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Posts about bonanza (old posts, page 11)

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts

Carol Tavris

2007


A study of cognitive dissonance and the need for self-justification. The authors explore the ways in which people respond to the realisation that they've been wrong, and the likelihood that they'll try to rationalise-away the resulting dissonance coming from having two contradictory thoughts in mind. The same phenomenon re-appears in many guises, from personal relationships to wrongful prosecutions and ill-starred wars. What was fascinating for me was the way in which the same mechanisms can protect a poor self-image as well as an inflated one; but also the observation that both self-deception and its alternatives in the form of self-scrutiny and making deliberate amends come with harsh psychological prices, contrary to what the modern self-help literature might suggest.

5/5. Finished 29 July 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There

Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There

Rutger Bregman

2014


A paean to what's to come, to the need for radical changes in the economy and social norms in the face of a "utopia" of automation and globalisation. It's a provocation of the first order, strongly in favour of universal basic income, strongly against nationalism and hard borders. As such it feels "utopian" in the classic sense of being an unrealisable dream – but a closely-argued dream that highlights desirable changes, and well aware of the irony that the world we live in, with health and wealth and many jobs being automated, is exactly the world that most of human history aspired to.

3/5. Finished 29 July 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI

Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI

David Grann

2017


A narrative history of a largely forgotten mass murder. It's a very American tale, in many ways: the Osage Native American Nation is exiled from its homelands and forced to live on a rocky and barren reservation of worthless land – which then turns out to sit on top of huge oil deposits. In many ways the tribe is lucky, because the laws of the US have advanced sufficiently that they are allowed to licence their oil rather than being moved on again; in other ways they are unlucky because, in order to avoid making native rich too easily, a system of "guardianship" is instituted whereby "incompetent" Native Americans have their interests looked after by local whites, which turns out to be an open invitation for fraud, theft, and murder. It becomes such an industry that husbands can honestly say, when asked their profession, "I married an Osage".

The killings and the investigation are carefully and dramatically described, but the real sting is in the tail, the last chapter that demonstrates how the investigations were really only the tip of an iceberg that gave rise to a huge number of unexplained and unexamined deaths as whites sought control of the oil revenues. While the case gave rise to the FBI in its modern form (and was used ruthlessly by J. Edgar Hoover), its investigation was plainly deficient and limited in order to generate maximum victory with limited wider scandal. It's an open question how many other allegedly "closed" cases hide a similar secret.

4/5. Finished 26 May 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

Elaine Morgan

1982


Discussions of human origins invariably rest on rather shaky foundations. The fossil record – such as it is – has huge gaps, isn't a random sample of the fauna, and only preserves the gross features of anatomy evident in bones. So it's hardly surprising that a range of theories have been proposed to explain the division between apes and humans.

The aquatic ape hypothesis is one such. It has some supporting evidence – or, rather, it isn't definitively contradicted by the evidence that there is. In this it falls into the common evidential trap of turning a lack of evidence against into prima facie evidence for: the classic pseudoscience bait-and-switch.

It's possible to pose the theory at several strengths. The strongest, that hominids went through an aquatic phase long enough to give rise to evolutionary adaptations that haven't been wholly lost, seems unsupported; the weakest, that hominids spent time near water and waded in order to access rich food supplies, seems unobjectionable.I'm unconvinced there's much else to it, or indeed that there ever could be given the limitations of the evidence available.

1/5. Finished 10 May 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Michael Wolff

2018


What can one say about a journey to the centre of the most disruptive and controversial White House of modern times? That is happened at all is amazing: that this book gives such a clear and (I would say) generally reasonably balanced view makes it a major contribution to political literature.

Wolff describes an administration at war with itself, a medieval court in which factions form and dissipate while seeking the attention of the monarch – and truly there's no other way to describe Donald Trump, who sits at the centre of the book while remaining curiously absent as an individual. Trump comes across as a bundle of contradictions: an outsider who took on the system and won, but someone pathologically requiring attention and submission from all around him while simultaneously hating those who engage in this behaviour; someone unable to control his attention of impulses at the most basic level; someone who personalises everything, seeing every interaction as a zero-sum game in another's gain must be his loss; and who is managing the presidency through, and for the benefit of, his own family.

It's clear that Wolff thinks Trump is uniquely unsuited to the role of president, and is surrounded by staff who's main task is to offer protection in both directions: protecting Trump from the world, but equally protecting the world from Trump. It's also clear, I think, that Wolff's Trump is suffering from dementia.

The book is marred by its writing style. There are rambling and often too-detailed sub-clauses – usually within hyphens – that often make sentences appalling difficult to read. And there are some jarring word uses ("hortatory"? really?) that add nothing and give the impression of someone trying too hard in places. Still, it's a compelling read, both as history and warning.

4/5. Finished 03 March 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)