Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Part 4, T+57-- January 2, 2018

Market should soar! New congress -- budget rules are "out the windows." At least that is what is now being reported.

Disclaimer: this is not an investment site. Do not make any investment, financial, job, travel, or relationship decisions based on anything you read here or think you may have read here.

Uber for retirees: from cinemablend. I was waiting to see how this movie would "do" at the box office. We enjoyed it. It's all about how an old person like myself, who loves cross-country road trips and has no criminal record, can make a gazillion dollars for one's friends and family by transporting illegal contraband, specifically cocaine, across the country. When finally caught, the "mule" can live out his days in a low-security prison with no cares or responsibilities with free medical care for the rest of his life, and thus no burden on his family. Based on a true story. It completely changed my attitude on drugs and open borders.

The Book Page

What a Bunch of Crap

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, c. 2015. First published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011. A New York Times bestseller. Recommended by everyone, including Bill Gates and Barack Obama. Author: a PhD in history from the University of Oxford.

A few weeks ago our oldest granddaughter was telling me how one of her teachers was talking about the "agricultural revolution" as a fantasy and that, in fact, the "agricultural revolution" left humankind more worse-off than what they had as foragers and hunter-gatherers. I thought the instructor was an idiot, but I didn't say anything negative. I continued to listen to Arianna's theses and arguments.

And then here it, almost verbatim, from Sapiens by Harari, pp. 78+, exactly what Arianna was saying. I am not convinced. But I am thrilled that this suggests to me that her instructor is well-read, and, in fact, has probably read this book and this is where he/she is getting some of his/her ideas.

It also means this is a great resource book for Arianna for this particular class and this particular author. Despite the fact that the book is pathetic; a bunch of crap. This is the author's theme, found on page 415 in the afterword:
Unfortunately, the Sapiens regime on earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of. We have mastered our surroundings, increased food production, built cities, established empires and created far-flung trade networks. But did we decrease the amount of suffering in the world? Time and again, massive increases in human power did not necessarily improve the well-being of individual Sapiens, and usually caused immense misery to other animals.
It's a great resource book as long as Arianna is capable of critical thinking.

Again, from the author: Unfortunately, the Sapiens regime on earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of.

I had my wife read that passage; she agreed. I must be missing something. 

Let's see:
  • Carnegie libraries across the US
  • vaccines eradicated smallpox, tetanus, and polio
  • art by Monet
  • Tesla
  • the Bible, the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aenied, Shakespeare
  • the iPhone 
  • martinis 
  • the Kentucky Derby
  • Olga Kern and the Santa Fe Orchestra
  • life expectancy and quality of life
  • Neil Armstrong 
  • the Rolls Royce
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
  • cowboy boots and cowboy hats
  • equal rights for women
This shows me the lack of critical analysis by Barack Obama and Bill Gates and others who recommended this book. Of if I'm missing something, why they would recommend this?  I guess if you are an elitist ...

... by the way, I wonder whether the author would say the #1 cause of death worldwide is one of the good or bad things related to Sapiens?
Oil Power and War: A Dark History, Mattheiu Auzanneau, c. 2015, translated from the French. The jacket says it is "the new definitive work on oil and its historic significance, supplanting even Daniel Yergin's renowned The Prize." It is clearly written by an individual that is anti-fossil fuel; anti-Big Oil; and, a peak oil theorist.

I was quite curious to see what he had written on the shale revolution. It's a very, very good section and was very interesting to read. But he is completely wrong on tight oil/unconventional oil/shale oil. From pp. 522+:
The economic viability of fracturing, or fracking, tight hydrocarbons, like its ecological impact, is the source of much debate.
By its nature, fracking often calls for much more drilling that conventional oil or gas to obtain an equivalent production in the long run. It only releases hydrocarbons through restrained passageways. Tight oil and gas production usually collapses after a few months (or a couple of years in the best cases) and the well becomes a "stripper," a marginal well that isn't very productive.
To provide a high extraction level, it is therefore necessary to continuously drill new wells. Many experts critical of fracking see this as a fatal economic vulnerability. But the production of gas and oil from tight resources has not stopped escalating, advancing in great strides toward, and exceeding peaks that have been considered irreversible since the 1970s. Perhaps the oil industry is simply in the process of losing its exceptional status, of becoming a normal industry, clamoring, like the coal mines, for a constant investment flow in order to maintain production, whereas drilling conventional oil guaranteed a fortune for many years.
Readers of the blog, and those following the Bakken closely, are seeing something completely different. Oil companies are drilling way fewer wells in the Bakken than eleven years ago but are setting higher production records every year. In one respect the author is correct: perhaps the oil industry is simply in the process of losing its exceptional status, of becoming a normal industry ... that's exactly where the Bakken is now -- as predicted by Rolfstad many years ago -- that the Bakken is now in its manufacturing phase, and like an automobile company needs continued cash flow to build automobiles. What's so unusual about that?

If you hate Big Oil; if you are a fan of Peak Oil -- a theory that is obviously no longer viable; if you believe that solar and wind energy is free, and can completely supplant fossil fuel, this is the book for you.


  1. Regarding Sapiens: You’re missing something, don’t let one line trigger you. The context for that line is in regards to well being. It doesn’t spoil the overall thesis which is quite in awe of humanity.

    Any narrative can be looked at in layers. If you frame the story in context of yourself and your lifetime, things look rosy. The argument against agriculture isn’t that it wasn’t/won’t be worth it, it’s that those wandering the plains for 200k years had more pleasant lives than those after the advent of farming. Not in every measure, but in the measures specifically stating. (And specifically before quite recently)

    I’d agree with you, that in my experience, life is as good now as it’s ever been on most measures. I’d also bet that it will get better for those in the future. These two statements are meaningless to a 13th century surf.

    Pehaps before you read Sapiens who took intersubjective beliefs into account when mapping the world. I didn’t. At least not in a coheherent way. That’s the big deal of this book, giving the reader a broader look at human history and the main mechanism that sets us apart. Plus it made conjure up some respect for the usefulness of religion, a difficult task in my opinion.

  2. Given you like short responses, let me try again.

    Don’t weigh a line of the book heavier than the rest. Sapiens gives contextual history to many readers who tend to to live soley in the present or relatively short history of their local society. The concept of intersubjective truths and the power of stories is an important lens to have in one’s toolkit.

    1. That was not one line. That was the thesis of the book.

    2. Let me add a few more things that Sapiens can be proud of as sent to me by other readers:
      equal rights for women
      post-graduate education, Oxford, Cambridge
      cowboy hats and cowboy boots

      Again, the thesis of the book was that there was very little, if anything, of which Sapiens can be proud of.

  3. It seems you've read a different book than me and everyone I've talked to that has read it.

    I've read all three of Yuval's books and listened to half a dozen hours of interviews with him and I've never got the impression that is his thesis. His follow up Homo Deus focuses on what we have overcome, what's possibly ahead of us. His third book focuses on more immediate problems of the 21st Century.

    I'm pretty sure I read Sapien's on my Kindle. I'll see if I can access the highlights I made when reading it. That would give an idea of what I was focusing on and/or what ideas popped up often. I'll see how it compares to your analysis.

    It's been nearly two years, but I do recall him being critical of how miserable agrarian and early industrial culture was for those who lived through it. This doesn't seem controversial to me, spending all daylight hours doing hard manual labor is demonstrably not a pleasant activity.

    We've gotten something very different out of reading the same book, that's why its useful and interesting to discuss. I read a tale of how damn amazing we are, how much we've overcome, and what tools, physical and mental, got us here. The path, however, wasn't a perfectly planned fantasy. Biological and cultural evolution contains dead ends and traps, the bad parts are just part of the story.

    If I find anything interesting in my notes I'll chime back in. In the meantime a quick search found this guy's overview. No doom and gloom in his cliff notes.

    1. The thesis I am quoting is from the afterword -- at the end of the book. The chapter on agriculture was all about the myth of the agricultural revolution.

      But the quote that stood out was, and it is a quote verbatim:

      Unfortunately, the Sapiens regime on earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of.

      I often think about evolution. I find it incredible the gap between the nearest primate and Sapiens. Researchers are amazed at how much dolphins think; there's even a book on the shelves now titled, "How Dogs Think."

      Evolution from bacteria to non-human primates is not all that "great" compared to the evolution from non-human primate to Sapiens. And then going through the list of just the arts (music, poetry) and saying Spaiens have not produced much of anything of which to be proud ... well, that pretty much says it all.

      I wonder if Albert Schweitzer would agree? But enough of this. Time to move on.

  4. I have to break this up into multiple posts on account of character limits -

    Fair to move on, but I do have access to my notes after reading the book. I'll share some of the back end quotes I found worth keeping. Upon overview, I can easily see why these concepts don't mesh well with everyone. No insult intended. 20 year-old Christian me would have not liked this book. Although it took me until I was 18 at a Bible study to realize that some people in the year 2002 still didn't except biological evolution (in fact whole rooms full of people), so that particular claim wouldn't have been a point of contention for me. Some concepts are understandably uncomfortable if you've been raised with contradictory beliefs. A goal of adulthood for me has been separating my identity from sets of beliefs and trying to take in arguments on their merits.

    To add context to your quote from the afterword: "Unfortunately, the Sapiens regime on earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of. We have mastered our surroundings, increased food production, built cities, established empires, and created far-flung trade networks. But did we decrease the amount of suffering in the world? Time and time again, massive increases in human power did not necessarily improve the well-being of individual Sapiens, and usually caused immense misery to other animals. - In the last few decades we have at last made some real progress as far as the human condition is concerned, with the reduction of famine, plague and war. Yet the situation of other animals is deteriorating more rapidly than ever before, and the improvement in the lot of humanity is too recent and fragile to be certain of."

    Understanding this argument requires taking off the hat of everyday man who goes to work, saves up, and buys a pickup that gives him a smile as he drives down the road. This is a philosophical argument of happiness/suffering math in the wellbeing of the summation of humans and non-human animals. If you accept the proposition that animals suffer and that such suffering is bad, then a system that creates 19 billion chickens annually to live in stuffed cages only to be slaughtered is bad. You've added a lot of suffering where there was less before. If there were a million humans, now there are six billion, two billion who are largely suffering, you've created a whole lot of suffering. The natural world is brutal all the same, but once you are aware of the meta game, you're not trapped by the cold rules of the universe.

    To be clear, I'm an omnivore, but I'm able to understand his argument here. Depending on what measures you weigh heavily, his case isn't ridiculous. I have trouble coming up with a better framework of morality than the measure of the happiness and suffering of sentient creatures. That doesn't mean I frame my everyday view of the world as an utter failure, but I appreciate someone who can lay out the argument with detailed examples.

  5. Some of my later highlights which give an idea of concepts I thought stood out:
    “People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings and stop craving them.”

    “So perhaps happiness is synchronizing one's personal delusions of meaning with the prevailing collective delusions. As long as my personal narrative is in line with the narratives of the people around me, I can convince myself that my life is meaningful, and find happiness in that conviction. - This is quite a depressing conclusion. Does happiness really depend on self-delusion?”

    “Consumerism and nationalism work extra hours to make us imagine that millions of strangers belong to the same community as ourselves, that we all have a common past, common interest and a common future. This isn't a lie. It's imagination. Like money, limited liability companies and human rights, nations and consumer tribes are inter-subjective realities. They exist only in our collective imagination, yet their power is immense.”

    Feel free to ignore. Perhaps some internet traveller will find this interesting. I very much appreciate being curious enough to read a book, even if you didn't like it, and share your thoughts. It's nice to get some disagreeing perspective.

  6. As noted often in the blog, I'm inappropriately exuberant about the Bakken. I'm also inappropriately optimistic about the human race. I still think Sapiens has much to be proud of.