Friday, December 29, 2023

Books - Q4 2023

  • Elon Musk (3/5) Walter Isaacson's new biography of Musk is a lot like his biography of Steve Jobs from 2011. His formula is to celebrate a business titan while conceding that the titan has an enormous personal weakness, yet positing that the weakness is paradoxically also responsible for his huge success. So, Steve Jobs is a "jerk" (really, a sociopath) in that biography. In this one, Musk is "intense," with Asperger's traits (sociopathic). One review says: "Isaacson does have time for a lot of Steve Jobs comparisons, which, after a while, begin to feel like product placement for his other book. In the index, Jobs is listed as showing up on 20 pages. You’d be forgiven for thinking Jobs was an important part of Musk’s rise, based on the index alone." Even when Musk offends the left, Isaacson's criticism is pretty mild: "At around 3 a.m., he impulsively tweeted it out: 'My pronouns are prosecute/Fauci.' It made little sense, wasn't funny, and managed, in just five words, to mock transgender people, conjure up conspiracies about the eighty-one-year-old public health official Anthony Fauci, scare off more advertisers, and create a new handful of enemies who would now never buy Teslas." The reason we read this new biography is that Musk's behavior has changed recently. He's tackling the border crisis, criticizing the Ukraine war, pointing out that the empire is in decline, going after Soros, mentioning white genocide, and taking on the ADL. People are asking whether Musk wants to be the "Red Caesar". It has to be either him or Erik Prince. Trump is too old and weak and has no conception of power; only money. (And even that, he's bad at.) Consider that Musk is now the first person to successfully turn the tables on the ADL. So who cares if he did a little accounting and securities fraud along the way? (As Shylock Holmes says, "it’s not nearly as obvious as you might think where exactly the next competent authoritarian might come from.") I realize that I underestimated some of his abilities and accomplishments while I was a Tesla bear. For example, Musk has something called the "idiot index," which is the ratio of the cost of a finished product to its bill of materials. The idea is, "if a product has a high idiot index, its cost could be reduced significantly by devising more efficient manufacturing techniques." The idea just occurred to me over the summer ("when a manufactured item costs much more than its bill of materials, it seems more likely that the final cost will continue to decline due to learning curve effects") only to find out that Musk already put the concept into use a decade ago. Musk has something called The Algorithm for making manufacturing processes more efficient: question every requirement, delete any part or process you can, simplify and optimize (only after deleting), accelerate cycle time (only after doing the first three steps), automate (last). It sounds like he read The Goal (which we read in 2019) and improved on it. Musk's personal life is highly disordered, consistent with the sociopathy. Divorced three times including twice from the same woman. Something like thirteen children with five different mothers (carried via surrogates, in some cases). Is Musk working with Steve Hsu for embryo selection on these IVF babies? There is an instance where two of Musk's pregnant babymommas are in the hospital at the same time and he doesn't think to mention the coincidence to either of them. This is a guy that, a hundred years ago, would have left his wife and kids to "go buy a pack of cigarettes" and then never returned. Musk's life sounds like a Tom Wolfe novel sometimes: "He was at the VIP room in the Miami Marlins' stadium attending a listening party hosted by Kanye West, known as Ye, for his new album, Donda 2. He was standing with rappers French Montana and Rick Ross, eating tacos and talking about cryptocurrency, when he got a text from Omead Afshar reminding him about the 9 p.m. Optimus meeting." It makes perfect sense - Musk thinks that we might be living in a simulation, and we have wondered in the past whether Tom Wolfe is the author of the simulation.
  • Cavaliers & Roundheads (3/5) The English Civil War is worth knowing more about. Watch this clip from the 1970 film Cromwell (starring Alec Guinness and Richard Harris) and consider that we are coming up on 400 years of Puritans smashing and destroying things that upset their feelings. Are they the original "antifa"? A big question is why the opposition to Charles I was able to defeat him. Remember one of our Q3 reads, The Populist Delusion, stands against the idea that "if conditions get bad enough, if the plebians become too disgruntled with their leaders, then the people will rise up and overthrow them." Charles was not so bad - nothing compared with Stalin or Mao, for example. It goes to show Jouvenel's claim that "revolution is the consequence of a weakness in Power which is liquidated by a stronger one." And Charles was quite weak. He seemed to think that a monarch's power was bestowed automatically thanks to divine right and not thanks to the formation and organization of alliances that could deliver superior force against opponents. Late in the Civil War, after his spectacular defeat at Naseby and while staying at Raglan Castle, someone in Charles' court described the mood: "We were all lulled asleep with sport and entertainments as if no crown had been at stake or in danger to be lost." Charles refused to come to a deal with the Scottish to accept the Presbyterian system in exchange for their help. However, rule by the religious kooks and heretics was so unstable that after only eleven years of Interregnum, the monarchy was restored. Conclusion: "the thousands of men who had died in the Civil Wars had given their lives to little discernible effect".
  • Turtles All the Way Down (4/5) We have gotten interested in the "vaccine question". We should have written about it more at the time, but the proper, game-theoretic decision with regard to the covid vaccine was to abstain when it came out... and to continue abstaining. The question now is whether it was an accident - a horrific botch out of panic - or whether it was deliberately made to be a slow-acting depopulation tool. Something very telling about covid and the covid vaccine is that people don't want to know where covid came from or whether the vaccine is harmful. Investigation and study of these subjects is prohibited in any institutions that would actually have the power to do so. An information blackout in true communist style. (Covid might be America's Chernobyl.) One wonders whether the dangers are unique to the covid vaccine. Are the childhood vaccines questionable too? Prior to covid, we would have brushed off such concerns. This book asks: "Can we entrust our babies to vaccines produced, tested, and marketed by the same agencies and corporations, doctors and government officials, researchers and high-tech moguls that failed us?" So here is something that we didn't know: pediatric vaccines are never and have never been tested against true placebos! The control groups in the trial of a new vaccine actually receives either an earlier, approved vaccine for that disease or a solution that is not inert. As an example, when the Hep A vaccine was tested, the "placebo" that was used as a control contained the aluminum adjuvant and mercury-based preservative that the vaccine contained, which obviously precludes the trial from determining whether those ingredients have adverse effects. As the authors say, "no logical explanation can be found for the ubiquitous practice of administering bioactive compounds to control groups in trials of new vaccines other than a desire to conceal the true rate of adverse events." Since none of the vaccines have ever been tested against true placebos there is no basis for claiming that they are free of adverse effects. Not only are the vaccine trials deficient (seemingly by design) but so are the adverse event reporting systems. We saw with covid that reporting an adverse reaction to the vaccine was low status and something that could easily cause you to be shunned or fired from your job in the health care system. But even if a physician felt himself able to report an adverse event related to the covid vaccine, the problem would be that he would have to keep recommencing and giving it to people since that it the current standard of care. There was a researcher who wanted to upgrade the vaccine reporting system to automate adverse event detection by monitoring patients’ electronic records for new diagnoses, changes in laboratory values, and new allergies for up to 6 weeks following vaccinations. It would have automatically contacted the clinician when a suggestive event was detected, and reported an AE automatically if no response was received. Apparently, the CDC quashed the idea. They clearly do not want the public to know whether the vaccines have adverse effects. So that again raises two possibilities. The vaccines could be a weapon against ordinary people, for slow-acting depopulation. It could also be that the vaccines work but have a significant risk of adverse events, and the powers that be know that people would not take them if they thought there was any downside to doing so.
  • The Vaccine Friendly Plan (4/5) This is an interesting one - by a pediatrician who was practicing in the 1990s and noticed a rise in autism as well as other chronic diseases in children. "Since safety is tested vaccine by vaccine, no one from the CDC had ever calculated the cumulative amounts of mercury in the childhood vaccine schedule at the time." He points out that the current CDC-recommended vaccine schedule exceeds the toxic limits of safe aluminum exposure! During the lifetime of a typical millennial, the number of shots has gone from eleven to fifty or so - an enormous increase. He thinks it may be especially bad to give children acetaminophen after giving them one of the pediatric vaccines that provokes a fever (such as MMR). This book goes beyond vaccination advice to general pediatric health topics. Here's something based: "I can no longer remain neutral about an entirely cosmetic procedure when it might be linked to something as devastating as autism. I now discourage parents in my practice from circumcising their sons. Moms and dads, we need to protect our babies from physical pain and stress as much as we can. Whether you have a son or a daughter, circumcision is not a medically indicated procedure." The worst childhood illnesses are rare and the common ones are not too dangerous. (At least not yet - that will be changing with our completely open borders, worsening sanitation and hygiene due to falling intelligence and corruption, and potentially also as more people opt out of vaccination.) So this author (Paul Thomas) says there is no reason for an American two-month-old to get the polio vaccine. He points out that Scandinavian babies don't get any vaccines until three months and that breastfeeding is more important (for immunity) than vaccination. He says no to Hep B, polio, and rotavirus, and is more open to the DTaP, Hib, and the Prevnar vaccines. It is important to realize that vaccines are a major profit center for pediatricians and they also drive a lot of the office visits. Paul Thomas has another intelligent suggestion - consider reducing the baby's exposure to disease threats by "cocooning" - being around fewer people. My impression is that small children pick up tons of infections at daycare. 
  • The Wolfberry Chronicle: And Other Permian Basin Tales From The Henry Oil Company (4/5) The story of Jim Henry, a petroleum engineer who started out with a small consulting firm in Midland and who ended up as an oil baron. The book is written by a geologist and engineer who worked for Henry, so it is much more detailed than it would be if it were written by some journalism major who had not worked for the company. His third chapter "Permian Basin Rocks for Jocks" is an excellent briefing on the history and geology of this important area. Incentives explain everything: in the early, conventional drilling days of Henry, he "never sold properties" because "the operating fees charged to the partners on a per-well basis were essential to pay the company's overhead in the Spraberry business model. As a result, Henry always wanted to increase and preserve well count." Before fracking, Henry evolved into the "waterflood kings": recovery of oil from fields that had already been drilled a first time. This was picking up crumbs from bigger companies; a time-honored way for a small company to start. Shales: "Most of the world's high-pressure, high-permeability fields have been discovered and developed, and almost all of today's reservoirs - shales in particular - do not produce naturally but require some form of stimulation." Three components were necessary for the shale revolution to work: finding the shale reservoir, drilling horizontally, and a slickwater frac.
  • The Economic Causes of the English Civil War: Freedom of Trade and the English Revolution (3/5) My take on the ECW after reading this: the upper middle class tricked the religious lunatics into helping to depose the king, and then discarded them. The Parliamentarians were strongly pro-property rights and anti-taxation. The king and his government did nothing for them - the merchants in London had their own standing militia and the king was just a parasite on the country. (For example, English kings did not provide for the defense of their citizens. During the reign of Charles I and during the surrounding centuries, raiders from north Africa -- Barbary pirates -- would kidnap and enslave English people from the coast. When they gained power, Cromwell and Parliament actually did something about it.) When they brought back Charles II after the Interregnum, he was reinstalled subject to all the economic victories that Parliament and the middle class had demanded. ("Even in the relatively pro-monarchial atmosphere of the Cavalier Parliament, it did not prove an easy matter to turn things back.") The king’s alliance was the highest nobility and the poor: a classic top and bottom against the middle fight! Thus, the ECW is similar to the American Revolution playbook, wherein the rebellious colonial elite of merchants tricked lower the classes into supporting a regime change with talk of freedom and liberty, then had a counter-revolution once they won. The efforts by the Tudor monarchs to reduce the power of great magnates shifted it towards the middle ranks of society, which set Charles I up to be deposed. "The Interregnum decades [mark] a transformation in the status of enclosure..." And coal and textiles were undergoing great progress during the 17th century as well. "The concept of freedom of trade was finding broad reception throughout the growing national economy," but Charles I made very clumsy efforts to regulate and tax. Interesting point about James I: "he had no concept of an objectively defined national interest." "The only active military campaign that Charles I undertook outside his English kingdom in the 1630s arose unexpectedly as a consequence of his attempt to impose a new order of worship on the church of his other kingdom of Scotland. This affronted the clear and powerful religious preferences of the Scottish people, and also met with condemnation from his English subjects, who perceived that it contradicted their national interest by fomenting a gratuitous conflict between the two kingdoms. Paradoxically, this needless provocation of his peoples on both fronts arose from Charles's dominant desire to reinforce the principles of hierarchy. It resulted in another humiliating reversal, which demonstrated in graphic fashion [his] fundamental weakness." Revolution is the consequence of a weakness in Power which is liquidated by a stronger one! The two radical measures of 1641 (which took revenue powers away from Charles) mark the inception of the English Revolution. "By these constitutional changes, Charles I had lost his position as an independent monarch and would need to use force of some kind if he were to recover it." And the parliamentary control of customs dues was not reversed upon the restoration in 1660. Merchants: "just as the trading perspective was central to the parliamentarian agenda, so all the great ports and market towns displayed a positive commitment to parliament." "The towns now operated in an exceptionally open and well-coordinated interregional market, the force of which encouraged a demand for commercial freedoms, to which parliament alone was committed. [...] They turned to parliament as a public authority because it served their economic imperatives." Something funny about the Puritans - they really liked sermons and would leave their home parishes to find a preacher that they preferred, an offense called "sermon-gadding." They also refused to kneel for communion - which was also an offense.
  • Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (4/5) David Remnick was the Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post during the final years of the Soviet Union, and his book about it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. Remnick was a student of John McPhee at Princeton, and is now his editor at The New Yorker. The book opens with the excavation of the corpses of Poles killed in the Katyn massacre, and the book is surprisingly forthright (for our era) about the crimes of Soviet Communism. I would be surprised if Remnick would write the same book today or even be interested in the topic. (See his recent work.) Remnick's view on the USSR collapse is that the state was sclerotic but still chugging along in the 1980s, but what cause the collapse was a sudden loss of legitimacy brought about by Gorbachev's discussions of the crimes of Stalin (which made it for other people to do so). For the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 Gorbachev gave a speech at Kremlin Palace of Congresses which criticized Stalin: his "cult of personality" and "violations of the law, arbitrariness, and repressions." Remnick says that the speech was a critical beginning to undermining the Stalinist system, "intellectually, politically, and morally." Gorbachev was stuck in the middle between true believing commies and reformers. The reformers thought that the way to get rid of Communism and bring down the Union was to make a full accounting of the oppression under the Soviet era. Example: "I thought that what had to be done at the start in order to dismantle the system was to tell people how many victims there had been, to plant the idea that monuments should be erected to those who had perished, archives should be published. This is the real start of perestroika. The truth. And with that, the process can become irreversible. Without that, without everyone acknowledging that the system is discredited and guilty, a crackdown can always succeed." Stalin believed in movies ("the greatest means of mass agitation") and Gorbachev believed in television. (Stalin co-opted the Russian Church during WWII and want back to oppressing it afterwards. When Napoleon met Alexander in East Prussia, Napoleon said, “I see that you are an emperor and a pope at the same time. How useful.”) His propagandist said, "the television image is everything." How Soviet Communism worked in practice: "The structure of state [was] itself a mafia. The Communist Party's dispensation of power and property was unchallenged by election or by law. Administrators of 'socialist justice' were duplicitous props intended by the Party to give the appearance of a civil society. These judges, police captains, and prosecutors were generally well fed and not meant to stand up for anything more than their share of the booty." By February 1990, there were a quarter-million people marching toward the Kremlin carrying signs like: "Party Bureaucrats, Remember Romania" (which was fresh in everyone's minds). Pressures like this caused Gorbachev to continue moving away from Communism. The problem for him was that you can't have "half-communism." An amazing scene he recounts is being at the Moscow Higher Party School while the students watched Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen in Wall Street. (Apparently the would-be apparatchiks loved the contrast cuffs and collars on the shirts that Gordon Gekko wore.) The May Day parade in 1990 had more CeauČ™escu references by demonstrators. Certain aspects of present day America seem late Soviet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Communism should not be thought of as a form of government, but mass demonic possession, this is why communism steamrolls its opposition, becasue it's treated like a political phenomenon.