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Sunday, February 14, 2016

#SundayReads 14-Feb-2016

#SundayReads 14-Feb-2016 Charlie writes:

Image from Central UMC, Atlanta, GA

As Lent begins, I have resolved to listen to an audio version of the New Testament, according to a 40-day plan. There is an on-line audio Bible site,, and I was able to use the FOSS audio editor audacity to paste together the thirty minutes or so of audio for each day, deleting the chapter labels. Finally did my first listen today, so it may be a challenge!

My big read this week was Michael Lewis's expose of the Salomon Brothers meltdown in the mid 1980s, Liar's Poker. I was intrigued after my readings on risk two weeks ago. Here is an Art History major who became incredibly sucessful as a bond salesman, but bailed out before the company imploded. His depiction of the personalities involved and their motivations seem as unlikely as the fictional account by Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities.

I was intrigued by Lewis's Epilogue:

"When you sit, as I did, at the center of what has been possibly the most absurd money game ever and benefit all out of proportion to your value to society..."
introducing his decision to quit that job, freeing him to write about it. Once again, the theme was the weirdness that happens when you can't find the person on the other side of a trade or a market.

I've also been plowing through a MOOC by Scott Page, of the University of Michigan, on coursera, about Model Thinking. This will be great preparation for my Data Mining class this fall, although the amount of stuff he crams into each ten minute clip is truly exhausting in tempo. An interesting reading that came out of that one was Dr. Feynman's essay "The Value of Science" in his book "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" which is available here on page 141. This famous physics prof from CalTech argues that the skepticism of the rational scientist is an attitude that was only affirmed in the relatively recent future, but represents an attitude that is a pre-requisite to a functioning democracy. Earlier forms of governance just don't allow dissent, since those in charge are certain they know how to run society. He claims that the skeptical attitude of science is very related to the development of the "Age of Reason," and he for one doesn't want to go back:
"Even then it was clear to socially minded people that the openness of the possibilities was an opportunity, and that doubt and discussion were essential to progress into the unknown. If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar."

On to Alabama next week, planning to carry a tome called "Tears on the Sand" by a reconstructive surgeon in Houston who had just visited Osama bin Laden hours before the US military engineered his assasination.

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