The cover describes Stratfor (the intelligence company Friedman founded) as a “Shadow CIA”. By this book’s description of the CIA, this implies it has a lot of details right but misses many important broad trends. The book tends to have weaknesses of this nature, being better as a history of Al Qaeda’s conflict with the U.S. than as a guide to the future, but it’s probably a good deal more reliable than CIA analysis.
It describes a few important trends that I wasn’t aware of. The best theory the book proposes that I hadn’t heard before is the claim that the U.S. government is much more worried about Al Qaeda getting a nuclear bomb than the public realizes (for instance, the Axis of Evil is the set of nations that are unable or unwilling to prove they won’t help Al Qaeda get the bomb).
The explanation of the U.S. motives for invading Iraq as primarily to pressure the Saudi government is unconvincing.
The book’s biases are sufficiently subtle that I have some difficulty detecting them. It often paints Bush in as favorable a light as possible, but is also filled with some harsh criticisms of his mistakes, for example:
It is an extraordinary fact that in the U.S.-jihadist war, the only senior commander or responsible civilian to have been effectively relieved was Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, who was retired unceremoniously (although not ahead of schedule) after he accurately stated that more than 200,000 troops would be needed in Iraq
The person selected, Tom Ridge, had no background in the field and had absolutely no idea what he was doing, but that was not a problem problem since, in fact, he would have nothing really to do. His job was simply to appear to be in control of an apparatus that did not yet exist
But it’s hard to place a lot of confidence in theories that are backed mainly by eloquent stories. It’s unfortunate that the book is unable or unwilling to document the evidence needed to confirm them.
There’s a fair amount of agreement between this book and Imperial Hubris, but I’ve revised my opinion of that book a bit due to the disagreements between the two. The claims by Imperial Hubris that we don’t need to worry about a new Caliphate seem unpersuasive now that I see there widespread disagreement with that claim and weak arguments on both sides. The two books disagree on who’s currently winning the war, but I see no sign that defeat for either side is anywhere near close enough to be predictable.
Patri Friedman asks why websites often require users to deal with annoying pulldown menus such as those listing 50 states. I expect that the main reason is that users who are allowed to type in text will enter it in nonstandard forms. For example, Massachusetts will be entered as Mass or MA, or if limited to 2 characters the user might not remember the correct 2-letter code. Sites that need to calculate sales taxes differently for different state, or who think (not necessarily with good reason) that they need to analyze customers by location for marketing reasons, need either standardized input or a good deal of imagination to predict all variants they will get. Imagination isn’t cheap.
I suspect there’s also a desire by some designers to show their status over users by preventing users from entering unexpected input.
I doubt these factors are enough to explain all examples of annoying pulldown menus, but I’d guess they explain at least half.
I highly recommend VeganEssentials.com as a source of healthy and tasty food for when it’s hard to have fresh fruits and veggies available (e.g. hiking, snowboarding, kayaking). Some of my favorites are the Larabar (made entirely of fruit and nuts) and the mushroom jerky.
For a long time I’ve thought that the weakest part of the argument for Futarchy is the problem of choosing a good measure of national welfare. Democracy is sufficiently subject to manipulation by demagogues (e.g. convincing voters that Saddam had some responsibility for Sept. 11 or that confiscating guns will make us safer) that turning politicized disputes about factual questions over to an institution that maximizes GDP would probably be an improvement even if the flaws in using GDP cause it to do foolish things like preferring Microsoft’s commercial crap to free alternatives. But it would be hard to convince people addicted to having democratic processes decide questions of fact to ignore such flaws.
I want to propose that such a system should be designed to maximize life expectancy instead. That measure seems to correlate fairly well with a number of things we value such as wealth and happiness. I’m not sure how it correlates with equality, and suspect it is imperfect at putting the optimal weight on increasing that, so I’m not claiming it’s a utopian solution. But I doubt there’s much risk that maximizing lifespans would increase inequality.
It would create pressures to keep peoples’ hearts beating when they’re brain-dead, and to put undesirable restrictions on activities such as skiing and rock-climbing. But it’s not obvious why that would be significantly different from the biases of existing governments.
Science Blog has an interesting article on the effects of autism which helps to explain why it’s not an accident that autism has both advantages and disadvantages.