Friday, August 5, 2022

Book Review: The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth

The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of TruthThe Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Jonathan Rauch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book made an impression on me. Rauch starts by describing the problems. He points out the importance of institutions and gatekeepers -- while far from perfect they did set up rules, guidelines and standards for publishing news. I also liked his explanation of why the internet and social media, as currently configured, is perfectly set up to spread misinformation as opposed to fact-checked news. Social media is all about what's popular, what can go viral. The more shocking, the more emotional posts get spread. Fact-based reality is boring by comparison and doesn't generate near the click and likes.

Rauch spends a chapter each on trolls (those who make up and distribute misinformation) and cancelers (those who limit free speech). I had some inkling of cancel culture, mostly through the lens of publishing and screenwriting, but I learned it's far worse in academia.

My only criticism concerns the final chapter. The final chapter is about how to fight back, and Rauch spends 95% of the chapter discussing how to resist cancel culture and not near enough time about combatting the scourge of trolls.

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Thursday, July 28, 2022

Recession: What's In A Name?

The latest Fox News talking point is that the Democrats have redefined the word "recession" and refuse to declare that our current economy is in one. I'm shocked! The party currently in power doesn't want to advertise we're in a recession. Scandal! 

Technically we are in a recession. GDP has dropped 2 quarters in a row. You wouldn't know it on my street though. People are remodeling homes, upgrading landscaping, taking delivery of new cars (2 new Teslas on our street in the last month or so!). Everyone I know is still employed. 

What would you do different if Biden held a press conference and declared we are in a recession? I wouldn't change anything in my life. I maintain it wouldn't change most people's daily behavior. The people who care the most are in the political class. The right-wing political geeks would react with glee. Their ads in the midterm elections are going to be about the "Biden recession" anyway, but a formal announcement would make that even sweeter. (Have you seen the term "Bidenflation" yet? Ridiculous. I wonder if they call it that in the UK and Europe and everywhere else on the globe inflation is running high?)

It's all political BS that gives the media something to use in the 24/7 news cycle. It's a fight to control the narrative. The side with the most compelling (not truthful or in the interest of our country) narrative wins the game. That's how things work now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Book Review: Ingenious by Jason Fagone

Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive AmericaIngenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America by Jason Fagone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is about the X Prize -- specifically for the 100 MPGe car. The author follows four of the contestants and chronicles their challenges, failures and successes.

But it is also about quite a bit more. The book is about a spirit of inventiveness and practicality, Yankee ingenuity, that is being lost. Fewer of us make physical, tangible things. And our world needs better, energy efficient things more, much more, than it needs social media software, internet advertising, or financial innovation. How did we get here? The author offers an observation on page 190:

"Then something sad happened. In the eighties and nineties, in the name of budget savings and short-term profits, the engines of American invention forfeited their powers. NASA ramped down, struggling to find a mission that made sense in the absence of the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush pushed defense spending at the expense of science and technology -- DARPA veered into making military machinery. Corporations outsourced jobs and factories to other countries, making it harder to quickly scale up ideas in America. Bell Labs was spun off into Lucent Technologies, which later sold itself to a French company. By 2009, only one thousand people worked at Bell Labs, down from thirty thousand in the early 2000s."

People need shelter, clothing, clean water, food and transportation. We need energy, in various formats, to get all those things. It seems much of the US effort and fortune is headed in other directions. As I write this, the top 10 companies on the NYSE by valuation are: Apple, Saudi Aramco, Microsoft, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, Tesla, Berkshire Hathaway, United Healthcare, Meta/Facebook, and Johnson & Johnson. Six out of those 10 do not make things. We do need some of the 6 companies' offerings in our modern economy (we need healthcare!), but if Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet/Google, Amazon, and Meta/Facebook disappeared tomorrow, that would not be an existential event. We'd be fine in the long run, perhaps better without Facebook.

Since the rise of the MBAs in the 80s our economic lives have been distorted by the predominance of finance. We need financial markets to make things work, but finance should serve the needs of organizations that make things we truly need and for the last 40 years it's been the other way around -- and now we are dealing with the ramifications.

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Saturday, July 9, 2022

Is This Really How We Want to Live?

I live in a smallish Midwestern city and like most cities, we have festivals. Our summer festival is this weekend and it’s called Windmill Fest. You might ask yourself: why windmill? [Tiny history tangent coming!] In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Batavia, Illinois was the US, and perhaps the world, windmill manufacturing giant! There were 3 windmill factories in town.

This year is different. This year the festival is fenced in. Previous years you could enter the festival from anywhere on the perimeter of the grounds. No longer. There is now a fence surrounding the entire festival. There is one, and only one, entry point.

Plus, the city has told us that all bags, including purses, will be inspected prior to entry. I don’t blame the city, or the police department, for increasing the security at the festival. It’s simply a commonsense reaction to crazy people with high-powered weapons in our midst.

Is this how we want to live? Were we asked? How come the rights of the minority of our population that wants to own weapons designed primarily to kill people in war override the rights of the majority of people who simply want to attend festivals in peace? How did this happen? How did the NRA come to own the Republican party? How did the Republican party, which does not represent the majority of the population, end up making almost all the rules and changing our lives for the worse?

There is a way to change this: vote the bums out. Replace them with people not beholden to the NRA and the MAGA philosophy that is ruining our nation.

Saturday Morning Pictures

 Here are a couple of shots of the pedestrian bridge over the Fox River at Batavia, Illinois.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this morning, eliminating a constitutional right to allow women the choice of whether to give birth or not. Despite the fact that the majority of Americans want some legal access to abortion, at least 28 states will immediately force women in their states to give birth against their will. 

Today it's forcing women to give birth. Tomorrow it will be gay marriage. Then they will go after Social Security and Medicare. The Republican playbook has been known for a long time. If you don't want these things to happen, don't vote for Republicans. It's really pretty simple.

I went to Geneva this morning. They are in the midst of their Swedish Days festival. They had a car show last night and I was hoping the cars would still be on display this morning. I was too lazy to go last night but did manage to get there around 9ish this morning, hoping to photograph the cars in morning light. Unfortunately, the cars were gone. The show was that night only. However, I did catch a shot of this cool front porch. Geneva's downtown has some interesting homes.