Monday, August 22, 2022

Review of A History Of The Federal Reserve: Volume 1, 1913-1951 by Allan Meltzer

This review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in:
Intriguing Connections = 1) Monetary Policy, A Leaver of the Economy

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Fears that a privately owned bank would place the bank’s interest above the public interest had to be reconciled with concerns about empowering the government to control money.” – Allan Meltzer, Chapter One: Introduction, Page 2


“They wanted the central bank to damp fluctuations in market interest rates, particularly those created by the seasonal demand for currency and the financing of crop harvest, and to encourage the development of a broad national market in commercial paper and bills of exchange patterned on the London Market.” – Allan Meltzer, Chapter Three: In the Beginning, 1914 to 1922, Page 65-66


“The belief spread that the Federal Reserve had learned how to maintain prosperity, damp recessions, and prevent inflation.  The return of many countries to the gold standard by 1927 reinforced the view that the world economy was on a stable foundation and that inflation and deflation were unlikely to occur.” – Allan Meltzer, Chapter Four: New Procedures, New Problems, 1923 to 1929, Page 253


Review
Overview:
The Federal Reserve framework came from considering the functions of European central banks, mainly the Bank of England.  Even before Federal Reserve operations, there were fears that either the central bank could be used for temporary political advantages, for government could abuse the public control of money.  Alternatively, others feared that as a private bank, it would favor its own interests above the public interest.  What the Federal Reserve was meant to do was stabilize business cycles, and encourage a national financial market.  An accepted central bank role is to be lender of last resort, to prevent financial panics from spreading further.  

There were many policy debates, with uncertainty about what to do, and the impact of monetary policy.  There were doubts that monetary policy was even effective.  At times the Federal Reserve had overconfidence in its ability to control business cycles, for business cycles did not end.  In practice the Federal Reserve changed from a passive role, to an active role, while sometimes not doing enough.  Being politically influenced to do more than was desired.  Politics was not only an external influence, for internally there was a power struggle between the regional banks and the Board.  

Origins:
When the Federal Reserve was envisioned, leading central banks were privately owned institutions with public responsibilities.  Their duties were to provide currency for payments, and lender of last resort during exigent times.  It was by late 19th century, that the central bank raison d’etre was understood to be lender of last resort, which was a responsibility to preventing widespread financial institutions failures.  To prevent the failures of institutions which would otherwise be solvent.  

Based on records of Bank of England, they believed that a central bank can reduce panics by serving as lender of last resort.  Even open market operations as a tool were influenced by the Bank of England.

Power Within The Federal Reserve:
It was not the founders intent to precipitate in creation of a central bank, or a powerful institution.  They might not have germinated the process, if they had known to what it would lead.  It was not even until the McFadden Act of 1927 that gave permanence to the Federal Reserve.  The Federal Reserve Charter was initially temporary, much like its predecessors.  

The Board and regional banks did not have synergy.  The regional banks created a Governors Conference to discuss policies, with the Board wanting to limit their interactions.  The Governors Conference was considered a competitor to the Board’s authority.  The governors did ask the Board to send representatives, and sent summaries of the meetings to the Board.  It was the Banking Act of 1935 which created the Federal Open Market Committee and shifted power to the Board.

Learning Monetary policy:
Policies had unintended consequences which the Federal Reserve members did not like or want.  But after practicing monetary policy, and seeing the impact that the policies had, learned from their failures.  There was and is a lot of uncertainty to the impacts of policy changes, for the evidence they had was that monetary disturbances had no lasting effect. 

There were three initially accepted rules for monetary policy.  1) The use of the discount rate to protect gold stock and exchange rate.  2) Become lender of last resort during panics.  3) Accommodate needs of trade and agriculture by discounting commercial paper.  

Banks themselves had a choice to become members within Federal Reserve System.  Banks were resistant to become members because of par collection of checks cleared at the Federal Reserve Banks, and the reserve requirements that did not earn interest.  Certain programs with the Federal Reserve System seemed to favor banks with clients in particular industries. 

Federal Reserve was more passive until wartime experience taught it to look for more active approaches.  Sometimes the Federal Reserve was more passive, but then political pressure made them take action. 

For each World War, the Federal Reserve was in the service of the Treasury to finance the war effort.  A role that compromised Federal Reserve independence.  The problem was extricating itself from the Treasury.

To facilitate quality outcomes, some thought that the Federal Reserve needed more power, others thought that the Federal Reserve needed more independence.  

Caveats?
This is not an introductory book on monetary policy.  To understand the decisions made would require a background in monetary policy terminology and tools.  

There is often not enough history provided about the situation that the Federal Reserve was reacting to.  To understand the context of the decisions would need supplementary research on the economic conditions during the era.  


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 do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•What provided the framework for the Federal Reserve?
•What is a central bank meant to do?
•Why was there a power struggle within the Federal Reserve?
•What tools do central banks have?
•What monetary effect do central banks have?
•What did the Federal Reserve do during the Great Depression?
•Was the Federal Reserve able to stabilize business cycles?
•What were some fears about central banks?
•How active as the Federal Reserve in managing the economy?
•What influenced Federal Reserve policies?
•Is the Federal Reserve independent? 

Book Details
Publisher:         The University of Chicago Press
Edition ISBN:  0226519996
Pages to read:   750
Publication:     2003
1st Edition:      2003
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          3
Overall           3






 

Friday, August 19, 2022

Review of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know by Adam Grant

This review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (10/01/2022)
Intriguing Connections = 1) How to Teach? How to Learn?

Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Part of the problem is cognitive laziness.  Some psychologist point out that we’re mental misers: we often prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones.  Yet there are also deeper forces behind our resistance to rethinking.  Questioning ourselves makes the world more unpredictable.” – Adam Grant, Prologue, Page 11


“When a core belief is questioned, though, we tend to shut down rather than open up.  It’s as if there’s a miniature dictator living inside our heads, controlling the flow of facts to our minds.” – Adam Grant, Chapter 3” The Joy of Being Wrong, Page 54


“If two people always have the same opinion, at least one of them isn’t thinking critically – or speaking candidly.  Intellectual friction isn’t a relationship bug.  It’s a feature of learning.” – Adam Grant, Chapter 4: The Good Fight Club, Page 78


Review
Overview:
The abilities to think, learn, and apply concepts to complex problems are usually referenced as intelligence.  What is missing are the abilities to rethink, and unlearn.  Individuals have hesitation not just to rethink solutions, but the very idea of rethinking.  Much less energy intensive to keep with prior ideas and decisions, than thinking about new ideas.  The world becomes unpredictable if prior ideas are questioned.  Discomfort of doubt is avoided by sticking with convictions.  

Thinking again about ideas and decisions requires acknowledging that facts have changed.  That what was appropriate before, has become inappropriate.  Thinking again means losing knowledge that is no longer working, to unlearn inappropriate knowledge.  Learning how other people misused knowledge, does not have the same difficulty as learning to unlearn knowledge oneself.  Tools for rethinking can be developed, such as by practicing questioning information.  Thinking again generates different solutions, which can facilitate a better situation.  

Assumptions, opinions, and prior ideas that are used regularly create individual’s identity.  The identity feels threated when reconsidering.  Losing priorly used ideas and decision is like losing a part of individual identity.  Sticking to prior ideas and decision can make a person consistent, but at the expense of flexibility.  Reconsidering favors flexibility over consistency.  

Questioning the judgment of other people is easy.  Spotting the flaws in other’s thoughts, and what they need to think again about.  Even advice from experts, individuals frequently seek alternative advice.  What is difficult is to doubt ideas that comes from oneself, and seek alternative ideas to those generated.  

Mindsets:
The author dichotomizes approaches to dealing with information info four mindsets.  The mindsets are preacher, prosecutor, politician, and scientist.  The mindsets are abstract references, rather than strictly within the described profession.  Those within the profession used as a mindset, do utilize other mindsets, while also may not actually adhere to their own mindset.  

Within the preacher mindset, individuals choose to protect their identity, while promoting their ideals.  Within the prosecutor mindset, individuals find flaws in oppositions reasoning, and then try to prove them wrong.  Within the politician mindset, individuals seek to gain an audience, by lobbying for approval.  Within the scientist mindset, individuals find limits to knowledge, seek alternative perspectives, and update their views to new data.  Rethinking is the trade of the scientists, whose mindset is promoted within this book.  

Thinking could become stuck when preaching ideals, prosecuting errors, and politicking for support.  Usually not considering the need to rethink individual’s own views.  The mindsets come from professions but at times do not possess the mindset, such as scientists not using the tools they were trained with.  Depending on the context, scientists can become preachers, prosecutors, and politicians. 

Scientist mindset is about raising questions.  Favoring discovery of results and ideas over accepting preconceived results.  Searching for reasons for why ideas are right and wrong.  Updating and revising ideas.  Purpose of learning is not to be proven right, but to improve ideas.  Setting up test and experiments to check knowledge and to learn, rather than for social desirability. 

Intelligence, and its Limitations: 
Intelligence does not necessarily facilitate rethinking.  More intelligence, as in faster at recognizing patterns, can make it harder to update beliefs.  Numeracy skills enable more accurate interpretation of results, when the empirical patterns validate beliefs.  The problem is that when empirical results clash with ideology, numeracy skills turn from asset into a liability for they tend to bend reality to fit their views.  Those with better numeracy skills fail at analyzing results that contradict views. 

Everyone has biases, but some think they are more objective.  More intelligence makes it harder to see limitations, harder to rethink positions.  Biases not only prevent appropriate use of intelligence, but they also contort intelligence into a weapon against the truth.  A few biases are confirmation bias and desirability bias.  Confirmation bias is when the individual accepts only the evidence that confirms preconceived ideas and rejects alternatives.  Desirability bias is when the individual sees the only wanted results.  Individuals usually are not aware of the flaws in their own thinking.  

Although normally individuals are blind to their own biases, individuals can learn to spot the biases.  Learn the tools to recognize biases, which enables rethinking.  What is needs is the right kind of confidence, for overconfidence is dangerous.  What is needed is humility in knowledge.  Humility leads to having enough doubt to enable rethinking.  Leading to curiosity on how to improve the knowledge base.  

Armchair quarterbacks assume to have more knowledge than they actually do.  Having lack of skills does not mean that the individual knows that they lack the skills.  The Dunning-Kruger effect is when lack of competence is compensated by overconfidence.  The reverse is the imposter syndrome, which is when the individual has more skills than confidence.  Imposter syndrome can help motivate learning. 

When core beliefs are challenged, a totalitarian ego begins to control the flow of information, and preventing threatening information from being considered.  Easy to fool oneself, even if the individual does not want to fool oneself.  Conclusions can be formed from small amount of evidence, while a small amount of evidence is not enough to revise the conclusions. 

Information that does not change one’s mind, makes one’s mind more difficult to change.  Considered a mental vaccine to forthcoming information.  A mental vaccine prevents forthcoming influencing attempts.  Also makes already held beliefs appear more certain, while less willing to consider alternatives.  

A binary bias occurs when simplifying information into two categories.  An antidote to binary bias is complexifying.  Acknowledging complexity increases engagement and inspires curiosity.  Considering a range of perspectives on a topic.  Forcing to choose a side causes simplification of the complex problems.  Complex problems contain a lot of uncertainty, and by acknowledging that uncertainty the individual becomes more persuasive, rather than undermine trust.  More attention is given to knowledgeable people who admit uncertainty.  People can deny problems when the solutions are unappealing.

Benefits of Thinking Again, and How to Encourage the Practice:
There is a lifetime of evidence that each individual is wrong on a regular basis.  Believes are chosen, and the individual can choose to rethink them.  There is no benefit in keeping wrong ideas even longer.

There are those who are happy being wrong, and accept what they knew was wrong.  Their goal is not to be wrong, but to recognize when ideas are wrong, as that means they have become less wrong.  Denying an idea or decision as wrong, exacerbates how wrong they are.  There is hesitation about admitting wrongness as the individual can become seen as incompetent, but there is research that indicates the reverse.  That admitting when the individual is wrong, makes them appear more competent.  Admitting errors is a display of honesty, and a willingness to learn. 

Various attachments to prior opinions prevents rethinking.  A resolution would be to detach.  Detach by separating present-self from past-self, for they make decisions with different sets of information.  Detach opinions from identity, for identity is a more complex agglomeration than any opinion.  Opinions need to become tentative, to readily change them when needed.  

Diversity of thought makes task conflict constructive.  Diversity of perspective prevents overconfidence cycles.  People coming from different backgrounds can identify alternative information.  Hearing alternative views keeps individuals humble, without damaging relationships.  Intellectual chemistry is when people disagree but still enjoy the conversation.  Intellectual friction is a feature of learning. 

Individuals who tend to disagree can be critical and challenging.  Being disagreeable comes with negative associations such as complaining about everything.  Need to know when to belong to groups of agreeable or disagreeable people.  Agreeable people make for a great support network.  A challenge network consistent of a group of people who are willing to point out other people’s weaknesses, which facilitates rethinking.  It is hard to disagree, which is why disagreements needs a fostering environment to be constructive.  

Rethinking is a collective capability, rather than an individual skill.  Depends on organizational culture.  With a culture that allows errors, more errors are reported but fewer are made.  Errors are learned from.  Alternatively, cultures that punish errors claim less errors to not be penalized.  Without acknowledging the errors, the same mistakes were repeated for they could not readily diagnose root causes of problems.  A culture needs to instill positive and negative reinforcements.  Positive reinforcements facilitate repetition of appropriate behavior, but only positive reinforcements precipitates in overconfidence.  Negative reinforcements facilitate learning from errors.  

How To Talk To Others?
Being adversarial in trying to convince others is counterproductive, for it makes people become defensive.  Being defensive means that they are unwilling to rethink their ideas, and are not willing to collaborate.  Hostility prevents constructive conversations.  Need to respond with curiosity and interest, to prevent losing control.  Tranquility is a strength, and can calm emotions.

Rather than resisting oppositions claims, need to adapt to their claims to provide opportunities to open up.  As the individual might want to change other people’s minds, the individual needs to be open to changing their own mind as well.  Demonstrating openness by acknowledging critics claims and what has been learned.  Consider opponents strongest argument, rather than weakest.  Fragile egos seek to affirm positive attribute, and deny weaknesses.  

Oneself is the most capable of persuading oneself.  Picking the valid reasons, and taking ownership of them.   Difficult to motivate change, but each individual can find their own motivation to change.  Influencing decisions is not just about disagreeing, but allowing the other to feel in control of their decisions.  Rather than lead or follow in a conversation, need to guide a conversation.  Explaining an understanding of what others claimed, provides feedback.  Listening is part of a conversation which not only provides information that can be used to ask questions, but also allows others to reconsider their views about the individual. 

Overwhelming someone with rational argument makes then resistant.  Logic is internally consistent, but not externally valid.  Emotions need to be considered, as they are not a distraction during a conversation.  Emotions express caring for a topic.  The individual might still reject the idea coming from passionate person, but they can understand the passion of the person.

Opposing groups tend to be homogenized with negative characteristics, even if both groups view each other with the same characteristics.  The thoughts about the opposition influence behavior even when out of context.  Sport team fans views about the other team fans, influences how they think about other team fans, even when not in a sports context.  Deepening group identity can exacerbate divergent understandings, as people disidentify with the opposition.  Preferring to interact with those who share their own views, which also makes those view more extreme.  Conformity reinforces polarization.  When confronted with people who do not fit a stereotype, people usually see those differences as unique within the group, rather than reconsider the group as a whole.  Stereotypes are socially constructed on shaky foundations that are rarely questioned.  While those in power rarely have their perspectives questioned, groups that are marginalized and oppressed contort to fit in. 

There are different reasons why people disagree, rather than just a single reason.  Different people disagree with a topic in different ways.  Skeptics think critically about information and are willing to update thinking.  Deniers are dismissive and do not believe any information coming from alternative sources.  Twist information to fit their views.   

Caveats?
Rethinking itself might not necessarily be optimal.  Rethinking takes a lot of energy.  To rethink about certain ideas, they need to use prior ideas.  Culture itself is passed down knowledge that has worked.  Rather than spending energy rethinking every idea, culture provides foundations which reduce the energy strain on thinking about different ideas.  As the book advices, what matters is when the individual needs to rethink prior thoughts, ideas, and decisions.  Primarily, when the prior ideas no longer apply to the situation.  Less need to rethink ideas, that are still applicable to the situation, even if alternatives can be better.  

As the different mindsets represent abstract ways of thinking, attaching them to certain professions reduces their value.  As the author notes, professions themselves not only do not always apply their own mindset, but use alternative mindsets given the context.  To adhere to the broad understanding of each mindset, would require renaming them for better representation.  

A major cause of problems with thinking is overconfidence.  Overconfidence prevents rethinking.  The problem is that it is not clear what overconfidence is.  Within the book, overconfidence is used relative to skills, and with negative consequences.  Overconfidence can still lead to success, but would not be considered overconfidence.  Overconfidence as in having more confidence than skills, is a problematic view because skills are varied and their impact is often shrouded in uncertainty.  Even with a recognized individual who has the most expertise within a field, would still be considered overconfidence should the individual be wrong.

A minor issue in this book is the author’s view that people should withhold opinion that do not adhere to logic.  This is an inconsistent view because withholding ideas means they cannot get feedback, and might even become exacerbated because there is no one to correct them.  It is also possible that what might seem illogical to certain individuals, might be the most logical claim of others.  Discovery of logic, and to test opinions means that they need to interact with others.  To make the claim of opinions consistent with the rest of the book would not be difficult, for whatever opinions someone has, all they need is to be willing to reconsider them.  

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 do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•Why do people need to think again?
•How can being wrong also be fun?
•What is intelligence?
•What are rethinking and unlearning skills?
•Why do people have trouble rethinking? 
•Why keep with prior ideas and decisions?
•Why cannot prior knowledge be applied for future decisions?
•What are the four different mindsets, and what do they represent?
•What is the use of questions?
•When does intelligence backfire? 
•What are some intellectual biases?
•What can be done to correct biases?
•What happens when there is more confidence than skills, and vice versa?
•What is the totalitarian ego?
•What are mental vaccines?
•How to use uncertainty?
•Why recognize errors?  What prevents errors from being recognized? 
•How to improve rethinking? 
•What is Project Debater?
•What impact does diversity of thought have on conversations? 
•How to convince others of the merit of ideas they oppose? 
•What makes conversations difficult?  How make conversations constructive? 
•What are motivational interviews?
•What is a learning culture? 
•What is the paradox of scientist and superforecasters thinking about being wrong?
•How do schools engage students? 


Book Details
Publisher:         Viking [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:  9781984878113
Pages to read:   206
Publication:     2021
1st Edition:      2021
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5

Friday, August 12, 2022

Review of Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong

This review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in:
Book Club Event = Book List (12/03/2022)
Intriguing Connections = 1) To Cooperate Or To Defect?
Watch Short Review

Excerpts

“Mecca had become a thriving mercantile city, but in the aggressive stampede for wealth some of the old tribal values had been lost.  Instead of looking after the weaker members of the tribe, as the nomadic code prescribed, the Quraysh were now intent on making money at the expense of some of the tribe’s poorer family groupings, or clans.” – Karen Armstrong, The Prophet (570-632), Page 3


“Muhammad did not think that he was founding a new religion, but that he was merely bringing the old faith in the One God to the Arabs, who had never had a prophet before.  It was wrong, he insisted, to build a private fortune, but good to share wealth and create a society where the weak and vulnerable were treated with respect.” – Karen Armstrong, The Prophet (570-632), Page 4


“Social justice was, therefore, the crucial virtue of Islam.  Muslims were commanded as their first duty to build a community (ummah) characterized by practical compassions, in which there was a fair distribution of wealth.” – Karen Armstrong, The Prophet (570-632), Page 6


Review

Overview:

During Prophet Muhammad’s era, the Arabic world became wealthy through trade.  Wealth that came with social consequences, as tribal values were disintegrating.  Muhammad’s profound spiritual experiences, during which Muhammad wrote the new Arab scriptures, would reinvigorate the lost values.  Islam took shape, with the Quran as the central text.  Having an understanding of social conditions, Muhammad created a doctrine that was spiritual, while containing practical and politically feasible solutions.  The policies did not allow coercion within matters of religion, while also preventing those within the community from attacking each other no matter their faith.  Ending tribal cycles of recrimination.  A community with social justice at its core.  The major problem was succession.  After the Prophet’s death, there was agreement on maintaining the community to prevent feuds.  What they disagreed on was whom should lead the community, and how the members should behave.  Divergent views which precipitated in wars for succession.  Internal strife and external threats caused power to shift, but Islam remained.  With different peoples and empires taking up the religion and spreading the faith. 

 

A Spiritual Path:

Religion is meant to be a spiritual quest, an internal journey, but in practice there are a lot of external influences.  Politics and religion are intimately tied, causing spirituals leaders to appear like regular politicians, consumed by worldly ambitions.  These struggles distract from the sacred ideal.  Attempts were made to separate religion from politics.  A secularization originally meant to liberate religion from the corruption of state affairs.

Islam is more of an orthopraxy than orthodoxy.  A religion requiring to live in a certain way.

Fundamentalism comes about in every religion, in response to modern problems.  As more secular peoples and fundamentalist people increasingly devote more time to different understandings, they created their own culture.  Become increasingly unable to understand each other. 

Not only are there divergent views within a religion, but the way it is perceived by others becomes distorted as well.  Purposely distorting images of Islam, or any religion, leads to catastrophe.

Muhammad’s achieved victory through non-violent policies.  Islam opposes coercion in religious matters.  The religion is meant to be tolerant and inclusive. 


Birth of Islam:

Trade with surrounding countries made the Arabic world wealthy during the 7th century.  The problem was that the conquest for wealth, caused some tribal values to be lost.  Rather than take care of vulnerable members of a tribe as the Nomadic code prescribed, money was being made at the expense of tribe’s poorer family groupings, or clans. 

During this time, Muhammad had seizures in which Muhammad felt an overpowering presence, and heard what would become a new Arab scripture.  Although more revelation came, Muhammad initially did not share these experiences openly.  Only shared them share them with very close family members. 

Earliest converts came from the poorer clans, as they did not approve of the new inequity.  What Muhammad explained was that the inequity and lack of respect for vulnerable was a contradiction with the laws of existence.  Muhammad had understood social problems and needs, and tried to find a solution that was politically viable and spiritually illuminating.  Old religion was not working as evident by a spiritual dearth, chronic and destructive warfare, and injustices that violated traditions.

Muhammad did not create new doctrines, nor was intent on creating a new religion.  What the movement was about is bringing the old faith to Arabs, who never had a prophet before.  Muhammad recognized the legitimately valid revelations that Jews, and Christians already received.  Muhammad did what other prophets and reformers did during the Axial Age, use former rituals. 

Quran means recitation, and Islam means surrender.  Being Muslim means complete submission to Allah, and Allah’s demands for humans to act with justice, equity, and compassion.  With salat, a ritual prayer done three time a day.  Prostrations designed to humble, and consider inclusivity.  Jihad is the effort given to living the way Allah intended.  Coercion was not permissible in matters of faith.  Muslims are not supposed to persecute others to accept Islam.

Social justice was central to Islam.  Muslims were tasks with building a community, called ummah, in which the members acted with practical compassion and equitable distribution of wealth.  Members within an ummah could not could not attack one another, no matter which religious faith they belonged to.  Not only could members of an ummah not attack each other, they had to provide each other protection.  Such accords brought an end to cycles of tribal warfare and recrimination.  Brining about peace before the Prophet’s death in 632.

Within the Quran, men and women are partners.  Provided women with many institutions such as inheritance and divorce, centuries before the West.  Certain customs came about a few generations after the Prophet, such as forcing all women to veil themselves, or be secluded in different parts of the house.  Polygamy was permitted because the wars killed many men, and left women without protectors. 


Early Politics, And Recent:

As Muhammad’s clan gained increasing political power, it caused others to try and limit the rise.  Converts to Islam were treated poorly.  For two years, there was a ban on trading with Muslims.  

Muhammad had later become leader of a collection of tribal groups.  The tribes were not bound by blood, but shared ideology.  An innovation within the society.  Nobody was forced to convert to Islam. 

Early on Muhammad worked closely with Jewish tribes, and tried to align some practices of Islam to be closer to Judaism.  Muhammad’s greatest disappointment was when the Jews of Medina did not accept Muhammad as an authentic prophet.  Within Judaism, the era of prophecy was over, so could not accept another prophet.

Although there were incidents that caused conflict between Jews and Muslims, the hatred of Jews is a 20th century development after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.  During the 20th century, Muslims imported anti-Jewish myths from Europe, as they did not have these traditions.  Many anti-Jewish sentiments are distortion of complex events, with distorted verses from the Quran.  The Prophet did not have hatred of Judaism.


Succession:

After Prophet Muhammad’s death, there was a problem with succession.  As they were a tribal people, they questioned whether or not there should be a state.  What kind of form the ummah should take.  Some wanted unity, but disagreed on whom should lead. 

There were those trying to break away from the ummah, and wanted their former independence.  There was a war of riddha (apostasy), to realign them.  This was not a wide spread religious defection, as it was a political and economic revolt.  Some did not have much ties to Muhammad’s region.  Others thought their pact was only with Muhammad, not Muhammad successors. 

What the tribes recognized that they did not want the chaotic state before Islam, an era plagued by raiding and feuding.  That energy could be directed towards common activities, which would be a better path.  They accepted an ummah that was preserved by an outwardly directed offensive, against non-Muslim communities.  Although the tribes were egalitarian and disapproved of monarchy, they did accept a chief during military campaigns or journeys.

The campaigns were not religious, but for practical purposes.  To preserve the unity of the ummah.  There was no divine mandate to conquer the world.  The campaigns were not initially directed to Western Christendom, for that region did not have many opportunities to trade, or booty to obtain.

Those who lived in the empire became dhimmis (protected subjects).  Dhimmis did not need to change their faith, nor could they be raided or attacked.  Dhimmis paid a tax in return for military and judicial protection.   

The views on what it meant to follow the Quran had become divergent.  Even when Ali’s submitted to the results of an arbitration, the act was not accepted by radical supporters.  The lack of succession and appropriate behavior caused civil wars, in which many devout leaders (imams) were killed.  Those who attained power, tended to massacre many who did not share their views or tribal ethnicity.

Some groups such as the Usulis did not think ordinary Muslims were capable of interpreting basic principles of the faith.  So they sought out learned ulama, who would provide justice and authority.


Empires of Islam:

By mid-10th century, the caliphs became symbolic authority, for real power resided with local rulers.  Local rulers established dynasties within various parts of the empire.  Some local powers developed an educational system.  Islam began to thrive even without government support. 

Islamic empires were under threat from the Mongol expansion.  The Mongol’s did not have a spiritual movement, although tended towards Buddhism.  Mongol policy was to build on local traditions of the subjugated area.  By the early 14th century, the four Mongol empires converted to Islam.  Mongols became the main Muslim power.  Mongol ideology of the state was glorified imperial and military might.  A dream of world conquest.  The state was run on military hierarchies. 

After the Mongol Empire, Islam’s power then shifted to new empires in India, Azerbaijan, and Anatolia. 

The Ottoman Empire was able to establish a government in which different religions could peacefully coexist.  The empire was a collection of communities.  As military disciple weakened, the sultans could not wield absolute power.  Economic problems led to corruption and tax abuse.  Inequity was the norm.  Trade declined due to an inability to compete with others. 

 

Caveats?

As the book covers a vast amount of history, certain eras did not get much detail.  The book introduces many of the peoples and empires that were influenced by and influenced the practice of Islam, but to understand each would require more research. 

Sometimes there is a deterministic account of history, such as an inevitable fall of agrarian societies.  Even societies that are primarily agrarian, possess various other aspects which influences their ability to survive and adept to different situations.


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 do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•Is religion and politics intertwined?
•What is Islam?  What are some of Islam’s social functions?  How does the religion approach others?
•What kind of community does Islam want to inspire?
•Who is Prophet Muhammad?
•What changes in the Arab world inspired Prophet Muhammad?
•What happened after Prophet Muhammad?
•What is the purpose of religion?
•Why secularize religion from state affairs?
•Why does fundamentalism develop?
•What impact did Islam have on tribal politics?
•How are men and women treated in the Quran?
•What are some events that happened during the rise of Islam?  What did Prophet Muhammad have to deal with?
•What was Prophet Muhammad trying to do with the scriptures?
•Why did some tribes want to break away after Prophet Muhammad’s death?
•What happened to those within the Islamic Empire who did not share the Islamic faith?
•What happened to the caliphs authority over time?
•How did the Mongol Empires influence Islam?  How did Islam influence the Mongol Empires?
•How did the Ottoman Empire govern its members?
•What other peoples held Islam as their religion? 


Book Details
Publisher:         Modern Library [Random House]
Edition ISBN:  9780812966183
Pages to read:   215
Publication:     2000
1st Edition:      2002
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           4






Friday, August 5, 2022

Review of Screwed Up Somehow But Not Stupid: Life With a Learning Disability by Peter Flom

This review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Psychology
Book Club Event = Book List (09/10/2022)
Watch Short Review

Interview with the Author

Excerpts

“It’s not clear to others why we have difficulties.  Contrast this with someone who is blind or wheelchair-bound.  Their problems are more disabling, but also more visibly obvious.” – Peter Flom, Preface, Page 6


“By definition, a nonverbal learning disability (NLD) is a kind of learning disability, or LD, in which nonverbal communication is a huge problem.  Many years ago experts treated LD as a single disorder, believing all LD individuals have much in common.  This led to research comparing learning-disabled people to matched controls who were not LD.  It was also marked by a very narrow idea what types of deficits could be called LD.  This approach is inadequate because LDs are marked more by their differences than their similarities.” – Peter Flom, Chapter 2: What Is NLD? Part 1, Page 13


“Another way of thinking about the differences between NLDers and NTers is the things you do automatically are difficult for many of us, like reading facial expressions.  Further, while it’s difficult to imagine having a learning disability that you don’t have, I think it’s harder to imagine having an LD in the autism ballpark because it’s harder to isolate the challenges.” – Peter Flom, Chapter 2: What Is NLD? Part 1, Page 16

Excerpts provided with permission from author

Review
Overview:
This is a guide on how to understand and help those with a nonverbal learning disability, an NLD.  A nonverbal learning disability is a type of learning disability, which has difficulty with nonverbal communication.  Trouble with processing nonverbal information.  Those with an NLD are not just different, they are differently different.  Different because of the different way information is processed.  They think differently.

Nonverbal information such as emotions, body language, and facial expressions are influential factors in communication, but NLD individuals cannot readily understand nonverbal signals.  Can take time to process the information, but the pauses can cause misunderstanding.  What neuro-typical individuals do automatically, is difficult for an NLD individual.

NLD individuals cannot be generalized, for each is a unique case.  Everyone who has an NLD has different problems.  NLD individuals tend to think in words, and have trouble integrating nonverbal and verbal information.  Can be literal, and have a focus on details.  The meaning of nonverbal information needs to be taught.

A Disability: 
Being labeled an NLD does not change the individual, it does change how the individual is approached.  Being labeled means having more information and can use that information to get help and support.  There are many labels that can fit an NLD, which can fit well or not, but they do not define the individual.  A label is a good start into a search about what can help NLD individuals, but as they are all different what works for an individual might not apply to others.  Because of the differences, educational plans for NLD are often vague.

Considering NLD a spectrum would be inappropriate, as it is inappropriate for autism.  They involve many aspects of behavior, thought, and interaction.  Author prefers to consider them as a ballpark, for there is a center but the center spreads in all directions.  

NLD is a disability, not just a difference in learning.  Preference for disability than just learning differences because with the latter can be demeaning and harmful.  Differences are not legally protected, while disabled are.  With a disability, more services become available as to their evaluation and finding appropriate education.

More On NLD:
The disability it a non-obvious, for it is about what happens in the mind.  There are many with perceptive and obvious disabilities that are more disabling.  Being non-obvious causes difficulty in understanding why NLD individuals have difficulties.

Nonverbal communication to an NLD is like talking in a different language.  Nonverbal signals are not properly perceived.  A neurological impairment that affects abilities, but not related to speech.  Common difficulty areas are reading body language and faces, discerning tone, temporal and special memory, and other nonverbal abilities.

Like many with disabilities, NLD individuals can become negatively characterized.  Better to avoid making assumptions about intelligence, attention skills, or how similar others are.  NLD individuals can fail like everyone to understand something, but that does not mean they are intellectually impaired.  NLD tend to have difficult understanding emotions, and tend to look away from people.  The nonverbal information can become overwhelming.  NLD also tend to be bad at small talk, as they need more substance topics. 

What can help NLD is to teach them social skills, for they will not easily pick those up on their own.  Many behavior issues are not done on purpose, but are coping mechanisms.  NLD are trying to fit in as best they can.  NLD also have difficulty adjusting to novel and complex situations.

Need to recognize strengths, weaknesses, and how to get around difficulties.  Different approaches on exist on how to tackle difficulties.  Depending on the context will determine which is better.   

Caveats?
NLD is usually contrasted with the neuro-typical but it is not clear how neuro-typical individuals perceive things.  Even with neuro-typical individuals, they can fail to understand emotions because emotions need practice.  A more isolating culture would not provide its members with enough emotional practice making them appear to be NLD.  Understanding emotions, like everything else, takes time and effort which later becomes automated.  
 
NLD have a very wide range of symptoms, and behavioral problems.  Everyone might fit into the NLD ballpark in some way.  Although it would be wrong to make comparisons between the NLD differences, there needs to be a better filter for who is an NLD individual.  What this book does is create an understanding of what an NLD is, which can be used to search for more information on how to help NLD individuals.

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 do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•What is a nonverbal learning disability?
•What does it mean to be neuro-typical?
•What are types of nonverbal information?
•How does communication use nonverbal information?
•Why is NLD a disability rather than just a different type of learning?
•What does the NLD label do for the individual who has NLD?
•Is NLD on a spectrum?
•What makes NLD individuals difficult to understand? 
•What happens by holding up people who succeeded with a disability as an example for potential?

Book Details
My edition was provided by the author. 
Publisher:         Peter Flom
Edition ISBN:  9780692611692
Pages to read:   91
Publication:     2020
1st Edition:      2016
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          3
Overall           3




Monday, August 1, 2022

Review of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This review was written by Eugene Kernes  

Book can be found in:
Book Club Event = Book List (10/08/2022)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Want a Laugh?, 2) Some Kind of Friendship, 3) Tales of Growing Up
Watch Review

Excerpts

“The driver said jovially that he was used to people who knew where they wanted to go but not what it would cost, but this was quite the opposite.” – Jonas Jonasson, Chapter Two, Page 13


“Allan liked his own company and that was good, because he loved an isolated life.  Since he didn’t join the ranks of the labor movement he was despised by socialists, while he was far too working class (not to mention related to his father) to be allowed a place in any bourgeois fathering.” – Jonas Jonasson, Chapter Four, Page 34


“The local newspaper lost no time in posting the news about the old man who had disappeared in thin air on his hundredth birthday.  As the newspaper’s reporter was starved for real news from the district, she managed to imply that you could not exclude the possibility of kidnapping.” – Jonas Jonasson, Chapter Five, Page 37

Review
Overview:
Just before Allan Karlsson’s 100th birthday party, Allan decides to break free.  Allan jumps out of the window, and without knowing where, goes somewhere.  Given Allan’s age, Allan takes certain liberties such as stealing a suitcase from a disrespectful person.  The problem is that the suitcase belongs to a gang, who are now trying to catch Allan.  That is the beginning of an adventure for Allan in which Allan meets a master thief Julius, almost brilliant mind on everything Benny, and Gunilla who goes nowhere without a dog and an elephant.  The centenarian’s disappearance became a news sensation, especially when there are rumors of kidnapping, and a warrant out for Allan and friends for more than one murder.  Along the way is a history lesson on the extensive life of Allan, with many trips around the world.  Allan is someone who disdains political discussions, but meets many very political individuals and influences world politics.  Although Allan travelled around the world, Allan did not necessarily get to see a lot of the world, as a lot of time was spent in various prisons.  This is a humorous story which requires rethinking the capacity of age and political possibilities.  

Caveats?
There is a frequent shift between contemporary events and history.  The backstory of Allan provides a lot more depth to the character, but can distract from the events.  A timeline for Allan’s events is provided.  The book has a lot of humor, but understanding the humor dependents on the reader values.

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 do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•Why does Allan Karlsson want to run away before Allan’s 100th birthday?
•Why do you think the author chose to make the main character 100 years old?
•Where does Allan want to go after escaping the 100th birthday party?
•What is Allan’s area of expertise?
•What is Julius Jonsson area of expertise?
•What is Benny Ljungberg area of expertise?
•What is Gunilla Bj√∂rklund area of expertise?
•How does Allan, and friends, get into trouble with Never Again?  How do they resolve the conflict?
•Are Allan, and friends, innocent or guilty of the legal charges? 
•How does Allan shape world history?
•Why are people either averse to politics, or cannot think of anything but politics?
•Capitalism or socialism?  Where does Allan fit in?
•How does Allan think about the various events?
•How does Allan's experience of world events compare to the actual historical events?
•How does Allan navigate the political world?
•Why does Allan get into the various prisons around the world?  How does Allan get out of the prisons? 
•Who does Allan meet around the world?


Book Details
Publisher:         Hyperion [Hachette Book Group]
Edition ISBN:  9781401304393
Pages to read:   305
Publication:     2012
1st Edition:      2012
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5