Monday, January 30, 2017

Betraying our history

Recommended reading: "America Now Looks Like the Past, Not the Future," by Jeet Heer. Excerpt:
To judge by his speeches, notably an inaugural address that fear-mongered about “American carnage,” the president believes the country is in deep trouble and needs to get its own house in order. Trump is more interested in recovering past glories—the old days when “we’d win with wars” rather than now, when “we don’t win anymore”—than in creating a new tomorrow. It’s no surprise that some of the loudest complaints about Trump’s ban came from tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook that rely on the immigrants that Trump demonizes.
Me: I've spent the last few years researching the history of the Erie Canal, for a book I am now preparing to publish.

The Erie Canal is surely one of the things that made America great, and it would be easy to view it in terms of nostalgia. But looking back on its development I am struck most by how forward-looking the people involved were. The canal is where American technology really began, with surveyors turning themselves into a new profession of engineers in on-the-job training. The canal also helped immigrants become part of America, as they built it and traveled on it further into America.

America looking more like past than future is one of the deepest betrayals of our heritage that can be imagined. Those interested in recovering past glories should at least have some clue what they are.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Family photo, 1944

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Recent and upcoming books

Recently read: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. I can see why this book created a stir. It's often grim but extraordinarily absorbing, and maybe provides a glimpse of insight into why Trump did well electorally in Appalachia and areas that have some connection by kinship or similarity to Appalachia.

Recently received and read an advance copy: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters by Tom Nichols. This book, to be published in March, tells a story that needs to be told, about people choosing their own "facts" and "reality" while denying what professionals and specialists have to say about matters. I may have more to say about this book once I've seen the final version. Nichols, an expert on the unfortunately pressing subjects of national security, nuclear weapons and Russia, has made a name for himself in the past year as one of the most incisive Never Trump Republicans.

Have read parts: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard. An interesting historical episode, and (in terms of importance and relative unfamiliarity) a good choice of one to focus on given how much has been written about Churchill.

Review copy received but not read yet: Containment: A Thriller by Hank Parker. Looks interesting.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Think better

Logical thinking is needed more than ever in the new political era, so all the more reason why I recommend Keith Devlin's "Introduction to Mathematical Thinking" course at Coursera.
I took the course a couple years ago, and wrote about it here and here. In my experience it requires 10-plus hours a week, so be advised accordingly, but if you're going to take it, now is a good time as I understand Prof. Devlin's personal participation ends with this session. Incidentally, I am currently taking a shorter and somewhat less time-consuming, but interesting, course on Fibonacci numbers.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Reminder: this story is not going away