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.
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.
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.Stumbling and Mumbling on the misunderstandings Greens vs. conventional economics.
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.
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.
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