Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blind Man’s Bluff

Bling Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage (2000) by Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew and Annette Lawrence Dew tells some of the story of the remarkable role played by US submarines in the Cold War.

The book starts by describing the changes of submarines after WWII with diesel boats that would remain underwater most of the time to nuclear powered boats that could remain underwater for long periods of time.

The book then gets into some of the exploits of the nuclear powered spying vessels that managed to find downed Soviet boats, find lost US nuclear weapons and to tap Soviet military undersea cables. It’s all pretty remarkable.

The book is a bit over the top though, every second US captain is a swarthy confront superiors type. There is little real detail about how quiet the boats are, from non US submariners I’ve heard that diesel boats are often quieter than nuclear boats, but nowhere is this sort of discussion in the book. Also if you’re not an American the jingoism is a little wearing. It’s also suggested that the US was following most Soviet missile boats, this doesn’t seem to be accurate, the Soviets seemed to have a fairly potent second strike ballistic missile submarine capability. The book itself has a ‘record’ trail. Presumably if these trails were rarely that long there was a lot of time when Soviet boats did do the same thing as US boomers.

For anyone interested in entertaining historical military tales the book has a lot going for it, as reflective history it’s far weaker. Still, it’s enjoyable and surely does provide some accurate information about the remarkable tale of submarines in the Cold War.

Declutter Your Mind

Declutter Your Mind (2016) by SJ Scott and Barrie Davenport is a self-help book that has a lot about mindfulness about how to feel less overwhelmed. Meditation and mindfulness are recommended. As is decluttering your house. Ending bad relationships and finding out what’s important to you. Getting things done, Pomodoro and other things are mentioned. Lists are also recommended.

The book is a very quick read, the advice isn’t terrible. But it’s also all pretty forgettable.

The Mixer

The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines (2017) by Michael Cox is a book that look at the history of the Premier League and how tactics have evolved there. Michael Cox, according to Amazon and Goodreads, was an English biographer and prolific author who wrote many books and died in 2009. This means that the Mixer is possibly one of the best posthumous works on football. Alternatively the book may have been written by Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox who also appears on Football Weekly, the popular Guardian podcast that features some football in between debates on the worst Indiana Jones film.

The book goes through the whole of the Premier League, starting in 1992 with the changes to the back pass rule to goalkeepers. Cox states that at the time English football was not in great shape. This does miss the fact that in Italia 90 England had their second best World Cup performance and if they had trained for penalties properly they could potentially have been world champions. However, Cox is definitely correct in saying that English football wasn’t tactically particularly sophisticated.

Cox points out that in 1992 there were only 13 players who were not from Britain or Ireland in the league. 25 years later there were about that many foreign managers. Cox sites Cantona as one of the first big changers of English Football. Rather than just running around enthusiastically Cantona played very skillfully and intelligently between the backline and the midfield of the opposition, drawing defenders, creating space and passing to others who were exploiting that space. Following Cantona Blackburn won the League with SAS – Sutton and Shearer and pace and simplicity.

More foreigners came into the league in the 1990s and changed how teams were playing. Berkamp and Zola are particularly notable. Arsene Wenger then appeared and changed Premier League coaching by dramatically improving the health and fitness of his players and promptly won the League heralding more changes in the Premier League. Also the Bosman ruling changed the number of foreign players that could be fielded in all the European Leagues. In 1999 for the first a Chelsea team was fielded that featured no English players in the starting line up. Ten years later a game would be played with no Englishmen at all in either team.

Following Wenger came progress in Europe and more foreign managers, but also Sam Allardyce playing direct football. Playing only a single striker but with other attacking players became more common. Arsenal’s Invincibles showed just how well football could be played.

More foreign coaches included Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez who brought their successful footballing philosophies to England. The midfielders Makélélé altered tactics with the way he played.

Following a slight defensive turn Rooney and Ronaldo changed how attacking football was played, reducing the role of just pure strikers. But in other parts of the League crafty use of long throws and set pieces by Stoke again altered what teams would have to face. Inverted wingers, like Robben and Ribery also changed the role of wingers in football.

Possession football, emulating Barcelona came to England, as did the new role of ‘false nine’. Post possession counter attacking football, as played skillfully in an incredible season by Leicester appeared. Back threes re-appeared and were successful in the most recent Premier League season with Chelsea under Antonio Conte. But still the English push for ‘second balls’ remained in the Premier League.

Cox also points out that while the best teams in Europe are mostly in Spain that the best managers in the world now call England home and points out that the top seven managers in the Premier League in 2017 came from seven different countries.

Possibly this book is the start of a great series of posthumous sporting books and we can look forward to Kurt Vonnegut on the epic Warriors Cavaliers NBA finals. Alternatively this may be Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox writing a fantastic history of the Premier League. The book is very well written and it’s fascinating for anyone who is interested in football and the Premier League. The analysis of changing tactics and the personalities involved in English Football is really top notch. It’s one of the best football books I’ve ever read.


Everybody Lies

Everybody Lies (2017) by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is an interesting look at how big data gleaned from the internet can give us a better picture of what people are really like. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (SSD) did a PhD in economics using search terms from the internet. After his PhD SSD worked at Google. He’s clearly seen a lot of data and thought about it and found a lot of interesting stuff.

The book emphasizes that what people say in public and put on Facebook isn’t what they are thinking. The dramatic use of racist search terms and their locations when President Obama was elected gave a great correlation for where Donald Trump would do well. People say how great their spouses are on Facebook, then they search for why they aren’t having sex with them on google. People outright lie about how many condoms they are using, with both sexes exaggerating substantially.

The book refers frequently to Freakonomics and Steven Levitt and the author states and shows his admiration for the work of Levitt and the way he looks for interesting data.

There are some other interesting observations about violent films and crime, which someone will hopefully soon extend to violent video games and some interesting notes on selective schools. There is even some things on the most unread books around.

The book makes the point that social science and literary studies have a fantastic new source of great data in big data. It’s an interesting and seemingly valid point.

It’s not a bad book and it would be hard to go through without learning something. SSD writes well and there are some fun facts on the way. It’s not great, but well worth a look.

Utopia for Realists

Utopia for Realists (2017) by Rutger Bregman is a book that suggests that in the near future we can all have a Utopia where people only work 15 hours a week, there are open borders and there is a basic income. Machines will provide more and more of the things we want and we’ll all be able to have much more leisure according to Bregman.

Bregman starts his book by pointing out that the leisure standard we all enjoy today is something that previous generations would only have dreamed about. We work shorter hours doing less physically damaging work, half our children don’t die before age five and we can engage in sex that doesn’t cause pregnancy often and outside marriage should we choose to do so.

From here Bregman goes on to suggest that the future and the near future will be much better. He suggests that a universal basic income can be created and can be afforded because giving homeless people money is cheaper than paying for their emergency and other care and because a group of Native Americans had their life outcomes improved when a casino opened. Using this reasoning the welfare state should also have happily paid for itself and shouldn’t be expanding and leading to ever bigger deficits in developed countries. Bregman does go into the interesting story about how basic income was introduced by Richard Nixon but failed to get up in Congress. But it is disappointing that the book doesn’t start to describe how basic income is affordable.

Bregman also thinks that most jobs will disappear due to robotics and automation. Here he’s on stronger ground. Many other people think this is also the case. Remarkably Bregman thinks that Rosie, the robot maid in The Jetsons, is pretty much here with the Roomba. Bregman thinks we can all do less work and things will work out. He says that the drastically shorter week worked during the oil crisis in the 1970s in England and the modest drop in output shows that we could all work less.

He then goes on to suggest that international borders should be open so that people can make more money. Again quite a few on the left and the right support this view.

Somewhat surprisingly toward the end of the book Bregman describes what a fan he is of Milton Friedman and Fredrich Hayek.

The book isn’t terrible, but it certainly doesn’t justify the positions Bregman takes with anything solid. I have no doubt the future will be better, but how much better and what will improve is very hard to tell. Flying cars were predicted, instead we got mobile phones.


Amusing Ourselves to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) by Neil Postman outlines the dire consequences of the age of television in America and how electing a president who was in show business is a disaster. It’s in a long line of people and books about how new mediums are ruining society that goes back a long time. Postman also acknowledges this and describes various diatribes against novels, radio and other medium in the past. The book states that the US is heading toward a Huxleyian world like Brave New World rather than an Orwellian one. By this Postman means that people won’t have books banned, rather than books and ideas won’t matter because people are having such a good time.

Postman is against how, as he sees it, television turns everything into something that is meant to be entertainment. It’s an interesting view that sees him state that it is not The A-team, Cheers or other light entertainment that is especially pernicious but Sesame Street and CBS nightly news because they present facts as if they should be entertainment. Postman sees the idea that education should be like entertainment and that politics should be entertainment as terribly dangerous. He makes the legitimate and well backed up point that people who watch TV news retain fair less of it that people who listen on the radio or who read news. Postman also says that the computer is vastly over rated.

The book argues that in the early days of America literacy was very high and books were taken very seriously and read with fervor. It’s an interesting argument.

The book ends by saying that abolishing TV is not possible but that television will continue to hurt people more than it helps. It’s all a bit over the top, but the author makes some interesting points. It’s worth reading for anyone who is interested in past arguments against new media and wants to see what the people were upset about in the past said before the age of the Internet.



The Paper Menagerie and other stories

The Paper Menagerie and other stories (2016) by Ken Liu is a great collection of  science fiction short stories that includes the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy award winning story in the title.

Liu’s stories are polished, calm and often very moving. They also reflect his identity in an interesting way. Westerners rarely, if ever, write about things like The Great Leap Forward or Japanese massacres in China the way Liu does.

There is hard science fiction in this collection as well as fantasy pieces set in the present, future and the past. For anyone who is interested in speculative fiction reading Liu is a treat.