Monthly Archives: December 2016
Monthly Archives: December 2016
It's human nature to be pessimistic, but this can have political consequences.
Johan Norberg argues that people often think things are worse than they are. Bad things are more newsworthy and memorable. Nature blessed us with an ability to recall negative events easier than positive ones, and “40 million Planes Landed Safely Last Year” does not make a good headline.
Despite the bloody headlines, the world is far safer than it used to be. The homicide rate in hunter-gatherer societies was about 500 times what it is in Europe today. Globally, wars are smaller and less frequent than they were a generation ago.
The only type of violence that is growing more common is terrorism, and people wildly overestimate how much of it there is. The average European is ten times more likely to die by falling down stairs than to be killed by a terrorist.
Evidence that the past was more brutal than the present can be gleaned not only from data but also from cultural clues. For example, one study in Britain found children’s nursery rhymes are 11 times more violent than television programmes aired before 9pm.
Male blue-collar workers have seen no improvement in their earnings for several years. Technology could continue to destroy many low-skilled jobs. And nature is being thinned dramatically. Global Warming is a worry, too. Green technology is advancing and farming is becoming more efficient. Perhaps human ingenuity will triumph.
By Johan Norberg.
Oneworld; 246 pages; $24.99 and £16.99.
Progress. Your comments welcome below.
Thomas Pakenham looks at the literature on trees, new and old, and at recent discoveries that show trees can communicate with each other through underground networks connected by fungi.
The oak has always been admired for its staying power…. No other tree is so self-possessed, so evidently at one with the world. Unlike the beech, horse chestnut or sycamore, whose branches reach up towards the sky, the solid, craggy trunk of a mature oak spreads out, as if with open arms, to create a vast hemisphere of thick, clotted leaves.
It is this copious canopy that provides a home for an astonishing number of small insects, birds, animals, lichens, ferns, and fungi. A great oak is a world in itself. The King of the Trees, the head, heart and habitat of an entire civilization.
Trees have appeared in poetry as well ancient texts (the Oak was the tree of Zeus, the Greek King of Gods). John Clare wrote of the splendid sycamore, for example. Its sticky leaves were a great gift to the world. Percy Shelley described sycamore leaves as “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red.”
“If Winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
by Fiona Stafford
Yale University Press, 287 pp., $30.00
by Peter Wohlleben, translated from the German by Jane Billinghurs
Greystone/David Suzuki Institute, 272 pp., $24.95
Why Trees have feelings too. Your comments welcome below.
Arkady Ostrovky looks at Russia, Putin, Wars and Nationalism, and why Russia has not yet become a free-market democracy. His review illuminates how much has changed and stayed the same in Russia over the last half century.
Russia has no intention of going to war with America or its allies. Instead it will act through non-military means “to undermine the general political and strategic potential of major Western powers, to disrupt national self-confidence, to increase social and industrial unrest, to stimulate all forms of disunity…
Anti-British talk will be plugged among Americans, anti-American talk among British. Germans will be taught to abhor both Anglo-Saxon powers. Where suspicions exist, they will be fanned; where not, ignited.”
So wrote George Kennan, the “wise man” of American diplomacy, in a famous telegram from Moscow in 1946.
Seventy years later the telegram seems as relevant as ever, because the system that Kennan described is being rebuilt.
Russia modified and liberalized after the collapse of the Soviet Union, creating private ownership, launching new industries, and freeing people to make money, consume and travel. The state retreated. Although TV, radio and print are controlled, the internet is free. At critical junctures an elite came to dominate the economy resurrecting the old spy service. The path of least resistance seemed to be chauvinism and paranoia, and the Kremlin’s traditional neurotic view of world affairs.
Putin’s skill has been to co-opt the public along the same lines. His propaganda builds on the disrespect and disbelief Russian’s have for objective truth. When all facts serve some purpose, it is easy to portray the West’s policies as rigged and as hypocritical as Russia’s are.
The new nationalism builds on traditional Russian insecurities, resentments and jealousies and is something the population wants to believe.
A Special Report in the Economist.
Why Russia Seems Strong but is Weak. Your comments welcome below.
Seth Godin argues that the age of mass marketing is over and the explosion of communication channels means we all have a chance to find our people (tribe) and market to them. Anyone can lead a movement as long as they find their tribe and offer them something valuable.
Amplified creation, marketing efficiency, and the support of tribes, then, are pushing toward one outcome: we’re getting weirder. Mass is withering. The only things pushing against this trend are the factory mind-set and the cultural bias towards compliance.
The revolution that we’re living through has many facets, and a profound and overlooked one is that mass is not the center any longer. Us and not-us is a dead end.
Our culture in now a collection of tribes, and each tribe is a community of interests, many of whom get along, some who don’t.
The forces for normal include: Big Media, Manufactures, Franchises, Large Service Firms.
The forces for weird include: wealth, media choice, shopping choice, and the human spirit.
by Seth Godin
Portfolio Penguin, 103 pp, $5.02.
We are All Weird. Your comments welcome below.
The two core abilities for thriving in the information economy are the ability to master hard things and to produce at a high level.
Cal Newport looks at the need for ‘deep work,’ the ability to focus for uninterrupted periods of time and gain a deep understanding of a subject, while forming connections and improvisations. He argues that deep work is rare, valuable and meaningful, and harder to achieve in an age of increasing distractions.
Discipline 1: Focus your most energy on the most important, reduce time on ‘shallow’ work.
Discipline 2: Reserve and record time spent in deep work
Discipline 3: Undertake weekly reviews, to work out what went well and what didn’t
Be Lazy: Give yourself downtime after work. Switch off.
- a) aids insight
- b) helps recharge energy
- c) usually replaces work that is not that important anyway.
Avoid new technology: Schedule time on the internet and social media both at work and at home.
Meditate: Focus your attention on a problem while undertaking physical activity.
- a) be wary of distractions (thinking of easier things) and looping (going over and over what you already know).
- b) structure your deep thinking
- i) identify the relevant variables to the problem and keep them in mind,
- ii) identify and work on your next step question (the next thing you need to do),
- iii) assuming you’ve solved the problem, review and consolidate your answer.
While social media have some benefits, the downsides may outweigh these. A tool should only be adopted if its positive impacts outweigh its negative impacts on reaching your goal. Not every new technology is good, and consideration is needed before we decide if and how we are to adopt them in our lives. Even when technologies are adopted we should be careful to use them not so much for entertainment, but to further our career and life goals.
by Cal Newport
Hatchet Book Group, 256 pp, $14.60.
Deep Work. Comments welcome below
Telling someone to follow their passion may potentially lead to a career riddled with confusion and angst.
Cal Newport looks at the passion hypothesis: that following your passion is what we all should do, arguing instead that job satisfaction comes through building up skills and then trading these for control. Along the way he introduces us to new concepts and mental models such as the craftsman mentality, career capital and control traps, illuminating the essential factors that make people satisfied with their job.
Rule 1: The passion hypothesis is not just wrong, it’s also dangerous. Telling someone to “follow their passion” is not just an act of innocent optimism, but potentially the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.
Rule 2: Regardless of how you feel right now, building a craftsman mindset will be the foundation on which you can build a compelling career. Adopting a craftsman mindset first means passion follows.
Rule 3: Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
The 10,00 hour rule: The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice.
The phrase encaptures the idea that with deliberate practice you will build the skills necessary for a successful career and a successful career can be used to create missions. Missions can bring a unifying focus to a career and they focus energy toward a useful goal. They require career capital, little bets (which may or may not work out), and to be remarkable (i.e. worth remarking on).
by Cal Newport
Hatchet Book Group, 256 pp, $14.60.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Comments welcome below.
The question is not if driverless cars can happen, but when and under what circumstances.
Sue Halpern looks at driverless cars: the technology, debate, risks, and the road ahead.
The world’s first self-driving taxi service entered into operation in Singapore this August (2016). A few weeks later, Uber, the app based taxi service, launched a fleet of autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh. The vehicles keep a human in the seat in case of emergencies, but the cars otherwise drive themselves.
Google, Baidu, Lyft, GM, Ford, Delphi and Daimler and several other companies are competing to do away with drivers once and for all.
Utopia looks something like this: fleets of autonomous vehicles—call them taxi bots—owned by companies like Uber and Google, able to be deployed on demand, that will eliminate the need for private car ownership. (Currently, most privately owned cars sit idle for most of the day, taking up space and depreciating in value.)
Fewer privately owned vehicles will result in fewer cars on the road overall. With fewer cars will come fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents. Fewer accidents will enable cars to be made from lighter materials, saving on fuel. They will be smaller, too, since cars will no longer need to be armored against one another.
With less private car ownership, individuals will be freed of car payments, fuel and maintenance costs, and insurance premiums. Riders will have more disposable income and less debt. The built environment will improve as well, as road signs are eliminated—smart cars always know where they are and where they are going—and parking spaces, having become obsolete, are converted into green spaces.
Morgan Stanley analysts estimate that switching to full vehicle autonomy will save the United States economy alone $1.3 trillion a year.
The major car makers understand their days of dominance are over, all are making alliances with tech companies.
The companies with the best software will win.
Driverless cars will become more noticeable on the streets, smaller, made of different material and designs and without steering wheels and brake peddles.
Capital will be the winner. Those with the robots will prosper, while many middle class jobs are likely to go.
Mass transit systems, too, may disappear, made cost ineffective by the ubiquitous fleet of self-driving cars.
The Future of Driverless Cars. Comments welcome below.
Financial Independence is the point where you can live off your savings. The more you can save now, the earlier that time will come.
Joe Dominguez and Viki Robin’s classic book on transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence. A book about capitalism, consumerism, money and what it means to us, and how to find meaning in life by doing work we love. Making a living, not a dying.
A book for anyone who wants to live and work on their terms, not societies, and needs money only to survive, not for status.
So here we are the most affluent society that has had the privilege to walk the face of the earth, and were stuck with our noses to the grindstone, our lives in a perpetual loop between home and job and our hearts yearning for something that’s just over the horizon.
We have come to believe that it is our right to consume. If we have money we can buy whatever we want, whether or not we need it, use it or even enjoy it. After all, it’s a free country. And if we don’t have the money…heck, what are credit cards for?
Born to shop. Whoever dies with the most toys wins. Life, liberty and the pursuit of material possessions.
As well as its transactional value money can be about power, security, status and social acceptance. Understanding your relationship with money and what it costs you to obtain is the first step to getting control of your finances. What does your job cost you? Take off the holidays, the commute, the meals out, the bottles of wine: all the things you might do to drown out your despair. How much of your daily expenses are really needed?
The authors ask us to be diligent and ruthless in understanding our earnings and expenditure and ensuring that we always save more than we spend.
by Joe Dominguez and Viki Robin
Viking Penguin, 363 pp, $9.55.
Your Money or Your Life. Comments Welcome below.
For American Indians, slavery in the New World persevered over four centuries while changing forms.
Peter Nabokov looks at the size and nature of the massacres and enslavement of the America’s original inhabitants.
Whether the slavery systems were indigenous, European colonial, or US national, they grew into complex cultural matrices intertwining slavery, wealth and social power. Indigenous and Euro-American slave systems evolved and innovated in response to each other. North America was a vast, dynamic map of raiding, trading and resettling.
Madley has documented his charge of genocide by years of scrolling through local newspapers, histories, personal diaries, memoirs, and official letters and reports.
These revealed what many indigenous groups endured at the hands of US military campaigns, state militia expeditions, impromptu small-town posses, and gold miners, as well as ordinary citizens who hunted natives on weekends.
Most western historians and demographers could agree that genocidal behavior toward the North American Indian population occurred during the nineteenth century.
Madley has concentrated on the killing in California during the bloody years between 1846 and 1873.
As gold drew ever more migrants to settle and colonialise California, the Indian communities came under attack. There was pervasive racism towards the states’s diverse and generally peaceful native population. Many of the atrocities were committed not by soldiers but by companies of militiamen. Natives were raped, starved, tortured and whipped with killing indiscriminant. The region was a quilt of many killing fields.
American Genocide: Indian Enslavement in America. Your comments welcome below.
A legacy of Obama’s humble view of America’s interests and influence may be a more leaderless global order.
The Economist writes an Essay on Barack Obama, covering his childhood, tenure, achievement, struggles and plans for the future. From being a skinny kid growing up in Hawaii, through to his time in office. Bold ideas either unimplemented or about to be undone, a mix of diplomatic bravery and timidity, and the mixed results of his character and skin-color on US race relations.
From the start of his Presidency, Mr Obama worried that he could not bear the weight of expectation he had inspired. On the night of his first victory he spoke of “unyielding hope” in “a place where all things are possible.”
Yet for all his achievements, his intellect and his grace, his eight years in office imply that even the most powerful leader in the world—a leader of rare talents, anointed with a nation’s dreams—can seem powerless to direct it.
From the ruins of Syria to the barricades in Congress and America’s oldest wounds, sometimes nothing has been the best he could do. Sometimes it was all he could do. The possibilities seem shrunken.
After its collision with history, so might hope itself.
Democratic leaders often leak political power as they govern, even as their efficiency improves. In Obama’s case, Republican election victories and a wide partisan divide meant that this process was rapid and costly. America’s finances have been patched rather than mended, immigration remains unreformed and despite several massacres gun laws have not been tightened. Notwithstanding the closure order signed on his second day in the job, Guantanamo Bay remains in operation.