism does not. Author also includes dynamic changes into natural, but not material phenomenon. Then he moves to interesting part of discussing processes of elimination vs. processes of production, with former being natural processes leading to creation of selves, while latter are typical for selves. Another unusual approach here is discussion of negative scientific breakthroughs. Author refers here to evolution, which works by eliminating unfit, information theory where message received is whatever left of message sent, and cybernetic self-organization, which eliminates states of the system inconsistent with its functioning. Finally, author moves to discuss selves’ emergence of new dynamic paths. The application here is to look from elimination point of view, for example instead of what makes something alive to look at what prevents something from dying.

  1. SECOND LAW

This starts with an interesting question: what is more complex frog or blended mix of its parts? Author position is that blend is more complex because in one case parts are organized and easily identified, while in the mix everything is elsewhere preventing categorization. Author present is as 2ndlaw of thermodynamics – entropy. Normal movement from simple – organized staff to complex, mixed staff is according to this low, but the puzzle is how regularity such as selves were created in the first place. Author’s response is that it happens via irregularities that constrain path of movement, generating regularity. One of examples – paths development when more walked on path becomes more and more attractive for walkers, consequently becoming a road.  Author’s here is that nothing added, but rather potential paths are eliminated.

  1. EMERGENT REGULARIZATION

It starts with discussion of material constrains like walls, which are defined as imposed constrains. Author present another form of constrains – self-organization as emerging constrains created throughout dynamics – something like turbulence created by mix of currents of the river or crown movement out of stadium. This follows by discussion of top-down causality and critic of notion of self-organization, which author wants to substitute with new term: emergent regularization. This emergent regularization means increase in constrains eventually leading to self-regeneration.

  1. EMERGENT REGULARIZATION VS. EMERGENT SELF-REGENERATION

Important point here is that emergent regulation is temporary and local effect, but it produces self-generation that from this moment on start producing highly regulated material. Author provides example of fossil fuel that is at its core such regulated material with high concentration of energy created by selves. After that author refer to Schrodinger’s idea of unknown laws of nature that possesses negative entropy – negentropy that would differentiate living from non-living material. Author’s point is that emergent regularization is practically doing just that. After that author defines self-regeneration as combination of 3 fundamental capacities presented in such way:

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 12.01.05 PM

At the end of the chapter he discusses interaction between these 3, which is quite complex because they impose opposite demands.

  1. OTHER EMERGENT REGULARIZATION DYNAMICS

Here author surveys 3 types of emergent regulation dynamics:

  • Benard Cells – regular pattern created by heated oil due to variance of temperature between layers of this oil.
  • Autocatalysis, when there is closed loop of catalyst supporting chain of reaction leading to production of more of this catalyst.
  • Crystals, which author calls frozen regularity. Author uses it as sample of aperiodicity somewhat similar to DNA.

At the end author discusses 3 what he calls “proposed missing links, falling short”, each of which has a camp of supporters:

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 12.01.13 PM

  1. COUPLED REGULARIZATION PROCESSES

The chapter starts with reference to Kant and his machine’s motive power vs. life’s formative power, the last one being systemic with everything interconnected creating vector from means to ends. Deacon and author’s approach is different and based on idea opposite to usual: the whole is less than sum of its parts. In other words, it is the system of reciprocal constrains that author calls synergistic coupling. One candidate for such coupling is Eigen’s hypercycle – coupling of multiple autocatalytic processes. After that author discusses “Error Catastrophe” when various processes in the system go out of sync, which in author believe would prevent hypercycles from creation of live. Another candidates discussed are “autopoietic units” formed by autocatalytic processes that create membranes. Author believes that this is unlikely scenario due to low probability of such occurrence. Author provides more details on this, but concludes that all this is not enough to generate life.

  1. DEACON’S SOLUTION
  2. AUTOGENS: SELF-GENERATORS

This is discussion of autogen and its use as a model for origin of live. Here is pictorial presentation:

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 12.05.31 PM

Author discusses autogen cycles and its dynamic constrain tendencies resulting in self-generation for which it meets all 3 requirements: Self-protection, self-repair, and self-reproduction.He also looks at information collection from environment and self-cleaning, concluding at the end that autogen provides for evolvable reproduction at the edge of chaos.

  1. EVOLVED AUTOGENS

This is the next step in the theory of autogen – adding selectivity to autogen interaction with environment. This obviously allows for evolutionary development because selectivity and choice is what allow for preferable survival of selves that do it more effectively. After that author moves to discuss replication and currently dominant origin of life theory based on RNA replicators. At the end author discusses hypothetical scenario for templates being incorporated into autogen providing for autogen lineages ability to inherit random monomer sequences.

  1. WHERE IS THE SELF?

The first question here is if autogen is self. So far it is all theory since an autogen is still to be generated in a lab or observed spontaneously arise in nature. After that author goes into discussion of reciprocity of parts in living body and so is autocatalysis vs. capsid formation could be considered reciprocal, creating entity that has an aim of not ending. Here is the illustration of such super primitive self:

Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 12.05.38 PM

At the end author points out that self is not really material object similarly to whirlpool, which is not material condition of material water molecules. Therefore, what author calls synergetic coupling of Autocatalysis and Capsid formation could start evolutionary process expanding all kind of entities that combine all three basic capacities: self-reproduction, self-repair, and self-protection.

  1. THE CONSEQUENCES OF SELF-REGENERATION

Author starts this with discussion of trying, which he defines as specific characteristic of selves’ attempt to avoid ending. He then moves to consequences of trying: emergence of good and bad, self-other relationship, foresight, and memory.

  1. THE INTERPRETING SELF
  2. CODES, SIGNS, INTERPRETERS

Here author is using autogen in attempt to analyze selves at their most primitive level so to avoid complexities added by evolution. He starts with functional constrains, the first one being a coincidence of autocatalysis and capsid formation being together (dynamic constrain) and the second: catalysts clustered together in autogen seed (static constrain). Consequently, author discusses information first theories of live, DNA and link of information transfer functionality to selves.

  1. KINDS OF SIGNS

Here author looks at nature and functionality of signs, symbols, and symbolic systems. The most important probably here is discussion of interpretations and the notion of only selves being able to interpret anything at all.

VII. IMPLICATIONS

  1. A CONSTRAINT-BASED APPROACH TO EVOLUTIONARY THEORY

Author looks at implications of autogen theory and notes that template – DNA is redundant and this gives the freedom to explore. He also points out that evolution is basically theory of constrains because they are causing selective pressures and remove unfit. Author critics a simplified idea of evolution and promotes idea that selves at least somewhat drive evolution of choosing what aims they are trying to achieve. He is trying to provide an adjustment that is based on 3 R: Redundancy, Relaxation, and Repurposing.

  1. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WILL DEBATE?

Another issue is implication of this theory to the free will. Author claims that will is neither free nor determined, but rather it is complex source of action predefined by selves’ aims.  He rejects an idea that motor neural activities occurring before conscious decision demonstrate absence of free will, it only demonstrates that organism is more complicated than simple top down hierarchy. After that author discusses categories, symbolic interpretations and unexpected consequences. While rejecting determinism, author also rejects simplified application of Heisenberg uncertainty principle to selves, stating that we have incomplete determinism in the probabilistic world. He also discusses theory of chaos pointing out that normally butterflies do not really create hurricanes.  Finally he discusses a notion of strange loop, which is ambiguity of causes and effects relationship, concluding that “We evolved selves are strange loop also, tangled hierarchies of levels of representation. Our DNA is not full representation of all constrains, but rather loose set of molecular representation of temporal and developmental constrains not reducible to chemical dynamics.

  1. MAKING SCIENCE SAFE FOR VALUE

It starts with the discussion of Hume’s guillotine: oughtis not deducible from is. In other words science cannot speak to questions of value.  Author suggest that if oughtmeans value for selves; they could be expressed via selves’ aims. Author then moves to science / religion contradiction and suggest that it should not prevent scientific approach to values, which is not deterministic and does not involve anything supernatural, but rather based on selves who have aims resulting in forming values and negotiating between each other over these values. He ends with the point that the higher value for humans should be self-preservation as the one and only symbolic life.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find the approach via subtraction (constrains) rather then addition to the problem of origin of life very interesting, but very difficult to test in any conceivable settings. It does make a lot of sense and is quite possibly explanation close to reality. However I think that implication of it to all philosophical questions being a bit of the stretch, except for the idea of difference between living and non-living objects as between selves that have aims and material objects that have no aims whatsoever and just being moved by natural phenomenon of cost and effect. I think it would make sense to add that selves’ aims depend on their material condition in time and space, which defined by complex material cause – effect events that consequently prompt selves initiate action that seek to achieve aims via probabilistically predictable cause-effect events.

 

20180708 – The Causes of War & the Spread of Peace

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 9.39.03 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to analyze history of war and use of violence between human groups from earliest possible time to the present and look at its possibilities for the future use of violence for similar purposes. This analysis demonstrates that was used from the beginning of human existence and that it decreased with advance of modernity, but that there is no guaranty that this decrease is permanent.

DETAILS:

Past Imperfect: Prehistory and History

  1. When Did It All Begin?

The question posited here leads author to review not that much history, but prehistory, that is going before last 1500 years of the existence of the states. The old philosophers’ answers: either Hobbs or Rousseau obviously just speculations without any empirical support whatsoever. So, author looks at archeology for answers, but does not find enough help there because primitive weapons used for hunting and fighting are practically the same. Human skeletons are also not that reliable because they become common only in the last 10,000 years when people start burying dead. More reliable evidence of war – fortification of settlements and traces of their violent destruction exist only in parallel with development of agriculture. However, research on contemporary hunters – gatherers and our close relatives – chimpanzees demonstrated validity of routine character of violent competition. Biologically odd notion that species don’t kill own kind is disproved many times over. In short – fighting and killing both organized as a group and individual seems to be with humans since the beginning.

After this review author discusses philosophical approach: Rousseauism and its expansion that tried to put observable fighting between tribes to interference of external forces whether researchers or colonizers (ideas of tribal zone). All this was thoroughly disproved by anthropological and archeological evidence. Author provides details of such research in Australia. Finally, author states his position that War and Peace are both Biologically Embedded, Alternative, and Complimentary Behavioral strategies for survival.

  1. Why People Fought in the Evolutionary State of Nature

Here author moves from establishing facts of fighting to analyzing reason for it. The obvious are: Competition for subsistence resources, fight for reproduction opportunities, Dominance, and Revenge. From reasons of fighting author moves to its consequences: resource consuming arms race with eventual Red Queen effect of running to stay in place. After that author looks at other war/peace strategies related to supernatural, psychological cause from playfulness to sadism, group promotion and survival. The final part is the discussion of evolutionary impact of fighting when it could be the best available option for survival.

  1. The Clash of the State-Leviathans

This is about massive state violence that came to live with advance of agriculture. Author discusses the first states that appeared about 5000 years ago and relatively quickly started growing in size and power. Author makes point that it is difficult to define which direction of the violence was more important: internal directed at state’s subjects or external directed at subjects of other state. In any case, however, that the violence had always been the very core of state’s existence is out of question. The interesting point here is that overall violent deaths decreased with advance of the statist form of society organization. In this author is completely in agreement with Hobbes: Leviathan provides more security. Also, is very interesting analysis of share of population involved in hierarchical violent state organization: basically1% of population to be organized, as an army and/or police, is typical throughout the history.  After that author looks at different aspects of state based organization of society:

  • Who gains materially, which is obviously individuals in control of violent machinery of the state. Author points out the important change: if in hunter-gatherer society struggle for resources was a zero-sum game, the states with their destructive capacities greatly increased conducted wars that created negative sum game overall with positive sum for winner and much higher negative sum for loser.
  • From evolutionary point of view the state created huge sexual advantages for winners from soldiers’ mass rape of conquered to top leaders with huge harems. Current genetic research demonstrated hugely disproportional representation of some male genes in population – for example one man’s Y-chromosome assumed to be Chinggis Khan’s is present in 8% of population of Central Asia. Author also stresses role of sexual opportunities as motivational factor for soldiers.
  • Motivation for achieving state power despite being a very high-risk position was very high-reward because it would provide access to all above. Author discusses evolutionary meaning of this high risk / high reward strategy pointing out that many the loser of power struggle had their line stopped altogether.
  • There are also very important non-material benefits for the people at the top: status, prestige, and influence that come with them. All this provides huge psychological satisfaction that could not be neglected. Actually, multilayer hierarchical structure of state provides for identity and feeling of belonging that is important for even the lowest member of the society, especially if combined with some mobility for the most capable members of society.

At the end of chapter author discusses value and importance of war for state based society, stressing that contemporary attitude to war as senseless enterprise is ahistorical and could reasonably applied only to our time when war between top state is not win-lose, but lose-lose and not even a game, but certainty.

Flaws and Misconceptions in Disciplinary Grand Theories

This part is about the causes of war.

  1. Anthropology: Why People Fought (if They Did)

First author looks at it from Anthropology point of view as rejection of evolutionary approach. He quite nicely demonstrates funny side of this rejection of evolution. After that he looks at interaction of Cultural and Biological evolution and generally concludes that this complex interaction more supplemental then contradictory, while in either case could be deleterious for survival. In the second part author concentrates on material causes of war as source of resources and anthropological attempt to reject it. He tries to demonstrate that this rejection is not valid and mainly caused by poor understanding of evolutionary processes.

  1. The Causes of War (or Their Absence) In International Relations Theory

This is another disciplinary approach to the causes. Author looks at works on power by political scientists such as Morgenthau who discussed human motivation for power from economics point of view, then Waltz who took more systemic approach, and a few others. After that author moves to 3D systemic explanation: man, the state, and the international system. Finally, he discusses analysts who expanded it to 3D+time.

The Modernization Peace

  1. Has War been Declining—and Why?

Here author posits question of why war declines and at least somewhat rejects usual explanation – nukes by pointing out that there were long periods of peace in Europe before:

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 9.34.57 AM

Author analyses level of devastation caused by war, but concludes that it could not be explanation because even ancient wars were highly destructive. Among other reasons for relative pacification author discusses cultural attitudes changes, better understanding of loses and increase in value of live. This was expressed by growing negative attitude to fighting and decrfeased interest in marshal glory. Author looks in a bit more details at Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” and others and them moves to the idea that democracies reject war. This notion is not necessary true that was demonstrated many times starting with ancient Greek democracies. The next step is to claim that liberal capitalism leads to peace, but it is also could not be confirmed. Author also discusses war as the method to resolve Malthusian problem and movement to the peace as consequence of resolution of this problem via science, productivity, and welfare state. Here are results of correlation analysis between war and different society structures:

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 9.35.05 AM

Eventually author concludes that it is not one factor, but complex interaction of many factors related to modernity, from commercialization to sexual revolution, that made war less and less attractive and pushed it away from reality of contemporary developed societies.

  1. Challenges to the Modernization Peace: Past and Future

Author defines purpose of this chapter as an attempt to look back at most puzzling development that occurred seemingly against current of more peaceful world and try to learn lessons for the future.

The first he look at great wars of XIX and XX centuries starting with Crimean war.  These wars, with exception of Crimean war, that was bout territories, were about national unity, self-determination, and independence. They were expressions of powerful nationalistic movements that were in conflict with retreating imperial and colonialist movements that defined previous centuries. Similarly to nationalist movements and often intertwined with them were ideological movements such as communism and anti-colonialism. They all represented alternative to liberal democratic modernity, but all eventually failed either in military or economic competition with this world. It does not mean however that new alternative could not developed such as authoritarian system with limited economic freedom such as China. Author discusses balance of power and how it changed over the last 150 years. He also discusses cultural difference and provides an interesting cultural map:

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 9.35.18 AM

The conclusion of chapter is that modernization peace is real, but it is not guarantied for future despite increased interconnection of the worlds.

Conclusion: The Logic of War and Peace

The overall conclusion of the book is that there is no enigma in existence of the war and that it always was one of the tools that humans use in competition for resources and power. Moreover it is not human specific phenomenon- many social animal apply group fighting. As such tool the war used if and when cost/benefit analysis seems to be promising for initiator of the war. In contemporary world with its nuclear and other powerful weapons it is hard to believe that it could be possible.  Consequently the war clearly disappearing from use in developed countries. 

MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a nice review of the issue and I agree that war is just another tool in evolutionary competition for resources and that humans used it as other social animals to obtain recourses in all their various forms: from arable land to turning other humans into slaves. I also think that decrease in the use of violence, either individual or group, is deeply connected to decrease in probable benefits and dramatic increase of costs with increase in power of weapons and effectiveness of policing.  I think that war as such, will disappear and that it will happen as soon as developed countries stop playing with weird notions of humanitarian approach to war and apply full power of their weapons against anybody who wages war on them. It would require more powerful jolt than 9/11, but I think religious zealots eventually manage to achieve it, provoking annihilating retaliation after which war will disappear as a tool for achieving anything.

 

 

20180701 – The Influential Mind

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 2.05.31 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that usual instinctive approach to communication with intent to influence people does not work and that the newest psychological research with the use of such technology as MRI provides insight into works of human brain that in turn provides new methodologies of influence, much more effective than the traditional ones. Author allocates a chapter to each specific technic of influence from the use of factual data to use of fear and tries to demonstrate how new and better technics could be used.

DETAILS:

Prologue. A Horse-Sized Syringe

The Surprising, Baffling, Mysterious Case of Influence

Author starts with describing her work researching human ability influencing others in the lab by manipulating incentives, emotions, context, and social environment. The objective is to obtain insights in the human behavior. After that she moves to present an example of manipulation – image of horse syringe used on children. Trump used it in GOP debate discussing vaccination with Carson. Author makes an important point that while Carson was correct from scientific side, the image overwrote this and gives Trump winning points with people, even if he was wrong. After that author moves to very interesting point presenting results of brain-imaging demonstrating pleasure that was created by communicated one’s ideas and opinions to others, especially if it changes other’s behavior. At the end she stresses two important points: one is that people typically communicate based on their mindset and knowledge, while recipient always has different mindset and knowledge; the other is the huge gap between believing and acting, which is typically demonstrated by attitudes to exercise: everybody believes it is good for health, but much smaller number of people actually does it.

  1. Does Evidence Change Beliefs? (Priors)

The Power of Confirmation and the Weakness of Data

The chapter starts with example of Franco-American couple in which spouse has preference for own country and cannot convince another to switch position. Author claims that usual way of argument based on attempts to provide logical and data support for one’s opinion and argue for this is wrong. The reason is complexity and amount of data and human tendency for confirmation bias, meaning selective use of data – accepting whatever confirms one’s view and rejecting whatever denies.  Author presents a number of experiments supporting this and makes an interesting inference: more intelligent people are better capable to find data supporting whatever opinion they already have and/or twist data to support their opinion. At the end of the chapter author comes up with recommendation to find a common ground that would provide higher value than supporting one’s views and then provide alternatives. He example: parents concerned with vaccine / autism issue could be convinced by hem probabilities of other diseases preventable by this vaccine.

Key inference here: don’t reject opposite opinion without trying to find common ground that could breach difference.

  1. (Emotion) How We Were Persuaded to Reach for the Moon

The Incredible Sway of Emotion

This chapter demonstrates emotional persuasion by using example of Kennedy’s Moon speech. After that author examines impact of emotions in lab conditions when watching spaghetti westerns. The next step is a review of use of synchronized emotions for persuasion, first by discussing how to get to synchronization either via recollection of meeting spouse, then mother/ baby connection and finally by reviewing Facebook experiment on manipulation of emotions. Finally, author discusses synchronization via common experience like watching move when pattern of eyes movement common not only between people, but also with monkeys.

Key inference here: Emotions are contagious, therefore should be used cautiously.

  1. (Incentives) Should You Scare People into Action?

Moving with Pleasure and Freezing with Fear

Here author moves to the methods of controlling people. She discusses experiment with hand washing when positive feedback worked much better then threads and punishments. Author also discusses here Attraction and Avoidance using experiment with chickens on treadmill, which run after food when it is moving away, and then run away from food that is moving in their direction. Similar processes happen to people. She also discusses freezing reaction even in case of emergencies that seems to be counter the need for survives as in deer in highlights case. Author’s explanation – it is just a method of survival by pretending to be dead to merge in non-living environment. At the end of the chapter she takes on marshmallow experiment from something different point of view: not usual willpower approach, but rather unpredictability of future, meaning that forfaiting a smaller reward now for future bigger reward is actually weighted by probability of this future reward to arrive.

Key inference here: Warnings and threats work poorly, encouragement and positive immediate feedback work much better.

  1. (Agency) How You Obtain Power by Letting Go

The Joy of Agency and the Fear of Losing Control

It starts with discussion of rationality of fear and disconnect between what people fear and what it really dangerous:

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 2.08.04 PM

This follows by discussion of control and influence: both are being source of agency without which humans become stressed and fearful. There is an interesting point here about taxes, which are obviously very unpleasant part of live. Author suggest that by allowing people define what taxes used for greatly improves attitude – at least in lab experiment with students it led to increase in compliance from 50% to 70 %. Then author dig into the notion of control, defining it as choice common not only to people, but also to animals. The next point is that choice has price and this price paid when choice is not the best in investment and other areas of live. Author discusses a couple of experiments demonstrating that people generally do it consciously sometimes giving up agency for expected gain, but sometimes not. Finally, author makes another point that possession of control in live makes people healthier and happier. Author also added that experiments and just common knowledge show that people by far prefer and value the product of their own effort comparatively to the same product produced by others.

Key inference here: If one wants people to do something, the best way is to frame it in such way as they want to do it themselves. Agency makes people happy.

  1. (Curiosity) What Do People Really Want to Know?

The Value of information and the Burden of Knowledge

The discussion of information value starts with flight security announcement that nobody really paying attention to as example of important information missed. Then it moves to the story of individual losing important benefit due to unethical acquisition of information just to get it a bit earlier. Similarly, experiment on monkeys demonstrated that they also value information highly enough to pay for it. The next point is joy of anticipation for some good news and conscious evasion of a bad one represented by such typical occurrence as disease test avoidance. Another valid statistical example is people’s frequency of checking their investment accounts correlation with market movements. The final note is about our constant attempt to filter out unpleasant information and cherry picking of pleasant.

Key inference here: People want good news, so frame message as possibility of progress, rather than doom.

  1. (‘State) What Happens to Minds Under Threat?

The Influence of Stress and the Ability to Overcome

Author starts with examples of irrational mass panic: running people in New York, multiple girls simultaneously showing symptoms of illness without any indication of actually being sick. After providing examples of mass hysteria, author describes experiments on information processing under the stress, which demonstrated increase in acceptation of negative information under the stress. The next comes look at sport games where stress presented in very clear form, which author uses to discuss situation of playing safe vs. going out all the way when there is perception of nothing to lose.

Key inference here: Identify and prevent influence of others on your emotional state.

  1. (Others, Part I) Why Do Babies Love iPhones?

The Strength of Social Learning and the Pursuit of Uniqueness

Here author discusses tension that humans experience between strive to be unique and to be as everybody at the same time. She starts it referring to baby name selection and then moves to use of iPhone by infant to copy behavior of adults. She also provides some other examples of mass imitation such as a movie killing sales of Merlot. Another interesting example is that, despite deficiency for donated kidneys, people refuse the ones that were previously rejected. At the end she discusses theory of mind and stresses an important point: compliance with the group position that individual not really agree with drops dramatically if there is at least one person challenging the group.

Key inference here: Be mindful of (over) social learning and do not imitate choices of others.

  1. (Others, Part II) Is Unanimous as Reassuring as It Sounds?

How to Find Answers in an Unwise Crowd

This is about wisdom of crowd and cases when it works: crowd contains independent minds with divers experience; and when it does not work – crowd just a bunch of conformists. It starts with example of unanimous rejection of literary work that followed by individual acceptation of this for some idiosyncratic reasons, leading to non-conformist getting very rich like in example with Harry Porter.

Key inference here: voting should be not equal, but weighted by competence level of voter.

  1. The Future of Influence?

You Mind in My Body

This is about humans being social creatures that developed language so sophisticated that no other animals can match and then following it up with writing and now with computers. Then author describes experiment with connection between brains of two mousses, which learned to control each other actions. The experiment was then expanded to humans using non-intrusive methods and achieving successful communications. Author ends with claim that such direct connection is just imitation of our usual methods: language, mimics, and lots of other methods.

MY TAKE ON IT:

We seem to be experiencing overload of attempts to understand and influence people in all areas of live by using results of psychological research based on brain scanning. It is an interesting phenomenon because at the bottom of these attempts one can find reaction to failures of the last hundred years of collectivistic utopias. From the new Soviet or Nazi man that was supposed to be created by steely hand of totalitarian government to the soft nudging of people to do whatever elite of society believes is good for them, all these attempts hit hard into reality of human nature and go down in flames. This book is kind of combination of technics of influencing people and technics to resist such influencing. As such, both sets of technics are easily observable in mass media and political activities, providing for a nice entertainment. I, however, do not believe that these attempts could ever be successful. The reason for that is not that much complexity of human being, as complexity and fluidity of environment combined with continuing change in each individual’s mind and body while he/she is going through multiple internal age and circumstance related changes. At any given moment a multitude of people could be influenced by the same stimuli to move in different, sometime opposite directions so combined vector of movement is not possible to define. To do this would require   defining psychological and mental status of all members of this multitude, which is not possible regardless of amount of computer power available. And since external force moving people in direction they do not want to go makes people unhappy and sometimes violent, the only reasonable solution, if one wants to achieve peace, prosperity, and maximum happiness, is providing as much freedom as possible and support it with availability of resources, without which the freedom is not real.

20180624 – Himmelfarb, Gertrude – The Roads to Modernity

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 7.43.08 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to identify and stress difference between 3 enlightenments that took place in approximately the same time: British, French, and American. The most attention is paid to the British, which was peaceful, often conducted by religious individuals as its key thinkers, and directed at the finding the best model of relationship between regular people and aristocracy, generally accepting the need and value of both groups for effective functioning of society. The French enlightenment was mainly developed by non-religious and often atheistic philosophers, was militant pretty much against everybody who would not submit to “General Will” as the philosophers and/or philosopher-king would define it, and eventually led to revolution and terror. Practical people – landowners, smugglers, lawyers, and businessmen led the American enlightenment and, unlike both European enlightenments, it was directed to protect interest and liberty of individuals regardless of their position because such liberty supported effective free market system in which all these practical people could thrive.

DETAILS:

THE BRITISH ENLIGHTENMENT: THE SOCIOLOGY OF VIRTUE

  1. “SOCIAL AFFECTIONS AND RELIGIOUS DISPOSITIONS

This starts with an interesting note that British did not have philosophers, they had morals philosophers. Author discusses John Lock and his ideas about table rasa and rejection of this idea by Shaftesbury, who stressed religion and self-interest as driver of human actions. Generally British either Lock or Hobbes rejected Rousseau ideas of human inherent goodness. Another writer that author discusses is Mandeville and his “The Fable of the Bees”, which stressed vice at individual bee level that could be turned into Paradise for the whole mass. This was strongly rejected by British including all luminaries of British thought: Gibbon, Adam Smith, Hutcheson, and others. Author discusses exchange between Hutcheson and Hume about benevolence of innate faculty and then Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, which was better known than the “Wealth of Nations” at the time. Author also discusses British approach to morality and religious believes and stresses that they saw sources of morality outside of religion, while deeming it very important and rejecting atheism. Finally, author discusses the year 1776 when Hume died, Adam Smith published “Wealth”, and Gibbon published “Decline and Fall”, which author defines as not a work of moral philosopher, but of a moral historian.

  1. POLITICAL ECONOMY AND MORAL SENTIMENTS

This starts with Adam Smith and his work, describing them as inseparable entity with prevalence of moral philosophy over economics. The latter thinkers like Schumpeter found it difficult to separate, but for Adams it was nearly the same. Then she follows into details of Smith’s work demonstrating that he was first bringing ideas such as a nation that would include lower layers of population, rejected mercantilism and hindrance to prosperity, explained value of market defined wages as the engine of prosperity for everybody. She also discusses Marxism and its approach to alienation of labor and to education as directed at forming work force, rather than providing knowledge and helping to develop personality.

  1. EDMUND BURKE’S ENLIGHTENMENT

Burke was thinking in the same line as Adam Smith and as Smith was artificially divided between Smith of “Wealth of the Nations” and of “Moral Sentiments” , Burke was divided between laisses faire economist and traditionalist / conservative. In reality neither was in contradiction with self. Support for tradition and rejection of massive change as in French revolution is pretty much consistent with economic and even political freedom, while attempts to jump into the bright future usually lead to violence since in any society there are significant numbers of people who do not want change. Author also discusses in details Wilkes affair and corruption of parliament. Burke is probably the clearest case of demonstrating very different ways of French and British enlightenment.

  1. RADICAL DISSENTERS

This is about British dissidents who were more inclined to support French enlightenment and supremacy of reason over traditions: Richard Price, Priestly, Thomas Paine, and others. Author discusses in details Paine and his conflict with Burke about French revolution. At the same time these dissidents professed to be disciples of Adam Smith and actually were against big government. Paine even wrote against Babeuf in defense of private property. What does link them to latter leftists’ idea is fight for disestablishment of church. Another personality author discusses in detail is William Godwin and his writings about political justice and its influence on happiness. In this case it was indeed based on abolition of private property and idea of society based on morality developed by reason and science, rejecting private materialistic interests.

  1. METHODISM: “A SOCIAL RELIGION”

This is about usually missed part of enlightenment because of its religious nature – Methodism. Author presents it as religion of working classes highly suitable for period of industrialization, even if it was not necessarily logically consistent. She discusses some personalities of this movement, especially Wesley, allocating lots of attention to how they were perceived by contemporary thinkers.

  1. “THE AGE OF BENEVOLENCE”

Here author defines British enlightenment as age of moral sentiments, sympathy, compassion, and overall benevolence. She discusses how it was presented in novels, real live via multitude of association and mutual help societies, philanthropy, and overall attempts to modify society in such way that nobody would be let out in the cold. It also meant to go against cruelty, even against cruelty to animals and popular blood sports. Author also brings here discussion of education for poor that was considered a tool to improve their lives. All this benevolence was changing quality of live in Britain, sometimes even supporting positive interaction between classes.

THE FRENCH ENLIGHTENMENT: THE IDEOLOGY OF REASON

This starts with reference to Tocqueville who contrasted French philosophers and British counterparts by noting that British were quite practical and constantly used ideas in government practice, while French had two separate domains one of which was busy with theory of society without practical application and another managed society without paying any attention to ideas. Obviously, America was much close to British attitude than to the French, with important difference that these were the same people who did theorizing and administration. That’s probably one reason why French Encyclopedia has only historians interested in it, while American Constitution, Federalist papers, important speeches, and such are still discussed nearly daily and often in the news.

REASON AND RELIGION

This is about French attempts to push out religion and substitute it with reason, which in practice demanded the same uncritical accepting whatever philosophers come up with. Author discusses personalities of the period: Diderot, Voltaire, Holbach, and others. Author also looks at articles about reason, religion, and other issues in Diderot’s Encyclopedia.

LIBERTY AND REASON

Here author discusses French enlightenment attitude to Liberty, which is interesting by its theoretical approach: demand for absolute liberty for them and orientation at “what ought to be” rather than “what is”. This was one of the reasons of negative reaction to Montesquieu’s “The Spirit of Laws”. The point was who could safeguard liberty and protect against despotism. Montesquieu thought it should be nobility, but majority of philosophers bet on philosopher–king.

ENLIGHTENED DESPOTISM AND THE GENERAL WILL

This is about the idea of enlightenment despot such as Frederick or Ekaterina managing people to prosperity and happiness. Author discusses how philosophers treated this idea: mainly supporting it, but with some uneasiness. Overall, they also included support for tolerance and were against slavery, for some reason assuming that enlightened despot would always do the same.

LE PEUPLE AND LA CANAILLE

This is about difference between 3 Enlightenments: British mainly cared about “condition of the people” and generally rejected idea of General will. Americans did not have that many poor to care of, had plenty of land and other resources so “people” could care about themselves quite nicely, and therefore did not worry that much about this staff. Author looks in details at Rousseau, Diderot, and others to demonstrate this variety of approaches.

ENLIGHTENMENT AND REVOLUTION

Generally, philosophers prefer to avoid revolutions and hoped for the change coming top down. However, their work created environment that actually allowed revolution to happen. Author uses Robespierre to demonstrate this influence.

THE AMERICAN ENLIGHTENMENT: THE POLITICS OF LIBERTY

If in Britain foreground of Enlightenment was public good – handling poverty and other issues of social policy, France – General will leading to achieving ideal, in America it was liberty – religious and political via self-governing.

REVOLUTION AND CONSTITUON

Here author dig deeper in this American exceptionalism with discussion of Federalist papers and overall American revolution and Constitution, all of which is still pretty much alive and under nearly daily discussion 240 years on.

LIBERTY AND VIRTUE

This is about relationship between social virtue and political liberty, which was kind of dividing issue between Federalists who were skeptical about virtue looking to separate powers and put ambition against ambition and Anti-federalists who believed that virtue generated by link of independent farmer to the land alone guarantee success. Here skepticism was directed against commerce and self-interest.

RELIGION AND VIRTUE

Here author discusses a very interesting feature of American Exceptionalism: religion as source of virtue, which is not supported by government, but rather independent from it and allows for diverse development, providing for Americans to choose whatever they want and, as result, practically assuring higher level of religiosity than was and is typical for other countries.

RELIGION AND ENLIGHTENMENT

This is continuation of discussion of relations between religion and enlightenment in America with stress on mutual tolerance, acceptance, and even support that was leaving very little space for skeptical atheistic Enlightenment of European type.

THE DISADVANTAGED AND THE DISENFRANCHISED

The final part is about two groups, which while living in America had little to do with American Enlightenment and even overall ideological discussions: Indians and Slaves. Author reviews development of these two groups and their slow inclusion into American society, which always was and still remains difficult and problematic process.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is an interesting take at roots of contemporary world, which represents fruits of each enlightenment development over the 250 years.

The French enlightenment ideology that is still supported consciously or not by intelligentsia everywhere produced totalitarian states ruled by intelligentsia either highly credentialed or self-taught, but always convinced that they represent the General Will of people and it gives them right to kill, torture, and starve individuals of this people by millions.

Contemporary EU type systems based mainly on mix of French and British enlightenment when there is theoretical acceptance of rights of people, but it accompanied by practical reality when these rights easily subverted to “General will” that intelligentsia (with or without aristocracy) is expressing due to its members superior education, knowledge, and morals. Obviously rights notwithstanding, government violently suppresses all individuals and groups that do not agree and would not comply with this will.

Finally American Enlightenment produced contemporary America, which, despite strong influence of European ideas and even periodic capture of government power by individuals driven by these ideas, still remains the country in which individual enjoy first amendment allowing unrestricted free expression, freedom of movement, relatively free market based productive activities, and the second amendment that allow to have guns to protect all of these.

I actually think that technological development will eventually leave only ideas of individual liberty that grew from American enlightenment operational, because no other set of ideas would be capable providing meaningful live in the era of complete automation.

20180617 – Who can you trust

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 8.20.56 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate importance of trust in all relationships between people, especially in business, which is pretty much not possible without at least some measure of trust. This is based on analysis of the processes that lead to trust with multitude of examples, mainly from real live business. It is also intended to present author’s vision of the future development of trust that in her opinion would eventually substitute many existing mechanisms of supporting trust with some kind of blockchain based infrastructure that would bring it to much higher level than ever before.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Author starts the introduction with reminiscence of her wedding that happen to be on the day of crisis of 2008 so a few of her friends – big financial bosses left the event in emergency. She uses it to discuss various events when trust of people in institutions and leasers was undermined and states that it is very troubling symptom of massive change when trust shifts “from the monolithic to individualized”. Author refer as the cause of this massive change to new technology that made it possible to record events, conversations, videos, and communicate to the world for everybody without anybody’s control and approval, something that was not possible even a few years ago. Author defines the new reality as “distributed trust” and believes that it would bring huge changes to the society.

1 Trust Leaps

From eleventh century traders to Alibaba: how trust works to cross barriers, calm fears and revolutionize what’s possible.

This starts with the Chinese company Alibaba going public on Wall Street. She retells a bit of her experience in China as consultant and then goes into live story of Jack Ma, but more important into how he managed to build some trust in society that builds human interactions on distrust. She provides a pictorial presentation of her understanding of the role of trust:

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 7.53.53 AM

  1. Losing Faith

Behind the devastating crisis in institutional trust-and why we’re now more likely phone a friend

Here author moves to the loss of trust in society that she believes had much stronger history of relationship based on trust – American society. She starts it with the story of Tuskegee experiment when black patients where used as subjects of medical research without their knowledge or agreement. Author believes that it resulted in irreparable damage to attitudes of this population to medical profession. The next case author reviews in this chapter is the story of Panama papers that undermined trust of people in many countries in their leaders. From here she goes into discussion of general decrease in trust for all institutions from very old like government, army, or marriage to very new like Facebook or Reddit.

  1. Strangely Familiar

From sushi to self-driving cars-some surprising lessons in persuading people to trust new ideas.

Here author discusses how trust is build by using the story of French company BlaBlaCar, which is kind of Uber for long distance travelers. She introduces the idea of trust stack demonstrated in this picture:

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 7.54.01 AM

It followes by a number of examples from Airbnb to Vaccination and self-driving cars of how it had happened in the real live. From here she moves to interesting interpretation of “Wisdom of Crowds” via idea of social proof. She describes an iteresting experiment of loking at the sky on busy street: individuals get no respect, small group – 5 people ignite 4 times more interest interest, and, finally, large group 15 people made 45% of passerbies to join.  Author also discusses What in it for me (WIIFME) as nethod of trust building.

  1. Where Does the Buck Stop?

When trust crashes in the self-managed digital world, who is accountable?

This starts with the story of Uber driver who become mass killer of his passengers. Author raises question of Uber’s responsibility for lack of checks and then moves to discussing changes of relative reliability of trust in small village, then brand name company when it became centralized, and then to Internet where it become decentralized once again and where companies search for a new form of building trust between people for which they become intermediaries. These new forms generally include reporting of people who participate in exchange on each other performance. As example author discusses Airbnb, Facebook, News, and experiment with mass manipulation of emotions. Author puts her understanding of trust hierarchy in the graph:

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 7.54.08 AM

  1. But She Looked the Part

A cautionary, tale about deceptive appearances, and the technology that could unmask fakers and frauds

Here author retells story from her childhood when her nanny, who turned out to be a criminal well versed in obtaining trust from unsuspecting people. From here she moves to appearance of trustworthiness and experiments when psychologists try identifying how it works and applications of this research by companies such as baby sitter services provider. The last part of the chapter is about Internet’s ability to provide anonymity and correspondingly increase opportunity for cheating.

  1. Reputation is Everything, Even in the Dark

What drug dealers on the darknet can teach us about great customer service

This is about dark net and value of reputation for everybody and especially for all kinds of criminals who literally live or die by reputation. The inference here is that reputation is precursor for trust or distrust and as such is important in proportion to value and risks of transactions.

  1. Rated: Would Your Life Get a Good Trust Score?

When dystopian sci-fi turns into a reality and every little move you make is ranked, who wins and who loses?

This is about Chinese moving to create “Social Credit System” – something clearly dystopian from Western point of view, but in actuality nothing more than an attempt to bring old fashioned totalitarian vigilance and control to the new technological basis. Interestingly enough it is modelled on American Credit score system only instead of tracing financial behavior it would trace general and political behavior of population.

  1. In Bots We Trust

But should we… and how do we make them ethical?

This is basically about believes in technology and specifically in robots and AI. Here is graphic presentation of the issue:

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 7.57.36 AM

The chapter retells a charming story of the Chatbot Tay that was supposed to represent a young girl. It crashes spectacularly when the bot quickly learned from humans to spit out all king of nasty staff.

  1. Blockchain Part I: The Digital Gold Rush

From fei to bitcoin, the long road to setting money free. What win it mean for the City?

This chapter starts with the story of island Yap where money represented by huge stones making them absolutely symbolic when all transactions are conducted using human witnesses and their memory, so they could be considered based purely on trust. After that author goes into brief history of contemporary monetary systems and explains blockchain and distributed ledger:

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 7.57.43 AM

Author also discusses bitcoin and its technology as the first digital currency not controlled by any government.

  1. Blockchain Part II: The Truth Machine

The golden promises of the blockchain: overhyped or the trustworthy key to our digital future?

The final chapter is about hacking of digital currencies and various problems that occur at intersection of computers and human trust.

Conclusion

This author starts with reference to Stiglitz: “Trust more than money moves world around” and then talks about microloans, which are eventually based on trust. Then she moves to conclude the narrative with discussion of distributer trust based on digital technology as the wave of the future.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find the discussion of trust really important and I think that it had to be of key interest for everybody who thinks about current and future conditions of society. I personally believe that trust is bases on mental habits developed by every person since practically beginning of their lives. Depending on how much person’s trust was justified or misused such mental habits solidify and by adulthood become basis of all interactions with people. The deviation into either side makes people suffer either from becoming victims of cheating or from losing some great opportunities because of lack of trust in others. I believe that expansion of data collection systems from e-mail history, to body cameras for police, to video recording of meetings and other interaction greatly increases human ability to verify and consequently greatly increases area of interactions when this ability could decrease risks of loss due to cheating or misrepresentation. Obviously the technology of blockchain, understood simply as simultaneous and contemporary record of an event in multiple instances too loosely connected making the later correction impossible, will help a lot to assure validity of such records. From economic and even human side it would mean decrease in cost of transactions and reliability of transaction records resulting in prosperity both materially and psychologically.

20180610 – Strategy of Victory

Screen Shot 2018-06-10 at 4.21.00 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that contrary to general opinion George Washington, as military leader, was not a mediocrity, but genius who managed to win the war in which he had to fight the combined forces of the most powerful empire and local loyalists with poor mix of with untrained volunteers and militia that typically was not capable for serious fight. He managed to do it by using Fabius’ strategy of avoiding battles and draining enemy resources and will until settlement becomes more attractive then continuation of the struggle. Moreover it required not only military but also political genius necessary to mediate tensions between Congress that consistently undersupplied resources, officers and men that were cheated of their promised compensation and at the end of war were on the brink of military coup, and other generals who were intriguing to undermine him.

DETAILS:

INTRODUCTION

Here author states the objective of this book as attempt to demonstrate military genius of Washington. It is somewhat unusual statement because the generally accepted view is that Washington was at best a mediocre general, lost more battles than he won, and achieved victory in the war mainly via logistical sophistication that allowed him to keep his army in the field until combination of British exhaustion with the war and massive help of French assured this victory. Author’s claim, however, is that there was more to that and that Washington actually proved to be a military genius by demonstrating capability to change strategy in the middle of the war and succeeded in this turn.

Chapter 1 THE FIRST STROKE

This starts with the analysis of the first encounter of the war in April of 1775 when British troop failed to disarm Lexington militia and lost significant number of their troops in process. Author makes point that it was not result of spontaneous enthusiasm and heroism, but rather well prepared logistical and tactical operation conducted by well-trained militia that was qualitatively better than other Americans militias that for years failed to match this initial achievement.

Chapter 2 PROPAGANDA MEETS REAIJTY IN 1776

Here author analyses role of successful political propaganda campaign that followed Lexington that increased numbers of American militias, simultaneously decreasing their quality. The next American victory in June 1775 at Banker Hill in author’s opinion created false narrative that greatly hurt American cause for many years afterword. Author calls it Bunker Hillism and characterize it as conducting military operation with objective to capture well situated and fortified position and then expecting enemy to repeat British mistake at Bunker Hill of attacking such position headlong.   The chapter narrates details of American defeats during second half of 1776 in New York in elsewhere as result of this tactic, that British were able easily overcome by maneuvering and going around fortified position, cutting them off and periodically forcing Americans into pitched battles, in which poorly trained, undisciplined, and often incompetently led militia could not possibly match professional British and Hessian troops.

Chapter 3 THE YEAR OF THE HANGMAN

This is about 1777, which started with remnants of Washington’s army achieving military small, but psychologically huge success at Trenton. After that it was a string of defeats that eventually forced Washington to change strategy to model it on Roman general Fabius’ strategy against Hannibal – avoid direct confrontation and just try to stay in the field long enough for enemy to give up. Author also trying to make case that British commander Howe did not really wanted to military defeat Americans, but tried rather to force them into settlement.

Chapter 4 THE PERILS OF FABIUS

Here author describes political perils that come with the strategy of avoiding fight: Congress political rambling and competitor General Gates getting more traction in his political maneuvering. Eventually Washington was able to avoid replacement and moved to Valley Forge where despite all the problems with supplies and winter he was able to conduct more or less effective training of the army.

Chapter 5 GENERAL DOUBLE TROUBLE

The general Double Trouble was General Lee who was formally more experienced than Washington and, despite being POW for a while, intrigued against Washington and promoted idea of cheap army / militia. While Lee did cause a lot of trouble and continuously demonstrated insubordination, these troubles were resolved in the battle at Monmouth where Lee absolutely failed.

Chapter 6 A SURPLUS OF DISAPPOINTMENTS

This chapter going into details of initial failed cooperation with French fleet and then into money matters when paper money became nearly worthless and material condition of troop and officers greatly deteriorated. It also reviews British attempt to move war to South in hope to get Tories of Florida and especially South Caroline more involved into fighting Americans. They failed mainly because Southern Carolina colonels refused to provide material support. It also describes French failed attempt to take Savannah. However, the most interesting part probably Clinton’s victory at Charleston where the number of militia found in hiding after surrender was 3 times the number of troops actually fighting.

Chapter 7 LEXINGTON REPEATED–WITH AN ARMY TO LOOK THE ENEMY IN THE FACE

This is about British attempt to finish Washington’s army in the June 1780 with landing operation in Elizabethtown. By this time continental army was in pretty bad shape due to shortages of everything including food to such extent that they even had mutinies such as Connecticut Continental brigade. Nevertheless, the landing operation after initial British success stalled with British and German troops constantly harassed by militia and attacked by Washington’s regulars. Author makes an important point that a lot of problems were caused by British generals’ competition and intriguing against each other.

Chapter 8 ENTER THE OUTRAGED CONQUEROR OF CARLESTON

This chapter is about continuation of this battle, which developed into battle of Springfield when British were forced to retreat, but were not completely defeated, leaving many on American side deeply disappointed.

Chapter 9 HOW MUCH LONGER CAN FABIUS LAST?

This is about the next stage of the war when British moved further into South Carolina. Initially it was another defeat of Americans under command of general Gates who once again violated Washington’s rules of using militia. This chapter also briefly discusses Benedict Arnold’s treason, but from an interesting angle: it probably caused Congress appreciate Washington quite a bit more than before. At the end if Arnold left the cause, what would have happened if Washington did the same?

Chapter 10 A PLAN SO DARING EVEN DANIEL MORGAN FEARED THE WORST

This chapter goes in details of event in Carolinas backcountry where Americans under Green and Morgan succeeded with not small help from British arrogance and stupidity that pushed locals into American camp. It narrates about maneuvering in this area between Americans and the best British tactical commander Banastre Tarleton that eventually led to one of the most tactically interesting battles when Morgan intentionally put his troops in position where it would be obvious that give up fighting and run as militia did quite regularly would not be a viable option if one wants to stay alive.

Chapter 11 DOWNRIGHT FIGHTING

This chapter is detailed narrative of battle at Cowpens when thanks to Morgan’s masterful use of combination of militia, infantry, and cavalry British were defeated with quite serious consequences for the war overall.

Chapter 12 FIGHT, GET BEAT, RISE AND FIGHT AGAIN

The next stage of war was Cornwallis movement to South through North Carolina and another battle at Guilford Court House, which Americans under command of Nathaniel Green kind of lost, but were able orderly retreat. In process inflicting serious casualties on Cornwallis. After that Green moved to South Carolina, but Cornwallis decided that he had enough of Deep South and moved up North to Virginia in hope eliminate Washington’s Northern Army.

Chapter 13 FROM MUTINY AND DESPAIR TO IMPROBABLE VICTORY

This chapter is about deteriorating condition of continental army exhausted by multiyear war, devastated by currency inflation that deprive them of practically any meaningful material compensation, and slowly losing any motivation to continue fighting. This situation caused increasing tension and even mutinies in some cases. In addition, Benedict Arnold, in command of some 2000 British troops by this time, raided Virginia forcing Jefferson to run away from his home. Simultaneously France also got tired of the war and start planning peace conference in Vienna with clear intention to abandon Americans to their fate. However, the new and probably the last opportunity presented itself when Cornwallis moved to Yorktown, French fleet moved in to join forces with Washington, and Green wreak havoc on British troops in South. The outcome of all this was defeat and surrender of Cornwallis just when American Revolution was seemingly at its last legs.

Chapter 14 VICTORY’S UNEXPECTED CHALLENGE

This is a bit about peace negotiations when Franklin and Adams had to find way to establish America as an independent state without giving in either to France or to Britain. But it is more about seldom discussed internal American affairs of the period, specifically question of compensation for veterans of revolutionary war when Congress unwillingness to meet obligation put country on the brink of military coup. All this was complicated by British troops remaining in America.

Chapter 15 GEORGE WASHINGTON’S TEARS

This chapter is continuation of the narrative of American veteran’s standoff with Congress, which could end pretty badly if not George Washington. Unlike practically all military leaders before and after him, he did not move to the head of upset military and become dictator, but rather used all his influence to prevent such development that practically makes him the greatest political actor in history. The story here is about specific and famous episode when Washington shed tears at the farewell meeting with officers.

Chapter 16 MAJOR GENERAL ANTHONY WAYNE TO THE RESCUE

The final chapter is about later period when Congress’ neglect of military led to St. Clair’s defeat at the hands of Indian alliance, which jeopardized American Western expansion. This even led to revival of American military, the job that Washington assigned to Antony Wayne who did it and in process created foundation for future American professional military.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I see value of this book in providing much more details than it is usually done on strategically complex decisions of Washington that changed Bunker Hill approach to conduct of the war to Fabius approach. From tactical point of view it is interesting how Washington, Morgan, Green, and others developed methodology of using interplay between training professional army and poorly trained militia to achieve good enough outcome in several battles that convinced British to forfeit hope for clean victory. I also found it very interesting and generally poorly understood psychological genius of Washington who managed to prevent military takeover of the country with the following lawlessness and disarray that was plentifully demonstrated later on in the history of Latin America. In short the more one learns about American history the more one can see intellectual and moral superiority of some founding fathers (all warts included) over the most of people who were in power in USA for 2.5 centuries afterword.

 

20180603 – In Pursuit of Memory

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 9.00.12 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to make everybody aware about impact of Alzheimer disease, present current state of research and different branches of this research, and, most of all, convince readers to support increase in funding for this research.

DETAILS:

Preface: ‘A Peculiar Disease’

Author starts with reference to his personal encounter with Alzheimer disease observing its progress in his grandfather and how it led to author’s involvement with it as researcher. Author presents this book as history of disease, its past, present status, and future resolution that is becoming more and more important with increase of older population.

PART I: Origins

  1. The Psychiatrist with a Microscope

This is a narrative of the disease discovery when doctor Alzheimer started investigating brains of people who died from it. It also about live of the doctor and what led to this investigation.

  1. Understanding an Epidemic

This chapter is about long period of somewhat confusion between character of this as disease vs. normal process of old age dementia. At one point it even was considered that age 55 is top age limit for disease. Eventually development of microbiology left no place for controversy, clearly demonstrating that there no biological difference in process of disease that would be linked to age only.

  1. A Medicine for Memory

Here author goes more into details of how normal brain works and how disease impacts these processes. It follows by discussion of promising, but eventually failed hope to treat the disease with acetylcholine. Then author narrates the story of tacrine – another promising treatment that produced several approved drugs, which seems to provide some improvement, but are far from complete treatment.

PART II: Research

  1. Diagnosis

Here author describes a couple of real live cases of Alzheimer caused deterioration of mental abilities.

  1. The Alzheimer’s Gene

In this chapter author looks at some cases of genetically defined early Alzheimer onset that happens to people in their 50s and even 30s. The mutation is now well-defined and could be tested. The problem is whether people want or do not want to know what is coming.

  1. The Science Behind the Headlines

This is about relatively new approach to the understanding of disease with stress on formation of beta-amyloid plague in brain, which occurs continuously. The supporters of this theory are known as Baptist (from beta). They were successful in confirming this idea by using mouse, injecting them with human DNA, and artificially developing Alzheimer. The second half of chapter is about alternative suspect – APOE gene variations, positing that  plague formation is not the cause, but just a symptom. These variations are actually linked to kind of local diabetes that impede energy supply to brain cells, causing their deterioration. The third part of chapter is about another group – Tautists who named for “tubulin associated unit”, which is protein that forms Alzheimer tangles in the brain. Author discusses which of these theories has higher probably to be correct, but it is still an open question.

  1. The Second Brain

This is about glia part of the brain that until recently was considered just filler, but now is demonstrated to be an important part of the processes necessary for brain functioning. Author describes his own research with microglia. The functioning of microglia in Alzheimer disease was similar to immune system, so the attempt was made to develop a vaccine. It demonstrated some positive results in testing, but far from being significant enough for practical use.

  1. Swedish Brain Power

This is about Swedish researcher who works on biomarker that would help predict Alzheimer long before it actually developed in the brain of individual. So far, they achieved 3 years before symptoms and 90% accuracy, but with very small number of objects. The final point in the chapter is that knowledge of approaching disease could prompt people to change live style to help prevent it.

PART III: Prevention

  1. Stress; 10. Diet; 11. Exercise; 12. Brain Training; 13. Sleep;

This part is about usual staff that considered healthy and prevents all known diseases, Alzheimer included. Interesting note about exercise – after normal amount there is no evidence of increased benefits. It also relates to cognitive training that helps to maintain mental ability in old age, but useless for younger than 50.

PART IV: Experimentation

This is about different directions of experimentation that may bring some new ways to handle the disease.

  1. Regeneration

This is about experiments in molecular biology with DNA and embryonic stem cells in attempt to regenerate aging cells of human bodies. Some success was achieved in turning adult cells into stem cells – called iPS cells. In short, it provides hope that eventually neurons could be regenerated and transplanted into the brain to compensate for loses due to disease.

  1. Young Blood

This is about attempts to use biological materials from young people to rejuvenate old. So far, no scientifically valid results were achieved in this area.

  1. Seeds of Dementia

This is about mad cow and other brain diseases, some of them infectious. The point here is that even if they all are different, they still could help understanding brain functions and malfunctions.

  1. Looking but Not Seeing

This is about some special forms of Alzheimer when disease impacts only parts of the brain, while mechanism of disease seems to be the same -such as visual Alzheimer (PCA).

  1. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

This is about unexpected discovery of drag approved for skin cancer somehow had positive impact on Alzheimer patients. It also about an interesting connection – cancer patients had less occurrences of Alzheimer and vice versa. The chapter is discussion experimentation with various compounds impacting RNA with very positive results in mouse. This also prompted expansion of research on impact of different unrelated drags and substances in hope that something could work.

PART V: Discovery

This part is about what could be brought to bear in this struggle from different parts of the world.

  1. To the Ends of the Earth; 20. Insights from India; 21. Clues from Colombia

These chapters review: the DNA project from Island where they collect it from total population in hope to utilize it in finding all kinds of correlations, massive memory studies from India, people with genetic mutation that could have relevance from Columbia.

  1. Alzheimer’s Legacy

The final chapter discusses current status of disease expansion due to aging of population and as usual trying to justify more government funding its research.

MY TAKE ON IT:

To me it is quite obvious that Alzheimer is an awful disease and that its elimination requires massive effort in research and medical testing. I think that the more or less valid combination of genetic predisposition and cumulative impact of lifestyle will be identified causing this disease and in the near future some combination of measures in both areas will be developed to fix the problem. The importance of solution for this problem would grow exponentially, so amount of resources directed at supporting research in this area is practically guarantied to grow.

 

20180527 – Life 3.0

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.27.02 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to present the wide range of issues related to Artificial Intelligence in the very clear and digestible form and prompt everybody in the world to understand that humanity is on the brink of huge change when human monopoly on intelligence and probably consciousness is coming to the end. It also kind of invitation to get involved in discussions of these issues and link with the new organization that author and his cooperators created to handle these issues.

DETAILS:

Prelude: The Tale of the Omega Team

The book starts with author’s fantasy about team of super intelligent and super benevolent group of geeks that take over the world using Artificial Intelligence and its ability to outperform humans in all intellectual and artistic areas. In process author provides 7 slogans that he believes could make the world wonderful:

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.27.22 AM

1 Welcome to the Most Important Conversation of Our Time

This is a sample of philosophizing about conscious as a necessary condition of the beauty of universe and approaching of new era of AI when the consciousness will move into overdrive.

A Brief History of Complexity

Here author discusses evolution of consciousness that is, meaning the biological human consciousness and where it came from.

The Three Stages of life

Here author provides a nice picture of what he means by this:

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.27.31 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.27.42 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.27.53 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.47.47 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.28.13 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.28.24 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.28.33 AM

  1. Aftermath: The Next 10000 Years

This continuation of future scenarios review, this time with long-term perspective:

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.29.21 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.29.30 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.29.41 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.29.52 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.30.17 AM

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 9.30.26 AM

Epilogue: The Tale of the FLI Team

The epilogue is about organization that author and his friends created: Future of Live Institute (FLI), its goals and activities.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that this book wonderfully overstates both dangers and importance of Artificial Intelligence. The reason for this is misunderstanding of intelligence as something standing alone outside of human beings who possess it.  In reality intelligence is unalienable part of human being and is painstakingly developed by this human being over dozens of years with the use of highly flexible and adjustable biological hardware, provided at birth, for processing and interacting with multitude of external entities. The ability to solve problems, to prove theorems, and build one’s own hardware is not really that important as long as the entity in question is directed from outside to do this activity. So, AI engine is not really intelligent, it is just a piece of software designed to use pattern recognition in order to develop data processing and problem resolution skills required to achieve whatever objectives humans assign to this piece of software. Correspondingly self-driving car is not intelligent because it does not decide where to drive and does not possess any internal motivation to drive anywhere. Correspondingly it is as unlikely that humans would decide to enhance their intellectual ability by modifying their biological brains as it is for human to underwent genetic reengineering of their DNA to have wings to fly even if technologically it is becoming quite possible. I think it is possible to create artificial human, let’s say on the material base of silicon chips by providing sufficient data processing power and raising this thing as human. However, it would be just another human, albeit with more computing and physical power, different material design, but still human. In short, I think AI would be just another tool added to human abilities, but not much more than that.

20180520 – Saving Justice

Saving Justice: Watergate, the Saturday Night Massacre, and Other Adventures of a Solicitor General by [Bork, Robert, Bork, Robert H.]

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to present author’s point of view on what actually happen before and during his tenure as Solicitor General in Nixon administration at the time of Watergate. Author demonstrates complexity of the legal and administrative process behind the scenes and somewhat dysfunctional operation of American legal/administrative/political bureaucracy with its struggle for power and influence over the country.

DETAILS:

PROLOGUE

This is a brief description of functionality of The Office of Solicitor General and its functions. These mainly include arguing cases before Supreme Court on behalf of Executive Branch of government. In 70’s – the period author describes, it was just a few lawyers processing some 1700 cases in 1973. Author also discusses his attempt to streamline workflow and make the office more efficient. He defines the most important part of his job as “assist Supreme Court in the development of legal doctrine”.

Chapter 1 – Getting the Job

This is a story of author’s getting job of Solicitor General in Nixon administration. It started with author’s published article supporting Nixon for president in 1968. It follows by description of several interactions with Nixon himself and then his people with stress on Nixon general dislike of Ivy League professors. As a bit of distraction, author refer to a bad omen for his role when during swimming in ocean resort just before being sworn in, he was pulled by the current into the see and when he was frantically waving for help, getting instead of help, some joyful wave back because people on the beach though he is waving just to show how much he enjoys swimming. He refers to this situation as very similar to his future experience related to Watergate.

Chapter 2 – Nixon’s Defense Attorney Offer

This chapter is about the apex of Watergate scandal when author was offered place on Nixon defense team, but was able successfully avoid taking it. It is interesting because author’s note about his conversation with Haig who suggested that Nixon would rather burn tapes than give them. He was tempted to ask why Nixon did not do it yet, but did not ask. He characterized it as the best sentence he never pronounced. It would obviously be not good for author if tapes were burned on advice of Solicitor General.

Chapter 3 – William O. Douglas War

This is an interesting chapter about the role of Supreme Court discussed around actions of judge Douglas who supported stay on military operation in Cambodia. It involved some disagreement with other judges and eventually was overwritten by judge Marshall and then by telephone conference.

Chapter 4 – L’Affaire Agnew

This is about a little discussed part of the Watergate coup when rather feeble attempt was made on double impeachment of President and VP so the Executive powers were transferred to Democratic speaker.  Author seems to agree that Agnew was as crooked politician as they come, but not that much more crooked than all others. The double impeachment was avoided by getting Agnew to resign as part of the plea bargain.

Chapter 5 – The Saturday Night Massacre

Here author discusses the whole issue of special prosecutor and his power and then goes through events of Saturday night and what happened right before that. Very interesting point here is that Nixon’s first choice for new VP was not Ford, but very popular John Connally who was wounded in the car with Kennedy and in 1973 switch to GOP. Democrats in Congress would not agree because of fear that he really could win the next election. Also, there is an interesting description of complexity and logic of the resignations of this night and author’s decision to take responsibility as Acting AG and fire Cox. He also stresses his concern to avoid any hint on personal benefit from this decision, all the way to refusing use of limo assigned to AG.

Chapter 6 – After the Massacre

The aftermath of the deal was mass resignation of staffers who unsurprisingly were able to use it as career enhancing vehicle. However remaining staff did a good job and author stresses that it was not an easy thing to do. Author also discusses storm outside which he deems to be saturated with “poverty of moral rhetoric” presented by constant calls from other Yale graduates accusing author in degrading dollar value of Yale law degree by his actions. Another one was inability of press and public to assess legal side of situation and appropriateness of author’s actions. Author also expresses his disappointment in many lawyers who failed to act professionally.

Chapter 7. – Restoring Justice

Here author discusses the selection of the new special prosecutor and the changes in legal environment that occurred in this period. Specifically, he discusses FBI issues with legality of surveillance that resulted in creation of FISA court. Other issues were War Power Resolution, Campaign finance prompted by Eugen McCarthy campaign based on very large donations by rich activists, and attempts to make special prosecutor into permanent office. He also describes final stages of impeachment saga.

EPILOGUE

Here author briefly describes his live after these events, including participation in Ford and Reagan administrations. Interesting also is his reference to Supreme Court nomination that he believed was a sure thing because of his qualifications, the fact that none of his decision as judge was overturned by Supreme Court, and history of bipartisan support for qualified judges. Obviously, he was wrong because he was the first appointee who was attacked by democrats on the political basis and defeated. At the end author refer to Obama’s statement that he would appoint judges with empathy to a little guy, which completely rejects the very notion of impartial jurisprudence. Author warns against judges who used their position to exercise power, but not authority and affirms his believe that the remedy for America legal ills is Originalism that provides hope to maintain constitutional structure of the country.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I read Bork’s work before and found myself mainly in agreement with his legal ideas. This book presents narrative of his exploits as Legal bureaucrat at the very interesting point when political bureaucracy represented by Nixon was attacked and defeated by American elite combining professional formally non-political, but really deeply politicized in support of big government bureaucracy, legal, and media establishment. The whole Watergate saga demonstrated power of this alliance, which success assured their control over the country for the next 40 years. As could be expected, this control led to material deterioration of American quality of live both economically and in international affairs, leading to massive deindustrialization, terrorist attacks, massive debt, and overall unhappiness with the state of affairs. Now this fight is renewed in much more interesting form with Trump winning presidency and the elite dropping any pretense of unity and commonality with their opponents. It would be interesting to see how well Trump and his team learned lessons of Watergate and whether they will be able to repel the attack and win battle with bureaucratic/ legal / media / big corporate leadership united forces.

 

20180513 – Left Turn

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 4.03.03 PM

MAIN IDEA:

Author explicitly stated the main conclusion of this book is based on extensive research and demonstrates that the left leaning media shifted American political opinion by approximately 8 to 10 points, keeping Democrats and their ideology relatively competitive, which would not be possible without media influence. Author introduces a notion of Political Quotient as scale from 0 to 100 with top left being 100 and top right 0. Here is how author describes overall methodology and intermediate conclusions:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 3.59.24 PM

DETAILS:

PART 1. Political Quotients and the Science of Politics

  1. What Are PQs and How Do They Reveal Media Bias?

Here author describes methodology of defining PQ for individuals, and media published opinions based and case-by-case calculation. He even provides tools to calculate one’s own PQ and presents results for some specific politicians and media outlets:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 3.59.32 PM

  1. Caught in a Trap: Problems in Judging Media Bias

Author here discusses one of the most important indicator of such bias – circular sourcing of the media. Interestingly enough “intellectuals” are more prone to be disoriented in this way because they believe in their own capability to recognize it. Th real way out of this trap in to find independent source of the story.

  1. But I’ve been to Oklahoma

Author starts this chapter with reference to his own upbringing as conservative and notes that he stays one with PQ13. Then he moves to more interesting point: the difference between normative and positive questions with the former being about opinions that could not be factually confirmed, while latter render themselves to factual and logical confirmation. After this author discusses reality of positive questions being better answered by people who actually imbedded in related environment. For example, the people who lived among military and their relatives could give the best answer to why people join military. Similarly, people of racial group against which it is directed could give the best answer about reality of racism. Finally, author discusses why conservatives are more interested in analyzing media bias. He makes an important point that this bias is positive question and therefore could be answered with data so formal and scientific analysis would demonstrate that liberal bias exists, making such research rejected by liberals and embraced by conservatives.

  1. Ps and Qs of PQs

Here author discusses what and who are liberals and conservatives by using leftists Americans for Democratic Actions (ADA). Here are liberal positions:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 3.59.43 PM

Correspondingly, the negation of these position is conservative, so these attitudes exppressed via voting  and/or support become measurable signals allowing PQ identification for a person.

  1. Defining the “Center~

This is about methodology of defining PQ, its centers and extremes based on voting records of legislature. The graph represents result of such calculation demonstrating successful move to the left over recent decades:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 3.59.49 PM

Author also answer to some challenges posed to his methodology and then presents reasons why middle is more interseted in being truthful than extreme ideologues on either side.

PART II, A Distortion Theory of Media Bias

6.Lies, Damned Lies, and Omitted Statistics: A Case Study in Distortion Theory

This case study is about media distortion of student admission in UCLA when admission of blacks to university was considered too small, when in reality the number of applications was correspondingly small. This represents use of statistics to mislead people.

7.Hidden Under a Bushel

This chapter is about another technic – hiding relevant information. The examples here are Katrina, and Obama’s pastor of “god damn America” fame. Van Jones, and finally Obama’s election by the color of his skin.

  1. An “Alien” Conservative Injected into a Liberal Newsroom and the Topics She Might Cover

This chapter presents story of conservative journalist joining regular newspaper and how it demonstrated different approach to the same story, in this case imams on airplane.

PART III. Evidence of Liberal Media Bias

  1. Political Views in the Newsroom: Viva Homogeneity

This chapter is response to criticisms of author’s work on bias:

  1. Surveys of journalists irrelevant
  2. They are inaccurate
  3. They tell nothing new

In actuality surveys probably underestimate bias because journalists are conscious about demands for objectivity. Author provides pretty funny examples of this approach.

  1. The Second-Order Problem of an Unbalanced Newsroom

If the direct political attitudes of journalists is the first order of bias, the pressure on minority opinion holders, tendency of overwhelming majority to move to extreme positions.

  1. The Anti-Newsroom, Washington County, Utah

In this chapter author analyses counterfactual of journalists being as conservative as some of the counties in Utah. The results would be the same pressure on individual to stay in line with majority. Author also looks at idea that corporate media management easily override liberal inclination of journalists, concluding that reality as presented by real media output is opposite – journalists express their views, rather than management’s.

  1. Walk a Mile in the Shoes of a Centrist

Here author looks at centrist regions of the country and provide an interesting graph for representatives / vote correlation:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 3.59.59 PM

There is also a number of table demonstrating PQ distribution by states.

  1. “Wise Men from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Say…”

This chapter is about author’s methodology and its critics. It also provides results of analysis for some news outlets:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 4.00.06 PM

  1. The Language of Journalists and the Special Case of Partial-Birth Abortion

This chapter is about language manipulation in order to frame some issue in positive or negative form. It obviously works pretty well and author uses it to measure media bias using a specific case of “partial birth abortion”. He provides a very enlightening table to demonstrate it:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 4.00.15 PM

  1. The Language of Journalists and the Centzkow-Shapiro Measure of Media Bias

This is continuation of language discussion and reference to another research when computer analysis of 2-3 words combinations produced typical use of language by sides:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 4.00.24 PM

PART IV. Effects of Media Bias

  1. Measuring the Influence of the Media I: Many Methods False and Spent, and One That’s Not

Here author moves to evaluating effects of media bias, stating that his previous believes in the negligence of such effect were disproved by evidence. In order to discuss his conversion author presents some scientific issues such as endogeneity problem and demonstrates how it could and does influence results of economic and sociological research. The only really good solution is natural experiment. As example of such experiment author refer to Della Vigna and Kaplan study of Fox network expansion demonstrating how it influences the voting patterns around the country.

  1. Measuring the Influence of the Media II: Two More Groundbreaking Experiments

This is about two more research projects: Washington Post vs. Washington Times experiment when free subscription for randomly selected individuals led to 3.8% gap in voting. Another one Cai Wang laboratory experiment with messaging demonstrated 0.282 variations from the middle of 5, when rational-choice theory predicted variance of 0.

  1. The Media Lambda

In this chapter author introduces a quantitative measure of media influence:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 4.00.36 PM

  1. Rendezvous with Clarity

Here author refer to Reagan’s “Rendezvous with History” to present his findings as “Rendezvous with Clarity”, providing the following table to stress the conservative nature of his assumptions:

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 4.01.03 PM

Epilogue: Small Steps Toward a Better Media

Author suggests here that the main method of fixing the problem of media bias should be transparence – effort to force journalist to openly present their views so news consumers could understand the probability of bias and make correspondent adjustments to whatever message is transmitted.

MY TAKE ON IT:

Ii is a very nice scientific analysis of media bias to the left. Until now I mainly agreed with rational- choice approach. It seems to be too much to believe that media is capable to move public opinion and voting behavior in any significant way. Unlike others I did not think that it is because the media is ineffective, but rather because people are not really interested in what media has to say and mainly ignore it. It is seemingly supported by the fact that political media is not really watched and listen by too many people. Enough to say that in the nation of 300 million just some 10 millions are actually watching news. Add to this my experience of growing up in highly politicized totalitarian state where agitation and propaganda were compulsory parts of live and education generally ritualized into meaningless flow of words and images that vast majority of population was completely ignoring regardless of whatever was propagated at any given moment. By demonstrating that the media bias is actually moderately effective, this book forced me to change my mind and accept the need for active and effective countermeasures against the ideological success of leftist movement. These measures could not be effective if conducted at the level of logic and scientific explanation of facts. It should be based on generating emotional response to leftist ideology by bringing up its murderous character demonstrated everywhere where leftists took complete power and stressing that any liberal bias is not based on journalists’ good intentions somewhat misplaced, but on their evil strive to power to control population and in process transfer to themselves products of other people’s efforts.

 

20180506 – Happiness for All

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.48.50 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review results of research about happiness and wellbeing of people with objective to define how it changed over the time in America and in the world. Author attempts to demonstrate how it depends on income inequality, availability of opportunities, and that it seems to be better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick.  Also, the point is made that situation in USA seems to be deteriorating at least based on pools, while in other places, especially Latin America it gets better.

DETAILS:

CHAPTER 1.  INTRODUCTION; Happiness for All: Living the Dream?

Author starts by immediately switching topic from American creed of “pursuit of happiness” to generally liberal creed of equal availability of American dream and general well being. She refers to research that shows that subjective wellbeing is linked to availability of opportunity. After that she moves to inequality of opportunity and its dynamic character, if perceived as access to opportunity. Then she discusses research data from polls demonstrating that despite decreasing numbers of brainwashed population from 64% to 56%, the majority still believes that they pay fair share of income in taxes. She also discusses technical issues of dimensions and metrics of wellbeing, role of believes and what she intends to present in the following chapters of the book.

CHAPTER 2. What Happened to Horatio Alger? U.S. Trends in Inequality and Opportunity in Comparative Perspective 

The reference to Horatio Alger is used mainly to profess that his story about making it from the bottom to the top of society are not really describe realities of contemporary live when children born to lowest strata of society tend to stay there. She consistently points out that Americans generally overestimate societal mobility of their society. She provide graph to demonstrate that with increase in Gini mobility decreases:

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.29.55 AM

After that she moves to explanation of reasons of inequality growth:

  • Aging of population that increases share of retired people, who do not make a lot of money
  • Single parent families
  • Increase in compensation in high cognitive demands employment: finance, professions, medicine, and decrease in compensation for low skill labor.

At the end of chapter author provides technical review of measuring mobility rates and states that American practically lost its status as the land of opportunity.

CHAPTER 3. Who Believes in the American Dream? Public Attitudes about Mobility in the United States and Beyond

This is about different attitudes to American dream and it starts with discussion about relationship between inequality and wellbeing. Somewhat contrary to general leftist understanding, author points out that there is no prove of negative impact of inequality on wellbeing everywhere, but it is highly dependent on the country. Author looks at multiple studies and concludes that America generally lost its exceptional character when people believed in opportunity as sufficient benefit to overcome negatives of inequality. However, graphs provide seems to show small difference in well-being:

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.30.05 AM

Author provides quite extensive comparison between USA and Latin America and then discussesd attitudes to hard work and opportunities accross the world. She provides a very interesting result demonstrating that American rich have attitudes close to general population of Latin America where people across income levels believe that hard work is beneficial, while American poor much more close to Europe where a lot less people believe in it, also acrossall levels of income:

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.30.18 AM

CHAPTER 4. The High Costs of Being Poor in the Land of the Dream: Stress, Insecurity, and Lack of Hope

This is about high psychological cost of being poor in America, even if purely material conditions such as food, housing, transportation, and such would be considered at the level of rich in other countries:

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.30.26 AM

There is also a very interesting graph demonstrating impact of assistance on satisfaction: people without assistance are generally more satisfied with their live:

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 9.30.37 AM

Author then looks at detailed picture in USA with somewhat higher concentration on stress, which she defines as being good (mainly for rich with creative and intensive work), and bad (mainly for people who sterrssed by lack of funds). She repeants the trope of two Americas, but with an interesting quirck – blacks are more optimistic than poor whites.

CHAPTER 5. Well-Being, Aspirations, and Outcomes: What Do We Know?

This is about knowing where one wants to get in order to decide direction of effort. Author explores how effort depends on believe in opportunity. The main point is that good situation prompts people to do things that will improve the future situation and vice versa.  For example: good health -> joy of movement -> more exercise -> even better health or sedentary life style -> poor health -> hard to move -> no exercise -> even worse health. Important thing here is also locus of control: internal means “If I want something I need to do something because it depends on me” external: “If I want something it is somebody else’s responsibility to produce it so I just need to demand it louder and louder”. Finally, time horizon is also important: long term much more effective because leads to education and sustained effort.

CHAPTER 6. Can We Save the Dream?

The final chapter is about all these new happiness and other metrics, whether they are useful or not.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I do not think that happiness is that much linked to material conditions. It is a lot more complex notion and is extremely subjective, personal, and changeable over the time. Nevertheless it is a good review of material subset of causes of happiness including comparative approach of how one is doing compare to peers. I think a bit underexplored is a very important issue of agency, which in my opinion playing a very important role as soon as subsistence level material needs are met. It also seems to be missing another very important component of happiness – satisfaction from affirmation of one’s self-image. The person who believes that he is number one in something would be unhappy if found himself in the second place, while person who believes that he is in the top 100, will be happy if found self at number 25. In short it is interesting, but extremely limited approach to the issue.

20180429 – Inheritors of the Earth

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 1.38.13 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that the current environmental obsession with saving species comes from really poor understanding of realities of the world and meaning of evolution. In reality the environment is constantly in process of change and it is always beneficial for some species and detrimental for others, so some go on to prosper and some go extinct.  The idea that humans is some king of external factor in Earth’s ecosystem is ridiculous on its face because humans are part of environment and, as every other species that ever existed, they change environment by the simple fact of being alive. However, these changes caused by humans are on much higher scale than by other species and, most important, could be consciously controlled. So, the point is that human interaction should become more conscious and direct its impact to create much better environment with understanding that it is dynamic process and that extinction of some species and creation of new is natural and could not be possibly stopped.

DETAILS:

PART I: Opportunity

Prologue: Gains and losses

This starts with the looking around out of window and seeing somewhat chaotic mix of species of everything alive from grass and trees to animals and birds, which is completely different from what it used to be even a several decades ago. Lots of species disappeared, pushed out by competition from other species and humans. But lots of new species showed, or old species invaded from faraway places and then prospered. Also, the human impact changed dramatically from killing animals to saving them not only for use in economy, but also for their own sake. The point here is that living world is complex, constantly changes, and humans should not attempt to stave off the change. They should rather ride the wave based on understanding of ecosystem dynamically then try to maintain status quo of the system based on the idea that it is perfect as it is.

  1. Biogenesis

Here author traces development and movement around the world of one specific specie: sparrows, that came from Asia and then moved elsewhere in close cooperation with movement of humans, in process evolving to fit different environments. Author uses this as example of coevolution and points out that it happens all the time with all kind of living things and that idea of environmentalists that there ever was a perfect condition, which was destroyed by unnatural humans, is just plainly not correct. His main point however is that even if humans decided to save environment as it is, it would not be possible due to complexity and variety of evolutionary processes that involves everything living.

PART II New Pangea; Prelude

Here author just states his purpose in this part to look at four human-caused changes in environment and demonstrate how some species become highly successful as result of these changes.

  1. Fall and rise

This chapter is about impact of humans killing animals for food and other products. The author starts with elephants and discusses reasons for their survival, unlike many other big animals that were extinct most probably by the human hunting. An interesting point here is that one of the reasons for this survival was their African roots where they developed in parallel with humans and learned how to avoid and overall deal with this extremely dangerous predator. Other big animals for example in America encountered humans when they arrived with already highly developed hunting skills, so these animals had no time to adjust. Here is a nice diagram of before and after:

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 1.36.38 PM

Eventually human transformed the world and it is obvious now that everything alive, plants or animals are one way or another impacted by humans, some of them in very beneficial ways if they were found useful.

  1. Never had it so good

This chapter looks at impact of agriculture. Author starts it with discussion of butterflies, which are not directly useful to humans, but prospered by evolutionary adjusting to utilize abundance of cereals grown by humans. After reviewing this regular English agricultural environment author moves to tropical forest where he easily finds traces of human impact ,for example plants from other continents that would never get there without human interference. One of the most important inferences here is that humans, as well as all other animals and plant had never lived in harmony with surrounding environment by the virtue of being part of this environment continuously, at least until recently, trying to expand its own species as much as possible. The final important point here is that human impact changes environment by making winners and losers differently than would be without humans, but so everything else either alive or not so in these terms humans are not that different from any other natural phenomenon.

  1. Steaming ahead

This chapter looks at evolutionary success resulting from human-caused climate change. As example author uses other primates moving up into the mountings, wolves that move to areas they never inhabited before, and finally beetle that expanded to new areas on mass scale. However, author actually refers to general climate change that happens constantly, triggering huge changes in species distribution, evolution and even existence. Here is a nice illustration from the dig in very civilized area in England:

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 1.36.48 PM

  1. Pangea reunited

This chapter is dealing with evolutionary changes caused by humans transporting everything conceivable, including all living things, all around the world. Author provides a number of examples of this process, but their number is infinite. In the last few hundred years humans developed tools for practically instant travel, so no wander that everything else uses these tools, whether they buy ticket or not to move around. As the result the whole ecosystem of the planet, actually more than that because it includes minerals, metals, and everything else, become much more dynamic so some species prosper in new environments, while others cannot survive in their original environment anymore because of new competition.

PART III: Genesis Six; Prelude

This part is about perception, which many people have, of current development as the sixth mass extinction caused by humans. The previous 5 extinctions were caused by geological and astronomical events. None of extinctions, however, was complete. At the time of the great many of extinct losers there were some successful winners, for example mammals after dinosaurs, so author here discusses who are survivals of current change and what new species this change brings to live.

  1. Heirs to the world

This starts with discussion of New Zealand’s successful conservation attempts to save original species that were endangered by new arrivals brought in by humans. Author points out an interesting fact that these animals actually consume plants brought in from Europe, making this the idea of conservation somewhat invalid. In reality it is not possible to recreate bygone environment, even if it is possible maintain parts of it alive, usually at high cost. Author then discusses various methods of regulating environment to bring it to the state preferable to humans, even if it would never be conservation of some original state.

  1. Evolution never gives up

This chapter reviews some very dramatic and massive changes of environment created by humans, but demonstrates that evolution often works in the complex and unpredictable way, resulting in unplanned and unexpected changes that sometime are beneficial for human objectives and sometimes not, but always uncontrollable.

  1. The Pangean archipelago.

Here author stresses that current changes do not really decrease diversity of environment, but just change the mix of this diversity making sometimes winners out of invaders, but sometime turning them into losers when local species develop successful adjustment.

  1. Hybrid

The final chapter of this part is about hybridization that constantly producing new species out of old. He even refers to humans as one of such hybrid at least with Neanderthals for Europeans, but probably a great number of hybridization occurrences over millions years of human evolution. Author very reasonably rejects ideas of genetic purity with tree of live viewed with perfectly separated branches. Reality is very different with species forming, then merging, then splitting and always changing as long as environment changes. It is obviously possible for some species to maintaining themselves in environment when change is slow to nonexistent, but current impact of humans shaking the planet and its species inevitably causes accelerated evolution, at least for a while. It is basically healthy process and it is ridiculous trying to stop it.

PART IV Anthropocene Park; Prelude

This part is kind of summation of this book in which author calls to accept change as a natural part of live and instead of trying to restore some stable ecological environment that never really existed in the first place, humans should look ahead and think and act carefully to impact the ways change occurs so it would happen in direction beneficial for humanity.

  1. The new natural

Here author argues that humans are the part of nature, not something standing outside of it, so human actions are actions of nature therefore changes caused by humans are natural changes.

  1. Noah’s Earth

This chapter is about conservation or more precisely about futility of attempt to save something as it is by preventing any change. Normal development includes species going extinct and the new species being developed, rare plans becoming widely spread and widely spread becoming rare, and so on and on. We live now in kind of Anthropocene Part and we both inmates and custodians of this part, so the more knowledge and technology we have the more we can consciously do to make this world livable and dynamically modifiable in the direction we want, including creation and/or extinction of species.

Epilogue: One million years AD

This is highly optimistic epilogue that stresses, and quit convincingly at that, that while we do extinguish lots of species and know that, we really do not understand that we created a lot of new ones, even if mostly unconsciously. Moreover, author claims that it is quite possible that on final count the earth diversity increased due to the human impact, rather than decreased and there is plenty of reasons to think that future world of humans will be as diverse as they would want it to be.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think it is a great approach to human / environment interaction. I think humanity is on its way to create self-contained production system when producing everything that human need would be restricted to full cycle closed systems with no impact on environment whatsoever. As example I would take production of energy when we are moving from primitive generation of heat from open fire in caves through coal fed electrical plants to small-scale thermonuclear devices that would consume miniscule amount of water and produce clean energy. It does not mean that human would ever become isolated from environment. I would expect that human impact on environment would actually increase and quite dramatically, but it would have completely different objective – instead of obtaining energy and material for survival it would be continuing dynamic modification of environment with objective to make it the most enjoyable for humans and other species that humans would like to have in this environment, probably even some species, specifically designed to make environment more enjoyable. Maybe it would even include some genetically modified lions that, when meeting a lamb instead of tearing it apart would start playing with it, distracted only by need to go and do some human designed exercise that would keep them fit and reward them with industrially produced meat of perfect nutritional value.

 

20180420 – The Secret of Our Success.doc

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 10.07.10 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is based on recent research and experimentation that demonstrates more and more clear that humans became the most successful species due to development of tools for communication and cooperation allowing them to act with incomparable level of coordination and therefore putting them in the Ligue of their own. This process did not occur at once, but was rather a long evolutionary process in which two close connected processes occurred: biological evolution of human body and cultural evolution of human groups. All this could be understood only if looked at together, when, for example, development of language was accompanied by changes in the body that made it capable to produce more and more complicated sounds and gestures, in turn creating evolutionary advantageous abilities for superior coordination between individuals in the human group.

Actually author provides a list of most important insights drown from this book:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.09.26 AM

DETAILS:

Preface

Here author describes his journey from engineering to anthropology that included forays into psychology, economics and evolution, initially genetic and then cultural, so he refers to names relevant to my own interests: Kahneman and Tversky, Ostrom, Boyd and Richerson, Haidt, and Romer. It is also important that author has hand on experience with ethnographic field research.

  1. A Puzzling Primate

At the beginning of this chapter author makes a very refreshing statement that humans are not really that smart as they believe they are and that success of human species could not be explained by individual characteristics such as brain size. It is much better explained by the fact that humans are cultural species and as such capable accumulate and use huge amounts of knowledge divided between individuals. This knowledge actually distributed into multitude of different individual skills that are used cooperatively, expanded and rectified across generations, and saved in various material forms so they could be restored as needed even if they are not in anybody’s head anymore.  Author also provides a nice layout of the book.

  1. It’s Not Our Intelligence

This chapter is unusual in its main idea that humans are not really that much smarter than other primates, except for one specific area – social learning. Here is graph of testing results demonstrating just this:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.09.35 AM

  1. Lost European Explorers

This chapter presents samples of another poorly understood reality confirmed by multiple natural experiments when people of one culture found themselves in the new environment and were not able to survive without specific local knowledge and skills developed by other cultures, native for the given environment. Author reviews a number of such experiments that occurred with European explorers.

4 How to Make a Cultural Species

In this chapter author classifies domains of knowledge and skills necessary for survival:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.09.46 AM

After that he linkes this with various features of culture that facilitate cultural learning such as: Skill and Success, Prestige, Self-similarity that lead to aiming for acquiring a specific role in division of labor by sex and other parameters. Author also discusses cultural knowledge accumulation and role of older individuals in transferring successful survival mores from generation to generation. Finally author also discusses methodology of such transfer: conformity and mentalizing.

5 What Are Big Brains For? Or, How Culture Stole Our Cuts

This is about cultural/genetic evolution and author makes a point that in humans, unlike majority of other species, culture is driving genetics and he provide a table of how exactly it happens with reference to chapters of the book relevant to each feature:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.09.54 AM

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.10.00 AM

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.10.16 AM

After that author concentrates on relationship between big brain and its function as kind of outsourcing tool when humans outsource expensive big digestive tract to fire and cooking, inherent body weapons and armor to tools such as spear and shields, and so on. It is also interesting that in process humans become optimized for long distance endurance running. Author demonstrates it by discussing muscle composition and other features of human body including incomparable thermoregulation that allows rather save hunting by driving animals into exhaustion. The big brain is also very useful for obtaining and using vast amounts of information about animals and environment via cultural transfer.

6 Why Some People Have Blue Eyes

This chapter is about relatively recent human genetic mutations and how they were distributed among various people. Most important, it is about culture/genetic interactions that author summarizes in such way:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.49.56 AM

 

7 On the Origin of Faith

Here author moves to an interesting view of faith, including faith and taboos of “primitive” tribes, is information transfer method, which is highly effective and does not require clear understanding of causes and consequences, but assure compliance with the wisdom acquired over very long periods of experience. It is also very positively referring to traditions, which served humanity very well until now when we get into era of fast changes and effective accumulation of information outside of human heads. The chapter ends with interesting proposition that cultural adaptation is as powerful tool as genetic evolution, but works a lot more efficient and fast, resulting in contemporary world in which the humans – animals that developed technology of language and overall culture become absolutely dominant.

8 Prestige, Dominance, and Menopause

Here author moves to internal details of how culture works, discussing two methods of influence: prestige and dominance and providing comparative analysis for them:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.10.23 AM

9 In-Laws. Incest Taboos, and Rituals

This is about kinship relationship in hunter-gatherer communities that includes not only blood relatives, but also complex “in-laws” relationships and their cultural meaning. The main point here is that there is a multitude of variations with one common feature – one way or another they culturally condition individual to act cooperatively to assure group survival and obtain kind of group insurance for individual survival.

10 Intergroup Competition Shapes Cultural Evolution

Here author moves to the next obvious step – intergroup competition. The first question is how old this competition and simple answer is that it is well documented even in chimpanzees. The second – group expansion at the expense of others is mainly documented with farmers and herders at the expense of foragers, but it is because not that many foragers left and they are practically confined to small areas. However, there is plenty of archeological evidence that human groups expansion occurred on the huge scale initially at the expense of other species – a good example are Neanderthals, and then at the expense of other groups that were less competitive military, which is more than well documented.

  1. Self-Domestication

This is discussion of rules setting and enforcing, something that author characterizes as specifics of our species:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.10.31 AM

 

There are quite a few interesting experiments that author presents in this regard, with some demonstrating automatic character of rule compliance, which actually decreases if people have time to think about it:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.10.38 AM

After this discussion author looks at the reasons for such automatic cooperation and concludes that it is a necessary tool for survival when individual survival and genes transfer to the next generation depends on one’s group survival and transfer of genes condicted by kin is good enough for evolution to support these features.

12 Our Collective Brains

By “collective brains” here author means totality of knowledge and skills of a group of humans distributed between their brains and/or recorded in some material form so that humans can extract information from these records. He demonstrates importance of this by retelling story of Intuit tribe that lost large number of elders due to disease and as result lost a significant part of their survivability knowledge. Eventually they were able to restore this knowledge only years later after contact with another tribe. Author also discusses similar case in Tasmania and laboratory experiments that demonstrated necessity of access to diversity of knowledge. Here is a graph demonstrating just that:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.10.46 AM

There is also somewhat interesting reference to Neatherthals who had bigger individual brains, but went extinct probably due to failure outcompete damber, but better organized humans.

 13 Communicative Tools with Rules

This chapter is about human communication tools, most important of which is language. Author looks at quite a few important parts of this communication tool and provides a brief summary:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.54.20 AM

He also discusses how language and its development were impacting genetic evolution of humans.

14 Enculturated Brains and Honorable Hormones

This part is especially interesting because author discusses intermediate point between genetic and cultural evolution of humans such as genetically predefined learning process, which allows to learn one’s native language without accent in specific period of live, but then shuts it down. Author discusses livelong available ability to change one’s body and brain – famous example of London taxi drivers. Another interesting research referred here is on Chinese Americans and influence of unhealthy habits specific to this culture. Here is graph demonstrating this:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.10.55 AM

15 When We Crossed the Rubicon

Very nicely summarized his understanding of the history of cultural evolution in the table:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.11.05 AM

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.11.11 AM

16 Why Us?

Here author discusses very important notion of bridge between animal and humans that we crossed. It is basically intertwining of cultural and biological evolution based on massive communications and cooperation between individuals that exceeds by far anything else that exist in any other group of animals. Here is the diagram demonstrating this bridge:

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 9.11.17 AM

After that author discusses in details many of the boxes in diagram.

17 A New Kind of Animal

In the last chapter author discusses key changes in attitude to understanding humans and their development from direct linear and progressive path from genes via biology and psychology to culture and behavior to complex process with multiple feedback loops, when changes in culture lead to changes in biology and vice versa. Author also discusses uniqueness of humans and their comparison with other animals.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This is the most complete and well-supported look at the humanity and its roots that I encountered so far. The idea of interconnected genetic and cultural evolutions with multiple feedbacks is in my opinion the most realistic understanding of humans and their movement from an animal similar to any other to completely different creature that not only was able to expand and occupy all conceivable ecological niches, often pushing out or outright annihilating previously dominant species, but also achieved self-consciousness to such extent as mainly to control lots of genetic needs and features that no other known creature can do. Also interesting is that eventually we get to the point when human individual become able to control their own reproduction, produce practically infinite amount of food and other supplies on demand, use technology to significantly improve health, and, most important, turned everything upside down by turning meaning of individual live from successful reproduction, driven by blind evolutionary process into the consciously identified meaning of live being successful pursuit of happiness, whatever it means for any given individual.

20180413 – Fifty Inventions

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 8.50.42 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review 50 innovations that had significant impact on human live. The very important part of this idea is that author reviews not only technological innovations, but also societal and quite convincingly demonstrates that such inventions had maybe even more impact on quality of live than technological inventions.

DETAILS:

  1. The Plow

It starts with imaginative scenario when civilization had to restart from the scratch. Author answers to the question where to start with reference to the first invention: plow, which become main tool of agriculture and consequently foundation of civilization. Then in introduction author defines how he selected inventions for this book – not according to their importance either economical or technological, but rather as illustration of some common themes relevant to nearly all inventions.

  1. Winner and Losers

The common theme in this part is approach to inventions and the new technology from the point of view of winners and losers of this invention.

  1. The Gramophone

This invention and its spinouts could be generically defined as recording of sounds and images has a number of very clear losers: all people who produce such sounds and images that valuable enough for other people to pay for. The obvious winners are majority of population that now has access to such information produced by the top talent at low price, often even for free even in situation when the person with the talent is long dead. Also, winners are top talents who now can sell their production to millions and correspondingly earn millions.  Obviously, the biggest losers are mediocre talents who used to be able successfully compete in a limited locality with access to people close to this locality in time and space, but now have to compete with everybody in the world who ever lived.

  1. Barbed Wire

This invention dramatically changed human ability to control agricultural property either land or cattle and as such it facilitated Western development in XIX century. Obvious winners were owners and consumers of agricultural products, while squatters become losers with their chances of apprehending free land greatly diminished.

  1. Seller Feedback

This is about contemporary invention of feedback on business transaction via Internet when individuals not really familiar with each other have new ways to evaluate reliability and honesty of the person on other side of transaction. This invention basically involves a protocol of human relations that decreased cost and increased reliability of transactions and made billions of users of peer-to-peer transactions better off. Obvious losers are crook and unreliable people.

  1. Google Search

This invention is not really Google, but all computerized search dramatically changed information inequality between parties of business transaction when on one side is professional seller or buyer who has time and resources to invest into market knowledge development because he/she conducts multitude of similar transactions, while on another side is onetime customer who could not possibly do the same. As result traditional outcome was overpayment. In the new world consumer could spend a few minutes to obtain information and level playing field. As usual, the winners are multitude, while losers are professional information traders from used car salesmen to librarians.

  1. Passports

Here author discusses not that much passports as tool of control over people movements, as immigration of labor and its pluses and minuses. He is firmly on the side of pluses even stating that some economists evaluated that free movement of labor would double world output. But after conceding that it would probably not going to happen any time soon, author defines winners and losers, by wealth of the country that issued passport.

  1. Robots

This is mainly about all technology based on AI and robotics that could do multitude of tasks that used to be done by people. Obvious losers are people who lost their jobs, but author points out that robots’ bodies are not as good as their AI brains so humans still can find jobs cleaning toilets, at least for a while.

  1. The Welfare State

This is societal invention of moving responsibility for individual for his/her wellbeing away from this individual, family, and community to the government that would take care about everybody. Author links it to the motherly love with government being the mother, but still points out that it could be too much love so people could be spoiled. Author end this with positive reference to idea of guarantied income.

  1. Reinventing How We Live

This part is moving from winners and losers of innovation to their impact on our lives and overall functioning of society that changed quite dramatically in recent times.

  1. Infant Formula

Author retells an interesting story of this invention prompted by volcano eruption resulted in decrease of food supply, so some artificial concoction helped babies without mothers to survive. The resulting separation of infant feeding from mother’s bodies had profound impact on their survival, but also on availability of their mothers for work and other activities that would put distance between them and babies.

  1. TV Dinners

Somewhat similar effect had invention of industrial food processing that by now provided infinite number of fully or semi processed food freeing humans from necessity to spend a few hours every day preparing food from scratch, which is not very productive activity anyway.

  1. The Pill

This is about contraceptive pill that drastically changed stakes in sexual encounters by decreasing probability of pregnancy. It not only become foundation of sexual revolution, but also revolutionized economics by opening way for women into professions and other economic activities that demand allocation of time and effort inconsistent with continuing care for multiple children.

  1. Video Games

It is interesting that author puts video games into category of society changing inventions. He does it based on economic impact of the new form of entertainment that demands some programming effort, but provides a hugely popular way of waste available time, without which the time could be used in less benign for societal stability way.

  1. Market Research

This is another societal invention that has significant impact on economy. Market research became a tool of discovering and sometimes creating consumer desires, resulting in much higher level of satisfaction for customer and increased economic activity.

  1. Air-Conditioning

This relatively new invention was prompted by industrial needs, but it opened way for maintaining temperature controlled environment that consequently improved health by decreasing impact of high temperature and, as side effect opened hot South to settlement elsewhere in the world.

  1. Department Stores

Author presents department stores as invention of not that much concentrating lots of different merchandise in one place, as the development of different attitude to customer, moving from naked strive to sell to much softer attitude of presenting goods and politely helping customer to generate and eventually satisfy desires that they may not have before they start looking.

III. Inventing New Systems

This part is about generating new standards that greatly facilitate exchange of goods and services, by adding compatibility between them and allowing to build unique system and environment serving specific individual needs from parts produced by diverse providers.

  1. The Dynamo

This is about one of the most important standardized good – electricity and how it slowly over some 50 years substituted steam powered energy supplies in business and the huge impact it had on the methods of production.

  1. The Shipping Container

This is about the invention that did pretty much the same for transportation. The use of standard containers allowed practically eliminate reloads between different forms of transportation resulting in dramatic decrease of it costs, which in turn opened opportunity for globalization.

  1. The Bar Code

This is another supplemental information processing technology that allowed relatively easy tracing of smallest goods all around the world, making it another tool of globalization.

  1. The Cold Chain

This starts with reference to banana republics of Latin America, but then returns back to looking at technological achievement, in this case Cold Chain that actually means refrigerated transport, the technology that allows people elsewhere in the world enjoy bananas and millions of other things that would spoil without cooling. Besides opening for everybody everywhere all fruits and goods that this planet can offer, it provided good insurance against poor harvests and other things that caused lots of problems in the past, but now can be easily managed by transporting staff from the places where it is in abundance at the moment.

  1. Tradable Debts and the Tally Stick

Author refers here to the old Irish tool of recording debts and then discusses financial mechanisms of supporting trade, manly in primitive and exotic way.

  1. The Billy Bookcase

This is about another invention that author refers as IKEA’s – shift of final assembly to customers site. The big deal here is that by doing it manufacturer can package product in the most efficient for transportation form, sharing with customer savings on cost transporting a few cubic feet versus a lots of cubic feet of some goods like furniture. Probably the cost of final assembly by customer is much higher that it would be at the plant, but since people usually do not count their own time and effort as money, the method is quite popular.

  1. The Elevator

This is another technological improvement that greatly changed circumstances of human live. It practically opened the third dimension of space for human settlement. The small one or two-story building providing shelter to one family now can be substituted by multistory skyscraper that provides shelter to hundred families using the same amount of land. While it is not really such a great thing for many people who would prefer not to live on the top of each other, it is perfect for industrial and business facilities providing extremely high-density places for work easily supplied, protected, and cheaply supported.

  1. Ideas About Ideas

This part is about invention of metaideas, which are the ideas about processing information.

  1. Cuneiform

This is about an ancient method of writing – the first known method to represent words in abstract pictorial form. Probably nothing could compare with this invention because it moved humans to situation when they could maintain totality of knowledge infinitely higher than sum of knowledge in the heads of all living people.

  1. Public Key Cryptography

Here author jumps from ancient and hugely important invention to the recent and much less important invention in cryptography. It is nice and dandy, but it has limited application and could and probably will be discarded in the next few dozen years when and if need to keep secrets decrease.

  1. Double-Entry Bookkeeping

This is obviously more important and much longer living invention, but it is also becoming somewhat obsolete with the continuing progress in technology of capturing and processing information, when much more effective processes and controls developed all the time.

  1. Limited Liability Companies

Here author discusses invention of limited liability companies as a necessary condition for existence of capitalism supported by opportunity to limit one’s financial exposure and consequently provide more security for investment that was ever possible before.

  1. Management Consulting

Here author describes managerial consulting as highly value-added activity mainly based on example of its application in Indian textile factories and then quite skeptically discusses effectiveness of this business altogether. Eventually he concludes that it is necessary mainly due to government regulations.

  1. Intellectual Property

This is another recent (250 years) invention, which is not clearly beneficial. Author even discusses work of economists Boldrin and Levine who suggest ridding of it altogether arguing that it is more an impediment to business than support for new inventions.

  1. The Compiler

This final chapter in this part is somewhat technical. Computer compiler is the great tool that made programming a lot easier, but it is just one of the steps in development of information processing technology.

  1. Where Do Inventions Come From

In this part author looks at how inventions occur even if it is not the focus of this book. Author believes that inventions are not a work of a single genius, but rather culmination of multiple small changes merging into one qualitatively important change.

  1. The iPhone

This is one example – combination of Internet, new batteries, c radio communications, flat screens and lot of other things culminating in what is not really phone, but network integrated computer.

  1. Diesel Engines; 32. Clocks; 33. Chemical Fertilizer; 34. Radar; 35. Batteries; 36. Plastic;

These all are similar stories of step by step development in various seemingly unrelated area with following on integration into one new technology that delivers huge value in unexpected field.

  1. The Visible Hand

Here author returns to inventions that facilitate functioning of human societies and he stresses that it is based on institutions that are provided and/or supported government so the idea of invisible hand is not really applicable here.

  1. The Bank

The first such invention author looks at is a bank and it is a very ancient one so author traces it back to Templars

  1. Razors and Blades

This starts with a funny story of Gillette who started as philosopher writing against market and ended as founder of business empire. However, it is just a side show, the chapter is really about new method of selling invented by Gillette – cheap or free initial devise with need for continuing supply of expensive consumables.

  1. Tax Havens

This is another institutional invention that allows global businesses shopping around for smaller taxes, consequently shielding their profits from government.

  1. Leaded Gasoline 41. Antibiotics in Farming

This couple is used by author to demonstrate how invention could go wrong: lead gasoline poisoning people and unrestricted use of antibiotics develops drag-resistant bacterial that is difficult to handle not only in animals, but also in people.

  1. M-Pesa

This is about electronic currency and its use in developing countries to go around of usual corruption, for example by paying policemen directly to their iPhone rather than via their chief who take cut from these salaries.

  1. Property Registers

This is about property rights and their enforcement as condition of effective capitalist development in line with work of de Soto.

VII. Inventing the Wheel

In this part author admits that he did not touch a lot of the most important invention because they change the world way too much and could not fit into the limited space of this book. For example, invention of the wheel was so huge that would require many volumes to analyze. Here are a few of similar in their importance in author’s view:

  1. Paper; 45. Index Funds; 46. The S-Bend (sanitation); 47. Paper Money;48. Concrete;  49. Insurance;

Conclusion: Looking Forward.

This is about very limited ability of people to predict the future with examples such as book by Herman Kahn and Wiener in 1950 about year 2000. They predicted something that did happened, but also a lot that did not. However, the main lesson here is that process of continuing innovation is not only started, but acquired a huge momentum, so one could expect a lot of it in the future changing the way of live and bringing improvements both technological and societal that are not even imaginable today.

Epilogue: The Light bulb

This is an interesting approach to measure impact of invention of previous century by comparing value of $70,000 income in now and its equivalent in 1900. If adjusted to inflation it would be $1,962,800, so one could buy a lot more of goods and services that existed in 1900, but the problem is that so many important goods and services did not exist, that one would be crazy to accept such bargain.

 

MY TAKE ON IT:

These book’s inventions are interesting and important in their impact, but I’d like to point out that we are just at the beginning of the process and the most important part is restructuring of society. We are still moving from industrial type of society where real ownership of property is limited to very small number of people and majority had to make living by selling their labor. This method of society organization is becoming increasingly unsustainable because there is less and less need in productive labor either for goods or services. The current method of handling it by providing miserable level of subsistence to less educated and much better level of bureaucratic sinecures to more educated part of population would not cut it because all three groups: productive people, welfare poor, and bureaucrats are bound to be psychologically miserable: the first group because being robbed and the other two because of the lack of agency, which is necessary for human high quality of live. That’s why I think that a huge wave of societal inventions is coming with technological inventions being just a relatively unimportant supplement.

 

20180406 – The All or Nothing Marriage

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.42.14 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to trace high level logic of marriage from economic necessity to the being the tool of self-expression and propose the new notion of marriage: all or nothing marriage that would be flexible enough to be capable meeting needs of the contemporary world with its economic independence of women, value of individual choice, and high demand of investment into growing the next generation. All this is done by using vast amount of empiric data accumulated about contemporary marriage via statistical and sociological research of recent decades.

DETAILS:

Preface: Panic in Evanston

Author starts with the story of the beginning of his development of the new theory of marriage, which started from request for article about marriage. Author looked at all forces that impact this institution and concluded that it is under serious strain and could buckle. More detailed analysis showed that while the institution of marriage is struggling, there is a reason for optimism because good marriages now are better than ever before. In short, he puts it as “all or nothing” theory of marriage. At the end author briefly goes to review of liberal vs. conservative approaches.

Part One Marriage Today

1 Temperamental but Thrilling

This chapter starts with reference to a couple of books called “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Wild”, both about women running away from seemingly good marriages. After supplying this narratives by reference to men doing the same, author looks at the history of marriage in America and identifies 2 great transitions: The sentimentality Transition of 1880s when industrialization allowed people to go above partnering for physical survival and the authenticity transition of 1950-60s when search for fulfilment and change of mores created wave of divorces:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.19.19 PM

Author links it to Maslow’s pyramid and then discusses Michelangelo effect when people try to create perfect sculpture from “ugly stone” of another person. He also connects it to weakening of social networks that before put pressure from outside to support a marriage and provides a nice graph demonstrating data about this:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.19.29 PM

Author also discusses another important point – the growth of demand to other people that is hard to meet for any conceivable marriage partner. Here is illustration:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.19.46 PM

At the end of chapter author discusses his believe that we are actually at the final stages of paradigm change and that the new paradigm is still marriage, only happier one.

Part Two Historical Perspective

This part is historical so author goes through periods:

  1. Pragmatic Marriage

Marriage for survival, with example of Lincoln parents and through various periods in American history:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.19.54 PM

  1. From Pragmatism to Love

This is about the next step: transfer from pragmatic marriage to search of love. This came with industrialization and huge improvement in survival rates leading to decrease in fertility that provided much more opportunities for women to live their live instead of constantly producing and burying children. This new love based marriage of industrial age came to fruition in 1950s and was undermined after that by 5 important factors:

  • Women economic dependence
  • Social isolation of nuclear family
  • Lack of insight in one’s spouse due to different (working/non-working) live experiences
  • Stunted psychological development
  • Often subordinated sex drive
  1. From Love to Serf-Expression

This starts with reference to Sex and the City as a typical example of search for love and meaning in live, which somewhat impedes marriage and then moves to intellectual roots of this process and needs for self-expression. Here is example of results of study of this process:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.20.03 PM

Author also points out to probably the most important fundamental transformation of society that underlying these processes- change in male/female difference in method of resource acquisition from women being internal family support producer to being equally to men external market producer:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.20.09 PM

Author presents 5 challenges of the Self-Expressive Marriage:

  • The Elusive Self
  • The Porcupane’s Dilemma: hard to get close to warm each other
  • The Struggle for Balance
  • The Inexorable Rise in Demand for Sexual Fulfilment
  • Men’s stanted psychological development

At the end of chapter author discuss emerging pattern of Fuly Functioning Couple and again refer to the Sex and the City pointing out that it eventually comes down to marriage.

Part Three: All-or-Nothing Marriage

  1. Personal Fulfillments and Marital Commitment: The Detente

This starts with discussion of marriage becoming tool of personal fulfilment in late 1700s when couples start forming based on love. This approach was expanding until 1950 when pursuit of happiness and meaning went beyond traditional arrangement. Author provides useful breakdown for these two objectives:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.20.18 PM

  1. Marriage at the Summit

Here author compares what he calls “Frightened marriage” with his idea of “All or Nothing” marriage. The “Frightened marriage” is basically the pattern that existed up until now when marriage was necessity for survival and raising children. Now, when industrialization freed people from domestic work, made it easy access to food, energy, and comfort, old forces that kept marriage alive are gone. Now the objective is much more self-actualization via work, entertainment, health maintenance, elaborate satisfaction of natural needs like food and sex, and on and on. Author provides a number of research results demonstrating that time spent by spouses together is declining as well as time spent on children. Author refers this phenomenon to decline in value of traditional marriage that was kept together by external needs, which he calls suffocated marriage. However, he is optimistic that it will be substituted by Enriched marriage, the one that is kept together by common interests of spouses and mutually enriching relationships that are beneficial for both.

  1. For Richer or Poorer

This is about economic foundation of the new model of marriage. He points out that marriage stressed most of all when economic wellbeing is stressed and links it to the levels of education:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.20.33 PM

Another interesting chart demonstrates that actuall cultural values are practically the same for all economnic classes of Americans:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.20.40 PM

Author also discusses a hypotheses that it could be explained by mental deficiencies of lower classes like low levels of self-control and such. As it should be expected, leftists attack it and put blame on external circumstances. Interestingly enough the very high income marriage is often similar to lower class in terms of instability. Author explains it by pointing out that very hihg income peope too busy working and interacting outside of home and find self actualization opportunities there.

Part Four Toward Stronger Marriages

  1. For Better or Worse

This is about complexity and unreliability of self-expressive marriage – humans tend to change with time and they are not necessary changing in synch, and it shows:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.20.48 PM

There is also an interesting phenomenon of looking at the process through rose colored glasses. The graph below demonstrates that people look at the past as the continuing improvement, when their actual reporting at the time shows otherwise:Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.20.54 PM

The recommendation author comes up with is: “do not idealize and you will not be disappointed”:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.21.01 PM

  1. Lovehacking

This is about psychological tools that could be useful in achieving marital satisfaction: 

Another hack is to take third party perspective. The third hack is Abstract Reframing procedure: convert any specific complement into statement of general admiration by a partner. This helps people with low self-esteem:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.21.22 PM

Also is effective tool expression of gratitude:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.21.32 PM

Overall author provide quite convincing data that use of these tools could be effective.

  1. Going All In

This is about details of handling complex self-expressive marriage. It goes through communications, responsiveness, various activities and such. It also cautions about possible negative consequences of “Going All In” such as revealing incompatibility.

  1. Recalibrating

This chapter is about recalibrating expectation from marriage if one is going to pursue this new high altitude and complexity marriage with its increased independence and each spouse that could require complex reconciliation procedures in all areas including sex, social interactions with outsiders, consensual non-monogamy. For the last one author provide an interesting graph:

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.21.38 PM

The final graph here is on high value of low expectations for really bad cases, but higher benefits of high expectation if marriage is fulfilling.

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 12.21.47 PM

  1. The Marital Buffet

The last chapter is pointing out that Americans now have a huge number of options in marriage and non-marriage, so it would help when one understands what they are before actually making the choice.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I like data richness of this book and generally agree that old institute of marriage needs significant upgrade in order to keep its validity in the age when necessity of domestic work, formerly domain of women or servants, had practically disappeared, in turn making hierarchical structure of family invalid. The effective marriage today got to be cooperative enterprise of free individuals kept together not by consideration of survival or economic necessity, but by huge physiological and psychological benefits that it could bring to these individuals. The value of having a spouse, as the second half of you, different but continuously attached to you for a very long time, could not be matched neither by short-term hookups nor my professional help nor by chemical enhancements. Certainly the process of selection of spouse as live-long partner could be enhanced by psychological and physiological testing that is rapidly developing all the time and by some additional tools that will be developed to support parallel development of individuals over their live time, but I do not think that there is anything else that could match such long term partnership in the level of benefits provided for wellbeing of individual.

 

20180330 – The Republic for Which It Stands

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 10.48.32 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review history of American development after the Civil War until end of XIX century and analyze what and how impacted this development and turned America into the country it became at the beginning of XX century. The main points of analysis are the reconstruction and its failure, Western expansion, Indian wars and removal of Indians to reservations. The key for understanding of these events was an American ideology build around the notion of Home and competency, and eventual failure of classical liberalism to respond effectively to industrialization and substitute of independent farmer and planter / landowner with laborer and businessmen as key elements of society.

DETAILS:

Introduction

In introduction author defines main themes of this book: transfer of America from the world before Civil War with its slavery, provinciality, and people’s loyalty to their state to the world after war with its eventually failed reconstruction, massive industrial development, and transfer of loyalty from one of the states to the United States. No less important was process of slow, but continuing decline of traditional liberalism with its laisses faire market and rise of progressivism with its government intervention and struggle between organized labor and owners/management.

Part I: Reconstructing the Nation

Prologue: Mourning Lincoln

Author uses assassination of Lincoln as the starting point, describing how it impacted overall leadership of the country by bringing to power Southerner Andrew Johnson. At the end author uses census data to make a point of how relatively levelled was wealth distribution in America with even somewhat rich people having practically the same live style as relatively poor, in the society with absence of both very rich and very poor.

  1. In the Wake of War,

Here author present American situation after the war: Victorious North, Devastated South, and mainly unconquered West. Then he defines North objectives as establishment of National Unity, freedom of Contract for everybody, including fully emancipated freedmen. After defining these objectives, author describes realities of the South where emancipation and freedom of contract for freedmen were completely rejected by white population. Consequently, it led to continuing condition of low intensity civil war between North supporters and active blacks, especially ones with military experience, and majority of whites on the local level and similar struggle between Johnson and Republican congress, senate, and administration. In DC this was expressed with Presidential Reconstruction of Johnson, who intended return country to practically pre-war situation sans formal slavery and put high priority on rehabilitation of confederates. This pretty much failed due to activities of republicans at all levels, especially in legislature, but also on sites via Freedman bureau activities. The situation was multilayered: federal legislature was resisting presidential reconstruction, Southern state legislature was trying to return back to prewar situation by implementing black codes, and at the very bottom terrorist activities and overall violence on both sides ran wild. The last part of this chapter stresses how dominant at the time ideology of old liberalism failed to expand from North to South and include freedmen.

  1. Radical Reconstruction

This is about the struggle between Johnson who slowly, but surely moved in direction of reestablishment of slaveowners power against congressional republicans including radicals who promoted constitutional amendments to solidify victory in Civil War and make emancipation irreversible reality. This struggle included both legislative and ideological fight in DC and all over the country, and low intensity terrorist war in the South. The result was pretty much stalemate with Republicans failing to impeach Johnson, small mainly demobilized army incapable suppressing terrorist activities, and former slave owners taking power back, while emancipation amendments successfully moving ahead.

  1. The Greater Reconstruction,

This chapter starts with initiation of the next step in Indian wars – Chivington’s massacre of Cheyennes in Colorado in November of 1964. Just after completion of Civil War, US Army, while rapidly decreasing in numbers, nevertheless become very active in cleansing Indians from territories further and further to the West.  Here is a nice map representing this process:

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 8.27.05 AM

The interesting thing about it is that unlike all other countries of colonization period, American exceptionalism was demonstrated itself in complexity of this process when many of American military commanders and political figures tried to bring some order and legality, however shaky, to this process, by continuiously creating treaties with Indians and sometimes even attempting to use force against white settlers to enforce this treaties. Eventually only massive government intervention in the form of sponsoring railroad and western settlement assured conquest of these territories and relegation of Indians to reservations.

  1. Home

This is a very important chapter for understanding of America because it is about ideological notion of Home, which basically serves as cornerstone of American culture. This notion is much more that building where one lives. It includes competency of the person and his ability to build family and provide for it based on combination of property and work. In this family everybody: husband, wife, children had their roles and were valued by selves and others based on their ability to fulfil these roles successfully. The societally approved objective was not to get rich and powerful, but rather fulfil one’s role in live by achieving competency resulting in building the home, giving good start to the next generation, and retiring with comfortable means. Author discusses in detail how this process was developing initially, how it was supported lately, and provides a nice graph for one of the most important form of such support: homestead movement:

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 8.27.15 AM

Author makes an important point that the most important objectives of reconstruction were turning former slaves and Indians into homebuilders similar to all other Americans and how both of these objectives mainly fail because of Southern resistance for blacks and cultural incompatibility for Indians. It also applied to other groups: Chinese, Irish, and other immigrants who did not share this concept of home as objective of life’s main effort and often would not be able to achieve it, even if they would want to because members of the idealistic republic of farmers that did not really exist outside of ideological construct of American society.

5.Gilded Liberals,

This chapter is about struggle of intellectuals of Gilded Age to reconcile American ideology of home and competency with realities of live. It went in multiple directions one of them being use of scientific achievement of age such as statistic to build new institutions such as insurance companies to handle randomness of luck. Another was via expansion of education, and yet another one via Social Science represented by ASSA, which author considers the most important classical liberal institution of the time. Finally, this period also included beginning of conversion of classical liberalism of free market and personal responsibility into ideology of supplemental institutions to alleviate individual problems via statistical redistribution of risk with the new liberalism of big government interfering to eliminate problems completely by using force and expert knowledge. Interestingly enough, it all coincided with the struggle against government corruption – usually local government corruption of Tammany hall type.

  1. Triumph of Wage Labor,

This chapter is about the coming of the new era when productivity growth in agriculture (250 hours per bushel in 1840 vs 150 per bushel in 1880), new goods and services that become available, made old ideas of farmers’ republic invalid. It was substituted by the combination of labor and capital with old middle class of farmers, while converting into the new middle class of small business owners and highly qualified employees, nevertheless losing its ideological and political influence. Author describes this process and allocates a lot of attention to the process of devaluation of labor that become increasingly wide spread due to the nature of labor at the low level of technology when it required little time and effort to get up to speed, making workers easily substitutable, and consequently decreasing their bargaining power to nearly 0.

  1. Panic

The chapter starts with reference to Grant election in 1972 for the second term. Author stresses the local character of politics at the time, and that the Reconstruction as national issue was not that important for majority of people. Grant was still popular and won easily, but he did not have any big ideas to implement and was traying to accommodate different fractions of republican coalition. Author looks at various scandals that start developing at the time such as Credit Mobilier and them moves to actual panic that started with the crash of stock exchange in Vienna, which undermined European grain trade, causing financial problems in America that was supplying lots of grain to these markets. Combined with switch to gold coins only (Crime of 73), it caused serious recession through the end of Grant administration and beyond. It was especially severe because of the shift to wage labor that left little space for people to fall on when unemployment struck. By the end of panic in 1880 lots of people were worse off than 20 years before. Author also looks at legal developments and failed attempt to implement Civil Rights Act of 1875. The reconstruction ended with elections of 1876 without achieving real emancipation and leaving the South free to establish formal racial segregation.

  1. Beginning a Second Century

The chapter starts with Centennial exposition where demonstration of progress was combined with absence of Southerners and Indians. Then it proceeds to discuss limits of free labor in the age of monopolies and initiation of unions and strikes. Author discusses practical end of 200 years of Indian wars and kind of settlement with reservations, Indian affairs departments, and Indian dependency on government for mere survival after they were deprived of opportunities to continue their way of live. Author briefly discusses Southern problems, but mainly concentrates on issues of Catholic immigration and related development of new political and economic power – permanent wage workers like miners, steelworkers, and such who did not expect to become independent farmers or business owners and consequently saw the only way for improvement via higher wages and better labor conditions.

Part II: The Quest for Prosperity.

  1. Years of Violence,

This is about 1876-1877 when after the end of Grant’s second term North gave up on reconstruction in exchange for Hayes presidency and southern racists fully reestablished their rule in the form of segregation. Author describes it in part I, then goes to Indian Nez Perce war of 1977. However, the most attention allocated to economic development: Rockefeller and railroads. This also includes labor struggles, strikes, lockouts, and related violence. Author also discusses political organization of this time with fee-based government and fight between different parts of this political system for wealth and power.

  1. The Party of Prosperity~

This chapter is about Republican Party that claimed to be a party of prosperity based on tariffs and protected markets. They supported gold standard and correspondingly democrats were for easy money with the use of silver. This period also includes beginning of welfare state with pensions for Civil war union soldiers. Author looks at multiple strains of cultural development from suppression of Mormons into monogamy to beginnings of temperance movement, and expansion of education, including for women. At the end of chapter author discusses election of 1880 with all candidates pretty much scared by raise of monopolies and labor movement with Garfield eventually winning for republicans.

  1. People in Motion,

This chapter is about immigration and it starts with description of process for English immigrant. It then discusses immigration overall and its impact in late XIX century when newly arrived immigrant could not expect to get land anymore and generally should go to work in urban or extraction industries. It also provides a nice graph for the process:

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 8.27.24 AM

Author dicusses positive economic role of immigration and how it was necessary to populate the country.

  1. Liberal Orthodoxy and Radical Opinions,

Here author looks at events of 1880s through prism of decaying ideology of classical liberalism that could not handle the new situation of expansion of non-propertied labor that had nothing to fall on in case of unemployment, possess no serious skills that would support meaningful bargaining power, and therefore had to agree to practically any conditions, even if these conditions could not provide sustainable living. Author discusses assassination of Garfield and ideological movements: Spencer, William Sumner, and overall American movement to obtain high level European education, especially in Germany. A special discussion is provided for Henry George and his ideas of right for land and universal tax on rent. Another ideological personality discussed here is Howells who communicated his ideas via popular novels. Finally, the last part of this chapter discusses fight over corruption and eventual road to Pendleton Act that created permanent bureaucracy theoretically ending spoils system.

  1. Dying for Progress.

This chapter is about hugely negative consequences of industrial development on environment, conditions of live, and consequently on health of American population. Here is a nice graph demonstrating this development:

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 8.27.40 AM

  1. The Great Upheaval,

This is about that rise of labor movement, and specifically story of Knights of Labor and other similar organizations that at the time seems to be confirming Marxist analysis of human history and development. Nevertheless, even after major strikes and disturbances American system demonstrated its flexibility in accommodating to the new circumstances and successfully handling the Great Upheaval of labor within it framework.

  1. Reform

This chapter is about various reform movements. It starts with anarchists, Greenback supporters, then moves to evangelicals, temperance movement, and most importantly, to labor movement. The big part of chapter describes anti-monopoly movement, which unlike many others had significant legislative achievements.

  1. Westward the Course of Reform

This chapter is about western movement and development. It was quite different from initial American development that was driven by settlers with little if any government involvement. The movement of the end of XIX century was government driven via huge land grants to railroads, but also huge expansion of public land ownership. There is a very interesting piece here about cowboys and huge difference between reality and cultural representation. In American culture cowboys represent rugged individualism, guns, freedom, and violence. In reality they were mainly corporate employees because corporations very quickly took over cattle rising. Also interesting is the story of tick resistant longhorns vs. more valuable, but less sturdy regular northern cattle. Overall the western cattle industry was highly dependable on railroads and eventually was not that profitable after all. Author also discusses here attempts to include Indians into regular American culture via Indian schools, development of mining and farming industries on the West.

  1. The Center Fails to Hold,

This is about political development at the end of century when socialist ideas start penetrating culture, especially intellectual circles, while previously dominant classical liberalism was in full retreat, not capable to handle labor movement based on inability of low skills individual to survive in the free market. The chapter also includes discussion on final expulsion of Indians from practically all valuable land and expansion of homesteads, however faulty it really was.

  1. The Poetry of a Pound of Steel

This chapter starts with Carnegie and his involvement in both material and ideological areas of American live. It is interesting how his growing involvement with ideas, which were pretty much feel good ideas of peace, brotherhood, education, philanthropy and such, practically pushed him out of area of material production that required competition, cost cutting, including wages and jobs, and similar unpleasant activities, which nevertheless were the only way to achieve efficient production. Author describes in details Homestead strike and other episodes of industrial struggle. A very interesting and not obvious note is that very nice philanthropic initiatives like creation of Carnegie libraries eventually came down to rich man deciding what poor man needs and directing resources of society to building something that was of no use for hard working laborer and later had to be maintained by taxes drawn from these laborers.

Part III: The Crisis Arrives

  1. The Other Half,

The other half here is the newly arrived immigrants and other laborers. Live of these people was unknown for middle class established Americans. It was later popularized via literature and journalism on the mass scale. This description typically ignored reason for this people to come, which was obviously better live than they had back in places of their origin. It was rather concentrating on perceived failure of free market in creating human conditions of live for these people and necessity of government involvement. Author describes formation of local political machines that facilitated process of immigrant integration, which while hugely corrupted, still helped them to improve their lives. The last part of the chapter is about acculturalization that rapidly occurred if not with immigrant themselves, then with their children.

  1. Dystopian and Utopian America

This chapter starts with Lizzie Borden and culture of American crime, then moved to Dreiser and world that he described. Then it returns back to South situation with lynching and growing segregation, and then political movements of the end of century, especially populism. However, despite all this, the chapter ends with Columbian Exposition and enthusiasm about America and its future that majority experienced at the time.

  1. The Great Depression,

This chapter describes the depression of 1893 and panic on Wall Street. It also narrates story of Pullman’s attempt to create perfect factory town with everything from housing to control over behavior provided by the company. Obviously, it did not work, so author next continue discussion of labor movement including new personages like Debs.

  1. Things Fall Apart,

This chapter starts with Mark Hanna and political maneuvering of McKinley and his tariffs policy. Then it continues describing labor relations and how people start adjusting their lives to unpredictability of labor market and need to maintain saving to handle it. Author also discusses public domain issues such as roads and public lands. At the end of chapter author looks at appearance of judicial activism and ideological background that gave birth to it – rejection of democratic governance as inadequate and ineffective and call for experts to take over.

  1. An Era Ends,

The final chapter is about the end of post-Civil War era that came with election of McKinley for the second term with Teddy as VP. Even when republicans triumphed in election 1896, their ideology of classical liberalism was in deep decline and mass government intervention into just about everything was just around the corner.

Conclusion,

In conclusion author retells his main points: failure of liberalism to substitute slavery with effective system of contract labor, decline of independent agrarian producer, and raise of labor, capital, struggle between them, ideological movement to socialism, and consequently raise of government in all areas of live.

MY TAKE ON IT:

This as a pretty good and detailed history and I think it shows quite well that decline of traditional American culture and raise of government was a very logical response to industrialization and decline of opportunities for individual producers not only to compete but even to survive in the world of big business closely connected with government. It is also very interesting in demonstrating the extent to which removal of slavery was based on little supported ideology of abolitionism and necessities of war, rather than on rejection of this institution by either Southern or Northern societies, including southern slaves who put relatively little resistance to reestablishment of white dominance. Probably the most important, albeit not really obvious lesson here is that overall huge change of society that occurred after Civil War went amazingly smoothly with relatively small bloodshed. I think it demonstrates significant advantages of Democracy as the system that allows resolution of core issues of society via relatively peaceful interaction of its different forces.

 

20180323 – Insight

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 10.56.54 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to provide information about psychology of self-awareness, its importance for setting meaningful objectives for one’s live, and necessity of mastering self-awareness in order to achieve these objectives.

DETAILS:

  1. The Meta-Skill of the Twenty-First Century

It starts with the story of young George Washington and his sad adventure with Fort Necessity, where his arrogance and self-assurance caused defeat. Author describes it as a good example of the lack of self-awareness; so eventually George Washington improved his performance in live by developing self-awareness, the skill, which is absolute requirement for the success. Author refers to studies that demonstrated opposite feature – self-delusion as typical characteristics of many people. She defines two types of self-awareness – internal, which is understanding of self and external, which is the understanding of how others see you. The final and very important point here is that self-awareness is a developmental skill and there is no better example than the older George Washington.

PART ONE: ROADBLOCKS AND BUILDING BLOCKS

  1. The Anatomy of Self-Awareness: The Seven Pillars of Insight

The chapter starts with reference to Mayan civilization and story of its demise that author presents as the consequence of poor understanding of environment resulting in deforestation and destruction of Mayan ecology. After that she moves to religious understanding of self-awareness and concludes: “self-awareness is the will and the skill to understand yourself and how others see you”. From here author moves to discuss Franklin and Thoreau and their approach to understanding and controlling self from which she derives seven pillars of insight:

  1. Understand one’s own values
  2. Understand one’s own passions
  3. Understand one’s own aspirations
  4. Understand one’s own fit for environment
  5. Understand one’s own consistent patterns of behavior across situations
  6. Understand one’s own real-time reactions
  7. Understand one’s impact on others

For all 7 pillars it is imported to have 2-way views: from inside and from outside.

  1. Blindspots: The Invisible Inner Roadblocks to Insight

This chapter is about situation when people completely misunderstand how others perceive them. An example is an executive who believes that he is pretty good with people, but actually is hated by everyone. The author moves to research on criminals, who actually perceive themselves as regular good people. Author defines blind spots of such people as: Knowledge Blindness, Emotion Blindness, and Behavior Blindness. Author suggests some technics to fight this blindness:

  • Identify your assumptions
  • Conduct double loop learning: make predictions and compare later with actual results
  • Constantly continue learning even in areas one is very familiar with
  • Seek feedback on abilities and behaviors
  1. The Cult of Self: The Sinister Societal Roadblock to Insight

This is a bit of a problem that to some extent is caused by recent developments in American culture. As example, author discusses change in children naming from generic commonly used names like John to unique names. It went from 40% getting common names for boys in 1983 to only 10%. For girls it is from 25% to 8%. Author also discusses movement from Age of Effort to the Age of Esteem, when Self-esteem movement made people to look for undeserved appreciation. The recommendation is to combine self-acceptance with understanding objective reality.

PART TWO: INTERNAL SELF-AWARENESS – MYTHS AND TRUTHS

  1. Thinking isn’t Knowing: The Four Follies of Introspection

Author starts discussion of follies with a good point that thinking about ourselves does not correlate with knowing ourselves and that assumption that introspection begets self-awareness is a myth. Then she discusses four follies:

  1. Myth of padlocked basement – about access to subconscious
  2. Why not ask WHY – about asking WHAT rather than WHY as in instead of “Why I do not like” ask “What do I like”. She stated that Why is good to understand environment, but WHAT is good for understanding self.
  3. Keeping journal – would not help unless done very carefully without overthinking positive and reasonably exploring negative.
  4. The Evil twin of Introspection – this would-be rumination, constant rethinking of everything. One important point here is that people do not care about our mistakes or successes as much as we think they do.
  5. Internal Self-Awareness Tools That Really Work

After chapter on follies, this chapter is about doing things right. What works is the mindfulness – simply noticing what we are thinking, feeling, and doing. Another one is reframing – looking at circumstances from different angles. Also, useful tool is comparing and contrasting. The final part of the chapter is about attitude – focusing on solutions or as author puts it: solution mining, which includes defining specific objectives and path of achieving them.

PART THREE: EXTERNAL SELF-AWARENNESS – MYTHS AND TRUTHS

  1. The Truth We Rarely Hear: From Mirror to Prism

This starts with the story of personal experience when author learned how people really perceived her in the quite close circle of friends, only many years later in random conversation. She uses this to stress how much people reluctant to share their real attitude to a person. After that she points out that others are more objective than ourselves and that even unfamiliar people could provide a lot of valuable information about us. She discusses in details reasons why people are reluctant to discuss negatives, but happy to do for positives. Another issue is that in addition to people reluctant to tell truth, we are reluctant to ask. At the end of chapter author discusses various ways of obtaining true information, especially 360 reviews.

  1. Retrying, reflecting on, and Responding to Difficult or Surprising Feedback

This is about hearing and learning from the true feedback, which is in and of itself a very difficult task. She provides recommendation for somewhat formalized process of Receive, Reflect, and Respond. She also discusses problems and us of both self-limitation and self-affirmation

PART FOUR: THE BIGGER PICTURE

  1. How Leaders Build Self-Aware Teams and Organizations

This is about leadership and author builds this chapter about what she calls the three building blocks:

  • Modelling the Way
  • The safety and expectation to tell the truth
  • Outgoing commitment and process of staying self-aware.

At the end author expands the notion of self-awareness from individuals to teams and whole organizations.

  1. Surviving and Thriving in a Delusional World

This is about accepting world as it is, not as we want it to be and making positive change when it is possible. Author discusses example of Maria – the person who lives in her own reality. Author provides a number of examples illustrating this point. At the end she presents a detailed guide of how to improve self-awareness by using this book.

MY TAKE ON IT:

There is little new for me in this book, but it is still interesting how much our success in live depends on understanding of ourselves and how others perceive us.

Generally tools that author provides are nice, but I doubt that it is possible formalizing such complex thing as self-awareness. It also probably not really possible to see how others perceive us, but it is still worth trying. In any case it is a nice refresher of notion that so much in our live depends on us and it is always useful to try harder to be more self-aware.

 

 

 

20180316 – Doomsday Machine

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 8.32.52 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to use author’s experience as top secret analyst of American chain of command for nuclear weapons in 1950s and 60s to inform everybody in the world that this chain in unreliable, is far different and far less sophisticated than it is shown in the movies. Author also seems to intend to scare people into action against nuclear weapons by informing them that real control over such weapons is not in the hand of presidents, but rather in the hand of medium or even low rank field officers. Finally, even if author does not believes that anybody would really implement his suggestion, he provides recommendation on how to decrease American nuclear options.

DETAILS:

Prologue

Here author presents his credentials as the special assistant to Assistant of Defense secretary in order to establish that that he did had access to the top-secret information and really knows what he is writing about. After that he present a graph of expected casualties of nuclear war that runs into hundreds of millions. He claims that when he understood it he decided to prevent this from happening at any cost.

Introduction

Here is a narrative of how he, as RAND consultant, was one of the main developers of guidance for the operational plans for general nuclear war and then was involved in handling Cuban crises. Then he describes how his conscious made him to copy what become Pentagon papers and lots of other classified documents in regard to nuclear planning that he kept separately with intention to disclose them later. Then he explains that reason for failing to do so was the loss of stolen top-secret documents by his brother. At the end he discusses his learning about American nuclear posture in 50s and 603, states his believe that nothing seriously changed, and presents a number of specific points that he would make in his briefing for president:

  • Basic element of American nuclear posture did not change since 60s, especially hair-trigger alert
  • USA strategic capability designed for the first strike
  • US nuclear weapons in reality regularly used as pointed gun, even if trigger was not pulled since Hiroshima.
  • US reject idea to forfeit the first strike, which in author’s opinion promotes proliferation
  • American attack could be triggered by wide range of factors not limited to retaliation
  • History of Cuban crisis is incorrect because it underestimates the level of danger of all out nuclear war at the time
  • Nuclear command and control systems are unreliable and false alarm or some coincidence still could lead to massive nuclear attack
  • All these facts are systematically concealed from the public

Part I: The Bomb and I

1: How Could I? The Making of a Nuclear War Planner

Here author narrates his story of growing in the family of professionals, his father’s involvement with development of nuclear weapons, and his refusal to continue this work after the end of WWII. It had no impact on authors career, since father kept it a secret, so author kind of independently moved through academia, then to RAND Corporation as analyst, and, eventually, as RAND consultant got involved in the decision-making theory application to making decisions in regard to nuclear weapons.

2: Command and Control: Managing Catastrophe

This chapter is about author’s research on vulnerability of command system for nuclear weapons. It describes really unreliable early warning systems, which had multiple false alarms and author describes one of the most dangerous when system defined with 99% probability that USA are under attack. At the time only presence of Soviet leader in New York prevented mass retaliation to non-existing attack. After that author discusses in quite a details his assignment to Pacific fleet and processes and deficiencies of nuclear posture of American forces such as: pilots trained to get to the plains daily, but never trained for massive take off, planning deficiencies when such as technically impossible flight plans and schedules, absence of contingency planning for accidents like collusion of planes with nuclear weapons, which could explode, creating false impression of being under nuclear attack and correspondingly mass retaliation, unreliability of communication, that made authorization from president problematic, and such. Overall author seems to encounter culture clash when military culture encouraged people to act aggressively and independently when not sure what is going on because failure to act could lead to the lost time and eventual defeat, while author’s academic culture encourages thorough deliberation with failure to act being not really that significant.

3: Delegation: How Many Fingers on the Button?

This chapter is about authority delegation from president down to lower levels to initiate nuclear strike. Author describes here that the common believe that only president can initiate a nuclear strike is incorrect. Since communications between president and multiple far away bases and fleets is not perfect and it is not unusual that communications interrupted so this power delegation was necessary if US were to avoid the first disarming strike against its forces.

4: Iwakuni: Nuclear Weapons off the Books

This is about US violating treaty with Japan that no nuclear weapons would be situated on its territory. Iwakuni was a base in Japan where American ships with nuclear weapons were based on permanent basis, technically violating the treaty.

5: The Pacific Command

Here author discusses military culture, specifically in the area that he was most familiar with – Pacific command. He especially was concerned that brasses did not see such a big problem in delegation power down, which author believes was unacceptable. Another issue very disturbing to the author was that the planners did not differentiate between China and USSR so attack by one of them would initiate retaliation against both. Author thought that it is a local problem with Pacific command, but later understood that it came from the top where leadership had no intention of leaving someone untouched when USA would experience huge loses.

6: The War Plan: Reading the JSCP

This chapter is about detailed plans of nuclear war that civilian leadership of country including secretary of defense were not familiar with. Author uses it to discuss overall relationships between elected civilian leadership and permanent military leadership, which generally were strained all the time. In author’s opinion military tended grossly overestimate Soviet forces and ability and correspondingly created plans and forces using great overkill.

7: Briefing Bundy

Bundy was Kennedy’s national security assistant and author briefed him on American war plans and his discoveries about command and control on Pacific. He stressed what he thought was the problem with delegation, only to find out later that it was consciously done by Eisenhauer, rather than being a product of unauthorized military overreach. It turned out that author findings that he considered unacceptable were pretty much in line with policies established from the top.

8: “My” War Plan

This describes author participation in development of the new National Security policy for Kennedy administration. Kennedy did not like Eisenhauer’s “mass retaliation” policy. He wanted “flexible” response to attack, so to minimize damage on both sides. Author describes his proposal that would meet this objective, such as instead of immediate use of all missiles use only partial forces and keep “strategic reserve” in order to slow down escalation, not attack enemy cities at one, remove automatic retaliation, everywhere were it was possible use non-nuclear forces, and so on.

9: Questions for the Joint Chiefs: How Many Will Die?

This is about response to Kennedy’s request for damage assessment based on JSCP plan. Author discusses questions that he prepared with clear objective to demonstrate deficiencies of military planning and incompetence of military leaders. Actually, the main point author makes is that for American president risk of all out nuclear war was acceptable in order to save USA as it is, but for author it was unacceptable doesn’t matter what consequences are. Author believed that Joint staff would come up with lowball estimates, but they told the truth about consequences of war – hundreds of million dead. Moreover, military was prepared to deliver the first strike if situation was clearly leading to the war. For author it was unthinkable.

10: Berlin and the Missile Gap

This is the story of Berlin crisis of 1961 when Soviets decide that they would not tolerate mass defection of Germans from East Germany via open West Berlin and demanded peace treaty and transfer control over the whole of Berlin to GDR. USA refused and it brought world to the brink of war. Eventually crisis was resolved by Soviets’ building the wall, but meanwhile military preparations and pressure was on both sides. Based on Soviet success in use of intercontinental rockets US estimated Soviet capability in hundreds of ballistic missiles, constituting a serious gap in missiles. Author claims that since surveillance identified only 4 intercontinental missiles, that gap did not really exist.

11: A Tale of Two Speeches

This is about perception that existed at the time that Soviets believe in their ability to deliver the first disarming strike and could be enticed to do just that. As result author claims that he and other developed speech for Kennedy that highlighted American power overall and demonstrated that first strike would not disarm USA. It caused direct response from Soviets, who were also afraid of the first strike against them. The big part of the problem was that politics of US democracy required reassuring population that current administration maintains or even expands American superiority, but it scared Soviets into believing that the first strike could be coming. Author believes that it caused Soviets to look for countermeasures and Cuba was one of them.

12: My Cuban Missile Crisis

This is retelling of pretty much well known story, only with some details from inside. However, it contains nothing significant.

13: Cuba: The Real Story

I guess the key point of author’s revelation is that top leaders risked a lot to avoid war and it was much more dangerous for Khrushchev, who eventually lost his position partially because of this. Another important part of the narrative is how little understanding is of how much it all depended on lower levels military commanders on both sides, who could use nuclear weapons without any authorization. Especially it applies to commanders of Soviet submarines who at great career risk decided to rise to service when pressed by American Navy, rather than use nuclear torpedoes, as it was required by standing orders.

Part II: The Road to Doomsday

In this part author looks at development of mass destruction weapons and tactics from before WWII and all the way to nuclear weapons and MAD strategy.

14: Bombing Cities; 15: Burning Cities; 16: Killing a Nation

These chapters are about strategic bombing in WWII, that started as impossibility and ended as routine. While initially intended as a method to undermine resolve of enemy population, it actually only increased it, at least until bombing was somewhat tolerable. Eventually it moved from psychological and narrowly military objectives to the objective of annihilating enemy population without much differentiation between combatants and non-combatants.

17: Risking Doomsday I: Atmospheric Ignition

This is about an idea of some possibility that explosion of nuclear device could ignite atmosphere and completely annihilate everything alive. Calculations that were conducted pointed to the very small probability of such event, but it still existed. Author obviously believes that at this point all work should stop and humanity should move away from producing nuclear weapons.

18: Risking Doomsday II: The Hell Bomb

This is about hydrogen bomb, which is not only much more powerful than nuclear, but also has no limit on its power. There were some people who were either against its development or wanted it to be conditional on competition. The main supporter of H-bomb development was Edward Teller and author obviously does not like this man. At the end author claims that it was done under incorrect assumption similarly to believe in Nazi’s advances that were a big driver of Manhattan project.

19: The Strangelove Paradox

The paradox here is between secret development of powerful weapons that are actually doomsday machines and their objective to prevent attack because if adversary does not know power of such weapons, these weapons would not stop this adversary. Author also discusses various scenarios around decapitation and validity of the first strike. Eventually it came down to the “dead hand” technology. Author goes into some details about Russian “Perimeter” system that would initiate nuclear strike automatically if it defined that the attack against Russia already occurred. Author assumes that similar systems were developed by all powers.

20: First-Use Threats: Using Our Nuclear Weapons

Here author discusses the use of nuclear weapons as not retaliation against use of these weapons, but as tool to achieve some objectives. He considers it hugely immoral and demands USA denounce such use regardless of what others like Russia and China would do.

21: Dismantling the Doomsday Machine

Author starts this chapter discussing quite ridiculous idea of slowing down earth movement so that Russian missiles would miss their targets. He uses this as example of insanity and then tries to prove that the very existence of such weapons is insanity. He provides a list of what measures he would like to see implemented, but at the end states that there is no real hope for this to happen. Here are his suggestions, which for some reason apply only to USA:

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 8.15.08 AM

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is interesting to read about this staff from somebody who actually worked inside of this machine. The levels of organization and safeguard of nuclear weapons is pretty consistent with what I would expect based on my long experience observing control and command system in many other areas of live. However it does not cost me sleepless nights because I believe that normal people are actually more responsible than top-level politicians, because unlike politicians they do have habit of being responsible. The only thing that would really disturb me is if somebody as traitorous as the author of this book would really implemented author suggestions, creating impression for Russians, Chinese, and other enemies that USA is weakened enough to make their first strike an acceptable risk. However real live experience demonstrated that even such president, as Obama, who would probably agreed with author 100%, still was not able to disarm USA and open it for attack, probably to separation of powers implemented in American system. This kind of safeguards gives hope that this dangerous, but tolerable position of nuclear standup will last for next 50-60 or whatever it takes years, before everybody in the world would join Western civilization with its Democracy and market economy. When the whole world join civilization, the worldwide strict control with no exclusions would make it possible to move nuclear weapons to the dust been of history next to Nazism, Communism, Islamism, Chinese supremacism, and whatever other ism history will come up with before that.

20180309 – How to Think

Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 2.08.36 PM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to review the process of thinking and maintaining or changing one’s believes. This process includes a number of important abilities:

  • Ability to tolerate and analyze opinions outside of one’s comfort area, overcoming “true believer” behavior patterns
  • Ability to avoid assigning opponents some evil qualifications that would automatically invalidate their points
  • Ability to be careful with words so to prevent unconscious accepting or rejecting of ideas based on aura of words used
  • Ability to avoid lamping of notions into one bunch, making it difficult differentiate between them
  • And most of all ability to understand opponent’s view on its merits, rather than reject it wholesale.

Another part of main idea is to provide tool in form of checklist to organize oneself for better and more effecting thinking.

DETAILS:

Introduction

It starts with the statement that the process of thinking is very important and that we often get it wrong. Author then provides an example of “thinking in action”: buying a car and then reviews all considerations that are going into this decision. After that he moves to Kahneman’s idea of thinking quick and slow, trying to demonstrate that “speed kills”. Next, he moves to an essay by Robinson that discuss consensus and emotions using example of Puritans and their image in popular culture that has little to do with historic reality. He uses it as an example of “everybody is knowing a little bit about a lot of things”. Another point is that when we do not know, we tend to develop emotional attachment to socially approved views. For many people it is becoming quite complicated because we all belong to multiple communities with not necessary consistent socially approved view. The final part of introduction refers to author’s believe that his book provides kind of “diagnostic” approach to the problem of quality thinking, similar to medical approach to symptoms of diseases.

Chapter One: Beginning to Think

This starts with the story of a member of Westboro Church being converted to more civilized attitude via Internet connection to the person with different views who treated her nicely. One of the most important steps in this process was her initial attempt to reject all communications with this person in order to protect her believes. From here author moves to a notion that “thinking for self” is not really possible because humans exist in connection with others and even if one comes up with original deviation from common believes, he would encounter active and sometimes violent resistance from other members of a group. After that author looks at the experiment with Mills junior who was raised in environment of reason and forceful logic that he eventually rebelled against. Author uses this as a study case of relations between reason and emotions. The next point author makes is by using the story of basketball player who was applying in his game less effective, but more attractive to viewers technic, explaining that his real objective was attract girls rather than win games. Author completes this chapter with reference to “What’s the matter with Kansas” pointing out that nobody really can say what is good for other individuals, only themselves.

Chapter Two: Attractions

This chapter once again starts with a person who moved away from the set of believes he grew up with to another set. This time it was from atheism to religion. Interestingly, it occurred in framework of Yale Political Union debate society. The atheist just failed to find logical reasons to contradict theists. Here author refer to Jonathan Haidt’s idea of personality-defined views to which people attracted. The next point is coming from Lewis and Hoffer’s “True Believer” about the need of belonging and links to it membership and compliance with the group worldview. The next part of this chapter is about adjustment that one makes to get what he wants – in author’s case it was correct his views to get his article published in Harper’s. Finally, author uses Ta-Nehisi Goates’s demand for reparations to discuss notion of who derives what and when and how it all should be negotiated.

Chapter Three: Repulsions

This chapter is about tolerance in thinking. It starts with a nice piece on outgroup and how people tend to punish outsiders for being outsiders. Author looks at it from the point of view of two somewhat hostile groups to both of which he belongs: Christians and Academia. Next, he discusses what he calls Bulverism after the name of one of personage of C.S Lewis who present such attitudes: “First assume that your opponent is wrong, then explain his error, but do not try to really find out if he really is wrong or not”. As historical example author provides polemic between Martin Luther and Thomas Moor, which was by far viler, than whatever we can hear now. Finally, author looks at the idea of Rationalia and demonstrates that this could not possibly work in real live because it would require constant System 2 slow thinking that would make all actions all but impossible.

Chapter Four: The Money of Fools

These money are would-be words, which are issued easily, but could convey no meaning or just pure falsehoods. One of the interesting uses, however, is use of some key words that signify common attributes and group belongings. Author provides a number of example and a nice quote from Orwell. Then he goes into power of metaphors, especially war related that put argument into its own fight category. Author then refers to Lakoff’s and its companion Mary Migley book “The Myths we live by”. The point here is that myths are not lies, but rather self-contained representation of the world. Author also discusses contemporary, somewhat Twitter related trend to convey information and ideas produced by others in form of “shorter”, which often distorts transferred ideas, sometime to the level of completely opposite to original. The final discussion of this chapter is about notions of dual booting coming from computers using two operating systems and method acting of actors, both being used as metaphor for attitudes defined by circumstances.

Chapter Five: The Age of Lumping

This is about contemporary habit of lamping together often poorly related people, ideas, and everything else. Author discusses continually growing abbreviation monsters like LGBTQ… and such. Then he moves to poorly translated Lenin’s “Who Whom” changing meaning from who will win in a struggle, into who control whom. This lead to discussion of removing historic names and statues as result of lumping, for example the lumping of the all people of Civil war period South and its soldiers together with idea of slavery. As a countermeasure, author presents value of idea of splitting that should lead to the analysis at the level of individuality, which would be much more reasonable approach to their merits or demerits.

Chapter Six: Open and Shut

This starts with author pointing out that open mind is not only impossible because everybody has convictions, but also unadvisable. As example he brings kidnapping – the activity for which open-minded approach would be more than strange. After that author goes into details of looking at vices, virtues, and sunk costs. As the final point author brings bubbles whether market or ideological and true believers that shut their minds so profoundly that they continue believe regardless of how many times these believes were falsified by events.

Chapter Seven: A Person, Thinking

This is an interesting approach to the connection between language, thinking, and acting. Specifically, it is about English and Democracy. Author uses work of David Foster Wallace. He discusses an interesting notion of Democratic Spirit:

Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 2.06.52 PM

As example of forbearance necessary in democratic debates author uses long going abortion debates in America.

Conclusion: The Pleasures and Dangers of Thinking

The conclusion is about such dangers as change of mind leading to ideological conflict with one’s environment, loosing friends, and eventually being thrown out into the cold. On the pleasure side is finding the truth, getting joy from helping others do the same, and, very important, continue the intellectual journey without final destination.

Afterword: The Thinking Person’s Checklist

Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 2.07.00 PM

MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a useful book, but it makes a very big assumption that objective of thinking is to obtain some truth and/or convince opponent that one’s opinion conveys such truth. In reality people generally have objective of confirming their own goodness, maintaining whatever benefits they have material or immaterial such as prestige, self-esteem, and confirmation of relevant members of one’s group. Examples of ideological transformation that author provides mainly occur in the process of individual changing his/her group association. I personally believe that the best way to achieve conversion from any ideological position to any other ideological position if to demonstrate very convincingly for individual that he would be better off after changing group association, again either materially or psychologically or both. Neither facts, nor logic, nor anything else would change person position if he/she convinced that continuing association with current group is the most beneficial materially or psychologically.

 

 

20180302 – Rebooting Justice

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 9.09.43 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that American legal system, as it stands now, works to benefit lawyers more than anybody else. It is done by overcomplicating proceedings to such extend that normally average educated lay person could not possibly represent self not only in criminal, but even in civil cases. Moreover, in any serious case even professional and outstanding lawyers need another lawyers’ support. It is a huge deviation from original American legal system when per se was not only possible, but also prevalent. This created overblown demand for lawyers that is not possible to satisfy because they are too expensive even for middle class. The remedy provided by Gideon is not effective because free lawyers are overloaded and could not possible handle all cases. The real remedy to these problems should be: simplification of legal process, expansion of paralegal support to substitute lawyers in simple cases, and technology that could help process routine legal tasks. In short: “Less Lawyers, More Justice”.

DETAILS:

  1. Introduction

This starts with the real live case when authors believe accused murderer did not get a decent defense and then they proceed presenting statistics that justice is often denied in USA such as results of polling of judges with 94% pointing out deficiencies. After that authors move to civil cases, demonstrating that they are also underserved because contemporary American justice requires heavy involvement of professional lawyers, which is not feasible in many cases. Authors discuss Gideon that created requirement to provide free lawyer for poor and demonstrate that it did not really help enough so further and significant changes are required. At the end of the introduction they provide a brief description of each chapter’s content.

 

Here is brief description by authors:

 

Part I. The Problem

This part explains the contours of our access-to-justice crisis

  1. The Reality of Criminal Justice for Poor Defendants

This chapter describes the issue in criminal courts. Criminal defense is, and always has been, radically underfunded in comparison to prosecution and police resources. This underfunding drives larger caseloads, fewer investigatory resources, and much lower salaries. The upshot? Systematic ineffective assistance of counsel is prevalent all over the country. It would be an easy problem to solve if it were a few bad apples. Instead, the system itself forces appointed defense lawyers to plea out as many cases as they can as quickly as possible, often with little investigation and less legal work. Underfunding breeds overwork, and together they lead to poor defense lawyering. The reality is much darker than Gideon’s shining ideal.

  1. How We Got Here: Criminal Defense

Chapter 3 describes the history of the right to appointed counsel in criminal cases, from colonial times to the present. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was no constitutional right to appointed counsel, but criminal procedure was much more straightforward and a literate citizen could represent himself in court relatively easily. In the twentieth century criminal procedure became more complicated and having a lawyer changed from a luxury to a necessity. Courts responded by creating and then expanding a right to appointed counsel. This right started with death penalty cases and then spread to felonies in federal courts, then to state court felonies in Gideon, and eventually to any misdemeanor threatening even a day in jail. This expansion, however, was not accompanied by a strong right to effective counsel. Courts have been very hesitant to second-guess even facially deficient lawyering or to order any particular level of funding or to limit caseloads. What was the predictable result? Defendants have a right to a lawyer but no particular level of service.

  1. Access to Justice in Civil Courts

Chapter 4 lays out the problem in civil courts. Legal aid funding has been in steady decline since the 1990s, and is down 63% from its high point in the 1980s. Because of limited funding, legal aid organizations turn away more than half of the eligible persons seeking help. Pro bono (charity, free legal help) has grown, but cannot possibly meet the overwhelming need. And legal aid and pro bono are only for the very poor; there is no help for the middle class. If a middle-class person needs a divorce or change in child custody, or must probate a will, she will need to pay a lawyer for help or proceed doing this pro se. Despite a glut of law graduates and unemployed lawyers, hourly rates remain stubbornly high (averaging $190 an hour even for solo practitioners), and even the simplest legal tasks are likely to cost thousands of dollars. Predictably, this has led a number of Americans to “lump it” (live with their legal problems) or proceed in court without a lawyer. But many American courts are not set up to handle pro se cases, and some are outright hostile. The end result is that in the country with the most lawyers per capita, a huge chunk of the population cannot afford to access the courts for the most basic of legal problems like divorce, child custody, and property

  1. How We Got Here: Civil Law

Chapter 5 addresses the history of the poor and middle class in civil courts. As with criminal law, civil-court procedures and the underlying laws in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were simple enough that literate Americans could represent themselves. For example, in the mid-nineteenth century, a number of states allowed any citizen to appear in court. From the 1880s on civil courts came to be lawyers dominated and it was harder for the poor. Charitable legal aid societies were formed to help the “deserving poor” and were eventually converted into government programs, but they have never come close to meeting the needs of the poor, let alone the middle class. Other solutions-pro bono, increased legal aid funding, court appointments, and a proposed civil Gideon right – have all failed. Despite the good intentions of everyone involved, access to civil justice continues to erode.

  1. The Political Economy of Gideon and Civil Gideon

Chapter 6 explains the political economy of our current mess. If everyone agrees that we have a problem, why has it kept getting worse? Part of the answer is the time and expense of legal education, and part is our adversarial system’s expectation that each side will hire a capable lawyer for itself. Part of the answer is legislative indifference to funding free civil and criminal lawyers. Part of it is natural judicial hesitation to order any particular level of funding or to expand Gideon into civil cases. Part of it is that high defense lawyer caseloads and low funding are key ingredients in America’s shift to a plea-driven system. If we spent more on criminal defense, there would be more investigation, more motions, and more trials. In a nation of rising caseloads and fixed judicial resources, that would worsen the backlog of cases.

Part II. How We Fix It

Part II turns to how America might start to fix this message. The message of Part I sounds gloomy, even fatalistic. Progressive social engineering to provide more lawyers seems doomed to fail. But we must stop confusing lawyers with justice. The prospects for improving access to justice are much better if we are willing to think outside the box, beyond giving each person a full-service lawyer for free. For years, Civil Gideon advocates have argued for transplanting the broken Gideon system from criminal courts into civil courts. In Part II, we argue that is exactly backwards-the nascent pro se court reforms of civil justice should be transplanted into our broken criminal courts.

  1. Against “More Lawyers More Justice”

Chapter 7 critiques the old ways of addressing these problems, what we call the “more lawyers, more justice” fallacy. It begins with the failed movement for a civil equivalent of Gideon. The Supreme Court has twice rejected civil Gideon, most recently in Turner v. Rogers, a 9-o decision (on which both authors worked on the winning side). Turner signals the death of civil Gideon for the foreseeable future. Civil Gideon is not only unrealistic but unworkable. Gideon has largely failed in criminal courts and would work even worse in civil courts. Creating such a right would make lawsuits slower and more complex, turning them against unrepresented litigants on the other side. The evidence that lawyers are necessary in all cases is surprisingly weak, particularly for simpler disputes. Time and money are limited, and lawyers are too expensive. Plus, courts are much worse at social reform than at doing justice in individual cases. Similarly, we need to break out of the political and legal arguments that have crippled Gideon’s great promise on the criminal side. America will never be able to offer every criminal defendant facing any amount of jail time a criminal defense equal to what the wealthy can afford. But we can focus our efforts on the cases that so desperately need our attention and care: serious felonies.

  1. Techno-Optimism and Access to Justice

Chapters 8-11 describe the new approaches that have been most successful. Pro se court reform, technology, and a loosening of restrictions on legal practice are transforming some courts from a hidebound anti-pro se attitude into simpler, fairer places where litigants can succeed with or without a lawyer’s assistance. While there are few reasons to be optimistic about the failed approaches of the past, there are many reasons for optimism today. But we must not let vested interests – judges, clerks, and lawyers get in the way.

Chapter 8 discusses technological innovations. Private, nonprofit, and government computerization of legal services have already transformed the market, and we are in the very nascent stages of this revolution. It will be a long time before computers can replicate human legal reasoning fully. But computers can already outperform humans on many routine legal tasks and, as data collection and computing power improve, computers will be able to do more and more. Legal publishers can provide interactive websites and tillable forms for routine transactions. Hotlines, chat rooms, and message boards can answer discrete questions without requiring full-service representation. And interactive websites promise faster, cheaper adjudication without having to gather everyone in the same room at the same time. Internet merchants such as eBay have already proven that online dispute resolution can work cheaply and smoothly.

  1. Court Reform

Chapter 9 discusses pro se court reform. There are plenty of ways to simplify procedures, forms, and rules so non-lawyers can represent themselves pro se, and many of the most promising reforms have already started. Court clerks should actively assist pro se litigants. Some courts have hired dedicated pro se clerks. America should even expand small claims courts, which often ban lawyers in order to keep proceedings simple and fast enough for non-lawyers. This chapter also argues that we should change the judicial role in some American courts. We can learn from the American system of administrative law judges and from European courts. We can adapt the inquisitorial system, in which court officials actively investigate the facts and probe the evidence instead of relying on the parties’ lawyers. That approach can cut through distracting procedural games to focus on the facts and issues at the heart of a case. Though inquisitorial judging sounds like an exotic foreign transplant, American Administrative agencies already use methods to adjudicate unemployment and Social Security disability claims, and so do small claims courts. In fact, many Americans may be more with inquisitorial systems thanks to Judge Judy, Judge John Brown, and their many imitators.

  1. Cheaper Lawyers and Paraprofessionals

Chapter 10 describes how we can generate cheaper lawyers and paralegals. Legal education is at an inflection point and, for the first time since the 19506, the possibility of a cheaper, shorter, and more flexible route into practice might be a reality. Right now, students must invest three years and more than $150,000 to qualify as public defenders. Yet, many argue that the current third year of law school is largely superfluous. In many other countries, paralegals, social workers, and notaries provide a range of legal services. Some states have started to experiment with licensing non-lawyers to practice law outside of court. These “limited license legal technician” programs should be expanded. And America must relax its rules against unauthorized practice of law to open the door to these paraprofessionals, much as the medical profession now allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide simple care.

  1. Criminal Case Triage

Chapter 11 describes how some of these approaches can be imported to criminal court where they should not. America needs to do triage, and felony cases deserve the most funding and attention: They carry the heaviest punishments, the worst collateral consequences (such as deportation), and the most stigma. They also have the most complicated procedures, such as jury trials and related motions, which require lawyers to navigate them. We envision a grand bargain, in which public defenders would spend much more time up front investigating, negotiating and defending felonies. They would also have substantially more support, ranging from private investigators to forensic and medical expert. Their salaries, caseloads, and support should be comparable to those of prosecutors, and their performance standards need more teeth.

By comparison, minor criminal matters should be handled in a manner that does not require lawyers at all, by the state or the defendant~ Simpler cases need cheaper solutions. That is the other half of the grand bargain: cutting lawyers elsewhere to save more for felony defense. The government should not have to provide free lawyers for minor misdemeanors that carry no serious collateral consequences, and states should experiment with simpler, cheaper ways to try these cases. Prosecutors would have incentives to send less serious eases to these faster courts, reserving felony charges for more serious eases that deserved them.

  1. Conclusion: Fewer Lawyers, More Justice

Chapter 12 concludes the book on both a hopeful and cautionary note. In the face of these problems, reformers may be paralyzed by pessimism, or forget the past and be doomed to repeat it. Efforts to expand Gideon’s dream have repeatedly failed. But Chapter 12’s conclusion argues that these failures can pave a new road to success. Advances in law, medicine, and technology point reward a very different model, one that is simplex, cheaper, more flexible, and less regulated. The current crisis poses a danger, but also an opportunity to loosen lawyers’ monopoly and increase overall access to justice.

Technology also requires a note of caution, however: Technological advances have also made our legal system’s burgeoning complexity possible. Courts, regulators, and legislatures have seemingly endless resources to add layers of additional complexity to our already overweening substantive law. This chapter recognizes that procedural complexity is easier to achieve and more popular, so our book focuses on those solutions.

MY TAKE ON IT:

From all I know, authors’ description of the legal system is seemingly correct as well as diagnosis of its main flaws. The prescription, however, seems to be trivial. I think that it would not be enough. I believe that the main problem is not lack of resources, but rather inequality of their allocation. American legal system has competitive character and as such becomes greatly dysfunctional when competitive sides have hugely unequal access to resources. Whether it is government prosecutor with unlimited access to resources against individual with very limited access, or it is rich man against poor man, the result would always benefit resources rich side. My remedy would be separation of justice processing: investigation – prosecution –judgment between 3 unconnected entities, unlike currently one closely connected entity on investigative / procecutorial side.  In my opinion, the investigative entity should be completely independent and have equal interaction with both prosecution and defense, each of which in turn should be completely independent from each other. Currently seemingly independent judges in reality often have background as state attorneys and correspondingly approach cases from point of view of the state. In order to avoid preset legal approaches, judges should be selected from non-legal background at the age when individuals already have a proven success in other areas of live and correspondingly accumulated some wisdom in dealing with diverse people. They should be given 2-3 years deep legal education specifically designed to train them as judges. They also should be limited to a specific time period on the bench, so that they would not have time to develop too much arrogance. As to inequality resources, it could be resolved by demanding competing sides to provide resources into one pool from which equally distribute them to prosecution and defense. The investigating branch should be concerned only with proper collection of evidence and nothing else. Prosecution and Defense should be concerned only with interpretation of evidence in such way as to benefit their corresponding side, and judges should be concerned only with proper application of existing laws in such way that all sides accepted decision as consistent with the law. Judges also should have responsibility to highlight any deficiency in the law itself, if they believe it exists, and present it to legislative branch of government for action.

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 9.35.54 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to review history of WWII through somewhat different prism than usual concentrating on chronology and detailed narrative of events. This book concentrates on components of this struggle: Ideology, Technology, Strategy, Armies, and People. It also stresses diversity of the war when in different places and at different times fighting involved multiple countries and cultures and was very different in its nature and consequences. The narrative supports the idea that it actually was a struggle consisting of multiple wars from somewhat knightly and courteous African campaign when both sides behave more or less according to “civilized” rules of war to Eastern front where no rules except to win at all costs applied.

DETAILS:

Preface

Author starts this book with reference to his memories of growing in 1950s among veterans of WWII. This is the source of his perception of this war as multiple wars that looked very different from each other depending on where people were during these years. This perception of WWII as combination of multiple and quite different war prompted him to write this book not as sequential history of the war, but rather as combination of different views at this huge event from different points: Ideas, Types of combat, People, Technology, and finally Results.

PART ONE. IDEAS

  1. The War in a Classical Context

This starts with the comparison of WWII with classical wars, which were mainly contests for territories and a bit of robbery. WWII started similarly with Germany trying to obtain more territory, but in process it outgrew this narrow meaning and turned into war of regime annihilation with population annihilated in process. Except for the Germany, for which it became genocidal war with main objective to annihilate Jews, all other sides pursued objectives of conquest and regime change with mass annihilation being only a method to achieve these objectives. Author also discusses unusually huge scale of this war in all conceivable meanings: geographical, number of participants and casualties and so on. Finally, the circumstances of the war initiation in author’s opinion has a lot to do with democracies unwillingness to use force at early stages or even prepare for massive use of force, consequently creating in aggressors’ minds well justified feeling of superiority of will and illusion that their economic inferiority would be irrelevant due to the briefness of the struggle and moral weakness of democratic opponents.

  1. Grievances, Agendas, and Methods

This chapter is about some details of psychological, political, and historical environment that led to war: grievances from WWI and believes that it was not really lost military by majority of Germans, believes in their Darwinian superiority when natural laws define winners and losers. Author reviews here the moral and intellectual mismatch of aggressors, who saw war as natural necessity and territorial and other demands with democracies that saw war as morally and logically impossible after carnage of WWI. Democracies perceived all territorial and other demands just as a method compensation for humiliation of loss that would eventually lead to satisfaction of aggressor’s demand and peaceful settlement of grievances. Correspondingly aggressors saw their own demands as an intermediate low cost method of attack used only temporarily until enough military strength for attack acquired, after which the total war and overwhelming victory would lead to permanent dominance over the world.

  1. Old. New, and Strange Alliances

The last chapter of this part is review of war alliances formation and how they changed during the war, which started with coordinated attach of Germany and Soviet Union against Poland, with consequent Soviet semi-neutrality of supporting German aggression economically, but without direct military action. Then, after 2 years of German’s mainly low intensity western war, the attack against Soviet Union made it into the most actively involved military participant that eventually suffered much more damage than any other country. Other countries also changed alliances during the war mainly after defeats, for example defeated France become more or less ally of Germany in 1940, but with Allies getting the upper hand by 1944, France returned to being one of the Western allies.

PART TWO. AIR

  1. The Air Power Revolution

This chapter is about tremendous technological and tactical revolution that occurred between two World Wars. From lightly armed wooden planes with small bomb load it moved to metal planes capable for decisive input into the war effort from effective tactical support of troops to massive strategic bombing of cities and industries. By the end of war with the use of nuclear weapons it practically achieved proven ability to win war on its own, albeit by massive annihilation of noncombatants.

  1. From Poland to the Pacific

This chapter is a review of the historical development air forces during the war from successful tactical air attacks that allow German forces dramatically decrease effectiveness of Polish forces to American strategic bombing and firebombing of Japan. This bombing, including use of nuclear weapons, forced Japan surrender without attempt to fight out on Japanese territory for acceptable for imperial Japan settlement by causing high level of casualties for Americans. Author provides an interesting map of the progress of air war in Europe when the new planes allowed Allies expand attacks more and more into Germany:

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 8.44.53 AM

  1. New Terrors from Above

The last chapter on air power concentrates on strategic attacks on population and industries and their effectiveness or lack thereof. Probably the main point here is that idea of undermining population moral by terror attacks from the air is only valid when such attacks could lead to complete annihilation as it was case with Japan at the end of WWII. In case when it is just caused a few thousands of victims, it only increases population moral in support of war effort, especially when it is possible effectively retaliate, as it was case with attack against Britain using unstoppable missiles. However, strategic bombing demonstrated its effectiveness, even without complete annihilation of population, late in the war when Allied air forces obtained complete dominance over Germany and consequently were able suppress transportation and fuel production, making it impossible for Germany to continue industrial level mechanized warfare.

PART THREE. WATER

  1. Ships and Strategies

This chapter reviews participants’ navies, their ships and corresponding strategies. The key points here are transition of main power from battleships as main technological platform of early XX century to air careers and submarines as main technological platform of middle XX century, and submarine warfare directed at economic viability of opponent. The main mistakes of Axis power were overinvestment in battleships that were practically unusable either for Italian or German or Japan Navy. Similar mistakes of Allied navies, especially American were much less harmful because of overwhelming industrial power: USA built all of them: battleships, submarines, and air careers in huge numbers.

  1. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean

This chapter reviews history of war in two theaters where the bulk if fight was against German and Italian navies. The key was battle of Atlantic between convoys and German submarines that had potential to isolate Europe from American industrial base. Initial German success was highly dependent on technology of anti-submarine warfare and Air coverage. When Allied technology allowed closing these loopholes, the battle was lost for Germany. Somewhat similar, but much smaller in scale and intensity was battle of Mediterranean. The main fight was about British access to resources of their Empire and main plyer was Italian Navy, which was poorly equipped and correspondingly failed.

  1. A Vast Ocean

The naval battle between Japan and USA followed typical pattern: much better prepared totalitarian militaristic society enjoyed massive success at the beginning, taking over significant part of Pacific resources. However, it failed successfully mobilize and use these resources due to its totalitarian nature. Besides Japan greatly underestimate American willingness to sacrifice and American public ability to understand that any settlement short of complete victory would be temporary with militaristic Japan coming back for more each time more and more powerful after integrating newly acquired resources. Author describes 3 periods of the war in Pacific and how initial Japanese superiority was first eroded, then matched, and eventually not only eliminated, but practically destroyed, opening mainland to complete annihilation.

PART FOUR. EARTH

  1. The Primacy of Infantry

It starts with the statement of primacy because no victory is possible without boots on the ground. The author looks at increased lethality of infantry weapons and overall their equipment in WWII. Author also briefly discusses specifics of expeditionary forces war and homeland protection war with the former much more “civilized” than latter. Author reviews newly developed methods of airborne infantry and demonstrates that its operations were much less effective than that it was expected. The final point in this chapter is that infantry of all armies was equipped with similar weapons, tools, and protection, but their behavior and effectiveness was different and highly dependent on culture.

  1. Soldiers and Armies

This chapter is going into details of each country military culture and behavior. Specifically, Soviet army relied on numerical superiority and ability to achieve nearly unlimited sacrifices of its troops reinforced by special detachments at the back of front line that would shoot retreating soldiers on the spot, British relied on professionalism of their troops, Americans on superior firepower, transportation, and overwhelming air and naval support. Correspondingly Germans relied on superiority of their soldiers based on camaraderie regardless of rank, widely acceptable freedom of initiative and decision-making at the lowest level, while Japanese relied on ideological conditioning that they expected to compensate for lack of equipment and firepower. The interesting point here is that both Germans and Russians respected each other as tough warriors and had a bit of contempt for Americans, but it was Americans with their firepower, equipment, and logistic support who were winning most of the time. Author also goes through tactical pluses and minuses of each force demonstrating that overwhelming superiority in firepower over German troop looked quite differently and resulted in different outcome depending on whether it was in Soviet or in American hands. Specifically, American casualties usually were relatively small, while Soviet typically were huge either in victory or defeat. At the end author gives credit land war victory where it belongs to Soviet army that was responsible for a vast majority of German losses, even if ration of Soviet losses to German was approximately 7 to 1.

  1. The Western and Eastern Wars for the Continent

Here author looks at the war in Europe as several different wars that occurred during period from 1939 to 1945. The first was brief and successful war of conquest by Germany in alliance with Soviet Union against Poland. The second war brought all continental Western Europe under German control. The final success of Germany was nearly complete destruction of Soviet military in 1941. The following initial success of 1942 eventually led to defeat in Stalingrad and then complete destruction of German Military and then political regime during 1943-1945.

  1. Armies Abroad

This is about specifics of fighting abroad for different armies. It starts with discussion of war in Africa where all: Germans. Italians, and British were fighting on foreign soil and in unusual for them environment. Author makes point that this theater was probably most civilized with all sides having no their own civilians under bombs so they behaved somewhat gentlemanly. After that author moves to look at the war in Italy and France where western allies were fighting on territories with population similar to their own. Author reviews conduct of military operations in these conditions. Author only briefly mentions Russian movement into Germany at this point. It follows with relatively brief description of war in Pacific with its island hopping and continuingly increasing American advantage in all things material over Japanese.

  1. Sieges

Here author reviews a part of WWII that usually does not attract a lot of attention: sieges. Actually, author refers to Stalingrad battle as siege, but it was not it, but rather just intensive fighting in urban environment. The real proper siege was in Leningrad where for nearly 3 years German troops surrounded city, starving to death more than a million people, but never actually trying to storm it. In addition to these two major battles author discusses other sieges of WWII: Tobruk, Malta, Sevastopol, Singapore, and Manila with Corregidor.

PART FIVE. FIRE

  1. Tanks and Artillery

This part is about technology of land war, especially its two main forms used: tanks and artillery. At first he looks at theory of tank use developed between WW wars and then moves to actual practice, looking a bit at technical characteristics and numerical ratios. Overall author seems to be trying to find the reason for victories or defeats not only in technology, but also at tactical use of it. Generally, experience demonstrated that superior French tanks of 1940 were nearly useless due to the failure to allocate them to right places in right numbers. Similarly, hugely superior German Tigers were over engineered that resulted in high level of mechanical failures and small numbers of these machines. One of the most interesting things here is that Germans tried, but failed to copy T-34 mainly due to unavailability of materials. Author also reviews history of Sherman tanks for which mass production was put way ahead of quality, making them uncompetitive on the battlefield against Tigers and Panthers. At the end mass production of Allies turned into such a huge advantage that it made qualitative superiority of German armor practically irrelevant.

PART SIX. PEOPLE

  1. Supreme Command

This is review of personalities of top leaders and an interesting discussion of their roles and ability to shape events. Author points out that it seems to be not necessarily depended on the political system that much. In democratic Britain Churchill’s personality and abilities quite possibly prevented defeatist settlement that would eventually deliver the whole Europe to Hitler, necessitating much more difficult and bloody war, than actually occurred. On the other side, the success of the plot against Hitler could quite possibly led to much earlier German surrender on much better terms. Interestingly enough the most important thing for success turned out to be correct allocation of decision-making power to various levels of the hierarchy so the decisions would be made at the level where people possess maximum information and therefore can actually implement these decisions. Overall overview of the leaders and their behavior demonstrated that they all were far from perfect, but also far from incompetent. Hitler and Stalin, who both were blamed for military failures of their countries, also were authors of their corresponding successes. There would be no quick victory over France or peaceful occupation of Austria and Sudetes without Hitler’s decisions and actions. There would be no Soviet victory without Stalin’s cruelty that cunning abilities, that assured support of allies and effective control over the country. Probably the most important role that leaders played was their ability to make final decision based on multitude of option presented by planners, generals, and managers, which right or wrong always defined the outcome.

  1. The Warlords

The chapter on Warlords reviews personality and actions of the second layer of military leaders: Manstein, Rommel, Yamamoto, on Axis side and Zhukov, Konev, Montgomery, and Eisenhauer on Allies side. They all were constrained by top leadership, but when allowed to act and provided with sufficient resources more often than not were successful.

  1. The Workers

This chapter not that much about workers, which on all sides did everything possible to produce maximum possible for their countries, but rather about economic power of these countries that to large extent defined outcome. Here is the nice top-level table of economic power during the war:

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 8.45.09 AM

  1. The Dead

The final chapter about human face of the war and its participants is about those who did not survive the war. Probably the most interesting part here is that unlike all other wars, in this war winning side lost more people than losing side – Germany. The simple explanation is massive annihilation of civilians by German army that included not only Holocaust against Jews, but also indiscriminate killing of civilian population both directly and via starvation. The unusual part of it was that unlike losers of other ideological and racial wars, Germany was not subjected to mass annihilation and enslavement of its population, probably due to the immediate initiation of hostilities between two blocks of allies: Western democracy and Soviet totalitarism that made Germans useful for both sides.

PART SEVEN. ENDS

  1. Why and What Did the Allies Won?

After disastrous failure of the peace at the end of WWI, it was a very legitimate question. The answer author provides is that WWII provided for elimination of openly fascist ideology all over the world and opened way to transfer of former Axis powers into peaceful and democratic states. Unfortunately, it was also huge victory for another totalitarian system – Soviet communism, which obtained control over huge territory, was massively supplied with advanced technologically, including transfer to them of nuclear weapons by pro-communist elements in American establishment. The resulting power equilibrium led to Cold War.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It’s a good history and as far as I am concerned, the author’s approach seems to work very well. The history of events and their chronology is well known, but lots of details from technological to ideological are distributed all over the place in multitude of different books and are not really connected by one design. This book provides a good overview supplanted by good drill down to details, making it pretty well designed and implemented tool for understanding WWII and its role in bringing human history and development to the point we are in now.

20180216 Why We Sleep

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 7.52.13 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to provide a review of scientific research on sleep function of animals and especial of humans and demonstrate that this research provides a solid scientific prove that this function of a body is critically important for survival and health. It’s importance is probably somewhere in between breathing, without which animal would die in a few minutes, and food, without which animal would die in a few weeks. This book also demonstrates that sleep is way too complex phenomenon to try interfering in it with some chemical compounds either to promote or deny it. In both cases achieved results are superficial and mainly just imitate sleeping or waking without full providing required functionality of either state.

DETAILS:

– Part1 – This Thing Called Sleep

Chapter 1 To Sleep…

This starts with reference to the importance of sleep and the general notion about it that one has to have some 8 hours, while people regularly have less than that. After discussing this general understanding, author refer scientifically proved consequences: short sleep=short live, persistent lack of sleep= death. Also, not enough sleep decreases performance in just about all areas of human activities, sometime with deadly consequences like micro sleep while driving. Then author discusses reason for animals’ need for sleep that have a lot to do with multiple tasks necessary to maintain body: it calibrates emotional brain circuits, cleans up brain in neurochemical bath, removing waste proteins, refreshes immune system, processes malignancies and sickness, and controls multitude of systems maintaining homeostasis of body including its weight. At the end of chapter author narrates how he come to sleep research and describes the structure of this book.

Chapter 2 Caffeine, Jet Lag, and Melatonin: Losing and Gaining Control of Your Sleep Rhythm

This chapter is about circadian rhythms, which are close, but not exactly the same as 24 hours, as it was established by experiments in conditions imitating absence of natural daily cycle of light and dark. Next author moves to melatonin, accumulation of which causes sleepiness and consequent dissolution of this chemical during the sleep. Similar effect has accumulation of adenosine. Author uses jet leg to discuss rhythms interruptions and then moves to mechanics of caffeine’s blocking receptors for adenosine, creating illusion of sufficient sleep. Author provides a number of graphics for various sleep related cycles.

Chapter 3 Defining and Generating Sleep: Time Dilation and What We Learned from a Baby in 1952

This starts with description of what sleep looks like and then moves to a more details of what is happening in the brain, with the most important part being kind of separation of brain activities from body movements and loss of consciousness. Contemporary sensors allow tracing what is happening in the brain. The findings are that it kind of replays activity that occurred during condition of wake. It also provided access for much more sophisticated reading of brain activity than it was at the time of original discovery of REM and NREM sleep. Here is the graph for typical activities:

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 7.52.35 AM

Author compares functionality of different stages of sleep to rough cut of analysis of brain activities during a wake stage for NREM and then fine tuning and precise analysis for REM stage. During this process brain defines what is important and what is not, what to save in long term memory and what to discard, which new connections should be reinforced and which should be allowed to decay.

Chapter 4 Ape Beds, Dinosaurs, and Napping with Half a Brain: Who Sleeps. How Do We Sleep, and How Much?

This is about sleep patterns of animals with main conclusion that it is a necessary part of their existence not that different from humans. However, details are different and significantly: REM and NREM not the same. Some aquatic animals that need constant movement have split brain with one half sleeping, while another active. Another interesting pattern is in birds when flock members interchange their place in formation with birds inside formation sleeping, while automatically moving. However, REM sleep is not subject to splitting. The second part of the chapter is about natural patterns of sleep for humans. Author discusses natural sleep patterns as it observed in contemporary hunter-gatherers, which typically has 2 sleep periods: night and afternoon. Another specific of human sleep is that 20-25% of it is REM, which is much more than in other animals. Another interesting point is that humans sleep horizontally, while apes on the trees. Author posits that it provided for more REM sleep, which is conductive to more cognitive efficiency, social complexity, and creativity.

Chapter 5 Changes in Sleep Across the Life Span

This is about difference in the sleep patterns with age, starting even before birth when in utero child sleeps 6 hours REM, 6- NREM and 12 mixes of two. Young children have multiphase sleep with number of phase diminishing with age. The quality of sleep also changes with deep NREM sleep diminishing with age, eventually losing 80-90% of it. Also with the age increases fragmentation of sleep leading to wake-up periods in the middle of the night. Another issue is circadian timing leading aged people to go to sleep earlier. This decrease in quality of sleep has materially negative consequences for the health overall and should be taken care off to achieve maximal improvement.

– Part2 – Why Should You Sleep?

Chapter 6 Your Mother and Shakespeare Knew. The Benefits of Sleep for the Brain

Here author looks at sleep benefits for the brain working. The sleep before learning, and/or after learning improves memory functions and results. Even more interesting, it has a very positive impact on athletic functions. Here is a graph for NBA:

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 7.52.48 AM

Probably the most important benefit of sleep is increase in creativity – well know fact that unresolvable problem that was excessively worked on before sleep somehow easily solved after a good sleep.

Chapter 7 Too Extreme for the Guinness Book of World Records: Sleep Deprivation and the Brain

This is about the other side: damage to the brain caused by sleep deprivation. The sleep deprivation could be not even consciously perceived, but damage occurs anyway. Here is a graph for driving:

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 7.52.59 AM

Author discusses here usefulness of a nap and grades it as a positive, but limited measure. After that he reviews negative impact of sleep deprivation on emotional control and even long term consequences: insufficient cleaning of by products in the brain on regular basis could be one of the main causes of Alzheimer disease.

Chapter 8 Cancer, Heart Attacks, and a Shorter Life: Sleep Deprivation and the Body

The final chapter of this part links the sleep deprivation to a bunch of other diseases and even to obesity. At the end author discusses DNA relevance to the development of the sleep patterns and complexity of this issue.

– Part3 – How and Why We Dream

Charter 9 Routinely Psychotic: REM-Sleep Dreaming

This is about dreams, which is practically REM part of sleeping with NREM only 0-20% dreams relevant. Author discusses technological development in picking up brain activity that led to much better understanding of dreams, all the way to ability identify the content of the dreams by MRI data. From here author deviates slightly into intellectual history of dreams understanding from Aristotle to Freud with much more attention to the latter. The conclusion is basically that his theory of dreams is not falsifiable and therefore is not scientific.

Chapter 11 Dreaming as Overnight Therapy

Here author moves to contemporary understanding of dreams functionality. This chapter discusses functionality of dream and REM that support emotional and mental health. Author discusses very material changes in chemical cocktail that occurs in the brain during REM sleep. First of all stress related chemicals get shut off. Then it proceeds to rerun events of the day “divorcing bitter emotional rind from the information-rich fruit”. Author describes experiments confirming validity of this idea and links it to PTSD research and therapy. Another important function of REM is to decode experiences accumulated during the day that due to continuing flow of information could not be adequately processed during waking. It was also experimentally confirmed.

Chapter 11 Dream Creativity and Dream Control

Here author discusses how sleep provides for intelligent information processing. Author starts with the well-known story of Mendeleev who during the sleep was able to arrange chemical elements into the period table, which pointed to the new, yet unknown elements. Then he moves to explanation of this process, which comes from contemporary mathematical development of fuzzy logic and associative networks. Very interesting experiments with waking up people during various periods, demonstrated that NREM processing is logical, hierarchically connected, and associative, while REM create random combinations of fact, ideas, and notions sometimes obtaining non-obvious innovative solutions to the problems the brain is occupied with. The final result is the new model of reality in which there are unpredictable new connections between distant informational elements. This follows by discussion about dreams content and lucidity.

– Part4 – From Sleeping Pills to Society Transformed

Chapter 12 Things That Go Bump in the Night: Sleep Disorders and Death Caused by No Sleep

This is discussion of sleep disorders such as: Somnambulism, Insomnia, Narcolepsy, and Fatal Familial Insomnia. Author stresses that sleeping difficulties are not necessary mean Insomnia and provides specific boxes to check for this diagnosis:

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 8.16.43 AM

There is also an interesting comparison between sleep and food deprivation with somewhat surprising point that lack of sleep kills faster than the lack of food.

Chapter 13 iPads, Factory Whistles, and Nightcaps: What’s Stopping You from Sleeping

This is about all characteristics of modern live that interfere with effective sleeping: all kinds of lights, multitude of electronic devices, alcohol, which creates illusion of sleep by sedating. One part of chapter is about temperature with recommendation to chill. There is also a bit of discussion of Alarm clocks and their negative impact.

Chapter 14 Hurting and Helping Your Sleep: Pills vs. Therapy

Main point here is that no known pill induces natural sleep. The sleeping pills mainly produce sedation, so the brain scans show completely different patterns of activity than natural sleep. Author recommends non-chemical methods of sleep therapy such as CBT-I (Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia).

Chapter 15 Sleep and Society: What Medicine and Education Are Doing Wrong; What Google and NASA Are Doing Right

This chapter provides recommendation for improvement in sleep patterns that could be provided by changing workplace, entertainment, education, medical services, and overall organizational modifications that could be done if sleep availability is a consideration. Author also stresses inhumanity of the use of sleep deprivation for punishment or interrogation.

Chapter 16 A New Vision for Sleep in the Twenty-First Century Conclusion: To Sleep or Not to Sleep

In this last chapter author discusses changes at different level that could facilitate improvement. He even provides a picture for comprehensive intervention at multiple levels and then discusses each level separately:

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 7.53.13 AM

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a valuable book and there is not much to have an opinion about here: the sleep is important for overall health and crucial for mental health and abilities. That’s all – end of story. I have this knowledge deep in my guts ever since I underwent a violent sleep deprivation for period of 5 months some 45 years ago as a soldier in Soviet army. This book just provides a scientific prove that my gut knowledge is correct.

 

 

20180209 Autumn of the Black Snake

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 11.28.30 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is to narrate history of the little known American war against Indians in Middle West that prompted creation of American Regular army soon after the end of the Revolutionary War. It was the time when Indian Confederation initially defeated American troops and seemingly created probability of setting up border between Indian nations and American intruders along Ohio River. This probability, however, was short-lived because American Army commander Antony Wayne was able to create an effective military force, which despite of multitude of difficulties, succeeded in defeating Indians and opening the West to American expansion. Author also strives to show complexity of politics on Indian side, with various leaders were both competing and cooperating with each other, Americans, British, and French. These people: Indians as well as Europeans were complex human beings and they all deserve respect and most of all understanding not for their sake, because they are all dead for centuries, but for our sake because people with cartoonish attitude to them are our contemporaries who can cause lots of problems because of their ignorance of history and complexity of history’s people.

DETAILS:

Prologue: The Ruins of an Old French Fort

It starts with reference to the French actions in America that started in Quebec and expanded all the way to Mississippi and down to New Orleans. Author points out the difference between this French expansion, which was mainly trade oriented and created a chain of forts to support it, with English expansion, which was mainly land oriented and, while trading with Indians as well as French, continuously added settlements that pushed Indians out.

Part I: Sinclair’s Retreat

  1. The Death of General Butler

This part starts with description of battle between Indians and Americans in1791 near upper Wabash River in Illinois. In this battle Indian coalition completely defeated American troops that moved North of Ohio River. Indian leaders Little Turtle and Blue Jacket managed to defeat American troops under general St. Clair veteran of the American war of independence so profoundly that it could stop American expansion into Indian Territory. Moreover, author points out that it could be a beginning of denial to Americans the Western expansion, which was one of the main causes of revolution because British aristocracy did not really wanted this expansion and was willing to leave lands beyond Apalachees to Indians.

  1. The Turnip Field

This chapter starts with Washington’s learning of defeat and his strong reaction to this news. Then author describes situation with territories North of Ohio river and American – Indian relations that were going in pretty much consistent way: American settlers moved West and North, Indians reacted often violently by killing settlers, American raised militia and killed Indians and destroyed their villages. At some point sides would come together and sign treaty, which typically was violated by American settlers moving to the new territory and Indians by attacking and killing settler families. After describing the process overall, author moves to specifics of Washington’s live and participation in this process, especially his role in seven years war between British and French. At the end of chapter authors refer to the testimony of general Thomas Gage in England Parliament when he stated that it was all about American western expansion and that Britain was duped by the colonies into support of this expansion, even if it did not need and did not want it to happen.

  1. Drive Them Out

This chapter is about two Indian leaders Blue Jacket and Little Turtle who managed to create coalition that defeated American troops under St. Clair. Author describes formative years of Blue Jacket and influence on him of Delaware named Neolin who retold to Indians of Western tribes the stories of fight against settlers and cruelty with which it was conducted in the East. These stories resonated very well and were amplified by the changed circumstances of Indian tribes. Consequently, it led to Pontiac insurgency and war in which Blue Jacket participated in his youth. The Pontiac war ended in 1764 with Indian defeat. However, one of the results of this war was British attempt to restrict American western expansion and in 1768 British Superintendent of Indian affairs signed the treaty with Iroquois federation restricting white settlements by Appalachians, leaving lots of Americans such as George Washington, who extensively speculated in western lands, out of luck. Here is the map demonstrating this situation with boundary line along Ohio River:

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 11.28.47 AM

This chapter also describes events leading to revolutionary war and political developments related to western expansion, Lord Dunmore activities, and other circumstances that led to Quebec Act of 1774 allocated everything to the west of Appalachies to the new 14th colony without local representative powers. This outraged Americans and played an important role in leading to the war.

  1. An Inquiry into the Causes of the Late Unfortunate Defeat

In this chapter author moves to events of 1783 and describes how that led to defeat: congress of 30 Indian nations in southern Erie, British incitement and promises of support to Indians against Americans, low intensity war with high level of atrocities on both sides. Author also uses it to describe the story of another Indian leader – Little Turtle who was leader of Miami and how the coalition of Indians was formed. This was followed by narrative of events on American side during the period when Paris peace was negotiated with defined boundaries to the North between USA and Canada. Nothing like that was established to the West, which Britain left wide open to American expansion. The Western boundary was loosely defined by complete mishmash of Indian treaties, land speculation, and such. Author describes how St. Clair and Harmar started establishing the chain of forts on Ohio River, while Indians were in internal conflict between moderates and hard liners on how to respond to this new stage of American encroachment on their lands. Here is the map of this area with Forts:

Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 11.28.54 AM

At the end of chapter author returns to St. Clair defeat and describes initial concequences of this.

Part II: War Dancing

  1. Standing Armies

This chapter is about the value of actual standing army vs. militia troops. Traditionally Americans prefer militia, but military leaders with actual experience like Washington knew quite well that militia lacks discipline and straying power to be effective in real combat. Author discusses how Washington worked on creating professional military capable to fight and win revolutionary war only to be practically dissolved afterword. The problem with reestablishment of Army was not only Jefferson and his supporters who rejected the idea, but also Hamilton who probably wanted army to control population more than anything else. Another challenge for the army were the states, which clearly did not want federal government to have potent military power that it could use against them. Author summarizes challenge for Washington this way: without western expansion, there is no nation and without standing army there would be no western expansion. St. Clair’s defeat made it completely clear. Author also discusses European opponents of American expansion, specifically Alexander McKee former British officer and trader who worked diligently on supplying and supporting Indians in order to make them into effective force capable to stop this expansion. He also continuously assured Indians in strong British support. However, he was not able to deliver what Indians really needed – artillery, which was a necessary condition for success for Little Turtle who was quite sophisticated military leader.

  1. Metropotamia

St. Clair’s defeat caused near panic in all frontier states and here author discusses complex interplay between states’ governors like Pennsylvania’s Mifflin on one hand and Washington and Knox on another, that resulted in Congress deciding to create a small standing army of 5168 people. This chapter also narrates actions on the other side: both British and Indians.

  1. Mad Anthony

This is the story of Antony Wayne as pretty successful general and hero of revolutionary war who after the war demonstrated extremely poor judgement in business that led him to nearly complete ruin. The same qualities that made him daring and successful commander: strict discipline, risk taking, decisiveness and strictness in dealing with people turned out to be less asset and more liability in business where a lot depends on ability to find compromise and interact with people in flexible way. Similarly, the failure was his fate as politician when he managed to be expelled from his position as congressman for election manipulation, when it was quite acceptable practice for everybody else. It was at this point when Washington and Knox put him in charge of creating the regular army from nothing.

  1. The Peaceful Intentions of the United States

This chapter starts with the story of John Simcoe who was a governor of Upper Canada and was seeking for Britain the role of mediator between USA and Indians. The obvious objective was to prevent American expansion. The leverage for this was a chain of British forts that were supposed to be eliminated per Paris treaty, but stayed in place, providing support for Indians, albeit limited by the secondary objective to avoid war with USA. On their part Americans were looking for peace, but for such peace that would not stop expansion, which was obviously unrealistic and this chapter provides a detailed narrative of how these efforts failed. It also describes formation of the army under Wayne’s command and measures that made this army into pretty formidable force. The end of chapter discusses competition between two different strategic approaches with Wayne’s winning the approval.

  1. Legion Ville

This starts with the story of big Indian conference that started in fall 1792 and differences between leaders. At the same time Wayne was believed that his army is ready to move, but was contained by Washington in hope that diplomacy with Indians would deliver if not peace, then at least split between different Indian groups. The Indian conference closed with the victory of hardliners and initiation of war preparation. It also describes competing strategies: Blue Jacket’s pitched battle similar to one that brought in victory over St. Clair and Little Turtle’s idea of attacking supply chain. The several encounters with new army created by Wayne demonstrated that both strategies were insufficient against well-trained and disciplined troops of Antony Wayne. The chapter also discusses political problems in Congress that put the whole military buildup under the question. Eventually war was inevitable because the minimum acceptable compromise for Indians was a border along Ohio River and elimination of American forts on its Northern side. It was clearly not acceptable for Americans. Actually, it is hard to imagine that any border would be acceptable for Americans, whose numbers where growing with more and more new immigrants who become settlers and wanted more and more land.

Part III: The Black Snake March

  1. Recovery

This chapter starts with return to the place of St. Clair’s defeat, recovery of remains of fallen, and construction of Fort Recovery. Then it discusses complexities of maintaining the force and the beginning of the march in the fall of 1793. Lots of attention is paid to Wayne’s maintaining vigilance so his troops could never be caught unprepared for battle. By the New Year 1794 army was better supplied and pretty much prepared for its mission. After that author discusses Wayne’s second in command James Wilkinson who was prone to undermining Wayne and worked hard to get rich by all means necessary, especially with the use of political intrigues. He even became a Spanish spy, trying to arrange succession of Kentucky. This failed as well as his attempts to unseat Wayne, but even if he was under suspicion, his spaying was definitely proved only a hundred years later. The next part of this chapter is about divisions between Blue Jacket and Little Turtle. The former was aggressive and big believer in various unreal thins including strong British support, while the former was more realistic and, after it become clear that no artillery will be provided, he pretty much understood that Indian cause hopeless as soon as Wayne army demonstrated its professionalism and capability. Author describes the next significant encounter when Indians successfully attacked supply train near Fort Recovery and then unsuccessfully attacked fort itself, leading to their defeat. Little Turtle put condition for British, asking to provide artillery, at least as few as two big guns so he could attack the fort. He also warned British that without this help Indians would not be able to stop Wayne. British refused.

  1. Fallen Timbers

This chapter describes the final battle when in July 1794 Indians set up an ambush for Wayne army in the area of fallen after hurricane trees. The battle turned out to be complete disaster for Indians, for all practical purposes ending their resistance in this area.

  1. Black Granite

This chapter starts with overview current state of Ohio where the event described in the book occurred and describes what happened next. Everything was pretty much settled by 1795 and Indians submitted to inevitable and after being deprived of self-sufficiency, started developing dependency, leading to misery and despair that comes with it. Author describes an interesting meeting between Wayne and Indian leaders and how these leaders behavior changed. Blue Jacket become submissive and pushed Indians to accept everything, while Little Turtle who was much less aggressive before, refused participate in imitation of voluntary ceding of Indian land, albeit his objections did not matter and Indian leader eventually signed the new treaty. At least Little Turtle was the last to sign. At the end of chapter author describes what happened with main personae of the story and somewhat complains that it is all now mainly forgotten.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a great history book and it provides a very interesting representation of long gone reality of American expansion with all sweat, blood, and tears that were spent on all sides of this struggle. Far from being intentionally genocidal as sometimes presented by contemporary American haters, it was a tragic struggle on both sides, when two incompatible civilizations came into contact with each other and neither one could survive without pushing out and eventually eliminating another. I think that the complexity of this struggle, its inevitability, and impossibility of compromise should be understood if one wants to avoid more of the same. I believe that current situation, when American government maintains the travesty of reservations and illusion of existence of some separate Indian culture / independence, is detrimental to wellbeing of people who consider themselves Indians. I think that best solution would be to move these people to contemporary world by privatization among Indians of all land, obviously on purely voluntary character and let them merge into general American population if they want to, by eliminating government handouts and special privileges. These handouts serve like miserable, but warm prison cell with rations provided physiological live of a prisoner, but deprives this prisoner of freedom and meaningful live.

 

20180203 The Creative Spark

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.33.15 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to link creativity with human development from just another animal among many to what humans are now: unquestionably the most powerful living creatures that modified environment to fit their needs and overcame unreliability and difficulty of regular animal existence. Author uses archeology to support this by demonstrating how humans start using tools in qualitatively different ways than other animals and then managed to create complex cooperative relationship that supported not just survivability for all, but comfortable existence with unlimited potential for improvements.

DETAILS:

Overture: Trumpeting Creativity and a New Synthesis

Author starts this overture with discussion on what is creativity and defines it as collaborative process of developing new ideas, artifacts, and methods rather than product of individual genius working in isolation. After that he moves to four major misconceptions about humans as the product of evolution:

  1. Humans being inherently violent and only somewhat subdued by civilization
  2. Humans being inherently good, cooperative, and altruistic and only somewhat corrupted by civilization
  3. Humans being a product of long evolution as hunter-gatherers well adjusted to this live style and therefore cannot handle civilization. As result they are getting fat, depressed, and sick.
  4. Humans by creating civilization and culture transcended boundaries of their biological and evolutionary nature and mold environment to their own design went beyond their ability to understand consequences of their actions resulting in development leading to the danger of complete destruction.

Author rejects these misconceptions and instead proposes the New Synthesis based on four systems of inheritance:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.41.39 AM

This is supplemented by distinctly human brand of cooperation and by the process of niche construction, which is the change of environment to fit one’s needs. Finally author seems to believe that competition, ever since Darwin, was overestimated as the main engine of evolutionary process and that cooperation is playing not less important part in it. The final point author makes here is that humans, as different as they are, do not represent some king of the top of evolution. All contemporary species have as long history as humans, share lots of genetic information with them, and well adjusted to whatever environment they live in. So in order to understand humans it would help a lot to understand others.

PART ONE: STICKS AND STONES: The First Creativity.

  1. Creative Primates

This starts with discussion of our relatives – primates, their creativity, and complex relationships. Author describes the story of dominant macaque that was very mean to other members of the group. After breaking his leg, this primate lost power and even was pushed out of the group. Eventually he joined another group at the much lower place in hierarchy, which dramatically changed his behavior to the better. He became friendly, helpful, and overall nice primate. The moral of this story is that behavior to large extent defined not by purely personal characteristics, but also by position in society and primates are flexible enough to control and modify their behavior as dictated by circumstances. After that author moves to primate’s proficiency of using physical objects like rock for various needs either related to productive activities or just for playing. Here is a nice graph demonstrating our tree of relatives:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.33.43 AM

  1. The Last Hominin Standing

This is about usually poorly understood fact that humans are not really unique in primate development and that there were a number of various hominins much close to us that apes. Author discusses relevant archeological findings and provides a couple very useful pictures demonstrating first relationships, then innovations of various groups and finally the timeline of our group development:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.33.52 AM

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.34.02 AM

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.34.10 AM

PART TWO

WHAT’S FOR DINNER? How Humans Got Creative

  1. Let’s Make a Knife

This is about human food acquisition and consumption and it starts with little known and relatively recent discovery that hunter-gatherers actually become hunters quite late in their development. It took a long time before hominids, who do not possess any serious natural weapons like claws, sable teeth, and similar useful for hunting parts of body, learned to use tools and methods for effective hunting. Human hunting depends on two things: tools and cooperation between multiple participants in the hunt. Both these things were developed incrementally with improvement in survivability at each step. Author discusses how initial use of tool greatly approved human ability for scavenging by allowing much better processing of not easily accessible food like nuts, bone marrow, turtles, and such. Author reviews progressive improvement in stone-age technology of producing tools. Very interesting here is description of contemporary reproduction of such effort, demonstrating how complex is this process. Author also looks at usefulness of big brain in process of avoiding being eaten, which was kind of a regular occurrence at the time.

  1. Killing and Eating, Etc.

This is about continuation of human development when hominids started to apply “power scavenging” when they become capable to push away actual hunters that killed a prey and get to the body first. Interestingly enough, the contemporary technology allows using ossified bones to define which traces were left first: animal claws or human stone tools. There are also traces of cutting and transportation of parts of carcass from the place of killing to the place of consumption. Finally, the knowledge of fire control that was obtained some 1.6 million years ago allowed hominids start using of cooking, which allows extracting everything up to the last calorie from available food.

  1. The Beauty of Standing in Line

This is about human cooperation and the ability to form a Line as example of such cooperation, which is not replicated by any other species including our close relatives – apes. Author discusses how big brain development was part of feedback loop of increase in cooperation leading to increase in survivability which in turn led to increase in cooperation and level of its sophistication including compassion levels that no other species are capable of. At the end author points to the increase in complexity of human societies sometimes dangerously so and posits question if we are wise enough to overcome these complexities.

  1. Food Security Accomplished

In this chapter author discusses development of agriculture, domestication of plants and animals and, finally, achievement of food security that actually occurred very recently.

PART THREE

WAR AND SEX: How Humans Shaped a World

  1. Creating War (and Peace)

This is about war, homicide, and overall violence that is specific for humans and is not replicated by other species. Author discusses the two opposing views: one that it is unavoidable characteristic of human nature and another that it is product of specifics of condition of the society that could and is being overcome by process of civilization. Author also discusses difficulties in identifying levels of violence by using archeological evidence. His example is remains of primate that died 500000 years ago because smashed skull. It would not be possible to say whether it is result of violence or incident. But here is what is possible to say:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.54.38 AM

All this implies increase in complexity of humn societies and competition, often violent competition between them. Author provides a nice road map of how we get from the point when our ancestors were roaming and scavenging hominids until now:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.34.21 AM

  1. Creative Sex

The final part of this chapter is about sex and its role in human development, which is going way beyond pure biological necessity to produce the next generation. Human sex is highly diversified tool used for communications, establishment of societal rule and hierarchies, rewards and punishments, and multitude of other purposes. Author also discusses parenting and gender as notion separate from sex and used more for allocation of roles in the group and individual’s conditioning for such role. Author also points out that archeological artifacts does not provide clear evidence about existence of gender in hunter / gatherer societies. Neither toolmaking nor hunting nor any other activity described in ancient pictorials is exclusively male/female. The difference and correspondingly gender seems to be developed with advance of agricultural societies.

PART FOUR: GREAT WORKS: How Humans Made the Universe

This is about ideological representation of the world by human that is applied by using 3 different approaches.

  1. Religious Foundations

Here author reviews the religious approach to representation of the world. He discusses logic of this approach, various examples and provides population breakdown by religion:

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.34.31 AM

Author also discusses consequences, either positive or not, of religious believes such as sense of identity, religious experience, hope, and ability to cope with lives’ challenges. He provides a review of archeological evidence that indicates presence of religious attitudes since the very beginning of humanity. Another point is review of discussion about Big Gods ideas, how they were developed and their applications.

  1. Artistic Flights

This chapter is about artistic approach to live that humans also developed since the very beginning and author presents some interesting artifact supporting this idea.

  1. Scientific Architecture

This chapter correspondingly provides review of quite new scientific approach to the world that started as successful method of handling external material world and now in addition to this it turned internally, looking at humanity itself and trying to make some sense of it.

Coda: The Beat of Your Creative Life

This is a kind of summary of the book with stress on the main point of author, which is: “being human is a creative process” and that he hopes humanity will continue to maintain creativity and improve everything around for millions of years to come.

MY TAKE ON IT:

It is a pretty good review of human path from animal to something more than that. Especially interesting is information on stone tools, how they were produced and how their quality improved over time. I think it is mainly correct approach and it demonstrates an important notion that every step was evolutionary beneficial, so any improvement in stone tools led to improvement in food acquisition and efficiency of its use. As for other parts I think author underestimate role of war in all its form in formation of human brains and development of language and culture. The powerful and expensive brain has quite limited use for individual living in a small isolated group in environment with relatively plentiful sources of food. However as soon as number of groups become big enough so they had to compete for hunting ground and later for the arid land, the war probably became the most important activity that could provide easy access to somebody’s else resources and/or protect one’s own, especially with advent of agriculture, when resources become much less perishable and territorial control much more important. I think that role of creativeness somewhat overstated here, while communication, cooperation, and cohesiveness of the group were much more important. I also think that a bit underrepresented here is the difference between mostly informal communication and cooperation between individuals in the tribe of hunter-gatherers where these processes continuously involve activity of each individual and formal cooperation of contemporary humans when a lot of it occurs via all kind of governmental structures and laws that makes individual involvement from insignificant to non-existing such as transfer resources from producers to qualified consumers young and old.

 

20180127 – Russian Revolution

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 11.36.23 AM

MAIN IDEA:

The main idea here is to provide the true history of Bolshevik coup and then revolution that was the first large scale triumph of new socialist ideology in XX century after the old mainly religious ideologies caused wars and mass extermination in previous centuries become mostly benign (at least in European societies) with advance of industrial revolution and materialistic scientific knowledge. I also this this book designed not only as historical narrative, but also as cautionary tale for the current and future civilizations about general fragility of orderly and humane societies and their vulnerability to ideological zealots that could use any significant problems to break thin layer of civilization and through everything into bloody mess.

DETAILS:

PART ONE: The Agony of the Old Regime

  1. 1905. The Foreshock: University disturbances of 1899 as beginning of revolution Plehve and Zubatov, outbreak of Russo-Japanese War, Plehve assassinated and replaced by Mirskii: the great Zemstvo Congress (November 1904 “Bloody Sunday tsarism tries moderate reform; the debacle of Tsushima and talk of a representative body; university turmoil resumes and leads to general strike; Witte advises concessions; emergence of St. Petersburg Soviet; the October Manifesto; Witte forms cabinet and represses radicals; nationwide pogroms; 1905 as apogee Russian liberalism

This is about prehistory of Russian revolution going back to the beginning of XX century when the first disturbances were to begin. Author looks at the first protests by students that started as non-political but then, after meeting relatively strong suppression, produced significant number of people who were neither broken or annihilated, but had their career ruined. This resulted in them becoming revolutionaries. Then author moves to just a few years later when incompetence of Russian rulers led to dramatic defeat in the war against Japan, demonstrating military weakness of regime, “Bloody Sunday” that resulted in significant decrease of support for the system, and mass movement that forced creation of Duma and October “Constitution”. Author discusses various personalities and their approach to the problem that ranged from accommodation to public demands and cautious movement to some form or semi-democracy, to outright suppression. However, the attitudes and general condition of society allowed only very limited suppression that mainly increased psychological strength of revolutionaries – enemies of regime, rather than eliminating them physically or breaking them psychologically – the processes these revolutionaries brought to perfection when they come to power some 12 years later.

  1. Official Russia: Patrimonialism; Nicholas and Alexandra; the bureaucracy; ministries; conservative and liberal officialdom; economic development undermines autocracy; the army; the gentry; the Orthodox Church

Here author provides a very interesting description of pre-revolutionary Russia – the society that was definitely flawed and repressive, but functional with relatively moderate levels of corruption. There was little interference of government into economy resulting in healthy growth of industries. However, the unresolved issues of the majority population – rural agriculturalists, continuously produced disturbances in the country. Overall Russian elite was divided into conservative and liberal groups, with liberals getting stronger over time and pushing country to Western way of development. As consequence, the foundation or regime – aristocracy was consistently undermined by economic development of market capitalism. The problem was that aristocracy was not able any more to provide competitive military power that required industrialized army and military production rather than forces based on feudal holdings and aristocrats’ dependents. The ideological foundation of regime – Orthodox Church was also in decline as result of being part of official government. It demonstrated all signs of decay, typical for any ideology that became too bureaucratized.

  1. Rural Russia: Household, village, and commune; land shortage; industrial workers; peasant mentality; peasant attitudes to law and property; changes in peasant mood after 1900

This is about the majority of population that eventually defined the fate of Russia based on its worldview. This worldview was centered on the 3 pillars: family, village, and commune. The key absent feature was private property on land. The commune allocated and periodically reallocated land, mainly based on number of people in the family. The private property was for outsiders such as aristocracy and later individuals that left commune. Since such individuals often did much better outside than inside commune led to resentment, hate, and continuing aspiration to transfer all land to the commune. Culturally this population was strongly in support of authoritarian model of society, starting with family and going all the way to czar who was the father of the country. Author provides very interesting and detailed review of this most populous part of the people and their slow transfer to rejecting existing system for failure to provide additional land and overall failure to fulfil duties of the father.

  1. The Intelligentsia: Its European origins; societes de pensee; socialism as ideology the intelligentsia; the Meal of a “new man”; emergence Russian intelligentsia; revolutionary movement in nineteenth century Russia; the Socialists-Revolutionaries; Russian liberals

If peasants were the brown of future revolution that provided manpower, the intelligentsia was its brain. Author provides a very good description of this layer of population and demonstrates how they got to be highly hostile to the regime, mainly because regime, while providing for them opportunity for education and transfer out of peasant’s live of their parents, did not provide real opportunities for achievement and wealth. Also important was ideological part that was mainly developed in the line of socialism as ideal society where pure reason, obviously applied in accordance with ideas and interests of intelligentsia, would rule. The western, especially American way of application of knowledge and skills to business was considered contemptible and shameful. Very interesting is the history of intelligentsia revolutionary development when small parts of this group become professional revolutionaries, sometimes terrorists, while the vast majority provided moral and financial support.

  1. The Constitutional Experiment: Monarchy and constitutionalism; the Fundamental Laws of 1906; elections to the Duma; the First Duma; Stolypin; Stolypin represses terror; his agrarian reforms; the Second Duma and the electoral law of June 3, 1907; Stolypin’s political difficulties begin; the Western zemstvo crisis; Stolypin’s murder; assessment of Stolypin; Russia on the eve of World War I

This is a history of Russian development after revolution of 1905 until WWII when several attempts were made to eliminate growing pressure in society At first the attempt was via establishment of kind of constitutional regime in form of Duma and then via Stolypin reforms that were targeting to change foundation of Russian society via expansion of private property, dismantling of rural commune, and industrialization of the country. Unfortunately, these attempts failed due to their rejection by country’s aristocratic leadership that could not see that settlement after revolution was temporary and unreliable, by majority of population that still prefer top down authoritarian management, and, very important, by intelligentsia that saw capitalism with contempt and was striving to move beyond it to what they believed would be much more effective and efficient organization of society: socialism.

  1. Russia at War: Strategic preparations and Russia’s readiness for war; early campaigns: East Prussia and Galicia; Russian debacle in Poland, 1915; changes in government; emergence of the Progressive Bloc and Nicholas’s assumption of high command bringing society into limited partnership in the war effort

This chapter is about Russian participation in WWI and calamity that it created. Russia was not ready for the war of such scale, neither culturally nor organizationally. This led to defeats on the front lines and significant difficulties with army supplies. Nevertheless, contrary to the common views, author demonstrates that these difficulties where in main successfully overcome in such areas as industrial production, providing military with enough ammunition and supplies. However, it was too late because society’s morals and cohesiveness dropped dramatically, opening gates for decline of discipline in military and mass disturbances ignited by the smallest problems. Russia was not the only country that came under pressure as result of the war, but while in UK and France democracy served as a safety valve prevented the explosion, in Germany strong middle class was able to defeat revolution, albeit temporarily, in Russia combination of mass peasant army, restless intelligentsia soaked in socialist ideas, and weak personalities in power led to conditions susceptible for complete breakdown.

  1. Toward the Catastrophe Inflation: the Brusilov offensive; rise of tension in the country;

Protopopov; the liberals decide to attack; Duma sessions of November 1916; assassination of Rasputin