Originally published on Medium on February 2nd, 2018
I had set a goal to read a lot of books in 2017. I didn’t reach the number I’d laid out, but about halfway through the year I realized I wanted to get more out of what I read, rather than to just get through more. One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed reading (aside from the reading, and learning) was the desire I have to finish things. This has been good when it’s a good book, but debilitating when it’s a bad book. So one of the untold stories of 2017 is how well I did in giving up on books if they didn’t capture me. But as for the books that I did read, I wanted to remember what impacted me most as I read.
This post is insanely long. I don’t expect anyone to actually read it. Instead, it’s a record for me to remember the books I read in 2017, and the quotes that impacted me. I’ve already referred to this collection of quotes often.
2017 has come and gone. I can still remember New Years Day, the first day of 2017, sitting in a comfortable chair in Portland, going back and forth about which book I would start the year off with. Eventually, it came down to whether I would start with a Kindle book, or a physical one. “Maybe I should flip a coin.” No coins to be found. Where’s my newest physical book? Upstairs. Where’s my Kindle? In my hand. Kindle it is! The ability to make decisions is one of the most important skills we possess.
The House That Jack Ma Built
I don’t know very much about China. But 2017 was a year that I repeatedly had the impression that I ought to know more about China. 20% of the world speaks Mandarin. 1.4 billion people are in China. I’m not a betting man, but my gut tells me the country is important.
“China changed because of us in the past fifteen years. We hope in the next fifteen years, the world changes because of us.” (Jack Ma)
What was most inspiring, to me about Jack Ma was his lack of a technical background. One of the largest tech companies on the planet was conceived by someone who still talks about how he doesn’t fully understand how the internet works.
“I’m not a tech guy. I’m looking at the technology with the eyes of my customers, normal people’s eyes.” (Jack Ma)
“Employees are discouraged from ever complaining — a pet peeve of Jack’s — and encouraged instead to shoulder personal responsibility, carrying out or delegating tasks rather than waiting for orders from on high.”
“Alibaba might as well be known as “1,001 mistakes.” But there were three main reasons why we survived. We didn’t have any money, we didn’t have any technology, and we didn’t have a plan.”
“When building up his team Jack preferred hiring people a notch or two below the top performers in their schools. The college elite, Jack explained, would easily get frustrated when they encountered the difficulties of the real world.”
“Today is brutal, tomorrow is more brutal, but the day after tomorrow is beautiful. However, the majority of people will die tomorrow night.”
“It is not necessary to study an MBA. Most MBA graduates are not useful. . . . Unless they come back from their MBA studies and forget what they’ve learned at school, then they will be useful. Because schools teach knowledge, while starting businesses requires wisdom. Wisdom is acquired through experience. Knowledge can be acquired through hard work.”
“eBay may be a shark in the ocean, but I am a crocodile in the Yangtze River. If we fight in the ocean, we lose, but if we fight in the river, we win.”
“They were unwilling to invest in the company’s future. It is like farming. If you only care about harvesting, but not fertilizing or cultivating, eventually the land will lose its vitality.”
“Control the wallet, the thinking goes, and you control the battlefield for a vast array of new opportunities beyond e-commerce, with financial services being the most lucrative.”
“China is important; China is a rising economy. It is the second-largest economy in the world. People should learn more about China.”
The Design of Everyday Things
I went through a brief stint at the beginning of 2017 where I thought I wanted to be a designer. I started carrying around a sketchpad and sketching out product ideas. That led me to behavioral economics and social design. And while I’m pretty confident now that I don’t have what it takes to be the designer, I believe more fully than ever the importance of understanding design and the aspects that make it up. Many thanks to Powell’s City of Books in Portland for exposing me to it.
The problem with the way engineers design vs. designers— “You are designing for people the way you would like them to be, not for the way they really are.”
“The Human Centered Design (HCD) principle is to avoid specifying the problem as long as possible but instead to iterate upon repeated approximations.”
“Do common technology and mathematics phobias result from a kind of learned helplessness? Could a few instances of failure in what appear to be straightforward situations generalize to every technological object, every mathematics problem? Perhaps. In fact, the design of everyday things (and the design of mathematics courses) seems almost guaranteed to cause this. We could call this phenomenon taught helplessness.”
“We need to remove the word failure from our vocabulary, replacing it instead with learning experience. To fail is to learn: we learn more from our failures than from our successes.”
“If designers and researchers do not sometimes fail, it is a sign that they are not trying hard enough.”
“Never criticize unless you have a better solution.”
“If the system lets you make the error, it is badly designed. And if the system induces you to make the error, then it is really badly designed.”
“One of its most critical techniques is to observe the would-be customers in their natural environment, in their normal lives, wherever the product or service being designed will actually be used.”
“There is no substitute for direct observation of and interaction with the people who will be using the product.”
“Avoid criticizing ideas, whether your own or those of others. Even crazy ideas, often obviously wrong, can contain creative insights that can later be extracted and put to good use in the final idea selection. Avoid premature dismissal of ideas.”
This is one of those books that I read and think, ‘how is it that we can have books like this, and still not have solved all the worlds problems?’ What this book does NOT do is, as the last chapter makes clear, provide a ‘sweeping conclusion.’ Instead, it frames the way we should think about problems. If we can first recognize the potential poverty traps inherent in the way societies are organized, we can maybe do something about them. Many thanks to Erik Hansen for referring this book.
“The best bet for poor countries is to rely on one simple idea: When markets are free and the incentives are right, people can find ways to solve their problems. They do not need handouts, from foreigners or from their own governments.”
“Talking about the problems of the world without talking about some accessible solutions is the way to paralysis rather than progress.”
“We need to make assessments case by case: If our story is based on fertilizer, we need to know some facts about the market for fertilizer. If it is about savings, we need to know how the poor save. If the issue is nutrition and health, then we need to study those. The lack of a grand universal answer might sound vaguely disappointing, but in fact it is exactly what a policy maker should want to know — not that there are a million ways that the poor are trapped but that there are a few key factors that create the trap, and that alleviating those particular problems could set them free and point them toward a virtuous cycle of increasing wealth and investment.”
“It is possible to make very significant progress against the biggest problem in the world through the accumulation of a set of small steps, each well thought out, carefully tested, and judiciously implemented. This might seem self-evident, but as we will argue, it is not how policy usually gets made.”
“As we will see, ideology, ignorance, and inertia — the three I’s — on the part of the expert, the aid worker, or the local policy maker, often explain why policies fail and why aid does not have the effect it should. It is possible to make the world a better place — probably not tomorrow, but in some future that is within our reach — but we cannot get there with lazy thinking. We hope to persuade you that our patient, step-by-step approach is not only a more effective way to fight poverty, but the one that makes the world a more interesting place.”
“In Udaipur, for example, we find that the typical poor household could spend up to 30 percent more on food than it actually does if it completely cut expenditures on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals.” And when they get some money, instead of buying food with as many calories as possible, “they buy better-tasting, more expensive calories.”
“We are often inclined to see the world of the poor as a land of missed opportunities and to wonder why they don’t put these purchases on hold and invest in what would really make their lives better. The poor, on the other hand, may well be more skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives. They often behave as if they think that any change that is significant enough to be worth sacrificing for will simply take too long. This could explain why they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible, celebrating when occasion demands it.”
“Fines or incentives can push individuals to take some action that they themselves consider desirable but perpetually postpone taking.”
“[Wealthy people] rarely need to draw upon our limited endowment of self-control and decisiveness, while the poor are constantly being required to do so.”
“The teacher ignores the children who have fallen behind and the parent stops taking interest in their education. But this behavior creates a poverty trap even where none exists in the first place.”
“The problem is that there are no straightforward ways to identify talent, unless one is willing to spend a lot of time doing what the education system should have been doing: giving people enough chances to show what they are good at.”
“Trapped by decades of overpromising, many of the leading players in the microfinance world have apparently decided they would rather rely on the power of denial than take stock, regroup, and admit that microfinance is only one of the possible arrows in the fight against poverty.”
“Perhaps this idea that there is a future is what makes the difference between the poor and the middle class.”
“There is no point to figuring out the best way to spend a dollar on schools, if 87 cents will never reach the school anyway.”
“If rural school headmasters could fight corruption, perhaps it is not necessary to wait of the overthrow of the government or the profound transformation of society before better policies can be implemented.”
“Freedom cannot be imposed from outside, otherwise it would not be freedom. These institutions, then, have to be homegrown and emanate from the bottom up. All that can be done is to campaign for the ideals of individual equality and rights.”
I can claim coolness because I read this book before Thaler won a Noble Prize. This lays out a broad span of the career of one of the founders and developers of behavioral economics. Given it’s quickly becoming one of the most important fields, this is a worthy summary of it’s founding. Many thanks to Ty Turley for referring it.
“My laziness, he claims, means I only work on questions that are intriguing enough to overcome this default tendency of avoiding work. Only Danny could turn my laziness into an asset.”
Quoting Donald McIntosh — “The idea of self-control is paradoxical unless it is assumed that the psyche contains more than one energy system, and that these energy systems have some degree of independence from each other.”
“Most of us realize that we have self-control problems, but we underestimate their severity. We are naive about our level of sophistication.”
“Take a moment to absorb that: we should ignore the reasons why people do things, not because they are uninteresting, but because they are too interesting.”
“Managerial decision-making was driven by two countervailing, but not necessarily offsetting biases: bold forecasts and timid choices.”
“In order to get managers to take risks, it is necessary to create an environment in which those managers will be rewarded for decisions that were value-maximizing ex ante, that is, with information available at the time they were made, even if they turn out to lose money ex post. Implementing such a policy is made difficult by hindsight bias.”
Stock picking in a nut shell — “Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six pretties faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole: so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgement, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.”
“If policy-makers simply take it as a matter of faith that prices are always right, they will never see any need to take preventive action.”
“Yes, it is true that we think that most people would like to have a comfortable retirement, but we want to leave that choice up to them. We just want to reduce what people would themselves call errors.”
“You don’t have to amplify the payoff of risk to gain success in this country, you need to soften the damage of risk.”
“Teachers who are given a bonus at the beginning of the school year that must be returned if they fail to meet some target improve the performance of their students significantly more than teachers who are offered an end-of-ear bonus contingent on meeting the same goal.”
Quoting Mark Twain — “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
In Defense of a Liberal Education
I’m not a liberal arts major. I didn’t go to a liberal arts school. I haven’t taken that many liberal arts classes. For 60% of my college education, I could have been borderline illiterate as long as I understood numbers. But I recognize that the most valuable classes I took were the ones that made me think, the ones where I was required to structure my thinking. That was what this book drove home for me.
The book begins with a quote:
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important decisions wisely.” (E. O. Wilson)
I walked away from this book having written a commitment in the front: “Create an organization or publication called ‘Defenders of a Liberal Education’ and chronicle a handbook of efforts and approaches to improving the rigor and impact of a liberal arts education.” That’s the kind of impact this book had on me. Many thanks to the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle for exposing me to it.
“Book learning alone might be got by lectures and reading; but it was only by studying and disputing, eating and drinking, playing and praying as members of the same collegiate community, in close and constant association with each other and with their tutors, that the priceless gift of character could be imparted.” (Samuel Eliot Morison)
“The Yale report explained that the essence of a liberal education was ‘not to teach that which is peculiar to any one of the professions; but to lay the foundation which is common to them all.’”
“A well-instructed youth of eighteen can select for himself — not for any other [person], or for the fictitious universal [person] but for himself alone — a better course of study than any college faculty, or any wise man who does not know him and his ancestors and his previous life, can possibly select for him.” (Eliot)
“Reading — especially, I would argue, reading books — remains one of the most important paths to real knowledge.”
“[A Yale report] abolishes departments, seeing them as silos that inhibit cross-fertilization, interdisciplinary works, and synergy.”
“Whatever you do in life, the ability to write clearly, cleanly, and reasonably quickly will prove to be an invaluable skill.”
“I don’t know what I think on that one. I haven’t written about it yet.” (Walter Lippmann)
“I now realize that what I gained from [my liberal arts education], far more lasting than any specific set of facts or piece of knowledge, has been the understanding of how to acquire knowledge on my own. I learned how to read an essay closely, search for new sources, find data to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and detect an author’s prejudices. I learned how to read a book fast and still get its essence. I learned to ask questions, present an opposing view, take notes, and nowadays, watch speeches, lectures, and interviews as they stream across my computer. And most of all, I learned that learning was a pleasure — a great adventure of exploration.”
“Engineering is not better than art history. Society needs both, often in combination. Facebook is ‘as much psychology and sociology as it is technology.’”
“[Education] needs to allow people to range freely, experiment, and enjoy themselves while learning.”
“The fact that we now use the language of ‘return on investment’ to describe the experience of getting educated is revealing.” — this quote brought up an interesting point in my mind. Financial return as a metric for evaluation does skew our thoughts away from what is really important about an education. But what metric should we use instead?
These three quotes are what I think are the crux of the thing:
“Increasingly, the new core competence is creativity — the right-brain stuff that smart companies are now harnessing to generate top-line growth… It isn’t just about math and science anymore. It’s about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation.”
“If you want to succeed in life, most often you need to put in the hours, develop good habits, work well with others, and get lucky. That is true whether you study English, physics, history, engineering, or business.”
“Of course, most people read books, understand science, and experience art, not to change the world, but to change themselves. But is our current system of liberal education changing young people for the better?”
After falling in love with behavioral economics via Thaler’s ‘Misbehaving,’ I started searching for all the other thought leaders in the space, and stumbled upon Dan Ariely. Many thanks for Pioneer Book in Provo for helping me find this one.
“I believe that recognizing where we depart from the ideal is an important part of the quest to truly understand ourselves, and one that promises many practical benefits.”
I don’t know why behavioral economists quote Mark Twain so much, but they sure do — “Tom had discovered a great law of human action, namely, that in order to make a man covet a thing, it is only necessary to make that thing difficult to attain.”
“Yes, a free market based on supply, demand, and no friction would be the ideal if we were truly rational. Yet we are not rational but irrational, policies should take this important factor into account.”
“If you’re a company, my advice is to remember that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t treat your customers like family one moment and then treat them impersonally — or, even worse, as a nuisance or a competitor — a moment later when this becomes more convenient or profitable.”
“Standardized testing and performance-based salaries are likely to push education from social norms to market norms.”
“Instead of focusing the attention of the teachers, parents, and kids on test scores, salaries, and competition, it might be better to instill in all of us a sense of purpose, mission, and pride in education.”
“When we promise to save our money, we are in a cool state. When we promise to exercise and watch our diet, again we’re cool. But then the lava flow of hot emotion comes rushing in: just when we promise to save, we see a new car, a mountain bike, or a pair of shoes we must have. Just when we plan to exercise regularly, we find a reason to sit all day in front of the television. And as for the diet? I’ll take that slice of chocolate cake and begin the diet in earnest tomorrow. Giving up on our long-term goals for immediate gratification, my friends, is procrastination.”
“But can you imagine if we all got the required health exams on time? Think how many serious health problems could be caught if they were diagnosed early.”
Referring to his conversations with some major banks — “Well, they never called me back. (It might have been that they were worried about losing the $17 billion in interest charges, or maybe it was just good old procrastination.) But the idea is still there — a self-control credit card — and maybe one day someone will take the next step.”
“Ownership pervades our lives and, in a strange way, shapes many of the things we do.”
“And in the case of our kids, we give up their time and ours — and the chance that they could become really good at one activity — in trying to give them some experience in a large range of activities. In running back and forth among the things that might be important, we forget to spend enough time on what really is important. It’s a fool’s game, and one that we are remarkably adept at playing.”
“We are continually reminded that we can do anything and be anything we want to be. The problem is in living up to this dream. We must develop ourselves in every way possible; must taste every aspect of life; must make sure that of the 1,000 things to see before dying, we have not stopped at number 999. But then comes a problem — are we spreading ourselves too thin?”
“The other side of this tragedy develops when we fail to realize that some things really are disappearing doors, and need our immediate attention. We may work more hours at our jobs, for instance, without realizing that the childhood of our sons and daughters is slipping away. Sometimes these doors close too slowly for us to see them vanishing.”
“We need to drop out of committees that are a waste of our time and stop sending holiday cards to people who have moved on to other lives and friends. We need to determine whether we really have time to watch basketball and play both golf and squash and keep our family together; perhaps we should put some of these sports behind us. We ought to shut them because they draw energy and commitment away from the doors that should be left open.”
“The same approach should be used to settle arguments: The perspectives of each side is presented without the affiliation — the facts are revealed, but not which party took which actions. This type of ‘blind’ condition might help us better recognize the truth.”
“By the time we comprehend and digest information, it is not necessarily a true reflection of reality. Instead, it is our representation of reality, and this is the input we base our decisions on. In essence we are limited to the tools nature has given us, and the natural way in which we make decisions is limited by the quality and accuracy of these tools.”
The Elements of Journalism
This book was published in 2001. In light of the introduction of #fakenews and my run-in with an interesting thought of the past called Grasswire, I felt obligated to learn something about news. “Journalism is so fundamental to that purpose [of freedom], as we will see, societies that want to suppress freedom must first suppress the press.” I started and didn’t finish a book by Al Gore called “Assault on Reason” where he just could not stop reaming the Bush administration for their apparent lack of moral scruples or sense of reality. I wonder how Gore would feel now that we have a President who literally doesn’t know what’s real anymore. This book, more than ever, felt important to read.
When we think of democracy, we think of freedom, the rights that allow us to self-govern. But when you consider the general level of information people have about government, its abysmal, myself included. Can you have a self-governing country when the vast majority are completely uninformed as to what is, in fact, good for themselves? Many thanks to Weller Book Works in Salt Lake City for exposing me to this one.
“In the newsroom we no longer talk about journalism. We are consumed with business pressure and the bottom line.”
“We are facing the possibility that independent news will be replaced by self-interested commercialism posing as news. If that occurs, we will lose the press as an independent institution, free to monitor the powerful forces and institutions in society.”
“Every generation creates its own journalism.”
“Journalists don’t usually consider these questions explicitly. It may seem slightly ridiculous to ask: What is the theory of democracy that drives your TV news operation or your newspaper? We have the freest press imaginable, and yet over the last thirty years the number of Americans who can even name their congressman is often as low as three out of ten. Fewer than half of Americans vote — even in presidential elections, far fewer than in countries without a First Amendment. Most people get their news from local television, a medium that largely ignores the process of governing. Only 47 percent read a newspaper, and people know no more about the outside world than they did fifty years ago. Maybe, when you look hard, the idea that the press provides the information necessary for people to self-govern is an illusion. Maybe people don’t care. Maybe we don’t, in reality, actually self-govern at all. The government operates, and the rest of us are largely bystanders.”
“The solution to democracy’s problems was not to give up on it, but to try to improve the skills of the press and the education of the public.”
Remember, this book was written in 2001! — “While it is unquestionably true that internet-connected consumers of the early twenty-first century have more news outlets at their disposal than their counterparts in the early twentieth century, there is little proof that they devote more time to learning about the news. In fact, despite the growth in amount of news available, studies show that the time people spend with the news has remained basically static.”
“As citizens encounter an ever-greater flow of data, they have more need — not less — for identifiable sources dedicated to verifying that information, highlighting what is important to know and filtering out what is not.”
“Our emphasis has to be on serving citizens, not our bottom line or technology.”
“I think it’s possible to be an honest journalist and be loyal to a cause. It’s not really possible to be an honest journalist and be loyal to a person, a political party, or a faction.”
“There is a notion that you should be disinterested to the point…that you should withdraw from civic affairs if you are a journalist. And I find that somewhat troubling. I don’t know why being a concerned citizen should be antagonistic to being a journalist.”
“Perhaps, some journalists have suggested, there should even be a system to recruit people who have had other kinds of life experiences. ‘If you’re going to change the composition of the journalist workforce there has to be some kind of program that takes people that are already in other careers…offers them an opportunity to help diversify in a class way.’” — First we had Teach For America, then Code For America, now we can Report For America.
“[A] forum function of the press would make it possible to create a democracy even in a large, diverse country by encouraging what James Madison and others considered the basis upon which democracy would stand — compromise, compromise, compromise!”
“A debate focused only on the extremes of argument does not serve the public but instead leaves most citizens out.”
“On the theory that everyone likes a good fight, instead, all problems begin to seem unsolvable.”
“Technology did not create the attitudes of those who participate. Machines do not change human nature.”
“Should we emphasize news that is fun and fascinating, and plays on our sensations? Or should we stick to the news that is the most important?”
“Surprise them in a meaningful way. Not just shock them and stun them.”
“Journalism is our modern cartography. It creates a map for citizens to navigate society. That is its utility and its economic reason for being.”
“We’ve reached the point where the entertainment divisions are doing the news and the news divisions are doing the entertainment.” — think The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight.
“Are you challenging each other, are you talking to each other, are you pushing each other?”
“If people wanted better journalism, they say, the market would provide it. The problem with this rationalization, as we have seen, is that journalism is not shaped by a perfect market. The kind of local news we get in television, for instance, owes a great deal to the level of profitability required by Wall Street.”
Playing To Win
I read this book for a business strategy class. It is not a book I would have picked up and read on my own.
“That is the single most crucial dimension of a company’s aspiration: a company must play to win. To play merely to participate is self-defeating . It is a recipe for mediocrity. Winning is what matters — and it is the ultimate criterion of a successful strategy.”
“Deep consumer understanding is at the heart of the strategy discussion.”
“A choice to serve everyone, everywhere — or to simply serve all comers — is a losing choice.”
“We don’t give lip service to consumer understanding . We dig deep. We immerse ourselves in people’s day-to-day lives. We work hard to find the tensions that we can help resolve. From those tensions come insights that lead to big ideas.”
“A strategy discussion is not an idea review. A strategy discussion is not a budget or a forecast review. A strategy discussion is how we are going to accomplish our growth objectives in the next three to five years. We really wanted to engage in a discussion.”
Islam and the Future of Tolerance
Similar to how I feel about China, and the importance of understanding China’s role in the world as a culture and economic power, I feel similarly about Islam, if for no other reason, than that most people aren’t trying very hard to understand much of anything about the world’s second largest religion.
Conversation is something that doesn’t happen enough. Regardless of your beliefs or opinions regarding any certain group of people, treating other humans with dignity is important. There was a video a while back where homophobic and gay people were put together and asked to hug. You watched them come to grips with each other. The point of interactions like that shouldn’t be to force one group to unconditionally accept everything about the other. But regardless of differences, we should be able to treat each other like human beings.
That’s what I appreciated about this book. No matter their differences, they did their level best to actually have an understanding dialogue. Many thanks to the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle for exposing me to it.
“By focusing on the universality of human, democratic, and secular (in the British and American sense of this word) values, we can arrive at some common ground.”
“Religion doesn’t inherently speak for itself; no scripture, no book, no piece of writing has its own voice. I subscribe to this view whether I’m interpreting Shakespeare or interpreting religious scripture.”
“If it holds that Islam is only what its adherents interpret it to be, then it is currently a religion of peace.”
“Islamism and jihadism are politicized, contemporary readings of Islam and jihad; they are not Islam and jihad per se.”
“It is true that no traditional reading of jihad can ignore the idea of armed struggle, and it is incredibly naive to insist that Muslims ever held jihad to mean an inner struggle only. However, any and all armed struggles, in any or no religious contexts, can be defensive or offensive, just or unjust, reactive or preemptive, and terroristic or conventionally militaristic.” — and I would add, Islam is not alone in having a concept of religiously-motivated warfare. The Old Testament is replete with the same.
“Most traditional Muslims consider Islamism an errant politicization of their religion.”
“If we are truly concerned about human rights and injustice, we would be moved equally by all human rights crimes, and would act in a systematic way to deal with them as best we can.”
“I’m well aware that millions of nominally Muslim freethinkers are in hiding out of necessity. This is one of the things I find so insufferable about the liberal backlash against critics of Islam — especially the pernicious meme ‘Islamophobia,’ by which anyone who thinks Islam merits special concern at this moment in history is branded a bigot. What worries me is that so many moderate Muslims believe that ‘Islamophobia’ is a bigger problem than literalist Islam is. They seem more outraged that someone like me would equate jihad with holy war than that millions of their co-religionists do this and commit atrocities as a result.”
“Critiquing Islam, critiquing any idea, is not bigotry.”
“It is the nature of many people that they tend to hear only what they already expect to hear from any given speaker. They cease listening to the words of the speaker and instead react to what they have been expecting the speaker to say.”
The Smartest Kids in the World
Recently I had a conversation with some friends, and it can effectively be described as a rabbit hole. We began with talking about education and the problems in our system. But in solving those problems, that led to the failure of the family, which led to poverty, income inequality, and incarceration, which led to a discussion on funding and military spending, which led to a discussion of Donald Trump being the worst, which led to elections and campaign finance. Rabbit meet hole.
At the end of the day, I don’t know what the solutions are. I barely know what all the problems are. As Amanda Ripley summed it up, “How much of our problems could be blamed on diversity; poverty; or the vastness of hte country? Were our weaknesses mostly failures of policy or of culture, of politicians or of parents?”
Books like this one leave me wondering, ‘why doesn’t everyone just read this and then we all go solve this whole thing together?’ But more than prescribe a cut and dry solution to the problem, Amanda Ripley lays out a clear, data-driven investigation of the educational super powers in the world.
Kids like Kim, who put together a petition to defend rats who were being used to detect bombs. Her friends laughed and were grossed out by the idea. “She wouldn’t have minded if they’d thought [it] were a good idea; what had upset her was that they didn’t seem to care at all. Why didn’t they care?”
Kids like Eric, who, after two years realize an international baccalaureate program “had challenged him in a way nothing else had. And it had reminded him how it felt to really learn — to think and discover things for the sake of discovery, not because it was what he was supposed to do.”
I won’t attempt to layout the argument she makes the data she provides. Just what stuck out to me. I’ll only say this — education is a complicated issue that I’m not sure almost anyone is thinking about the right way. Many thanks to Powell’s City of Books in Portland for exposing me to it.
“[Korea] had no natural resources, so it cultivated its people instead, turning education into currency.”
“Education acted like an anti-poverty vaccine in Korea, rendering family background less and less relevant to kids’ life chances over time.”
“The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”
“Koreans understood that mastering difficult academic content was important. They didn’t take shortcuts, especially in math. They assumed that performance was mostly a product of hard work — not God-given talent.”
“More than any other subject, math is rigor distilled. Mastering the language of logic helps to embed higher-order habits in kids minds: the ability to reason, for example, to detect patterns and to make informed guesses. Those kinds of skills had rising value in a world in which information was cheap and messy.”
“Once it became harder to be a teacher, it could also become more attractive. More people might want to do it, and fewer established teachers might leave the profession.”
“My Finnish school fostered a great deal of respect for the institution and faculty in the students. This can be partly explained by the academic rigors that teachers had to endure in their journeys to becoming educators. The students were well aware of how accomplished their teachers were.”
“When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world, by the time they were fifteen.”
“All over the world, parents who discussed movies, books, and current affairs with their kids had teenagers who performed better in reading.”
“Everywhere I went, in every country, people complained about their education system. It was a universal truth and a strangely reassuring one. No one was content, and rightly so. Educating all kids to high levels was hard, and every country — every one — still had work to do.”
“I wondered what would happen in a true free market in which parents had real insight into the rigor of a school and the quality of its teachers, not just the aesthetics of the building or the ethnicity of the students. Some U.S. education reformers and politicians were convinced that more competition would lead to just this kind of scenario, pushing schools to get better results, or shut down.”
“In most countries, most parents have some choice as to where to send their children to school. It is a very hard choice, however, and useful information is shamefully hard to find.”
“Parents who view themselves as educational coaches tend to read to their children every day when they are small; when their children get older, they talk with them about their days and about the news around the world. They let their children make mistakes and then get right back to work. They teach them good habits and give them autonomy. They are teachers, too, in other words, and they believe in rigor. They want their children to fail while they are still children. They know that those lessons — about hard work, persistence, integrity, and consequences — will serve a child for decades to come.”
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
I don’t care if you love him or you hate him. Elon Musk is a deeply impressive man. I had a similar reaction to this book as I did reading Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography: an impressive person with many admirable traits and accomplishments but not always exactly the kind of person I want to be. Many thanks to Powell’s City of Books in Portland for exposing me to it.
“One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no.”
‘If there was a way that I could not eat, so I could work more, I would not eat. I wish there was a way to get nutrients without sitting down for a meal.’ The enormity of his work ethic at that age and his intensity jumped out. It seemed like one of the more unusual things I had ever heard.”
“Don’t worry about the methods or if they’re unsound. Just get the job done. It comes from Elon. He listens, asks good questions, is fast on his feet, and gets to the bottom of things.”
“At Zip2 and PayPal, he felt comfortable standing up for his positions and directing teams of coders. At SpaceX, he had to pick things up on the job. Musk initially relied on textbooks to form the bulk of his rocketry knowledge. But as SpaceX hired one brilliant person after another, Musk realized he could tap into their stores of knowledge. He would trap an engineer in the SpaceX factory and set to work grilling him about a type of valve or specialized material.”
“I think there are probably too many smart people pursuing Internet stuff, finance, and law. That is part of the reason why we haven’t seen as much innovation.” (Elon Musk)
What You Should Know About Politics But Don’t
The world is complicated. I’m not sure I’ll understand everything I ought to understand. This book helped realize that. The other issue with learning about politics is that things are constantly changing and shaped by perspective. That makes it difficult to ever feel truly conversant in it. I feel for people like Gary Johnson. Granted, he was running for office and should have known what Aleppo was, but I certainly didn’t, and would have a similar reaction to a lot of questions. Many thanks to Brattle Book Shop in Boston for exposing me to this one.
In regards to Citizens United — “This has changed the political landscape so thoroughly that it is difficult for even the best-intentioned and most public-spirited elected official to listen more to his or her general constituents than to the lobbyists who will fund his or her next campaign and TV ads.”
“The only way for such outsiders as the rest of us to regain our seats at the table is through understanding what is going on behind the curtain, and that is a major aim that this book achieves.”
“How you diagnose a problem informs how you propose to solve it.”
Quoting Eisenhower — “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
“Liberal internationalists have begun to articulate a different approach that treats disease, poverty, famine, and resource shortages as strategic threats because they are often the root cause of violent conflict.”
“The importance of preventive care — both medically and economically — is a potent argument for reducing or eliminating co-pays even for the insured.”
“Our most famous civil liberty, the right to free speech, is not even guaranteed in England, where most of our notions of individual liberty originated.”
“One of the most interesting things about civil liberties is that an individual’s position on any given issue may seem philosophically inconsistent with her position on other civil liberties issues. Many liberals, for example, value the collective over the individual when it comes to gun control, but favor individual rights over collective rights when it comes to torture or wiretapping. Many conservatives support individual rights of gun ownership over collective rights to safety, but feel that breaching an individual’s rights by using torture might be acceptable to protect communities. Both Democrats and Republicans have libertarian views on certain issues, but they differ over the areas in which they think governments should intervene.”
The Last Lecture
While I was serving a 2-year LDS mission in Pennsylvania, I saw this book on the coffee table of just about everyone I met. The book is the last lecture given by a professor at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh before he succumbs to cancer. This little book is one of the most powerful summaries I’ve ever seen someone give of a persons life (including some of the great big biographies that have been published), and Pausch is able to do that justice to his own life. Many thanks to my good friends Sharon and Emmett Cook who first exposed me to this.
“My imagination was always pretty hard to contain, and halfway through high school, I felt this urge splash some of the thoughts swirling in my head onto the walls of my childhood bedroom. I asked my parents for permission.
‘I want to paint things on my walls,’ I said.
‘Like what?’ they asked.
‘Things that matter to me,’ I said. ‘Things I think will be cool. You’ll see.’
That explanation was enough for my father. That’s what was so great about him. He encouraged creativity just by smiling at you.”
“When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything yo you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”
There’s only one way to help kids develop self-esteem: “You give them something they can’t do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process.”
“Getting people to welcome feedback was the hardest thing I ever had to do as an educator.”
Side note: I’ve often found myself in this situation where I see what someone is doing, or what they’re working on, or struggling with, and I want to offer help. I’ll say things that I think are supportive. Instead of being grateful (or offended) people usually say, “yeah, we did XYZ which is basically the same.” I have yet to figure out a way to effectively say, “I love you. I love what you’re doing! I’d like to come together, combine our mental efforts, and lift what you’re doing to a higher plane.”
“I’ve always believed that if you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out.”
“A lot of people want a shortcut. I find the best shortcut is the long way, which is basically two words: work hard. As I see it, if you work more hours than somebody else, during those hours you learn more about your craft. That can make you more efficient, more able, even happier. Hard work is like compounded interest in the bank. The rewards build faster.”
Something his father said to him: “He said he’d prefer that I worked hard and become the best ditch-digger in the world rather than coasting along as a self-impressed elitist behind a desk.”
Side note: I have no idea what kind of dad I’m going to be. But one thing I know, I want my kids to know that I believe in the idea that ‘whatever you are, you should be a good one.’ There are some things that I’ve struggled to understand and get excited about. Medicine is one. I fully understand the importance of medicine, and people becoming doctors. But I’ve never been able to get overly excited about the discussion. Maybe it’s because I don’t always understand the intricacies. But if my child wants to be a doctor, or an artist, an author, or a race car driver, I expect them to work hard and be good at it.
The Startup of You
Throughout my senior year of college, I kept finding myself with opportunities to give advice. And often, what I encouraged people to do when it came to crafting their career opportunities, I kept thinking of a need for a book called “The Lean Startup of Your Life.” Turns out Reid Hoffman already put something like this together. The majority was about personal networking, whereas my thoughts revolve around things like taking a career opportunity and having small, experimental iterations to understand your interests. Generally, I think more people could learn incredible life lessons from applying the same logic we use to build startups, and thinking about they would thoughtfully design their lives. Many thanks to the BYU Rollins Center for exposing me to this one.
The American Spirit
I can’t fully express what I felt as I read David McCullough’s John Adams. So when I heard he was releasing a collection of his speeches, I just had to have it. What is powerful to me is how he’s able to weave storytelling and patriotism in such a way that I feel driven to be a better person by being a better citizen. Many thanks to BookBub for exposing me to this one.
“Why do some men reach for the stars and so many others never even look up?”
“Sadly, too many today take for granted public schools, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equality before the law, forgetting that these were ever novel and daring ideas.”
Quoting George Washington’s oath — “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Quoting Thomas Jefferson — “It is wonderful how much may be done, if we are always doing.”
“I think what most of us want — as most people everywhere want more than anything — is to be useful. This and to feel we belong to something larger than ourselves.”
“Yes, I am an idealist,” said Woodrow Wilson. “That’s how I know I’m an American.”
“Read books. Try to understand the reason why things happen, why they are as they are. If you see only the surface phenomena, then the world becomes extremely confusing, ever more unsettling. But if the reasons are understood there’s a kind of simplicity that emerges. Sometimes, somewhere along the line, memorize a poem. Sometime, somewhere along the line, go out in a field and paint a picture, for your own pleasure. Sometime, somewhere along the line, plant a tree, write your mother a letter. And sometime, somewhere along the line, do something for your country.”
“An astute observer of old wrote that history is philosophy taught with examples.”
“And read you will. Read for pleasure. Read to enlarge your lives. Read history, read biography, learn from the lives of others. Read Marcus Aurelius and Yeats. Read Cervantes and soon, don’t wait until you’re past fifty as I did. Read Emerson and Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, and Langston Hughes.”
Quoting Ronald Reagan — “How can we love our country and not love our countrymen? And loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they’re sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory.”
“We think we live in difficult uncertain times. We think we have worries. We think our leaders face difficult decisions. But so it has nearly always been.”
“The Massachusetts constitution states that “Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of people [are] necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties.” It was the ‘duty’ of the government, Adams wrote, to educate everybody.”
“For self-government to work, the people must be educated.”
“Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”
“I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading,” Adams wrote as a young man. “I cannot live without books,” Jefferson famously told Adams in their old age.”
“We have to know who we were if we’re to know who we are and where we’re headed.”
“[Margaret McFarland] said that attitudes aren’t taught, they’re caught. If the teacher has enthusiasm for the subject at hand, the student catches that, be it in second grade or graduate school. She said, ‘Show them what you love!’”
“If I say to you the king died and then the queen died, that’s a sequence of events. If I say the king died and the queen died of grief, that’s a story. That’s human. That calls for empathy on the part of the teller of the story and the reader or listener to the story.”
“We’re all what we read to a very considerable degree.”
Quoting John F. Kennedy — “If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place to live.”
Winston Churchill’s War Leadership
When I spent a summer at Cambridge, I took every opportunity I could to go down to London. I spent the vast majority of my time in bookstores, but one rainy Sunday morning a friend of mine convinced me to go to the Churchill War Rooms, where they’ve preserved the bunker from which England fought World War II.
I’ve always focused my reading on the American Revolution, but what I learned in that museum was that great men and women with great ideals and great effort have done great things throughout history, regardless of the time. Churchill was one of the those people.
More than anything, what I learned about Winston Churchill, and what I’m sure someone has written about even more in another book, was his role as the original king of life hacks. His was a victory of organization and effectiveness when faced with a barricade of other people’s fear and minutia.
“The problem is not winning the war, but persuading people to let you win it.”
Many thanks to Manchester By The Book in Manchester, Massachusetts, for exposing me to this one.
The New New Thing
I liked The Big Short. I liked the Blind Side. I liked Moneyball. I like just about everything by Michael Lewis. But when my father-in-law got me a copy of The New New Thing for Christmas in 2014, I must admit I was skeptical. My skepticism robbed me of the opportunity to enjoy this book for 3 years. But my ignorance is lifted and I’ve fully enjoyed this story. Many thanks to Craig Hardy for this gift, and I apologize for doubting him. I’ve only known him to select wonderful books, and now I know I can count on that.
“All Jim Clark ever guaranteed anyone was the chance to adapt.”
“Back in 1921, [Thorstein Veblen] had predicted that engineers would one day rule the U.S. economy. He argued that since the economy was premised on technology and the engineers were the only ones who actually understood how the technology worked, they would inevitably use their superior knowledge to seize power from the financiers and captains of industry who wound up on top at the end of the first round of the Industrial Revolution. After all, the engineers only needed to refuse to fix anything, and modern industry would grind to a halt.”
“If everyone was patient, there’d be no new companies.”
“Clark had trusted him. He’d never do that again with a venture capitalist. And he never forgave Mueller for exploiting his ignorance.”
“Clark thought that Silicon Graphics had to ‘cannibalize’ itself. For a technology company to succeed, he argued, it needed always be looking to destroy itself. If it didn’t, someone else would.” — sounds like he’s been reading ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma.’
“It’s a good rule of the technology business that the more intellectually appealing a machine, the less likely anyone will pay for it.”
“Success was his chosen form of revenge.”
“Clark often preferred young, inexperienced people over older, more experienced ones. Even if they didn’t quite know what they were doing, at least they hadn’t learned the wrong things. They hadn’t lost their passion; they hadn’t become Business Bores.”
“The moment of conception was, to Clark’s way of thinking, the critical moment of any new enterprise. At that moment it was important not merely to hire the people bent on changing the world but to avoid hiring the people bent only on changing jobs. ‘There are all sorts of guys who will show up because they can’t think of anything else to do,’ he said. ‘Those are exactly the people you don’t want. I have a strategy for dealing with these people. When they come by to apply for a job I tell them, ‘We’re all confused here. We don’t know what we’re going to do yet.’ But when you find someone you want, I tell them, ‘Here’s exactly what we’re going to do and it is going to be huge and you are going to get very, very rich.”
“Why do people perpetually create for themselves the condition for their own dissatisfaction? Listening to Clark talk about how much money he needed to make was like watching the racing dog who had the wit to grab hold of the remote device that controls the mechanical rabbit. Rather than slow it down, however, he speeds it up. Clark played these little tricks on himself so that he would have an excuse, however flimsy, to keep running as fast as he could. It was the same way with his resentments. He treated those who had done him wrong in much the same way he treated those he did not like who had more money than he did. They were all motives. He needed people or places to doubt him so that he could prove them wrong. Obviously, Clark couldn’t stop using technology to change the world, and so he needed an excuse not to stop. The reasons he couldn’t stop were ultimately unknowable; but I assumed that the best and most lasting motive for wanting to change the way things are is to be unhappy with the way things are. People who are unhappy with the way things are tend to remain unhappy even after they have changed them. The nature of their unhappiness is such that change does not slake it. The difference with Clark is that he continued to believe in the endless possibilities of change, even after he experienced its limitations. He was the least happy optimist there ever was. No matter how well Jim Clark did for himself, it was always two in the morning in his hear, and he was lying awake.”
I have a deep and complicated relationship with long-form biographies of the founding fathers, first with John Adams, and now Alexander Hamilton. I didn’t think I would like this book, in part because David McCullough made me like John Adams so much, and Alexander Hamilton sunk any hope of a 2nd presidential term for John Adams. But what I’ve learned is that, with all of these men, they’re human with strengths and weaknesses, and many things worth learning from.
Many thanks to Camden Harrison for making me listen to the musical, and to Lin Manuel Miranda for making a musical that made me want to read this book, and to the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA for providing my copy.
In relation to a witnessed mobbing that would go on to influence Hamilton’s fear of anarchy throughout his career — “In times of such commotion as the present, while the passions of men are worked up to an uncommon pitch, there is great danger of fatal extremes. The same state of the passions which fits the multitude, who have not a sufficient stock of reason and knowledge to guide them, for opposition to tyranny and oppression, very naturally leads them to a contempt and disregard of all authority. The due medium is hardly to be found among the more intelligent. It is almost impossible among the unthinking populace. When the minds of these are loosened from their attachment to ancient establishments and courses, they seem to grow giddy and are apt more or less to run into anarchy.”
“Something about Aaron Burr — his penchant for intrigue, a lack of sufficient deference, perhaps his insatiable chasing after women — grated on George Washington. Much of Burr’s political future was shaped by his decidedly cool wartime relations with Washington, while other contemporaries, Hamilton being the prime example, profited from the general’s approbation.”
“Hamilton had kept a pay book with blank pages in the back; while on Washington’s staff, he filled up 112 pages with notes from his extracurricular reading. Hamilton fit the type of self-improving autodidact, employing all his spare time to better himself.”
“For anyone studying Hamilton’s pay book, it would come as no surprise that he would someday emerge as a first-rate constitutional scholar, an unsurpassed treasury secretary, and the protagonist of the first great sex scandal in American political history.”
“This early lesson in Realpolitik — that counties follow their interests, not their sympathies — was engraved in Hamilton’s memory, and he often reminded Jeffersonians later on that the French had fought for their own selfish purposes.”
“As too much power leads to despotism, too little leads to anarchy, and both eventually to the ruin of the people.”
“Like other founders and Enlightenment politicians, Hamilton could never quite admit the depth of his ambition, lest it cast doubts on his revolutionary purity. In the midst of such rarefied goals as freedom and independence, who could admit to baser motives or any thoughts of personal gains?”
“’The more I see, the more I find reason for those who love this country to weep over its blindness,’ Hamilton wrote. He recoiled at the cowardice and selfishness he saw rampant in the New York legislature. ‘The inquiry constantly is what will please, not what will benefit the people,” he told Morris. ‘In such a government there can be nothing but temporary expedient, fickleness, and folly.’ Increasingly, Hamilton despaired of pure democracy, of politicians simply catering to the popular will, and favored educated leaders who would enlighten the people and exercise their own judgement.”
“We have fought side by side to make America free. Let us hand in hand struggle to make her happy.”
“Hamilton venerated the law, while Burr often seemed mildly bored and cynical about it. ‘The law is whatever is successfully argued and plausible maintained,’ he stated.”
“He was not a politician seeking popularity but a statesman determined to change minds.”
“Over time Jefferson yielded to a craven policy of postponing action on slavery indefinitely, constantly foisting the problem onto future generations, hoping vaguely that it would wither away.”
“Garrison recalled of Burr, ‘His manner was patronizing…As he revealed himself to my moral sense, I saw that he was destitute if any fixed principles.”
“Hamilton’s besetting fear was that American democracy would be spoiled by demagogues who would mouth populist shibboleths to conceal their despotism.”
Quoting William Pierce about Hamilton — ”When he comes forward, he comes highly charged with interesting matter. There is no skimming over the surface of a subject with him. He must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on.”
“His faith in Americans never quite matched his faith in America itself.”
“No government could give us tranquility and happiness at home, which did not possess sufficient stability and strength to make us respectable abroad.”
“No etiquette had yet evolved to define the legitimate boundaries of dissent. Poison-pen artists on both sides wrote vitriolic essays that were overtly partisan, often paid scant heed to accuracy, and sought a visceral impact. The inflamed rhetoric once directed against Britain was now turned inward against domestic adversaries.”
“For Hamilton, [writing the Federalist], was a period of madcap activity. He was stuck with his law practice and had to squeeze the essays into breaks in his schedule, as if they were a minor sideline.”
“To understand Hamilton’s productivity, it is important to note that virtually all of his important work was journalism, promoted by topical issues and written in the midst of controversy. He never wrote as a solitary philosopher for the ages. But his topical writing has endured because he plumbed the timeless principles behind contemporary events. He had an incomparable capacity for work and a metabolism that thrived on conflict.”
“The fate of the democratic experiment depended upon political intellectuals who might have been marginalized at other periods.”
“If mankind were to resolve to agree in no institution of government until every part of it had been adjusted to the most exact standard of perfection, society would soon become a general scene of anarchy and the world a desert.”
“Like other founding fathers, Hamilton inhabited two diametrically opposed worlds. There was the Olympian sphere of constitutional debate and dignified discourse — the way many prefer to remember these stately figures — and the gutter world of personal sniping, furtive machinations, and tabloid-style press attack’s.”
“He thought it would be in his power in the financial department of the government to do the country great food and this consideration outweighed with him every consideration of a private nature. A man of irreproachable integrity, Hamilton severed all outside sources of income while in office, something that neither Washington, nor Jefferson, nor Madison dared to do.”
“The creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of extinguishment.”
“This falling out [between Madison and Hamilton] was to be more than personal, for the rift between Hamilton and Madison precipitated the start of the two-party system in America. The funding debate shattered the short-lived political consensus that had ushered in the new government. For the next five years, the political spectrum in America was defended by whether people endorsed or opposed Alexander Hamilton’s programs.”
“Like Hamilton, Jefferson was a fanatic for self-improvement. He rose before dawn each morning and employed every hour profitably, studying up to fifteen hours per day. Extremely systematic in his habits, Jefferson enjoyed retreating into the sheltered tranquility of his books, and the spectrum of his interests was vast.”
“Inside his teeming brain, he found it hard to strike a balance between the grand demands of his career and the small change of everyday life. The endless letters that flowed from his pen are generally abstract and devoid of imagery…Only rarely did he enliven letters with anecdotes or idle chatter. It was not so much that Hamilton was writing for the ages — though surely he knew his place in the larger the scheme of things — as that his grandiose plans left scant space for commonplace thoughts.”
“Hamilton did not assume that his children would emulate his outsize accomplishments and tailored his demands to their native endowments, gently molding their characters.”
“Perseverance in almost any plan is better than fickleness and fluctuation.”
“The intellectual caliber of the leading figures surpassed that of any future political leadership in American history. On the other hand, their animosity toward one another had seldom been exceeded either.”
“But how oddly are all things arranged in this sublunary scene. I am just where I do not wish to be. I know how I could be much happier, but circumstances enchain me.”
“It is long since I have learnt to hold popular opinion of no value.”
Quoting John Adams — “I hate levees and drawing rooms. I hate to speak to a thousand people to whom I have nothing to say.”
Hamilton writing to his wife — “I always feel how necessary you are to me. But when you are absent, I become still more sensible of it and look around in vain for that satisfaction which you alone can bestow.”
“Self-sufficiency and a contempt of the science and experience of others are too prevailing traits of character in this country.”
In relation to the Sedition’s Act — “Another editor earned eighteen months behind bars for daring to print the heresy that the government allowed the wealthy to benefit at the expense of commoners.”
“The more despairing he became about politics and human nature — and his worldview was never very rosy to begin with — the more he appreciated his sincere, unpretentious wife.”
“If we must have an enemy at the head of the government, let it be one whom we can oppose and for whom we are not responsible.”
“Both Hamilton and Jefferson believed in democracy, but Hamilton tended to be more suspicious of the governed and Jefferson of the governors.”
“Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people. Meanwhile, the self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth.”
“Part of the problem was that Hamilton was a quintessentially urban man, who preferred to commune with books, not running brooks.”
This may have been one of the more important books I read this year. Not because I agree with everything in it, but because it raises an important conversation. Other people have already effectively explained some of the issues to consider more deeply, but all-in-all, I don’t think Vance’s ideas are completely wrong or completely right. I think there is truth to the cultural struggles that people in rural communities face, but there is also a massive disservice being done to these people on the part of the government.
“Despite the setbacks, both of my grandparents had an almost religious faith in hard work and the American Dream. Neither was under any illusions that wealth or privilege didn’t matter in America.”
“As jobs disappear in a given area, declining home values trap people in certain neighborhoods. And even if you bring back the jobs, you have to worry about the mass exodus at the slightest sign of rising home prices.”
“Students don’t expect much from themselves, because the people around them don’t do very much.”
“We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance — the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.”
“But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.”
“People sometimes ask whether I think there’s anything we can do to “solve” the problems of my community. I know what they’re looking for: a magical public policy solution or an innovative government program. But these problems of family, faith, and culture aren’t like a Rubik’s Cube, and I don’t think that solutions (as most understand the term) really exist. A good friend, who worked for a time in the White House and cares deeply about the plight of the working class, once told me, “The best way to look at this might be to recognize that you probably can’t fix these things. They’ll always be around. But maybe you can put your thumb on the scale a little for the people at the margins.”
“I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”
How Will You Measure Your Life?
To build on J.D. Vance’s question of how do we get people to ask themselves hard questions, I offer Clayton Christensen’s words. Many thanks to Professor Mark Showalter for having us read an excerpt from this in my Intro to Economics class.
In talking about a tree house he built for his children — “But after it was finished, I rarely saw the children in it. The truth was that having the house wasn’t what really motivated them. It was the building of it, and how they felt about their own contribution, that they found satisfying. I had thought the destination was what was important, but it turned out it was the journey.”
“Many companies’ decision-making systems are designed to steer investments to initiatives that offer the most tangible and immediate returns, so companies often favor these and shortchange investments in initiatives that are crucial to their long-term strategies.”
“The problem is, lifestyle demands can quickly lock in place the personal resource allocation process. “I can’t devote less time to my job because I won’t get that promotion — and I need that promotion …”
“Work can bring you a sense of fulfillment — but it pales in comparison to the enduring happiness you can find in the intimate relationships that you cultivate with your family and close friends.”
“Schools that have designed their curriculum so that students feel success every day see rates of dropping out and absenteeism fall to nearly zero. When structured to do the job of success, students eagerly master difficult material — because in doing so, they are getting the job done.”
“We project what we want and assume that it’s also what our spouse wants. Scott probably wished he had helping hands to get through his tough day at work, so that’s what he offered Barbara when he got home. It’s so easy to mean well but get it wrong. A husband may be convinced that he is the selfless one, and also convinced that his wife is being self-centered because she doesn’t even notice everything he is giving her — and vice versa. This is exactly the interaction between the customers and the marketers of so many companies, too.”
“Has my child developed the skill to develop better skills? The knowledge to develop deeper knowledge? The experience to learn from his experiences?”
Nickel and Dimed
When I was in Mrs. Beverly’s 11th grade english class, I narrowed my summer reading down to one of two choices: Freakonomics, or Nickel and Dimed. I chose the former and have been all the freakier for it. Nickel and Dimed was a book that I always imagined I would like but never got around to reading. Thanks be to airport bookstores that rekindle long-lost book romances that never were.
As I read this book, I couldn’t help but wonder what an updated version would look like. I thought about a man I knew in New Mexico who was moderately successful professionally. He was someone who, unless he told you, you’d have never guessed he had been homeless for a big chunk of his life. I always wanted him to write a book about how to help homeless people from someone who had really lived it. Nickel and Dimed serves a similar insight for low-income living, but there isn’t necessarily a solution. Ehrenreich shined a light on the problem. My feeling walking away was; ‘what are some solutions to help people?’
“In real life I am moderately brave, but plenty of brave people shed their courage in POW camps, and maybe something similar goes on in the infinitely more congenial milieu of the low-wage American workplace.”
In reference to her job as a maid: “Do the owners have any idea of the misery that goes into rendering their homes motel-perfect? Would they be bothered if they did know, or would they take a sadistic pride in what they have purchased — boasting to dinner guests, for example, that their floors are cleaned only with the purest of fresh human tears?”
In reference to owners of the houses they cleaned, and the specific things they wanted the cleaners to be certain to pay attention to: “‘Hot buttons’ are baseboards, windowsills, and ceiling fans — never, of course, poverty, racism, or global warming.”
“What is this assumption that the hungry are free all day to drive around visiting ‘community action centers’ and charitable agencies?”
“The poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment. Even religion seems to have little to say about the plight of the poor.”
Side note: I thought this was interesting, and in a lot of instances, it’s true that churches have gone quieter on Christ’s admonition to administer to the poor. But on pg. 132 Ehrenreich points out, “always find a church” because of the community and support it can offer.
“Yes, I know that any day now I’m going to return to the variety and drama of my real, Barbara Ehrenreich life. But this fact sustains me only in the way that, way, the prospect of heaven cheers a terminally ill person; it’s nice to know, but it isn’t much help from moment to moment.”
“Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents are too high.”
“If we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way.”
Ready Player One
This started out as the only fiction book I was going to read this year. But as I read it, I got so engrossed in it, I finished it in a single flight and had everything I had felt about reading fiction as a kid come rushing back. I heard once that this book is required reading at Occulus, the VR company owned by Facebook. I think we would benefit if more fiction was written about what the future could actually look like in the near term. Many thanks to my wife Camden for finally convincing me to read it.
After a brief hiatus from behavioral economics, I was right back on the horse. More so than any of the books I’d read, I felt like Nudge did a particularly good job of being focused on practical, actionable takeaways.
“A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.”
“Libertarian paternalists want to make it easy for people to go their own way; they do not want to burden those who want to exercise their freedom.”
“By properly deploying both incentives and nudges, we can improve our ability to improve people’s lives, and help solve many of society’s major problems. And we can do so while still insisting on everyone’s freedom to choose.”
“[People’s] perceptions can affect policy, because governments are likely to allocate their resources in ways that fits with people’s fears rather than in response to the most likely danger.”
“Our goal…has been to offer a brief glimpse at human fallibility. The picture that emerges is one of busy people trying to cope in a complex world in which they cannot afford to think deeply about every choice they have to make.”
Think about technology that augments humanity rather than profiting from attention — “For all their virtues, markets often give companies strong incentive to cater to (and profit from) human frailties, rather than try to eradicate them or to minimize their effects.”
I borrowed this book from my good friend Tim Riser, while my wife and I were visiting Tim and his wife Chalene in Boston. I hadn’t heard of it before, but after reading it, I feel like it’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read. The idea that deep thought is becoming a more scarce commodity, while at the same time as it’s becoming one of the most important skills.
Death of Dulgath
When I got back from a 2-year LDS mission, my brother Chad introduced me to Michael Sullivan, a self-made author of some pretty great fantasy books which became the first books I’d read in two years that weren’t scriptures or LDS-related. Sullivan decided to try and finance his next book himself, and launched a Kickstarter campaign, which I promptly supported, and now I have my name in a book.
“The only thing we can try to do is to influence the direction scientists are taking. But since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, the real question facing us is not ‘What do we want to become?’, but ‘What do we want to want?’ Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.” Many thanks to my friend Erik Hansen for introducing me to this book.
”There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”
”But nobody realised what was happening. Every generation continued to live like the previous generation, making only small improvements here and there in the way things were done. Paradoxically, a series of ‘improvements’, each of which was meant to make life easier, added up to a millstone around the necks of these farmers.”
”One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.”
“The contented rhinoceros is no less content for being among the last of its kind. The numerical success of the calf’s species is little consolation for the suffering the individual endures.”
”History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.”
”It is telling that the first recorded name in history belongs to an accountant, rather than a prophet, a poet or a great conqueror.”
”A person who wishes to influence the decisions of governments, organisations and companies must therefore learn to speak in numbers. Experts do their best to translate even ideas such as ‘poverty’, ‘happiness’ and ‘honesty’ into numbers (‘the poverty line’, ‘subjective well-being levels’, ‘credit rating’).”
”Unjust discrimination often gets worse, not better, with time. Money comes to money, and poverty to poverty. Education comes to education, and ignorance to ignorance.”
”Ever since the French Revolution, people throughout the world have gradually come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedoms of those who are better off. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably short-changes equality.”
”Consistency is the playground of dull minds.”
”No sovereign state will be able to overcome global warming on its own.”
”These practices train the mind to focus all its attention on the question, ‘What am I experiencing now?’ rather than on ‘What would I rather be experiencing?’ It is difficult to achieve this state of mind, but not impossible.”
”Unlike physics or economics, history is not a means for making accurate predictions. We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”
”The willingness to admit ignorance has made modern science more dynamic, supple and inquisitive than any previous tradition of knowledge. This has hugely expanded our capacity to understand how the world works and our ability to invent new technologies. But it presents us with a serious problem that most of our ancestors did not have to cope with. Our current assumption that we do not know everything, and that even the knowledge we possess is tentative, extends to the shared myths that enable millions of strangers to cooperate effectively.”
”Truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge.”
”The problem in previous eras was not that no one had the idea or knew how to use it. It was that people seldom wanted to extend much credit because they didn’t trust that the future would be better than the present. They generally believed that times past had been better than their own times and that the future would be worse, or at best much the same.”
”Just as the Atlantic slave trade did not stem from hatred towards Africans, so the modern animal industry is not motivated by animosity. Again, it is fuelled by indifference.”
”We are all good consumers. We buy countless products that we don’t really need, and that until yesterday we didn’t know existed. Manufacturers deliberately design short-term goods and invent new and unnecessary models of perfectly satisfactory products that we must purchase in order to stay ‘in’. Shopping has become a favorite pastime.”
”The history of ethics is a sad tale of wonderful ideals that nobody can live up to. Most Christians did not imitate Christ, most Buddhists failed to follow Buddha, and most Confucians would have caused Confucius a temper tantrum.”
”Whether or not something is true doesn’t impact whether you believe it.”
”If economic growth and self-reliance do not make people happier, what’s the benefit of Capitalism? What if it turns out that the subjects of large empires are generally happier than the citizens of independent states and that, for example, Ghanaians were happier under British colonial rule than under their own homegrown dictators? What would that say about the process of decolonisation and the value of national self-determination?”
”A lot of evidence indicates that we are destroying the foundations of human prosperity in an orgy of reckless consumption.”
”We tend to believe that if we could just change our workplace, get married, finish writing that novel, buy a new car or repay the mortgage, we would be on top of the world. Yet when we get what we desire we don’t seem to be any happier. Buying cars and writing novels do not change our biochemistry. They can startle it for a fleeting moment, but it is soon back to its set point.”
I have a lot of super pessimistic friends. They kept telling me I needed to read 1984, cause…ya know. Trump. I guess. I don’t think he’s coordinated enough to pull off “Big Brother,” but I hadn’t read it before so I figured I’d give it a shot. Amazon gave me a deal, two Orwell books for the price of one. So I read Animal Farm too. Turns out, it’s 1984 with animals.
From the introduction — “These books can be read, independently of their time and place, as a strong preventive medicine against the mentality of servility, and especially against the lethal temptation to exchange freedom for security: a bargain that invariably ends up with the surrender of both.”
From the introduction — “while the drive to power and corruption and cruelty is certainly latent in human beings, the instinct for liberty is innate as well.”
“The pigs did not actually work, but directed and supervised the others. With their superior knowledge it was natural that they should assume the leadership.”
“They knew that life nowadays was harsh and bare, that they were often hungry and often cold, and that they were usually working when they were not asleep. But doubtless it had been worse in the old days. They were glad to believe so. Besides, in those days they had been slaves and now they were free, and that made all the difference, as Squealer did not fail to point out.”
“Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer — except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.”
“ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.”
You might read Animal Farm and think it’s pretty aggressive. But it’s the children’s version compared to 1984. More than anything, I was struck with how much I can’t fathom this reality. I can’t see people behaving this way. But maybe that’s the rub, we’re consistently reassured as we’re led carefully down to hell. The party slogan, I think, is the crux of the thing:
“Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
What is reality other than something that exists in collective consciences? Yuval Harari makes this same point: everything from money, to limited liability companies, to state lines, it only exists in our collective minds. And if you can control what we base our collective beliefs on, then you control everything.
“How could you make appeal to the future when not a trace of you, not even an anonymous word scribbled on a piece of paper, could physically survive?”
“The frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.”
“But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated.”
“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”
“Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”
“For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable — what then?”
“Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirical habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society. As a whole the world is more primitive today than it was fifty years ago.”
“In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motorcar or even an airplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away.”
“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”
Referring to the Proles — “They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect.”
“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
“Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.”
“What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?”
“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” — Side note, Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton made a counterpoint to this about George Washington, who gave up unimaginable power in an era when everyone was scrambling for more of it.
I thought that I might like Philosophy. I thought this was a good way to get a good taste. This was an effective summary that left me wanting more. Many thanks to Powell’s City of Books in Portland for exposing me to it.
“People will often forgive you for being wrong where they are right; they will seldom forgive you for being right when you are wrong.”
“No evil can happen to a good man… living or dead. Be sure of this, that if you put me to death, being such as I am, you will not hurt me so much as yourselves…for I think the eternal law forbids a better man to be hurt by a worse.”
“One thing I ask… punish my sons, gentlemen, when they grow up; give them this same pain I gave you, if you think they care for money or anything before virtue.”
The Parents Guide to Boys
On November 3rd, 2016, my wife and I watched some TV. On November 4th, 2016, my wife and I had a son. Funny how little things can make a big difference. Dax Spencer Harrison is my first born child, and a boy. My son. Never stops feeling strange to say.
“My father told me that if you love what you do, it isn’t work. The flip side is that no matter how much money you make, if you don’t like what you do, it is torture.”
“What he needs for you to teach him is that failure is the first step toward success; that insisting on getting your own way usually makes other people unhappy or mad; and that intrinsic motivation lasts whereas extrinsic motivation, like money, is temporary.”
“You are going to find out that reading to your child provides many different benefits aside from language development, and it is the single most important thing you can do to help your child succeed in school.”
“Not every family eats dinner together at a table. In fact, the habit for many 21st- century families is for everyone to grab something and eat in front of the TV. Research points out, however, that children who eat family dinners do better in school.”
“Most importantly, decide what is serious enough for you to forbid it. Just because your child is annoying is not reason enough to make him stop.”
“Research is clear that the best adjusted and behaved children have parents who provide strict guidelines and are alert to their child’s activities, but they let their son or daughter make mistakes. Parents who are restrictive and psychologically controlling have children with more behavioral problems.”
“I pay the schoolmaster, but ’tis the schoolboys that educate my son.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
“When the approach of schooling changes and there is a shift from learning to read to reading to learn, some boys will still not be ready for the change. When that happens, a boy who previously loved school may change his mind and now may be reluctant to do his work, may refuse to be cooperative in class, and may even resist going to school.”
“As long as the late- developing child understands that his problem is one of maturity and he will be able to read well before long if he just keeps at it, then there is no difficulty in labeling a developmental reading problem as a disability. On the other hand, if the school leads the child to believe that his reading problems are due to some permanent disability, he may not even try to read.”
“He may be not interested in the subject. Remember, boys learn well what they like. If they don’t like a subject or they think the teacher does not like them, they won’t work.”
“Boys won’t compete when they know they can’t win.”
“It is losing that helps a boy learn to become a winner. If children win all the time, they don’t value winning, and they don’t understand the effort required to win. Then, when they do lose, they simply give up. Boys need the challenge to motivate themselves; otherwise, they just let others carry the load.”
“Play card games because it’s more about the conversation and interaction among the players than the game itself. Families with regular “card nights” will find their children bringing their friends home to join in rather than going out with them to places you are not necessarily comfortable with.”
“Yes, boys compete with each other, and it can be very personal, but they are less likely to take either failure or success as defining them unless an adult encourages them to do so — so don’t do that.”
“Most teachers require students to study in ways that make sense to the teacher. They think the best way to learn is the way that they learn. This is the very reason why many boys have problems in school: they don’t learn in the same way their teacher does.”
“Teaching him to break the mountainous task into molehills and chip away at those will go a long way to showing him how to cope with tasks that seem insurmountable.”
“If you say to yourself that you are helping either because your son won’t do it or because he does a bad job, you are probably hovering.”
“Once you get used to including your child in a lot of what you do, you will realize that even a six- year- old can understand the basics of budgeting and how to balance time and work.”
Speeches That Changed The World
I read these words by great dreamers, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, others, and I wonder what happened? Did we achieve the greatness we were promised? Or do we still fight the same fights as they did?
Patrick Henry, addressing the Continental Congress, said “I know of no other way of judging the future but by the past.” So what is our past, and what insight does it offer us into our future?
“For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theatre of war.” (John F. Kennedy)
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” (John F. Kennedy)
“The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment .We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. We learned not to believe in anything, to ignore each other, to care only about ourselves.” (Vaclav Havel)
How To Thrive in the Next Economy
There are a lot of important questions to answer about what the future is going to look like. This book was one I stumbled upon a long time ago, I don’t remember where I got it.
“Politicians with their inherited fear of hungry crowds with pitchforks, have long been persuaded that only BigAg can feed the world- but a stream of scientific studies is dissolving that consensus. Hunger is a distribution problem — not a scarcity of food, nor surplus of people.”
In reference to smart cities, “more data for its own sake will not make a city ‘smart’ if all that computational power is misdirected. On the contrary, it’s likely that high-tech complexificiafion will make things worse. Throughout history, each new transport revolution has proved far more expensive to maintain and operate than was anticipated.”
“According to the Rockefeller Foundation, ‘game changing advances in science’ represent just 10 per cent of the key trends impacting health futures. In Canada, the primary factors that shape health have been found not to be medical treatments at all…they found that the primary factors shaping the health of Canadians were their lifetime living conditions: early childhood, education, current employment, income, housing, community cohesion, etc.”
Money trap — https://www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2013/nov/15/spanish-co-op-workers-occupy-plant
The Origins of Creativity
This was a book that drew my attention, in part as something applicable to a class I took called the History of Creativity and Innovation. Interdisciplinary synergies was one of the things we spent time on. And there was one quote that struck me, and it feels relevant to all types of learning — “Goals achieved lead to further goals, and the quest never ends.”
Side note, two reports that Wilson mentioned that I particularly enjoyed, are Rising Above the Gathering Storm (2007) and The Heart of the Matter (2013)
Many thanks to Book Passage By-The-Bay in Sausalito, CA for exposing me to it.
“We overreach, we boast, we fumble, we have an inordinate fondness for guns. Our most celebrated heroes are not poets or scientists; few Americans can name even a dozen of either living among us. Our heroes instead are billionaires, start-up innovators, nationally ranked entertainers, and champion athletes.”
“In short, the humanities are widely viewed as immensely important for society, and accordingly esteemed. But institutions identified with the humanities do not receive support and operate anywhere close to their value as thus subjectively judged, while universities, like Yale, now stress the sciences in accepting freshmen and creating new courses.”
“The overwhelming problem is poverty, and a lack of respect. The humanities almost never receive enough funds to finish teh projects to which their artists and scholars aspire.”
“I don’t really need people but people need me
Yes, your future depends on me
When I thrive, you thrive
When I falter, you falter or worse
But I’ve been here for eons
I have fed species greater than you, and
I have starved species greater than you
My oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests,
they can all take you or leave you
How you choose to live each day, whether you regard or
disregard me doesn’t really matter to me
One way or the other your actions will determine your fate
“The more closely we examine the properties of metaphors and archetypes, the more it becomes obvious that science and the humanities can be blended. In the borderland of the new disciplines created, it should also be possible to reinvigorate philosophy, and begin a new, more endurable Enlightenment.”
“If there did not exist, floating over us, all the symbolic representations that art and music, religion, philosophy, and history, have invented, and afterward all the interpretations and explanations of them that scholarly activity have passed on, what sort of people would we be?” (Helen Vendler)
“Knowledge of life obtained through fiction is only possible by another stage of self-consciousness. That is to say, it can only be a knowledge of other people’s knowledge of life, not of life itself.” (T.S. Eliot)
“Science owns the warrant to explore everything deemed factual and possible, but the humanities, borne aloft by both fact and fantasy, have the power of everything not only possible but also conceivable.”
The Magnolia Story
The last book I read of 2017. I have always thoroughly enjoyed Fixer Upper, and to hear the stories of how these two people are so genuine, and good, it is inspiring. More than anything, this book reaffirmed that these people are good people. As much as I learned about their story, I learned about business, debt, inspiration, revelation, family, priorities, friendship, and hard work.
“The two of us would dream together all the time, just lying in bed at night, imagining where we could go in life, talking about things we always wanted to do or see or accomplish.”
“But Chip did what Chip does and made all those facts, all that logic, seem irrelevant. He really did. He believed I could do it, and he was confident that what I didn’t know, I could learn.”
“One thing I learned there on that beautiful front porch was if I wanted to be successful, if I wanted to do important work one day, I would have to increase my capacity. I had to learn to manage disappointment. I needed to learn how to make the most out of those “opportunities” Chip seemed to keep finding.”
“Sometimes when something is meant to be, it’s meant to be. It had nothing to do with how I advertised, and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with my being some kind of an amazing designer or having a reputation, because I wasn’t any kind of a designer at all, and no one knew who I was. I just knew what I liked, and I trusted that other people might like it too. And I was where I was supposed to be. I’d listened to my own intuition and let God guide me toward the plans he’d had for me all along.”
“Having a tight budget doesn’t have to mean watering down the design. If anything, it forced me to get more creative, and there was so much joy in that for me.”
“I’m teaching the kids to always say, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir,” and I don’t want them playing video games or sitting around doing nothing all day. I’m right there with him. If these kids want to play, I want them to use their minds and their hands and to go outside.”
“If all I’m doing is creating beautiful spaces, I’m failing. But if I’m creating beautiful spaces where families are thriving, then I’m really doing something.” Doing that became my new calling.”
“I realized that my determination to make things perfect meant I was chasing an empty obsession all day long. Nothing was ever going to be perfect the way I had envisioned it in the past. Did I want to keep spending my energy on that effort, or did I want to step out of that obsession and to enjoy my kids, maybe allowing myself to get messy right along with them in the process?”
“So I finally flipped the switch in my mind. I said, “I have to choose to thrive, even in the pain. Even when it’s tough.”