Saturday, May 21, 2016

War and World History

War has been an integral part of the history of mankind. Even supposedly "peaceful savages" often have an associated war-like past. War and World History provides a nice mixture of military theory along with a survey of the history of the world. It takes a balanced approach to the theory, acknowledging that there are many "theories" of what constitutes war that need not become a stumbling block to looking at the history.

I enjoyed the survey aspect of the work. It is rare to encounter a comprehensive history that attempts to cover the history of humanity over the entire globe. With its broad scope, military innovations are well traced across the entire world. (The professor also identifies areas where innovations were not propagated, with possible reasons why.) Interestingly, there has been little significant "new" innovations in the last century. Many of the new advancements have been refinements of older technology (such as airplanes.) The new weapons (such as nuclear bombs) are so powerful that they don't have a significant place in modern warfare.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Grid systems for straight layout were extremely popular from the time people actually "designed" streets until automobiles took over. (Many of the winding streets of older cities primarily "evolved" rather than were designed in a given manner.)

Alas, while a grid pattern is popular, the scheme for naming and navigating a grid differs significantly from city to city.


In Utah, there would typically be a Main street and a Center street. (or Temple in the case of Salt Lake City.) The East-west streets south of the center or 100 South, 200 South, etc. To the north, they are North streets. The north-south streets east and west of the center are East and West respectively. This makes for a nice grid, where you can see an address of 500 N 800 E and know that it is just around the corner from 700 E 400 N. Using just the numbers, you could navigate to any destination (assuming the streets go through.) Things do get a little wonky when you go from city to city. (Does this city use the County grid or the city grid?), but it seems to work fairly well.


Seattle has taken a spin on the the Cartesian grid that sort of makes sense once you get used to it. However, just to make things confusing, there are three main alignments of the grid. Downtown, there are two grids that are aligned with the coast. This leaves them a few degrees off of north south. However, they sort of keep the common street numbering. (This causes some wonkiness in the grid that we'll get to later.)
The city is laid out in quadrants. NW, N, W, NE, E, S, SW and "central". (There is no SE in the city, but eastern King County suburbs continue the grid system with a SE)

There is a Main street in downtown Seattle. However, the central quadrant starts two blocks north (at Yesler) and goes to Denny. Why Yesler and Denny? Well, a quick look at the grid, shows the two "coast-aligned" grids are between Yesler and Denny. It makes some sense.

East of downtown, the grid turns towards a pure north-south alignment. However, the streets stay in the "central" grid. (Across Lake Washington, these would be "NE" addresses.) Most of the north-south streets in the central area are numbered. There are a few named streets west of 1st, and an occasional named street (usually an "off-grid" one) thrown in. East-West streets are all named, with an occasional naming scheme (adjacent streets will after start with the same letter.)

Numbering on East-West streets is fairly simple: between 2nd and 3rd, the addresses will range from 200-299. East of first, they range from 1 to 99.

North-South addresses are impacted by the coastal alignment. In the north south aligned areas, the block north of Yesler is the 100s. In the coast-aligned section of downtown, the addresses are based on where the street address would be in the north-south aligned area. Thus the block north of James street is the 600s, regardless of whether it is next to Yesler or 4 blocks north. It makes things a little wonky along Yesler, but keeps it consistent as you are going on most east-west streets.

South of Yesler, the "South" system starts. East-West streets are usually named and prefixed with "S" (S Atlantic) North South streets are usually numbered, and suffixed with S. (4th Ave S). Numbers start with 100s at 1st AVE S. (101 S Massachusetts). For East-West streets, they start at 100s south of Yesler. (101 3rd Ave S) West of 1st S until the Duwamish waterway, they try to keep the addresses less than 100. This can be a much longer blocks. Further south, "SW" addresses start to the west of 1st.

The West Seattle peninsula has mostly SW addresses. Most north-south streets are numbered Avenues (42nd Ave SW), while East-West streets are typically named until you get further south (SW Alaska St.) The streets will typically keep the same name from SW to S quadrants (even though very few of these go through.)

North of Denny, the West, North and East addresses start. All of these are north-south aligned. The north addresses are generally a continuation of the coast-aligned grid.

The East grid is a little weird. All East-West streets north of Yesler are prefixed with East (E Yesler) However, the north-south streets do not have the suffix. The change to E seems to occur where the street changes from coastal to compas alignment. (Unless it is an odd street like Yesler or Madison that doesn't change alignment. (These both change at Broadway.)

Eastlake is also a border between "North/central" and East - except when it isn't. Basically, Eastlake is the border between East and North until it Runs into Fairview, in which case everything is East. (It is almost Lake Union as the border, but not quite.)

North addresses start at Queen Anne Ave (which is "0"). Many of the North South streets are numbered Avenues, up to 9th Ave N, and which point they have names over to Eastlake. The East West Streets are typically named and have no prefix or suffix. Street names continue from the North quandrant to the east quandrant, even though Lake Union is in the way.

West of Queen Anne Ave, the West addresses begin. The streets are typically named (W Garfield St) and continue the E and north naming. The Avenues are typically numbered (15th Ave W) and start on their own. (The only Avenues that continue from central or the Eliot and Western diagonals.)

Now we have a grid that covers the city south of the ship canal. North of the canal, we tag a "N" onto the East and West quadrants. Thus, E becomes northeast and W becomes northwest. They look like they continue the same grid. The Ballard bridge is the only street that connects Northwest to West. On it 15th Ave W changes to 15th Ave NW. When going down 3rd Ave W in Queen Anne, you can also see 3rd Ave NW rise in the distance, so it seems to be pretty consistent.

The northeast quadrant seems to be more-or-less aligned, but there is no street that makes a direct shot. The university bridge is diagonal and the Montlake bridge approaches have some curves.

North is just weird. South of the ship canal, north addresses are mostly south and west of lake union, with a tiny bit east of the lake. These more or less continue the "central" grid. (More or less, because the central grid switches from offset to north south at Denny - right where north starts.) North of the ship canal and lake union the north grid continues. Only this grid is totally different. The streets all have different names. (the southern north are mostly numbered avenues, while the northern ones are all named. The grid is also offset. 4th Ave. N continues on to the Fremont bridge where it becomes Fremont. The street is basically straight, yet north of the Canal, Fremont is 700 N, while south of the canal 4th is 400 N. This can be somewhat explained by Queen Anne Avenue. South of the canal it is "0", with 1st Ave W and 1st Ave N to either side. Norther of the canal. 1st Ave W is the divider, with 101 N immediately to the east. That explains some of the offset, but not quite all of it. Aurora Ave N is the one street that goes through both "north" sections. However, it has some curves and is tied more closely to being a "highway" than its actual location. It is mostly around 900 or 1000 north of the ship canal, and around 5th or 6th south of the canal.

For east-west streets, there are surprisingly few streets that span uninterrupted from NW to N to NE, even though this continues the same grid. The shape of the ship canal means 38th is the first street that could possibly span the quadrants. However, Aurora blocks the way starting at 39th, with only crossings at 41st, 46th and 50th. 41st gets stuck in some Fremont hills. You can almost say 46th goes through if you don't mind some stairs, a some pedestrian short cuts and a zag to market. 50th also comes tantalizingly close, but requires a quick jog to Market. From 50th to 78th, Woodland Park and Green Lake block the way. Finally we reach 80th, the first street that legitimately makes it through from NW to NE. North of 80th, the freeway blocks the way to NE. 92nd crosses the freeway and does span the distance from NW to NE (though a few blocks are offset.) The freeway takes a job to the east, north of 115th. However, cemeteries block 110th to 125th. Haller lake blocks 125th, leaving 130th as the next street that makes it through. 145th at the city limits is the only other one that makes it through in the city of Seattle. (At the county line, 205th also goes through. However, it is also Snohomish county 244th SW, which is a while different can of worms.)

Another curious part is the number of streets. 101 N 80th would be across the street from 101 NW 80th, but over a mile away from 101 NE 80th.

Routes connecting southwest to south are even rarer. This is a function of the Duwamish serving as a barrier, leaving Spokane Street as the only significant street within the city limits that spans SW to S.

From north through central to south, 1st is the champion. 5th is in second, for making it a good distance in both north and south. Other streets make appearances in both north and south, but don't go more than a few blocks.

Temple, Texas

The grid starts near the railroad tracks at Main and Central. The grid is not quite north south. It is also not quite aligned with the railroad tracks. However, it does look like a small section of the railroad track near downtown is almost aligned with the grid. Maybe this was the original alignment? But the way the grid grew out the railroad tracks end up splicing the city and seemingly random angles.

In the grid, Avenues, run roughly east-west. Main street is 0. The next block East of main starts E 100, while the block west of Main starts West 100. Similarly Streets run North-South, with north addresses north of Central and South addresses to the south. So far, all is fairly normal.

It is in the naming of the streets that things start to get a little crazy. Avenues south of Central start with Avenue A, and continue to Avenue Z. (After Z, the streets become random, but by the then, the grid is for the most part gone.) North of Central, they are named alphabetically from Adams to Zenith (Q seems to be missing, but up there the grid is already starting to peter out.) Ok, this part makes sense. It is the streets that get really weird. First street is west of Main. West of first is third. And the streets continue with only odd streets to the west. However, the street numbering scheme stays relatively constant.


Major streets are every mile. Minor streets are every half mile. There are eight streets to a block. Streets keep their name through the length of the city (and beyond.) Numbers start at Madison and State in the loop and go in the compass directions, with 100 units to the block. It is beautifully simple - except when it is not. Downtown is one catch. Lots of the streets are "major streets" downtown, but we can deal with that. The other problem is the south of downtown numbering. There are 12 streets to a mile for the first mile, 10 for the second and 9 from the third. And of course, these streets are the ones that actually use numbers rather than names. So, the adresses follow the numbers to be consistent. (However, the first 12 blocks are named, so it is just weird.)
Street names tend to be somewhat willy-nilly. Avenues are often north-south, though not always. Streets are usually east west, unless they are north-south. Parkways and roads are also mixed in there. Boulevard usually means it is a wide street with a manicured median that is part of the boulevard system. (Though some of the boulevards can look just like a regular road.) It's safe not to assume to much about the road type.
There is also the little matter of needing more streets. Remember how Seattle streets are 20 to a mile? Well, Chicago is not that much more spread out. To compensate, there are a lot of smaller streets mixed in there. These smaller streets are often treated as block bisectors, dividing the block at the 50. On the south side, with numbered streets, there will typically be a "place" in between the streets. This can make the numbering a much less exact science. (For example, there are 5 evenly spaced blocks in part of the area between 51st and 55th in Hyde Park. 54th place is between 54th and 55th. The numbering schemes adheres to the street name, thus the 5400s consume more space than the 5300s or 5200s.)

San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco has a downtown grid aligned with Market. Most of the city has a roughly north-south grid - except where the grid decides to align with the diagonal Mission. This layout seems to have caught on down the peninsula. Most of the cities are laid out parallel and perpendicular to the Caltrain tracks and El Camino Real. Redwood City decided that since it was the county seat, it also needed a north-south grid. So, the two grids meet in downtown. Further down in Silicon Valley, you start to see the grid "break" around the Los Altos/Sunnyvale area. The old train-oriented communities have a grid aligned with the railroad. Further out the former farm regions are all north/south.

Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy

The book was based on a paper written for a think tank. The start feels like filler. It takes a long time to really get going. The initial "problem description" tends to over generalize. It also contradicts some of the arguments given later on. (He mentions that financiers manage to manipulate regulation to their benefit - then he later proposes new regulations to curb their excesses.)

His general thesis is that the difference between the richest and poorest should be minimized primarily through structural changes. Some of the rules that currently favor the rich should be curtailed, while others that benefit lower income workers should be added. He would raise the income tax on capital gains while added a surcharge for assets held for a short time. The step-up basis for inherited assets would also be eliminated. (This would be a fun one to implement - what happens if you don't have the initial purchase records?) To benefit everyone, we would have national sick and family leave policies along with universal healthcare and preschool. If done right, these programs could be beneficial. If done right, these would all be great. However, if done with the hair-brained compromises that come out of our political system, they would be a disaster. The benefits need to be universal, not something that is subsidized or restricted based on income levels. (You see some of the craziness with Obamacare where earning more can cause your insurance costs to increase or availability to change.)

Many of his points appear to be geared at returning the US to a past "glory" of New Deal and post-war industrial worker relations, while adding in modern "equality" for women and minorities. However, what is really needed is new ways of thinking about new ways of working. Giving workers more rights and greater say in unionization is helpful when their is a big company involved. But when people are working directly with each other, the additional overhead stifles the ability to productively contribute. With a service like Uber, there are many people that do spend a few hours of their free time working. The flexibility to work when and where they want without hindrance is a huge benefit. There are also a small number of people that treat it as a full time job, working long periods of time. Conventional unionization would result in everybody becoming Uber employees. This would be fine for the full time workers, but would likely be a huge burden for the "occasional" workers. Adding more regulations would not help these workers. Instead it would just push more people towards a full-time employee-employer relationship. A key advantage of a true "sharing" economy is that it gives labor the mobility that capital currently has. Workers can choose to work or not work when they choose. The key to maximum worker freedom is, paradoxically, to limit the employer benefits. If health care, retirement and other benefits are separate from the employer, workers have the freedom to do the most productive way to work. They may chose the regularity of a 9-5 job. Or, they may chose the freedom of a "sharing" job. The regulation regime needs to allow innovation to take place. (Instead what we often have is regulations to counteract past problems. The slew of regulations are easy for the organizations that previously committed the problems to deal with, but more difficult for new innovators to implement.)

While there are some good points in this book, from a practical perspective, it is useless. The implementation of many of the features of the plan would likely make things worse. (Embedded special interests would use their power to have things implemented in such a way that benefits their position while appearing to help everyone.) Even ideas like improving infrastructure and public transportation have their way of being corrupted. (Will we get the train that is really needed or simply the pork-barrel highway?) Focusing too much on the progressiveness of the tax system can also distort the big picture. Even with a "regressive" tax like sales tax, the wealthy pay more than the poor. Attempts at limiting this create things such as AMT that have managed to impact the middle class more than the wealthy. The rules do need rewriting, but they need to be done right.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Shadows of Self

The Mistborn novels all blur into one for me. They are not bad, but I do prefer Sanderson's Reckoners books. Here we see the magic in a 19th century western setting. Political and labor strife is starting to arise. Religious conflicts also come about. (The characters in the early novels are now the 'deities' of the new religions.) And of course, there is the magic as an everyday occurrence.


Sniff. Sniff. Calamity is the conclusion to the Sanderson's excellent Reckoners series. The ending was not at all what I anticipated, but was a not a downer. The book was fast paced an exciting, with enough twists to keep it unpredictably interesting. It is sad to see the series end.

Gate Thief

Danny North is a teenager in a rural Virginia high school. He is also one of the most powerful mages in the universe. I liked this book and wish I would have read it before Gatefather. All of the points of the third book in the series make a lot more since after reading this one. It is primarily about a powerful teenager coming to terms with his great power - trying to use it to help people, while not taking too much glory or hurting others. However, he is also a teenager. In a weakened state he is susceptable to problems that can cause the powers of evil to overtake him. However, through generosity he is able to limit the scope of the evil ones. Could a teenager really be this smart and this hormonally driven at the same time?)

How to fix parking problems in Seattle

Currently, permit street parking can be had for $65 for two years. This should be raised to $1000 for one year. This would still be much cheaper than garage parking (which typically runs a few hundred dollars per month.) People that absolutely need long term street parking could still obtain it. However, many would seek other areas for parking. This may be other areas with abundant street parking. Or, they may decide the car is just not worth it. This will free up additional short term parking in areas where it is really needed. In conjunction with the higher permits, parking meters should be required in all areas with the permits. This would further encourage higher-value parking use. Having pay parking everywhere can reduce the need for circling and save people time (and money!)

In addition to parking, we need to better manage the traffic passing through areas. One simple solution is to add tolls to bridges. The 520 bridge already has a toll. The I-5, Aurora and West Seattle bridges should also get tolls. This provides a nice equitable solution. All toll bridges have a parallel non-toll bridge. People can easily avoid the toll by using the free bridge. The tolls on the bridges can vary based on congestion. Since there will likely be some spillover from the toll bridges to the nearby "free" bridges, the toll money will also be used to improve transit and pedestrian and bike experience. This will help limit excess traffic as well as improve the flow for everyone.
A toll should also be added to enter the downtown region. Initially it will be charged at Stewart and Mercer. The toll will eventually expand to other entry points. The rate will vary based on downtown congestion. (Will be free for lowest congestion periods.)

Downtown, cars should be completely banned from 3rd Ave during AM and PM peaks. Currently it is primarily a bus road. However, cars can legally go a block before turning. Restricting all car traffic can improve the flow of transit. Furthermore, crossings of 3rd should be significantly limited. Vehicle crossings would only be allowed on certain streets. Traffic control officers can be stationed on these streets to prevent blocking the intersection. This will improve the flow of buses (no longer will one car block a series of buses). It will also help make traffic more predictable.
Car use should also be limited generally downtown. Cars should be prohibited altogether from areas that impact bus service. If a new building Prohibit use in areas that impact bus service. If a new building is going up on a major bus route, it may not have a parking entrance on that street.

Parking construction must also be addressed. There should be no parking requirements for any new construction. If parking is added, an impact fee will be charged for each parking space. This fee will be much higher in congested zones. The current structure has been fairly backward, with the fees being charged for new units, while not being charged for new parking. Without parking, there would not be demand for so much car travel and thus not so much congestion. (People that want to live without a car should not have to pay for the parking space and pay for the privilege of living in a walkable area.)

An additional parking tax should be charged on a per-space basis. The charge will vary based on the area. This tax will be paid regardless of the utilization of the parking space. Thus any owners of parking space will have an incentive to make the space usable or convert it to something else. Wide open parking areas will be a very expensive option. Well priced, usable and accessible parking will be ideal. This tax will be in addition to the current parking tax paid by parkers.

Masterpieces of Short Fiction

Masterpieces of Short Fiction had a longer than normal introduction of the lecturer. In addition to teaching at San Francisco State, Michael Krasny also hosts an NPR radio program. Alas, these lectures are far from a radio program. It often felt like he was reading verbatim from his notes. It was distracting, but would have been acceptable if the content were great. Alas, it felt like too much effort was made at digging up lesser-known works from past eras. It probably feels good to bring up more female and minority authors. And I'm sure that some of these stories have merits of their own. However, part of being a masterpiece is the initial reception and impact of the stories. Retroactive "masterpieces" don't have the same history. They have not had the same influence on people of the time or later authors. The selection of stories makes these lectures "masterpieces and other things the lecturer wishes were masterpieces."

The Third Chimpanzee

Jared Diamond wrote some fascinating books such as Guns, Germs and Steel. Third Chimpanzee, alas, was written earlier in his career and is not quite up to the quality of later books.

He states his purpose is to help prevent man from causing his own extinction. However, he goes about it by trying to convince us that man is the "third chimpanzee". Alas, there is not a whole lot the two have in common. Sure, humans may share a lot in common with apes, but does this make them more or less likely to destroy their planet? The start of the book rambles on and on about primate reproductive behaviors. Then it spends time on other societal behaviors. There are some interesting parts, but they are carried out much better in Diamond's later book. This one feels like the "rough draft" where all the ideas were thrown down on paper. The later books have a more coherent thesis that goes to the point. Read Collapse Skip Third Chimpanzee.

Fantasy and Science Fiction July 1989

Cat in Glass by Nancy Etchemendy
This is the best story in the magazine. The narrator's sister and daughter have both strange deaths while in the presence of a priceless statue of a glass cat. (The death's have been explained naturally, however, she knows they have been caused by the cat. The artist even states that he put his anger in the cat.) Others have promised to sell the statue, but nobody has yet to do it. The narrator has lived much of her adult life in a mental hospital, and only comes out at the end due to her daughters' family attempting to save money. She finally decides to take matters into her own hands. We are still left to wonder whether the narrator is truly insane or if the cat really does have some powers.

The Happy Frog by Elizabeth Moon
Princesses try to kiss frogs to find a prince, but all they end up doing is murdering frogs. In the end, the frog kisses a girl and ends up with a beautiful she-frog. It is moderately well written.

The Husband of Puma St. Louis Desire by W. Warren Wagar
meh. A shy guy goes back a few hundred years to live in the body of a pop star's husband. The bulk of the story is set in the 1990s, and it just doesn't age well. There is also too much name-dropped far-future technology, not to mention a fairly disgusting premise. This is the epitome of bad science fiction.

The Consequences of Buying Maria Montez for Dad • shortstory by Ron Goulart
ok. This is set in 2020, which seemed a long way off when it was written, but now seems to be totally inaccurate. The story is about two heavily indebted playboy sons who want their zillion-are father to die so they can inherit all the money. One suggests using an android nurse to clandestinely hurry up the process. The other feels moral pangs about doing that. In the end, the father dies and the nurse android shows up at the house of one of sons. This could have been a decent story if the science fiction elements were taken out. However, the technology name dropping gets things really wrong and is quite distracting.

The Importance of Pitch essay by Isaac Asimov
He really comes off as conceited. It seemed like ok science.

Termin'ator by Michael Armstrong
Purpose [Pteros] by P. E. Cunningham

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

This is a slightly different take on the "key" inventions of the modern world. It tries to pick out the small things that ended up leading unintentionally to large scale change. One story starts with ice shippers realizing that money could be made by shipping ice from the cold climates to the tropics. However, to make a big profit, this required creating additional demand for ice where there never was much demand before. Eventually, this led to innovations in artificial refrigeration. And from this, building air conditioning resulted. And with air conditioning, a large scale population occurred as many people sought out hot climates that they would have not considered earlier.

Other topics are glass (microscopes, telescopes, spectacles), sound (jazz music, ultrasound, and fewer girls in China), clean (chlorination, soap operas, mega cities, semiconductors), time (gps, time zones), and light.

Great Classic Stories 2

The ones that stuck out as being good in this collection were
Young Goodman Brown: He wanted to be good, but saw that everyone that he respected was in cohorts with the devil. It also made me wonder what happened to the deep religiousity form early New England. Will the other super religious areas change that way also?
How I Edited An Agricultural Paper: A great Mark Twain humor piece that I had not read before.
A Piece of String : A small thing ends up leading to dire consequences (watch out for strings!)
Head and Shoulders: life intervenes, and roles switch, with the academic's showgirl wife eventually attracting his past intellectual idol.
I didn't like Nuns at Luncheon or Cousin William.
The stories:
Young Goodman Brown (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1835)
The Cask of Amontillado (Edgar Allan Poe, 1846)
Cousin William (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1855)
How I Edited An Agricultural Paper (Mark Twain, 1870)
A Piece of String (Guy de Maupassant, 1883)
Angela, An Inverted Love Story (W.S. Gilbert, 1890)
Oh! The Public (Anton Chekhov, 1885)
The Nightingale and the Rose (Oscar Wilde, 1888)
The Story of an Hour (Kate Chopin, 1894)
A Coward (Edith Wharton, 1899)
A Jury of Her Peers (Susan Glaspell, 1917)
Araby (James Joyce, 1914)
The Mark on the Wall (Virginia Woolf, 1917)
The Interlopers (Saki, 1919)
Head and Shoulders (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920)
The Stranger (Katherine Mansfield, 1921)
The Blind Man (D.H. Lawrence, 1922)
Nuns at Luncheon (Aldous Huxley, 1922)

Great Classic Stories

The problem with listening to short stories is that if you zone out for a bit, you pretty much miss the entire story. Some of the stories were easy to grasp in the time. Others I just glossed right through. I liked The Monkey's Paw, Dr. Heidegger's Experiment, the Tell-Tale Heart and Pat Hobby & Orson Welles. As for the others, I either zoned out for a bit and didn't grasp the story, or paid a attention and didn't like it. Maybe I'll need to go back at a later time. Or perhaps I should just focus on the ones that were the most accessible.

The included stories:
Reginald on House Parties - Saki
The Sphinx without a Secret - Oscar Wilde
Tobermory - Saki
On Being Idle - Jerome K Jerome
The Model Millionaire - Oscar Wilde
The Garden of Truth - E. Nesbit
The Cat that Walked by Himself - Rudyard Kipling
The Girl from Arles - Alphonse Daudet
Mr. & Mrs. Dove - Katherine Mansfield
Georgie Porgie - Rudyard Kipling
Caterpillars - E.F. Benton
Lost Hearts - MR James
Ship to Tarshish - John Buchan
The Tell-Tale Heart - Edgar Allan Poe
The Man of the Night - Edgar Wallace
Dr. Heidegger's Experiment - Nathaniel Hawthorne
B 24 - Arthur Conan Doyle
Pat Hobby & Orson Welles - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mad - Guy de Maupassant
The Black Cat - Edgar Allan Poe
The Monkey's Paw - WW Jacobs

The Aspern Papers

Aspern Papers reminded me of Nabakov's "Pale Fire". In both, an academic is obsessed with himself and a certain poet. They both display the dirty underbelly of academic research. In Aspern papers, the narrator goes to grand extremes of deceitfulness in order to obtain the papers from the poet. Stylistically it is fairly good, though the pacing can be slow and the story somewhat repetitive. I grew to hate the narrator while also wanting him to succeed.

The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia

Americans didn't make an effort to understand Asians and paid the consequences. America viewed a mirage of Asians that wanted to be westernized Christians. Political leaders were willing to do whatever it took to help fulfill that "mirage". This lead to Pacific involvement in World War II, the Korean war and Vietnam war. Only after the disaster of the Vietnam war did American leaders give up on this mirage and finally accept Asians as Asians and not proto-Americans. (And funny enough, after the US backed off, they went ahead and adopted American materialism.)

Chiang Kai Shek receives the most negative treatment in this book. He comes across as a bumbling opportunist who is controlled by the Soong family. He stumbled upon Sun Yat-sen's mantel and saw it as a great opportunity to enrich himself. (Generalisimo cash-my-check.) Americans wanted to see a westernized China, and he was more than willing to comply. He married an American-educated Chinese woman (who cares if he was already married.) He converted to Christianity. He was exactly what Americans hoped for. He would even put on a show of fighting the Japanese (even though he would much rather spend the resources to fight Mao.) FDR fell for it as did many other politicians (and the American public.)

Mao, on the other hand, is portrayed in a somewhat positive manner. He was basically "not an idiot". He built up support among the masses and would actually help fight the enemy. He had fallen out of favor with the communists (due to his peasant support). He was willing to align with the US. However, the US would have nothing to do with him.

The root of the China problem is traced back to the Chinese exclusion act. The Chinese were too successful. They were forced out of many towns where the law would turn a blind eye to the mob violence. The Chinese were not permitted to immigrate to the country. The primary contact point with the Chinese were American missionaries, who usually lived in isolated compounds in China. There was no real understanding, so the leaders and people were willing to believe what they wanted.

What would have happened were it not for the collective "bag over head"? Maybe China would be much more "Americanized". Taiwan would probably not exist as it is today. Some of the atrocities like the "Great Leap Forward" may not have happened. However, it is difficult to say that either country would be better off now. The "competition" between China and US has been good for global growth. China's rapid infrastructure growth is something the US could only dream of. The American economy also relies heavily on all the manufacturing and investment from China. Maybe the growth would have been inferior with an alliance.

Korea and Vietnam, however, would have been much different. With a Sino-American alliance, the partitioning of Korea may never have happened. The Vietnam de-colonization would have been handled in the European model without the prolonged war. The war experience in Asia would not have been needed. However, the military would have wanted some means of testing its cold war weapons. Would this mean a Russian war in Europe?


Visitors started out promising and then ran out of steam at the end. While it did neatly wrap up the series, it opened up many new threads to do so. It is as if a big ball of twine was considered "tied up" because it was made into a big mess. We have time travelers splitting themselves and others into multiple copies. We have the earth getting destroyed by aliens, then getting undestroyed. We have a baby getting killed by an evil king, then getting unkilled, but disowned by his own mother in another time stream. Yes, it does provide plenty of thought points concerning time travel, but that is about all it does.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Too much Jane Austen. Not enough zombies. I confess I have never been able to get through Pride and Prejudice. It has, however, been my go-to cure for insomnia. No matter of it is a book, audio book, movie or miniseries, it will put me asleep. The fact that I made it all the way through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies means it must have some redeeming value. At times it seemed to be pure zombies and ninjas. However, by the end he seemed to give up and just give us Jane Austen.

The quality was rather meh. The book opens with a parody of Jane Austen's opening. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." I hate to say it, but I think the Jane Austen one was better. The parody feels more repetitive. Similarly throughout the book, there are more parts that fall flat than that succeed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician

My takeaways from reading Doctored:
1) The American medical system is a big mess
2) Doctors like money. They will exploit any rules for their benefit.
3) Most doctors like to help people. However, they are constrained by the system (and they like money).
4) Doctors used to be respected. Then they got paid well and got greedy. Now they are not paid as well and are not well respected.
5) It is expensive to live an upper-middle class life in Manhattan.
The book chronicles the author's midlife crisis and disillusionment with the medical field. He was a cardiologist working in a nice hospital in Long Island and writing a column for the newspaper. However, he was not earning enough to support his Manhattan lifestyle, especially with private nursery school tuition. To get more money, he worked on the "speaking bureau" for a drug company. However, he felt like he was a shill for the drug company so he left that. Later he moonlighted in a private practice. There he felt he was just doing a whole bunch of tests so they could earn money, rather than because the patients needed them. Finally, he just decided to sell the apartment in the city and move out to the suburbs, thereby lowering his expenses and allowing him to work without the need for the additional income.

Along the way he encountered and chronicled many deficiencies in the medical system. Doctors used to be members of the community, and make house calls to many of their patients. Their customers would pay them directly. They were like the highly respected "plumbers" that would take care of people's health. Health Insurance (both government and private) came along and doctors entered the golden age. Now there was tons of money in the system and doctors could get super rich. Alas, the managed care systems realized this and begin to try to control costs. Now doctors have to spend a huge amount of their time dealing with insurance companies and billing. House calls are nearly non-existent. Doctors in private practice can have more control over their work, however, they must also work a lot more to make ends meet. (Thus the propensity to engage in "high value" work.)

Doctors are also distanced from their patients. They can often be encouraged not to admit mistakes (for both liability and respect). New residents are encouraged to just "go home", rather than see a patient through the process.

What is the solution? Take the money out of health care. Start with education. A new doctor typically is saddled with a huge debt after four years of college and another 4 years of medical school. After that, the practical education begins in the residency and follow-on training. And then the doctor must stay current on new advances during the career. Do doctors really need all this training? How much of it is used in their career? What about an easing in to medicine? Require initial training and work as an EMT and other related medical fields before admitting to medical school. Let people discover they don't like it before they've committed 4 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Create alternate, shorter tracks for different specialties. Have greater availability of "community care" options for loan forgiveness. Encourage more non-traditional routes. (A parent may realize they have a passion for pediatrics after raising their young children.)

Then move to practice of medicine. ObamaCare pretty much got everything backwards. We need to move insurance out of the everyday picture instead of mandating it. The tax system needs to change so that people getting insurance through work and on their own have the same tax structure. People should be able to pick insurance on their own. Insurance should be just that - insurance for unexpected medical conditions. Routine care should be covered out of pocket. People and doctors should have a direct relationship. Medical liability should be reformed. Criminal courts could handle gross misconduct (with the higher bar for conviction.) Doctors should be experts, but are still likely to make mistakes. This needs to be managed so as to not punish the innocent. Having the direct patient-doctor relationship will also limit the excesses of money-making testing.

Can medicine be reformed? It would be nice, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

The Triple Package

Mormons, Chinese and Nigerians all have been disproportionately successful in America due to the "triple package". This package includes, the paradoxical mixture of a superiority complex and a chip on the shoulder together with delayed gratification. The package is something that is held by and indicates success in a group. Individuals members of the group may or may not achieve success. However, as a whole, the group will have greater economic success than the population at large.

The success of the groups also seems to run contrary to common American culture. The groups tend to drive their children hard. They also tend to treat people in different ways (both within and without of the group.) These differences with American culture, help the groups to succeed, while also isolated them somewhat from the country at large.

The United States itself once had the "triple package". However, after the end of the cold war, the inferiority and the delayed gratification have faded away and the country as a whole has lacked the drive. (Luckily, there are plenty of immigrants and other subgroups willing to take the work upon themselves.) Some subgroups have also seen the package fade away. Jews have dominated many industries and academia as "outsiders" through their hard work. Today, however, they have been more closely incorporated in mainstream American culture. The degree of "new achievement" has been reduced. (However, the inherited legacy of past achievers is still present.) Some groups have had the "triple package" sucked out of them through discrimination or other areas. Slavery helped remove the group identity of the slaves and also encourage a culture of instant gratification.

While the book focuses on groups, it seems to simply identify some common characteristics for success. When people have grown up in an environment that encourages hard work and delayed gratification, they will have a greater opportunity to succeed. A family group could have the "triple package" within themselves. It would be difficult to tease out these individuals from the group at large. Is this something that people should strive for? The book is cautious with this regard. There are some downsides to the package. It does lead to a degree of isolation from mainstream culture. (However, in some sense, this is just the same as the kid that studies is "isolated" from the slackers at school - until he graduates.) The triple package also encourages success in the bounds of "known success". People can work hard to follow the direct path to the top. Society needs these people. However, it also needs the risk takers and innovators that are willing to try something different (and fail doing it.) The triple package does not encourage this. However, it can provide some basic principles and work ethic that can be beneficial for people willing to go out and do it on their own.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap

Rich investment bankers can defraud the world of billions of dollars and get away with a slap on the wrist. Poor inner city residents can spend time in jail merely for standing in the wrong place. Mega banks are "too big to fail" and thus can get away with badness, while smaller ones are taken to the cleaners to "set an example". There does seem to be a good point there, but it suffers from being heavy on one-sided anecdotes. The "big bankers" do have many people that depend on them (including family, community organizations, etc.) The inner-city guys? Well, even the anecdotes given in the book were mostly single people without a lot of people that would care if they were gone for a while. From a pure calculus of the situation, the banker has done the "bad" and is likely to do more good than bad for the community in the future. The inner-city guy? He'll probably be neutral at best. He may work a job. He may get in a little scuffle. How do you balance the situation? Equality does sound nice. But, our world is not equal. True equality would result in a drab existence. While some of the "less equal" situations are outside a person's control (ethnicity, upbringing), others are within their control (drug use, work ethic.) How do we ensure equality in "uncontrollables" but still have accountability for things within somebody's control?

Another area indirectly touched on by the book is imbalanced assumptions of risk and reward. A corporate trader can make big gambles with the company money. If we wins, the company wins and he gets a big bonus. If he loses, the company takes the loss, but he doesn't lose. Similarly, if a corporation gets great gains through nefarious activities, the current employees will profit. However, it is the stockholders of the future that will suffer. How can we properly align the risks and rewards? We see something similar with sports. If a college team breaks the rules to win a championship, the rule breakers will enjoy their championship. The college itself will receive the punishment at a later date - impacting athletes and coaches that had no part in the rule breaking.

How do we reign in big institutions? How can we prevent the collective abrogation of responsibility, while still protecting the livelihood of the innocent? These are important questions that need answers. The mistreatment of the impoverished in the criminal justice system is also something that needs to be addressed. (How do you balance just treatment with fairness for all of society?) However, in the end these are very separate areas. Combining them makes for good stories, but not a good solution.