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Monday, October 29, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Before the Frost

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Before the Frost:

I like Mankell, but this book seems to have fallen into the "Silence-of-the-Lambs-Syndrome" that seems to have become endemic.  It's not enough to have someone get killed in the heat of passion or for greed.  Now killers have to have killed hundreds, kill animals, butcher little children, bring about the end of the world, etc., etc.  I hate to break it to these authors, but evil is much more prosaic and often very subtle.  You don't have to create monsters to write intelligently. Adolf Eichmann was the guy next door who was just really good at paperwork.  OK, enough ranting.

Just how much do we know about our close friends; even our family. That might be one theme of this Wallender novel. Linda Wallender takes center stage.  Two threads start the book:  a man is setting swans alight and Anna, Linda’s friend has disappeared shortly after insisting she has just seen her father who hasn’t been heard from in 25 years.  A third strand is added when a woman whose life's work has been to explore and catalog old pilgrim trails disappears, only to be found dismembered in a small cabin in the woods.

It's not too hard to predict that those threads will all wind together soon.  Kurt and Linda are equally irascible but have worked out a precarious truce.  Linda, recent graduate of the police academy, hasn't been yet assigned to begin work at a station so she spends her time trying to track down Anna.  Wallender is a harsh father who has trouble relating to his daughter and she has little patience with her father although both try to find an accommodation as Linda, with the curiosity of a seasoned detective, inserts herself into her father's formal investigation, much to his dismay and irritation.

[SPOILER, well, hardly a spoiler since it's revealed way early, and if you read the book's description there are spoilers out the wazoo, but...] The best parts of the book are investigative;  the worst the insertion of Jim Jones and his relationship to one of the characters.  That was unnecessary and dumb.  Not worthy of Mankell.  It almost seemed as if Mankell had to say something about Jones and this was his vehicle.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Bell Curve Redux

I decided to publish the entire review in one place. On Goodreads it was split up.

One would hope that decisions are made based on solid evidence and a modicum of rational thought. Often that is not the case, however Sometimes rehashed data and superficial analysis, particularly in the area of social policy, appeal to society because they reflect changes in society's perceptions of reality To some extent that explains the popularity of The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. There seems to be an unconscious desire to locate society's ills in our genes. Perhaps another misplaced wish is to allocate blame on something or someone else. The premise of The Bell Curve is that there are inherent genetic differences in intelligence between groups and races, e.g., whites, on the average, score lower than Asians; blacks, score lower than whites, etc. and that intelligent people are more successful, i.e. make more money. (Surely, mixed races score higher than everybody, so score one for interracial marriage.)

Charles Lane ("The Tainted Sources of The Bell Curve," in The New York Review of Books, December 1, 1994) and Stephen Jay Gould ("Curveball" in The New Yorker, November 28, 1994) have taken the trouble to actually look at the documentation Herrnstein and Murray used to support The Bell Curve, and they have found it wanting.

The Bell Curve does not purport to be a piece of original scholarship, but a review of the literature, so examination of the sources is certainly relevant. One source for the book was a publication entitled The Mankind Quarterly or, more specifically, articles written by contributors to that journal. Unfortunately, that magazine was founded for the sole purpose of selling the idea that whites are genetically superior to other races. Its founder and editor-in-chief was a vocal supporter of apartheid and segregation in the United States. Most reputable anthropologists have denounced the magazine. One of the major sources that Herrnstein and Murray use to show evidence of lower I.Q. scores of African blacks is an I.Q. test that had been declared invalid for non-Americans. (One of the questions, for example, showed a tennis court without a net and the test taker was supposed to sketch in the net to get credit for the answer) Lane also discovered that the source Herrnstein and Murray used to document the higher scores of Asians sampled the children of only wealthy Japanese, compared to a much broader sample of American children. A study done by a prominent social scientist in Minnesota that carefully matched socioeconomic and demographic factors found no difference in I.Q. at all between Japanese, Taiwanese and American children. (It is interesting to note that Herrnstein was the author of a 1971 Atlantic article that promoted paying well-educated mothers for higher birth rates.)

But it remains for that most lucid of commentators, Stephen Jay Gould, to put the whole issue of heritability of I.Q. into perspective; "Take a trait that is far more heritable than anyone has ever claimed I.Q. to be but is politically uncontroversial - body height. Suppose that I measure the heights of adult males in a poor Indian village beset with nutritional deprivation, and suppose the average height of adult males is five feet six inches. Heritability within the village is high, which is to say that tall fathers... tend to have tall sons while short fathers tend to have short sons. But this high heritability within the village does not mean that better nutrition might not raise average height to five feet ten inches in a few generations. Similarly, the well-documented fifteen-point average difference in I.Q. between blacks and whites in America, with substantial heritability of l.Q. in family lines within each group, permits no automatic conclusion that truly equal opportunity might not raise the black average enough to equal or surpass the white mean.

Herrnstein and Murray conveniently ignore documented high I.Q. scores of poor black children adopted into affluent, intellectual white families. They also overlook average I.Q. increases in some nations since the Second World War equal to the entire fifteen-point difference now separating blacks and whites in America. Gould has another gripe; the failure of lay readers to penetrate the authors' scientism. He quotes many reviewers who said in their reviews that they were unable to judge the adequacy of the arguments because of their lack of scientific training. Gould says, "The book is a rhetorical masterpiece of scientism, and it benefits from the particular kind of fear that numbers impose on nonprofessional commentators. It runs to eight hundred and forty-five pages, including more than a hundred pages of appendixes filled with figures. So the text looks complicated, and reviewers shy away with a knee-jerk claim, that while they suspect fallacies of argument, they really cannot judge." Yet the central premise of The Bell Curve rests entirely on two entirely unsupported assumptions; "(1) that there is a single, general measure of mental ability, and (2) that the I.Q. tests that purport to measure this ability... aren't culturally biased." Ironically, Herrnstein and Murray fail to document these assumptions in their book. According to Gould, "they simply declare that it has been decided."

Gould examined their statistical methodology and found it, too, lacking in precision and accuracy. But he finds their solutions completely abhorrent. They actually write in The Bell Curve that those with lower I.Q.s should be placed in a custodial state ... a high-tech and more lavish version of the Indian reservation for some substantial minority of the nation's population, while the rest of America tries to go about its business." Do you suppose they would let them have guns or TV's? Gould quotes John Stuart Mill; "The tendency has always been strong to believe that whatever received a name must be an entity or being, having an existence of its own. And if no real entity answering to the name could be found, men did not for that reason suppose that none existed, but imagined that it was something particularly abstruse and mysterious." And Gould ends his review; "How strange that we would let a single and false number [I.Q.:] divide us, when evolution has united all people in the recency of our common ancestry-thus undergirding with a shared humanity that infinite variety which custom can never state. E pluribus unum."

Interestingly, there is a very revealing piece of data contained in Appendix 5 of The Bell Curve (and yes, I have read the book) and that is the results of ACT, SAT, and GRE scores of whites and blacks between T 970 and 1990. Blacks score on average generally lower than whites, but what is interesting is that the difference has narrowed. "Overall the evidence seems clear beyond a reasonable doubt... the narrowing was achieved because black scores rose more than white scores, not because white scores were falling." That would seem to provide evidence that perhaps some of the social tinkering may have been working, contrary to Murray's thesis in Losing Ground, a book he published some years ago that was an indictment of the welfare system as a failure.

Murray and Herrnstein make some statements in The Bell Curve that made me wonder about their cognitive ability. For example, on page 201 they state; "Going on welfare really is a dumb idea, and that is why women who are low in cognitive ability end up there; but also such women have little to take to the job market, and welfare is one of their few appropriate recourses when they have a baby and no husband to help." So I guess it was pretty smart, huh.

A recent study that bears on the problems raised by Herrnstein and Murray reports that many children suffer permanent intellectual damage before they enter first grade. "Neuroscientists now believe that a child's future intellectual growth is shaped during these years by the kind of stimulation a child gets." The child's brain can only become organized and make associations if stimulated early in life, which makes the role of the parent crucial.

Studies done on kittens where one eye was sutured shut - we'll discuss cruelty in laboratory experiments in another issue - and then returned to a normal sensory world left the kittens now permanently blind.

"In 1991, 53 percent of all women with one-year old babies were in the workforce, up from 17 percent in 1965, and nearly half of the children under three were being looked after by someone other than their parents."

The report ["Starting Points; Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children." Carnegie Corporation, 1994:] cites studies that show the "care infants and toddlers get is often of such substandard quality that it adversely affects their development." The most discouraging aspect suggests that there may be little that educators and parents can do after age three. "There may be a permanent gap between youngsters who have had the stimulation necessary to their mental development and those who have not - no matter what schools and teachers do." And' of course, since they would never take I.Q. tests that early, the differences in I.Q. may stem from early deprivation of stimulation rather than an innate cognitive difference, yet the outcome may be depressingly similar.

One major thesis of Murray and Herrnstein's book is that during the last sixty to seventy years there has been a partitioning of society based on education and intelligence. During the 1930's, for example, there was little difference in the I.Q.s of students at various colleges throughout the country. A student at a small church related school in Idaho was likely to have an I.Q. not too far from the average I.Q. of a student at Harvard, whose average score on the SAT even in 1950 was only 528. Since W.W.II there has been an enormous shift. Society is much more efficient now at sending its brightest students on to college and success. Bright students have been going to the more elite schools, and the population in general that used to include a broader range of intellectual levels, is now sending more of the bright students to college, which is a great sorter - 20% of those in the lower 2 deciles entered college but only 2% got degrees, whereas 70% in the top decile got a BA's. - and this has resulted in the development of what they call a "cognitive elite," a group that gets better jobs, has more education, and associates with itself, a partitioning of society. To some extent, the subject of the book is how the social fabric has been changed by the development of this group that is different from the rest of society by virtue of its being selected out of society. "When people live in encapsulated worlds, it becomes difficult for them, even with the best of intentions, to grasp the realities of the worlds with which they have little experience but over which they have great influence, both public and private." Education is the first sorting mechanism, which leads to the second great sorter: occupation.

Murray has argued that their book should not be used to create policy, a disingenuous position at best. I suspect they did not think through the logical outcome of their proposition. Murray has argued elsewhere that the welfare system is a failure and that we need to eliminate programs as they exist, yet their book screams for more welfare, for if indeed there is a group of people inherently unable to care for themselves or achieve on a high level, then society has no other choice but to put them on welfare and act paternalistically toward them, a proposition, T, for one, don't find compelling evidence for.

Some of the more disingenuous quotes from The Bell Curve: "Measures of intelligence have reliable statistical relationships with important social phenomena, but they are a limited tool for deciding what to make of any given individual." [their italics!... This thing we know as I.Q. is important but not a synonym for human excellence." Now let me get this straight: We can use I.Q. for determining social policy that has enormous impact on individuals, but an individual's l.Q. has nothing to do with their performance in society So treat them as a group because of the group's I.Q., even though it may hinder the individual's performance. The book is filled with such non sequiturs.

There is one aspect of The Bell Curve that I found to be quite useful. Appendix I contains one of the most enlightening chapters on statistics I have read. The authors explain clearly and non-technically what the standard deviation is, how linear regression is used, and how statistics are used to measure and interpret data.

Maher: Romney thinks a blow job is how the Pep Boys clean out a carburetor | The Raw Story

Maher: Romney thinks a blow job is how the Pep Boys clean out a carburetor | The Raw Story:

 "Electing Mitt doesn’t mean just electing him, it’s electing every “right wing nut” to whom he has paid political fealty in the last ten years. “If the Mitt-mobile rolls into Washington, it’ll be towing behind it every anti-intellectual, anti-science freak show. The abstinence-only obsessives, the flat-earthers, the home schoolers, the holy warriors, the anti-women social Neanderthals, the closeted homosexuals and every end-timer who’s ever seen the Virgin Mary in the grass over the septic tank.”"

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Tina Fey rips ‘grey-faced men with $2 haircuts’ defining rape | The Raw Story

Tina Fey rips ‘grey-faced men with $2 haircuts’ defining rape | The Raw Story:

“Todd Akin. Oof. This guy,” she continued. “Todd Akin claims that women can’t really get pregnant from a legitimate rape because the body secretes hormones. Now I can’t even finish this sentence without getting dumber; it’s making me dumber when I say it—but it’s something about the body not being able to get pregnant when it’s under physical stress.”

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Dead Simple

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Dead Simple:

The beginning of this book is the creepiest I have ever run across. Anxious to play a prank on their soon-to-be-married friend Michael Harrison, known for his pranks, four of his friends get him drunk and passed out, then bury him in a coffin with only a tube for air, a porn magazine and a walkie-talkie. Then they drive off and are T-boned by a concrete truck. All are killed. The tow truck driver's retarded son (or should I say mentally challenged), finds the walkie-talkie in the grass where it had been thrown by the accident, talks to Michael, but then drops it and thinks he has broken the unit. Now he's afraid to tell anyone about what he found. Michael's realization that he is buried and that no one is answering his increasing frantic calls on the walkie-talkie will give you nightmares, or at least it would, if you're susceptible to that sort of thing. Forget supernatural/horror crap, realism is far more frightening.

Superintendent Roy Grace is charged with finding the missing man who disappeared just three days before he was to be married. Michael's friend and business partner we soon learn has it in for Michael and Ashley's Michael's intended is startled to learn that the business had considerable funds in a Cayman Islands account. Or is she? (Spoiler police, please note:These really aren't spoilers as we learn the details from several points of view early in the book.) The scenes of Michael growing increasingly frantic in his coffin are really frightening. Some interesting twists kept things moving along nicely.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Authors v Reviewers

The battle continues between readers and authors on Goodreads. Many authors feel personally attacked by comments made by the readers on Goodreads, assuming, I guess, that anyone who reads their books should only have nice things to say. Several have even objected to shelf names like "abandoned" or "Never read" or "really terrible," or whatever. Several or authors complain when reviews aren't "constructive." As if we were their beta-readers. These authors fail to understand that we reviewers on Goodreads are first and foremost readers who are engaged in a conversation with other readers. We are inviting people into our homes to look at our libraries and what we think of books in our libraries. As one friend of mine put it, "I'm saying...stop coming into my house and complaining about what my library looks like. It's my library and I was being kind by letting you see it. The more you complain, the more likely I am to kick you out."

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Priest

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Priest:

The daughter of an important Spanish man is found beaten and raped. Inspector Mike Mulcahy, fresh from his work with Interpol in Spain, is enlisted to assist with translation and the investigation under Detective Inspector Broghan. It's a politically sensitive case and Mulcahy wants nothing to do with it. The only information the girl can supply is that her attacker made the sign of the cross and was dressed like a priest. Forming an alliance with an old journalist friend, Siobhan Fallon, he resists the leadership's pressure to attribute the attacks to the most likely candidate. Mulcahy insists there is a religious element to the attacks which escalate into murder, given that in each case (and the number of victims escalates) a jewelry cross was missing from the victim and it's imprint burned into her skin.

I loved the local Dublin locale and the writing is descriptive and evocative. Ably read by one of my favorite readers, Michael Kramer.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

More from the land of the Paranoid: Amazon Deletes Woman's Account and Kindle Data, Refuses to Explain Why (Updated)

Amazon Deletes Woman's Account and Kindle Data, Refuses to Explain Why (Updated):

It’s interesting reading the comments on the various sites which alternate between righteous indignation (“I would never use a Kindle” – not that these people ever would anyway) to ignorance of what happened (even assuming she lost access to her books, it has nothing to do with DRM) to not having any connection to what might really have happened (it may even have been a hoax.) Amazon owns audible and I will speak from experience of what happens when you close an audible account. I had 4 audible accounts which I shared with my family. The reason I had four is because you can only have two accounts on an ipod and I had several generations of ipods and itouches and an iphone. I cancelled 3 of the accounts BUT I have NEVER lost access to my purchased titles. I can still log in and download whenever and wherever I want even though I’m not paying them a cent.

Kindle books will work the same way. You will always have access to the books you have bought through your account. It would appear from later accounts of what happened to Lynn was that her account was temporarily suspended (we don’t yet know why but it may very well have to do with not deregistering a gifted Kindle or deregistering that Kindle wihtout understanding what happens). Once you deregister a Kindle that Kindle loses access to all the books that had been on it (Nooks work the same way) and looks as if the account was closed. If that Kindle device or app (I have 10 devices registered to my Kindle account, (Android, Nook-rooted, Linux and IOS – I’m a hardware junkie) is re-registered to the former Kindle account all the books will become again available. (I’ve done all this just to see what happens.) We are still at the stage of speculating what exactly happened in Lynn’s case but I *suspect* if may have to do with a device getting deregistered (actually easy to do if you hit the wrong button in the settings menu, but easily fixed.) Note that all devices can be individually controlled from the “manage your Kindle” section of Amazon.

Note that DRM is totally irrelevant to the “Linn story” as Amazon (or Kobo or B&N for that matter) could have done the same thing under their terms of service with or without DRM. DRM is there at the behest of publishers who are terrified you might give a copy of an ebook you purchased to someone else.

For those of you who remain paranoid out there, all you have to do is shut off the wireless or 3G connection of your Kindle or whatever and that severs all ties to Amazon. You can then download titles and side-load them to your device.

The 1984 example cited by some is a straw man. Amazon removed a title that had been stolen and which they did not have the right to sell. They replaced it with another legal version. What they did was right and proper and hindered no one.

If you read the license agreement for the OS of whatever computer you are using, whether Ubuntu, iOS, Android, Windows, whatever, you will see it comes with myriad restrictions and usage limitations. That’s a price the software industry has forced us to pay. It has nothing to do with DRM but instead has totally subverted the first sale doctrine, a much deeper issue, IMHO.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

On War and Peace, George McGovern Will Die Vindicated - Conor Friedersdorf - The Atlantic

On War and Peace, George McGovern Will Die Vindicated - Conor Friedersdorf - The Atlantic:

 "After Obama took office, McGovern wrote him an open letter, published in Harper's magazine, that said, "When I entered the U.S. Senate in 1963, the defense budget was $51 billion. This was at a time when our military experts felt it necessary to have the means to win a war against the combined powers of Russia and China. Today we have a military budget of over $700 billion, and yet neither Russia nor China threatens us, if indeed they ever did. Nor does any other nation."

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Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of In the Woods

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of In the Woods:

Firstly, let me say that this is an excellent book and I will be reading more in the series. The following are not intended as criticisms, merely as observations.

No point in relating the basics of the plot. What makes the book interesting is the relationship between the two detectives and other characterizations. I did note, however, that the POV is that of the male detective, Rob Ryan, (changed to that of his partner, Cassie Maddox, in the second of the series, I read somewhere,) and that it seemed to me that some of his comments were those I don't think most men would make, but definitely those a woman might, e.g., related to the way a teenager wore makeup, the way the corpse looked, etc.

I liked the way the investigation into the death of a child, an identical twin, unfolded, and how the author mixed in the childhood memories, or lack thereof, of Ryan. What really made the book special was the unfolding of the relationship between Cassie, Rob and Sam, the third detective assigned to the case.  It’s almost idyllic the way they work twelve hours trying to sort out the different witness statements looking for hints and contradictions, then reconvene to Cassie’s for dinner and more dissection of the case followed by a bottle of wine and discussion of themselves and all manner of ideas and thoughts.  There are some very surprising turns as the book unfolds, so I won't say more.  Just remember that the narrator tells you right up front that he lies.

French has some lovely writing and turns-of-phrase.  For example, the young priest at the child’s funeral falling back on his  “frail seminary arsenal of cliches.” That’s so evocative and descriptive.

My wife and I listened to this book over several different trips.  The book is very well read, but at times Rob's overly detailed introspection we both felt got in the way of the story.  There can be such a thing as redundant characterization.  I do look forward to the second book in the series.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Science-Based Medicine » No Health Benefits from Organic Food

Science-Based Medicine » No Health Benefits from Organic Food:

 "The alleged superiority of organically grown produce is a separate question. In a 2003 survey 68.9% of people who purchase organic food said they did so because they believed it to be healthier (more than any other reason given).  However, fifty years of research has so far not produced convincing evidence that there is any health benefit to consuming organic food.  Likewise, systematic reviews of nutritional quality of organic produce also reveals no difference from conventional produce."

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Skepticblog » The Organic False Dichotomy

Skepticblog » The Organic False Dichotomy:

 "I recently wrote about the Stanford study – a systematic review of studies of organic produce. They concluded:
The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Some of the reaction to the Stanford study, and my discussion of it, illustrates the problem with the false dichotomy – it encourages muddy thinking. There is a range of practices that are allowed and not allowed in organic farming to meet USDA certification. Excluded practices include genetically modified (GM) ingredients, ionizing radiation, and use of sewer sludge. There is also a long list of allowed and excluded substances (such as organic vs non-organic pesticides)."

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Skepticblog » Ship of Foolishness

Skepticblog » Ship of Foolishness:

 "What is striking about all these amazing claims that there is NEVER any further research, or follow-up. After the big splash of the hot story in the media, one never hears that they actually tested the “Ark wood” to see if it was really old, or return to the same place for more data. (Ironically, since creationists deny radiocarbon dating, they can’t very well use it for their own purposes and then reject it for all others). Most of the time we’re given some lame excuse, such as the “Ark” vanished under an avalanche after their visit, or the Turkish authorities would not allow them to return to Ararat. Surely, if they had actually found something, they would have gone back again and again and accumulated more and more evidence, as true scientists and archeologists always do. Instead, it’s a flash in the pan of media publicity, then…nothing. Lord knows these people have LOTS of money to follow the pursuit."

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why Big Companies Can't Innovate - Maxwell Wessel - Harvard Business Review

Why Big Companies Can't Innovate - Maxwell Wessel - Harvard Business Review:

Quote:">For those who would admonish Gerber for their approach to transformational innovation, it might be wise to consider that the company did exactly what it was designed to do: create operational efficiency. This deeply-rooted tendency goes all the way back to a corporation's typical life cycle. In it's infancy, it's designed to bring innovation to the market. A start-up's success is not gauged by earnings or quarterly reports; it's measured by how well it identifies a problem in the market and matches it to a solution. If venture capitalists think entrepreneurs have identified a big problem with an interesting solution, they'll fund the start-up. If those entrepreneurs match and improve this solution, they'll see growth in revenues and, ultimately, profitability.

">But that's not what life is like within a mature organization. When corporations reach maturity, the measure of success is very different: it's profit."

I took issue with one of the comments complimenting Apple for being innovative: Where Apple shines is in marketing, not innovation. The original iPod mp3 player was a redesign (copy) of existing players. One might argue the linkage to the iTunes store was innovative, but here again others had already done something similar. From there, each generation has been a refinement of the previous one. The iTouch is an iPod with a touch screen; the iPhone is an iTouch that can make calls, the iPad is merely a large iTouch except it can't make calls. Even their OS is a refinement of Unix. The Newton *was* innovative, but it failed. What companies need is to generously fund R&D, pure research, and then have the guts to recognize and support products that might be very different from their original products. Post-it notes benefited from a researcher who recognized the value in his mistake, but the company was already in the business of selling stuff that sticks so it wasn't too far a leap.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Does Biology Make Us Liars? | The New Republic

Does Biology Make Us Liars? | The New Republic:
Review of The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception by Robert Trivers
 "Self-love makes the world go round. But, alongside cooperation, could self-love give birth to deception? Could the imperative of self-regard be so great, in fact, as to lead to self-deceit? In his new book, Robert Trivers, a master of evolutionary thought, roams from stick insects and brain magnets to plane crashes and Israeli-Palestinian wars in service of a corollary to Aristotle’s hard-boiled thesis. We humans deceive ourselves, Trivers argues. We do so often, and almost always the better to deceive others for our own personal gain. From misguided estimates of self-worth to false historical narratives of nations, the self-love that spins the world is itself fueled by self-deceit. And the price can be substantial."

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Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Brennan Vs. Rehnquist: The Battle for the Constitution

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Brennan Vs. Rehnquist: The Battle for the Constitution:

Peter Irons is anathema to Chief Justice Rehnquist, for Irons is the person  who discovered the audiotapes [book:May it Please the Court|556611] made during Supreme  Court pleadings, edited them and  released them to the public. They  make fascinating listening. It is just amazing  to hear Thurgood Marshall responding  to questions put to him  by the justices in Brown v. Board  of Education.  Probably no two justices had  less in common judicially than William  Brennan and William  Rehnquist. The duels between them are explained and set in  context by Peter Irons in his study of several hundred cases.  In only two did Rehnquist and  Brennan agree.

All of the cases but seven related to conflict between  government and the individual.  Brennan voted against the  government in each; Rehnquist  always voted for the state.  Irons summarizes the philosophy  of each justice. Brennan constantly referred to the dignity of the  individual; Rehnquist rarely did, instead applying the term  “deference'” when discussing the relationship of the individual to the  majority represented by the state.  Brennan’s training as a Catholic  and his exposure to the “social  gospel” of the church explain his  devotion to “justice and fair play  and simple human dignity.” He  linked the Declaration of Independence  to “God-given inalienable  rights” that stemmed from the  truth of Christian faith. Freedom  from the “absolute state” was the  message he learned from his religious  training. The Due Process  clause of the fifth amendment as  applied by the fourteenth was designed to limit governmental authority  and to protect “life, liberty,  and property.” The American Revolution represented a rejection of  the prevailing assumptions of colonial  social hierarchy, which provided  governmental officials a  great deal of arbitrary authority unchecked  by law. Brennan also believed  the role of the court and the  Constitution was to protect minorities.  The Borkian position that all  substantive matters could be  solved by a majoritarian process  was not valid, argued Brennan.  The principle of majority could not  “rectify claims of minority right that  arise as a response to the outcomes  of that very majoritarian  process.” He decried the “facile  historicism” of conservatives, especially  Attorney General Meese,  who insisted that the meaning of  “due process” was frozen in 1787.  That position “establishes a presumption of resolving textual ambiguities against the claim of constitutional right,” and “turn[s:] a blind eye to social progress [and displays:]  antipathy to claims of the  minority to rights against the majority.”  Rehnquist consistently applied a standard that was unabashedly  majoritarian. The individual was subservient to the majority, and  civil disobedience in support of any moral position was wrong. He had argued since his law school days  that no moral position can be supported  rationally. “Neither idealism of purpose nor self-proclaimed moral superiority on the part of the  minority qualifies in the slightest  way its obligation to obey the law,”  he said.

An analysis of votes in more than 1200 votes and 164 signed opinions reveals that his votes were guided by the following three principles: the individual loses in a conflict with the state; conflicts between state and federal government were always resolved in favor of the state level; and lower level courts should always  have jurisdiction when in conflict with federal courts. The role of the government is to enforce the will of the majority, by force if necessary.  It’s ironic that Rehnquist, labeled  a conservative, would promote the interests of the state while Brennan, the liberal, consistently sided with the rights of the  individual against the state monolith. But that’s the problem with  labels.

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Sarah L. Courteau Reviews Richard Horan's "Harvest: An Adventure Into The Heart Of America’s Family Farms" | The New Republic

Sarah L. Courteau Reviews Richard Horan's "Harvest: An Adventure Into The Heart Of America’s Family Farms" | The New Republic:

If you really want to start a food fight leading to extraordinary vitriole, just mention you are for (or against) organic food, raw milk, GMO, veganism, or whatever.  So it's with some trepidation I link to this review in the New Republic about Richard Horan's new book.  As someone who at one time in his life milked over 100 cows twice a day for several years, and who now lives surrounded by several 1,000 + acre farms (all family owned), I know that things are not quite as simple as the advocates of both sides would have us believe.

Ironically, this is an argument that can occur only among those who never have to worry where their next meal comes from.  Those who are hungry can't afford to be picky and would be more than happy with road-kill. When anti-GMO types condemn and prevent "Golden Rice" from being introduced, a product that has the potential solve a serious vitamin deficiency where rice is a major staple ( I think we need to reexamine our self-righteous arrogance.

From the review:   Unfortunately, personality and politics get in the way of Horan’s good intentions. The resulting book says a lot about what is wrong with today’s food crusaders—and I distinguish these from the many thoughtful and hard-working people, some of whom are sketchily profiled in Horan’s book, who are trying to help re-balance a food system that is severely out of whack. Our food choices matter, but the food crusaders are so intent on preaching their gospel that they have developed withering scorn for anyone whose answer to the question “What’s for dinner?” differs from theirs.... "But many organic and local-foods proponents assume that they have already attained a moral victory, and everyone who buys conventional stuff can go to hell. A study published earlier this year in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science** found that exposure to organic foods actually makes people less altruistic. Subjects in three different groups were shown pictures of foods labeled organic (like apples and spinach), comfort foods (like ice cream and brownies), or neutral-seeming control foods (mustard, rice, oatmeal). Afterward, participants who saw the organic foods were willing to spend less time helping a stranger in need, and their judgments of moral transgressions were significantly harsher than those who viewed the other foods. The comfort food group was the most generous. Someone please pass me the double chocolate chip."

From an article about the Social Psychological study***: "The findings are especially interesting when considered hand in hand with previous studies, including a 2010 paper in the journal Psychological Science titled "Do Green Products Make Us Better People?" It found that when people feel morally virtuous about purchasing green or organic products, they sometimes experience a "licensing [of] selfish and morally questionable behaviour," otherwise known as "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics." The 2010 study suggests that such a "halo of green consumerism" makes people less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal."

Note that I'm not sure it's fair to go after those who prefer to eat organic food for feeling morally superior since the same kind of arrogance is obvious in those who ride bicycles, don't drink (that's me I'm afraid,) exercise, own guns, belong to a church, or indulge in any kind of behavior that permits them to create their own little tribe of morally superior adherents.  Then again, perhaps this feeling of moral superiority is endemic to Americans, many of whom descended from thos little Puritan shits.

**Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments. Social Psychological and Personality Sciencefirst published on May 15, 2012
***Do Green Products Make Us Better People? Psychological Science February 2010 first published on March 5, 2010
 (subscription or purchase required, but if you want a pdf copy send me an email and I'll forward one along to you.)

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Strip

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Strip:

Absolutely delightful stand-alone Perry.  It begins well, as Carver, suspected by Manco Kapak, a local mobster of having held him up and stealing a week's worth of receipts (he didn't), is hiding out in the cab of a 250-foot crane at a construction site. Feeling this is probably the safest place he can be so as not to be found, there's a great scene where Carver uses the crane rather innovatively to take out a couple of the goons' Hummers when they find him, his hiding place being not as secure as he had hoped.

In the meantime, LAPD Lt. Nick Slosser, is trying to hold his personal life (both of them - he loves marriage and family so much he has two of them) together and keep the LA peace at a reasonable level, while Spence, Kapak's bodyguard would appear to be the only one with half a brain.  Kapak, not realizing a good deal when it's offered, refuses Carver's olive branch and proof he wasn't the robber, so Carver decides to teach Kapak a lesson.

A third thread involves Jeff, a neer-do-well who happens to be the robber being mistaken for Carver, and he hooks up with Carrie, a girl who discovers she loves carrying a .45 around and using it.  It's no spoiler to reveal that if you surmised that the threads get woven together, you'd be correct.

Perry's books, while occasionally violent and sexual, are never explicitly so (unless, of course, I have become too jaded by reading the newspaper,) and there is an undercurrent of humor that never fails to bring a smile.  For example: " the sheet fell below what appeared to be non-augmented, but beyond reproach, breasts..."  Not to mention some social commentary: The men were loudmouthed and pushy, trying to be intimidating when they didn't get what they wanted, but most of them had never felt a serious punch or heard a shot fired. The women were self-obsessed and lazy. They were greedy for money and wanted to dress like movie stars. They neglected their children, hired immigrant women to raise them, but wanted other adults to refer to them as 'moms.' Seeing them grow up had been like watching a disease arrive and take over a herd of cattle. All he could do was hope that they died off before the disease spread further.

Read impeccably by one of my favorite narrators, Michael Kramer. Buy, borrow, or beg a copy.

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

‘Subversives,’ by Seth Rosenfeld -

‘Subversives,’ by Seth Rosenfeld -

Quote:  "Moreover, the current culture war being played out between watchers of Fox News and readers of The Huffington Post is really the same old ’60s argument, pitting social conservatives’ unshakable faith in American exceptionalism against the progressive insistence that there’s something dark and violent at the core of American hegemony. These two sides have painstakingly constructed competing versions of recent American history, leaving us without even a common set of historical facts to debate."

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Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Sand's War

I stumbled on this book through a mention by Max Allan Collins. Ennis Willie is another of those who has become relatively unknown, but who Collins considers one of the best of the noir genre. He wrote about 21 hard-boiled novels in the early sixties and then disappeared from writing. It was later discovered he had opened a printing business in Atlanta and given up writing.

Ed Gorman and Collins have been part of the resurrection of his books and I thought I would give one a whirl. I liked it.

Sand (notice the use of one name only, a characteristic of the Parker and Nolan novels)is on the run from the mob and has sought shelter in an old gothic castle-like house run by the hunchback Count Bello who guarantees the safety of his guests. That guarantee was shattered. Sand is forced to defend himself against a mob plant and then help investigate the murder of a young woman who is found outside his room on the balcony. Then another woman is killed.

Not high art by any means, and the sex scenes are very chaste sixties and a bit unreal, but if you are at all interested in the evolution of the hard-boiled genre, this is a must.

Friday, October 05, 2012

You Will Never Kill Piracy, and Piracy Will Never Kill You - Forbes

You Will Never Kill Piracy, and Piracy Will Never Kill You - Forbes:

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Goodreads | Recent Updates

I do like Thomas Perry. I've read most of his other books (both the Butcher's Boy and Jane Whitfield series are excellent) and was pleased to get this one as an advanced reader copy. It introduces a new character, Jack Till, ex-homicide detective, who is hired (for a considerable amount of money, which, given what they already know about their daughter, surprised me they would want to discover more,) to find the killer of their high-priced escort daughter, Catherine.

The Boyfriend has all the ingredients of a first rate thriller: a competent assassin, beautiful escorts who are getting killed as cover for the assassin's work (we learn this, and the identity of the killer, early in the book so it's not a spoiler,) and a driven P.I., an ex-homicide cop. The chase is on. This book does not disappoint and lives up to Perry's other books. Very enjoyable.

One mild complaint. It would seem that each new detective has to have some personal travail. In Jack's case, it's his Down Syndrome daughter with whom he has a charming relationship, but about whom he is totally freaked out paranoid that some monster he put in jail years before will take the trouble to hunt down and harm. I long for the days of just a good-old investigatory police procedural or detective story that focuses on the investigation without unnecessary and unrealistic baggage of dysfunctional families, personal threats to families, etc.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a free copy in return for my always independent reviews.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Hatchet

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Hatchet:

As many of you might know, I abhor the YA designation, believing it to be a form of segregation that simply makes it a target for the Comstockians of the world, witness recent calls for YA books to be more wholesome and less dark. That many so-called YA titles deal with issues that should be of concern to teens seems of little concern to those who want to prevent their sixteen-year-olds from reading about what they experience everyday.  The YA designation, I suspect, has, in the past, steered many adult readers away from books so designated, not wanting to be seen as stooping below their level. (I use young adult and adult only in their chronological sense, certainly not from the standpoint of maturity level.)

Our reading club decided to discuss a couple of books that had been enjoyed by some of our members from that standpoint. We chose two:  Hatchet and [book:Waiting to Forget|11969802] (review to follow), each in its own way a survival novel, both in a wilderness, but one made of trees, the other of people.

The differences are substantial with Waiting to Forget much more adult both in content and style. Hatchet is a great story for 10 year-olds (and young 60 year-olds) about a young boy (age thirteen) being sent to his father in Canada following a nasty divorce. The pilot of the single engined plane dies of a heart attack, and young Brian must find a way to stay alive in the wilderness (a remarkably non-hostile environment with the exception of a moose and tornado) with only a hatchet fortuitously given to him by his mother for survival.  The book is told in third-person from Brian’s perspective so it’s hardly a spoiler to say young Brian, a very smart kid, indeed, survives by using his wits and, fortuitously, the hatchet given to him by his mother as a present before he left to visit his father.

It's a good survival story although some of the elements like "the Secret" were peripheral and distracted from the story line.  The Epilogue was totally unnecessary and redundant, I thought.  The last line before it would have made a perfect ending.  My understanding is that Paulson followed up with the success of Hatchet with a couple of sequels.

As I read this enjoyable little book, I wondered if Paulson had become enamored of Tom Brown who achieved some fame as being a great “tracker” and wilderness expert. Raised in the Jersey Pine Barrens, he was ostensibly the grandson of an Apache named “Stalking Wolf.”(I'm not kidding.)  Brown wrote several pieces on wilderness survival for Mother Jones in the eighties.  I remember several nature types on the faculty asking me to order his books many years ago, although the luster seemed to tarnish some when it was learned Brown was fond of smoking.

Looking up Tom Brown for this review I discovered he has capitalized on his knowledge.

Tom Brown books:  [book:Tom Brown's Field guide to wilderness survival|2642931] and [book:Tracker|7154395] and [book:Tom Brown's Field Guide To Living With The Earth|380614]

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Curious Case Of Explosive Contaminated TSA Gloves - Flying With Fish

Curious Case Of Explosive Contaminated TSA Gloves - Flying With Fish:

Sigh.  The TSA continues to make fun of itself inadvertently.

 "As Mr. Rottler passed through the airport last week, already aware of the problem, he asked the TSA TSO to ETD swab the gloves before he was patted down … the gloves tested positive before they ever touched him.  This means that not only would he have been trace contaminated, but the TSA TSO had already been contaminated. Every time that TSO touched someone, they would alarm in the explosives test."

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