Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bayesian Statistics

I have been reading in Kindle the recent book on Bayes' theory about how to figure statistics:  The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy
The author is Sharon Bertsch McGrayne.  

Here's the link.

This book is hugely interesting as an intellectual history.  Much of the work using these statistics is classified, and substantial parts are missing.

I never really understood what Bayesian meant before.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Modern means Digital, for sure.

Statistics: The Art and Science of Learning from Data, by Alan Agresti and Christine Franklin.

Statistics is a "central science in modern life," this book here.  Why are these books so expensive?

Here is the link to the Times article on a data science company.  From the Times:
"Kaggle, a start-up, has figured out a way to connect these companies with the mathematicians and scientists who crunch numbers for a living or a hobby. On Thursday, it announced it had raised $11 million from investors including Khosla Ventures, Index Ventures and Hal Varian, Google‘s chief economist."

Amazon's 2011 "Best" list

Amazon picked its 10 best list, and Gleick's The Information is on the list.

Hadron Collider

The Republican candidates seem to want to diminish education, not enhance it.  The Republican answer to prosperity appears to be, "Let's lay off more teachers."  Rick Perry says one of the departments he would like to end is Education.  There is an alternative answer.

Harvard's Lisa Randall -- @lirarandall -- wrote about modern physics in a book that the Times reviewed here. Education and religion keep showing up in public debate as incompatible.  The review says that Randall writes that a deity that intervenes in human affairs is not compatible with scientific explanations.  This book won't be showing up in public schools in Kansas or Texas, it appears.


How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World
By Lisa Randall. Illustrated. 442 pp. Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers. $29.99.

Here is a link to the Brain Pickings list of seven books on the subject of "time."  Very interesting.  Lisa Randall's book is not on the list. 

The End of WW2 in Germany

Nazi Germany expert Ian Kershaw wrote about the last months of the war in Germany. So much suffering and needless loss.

The Guardian reviewed this book here:
"...if German society remained basically Nazified, was there so little resistance to foreign occupation after "liberation"? These two riddles continue to preoccupy historians, and now Ian Kershaw, the doyen of English scholars of the Third Reich, seeks the answers."

Here is the NY Times review.


The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-45
By Ian Kershaw. Illustrated. 564 pp. The Penguin Press. $35.


HL Mencken respected Clarence Darrow for his work in the Scopes Trial.  Today's pervasive media atmosphere does not see to foster iconoclasts.  Look at Gloria Allred, the Chicago lawyer who has taken criticism for hyping one of Herman Cain's accusers.  In light of what we've remembered about Darrow, she looks pale.  There was a broader spectrum of active political involvement 100 years ago, despite what Tea Partiers want us to think.  The Twitter post by @farnamstreet says Walter Lippmann said, "Where all think alike, no one thinks very much."

Here is the link to Amazon for the new Clarence Darrow biography I noticed.

Here is a link to a blog by the author Andrew Kersten at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay.  His official web site has not been updated lately.  The NY Times reviewed the book favorably. 

Here is another recent biography of Darrow.  Here is another recent book on Darrow.  Here a link to a collection of Darrow's writings.  Pulitzer-winner Ed Larson is the editor.  Larson came to Darrow through Darrow's work on the Scopes trial. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

US Political Eras

Fred Siegel of Cooper Union really liked this book that proposes that we analyze US political history in three eras.  The current era is one in which political affairs are defined by voices outside the parties.

Here is what the Oxford University Press wrote about this book:
"Hailed in The New York Times Book Review as "the single best book written in recent years on the sweep of American political history," this groundbreaking work divides our nation's history into three "regimes," each of which lasts many, many decades, allowing us to appreciate as never before the slow steady evolution of American politics, government, and law."

Here is the book:

America's Three Regimes

A New Political History

John Brown

Today's historical lens makes John Brown a terrorist.  He did plenty of violent things.  Here is the Wikileaks entry for him.  As an abolitionist, John Brown may be forgiven today in a way that he was not in 1859.

Tony Horwitz is the author of a new book about John Brown, a man who was committed to violence as necessary to end the sin of slavery.  We are familiar with people who feel that way about sin.

Here is the link to the Times Book Review for this book:


John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
By Tony Horwitz.Illustrated. 365 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $29

This is a recurring theme and topic that relates to today as much as America's past.  In 2009, I noted the book JOHN BROWN'S WAR AGAINST SLAVERY, by Robert E. McGlone.


Prevailing political trends suggest that small-town white Protestants feel besieged.  It appears that has been true for quite a while.  Here  is a link to a new New York Times story about how the tax system favors those who don't live in New York City or Palo Alto.  From the article:
"The debate over regional differences is nothing new, Dr. Thorndike said. When the modern tax code went into effect in 1913, “it was viewed as a way to tax those rich Northerners, and to be fair, that’s what it was,” he said."

It's clear that the political system favors those of us citizens who live in the central part of the country.  My conservative friend who talks with me about such things has an attitude that published accounts victimize conservatives.  Sarah Palin and Rick Perry carry that chip on their shoulders, too.  Why those fortunate, rich, white people should think of themselves as victims continues to puzzle me, but that's an honestly held point of view, regardless of the irony.  It comes out in the integration cases and other public points of conflict when those fortunate, rich, white people think somebody is getting away with something, and so we shouldn't help our neighbors in an organized way. Think of the Bush Administration in New Orleans after Katrina.  Think of the current Congress talking about Amtrak.  Think of Florida governor Scott turning down the money for the high speed rail line.

When PBS showed Ken Burns' excellent program on Prohibition recently, the historical link to small-town, white America came to my attention.  Of course, it's true.  I know that from my own upbringing, but I hadn't really previously articulated in that way.  Now, we have a book that elucidates the idea.

The author is Daniel Okrent, who has an interesting Wikipedia entry.   I hadn't realized that Okrent invented fantasy or "rotisserie" baseball.   Apparently he and Ken Burns both are interested in baseball and the Prohibition era. 

Here is a review of a book about the Prohibition amendment to the US Constitution that reviewer David Oshinsky describes as "remarkably original."  Here is the book:


The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
By Daniel Okrent. Illustrated. 468 pp. Scribner. $30

Online Crime Knows No Bounds

Here is a link to a book review about crimes that take place on line and across national boundaries.  The internet affords challenges to national boundaries.  We see that in the Wikileaks & Julian Assange situation.  We see that with online gambling, such as online poker.  The Pentagon is promoting the idea of cyberwarfare that will take place across national boundaries.  In fact, the US flies drones over Pakistan from workstations located at airbases in the US.  EBay and Yahoo and Google have all encountered that in the Middle East and China, which have different ideas from those in the US about what it is appropriate for individual citizens to see.

It isn't surprising that crimes take place across national boundaries, too.  Here are the two books from the review:

Worm: The First Digital World War. By Mark Bowden. Atlantic Monthly Press, 245 pages, $27.50

DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You. By Misha Glenny. House of Anansi, 296 pages, $29.95

Supreme Court Scorpions

Between the giant egos and the intense intellectual engagement, the Supreme Court can be a forum for "scorpions in a bottle."  Here  is a link to a book about the Supreme Court with the subtitle:
The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices
 Noah Feldman is the author.  Noah Feldman used to teach at NYU and now teaches at Harvard.  He is the author of several books about constitutional impacts of the involvement of the US in Middle Eastern conflicts.
This of course has nothing to do with Feldman generally, but I bring it up in the context of the Supreme Court from the 1930's.  Because Social Security is a current transfer system, I've been wondering how people talked about it when it was adopted.  Some conservatives have told me what a fraud the system is.  These people have said to me that people ought to be treated as entitled to the earnings on the amounts people have paid over the years.  We have seen how well that works with 401(k) plans, but there's no getting away from the fact that 401(k) plans are the modern way.  We are not going back to defined benefit plans.  Anyway, I'd like to know a reference to a book that reliably describes what people were saying about how FICA would work, when Congress adopted FICA and the Social Security Administration was established.
     Speaking of Harvard....
Here is a link to Martha Minow's new book called In Brown's Wake.   It's a book about the impact of the Brown v Board of Education decision in 1954.   Daughter of  Newton "TV is a vast wasteland" Minow, she is the Dean of Harvard Law School.  I heard her speak this past week about her book.  She views the decision's ongoing impact more enthusiastically than I do.  I fear that it has not had enough impact.  She emphasized that one of the impacts of the decision was benefits for women and other minorities, not just for segregation based on identity of some citizens as negroes.  Minow says that the decision has been used to assist mainstreaming of all public school pupils, regardless of race. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mickey Spillane

Here's the link to the Los Angeles Review of Books talking about a new Mickey Spillane book five years after his death.  I read Mickey Spillane eagerly when I was in college.

I read all the James Bond books, and then I discovered Mickey Spillane. I'm eager to read one more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

summer reading

I read Dashiell Hammet's The Maltese Falcon and Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye.  The world was a lot simpler then.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


 The Supreme Court is considering how police can use GPS devices on vehicles to track the whereabouts of individuals under investigation.  The devices are for sale on the internet:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Library of Congress Jukebox

The National Jukebox is here.   This is wonderful.

The Story So Far

The report is here.  A blog about the report is here.  Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave, and Lucas Graves wrote the report for Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. The report highlights how great the legacy burden is and how slow organizations are to adapt to change. I'm still reading the report, but the authors participated in a panel discussion at the Columbia Journalism School last night that I attended.

I just want to remind everyone that we're not adapting to new, changed economic models fast enough.

I want to remind everyone that disintermediation is the strength of the web.  I like the word "disintermediation."  That's true even though it means a lot of hardship. "Disintermediation" means cutting out the middle man.  That's been the effect of the web.  That is what has happened in the music business.  That is what has happened in the movie business with Netflix.  That is what has happened in the news business with newspapers.  That is what has happened with encyclopedias with Wikipedia.  That is what has happened with libraries with Google Books.  That is what has happened in politics with Obama raising lots of money on the web in 2008.  That is what Amazon has done to bookstores.  That is what is happening with Hulu.  That is how the TV networks have shrunk and cable channels have grown.  Now YouTube is about to shrink the cable channels by programming on YouTube. 

Bob Dylan poetically expressed it as "He who gets hurt will be he who has stalled."

Congress is not facilitating the change.  Congress is not on the side of the future.  If we want wealth to grow in the US, we will facilitate the future.  Otherwise, the wealth will grow somewhere else.  If these people were really concerned about the deficit, they would facilitate the growth of the economy, not impede it.

The web was designed to route around disruptions.  That's the foundation of the DARPANet which grew into the web. 

Pulitzer Prizes

The list of 2011 Pulitzer prizes is here.  I looked for the names of the book-prize winners in Twitter,but they don't seem to be there.  I guess the authors don't tweet.                   

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Modernity means digitization

In the news now.  In the context of bin Laden's death, it is said that the house had a satellite dish but didn't have a landline telephone, and that someone thought that was suspicious.  He apparently used a "sneakernet" and not the internet.  These are all the the kinds of facts that confirm that "modern" means "using digital means."

State Farm insurance announced an "app" for smartphones here that reminds us that nothing is private.  The app will grade your driving performance.  At this point apparently State Farm is not harvesting the information, but you can imagine that someone will use an app like this to price auto insurance.

It has long been my view that the state-issued license plates will include a chip --- something like EZ Pass --- that will record where you have been, how fast you were going, how close you came to other cars, and the like.  Then the state will charge you for your use of the highway.  State Farm has just started the ball rolling with collecting data.  There is really nothing private about this data.  There is no particular basis on which to argue that this is unreasonable search.  Driving on a public highway in full view of all the other drivers is not a private act.  Driving on a public highway incurs costs that the public must pay.  This is a developing area.

I talked about the State Farm app in the web-based program I led this week about confidentiality agreements.  If a company promotes an app like this, what are the trade secrets that go with it?  The names of the individuals who download the program?  The information collected?  Who has a right to look at the information collected?  Does the user have a right to underlying data or only to the score?  Does the state insurance commissioner have a right to look at the data?  How do we create a contract-based web of privacy surrounding this information?  How do we describe all this data?  

What can the police search when they arrest you?

Your phone knows where you are:

Police intercepts:

Michigan Police

Tom Tom speed trap article:

It's a bad idea to set this all up as based on law enforcement.  These arrangements should come as a result of our collective living together, not as a result that some among us turn out to be criminals.  We in the US these days tend to emphasize the individual over the collective.  Conservatives base their arguments on the general outlook that "it's every man for himself."  If we are really going to succeed, we need leaders to emphasize that "a rising tide lifts all boats."  If conservatives are going to argue for the primacy of the individual, we need tham to apply that rule over a much broader swath of public policy issues than they do.  Not all of the value of being an American derives from the Pentagon, the Second Amendment and law enforcement.  If modernity comes out of digitization, then we need to apply modernity to a lot of areas besides law enforcement.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Government uses privately accumulated "ambient data" - The Information

Here is the location for this:
"We are swimming in an ocean of ambient data," Robert Kirkpatrick, the director of the United Nations’ Global Pulse program, said during a panel on global democracy at The Guardian’s Activate New York [here] conference Thursday. “Can we mine that ambient data in real time?”
That question captured the tone of the day-long conference on the Internet and technological change being held at the Paley Center in midtown Manhattan, where earlier Benjamin Bratton, director of design and geopolitics at UC San Diego, talked of redesigning citizenship “for a cloud computing era” and New York City’s chief digital officer Rachel Sterne asked, “How could a city be a platform the way Facebook’s API is a platform?”
During the global democracy panel, speakers Andrew Rasiej, the founder of Personal Democracy Forum, and Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion [here], disagreed about the dangers posed by making so much user data available to governments.

At the same time, The Guardian newspaper also reported here that Dutch police bought satellite navigation information from TomTom:
"The Dutch national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reported that police had obtained the TomTom information from the government and used it to set targeted speed traps..."

Mining "ambient information" is what makes modernity modern.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

David Deutsch

The current New Yorker magazine has an article on quantum computing here.

This interesting article by Rivka Galchen features the "Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics."  David Deutsch is the principally featured physicist.  His home page is here and here.  He says he is now a fellow of the Royal Society.  His Fabric of Reality book is available here

Here is the web site for Galchen's book Atmospheric Disturbances.

Artur Ekert is featured here.

Robert Schoelkopf is featured here.

On the subway today, while I was reading the article, a young woman was sitting across from me reading exactly the same article.  I wonder whether that is what they mean by parallel universes.

More on the Information -

 There's a piece in that says that social media can be good for Wall Street trading indicators.  Wall Street trading provides more convention than even the government.

The bar Journal has an article here that deals with how our cars generate information that can be used by law enforcement.  Wasn't it Larry Ellison who said, "There's no privacy.  Get over it"?

"Black box data has been used with increasing frequency by prosecutors and plaintiffs lawyers to reconcile witness accounts and provide physical evidence. But it’s taking its toll on privacy rights, some claim."

A law review article on government use of third-party information is here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

James Gleick's The Information - More

Here is a link to a Molly Wood rant on data sharing.  She writes, "Personal information is the currency of the post-technological age, and the cost of "free" has never been higher. Your data, on an increasingly minute and personal level, powers every Web or network-based company, from start-up to monolith."

She compares the situation to the Daniel Suarez book Freedom.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Modern means information-based!

If it's not based on information, it's not modern.

Steve Lohr in The New York Times---here.:
"In a modern economy, information should be the prime asset — the raw material of new products and services, smarter decisions, competitive advantage for companies, and greater growth and productivity."  

Gleick: "Evolution itself embodies an ongoing exchange of information between organism and environment." The place to find this quote in an article for The Smithsonian is here.

The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1976.  The Selfish Gene is described in Wikipedia as based on a "gene-centered" view of evolution. This notion helped Gleick with the meme idea as a central, organizing principle.

Have you tried The Lucifer Principle, by Howard Bloom here?   Howard was the one who introduced me to the idea of the meme.

Roger Sperry had the notion that ideas are “just as real” as the neurons they inhabit. Gleick quotes him: Ideas have power, Sperry said:
Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet.

In Gleick's Smithsonian article, he wrote: "most of the elements of culture change and blur too easily to qualify as stable replicators." So I guess what we measure things against are "stable replicators."  That's what I'm looking for every day---a stable replicator.

More on the Information

Here's what the Times said here about analytics software today.

"STILL, the software industry is making a big bet that the data-driven decision making described in Mr. Brynjolfsson’s research is the wave of the future. The drive to help companies find meaningful patterns in the data that engulfs them has created a fast-growing industry in what is known as “business intelligence” or “analytics” software and services. Major technology companies — I.B.M., Oracle, SAP and Microsoft — have collectively spent more than $25 billion buying up specialist companies in the field.
I.B.M. alone says it has spent $14 billion on 25 companies that focus on data analytics. That business now employs 8,000 consultants and 200 mathematicians. I.B.M. said last week that it expected its analytics business to grow to $16 billion by 2015.
“The biggest change facing corporations is the explosion of data,” says David Grossman, a technology analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. “The best business is in helping customers analyze and manage all that data.”

In a nutshell, what's wrong is that we don't have enough knowledge workers managing all that data.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

James Gleick's The Information

"...Sweeping survey that covers five milleniums of humanity's engagement with information" is the quote that comes from the NYT's review of this book by Geoffrey Nunberg on March 20.

I've liked Gleick's other books I read, particularly his Feynman biography, and I look forward to reading this one, too.

IN an age where public officials think that laying off teachers is the key to success in our economy, I wonder whether anyone can get a handle on the information we already have.  We need more programmers and more workers who understand how to create systems that organize raw data into meaningful patterns.  We need more educated workers to study and understand raw data and turn that raw data into meaningful structures that can make the world better, however you measure "better."  We don't have enough competent knowledge workers now, and it doesn't look like we're going to have enough in the future, either.

It's difficult, naturally, to demonstrate that if we had more knowledge workers we'd have more useful knowledge.  But it does seem inherently obvious.

It's said that Claude Shannon invented what's known as "information theory" with an influential paper in 1948.

Here is the link to Brain Pickings regarding this book.  This book is on the best books of 2011 lists from Amazon and Publishers Weekly here.

I'm looking forward to reading Gleick's new book.


Thursday, March 17, 2011


TJ English's book Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution brought me a much better understanding of Meyer Lansky.  It's pretty easy to read.  The book is now in paperback and on Amazon  here.
English has  new book out --- The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge.    


Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I'm reading this book now: Manjit Kumar's Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality on my Kindle. Here is Kumar's blog:  The book is now out in paperback.

Monday, February 28, 2011

CIA Whistleblower Story

Here's the book: "Long Strange Journey" by Patrick G. Eddington and the author's website.
Here's a link to the Secrecy News report about the book. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lincoln & Douglas

Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, by Allen Guelzo and The Long Pursuit: Abraham Lincoln's Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America, by Roy Morris.  These two books are both in paperback now.  These books seem to throw historical light on the recurring issue of whether the idea of democracy requires principles that majorities must respect or whether democracy means that majorities rule regardless of adherence to other principles.  The question is not easy to answer, but our leaders have been thinking about it for years.

Safire on Lincoln

In February 2009, William Safire reviewed Lincoln books here at The New York Times.  Safire wrote, "The way to honor the hero who did most to force use to stay united is to absorb the ever-better histories that illuminate Lincoln's character, his humanity, his genius in expression and, above all, his sure grasp of high political purpose."  

Safire spoke approvingly of Ronald C. White, Jr.'s A. Lincoln: A Biography.  The book is now available in paperback here.

Safire described as "a magisterial enterprise" Michael Burlingame's two-volume box set of Lincoln biography for a list price of $125.

Safire liked In Lincoln's Hand,  a book of Lincoln's original manuscripts edited by Harold Holzer, who has been a prolific Lincoln producer.  He produced a book for  Writers Library of America called a Lincoln Anthology, which includes works on Lincoln by a variety of authors.

There's so much high-quality work in this area.  More of us should be inspired by this unifier.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The World War II that the US ignored

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder, a history of Nazi and Soviet mass killing on the lands between Berlin and Moscow.  And The Show Went On, by Alan Riding, about how the Nazis occupied Paris and gained cooperation from French cultural figures. Germany 1945, From War to Peace, by Richard Bessel.  These books appear to intend to show the ambiguity of the stories that the winners tell. 

The Cold War became the dominant US preoccupation, but millions of people were affected by other considerations.  These books help us remember those millions.

Nuremberg Legacy: How the Nazi War Crimes Trials Changed the Course of History, by Norbert Ehrenfreund, successfully weaves personal anecdote, historical record and legal analysis into his account of the trials and their legacy, according to a 2008 review in the New York Law Journal.

Collectively, these books remind us that if you kill one person you're a murderer, but if you kill hundreds of thousands, you're a general, and if you kill millions you're a patriarch, so long as you stay in power.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Teapot Dome

Why does corruption in American Government persist notwithstanding the lesson that the country should have learned from the Teapot Dome Scandal?  See The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country, by Laton McCartney.  Click  here. Or here   Here's the review in The New York Times.

Al Capone

Recently, I finished the Kindle version of Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster, by Jonathan Eig.  Here's the link to the web page.  Like so many books, the book is longer than the really meaty material.  The author obviously found some interesting material in the records, and the author works hard to show how there's a secret plot.  But modern Americans know that when government fixates on a target----like terrorists today---the government has lots of weapons at its disposal that may bypass the normal limits that the government usually observes.

The author was able to show how what we think of as modern political attitudes such as "law and order" and anti-immigrant prejudice have roots that run way back in American politics.  

Oh, and it portrays Elliot Ness in a whole new way.  Myth-making about law enforcement has a long history.


The book The Bomb: A New History, by Stephen M. Younger, this link  is now out in paperback.    

Economics and the Civil War

The book Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War, by Marc Egnal, who teaches in Toronto. His web site for this book is here.  My friends who appear to be economic determinists argue to me that economics cause wars, but I am skeptical.  I just don't think young men volunteer to go off for adventures based on patriotic feeling because it makes somebody rich.   The idea that most of the young men (now young women, too) sign up for the military based on national economic results does not correspond to what I have seen.  On the other hand, economics makes wars possible.  Economics may even induce governments to make belligerent decisions.  Governments obvious manipulate the circumstances.  However, I don't see the immediate link between economics and mass volunteering for war.  I guess I need to read this book.

The Antebellum Slave Question persists

In his 2009 book called Deliver Us from Evil, Lacy K. Ford describes in details the tensions arising out of the relationships of slaves and slave-owners in the upper South and in the lower South.  The book is referred to here at the Publisher's site.