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George Packer drives a stake into America’s heart in “The Unwinding”. American anger, fear, and frustration build in the minds of all—whether Republican, Democrat, Tea Partyer, or Libertarian.
Whether an accolade of private enterprise or government, Packer offers stories of Americans that show American’ belief makes no difference because America is no longer a land of opportunity but a land of greed; not of the free but of the shackled—a risk noted by Thomas Hobbes in the “Leviathan”. The shackles come from society’s failure to protect individuals from the tyranny of special interests. One side argues that it is because of ineffective government–the other side argues it is because of too much government.
The unwinding of the financial crises reflected in the dot-com bubble of 2000-2001 and the 2007-08 sub-prime mortgage crises unfolds in stories told by Packer in this disturbing narrative. America has become a nation of extremes with each extreme using whatever means necessary to deny success of either “tea party”, “libertarian” or “occupy wall street” followers. The consequence is a “do-nothing” congress, an ineffectual President, and a politicized Supreme Court. One is left with fear, anger, and frustration after completing Packer’s diatribe. The only consolation is in history.
America has been in crises before–in 1776, 1789, 1865, 1929, 1941, 1951, 1967-68, 2001. Americans survived before; Americans will survive again but how angry Americans are, and how frustrating it is to watch America muddle along while Congress fails to act.
“How the Mind Works” delves into the process of thought; i.e. how it is tied to an evolutionary process and how it is common to all humans but emotively different in males and females.
In completing Steven Pinker’s book, it seems that some mind modules are inherited and others are learned. What seems puzzling is why Pinker suggests that the evolution of man and the way the mind works is near an end rather than a beginning or mid-point. Humankind has gotten this far through adaptive evolution, why will adaptation not continue to evolve? With a changing environment, it seems logical to believe that the human species will either adapt or parish, and knowing which will happen, is probabilistically unknowable. Are we headed for dystopia and extinction, utopia and eternal life, or happiness and a fulfilled life?
This may not be a spellbinding subject but it offers insight to the “dismal science” based on improved big data collection and better data analysis. This book of essays contains information that may be used to argue with or against Keynesian' or Hayekian' economic theory. Keynes' followers argue for government intervention in economic crises while Hayek’ s argue for market-force corrections (reorganization, or bankruptcy).
Many things have happened since the 2010 economic information offered in this book. One comes away from listening to "Economics" with previously held biases mostly intact. A nagging feeling remains that rational economic theory makes sense on paper but skitters out of control when acted upon in real life.
From Here to Eternity was named by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of the twentieth century. It earned the National Book Award for fiction in 1951.
Reading it in 2014 makes one hope American’ civilization has progressed since Jones wrote his Army opus about pre-WWII’ Hawaii. Jones writes about the months before and immediately after Pearl Harbor.
The stereotyping, misogyny, and bravado of Jones’ characters are, at times cloying, and at other times, entertaining. From Here to Eternity is a guy’s-guy’ novel that embarrasses men who think they are brave and women who are brave.
“When the Rivers Run Dry” was published in 2007. The author is an environmental journalist based in London. He has written several global environment and development books—the first as long ago as 1989 and the latest as recent as 2012. Pearce has written for US publications like “Audubon”, “Foreign Policy”, Popular Science”, “Seed”, and “Time”.
Pearce writes a rambling and semi-optimistic history of fresh water resource in the world.
Pearce’s story rambles because of the wide territory covered from seas to rivers to underground aquifers. Pearce exposes both short-sighted and visionary ideas about water. Though he skewers the lack of foresight and negative consequence of industrial pollution, he suggests that some old and new ideas about fresh water conservation may preserve human existence.
With the sub-title—"How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World", Christopher Steiner’s "Automate This" is hyperbolic. Tech geeks are trending toward rule of the world but humans remain too complicated and diverse for this generation of code hackers to dominate the world. Social and political science have not reached a state of measurement and predictable outcome that reaches Karl Popper’s criteria for science. Popper’s requirement for empirical falsification is not true with social and political algorithms; at least, not as reliable, reproducible experiments. Social and political analysis, even with the use of algorithms, is not science.
Of particular interest is Steiner’s explanation of algorithm impact on jobs. Like the industrial revolution, the world’s work force will dramatically change with continued automation. More product production will be automated through algorithms that manipulate machines to do the work formerly done by humans. Steiner believes primary growth industries will be ruled by technology. No jobs will be unaffected by algorithms. Steiner notes that even medical services for common colds and routine visits will be served by algorithmic analysis and drug prescription services. Code hackers will be offered the greatest job opportunities. Call centers will become bigger employers but even those jobs will be increasingly handled by algorithms that minimize employee involvement. A conclusion one may draw from Steiner’s book is that middle managers of call centers, sales people for algorithmic products, teachers, personal service providers, and organization executives will be in demand but many traditional labor positions will disappear.
Steiner’s book is a recruitment tool for today’s and tomorrow’s code hackers. That is where jobs will be. Steiner suggests that young and future populations should plan to acquire basic math skills, learn to code, and plan for a future of automation and exploration.
In the mind of a three-year old, string can become tangled so string theory and The Age of Entanglement must have a relationship? Louisa Gilder does not include string theory in her book about entanglement but she suggests that matter and energy relate in ways that may make the butterfly effect a real as well as imagined truth.
Gilder cleverly delves into correspondence between physics legends like Einstein, Bohr, and later, John Bell and his contemporaries. Even though Bell is not Einstein’s and Bohr’s contemporary, Bell is a critical change agent in the ongoing argument begun by Einstein and Bohr about Quantum Theory. Bell changes quantum theory argument from a question of “if” to a question of “how” Quantum Theory is a valid construct of Physics.
Gilder reveals the humanness of the scientific community. She exposes the frustration and joy of discovery among scientists that think about the unknown and experiment with the unseen. The Age of Entanglement reveals the tensions that are created by strong beliefs and the utter devastation and human depression caused when beliefs are refuted by reproducible experiment.
Along the way Gilder explains entanglement; i.e. the idea that one minute quanta of existence affects other faraway elements of existence.
Kevin Fong, a physician, believes exploration and extreme medicine are linked. Fong’s book, "Extreme Medicine", links exploration and medical advance with real-life stories of adventure, discovery; failure and success. He argues that exploration of the unknown transforms medicine.
Fong begins with a story of frostbite in the early 20th century. The two edges of subzero weather are revealed; one edge destroys while the other preserves life. Fong recounts the life of a mariner that dies from frostbite that slowly saps life from his limbs, his brain, and finally his heart. Then Fong tells of a skier’s accident in freezing weather that leaves her clinically dead for three hours. The skier lives even though 20 minutes without an operating autonomic system means death.
Ethics come into issue in a doctor’s sale of extreme medicine to desperate patients. Life is always, to quote a previous book review, a matter of “me before you”. Doctors are human. Money, power, and prestige affect their decisions just as they affect all human decisions. The difference is that the patient has more to lose than the doctor.
This is not to deny the theme of Fong’s book. Living life is, by nature, an exploration. Human beings who choose to explore extremes do advance knowledge. Knowledge drawn from exploration does transform medicine. Knowledge transforms everything in life. Life on earth is finite. With exploration, life is potentially infinite.
History shows Churchill to be one of the greatest orators of war since Abraham Lincoln. He is also a fine writer. “…The Grand Alliance” is a fascinating first-hand account of an English Prime Minister/First Lord of the Admiralty’s perception of the great events of World War II. During the war years, Winston Churchill became the equivalent of a U. S. President and Secretary of Defense rolled into one. Winston Churchill, like Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt join a list of extraordinary men.
This is an extraordinary history of WWII because it is written by a principal participant. Subsequent historians have clarified and expanded Churchill’s observations. The perspective of time seems to have been kind to Churchill’s memory of events.
Robert Gates’ intuition and experience in the George W. Bush’ and Barrack Obama’ administrations is explained in his book, "Duty". Gates is a consummate government administrator.
Rationality in management of large organizations is a myth. Decision-making in large organization is too complex for executives to grasp. Human inability to grasp all the facts inevitably leads to unintended consequence. The boon and bane of all executives who make decisions for others is information overload. (In the future, information overload may be mitigated by artificial intelligence but risk taking humans will have to be prepared to temper intuitive decision-making based on superior analytic capability offered by A.I.)
"Duty" is a paean to the importance of intuition based on experience when managing large organizations that are responsible for actions that affect many people. Rational decision-making is limited by the nature of human beings. Only intuition remains and that remainder, though flawed, serves humanity best when it is tempered by real-life experience.
Gates shows himself to be the right person in the right place when the intuitive mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan are made. American governments (not to mention corporations) need more managers like Gates to make big organization’ decisions that limit negative unintended consequences.
Schroder is about personal identity. Every human being has an identity that is reinforced by relationship with others. One of the most important identity reinforcements is forged by marriage. There is only one good reason for two adults to get married; as trite as it may seem, it is love. When love leaves one partner in a marriage, it deconstructs the union of two or more people and, when a marriage dissolves, personal identity changes.
Defined by a daughter that no longer lives in his life, Schroder becomes like his father; abandoned by all. Eric is only a perception of himself. He wanders between two identities with no relational reinforcement. He wonders, who am I?
NOTE: The character of Schroder is partly based on the real life identity thief Christian Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller.
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