Thursday, December 04, 2014

Response to Wheat People vs. Rice People: Why Are Some Cultures More Individualistic Than Others?

A standalone comment to the article:
The do-it-alone mentality is not just individualism, but also another aspect, masculine-feminine, ala Geert Hofstede. Yes Americans and Europeans are more individualistic than eastern societies, but some European cultures care about quality of life over accomplishment, i.e., The Netherlands. 
As a small country at risk from flooding, it had to deal with interconnected concerns about water, and with a more 'feminine' culture, they are good at coordinating those interests. Contrast that with the US, which is more 'masculine' and accomplishment-oriented. Although individualistic like the Dutch, American society is not concerned with welfare of self and others, hence destructive self-interest dominates, with no coordination or recognition of aligned interests, e.g., the environment, inequality, etc.
In response to someone claiming that "the Japanese can't innovate their way out of a paper bag":
You should look at the number of patent applications, the top on numerous measures, ahead of the US. Even then, when someone in America innovates, it is often someone that emigrated to the US for education, with no intention of starting a business, and stayed for a graduates degree. In fact, Americans don't innovate much at all, but it does import talent from around the world, much of it Asian...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: Shoplifter

ShoplifterShoplifter by Michael Cho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nicely drawn, a story that many can identify with, people in careers that do not satisfy their intrinsic needs for creativity and meaning. The main character is someone like many of us, or at a minimum, one we can easily see in others. Easy 30 minute read, and a pleasure.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Insightful, providing explanations and tactics for people that are somewhat introverted, shy or not. It is also useful for understanding others in your life, those who might need more downtime and quiet. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, but I was less enthused as the book went on, as it transitioned from the scientific basis of introversion to real life stories and strategies."

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Review - What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect

What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn EffectWhat Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect by James R. Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The original text, minus the new chapters for this version, are generally excellent and insightful, nicely critiquing prior analyses of the Flynn effect, suggesting that the growth between generations can be partially explained by systems that increase abstraction and classification of the surrounding world. The new chapters, although somewhat insightful, generally seemed muddled, both intellectually and editorially.

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Review - Literary Occasions: Essays

Literary Occasions: EssaysLiterary Occasions: Essays by V.S. Naipaul
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From what I have read about him, Naipaul is a harsh person, so I approached this cautiously, but I found his prose thoroughly enjoyable, although I have currently shelved his fiction writing. I was interested in his perceptions as an outsider, an Indian immigrant in Trinidad, and then later as an immigrant to England on scholarship. In this I was completely gratified, as I felt it worked the empathy muscles extensively, expressed in clear prose.

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Review: How to Read and Why

How to Read and WhyHow to Read and Why by Harold Bloom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Professor Bloom is sometimes pooh-poohed for his support of the Western Canon, but for those not immersed in the humanities, the book is likely to be a signpost to a deeper understanding of literature. Bloom's explanation of Borges illuminated the latter author's fantastic twists, and I was impressed enough to decide to reach much of Bloom's other favorites, including Pynchon, McDonald, Morrison, and West.

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Review: The Affluent Society

The Affluent SocietyThe Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Galbraith's assessment of the 1950's economic scene, the populace's choices, and the then current reasons for the post-war boom, are particularly relevant to our choices today: Affluenza, the decaying environment, decreases in social services, worker rights, materialism, etc.

I disdain economic dogma, the economic beliefs that are so commonly bandied about, and seemingly plausible, but generally unproven and with little merit. Economics abounds with such things, and Galbraith's insights then are wholly relevant now, both as a critique of the current administration's policies, and as a guidepost for a better future.

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Review - The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time

The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our TimeThe Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time by John Kenneth Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very short read, but insightful and extremely compact. Galbraith lays out in overview a critique of the concepts taught in finance and economics, which are in reality, false, and that many of the high-minded ideas bandied about regarding management, financial, corporate and governmental, are simply self-serving beliefs with little merit. A few:

- Shareholder control of corporations

- Executive pay

- Separation of public and private

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Review - Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich

Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American RichWealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found Phillips writing of wealth and democracy illuminating, not because I was unaware of the degree to which wealth controls the government, but how it has changed over the years, and the degree to which war profiteering creates wealth. Reading this book, one can't help but notice that the past is repeating, and what it is repeating is ugly, corrupt, and wrong-headed.

As for others' criticisms that times are better for everyone, and that everyone does better when we all do better, that allowing egregious accumulation of wealth allows society to grow, well that is nonsense. I'm not an economics professional, although a member of an international economics honors society and a regular reader of economics books, but my own research indicates that such ideas, justifying gross inequality and the invisible hand, are false.

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Review - The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies

The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and SocietiesThe Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies by Scott E. Page
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Generally, I found the book most engaging for understanding perception, heuristics and decision making, although this did not seem to be the primary premise of the book. As for the writing, it was a bit long-winded, using analogies to make points, even though the concepts themselves are readily accessible without elucidation.

As to its purported focus, it provides academic, empirical, and statistical support for diversity, not necessarily racial or ethnic, with the premise being that diversity of viewpoint within groups is powerful, so much so that it trumps individual excellence.

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Review: Data Mining for Fund Raisers

Data Mining For Fund Raisers: How To Use Simple Statistics To Find The Gold In Your Donor Database   Even If You Hate Statistics: A Starter GuideData Mining For Fund Raisers: How To Use Simple Statistics To Find The Gold In Your Donor Database Even If You Hate Statistics: A Starter Guide by Peter B. Wylie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My spouse, a development researcher of high-net worth individuals, was given this book because she was the 'numbers' person in the office. Since my undergraduate was focused on lab-design, including analysis of results using statistics, I was intrigued and decided to read it. Considering my background, I found some of the material obvious, while others aspects were good refreshers on thinking in terms of statistics.

Below is the synopsis I wrote at the time I read it:

Purpose of Book

* To provide a general outline of a statistically-oriented method to improve funding activities by mining your current donor database
* To provide general techniques for analyzing data, as well as provide cautions against bad techniques

How the Process Can Improve Endowment Activities

* Allows the organization to more accurately target quality prospects, either to increase participation rates, or to find major givers more inclined to donate
* Allows the organization to reduce costs, or more effectively use limited resources, i.e., phone smaller sets of people, limit the size of mailings, while increasing donations

Outline of Method (Non-Technical)

1. Export sample of donor database
2. Split sample into smaller components
3. Find relationships between donor features and giving
4. Select the significant variables
5. Develop scoring system
6. Validate findings
7. Test finding on limited appeals and compare results


* Assumes the donor data is extractable and randomized
* Requires export from donor database, or access via SQL
* Assumes additional software for statistics (DataDesk, SAS, SPSS)


* Requires IT staff, analytical staff, donor contacts, and management to coordinate efforts
* Requires IT and analytical staff have adequate skills to implement
* Judges variables of data by both its intrinsic value and based upon its inclusion in database

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Reiew: Bleeding Edge

Bleeding EdgeBleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More complicated than Inherent Vice but accessible and modern like The Crying of Lot 49, Bleeding Edge combines technology subculture, a Jewish patter, and entertaining verbal wizardry into an enjoyable, involved novel.

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Review: Gangs of America

Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy (BK Currents)Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy by Ted Nace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazing insights into the founding and growth of, as well as the history of public opinion regarding, corporations. I repeatedly found myself astonished at the book's insights, those related to the creation and atrocities committed by the first corporations, the founding of the US and the impetus for the tea party, as well as the implications for the future.

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Review - Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Debt: The First 5,000 YearsDebt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An anthropologist reviews economic history in this wide-ranging exploration of the meaning of debt, guilt, human relationship, war, and slavery. I have read broadly in economics and finance, and I found this tome numerous insights thought-provoking. Graeber examines deeply the meaning of debt, its history, and possible future implications. Occasionally hard to grasp, his insights are deep, and I believe I have just finished a book that will help me understand and advocate for, in my own little way, better economic and financial policies.

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Review: Day of the Locust

Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the LocustMiss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Miss Lonelyhearts a few years ago, after reading a recommendation from Harold Bloom, and only just finished The Day of the Locust. The first I read too long ago to provide commentary; the second is a bit slow to start, eventually rising to a crescendo, its metaphorical 'day of the locust', a gratifying, dense and highly emotional end.

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Zero to One - Notes...

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the FutureZero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Insightful, but not really contrarian...

I have understood most of these concepts for several years, partially based on an insight provided in a beginning finance course. On the first day of class, the professor asked, "How do you make money?". The first answer was "word hard," the second answer was "provide services," but no one answered the best one, "control it." Now, one could control money, but over time I realized that it was control of a resource, essentially power, similar to monopoly, or simply an especially strong, market position.

Peter is a persuasive writer, but too often his expression of a belief is lopsided, and at least partially untrue. Yes, the companies he lauds are innovators, but later their innovation is often nothing more than market position, like buying up the entire supply chain before rivals. His example of people who believe in definite futures, as part of path to success, suffers from survivor bias; many entrepreneurs have definite concepts about the future and what they want to do, but most fail, we just don't hear about them.

I could go on, but I did enjoy the book, if for no other reason than it clarified my own thoughts about markets, and it is well-written.

As for the question, my answer would have been that inequality is the greatest threat to modern life. Although seemingly common now, since Occupy, I found the statistical negative correlations between inequality and quality of life measures back in 2003, and back then, it might have ruffled a few feathers. Also, it would be the toughest not because people do not believe it, but because the people I know and work with, as well as the people I have my closest relationships with, would see it as a personal attack. I work in finance, and some people I know and love are well-off.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

On the Upper West Side, a House Divided by Income (Redux)

Another response to a NYT article that harkens back to racist sentiments, only this time applied to the poor:

Looking over the posts, there are several consistent themes, some of which I agree with, some I abhor, and the latter are the ones I sometimes acknowledge but try and see past...

The ones I express or agree with are typically equating this to racism and abhorrent, if only because our society has become so grossly unequal. The ones that I abhor are the ones that simply assume that market reasoning is sufficient to justify treating people as second class citizens. This is aligned with the ones that question the wisdom of this subsidized or middle-income arrangements in the first place, and for this I would try to see past, acknowledging that the housing situation is itself somewhat absurd.

So what is an ideal housing administration like?

- One that actively creates affordable housing in prime areas?
- Use more of the pre-gentrified areas for mixed affordability?
- One that to some degree forces mixed housing?
- Does it remove the absurd tax breaks that wealthy enclaves receive?

Personally, I think large affordable housing areas would be great, with less leeway given to the real estate industry. Making the wealthy pay a larger share of the costs of their new homes would be wise, since the tax breaks make housing for the wealthy desirable, along with equally large tax breaks for affordable housing.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On the Upper West Side, a House Divided by Income -

A response to a NYT article that harkens back to racist sentiments, only this time applied to the poor:

The author's ending sentiment would fit perfectly among the racist suburbs of the 60's, exemplifying the self-segregation that simply reinforces existing racism. 
If the builders want the benefits of the housing such as reduced taxes, their owners should have to live with, if only to understand better, others. If they don't want what that entails, they can always live and build somewhere else. Less than providing housing, this segregation reinforces class distinctions, and should not be tolerable by the city.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A response to Technology, Aided by Recession, Is Polarizing the Work World

This seems to be related to a race to the bottom, either caused by or facilitated by technology. Assuming the move to automation and large scale processing cannot be stopped, we might consider what changes to the human side of the equation might be feasible and beneficial:

- Limiting work hours
- Higher minimum wages
- Stronger social safety net
- Significantly higher taxation of upper incomes
- Recovering our democracy from corporations

Limiting how much harm technology, corporate power, and wealth accumulation cause would increase human freedom, although individuals like Perkins, et al., will perceive such changes fascist and as theft, they are necessary to preserve human dignity for all of society.

Original Article and Post Here

Friday, July 04, 2014

Don't learn to code. Learn to think.

Below is is my usual response when I see an article stating that everyone should learn to code: 
Rather than programming, it is more important to impart the thinking of computer science (CS) than a specific implementation. Programming can be an end point for some students, but it is likely that programming itself will be increasingly automated, so that one needs more the general concepts common in CS. Even then, programming itself is to some degree a grunt task that one progresses beyond: 
The following are typical components of a CS degree:
  • algorithms & flowcharting
  • systems thinking
  • logical systems and set theory
  • object-orientation & patterns
  • probability, statistics, mathematics
All of the above can be useful in an increasingly automated and data-driven world.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

A response to Making Schools Poorer by Diane Ravitch | NYRblog

Not a criticism of Ravitch's article, but a response to a response of mine:
Guilt? Rather than blaming [put pet peeve here] it would be productive to focus on ways of improving educational outcomes. Blaming [put pet peeve here] will not change anything, unless the precedents for [put pet peeve here] are changed for the better. Yes, I think that the issue is sociocultural and that there are an array of contributors to educational outcomes, but the problem is larger than individuals, i.e., single-mothers, and requires some system-level changes: 
  • America the anti-intellectual...
  • Sports defining the school experience
  • Teacher education and selection
  • Resource allocation (inequality, taxation, etc)
  • Social welfare focused on the underprivileged

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Right to Write -

In an article, The Right to Write -, I commented on the right to write, since writers are sometimes questioned on the validity of their writing, e.g., Harriet Beecher Stowe with Uncle Tom's Cabin:
One, people always have the right to write, but readers concurrently have the right to reject said writing. Much personal criticism of depictions from writers is whether the depiction seems valid or plausible, but even that is an exercise in empathy, since it requires one to experience that depiction ideationally. 
Two, there is a streak in Americans, and maybe anyone, that states that you cannot understand 'my pain', usually the death of a child or some horrific personal lose. Over a longer term I have sensed that people most easily accept empathy if it is expressed by someone with similar experiences, an aspect I believe is part of human nature. I find both irksome, since they deny empathy.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives

The first problem I ran into with this is that it is binary; it says nothing about the middle ground. Since some research has shown a fairly high correlation in the heritability of personality and intelligence, and other studies point to the value of belief in the ability to learn and change, one needs to meld the two. 
One view might be the need to recognize one's fixed abilities, while also expounding the value of developing those abilities. A second view might explore the need to find one's unexplored abilities, as well as developing them. Obviously there are other aspects to explore, but a one-or-the-other view, while useful as an intellectual exercise, is limiting.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Freakonomics » How to Control Runaway Entitlement Spending

A response to Freakonomics » How to Control Runaway Entitlement Spending:
These are ideas, or just the same hack replies by conservatives? Instead of reducing health care to needy people, why not implement a single-payer system? How about restraining corruption of the medical system by device makers, pharmaceuticals, and insurance companies? Why does reform by conservatives always mean harming the needy, rather than restraining the powerful?

James Igoe's Reviews > Notes from the Underground

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky My rating: 5 of 5 stars Disgusting Journey I emphathized with the character, but at some...