What I’ve been reading

1. William Vaughan, Samuel Palmer: Shadows on the Wall.  Another first-rate Yale University Press book of art plates and art history, for this they are the best.  Get a hold of as many of them as you can.

2. Ge Fei, The Invisibility Cloak.  This short Chinese noir novel, with a dash of Murakami, is one of my year’s favorites and also one of this year’s “cool books.”  I finished it in one sitting.  Set in Beijing, the protagonist sells audio equipment, and then strange things happen.  Here is a good interview with the author.

3. David J. Garrow, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.  So far I’ve only read bits and pieces of it, but I am surprised it is not receiving more positive attention.  It seems like one of the most thorough and smart and thoughtful biographies of any American president.  It has plenty of detail on Obama’s life and career, and you can learn what Obama’s ex-girlfriend says about how he was in bed at age 22 (“he neither came off as experienced nor inexperienced”, [FU Aristotle!])  Yes, at 1084 pp. of text this is more than I want to know, but what’s not to like?  Here is a good Brent Staples NYT review.  Garrow cribs his main narrative — the artificial construction of his blackness — from Rev. Wright and Steve Sailer, and doesn’t exactly credit them, although that (the former, not the latter) may explain why the mainstream reception has been so tepid.

4. Franklin Foer, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.  The title says it all.  I disagreed with almost everything in this book, still it is useful to see where the Zeitgeist is headed.

5. The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire, assorted authors and editors and photographers.  One of the best and most readable introductions to Incan civilization.  I’ll say it again: you all should be reading more picture books!  They are one of the best ways to actually learn.

Two useful books for presenting meta-information on learning things are:

Ulrich Boser, Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything, and

Eric Barker, Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong.

And Thomas W. Hazlett, The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone, is a very learned, market-oriented look at what the title promises.


I will read the Inca book asap.

I am not reading Foer, ever again. (Predictable, biased... etc)

The first book might be great but that Samuel Palmer stuff is an acquired taste.

2. Looks interesting

David Samuels' 2008 New Republic article on Obama "Invisible Man" is a good one in the Wright-Sailer line:


Who said tou are an authority on the Wright-Sailer line?

What, no Nixon biographies added to the list?

Because forget about fascism (that was always a silly affectation of a certain group anyways), we are in the midst of the uniquely American style of presidency that Nixon represented - thankfully, without an ongoing war where thousands and thousands of people die each month, month after month after month.

Yeah, next thing you know, Trump people will be running the State Dept from secret servers in their bathrooms, accessible to no one and immune to FOIA. Hell, they might even set up charitable foundations where foreign governments can donate millions to buy influence.

Talk about unprecedented!!

I mean, even Nixon never dreamed of going THAT far.

But whatabout Hillary Clinton Barack Obama Bill Clinton Jimmy Carter John Kerry Michael Dukakis Walter Mondale Adlai Stevenson Pol Pot Stalin Hitler

Sorry, but let us stick to reality, and not fantasy about losers.

So, here is the Washington Post article - 'President Trump suggested Friday that there may be “tapes” of his private conversations with FBI Director James B. Comey, whom he fired earlier this week, in an apparent attempt to threaten Comey about “leaking to the press.”

James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017

In his tweet, Trump appears to suggest that he may have recordings of his communications with Comey. It is unclear if such tapes exist, however.' https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/05/12/trump-suggests-there-may-be-tapes-of-his-private-conversations-with-former-fbi-director/

Honestly, you cannot make this stuff up any more - whether it is Kissinger in the room to meet the American press, while the Russian press gets to take pictures of Trump meeting Russian officials in the Oval Office, with Trump saying he fired Comey over his Russia related investigations.

My honest suggestion to Trump supporters - read a good Nixon bioography, because Trump is going to out-Nixon Nixon (or is that trump Nixon?) before Trump's run is over.

I have always thought Mr O was a Nixon-Carter hybrid in a blackish Brad Pittish coat. Mean and incompetent but looks good. The halo effect gone wild. I'll bet the MSM all have sore knees - with Trump in office they can get off their knees now.


Are you able to sustain that that involves remotely accurate representations of any situation which historically occurred?

Blind partisanship leads to delusion and inability to think for oneself.

Interesting - time to check the bike wars, and see if that topic is only deserving of seemingly IP based moderation. Nothing sinister about that - this web site, like most concerned with collecting data for any reason - undoubtedly logs IP info, though at what granularity is another topic. Such an inline posted text about a comment awaiting moderation likely uses more than simply an IP address (cookies, images, httpreferrer, Flash, javascript, etc.), but all browsers always make TCP/IP requests associated with an IP address.

A truly well implemented system can only be noticed by someone that is using two different IP addresses to see whether each is showing the same information. Though I guess these days, someone sitting at a PC with a smartphone has two IP addresses if easily two different ISP (so to speak). If they have only posted from the PC, then using a different IP address and a newly created MR user on the smartphone, one can easily check to what extent the MR user experience is being individually tailored.

DeLong was never smart enough - and probably has no professional affiliations with a product manager - to go this route. Mass deletion of comments makes one look like a public fool. A carefully tailored individual user experience is just another example of how average is over.

So, less than a half hour for the inline text 'Your comment is awaiting moderation.' to change, as the comment (making a reference to Nixonian tactics) can now be read.

Pretty fast for roughly 1:30am EST - almost as if someone may have just brought a bit of help on board, since comments awaiting moderation for hours would lead to a lack of interest on the part of many, and destroy the belief that this is a free speech zone where brave truth speakers are allowed to express themselves in honest debate, without any but the lightest touch.

Not that the details of what is being done on the backend will ever be discussed. Just like with MRU in its original PR, this website is merely the work of two GMU econ professors, at least in how it is publicly presented.

It's funny how you think the hosts particularly care about your comments or your existence. Oh no, must be the Mercatus Center Koch Brothers censoring your thoughts again!!

Oh well, I do hope you had a chance to read the reply.

When given a chance to read your posts, most sensible people decline.

Or simply delete them.

Would that I could.

Barack O'Bama artificially constructed himself as a "black man"? No way! Never would have guessed it.

'artificially constructed himself as a “black man”? No way! Never would have guessed it.'

Neither would I, as a Virginian native with my race listed as 'white' on my birth certificate. At a time when if Obama had been born in the Commonwealth, his race would have been black. Also meaning, if the Supreme Court had decided differently in Loving v Virginia, Obama could not have legally married anyone in the Commonwealth whose birth certificate listed their race as white.

It is disingenuous, in the extreme, to say that someone with Obama's parentage 'artificially constructed himself as a “black man”' as the Commonwealth of Virginia would have put that on his birth certificate. What is even more amusing in this light that if one tries to argue that Obama is not authentically 'African-American,' that is laughably false, in light of having an American mother and an African father.

What can be argued, perhaps, is that Obama's upbringing is not typical for the vast majority of natural born Americans, who never spend any portion of their childhood overseas. Not that the devoted - is the term of art still 'racialist' or can we just return to the glory days of white supremacist in the age of Trump? - commenters care about petty things. You would expect them to remember the one drop rule, though. Every descendant of Obama, forever, would be considered black by the law in force in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the time of Obama's birth. No need to construct anything - the state handled it at birth.

Tell that to David S. Garrow. The point was, BO apparently felt he needed to make an extra effort to be "black enough" (as in the Chester Himes novel, Ossie Davis screen adaptation "Cotton Comes to Harlem"). For sure, anyone in some parts of the USA with 1/32 is or would have been at one time legally black. Nowadays you have to be at least half black to qualify for authentic blackness, as that girl Rachael something demonstrated. That isn't a criticism of BO. Politicians want those votes.

'Tell that to David S. Garrow. '

Why? The facts concerning the Commonwealth of Virginia and its racial classification scheme are not obscure. If Barack Obama had been born in Virginia, his birth certificate would make blatantly clear that his 'blackness' would have been certified at birth by the state. Obviously, Obama was not born in Virginia, but Virginia's miscegenation laws were not unique to just one former state of the Confederacy, much less a number of states not part of the Confederacy.

Laws intended to ensure that someone like Obama would never be born to start with, as his mother and father could not have legally married nor live together in Virginia at the time of Obama's birth. It isn't as if Commonwealth of Virginia was merely interested in racial classification for its own sake - it was part of an entire legal framework to keep its citizen's purity of essence intact.

None of this obscure, one would assume, particularly in relation to those writing how Obama could not be black. A case can certainly be made, as noted, that Obama did not have a typical American upraising - but anyone concerned about its 'blackness' in terms of racial classification is being thoroughly disingenuous, to be as charitable as possible.

Being black in the America of the time when Obama was born was the responsibility and apparent duty of many states to assign as a designation at birth, no artificial construction necessary.

It is not - at the time of his birth, in a significant portion of the U.S., it was legally assigned. And it determined who you could legally marry, where you could legally live, and which schools you could legally attend.

If Barack Obama had been born in Virginia, his birth certificate would make blatantly clear that his ‘blackness’ would have been certified at birth by the state.

If. Such an interesting word. But as you point out Obama wasn't. In fact he did not spend much of his formative years in the US much less in Virginia. He was raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.

His Blackness is something he has largely faked and learned from books. Not something he has lived.

I always enjoy readers talking about how Hawaii is not part of the U.S.

It's almost as if growing up in a mostly colorblind place like Hawaii (relative to Virginia at least) was helpful in his self-actualization.

Hawaii is different from the rest of the U.S. in terms of racial categories, which were much more fluid in Hawaii in 1961 than elsewhere.

One reason it was made a state in 1959 was as a Cold War propaganda gesture to show that the U.S. would allow a non-white majority state that would elect nonwhite politicians. James Michener's giant bestseller "Hawaii" came out the next year and ends with the image of a futuristic "Golden Man" who transcends old-fashioned categories. (Michener's third wife was Japanese.)

Michener's collaborator on turning his Tales of the South Pacific into the famous musical, Oscar Hammerstein II, created other musicals about racial ambiguity, such as Show Boat. Hammerstein's father was Jewish and mother was Protestant, so he took a natural interest in the subject.

Michener and Hammerstein were among the dominant middlebrow creative artists of the era. They were both liberal Cold Warriors who saw American white supremacy as being a major barrier to American empire.

Obama's mother was very much a product of the Michener-Hammerstein tendency in the Cold War.

Or for the less racially motivated, it was just part of the same process that led to Alaska's admittance, both states being the first with no actual physical connection to any of the other 48 states.

Who cares about government racial classifications? You miss the point.

If you've live where there are high concentrations of black people, you are aware of how hyper-sensitive black people are about race... among other black people!

You will be singled out if you're too dark or too light. If you don't speak with the right accent or dialect, you'll be treated harshly. If a black teenager does too well in high school, he's harassed by his peers.

Yes, I entirely believe that for BO to make political progress, he absolutely had to transform himself in to something that was more acceptable among the black people who he would need to vote for him. They would not tolerate him otherwise.

This is not to demonize Obama any more than any other politician. All successful politicians have to figure out what their political personas have to be and craft their masks carefully. (I still don't believe Jimmy Carter is the pious Baptist that he made himself out to be.) The real dolts are the Obama fans who think that he's any different.

'You will be singled out if you’re too dark or too light. If you don’t speak with the right accent or dialect, you’ll be treated harshly.'

Sounds like high school pretty much anywhere in the world - odd how that works, almost as if the desire to assign things by race trumps any other framework.

I'm going to change just one word in the following - 'Yes, I entirely believe that for Bush to make political progress, he absolutely had to transform himself in to something that was more acceptable' Bush is not a common man, unless the typical comman man in America attends Yale and Harvard, not to mention going to high school at the then all male Phillips Academy boarding school.

Cartoon images intended to depict terrorists at the (neo-Nazi website) have face colour that can barely be discerned as any darker than the white man portrayed.

I agree that colour obsessions are also a problem among those with African background. So ... they should face that too.

The phrase appropriate to Obama isn't "artificially constructed," it's "Race is socially constructed."

"Garrow cribs his main narrative ... from ... Steve Sailer": well, if you're going to crib from a journalist you might as well crib from the best one around.

Ulrich Boser on mastering the skills for success? How long can you avoid reading Art of the Deal? Be the first on your campus!

4.Here is Farhad Manjoo's only slightly less alarmist take on the "tech" companies that dominate his (our) life. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/10/technology/techs-frightful-five-theyve-got-us.html? Here is Neil Gough's somewhat more alarmist take on Singapore's dark side. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/business/singapore-bank-secrecy-1mdb.html? It's human nature to see what we want to see. I give Cowen immense credit for at least taking a look even if he doesn't always see.

As for the dark side of Singapore, it's continued success is a reflection of the lesson one learns by watching my favorite movie, The Godfather: the peace was maintained by sharing the spoils with the Five Families, it's only when greed overcame judgment and one of the Five Families attempted to keep all of the spoils for itself that triggered war. Where does Singapore invest much of its sovereign funds?

I think since no one from Singapore goes to Furmen they'll be okay

I'm sure that in seven years, Tyler will be fawning over vague non-descriptions of Donald Trump's sex skills. When he was 22! What's not to like?!?

As for Obama: no one cares any more. Republicans never did and independents grew weary of the unearned hero worship. Dems see no ROI in promoting him any more, and they are not happy about their party being in ruins. All those years of promoting the Lightbringer, and all he brought us was.... President Trump.

#5. Good recommendation on books with pictures. I am (in honor of the WWI centennial) Kipling's book, The Irish Guards in the Great War - The First Battalion. Stick with it and one will learn what it was like. It has a few pictures which help understand the text.

Also, #5 reminded me why I stopped reading the NY Times and took up daily perusals of DC Comics.

#3. From the review;
"Sex sells. But this deeply reported work of biography could easily have done without it. “Rising Star” seems to include every human being who came within arm’s length of the young president-to-be.":

Apparently sex also sells book reviews; the reviewer makes sex the center of his review, devoting 3 of his 6 paragraphs to the subject.
a nice definition of chutzpah.

"... and married Michelle Robinson, a charismatic Harvard Law School graduate like himself and a member of Chicago’s small and insular black elite."

From January 2009 to January 2017 Barack Obama lived with his mother-in-law in the White House, yet in those 8 years the television media would not comment on this inherently comic situation.

In liberal media doctrine, all Democratic Party presidents are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation; official school statuary and coloring books, and consequent veneration, is given to some Democratic Party presidents through the process of canonization by the Democratic National Committee. (DNC).

Michelle Obama's father worked at the city water plant and was a Democratic precinct committeeman . In Daley's Chicago municipal employees frequently worked in the Democratic organization. So her father apepars to be a rank and file municipal worker. Her mother stayed at home until Michelle was in high and then worked as a secretary.

What made Michelle a member o the black elite when Barack met her?

Since Tyler mentions a general praise for picture books, it'd be great to see a post devoted to the best picture books. Or just responses here, even. The Incan book looks interesting.

Quick response: Tyler is right, Yale Art books have been consistently great for 20 plus years now (I first found out about this reading the London Specattor in the 1980s). Their resale value is often amazing (About one in a hundred of the books I own - 7 out of 700 - is a Yale book, and they are, cumulatively, worth more now than when I bought them. No other publisher comes close). I also like Rizzoli, Skira, and for reasons of nostalgia and accuracy, the old Abrams art books with the pictures pasted in. For non-art books, I have found that 90 out of 100 on subjects I am interested in have something wrong with the illustrations - too glossy, too small, too smudged, whatever. Browsing a bookstore is a good way to see what I mean (but dress nice - if you are going to spend an hour or more in a bookstore you should at least look like you consider it a special occasion) - also public libraries, even small ones, often have hundreds of books that are obvious picture books, and out of those hundreds, ten or twenty or more will be excellent. Also, typically state university presses are not first-rate but they often become first-rate when dealing with a local subject - for example West Virginia butterflies or New York existentialism. Finally, there are lots of youtube videos devoted to illustrated books - you will have to use some creativity to find the ones you want. A recent one that I thought was great was a very rarely watched (less than 1,000 views) seven minute video of someone showing what he liked about the recent Folio Finnegans Wake (the youtube person had not read the book). I would definitely buy a book with a good ten page description of each of those amazing pictures (the Folio FInnegans Wake is out of print and not even available on Abe Books.) Finally, one hopes Tyler does not read all these comments - there are so many - and the rate of return is cumulatively not that great on any comment section. I would not wish the fate of reading every comment on any website on anybody. If you want him to address a topic maybe send him an e-mail.

Look at the book; The Coffee Trader by David Liss. It is a well researched historical novel about the Dutch early entry into the futures market.

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