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New translation, the Magna Carta


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a common sense summary of what looks as if it may be a sane book

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“The flimsiness of the entire enterprise was brought home to me in devastating fashion in a conversation with Elliot Valenstein, a leading neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, and the author of three highly regarded and influential books on psychopharmacology and the history of psychiatry. I was talking to Valenstein about why today’s psychiatric drugs address only a very small proportion of the neurotransmitters that are thought to exist. Virtually all these drugs deal with only four neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin, most commonly, and also norepinephrine and GABA (technically known as gamma-aminobutyric acid). While no one knows exactly how many neurotransmitters there are in the human­brain-­indeed, even how a neurotransmitter is defined exactly can be a matter of ­debate-­there are at least ­100.

“So I asked Valenstein, "Why do all the drugs deal with the same brain chemicals? Is it because those four neurotransmitters are the ones understood to be most implicated with mood and thought ­regulation—­that is, the stuff of psychiatric disorders?"

“ "It’s entirely a historical accident," he said. "The first psychiatric drugs were stumbled upon in the dark, completely serendipitously. No one, least of all the people who discovered them, had any idea how they worked. It was only later that the science caught up and provided evidence that those drugs influence those particular neurotransmitters. After that, all subsequent drugs were ‘copycats’ of the ­originals-­and all of them regulated only those same four neurotransmitters. There have not been any new radically different paradigms of drug action that have been developed." Indeed, while 100 drugs have been designed to treat schizophrenia, all of them resemble the original, Thorazine, in their mechanism of action. "So," I asked Valenstein, "if the first drugs that were discovered had dealt with a different group of neurotransmitters, then all the drugs in use today would involve an entirely different set of neurotransmitters?"

“ "Yes," he ­said.

“ "In other words, there are more than a hundred neurotransmitters, some of which could have vital impact on psychiatric syndromes, yet to be explored?" I ­asked.

“ "Absolutely," Valenstein said. "It’s all completely arbitrary."

“The irony is that the shift to drug-oriented treatments has occurred even as the techniques of psychotherapy have improved dramatically. The old ­one-­size-­fits-­all approach of long-term, fairly unstructured, verbally oriented psychoanalysis or dynamic psychotherapy has been replaced by a number of new approaches specifically geared toward particular kinds of ­patients.

“Traditional therapies can work well for highly verbal "worried well" patients with a fair degree of insight into their problems and motivation to do something about them. But such therapies clearly don’t work for many other people. Among the new, more tailored approaches developed during the past 20 years is cognitive­behavioral therapy (CBT), which gives patients the tools to examine the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that lie behind their behavior, and develops the skills they need to enact change at a practical level. CBT has often been shown to be as effective as drugs in treating mild to moderate depression, with a significantly lower recurrence rate. It has also been used effectively to treat a broad variety of conditions, including bulimia, hypochondriasis, ­obsessive-­compulsive disorder, substance abuse, and ­post-­traumatic stress disorder, and it has even emerged as a means of reducing criminal ­behavior.

“Two other innovative treatment ­approaches-­the Stages of Change model and Motivational ­Interviewing-­have helped caregivers understand how to motivate (and help) people to change. These methods’ tenets, in a nutshell, are that change should be viewed as a cyclical rather than linear process; that the job of bringing about change is the responsibility of the patient, not the caregiver (a reversal of the ­centuries-­old hierarchical construct of the ­doctor-­patient relationship); and that the caregiver’s approach must vary according to the client’s "stage of change"-that is, the patient’s level of insight and motivation to move forward. The positive outcomes of these kinds of "psychosocial" approaches in addressing some of the most difficult human problems-­including addiction and the resistance of people with mental and other illnesses to being drawn into -­treatment have been shown repeatedly.

“These and other verbally oriented treatments are increasingly used by mental health professionals, but they have less appeal in the citadels of modern psychiatric thought. There, the biological model has triumphed, and not only because of the glittering promise it holds. Biopsychiatry is driven by a complex network of forces, not the least of which are the allure of treating patients expeditiously with drugs rather than time-consuming and sometimes-messy therapies, and the huge profits to be reaped from antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other psychoactive drugs. For patients, however, the benefits of the new paradigm are not nearly so unambiguous. By focusing so heavily on ­drugs, though they can be highly effective, particularly for severe ­conditions-­we are neglecting to expose patients to the full array of treatments and approaches that can help them get better.

“If there’s any lesson to be gleaned from the recent history of psychiatry, it is, in the anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann’s words, "how complex mental illness is, how difficult to treat, and how, in the face of this complexity, people cling to coherent explanations like poor swimmers to a raft."

“We don’t know much, but we should know just enough to recognize how primitive and crude our understanding of psychiatric drugs is, and how limited our understanding of the biology of mental disorder. The unfortunate fact remains that the ills of this world have a tantalizing way of eluding simple explanation. Our only hope is to be resolute and careful, not faddish, in assessing new developments as they arise, and to adopt them judiciously within a tradition of a gradually but steadily growing arsenal in the fight against genuine human ­suffering.

“The part essay above is adapted from Charles Barber's new book, Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation, which Pantheon will publish in February.”

Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation by Charles Barber


Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation by Charles Barber

Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation by Charles Barber

£15.32 [amazon.co.uk]
Pantheon Books, 2008, hbk
ISBN-10: 0375423990
ISBN-13: 978-0375423994

£9.50 [amazon.co.uk]
$10.85 [amazon.com]
Vintage Books USA, pbk,
10 February, 2009
ISBN-10: 0307274950
ISBN-13: 978-0307274953


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holiday reading as suggested by thomas sowell

“Also recommended are FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt's New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression, by Jim Powell, a book that documents the mistakes of Roosevelt's "New Deal" which turned a recession in 1932 into the very long Depression of the Dirty Thirties. Let us hope that Obama will avoid these mistakes, but from his speeches on the economy it looks as if Obama is going the same disastrous way as FDR. Mr. Sowell also recommends his own book "Economic facts and fallacies" which we can only hope America's Obama and Canada's P.M. will also find time to read this Christmas break.”

As usual, Thomas Sowell is interesting. He is too modest in putting Goldberg's book above his own...

“The most outstanding political book of 2008 has been Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. It shoots to pieces the prevailing ideas of who is on “the left” and who is on “the right.”

“It can become especially relevant in the coming year, if the new administration goes further with the government interventions in the economy begun by the outgoing administration — the kind of economic policies that were at the heart of fascism.”

Thomas Sowell’s Economic facts and fallacies (a summary in effect of several previous books) is on the edge of being ‘an important book’. Goldberg’s is merely interesting background.

Goldberg’s book is, in my view, very interesting, even fascinating, in terms of the emotional foolishness and shallowness of the Left, but it under-estimates the deadly foolishness of ‘collectivism’. Liberal Fascism is a strange, but limited, discussion of the emotional world of the confused, but ‘well-meaning’, socialist. Goldberg is particularly interesting on the history of twentieth-century socialist/fascist conceits in the USA. He is often clumsy and inaccurate, both in detail and in European factors. He is also almost too polite.

This is a book for those trying to understand how anyone could ever take up what Keynes called “a doctrine so illogical and so dull”. It is a sort of source reader for any psychologist, sociologist or political analyst who just cannot quite believe it. Three GoldenYak(tm) award [See also leading founders hated democracy??!]

I have not read the ‘Great Depression’ books he cites, though I have recently read The Forgotten Man on the same subject.

I do not think the handling of the Great Depression is as simple as some of these recent revisionists claim. The Great Depression is now a long way back in terms of economic understanding.

Keynes is one of the very few great men/geniuses of the last century, but is constantly used as a whipping boy by Rightist fundamentalists, who mostly appear never to have read him. (He was not a dumb Lefty, as most who only read socialist pamphlets have come to falsely believe.) Keynes, in fact, despised socialism.

Further, the Great Depression was aggravated by continuing belief in the false god of gold. We know far more about fiat currencies now. In considerable part because of Keynes, Greenspan and others.

With the onrush of the factory system, the clinging to the outdated dogmas of Puritanism are stopping modern governments coming properly to terms with the continually shrinking of necessary ‘work’.

This is part of what makes Gordon Brown, that dull son of the manse, so unsuitable to cope with modern problems. Like the proverbial generals of yore, so many are still trying to fight the last war.

related material
socialist religions

Thanks to"Crap Detector" for link.

FDR's folly: how Roosevelt's New Deal prolonged the Great Depression by Jim Powell

FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt's New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression by Jim Powell

£9.99 [amazon.co.uk]
Random House USA Inc, 2005 reprint, pbk
ISBN-10: 140005477X
ISBN-13: 978-1400054770

$10.17 [amazon.co.uk]
Three Rivers Press, 2004, pbk
ISBN-10: 140005477X
ISBN-13: 978-1400054770

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning by Jonah Goldberg

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning
by Jonah Goldberg

Penguin, 2009, pbk
ISBN-10: 0141039507
ISBN-13: 978-0141039503
£6.59 [amazon.co.uk]

Doubleday, 2008, pbk
ISBN-10: 0385511841
ISBN-13: 978-0385511841
$18.45 [amazon.com]


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useful review of an upcoming book by malcolm gladwell

“Everyone, from all three groups, started playing at roughly the same time - around the age of five. In those first few years, everyone practised roughly the same amount - about two or three hours a week. But around the age of eight real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up as the best in their class began to practise more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight by age 12, 16 a week by age 14, and up and up, until by the age of 20 they were practising well over 30 hours a week. By the age of 20, the elite performers had all totalled 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives. The merely good students had totalled, by contrast, 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers just over 4,000 hours.

“The curious thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals" - musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practising a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find "grinds", people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn't have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. What's more, the people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

“This idea - that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice - surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.

“ "In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals," writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin, "this number comes
up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years... No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery." ”

“This is an edited extract from Outliers: The Story Of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell, to be published on November 27 by Allen Lane at £16.99. Malcolm Gladwell: Live In London is on November 24 at 5.45pm and 8.30pm at the Lyceum Theatre, London. Tickets from £13.50 to £26.50. To book, call 0844 412 1742 or go to malcolmgladwell-live.com. There will be an interview with Malcolm Gladwell in tomorrow's Observer.”

Outliers: the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell

$16.79 [amazon.com]

Little, Brown and Company
hbk, 18 November, 2008
ISBN-10: 0316017922
ISBN-13: 978-0316017923

£8.49 [amazon.co.uk]

Allen Lane
hbk, 18 November, 2008
ISBN-10: 1846141214
ISBN-13: 978-1846141218

Outliers: the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell

related material
articles by Malcolm Gladwell


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the web address for the article above is

a bumper crop of business and management books, part three- the auroran sunset

A while ago, I asked abelard to recommend to me some books from ab’s collection relating to business and management. Here is the third (and last) batch of what I was given, with my comments:

Metal Men: Marc Rich and the 10-billion dollar Scam
by A Craig Copetas

A recent history of the commodities markets and the corruption that surrounds it. It is written as if for a supermarket tabloid full of unnecessary sensationalisation and adjectives, which gets annoying; but it is otherwise quite interesting.

Marc Rich was given a pardon by Bill Clinton, shortly before Clinton left office. Marc Rich’s wife was a major donor to the Clinton Library.

Metal Men: Marc Rich and the 10-billion dollar Scam by A Craig Copetas

Putnam,1985, hbk
ISBN-10: 0399130780
ISBN-13: 978-0399130786

What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School
by Mark H. McCormack

Excellent book of business and management advice. Very clearly written and organized. Mostly common sense, with lucid examples. Like any "sales" book, there are sections dedicated to the need to lie, which are fortunately kept to a minimum, probably because the author doesn't seem very convinced.

This is a book I left almost till last in a long list of recommended business books, because the title did not sound interesting at all. Strange that this and the book I left to last both have very bad titles and advertising, despite constant advice on how to advertise!

What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School by Mark H McCormack

What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School by Mark H McCormack

Profile Business; New Ed edition , 1994, pbk
ISBN-10: 1861975643
ISBN-13: 978-1861975645
£6.49 [amazon.co.uk]

Bantam, 1986, pbk
ISBN-10: 0553345834
ISBN-13: 978-0553345834
$12.24 [amazon.com]

The Naked Market
by Robert Heller

Full of useful examples of good and bad management with clear, if simplistic explanations. The title is very misleading, as is the blurb, as are large parts of the book. He really does seem to believe he is writing about marketing, rather than management or business, but no matter how many times he repeats his silly mantra, it's not convincing. Essentially he tries to redefine "marketing" so broadly that it loses all meaning. Apart from that annoyance, which is the reason I left this recommendation till last, it is a very useful and interesting book!

The Naked Market by Robert Heller Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd, 1984, hbk
ISBN-10: 0283990120
ISBN-13: 978-0283990120

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts
by R. Bolton

Having read just over half of this 300-page book, I give up. Page after dull page of simplistic wishy-washy platitudes. There is only so much I will suffer for my education!

People skills by R. Bolton

ISBN-10: 067162248X
ISBN-13: 978-0671622480
Touchstone, 1986, pbk
$11.20 [amazon.com] /

Simon & Schuster, 1986, pbk
£5.84 [amazon.co.uk]

Money Lenders: The Money Lenders: Bankers and a World in Turmoil
by Anthony Sampson

Review here.

Money lenders by Anthony Sampson amazon.co.uk / amazon.com hbk
Coronet Books, from Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1982
ISBN-10: 0340287713
ISBN-13: 978-0340287712


What is this?

the web address for the article above is

a bumper crop of business and management books, part two - the auroran sunset

A while ago, I asked abelard to recommend to me some books from ab’s collection relating to business and management. Here is the second batch of what I was given, with my comments:

by David Abodaher

Biography of a corporate highflier who turned out to be a talented manager and marketeer. Interesting for how he deals with various problems - the filler about his personal life is not so interesting.

Iacocca by David Abodaher


Star,1986, pbk
ISBN-10: 035231835X
ISBN-13: 978-0352318350

Today and Tomorrow (Corporate Leadership)
by Henry Ford [ghost written for Ford]

Henry Ford explaining how to run an industrial giant with plenteous moralising asides. Fascinating and surprisingly well written.

Today and tomorrow by Henry Ford

Productivity Press, reprint, 1988, hbk
ISBN-10: 0915299364
ISBN-13: 978-0915299362

£18.99 [amazon.co.uk] / $28.00 [amazon.com]

Think: a Biography of the Watsons and IBM
by William Rogers

An unflattering biography of one of the world's greatest salesmen. Apart from the salatious nonsense about his personal life, very interesting business and history.

Think: a Biography of the Watsons and IBM by William Rogers


Stein & Day Pub, 1969, hbk
ISBN-10: 0812812263
ISBN-13: 978-0812812268

by T. Boone, Jr. Pickens

Very bright guy, very good businessman and manager. Thoroughly recommended.

Also see a review by abelard of this book.

Boone by Boone Pickens

Houghton Mifflin, 1989

Hodder and Stoughton Ltd 1987

The Warren Buffett Way: Investment Strategies of the World's Greatest Investor
by Robert G. Hagstrom

Very inconsistent and poorly written account of a very interesting subject - clearly anyone would be better off just reading Buffet’s words directly, for example from the Berkshire annual reports available online. There is a constant logical error in his analyses - the difference between knowledge we have now and knowledge Buffet could have had at the purchase time is not made clear. That said, the analyses of good and bad management is interesting, but you ’d still be better off just reading the great man directly.

The Warren Buffett Way: Investment Strategies of the World's Greatest Investor by Robert G. Hagstrom

Wiley, 2005, pbk
ISBN-10: 0471743674
ISBN-13: 978-0471743675

£6.99 [amazon.co.uk] / $10.17 [amazon.com]

The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong
by Laurence Johnston Peter and Raymond Hull

"In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence" - an amusing look at incompetence and the bad management that cause it, with some pretty silly solutions. Good for a giggle, even if occasionally the authors lose their rhythm.

And a comment from abelard:
A one-shot pony. Spinning it into a book was more entrepreneurship than necessity.
And a comment from the auroran sunset:
abelard is correct that this book only has one idea. However, they manage to keep finding new and amusing ways to illustrate, such that it is entertaining almost all the way through. Unless you are as single-minded a data seeker as abelard, you'll probably enjoy it.
The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong by Peter and Hull

Souvenir Press Ltd, reprint, 1994, pbk
ISBN-10: 0285631764
ISBN-13: 978-0285631762
£6.99 [amazon.co.uk]



What is this?

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a bumper crop of business and management books, part one - the auroran sunset

A while ago, I asked abelard to recommend to me some books from ab’s collection relating to business and management.
Here is the first tranche of what I was given, and my comments:

Parkinson’s Law or the Pursuit of Progress
by C. Northcote Parkinson

Parkinson’s first book of management satire. Very silly, funny and true! Thoroughly recommended.

Parkinsons Law or the Pursuit of Progress by C. Northcote ParkinsonLibrary of America, 1987, hbk
ISBN-10: 0940450291
ISBN-13: 978-0940450295

Law & the Profits Parkinsons Second Law
by C Northcote Parkinson

Taxes and waste - a sarcastic look at how bad management leads to expenditure growing to meet income. Less laughs than the others, but still fascinating.

Law and the Profits Parkinsons Second Law  by C Northcote ParkinsonJohn Murray (1963)


In-Laws and Outlaws and Parkinson’s Third Law
by Professor C. Northcote Parkinson

Satirical description of how many large companies and government organizations are ‘managed. More serious than his first book - this one has useful tips for how to manage better.

Houghton Mifflin, 1967, hbk
ASIN: B000J41NT4

The Law of Delay
by C. Northcote Parkinson

Like all of his books, it has many interesting, amusing and informative caricatures of bad management and office politics. This one focuses on ‘types of people. Its one of his best, if still not as out-and-out silly as his earlier work.

The Law of Delay by C Northcote ParkinsonBallantine Books, 1972, pbk
ISBN-10: 0345225651
ISBN-13: 978-0345225658

Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Gilbert

Interesting review of mental “optical illusions” - ways in which the mind systematically fools itself. Worth a read.


Also see a review by abelard of this book.

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Vintage, 2007, pbk
ISBN-10: 1400077427
ISBN-13: 978-1400077427
$10.17 [amazon.com]

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert HarperPerennial, 2007, pbk
ISBN-10: 0007183135
ISBN-13: 978-0007183135
£5.49 [amazon.co.uk]


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house, medical series - a review House MD

House [U.S. title: House M.D.] is a good illustration of how any good (hospital) diagnosis is made, with well-structured and multi-layered programmes. These include many ethics puzzles, yet can be taken as entertainment complete with continuing, rather trite ‘love interest’ stories and Addams Family-type interviews with blood spewing from every conceivable human orifice. Viewers of another turn of mind may enjoy the patterned structure of each episode, where the main medical problem is echoed in the incidental problems of clinic patients, and often in the particular aspects of House’s personal life being shown. Thus the series appeals on several levels.

The House series is a very useful way of enthusing an understanding and teaching of diagnosis, generalisable to any complex field. The programme was created by, and has as its prime consultant, an ex-Harvard medic. House is a model for a clear-thinking diagnostician, surrounded to a considerable extent by colleagues, who come from an inadequate knowledge base to a belief that they have solved problems when there is still much to do.

House is constantly driven to fully understand a situation, rather than dismissing ‘loose ends’. As with any highly functioning person, loose ends are a sign of danger and inadequate comprehension. Instead of dismissing apparent loose ends, House actively seeks them, constantly on the search for understanding to check and improve his own knowledge.

House is constantly driving home to his colleagues the correct message that the first concern must be effectiveness, rather than emoting and ‘caring’.

Cuddy, his boss, hovers in the background as an ethical and legal backstop, protecting House from idiots and from his own excesses.

The consultant on this series is continually emphasising that a person of this calibre will be widely regarded as ‘odd’. And thus House is cartoonised with heavily emphasised foibles, in order to ‘humanise’ him for a mass audience. “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down”, wheras in real life, many such people are far from odd amongst their peers, but they may well emphasise eccentricities to ease their way through a mad culture.

The series could be usefully employed to educative processes, to enculcate wisdom and mental fluency, or as a relaxant during courses and training.

The structure of the series is even mirrored in House’s determination not to miss his favourite medical soap.

House M.D. is a demonstration of a clean mind in action.

House M.D. series 1

series 1
972 minutes
$28.99 ASIN: B0009WPM1Q [amazon.com]/
£14.98 ASIN: B001A4VH2U [amazon.co.uk]

House M.D. series 2 series 2
1044 minutes
$28.99 ASIN: B000FVQLIO [amazon.com]/
£12.98 ASIN: B000HXDSUY [amazon.co.uk]
House M.D. series 3 series 3
1050 minutes
$28.99 ASIN: B000R9YLKY [amazon.com]/
ASIN: B000SLY0H0 [amazon.co.uk]
House M.D. series 4 series 4
660 minutes
$32.99 ASIN: B001A4VH2U [amazon.com]/
£24.98 ASIN: B001D1F8PW to be released on 27 October 2008 [amazon.co.uk]

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Intuition, its powers and perils - a review


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short book review - the money lenders : bankers in a dangerous world by the auroran sunset

An interesting history of banking by an intelligent, and thus very confused, socialist. As the author is infected with socialist nonsense, even if he tries very hard to be rational, the usual racism and anti-money nonsense pervades the book.

Particularly amusing are the knots he ties himself in trying to reconcile “development and money improves standards of living”, “those darkies are entitled to their primitive ways”, “it’s bad for bankers to not try to stop the darkies primitive ways when lending to them”, “it’s bad for governments and other bankers to try to impose civilised standards on those darkies who have a different ‘equally valid’ culture”, “the socialist dictatorships are totally beyond the pale”, “socialism is the way forward”, “the right-wing dictatorships that improve standards of living, don’t kills so many people and usually prepare the way for democracy are even worse”, “it’s all the bankers’ fault for lending money”, “the bankers must lend more money”, “we mustn’t judge the primitive ‘culture’ of the barbaric criminal ‘leaders’ ”, “lending to these barbarians encourages them and so is bad”, “we must lend more anyway, because it is good for the people”....

As I said, he is very confused - the usual lot of a socialist with any brains: either they get very dishonest, very confused or they break free of that poisonous religion.

Despite all that, he seems an honourable idealist (again like many in similar predicaments) and tries to give the facts, although he does manage to conveniently gloss over the atrocities of socialism and the reality of advances in freedom and standards of living driven by the British Empire, particularly as now run from the new capital of Washington. Interesting, but requires a mark-9 crap-detector for sentient digestion.

The Money Lenders : Bankers in a Dangerous World
by Anthony Sampson

amazon.co.uk / amazon.com hbk
Coronet Books, from Hodder & Stoughton Ltd? 1982
ISBN-10: 0340287713
ISBN-13: 978-0340287712

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the mechanics of inflation:the great government swindle and how it works
the sum of a geometric sequence: or the arithmetic of fractional banking
bank systemic contagion


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the history of the ubiquitous, and not so humble, potato, review by Xavier

When I started reading this book, Propitious Esculent [esculent: suitable for eating; edible] I first thought I had made a mistake - it was history, not how to grow potatoes. But I ploughed on and soon become engrossed in this idiosyncratic history, a history of the world according to the discovery, development and spread of potatoes as a major food crop.

Potatoes come originally from South America, from the high lands of the Andes, and had then spread through the continent, enabling the growth of the Mayan and Inca Empires. The arrival of Spanish explorers, who became invaders, resulted in the destruction of the local empires and their being supplanted by an European-controlled empire.

One of the aims of the Spanish Conquistadors was to find a more efficient place to grow staple foods for the population in Spain, suffering from repeated famines caused by a fickle climate and crop failures, as well as marauding armies trashing the countryside. With the gold and silver, the Spanish also sent barrels of potatoes back to their homeland, potatoes which had been found often to grow better than wheat and beef animals on the poor Andean soil.

In Europe, potatoes were first better known as a curiosity, and for their flowers. Generally, the potato was regarded as poisonous, rather than a source of food. But Spain was not the only European country with poor harvests, or farming land ravaged by wars. Gradually, potatoes were grown for food in more and more countries.

Antoin-Augustin Parmentier was a French prisoner of the Prussians during the Seven Years War, being fed almost exclusively on potatoes for three or so years. Parmentier was so impressed by his continued good health on such a diet that, that when free again, he made a series of nutritional studies on the potato. He won a prize for proposing the potato as a nourishing substitute for other food during times of famine. Later, Parmentier persuaded the French King, Louis XIV, and his wife Marie-Antoinette, that potatoes were worth eating.

But the general population, however hungry they were in the years before the Revolution, required more than charm to forget their suspicions, if not fear, of potatoes. To win them over, at harvest-time, Parmentier set guards around fields growing an experimental crop of potatoes, chasing away the curious. The locals believed the crop must be valuable to be thus guarded; so when the guards were withdrawn at night, the fields were raided and potatoes became a favoured food. Parmentier received one of the first Légion of Honneur medals for his work, and is commemorated in the name of the French version of cottage pie - Hachis Parmentier.

Potatoes were introduced to Ireland when a Spanish ship with a cargo including potatoes was wrecked on the southern Irish coast. Some of the six hundred captured Spaniards taught the Irish peasants who rescued them how to cook and cultivate the vegetable, all were then massacred by the English authorities. Potatoes grew well in the peaty humidity, and soon became the staple, and almost only, diet of the Irish rural poor - allowed little land to grow food, and earning a pittance working for English landlords. A hard-working farmer would eat at least fourteen pounds of potatoes in a day, flavoured with milk or whey. And this diet had helped Ireland’s population to increase from 1.5 million people, in the early 1600s before the potato was introduced, to 8.5 million in 1845, of whom more than ninety percent were completely dependant on the potato.

Then, the Irish potato harvest failed abruptly in 1845, when the entire harvest turned black and rotting from potato blight. The problem continued because there were then no seed potatoes to plant - the famine deepened. Within a few years, Ireland’s population had reduced by over 2 million - at least one million dying of starvation and another million emigrating.

Because prohibitive tariffs were imposed in Britain on importing foreign grain, in order to protect wealthy English landowners, imported grain was always more expensive than home-grown wheat, barley or oats. These tariffs were regulated by the Corn Laws [corn being a collective term for food grains]. But local supplies were in no way sufficient to help the millions starving in Ireland. It would be necessary to import large amounts of Indian corn (maize) and wheat from the USA.

At this time, Parliament was heavily populated by landowners who benefited greatly from the Corn Laws keeping prices artificially high. Eventually, Robert Peel, the then Prime Minister, persuaded a reluctant House of Commons that the Corn Laws be repealed, winning by a narrow majority.

“Are you to hesitate in averting famine which may come, because it possibly may not come? Are you to look to and depend upon chance in such an extremity? Or, good God! Are you to sit in cabinet, and consider and calculate how much diarrhoea, and bloody flux, and dysentery, a people can bear before it becomes necessary for you to provide them with food? The precautions may be superfluous; but what is the danger where precautions are required? Is it not better to err on the side of precaution than to neglect it utterly?”

It is strange that, over a hundred and sixty years later, the United Kingdom, and the world, is having similar cold feet about acting to prevent another human disaster: the complete destruction of our civilisation, and even the world we inhabit, because global warming might not be happening. As with alleviating the Irish Famine, working to reduce global warming and the environment is a win-win situation, except for a few greedy business magnates.

Although I have not yet finished Propitious Esculent, I am happy to recommend this book as an interesting social history of many parts of the world. I shall look elsewhere for information on the details of growing potatoes.

Propitious Esculent by John Reader

Propitious Esculent, the potato in world history by John Reader

Heinemann, 2008, hbk
ISBN-10: 0434013188
ISBN-13: 978-0434013180
£13.29 [amazon.co.uk] /


the web address for the article above is

stumbling towards better descriptions and refining measurements Five GoldenYak (tm) award
A review of The Mystery of the Missing Antimatter by Helen R. Quinn & Yossi Nir

I have read many popularisations of physics published over the last century, from Bohr, Heisenberg and Planck to Einstein and beyond.

Every year, as the onrush of knowledge increases, so also does the understanding, and thence the clarity of expression improves every year . Almost every year now, another and better summary is published. And thus it is with The Mystery of the Missing Antimatter.

This book is rather more advanced than most such popularisations, but is written with an almost religious avoidance of mathematical models, illustrations and definitions. While these details may be easily looked up in other sources, I would have preferred, at the least, an appendix devoted to these matters; especially since the writers understand their topic with much greater clarity and depth than popularisations by talented reporters. Quinn and Nir would have been very able to continue that clarity into such an appendix. (There is a very useful appendix giving a short history of physics from 1800 to the present.)

This book is highly recommended to intelligent but busy people trying to keep abreast of the modern world. It is much more clear than most popularisations and, in particular, does not disappoint by retreating into waffle and hand-waving when the authors are skating on the edge of their knowledge. These authors are obviously working scientists on the very forefront of present research. As with any serious scientists, they are quite prepared to say they do not know, or where present knowledge is still hazy.

I would also consider this book as a useful present, or necessary background reading for any promising 15 to 22 year old presently in physics or mathematics education. In my view, the background clarifications would help such young students to gain a more rounded understanding of these sciences and of what lies ahead for them in these areas.

Mystery of the Missing Antimatter by Quinn and Nir

The Mystery of the Missing Antimatter
by Helen R. Quinn & Yossi Nir

Princeton University Press, 2008
ISBN-10: 0691133093
ISBN-13: 978-0691133096
£17.05 [amazon.co.uk] /

This linked item from sciencenews.org may give yet another warning of caution:

“But that scenario violates the Copernican principle, a notion near and dear to the hearts of physicists and cosmologists, including Caldwell and Stebbins. Named after the 16th century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who made the then heretical proposal that Earth does not have a favored, central position in the solar system, the principle states that humans are not privileged observers in the universe, but have just as good — or bad — a vantage point as any other observer in the cosmos.

“ “Although the Copernican principle may be widely accepted by fiat, it is imperative that such a foundational principle be proven,” Caldwell and Stebbins assert in the May 16 Physical Review Letters. The researchers suggest a concrete way to check once and for all whether our neck of the cosmic woods is different from other parts of the universe. Their test relies on observations of the cosmic microwave background, the leftover radiation from the Big Bang that bathes all parts of the universe.”

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understanding statistics Five GoldenYak (tm) award

Economic facts and fallacies uses a variety of examples in social science to teach greater caution and perception of errors in statistical reasoning. Statistical reasoning is, generally, very poor in the population at large, even among those who may be considered ‘well-educated’.

The book is, therefore, highly recommended and would serve as useful background reading and support for any useful course in reasoning ability and scientific understanding. I have even purchased a few copies and sent them to people I think can profit from the book.

“Throughout history, the world has abounded with differences that are today called "disparities" or "inequities," even in situations where they cannot be explained by discrimination. At one time, in czarist Russia, nearly all of the members of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences were of German ancestry, even though people of German ancestry were only about one percent of the population of Russia. Today, more than 40 percent of all the billionaires in the world are in one country--the United States. The list could go on and on, until it filled a book. But, however common such statistical disparities have been around the world and throughout history, many continue to reason as if any statistical differences between any groups and suspicious, if not sinister.

“Another fallacy, already noted in Chapters 5 and 7, is what might be called the fallacy of changing composition. When statistical categories are, compared over time, the changing relationships among these categories can be completely misleading as to what is happening to the people or the nations in those categories, when the composition of these categories is changing over time. There may be growing inequalities between those categories during the very same span of years when there is a lessening of inequality between the people or nations who constitute those categories. Moreover, important conclusions and decisions can be based on this fallacy.

“For example, the growth of international free trade has been said to increase inequality among nations because the 23-to-one ratio between the twenty richest and twenty poorest nations in 1960 rose to a 36-to-one ratio in 2000. But the nations constituting the 20 richest and 20 poorest were different in 1960 and 2000. Comparing the same twenty richest and twenty poorest nations of 1960 over those decades shows that the ratio between the richest and poorest declined to less than ten-to-one. This leads to the directly opposite conclusion, suggesting that freer international trade may have helped reduce inequalities among nations, allowing some of the initially poorest to rise out of the category of the bottom twenty.

“Whatever the reason for the declining inequality, the fallacy of believing that international inequality had increased, when in fact it had decreased, is similar to that in an old joke about automobile accidents in Manhattan. In this joke, one friend says to another that statistics show that a man is hit by .a car in Manhattan once every 20 minutes. To which the other replies, "He must get awfully tired of that." The fallacy here is that it is obviously not the same man each time. The very same fallacy underlies much more serious conclusions about both personal and international inequalities over time, when it is not the same individuals or the same nations that are being compared, since each moves from one category to another over time. The changing composition of the categories makes conclusions based on comparisons between the categories fallacious.

“Statistics are no better than the methods and definitions used in collecting them. Without scrutinizing those methods and definitions, we cannot assume that comparable people are being compared, whether comparing the incomes of high school dropouts with college graduates, the incomes of members of different ethnic groups who have the "same" education, or the incomes of single women with married women, when "single" women includes women who were married for years before getting divorced. Nor can statistics about the amount of air pollution in populated areas versus open space tell us anything about whether letting people move into unpopulated areas will increase the total pollution over all, since it is people--not their locations--that generate pollution.

“Perhaps most dangerous of all is the practice of not subjecting fashionable beliefs to the test of facts, but instead accepting or rejecting beliefs according to how well they fit some pre-existing vision of the world. The idea that government intervention is needed to create "affordable housing" is an idea that makes sense only in the context of a preconceived notion, while mountains of hard evidence point in the exact opposite direction. The belief that ghetto riots such as those of the 1960s are a reaction against poverty, discrimination, unemployment, and blighted communities simply will not stand up in the face of hard evidence of when and where those riots took place, which were not in the places or times where these factors were worse.

“The entire educational and employment history of women in the first half of the twentieth century is almost invariably ignored, even in scholarly studies, to concentrate attention on what has happened since 1960, which can be made to fit a preconceived vision of the reasons for women's rise. Similarly with blacks, whose rises out of poverty and into middle class occupations are likewise traced almost invariably from some point after 1960, and attributed to the civil rights movement and government actions of that decade, even though the most dramatic rises of blacks out of poverty occurred in the two decades before 1960. Nothing is more fallacious than to ignore a trend that began years before some policy or action that is credited with whatever happened as a continuation of a pre-existing trend. Similar fallacies have appeared in discussions of things ranging from automobile fatality rates to market shares of companies after an antitrust lawsuit.” [Pages 217-219]

Economic facts and fallacies by Thomas Sowell

Economic facts and fallacies
by Thomas Sowell

Basic Books, 2008, hbk
ISBN-10: 04650003494/
ISBN-13: 978-04650003494
£14.24 [amazon.co.uk] /

related material
Why Aristotelian logic does not work
Intelligence: misuse and abuse of statistics

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on psychobabble

“On such a flimsy underpinning was the new disorder launched - one of seven new anxiety disorders that were often hard to distinguish, including Schizoid Personality Disorder and Avoidant Personality Disorder. But as soon as they appeared in DSM III, such shortcomings were all forgotten, and the new disorders rapidly became targets for aggressively promoted drug treatments.”

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pharmaceutical corporate corruption

Shyness by Christopher Lane

by Christopher Lane
Guilford Press, 2006

£18.04 [amazon.co.uk] / $18.15 [amazon.com] hbk
Yale University Press.
ISBN-10: 0300124465
ISBN-13: 978-0300124460

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