Sunday, October 12, 2014

Good to Great

Version 0.2

A Critical Interpretation of Good to Great by Jim Collins

The core of my reaction is that Good to Great is not even good, but rather deeply flawed. Perhaps I should criticize it based on my own hedgehog concept that time is much more important than money? That is actually linked to the book's extremely narrow definition of "great"in narrow monetary terms, and that narrow focus made me increasingly suspicious as I read the book.

However, in the end I concluded that the premise was completely misleading, and my largest curiosity is whether or not any of the research team members voiced similar concerns. The book purports to be a comparison of great companies to merely good ones, but it is actually a comparison of lucky gamblers to non-gamblers, and the losing gamblers are completely ignored. Near as I can tell, they never considered the possibility that some companies could use ALL of their recommended techniques and still fail to become great or even avoid bankruptcy. The reason I'm certain that is the case is because of the scale of his thinking. There are only so many things that are available to try to be #1 at, and even fewer when defined in the broad fashion of his examples, and there are just far too many companies for all of them to become #1, no matter how long and how closely they follow his recommendations.

My interpretation of this study is that he defined a specific profit profile and then used it in almost exactly the same way they sometimes compare a large number of hedge funds. He started with over a thousand companies, and was able to find 11 winners in the top fraction. In the comparison of hedge funds, they usually use the example of starting with some power of 2 and picking the best one after each assessment period, cutting the sample in half each time until you get the best one--but then it turns out that gambling on this lucky winning hedge fund is going to win next time is no better than chance because the entire procedure is merely a statistical game. Think of it another way: Out of 100 companies, one of them has to be #1 and the top 1% on any dimension you use, and he merely used a dimension defined by stock performance. Of course he found the lucky winners, which is kind of a punchline since his winners mostly appreciated and gave credit to their own luck--and he basically avoided looking at the unlucky losers. (Actually there was one example in his reported data of a company that did everything right until there was an unlucky break, whereupon the company quickly lost it's 'great' eligibility. However, he didn't follow up on that hint to look for other similar cases.)

The author's conclusion is that the principles he discovered can be applied by any organization, and if applied for a sufficiently long time, then success will be assured, but that's NOT the way lotteries work. Actually, the main difference from lotteries is that the payoff date is known in advance, whereas the profit schedules of the companies are not known. His research essentially shows that these companies gambled everything they had on their hedgehog idea, and if they didn't lose, if they were betting on the right hedgehog and outlasted any other gamblers betting on the same hedgehog, then of course they outperformed their competitors who didn't gamble to the same degree. And what about all the companies that gambled everything and lost? Well, they just disappeared without notice or comment. The companies he focused on for comparisons were simply competent companies that didn't gamble. This book is comparing apples to oranges, not comparing great apples to good apples.

The part before this was basically my more considered opinion after a few days. The part that follows is based on my earlier dictated comments using the diary approach recommended by the same guy (google employee #107) who gave Good to Great his highest recommendation. I still haven't decided on the efficacy of this kind of verbal stream of consciousness writing, but I do think the contributed to the clarity of my conclusions in the first part... So here are the cleaned up results of the dictation session:

The hedgehog versus fox thing is the old idea about the fox knowing a lot of things fairly well while the the hedgehog knows one big thing, and knows it extremely well, which supposedly gives the advantage to the hedgehog. My personal hedgehog (and the underlying basis of my critique of this book) is that time is much more important than money. The hypothesis of this book is predicated on measuring goodness purely by the simple metric of stock price. In other words, he essentially ignores time and considers money alone (essentially stock cap growth) as a metric to determine which companies are good or great (and expends almost no thought on companies below those levels). I strongly disagree with this kind of simplistic reduction, no matter how much economists and MBAs like it.

The fundamental problem with the author's approach is that it it's essentially a manifestation of the cancer model of growth uber alles. At his starting point, whatever a company does doesn't matter unless the company grows enough to be extremely valuable (in relative terms), as measured by the performance of its stock price against other companies and the market averages. He didn't select the dates in advance, but pivoted his data to focus around the most convenient dates for the desired performance profiles, which is another kind of criticism, though at least he was clear about what he was doing and his lack of any theoretical basis or hypothesis for the procedure. Given a large enough pool of companies (and he started with more than a thousand), some of them were going to be the best matches and therefore be defined as 'great', and they they used similar financial criteria to select essentially random comparison companies. However, once they had found the supposed differences that were correlated to the great companies (and remember that correlation is NOT causation), they never looked for the companies with their differences that somehow failed to become great successes.

Actually those two paragraphs are highly modified from about twice as much stuff that was too poorly recognized to reconstruct clearly. I wish there were an option to keep the recorded voice until I can clean up the transcription, and obviously use that data to improve the recognition for the next time.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Capital in the 21st Century

Version 0.3

Reactions to and Minor Flaws Found in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the English translation of Capital au XXIe Si├Ęcle by Thomas Piketty

Most of this review is another dictation while walking. Just a stylistic caution, though I've tried to polish it up afterwards...

This book offers a very high level perspective on economics. It's kind of in the mold of the grand history books like Guns, Germs, and Steel. The central thesis is essentially tracing the long-term growth rates and capital accumulation against demographic transitions and concentration levels of wealth. Capital is treated quite broadly, even including a description of slave-based economies. The time scale is much larger than is usually encountered in most economics books, but the author actually regards this book is kind of an introductory textbook for general readers. In contrast the website contains a lot of much more detailed data and explanations about that data and how it was analyzed.

This approach is in itself is interesting economic model for academic publication. In essence, the sales of the book become a funding resource for the research and the website becomes an inexpensive distribution channel for much more information than is worth killing the trees for. There's also the obvious advantage that the website is dynamic and can easily grow with new data and new links.

When I went to the website, it was because I had found a number of minor typographic errors in the English addition. I was hoping to find a list of errors to check how closely and accurately I read, but unfortunately I was unable to find any errata (even though they'd been promised in the book). Notwithstanding, overall I would say was well translated.

My largest reservation about the translation was actually about the frequent literary allusions. Perhaps this is the norm in French academic writing, but it felt out of place and that even seemed to weaken his arguments in places. If this approach is a standard tactic or usage in French academic writing, then I think the translation should include some kind of disclaimer to that effect. He should only be citing the literary references because they match so well with his observations and calculations, thus indicating that the most popular and successful authors were truly reflecting the realities of their times.

A less serious translation problem involved the word "rent", which apparently has negative connotations in French. It seemed that the translator basically went all literal in this section, and the word "rent" simply does not seem to have such associations in English. I spent a while trying to imagine a better translation, such as "coupon clipping" or "dividend", but I think this is just not translatable into English. Therefore I think the correct approach required a bit of meta-translation to explicitly present and explain the negative feelings from a French point of view.

An even less serious translation problem involved the title. His discussion of that topic made me wonder if they considered "Capital into the 21st Century" as an English title. My French is totally rusty, but I even imagine that is semantically closer to the original.

My overall conclusion is that I don't feel I was much persuaded by the book, mostly because I still feel that the entire economics paradigm is in need of drastic revision. The essential focus of economics remains on the money and such things as can be conveniently counted. The fundamental position of the economist remains that a person with $1 million is in some sense 1,000 times better than a person with $1,000 dollars. Professor Piketty clearly regards this idea as a problem, insofar as he clearly favors less inequality, but to me this entire notion is more simply absurd. People are fundamentally much more similar than different, and the notion that any person can really be rated as 1,000 more of anything than any other person is not even in the bounds of reason as I see them. My position is you have to start comparing people with severe medical problems even to get to meaningful differences on the order of 2 or 3, and differences on the order of 1,000 are just pathological. In particular, someone who gets extremely rich because he loves money 1,000 times more than other people is NOT 1,000 times more valuable than those people. That much "love" is just a form of mental sickness, a severe aberration, if it has any meaning at all.

The time has come for a new paradigm for economics, and this book is really just another kind of band-aid on the old and borken model. (That how the French programmer Patrick Dussud always pronounced "broken" when we were working together at TI.) We should be working on a new economics based around time, which is an essentially equivalent resource for every human being. Yes, some of us clearly use our time much better than other people, but every human has exactly 24 hours in the day and 60 seconds in each minute.

Can I recommend this book to you? Turns out to be a difficult question. I certainly think he provides a lot of very interesting data, but absorbing the data in a useful way is going to be difficult for most general readers. I think his main conclusions and recommendations could be condensed into a much shorter book. Probably that's the thrust of his articles, though they seem relatively unavailable in English.

Errata

This list of minor errors is, as usual mostly to show how closely I read, but it's also a professional thing. I guess much of my work could be described as copy editing to the max. From that perspective, it would also be a test of my accuracy, but I couldn't find a corresponding list of typos on the official website for the book. (Most of the glitches were in the Notes at the end of the book, so it seems likely there was a bit of a rush for the printing deadline.)

Page 89 should say "all these changes with a single". [My initial idea was to mark the delta parts in color, but turned out to be too much of a nuisance...]

Page 198 mistakenly says "capital/income ration" (rather than "ratio") 6 lines from the bottom.

On page 320, there seemed to be some confusion about the text's references to Figure 9.6.

On page 498, in the middle of the page a space is missing and it should say "Sweden in 1903".

On page 604, in Note 5 the last line should be "riches 0.01 percent".

On page 606, in Note 26 it must be "2007" rather than "1007".

On page 614, in Note 27, it should say "close to the French level".

On page 622, in Note 1, there is apparently some confusion around "trillion" used for dollars and "million" used for euros. Possibly this is related to the British usage of "trillion" and "billion"?

On Page 630 there may be a problem, but right now I can't spot it. Or perhaps I was questioning the claim that the US has the highest rate of incarceration? My feeling is that Israel is the clear international leader based on their treatment of Gaza as the world's high security largest prison.

On Page 643, Note 20 should say "but to require payment".

Friday, August 22, 2014

Physics of the Future

Version 0.31

A Cautionary Tale from Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku

Interesting interference effects from having seen the author in many interviews, probably by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. From those interviews, I know he's a nice guy and means well, and I want to say nice things about his book, but this one was quite disappointing and even harmful. I'm not able to assess his expertise in his own field of physics, but I can clearly see places where he went amiss in some of the other fields (perhaps exacerbated by his conservative political leanings). 

The area that most bothered me was his shallow and misleading interpretation of genetics. I actually see it as a kind of threat that people will use his poorly worded descriptions to support their wrongheaded actions, especially as regards the topic of abortion. He actually describes the DNA as a blueprint for a human being, and he thinks that it would be possible to clone Hitler and produce another human monster. This is delusional, but exactly the kind of delusion that anti-abortion extremists are suffering from when they equate a fertilized egg with a unique human being. The DNA is NOT a blueprint, but more like a recipe book. Actually, I could argue that this book was helpful in that his sloppy writing helped me realize that the DNA is also like an instruction manual and some repair instructions. For simpleminded animals like insects, the DNA includes the complete behavioral repertoire and instinctive responses to all of the stimuli the insect is expected to encounter in its entire lifetime. However, he was generally discussing DNA in medical contexts, where it is the repair instructions and their limitations that are the real concern. If you cloned a human being from Hitler's DNA, you would NOT get another Hitler. You would get a NEW human being who has capacities for evil, but that's true of you and I, too. The entity that was Hitler was a unique being, and the DNA was merely a starting point on the sad journey. Actually, those references actually made me speculate about what sort of traumatic incident must have happened to create such insane hatred, but whatever it was and whenever it happened, it was NOT predetermined or even influenced by his DNA. Almost surely something in his childhood, but it must have been lost in the famed mists of history.

Another aspect of the disappointment was what struck me as a mismatch between his intentions and imagination and what his publisher must have wanted. Dr Kaku simply isn't up to predicting the mid-term future, and can't even make a persuasive case for his long-term ideas when he is closely tracking the current trends. It seems quite likely that this book started as a collection of short-term projections, and it remains firmly rooted in the current research and the current problems under attack, but his publisher must have insisted on including the sections about long-term projections for 2070 to 2100.

Okay, so it was an interesting read, and he has a light style that goes quickly. The background information was solid, too, but the book was supposed to be about the future, and it didn't go there.

Detailed (but sporadic and unsystematically sampled) Notes:

My first strong reaction wasn't until page 117, when he mentioned both Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, reminding me to check if any of their books are newly available in my public libraries.

Page 234 was where he explicitly called DNA "blueprints", which I regard as almost unforgivable scientific naivety at this point. Stop fueling the fools! Now my dander was up, so to speak.

On pages 239 to 240 I had my next strong reactions. One was to his naive economic speculations about robot-driven universal prosperity and downright silly and simplistic interpretations of socialism and communism. However, he was again thought-provoking and perhaps contributed to my thinking about time-based economics in terms of mapping global investments back to the individual level in the use of leisure time.

Page 318 had one of his speculations about positive uses of nuclear weapons. This idea of nuclear-bomb-powered spaceships is just silly and unrealistic, but it casts doubt upon his expertise even in his own area. What manner of blast shield does he imagine that could withstand thousands of nuclear detonations? Page 327 had another blaring slip that challenged his own expertise. Obviously he slipped a decimal place and meant to say 4,000 years where he wrote 400, unless the speed was supposed to 1% rather than 0.1% of c.

On page 334 he had one of his extreme misunderstandings of basic biology. It is absolutely not the case that "mammals produce just a few offspring and make sure that all survive." He evidently wasn't willing to really consider eugenics, but instead went much farther with speculations about essentially artificial genes added to the parents' own genetic material.

Page 348 features IBM, but what caught my attention was the statement "Today, the only place you can find a stand-alone computer is in a museum." Actually something of a contradiction to places where he acknowledges the growing presence of computers in arbitrary devices. Perhaps almost all of them will be networked in the future, but that is certainly not the case today. However it also reminded me of the IBM photo-typesetting equipment I used around 1977 and which I later saw abandoned in the hallway outside the Thresher offices. Unlikely any museum would have accepted it, though it was worth about $20,000 when new... (Also triggered by that recent book on fonts.)

On Page 360 he got way over his head in speculations about "perfect capitalism". Essentially he wants to believe human nature will go away or people will forget about personal advantage? Whatever he meant, he was unpersuasive. Page 361 continues with the buzzword of the day, "cloud computing", but his lack of expertise was only typical of the prophets of that field. I still feel like Sun had it right, for all the good it did them.

On page 367 is more of his peculiar economic speculations, though on the important topic of immigration. Page 369 addressed the shift in England from engineering to speculation, but with less insight than the Rice professor's book. Page 370 included the old saw about teaching a man to fish, provoking me to add "Teach everyone to fish and they will overfish the oceans and go back to starvation." On pages 372 and 373 is part of a series of contradictions about the educational strengths and weaknesses of America and other countries, while ignored the inconvenient parts of land and resource seizures. He showed some awareness of bits of history in places where he wrote about the conquistadors, but he is not any sort of grand historian. He wrapped up this part on page 374 with some contradictory discounting of China that mostly made me speculate about his ultra-conservative biases against China, or perhaps some legacy of the Meiji-period Japanese disdain.

On pages 385 and 386 he is repeating the fantasy interpretation of Reagan's strength rather than the Soviet Union's internal problems, and must of the rest of the book looked more and more conservative (and naive). Perhaps the best that could be hoped is that it was more influence from the publisher? Pages 392 and 393 were notably twisted and contradictory.

I did like the Benjamin Franklin part on page 402 and the Asimov quote on page 405: "The saddest aspect of society right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom." However, I think "knowledge" and "wisdom" are being used in slipshod ways in the entire section, and mostly showed that Dr Kaku is also not an expert in epistemology.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Art of Loving

Version 0.2

Two Minor Criticisms of The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

Mostly an excellent book that I can highly recommend. This is a book that was published more than 50 years ago, but which is still in print and still in demand, even in Japanese. After reading the English version, I tried to reserve the Japanese version at the library, only to find more than 30 people ahead of me (even though the library has several copies).

The book ranged over a large number of topics and I felt that it was deeply insightful on almost all of them. Actually, my main reaction was to feel like we are become mental midgets compared to such deep thinkers. In particular, I think Internet is contributing greatly towards our shallow, unfocused, and overly fluid thinking.

Notwithstanding that, I felt there were two weaknesses in the book. One was in sections where he used the kind of vague language that afflicts medical diagnosis and astrology. Such language makes it too easy to fit people into categories that seem highly applicable, but are actually uncertain.

The other weakness was in his gender stereotyping. He took it as natural that children should change and evolve over time, but seemed to ignore the possibility that parents can also change. I felt that his thinking on these topics was even kind of rigid compared to other areas he discussed, but just now I'd excuse him on the basis of his dealings with the Freudians...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Emperor of All Maladies

Version 0.3

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee Considered as Annotated Genomic Analysis?

Short summary is that it's an excellent and informative book. My initial reaction was that it would not be translated into Japanese by any conventional publishing mechanism, but I was quite mistaken. One of the two suggestions or possible innovations it led me to think about was an alternative translation model driven by former patients interested in their own disease on behalf of new patients with the same condition. However, I quite misjudged the situation. Yes, it's a big book in a rapidly changing field, but the author writes so well and there are so many people who want to read about the topic that it was quickly translated into a two-volume version. Even beyond the translating process itself, it's already available in all of the libraries I checked. My primary library actually has 7 copies, of which several are currently checked out several years after its publication.

My other suggestion or possibly new idea involves leveraging those same former patients to save the time of the medical specialists by explaining the basics to the new patients. Turns out I was also behind the power curve on that one, too. However, the patients are mostly organized in the form of support groups.

Now for the body of my comments, which is essentially to nitpick at tiny details that I noticed as I read the book. However, in this case you can consider the large (571 pages) as representing the genetic information of a human being. Of course it depends on how you compress it, but the amount of DNA information in a person or a cancer could easily fill up such a book, and the things I'm noticing could be regarded as mutations or flaws that are ultimately linked to a cancer.

So here's my minor notes:

Page 37 has an interesting citation of Susan Sontag, which is not a nit, just a note.

On page 46 it says "t;yphoon" comes from "tuphon" the Greek god of the winds. He's persuasive, but I thought it was from the Japanese word (in Romanji form) taifuu. The Japanese word is used specifically for the kind of storm we now call a typhoon, and it comes from two Chinese-derived characters with the meaning of "big wind". In other words, he's arguing the ancient word made the transition, whereas I think it's a more recent borrowing.

On page 171 the work "strategy" is hyphenated incorrectly. At least I think so, and I already admitted I was looking for nits.

Page 175 says there is one space that is most infected with the idea of cancer as a transmittable disease, but the same sentence continues "and equally, the imagination of researchers", which is a second place and they can't both be the "one" space.

On page 224 there's another bad hyphenation, this time of "poignant".

On page 240 I was wondering why there was no mention of dipping snuff or chewing tobacco, but upon reflection, now I wonder if perhaps that's historically correct. Maybe dipping was a later innovation?

On pages 293 to 294 the usage of "end point" calls for "endpoint" and there's also a sentence that begins with "And". Stylistic quibbles? However they make me want to do some global searchers or other instances...

Page 416 must have caught my attention for the significance of the content. Either that, or the nit was so small I can't find it now.

After some more reflection on the topic, I reached an unanswered question and some implications for the Fermi Paradox. The question is about the genetic mechanisms for the evolution of cancer itself. It's simpler to consider it from the male perspective. In brief, if some male genes never died by cancer, then those genes could be propagated in great numbers, which seems to be a massive advantage, and yet males are also subject to cancer... In other words, I found myself trying to wrestle with the big question of "Why does cancer exist at all?" and the only analysis that seems to make sense involves the need for death as the driving force for future changes and more evolution.

As it relates to the Fermi Paradox, it also ties back to another book I read recently, Why Evolution is True. There are basically two outcomes: Changes leading to descendents and changes leading to extinction. Maybe there are some intelligent civilizations who have managed the first outcome, but just now it seems too clear that there are a whole lot of paths that lead to the second outcome... If cancer were "solved" and curable, that same knowledge could clearly be applied to nefarious and negative purposes, and some nut would probably do it, too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Labyrinths

Version 0.7

Annoying Errata in the 2007 edition of Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

The main reason for noting these errors is that this was supposed to be a corrected version of the book, and considering the late publication date, it's liable to be the long-term printed archival copy for many years from this... Ergo, my annoyance about these mistakes:

On page 64, it says "neither than nor later" when it should read "neither then nor later".

On page 92, on the next to last line of the page "tthe sergeant" should obviously be "the sergeant".

On page 110, where it says "and unforeseen wall" the intention must have been "an unforeseen wall".

Most seriously and egregiously, page 190 is an inserted reprint of page 188, with one inserted phrase: "and that man will destroy my world as I have destroyed the books." It isn't certain if page 189 properly continues to page 191, though it does read in a plausible way.

Having vented the spleen of my annoyance, I can still conclude that it was an interesting and thought-provoking book to read.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

New Pearl Harbor

Version 0.5

Politically Correct Zen Repudiation of The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 by David Ray Griffin


Funny story about contagion and guilt by association here. The only logical result of assuming that the NSA knows that I've 'touched' this book is to publicly repudiate it in the most forceful terms. Easy enough, but is that even adequate? America has fallen down such an insane rabbit's hole that not only are books like this one being published, but a lot of people are buying into them and we're even electing patently insane reality-challenged politicians like Ted Cruz in Texas. You know what they say: Everything's bigger and more crazy in Texas!

So now the question facing me is how to most clearly demonstrate that I am not an insane conspiracy theorist, if I can. After all, I think that I have been contaminated to some degree. While I can dismiss all of the ideas in this particular book, the problem is that I still believe in some conspiracies. Actually, this book uses the most obvious and relevant example: Everyone believes that there was a secret conspiracy to attack the WTC, but the devil is in the details of who was involved and how they pulled it off. A more troublesome example involves the murder of Michael Hastings. Can you believe that his brand of insanity was so dangerous that it could only be 'cured' by hacking his car to kill him? Having considered the problem, I think the best way to repudiate this book is to approach from two angles: (1) a specific destruction of a major point of the book and (2) an alternative and Occamic explanation. However, to make the repudiation stronger, I'm going to apply these perspectives twice, once at a low level and again at the highest level.

There are so many crazy points in the book that it is impossible to pick the best one for detailed refutation. For example, the lack of interception is mostly predicated on not knowing how planes actually fly and maneuver or how humans make decisions under pressure. However, I've decided to focus on the collapse of three buildings in the WTC complex. This author is arguing for the use of explosives, while simultaneously managing to refute himself. The most obvious refutation was his note that explosive-sniffing dogs were in the twin towers up to 5 days before 9/11. That only leaves two lines of analysis: (1) Large quantities of explosives were already in place and trained experts completely failed to detect them, or (2) Large quantities of explosives were were rapidly brought into the towers without anyone detecting the operation. The conspiracy extremists can try to cover those paths with bribery, but... It's hard to reliably bribe dogs and the it's fundamentally impossible to hush up a large number number of people. Even if none of them knew they were handling explosives at the time, many of them would have figured it out afterwards and some of them would have started talking. However, the main reason I reject this idea is that there would have been extremely large quantities of debris contaminated with explosives residue, and that physical evidence could not be completely eliminated no matter how quickly they cleared it away. You have to add a completely new level of insanity to believe that the Chinese would actually destroy all of the evidence once it was in their possession. I certainly think you can rest assured that the Chinese version of the CIA took plenty of samples hoping for something to use for blackmail against America's politicians.

Time for Occam's razor to cut this idea to size. What the book doesn't talk much about is the computer analyses of the structural failures. Once you know that a thing is possible, it's relatively easy to show how it happened. Before these collapses, the computer models seemed to show they were not possible, but afterwards, we sadly know much better. The author actually touches just barely on how the initially local failures unzipped the links between one floor and the vertical framework in each of the buildings that collapsed. Once the failures spread enough for that floor to settle downward, nothing was going to stop the force of gravity from finishing the job, and how. As soon as the failures were adequately modeled, there was little reason to delay the cleanup. The only physical evidence you could hope for would be recognizable traces of some of the original joints around the points of the initial local failures, or some of the neighboring joints that failed in the second stage of spreading, and the odds of finding those few joints in a recognizable state would be pretty microscopic given the vast amount of rubble. Virtually all of the joints were simply sheared to small bits as gravity did its work.

Now let's go to the highest level of the grand conspiracy. In this form, we wind up with an army of accomplices. Even if they didn't know what they were doing at the time, as in the previously mentioned idea of a large crew of people moving explosives without knowing what they were moving, they have had many years to figure it out. Even if they didn't want to talk at the time, they have had many years to change their minds, or even to die of natural causes and leave the evidence behind them if they didn't want to face retaliation. There are too many old sayings and even jokes about how to keep secrets, but the point is always the need for as few conspirators as possible, and all of the grand conspiracy theories totally fail on this point. It's possible to conceive how one or a few people could have killed Michael Hastings, but orchestrating a vast conspiracy with vast guilt trips for all of the conspirators? No, that is beyond my conception, and I even insist that my imagination is far wilder than average.

So what is Occam's answer? It really is hard to explain the low quality of the investigations of the 9/11 attacks. In addition, any explanation has to hold up on the long term. Therefore, I conclude that there were massive failures and plenty of blame, but the failures were obvious and bipartisan. Not sure if this is the truth, or if the truth even matters, and you also have to make allowances that I am currently under the influence of this crazy book, too, but... My theory today is that certain people within the ISI were intimately involved in the planning for the 9/11 attacks, mostly because they hoped to move America to support Pakistan more closely in an alliance against 'non-state' terrorists. It is even possible that members of the CIA or NSA were aware of this conspiracy but regarded it as fundamentally too crazy to succeed and too flawed to cause significant damage even if it partly happened. The actual amount of damage was much worse than anyone imagined, apparently even including Osama Bin Ladin himself. However, I believe that there were internal and secret investigations that quickly determined these problematic facts. These facts were even more extremely problematic because they also showed the intimate relationship between the ISI and the CIA, and they were bipartisan problems since they started with that good-intentioned Democrat Jimmy Carter, continued through the presidencies of Reagan and Poppy Bush and Clinton, and were still there under Dubya's watch. Maybe there was even an element of truth to the New American Century angle, but in the relatively passive sense that the big dick Cheney downgraded the priority of anti-terrorism efforts. I've often felt that some of his extreme reactions as described in The One Percent Doctrine smack of an extremely guilty conscience... No one can be sure about Cheney, however, since he's always been such a cocksure extremist.

So to summarize it to Occam's satisfaction, from their perspective, there was no reason for a public investigation, since they knew almost exactly what had happened and how, and it was extremely embarrassing to EVERYONE involved, no matter what their political persuasions. The bipartisan mess must have been big enough to persuade even President Obama to let it lie. This is kind of like the gerrymandering thing. Both parties are quite willing to work together against the public's interests to protect their own behinds, but just about the one thing all of the professional politicians can agree on is that they should be allowed to stay in office. As this theory applies to 9/11, it's still a bit surprising that none of the people in the know has clearly revealed the truth, but the total number of people carefully watching each other is within the bounds of reason, or at least my reason.

Now it's time for the zen trick, eh? The real significance of this kind of book is what it reveals about the mental instability of America. Our reality makes so little sense that many people are able to look at the wildest conspiracies and take them seriously. I think the one that is bothering me the most these days actually involves the chronic problems with my Android devices. I don't think it is simply the google's growing EVIL as typified by "All of your attention is belongs to the google" leading to large-scale incompetence. I've reached the point of believing the flakiness is linked to snooping software being deployed on a wholesale level. It might be criminals, except that I think they could be and would already have been nailed by following the money trails. Therefore at this point it seems most plausible, even to such a rational and level-headed individual as yours truly, that the real cause is government-driven snooping. We're back to the old joke about the lost quarter:

"Let me help you for your lost quarter. Exactly where were you standing when you noticed it was missing?"

"I was in Afghanistan."

"But Afghanistan is thousands of kilometers from here. Why are you looking here?"

"The light's much better here."

In other words, I'm not a terrorist and I don't even know any terrorists, no matter how much I stretch my rubbery imagination. However, mostly because of my Android devices, I am standing where the light is good. It's convenient for the NSA to harvest my personal information, and so they do, but with a certain amount of bugginess that shows. Since it's Android and since the google has gone all evil on us, it seems most likely that it's driven from America, but we could speculate about the Chinese intelligence agencies, too. Not really anything personal about me (though the game of six degrees of Keven Bacon might argue otherwise), but just cheap data. If you actually are a person of interest and they want to put some actual resources into investigating what you're up to, you might as well surrender now, Dorothy.

Have a lovely non-paranoid day.

P.S. Let me add a special encouragement to your replies and again clarify why I moderate the comments. I'm really interested in your points of disagreement, even if you are a sincere conspiracy theorist, but I'm absolutely opposed to spammers and I will not support them, even for the period until I can nuke their scammy ads. Once again we return to the deep EVIL of the google?