Category Archives: Reviews

Reinventing Newspeak – The Fatal Error at the Heart of The Little Blue Book

Most people who are passionate about politics wish to convince others to see things their way. To that end, the world-famous linguist and partisan Democrat George Lakoff has written the Little Blue Book:

Voters cast their ballots for what they believe is right, for the things that make moral sense. Yet Democrats have too often failed to use language linking their moral values with their policies. The Little Blue Book demonstrates how to make that connection clearly and forcefully, with hands-on advice for discussing the most pressing issues of our time: the economy, health care, women’s issues, energy and environmental policy, education, food policy, and more. Dissecting the ways that extreme conservative positions have permeated political discourse, Lakoff and Wehling show how to fight back on moral grounds and in concrete terms. Revelatory, passionate, and deeply practical, The Little Blue Book will forever alter the way Democrats and progressives think and talk about politics.

from publisher’s description.

At first blush this seems like a great idea to the passionate person – they’re sure to win all the arguments if they follow the books recipe! But the book’s recipe is not a recipe for winning arguments, but rather a recipe for preventing the reader from losing arguments – from being convinced by the person they are arguing with. How? By preventing them from actually being able to consider the opponents’ arguments by removing the opponents’ language from the reader’s brain.

The book starts off from a profound starting point, that people make decisions based on their moral frames of reference. But then it goes in a very unexpected direction. It instructs the reader to completely ignore the interlocutor’s own moral frames.

  • Use your own language; never use your opponent’s language
  • Be aware of what you believe and repeat it out loud over and over; never repeat ideas that you don’t believe in, even if you are arguing against them.

Let’s contrast these instructions with those of the late Dr Covey who has a great video that starts from the same premise – but argues that to communicate, you must adopt your interlocutor’s frame of reference and to try to understand where they are coming from.

As a method of convincing people, this book is a disaster; it purposes shouting down the non-progressive by denying them any legitimacy to their ideas. One the interlocutor figures out that what he is saying is being ignored, he will probably reciprocate by not listening to anything the reader has to say.

So what benefit is there to the reader to refuse to think like the person they are arguing with? George Orwell explained:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression  to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods.

The Principles of Newspeak – An Appendix to 1984 by George Orwell

The book is not a recipe on how to convince, but in fact is a recipe teaching the reader how to be intolerant and closed-minded.

Interestingly, this should not be a surprise. In a study of people’s ability to articulate political arguments, progressives had the worst performance when it comes to being able to articulate the ideas of people they disagree with. If you were to ask a Goldwater-conservative to provide you with the argument for Single-Payer Health-Care, he is far more likely to be able to do so than a progressive will be able to make the argument for a free market in health-care.

This book continues the trend, and if adopted by progressives will ensure the continued inability to attract new supporters to their movement… which is a very good thing.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Book Review — The Cult Of The Presidency, Gene Healy

America has a love affair with the Presidency. Unfortunately, that love affair is a codependent, abusive relationship, and one in a very long string of the same. It wasn’t always this way. But to fix the problem, as with most abusive relationships, we need to fix ourselves first — ask what it is we want from a President and whether there’s ANYONE in the field, ANY year, who can provide it.

Thankfully, Gene Healy, based on his book of a few years ago, Cult Of The Presidency, can tell us why we keep picking megalomaniacs. And for a limited time, Cato is providing this therapy for free (in electronic/eBook form)!

In Cult Of The Presidency Healy provides a detailed and informative review of the [lack of] power wielded by the office of the President in the first century or so of our Republic. He then details some of the many expansions of power the office has seized, starting in the Progressive Era and moving forward through the decades and personalities to Bush’s administration, focusing on the enormous change in warmaking powers, domestic spying, and national “Father Figure” on the matters of domestic policy that the executive branch has become. Finally, he discusses many of the changes in Congress and the electoral/campaigning process that have occurred over the last century, moving from a party-elite driven process to the current national primary structure, which has changed the office and the type of person who would seek it. Finally, he offers some limited hope for a future where Americans, through nothing more than a lack of respect and trust in the office and its inhabitants, might eventually walk the nation back from what he hopes is the high water mark of executive power. But he freely admits that hope might just be wishful thinking on his part.

All in all, this was an excellent read. For as much as I try to be informed about history and civics, there was a LOT in here that was new material for me. For example, I hadn’t realized that the politicking process was so different prior to, say, the 1950’s than it is today. I had always assumed that the current system of state Presidential primary votes to nominate a candidate had been the standard for most of our history — it turns out it’s a very recent phenomenon. Much like Restoring The Lost Constitution did for me with the history of Constitutional law, the book took a topic about which many libertarians have bits and chunks of information, and much more clearly and methodically explained the changes both over time and with the specific Presidents involved.

I don’t often have anywhere near enough time to read. This is a book that I am *extremely glad* I finally got around to reading. It’s a book that I’d gladly recommend at Amazon’s Kindle price of $8.49, but with Cato giving it away for free right now, I’d suggest jumping at it immediately.

Book Review: Resonance, by Chris Dolley

By science fiction standards, I’m not exactly an SF buff. A decent amount of the fiction I read might fall into the genre, but identifying many names beyond Neal Stephenson or Robert A. Heinlein calls up blanks. But again I was bitten by the Amazon Kindle $2.99 price point, picked up Chris Dolley’s Resonance on a recommendation, and was very happy I did.

This being a review aimed at people who haven’t read the book, I’m going to avoid spoilers. This makes things difficult in SF, of course. So I’ll set the stage without getting too deep.

Graham Smith is an odd fellow. He’s quiet, behaves in a nearly-mute fashion, and his level of living via routine makes OCD look like a hobby. He keeps notes in his pockets, in his house, and anywhere else he knows he’s going to be reminding him of where he works and where he lives. He does this to keep those things from “unraveling”, his word for when they suddenly and inexplicably change. One day he may live in a house on a certain street; the next he might live elsewhere. One day a coworker might be married; the next she’s single. All this without explanation or even acknoledgement that the world’s changed.

This life seems to work for him until he meets Annelise Mercado, a woman trying to save him from a company who wants him dead. She upends his world in short order. But can he keep her from unraveling?

From there, the book delves into its plot in full force, and since I’m avoiding spoilers, I can’t go any further.

Overall, the book’s two main credits are pace and cohesion. I was surprised when checking Amazon’s page for the paperback to find that the book is over 500 pages — it reads much quicker. The advantage of setting your book in contemporary London over a typical SF novel is that you don’t need to spend a couple hundred pages on worldbuilding, and you can head straight to plot. With much SF (and I’m thinking here of Stephenson’s Anathem), you spend so much time trying to figure out the world that you’re in that you find it distracting from the story. Cohesively, the book also avoids one of the main problems I’ve found in a lot of SF, the reliance on the deus ex machina ending (again, Anathem). I really got the sense that Dolley had his central thesis of the book and its ending planned out before he started writing, and managed to build his plot logically and deliberately to its conclusion.

Now why am I posting this review on a libertarian blog? Well, partly because entirely outside of libertarianism, I’ve learned enough about the readers of this site to know that good SF novels are always appreciated. But there is a slight tinge of the story hanging on corporate/government relations. While that portion of the story isn’t exactly imbued with a libertarian message, it’s certainly interesting to anyone who watches the continued interplay, whether cooperative or competitive, between corporations and government.

Resonance was a well-done novel. I’d gladly recommend it at standard paperback prices. But it’s another argument for the Kindle $2.99 price point. I probably wouldn’t have bought it on the whim that I did at standard prices, and I would have been missing out on a great read. So while I’d recommend it at standard paperback prices, it’s a veritable steal at $2.99. Check it out if you get a chance.

Book Review: Slackernomics, by Dale Franks

Those of you that have been around the libertarian blogosphere for any length of time will recognize the name Dale Franks. His main writing gig is over at QandO, where he spends the bulk of his time writing about the economy. In addition, he’s a bit of a gunblogger, and runs a separate blog for motorcycles.

At one point a few years ago I had noticed a link to a book Dale has written called Slackernomics: Basic Economics for People Who Think Economics is Boring. Given that I’m not the type who thinks economics is boring, but had enjoyed his blogging, I wanted to get a chance to read it. At that time, the book was only available in print at a price above $20. It took a spot on my “buy when I get around to it list”, and sat there for quite some time, but I never pulled the trigger. Then, more recently, it became avaiable for the Kindle at only $2.99 — I no longer had an excuse not to buy it. So onto the Kindle it went, and after several long months of sitting there taking up space, I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

Slackernomics is a primer on basic economic theory that, as the title suggests, is written for people who think economics is boring. It’s written in a convivial tone, and the illustrative examples that Dale uses reminds one more of Freakonomics than of Adam Smith. Don’t let that fool you, though — the book is not a “sideshow” like Freakonomics — it gets to the heart of the matter. I liken it to be similar to Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in one Lesson”, but written for people who may not be interested in the more formal writing style of Hazlitt. In addition, having been written many decades after Hazlitt’s book, it’s obviously much more up to date.

The book covers everything from price theory, minimum wage & rent control to monetary theory and the business cycle, Keynesianism, taxes / deficit spending, savings & investment, and economic statistics. He continues with a great defense of free trade and a bit of entrance into politics (touching a tad on public choice theory). In all, for being a relatively short book, he hits all the major notes that anyone looking for an introduction to economic thought would need to learn.

But the big question, for readers of this blog, is whether it’s worth it to buy. “Am I going to learn anything new?” And I can honestly say that despite the fact that I read economic books & blogs for leisure, and that I’ve blogged a fair bit about economics myself, I learned some new things from Slackernomics. Dale’s fourth chapter, unwinding the mess of the myriad of economic reports and statistics he’s constantly posting on Twitter, Google+, and at QandO, was wonderful. I’ve looked at many of these reports merely reading analysts *reaction* to the numbers (Higher jobless claims? How unexpected!), but rarely understood which group (public or private) was putting out certain reports nor how they all fit together. For me, a layman who is conversant on a lot of economic theory but not as perhaps on the technical reports, I have never seen an explanation of the reports that come out each week and each month as simple and readable as that chapter. That was more than worth it for my $2.99.

So my recommendation is simple: at $2.99, if you have a Kindle (or a device with a Kindle app), it’s hard to pass it up. You’re almost assured to get your money’s worth from the book. Even further, if you know someone in high school or college that may not have received good schooling in economics (which is, unfortunately, most of them), and who isn’t exactly about to tackle The Wealth of Nations, find a way to get them a copy of Slackernomics. Dale’s writing style will keep them interested.

All in all, it’s a book that lives up to its title, and goes well beyond.

Reading List: Slackernomics and BMOC

For the bargain conscious out there, a couple books recently became available for the Kindle at dramatically reduced prices, and I wanted to pass them along. As an aside, if nothing else this is a great sales pitch for the Kindle — at $139 for the wi-fi only version [which is all you *really* need], the value of free and reduced-price books you can buy may quite quickly amortize the cost of the hardware. The lack of a physical book to print, stock, and ship makes it significantly easier to experiment with lower-cost pricing models, and Dale & Warren’s books below emphasize this.

So I recommend checking out both of the below. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably the type of person who would enjoy both books. Yet even if you don’t, they’re cheap enough to be worth the risk.

Slackernomics – Dale Franks [of QandO]
$2.99

This is a book I’ve been intending to read for a few years, but the >$20 price point for the printed version just made it something that was constantly on my Amazon wish list but never something I’d pulled the trigger to purchase. At $2.99 and without shipping costs, though, it’s a no-brainer. I’ve read Dale and the guys from QandO for years. Dale’s always been clear-headed about economic topics in the past, so while I can’t say I’ve read the book yet, I trust it will be solid.

BMOC – Warren Meyer [of Coyote Blog]
$0.99

I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book when it came out [review here], and thought the book was an excellent example of a page-turning novel that happened to integrate Warren’s libertarian-businessman point of view. If you like his blog, you’ll like the book, but even if you’ve never read his blog [a sin on its own merits], you’ll like his book.

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