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By TheophileEscargot (Wed Jun 04, 2008 at 09:25:52 PM EST) Reading, Listening, MLP (all tags)
Listening: US history. Reading: "House of Suns". US election. Web.

What I'm Listening To
Got to the end of the latter part of the US history TTC course. Only went through lectures 49 to 84, starting at the end of US Civil War reconstruction

Not entirely bad. He does have a clear and affable style, it's informative on some things: his specialist subject is religious history and he's good on that. He's also good on sociological stuff, especially the protest movements. He also does quite long extracts from primary sources which are entertaining.

However, it does seem to have major flaws. I've complained about the odd emphases before, and they seem to continue. He has digressions on European history such as the rise of Hitler, but very little on the US foreign policy towards Japan; leaving it something of a mystery as to why they wanted to bomb Pearl Harbor in the first place.

Some things seem to be misleading too. His discussion of the causes of the Great Depression barely mentions deflation, the gold standard and monetary policy at all: he talks about inequality quite a bit instead. He mentions the bombing of Dresden in WW2, but has a bit of a one-sided account: he doesn't mention the railhead and the Russian advance which precipitated the bombings.

And some things seem to be just wrong. He mentions Jazz in the 1920s, and claims that Paul Whiteman changed his name to emphasize that he was a white man. In fact he seems to have inherited the name from his father Dr. Wilburforce Whiteman.

Overall, interesting in parts, but too erratic to recommend.

What I'm Reading
Finished House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds Far future hard SF novel, but not set in his Revelation Space universe. Does feature his trademark standoffs in big spaceships.

The plot concentrates on the "Lines": groups of a thousand clones who wander through the galaxy in slower-than-light spaceships trading and occasionally do-gooding, and meet up every galactic circuit to swap memories in a giant party.

Very well done with some good set-pieces and some nice intrigue. Features a very Banksian creative torture scene.

Characters seem a bit interchangeable, but they are clones after all. Decent plotting and some good sciency stuff. Well worth reading if you like hard SF. Wikipedia, review.

Did have a couple of technical quibbles though. First, I don't see how the stardams, made up of a load of different-sized second-hand ringworlds completely enclosing a star, make up a very good quarantine system. Seems to me there are bound to be gaps between them, so photons are just going to bounce their way out.

As I recall, a photon takes about a million years to bounce it's way out of the sun, but the sun remains pretty damn hot. However many ringworld bounces there are, the supernova energy is going get out pretty quick. Or else the ringworlds will heat up and re-radiate. Plus a fast-moving spaceship could get through the gaps, or you could just shove the ringworld with a stronger engine than the ones keeping them stable.

Also, Abigail Gentian is originally female, but her clones are changed to male and female. So where has the Y chromosome in the males come from since she's going XX to XY? If she was originally male, it wouldn't be a problem.

US election thoughts
Can't call it at all so far. The polls seem pretty close between Obama and McCain: and there's plenty of time and opportunity for them to shift.

Both candidates seem to have significant weaknesses. McCain is old, seems more hawkish than the US as a whole. Obama's race seems bound to lose him some votes, and he's inexperienced.

Curiously, neither candidate seems to have run anything significant. I think the main practical skills presidents need are the ability to hire good people, and manage large and unwieldy organizations.

A couple of other factors that may affect Obama. The Hispanic vote was very important last time: not sure how that's going to play out. Especially if he's reluctant to bash the bible, he could have difficulty reaching out to them.

Also a lot of his primary support seems to have come from Young People. What we seem to have seen over the last few decades is that there's an energetic activist minority among the young, who are good a fundraising and phoning. However there seems to be a much larger passivist majority: they seem firmly convinced that voting is for dorks; and the activist minority has shown no ability to deliver their votes so far.

Regarding an Obama/Clinton ticket: not convinced there's an overall benefit. It would certainly help unite the Democrat party, which would help with campaigning. Plus the Clintonites for McCain could be a minor embarrassment.

However, Clinton carries a lot of baggage, and a black/female ticket could be a minority too many. I think in terms of electoral appeal, Obama would be better off with a middle-aged white guy with a deep voice and thirty-year-old haircut.

26-ton liquid-sodium filled sphere to simulate Earth's magnetic field. YouTube (MeFi)



The NerdGod delusion: IEEE on the Singularity.

Econoblogging below.

Nassim Taleb and the Black Swan. (Have mentioned Taleb before).

Complex systems don’t allow for slack and everybody protects that system. The banking system doesn’t have that slack. In a normal ecology, banks go bankrupt every day. But in a complex system there is a tendency to cluster around powerful units. Every bank becomes the same bank so they can all go bust together.
We should be mistrustful of knowledge. It is bad for us. Give a bookie 10 pieces of information about a race and he’ll pick his horses. Give him 50 and his picks will be no better, but he will, fatally, be more confident.
Stumbling and Mumbling on the misunderstandings Greens vs. conventional economics.

Dani Rodrik on Easterly on growth.

Growth is not everything. But it is the foundation for everything. The poorer the country the more important growth becomes, partly because it is impossible to redistribute nothing and partly because higher incomes make a huge difference to the welfare of the poorest.
Dani Rodrik on Africa learning from its mistakes.
There is a process at work that does not depend on democracy and is so simple that analysts generally miss it: learning from mistakes. Since 1970 African societies have accumulated a huge stock of experience in how not to manage an economy.
< 23:13 | Poem of the Day: "No Sorry" by Catherine Bowman >
Always the Sun | 36 comments (36 topical, 0 hidden)
Black Swan by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 12:12:41 AM EST
One of the most interesting books I have read this year.  It's like a thinking man's Freakonomics. 

Taleb doesn't get bogged down by the maths but illustrates his points with some nice real world examples.

Looks like a good read. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #5 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 01:25:02 AM EST
But it's all reserved up to the nines at my library.

Good thing is that you reminded me I should read Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. So I will.

[ Parent ]
Taleb disappears up himself by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 02:09:50 AM EST
A couple of times, but not enough to ruin the whole thing.

[ Parent ]
I started reading it by codemonkey uk (4.00 / 2) #7 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 02:10:56 AM EST
But I haven't finished it, and am not reading it at the moment.  I got a weird creepy feeling when reading it that it was a con, a mind trick, but I couldn't put my finger exactly on what was wrong.  It seemed like a lot of smooth talking with very little substance, and with all the errors in his logic hidden in layers of anecdotes.

--- Thad ---
Almost as Smart As you.
[ Parent ]
I don't know by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #10 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 02:36:02 AM EST
I'd read the whole thing if I were you before making your final judgement.  I was a bit skeptical in the first couple of chapters.

It is a tricky thing he is trying to explain, and largely counterintuitive to the way we think. 

[ Parent ]
House of Suns by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #2 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 12:40:57 AM EST
That looks OK. It's about time I read some hard SF again, I might give it a go.

One of the differences between McCain and Obama is that while McCain's support base will be pretty stable and made up of people likley to vote, Obama has a lot of potential voters in groups that traditionally have a low turn-out, in particular African-Americans and the young. I think the key to him winning will be getting these people out rather than trying to shift his appeal. You're right though, it will be a real struggle against apathy.

Unfirtunately I think the colour of Obama's skin will go against him. It'll be beacuse of the same low-level, unconscious racism you get here - a lot of people will find him too different without really knowing why.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Not sure of how this fits into by johnny (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 12:41:03 AM EST
singularity models or economic models of externalities, or whatever, but I like to think of Theophile as kind of like a Vannevar Bushian intelligence augementer. Instead of scouring the net for interesting stuff, instead of thinking new thoughts, I just subcontract it out to Theophile, and then, over coffee several mornings a week I just read and follow links, and voila! instantly I'm smarter and more interesting. Bush mentions something about acolytes of masters of the web (whatever he called it) in "As we may think". Don't recall exactly how he said it, but I cribbed it for Acts of Apostles.

This is why its important to preserve Net Neutrality, by the way. So that these diaries can continue to come to me essentially free.  Imagine if they were owned by ATT or Disney, like the Corporations want.

That IEEE Singularity bit has heightened the urgency of my interviewing Marvin Minsky for my website wetmachine. He's not getting any younger, and I need to catch up with him before he gets raptured into the technotopia.
Buy my books, dammit!

Oo. A new Reynolds by Herring (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 01:15:06 AM EST
I have been buying them when they come out (even after Absolution Gap). Didn't see that one was coming.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

I love the irony picture. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #8 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 02:22:01 AM EST
If I ever go to Barcelona, I'll make sure and find a decent 1984 quote to stick to it. And if I get arrested, heh, I'm not scared of rats.

As for Y chromosomes, IIRC, there are a fair few XX men in the world. I'm not sure if they're fertile, or they need to be in the story, but IIRC, it's a 250-odd base pair gene that's needed to make a male.

I think the latest thinking is it's a single gene by lm (4.00 / 1) #12 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 02:46:40 AM EST
IIRC, it's called the sry gene and, combined with the balance of the mother's hormones in the womb, it regulates whether a fetus turns out as a boy or a girl.

I should check google, but I'm lazy.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
You're agreeing with me. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #13 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 03:08:59 AM EST
Wikipedia says that a symptom of XX males is sterility, but not whether XX males are necessarily sterile. Or indeed a citation for that.

[ Parent ]
Yes, I'm agreeing with you by lm (4.00 / 1) #16 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 03:46:07 AM EST
Intentionally so.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Hey - break it up guys by Herring (4.00 / 2) #18 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 04:33:10 AM EST
Calm down everyone.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
Don't tell anyone, by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #19 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 04:42:17 AM EST
but I completely agree with him on comment #17 as well.

And the Nicene Creed, come to think of it.

[ Parent ]
US Politics by lm (4.00 / 1) #9 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 02:25:37 AM EST
All we need is for McCain to pick Bobby Jindal (whose parents immigrated from India) and Obama to pick Bill Richardson (who is hispanic) for a full spate of multiculturalism. I don't know if those are the best possible picks, but it'd certainly be a funny race to watch play out in some bits of the news. At present my best guess is Obama's pick will be a progressive governor from a rural state like Sebellius or Schweitzer. Also, I don't think women are popularly viewed as minorities anymore.

I don't know how close the race is going to be. Both Poblano and Tanenbaum presently give the edge to Obama and I suspect that his numbers are only going to go up as the war in Iraq continues on and the economy continues to creep downward. Also, as the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months, I suspect that that the most  fervent Clinton supporters that right now would either stay home or vote for McCain will have time to chill out and reflect and, if they supported Clinton for the issues, change their minds.

Lastly, I don't know if McCain is more hawkish than the American public in general. He certainly is more hawkish with regards to the occupation of Iraq. And he certainly has a very `neo-con' outlook as he's willing to invade any non-free nation at any point in time, so long as it's practical and has a good chance of success, in order to spread democracy. Or at least he's said he is willing to do such. But, that said, I don't know that he's as big of a hawk as that stance might make him seem at first glance. He seems to have a decent handle on just how seldom is is practical and likely to overthrow a despot and end up with a liberal democracy.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
LOL by Breaker (4.00 / 2) #11 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 02:45:37 AM EST
he's willing to invade any non-free nation at any point in time, so long as it's practical and has a good chance of success, in order to spread democracy.

Which in real world terms reads:
he's willing to invade any nation he thinks he can classify as non-free (and the definition of "non-free" will change to suit) at any point in time, so long as it's going to have a good financial outcome for the US war industries and has a good chance of not ending up with massive civilian protests like Vietnam, in order to establish a stranglehold on resources likely to be scarce in the next 20 years.

There, fixed that for ya.

[ Parent ]
I have some faith by ambrosen (4.00 / 2) #14 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 03:14:01 AM EST
that McCain knows well enough what he'd be putting the armed forces through that he'd actually be able to resist the temptation to send them into conflicts which were futile or which had unstated success criteria which weren't the installation of a relatively free and friendly regime in the invaded country.

[ Parent ]
I don't by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #15 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 03:18:18 AM EST
He may personally have these beliefs, but those behind him?

Kind of like the end of the Roman empire.

[ Parent ]
Well, this has been US foreign policy for 200 yrs by lm (4.00 / 3) #17 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 03:52:47 AM EST
Exporting democracy, through force of arms if necessary, has been a strong strand in US foreign policy from the get go. I think it was gzt that first linked here to an excellent article in World Affairs Journal on the subject: Neocon Nation: Neoconservatism, c. 1776 by Robert Kagan.

And in truth, the difference on this subject with modern US presidents from Kennedy on has been which wars were fought and not whether or not to go to war to spread democracy. The difference between Bush and McCain on this subject is that I suspect that McCain has the sense to not invade a nation of 30 million with less than 3 million troops and has enough military science beaten into him from his time at the academy to put together a top notch provisional government unafraid to quash violent dissent. Now, I'm not going to argue that such a plan would have succeeded in Iraq. But I do think a fair case can be made that things would have been far better than they are now.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
That is still a far cry from your original post by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #20 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 04:53:10 AM EST
Are you moving towards a career in politics?

Do you agree with invading other nations "to spread democracy"?

[ Parent ]
Traditionally by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #21 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:04:31 AM EST
The alternative to that view is "let the Europeans sort out their own messes".

It was largely discredited. Perhaps it should be exhumed.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

[ Parent ]
And what about those pesky by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #24 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:33:53 AM EST
Persians and Mesopotamians?

[ Parent ]
A far cry in what way? by lm (4.00 / 2) #22 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:21:10 AM EST
I'm not arguing for McCain's position. But I do think it fair that he seems vastly more competent than Bush. That's not really a difference in philosophy. But it does end up being a large difference in practice.

As for invading other nations, I think war always an unambiguous moral evil. It just so happens that sometimes all the alternatives are larger moral evils. For example, it's arguably a far larger moral evil to allow genocide to be perpetuated than to go to war to stop it. Well, the justification for going to war to overthrow a tyrant and establish a democracy differs only in extent, not in kind. So, the closest I can come to answering your question is to say that I do believe that there are some situations where deposing a foreign tyrant is a lesser moral evil than doing nothing. The details, however, are exceedingly murky in most situations.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Fair enough. by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #25 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:36:33 AM EST
I completely agree with your last 2 sentences there.  The problem is that those with their hands on the war machine have different criteria than I before they'll hit the go button (and more than likely you too).

Editors, quickly!  An outbreak of debate and consent is breaking out all over HuSi!  Please bring strawmen, ad hominem attacks and some swearing!

[ Parent ]
Fuck! by garlic (2.00 / 0) #31 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 12:32:15 PM EST

[ Parent ]
It's all up to gzt now. by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #33 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 12:41:59 PM EST
He must be late for his interview tomorrow.

[ Parent ]
you'd also think by garlic (2.00 / 0) #30 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 12:30:24 PM EST
he would be anti-torture considering his experience. Yet he doesn't want to make torture illegal.

[ Parent ]
McCain and torture by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #34 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 01:38:05 PM EST
He appears to have sold his soul. It makes a given that I won't vote for him.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Random thoughts by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #23 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:28:38 AM EST
There may be coattails in reverse in this election. All signs point to a Democratic landslide in congress. It is also interesting to note that the money advantage is exactly opposite of the last two years. Obama is flush. McCain is having troubles raising money. This is both because the traditional Republican organization is in disarray due to Bush's failures (plus, they never liked McCain anyway) and also because the "young people" are getting better and better at this stuff every election. You are right. They don't deliver votes. But they do deliver cash, and that's been an important factor in the last few years.

Polls are pretty much worthless at this point. Much depends on the VP choice.

Bill Richardson is that middle-aged white guy except for the being white part. Lots of experience. Actually ran stuff. A bit of a middle-aged schlub. Though I hear he has skeletons in his closet.

Especially if he's reluctant to bash the bible, he could have difficulty reaching out to them.
I don't quite understand this...the last thing you'd do to reach out to Hispanics is bash the bible...they are famously catholic. Also, it looks like the national Republican party has taken to immigrant bashing. This destroyed the party in California, and looks like it has pretty much destroyed the Hispanic inroads that Rove carefully built up. Fortunately for them, McCain has never been in the anti-immigrant camp, though he may be forced to walk a very narrow line by some of his "allies".

For whatever reason, the electorate seems not to want anyone who ran anything. The candidates that did tanked back in March. Traditionally, Senators almost never win the presidency yet this election saw four of the five leading contenders out of the senate.

One of the interesting things that the primary season implies is that the true hotbed of racism is not the deep South but Appalachia.

Don't overrate "Clintonites for McCain". All they are really doing is damaging Clinton's political future.

It'll also be interesting to see if Bob Barr's "Libertarian" campaign gets any traction. I doubt it, but of the religious right decides McCain's too soft, it's all over for him. It is emblematic of the problem McCain faces. He's got to deal with the Bush disasters, and has to hold in the religious right, which is increasingly pissed off at the neo-con wing for essentially using them. Obama, on the other hand, is leading a party that sees this as generally their first real chance to take control away from the other side.

Obama/Clinton would be a disaster. You lose both the bigots and the Clinton-haters while not really gaining anyone.

I personally agree with the bookies. 3-2 Obama. I also think the Democrats will gain in both houses, and has an extremely good shot at getting a filibuster proof majority in the House.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman

There are a lot less blacks in Apalachia by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #27 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:51:47 AM EST
than in the Deep South.

[ Parent ]
Yes by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #28 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:54:08 AM EST
But I find it interesting is that whites were more likely to vote for Obama in places like Georgia and the Carolinas.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Familiarity breeds acceptance by georgeha (4.00 / 2) #29 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:59:39 AM EST

[ Parent ]
filibuster by garlic (4.00 / 1) #32 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 12:34:33 PM EST
that's a senate thing, right? I don't think the house can filibuster.

[ Parent ]
The house has its own parliamentary maneuvers by lm (2.00 / 0) #35 Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 03:45:56 AM EST
But an actual filibuster is not permitted by the House Rules Committee.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Oh, and by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #26 Thu Jun 05, 2008 at 06:44:38 AM EST
That US history sounds pretty crap.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
That's a good Africa link by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #36 Fri Jun 06, 2008 at 07:05:23 AM EST
I honestly didn't realise this had been a good decade. I wonder how much of that is my intellectual laziness and inertia and how much it's the media's.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

Always the Sun | 36 comments (36 topical, 0 hidden)