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Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Price: $11.51

5.0 out of 5 stars An exceptionally well-written and insightful history book on post-WW2 Japan ..., August 25, 2016
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An exceptionally well-written and insightful history book on post-WW2 Japan. Prior to reading this work I had a number of "unknown unknowns" - things that I wouldn't even have been able to identify as worth knowing (even though they are obviously important):
1) how quickly a society is able to put new meanings into formely used everyday language - the same vocabulary that served racist, pro-war objectives could be re-purposed for democracy building/post war reconstruction. And, at the same time, how difficult it was to find suitable vocabulary for concepts such as 'popular sovereignty" that would have the same connotations/implications as in the Western countries. In this regard I see a lot of parallels in post-Cold War Eastern Europe.
2) how differently WW2 was experienced in Japan as compared to most of Europe - in Japan war started in 1931 and continued long after 1945 while millions of Japanese were coming home.
3) How extensive was censorship in postWW2 Japan: one was forbidden not only to criticize the Western allies, but also to write on sensitive social matters. I also hadn't known before about a number of extremely controversial decisions by occupation forces - such as a purposeful general exoneration of the emperor of all responsibility, granting immunity to those who had killed the war criminals (for purposes of conducting experiments) in exchange of them sharing results of the results of their experiments, etc
4) Western stereotypes for Japanese being childish, robotic and brainwashed, generally unfit for democracy. The Japanese pre-war obsession with being a first rank country was also new to me.

Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia
Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia

4.0 out of 5 stars A good and concise book on the WWI, August 24, 2016
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A good and concise book on the WWI. Analysis on the causes of the war is excellent and particularly insightful. I hadn't previously paid so much attention to the two competing forms of governing that were relevant in context of WWI: empires versus nation states, therefore the analysis on this aspect was illuminating. The idea that France was close to being an ethnic nation - as compared to Hungary - was also quite novel to me. When buying this book, I had expected a more substantial focus the war itself and Bolshevik revolution - had I checked table of contents more thoroughly, this misunderstanding wouldn't have arisen.

The Martian
The Martian

5.0 out of 5 stars Why do humans tend to help others despite a tremendous personal cost to themselves?, March 9, 2014
This review is from: The Martian (Kindle Edition)
Would you help someone if it means that a year of your life is "lost" in interstellar space or if a project you've been working on (for a number of years!) gets repurposed? To me this was the most substantial question asked in the book. I'll not spoil the plot with the answer given in "The Martian", especially because for characters of the books the answer never comes easy.

This is a competent, high-quality sci-fi that start a bit too slow and scienc-y (even for a hard sci-fi fan!), but slowly builds up a momentum and turns into a high-class thriller by the very end.

Plenty of useful advice in case you get lost on Mars... ! :)

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Novel
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Novel
by Isabel Greenberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.90
86 used & new from $4.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, March 6, 2014
Books like this is the main reason why I don't read everything on Kindle: the large format is magical! It will probably take no more than 2 hours to read every story of the book, but you could look at pictures for days and ponder the archetypes used in the book for years. The quality of writing is excellent: ancient myths (also biblical) are reimagined in new circumstances and retold in a contemporary film language, There are also some myths that probably are invented by the author but have that ancient feel. In a way this is similar to Michael Ende's "Neverending Story" which is the highest compliment I could give to a book (warning: the Encyclopeadia is wonderful but not THAT exceptional). Writing is non-linear, in places - encyclopedic, but somehow, having read the whole book, there is an impression of an almost coherent whole. Survival Guide to EU Lobbying, including the Use of Social Media Survival Guide to EU Lobbying, including the Use of Social Media
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars EU institutional structure finally makes sense, September 21, 2013
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I'm a policy researcher in a Latvian think-tank and for my work-related duties I needed to quickly get a grasp of how the byzantine EU institutional structure works. Besides, that picture had to be way more nuanced than that what is provided by usual EU Law/Policy textbooks (which sometimes even skip the COREPER level!). This book gave me everything I needed to know and more: especially the depth was wonderful - going as far as the importance of MEP assistants or Council's permanent staff members, the internal workings of European Commission, the principal differences on what can/what cannot be achieved during the first/second reading, comitology, etc. The perspective of the lobbyist turned out to be a great asset: of course, you can read all about the EU institutional arrangements in the legal texts themselves, but then you would have to be prepared for some really dry reading and, even then, I don't think you'll get a feel on how it REALLY works in practice. Through sharing her own experience and focusing on the very moments when a draft legislation can be influenced, the author managed to structure the information in a way that was INTERESTING TO READ (which is something exceptional for EU-related texts!) and the extremely complex EU decision-making process with all its sub-levels and complex inter-institutional arrangements started to make complete sense.

So - if you are interested in how the EU institutions REALLY work - don't buy the textbooks, purchase this book instead! The price for the Kindle edition was very affordable.

Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government
Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government
by Gavin Newsom
Edition: Hardcover
96 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Citizenville: a book every politician should read!, March 31, 2013
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If there is a book that you should recommend reading to a politician living anywhere in the world in 2013, then it is "Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government" by Gavin Newsom.

Most of the ideas described in this book are not "truly new" - if you were previously interested in e-democracy or new methods of engaging people in decision making, then you probably already know most of the examples he lists in the book. It is a bit wordy as well - you have to be a bit patient to get to the good stuff.

But the sheer number of ideas and examples, as well as the fact that Newsom himself has been behind some of the e-innovations, makes this book very much worth your while! It also succeeds in slowly habituating the reader to a new way of thinking about what a state agency can or cannot do: how can those institutions reinvent themselves according to the spirit of the creative age.

Here are some of the main ideas of the book:

1. Let's gamify government and citizen engagement!

A real life example from the book, " in 2009, the city launched something called Manor Labs--a platform to encourage people to suggest fixes for city problems. In exchange for participating, people received payment in a made-up currency called innobucks. If you submitted an idea, you got a thousand innobucks. If the city actually implemented your idea, you got a hundred thousand innobucks. You could keep track online of how many innobucks you or your neighbors or the lady down the street were collecting. Why would anyone care about collecting fake money? The City of Manor came up with real rewards you could buy with your innobucks. For varying amounts, you could buy a police ride-along or even be mayor for the day. Local businesses and restaurants also got in on the fun, offering coupons for discounts or free appetizers in exchange for innobucks. It's not fake currency--it's civic currency. Once Manor launched innobucks, people got very excited about racking them up. They started suggesting ideas left and right, participating in government as though it were the most fun thing they'd ever done. When people went away on vacation, they'd immediately interact with city government upon returning, trying to make up for lost time and build up their innobucks stashes."

2. Better use of data can make all the difference

Gavin Newsom offers this example from his own experience, "In the years since we launched Project Homeless Connect, San Francisco's homeless population has declined, emergency room visits have fallen, and deaths from overdoses have plummeted. The project was so successful, it's been replicated in at least 260 cities. And Care Not Cash, so bitterly opposed by homeless advocates, helped result in a 28 percent decline in the homeless population in its very first year. Now, nearly a decade later, the number of homeless people receiving assistance is down more than 80 percent from the pre-Care Not Cash days. And our efforts were significantly advanced by that one word: data."

3. Promote sharing of knowledge throughout an agency or a sector of government! Make it fun!

"In 2008, the federal government launched a networking site called A-Space--"Facebook for spooks." It's a highly restricted social-media site where the FBI, CIA, NSA, and other intelligence services can share information--a modern networking tool for a networked world. The government also launched Intellipedia--a Wikipedia-style site for spies that Hirshberg describes as "a mechanism where reports from around the world can be aggregated to build encyclopedic knowledge on a subject." Both of these sites are crucial to the business of spycraft in the twenty-first century."

4. Release data in easy to use formats, people will know what to do with it! You might not need costly and inefficient procurement to do something useful.

"If a city releases information about bicycle accidents, dangerous intersections can be identified and made safer. If a city releases information about street crime, people can create mash-ups to pinpoint problem areas and times, and police patrols can be increased. If a city releases information about air and water quality or hospital safety or emergency services efficiency, people can make informed decisions that potentially save lives.

"All these initiatives are not only new, they're cool. That's the dirty little secret about opening up city data for apps: People don't create boring things; they create really fun, exciting things--like the mashup of Yelp restaurant listings with the city's Health Department ratings. Wouldn't you like to know, when you're planning a dinner out, whether the restaurant you're making a reservation for is rated A, B, or C by the Health Department? Soon you'll be able to do this. Your phone will even send you a warning if you're approaching a restaurant with a poor rating."

"Now let's imagine that the city of Oakland had decided they wanted to build the Crimespotting tool themselves. They probably don't have a Stamen-level Web design team on the city payroll, so they'd need to outsource the job. This usually consists of sending out a request for proposals, accepting bids over a period of months, and then choosing a contractor to fulfill the project. The cost might reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the end product may or may not have been as good as what Mike and his colleagues produced. Essentially, Oakland got a free gift from a motivated citizen--one who was uniquely equipped to take available data and make it useful, which is the ideal of the open-data movement."

"Replicating Apple's model for the App Store is the antidote: Government doesn't have to come up with new killer features on its own. It has to step aside and let others come up with them."

"Because San Francisco's data wasn't complete, the team had to find another way to map where all the public art was. So they decided to crowdsource. They called for a public art scavenger hunt, inviting people to walk around the city and take note of where the murals were, then report back to the team so they could be included in the walking-tour app. Can you imagine government doing that? You'd need a team of six! You'd need a project manager! It would cost thousands of dollars and take months, if not years, to make it a reality."

5. Rather than engaging and costly and inefficient procurement, create prizes and challenges!

"The result was, a first-of-its-kind Web site where federal agencies can launch and publicize their contests. A quick scroll through reveals a huge range of contests from agencies across the board, including: Apps Against Abuse, launched by the Department of Health and Human Services to create apps to help young adults to fight back against relationship violence and sexual assault; The Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize, launched by the Department of Energy to speed the shift from inefficient old lighting products to new, high-performance ones"

"Prizes for these particular five contests range from $3,000 to $15 million, but the submissions roll in for all contests, regardless of how big or small the prize is. New ideas, citizen engagement, even the launch of brand-new industries--the US government's embrace of contests, aided by December 2010 legislation that expressly permitted them, has created a win-win for all involved. "Congress gave us the authority to run challenges and contests," Chopra told me, referring to the new law. This is good, he continued, because "I tend to think of procurement as evil--a machine unto itself.""

6. Don't be afraid of experimentation, of changing your initial idea, of engaging people to make it more useful!

"And that, as Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup, told me, "jump-starts a new marketplace. Nobody has a great idea the first time out of the gate. Nobody, ever. You have to iterate and change and pivot," Ries said when I interviewed him in San Francisco. "The challenge is to have a framework where you can think big."

"A blue button that downloads your entire medical history. A one-word text to commit money to Haiti. A dashboard that shows you all your interactions with your city. All these are simple solutions, made possible by simple sets of rules for innovating."

7. Make budgeting participatory

"We can do that by following the example of New York City and Chicago, where a few innovative city officials have implemented participatory budgeting. In 2011, residents of four New York districts were invited to take direct part in deciding how nearly $6 million of their council members' funds were allocated."

8. Allow people to fund some projects themselves

"Why not set up a system whereby people can donate $3 or $5 or however much they want--DonorsChoose-style--to help pay for government projects? What if cash-strapped cities and states in need of funding for things like road repairs or providing free public wi-fi or upgrading their DMV's computer system simply asked citizens to donate specifically toward these projects? Do you think people would give? I do--especially if we could arrange for a tax deduction for the donations."

So if you have any opportunity to get this book into the reading list of a politician you know, do it!

The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia
The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $13.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good book if you are interested in how Wikipedia's rules came out to be what they are, March 28, 2013
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Notice that this book has been written in 2009 which obviously means that the latest developments have not been covered! But I bought this book in order to learn about the beginnings of Wikipedia and how its rules came into being. And this text is perfect for this purpose!

It describes what were the preconditions (logistics) for Wikipedia: the technology that had to be invented and repurposed, the very specific community that started to develop it, the freedom of cyberspace ideas& computer hacker ethic that underlined those attempts. The author provides both this information and some broader context - phenomena that developed before or in parallel to that of Wikipedia (such as Usenet, Netnews). I wasn't previously aware of several false starts (Nupedia; Wikipedia editing problems etc.), the specific policies that were developed (such as "neutral point of view"; a policy regarding automatons; soft code of conduct etc.) and the ways how the conflicts had been solved when someone is in disagreement on some point about the content of articles (for example, inclusionists and deletionists; Gdansk/Danzig story and the way in which the compromise was reached) or is there to vandalize. It was also nice to learn a new useful term - stigmergy!

What I found most useful about this book: the description on how the rules of Wikipedia were created and then developed throughout the years and the cultural differences in setting or applying them (English vs Japanese vs German version).

Two ideas that most stuck in my mind having read the book: 1) generally people intend to help and can be relied on; 2) Vote-aversion of this community: "Don't vote on everything, and if you can help it, don't vote on anything!"

I learned so much from this book so, although it is dated, I easily give it 5 stars.

A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind
A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind
by Steven L. Winter
Edition: Paperback
Price: $37.00
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To me this was the most eye-opening law book of all times, April 15, 2012
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In 2005 I stumbled across this book on Amazon almost by accident. I was writing a thesis on new directions for legal philosophy/theory and the phrase "cognitive legal studies" caught my attention. "A Clearing in the Forest" changed my thinking about law forever! Having read this book several times, I now am much more aware about the beyond-surface level of legal decisionmaking. I think about court rulings and legislation in terms of categorization, image schemas, conceptual metaphors, prototype effects, radial categories, compositional structures. It is a more in-depth and true to life perspective than what is being tought in law schools - where you get a very simplistic explanation of legal decision making (where the judges alledgedly get the insight on what the law says from the texts; beyond the texts there are just personal attitudes or politics - that's obviously a quite primitive outlook that doesn't even attempt to explore what really is going on in a person's mind when faced with a legal problem).

This book might be a bit complicated for those who are not willing to engage deeply in cognitive science and semantics (even though all the concepts are explained and there are many examples). In order to understand the importance of the subject in a more easy-going manner, I would advise to also look at Hames Geary's new book "I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World"

I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World
I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $14.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars why metaphors are the legislators of the world?, April 15, 2012
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My interest in cognitive aspects of law, economics and politics started some years ago, having read Steven L Winter's wonderful " A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind". Then I forgot about the topic for several years.

James Geary's book has renewed my interest in metaphors. I felt that its underlying message can be summarized in this sentence: "metaphor is the unacknowledged legislator of the world, since it so pervasively primes so many of our opinions, attitudes, and beliefs." Our metaphors structure the way we conceive the world, how we are able to express our ideas about the most important of subjects. There are many, MANY examples throughout the book to illustrate this point.

To me the most useful and eye-opening examples were in the field of political speech and economics. The author mentions two examples/experiments whose results and the implications of those results to me seem just breathtaking:

1) " Give people any number--a town's population, for example--and then ask something like, "What is the maximum amount you would pay for a house?" The answers will be influenced by the cited figure. Given a population figure of 500,000, people will quote amounts much closer to $500,000 than people given a population figure of 1 million, who will quote amounts much closer to $1 million. We're all influenced by the seemingly irrelevant. The coherence of metaphorical priming is anything but arbitrary, though. Metaphorical primes cohere precisely because the patterns of association connecting the concept and the behavior interlock. Criminal sentencing decisions, like all decisions, should not be influenced by irrelevant details. But they are."

2) In US if you replace in a text the word " government" with the word " public structures", then you get some very interesting results. Namely, "of nineteen people who read a paragraph about government services that did not contain the public structures metaphor, 75 percent expressed negative or critical views about taxes. Of fifty subjects responding to the public structures text, 4 percent expressed negative or critical views about taxes."

Which means that metaphors by framing our reality can indeed make all the difference. You might be the wisest person, the best-intentioned politician - but if you pick your metaphors in a wrong way (or follow the dominant metaphors which lead you nowhere), you'll fail. That's why it's so important to be aware of metaphors and explore the effect each specific one might have on our thinking.

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone
Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only self -help book to ever change my life, April 15, 2012
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Three months ago I wrote down in my notebook these words from this very book: "Most people upshift when they want to get through to other people. They persuade. They encourage. They argue. They push. And in the process, they create resistance. When you use the techniques I offer, you'll do exactly the opposite--you'll listen, ask, mirror, and reflect back to people what you've heard. When you do, they will feel seen, understood, and felt--and that unexpected downshift will draw them to you."

They sounded very counterintuitive to me. I have always been doing exactly the opposite. But the stories described in the book were convincing, and seemed to make sense even though they run counter to my very instincts. Having read the book, I decided to try. At first, by opening up myself, my mind. I wrote down the cases where I was successful in avoiding confrontation, getting through to someone (not by debating but by listening) and cases where I failed.

Now three months later I am a different person. My brains seemed to be wired differently - the instincts facing a potential confrontation are different. Looking back it seems strange how much I once struggled with people. I use the insights from the book not in order to manipulate people - that wouldn't work anyway, - but in order to understand, explore, help. Being totally sincere in the process. And EVERYTHING is now better.

The strange thing is that I haven't yet even attempted to master 80% of the advice given in the book. I've just done the first steps. I'm not always successful, but now I understand the reasons for failure, so that next time I can improve.

This is a truly life-changing book. The whole world should read it. We would have a better world as a result.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 15, 2012 11:44 AM PDT

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