Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Review of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Novel, History

Short Description

Elaborate Description

A story with humor and character.  The vanities that the characters portray is a reflection about the aristocracy during the time period.  A society based on gossip.  Pretensions to being privy of information while trying to obtain the information.  The wooing and misleading behaviors are given their due.  The focus appears on the vicissitudes of fortune and how they are dealt with.  Holding on to perceptions rather than adjusting them to reality.  The mannerisms in which people deceive themselves and others about the extent of their means and abilities.

Sometimes the author provides a synopsis of what has happened, as a reminder given that this book was originally a series.  Generally a tedious read.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
What are some vicissitudes in this book?
Why do people seem to change when married?  Why are their partners hesitant to accept that change?  
Why is the book called Vanity Fair?
What makes the aristocracy vain? 
Are the characters in this story noble? 
Why do people deceive themselves and others? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9781411433403
Pages to read:   881
Publication:     2009
1st Edition:      1847
Format:           eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          1
Overall           1

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Review of The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Philosophy, Epistemology
Intriguing Connections = What Makes Science A Science?

Short Description

Elaborate Description

This is an epistemological approach to science.  Explaining the methodology of empirical science.  What matters is the testability of the claims and hypothesis, or rather, the ability to falsify them.  The tests need not be done, but they must have the capacity of being tested.  The method of exposing to falsification the systems to be tested, the ideas to be refuted.  Statements made via falsifications cannot be verified or justified, as more tests can be done.  Testing ends when the researcher decides to end them, preventing an infinite regression of tests.  It is a decision that researcher make to end the testing when satisfied with the result, albeit a temporary end. 

In order to have a rational discussion in science, the researchers need feedback from each other ideas and those who came before.  The search is for feedback not to support the conclusions, but to refute them.  Many researchers use the inductive method of making inferences, but the problem with the inductive method is that no matter the amount of data gathered, inferences are subject to being altered to potential additional data.  Theories try to explain the world, with the aim to refine the theories further.  Theories fate depend on decision being made whether to accept or reject them.  The empirical information within a theory depends on the degree with which it is falsifiable.  A big portion of the book deal with proving that probability is not scientific as the frequency results cannot be verified no matter how numerous and favorable. 

The book becomes progressively more difficult to read.  After the explanation of basic ideas, the author uses logical and mathematical proofs to showcase examples about the ideas. But to understand them requires having a lot of background knowledge in those areas.  Some parts may be difficult to read as this is a translated book.  At times, Popper uses reflections to make comment on a topic, reflections on what other people thought about certain ideas.  The problem is that sometimes it is difficult to know what Popper is reflecting on, as the ideas from others are given too short of a synopsis.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•Why is the linguistic approach to philosophy inadequate? 
•What does rational discussion require? 
•How should feedback influence the problems and solutions?
•Why does science require falsification? 
•When does testing scientific statements end?
•What are theories?  What do they depend on? 
•Can probability verify scientific statements? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780415278447
Pages to read:   498
Publication:     2002
1st Edition:      1935
Format:           Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          3
Overall           2

Review of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade by Pietra Rivoli

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Economics
Intriguing Connections = 1) Learning Economics: Basic to Advanced

Short Description

Elaborate Description

This book combines research with anecdote to show what occurs in the life of a t-shit from various perspectives.  From the different sides of labor negotiations to the different sides of international trade negotiations, Rivoli does a wonderful job at expressing the complexity and the intention of each perspective.  Each different perspective shapes the way the t-shirt lives in the economy.  Rather than having nefarious reasons, the actors from each perspective respond to the global economy. 

Dominance in any world market is tenuous.  Industries tend to shift their comparative advantages.  Growing cotton seems strange in an advanced economy with high labor costs producing a product that is very homogenous, has intense price competition, and low barriers to entry and yet the U.S. has held dominance in growing cotton for about two centuries.  Due to climatic reason for growing cotton, the U.S. is competing with poor African countries who claim that U.S. subsidies violate global trade rules and impoverish African industry.

Subsidies are beneficial to the U.S. cotton industry but U.S. dominance cannot credit everything to subsidies.  Subsidies entered the U.S. cotton industry after the industry gained dominance.  The people in the U.S. industry have been very creative in figuring out how to enable more efficient cotton production, and has been very responsive to economic shifts.  The subsidies do ensure that the farmers have a set minimum income for a year.  Many times, the American farms earn more than other countries farmers normally, while still getting a boost from the subsidies.  There was a lot of outrage against the cotton subsidies, but they remained intact as the politicians packaged the cotton subsidies with many other beneficiaries to ensure that it had few opponents.  Countries whose farmers were hurt by the subsidies do not dislike the American subsidies as much as they want their own government subsidies and protections. 

Cotton is extremely susceptible to being damaged by various environmental aspects and risks of various pests taking cotton.  Labor for cotton production is temporary making it hard to obtain when needed for production.  As cotton is very fragile, cotton prices are very volatile which incur many business risks.  For each risk and uncertainty, the cotton industry developed methods to avoid them by either facing them communally or moving production outside the market.

As cotton required labor at uncertain times sporadically, drove cotton production to initially use slavery.  To use slaves in the production required developing systems of control, monitoring, and incentives to induce slaves to perform repetitive and exhaustive physical labor.  Many unethical practices in the cotton industry stem from the industry’s avoiding and suppressing markets.  Other countries with cotton industries which had a large labor force could not increase their production readily because they lacked capitalistic incentives which reward improvement.  After slavery ended, the system of sharecropping set root.  But sharecropping, rather than providing an incentive to improve, held the farmers back.  Alternative farmers started to mechanize their cotton production which yielded more cotton and did not need as much labor.  Technology improved the efficiency and efficacy of cotton production.  Technology had become more environmentally friendly by being more fuel efficient than before.

Growing cotton now takes more chemicals which is in part alarming and in part beneficial.  Chemicals that kill weeds also harm cotton, but cotton became genetically modified to resist the particular chemical.  The fear is that chemical resistant weeds will reproduce and create a bigger problem as the offspring will be resistant to the chemical, requiring different chemicals.  The chemicals used to kill pest require more chemicals to kill the secondary pests which the initial pests kept under control.  The chemicals being used now are far more environmentally friendly than before.  Overall, there seems to be much less chemical use than before due to genetically modified cotton.  Another problem with the genetic modification and chemicals are the fact that they are owned by Monsanto.  Farmers and Monsanto benefit from the relationship, but Monsanto seems to hold concentrated property rights which harm those who do not want to use their products. 

Cotton production used to create a lot of waste, but now, the waste is used in other products such as food.  The waste sold improves the profitability of the farm.  With more efficient cotton sorting mechanism, American cotton has an expected quality while there is a quality risk of other countries cotton.  Although farmers have become increasingly solitary due to technology, they have started to ban together politically.  Rather than selling their cotton individually and being forced to take a price for their cotton, they have made marketing pools which stores the cotton until the market price is right, at which point the cotton is sold and the farmers get their share.  The risk-sharing agreement prevent major losses or gains to any farmer. 

In China, where t-shirts tended to be put together have been mechanizing, but some part of production are difficult to mechanize.  The sewing stage of the t-shirt is difficult to mechanize and is the preeminent example of sweatshops.  Sewing was primarily done by women because their labor was cheaper and their dependents made them more willing to accept the work.  Docility and energy were needed in the production, and China’s engineered system of laws produced the workers needed for the labor.  Many women now choose sweatshops because it is a better alternative to working on the farm.  The factory work provides more autonomy and economic independence. 

Many consumers want the products being purchased to be produced with favorable labor practices.  Many times in history have corporations and businesses resisted changing their labor practices, but over time, labor practices do change.  Many large purchasers have banned together to force corporations to look into improving labor practices, because corporations want to keep their profits.  It is in countries with functioning markets in which corporations listen and adjust to what consumers want. 

In the production of the t-shirt, central planning loses to capitalistic markets.  Central planning ignores incentives to change to markets, does not improve facilities, and crush intelligence.  Global trade reduced pollution in production while producing more.  Open market countries facilitated clean technologies and adoption of clean technologies in other countries.  In globalized production, companies adopt heavier environmental regulations so as to be able to sell to more countries.  Market competition creates demand for environmental protection. 

The U.S. t-shirt industry influenced politics to limit trade.  They are avoiding competition by writing the rules.  Presidents and other politicians please the industry in order to get reelected while also trying not to limit the imports from other countries.  An outcome of this was as very complicated quota system.  A system that was rife with speculation and manipulation.  Many policies which were meant to be temporary, either resisted being removed or took a long time to be removed. 

The last journey in the life of a t-shirt is how it is recycled.  Most t-shirts in the U.S. are donated.  The shirts go through sorting company which sells the cloths to those who have need for the particular type of t-shirt or the material that the t-shirt is made out of.  Some donated t-shirts can sell for a lot, while others will go on to be rags. 

The t-shit is a global product.  The actors in its production are bound together.  Tying diverse international relationships which otherwise might not have occurred.  Some actors retain their competitive edge for a while due to legal, cultural, and innovative means, while other vie the market for their income.  The industries which have adapted to the changes have survived and rose to meet demands, while those who resisted adaptation to new circumstance lost preeminence.  Rivoli provides a detailed and complex view of the markets in the t-shirt production.  Not glorifying or vilifying markets as the industry has many political reactions and implications.  Globalized markets with humans writing and changing the rules every day. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book
•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•Why are there different perspectives on the production of a t-shit?  Do they have nefarious reasons to oppose changes? 
•Why does it appear from an economic stance that growing cotton in the U.S. improbable?
•What are the environmental challenges with growing cotton?
•What are the economic challenges with growing cotton?
•Why did the cotton industry need slave labor?  Was slave labor the reason for U.S. cotton dominance? 
•Why were some farmers incentivized to mechanize their cotton production while others retained their usual practices? 
•What are sharecroppers and how did federal farm bills impact their farm practices?
•What are the benefits of using chemicals? What are the consequences?
•Why use genetically modified cotton? 
•How do farmers in other countries view American subsidies?
•Why do farmers use cotton marketing pools?
•Why are t-shirts made in China?  Are they still going to be produced in China?
•What kind of workers are needed in the sewing stage of production?  
•China’s t-shirt production is both debilitating and provides opportunities.  How is this contradiction possible?
•Why do labor practices change?  Why is change resisted? 
•Do companies care about the environment?
•Why the complexity with the trade quotas? 
•Who do the trade quotas help? 
•Why is the t-shirt industry so influential in politics? 
•How does a t-shirt get reused? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9781118950166
Pages to read:   341
Publication:     2014
1st Edition:      2005
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Review of These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

This book review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History, Empires

Short Description

Elaborate Description

This book is a political history of the United States of America.  It is in the Declaration of Independence that the sacred and undeniable rights are found which are political equality, natural rights, and the sovereignty of the people.  Lepore uses American history to see if these truths prove true.  A social and cultural history that tells of liberties and civil rights.  The focus are on junctures which were shaped by law, religion, journalism, and technology as it is through these mediums which what is true and what is not became sorted.  Lepore places valor and error of the people who shaped history together to question the truths and allow everyone to learn from history.  More than just history, as along the way the reader will encounter epistemological insights.

The origins of America stem from taking land away from the Native American tribes.  The various tribes, from the western perspective, had no faith and no civil government so could not own anything.  As the land was not owned, Columbus took possession to their land.  When Columbus returned, the pope divided the unknown and inhabited lands to various European kingdoms.

Due to the environmental and cultural practices of the indigenous people of America, they were not exposed to many diseases.  The Native Americans did not have the built-up immunity of the Europeans.  European bacteria decimated the New World due to the lack of immunity.  In response the loss of working prisoners due to disease, Spaniards wanted to conquer more territory to obtain more workers.  Diseases traveled faster than the invaders, devastated the communities before the invader’s arrival.  

Slavery was practiced for a long time before America.  Enslaved was an outcome of war or due to being different enough such as having a different religion.  Questioning who would be a slave and who was free facilitated ideas about liberty.  While trying to obtain liberty from England, many wanted to keep their slaves but need a justification.  The justification became race.  Even when slavery had ended, political equality was possible only under coercion.  After the Civil War, many legislatures were written known as Jim Crow laws which segregated communities.  

Deposing a tyrant in favor of another favorable candidate was not a radical idea as it was the impetus for every slave rebellion.  Although Americans won the revolution from Britain, it lost the revolution to end slavery.  It would take a civil war to end the formal institution of slavery.  Taxation without representation was rule by force, which was slavery.  The Declaration of Independence explained that arbitrary rule meant that the people were in a state of slavery.  Debate over slave ownership was contentious but was kept in order have enough votes to ratify the Constitution.  The conflict over the Civil War was an opposition to federal power over states, with the irony that the South exercised it more than the North.

A study of the Magna Carta from England provided the impetus to challenge England, as the Magna Carta claimed that kings have no authority to rule people.  A constitution was meant to authorize laws.  What makes the constitution powerful is that it is meant to give governance predictability.  Ruled by reason and choice rather than accident.  Each state eventually created their own constitution, acting as a laboratory of political experimentation.  The main idea was to prevent corruption in rule by many (democracy), or rather, to check the corruption of democracy, the different forms of governed would be mixed.  The constitution was meant to restrain the tyranny of the majority on the minority and vice versa.  Peaceful transition of power whose strength comes from dissent.  

Literacy is a powerful tool which many have tried to prevent others from obtaining in order to keep power.  The colonists were able to print their own newspapers which criticized government and clergy.  Newspapers were enthusiastically partisan as their interest was setting the stage for a battle of opinions.  Every new technology enabled more democracy for more people.  Photography was cheaper than painted portraits.  Radios, and then TV, enabled mass communications.  The internet made everyone responsible for what is true.  Decisions became divorced from direct knowledge which created concern over the structure of democracy.  Mass persuasion meant that a concentrated minority has more power to influence a majority.  Within the informational battles, sometimes accuracy was a commitment, other times it was used as a public relations tool for others to hear their views.  Misinformation is not a recent development, but fake news started become a problem in years leading up to WW2.  Fake news became a weapon of tyrants.  

Over time, in order to win over voters, politics became more partisan.  Social issues, rather than handling them collectively, became partisan issue partly because the emotional responses to them were greater.  Each party began to attack the ideas of the other and framing them in more demonizing ways than before.  Resolving social issues became a secondary, with the primary agenda being to obtain more political power.  Disagreement, which was once a way to resolve issues, because a way to accuse those who disagree and end the discussion.  Increased intolerance to difference in ideas and in general.  As the official media became more partisan, they started to question the facts and attack the ideas of their opposition.  All the while eroding the trust that the public held in institutions.  What precipitated is what Lepore calls the politics of mutually assured epistemological destruction.  No truth, as only innuendo, rumor, and bias remain.  

There have been many times in U.S. history were trade was heavily restricted but with globalized production and products, those restrictions have been reduced until the Great Depression.  Although other nations had economic recessions before the U.S. Great Depression, it was after the U.S. trade bill of 1930 that other countries started to restrict their trade in response.  Since the American constitution, other nations had followed suit and become democratic.  But during the Great Depression, dictatorships were on the rise and democracy seemed threatened.  It took WW2 for the U.S. to built political relations with other countries.  As the U.S. was more powerful, many international laws were circumvented as they became inconvenient.  

The history presented within this book does not curtail to any party or creed.  Lepore provides an understanding of the situations from the errors and benefits they made.  Building an understanding that relations can be repaired, or further tarnished.  It is out collective actions, the actions of each individual, that gives credence to political actions.  Lepore frames each event in respect of different perspectives to enable everyone to see from those perspectives.  A wonderful epistemological history of the United States.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book
•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What are These Truths?
•Why was the land belonging to the indigenous Americans divided by Europeans?  What claims did the Europeans make unto the land?
•What makes some people slaves and other free?
•How did ideas about slavery impact ideas about liberties?
•What role did the Magna Carta play in America? 
•Why a constitution?
•What is a democracy?
•What ideas were there to limit corruption?
•What were the Federalist papers? 
•What was the role of newspapers in the early republic?  How did their role change over time? 
•What was the Civil War fought over?
•After the Civil War, why was there segregation? 
•What does slavery have to do with corporations? 
•Why enter the Great War (WW1)?
•Does mass persuasion erode democracy?
•When and how did fake news start? 
•What is the problem with polling? 
•Why is there party polarization?  What makes social issues partisan issues? 
•Why do parties fight over social issues? 
•How did the media facilitate brining about intolerance to difference?  Why are people intolerant of those who think or are differently? 
•How does the U.S. see international relations and laws?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780393635256
Pages to read:   803
Publication:     2018
1st Edition:      2018
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Review of The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives by Michael Heller

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Short Description

Elaborate Description

The tragedy of the commons is well understood and its effects are clearly seen as resources are overused.  But Heller noticed there are also anticommons whose effects are not salient.  Lack of ownership creates incentives for overuse, but too much fragmented ownership prevents resources from being used creating underuse.   Too many people owning pieces of the resources reduces the ability to coordinate each individual piece which prevents the utilization of the resources.  Each owner believes their piece is important for the whole and require a high price to use or buy the piece, but the total cost in trying to assemble each individual piece can be higher than the potential gain from the whole resources, thereby preventing the creation of wealth.  Each piece is not worth much individually, but assembling them into wealth creation is can be onerous.

The anticommons is the term for overwhelming fragmented ownership, as apposed to the commons when there is no coherent ownership.  Much like commons can be governed to prevent overuse of resources, anticommons needs a set of tools to enable underused resources to be used.  Much of this book is about making the covert cost on society due to anticommons, overt.  Naming it tragedy of the anticommons enables a language to be built to facilitate a discussion of the wasted wealth and lives lost due to the anticommons, and facilitates the creation of solutions to anticommons. 

Anticommons impose a cost to society in usually unseen ways.  Innovations that innovators cannot make due to an inability to obtain all relevant patents with the expectancy that even then, there will be a potential legal dispute.  Pharmaceutical industry has created many life savings drugs but cannot market them as it requires patents held my many who want more for their small piece of the drug than it is worth.  Usually, anticommons can be seen in relation to other countries such as the more technologically advanced countries have better internet connections because the US spectrum bandwidth anticommons creates a lot of dead air.  What it takes is a single owner of an anticommon to prevent wealth creation for everyone. 

The solution to the anticommon problem is not collectivization, but tools to reassemble ownership for efficient use.  Ownership that is not too centralized but not too fragmented.  Much like commons can be governed to prevent overuse, anticommons do not by necessity create tragedy (nor are they the only source of gridlock).  Governments can use eminent domain to assemble rights, but that carries many risks.  Private corporations who are part of the innovators submit their patents for public use to try to have other do the same which reduces the costs to innovate, but corporations cannot be readily relied upon to give up valuable assets. 

This is an eloquent book in which the cases presented support a deeper understanding of the tragedy of the anticommons.  No easy solution is given as property rights are complex social constructs.  The complexity of the issues are given their space. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•How are gridlocks formed? 
•Why more jargon? 
•What are the anticommons?
•What costs do gridlocks impose on society? 
•Can property be reassembled?
•What are some tools to deal with anticommons?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780465018987
Pages to read:   203
Publication:     2010
1st Edition:      2008
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5