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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.
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.
It seems common that authors of popular, sometimes classic, books are often interpreted by people who have not read them. Authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Wright, Ayn Rand, Vladimir Nabokov, and Friedrich Hayek are frequently commented on but when one reads what they wrote, content often becomes a surprise.
Conservatives that rant against government regulation based on Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” are as incorrect as liberals that argue Hayek wrote against social government programs for the poor, disabled, and unemployed. Both myopic views reveal the likelihood that “Road to Serfdom” has not been read by either party.
Listen to what Hayek really wrote rather than what politicians of the right and left say he wrote. William Hughes does a nice job of revealing the truth in a narration of Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom".
There are certain knowns that are known and certain knowns that are unknown. Well, I know something that I know nothing and Daniel Kahneman seems to prove it. Every chapter of Kahneman’s book suggests something one finds hard to believe is true.
Daniel Kahneman is a renowned psychologist and Nobel laureate. He is an American citizen that served in the Israeli military and used his education, research, and experience to write “Thinking Fast and Slow”. His observations explore many aspects of human decision making.
How one runs their business or lives their life is framed by how they think. Kahneman explores two fundamental ways of thinking that reveal human strengths and weaknesses. “Thinking Fast…” is intuitive and easy. It is prejudiced by personal life experience and education. It is activated through an evolved instinct that forms the basis for snap decisions. In contrast, “…Thinking Slow” is a snail speed, deliberative, calculating, and workaholic decision making process. Kahneman calls these mental functions System 1 and System 2 respectively.
“…Thinking Slow” is undoubtedly prejudiced by Kahneman’s scientific interpretation of human thought and action but judgment of his observations is up to the reader or listener; so, caveat emptor.
“Infinite Jest” is an excruciating story of a closely examined life. Great credit is earned by the original publisher. To complete “Infinite Jest’s” stream-of-consciousness journey is an arduous task. It is too long. As one of Wallace’s characters says, I hear you but the explanation has “too many words”.
Every created character is a part of who David Foster Wallace is or wants to be. Wallace’s self-absorption, destructive behavior, and vulnerability seep from every ink-stained page; from every enunciated sentence. His “Infinite Jest” becomes real and complete with his wasted suicide at age 46.
“Infinite Jest” is about addiction. “Infinite Jest” argues that modern civilization is jaded by plenty. Movies, pornography, drugs, and other distracting entertainments are so plentiful that escape from trials of life becomes the purpose of life. Human success is redefined. Escape from conflict replaces drive for money, power, and prestige. Obsessive/compulsive behavior focuses on immediate gratification.
No question,“Infinite Jest” is a brilliant piece of work. However, it is David Foster Wallace’s “one percenter’s” view of life. This is a sad, depressing story because Wallace trivialized his life by committing suicide. If society is addicted to entertainment then Wallace infers suicide is a harbinger of the future. This is a myopic view of humanity but a true story of a closely examined life.
Stealing the General is an interesting but not thrilling piece of history in the hands of Russell Bonds. The fundamental story is a harrowing adventure but the writer only reports the facts. Bronson Pinchot, the teller of the tale, sounds like Jack Webb saying “Just the Facts ma’am”.
Bonds offers a brief review of the history of the American Medal of Honor. He reports facts about its diminishing honorary value and increasing politicization. Bonds suggests Theodore Roosevelt reverses that politicization by establishing apolitical criteria for awarding the Medal. The Medal of Honor has re-gained its prestigious reputation but the criterion for award continues to evolve. The last modification was in 1963.
Stealing the General becomes a movie. It certainly has the makings of a great drama but Bonds only reports the facts. He misses emotive drama.
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