Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Credit Bubble Stocks 2020 Book Review Compendium

Here's a funny exchange with a reader about the book reviews:

What is your reservation price on being a full time book summarizer? I think we should launch a GoFundMe to support this endeavor if it's sufficiently reasonable.

"Oh yeah I'm a professional book summarizer, I read interesting things all day and convert 5-900page corpuses into pithy 2-3 paragraph essential distillations of wisdom, observation and insight."

Categories of 2020 books read from biggest to smallest: Military history (6), Self-help/how-to (6), Politics & political history (5), Biography/autobiography (5), Biology (4), Medicine and pandemics (4), Economics/investing/business (4), Law (4), Fiction (3), Literary nonfiction (3), Scientific history (2), Cooking (1).

Also see the 2019 book compendium and 2018 book compendium.

Military history (6)

  • Mine Were of Trouble (4/5) It could happen here: "escalating violence between left- and right-wing political factions boils over." See the guest review from earlier this year. As we mentioned then, "the Republicans were armed by the Soviets and the Nationalists were armed by Italy and Germany. Since today's Russia and China must be tired of U.S. meddling in their spheres of influence (e.g. Ukraine and Taiwain), they will almost certainly have the idea of arming the factions in the upcoming U.S. civil war. However, my guess would be that they will not so much care which side wins as to make sure that the fighting is as prolonged and destructive as possible, which would mean that each will arm both - or all - sides to the conflict." Author Peter Kemp was a young Brit who joined the nationalist fighters. Here is a tweetstorm with excerpts from the book, and another with excerpts from the sequel with Peter Kemp's WWII experiences. Notes: "If I had been willing to join the International Brigade and fight for the Republicans it would have been simple; in every country there were organizations, ably directed by the various Communist parties, for that very purpose. But the Nationalists were making no effort to recruit in England." "The Republican paramilitary organizations were provided by the various workers' Unions... common criminals... were immediately enrolled in the various militias." "On many occasions during those early days it was the courage and initiative of individual commanders that turned the scale for the Nationalists... 'If Franco's generals hadn't had more guts than the White Russian generals, Spain would now be Communist." "Nationalist[s] made virtually no concessions to the Press, while the Republicans laid out enormous sums on propaganda abroad." Someday, will have to visit Toledo (the Alcázar) and the Valle de los Caídos near Madrid. Half a million people were killed in a country of 24 million (~2%), although about 100k of the 1,000k fighting were foreign. 
  • Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 (3.5/5) This is the first volume of a "Pacific war trilogy," covering Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway in 1942, by Ian Toll - an equity research analyst turned military historian. I didn't know much about Wake, the Doolittle Raid, Coral Sea, or how the Japanese lost their four carriers at Midway. (Their codes were cracked and the U.S. knew exactly where and when to ambush the Japanese fleet.) Couple things about the book: it's a purely naval history, and really focused on naval aviation. It also completely ignores the "conspiratorial" (but true and becoming more mainstream) history of Pearl Harbor. FDR deliberately provoked the Japanese, had actual warning of the attack on PH, and evacuated the valuable carriers while leaving obsolete battleships to be attacked so as to gull the American rubes out of isolationism and into war. There's actually a smoking gun document, a memo by Navy Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum with an 8-point strategy on how to get Japan to attack the United States. Also, after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Halsey's carriers oddly searched to the south even though Nagumo's carriers had withdrawn to the north. But if he had chased them to the north, he would've been outnumbered 6:2 and might have lost the Enterprise and Lexington. As with 9/11, Roosevelt needed to receive an attack that was provocative to the American people while being strategically meaningless. The battleships were obsolete because of aircraft carriers. A whole generation, including the Japanese, had been influenced by Alfred Mahan's book: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. Mahan's ideas were themselves a disruption, coming from the second half of the 19th century when the industrial revolution "utterly demolished and recreated the hardware and technology of naval warfare". The three Mahanian dogmas were the big gun battleship, concentration of forces, and attempting to completely annihilate enemy fleets all in a single decisive battle. The Japanese crushed the Russian navy in the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. Anyway, after Pearl Harbor, Churchill sent two of Britain's finest battleships (Prince of Wales and Repulse) to protect Singapore as "Force Z". These were sunk by Japanese land-based bombers, "a conceptual triumph within naval circles all over the world for the cause of aviation." After this and Pearl Harbor, battleships were "relegated to a support role within task forces built around aircraft carriers." Battleship guns became useful only for shore bombardment in support of amphibious troop landings. At least in the minds of the Allies - the Japanese held out hopes throughout the war for a decisive clash of battleships at sea. That was why Yamamoto wanted to attack Midway, to try to fight and defeat all of the carriers in the Pacific. One of the reasons they were horrified by the U.S. carriers was the Doolittle Raid of Tokyo very early in the war. Yamamoto was to Japan as Nelson was to Britain; both island countries, the admirals "occupied a peculiar place in the national imagination". More about Pearl Harbor: "the battleships were too slow to operate with the carriers, and incapable of defending themselves against air attack... the Japanese had converted the American fleet from a seventeen knot fleet to a twenty-five knot fleet." Churchill stayed with Roosevelt in the White House right after PH in December 1941. On his first morning, he told the butler, "One, I don't like talking outside my quarters; two, I hate whistling in the corridors; and three, I must have a tumbler of sherry in my room before breakfast, a couple glasses of scotch and soda before lunch and French champagne and ninety-year-old brandy before I go to sleep at night." The U.S. broke the Japanese codes and had advance knowledge of every detail of the Midway attack. "The aircraft carrier... was a weapon suited to hit-and-run warfare. The ships themselves were extremely vulnerable, but they could inflict heavy punishment on an enemy from long range, if they could find him and strike him first. The tactical imperatives were to keep moving; to keep your scouts in the air, flying wide search patterns; and to hide your flight decks in weather fronts while pinning your enemy down in zones of clear visibility." The problem with the Japanese Midway attack plan was that the Mahanian principle of concentration conflicted with the need to disguise the size of the Japanese fleet that was present so that the U.S. carriers would all come streaming out of Pearl to be attacked. "There was no way to construct an operational plan whose distribution of warships was both deceptive and mutually supporting. The two goals were antithetical. Yamamoto knew he couldn't have it both ways, and he willingly sacrificed mutual support to the perceived need for stealth." Since the U.S. knew Midway was coming thanks to the cracked codes, they deliberately let Halsey's carrier force (Enterprise and Hornet) be sighted in the Coral Sea, far away from Pearl, before making a beeline back to help defend Midway. That cleverly tricked the Japanese into believing that Midway would not be fully defended while also discouraging any Japanese attacks in the South Pacific.
  • The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 (Pacific War Trilogy) (3.5/5) This is the sequel to Pacific Crucible, the first volume of the trilogy by Ian Toll, which we read last quarter. The first volume ended with the Battle of Midway in June 1942. William Randolph Hearst's newspapers did not like the "Europe first" strategy that Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed on, saying that "the war in the Pacific is the World War, the War of Oriental races against Occidental races for domination of the world." This volume picks up the story with the U.S. invasion of Guadalcanal, which is one of the Solomon Islands (northeast of Australia). Afterwards, a major general of the Japanese army said, "Guadalcanal is no longer merely a name of an island in Japanese military history. It is the name of the graveyard of the Japanese army." The Thin Red Line film is about a battle that took place in the fight for Guadalcanal. Birth year determinism: the four admirals (Ghormley, Halsey, Turner, and Fletcher) and the Marine Corps general (Vandegrift) with big roles were all born between 1882 and 1887. The Americans lost ~7k killed out of 60k, 29 ships, and 615 aircraft; versus 19k (out of 36k!), 38 ships, and 683 aircraft for the Japanese. Navy LCDR James A Michener won a Pulitzer for his book Tales of the South Pacific, about life on way station Vanuatu during the Pacific war. A battle worth noting - Battle of the Bismarck Sea - was described by MacArthur as "one of the most complete and annihilating combats of all time," a "signal moment in military history, when airpower had finally and forever asserted its preeminence over seapower." While winning back the Pacific, the Americans bypassed - leapfrogged - strategically unimportant islands that the Japanese were occupying and had heavily fortified. Submarines & airpower allowed the Americans to cut these bypassed islands off and they were left to "wither on the vine," like Rabaul: "By isolating Rabaul, the Allies effectively made its large garrison (which outnumbered the defenders on Okinawa) prisoners of war without having to fight them." One of the most stunning stories in the book that really captures the Japanese loss is the Mitsubishi Zero plant that lacked an airfield, so the planes were carted away by teams of oxen. Finally in late 1943, the oxen were exhausted and hungry, so they switched to using horses which could work more on less food.
  • The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders 1877-1945 (3/5) Good summary here: "One of three volumes on the domestic police role of the United States Army... until the 1870s the military dealt with domestic violence only when federal authority was directly challenged, as in the Whiskey Rebellion or southern resistance to Reconstruction. Burgeoning industrialization and class conflict after the Civil War led to a new duty for the army when local police and state militias could not contain labor conflicts or race riots." A class struggle, like in the previous book (Framers' Coup): "Workers and their supporters criticized the army as a tool of the industrial magnates, while the propertied classes regarded federal intervention as essential when local forces were inefficient or unreliable." Ultimately: "a less whiggish conclusion: that the army mirrored domestic political attitudes and changed its perceptions and tactics as those attitudes changed."
  • How the North Won: A Military History of the Civil War (3/5) Some highlights: "at the outset, the north has 110,000 manufacturing establishments employing 1,300,000 industrial workers; the South contained 18,000 establishments with 100,000 workers." "The South built only 4 percent of all the locomotives produced in the United States during 1860 and only 3 percent of the firearms." "Even the North's crops, produced with the air of almost all of the nation's labor-saving machines, amounted to more annual worth than those of the predominately agricultural South." "Recent military developments also favored the Confederacy. In the Mexican War, Santa Anna's essentially frontal attack at the Battle of Buena Vista failed decisively in spite of a numerical superiority of nearly three to one." "Much speculation exists among historians as to whether or not the Confederated could have captured Washington (after Manassas) ... 'it seems from the vantage point of today that the bold course of attempting to capture Washington should have been adopted...'" "The radical senators' experience at Bull Run and the panicky retreat of raw troops also reinforced the popular idea that war consisted of battles and military science consisted solely of leadership in combat. School history emphasized such major engagements as Cannae, Marathon, Hastings, Crecy, and Bunker Hill, to the almost total neglect of other aspects of military operations... This view emphasized courage and enthusiasm in combat and overlooked logistics and strategy." Lincoln on his "general idea of the war": "we have the greater numbers, and the enemy has the greater facility of concentrating forces upon the points of collision; that we must fail unless we can find some way of making our advantage an overmatch for his; and that this can be done by menacing him with superior forces at different points..." "While the federal government effectively coordinated the North's economic power and took new liberties with the U.S. Constitution, the southern citizenry often held stubbornly to the fundamental ideals of limited government, even if that should result in the new nation's failing to survive." "The role of public opinion in the Union and in the Allied situation in World War I differed ironically. Much of the civilian-military tension in the Civil War revolved around a civilian demand for direct offensive action and a military insistence that the defense was too strong. The soldiers were correct. In World War I the allied generals persisted, to the dismay of many civilian leaders, in piling up huge casualties in attacking the entrenched enemy." The radical abolitionists were incredibly bloodthirsty, and the Civil War ended up killing several percent of the entire population. The class conflict interpretation (see Charles Beard from the Framers' Coup) of the CW was that "[A] social cataclysm in which the capitalists, laborers, and farmers of the North and West drove from power in the national government the planting aristocracy of the South".
  • The Last Crusade: Spain 1936 (3/5) A Spanish Civil War book (from pre-war through 1936 only) written by Warren H. Carroll, founder of the Catholic liberal arts Christendom College in Virginia. (He also wrote a six volume history of Christian civilization, and histories of leftist anti-Christian terror like the Bolshevik revolution and the French revolution.) The Spanish right had something very valuable: the Traditionalist Communion, or Carlists. They had a true community and organization, including a militia (Requetés). In Navarre they were powerful enough to seize control over the region single-handedly. "If reaction dreams of a bloodless coup d'etat like that of 1923, it is entirely mistaken. If it supposes that it will find the regime defenseless, it is deluding itself. To conquer it will have to surmount the human barrier with which the proletarian masses bar its way. There will be a battle to the death, because each side knows that the adversary, if he wins, will give him no quarter. Even if this were the way it had to be, a decisive engagement would be better than this continuous blood-letting." Other notes: "[Franco] saved Spain from the worst fate that could befall any nation in the twentieth century - conquest by communism - giving his people instead a generation and a half of peace, security, prosperity, and personal - if not political - freedom in which the Catholic Faith was restored and flourished throughout the country. The Valley of the Fallen will stand against the sky as his just monument when all his venomous critics are dust." "After July 25 [1936], no Mass was publicly celebrated again anywhere in Republican Spain, with the sole exception of the Basque provinces, until the end of the Civil War. Churches not burned or sacked were closed and locked. Even the Communists in the Soviet Union did not go quite this far. The only historical parallel is Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror..."

Self-help/how-to (6)

  • The Boring Diet (5/5) Emphasizes grabbing the low hanging fruit of improving diet: avoid sugar in all its forms (soda, juice, candy) and err on the side of feeding the body boring but nutritious foods when it claims that it is hungry. Successful without being dogmatic (i.e. "keto" "paleo" etc), the method is consistent with the hypotheses of Stephan Guyenet; essentially that too much food variety and palatability are key contributors to obesity. As S.G. says, "the most seductive foods are combinations of dopamine-releasing nutrients, especially carbohydrate + fat.  Sugar alone is tasty, but sugar + fat is delightful." From the book: "Pick one breakfast and stick to it. Breakfast, because it is not typically a social meal, is your one opportunity to hit 100 percent adherence to the program, and it sets the tone for the rest of the day. The more you treat meals like a menu instead of boring nutrition, the less effective the neurocognitive retraining will be." As readers probably know, I am an egg maximalist - very bearish on breakfast cereals and sugary yogurts. Warren Buffett still lives in a world of breakfast cereal, and his food investments will probably end up getting crushed - not that they are that big of a proportion of Berkshire's assets. (More by @whsource: "Froot Loops play a special role in The Hungry Brain.  They're the food that suggested to researcher Anthony Sclafani in the 1970s that human palatable foods might be a particularly effective way to fatten rats.") 
  • The Pilot's Manual: Access to Flight (4/5) This is an "Integrated Private and Instrument Curriculum. The most efficient way to train for your personal transportation solution!" Written by the Klapmeier brothers who founded Cirrus Aircraft, and the illustrations and examples are all of the Cirrus SR20. (Which is what PhilG flies.) A couple funny controversies in aviation: how do wings work, and what do the throttle and elevator controls do? Wolfgang Langewiesche (father of William Langewiesche) who wrote Stick and Rudder in 1944 was adamant that you use the throttle to change altitude (counter-intuitive) and the stick/elevators to control airspeed (by changing angle of attack).
  • Congruent Exercise: How To Make Weight Training Easier On Your Joints (3/5) Author Bill DeSimone is a personal trainer who is concerned about the effects of heavy weight lifting on joints and connective tissue. Notes: "You may be surprised that many of the joint motions you're used to seeing in conventional exercise contradict safe joint motions as described in biomechanices textbooks. Part of that comes from compromised sports, dance, and martial arts movements working their way into exercise." "Consider avoiding exercises that draw a fine line between 'safe' and 'dangerous' and don't allow room for fatigue and distraction." "Most of the skeletal muscles operate at a considerable mechanical disadvantage. Thus, during sports and other physical activities, forces in the muscles and tendons are much higher than those exerted by the hands or feet on external objects or the ground." "From the levers alone, it would appear that the human machine is built for speed, not strength." "There are several concerns with most 'back' exercises. First, you don't really know what is happening at the level of the discs, at least until symptoms occur. The consequence of mis-loading the discs may not be immediate; it may just accelerate long term wear. You may voluntarily try to keep your back tight during a squat, deadlift, etc, you may appear as if you are, but the weight is definitely trying to bend your spine forward. Since you can't see into the spine, you don't really know if each of the deep muscles is holding the vertebra in place; the may not be, creating the impingement/herniation, just not yet at a noticeable level." He suggests some other books to read: The Concise Book of Muscles, Clinical Kinesiology, and Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle. There are two big concerns with trying to pack on a lot of muscle through something like Rippetoe's program, joint/ligament health and also "powerlifter belly" / insulin resistance from the high calorie diets. Rippetoe (watch him make a protein shake) gets pretty heated when the subject of "six packs" (people with low bf%) comes up. Coach Rip's attitude about bf% and insulin resistance makes me wonder how careful he is about joints.
  • Strong Enough? Thoughts from Thirty Years of Barbell Training (3/5) Last quarter I read Congruent Exercise and I mentioned two concerns about Rippetoe's program: joint/ligament health and also "powerlifter belly" / insulin resistance from the high calorie diets. He gets pretty heated when the subject of "six packs" (people with low bf%) comes up and this attitude (and complete ignorance of diet and insulin resistance) makes me wonder how careful he is about joints. I thought it would be interesting to see what Coach Rip has to say about his thirty years of lifting. He mentions that he has "numerous back injuries" and can't squat more than 185 without a belt. He has "no ACL in [his] right knee" and "some work done on [his] left patellar tendon." He says, "accumulating injuries are the price we pay for the thrill of not having sat around on our asses." Coach Rip has had "motorcycle wrecks, horse wrecks, barbell wrecks, and overuse injuries." Regarding the deadlift: "If the muscles that keep the spine rigid are not contracted properly or are overcome by the load and pulled into a position where the spine is rounded, three problems result. First, the intervertebral discs are not designed to bear weight effectively anyway. This bipedal stance we occupy is rather poorly thought out, and discs are better at just separating bones than forming a weight-bearing surface between them. They only bear weight well when they are in the correct position, where the surfaces of the vertebrae they separate are oriented in the way the disc is shaped for them." I do agree with his position that "long slow distance training is not only a poor way to lose bodyfat and gain cardiovascular fitness; it may be the single best way (especially when combined with the FDA's dietary recommendations) to lose muscle mass ever devised." He mentions that a fellow at his weight club died at age 45 from complications resulting from surgery on an ascending aortic aneurysm. (And a few years before that the same fellow had "completely ruptured" his patellar tendon!) Two books in a row with people who have far-out lifestyles that cause aneurysms. I do appreciate Coach Rip's high agency approach. He believes in personal responsibility and self improvement. But it seems like he is a "short life history" guy. Intellectual stimulation is more congruent with long life history than physical stimulation.
  • Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study (3/5) This is about the Harvard Grant Study which was a longitudinal study of 268 specially selected Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939–1944. Because the underlying Harvard group, even back then, was select and also because the study founders tried to choose the most promising of the sophomores, there seem to be to be limits to what the study could reasonably infer. This author, the fourth director of the study, does not mention how this restriction of range is a problem. He thinks that intelligence is not that important to success, and while I would agree that many other things are important, it is not a valid conclusion from the study design. One thought from the study is that alcohol abuse is "by far the greatest disrupter of health and happiness." He thinks that it was the main cause of divorce and was also strongly associated with cigarette smoking and shortened lifespan. This is alcohol abuse, not necessarily use. Funny quote: "Some readers may object to my classifying a hundred visits to a psychotherapist as a statistical manifestation of mental illness." Key factors for being happy and well at age 80: "a stable marriage, a mature adaptive style, no smoking, little use of alcohol, regular exercise, and maintenance of normal weight." I've given my thoughts on this topic before: "If you're smart and manage to be high-status, you'll live a happier and longer life and accomplish more."
  • The Carnivore Diet (3/5) It's not clear that carnivore is superior to keto / low carb / or even just Mangan's basic concept of avoiding sugar, refined grains, and seed oils. But it is interesting to see people successfully subsisting on just meat, because it means that you can take an elimination diet to that limit in order to see what might be causing problems. The thrust of the carno argument is that "plants are waging chemical warfare," so you should not only avoid Mangan's 3 but avoid all plant products as well. While we know that plants have defenses against herbivory, it ignores the potential hormetic effects of these phytochemicals. That's not to say that Shawn Baker is completely unaware of hormesis (taking saunas for "hormesis without having to eat nasty broccoli toxins"), just that his argument about phytochemicals in the book does not engage with it. And some plant poisons we laugh at, like the alkaloids "Vitamin N" and caffeine. He repeats the idea, which we have mentioned previously, that glucose competes with vitamin C absorption, so carnivores do not need as much of it from diet. He mentions from having practiced medicine that while total cholesterol is only weakly associated with cardiovascular disease, out of all the factors that are associated the TC level is the *easiest* to manipulate, chemically, with a profitable statin pill. He makes a good point that you can take people with familial hypercholesterolemia, at the top of the TC distribution, and predict their CVD risk from insulin level. This is consistent with the Mangan idea that insulin resistance is the key factor causing lifestyle disease. He mentioned a book, Arctic Village, about a man who visited people surviving solely on caribou meat in remote northern Alaska. He's also aware of a concept that we've discussed in the past - hunter gatherers who were healthier than nation/state agricultural slaves. As someone tweeted a couple of years ago, "If I wanted to enslave & subjugate a race, I would introduce agriculture. Weakens men: Less protein, less testosterone (grains, phytoestrogens, omega-6) Matures girls sooner: Phytoestrogens Result: Faster reproduction, shorter lifespans, less ability to resist (weaker/shorter)." By the way, that tweet is gone and so is the account that tweeted it. Banned for thoughtcrime? The censorious totalitarians who control twitter really thwart networking and knowledge accumulation. 

Politics & political history (5)

  • The Framers' Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (3/5) Written by HLS professor Michael Klarman, who is the brother of hedge fund manager Seth Klarman (author of the overrated Margin of Safety). Summary: "the Constitution was a conservative counterrevolution against what leading American statesmen regarded as the irresponsible economic measures enacted by a majority of state legislatures in the mid-1780s, which they diagnosed as a symptom of excessive democracy." The irresponsible economic measures were a response to a post-Revolutionary economic depression: "per capita gross national product plummeted nearly 50 percent in the fifteen years after Americans declared their independence." Sadly and ironically, the tax burdens increased post-Revolution because of the cost of the war. It is debatable whether American independence was a good idea in the short, medium, or long runs. Federal regulation of interstate commerce was meant to prevent things like Pennsylvania and New York punishing New Jersey with import duties for using their ports. That grant of power to Congress "was intended as a negative and preventive provision against injustice among the states themselves, rather than as a power to be used for the positive purposes of the general government," according to Madison himself! Another surprise: "that judges could invalidate legislation was a fairly radical concept in 1787". However, faith in legislatures by the rich "had been shaken by the capitulation of state assemblies to populist pressure for tax and debt relief." Charles Beard's economic interpretation of the founding was that the supporters of ratification who were creditors "determined to suppress state debtor relief laws and inflationary monetary schemes, as well as speculators in government securities who stood to make a fortune from the creation of a powerful national government possessed of sufficient taxing power to pay off its debt at face value. Antifederalists, according to Beard, were mostly debtor farmers." What is most striking is that the post-revolutionary rich were absolutely determined to protect their wealth from a currency devaluation, but it was not long at all before the elite were generating schemes for currency devaluation that they could control. Other notes: the Bill of Rights of ten constitutional amendments was winnowed down from 40 that were seriously proposed. Overall - the reason that the Constitution is so goofy is that the Federalist promoters who planned it cared about only two things (protecting property and getting revolutionary war debts paid off at par), and they did not think it would last that long (the Articles of Confederation hadn't), so they just did not put much thought into many of the provisions. The provisions that did get a lot of thought, debate, and negotiation were the ones where big/small states and northern/southern states were clearly at odds. 
  • The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are (Still) Going Broke (2/5) Based on the title, I thought that Pocahontas understood the two income trap. Unfortunately, her book does not discuss positional goods or the way that oligarchs profit by flooding the country with cheap labor, driving up rents and land values and driving down wages. She recognizes that there is a bidding war - now recruiting two parents' incomes - for houses in "good" neighborhoods with "good" schools, but she is either lying or ignorant about what makes them "good." Everything she talks about is better understood by Steve Sailer or LoTB. 
  • Two Cheers for Anarchism: Six Easy Pieces on Autonomy, Dignity, and Meaningful Work and Play (2/5) James C Scott is best known for Seeing Like a State and Against the Grain (and, also) and his work on the history of states has made him somewhat anti-statist or anarchist. By "somewhat," I refer to his statement, "unlike many anarchist thinkers, I do not believe that the state is everywhere and always the enemy of freedom." The only example he gives is the U.S. Army integrating the Little Rock schools at bayonet-point. (You have to remember that Scott was "mezmerized" by Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong in the 60s.) He observes "virtually every major successful revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew." Another observation: elites find resistance movements with leaders easy to deal with (bribe), it's the ones with no leaders that they find threatening. In the 1930s and 1960s, the resistance that the U.S. state was facing had "no one to bargain with, no one to credibly offer peace in return for policy changes. The menace was directly proportional to its lack of institutionalization." And, "so far as system-threatening protests are concerned, formal organizations are more an impediment than a facilitator." Which means that "organized interests [like unions or parties] are parasitic on the spontaneous defiance of those whose interests they presume to represent." He talks about how FDR and MLK used speeches (whistle stops) to develop political platforms. The listeners wrote the speeches and platforms for them with their feedback: "the themes that resonated grew; those that elicited little response were dropped." Trump did this too - he never wanted to build a southern border wall but it was a huge applause line at rallies, so he was eventually promising a fantastical 40 or 50 foot tall wall. Speaking of elite overproduction: "thwarted petty bourgeois dreams are the standard tinder of revolutionary ferment"!
  • Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man (2/5) This is by Trump's niece Mary, the daughter of his brother Fred - the alcoholic who died very young. There are two reasons why Trump's presidency has been useless and even counterproductive: he is not very smart, and he is a stooge who is controlled through extortion. (Like most Republican politicians.) The book is not very interesting because it is about Mary Trump's sad personal story, which has mostly to do with her father being an alcoholic and some part to do with Trump family problems. It sounds like Trump and his father both had low affection for other people, which would explain their greed, Donald's absurd risk taking, and Donald's divorces and unhappy marriages and parent-child relationships. And Donald's risk taking is what put him in a position where he is financially compromised: he is dependent on his lenders and financial desperation also led him to have tax problems and financial fraud problems. (His kids too!) Trump's association with Epstein makes you think that he may be blackmailed in other ways too. He has always had a remarkable insecurity about his sex life, although perhaps understandable. But it is also possible that Trump and Epstein were in the same business. Think about the fact that Trump was involved in hotels, casinos, and beauty pageants. These are organized crime and human trafficking industries. Something else I did not know about the Trumps (this is not in the book): the grandfather Frederick, born in Bavaria, had a restaurant in Pioneer Square, Seattle, then moved to Snohomish County before heading up to the Yukon. Frederick sold his share of his Whitehorse, Yukon restaurant when the local government announced the suppression of prostitution, gambling and liquor rackets. Hmm...
  • Yuge!: 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump (2/5) It says everything about Garry Trudeau's abilities as a political cartoonist that he found Obama "hard to satirize". So his comics about Trump are really dull, going for the most obvious jokes: the bad hair and the bragging. There is no insight into Trump's insecurity.

Biography/autobiography (5)

  • A River Runs Through It and Other Stories (4.5/5) Norman Maclean was born in 1902 and his family moved to Missoula in 1909. There were only 13,000 people living there, and only a few hundred thousand in all of Montana. During WWI, he worked as a lumberjack. Believe it or not, the gas chainsaw had not been commercialized yet, so he and a partner were cutting down these trees with muscle alone. There are probably still buildings in Montana with lumber from trees that he cut down by hand a century ago. That is the difference between being a settler or pioneer and being an immigrant. The 1992 film still holds up well, and I think that the book works for anyone who: cares about the geography of western Montana, is interested in fly fishing, and/or has a troubled sibling. I suppose it would also be interesting if you were the child of a Presbyterian minister. Some notes: "Practically everybody on the West Coast was born in the Rocky Mountains where they failed as fly fisherman, so they migrated to the West Coast and became lawyers, certified public accountants, presidents of airplane companies, gamblers, or Mormon missionaries." From his logging essay: "Their clothes were very expensive; they claimed they were robbed up and down the line and probably they were, but clothes that would stand their work and the weather had to be something special. Central to both the lumberjack's and the cowboy's outfit were the boots, which took several months of savings." It may be worth reading The Norman Maclean Reader with more of his pieces. 
  • The Starship & the Canoe (4/5) A profile of Freeman and George Dyson (remember Baidarka in Q4), by Kenneth Brower. Excerpts: "British Columbia's coast range is a nine hundred mile fold in the Earth's crust. Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlottes are parts of a parallel seaward fold, most of it submerged. Both folds - the entire Inside Passage province - were covered by the Cordilleran ice sheet, which in grinding its way over Georges's country carved the final touches upon it. The glaciers were enormous, and so are the land and seascapes they left behind. The fjords are deep and labyrinthine. The landforms are all out of scale, belonging on a larger planet. The peninsulas between the fjords are big, steep, and dark, like negatives of the vanished tongues of ice. The darkness is less geology than botany. A dense forest of Douglas fir, cedar, Sitka spruce, and hemlock has sprung up after the thaw. As the forest colonized above waterline, the Pacific and its seaweeds were colonizing below, and today the two influences make for a jarring disconformity. Above waterline a traveler sees subboreal forest; when the tide is running, he might be on any northern river, or, when the tide is slack, on any northern lake. But below waterline he watches kelp lean with the current; from time to time a seal surfaces, or the fin of a porpoise. He's not on any northern river or lake. The water is salt. The lower boughs of the hemlocks are trimmed straight by the high tide. The river is the Pacific, and it flows both ways.""The Inside Passage is a country shaped by water. Water is responsible for its character, just as wind is responsible for the butte country of the Southwest, or meteors for the surface of the moon. Water, in one form or another, did all the work. Glacial ice carved the country steep. Heavy rainfall dark-greened it. Fog grooved the needles of the conifers and tipped the guard hairs of the wolves. Cold stream currents thickened the pelts of the mink and otter, fattened the grizzlies, streamlined and silvered the flanks of the trout, chambered the salmon's indomitable, homeward-leaping heart. The high annual precipitation sends the Douglas firs up two hundred feet and more, broadens their boles to seventeen, furrows their bark, and then, after a millennium or so, undermines their roots, topples and sends them out to the Pacific, which soaks and rolls and deposits them, smooth, barkless, and colossal, in the beach windrows whose chips feed George's fire at night." "Most of the Inside Passage lies under water, in one or another of its forms. The Pacific insinuates from the west, and year-round snow covers the summits to the east. The dry land between is seldom truly dry. Parts of the coast receive more than two hundred inches of rain a year. Streams run everywhere. Rivers rise at every opportunity and after a few turns become mighty, running clear when their source is snow, milky when their source is glacier. The glacial milk is ground up continent in suspension, for inland the ice continues its whittling. The Ice Age is not over in George's country, and continues to enlarge it for him." "I soon realized that much of the British Columbia coastline was either inaccessible or posed extreme danger to such vessels. Most of British Columbia's vast system of open coast and intricate tidal waterways is outside the limits of what is considered a safe path for modern travel and can be viewed only briefly and at a distance through such means." "The Aleuts were master kayakers out of necessity. The Aleutian Islands have one of the dreariest climates on Earth. When gales are not whipping the islands, dense fogs are smothering them softly."
  • Fishing with John (4/5) Continued reading about the waters of the Salish Sea and Inside Passage. A New York writer (including for The New Yorker), Edith Iglauer, moved to British Columbia, married a commercial fisherman, and joined him on his commercial salmon fishing trips. The New York Times called her the "Bard of Canada" when she died last year at the age of 101. The book was made into a movie called Navigating the Heart. She wrote another book about the annual construction of an ice road from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories to a silver mine on Great Bear Lake, above the Arctic Circle. 
  • Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times (3.5/5) Bought this after reading the review by Slate Star Codex. Hoover lived from 1874 to 1964. He was the first student at the new Stanford University. He studied geology and went into mining, working first in the harsh Australian outback and then in China, where he survived the Boxer Rebellion. He worked for presidents Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge before serving his one term. HL Mencken said that Hoover was "the sort of man who, if he had to recite the Twenty-Third Psalm, would make it sound like a search warrant issued under the Volstead Act." Trump might join Hoover as a one-term president felled by the collapse of a gigantic bubble that began before his term. Hoover was far more intelligent than Trump, though. I wonder whether his mining textbook is worth reading? (Imagine Trump writing an engineering textbook!) Actually, Hoover might have managed a second term but he clung to prohibition, already almost 13 years old and a complete failure by the time of the 1932 election. Hoover had a much more interesting life than any millennial I can think of. He spent the decade starting age 47 as secretary of commerce. The current occupant of that office is 82 years old! I like Steve Sailer's theory that "#MeToo  appears to be younger women trying to push out of the really good jobs old guys who were aging better than" earlier generations. Federal judges who are in their 90s. Ever increasing presidential age to the point of dementia. Woodrow Wilson died three years after leaving office, at age 67. Harding died in office at age 57. Coolidge died four years after at age 60. Taft lived (as Chief Justice) for 17 years after leaving office, but died at age 72.
  • My Kitchen Wars (2/5) A memoir by Betty Fussell, the ex-wife of Paul Fussell who wrote the important Class, a true 5/5. Her writing isn't that great, would suspect that she road Paul's coat-tails and resents the fact that everyone realizes it. Funny quote from Betty: "to cook French, eat French, drink French (California wines didn't yet count, and couldn't be mentioned in polite conversation unaccompanied by the word 'varietal') was to become versant in the civilized tongues of Europe as opposed to America's barbaric yawp." She mentions that Paul "took to wearing nylon bikini briefs in Day-Glo colors" and also started took a strong liking to his male students. (Which led to their divorce.) She's still alive at age 92, he died in 2012.
Biology (4)
  • A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm (4/5) Another Skutch in Costa Rica book, written after the one we started the quarter with. This one has excellent illustrations by Dana Gardner. (He met Skutch in Panama and they worked together for the next 28 years. See his prints.) Skutch's farm was in the valley of El General, at the head of the Rio Terraba on the Pacific slope of southern Costa Rica. Skutch was a vegetarian (he had a profound, almost Ahiṃsā respect for living beings) and he grew all the food he ate on his own farm, in addition to being a professional naturalist. His staples were things like corn, rice, sugarcane, bananas, milk, chicken eggs. He said that "varieties [of rice] used in Central America thrive on well-drained ground. Indeed, rice, a thrifty plant, yields fairly well on poor soil where maize, which much feed gluttonously in rich earth to form is heavy ears, is hardly worth planting." He lived to be a week short of 100 years old despite not eating any meat! On the other hand, he never ate any pesticides and breathed clean air, never had a boss and was enthralled with his work. Skutch discovered “helpers at the nest” or what is now called “cooperative brooding”. He wrote his final book at age 96. Skutch and his wife never had children; I wonder whether it was because they were anti-human. He wouldn't have agreed with Bill Gates: "to undertake general measures to reduce infant mortality in a greatly overpopulated country with a stubbornly high birthrate is misapplied charity, which will ultimately produce much more misery than it alleviates; the resulting increase in population will intensify poverty and crime and perhaps bring on ever more disastrous famines." He mentioned, "the scientist is sometimes overcome by paralyzing doubts about the value of the facts he toils to discover; the artist knows intervals of surfeit or disgust with his art; the philosopher may become entangled in bewildering mazes of speculation. I had known something of this devastating state of mind." He mentions that "again and again, when I tried to substitute scientifically approved procedures for seemingly wasteful and inefficient local practices, I ran into trouble and reverted to the local methods." See James C Scott! He says, "to give a child or an animal a name suggestive of a quality that one hopes the newborn creature will eventually possess is to invite disillusion." Talking about how to balance human needs versus other organisms, among five approaches he writes, "we might adopt a more Stoic interpretation and favor the animals whose behavior appears noblest or most admirable. We see many birds and mammals cooperating together, toiling to nourish and protect their young, at times risking or even sacrificing their lives to protect their progeny; and these activities suggest moral or quasi-moral attributes that set the warm-blooded animals above the majority of reptiles, amphibians, and fishes, for in these classes of vertebrates true cooperation and the nurture of offspring are exceptional." Similarly: "Many mammals and birds are likewise inveterate predators; but, by attachment to their mates, devotion to their young, a more or less developed social life, and often, too, certain indications of playfulness and joy in living, they may stir our sympathy. The serpent is stark predation, the predatory existence in its baldest, least mitigated form. It might be characterized as an elongated, distensible stomach, with the minimum of accessories needed to fill and propagate this maw - not even teeth that can tear its food. It crams itself with animal life that is often warm and vibrant, to prolong an existence in which we can detect no joy and no emotion. It reveals the depths to which evolution can sink when it takes the downward path and strips animals to the irreducible minimum able to perpetuate a predatory life in its naked horror. The contemplation of such an existence has a horrid fascination for the human mind and distresses a sensitive spirit." Skutch wanted to live on a planet with only primary photosynthetic producers and herbivores, no predators, e.g. "Birds eat the juicy berries and spread far and wide the small, indigestible seeds, from which more trees and shrubs grow to provide more pollen for industrious bees. This benign cycle, in which every participant is benefited and none is harmed, is one of evolution's finest accomplishments, proof that a blind, undirected process, which depends on random variations and produces much that we abhor, and much that we regard with mixed feelings, can also create much that we unreservedly applaud."
  • A Naturalist in Costa Rica (3.5/5) Before Bernd Heinrich, there was Alexander Skutch. A botanist and naturalist born in 1904, he moved to Central America in the 1930s to collect specimens before settling on a farm in Costa Rica in 1941, where he lived for the rest of his life. "The home-seeking wanderer hopes to find a spot which unites the advantages of all the most delightful places he knows, while excluding the disadvantages of each. Vain endeavor! The attractions of different localities are often mutually exclusive. We cannot have the salubrious atmosphere of the mountains along with the deeper and richer soil of the lowlands, a score of miles away. We cannot [have] a good road and proximity to shops and a post office along with unspoiled wilderness. We cannot have magnificent rain forests along with a dry climate. And everywhere there are plagues and annoyances, whether from the government, neighbors, rodents, snakes, insects, fungous parasites, or the weather." The valley where he settled was so isolated (then) by high mountains and forests that the inhabitants referred to all the rest of the world as "afuera" (outside). His farm was at 2,500' and over the decades he identified 277 species of birds on his property. He earned a living mailing specimens of plants to his "subscribers". More highlights: "Grazing animals possess marvelous powers of gustatory discrimination; when given the choice, they instinctively prefer those areas where the soil is richer and supports herbage better supplied with the nutritive elements essential to them." "One hummingbird to one tree is the rule, to enforce which sharp clashes sometimes occur between competing nectar seekers." We know this already from Colinvaux: "Predators commonly display an easy mastery over their habitual prey, rarely jeopardizing life or limb to secure it. A little reflection will convince us that this is how it must be. A hawk that subsists mainly upon snakes, including venomous kinds, seems to live dangerously... Yet to nourish itself and its young, such a raptor must kill hundreds of serpents in the course of a year; if as much as one per cent of the encounters proved fatal to the hawks, these birds, with their slow rate of reproduction, would soon become extinct. The hawk must learn to restrict its attacks to snakes that it is certain to overpower. Such is the case with all other predators. [...] With social animals that are rather evenly matched, the situation is different. A hive of bees may sacrifice many of its members to capture the stores of another hive, yet obtain this honey more cheaply than by independent foraging... In a world pervaded by strife, the fiercest conflicts, the only warfare properly so-called, occurs among social animals..." He felt great ecological concern and had no children, while his thoughtless neighbors have bred teeming hordes over the ensuing decades. He was also an atheist: "The very religions that insist that [God] revealed himself in definite places at certain historical moments tacitly admit that he has made no universal revelation of himself; he neglected whole epochs and races that doubtless needed him as much and were as worth of illumination by him as any people now alive."
  • White Feathers: The Nesting Lives of Tree Swallows (3/5) Latest by Bernd Heinrich. "The swallows had indicated that they provide incentives to offspring for leaving the nest, then keep track of individuals, have expectations, vocalize mutually to communicate their presence or location, and remember where individuals should be, in the midst of changing circumstances. There seemed a deliberateness about their behavior that, if observed among humans, would likely be interpreted as understanding."
  • How to Know the Birds: The Art and Adventure of Birding (3.5/5) Short essays about becoming a better birder over the course of a year, each essay paired with a common species: "200 birds, 200 lessons". Great drawings of birds, like the mother avocet and her babies. He mentions a term - one's "spark bird," "the species that triggers a lifelong passion, bordering on obsession, with birds." On microhabitats: "the slightly smaller and shorter-billed Least Sandpiper is less suited for foraging in standing water [than the Western], so it retreats to sandbars and mudflats where food is more readily procured." He really likes the ebird app for birding. Now, there are different schools of thought on birding. I don't personally want to do a bird census - counting and recording species - when I go birding. But the type of person who tries to "see" as many species as possible does, and they have all started using ebird to keep score. The result is that the neurotic birders are gathering intel and populating this database with bird sightings and locations. Where are green herons right now? You can search by species and time and find the hotspots. Or, you can check out a hotspot and see all the species that are being sighted by other birders right now. See bar charts for locations, print out checklists. It is the best thing I have ever seen for going birding in a new location and finding where exactly the species you want to see are right now. Author Ted Floyd also wrote a field guide and guides to Colorado and Nevada. There are different ways of measuring bird diversity, but the sky islands of southern Arizona are very exciting and the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard are very good as well. Although (from Matt Boone): "The northern plains and Mississippi remain underbirded and contain the highest discrepancy between actual birds seen and likely birds in the area." Underbirded is a great concept. No counties in California, Oregon, Arizona, or New England have fewer than 1,000 ebird checklists submitted, but almost no counties in Mississippi have more.

Medicine and pandemics (4)

  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (4.5/5) By David Quammen, author of The Tangled Tree which we read last year. Written in 2012, this essentially predicted the wuflu epidemic. "Infectious disease is all around us. Infectious disease is a kind of natural mortar binding one creature to another, one species to another, within the elaborate biophysical edifices we call ecosystems. It's one of the basic processes that ecologists study, including also predation, competition, decomposition, and photosynthesis. Predators are relatively big beasts that eat prey from outside. Pathogens (disease-causing agents, such as viruses) are relatively small beasts that eat their prey from within." Because the world's life forms are pretty closely related (tetrapods are less than 400MYO and mammals are less than 200MYO), pathogens, and viruses in particular, are often able to cross from one species to another. He goes to "wet markets," in Asia and Africa, and notes that Gunagdong is "a province of ravenous, unsqueamish carnivores, where the list of animals considered delectable could be mistaken for the inventory of a pet store or a zoo." Quammen notes that China in particular is "a culture where an infectious consignment of bats might arrive at a meat market as a matter of course." In the book he has conversations with the pandemic experts about the Next Big One. That will be a disease with "high infectivity preceding notable symptoms [which] will help it to move through cities and airports like an angel of death." The wuflu isn't the NBO, but what is surprising is how bad the secondary effects have been considering the low CFR. A respiratory virus with a CFR of 5%, which we were initially worried that wuflu might've had, would have been the end of the world. That's the most important realization from this pandemic: it's not going to take a 25% or 50% or 75% CFR to literally end the world as we know it if it has an R0 above 2. Something much, much smaller would do it. He mentions a paper called "Bats: Important Reservoir Hosts of Emerging Viruses". As the WSJ noted about wuflu, "Bats supplied most dangerous new diseases of the past two decades. The natural reservoir of rabies is in bats. Ebola, Marburg and other highly dangerous viruses come from bats. And most coronaviruses seem to originate in bats, including SARS and MERS." It's unclear why this would be. One theory would be that bats are a surprising one-quarter of all mammal species but actually, it seems like it might have bat immune systems might have more to do with it. High body temperature generated from flying leads to bat DNA damage leads to an immune system evolved to "fight but tolerate" viruses leads to bats are a ubiquitous viral reservoir. Here's some dimensional analysis of infectious disease: "The basic reproduction number, R0, is defined as the expected number of secondary cases produced by a single (typical) infection in a completely susceptible population. It is important to note that R0 is a dimensionless number and not a rate, which would have units of time−1. Some authors incorrectly call R0 the basic reproductive rate." Something in the book that was really shocking was about AIDS. There's reason to believe that HIV crossed over to humans between 1900 and 1910. Haitian medical workers were in the Congo after the Belgians left in June 1960 and brought it back to Haiti no later than 1966. A fellow named Joseph Gorinstein, based in Miami, created a plasmapheresis center called Hemo Caribbean to extract plasma from Haitians and bring it back to the U.S. The plasma extraction not only spread HIV among the Haitians but also brought it back to the U.S. By 1981, physicians in the U.S. notice homosexuals dying of normally harmless fungal infections (causing pneumonia). So HIV was in Africa for 70 years and in Haiti for around 20 years and no one noticed anything wrong! It is a good example of how cheap life is in r-selected, short life history places. Quammen's overall thought is that there is an outbreak of humans, combined with unprecedented expansion of human activity into biomes that are teeming with pathogens, which will lead to pandemics of zoonotic spillover diseases. At CBS, we have a rule that "anything parabolic is a short". Considering Quammen's twitter feed, I doubt he would be able to entertain the hypothesis that this particular pandemic was the result of a Chinese bioweapon. Also, even if the wuflu was an innocent spillover virus, Quammen would never go so far as to propose a cordon sanitaire around countries with bushmeat wet markets. Just like his fellow Bozeman writer, I am sure he thinks we should continue constant daily flights between all the world's viral sewers, and the intelligent readers of books like his should soberly decide not to have any children. (He's 72 and has "a family of large white dogs and a cat".)
  • Medical Nihilism (3.5/5) This is by Jacob Stegenga, a philosopher of science at Cambridge, who "argues that medical nihilism is a compelling view of modern medicine. If we consider the frequency of failed medical interventions, the extent of misleading evidence in medical research, the thin theoretical basis of many interventions, and the malleability of empirical methods in medicine, and if we employ our best inductive framework, then our confidence in the effectiveness of medical interventions ought to be low." He is especially concerned about the malleability: "the design, execution, analysis, interpretation, publication, and marketing of medical studies involve numerous fine-grained choices, and such choices are open to being made in a variety of ways... [there are] fantastic financial incentives in place for selling medical interventions that seem effective. Such incentives entail that when evidence can be bent in one direction or another because of the malleability of methods, such bending is very often toward favoring medical interventions, and away from truth." Take meta-analyses: "subjectivity is infused at many levels of a meta-analysis," such as the choice of "primary evidence, outcome measure, quality assessment tool, and averaging technique." I didn't realize how scary Phase I trials are, and trials generally underestimate harms because they are carefully designed to try to show evidence of efficacy. "[W]e should expect to observe examples of drugs that appeared to be relatively safe after clinical trials but came later to appear to be more harmful once used in a clinical setting." Amazingly, "the FDA requires only two randomized trials that show that a new medical intervention has some beneficial effect, regardless of how many trials were performed on the intervention..." One other new idea was the McKeown Thesis, that the decline in mortality from infectious disease had more to do with an improving standard of living than vaccines or antibiotics: "mortality due to tuberculosis had fallen by 75 percent prior to the introduction of streptomycin."
  • Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World (3/5) Three noteworthy things: (1) the reanimation of live 1918 virus, (2) "heterogeneity" in who suffered most from it, (3) the idea of a heritable influenza vulnerability. Fragments of the 1981 virus were recovered decades later: "Frozen and fixed lung tissue from five fall-wave 1918 influenza victims has been used to examine directly the genetic structure of the 1918 influenza virus. Two of the cases analyzed were U.S. Army soldiers who died in September 1918, one in Camp Upton, New York, and the other in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The available material consists of formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) autopsy tissue, hematoxylin- and eosin-stained microscopic sections, and the clinical histories of these patients. A third sample was obtained from an Alaskan Inuit woman who had been interred in permafrost in Brevig Mission, Alaska, since her death from influenza in November 1918." So, the heterogeneity of the coronavirus effects is nothing new. "In the Norwegian capital Kristiania (Oslo), for example, death rates rose as apartment sizes shrank." "The Italian race stock contributed nearly double its normal proportion to the state death toll during the epidemic period." Does the favorable Mediterranean climate mean resistance to colds and flu withers due to lower selection pressure? Regarding the heritable vulnerability - and this is a potential source of heterogeneity as well - there is an example of a young girl who suffered from ARDS from seasonal flu. She turned out to have "a genetic defect that meant she was unable to produce interferon, that all-important first-line defense against viruses." One researcher estimated that one in 10,000 people are unable to make interferon. The subject is "human genetic determinism".
  • Virology (2/5) Not as useful as I had hoped, this is really more of an encyclopedia of some common plant, animal, and bacterial viruses. Three theories for the origin of viruses: regressive evolution (degenerate life forms), cellular origin (escaped from inside cells), and independent entities that evolved on a parallel course to cellular organisms. When the 1918 influenza virus hit, people did not really know what a virus was.

Economics/investing/business (4)

  • The Zen of Thrift Conversions: How To Turn Hidden Bank Stocks Into Big Gains (3/5) A mutual company - whether a bank, insurance company, or other type of company - is one that is owned by its customers. A good example is outdoor retailer REI, which is owned by its members. If the company prospers, it grows and builds up its equity - retained earnings. REI, for example, has almost a billion dollars of "members equity". As one member out of five million, is my membership worth 10x the $20 that I paid for it? What ends up happening with mutual companies is that the people managing them eventually realize that they can help themselves to a lot of the retained earnings by demutualizing. What would be most intuitive would be for a mutual to simply distribute shares to its customers or members, perhaps per capita or else pro rata if it were possible to measure the amount that each customer had contributed to building up the surplus. But this is NOT how demutualizations work. Instead, the a demutualizing company will do an IPO and sell stock, raising capital that it typically does not actually need. The real purpose of this is not make sure that the successor company will be owned by the management (which probably were not customers) and whatever customers were sophisticated enough to understand the con, and liquid and rich enough to participate meaningfully. The other key ingredient in looting the customers' surplus is to underprice the IPO. This is all disguised from the small mom and pop customers' noticing thanks to an intimidating and discouraging sounding prospectus, as well as accounting treatment of unsold mutual shares that disguises their value. Key point: "GAAP accounting rules make [a mutual bank that has taken the first step in converting to investor-owned] look much more expensive than it actually is and completely misrepresent the stock's valuation because of how they count unsold shares." Mentions mutual bank investor websites and his own website. The FDIC has a list of mutual banks that haven't de-mutualized yet. The book has interviews with three bank investors, Joseph Stilwell, Lawrence Seidman, and Richard Lashley. Stilwell says, "the single biggest predictor I've seen about good and bad guys, meaning someone who puts himself in the position of an owner, is someone who's buying back their stock at a discount. [...] The worst predictor I can tell you is someone who announces a share buyback and then doesn't do it [which] almost always means they're bad actors, duplicitous, and bad, bad. But if they're just ignoring it when it's so obvious, it's a bad sign, too." Another observation by Stilwell: "Somebody wants every bank. There's not a bank I've ever run across, no matter what anybody said, that didn't have someone else who wants to play suitor to it. People say no one wants it. There's always somebody who it would make sense for. Somebody in-market can get some synergies. Maybe someone out of market wants to grow their empire."
  • The Inside History of the Carnegie Steel Company: A Romance of Millions (3/5) We've talked about making steel before on the blog: met coal and iron ore. Carnegie started out as a telegraph messenger boy in the Pittsburgh Office of the Ohio Telegraph Company. Some highlights: "During the summer of 1867 the manufacturers affected by the strike raised a fund and sent to Europe for workmen to take the places of the refractory puddlers. There being no contract labor law to prevent it, a large number of foreigners were engaged and brought over." Lake Superior iron ores averaging "over sixty-eight percent" iron per ton. Wikipedia: "The major constraint to economics for iron ore deposits is not necessarily the grade or size of the deposits, because it is not particularly hard to geologically prove enough tonnage of the rocks exist. The main constraint is the position of the iron ore relative to market, the cost of rail infrastructure to get it to market and the energy cost required to do so." Regarding accounting: "The minutest details of cost of materials and labor in every department appeared from day to day and week to week in the accounts; and soon every man about the place was made to realize it. The men felt and often remarked that the eyes of the company were always on them through the books." In a frequent practice of his, Carnegie once tried to squeeze out his partner William Shinn at an unfair price. Shinn sued and got an order for the production of the books: "for obvious reasons this was a measure distasteful in the highest degree to the Carnegies," and they settled.  
  • The Most Fun I Never Want To Have Again: A Mid-Life Crisis in Community Banking (2.5/5) The author was the CFO of a startup community bank in Georgia that started in 2007. Some highlights: "From an operational perspective, a community bank is really just a collection of third-party technology contracts with lenders, tellers, and staff people stacked on top. A new banking enterprise doesn't have nearly the resources of budget to handle functions like clearing checks, delivering on-line banking services, and restocking ATM machines. Those functions in practice are handled through service bureaus and technology providers that make up the internal plumbing of the entire banking industry. The process of vendor selection in opening a new bank is meticulous... In January 2007, I had no idea what a 'core processor' was. By January 2008, though, I could argue technology, parse the pricing plans and articulate the strengths and weaknesses of at least five major industry providers." They had the dumb luck of starting their bank right as the 2008 crisis was starting: "Touchmark would become a significant buyer of investment grade agency securities throughout the first several quarters of its history. Investment income and securities gains would subsequently provide more than half of Touchmark's gross revenue throughout its first two years of operation. Touchmark's bond portfolio as a percentage of assets was among the highest of any bank in the country at that time - and it is not an overstatement to content that Touchmark is still in business because of it."
  • The Deals of Warren Buffett Volume 2: The Making of a Billionaire (2/5) We read Volume 1 in 2018, which covered Buffett's first $100mm of net worth. That one was fascinating. At the beginning of Buffett's career, he took gigantic positions, going practically all-in. He was really hungry for wealth and fame. The deals were also worthwhile - there were net-nets that he could take control of, unlike today when micro cap companies trading below liquidation value all have controlling shareholders. But this volume covering his mid-career stage was not nearly as interesting. It was unbearably hagiographic: repeating Buffett's comments about "tap dancing to work" is really cringe. It is actually comical how millenial investors think that they are going to get a chance to "relive" Buffett's life story. Buffett's crucial, productive years as a young investor were during a time when valuations were low and property rights were secure. In contrast, we have the highest valuations in history and eroding property rights.

Law (4)

  • Examples & Explanations: Civil Procedure (4.5/5) Key topics in civil procedure: choosing a proper court (the "three rings" must be satisfied in that plaintiff's choice of court must have personal jurisdiction over defendant, subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case, and it must be an appropriate venue), what law should apply in federal court cases (federal vs state), sculpting the lawsuit by joinder of additional parties (permissive, although the court must have jurisdiction over the additional parties and claims), steps in the litigation process (complaint, motion to dismiss, answer, amendments, discovery, summary judgment motions), and the effect of the judgment (res judicata and collateral estoppel). Personal jurisdiction can be general (based on establishment of a significant relationship to the foreign state) or specific (based in minimum contacts with the state that give rise to the claim in suit). Personal jurisdiction can be challenged in the court in which the original action is brought ("direct attack" in the rendering state) or in another state where enforcement of the judgment is sought ("collateral attack"). The collateral attack assumes the defendant ignores the first suit entirely until a collection attempt is made in a state where the defendant has property; it is a risky strategy because it can only challenge the personal jurisdiction and not the merits of the defaulted suit. Subject matter jurisdiction of federal courts is governed by Article III of the Constitution (subject to limitations under 28 USC Ch 85), and consists of cases that arise under federal law and cases between citizens of different states (diversity cases). The statutory grant of jurisdiction to federal courts to hear diversity cases under 28 USC 1332 is narrower than Article III: it includes an amount-in-controversy requirement of $75,000 and requires complete diversity. The amount plead by the plaintiff controls unless it appears "to a legal certainty" that the claim is really for less. A defendant can "second guess" a plaintiff's filing in state court by removing it to federal court provided that the federal court would have jurisdiction. Unlike subject matter jurisdiction, venue and personal jurisdiction can be waived. Plaintiffs can sue together ("joinder") if they assert claims arising out of the same transaction or occurrence, and their claims involve common questions of law or fact. Similarly, a plaintiff can sue multiple defendants in a single action if the same criteria are met. For every claim, subject matter jurisdiction must be analyzed separately. There is a tension between the federal rules "which encourage broad joinder of related claims to promote efficiency, and the strict Article III limits on federal court jurisdiction." Also: "subject matter jurisdiction is as absolute as you can get in the civil procedure business." An alternative to answering a complaint is to file a rule 12(b) motion to dismiss, with defenses such as lack of subject matter jurisdiction (12(b)1), or failure to state a claim (12(b)6). The standard for amendment of complaints is very liberal: "cases should be tried on their merits rather than the technicalities of pleadings." Also: "the bug news in civil procedure over the last century has been the demise of pleading and the rise of discovery." Summary judgment is not meant to try the facts but only to determine whether there are genuinely contested issues of material fact. Prerequisites for res judicata preclusion: (1) final judgment (2) on the merits (3) same claims in first and second suits and (4) same parties. Collateral estoppel is a doctrine that prevets relitigation of issues previously raised.
  • Pleading Your Case: Complaints and Responses (4/5) A big change in formalism - today there is one form of action (a civil action); no longer three areas called contract, tort, and equity. She emphasizes "read the rules," like the FRCP or the local rules. A complaint is built around causes of action - theories of recovery for wrongs, which arise out of torts, contracts, or statutes. Each cause of action has elements, and the failure of a complaint to allege sufficient facts to support all the elements of a cause of action enables a defendant to seek dismissal of the complaint on the ground of "failure to state a claim". The elements of common law causes of action are set out in case law in the relevant jurisdiction. The next things to check are the statues of limitation for the causes of action and the standing of the plaintiff. Causes of action have to be matched to the relief they provide, such as money damages or equitable remedies like injunctions and specific performance. The Delaware Court of Chancery "has jurisdiction to hear and determine all matters and causes in equity" and "shall not hear any matters for which an adequate remedy exists at law or which can be heard by any other Delaware court." Another issue is venue, which is decided by court rule or a statute. Venue can often be proper in either a state court or federal court. A plaintiff picks the initial venue, although there's the possibility that the defendant can change it (for example by removing a case from state court to federal court). (Regarding removal, there is a special statute that ensures that a large group of insurance cases, which would otherwise be removable to federal court, cannot be removed.) After venue, another issue is jurisdiction, which encompasses subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction over the defendant. The US Code gives federal courts subject matter jurisdiction over certain types of cases, such as those involving a "federal question" or those between citizens of different states where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. (Also included in federal court jurisdiction are admiralty/maritime cases, bankruptcy cases, patent/trademark/copyright cases.) Federal courts also have supplemental jurisdiction "over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy." Unlike personal jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived by the parties to the case. Advice: "Be sure that you have included in your complaint all the causes of action that arise out of the set of facts you have." (See: the entire controversy doctrine in NJ.) Amendments: "if events have occurred since you filed the complaint or if new facts have come to light, through discovery or in some other fashion, you may ask the court for permission to amend." After receiving a complaint, a defendant can either answer or move to dismiss (FRCP 12b) some or all of the complaint. Once the court rules on the motion to dismiss, the defendant has to answer any remaining claims. She thinks that judges "disfavor" disposing of a case via a MTD.
  • Concepts and Case Analysis in the Law of Contracts, 7th Edition (3.5/5) We have quoted or mentioned contracts professor Marvin Chirelstein on the blog several times. Thanks to heavy smoking, he was intellectually productive into his late 80s. "The Contracts course should be the occasion for a loss of innocence. The cases are full of self-serving stories, some funny, some sad. Many of these stories, however, perhaps most, are either partly false or (more often) true as far as they go but not the whole story by any means. Students should learn skepticism from this, call it healthy skepticism if you like, and while that is rather a sour habit of mind to go about the world with, I think it is a necessary component of the professional outlook." "Students are sometimes troubled by the rather stark fact that the law does not actually require a promisor to keep his promise, but instead treats the payment of money damages as a wholly adequate remedy for breach." "The injured party may recover from the party in breach a dollar sum sufficient to put him in as good a position as he would have occupied had the contract been performed in full. This principle - easily the most important single idea in the whole contracts field - is referred to by convention as the 'expectation damage' rule..." That rule "operates to deprive the [breaching party] of any benefit from indulging in non-cooperative conduct." "A promise to hold an offer open... is not binding... and can always be withdrawn on notice to the offeree." (Otherwise it would be an option contract - requires consideration.) "The doctrine of promissory estoppel has long engaged, sometimes inflamed, the imagination of contract theorists... at least one influential commentator predicted that the traditional idea of contract based on bargained-for consideration and mutual assent was on its way to extinction, and would be replaced by the less restrictive and more dynamic concept of reliance." "It followed, or seemed to follow, that if contract enforcement was seen to be the righting of a wrong and essentially compensatory, then what had once been regarded as a distinct field of law called 'Contracts' would blur and fade and then reappear in a new guise as a branch of the law of Torts." "Lay people sometimes imagine that the law favors literal construction and strict formalism in the interpretation of contract terms. Lawyers know (or soon learn) better, and the requirement of good faith, which can be gravely cited to one's client as a well-established legal principle, makes it easier to counsel decent conduct on occasion and insist on caution and restraint." Something interesting regarding unilateral mistake, where a seller "simply doesn't know as much about his property as the well-informed buyer to whom he sells it:" "We cannot allow contract rules - and certainly not the modest doctrine of mistake - to reduce or eliminate the rewards claimed by those who invest in information gathering."
  • Chasing Paper: The Keys to Learning About and Loving Discovery (3/5) By the same author as Pleading Your Case. Per the SDNY court discovery guide: "Discovery is the process through which the parties exchange information that may be helpful to prove their claims or defenses. The discovery process is governed by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26–37, 45, and the court’s Local Civil Rules.  Discovery generally begins after the defendant files an answer, the parties hold a discovery planning conference, and the judge issues a scheduling order." The goal of discovery is to obtain "admissible documentary evidence to prove your view of the facts to a judge or jury." She says that if you "read the rules" you will understand "how discovery dovetails with motion practice and trial practice." Other highlights: "The civil rules have evolved to force openness among the parties, to avoid ambush litigation." "The important documents you have found during discovery are key to taking depositions of witnesses that lead to admissible, helpful, relevant evidence at trial." Regarding admissibility: "If you have a cooperative adversary, stipulate to authenticity and admissibility, otherwise, you must figure out which witness you will use to authenticate the document in court." I watched Lin Wood struggle with introducing documents into evidence during the Unsworth v Musk defamation case.

 Fiction (3)

  • The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (5/5) The classic by Jane Austen, improved somewhat by annotations (since many of them are clarifying obvious aspects of the book, but some are insightful). One of the annotations mentions the Duke of Wellington describing his soldiers as "the very scum of the earth". The high regard in which soldiers are held by modern Americans is a bizarre outlier - this would not have been true throughout human history (examples). Another bit from an annotation: "Pride, makes us esteem ourselves; Vanity, makes us desire the esteem of others. It is just to say, as Dean Swift has done, that a man is too proud to be vain." Mr. Darcy on humblebrags: "Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast."
  • The Collected Poetry of William Butler Yeats (2.5/5) Poets are remembered for their best poems, not for their average. It doesn't matter how many bad ones they crank out as long as just one sticks. Yeats' life was bracketed by the end of the U.S. Civil War and the beginning of WWII - he lived to be 73. He happened to be too old for WWI (almost 50) and of course also the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. His father was an artist and he was... just a poet. I think that his poetry lacks for interesting life experience. He was an odd fellow. When he was 34 he met a 23-year-old English heiress and ardent Irish Nationalist named Mayd Gonne. He "began an obsessive infatuation" and proposed to her in 1891, 1899, 1900, and 1901. She married another Irish Nationalist (John McBride) who fought for the Boers and then later participated in the Irish Easter Rising, before being shot by the British. The physiognomy of McBride and Yeats is a classic "chad vs virgin" dichotomy. I think Lamentation of The Old Pensioner is worthwhile, and of course Yeats is remembered primarily for The Second Coming: "a perfect poem can still go viral in a distinctly predigital way: that it’s become a part of the culture’s water supply. Slouchy though they may be, the misapplications amount to a tribute." That poem was put to perfect use in a scene that Oliver Stone wrote for his film Nixon. (Although the CIA threatened the production and it was cut!) A far better poet than Yeats is his contemporary Rudyard Kipling. Their lives overlapped almost precisely. Both born in 1865 (Kipling in Bombay), Yeats outlived Kipling by only three years. But Kipling's life was much more interesting. As a young man, he worked in British India for newspapers. When he left India to return to London after finding success as a writer, we went via the Pacific through Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, and much of the U.S. He met Mark Twain, who was thirty years older. "Twain, who rather liked Kipling, later wrote of their meeting: 'Between us, we cover all knowledge; he covers all that can be known and I cover the rest.'" Kipling got his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907 and Yeats got his in 1923. They were on opposite sides of Irish independence.
  • Savage Spear of the Unicorn: Stories by Delicious Tacos (2/5) Collection of short stories from twitter Delicious Tacos. Writing is stream-of consciousness like the BAP book, and so it is pretty forgettable. (Here is an example of a coherent short story though.) Tacos has 13K followers versus 34K for BAP. What these guys should do instead of writing mediocre books is publish collections of their tweets. People with five-digit follower counts are artists, but their medium is the tweet. The Tacos book was very nicely printed with good cover stock. It would be very satisfying to read tweets that way. Tacos is an LA guy; he seems to live in Highland Park.

Literary nonfiction (3)

  • Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster (4/5) By Krakauer. He's 67 now. I think that this and Eiger Dreams are his two best books. As I mentioned in the Eiger review, climbing the highest mountains is a pointless goal that hijacks the "success center" in some people's minds. Look at how poor Beck Weathers, a doctor, came home from the Everest climb with Krakauer in 1996: with no nose or hands. Some notes: "People who don't climb mountains - the great majority of humankind, that is to say - tend to assume that the sport is a reckless, Dionysian pursuit of ever escalating thrills. But the notion that climbers are merely adrenaline junkies chasing a righteous fix is a fallacy, at least in the case of Everest. What I was doing up there had almost nothing in common with bungee jumping or skydiving or riding a motorcycle at 120 miles per hour. Above the comforts of Base Camp, the expedition in fact became an almost Calvinistic undertaking. The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I'd been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain." The reason for the disaster is that the climbers that day did not turn around at the cutoff time that they had planned, and got caught in a storm at the top. Krakauer explores the reasons for this: "Mountaineering tends to draw men and women not easily deflected from their goals. By this late stage in the expedition we had all been subjected to levels of misery and peril that would have sent more balanced individuals packing for home long ago. To get this far one had to have an uncommonly obdurate personality. Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually comes up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you're too driven you're likely to die. Above 26,000 feet, moreover, the line between appropriate zeal and reckless summit fever becomes grievously thin. Thus the slopes of Everest are littered with corpses." Climbing Everest with a guide takes two months and costs $69k. Opportunity cost! Also, the effect of high altitude on the brain is much worse than I thought. Even Mont Blanc climbers (under 16k', or 5km) come back with abnormalities visible on an MRI.
  • Among the Thugs (3/5) By Bill Buford, author of Heat and the upcoming Dirt - both culinary books yet this first book was about football hooligans while he was living in Britain. In order to write Heat, he worked for free in the kitchen of Babbo. In order to write about football hooligans, he became a football hooligan. (He doesn't mention committing any violence or vandalism, but he was present at enough matches and riots that the hooligans thought he was a hooligan, and the Italian police gave him a thorough beating at one riot.) One of the things that makes a good writing career is cultivating interesting life experiences to write about. After studying writing with John McPhee, Peter Hessler lived in China teaching English and then lived in Egypt during their revolution (and riots). He moved back to China - just in time to be writing about the epidemic and living in quarantine. So these three (McPhee included) have a similar ability to cultivate life experiences that are worth writing about. A few things that I think Buford missed regarding the hooligans, or failed to explore. First, there is something really wrong with underclass whites in Britain - read Theodore Dalyrmple for this. Perhaps it is no coincidence that they could not maintain a manufacturing sector? Second, why were the young men so angry and violent? Was it genetic or environmental? My theory about the violence being localized at football matches is: organized sporting events are used to channel young male group spirit and desire for violence and dissipate it relatively harmlessly. If different groups of hooligans, or hooligans and cops, are cracking each others' skulls then no one is doing anything about the elite looting the country and offshoring of jobs. Sportsball works amazingly well for this, and the low-IQ fans think that they are rebelling by maiming each other over feuds regarding which entertainment business franchise they "support". Watching British football matches in person exposes one not just to riots but to a "fatal human crush," as happened at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, on 15 April 1989.
  • Classic Krakauer (2/5) A collection of Jon Krakauer essays. I thought Eiger Dreams was a great collection, but these were weak. One essay (After the Fall) is about what happened to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's original climbing equipment company: it succumbed to a wave of product liability litigation. Chouinard Equipment filed for bankruptcy protection and was sold to a group of employees; it survives as Black Diamond Equipment. You can still buy some of Chouinard gear on eBay. Phil Greenspun has talked about the effect of product liability litigation on the affordability of general aviation.

 Scientific history (2)

  • Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants (3.5/5) Written in 1972 when author John D Clark was 65: "There appears to be little left to do in liquid propellant chemistry, and very few important developments to be anticipated. In short, we propellant chemists have worked ourselves out of a job. The heroic age is over. But it was great fun while it lasted." More examples of simultaneous invention: "[T]he nature of chemists and of chemistry being what it is, the paths [the Soviets] took were the same ones we [Americans] took. They investigated the vinyl ethers, as the Germans had done before them, and then, in 1948, four years before NYU did the same thing, they synthesized and tried every acetylenic that they could think of. In 1948 they tried the allyl amines; Mike Pino at California Research was doing the same thing at the same time." Sad news for exploring space: "the absolute limit to the performance of a chemical rocket, even in space, appears to be somewhere below 600 seconds." He predicted that first stage rockets would continue to use liquid oxygen and kerosene.
  • The Chip : How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution (3/5) Transistors were a great invention, but pretty quickly the circuit designs using them outpaces the ability to reliably and economically wire them together: the "problem of numbers". The solution was to integrate all of the circuit parts, in miniature, in a single, monolithic block of semiconductor material. "If all the parts were integrated on a single slice of silicon, you wouldn't have to wire anything together. Connections could be laid down internally within the semiconductor chip. No matter how complex the circuit was, nobody would have to solder anything together. No wires. No soldering. The numbers barrier would disappear." The idea was simultaneously invented, by Jack Kilby (of Texas Instruments) and Robert Noyce (of Fairchild). A semiconductor material is halfway between a conductor (like copper or gold) that has only one electron in its outer orbit and an insulator that has a full outer shell of electrons. Silicon and germanium have 4 valence electrons in their outermost shell which gives them the ability to gain or lose electrons equally at the same time. Funny comment by Walter Brattain 25 years after inventing the transistor: "The thing I deplore most is the use of solid state electronics by rock and roll musicians to raise the level of sound to where it is painful and injurious." The development of the integrated circuit is an example of disruptive innovation. "The idea of making resistors and capacitors out of silicon flew in the face of decades of research that had established conclusively that nichrome was the optimum material for making resistors, Mylar for capacitors. Monolithic circuits of silicon would be inherently inferior. [...T]he whole concept posed a threat to an important segment of the engineering community." Also:  "...the giants of the industry - Sylvania, Westinghouse, and their ilk - carefully kept themselves clear of the business for several years. This untimely burst of caution opened the way for upstarts like Texas Instruments, Fairchild, and a slew of new firms in Silicon Valley to work out the problems and cash in on the revolution."
Cooking (1)
  • Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking (3/5) Brand new, by Bill Buford, author of Among the Thugs (a few books ago). In the April 12th Links, I had a New Yorker excerpt from Dirt that is the best part of the book, where he is baking bread at a small shop in Lyon. In Buford's cooking books, he has a tendency to go too far into the weeds on obscure European culinary history. With Heat, it was when and why cooks starting adding eggs to their pasta dough, and in Dirt it is whether French cooking derived from Italian (beginning in the 16th century). A friend says, "French cooking is the art of maximizing the highest tolerance in a dish for consumption of butter," and it certainly seems accurate from Buford's account. Rod Dreher wrote a good essay about the food and ingredients in southeastern France. Something else that made Heat inevitably better than Dirt is that Italian food is better than French. The best cooking tip I've gotten from these two books of his was from Heat, about how to reduce sauces. Although I have been cooking more with shallots recently (primarily in a skirt steak marinade for the grill), which is very French. One other noteworthy thing here - impressive how young his French cooking contacts died, of various kinds of cardiovascular disease: heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms. From smoking? Obesity? Restaurant drugs and drinking lifestyles? Wasn't clear. But many of the chefs that Buford met in the two books have been "morbidly obese". Sadly, they probably think it's the butter when it's almost certainly something else.


JP said...

Speaking of politics and political history, I just saw this comment, and it perfectly states what I think will happen over the next few years. The GOP has just begun a protracted civil war and is dead as a viable national party for the foreseeable future. As with the early stage of the pandemic, today's protest is outside Wall Street's collective experience, so the Street doesn't understand how important it is and what the implications are.

It feels to me, and to many, that the donor class was trying to buy divided government, but more than that, a SPECIFIC CONFIGURATION OF DIVIDED GOVERNMENT.

House = Pelosi, for the pork barrel spending
Senate = McConnell, for the low corporate taxes and stingy stimulus
White House = Biden, for the cheap foreign labor and Chinese appeasement

It feels like that strategy ran out of gas today. The GOP base realizes it is being played for chumps, with their vote exploited solely to cut stimulus payments.

Moreover, the vote-by-mail which is likely permanent, will be used to ensure high Dem turnout in off-cycle elections that used to be the GOP bread-and-butter.

Finally, double standards will be applied, with right-populist leaders aggressively de-platformed by social media, and right-populist "peaceful protesters" being shot by live rounds.

I think what we saw today was the death of the GOP, and a new era of single party government beginning...

Judging by the big rally in FOXA, Wall Street disagrees. They still believe that the base will go back to being angry cable TV watchers who are unwilling to organize beyond the couch. Who can be motivated to watch drivel every night, and turn out for midterms. But I really don't think the donor class will be able to purchase a coalition to put humpty dumpty back together again.

Anonymous said...

In keeping with the British Columbia theme, I highly recommend Notes from the Century Before by Hoagland and The Curve of Time by Blanchet. Both classics about the area. Thanks for putting these reviews up, they're great for finding new material!

CP said...

Putting links here:

Stagflationary Mark said...

The battleships were obsolete because of aircraft carriers.

Mostly obsolete, yes. My father served on the North Carolina during the war. You might find this interesting, especially the part concerning how many times the Japanese reported it sunk. I may not be here today if their reports had been accurate.

Battleship North Carolina: History

During World War II, NORTH CAROLINA participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations and earned 15 battle stars.

In the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August of 1942, the Battleship’s anti-aircraft barrage helped save the carrier ENTERPRISE, thereby establishing the primary role of the fast battleship as protector of aircraft carriers. One of her Kingfisher pilots performed heroically during the strike on Truk when she rescued ten downed Navy aviators on 30 April 1944. In all, NORTH CAROLINA carried out nine shore bombardments, sank an enemy troopship, destroyed at least 24 enemy aircraft, and assisted in shooting down many more.

Her anti-aircraft guns helped halt or frustrate scores of attacks on aircraft carriers. She steamed over 300,000 miles. Although Japanese radio announcements claimed six times that NORTH CAROLINA had been sunk, she survived many close calls and near misses with one hit when a Japanese torpedo slammed into the Battleship’s hull on 15 September 1942. A quick response on the part of the crew allowed the mighty ship to keep up with the fleet. By war’s end, the Ship lost only ten men in action and had 67 wounded.

Allan Folz said...

RE: "Even Mont Blanc climbers (under 16k', or 5km) come back with abnormalities visible on an MRI.”

I climbed Mt Adams a bunch of years ago. Climbed is being generous, Mt Adams is really a long hike to elevation. We overnighted at the lunch counter, which IIRC, is at ~10k’. I was 29 at the time and while not in the best physical conditioning of my life, was still in pretty good shape.

I could distinctly feel reduced cognitive ability. It was harder to think more than one step ahead. Mental math was impossible. It was a bizarre feeling.

I reckon normals don’t notice because mental life is always hard for them, they always try do as little as possible, and so how would they notice if it were suddenly a little harder, especially since the whole point of those activities is to escape their predominately mental day-to-day life and be purely physical.