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Quizzical Faraday "Quizzical Faraday" RSS Feed (Oakland, CA)

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Why Johnny Can't Add: The Failure of the New Math.
Why Johnny Can't Add: The Failure of the New Math.
by Morris Kline
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from $27.86

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Set Theory wasn't a bad idea, November 21, 2015
An observation. Set theory, the basis of New Math, is at the core of Object Oriented programming. In CS it's called Type Theory; it's quite possible to link Set Theory with Category Theory and functional programming too. Given that Gates,Ellison, and their cohort of programming leaders learned New math, perhaps it wasn't a bad idea.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2015 7:29 PM PST

Colorfy: Coloring Book for Adults - Free
Colorfy: Coloring Book for Adults - Free
Price: $0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars love it, September 9, 2015
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Relaxing, fun, magical feeling to touch and instant color without straining your hands from pressing pencils

The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers
The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers
by Peter Tomsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.03
74 used & new from $4.31

5.0 out of 5 stars Epochal history, should stir policy debates, April 5, 2015
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I consider this the best history I've read in the last five years. And I've read a lot. Tomsen had remarkable qualities, served in a pivotal role, and writes eloquently. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in western Nepal, where cultures blend into eastern Afghanistan. In the Foreign Service, he served in Asian diplomatic hotspots throughout the 1980s, and became fluent in Russian. Bush Sr. tapped him to be Ambassador in exile of Afghanistan during its Soviet war, for good reason. He understood the region, spoke the languages of the combatants, and was cool under fire.

Tomsen thus interacted with many players of the 1980s Afghan civil war, as no other American probably has. He was able to penetrate the ISI, the Haqqani network, the Northern Alliance. Given this vantage, Tomsen's qualities blossom. He perceives well, gets the details right, and understands how pieces fit together into a big picture. He's passionate without being prejudiced. His focus is on others.

Tomsen's conclusion interests me most. He believes Pakistan is America's enemy in the region. No Afghan victory is possible without dealing with it first. America should abandon the pretense of false alliances. Cut off Pakistan aid, unless it stops destabilizing its neighbor.

From the Afghan perspective, this makes sense. Many U.S. experts agree. It's hard to rationalize sending billions to Pakistan, when it harbored Osama Bin Laden. Let China became Pakistan's benefactor, so it's their big headache.

The problem that doesn't often get fairly addressed is Pakistan's nuclear risk. No other nation has so many so poorly managed weapons, so vulnerable to sabotage or theft. Pakistan's large and growing nuclear arsenal has one target, a few minutes flight away. The possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons being used is probably as likely as a Category 4 Hurricane hitting New Orleans, or 7.8 earthquake in California.

Given population densities and nuclear warhead power, a nuclear exchange of any kind in Pakistan or India will be the worst human disaster since WWII. The environmental toll could be global. These possibilities overshadow the Afghan war, or Bin Laden. Satellites and technology aren't enough. The U.S. needs a foothold in Pakistan, needs military contacts, needs civilians to provide intelligence.

Little about what is known of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal can be public, this doesn't easily factor into debate over it's role in Afghanistan. But if Pakistan's mostly mobile nuclear systems roll into firing position, or extremists attack and sieze one, we can hope that the U.S. knows more than it can say.

Some might say that U.S. support for Pakistan's military encourages its nuclear brinkmanship. Only an evolution in Pakistani political society, with a civilian government taking control of military policy. will enable it to move away from nuclear weapons. This may be delayed by U.S. military support.

Unfortunately this is a long-term view. Pakistan's society is riven with parochial, even feudal relationships. The systematic oppression of women and minorities is cultural, hardly the result of military efforts. In a society where many people are little more than serfs or peons, where vast regions escape government control, evolution to a normal country is difficult.

Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great body, but no head: Syriana hides its plot key behind "complexity", January 18, 2015
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This review is from: Syriana (Amazon Video)
Syriana is a headless movie. It's got a decent skeleton, the plot jet-setting around the world. It's fleshed out by some of Hollywood's best actors, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Chris Cooper, Amanda Peet, Christopher Plummer and William Hurt. The settings are murky, people aren't whom they seem, and the story is a maze, not a path. Enough atmosphere and a sense that we're watching relevant current history pushed the audience to accept it. But even those who liked Syriana a lot admit they had trouble following the plot. Some chalk that up to the filmmaker's honesty, since reality is confusing and messy.

The film is messy, but that's not the reason we feel lost. A piece is missing, the very thing that should be driving this story. We see oil companies fighting for control of Gulf state oil. We see CIA operatives killing arms dealers and hiring assassins. We see D.C. lawyers who manage oil company mergers fighting the Justice Department. Also, a financial adviser gets hired by a Gulf state prince, to tell his what he already knows: diversify.

That's the backdrop. It could be a TV show set-up, that dozens of plots mine for an hour or two for a season or two. Instead things veer off track. The bigger oil company is outbid by a Chinese company for a Gulf state's reserves. The law firm's point man uncovers shady dealings all around. The CIA operative hires someone to kill the very Gulf state prince the finance guy works for. The hired assassin works for Iran, and the CIA fellow nearly loses his head.

Things play out predictably. The CIA operative goes rogue, which CIA doesn't like. The financial adviser tells his prince to forget about America. The prince's father chooses his feckless brother to succeed him. This bad prince is pro-American, so by crude logic the good prince must be anti-American. Thus he must die ...

The D.C. law firm manages the merger of the oil companies with ice water in their veins. The oil companies are happy. CIA offs the good prince, along with rogue agent. Financial adviser goes home to family, older and wiser.

A completely disconnected part is bolted on to all this. Gulf state migrants, from Pakistan, get fired from the merged oil company factory. Apparently they're victims of merger efficiency. The migrants are prey to extremists preaching jihad. They end up suicide bombing one the merged oil company's oil tankers.

All this passes fast enough to keep audiences pre-occupied, and probably confused. After people die or go home, and the credits roll, we are left either satisfied with atmosphere or lost in fog. Only later did I realize that the story's key was missing. We'd seem CEOs, an attorney general, top spies, and big D.C. players. But the principal story, that intersects all plot lines, is that CIA's assassination of the good prince lets the merged oil companies take control of his country's oil. Why would CIA do this? All we get is someone saying what's good for big oil is good for America.

Some on the left may believe that's all it takes. I want more. To drive this story, oil company power brokers need to strong arm U.S. administration leaders, who pressure CIA. Syriana was made during the Bush-Cheney administration, so perhaps the filmmakers believed audiences didn't need this clarified. They're wrong. To make a meaningful narrative, an exposure of corporate American power, of CIA overreach, the filmmakers had to risk showing the critical link.

The film lacks a head, because CIA won't kill a pro-western Gulf prince without orders from the administration. A U.S. administration normally doesn't kill pro-western Gulf princes. Only the merged oil company can gain, though that's uncertain. It's predecessor was booted out because they were outbid by the Chinese. Still, if the oil giant wants the prince dead, we need to see the smoking gun. Why don't we see a CEO point blank with someone in the White House?

Perhaps it wouldn't have been credible. As much as some people demonized Bush and Cheney, they were realists. Why get blood on their hands, for an oil company plenty capable of fielding its own assassins? Failing to show the key decision makers leaves the audience perplexed. Apparently all these machinations occur on their own, on auto-pilot. It's an appealing hypothesis, but makes no sense in Syriana.

Syriana is a conspiracy that occurs spontaneously. That's oxymoronic. Conspiracies, though terribly rare compared to popular perception, are agreements among conspirators. Someone organizes, someone is in charge. Messy stuff happens all the time, because of habit, misinformation, lack of competence, corruption, etc. Messy stuff doesn't need leadership. Conspiracy does. The Iran-Contra affair was a conspiracy, headed by the U.S. president. It was messy, but had a leader.

Without a head, the audience is left wondering. By leaving out the most powerful player, audiences invent their own conspiracy explanations. Roger Ebert, no slouch, figured the story implied a pipeline to China. It was left unstated for being too provocative. Ebert invents this conspiracy explanation because of the missing link between CIA and Big Oil.

Syriana is based on a book by ex-CIA agent Robert Baer, the model for Clooney's character in the film. Baer devotes plenty of time describing U.S. administration involvement in CIA affairs. He believes Big Oil has undue sway in Washington. The central Syriana plot theme, the assassination of the good prince, is not in his book. As an adviser to the film, Baer told reporters the idea was conceivable. He knew of a minor Gulf prince who was probably a communist, had tried to pull off several coups and failed, and was hiding with a ransom on his head. Not an American ransom, and this is not how Syriana's prince is portrayed.

The film simply failed to reach high enough. Reality is messy, but its not undirected.

Synergy Labs DSL00001 Dental Fresh Dog Oral Spray, 4-Ounce
Synergy Labs DSL00001 Dental Fresh Dog Oral Spray, 4-Ounce
Offered by Quidsi Retail LLC
Price: $9.10
4 used & new from $9.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Product reviews appear fake, December 17, 2014
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Every one of the other reviews is by someone who only reviewed this single item. They all said it fit exactly as expected. Four were posted Dec. 6, the rest the last week in November. It's obvious they've been posted by the company. I would have gotten this coat, until I realized that. Company behavior matters, it reflects quality.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 18, 2015 9:24 AM PDT

Rescue Dawn
Rescue Dawn
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic, real, timeless, too good for too many people to get, June 19, 2014
This review is from: Rescue Dawn (Amazon Video)
Those who can't appreciate this film are to be pitied. It's a film that draws on reality, not fantasy. There's something unique in Dengler and his experience. I'll admit that I know more about POW and prisoner conditions that I wish, but Herzog nails it. The entire film feels authentic. It maintains interest, it doesn't sugar-coat, it doesn't preach. If you have an issue with Bale because of Batman, sorry. He's right for this.

A Life of One's Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State
A Life of One's Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State
Price: $5.75

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Application of Formal Logic to Complex Reality Fails, March 8, 2014
Libertarians love to imagine themselves as victims, yet criticize anything that purports to address economic victimization. Kelly has mastered the rhetoric of logic, but at a formal level. He can paint a logical picture that looks good, but value has to do with content, not formalism. Any realistic assessment of "welfare" or "redistribution" would be mixed. To find that every instance of these efforts has bankrupt moral logic is absurd. Human efforts are complex, contingent, and uncertain, from a logical perspective. Their evaluation is difficult and needs to accept ambiguity. Kelly's one-sided conclusions demonstrate more about his biases than the subject he writes about.

In The Loop
In The Loop
Price: $5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Like a trans-Atlantic Altman film, brutally hilarious, but fizzles in the end from excess cynicism., November 17, 2013
This review is from: In The Loop (Amazon Video)
Solid. Funny. Relentlessly cynical. Morbidly quick-witted. More realistic than many serious films on the same topic. Kind of like an Altman film. We elect an awful lot of fools, assisted by kids who ran for high school vice-president. Drop a microphone in their midst, put something serious on the agenda (a war, health care), and it's hilariously horrifying.

It portrays women with more balls then men, both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain its the Scots vs. females. In the U.S. its women vs. wing nuts. The funniest parts are Scots vs. U.S. wing nuts. The women, however, are curiously inept in the end.

Some people will have trouble with this film. It's fast talking, heavy accents. If people don't pick up fast language, they'll get frustrated, feel stupid, and get angry about it. There's plenty of stuff for people who prefer their comedy done differently.

Pros: Captured tribalism in bureaucracy (corporate or gov't). In Britain the Scots do the dirty political work, screwing other people's careers and talking a stream of vulgarity. In the U.S. the kids do the actual government work, getting evidence and reporting it. Then they go dance in mosh pits.

Cons: A movie plot shouldn't set up a dynamic (tight vote schedule or bust) and then forget about it. The 2nd half proceeds to make a U.N. vote essential, and very quickly. That fizzles, with plot twists that don't pan out.

Gandolfini steps in, and shines, but the movie keeps him from making the right move. Necessarily cynical, I assume. Because of the tight time line, had a dove like Gandolfini physically restrained a key hawk the hawks would have missed their tight schedule.

But that would be too earnest, so one of the light weight patsies should have done the same thing, putting the world into the hands of the least likely. Because the hawks are physical cowards. it was a missed opportunity.

Price: $1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Robotic, two-dimensional caricature of U.S. military and Arab societies, November 13, 2013
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This review is from: Homeland Season 1 (Amazon Video)
Homeland mascaras as a procedural thriller, but implicit in almost every shot is two-dimensional, us vs. them caricature of Arab societies and the U.S. defense system, especially the Marines. Gordon and Gansa have made a fortune stoking America's paranoia, first with 24, now Homeland. It's based on an Israeli show, which had little of Homeland's over-the-top terror fears. It was about reintegration of POWs, a legitimate subject in itself. Homeland turns this into a tawdry, overacted CIA fantasy. That so many professional critics praise Homeland says a lot about the state of mind of the Fifth Estate. Clare Danes is a hyperactive robot; in 20 years her character will be played by an android, and look the same.

Kennedy vs. Carter: The 1980 Battle for the Democratic Party's Soul
Kennedy vs. Carter: The 1980 Battle for the Democratic Party's Soul
by Timothy Stanley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $34.95
30 used & new from $17.47

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An odd revisionist, who trusts polls too much, and pays too little attention to media and power, June 25, 2013
Stanley takes an outsider's view of the 1980 election. He found polling data that inspired him to question the conservative shift supposedly underway. In particular, polls suggested Ted Kennedy could have either been the Democratic nominee, or the winner in a three-way race for President.

Yet Stanley has a strong political angle. He thinks Kerry lost in 2004 because he wasn't promoting strong liberal solutions. He attributes Obama's 2008 victory to his embrace of government stimulus. Instead of using documents that suggest the depth of U.S. anxiety circa 1980, he quotes politicians who said the public was upbeat.

In particular, Stanley misconstrues the media's power. He refers to it interpreting events, when it generated and framed public opinion. NBC was furious because Carter had cancelled U.S. involvement in the Moscow Olympics, an anchor of the network's schedule. Their campaign coverage was draconian, capped off by the now-famous decision to call Reagan's victory well before West Coast voting finished. Never before or since has a network gone on a limb so early.

Stanley dismisses the view that Kennedy and John Anderson distorted and diluted the election, almost entirely for Reagan's benefit. This would upset his political cart, which holds that centrism fails, liberalism succeeds. But it was clear Carter lacked a power base. The Democrat Party was a house divided from the McGovern debacle. The young liberals still high on the 1960s couldn't stomach his patriotic realism. Older Democrats never appreciated the upstart Georgian, who didn't play ball like they expected.

Evangelical southerners supported Carter in 76, but abandoned him in 80. His administration questioned whether the explosive growth of Christian schools could be categorized as a non-profit sector. It's clear these were the result of enforced school integration. Whites responded by sending children to private schools, which normally aren't non-profit. By calling them Christian, these schools to this day avoid government taxes, while their presence means southern whites have no incentive to pay for public education.

Evangelicals were furious that Carter would intervene in the south's "special situation." So he lost support among one core constituency after another.

Most of the damage was caused by media and narrow interest groups, however. Carter prevented military spending cuts, and was an ex-naval officer, yet he lost veteran support. There was relentless doubt raised by TV news about Carter's insufficient belligerence towards Iran. Feminists didn't like Carter's religiosity. Environmentalists didn't like his support for nuclear energy. And because he didn't have a machine behind him, they wandered off to support Kennedy and Anderson.

Perhaps the most important event Stanley fails to analyse is Carter's so-called malaise speech, which Kennedy claimed caused him to make his challenge. The speech is far from the depressing thing represented by those with various agendas. Regardless of its quality, public response was positive, according to polls. Only as it was reinterpreted by pundits did opinion move. Kennedy's view that it questioned American exceptionalism was right, to a point. As Stanley should know, since he's British, exceptionalism is nationalism under a different name. Carter was a patriot, not a nationalist.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 11, 2016 8:25 AM PDT

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