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Why does Poland have such a low birth rate?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 14, 2017

It really seems to be a bit of a puzzle, when you look at the numbers: Poland | Economic Indicators

  • Poland has experienced a stable economic growth for many years
  • The trend in wages growth has always remained positive
  • The unemployment rate, at 7%, has never been so low since the 1990s, and it will probably go down even further in the next years
  • The youth unemployment rate was very high in 1998–2004, but then went rapidly down (the Visegrád Group joined the EU in 2004), went up again a bit after the 2008 crisis, and then went down again and it’s now at a sustainable 15%
  • It should be therefore safe to say that people in Poland don’t have many reasons to hold a bleak/pessimistic view of the future, which instead can explain the <1.5 birth rate of other countries (Greece, Italy)
  • On top of all that, Poland is also a homogeneous and religious country, with 94.30 % of its citizens identifying as Christians – which is a trait positively correlated with high birth rates

Why then does Poland have one of the lowest birth rates in the world, at 1.2–1.3?

I suspect it’s another good example of reality not matching the model’s predictions – at least if you use simplistic models with simplistic assumptions.

Annunci

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

Posted by StepTb su settembre 5, 2017

Random House, 2012 Buy Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder
433 pages

The book with which Taleb completed his transformation into a right wing incoherently rambling wannabe guru.

The most brilliant idea this book has is stealing the concept of Resilience (from the field of study of Complex Adaptive Systems), re-naming it “Antifragility”, and insisting it’s a totally different concept from Robustness, you idiots! Well, yeah, that’s because it’s Resilience through Adaptive strategies, not Robustness. And you stole it and re-named it. And called yourself a genius (and critics ignorants and idiots, ofc) for such a groundbreaking move.
If that’s the best contribution, imagine the quality of the rest.

I’m still puzzled by the fact so many people are citing, giving credit and/or looking up to this guy.
A textbook case of pseudo-intellectualism.

(See also my review of The Black Swan, same observations apply.)

4/10

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Why do intelligent people end up being lonely in life?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 3, 2017

I can come up with two explanations.

1. Being very different than the average (in any trait, really) means that, unless you’re one of the lucky ones, most things around you don’t satisfy you, since they weren’t built “for you” (or people like you). This will make you change your environment due to dissatisfaction and lack of sense of belonging at a certain point, and move somewhere else. And this, in turn, will basically kill the social environment you were a part of before the change; like expats and refugees, you’ll have to start a new life from scratch. And, as everyone knows, the older you get the harder it is to build a social circle – it’s easy to end up being lonely no matter your efforts.

2. Having a remarkable talent usually comes with a curse: the realization you’re also wasting it. This makes you visualize bigger goals and work more, because you’re driven by the fear of wasting your potential.
In the case of highly intelligent people, this translates into utilizing your abilities to solve complex problems. But working on hard stuff, of course, implies sacrificing most (if not all) of your time to study in depth a field, then an area of specialization, and finally hypothesizing and developing possible solutions through trial and error.
In the meantime, the people around you will go on with their lives. You’ll basically disappear from their lives, and the overall divide between you and them will increasingly grow – at a certain point, even having a casual conversation will become difficult, for the lack of common ground. Other people don’t put studying and working 24/7 before social relationships and communities, and will think you’re strange, and possibly unlikable or disagreeable, for doing it. So, at the end of the day, you’ll both end up with what you aimed for: social relationships for them, expertise and loneliness for you.

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Stuff Seen, Aug 2017

Posted by StepTb su settembre 1, 2017

Kôrei / Seance (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2000) [TV] [6.5]
Kairo / Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001) [8]
Dopperugengâ / Doppelgänger (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2003) [7]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep13 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015) [7] [overall, a better result than To the Wonder: the back story is less linear and with more subtleties, the settings and chosen locations are more varied and visually stimulating, and the editing is more interesting and similar to The Tree of Life; as uncompromising as always, and, this time, underrated]
Minnâ-yatteruka! / Getting Any? (Takeshi Kitano, 1994) [6.5]
Kizzu ritân / Kids Return (Takeshi Kitano, 1996) [7]
Gokudô kyôfu dai-gekijô: Gozu / Gozu (Takashi Miike, 2003) [6.5]
The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom, eps. 1-3 (Adam Curtis, 2007) [TV] [7]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep14 (David Lynch, 2017) [7.5]
HyperNormalisation (Adam Curtis, 2016) [6.5] [a mixed bag by Curtis; his statements about Assad creating suicide terrorism are just wrong (which is particularly bad, since they’re the glue keeping all the film’s thesis together), his whole coverage of the Middle Eastern conflicts contains gigantic omissions, and his complete omission of anything involving the Dems (just in time for the 2016 elections) is painfully biased; other than that, he knows how to narrate and provides lots of insights, but it looks like he can’t avoid to manipulate stuff enough to make an otherwise good final product fatally flawed]
It Felt Like a Kiss (Adam Curtis, 2009) [6]
Blackhat (Michael Mann, 2015) [7] [the low ratings this film received prove people don’t seem to care about/recognize a beautifully shot and edited movie anymore, which is absurd since it’s become a rare event in contemporary digital cinema, especially within the mainstream action genre (with Mann, for some mysterious reason, being one of the few who care/know how to do it). 10 years after Miami Vice, and the reaction is still the same, if not worse. This time, even a technically well written script where computing and hacking managed to get well translated into audovisual narration and to be, for once, realistically depicted, didn’t get any appreciation. Too bad there are some hardly believable plot devices and the film loses a lot of its power during the last 30 minutes, going into genre cliché territory, but everything before that is just great cinema, proving Mann is still innovating and absolutely fresh. The film also launches a new type of action hero, with physical/combat skills just as central as cognitive/nerdy skills for his success (no need for the scientist/nerd supporting character trope anymore). And it’s even an overall better movie (more visually complex, interesting, with better rhythm and sound design) than Public Enemies]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep15 (David Lynch, 2017) [7+]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep16 (David Lynch, 2017) [8]

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What music from films is now better known than the film it came from?

Posted by StepTb su agosto 22, 2017

Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise is one of the biggest hip-hop hits of all time, but virtually nobody cares about or remembers the film Dangerous Minds, where it first appeared.
The whole album Dangerous Minds: Music from the Motion Picture went on becoming triple platinum.

A similar thing happened with Warren Beatty’s political satire Bulworth.
Bulworth O.S.T. went platinum, and the single Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are) went platinum in the US and seven other countries.
Not many people remember the actual movie, though (which was actually quite interesting, even on a purely musical level, mixing R&B/hip-hop with a great original score by Morricone).

Everyone on Earth knows Chariots of Fire by Vangelis, but how many of them have seen the film of the same name?

To an extent, it’s also true for Whitney Houston’s cover of I Will Always Love You for The Bodyguard.

Also, Taylor Dayne’s cover of Original Sin became more famous than both the original version (by the amazingly underrated Jim Steinman’s project Pandora’s Box) and the movie it was recorded for, The Shadow.

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Why did Hillary Clinton lose the U.S. elections to Donald Trump?

Posted by StepTb su agosto 20, 2017

I’d say there are three reasons, and I’ll list them all because they’re connected. #1 and #2 would be already enough to explain it, and #3 put the last nail in the coffin.

  1. 8 years of Dems in the WH, and they underdelivered.
    – To find the last >8 years Dem Presidency, you have to go back to the extraordinary time of FDR+Truman.
    – You could say Obama’s original vision was a modest version of LBJ’s Great Society. Even as a modest version, it didn’t really come into action.
  2. Hillary wasn’t really a weak candidate, but she definitely was the wrong one. She represented a dynasty, in a moment where Americans strongly demanded change. She’s been in the WH or in other top positions of power for decades, and people wanted an outsider. Look at Jeb, he was the media’s favorite on the right, and probably the best Bush out of the three, but people rejected him for the same reason. Most even had no problems laughing and applauding at Trump bullying him.
  3. The last nail in the coffin was Hillary calling a segment of voters “deplorables”, and everything it implied. That was just an incredibly amateurish move for such a seasoned politician. You never-ever insult voters – they’re legitimately using their rights through the democratic process of a democratic country YOU are asking them to govern. And you especially don’t do anything like that if you’re branding yourself as the morally better option. If you think they’re making an absurd choice, it’s on you to understand why and give them a better answer. Otherwise, you’re not a strong alternative. That fit so wonderfully the Trump narrative of the “smug liberal elite” that he couldn’t have asked for anything better. It also wonderfully went hand-in-hand with an overall political strategy that was faulty from the start.
    I’ll expand a bit.
    As the statistician Andrew Gelman shows (book Red State Blue State, Rich State Poor State), lower classes vote based on economics and are much more similar in their behavior, while upper-middle and upper classes have the luxury of voting based on social values and are much more politically heterogeneous. Of course, a big geographical and cultural divide between the two during moments of crisis or stagnation results in an economically stressed segment of voters who want economic answers… and instead the affluent, metropolitan and liberal media and politicians talk to them about social values (since that’s the battleground in their world), while they actually don’t decide based on that dimension. Doubling down on this mismatch (not to mention calling them animals, bigots, deplorables, etc.) just shows them your complete disconnection, therefore inability to understand their issues, therefore inability to solve them. The majority of those voters would support left-leaning policies benefiting them (Gelman also shows “poor people voting against their interest” is a myth), but, if that’s the interaction, they’ll stay home or vote someone who “gets it” a bit better.
    Ideally, you should aim at a nationally unifying message (Obama’s 2008 campaign). Your second best bet is unifying a relative majority (Trump’s strategy, applied by channeling negative emotions against a precise series of enemies). What was Hillary’s strategy? Something quite amorphous – and anyway, whatever it was, anything else will lose to those two.
    If the Trump strategy keeps being applied, Dems will need to radically re-think whatever they’ve been trying to do, and find a strategy able to neutralize it. Some very interesting pieces have recently been written on this topic:
    Safety Pins and Swastikas
    Debating the liberal case against identity politics
    Richard Rorty’s prescient warnings for the American left

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Stuff Seen, Jul 2017

Posted by StepTb su agosto 1, 2017

World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, 2015) [short] [7]
Black Mirror, s1 ep1 “The National Anthem” (Otto Bathurst, 2011) [6.5+]
Black Mirror, s1 ep2 “Fifteen Million Merits” (Euros Lyn, 2011) [7]
Black Mirror, s1 ep3 “The Entire History of You” (Brian Welsh, 2011) [7]
Black Mirror, s2 ep1 “Be Right Back” (Owen Harris, 2013) [6.5+]
Black Mirror, s2 ep2 “White Bear” (Carl Tibbetts, 2013) [6.5]
Black Mirror, s2 ep3 “The Waldo Moment” (Bryn Higgins, 2013) [7.5] [a truly solid script: coherent, well developed and effectively satirical – the best episode in this series so far; it also looks like it’s the least liked by fans judging by IMDb ratings, I really can’t understand it]
Black Mirror, “White Christmas” (Carl Tibbetts, 2014) [7+]
Black Mirror, s3 ep1 “Nosedive” (Joe Wright, 2016) [6.5+] [it starts extremely well; the main point here is not about social media, which are just a tool, but about a society entirely built on reputation capital. Which results in a pastel-colored world where all negative emotions are repressed. The figure of the social reputation consultant is a particularly brilliant touch. Too bad the script suddenly drops in quality once the truck sequence ends, and the entire final part is mediocre at best – it feels like the authors didn’t have any idea how to end the story, and went with improvising, ultimately ruining a great premise]
The Expanse, s1 ep1 (Terry McDonough, 2015) [6]
Black Mirror, s3 ep2 “Playtest” (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016) [6]
Black Mirror, s3 ep3 “Shut Up and Dance” (James Watkins, 2016) [6.5]
Black Mirror, s3 ep4 “San Junipero” (Owen Harris, 2016) [7]
Black Mirror, s3 ep5 “Men Against Fire” (Jakob Verbruggen, 2016) [7] [well written and directed, but entirely too similar to The Outer Limits s4 ep3, “Hearts and Minds”]
Black Mirror, s3 ep6 “Hated in the Nation” (James Hawes, 2016) [6.5]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep9 (David Lynch, 2017) [7+]
Hardcore Henry (Ilya Naishuller, 2015) [6.5]
Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997) [8.5]
Ano natsu, ichiban shizukana umi / A Scene at the Sea (Takeshi Kitano, 1991) [7.5]
Hana-bi (Takeshi Kitano, 1997) [8.5]
Kikujirô no natsu / Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano, 1999) [7+]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep10 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Am zin / Running Out of Time (Johnnie To, 1999) [7]
John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017) [5] [from the Gianna’s death sequence on, it’s an entertaining 6/10 (well-shot, good cinematography and editing, some nice touches relatively to sets and locations, but still a cartoonish plotline with horrible dialogues) – too bad everything prior to that is a 4/10, and it constitutes roughly half of the movie. overall, worse than the first film]
The Man in the High Castle, s1 ep1 (David Semel, 2015) [7]
Homeland, s1 ep1 (Michael Cuesta, 2011) [7]
Swimming with Sharks (George Huang, 1994) [7]
In the Company of Men (Neil LaBute, 1997) [8+]
Bound (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1996) [7]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep11 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Wag the Dog (Barry Levinson, 1997) [7.5]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep12 (David Lynch, 2017) [6-] [worst episode until now – a filler with lots of bad dialogues]

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Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy

Posted by StepTb su luglio 7, 2017

University of California Press, 2000 (first published 1997)
314 pages
Author: Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi

La versione in lingua italiana, dal titolo “Lo spettacolo del fascismo”, è acquistabile qui.

The section “The Mussolini Myth” is especially important and useful; it collects all the (seemingly) bizarre mediatic tactics Mussolini used to project youth, masculinity, strength, power, and, ultimately, immortality – in a gradual transformation from cult of personality to a deification.
In the meantime, a nation of people identified the leader’s projections as the quality of the nation itself, even if the nation was actually lacking them. A form of mass hypnosis and escapism, leaving such a deep cultural influence that I believe Italy has never managed to fully wake up from it.
It can be easily recognized how some contemporary leaders, like Putin, are employing the same tactics to project a carefully crafted powerful image to their people and, perhaps even more meticulously, to other countries’ citizens.

The chapter “The Politician as Artist” shows us how perfectly Mussolini understood the weaponizing power of media and the nature of politics as entertainment in a modern sense before any other leader. And the next chapter, “From Art to Violence”, leads us to the natural consequences of that realization.

Almost all the western world has gradually shifted towards an infotainment-dominated form of public politics since the end of WWII, so these topics are extremely current. And worrisome.

8+/10

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John Rawls – Giustizia come equità: Una riformulazione

Posted by StepTb su luglio 7, 2017

Feltrinelli, 2010 (first published 2001)
259 pages
Original title: Justice as Fairness: A Restatement

A very important point Rawls makes in this book is the inability of the welfare state to realize his two principles of justice; he advocates instead for a property-owning democracy. This point was touched briefly in A Theory of Justice too, and here isn’t discussed as in-depth as it should have deserved, but it’s discussed and stated explicitly nonetheless.
The vast majority of both admirers and critics of Rawls seem to completely ignore this important and integral part of his theory.

8+/10

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Stuff Seen, Apr+May+Jun 2017

Posted by StepTb su luglio 1, 2017

Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (Mario Bava, Franco Prosperi, 1961) [7]
Conquest (Lucio Fulci, 1983) [6]
Basic (John McTiernan, 2003) [7]
Carne (Gaspar Noé, 1991) [short] [7]
Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002) [7]
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) [9]
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) [7]
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014) [6] [whoa, what a letdown]
Bleeder (Nicolas Winding Refn, 1999) [7]
Filmage: The Story of Descendents/All (Deedle Lacour, Matt Riggle, 2013) [7]
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) [7-]
120 Seconds to Get Elected (Denis Villeneuve, 2006) [short] [6.5]
Maelström (Denis Villeneuve, 2000) [7]
Polytechnique (Denis Villeneuve, 2009) [7]
Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010) [6.5]
The Guardian (William Friedkin, 1990) [6]
3-4 x jûgatsu / Boiling Point (Takeshi Kitano, 1990) [7.5]
Twin Peaks, s3ep1 (David Lynch, 2017) [8]
Twin Peaks, s3ep2 (David Lynch, 2017) [8]
Twin Peaks, s3ep3 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Twin Peaks, s3ep4 (David Lynch, 2017) [7] [Twin Peaks s3 = Eraserhead+Blue Velvet+Colorado Café]
Twin Peaks, s3ep5 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Milius (Joey Figueroa & Zak Knutson, 2013) [7]
The Hunt for Red October (John McTiernan, 1990) [6.5]
The Firm (Sydney Pollack, 1993) [6.5]
Get Me Roger Stone (Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme, 2017) [7]
Twin Peaks, s3ep6 (David Lynch, 2017) [6.5] [definitely the worst episode until now; I’m puzzled by how much this new season oscillates between highs and lows]
Twin Peaks, s3ep7 (David Lynch, 2017) [7]
Twin Peaks, s3ep8 (David Lynch, 2017) [8] [David Lynch meets Guy Maddin? With 2001’s Kubrick, The Tree of Life’s Malick, Tarkovsky, Carpenter and Cronenberg nodding in the background? What a superb, powerfully cinematic episode; some of the greatest stuff seen in contemporary TV]

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Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Turtleback Books, 1998
350 pages
Author: David Keirsey

This book systematized and popularized MBTI, and it was interesting when it came out, but it’s now outdated.
Only because of popularity and a huge marketing machine behind it, Recruiters, HR Managers and people of all sorts are still using MBTI today to make strategic decisions (especially in the Anglosphere), which testifies the lack of scientific thinking in our society.

Anyway, it must also be kept in mind that the Big 5 (or 6) model, which is currently regarded as the most reliable one in psychology, was influenced by MBTI:
The I/E dimension remained the same.
The S/N dimension roughly corresponds to Openness-Intellect.
The J/P dimension roughly corresponds to Conscientiousness-Orderliness.

The trickiest dimension, and the most obviously wrong, was the T/F one. On paper, T/F seems to be a classification of decision-making preferences, but those preferences are very sketchy and poorly explained/supported. Decision-making ‘based on facts vs. feelings’ doesn’t really mean anything, so what T/F really measures seem to be raw brain power and emotional stability mixed together, so a mix of the Intellect and the Neuroticism dimensions.
But, if you read all the F personas described in PUM, you can also see how they’re all depicted as highly Agreeable. At the same time, though, the T personas are *not* described as low in Agreeableness.
So basically, just like in feel-good astrology, Fs were told they were highly A (skipping the I and N interpretations), and Ts that they were highly rational (skipping the A and N interpretations).
And, if you take a look at discussions in online MBTI forums and groups, you can find plenty of people who scored high on T/F because of each one of those three (I, A, N) very different reasons (with the most common ones being low Agreeableness as a predictor of scoring T, high Agreeableness as a predictor of scoring ExFx, and high Neuroticism as a predictor of scoring IxFx).
Mixing those three dimensions into one and trying to portrait idealistic archetypes made the whole model extremely confusing and unreliable, and the Big 5 put some order to that.

Then of course there’s the binary choice problem: MBTI is black and white and puts people into 16 exact boxes, so it ends up saying that a person who hypothetically scores 49% on one dimension is more similar to someone scoring 1% on the same dimension than to another one scoring 51% – which is completely absurd, since 49% and 51% are basically the same result.

The book’s most useful and insightful points are the ones talking about the 4 different types of intelligence, and the ones about mating strategies. NT-NF couples really seem to work extremely well.
(Also, luckily Keirsey completely ignores the theory of “cognitive functions”, the most pseudoscientific part of MBTI.)

P.S. For the curious among you: I score as INTJ.

7/10

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The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Free Press, 2010 (first published 1994)
912 pages
Authors: Charles Murray, Richard Herrnstein

It’s the most famous book by Murray, and most likely also his worst.
It must be noted that a lot of people attacked and still attack TBC without having really read it – the book is deeply flawed, but it’s not a racial eugenics manifesto, and doesn’t even focus on race.

The book was published only 4 years after the Human Genome Project started, but presented as definitive, established facts things that were not, and still aren’t. The authors, who are not genetists, misrepresented the state of genetics by taking simplistic stances and presenting them as if they were the scientific consensus.
Even worse, the book damaged the possibility of seriously debating biology-informed policymaking, by proposing policies based on that simplistic misrepresentation and not even really backed by the book’s own content.

The whole book flows from a catastrophically wrong assumption: that “heritability” means “genetic determination”.
This alone is enough to make TBC a pseudoscientific work.

There are also other fallacies. The authors are always careful enough to mention studies showing that the relationship between genetic components and environmental contributors is so complex that we basically don’t know how to separate them, and we don’t really know how and why IQ/ability does or doesn’t increase both inter-generationally and during the first 15 years of life, but then they go on with their conclusions as if those studies were irrelevant or not even mentioned a few pages earlier. In reality, most of the contradicting studies they quote, like the documented increase of 7 IQ points per decade in 18 year olds in The Netherlands and Belgium from the 1950s to the 1980s, are enough to falsify their conclusions.

More recent studies have even shown that IQ heritability itself is high among high socioeconomic status families, but significantly lower among low socioeconomic status families, thus showing TBC’s conclusions are not only the product of a false equivalence, but also of fallacious measures in the first place.
Which demonstrates how more research into heritability is especially important: to falsify pseudoscience that has a particularly dangerous potential.

So what’s there to save? The first chapters in particular, where the authors describe the phenomenon of social, economic and cognitive clustering in the American society, which wasn’t as clearly perceived as a problem in the 1990s as it is now (we’re only now, maybe, waking up to the nefarious effect on Western democracies of bubbles and polarization, combined with other issues). But TBC doesn’t analyze it the way it should (again, the authors like the simplistic and wrong explanation of “genetic determination” too much to do that), and Murray wrote another book in 2012 talking about the same process more at length.
Another interesting and important point is the steady decline in fertility of high-IQ women, but, again, it’s not really analyzed.
The heated debate stirred up by TBC also contributed to a widespread revision of the “blank slate” assumption, and underlined some negative externalities of some policymaking based on strict and fixed demographic categories.

More in-depth and very balanced reviews that I fully agree with, and that explain all the other problems with TBC way better than I possibly could:
http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/Heritability.html
http://reason.com/archives/1995/03/01/cracked-bell/

Check the textbook Psychology, chapter “Intelligence”, for a correct overview of what science knows about it.
Check The History and Geography of Human Genes for a serious book about genetics and human differences.

4/10

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Il potere è noioso: Il mondo globalizzato raccontato dal più anarchico degli economisti

Posted by StepTb su giugno 27, 2017

Baldini&Castoldi, 2016
125 pages
Author: Alberto Forchielli

Forchielli è un personaggio incredibile, larger-than-life si direbbe negli USA, e si sentiva la mancanza di un libro che ne catturasse allo stesso tempo pensiero e personalità. Quindi, un ringraziamento a Mengoli.
Il libro è infotainment di alto livello, completamente all’opposto di ciò che viene invece propinato continuamente dai MSM italiani, ai quali funge da antidoto. Si parla di economia, business, geopolitica, policy, WW2, valori etici e cenni autobiografici, con particolare attenzione a Italia e Cina. E, dall’inizio alla fine, si spara a zero su tutto e tutti, con passaggi esilaranti infilati in mezzo a una sfilza di osservazioni scomode e amare. Gli argomenti toccati sono dozzine, e per tanto nessuno di essi viene davvero approfondito – il testo non va dunque preso come un saggio, ma più che altro come un lungo blogpost, o una lunga chiacchierata a cena.
Ciò che oltretutto colpisce di Forchielli è l’avere in sé in parti eguali lo spirito della piccola città italiana degli anni ’60-’70 e lo spirito globalista e futuristico della corsa al progresso tecnologico ed economico più avanzata. In questo lo vedo come un perfetto “ponte” tra due mondi, uno capace di spiegare e indicare al primo la via per il secondo, ma resta purtroppo un esemplare rarissimo.

Frase-chiave: “Un’azienda si può sempre acquistare, ma un modello socio-economico non è ancora in vendita”.

8/10

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Stuff Seen, Jan+Feb+Mar 2017

Posted by StepTb su marzo 31, 2017

Sono otoko, kyôbô ni tsuki / Violent Cop (Takeshi Kitano, 1989) [8]
Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015) [7]
Er ist wieder da (David Wnendt, 2015) [7-]
Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015) [6.5]
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015) [7]
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016) [7]
Talking to Americans (Geoff D’Eon, 2001) [TV] [7]
Status Anxiety (Neil Crombie, 2004) [7]
Beruseruku: Ougon jidai-hen I – Haou no tamago (Toshiyuki Kubooka, 2012) [6]
Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor, 2015) [4]
Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015) [5]
Hail, Caesar! (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, 2016) [6]
Inequality for All (Jacob Kornbluth, 2013) [7-]
Triangle (Christopher Smith, 2009) [5]
Bill Burr: Why Do I Do This? (Shannon Hartman, 2008) [8]
Bill Burr: Let It Go (Shannon Hartman, 2010) [7.5]
Bill Burr: You People Are All the Same. (Jay Karas, 2012) [7.5]
Bill Burr: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way (Jay Karas, 2014) [7]
Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out (Jay Karas, 2017) [7]
Aliens (James Cameron, 1986) [8]
Predator (John McTiernan, 1987) [7.5]
Commando (Mark L. Lester, 1985) [7]
The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984) [8.5]
Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) [7.5]
Hjernevask, ep. 1-7 (Terje Lervik, 2010) [7]
Silicon Valley, s1 ep. 1-8 (Mike Judge, 2014) [7]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep1 (Niels Arden Oplev, 2015) [7.5]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep2 (Sam Esmail, 2015) [7]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep3 (Jim McKay, 2015) [7]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep4 (Nisha Ganatra, 2015) [6.5+]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep5 (Jim McKay, 2015) [6.5]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep6 (Deborah Chow, 2015) [6]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep7 (Sam Esmail, 2015) [6]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep8 (Christoph Schrewe, 2015) [7-]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep9 (Tricia Brock, 2015) [7]
Mr. Robot, S1 ep10 (Sam Esmail, 2015) [6-]

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If you choose an answer to this question at random, what is the chance you will be correct? (A) 25% (B) 50% (C) 60% (D) 25%

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 28, 2016

To find an answer, one first needs to identify what the question is. This is asking the probability of being correct. Correct about what? What does “correct” mean? Correct to what question?

Are you correct about the probability of being correct about the … etc. ?

It’s an infinite loop. It asks you what is the probability you have to randomly pick the right answer to what is the probability you have to randomly pick the right answer etc. ∞

And the answers are self-referential, therefore an abnormal set, therefore they are both part of the set and yet defining the set at the same time.

If you assume that one answer is correct, then your chances of being right would be 1 in 4, which gives a 25% chance. If the “correct” answer is 25%, since A and D are both 25%, you now have a 2 in 4 chance of getting the “correct” answer. So now you have a 2 in 4 chance of being correct, which gives you a 50% chance. As soon as that becomes true, the correct answer becomes B. But only 1 option is 50%, so, if that is the “correct” answer, there’s only a 25% chance of choosing it. So now you’re back to where you started with there being a 25% chance of getting the problem right.

Scenario A and D: Wrong because 25% appears twice and there is a 50% chance of choosing it.
Scenario B: Wrong because there is a 25% chance of selecting 50%.
Scenario C: Wrong because there is a 25% chance of selecting 60%.
So, now you evaluate what the chances are for selecting a correct answer out of these four: 0/4, or 0%.

So, if we choose to interpret the meta-game ignoring the loop (there is no question), the problem could have a right answer: 0%. However, if 0% were one of the options, it would become a paradox, with no correct answer under any circumstance.

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In what country is High School the hardest?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 18, 2016

(Titoli alternativi:
– Alle superiori in Ita si studia “troppo poco”: uhm, davvero?
– Siamo pigri, dobbiamo fare come gli asiatici che invece a scuola si fanno il mazzo. O forse no…
– Bla bla vari su stakanovismo studenti non-Ita o riforme scuola Ita che mancano totalmente il punto)

To answer, I think we should take into account three metrics:
1. How much time you need to spend in class
2. How much time you need to spend doing homework
3. The material’s difficulty level

I don’t know about 3, but we can find an answer to 2 here: Homework around the world: how much is too much?

China (Shanghai) dominates the chart, with 14 hours/week, followed by Russian Federation (10), Singapore (9.5), Kazakhstan and Italy (9).
All the other countries are below 7.5, with most of them around 5. US, Hong Kong and Australia are around 6.
At the bottom of the chart, we can find the students from Finland, Korea and Czech Republic, who spend an average of 3 hours/week.
Poland also scores relatively high (6.6). Canada, Netherlands and France are around average. Israel, Austria and Denmark are below average. Sweden, Argentina, Chile and Japan are near the bottom.

As for 1, some OECD data about “average number of hours per year of total compulsory instruction time” can be found here.

For “Age 15 – typical programme”, the countries surpassing 1000 hours/year are Austria, France, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands and Spain.
China has only 750 (most likely evening lessons are counted as tutoring/private study, hence why they top the other chart but not this one).
Finland 856, Russia 912, Czech Republic 950.
Poland, Chile, Greece, Hungary and Sweden are at the bottom, with less than 700 h/y.
US hours vary a lot between different States, but, judging from this, it seems they’re around 950–1000 on average.
I couldn’t find data for Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

In another chart, Education resources – Teaching hours – OECD Data, “teaching hours” in “upper secondary” education, the countries at the bottom are Denmark, Greece, Russia, Japan, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Korea (contradicting the other data), Israel and Poland.
Italy and France here are around the OECD average.
Argentina, Chile (contradicting the other data), Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Netherlands top the chart.

Korea, the current #1 performer in nearly every international assessment, seems less demanding and more balanced than both China and Italy.
Singapore, another top performer, is likely very demanding, near the Chinese level.
Japan, another top performer, seems on the other hand less demanding than all four.
Finland, another regular top performer, is instead much more relaxed and less demanding not just than all the other five, but even than the OECD average.
Poland, Netherlands, Russia and Canada seem all fairly demanding, with above average demands correlated to top results. Hong Kong is probably the same.
Israel, Denmark and Czech Republic seem to be highly efficient (even if less than Japan and Finland), producing more than what they demand.
Italy strikes as highly inefficient: it demands top commitment and dedication from students, but it doesn’t top charts.
The examples of, above all, Italy, Japan and Finland, suggest that making school ‘hard’ and making it ‘efficient’ are two different things.

Now, some observations on #3 and Italy:
In the Italian case, the only type of institute being equally demanding in both Humanities+Philosophy and Science+Math areas is the so-called Liceo Scientifico (Science High School).
Plus, difficulty varies a lot on a regional/local basis, with some regions like Lombardia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia-Giulia being particularly hard on students, and many others being softer (see Quant’è generosa o severa la tua scuola superiore alla maturità? and Maturità, la geografia dei voti racconta un Paese diviso).
Probably, at the end of the day, Iocal differences weigh more than the institute’s type, and a good HS in the 5–6 ‘hard’ regions is still hard.

A final consideration on the Italian case:
Not many people know Italian HS actually demands top commitment both in lessons hours/year and in homework hours/week when compared to the rest of the world (points #1 and #2).
The material’s difficulty and teacher’s strictness (point #3) are two metrics that vary a lot between regions and institutes, especially in the Italian case. If we take into account this big internal heterogeneity (that can help us understand why the national system as a whole isn’t a top performer, even if it’s not enough) and we add it to the previous observation, it means the ‘hard’ regions (Lombardia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Liguria, Piemonte, Veneto – more or less in this exact order) and the ‘hard’ institutes are actually *really* hard.
Conclusion: if you attended an Italian Liceo Scientifico in one of the ‘hard’ regions, you attended one of the hardest and most demanding high schools in the world.

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb – The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Posted by StepTb su settembre 9, 2016

Random House, 2007
401 pages

Nina’s review is spot-on.
I’m a big supporter of “contrarian thinking”, but I think Taleb is an intellectual hack, and the amount of credit he gets leaves me speechless.
Everything he does is:
1. Re-packaging and re-marketing well-known concepts (mainly from Complexity and Behavioral Finance) people started to introduce in the 1980s as something he himself discovered/defined, creating a personal jargon in an attempt to make them sound new (and as a rethorical trick to beat opponents in discussions, since that way he’s the one defining the playing field, instead of any actual discipline);
2. Re-packaging and re-marketing them as “paradigm shifters” that, as he “demonstrates”, easily “destroy” entire disciplines… that is, the same disciplines that actually *introduced* them, or that have already been discussing/analyzing/rejecting/absorbing them for years, if not decades;
3. In the process, insulting and mocking entire fields, completely rejecting the concept of intellectual humility – the most important trait a philosopher, scientist or thinker must have. I’ll repeat myself, but Apology is a book everyone should read, understand and apply to their lives – we’d avoid so many problems, including people falling for cult leaders and scammers (ironic, since Taleb enjoys citing Roman and Greek thinkers – probably just because, superficially, he sees them as an opposite to a contemporary world he doesn’t like);
4. Using a self-contradicting, aggressive, “prophetic” rethoric typical of cult leaders and scammers:
A. Nobody knows anything! [them]
B. …But I know everything! [us]
C. (so here’s the solution I’m selling you: myself and my books) [come join us]

Shameless.

If you find Taleb’s books brilliant and/or insightful, I recommend you Rational Choice in an Uncertain World and The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Taleb’s “turkey fable” and all his observations about historicism are stolen from Popper and Russell), for starters.

5/10

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Charles Murray – The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

Posted by StepTb su settembre 7, 2016

Crown Business, 2014
144 pagine

A book divided in four parts.

“On the Presentation of Self in the Workplace” [7]: many good points, but, in some others, Murray just sounds like a grumpy nostalgic man out of touch with the contemporary workplace realities. A lot of people seem to judge negatively or ‘sarcastically’ the entire book because of this part, but it’s also the only actually grumpy and clearly conservative one.
“On Thinking and Writing Well” [7]: a more technical, dry part. Murray tried to put together a very short list of dos and don’ts of writing well, but you can already find the topic discussed better and much more in depth in The Elements of Style, Words Fail Me and Common Errors in English Usage, that the author himself cites, plus others like On Writing Well and the contemporary The Sense of Style.

The second half of the book is easily the best one.
“On the Formation of Who You Are” [8] is a highly practical and highly insightful series of life advices concerning career, experiences and ethics. His advice targeted at the ‘elite kids’ is particularly sound.
This great section is everything books like The Start-Up of You and tons of other self-help fluff should have been, and are not.
It seems like its chapter about being judgemental is the one most people have a problem with. In fact, it’s not controversial at all. Murray roughly says three things: not all opinions are equal (experts exist), we can’t avoid judging, and, since there’s no choice anyway, we should do it with a ‘bigger picture’, ethical goal in mind. All these points make perfect sense.
Rejecting the concept of ‘being judgemental’ as outlined by Murray implies a point of view similar to ‘all opinions are equal’, which in turn implies rejecting the concept of expertise – a rapidly and dangerously growing position in the Internet era, that leads to populism, pseudoscience, scammers and other bad stuff triumphing. And also a ridiculous position, because, if it were true, we should have already eliminated all higher education institutions and all job titles (hence Murray’s point about the hypocritical nature of it).
(plus: people leaving one-star harsh reviews because they don’t agree with the author’s views on being judgemental: don’t they see the irony in all this?).
Finally, “On the Pursuit of Happiness” [8] contains wise advices on how to deal with fame, fortune, religion and marriage. And it ends with two essential recommendations: reading The Nicomachean Ethics, and watching Groundhog Day repeatedly. What’s not to love?

7.5/10

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Tina Seelig – What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20

Posted by StepTb su settembre 6, 2016

HarperOne, 2009
184 pages

The assignment described at the beginning of the book doesn’t make much sense. If you give a problem to solve with a fixed amount of money and a fixed amount of time, adding external resources and time isn’t “thinking outside of the box”, but answering a different problem, since, in real life situations, what is fixed is fixed. I’m surprised a PhD in Neuroscience doesn’t see the logical error.
The rest of the book is a nice read, but, being heavily Valley-centric, most young people coming from very different backgrounds will have trouble relating to its examples and stories – the author herself recognizes the power of cultural differences (the anecdotes in the chapters “The Secret Sauce of Silicon Valley” and “No Way… Engineering Is for Girls”), but she doesn’t go in depth very much.
Anyway, it provides a good introduction to topics like teamwork, problem solving, entrepreneurship, and “giving yourself permission”.
The most interesting chapter is probably “The Secret Sauce of Silicon Valley”, with its observations about failing and failures (especially if we consider this was published a couple of years before The Lean Startup), and, in particular, the link between people working in the creative industries and their usefully comfortable relationship with failure (since it has always inherently belonged to their sector), and all the others, who have a radically different approach to it.

7/10

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Humphrey B. Neill – The Art of Contrary Thinking

Posted by StepTb su giugno 15, 2016

Caxton Press, 2010
201 pagine

First published in 1954 and updated in subsequent editions by the author until 1963, this book predates various observations and topics of modern behavioral economics.
To understand and appreciate it, you need to keep in mind it was written during the era when Keynesianism was ruling undisputed (roughly from 1945 to 1973), and both social scientists and policy makers were thinking of the prosperity puzzle as solved and of human economic activity as predictable.
Neill was going against the grain, part of a skeptical minority. This also explains why he doesn’t seem to apply the same strict contrarian rules to his own ideological biases – which become obvious in some black-and-white thinking passages (other than when he self-describes as “Libertarian”, “conservative”, “realistic reactionary”, and when he cites, p. 150, “Ayn Rand’s wonderful new book, Atlas Shrugged” – ugh).
The book is heavily and explicitly influenced by Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Charles Mackay, 1841), Les Lois de L’Imitation (Gabriel Tarde, 1890), and Gustave Le Bon (La Psychologie des Foules, 1895; Psychologie du Socialisme, 1896).
The edition I bought (6th ed., Caxton Press 2010) has way too many typos – the editors did a poor job.

Some key passages:

pp. 42-44:

The public is perhaps right more of the time than not. In stockmarket parlance, the public is right during the trends but wrong at both ends!
One can assert that the public is usually wrong at junctures of events and at terminals of trends.
So, to be cynical, you might say, “Yes, the public is always wrong when it pays to be right – but is far from wrong in the meantime”. […]
The “time element” is the most elusive factor in economics. We need to get that fixed firmly in our minds. (Insofar as I am aware, there is no known method of timing events or trends).
Therefore, when we adopt a contrary opinion, as a guide, we must recognize that we may be too far ahead of the crowd. This is because economic trends often are very slow in turning, or reversing.

p. 80:

Students of crowd psychology know that the average voter pays scant attention to the fundamental facts concerning either the candidate or the platform. He accepts “what he feels”. The forces of suggestibility and contagion form the image in his mind.
Mystery is an al-powerful tool. “Tell ‘em nothing and promise ‘em anything”, counsels the politician; “and, above all, never reason with voters; affirm but never explain; repeat what you’ll do for ‘em, but never argue”.

pp. 83-85:

The aim of this writer’s contrary comments is to proffer interpretations in the field of economic psychology, still largely unexplored. One does not find, for example, the title “Economic Psychologist” used as yet. The few writers who are paying serious attention to the study of human behaviorism and its influence upon economic trends refer to themselves as sociologists, economists, or psychologists.
However, it is evident from studies and papers presented in recent years – and from the surveys of consumer intentions and attitudes which have been conducted for the Federal Reserve Board – that the field of economic psychology is one in which serious concentration will be focussed in coming years. […]
So, while we cannot foretell the future, we can be confident that economic psychology will be a required subject for study as we learn more about economic trends and cycles – and what starts and stops them.

p. 92:

However, we need not to be too discouraged, it seems to me, because the whole field of economics remains a “guessy” one. Little, if any, progress has been made over the years in attaining profitable accuracy in economic forecasting. And, mind you, this condition still exists, notwithstanding the extraordinary volume of statistics that is now available to students and which was not known to former forecasters.
It seems to me that the long history of economic forecasting clearly demonstrates that “psychology” is the missing key. You may have all the statistics in the world at your finger tips, but still you do not know how or when people are going to act. Accordingly, the statistics frequently lead you astray.

p. 94:

A basic usefulness of contrary opinions is to guard against predicting the unpredictable; or, to put it another way, to avoid being ensnared by faulty general predictions. […]
I believe it is correct to say that the theory [of Contrary Opinion] is more valuable in avoiding errors in forecasting than in employing it for definitive forecasting.

pp. 101-102

Making predictions has become a mania. Practically all economists are called upon for their future views – and many go out of their way to write articles and make speeches about “what’s ahead”. […]
But the significant fact for us to hold before us is that the more prominence predictions receive the more inaccurate they are likely to be. […]
If you believe the predictions, you go against them to protect yourself. Thus, you help the predictions to go haywire.

p. 104

Most of us can’t stand being alone more than half an hour, and our idea of reflection is merely to reflect and repeat what someone has told us! (We’re imitators, that is.)

pp. 106-107

[Entrepreneurs] built so fast and furious that their second step – of combining enterprises and pyramiding one on top of another – has led to the submersion of individual effort and the fostering of group effort and the conformity of the individuals to a mass pattern. […]
Business organizations have become too large for individual management. We have entered the era of group management. Mass conformity has, naturally, gone along. […]
May it not be that cyclical movements will be of greater (rather than lesser) intensity in the future, because of this development of mass conformity?

pp. 110-111

It takes us average humans a considerable interval to shift our viewpoints, once we have established a given mental outlook.
That is, if we have (mentally) accepted a trend as moving in one direction, we are not inclined to change our outlook until well after the trend turns. […]
However, if we adopt a contrary course and try to anticipate a change in the current, we’re more likely to recognize the signs of an approaching whirlpool or precipitous drop than if we merely assume that if the river is smooth here it must be smooth all the way.

pp. 113-114

As you browse over the opinion which have been published through the years – in eras of good times and bad – you are struck over and over again by how often the prevailing conditions produced the opinions; […] Little effort was made to analyze what had happened previously – things which would cause a change in the future.

p. 118

When economic affairs are booming and “everybody” feels cheerful, optimistic, and prosperous, no one wants to hear disparaging remarks or bad news about how things are going. […] If someone suggests that booms and periods of optimism always overshoot the mark and bring about corrective reactions, that said someone is called a “prophet of gloom”. He is politely (or unpolitely) told to shut his pessimistic mouth. […]
At another time, when the economy has been slumping and “times are bad”, then the opposite psychology prevails. People […] get into the frame of mind that allows them to believe that everything is in bad shape. What is more, they expect things will remain that way. […]
Rut-thinking is a common trait. I have said that the art of contrary thinking may be stated simply: thrust your thoughts out of a rut.

p. 125

The “crowd” is most enthusiastic and optimistic when it should be caustious and prudent; and is most fearful when it should be bold.

p. 128

I’m confident you are aware of how different a wellthought-out opinion is from one that is caught on the fly, so to speak, or one that is merely a reflection of a crowd’s fears or hopes. An individual may think out his opinions, whereas a crowd is swayed by emotional viewpoints rather than by reasoning or reason-why arguments.
Emotional and thoughtless opinions spread widely from imitation and contagion.

p. 131

Being positive, specific, and dogmatic is about the most harmful habit one can fall into. […]
The value of the contrary approach is the opposite. It prevents one from being a dogmatist; one avoids being positive about conjectural matters; as one reads, he mentally needles the writer or commentator.

p. 133

Instead of leaping abruptly from affirmation to its opposite (from general opinions to contrary opinions), we need to consider the synthesis (combination) of parts of general opinions and their opposites. […]
Take the leap from the General Opinion to its Opposite (or from affirmation to negation) and then, from the ideas thus released, work back to a speculative and reflective conclusion, or synthesis. In this way, we may avoid denying facts which are elements in the generalized opinions we are analyzing contrarily.

p. 140

It is evident, I think, that propaganda, skillfully engineered, manipulates opinions. […]
We are now witnessing, and shall increasingly experience, “thought and desire manipulation” which is almost firghtening to contemplate. I do not hesitate to assert that contrarianism offers protection against the Depth Manipulators.

pp. 155-156

Remarking that to be able to be caught up into the world of thought – “is to be educated”, Miss Hamilton emphasizes that the Athenian method of education was not geared to mass production. It did not produce people who instinctively all went in one way, and were conformists. There were countless contrarians in Greece back in Socrates’ day.

p. 166

Many devotees of chart reading, for forecasting stock prices, subscribe to the idea that a chart is worth a thousand words of analysis and statistics. Permit me to twist this around. I maintain “the right contact is worth a thousand charts”.

pp. 173-174

The sameness of writings on business, finance, and economics – and of course on the stock market – is such that it is almost impossible for an individual to think for himself. He is brainwashed.
The protection against brainwashing is contrary brainwork. It is hard work to think, but it is worth it.[…]
If Washington experts appear before our television screens with brave predictions of things to come, let us not forget that they are there to persuade us to think their way. The open-mouth policy is a scheduled phase of modern government.[…]
There is one noticeable trait – a paradox – that is pertinent to today’s trends of opinions: a) A person is commonly slow to change his mind, while being b) Quick to pounce on a new fad or shift to a new fashion.
Which is to say we are quick to conform, but slow to differ.

pp. 182-183

It seems impossible that in the gret Tulip Mania in Holland in 1640 the human herd could be such utter fools as to bid up tulip bulbs to 5500 fiorins each (equal to approximately $3,000) and crack a nation’s banking system in the process.[…]
And did it really happen in our lifetime that clergymen demanded “a life (sentence) for a pint”; and the confiscation of automobiles and the closing of huge hotels for what is now completely legal?
When mass manias are tied to a personality (Napoleon), patriotism (war), or God (the Crusades, or witchcraft), the hypnotic contagion of the crowd has no limits. It must wear itself out, as in the case of the Crusades, that took two hundred years.

7.5/10

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