Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Doubt Factory

I kind of got in the groove reading "General Theory" - read 8 chapters and was thinking about forging ahead and reading the final 6. But then, needed a break. I went back to the unread books in the Kobo app on my iPad - currently down to 19 books! I decided on "The Doubt Factory" by Paolo Bacigalupi. It is a YA novel - and I know this for sure because the central character is a teenage high school girl, and part of the plot is her getting a boyfriend.

She starts out being pretty annoying, a smart but spoiled 1%er child in a private academy. But the subject matter quickly becomes very topical and important. Her father is 1 of the 2 principals of "The Doubt Factory" - a PR firm that specializes in "product defense". They are the masters of sowing doubt via paid experts and other techniques to keep harmful products on the market for as long as possible to squeeze out just a little more profit - "delay = $$$". The father's firm is very happy to work in the shadows, but it is targeted for exposure by a lovable group of young misfits all of whom have lost family to products that The Doubt Factory helped keep on the market.

I read this in 1 day, so it is definitely a page turner. Lots of action and explosions, should make a great movie. Paolo is performing a really valuable service in exposing young adults to this topic. He and Cory Doctorow are both Bards of the Revolution. And unlike "Hunger Games" or "Divergent", both of which have vague future dystopias, their works are based on aspects of our modern world that are for the most part spot on.

In a nice piece of synchronicity, Greenpeace has just this weekend outed a major academic climate denier for having taken payment from the fossil fuel industry for "scholarly" articles denying anthropogenic climate change. Nice!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


For my "General Theory" break, I read "Fluency", by Jennifer Foehner Wells. Ms. Wells has a charming persona on Twitter (@jenthulhu), and the book had several tweeted recommendations, so I thought I'd try something new.

I think this was her 1st book, and, well, she is not that good of a writer (hopefully yet). The prose comes across as stilted. I'm not sure what the particulars are - maybe just extra words that don't belong? The plot has a lot of reworked elements - not unusual, but none really stood out as original. It ended somewhat abruptly - I was like, "what?", after I realized I'd read the last page. There were a few questions that I would have preferred not to have to wonder about until the next installment (it is book 1 of a trilogy) that were left unanswered.

It was a pretty good page turner tho. The generally likable strong female lead seemed to have very inexplicably mixed reactions at times. All in all, a comic book without pictures - remember, I like comic books. So I will probably read the others when they come out.

Hmmm, I originally linked to the all ages edition. I guess that has the sex taken out. A new capability with eBooks, apparently? I wonder if that is going to become widely used?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Joint Is Jumpin'

I decided to go on and plow through Keynes "General Theory". It is rough going - harder to read than Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" written 150 years earlier. So I'm reading it 5 chapters at a time, with a break in between.

For my first break, I decided to read the latest Jumper book by Steven Gould, "Exo". This is the 4th book in the series. I started it and realized quickly I had not read the previous book. So I downloaded "Impulse" and then binge read the 2 of them in about 3 days.

The 1st book "Jumper" came out in 1992. A teenage boy saves his life by jumping (teleporting). He becomes a superhero, but is pursued by government agencies and/or an evil billionaire. There was a not-so-good movie made of this starring the ever-so-wooden Christian Hayden. They added very unnecessary plot modifications: multiple jumpers who have been pursued for millennia by a cult who ritually murders them because they are too powerful to leave alone.

The 2nd book, "Reflex" came out in 2004. The boy is older now and his jumping ability rubs off on his girlfriend who later becomes his wife. More trying to be do-gooders while evading the powers that be.

The 3rd and 4th books both follow their 16-17 year old daughter, who also learns to jump to save her life. In "Impulse" she is mostly helping out the downtrodden in her new high school (she had been home-schooled). "Exo" gets a little more cosmic in its scope, and we have bad guys back. Some interesting side effects of teleportation are put to good use.

These are all very enjoyable reads, total page turners. And no question that these are YA novels. There was 1 line about putting makeup on in "Impulse". I couldn't find it, but searching the eBook for "makeup" found 14 matches. So definitely a lot of teenage angst. Hmmm, the Wikipedia page for Steven Gould says he is 4 years younger than me. So, a pretty old guy, he must be using his daughters for source material.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Death of Economics

I finally started Keynes's "General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money". I got bogged down in the 2nd chapter, "The Postulates of the Classical Economics". I was having trouble getting what "marginal disutility of employment" meant, and, wading through Keynes's writing style.

So, I decided to give it a rest for a while. I read "Microeconomics Made Simple" by Austin Frakt & Mike Piper. It is subtitled "Basic Microeconomic Principles Explained in 100 Pages or Less". The "100 Pages or Less" series I'm guessing is like the "for dummies" books. It is available in Kindle format for free at the link above. OK, some basic concepts refreshed, but ...

I thought about going back to the PDF I downloaded from the MIT Open Courseware site: the alternate (i.e., not $200) textbook to 14.01, Principles of Economics, at MIT. It is also titled "Principles of Economics", by Libby Rittenberg and Timothy Tregarthen. I had read 1 chapter of it and decided to take the historical approach instead. Going back to this book, it's an 1100 page PDF - with no table of contents! What is up with that, very hard to work with.

BTW, here is the listing of all Economics courses at MIT.

I guess I'll keep slogging with the Keynes. Overall, my attempt to study Economics has been discouraging. So many of the assumptions underlying its basic principles seem way too simplistic. The notion that consumers (and producers) are "rational agents" is an example. Having lived through the Dotcom bubbles v1 and v2 and the housing bubble of the 2000s, it is completely evident to me that herd mentality greatly outweighed any kind of rationality during all of those periods. And I have yet to hear any mention of Marketing - the great driver of our consumer society - in anything I have read about economics. Maybe Behavioral Economics addresses this - hopefully I'll get to that soon.

Additionally, Economics is so politicized. I guess that you can always find a few scientists willing to drink some tasty koolaid in exchange for hefty research grants - climate crisis deniers for example - but in Economics it seems like it is half the field. Maybe this is evidence that Economics is indeed not a science: only 4% of scientists identify as Republican, while maybe 1/2 of economists seem to identify strongly with the Republican mindset.