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20200927 – Apocalypse Never


The main idea of this book is to systematically go through all major environmental issues and controversies and demonstrate that in most cases alarmism is unwarranted, activism too often connected to corruption, and there is much better way to resolve problems than shut down industries, dramatically decrease quality of life for majority of people in developed countries, and prevent improvement for people in developing countries.


1: It’s Not the End of the World
This starts with description of IPCC reports predicting moderate increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees and rise of sea level by a couple feet in 2050 which, as usual, caused panic in mass media. Author does not challenge IPCC reports, he just makes point that it is not the end of the world as AOC and other political crooks claim. After that author recounts factors that make global warming and other potential changes quite manageable: human resilience and contemporary technological achievement that allow managing raise of sea level and actually decrease number of victims of all kinds of natural disasters. After that author discusses reality of poor world of Congo and similar places where Apocalypse is occurring right now and it happens mainly due to political and cultural reasons. Author presents a narrative of his interaction with extreme environmentalists and concludes that there is what he calls “Exaggeration Rebellion” when any indication of climate change is turned into future catastrophe, which had to be prevented by some usually unreasonable measures with huge negative economic impact. The final word in this chapter is that in reality there is many reasons to believe that Apocalypse will never come and track record of all doomsayers and their ideologically driven extreme environmental predictions is nearly perfect in its failures. The following chapters present author’s findings in various specific areas where environmentalists were fighting.

2: Earth’s Lungs Aren’t Burning
This chapter is about Amazon rain forest and environmental claims that they produced most oxygen and are in danger of elimination because of industrial and agricultural development. Author provides data that it is completely incorrect – Amazon is pretty much self-contain system which does not produced more oxygen than it consumes. Net result of rich countries intervention – suppressed development for poor in Brazil.

3: Enough with the Plastic Straws
Here author looks at fight against plastic straws and everything else plastic. The results of analysis: they by far less dangerous than it is claimed. It is also about waste management and need to direct resources not to forbid use of plastic, but rather create infrastructure to manage all waste, especially human waste, which is a lot more dangerous and polluting.

4: The Sixth Extinction Is Canceled
In this chapter author first looks at claims that we are in the middle of great extinction of species and bluntly rejects this idea. He claims that:” Conservationists, it turns out, are skilled at maintaining small populations of animals, from yellow-eyed penguins of New Zealand to mountain gorillas of central Africa. The real challenge is expanding the size of their populations. It’s not the case that humankind has failed to conserve habitat. By 2019, an area of Earth larger than the whole of Africa was protected, an area that is equivalent to 15 percent of Earth’s land surface. The number of designated protected areas in the world has grown from 9,214 in 1962 to 102,102 in 2003 to 244,869 in 2020.”

After that author moves to energy, stating that lots of people in poor countries get their energy by burning wood, which is highly inefficient and should be substituted by other forms like hydroelectricity and fossils, but environmentalists prevent this. Another issue is that rich countries push to protect animals, often at the expense of people as in case of protecting gorillas even if they destroy crops of poor farmers. Author calls such approach “Colonial Conservatism”.

5: Sweatshops Save the Planet
This chapter is about sweatshops in developing countries. As usual rich and stupid people in developed world so much worried about working conditions for poor people in developing world that they prevent these poor people from improving their lives by moving from subsistence agriculture where they work hard, but starve to industries where they work as hard, but earn a lot more and do not starve.

6: Greed Saved the Whales, Not Greenpeace
This chapter about environmentalists and their fight to save whales demonstrate another typical process: whale hunting greatly decreased because much better substitutes found for its products: author specifically discusses palm oil. Author also discusses other methods and substitutes that both provide better goods and services instead of traditional and environmentally unsound methods and products and then provide examples of environmentalists using disinformation to promote their objectives. One such example are documentaries against fracking. Author points out that fracking is much more environmentally friendly because it opened opportunity for natural gas production substituting coal.

7: Have Your Steak and Eat It Too
Here author discusses similar story about meat production: reality is human bodies need proteins, meat provides them, and enviros are trying prevent it by using all kinds of ethical and environmental reasons that does not make lots of sense.

8: Saving Nature Is Bomb
This chapter is about nuclear energy, which is actually the safest, cleanest, and most effective method of energy production. Author retells the story how it was restrained and nearly annihilated by anti-nuclear movement with use of massive government regulations.

9: Destroying the Environment to Save It
Next step in this show of horrors is “renewable” energy which in reality is unreliable, inefficient, and, funniest of all, the dirtiest because production, maintenance, and decommission of equipment for this “renewables” is far from clean. Adding such small thing that it is costlier than anything else, which should also be taken into account.  

10: All About the Green
This is very a interesting chapter demonstrating how “green” activism is quite profitable business. Author reviews how exactly it is done with multiple examples.

11: The Denial of Power
This chapter is about another form of satisfaction that rich people obtain via environmental activism, this time via climate alarmism. Author not only presents usual examples of hypocrisy, but more interestingly discusses the specific example of how a young man in 1976 put up fight against building infrastructure project in poor village. He lost, but when he came back many years later, he found that this project changed lives in the village a lot and to the better. After that author looks at history of ideas starting with William Godwin and Malthus ideas of late XVIII century when one side believes in human ability to solve problems and control such things as population growth, while another believing that whatever are current problems, they could only get worse and could not be resolved ever except by some violent measures directed by elite against regular people. Author also discusses here ideas of leapfrog when poor nations just jump to superior technology without going through sequential process of development. The main example would be providing telephone to everybody in poor country without building wired connections infrastructure. Unfortunately, this could not apply to great many other things, especially energy, so attempt to do it often leads to waste of resources and increased misery of the poor.

12: False Gods for Lost Souls
This chapter starts with polar bears that supposedly were under the threat, but in reality, are doing just fine. After that author proceeds to discuss persecution of scientists who do not agree with alarmists and call for reasonable approach. Finally, author analyzes quasi-religious approach to environment and fanaticism it causes.


Here author discusses his current activities in promotion of reasonable approach to energy, climate, and other environmental issues that is founded on science and puts humanity first. Author calls such approach Environmental Humanism.


This is a nice catalog of environmental battles of the last 50+ years when various issues were used to scare public and mobilize people to fight against various industries in order to undermine capitalist societies. Meanwhile promoters of these issues are getting rich and increasingly hope to be able eventually take political power. I think it is actually a big sign of success for democratic capitalist societies that old issues such as exploitation of working class, poor housing, poor nutrition, long working hours, dangerous working conditions, and other big items of early XX century pretty much done with and do not elicit significant excitement among population. Correspondingly the general failure of socialist revolution due to lack of demand for it led to need for another set of issues that their promoters believe to be capable igniting revolution. This book nicely demonstrate that these issues are often just make-believe provocations, and I really doubt that they would provide enough ideological power to achieve what previous set of issues failed to achieve – socialist revolution.

20200920 – Radical Uncertainly


The main idea of this book is to provide explanation of difference between uncertainty, radical uncertainty, probabilities, and ambiguities. It is also about communication when information transferred via narrative or statistical representations could mislead people into believing false narrative. Book also provides some tools on how to deal with different uncertainties.


Part I: Introduction: The Nature of Uncertainty
1. The Unknowable Future
Authors begins by defining notion of “unknown unknowns” and provides examples such as Columbus discovery of America, Financial crisis, and so on, and then critic the idea that risk could always be measured, referring to statements of financial leaders about extremely low probability of events of 2008. Authors make this important point: “Economists (used to) distinguish risk, by which they meant unknowns which could be described with probabilities, from uncertainty, which could not. They had already adopted mathematical techniques which gave the term ‘risk’ a different meaning from that of everyday usage. In this book we will describe the considerable confusion and economic damage which has arisen as a result of the failure to recognize that the terms ‘risk’, ‘uncertainty’ and ‘rationality’ have acquired technical meanings in economics which do not correspond to the everyday use of these words. And over the last century economists have attempted to elide that historic distinction between risk and uncertainty, and to apply probabilities to every instance of our imperfect knowledge of the future.”

“We have chosen to replace the distinction between risk and uncertainty deployed by Knight and Keynes with a distinction between resolvable and radical uncertainty. Resolvable uncertainty is uncertainty which can be removed by looking something up (I am uncertain which city is the capital of Pennsylvania) or which can be represented by a known probability distribution of outcomes (the spin of a roulette wheel). With radical uncertainty, however, there is no similar means of resolving the uncertainty – we simply do not know. Radical uncertainty has many dimensions: obscurity; ignorance; vagueness; ambiguity; ill-defined problems; and a lack of information that in some cases but not all we might hope to rectify at a future date.”

Authors also define 3 main propositions of this book:

  • the world of economics, business and finance is ‘non-stationary’ – it is not governed by unchanging scientific laws. Most important challenges in these worlds are unique events, so intelligent responses are inevitably judgements which reflect an interpretation of a particular situation.
  • individuals cannot and do not optimize; nor are they irrational, victims of ‘biases’ which describe the ways they deviate from ‘rational’ behavior. The meaning of rational behavior depends critically on the context of the situation and there are generally many different ways of being rational. We distinguish axiomatic rationality, as used by economists, from evolutionary rationality, as practiced by people. Many so-called ‘biases’ are responses to the complex world of radical uncertainty.
  • humans are social animals and communication plays an important role in decision-making. We frame our thinking in terms of narratives. And able leaders – whether in business, in politics, or in everyday life – make decisions, both personal and collective, by talking with others and being open to challenge from them.

2. Puzzles and Mysteries
Here authors compare NASA probe processes, which are based on calculations and well-known equations with processing in political or economic world where there is no stable equation that would provide framework for effective decision making. They also provide some technical language:” Engineers also distinguish between puzzles and mysteries, and give them technical names – ‘aleatory’ and ‘epistemic’ uncertainty, respectively. Meteorological records will describe the regular tides and winds to which a bridge is likely to be exposed (aleatory uncertainty), but since every bridge and every bridge location is different the effect of these conditions on the structure is never completely known (epistemic uncertainty). The tides and winds are the subject of known frequency distributions (tables showing how frequent are particular values of tide and wind speed); uncertainty remains because every complex structure is necessarily idiosyncratic. This distinction between the uncertainty which can be described probabilistically and the uncertainty which surrounds every unique project or event is important in all applications of practical knowledge and central to the argument of this book.”

Authors discuss several examples of uncertainties and them formulate another important point:” The claim of the modern science of decision theory is that most mysteries can be reduced to puzzles by the application of probabilistic reasoning. Such reasoning can provide solutions to puzzles, but not to mysteries. How to think about and cope with mysteries is the essence of managing life in the real world and is what this book is all about.”

3 Radical Uncertainty is Everywhere
In this chapter authors move to define scope of probabilistic reasoning and impossibility of its application to “unknown unknown” or “black swans.” Here is where authors defy popular ideas of behavior and mathematical economics clearly stating that:” Real households, real businesses and real governments do not optimize; they cope. They make decisions incrementally. They do not attain the highest point on the landscape, they seek only a higher place than the one they occupy now. They try to find outcomes that are better and avoid outcomes that are worse.”

Part II: The Lure of Probabilities
4 Thinking with Probabilities
Here authors discuss probabilistic approach to prediction. They start with mortality table and life insurance and then proceed to probability as frequency pointing out that one needs history of repetitive occurrences to calculate probability of event. They also discuss Bayes work and “The Bayesian dial is a visual representation of what is known as Bayesian reasoning. We deal with uncertainties by attaching ‘prior probabilities’ to uncertain events.”

The last part of chapter dedicated to the Monty hall problem, Indifference principle, and massive use of Bayesian algorithm in consulting and analysis using Gigerenzer’s analysis of breast cancer recognition technic.

5 A Forgotten Dispute
This refer to dispute between John Stuart Mill and Pierre-Simon Laplace about application of probability technic to unknowable sequences of events. Author discuss subjective probabilities and demonstrate quite convincingly that this is not a valid approach.

6 Ambiguity and Vagueness
In this chapter authors look at two notions that often mixed and provide definition for each one:” There is often vagueness or ambiguity in the description of future states of the world. Concepts are called vague when the ‘law of the excluded middle’ – either it is so, or it is not so – is not satisfied. Either it is Saturday, or it is not Saturday. But we are less confident whether it is warm, or not warm. Such vagueness is not necessarily a matter of loose or sloppy reasoning. Many descriptions are useful, but necessarily vague in this sense.” Correspondingly: “Although the term ‘ambiguity’ is often employed to describe many kinds of uncertainty, we prefer to limit its use to genuine linguistic ambiguity. The word ‘bank’ has a different meaning depending on whether the context is fishing or financial regulation.”

At the end authors review difficulties of communicating uncertainty and demonstrate it graphically:

7 Probability and Optimization
This is another problem, which is based on assigned values. Authors review use of this approach in economics with its move from values to utility. Authors also allocate significant space discussing notion of risk and its application to various problems.

Part III: Making Sense of Uncertainty
8 Rationality in a Large World
Authors start this part with discussion of what is rational and what is not. They provide useful definition for styles of reasoning:”

Deductive reasoning reaches logical conclusions from stated premises. For example, ‘Evangelical Christians are Republican. Republicans voted for Donald Trump. Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.’ This syllogism is descriptive of a small world. As soon as one adds the word ‘most’ before either evangelical Christians or Republicans, the introduction of the inevitable vagueness of the larger world modifies the conclusion.

Inductive reasoning is of the form ‘analysis of election results shows that they normally favor incumbent parties in favorable economic circumstances and opposition parties in adverse economic circumstances. Since economic conditions in the United States in 2016 were neither particularly favorable nor unfavorable, we might reasonably have anticipated a close result. Inductive reasoning seeks to generalize from observations, and may be supported or refuted by subsequent experience. Abductive reasoning seeks to provide the best explanation of a unique event. For example, an abductive approach might assert that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election because of concerns in particular swing states over economic conditions and identity, and because his opponent was widely disliked.

After that authors provide examples of bias, discuss arrogant ideas of Nudge. Finally, they review Herbert Simon’s idea of Bounded Rationality, meaning search for “good enough” solution rather than optimal, by limiting area of search to some feasible solutions rather than all conceivable solutions.

9 Evolution and Decision-Making

This chapter challenges behavior economics by rejecting idea that people’s heuristics are illogical and inferior to mathematical approach with formal logic. The point is that evolution occurred in environment of radical uncertainty, so formal logic could not possibly work. Then authors go through specifics: Altruism, kinship, and mutuality; multilevel selection; superiority of loss aversion, value of confidence and optimism even if they could not be formally justified. At the end authors discuss Kahneman’s dual system, and human versus machine intellect.

10.The Narrative Paradigm

In this chapter authors move from analysis to communications and discuss narrative method. They look at its application in business schools, strategy sessions, and diagnosis. They also review use of historical narratives of various forms.

11.Uncertainty, Probability and the Law

Here authors discuss use of probabilities in criminal cases, review two cases one British and another O.J. Simpson to demonstrate how it could be misused. They also look at differences between probabilistic and legal reasoning:” Balance of probabilities’ means that it is more likely that the proposition is true than that it is not. The probability that it is true must exceed 50%. But to demonstrate a proposition ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is to establish its truth to some very high degree of probability – perhaps at a level of 95% or beyond. Yet conversations with lawyers establish that things are not really like that. Indeed, when US judges were asked what probability was required to meet the requirement of ‘preponderance of the evidence’, not only did they offer a wide variety of answers, but most answers were higher – sometimes much higher – than 50%. US jurors’ estimates differed by more.”

12. Good and Bad Narratives

This is continuation of discussion about narratives. First authors look at whether narratives are true or false, then, regardless of this, at these narratives being good or bad. Authors also discuss some narrative tools such as metaphors, narratives of the future, and so on.  

13. Telling Stories Through Numbers

This chapter is about numbers and statistics. Authors discuss various statistical data and then talks about power law:” The American linguist George Zipf studied word frequencies long before computers could take over such tasks, and formulated what is known as Zipf’s Law.7 When word frequency is plotted on a logarithmic scale, the result is more or less a straight line, with a stable relationship between the popularity of a word and the number of words of similar popularity. The nth most frequently used word appears with frequency 1/n times that of the most frequently used word.” After that authors move to discuss polling and specifically sample selection processes. The last part of chapter is about false information derived from statistics sometime because of statistical illiteracy, but sometimes intentionally for disinformation.

14. Telling Stories Through Models  

Here authors look at models and they start with very wise observation:” All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Author discuss such examples of economic models as Adam Smith’s in “Wealth of Nations” and David Ricardo. Then they move close to our time and review efficient market theory, Akerlof’s lemons, and auction theory, eventually explaining why these theoretical constructions do not really work for real live.

15. Rationality and Communication

This chapters starts with comparison of Obama’s and Carter’s decisions to send special forces: one success and another failure. Authors suggest that in reality the difference maybe more depended on luck than on decision makers. After that they present interesting notion of Resulting – situation when evaluation of decision quality depends on result, which may or may not be driven by external circumstances and luck. They also discuss here communicative rationality and collective intelligence, which they differentiate from human intelligence.

16.Challenging Narratives

This chapter is about need for variety of models and need to challenge narratives, which author illustrate with a number of examples and a great quote from A. Sloan:” ‘Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here. Then, I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until the next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement, and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.’

Part IV: Economics and Uncertainty

17. The World of Finance

In this chapter authors bring another differentiation between models and reality: small-world models in a large world. The point here is that theoretical models are always include assumptions, which to significant degree restrict area of model application define its outcome. In real world there is not such restrictions. Author then provide example of failed model in finance, pension models, and others, demonstrating limits of financial theory.

18.Radical Uncertainty, Insurance and Investment;

This is another detailed look at “science” of economics, specifically in areas of insurance, pensions, and how certainty is not the same as security. Authors complete this with note that volatility is good for investors.

19. (Mis)Understanding Macroeconomics

Here authors move to discuss dangerous combination of macroeconomics with powerful computers that allowed create super complex models very good in creating illusion of understanding reality without possessing such understanding at all. Eventually authors return to important theme of need to understand that economics way too complex for engineering approach, which result in severe mismanagement of economics.

20. The Use and Misuse of Models

Here authors provide examples of failure of models’ use. It starts with prediction for UK coal usage, and quite a few others. More importantly they provided suggestion on how do it properly:”

First, deploy simple models to identify the key factors that influence an assessment. A common response to criticisms of the kind we have described above is an offer to add to the model whatever we think is missing. But this is another reflection of the mistaken belief that such models can describe ‘the world as it really is’. The useful purpose of modelling is to find ‘small world’ problems which illuminate part of the large world of radical uncertainty.

Second, having identified the parameters which are likely to make a significant difference to an assessment, undertake research to obtain evidence on the value of these parameters. For example, what value do rail passengers attach to a faster journey? Quantification can often serve as a reality check even when precise quantification is obviously spurious. The preservation of the beautiful and well-preserved Norman church at Stewkley in England (close to a proposed new high-speed rail line) is worth something, but surely not a billion pounds. Often this kind of calibration is enough to resolve some aspects of a decision.

Third, simple models provide a flexibility which makes it much easier to explore the effects of modifications and alternatives. For example, the WHO demographic model not only diverted attention from the key issue but its complexity made it harder to investigate alternative specifications of the model structure and parameters. Scenarios are always useful in conditions of radical uncertainty. How might this policy decision look in five years’ time – or fifty?

Fourth, under radical uncertainty, the options conferred by a policy may be crucial to its evaluation. Faced with a choice as to which of London’s two major airports, Gatwick or Heathrow, should be chosen for expansion, recognition that the topography of Gatwick allows piecemeal adaptation of the development of facilities in the light of uncertain future demand, while that of Heathrow does not, should be an important factor in the choice. Options may be positive or negative in value – facilitating policies not directly connected to the initial objectives, or excluding possible attractive alternatives.”

Part V: Living with Uncertainty

21. Practical Knowledge

Here authors present what they believe to be proper approach to dealing with uncertainty: treat economics as practical knowledge, meaning measuring validity of theories by practice rather that by opinion of authoritative economists.  Consequently, authors discuss use of models as tools with limitations rather as final word of oracle and always apply then to resolve specific practical problems.

22. Adapting to Radical Uncertainty

In this chapter authors discuss how to adapt to prevalence of radical uncertainty in life and provide some guidance:

  • Recognize that live is not stationary so no algorithm could provide valid response to all future events.
  • Remember that humans are social animals and analyze at the level of groups rather than individuals
  • Challenge narratives

Authors also clearly express their believe that groups are better decision makers because groups have more information than individuals.

23. Embracing Uncertainty

In this final chapter authors call to embrace uncertainty by clearly differentiating it from risk and actively hone robustness and resilience, while trying to avoid path dependency. Finally, they link uncertainty with evolution, correctly stating that latter could not exist without former. They also link uncertainty to entrepreneurship.


I think it is useful book and authors very nicely classify different risks, uncertainties, and probabilities. They also define methods of dealing with them and how to apply different approaches for it could have some practical usage. I wish more people were educated in different forms of uncertainty and how to handle it and have much better understanding of models and their use. Maybe if it were the case, we would not have to deal with great many craziness of our time from global warming to universal everything.  The one point that I completely disagree with authors is their believe in superiority of group decisions over individual decisions. I believe that there is not such thing as a group decision – all decisions are made by individuals. Sure, multiple people are in possession of more information than one individual and any decision made via interaction of multiple individuals would be better if all this information is taken into account. The problem is that any group is formal or informal hierarchy and an individual at the top of hierarchy is the one who makes “group” decision. It is true that in condition of equal power of a few individuals at the top a decision could be a compromise, but it still would be individual decision of each group member whether to accept of reject somebody’s decision rather than actually participate in decision making.  

20200913 – You are not Listening


The main idea of this book is to demonstrate importance of listening as main tool of communication much more important and effective than just talking. Author provides some neurological background of this process, but mainly tries to uncover what impedes listening and how overcome these impediments.


1. The Lost Art of Listening
Author starts with recollection of her experience as interviewer and notes that even famous people she interviewed accustomed to situation when nobody listening to them. She then moves to epidemics of loneliness and links it to people inability to listen to each other. She provides example of Algonquin Round Table – group of writers who regularly meet together to kind of compete in both talking and listening and them use British parliament QA tradition as example of people not listening. She finally concludes that good listeners are difficult to come about.

2. That Syncing Feeling: The Neuroscience o Listening
This chapter starts with review of faulty listening behavior:

  • Interrupting
  • Responding vaguely or illogically to what was just said
  • Looking at a phone, watch, around the room, or otherwise away from the speaker
  • Fidgeting (tapping on the table, frequently shifting position, clicking a pen, etc.)

She then provides characteristics of good listening:

“Hearing is passive. Listening is active. The best listeners focus their attention and recruit other senses to the effort. Their brains work hard to process all that incoming information and find meaning, which opens the door to creativity, empathy, insight, and knowledge. Understanding is the goal of listening, and it takes effort.”

She also refers to research that demonstrate how good listening synchronizes brain activities of interacting individuals. Author also reviews several cases and infer: “To listen well is to figure out what’s on someone’s mind and demonstrate that you care enough to want to know. It’s what we all crave; to be understood as a person with thoughts, emotions, and intentions that are unique and valuable and deserving of attention. Listening is not about teaching, shaping, critiquing, appraising, or showing how it should be done (“Here, let me show you.” “Don’t be shy.” “That’s awesome!” “Smile for Daddy.”). Listening is about the experience of being experienced. It’s when someone takes an interest in who you are and what you are doing.”

3. Listening to Your Curiosity: What We Can Learn from Toddlers
In this chapter author brings in an experienced CIA investigator, who told her that key to interrogation is to find out what people are most concerned with, assure them that they save to express it, and listen carefully. Toddlers are brought in as example of unbounded curiosity and author stresses that such curiosity about other people is indispensable for effective listening to others.  

4. I Know What You’re Going to Say: Assumptions as Earplugs
This is about one of the biggest problems of failure to listen when people convinced that they already know what other is going to say, which is very seldom, if ever, is correct. Author then refer to a number of experiments, which demonstrate this even among people intimately close such as spouses. Author discusses somewhat inverse relationship between signaling and listening and ends the chapter by calling to pay real attention to others, rather than use formalities:” “Staying in touch” or “keeping up” with someone is nothing more than listening to what’s on that person’s mind—the frequency with which you check in determining the strength and longevity of the relationship. It’s all too easy to get complacent about how well you know those closest to you, just as it’s hard not to make assumptions about strangers based on stereotypes, particularly when reinforced by that person’s own overt social signaling. But listening keeps you from falling into those traps. Listening will overturn your expectations.”

5. The Tone-Deaf Response: What People Would Rather Talk to Their Dog
Here author presents research, which “shows that people are more likely to feel understood if a listener responds not by nodding, parroting, or paraphrasing but by giving descriptive and evaluative information. Contrary to the idea that effective listening is some sort of passive exercise, Bodie’s work reveals it requires interpretation and interplay.”

It follows by discussion of mass shooters, crisis negotiations tactic, and examples of how much could be the loss from non-listening.

6. Talking Like a Tortoise, Thinking Like a Hare: The Speech-Thought Differential
Here author discusses an important reason why people are poor listeners:” speech-thought differential, which refers to the fact that we can think a lot faster than someone can talk. The average person talks at around 120–150 words per minute, which takes up a tiny fraction of our mental bandwidth powered by some eighty-six billion brain cells. So, we wander in our excess cognitive capacity, thinking about a multitude of other things, which keeps us from focusing on the speaker’s narrative”.

Consequently: “to be a good listener means using your available bandwidth not to take mental side trips but rather to double down on your efforts to understand and intuit what someone is saying. He said listening well is a matter of continually asking yourself if people’s messages are valid and what their motivations are for telling you whatever they are telling you.”

Author provides a couple simple rules: Avoid thinking about your response and make pauses before replying.

7. Listening to Opposing Views: Why It Feels Like Being Chased by a Bear

This analogy comes from fMRI research that demonstrated that the same area of brain if highlighted in both cases. Author provide a couple examples from politician’s behavior, but states that it is necessity because:” The truth is, we only become secure in our convictions by allowing them to be challenged. Confident people don’t get riled by opinions different from their own, nor do they spew bile online by way of refutation. Secure people don’t decide others are irredeemably stupid or malicious without knowing who they are as individuals. People are so much more than their labels and political positions. And effective opposition only comes from having a complete understanding of another person’s point of view and how they came to develop it.”

  • Focusing on What’s Important: Listening in the Age of Big Data

Author begins this chapter by discussing conferences of Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA), the organization of “professional listeners”. This is kind of opinion research mainly done for marketing purposes, but also for political and ideological sales. One of the most popular tools they use are focus groups. Author explains that quality of focus group is highly dependent on moderator’s ability to listen and extract real opinion with high levels of precision. She provides of example of such high-level professionals and discusses their technics.

  • Improvisational Listening: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Work

Author starts this chapter with Google research on great teams, which discovered that good teams listen to each other. After that she moves to discuss improve comedy as example of improvisational listening when partners had to pick up cues from each other in order to present consistent narrative. Then she explains how this skill promotes collaborative dynamic necessary for success.

  1. Conversational Sensitivity: What Terry Gross, LBI, and Con Men Have Common

This chapter expands on the same topic of listening sensitivity, only this time using example of professional interviewers and con man.

  1. Listening to Yourself: The Voluble Inner Voice

In this chapter author changes direction of listening and talks about listening to one’s own internal voice rather than to others. To illustrate this author provides quote from Feynman: “By trying to put the points of view that we have in our head together and comparing one to the other, we make some progress in understanding and in appreciating where we are and what we are.”

  1. Supporting, Not Shifting, the Conversation

This chapter is about importance of control over conversation and need to focus on other not self. She provides nice example of different approach related by Churchill’s mother:” “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman.”

 The practical advice is to suppress impulses to:

  • suggest you know how someone feels
  • identify the cause of the problem
  • tell someone what to do about the problem
  • minimize their concerns
  • bring perspective to a situation with forced positivity and platitudes
  • admire the person’s strength

Author also discusses some other control technics.

  1. Hammers, Anvils, and Stirrups: Turning Sound Waves into Brain Waves

This is more technical chapter, discussing how sound waves turned into electrochemical conditions of neurons of brain, vulnerabilities of human hearing system, and how all inputs are always fractional and scrambled, leaving to the brain process creation of consistent representation of perceived signals. The negative result is that people often hear something that wasn’t said and do not hear something that was. Author also goes a bit beyond hearing system describing how everything else such as facial expressions, circumstances of time and space and so on influence interactions.

  1. Addicted to Distraction

This is about multiple things that distract people from carefully listening: everything from smoking to smart phones. To demonstrate change in psychology author refers to research that found that average attention span decreased from 12 to 8 seconds. Consequently, author promotes such activities as family dinner isolated from external interventions.   

  1. What Words Conceal and Silences Reveal

This is about conversation being much more complex process than just talking because it includes visuals, pauses, inarticulate expressions, and other such things. She provides example of real estate broker who succeeds by not interfering into potential buyers thinking process, patiently waiting for outcome. Author uses as example of strategic use of silence and then discusses other uses for this tool. Here is her conclusion:” Silence is what allows people in. There’s a generosity in silence but also a definite advantage. People who are comfortable with silence elicit more information and don’t say too much out of discomfort. Resisting the urge to jump in makes it more likely you will leave conversations with additional insight and greater understanding. “

  1. The Morality of Listening: Why Gossip Is Good for You

In this chapter author discusses gossip as another useful tool:” While gossip often has a negative connotation, it actually has a positive social function. There’s a reason why as much as two-thirds of adult conversation is gossip, defined as at least two people talking about someone who is absent. Men gossip as much as women, and children are adept gossipers by age five. We all do it (although not with as much flair as my great-great-aunt) because gossip allows us to judge who is trustworthy, who we want to emulate, how much we can get away with, and who are likely allies or adversaries. In this way, listening to gossip contributes to our development as ethical, moral members of society.”

  1. When to Stop Listening

Here author moves from promoting listening to defining when one should stop doing this. She presents four maxims for conversational expectations without which listening is just a waste of time:

  1. Maxim of Quality—we expect the truth.
  2. Maxim of Quantity—we expect to get information we don’t already know and not so much that we feel overwhelmed.
  3. Maxim of Relation—we expect relevance and logical flow.
  4. Maxim of Manner—we expect the speaker to be reasonably brief, orderly, and unambiguous.

After that she discusses ways of withdrawing from conversation and their consequences.


In conclusion author provides example of Catholic priest at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle who is very proficient in listening to people all over the world. She uses this example to stress importance of listening not only as expression of empathy, but also as the way to strengthen relationships and develop understanding of others. Here is the final conclusion:” While listening is the epitome of graciousness, it is not a courtesy you owe everyone. That isn’t possible. It’s to your benefit to listen to as many different people, with as much curiosity as you can muster, but you ultimately get to decide when and where to draw the line. To be a good listener does not mean you must suffer fools gladly, or indefinitely, but rather helps you more easily identify fools and makes you wise to their foolishness. And perhaps most important, listening keeps you from being the fool yourself. Listening is often regarded as talking’s meek counterpart, but it is actually the more powerful position in communication. You learn when you listen. It’s how you would divine truth and detect deception. And though listening requires that you let people have their say, it doesn’t mean you remain forever”


It’s a nice collection of ideas and examples of listening as highly useful and very complex communication tool without which it is not possible achieving effective interaction with others. Description and discussion of the process is nice, but mainly trivial. Probably the most interesting part is at the end when author discusses when not to listen. I do not remember encountering this kind of advice anywhere else. It is also pretty good in reviewing various distractions and how to deal with them.

20200906 – Democracy Versus Autocracy


The main idea of this book is that despite persistent pessimism of elite in democratic countries, the reality of theory and history is that Democracy provides for more powerful societies in all conceivable areas: economically, military, and diplomatically. Author supports this thesis by discussion of theory, presentation of history, and review of contemporary state of affairs.


Here author makes point that American economic, political, and military dominance maybe coming to the end due to the rise of China. Author, however, cautions everybody from jumping to conclusion because America is democracy, while China is autocracy and history indicates that democracies have multiple advantages in such competition. Author briefly refer to specific advantages and disadvantages of each system and present the structure of the book.   

PART I: Democracy versus Autocracy
This part lays out the central argument. It draws on ideas from the political philosophy canon and the latest social science research to advance the idea that democracies do better in long-run geopolitical competitions. It also considers and critiques the competing arguments about a possible autocratic advantage.

  1. The Democratic Advantages in Theory

Author begins this discussion with Machiavelli and discusses two forms of democracy: republican or representative vs. direct democracy. Then author continues with Montesquieu using as example history of Athens (direct democracy) and Rome (republic). Then author moves to discussion of modern theory of democracy: its forms, economic, diplomatic, and political advantages. At the end author provides a great graphic representation of his argument:

2. The Autocratic Advantage?

In this chapter author moves to discuss the Autocratic Advantage, but he marks it with big question. He starts with reference to Tocqueville’s comparison American democracy and its seemingly big deficiencies with autocratic systems. Then he moves to contemporary views and presents a number of examples of awe of contemporary western “intellectuals” before efficiency of China’s communist system. He also looks under the hood of this systems and find that there so many deficiencies there that this awe is not much more justified than their historic excitement about Soviet system. Author lists autocracies’ specific supposedly superior features such as easy decision making, independence from public opinion, uncontrolled resource allocation, and absence of individual rights, could impede pursuit of common good, and so on. For each of these specifics author convincingly demonstrate why it is not so and why democratic approach to this specific is actually much better.

PART II: The Democratic Advantage in History
The second part of the book examines the empirical basis for this idea through simple quantitative analysis and a historical study of democratic and autocratic competitors from the ancient world to the present. Specifically, the book examines the following seven cases: Athens, Sparta, and Persia; the Roman Republic, Carthage, and Macedon; the Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and the Duchy of Milan; the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire; Britain and France in the 18th and 19th centuries; the United Kingdom and Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This section of the book does not show that democracies always achieve everlasting hegemony, but it does demonstrate that they tend to excel in great power rivalry and for the precise reasons identified by the theoretical framework

3. The Democratic Advantage by the Numbers

In this chapter author provides numbers demonstrating relative power of democracies vs. autocracies. Author notes that:” …the leading states in the international system for the past four hundred years (the timeframe of his study) have been: the Dutch Republic (1609–1713), Great Britain (1714–1945), and the United States (1945–present). These states were also among the most democratic of their time. According to this reckoning, therefore, liberal leviathans have led the world for the past four centuries and counting.”  Author looks in more details at current most powerful countries specifically USA comparatively with Russia and China:

After discussion overall pattern of Democracies being more powerful, in the next 6 chapters of this part author presents history of competition between Democracies and Autocracies:

4. Athens, Sparta, and Persia; 5. The Roman Republic, Carthage, and Macedon; 6. The Venetian Republic, the Byzantine Empire, and the Duchy of Milan; 7. The Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire; 8. Great Britain and France; 9. The United Kingdom and Germany; 10. The United States and the Soviet Union

PART III: The Democratic Advantage Today
This part is the real payoff of the book. What does all of this mean for contemporary international politics? This section examines the United States, Russia, and China. It studies how their domestic political systems prepare them for the coming competition and finds that U.S. institutions are a continuing source of strength, while Russian and Chinese institutions are dragging down their attempts to amass international wealth and power.

The next 3 chapters represent author’s summarization of contemporary key competitors:

11. The Russian Federation

“If Russia is a great power, it is barely one. Its autocratic system is undermining its economic, diplomatic, and military performance. Its economy is smaller than Italy’s. Its financial system is under serious strain. Russia lacks effective alliances and soft power and its aggressive behavior has provoked rival alliances to take countervailing measures. Its military is overly focused on domestic threats and is ill-equipped for the strategic-technological competitions of the 21st century.”

12. The People’s Republic of China

“China led by the CCP is unlikely to become the world’s leading state. Its Marxist-Leninist model is not well suited to building a world-beating, innovative economy, to winning friends and allies around the world, or to constructing a lethal military force with global power-projection capabilities. China’s autocratic system has undermined its competitiveness before, including under the Qing dynasty and Mao’s CCP. China did better when it followed Deng’s liberalizing economic guidance, but it is reverting to its old form of dysfunctional authoritarianism under President Xi.”

13. The United States of America

Here author characterizes American status as such:” In sum, America’s vibrant economy, its strong alliance relationships, and its unmatched military, all reflections of the U.S. domestic political system, will continue to provide a significant source of strategic advantage for the United States over its autocratic competitors in the years to come.”

PART IV: The Democratic Advantage in the Future
This part takes stock of what we have learned and draws out the implications for U.S. foreign policy and also looks ahead to the future. How can the United States best shore up its sources of strength? How can, or should, it seeks to exploit its opponents’ weaknesses? And, given the previous arguments, will the American era endure?

14. Implications for American Leadership

In this final chapter author discusses increasing competition between China and Russia, which accumulated significant economic and military power via massive investment and technology transfers these authoritarian regimes received from Democracies in early years of XXI century in hope that they would become full pledged Democracies – the happy outcome that did not happen. Author obviously convinced that the competition will end with victory if not for America then for Democracy:” Indeed, if or when the United States declines, it will most likely be overcome only by another democracy. Over the past four centuries, democratic hegemons have lost their positions exclusively to other democratic challengers. Autocrats have all tried and failed in their attempts. At present, a truly unified European Union, or possibly India, are the only democratic entities with enough power resources to plausibly rival the United States for global ascendance over the coming century. But a democratic transition in China would suddenly transform Beijing into a much more serious competitor.”


I absolutely agree that democracy is much better form of society than autocracy and I believe that outcome of current (summer of 2020) massive attack against democracy by leftist ideologues and their stormtroopers prompted by seemingly overwhelming opportunity provided by pandemic, will fail. The victory of Democracy in America will lead to significant upgrade of its foundational ideas to provide better immunity against similar attacks in the future. This immunity will be provided by prevention of unchallenged indoctrination into collectivistic, racist, and intolerant doctrines that currently occurs. I think that as soon as such ideas challenged at all levels starting in kindergarten, individuals who promote such ideas would have no chance to obtain such numbers of supporters as they have now inflicting mayhem on American live.