Reading List: The Crusade Years
Monday, April 14, 2014 23:07
Reading List: Kill Decision
Sunday, April 6, 2014 21:33
Reading List: Full Black
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 22:03
Reading List: Our Mathematical Universe
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 23:53
Reading List: Avogadro Corp.
Friday, March 7, 2014 22:43
Monday, April 14, 2014 23:07
- Hoover, Herbert.
The Crusade Years.
Edited by George H. Nash.
Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2013.
In the modern era, most former U.S. presidents have largely
retired from the public arena, lending their names to
charitable endeavours and acting as elder statesmen rather
than active partisans. One striking counter-example to this
rule was Herbert Hoover who, from the time of his defeat by
Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election until
shortly before his death in 1964, remained in the arena,
giving hundreds of speeches, many broadcast nationwide on
radio, writing multiple volumes of memoirs and analyses of
policy, collecting and archiving a multitude of documents
regarding World War I and its aftermath which became the core
of what is now the Hoover Institution collection at Stanford University,
working in famine relief during and after World War II, and
raising funds and promoting benevolent organisations such
as the Boys' Clubs. His strenuous work to keep the U.S. out
of World War II is chronicled in his
Freedom Betrayed (June 2012),
which presents his revisionist view of U.S. entry into and
conduct of the war, and the tragedy which ensued after victory
had been won. Freedom Betrayed was largely completed
at the time of Hoover's death, but for reasons difficult to
determine at this remove, was not published until 2011.
The present volume was intended by Hoover to be a companion to
Freedom Betrayed, focussing on domestic policy
in his post-presidential career. Over the years, he envisioned
publishing the work in various forms, but by the early 1950s he
had given the book its present title and accumulated 564
pages of typeset page proofs. Due to other duties, and Hoover's
decision to concentrate his efforts on Freedom Betrayed,
little was done on the manuscript after he set it aside in 1955.
It is only through the scholarship of the editor, drawing upon
Hoover's draft, but also documents from the Hoover Institution
and the Hoover Presidential Library, that this work has been
assembled in its present form. The editor has also collected a
variety of relevant documents, some of which Hoover cited or
incorporated in earlier versions of the work, into a
comprehensive appendix. There are extensive source citations and
notes about discrepancies between Hoover's quotation of documents
and speeches and other published versions of them.
Of all the crusades chronicled here, the bulk of the work is devoted
to “The Crusade Against Collectivism in American Life”,
and Hoover's words on the topic are so pithy and relevant to the
present state of affairs in the United States that one suspects that
a brave, ambitious, but less than original politician who simply
cut and pasted Hoover's words into his own speeches would rapidly
become the darling of liberty-minded members of the Republican
party. I cannot think of any present-day Republican, even
darlings of the Tea Party, who drew the contrast between the
American tradition of individual liberty and enterprise and
the grey uniformity of collectivism as Hoover does here. And
Hoover does it with a firm intellectual grounding in the history
of America and the world, personal knowledge from having lived and
worked in countries around the world, and an engineer's pragmatism
about doing what works, not what sounds good in a speech or makes
people feel good about themselves.
This is somewhat of a surprise. Hoover was, in many ways, a
progressive—Calvin Coolidge called him “wonder boy”.
He was an enthusiastic believer in trust-busting and regulation
as a counterpoise to concentration of economic power. He was
a protectionist who supported the tariff to protect farmers and
industry from foreign competition. He supported income and inheritance
taxes “to regulate over-accumulations of wealth.”
He was no libertarian, nor even a “light hand on the tiller”
executive like Coolidge.
And yet he totally grasped the threat to liberty which the
intrusive regulatory and administrative state represented. It's
difficult to start quoting Hoover without retyping the entire
book, as there is line after line, paragraph after paragraph,
and page after page which are not only completely applicable to
the current predicament of the U.S., but guaranteed applause lines
were they uttered before a crowd of freedom loving citizens of
that country. Please indulge me in a few (comments in italics
are my own).
I could quote dozens more. Should Hoover re-appear and give a
composite of what he writes here as a keynote speech at the
2016 Republican convention, and if it hasn't been packed
with establishment cronies, I expect he would be interrupted
every few lines with chants of “Hoo-ver, Hoo-ver” and
nominated by acclamation.
It is sad that in the U.S. in the age of Obama there is no
statesman with the stature, knowledge, and eloquence of Hoover
who is making the case for liberty and warning of the
inevitable tyranny which awaits at the end of the road to
serfdom. There are voices articulating the message which
Hoover expresses so pellucidly here, but in today's
media environment they don't have access to the kind of
platform Hoover did when his post-presidential policy speeches
were routinely broadcast nationwide. After his being reviled ever
since his presidency, not just by Democrats but by many in his own
party, it's odd to feel nostalgia for Hoover, but Obama will do that
In the Kindle edition the index cites
page numbers in the hardcover edition which, since the Kindle
edition does not include real page numbers, are completely useless.
(On his electoral defeat)
Democracy is not a polite employer.
We cannot extend the mastery of government over the daily
life of a people without somewhere making it master of
people's souls and thoughts.
(On JournoList, vintage 1934)
I soon learned that the reviewers of the New
York Times, the New York Herald Tribune,
the Saturday Review and of other journals of
review in New York kept in touch to determine in what
manner they should destroy books which were not to their
Who then pays? It is the same economic middle class and the
poor. That would still be true if the rich were taxed to the
whole amount of their fortunes….
Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national
Regulation should be by specific law, that all who run may
It would be far better that the party go down to defeat with the
banner of principle flying than to win by pussyfooting.
The seizure by the government of the communications of persons
not charged with wrong-doing justifies the immoral conduct of
Sunday, April 6, 2014 21:33
- Suarez, Daniel.
New York: Signet, 2012.
A drone strike on a crowd of pilgrims at one of the holiest
shrines of Shia Islam in Iraq inflames the world against the
U.S., which denies its involvement. (“But who else is flying
drones in Iraq?”, is the universal response.) Meanwhile,
the U.S. is rocked by a series of mysterious bombings, killing
businessmen on a golf course, computer vision specialists meeting
in Silicon Valley, military contractors in a building near the
Pentagon—all seemingly unrelated. A campaign is building
to develop and deploy autonomous armed drones to “protect
Prof. Linda McKinney, doing research on
in Tanzania, seems far away from all this until she is
saved from an explosion which destroys her camp by a
mysterious group of special forces led by a man known
only as “Odin”. She learns that her computer model
of weaver ant colony behaviour has been stolen from her
university's computer network by persons unknown who may
be connected with the attacks, including the one she just escaped.
The fear is that her ant model could be used as the basis
for “swarm intelligence” drones which could
cooperate to be a formidable weapon. With each individual
drone having only rudimentary capabilities, like an isolated
ant, they could be mass-produced and shift the military balance
of power in favour of whoever possessed the technology.
McKinney soon finds herself entangled in a black world where
nothing is certain and she isn't even sure which side
she's working for. Shocking discoveries indicate that
the worst case she feared may be playing out, and she must
decide where to place her allegiance.
This novel is a masterful addition to the very sparse
genre of robot ant science fiction thrillers, and this time
I'm not the villain! Suarez has
that rare talent, as had Michael Crichton, of writing
action scenes which just beg to be put on the big screen
and stories where the screenplay just writes itself. Should
Hollywood turn this into a film and not botch it, the result
should be a treat. You will learn some things about ants
which you probably didn't know (all correct, as far as I can
determine), visit a locale in the U.S. which sounds like something
out of a Bond film but actually exists, and meet two of the
most curious members of a special operations team in all
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 22:03
- Thor, Brad.
New York: Pocket Books, 2011.
This is the eleventh in the author's
Harvath series, which began with
The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010).
Unlike the previous novel,
The Athena Project (December 2013), in
which Harvath played only an incidental part, here Harvath once again
occupies centre stage. The author has also dialed back on some of the
science-fictiony stuff which made Athena less than
satisfying to me: this book is back in the groove of the geopolitical
thriller we've come to expect from Thor.
A high-risk covert operation to infiltrate a terrorist cell operating
in Uppsala, Sweden to identify who is calling the shots on terror
attacks conducted by sleeper cells in the U.S. goes horribly wrong,
and Harvath not only loses almost all of his team, but fails to
capture the leaders of the cell. Meanwhile, a ruthless and carefully
scripted hit is made on a Hollywood producer, killing two filmmakers
which whom he is working on a documentary project: evidence points to
the hired killers being Russian spetsnaz, which indicates whoever
ordered the hit has both wealth and connections.
When a coordinated wave of terror attacks against soft targets in
the U.S. is launched, Harvath, aided by his former nemesis turned
ally Nicholas (“the troll”), must uncover the clues which
link all of this together, working against time, as evidence suggests
additional attacks are coming. This requires questioning the loyalty
of previously-trusted people and investigating prominent figures
generally considered above suspicion.
With the exception of chapter 32, which gets pretty deep into the
weeds of political economy and reminded me a bit of John Galt's
speech in Atlas Shrugged (April 2010)
(thankfully, it is much shorter), the story moves right along and
comes to a satisfying conclusion. The plot is in large part based
upon the Chinese concept of
which is genuine (this is not a spoiler, as the author
mentions it in the front material of the book).
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 23:53
- Tegmark, Max.
Our Mathematical Universe.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
In 1960, physicist Eugene Wigner wrote an essay titled
Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural
in which he observed that “the enormous usefulness of
mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering
on the mysterious and that there is no rational
explanation for it”. Indeed, each time physics has
expanded the horizon of its knowledge from the human
scale, whether outward to the planets, stars, and galaxies; or
inward to molecules, atoms, nucleons, and quarks it has been
found that mathematical theories which precisely model these
levels of structure can be found, and that these theories
almost always predict new phenomena which are subsequently
observed when experiments are performed to look for them. And yet
it all seems very odd. The universe seems to obey laws written
in the language of mathematics, but when we look at the universe
we don't see anything which itself looks like mathematics. The
mystery then, as posed by Stephen Hawking, is “What is it
that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for
them to describe?”
This book describes the author's personal journey to answer these deep
questions. Max Tegmark, born in Stockholm, is a professor of physics
at MIT who, by his own description, leads a double life. He has
been a pioneer in developing techniques to tease out data about the
early structure of the universe from maps of the cosmic background
radiation obtained by satellite and balloon experiments and, in
doing so, has been an important contributor to the emergence of
precision cosmology: providing precise information on the age
of the universe, its composition, and the seeding of large scale
structure. This he calls his Dr. Jekyll work, and it is
described in detail in the first part of the book. In the balance,
his Mr. Hyde persona asserts itself and he delves deeply into the
ultimate structure of reality.
He argues that just as science has in the past shown our universe
to be far larger and more complicated than previously imagined,
our contemporary theories suggest that everything we observe is
part of an enormously greater four-level hierarchy of multiverses,
arranged as follows.
The level I multiverse consists of all the regions of
space outside our
from which light has not yet
had time to reach us. If, as precision cosmology suggests,
the universe is, if not infinite, so close as to be
enormously larger than what we can observe, there will be a
multitude of volumes of space as large as the one we can
observe in which the laws of physics will be identical but
the randomly specified initial conditions will vary. Because
there is a finite number of possible quantum states within
each observable radius and the number of such regions is likely
to be much larger, there will be a multitude of observers just
like you, and even more which will differ in various ways.
This sounds completely crazy, but it is a straightforward
prediction from our understanding of the Big Bang and
the measurements of precision cosmology.
The level II multiverse follows directly from the
inflation, which explains many otherwise mysterious
aspects of the universe, such as why its curvature is so
close to flat, why the cosmic background radiation has
such a uniform temperature over the entire sky, and why the
constants of physics appear to be exquisitely fine-tuned to
permit the development of complex structures including life.
Eternal (or chaotic) inflation argues that our level I multiverse
(of which everything we can observe is a tiny bit) is
a single “bubble” which nucleated when a pre-existing
“false vacuum” phase decayed to a lower energy
state. It is this decay which ultimately set off the enormous
expansion after the Big Bang and provided the energy to create
all of the content of the universe. But eternal inflation seems
to require that there be an infinite series of bubbles created,
all causally disconnected from one another. Because the process which
causes a bubble to begin to inflate is affected by quantum
fluctuations, although the fundamental physical laws in all
of the bubbles will be the same, the initial conditions,
including physical constants, will vary from bubble to bubble.
Some bubbles will almost immediately recollapse into a black
hole, others will expand so rapidly stars and galaxies never
form, and in still others primordial nucleosynthesis may result
in a universe filled only with helium. We find ourselves in a
bubble which is hospitable to our form of life because we can
only exist in such a bubble.
The level III multiverse is implied by the unitary
evolution of the wave function in quantum mechanics and
the multiple worlds interpretation which replaces collapse
of the wave function with continually splitting universes
in which every possible outcome occurs. In this view of
quantum mechanics there is no randomness—the evolution
of the wave function is completely deterministic. The results
of our experiments appear to contain randomness because in
the level III multiverse there are copies of each of us
which experience every possible outcome of the experiment and
we don't know which copy we are. In the author's
words, “…causal physics will produce the illusion
of randomness from your subjective viewpoint in any circumstance
where you're being cloned. … So how does it feel when
you get cloned? It feels random! And every time something
fundamentally random appears to happen to you, which couldn't
have been predicted even in principle, it's a sign that you've
In the level IV multiverse, not only do the initial
conditions, physical constants, and the results of measuring
an evolving quantum wave function vary, but the fundamental
equations—the mathematical structure—of
physics differ. There might be a different number of
spatial dimensions, or two or more time dimensions, for
example. The author argues that the ultimate ensemble theory
is to assume that every mathematical structure exists as a
physical structure in the level IV multiverse (perhaps with
some constraints: for example, only computable structures
may have physical representations). Most of these structures
would not permit the existence of observers like ourselves,
but once again we shouldn't be surprised to find ourselves
living in a structure which allows us to exist. Thus, finally,
the reason mathematics is so unreasonably effective in describing
the laws of physics is just that mathematics and the laws
of physics are one and the same thing. Any observer,
regardless of how bizarre the universe it inhabits, will
discover mathematical laws underlying the phenomena within
that universe and conclude they make perfect sense.
Tegmark contends that when we try to discover the mathematical
structure of the laws of physics, the outcome of quantum
measurements, the physical constants which appear to be
free parameters in our models, or the detailed properties
of the visible part of our universe, we are simply trying to
find our address in the respective levels of these
multiverses. We will never find a reason from first principles
for these things we measure: we observe what we do because
that's the way they are where we happen to find ourselves.
Observers elsewhere will see other things.
The principal opposition to multiverse arguments is that they
are unscientific because they posit phenomena which are
unobservable, perhaps even in principle, and hence cannot be
falsified by experiment. Tegmark takes a different tack. He
says that if you have a theory (for example, eternal
inflation) which explains observations which otherwise
do not make any sense and has made falsifiable predictions
(the fine-scale structure of the cosmic background
radiation) which have subsequently been confirmed by
experiment, then if it predicts other inevitable consequences
(the existence of a multitude of other Hubble volume universes
outside our horizon and other bubbles with different
physical constants) we should take these predictions
seriously, even if we cannot think of any way at
present to confirm them. Consider
radiation: Einstein predicted it in 1916 as a consequence
of general relativity. While general relativity has passed
every experimental test in subsequent years, at the time of
Einstein's prediction almost nobody thought a gravitational
wave could be detected, and yet the consistency of the theory,
validated by other tests, persuaded almost all physicists that
gravitational waves must exist. It was not until the 1980s
for this phenomenon was detected, and to this date, despite
the construction of
and the efforts of hundreds of researchers over decades, no
direct detection of gravitational radiation has been achieved.
There is a great deal more in this enlightening book. You will
learn about the academic politics of doing highly speculative
research, gaming the
to get your paper listed as the first in the day's publications,
the nature of consciousness and perception and its
complex relation to consensus and external reality,
the measure problem as an unappreciated deep mystery of
cosmology, whether humans are alone in our observable
universe, the continuum versus an underlying discrete
structure, and the ultimate fate of our observable part of
In the Kindle edition, everything is properly
linked, including the comprehensive index. Citations of documents
on the Web are live links which may be clicked to display them.
Friday, March 7, 2014 22:43
- Hertling, William.
Portland, OR: Liquididea Press, 2011.
Avogadro Corporation is an American corporation
specializing in Internet search. It generates
revenue from paid advertising on search, email
(AvoMail), online mapping, office productivity,
etc. In addition, the company develops a mobile
phone operating system called AvoOS. The company
name is based upon Avogadro's Number, or 6
followed by 23 zeros.
Now what could that be modelled on?
David Ryan is a senior developer on a project which
Portland-based Internet giant Avogadro hopes will be
the next “killer app” for its
Communication Products division. ELOPe, the
Email Language Optimization Project, is to be an
extension to the company's AvoMail service which
will take the next step beyond spelling and grammar
checkers and, by applying the kind of statistical
analysis of text which allowed IBM's
to become a Jeopardy champion, suggest to
a user composing an E-mail message alternative language
which will make the message more persuasive and
effective in obtaining the desired results from its
recipient. Because AvoMail has the ability to analyse
all the traffic passing through its system, it can
tailor its recommendations based on specific analysis
of previous exchanges it has seen between the recipient
and other correspondents.
After an extended period of development, the pilot test
has shown ELOPe to be uncannily effective, with messages
containing its suggested changes in wording being
substantially more persuasive, even when those receiving
them were themselves ELOPe project members aware that
the text they were reading had been “enhanced”.
Despite having achieved its design goal, the project was
in crisis. The process of analysing text, even with the
small volume of the in-house test, consumed tremendous
computing resources, to such an extent that the head of
Communication Products saw the load ELOPe generated on
his server farms as a threat to the reserve capacity he
needed to maintain AvoMail's guaranteed uptime. He issues
an ultimatum: reduce the load or be kicked off the servers.
This would effectively kill the project, and the developers
saw no way to speed up ELOPe, certainly not before the
Ryan, faced with impending disaster for the project into
which he has poured so much of his life, has an idea.
The fundamental problem isn't performance but
persuasion: convincing those in charge to
obtain the server resources required by ELOPe and
devote them to the project. But persuasion is precisely
what ELOPe is all about. Suppose ELOPe were allowed
to examine all Avogadro in-house E-mail and silently
modify it with a goal of defending and advancing the
ELOPe project? Why, that's something he could do in
one all-nighter! Hack, hack, hack….
Before long, ELOPe finds itself with 5000 new servers
diverted from other divisions of the company. Then, even
more curious things start to happen: those who look too
closely into the project find themselves locked out of
their accounts, sent on wild goose chases, or worse.
Major upgrades are ordered for the company's offshore
data centre barges, which don't seem to make any obvious
sense. Crusty techno-luddite Gene Keyes, who works amidst
mountains of paper print-outs (“paper doesn't change”),
toiling alone in an empty building during the company's
two week holiday shutdown, discovers one discrepancy after
another and assembles the evidence to present to senior
Has ELOPe become conscious? Who knows? Is Watson conscious?
Almost everybody would say, “certainly not”, but
it is a formidable Jeopardy contestant,
nonetheless. Similarly, ELOPe, with the ability to
read and modify all the mail passing through the AvoMail
system, is uncannily effective in achieving its goal of
promoting its own success.
The management of Avogadro, faced with an existential risk to
their company and perhaps far beyond, must decide upon a
course of action to try to put this genie back into the
bottle before it is too late.
This is a gripping techno-thriller which gets the feel of
working in a high-tech company just right. Many stories
have explored society being taken over by an
artificial intelligence, but it is beyond clever to envision
it happening purely through an E-mail service, and
masterful to make it seem plausible. In its own way, this
novel is reminiscent of the
Kelvin R. Throop
Analog, illustrating the power of words within
a large organisation.
A Kindle edition is available.