Books

Here is an excerpt from a longer post, which also includes a summary:

Here are some of the most interesting ideas in the book:

1. Mind speeds: I had not previously spent much time thinking about how our brain’s hardware affects the speed at which we think. As it happens, our minds are spectacularly slow compared to what’s feasible with other materials! Better hardware, as well inequalities of hardware across individuals, will likely drive many parts of em society.

2. Death in the time of copies: An individual’s relationship to death is much different when you can make and store copies of yourself. Given how much of our current lives and societies are wrapped in who dies / how they die / when we die – a world where death is less central has major implications for identity, values, and relationships.

3. Security concerns are paramount: Theft (making copies of you without your permission) thus becomes almost more of an issue than death. As such, laws and cultural taboos will shift with security becoming more central to em value systems.

4. Less democratic: In a short period of a time, a well run non-democratic regime can outperform your average democracy. However, in the modern human world, these regimes often implode on themselves before they can dominate the rest of the world. But in the em world, things will move so fast (economic doubling rates are incredibly fast, every month or two!), that the rewards to short bursts of effective non-democratic regimes may be very high.

5. Religion: I tend not to think of robots as religious, but Robin makes the case that the utility of religion (nicer hard-working people) and the values of the em world (more farmer like) should lead to increased religiosity.

6. Increased utility: The sheer number of ems, coupled with their high mind speeds – as well as the likelihood that there lives will be ok in terms of meaning and happiness – suggests that the transition to an em world will be a positive utility move.

You can order the book here.  Here is my earlier review.

That is the new book by David Dagan and Steven Teles, here is the publisher’s description:

  • Argues, counter to the conventional wisdom, that the conservative embrace of criminal justice reform is not primarily about money
  • Provides the most comprehensive account both of the rise of the conservative reform movement and of the criminal justice reforms that have swept the states in the last 10 years
  • Features interviews with of the major players in the conservative criminal justice reform movement
  • Provides a theory for how to create breakthroughs in other policy areas amid political polarization

I am looking forward to my copy, here is the Amazon link.

That is the title of his posthumous memoir, highly recommended.  It is one of the best books on the charm of studying Southeast Asia, and also a very good look at how American academia rose from mediocre to excellent in the postwar era.  It is short and can be consumed in a single gulp.

Here is Andrew Batson on the book.  Here is Anderson on Wikipedia; he was best known as a theorist of nationalism but he also did important work on Indonesia and Thailand.

Ratio of most-cited publication to second-most-cited publication for authors among the top-10 most cited books in the social sciences:

Benedict

James E. Campbell has written an excellent book on this contested and…polarizing…topic.  Here is just one of many good bits:

As they [some commentators] see it, party polarization has been asymmetrical.  The Republican Party allegedly has been captured by right-wing zealots while the Democratic Party has remained a reasonable center-left party.  The claim of asymmetrical party polarization is half-true and completely understandable.  First, there should be no mystery to asymmetry.  If the parties are very competitive, as they are, and the public is skewed to the conservative end of the ideological scale, the parties should be similarly skewed.  In a center-right nation, the right-wing party should be further to the right than the left-wing party is to the left.  If the two parties were equally ideological, the Democrats would be in a permanent minority.  That said, the increased polarization of the parties cannot be entirely attributed to the Republican Party becoming more conservative.  Before the Republicans began moving to the right, Democrats had moved further to the left.  Party polarization followed the staggered nature of the realignment.  In the 1970s, congressional Democrats moved significantly to the left, while there was little change in congressional Republicans.  The Republican shift to the right came later and was augmented by the growth of conservatism in the public.  The polarization of the parties was a two-step dance — maybe three big steps: One big step to the left and two smaller steps to the right.

There is also this:

A five- or ten-percentage-point shift in ideological preferences may seem like “small potatoes,” but a nation that is 40% moderate and 60% ideological (liberal or conservative) operates quite different politically from one that is a 50-50 split.

By the way, it is sometimes noted, or noticed, that left-leaning thinkers have become crazier lately.  I think overall that is true.  It may be a sign that America is switching from a center-right to a center-left nation, given Campbell’s analysis above.

Recommended, due out in June from Princeton University Press.  And here is Timothy Taylor on polarization.

I considered the question of when one should just stop reading, and here is Robert’s take:

I read full-time to edit The Browser, and I abandon a hundred articles for every one that I finish. I generally stop if I hit “eponymous”, or “toxic”, or “trigger warning”, or “make no mistake”. Summary labelling of anything in an article as “complex” means that the writer does not understand or cannot explain the material. I don’t often read beyond headlines that use the words “surprising”, “secret”, “really”, “not” or “… and why it matters”. Any headline ending in a question mark is a bad sign. I know writers don’t usually write their own headlines, but the headline represents a best effort to say what is useful in the article by a sympathetic person who has been paid to read it.

Robert is one of the best readers I know.

Chinese “input” uses the QWERTY keyboard in an entirely different manner. In China, the QWERTY keyboard is “smart,” in the sense that it makes full use of modern-day computer power to augment and accelerate the input process. First of all, the letters of the Latin alphabet are not used in the same limited way that we use them in the alphabetic world. In China, “Q” (the button) doesn’t necessarily equal “Q” (the letter). Instead, to press the buttons marked Q, W, E, R, T, Y (or otherwise) is, strictly speaking, a way to give instructions to a piece of software known as an “Input Method Editor” (IME), which runs quietly in the background on your computer, intercepts all your keystrokes, and uses them as guidelines to try and figure out which Chinese characters the user wants. Using the most popular IME around today — Sougou Pinyin — the moment I strike the letter Q, the system is off and running, trying to figure out what I want. With the first clue, the IME immediately starts showing me options or “candidates” in a pop-up menu that follows me along on screen — in this case, Chinese characters, names, or phrases whose phonetic value begins with Q, such as Qingdao or Qigong.

The moment I hit the second button — let’s say U — the IME immediately changes up its recommendations, now giving me only characters that have pronunciations starting with “Qu.” There is no set, standard way to manage this process, moreover. There are many IMEs on the market, and each IME has many customizable settings. Some IMEs don’t use phonetics at all, in fact, but instead use Latin letters to indicate certain shapes or structural properties of the Chinese characters you want. And on top of all of this, there are countless abbreviations and shortcuts you can use to speed up the process (e.g., typing “Beijing” will get you the capital of China, but so will “bjing,” “beij,” or simply “bj”). And then, of course, there is “predictive text,” which as I have shown elsewhere, was developed and popularized in China decades before it was in the West.

In other words, for the computer age the Chinese system of characters has worked out quite well, and in some ways may be superior to the Roman alphabet.  The piece is Jeffrey Wasserstrom interviewing Tom Mullaney, and is of interest more generally.

cited

There is also this:

citations-figure-1

Here is the source, full text and explanation here.  There is much more of interest at that final link.

“Book smell” is now a thing in the perfume world, like vanilla or sandalwood. In the last few years, dozens of products have appeared on the market to give your home or person the earthy scent of a rare book collection.

Sweet Tea Apothecaries sells Dead Writers Perfume, which promises to evoke the aroma of books old enough for their authors to have passed to the great writers’ retreat in the sky. Perfumer Christopher Brosius’s “In the Library” product line makes your home and body smell just like that. The high-end fragrance Paper Passion claims to capture the “unique olfactory pleasures of the freshly printed book,” though for roughly $200 per bottle it’s a lot cheaper to just buy a freshly printed book.

The appeal of old books’ smell has been studied in depth. Wood-based paper contains lignin, a chemical closely related to vanillin, the compound that gives vanilla its fragrance. As the pages age and the compounds break down, they release that signature scent. An experienced rare book handler can date a volume by scent alone, according to the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

Here is the full story by Corinne Purtill.

Dalibor Rohac had a new and important book just out — Towards an Imperfect Union: A Conservative Case for the European Union, obviously of great relevance to the Brexit debates.  Here is the book’s home page, here is the publisher’s home page for the book.

My own view is this: if the United Kingdom could simply press a button and obtain the current status of Canada, via-a-vis the EU, probably they should do so.  But they cannot, and in some issues, as with Catalonian independence, the path is everything.  I’ve read through much of the Treasury report, and I believe it underestimates the economic cost of Brexit.  Were Brexit to happen, probably the UK would see a major recession, and possibly a financial crisis, and there is even a chance significant parts of the EU could unravel in response.  And for what gain?  The country would not be able to boost living standards through EU immigration cuts.  Building new trade agreements would take a long time and in few of the most important cases would the UK hold most of the bargaining power.  Security issues probably would worsen.

Even if the Brexit vote fails, it remaining on the table as a live option, as would result from a close vote, would dampen investment in the UK.  The best way forward is for the UK to swallow its pride and admit the whole referendum idea was a mistake by voting unanimously to stay.  No one would take the unanimity vote as a sincere reflection of preference, but best not to know the true state of public opinion on this one!

I sometimes call Brexit “the Donald Trump of England” — don’t be fooled!

The data start in 1880 and run through 2013.  Based on my visual reading of the chart, discussion of Chinese restaurants appears to have peaked in the 1940s (!).  German restaurants are the biggest loser over time, with plunges during each of the two World Wars; French falls more steadily.  American and Japanese go up slowly but consistently.  The big winner: Italian restaurants go up by far the most in discussions, starting in about 1940, and never stop rising.

The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune show broadly similar patterns, though the absolute level of discussion for Mexican is much higher in Los Angeles.  For the Western world at least, Italian cuisine is the major winner from globalization.

It is in the 1890s by the way that restaurants are discussed more often in The New York Tribune/Herald than are saloons.

That is all from Krishnendu Ray, The Ethnic Restaurateur, which is intermittently quite interesting.  Here is the Google Books page.

What I’ve been reading

by on May 12, 2016 at 2:04 pm in Books | Permalink

1. Philip Norman, Paul McCartney: The Life.  From this book one learns that young Beatle Paul had more sex with more women than most people had thought, his daily pot habit started earlier than most people had thought (it inspired “Got to Get You Into My Life”), and Paul not John was the musical innovator (duh).  I enjoyed this book (duh) and it had a reasonable amount of detail about his last twenty years.  Good for fans, at the very least, but it will not convert the uninitiated.

2. Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Euro: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe.  Recall that while Krugman is much more influential in America, Stiglitz is more influential in Europe and in most of the developing world, thus the topic of this book makes sense.  I agree with most of the arguments, though not the view that trade surpluses are essential for understanding the problem.  This book is good for fans, at the very least, but it will not convert the uninitiated.

3.George J. Borjas, We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative.  My favorite two-sentence sequence in this book is: “It is worth emphasizing that the distributional pain is the flip side of the economic gain.  And ironically, the greater the distributional pain, the greater the economic gain.”  Good for fans, etc.

There is a new and intriguing book out by Benjamin Peters called How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet, which outlines exactly what it claims to.  Here is one introductory excerpt:

In late September 1970, a year after the ARPANET went online, the Soviet cyberneticist Viktor Glushkov boarded a train from Kiev to Moscow to attend what proved to be a fateful meeting for the future of what we might call the Soviet Internet.  On the windy morning of October 1, 1970, he met with members of the Politburo, the governing body of the Soviet state, around the long rectangular table on a red carpet in Stalin’s former office in the Kremlin.  The Politburo convened that day to hear Glushkov’s proposal and decide whether to build a massive nationwide computer network for citizen use — or what Glushkov called the All-State Automated System (OGAS, obshche-gosudarstvennyi avtomatizirovannaya system), the most ambitious computer network of its kind in the world at the time.  OGAS was to connect tens of thousands of computer centers and to manage and optimize in real time the communications between hundreds of thousands of workers, factory managers, and regional and national administrators.  The purpose of the OGAS Project was simple to state and grandiose to imagine: Glushkov sought to network and automatically manage the nation’s struggling command economy.

They failed!  The author blames this not on backward technology, but rather “entrenched bureaucratic corruption and conflicts of interest at the heart of the system…”

Anyone interested in the history of the internet, comparative systems, or the history of the Soviet Union should read this book.

Jan Morris’s *Conundrum*

by on May 11, 2016 at 4:40 pm in Books | Permalink

This 174-page book, from 1974, is probably the best I have read this year so far.  The main tale is the author’s pioneering transgender experiences, but it’s far broader than that, also being an excellent travel book, romance, family story, and tale of ineradicable obsession.  Everything is pitch perfect, and you can finish it in a sitting, these are the kinds of books I wish people recommended to me.  Here is the end of the story, quite romantic.  Here is an interview with Morris.

That is the new and quite interesting book by Nima Sanandaji.  The main point is that there are plenty of Nordic women in politics, or on company boards, but few CEOs or senior managers.  In fact the OECD country with the highest share of women as senior managers is the United States, coming in at 43 percent compared to 31 percent in the Nordics.  More generally, countries with more equal gender norms do not have a higher share of women in senior management positions.  Within Europe, Bulgaria does best and other than Cyprus, Denmark and Sweden do the worst in this regard.

One reason for the poor Nordic performance at higher corporate levels is high taxes, which limits the amount of household services supplied through markets.  If it is harder to hire someone to do the chores, that makes it harder for women to invest the time to climb the career ladder.  Generous maternity leave policies may encourage women to take off “too much” time, or at least this is suggested by the author.  A history of communism is also strongly correlated with women rising to the top in business and management; this may stem from a mix of relatively egalitarian customs and a more general mixing up of status relations in recent times and a turnover of elites.

I don’t find this book to be the final word, and I would have liked a more formal econometric treatment.  It is nonetheless a consistently interesting take which revises a lot of the stereotypes many people have about the Nordic countries as being so absolutely wonderful for gender egalitarianism in every regard.

Here is the book’s website, from Timbro (a very good group), I don’t yet see it on Amazon.

What I’ve been reading

by on May 11, 2016 at 12:58 am in Books | Permalink

1. Jason Brennan, Against Democracy.  He is a epistocrat. P.S. voters are ignorant and irrational.  Furthermore “Politics is not a Poem.”  I agree with most of the debunking arguments in this book, but I am not convinced epistocracy ends up being better; Brennan’s examples of epistocracy include restricted franchise, plural voting, voting by lottery, epistocratic veto (the Senate, but more so), and weighted voting.  I see big advantages to a strict normative ideal of legal egalitarianism of civic rights, and I suspect that ends up meaning some form of democracy, albeit constrained by the overlay of a constitutional republic.

2. Ji Xianlin, The Cowshed: Memoirs of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  The classic account of its kind, in this edition brilliantly translated and presented.

And I am happy to praise Frank Dikötter’s The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976, but I did not find it as revelatory as his earlier books on China.  Here is a Judith Shapiro NYT review.

3. Aileen M. Kelly, The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen.  Beautifully written, and full of interesting history, but it never quite convinces the reader that Herzen is an interesting and worthwhile intellect for 2016.  Maybe he isn’t — does that make this book better or worse?

David L. Ulin’s Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles is a meditation on to what extent Los Angeles succeeds as a walkable city, or someday might get there.

There is Don Watkins and Yaron Brook, Equal is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality, by no means do I go all the way with them, but still this a useful corrective to some current obsessions.

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World lists more possible uses for blockchains than you would have thought possible.

James T. Bennett, Subsidizing Culture: Taxpayer Enrichment of the Creative Class, the subtitle says it all.