March 14, 2018

White guilt is not angst

White guilt is not angst over injustices suffered by others; it is the terror of being stigmatized with America's old bigotries--racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. To be stigmatized as a fellow traveler with any of these bigotries is to be utterly stripped of moral authority and made into a pariah. The terror of this, of having "no name in the street" as the Bible puts it, pressures whites to act guiltily even when they feel no actual guilt. White guilt is a mock guilt, a pretense of real guilt, a shallow etiquette of empathy, pity and regret.

It is also the heart and soul of contemporary liberalism. This liberalism is the politics given to us by white guilt, and it shares white guilt's central corruption. It is not real liberalism, in the classic sense. It is a mock liberalism. Freedom is not its raison d'être; moral authority is.

When America became stigmatized in the '60s as racist, sexist and militaristic, it wanted moral authority above all else. Subsequently the American left reconstituted itself as the keeper of America's moral legitimacy. (Conservatism, focused on freedom and wealth, had little moral clout.) From that followed today's markers of white guilt--political correctness, identity politics, environmental orthodoxy, the diversity cult and so on.

Shelby Steele, author of "Shame: How America's Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country"

January 2, 2018

Bildung and Sitzfleisch

In Germany, the keyword is almost untranslatable: Bildung, which means education in the form of personal cultivation and improvement. That idea, expressed in different languages in different nations, tied this rising class together across national borders. Self-improvement differentiated them from the decadent 1 percent.

For example, listening to music became an educational -- rather than entertaining -- experience. The eighteenth century's classical chamber music functioned as a pleasant soundtrack for aristocratic soirees. At concert halls, the nobility would canoodle in their boxes, only half paying attention to the performers.

But when the rising capitalist class attended concerts, they did not gab away in a convivial fashion: they sat still and demanded silence, in order to concentrate on the music.

German Victorians coined the term Sitzfleisch -- sitting flesh -- to describe the muscle control required for sitting absolutely still during a concert performance. Even coughs and sneezes had to be stifled, lest they break anyone's concentration and derail self-improvement.

The quest for Bildung saturated daily life as well. Wealthy young women, who could not hope for any career beyond wife and mother, learned at least one other language and took piano and singing lessons. Men often spent their evenings attending lectures or participating in civic organizations.

For this dedication to pay off, however, these enriched Victorians had to display it, making their difference from both the wealthier and the poorer obvious to all.

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December 8, 2017

A.I. learns by repetition and association

A.I. works by taking large volumes of information and distilling it down to simple concepts, categories and rules and then predicting future responses and outcomes. This is a function of the beliefs, assumptions and capabilities of the people who do the coding.

A.I. learns by repetition and association, and all of that is based on the information we -- humans who hold all the racial and often, specifically, anti-black biases of our society -- feed it.

-- Bärí A. Williams.

November 10, 2017

Amy Cuddy explained too well

the breadth of the accusations -- how diffuse they are -- could easily be mistaken for the depth of her scientific missteps, which at the outset were no different from those of so many of her peers.

"We were all being trained to simplify, to get our message out there -- there were conferences and panels on how to do it. One of the ironies is that Amy Cuddy just did it more successfully."

-- Richard Petty, a social psychologist at Ohio State.

August 1, 2017

Elon Musk: If you're not progressing, you're regressing; so, keep moving forward.

We could sum up Musk's point in a single sentence:

If you're not progressing, you're regressing; so, keep moving forward.

Why this is great advice.
It doesn't really matter what your personal goals are. The key to success in any field or endeavor is to keep moving forward.

A progressive mentality doesn't mean that you'll never experience major setbacks, or even utter failure--which can deliver vital lessons and invaluable experience. (Just ask Musk, or any successful entrepreneur, how many times they've gotten it wrong before getting it right.) Additionally, reflecting on how far you've come can provide necessary motivation.

But there's danger in keeping focused on the rear-view mirror, so to speak.

It eventually leads to a crash.

To maintain a forward-moving mentality, you must:

resist needlessly dwelling on mistakes. Instead, identify lessons learned and move on;
continue to set challenging yet reachable goals--especially after scoring big;
aspire, not to be a know-it-all, but rather to be a learn-it-all; and
never give up. Ever.

Continue reading "Elon Musk: If you're not progressing, you're regressing; so, keep moving forward." »

July 17, 2017

Growth, Not Forced Equality, Saves the Poor

Eminent philosopher, John Rawls of Harvard, articulated what he called the Difference Principle: If the entrepreneurship of a rich person made the poorest better off, then the higher income of the entrepreneur was justified.

-- Deirdre N. McCloskey, professor emerita of economics, history, English and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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June 26, 2017

idler: modern stoicism misses the point

Without a transcendent perspective on life's harshness, without trust in an unfolding higher than human vision, all we have is our desire, our frightened calls for control, our empty cries for freedom echoing about in the indifferent void. If you can feel the force of that thought, you can feel the depth of what Epictetus was driving at.

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March 19, 2017

Men and computers could co-operate

"Men and computers could co-operate more efficiently . . . if a man could tell the computers how he wanted decisions made, and then let the computers make the decisions for him."

-- 1961

February 21, 2017

You are where your attention is

The family that is eating together while simultaneously on their phones is not actually together. They are, in Turkle's formulation, "alone together."

You are where your attention is.

Via Andrew Sullivan

October 31, 2016

Messy desk is in use

"When is it that your desk gets most cluttered?
It's that moment when you're busiest,
when you're getting most stuff done,
when you're starting to feel overwhelmed,"

-- Tim Harford

August 6, 2016

Happiness studies

Is happiness a purely subjective feeling, or can it be somehow measured? Can you be happy without knowing it? Can you only be happy without knowing it? Could someone be thoroughly miserable yet be convinced they were in ecstasy?

-- Asking for William Davies.

May 28, 2016

Pigeonholing hurts

According to Laszlo Bock, who runs human resources at Google, pigeonholing workers into categories is nothing new, and it's rarely helpful in running a workplace.

May 15, 2016

Facebook, from aggregator to news editor

Facebook doesn't seem to recognize its own power, and doesn't think of itself as a news organization with a well-developed sense of institutional ethics and responsibility, or even a potential for bias. Neither does its audience, which might believe that Facebook is immune to bias because it is run by computers.

That myth should die. It's true that beyond the Trending box, most of the stories Facebook presents to you are selected by its algorithms, but those algorithms are as infused with bias as any other human editorial decision.

"Algorithms equal editors," said Robyn Caplan, a research analyst at Data & Society, a research group that studies digital communications systems. "With Facebook, humans are never not involved. Humans are in every step of the process -- in terms of what we're clicking on, who's shifting the algorithms behind the scenes, what kind of user testing is being done, and the initial training data provided by humans."

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April 10, 2016

Four necessary attributes, objectives

Work that you love;
Work you're great at;
Work the world needs; and
Work you can get paid for.


-- Jeena Cho, author of The Anxious Lawyer: An 8-Week Guide to a Joyful and Satisfying Law Practice Through Mindfulness and Meditation (ABA).

March 31, 2016

A non-universal normativism

David Haekwon Kim: In doing philosophy, I often approach normative issues with concerns about lived experience, cultural difference, political subordination, and social movements changing conditions of agency.

March 29, 2016

Always on iPhone

Young people spoke to me enthusiastically about the good things that flow from a life lived by the rule of three, which you can follow not only during meals but all the time. First of all,

1. There is the magic of the always available elsewhere. You can put your attention wherever you want it to be.
2. You can always be heard.
3. You never have to be bored.

When you sense that a lull in the conversation is coming, you can shift your attention from the people in the room to the world you can find on your phone. But the students also described a sense of loss.

-- Sherry Turkle

Continue reading "Always on iPhone" »

March 8, 2016

Who buys corporate software ?

When Ms. Rometty became chief executive in January 2012, she told her executive team that she wanted to improve -- "to rethink and reimagine" -- the experience of IBM's customers. This was motivated partly by a shift in how businesses were buying technology.

As more purchased software as a service over the Internet, buying decisions were often being made by workers in functional departments -- human relations, sales, marketing and data analytics -- rather than by a central corporate information technology office. In this new market, software that was tailored to workers' needs and could be used without technical help from IT employees would win the day.

Software developers are just as important as customers to IBM, since both groups create markets. "We wanted to redefine IBM for developers," said Damion Heredia, an IBM vice president who leads the Bluemix operation.

January 20, 2016

Embarrassed by your first version ?

"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late."
-- LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman

January 11, 2016

Show them what you have achieved through your tidy room, your freer soul

Marie Kondo:

"With willpower, I think about the balancing point between having the determination to start something and having the wisdom to stop. When I was younger I would reach a point in my tidying where I would throw out almost anything. My brother's stuff, my sister's--even my parents' and my teachers' things weren't safe.

What for many people is so difficult to start [WSJ] --tidying--was sometimes difficult for me to stop. One of the most common questions I hear is 'Your book helped me, but what can I do about the messiness of my husband, wife, co-worker, etc.?' I always answer the same way: 'Nothing. You can't change them, and you shouldn't try.'

Show them what you have achieved through your tidy room, your freer soul, and let them find their own way forward. Willpower is not only the drive to change yourself, it's also the sense of understanding that this power has limits."


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

January 5, 2016

Work hard, use your talents, perhaps start a business, maybe even make the world a better place OR accomplish little, yet be relaxed and happy OR

Is it more important to you to have little, accomplish little, yet be relaxed and happy and spend time with family? Or is it more important to you to work hard, use your talents, perhaps start a business, maybe even make the world a better place along the way ?

-- Richard J. Light, professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of "Making the Most of College."

Continue reading "Work hard, use your talents, perhaps start a business, maybe even make the world a better place OR accomplish little, yet be relaxed and happy OR " »

October 5, 2015

Philosopher says

One definition of a philosopher is someone who thinks that what goes without saying goes even better with saying.

July 25, 2015

Developmental change, generational change

Developmental change, in Gladwell's story, is behavior that occurs as people age. For instance, "murder is a young man's game," he said, with almost all murders being committed by men under the age of 25. Likewise, dying in a car accident is something that just "statistically doesn't happen" over the age of 40. In other words, people age out of developmental changes -- they are not true long-term lasting shifts in behavior.

Generational change, on the other hand, is different. That's behavior that belongs to a generation, a cohort that grows up and continues the behavior. For example, Gladwell said, baby boomers transformed "every job in America" in the '70s as they demanded more freedom, greater rewards, and changes in the boss-employee relationship.

December 6, 2014

Obsessed life facilitated by technology

Tech is fun now, deliriously so, but this fun comes with a built-in anxiety that it must lead to more. As an engineer, coding should be your calling, not just a job, so you are expected to also do it in your time off. Interviewers will ask about side projects -- a Firefox browser add-on maybe, or an Android version of your favorite iPhone app -- which are supposed to indicate your overflowing enthusiasm for building software.

Tech colloquialisms have permeated every aspect of life -- hack your diet, your fitness, your dates -- yet in reality, very little emphasis is placed on these activities. In a place with one of the best gender-ratios in the country for single women, female friends I talk to complain that most of the men are, in fact, not available; they are all busy working on their start-ups, or data-crunching themselves. They have prioritized self-improvement and careers over relationships.

-- Yiren Lu

September 18, 2014

Too brilliant, too arrogant, too obsessed

Dropouts are nothing new to the Valley. Quite the opposite: The tech turk -- characteristically, someone too brilliant, too arrogant, too obsessed for the classroom -- is key to the Valley's creation myth and the stories it tells about itself.

Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Jerry Yang dropped out of graduate programs; Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg never even made it through college; and PayPal founder Peter Thiel doles out $100,000 to talented teenagers if they'll beg off college to work on something he finds brilliant. And businesses established and starting up both have long histories of poaching -- or rescuing -- ABDs. Sometimes even anthropologists.

September 15, 2014

Krugman ( even Krugman !) teaches econ 101

The big problem with economic policy is not, however, that conventional economics doesn't tell us what to do. In fact, the world would be in much better shape than it is if real-world policy had reflected the lessons of Econ 101. If we've made a hash of things -- and we have -- the fault lies not in our textbooks, but in ourselves.

August 12, 2014

Skill matrix

One man's embedded, undefinable artisanal skill is another man's obscurantist bullshit,
and still another's unexamined privilege.

July 3, 2013

Truth is not jelly but it can be nailed to a wall

"Truth is not the hole in the middle of the doughnut, it is on the doughnut somewhere," a veteran reporter whom I worked with at an alternative weekly in Minneapolis once told me. What he meant was that articles that strive only to be in the middle -- moving from one hand to the other in an effort to be nicely balanced -- end up going nowhere. I was just out of journalism school, brimming with freshly taught tenets of fairness and objectivity, and already those values were in question.

-- David Carr

May 6, 2013

business separates into attackers, disrupting, changing the world, and defenders, trying to de-risk

The world of business really separates into these two groups. The attackers are the entrepreneurs who are disrupting the status quo, trying to change the world, take the hill, anything is possible, and have nothing to lose in most cases. They're driven by passion and the idea and intensity. Large organizations -- and it's true of Fortune 500s and it's also true of governments and other large organizations -- are defenders. These guys aren't trying to pursue the art of the possible, how to maximize opportunity. They actually are trying to minimize the downside, and hedge risk. They're trying to de-risk situations. Entrepreneurs can't even think this way. It's not even a concept they understand.

-- Steve Case, AOL founder

March 16, 2013

Privacy constraints impair Google innovation

Google was becoming too big to manage, with far too many bits and pieces which could in theory help the broader company but which in practice, like Reader, just sat there using up resources and contributing very little in return. So Larry Page decided that he would start killing them off, and making Google more focused; I'm sure that decision was made easier by the fact that if Google now needs to control the amount of information it collects about people, it can't have engineers freewheelingly making unilateral decisions to start collecting exactly that kind of information. Dick Costolo's ideas were probably great in 2005; in 2013, they would be politically suicidal.

The result is that Google is going to be less of a utility, less of a public service, and more of a company with a constrained set of products. The problem with the death of Reader is that it was the architecture underpinning lots of other services -- the connective tissue of just about all RSS readers and services, from Summify to Reeder to Flipboard. You didn't even need to use Google Reader; it was just the master central repository of your master OPML list, all the different feeds that you were subscribed to. Google spent real money to provide that public service, and it's going to be sorely missed. As Marco Arment says, "every major iOS RSS client is still dependent on Google Reader for feed crawling and sync."

-- Reuters Felix Salmon.

December 23, 2012

Cézanne and Poussin put reason in the grass and tears in the sky.

Five months before he died, Paul Cézanne attended the unveiling of a bust of Émile Zola, his old soulmate, at the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix. Numa Coste, friend to both, addressed the gathering. He reminded the attendees of Zola's autumnal insistence that "one thinks one has revolutionized the world, and then one finds out, at the end of the road, that one has not revolutionized anything at all." The elderly painter cried at the words.

John Rewald, preeminent authority on late-19th-century French painting, extended Zola's regrets to Cézanne himself. Concern with revolution was irrelevant, Rewald wrote in his 1986 biography of the painter. What mattered was that Cézanne had succeeded in adding "a new link in the chain to the past." Implicit in Rewald's tribute was recognition that artists build upon antecedents. Great art is as much the harvest of what came before--angles off precedents, bends in common practice--as individual endowment.

It was the concession of a scholar of the old school, for whom the discipline of history preceded the poetics of art appreciation. By contrast, Alex Danchev, self-described "unorthodox Professor of International Relations," is a jack-of-all-disciplines writing under the dispensations of the cultural studies movement. Traditional history, from Danchev's perspective, is a gray, unsmiling thing with the smell of the stacks about it; cultural studies, conversely, is blithe and nimble. In a 2009 essay on the presumed intersection of art and politics, Danchev illustrated the difference:

Cézanne is supposed to have said of Poussin that he put reason in the grass and tears in the sky. Reason and tears may be as good an encapsulation of International Relations as any.

Even metaphors obey some kind of logic. This one signals wide interpretive latitude: "Reason and tears" is a gnostic generality for rent; it can be leased to any purpose.

Continue reading "Cézanne and Poussin put reason in the grass and tears in the sky. " »

December 9, 2012

On rowing

There's nothing psychological about rowing.

It's all engineering and physics. From this point of view, the erg is dynamic:
the resistance is no more than the force we apply (Newton - action and reaction are equal and opposite);
and Work (which is what moves the boat) is the product of force and length.

August 27, 2012

Travel is meant to be epic

In the Bible, the human journey begins with an expulsion. God's chosen people are also those condemned to wander. Not only wander, but wonder: Why are we in exile? Where is home? Can this rupture ever be repaired?

"Gilgamesh," the Icelandic sagas and "The Odyssey" are all about the itinerant life. Yet these characters don't see travel as we moderns do. They embark on journeys of mythic significance -- the literature of travel in the premodern era did not recognize travel for leisure or self-improvement.

Today, our approach to travel is defined not by archetypal imagery but, rather, according to our own mostly prosaic trips. Literature, to be sure, still produces grand quests; likewise, there are still many people whose journeys are precarious and momentous on an epic scale.

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May 12, 2012

Doing and thinking: the same thing ?

There are barriers in our society erected by a false dichotomy between practical work and theoretical reflection. If someone develops early on a skill at repairing cars, she may falsely assume that she will not be adept at literary analysis or theorem proving. This robs not only her of opportunities but also society of a potentially important contributor to literary analysis or mathematics. The reward structure of society also assumes it, reflected in both the pay and the cost of pursuing what are thought of as the theoretical pursuits. The supposed distinction also operates on an everyday level. If one spends one's time repairing cars, one may think that one does not have the appropriate capacities to evaluate the arguments of economic "experts" on television. One might then feel alienated from such discussions and find one's sense of alienation reflected in the angry rhetoric of propagandists.

The distinction between the practical and the theoretical is used to warehouse society into groups. It alienates and divides. It is fortunate, then, that it is nothing more than a fiction.

-- Jason Stanley

April 8, 2012

David Itzkoff and Frank Bruni take on _Girls_ (HBO)

She added that the instant connections a person can make on the Web, which also lets them survey a broad world of possibility, can create a restlessness and an even greater disinclination to commit:

"I knew a guy, and I couldn't actually believe he was saying this, but he said, 'Why would I want to eat in the same restaurant every night when the world's a buffet?' I thought people said that only on 'Entourage'."

Dunham is one of the four main players in "Girls." She's joined by Allison Williams (the daughter of the NBC anchorman Brian), Zosia Mamet (the daughter of the playwright David) and Jemima Kirke (the daughter of the Bad Company drummer Simon). All four sat down with The Times's Dave Itzkoff recently for a spirited group chat.

Dunham has an extended sex scene in each of the first two episodes of "Girls," and I told her I couldn't quite tell whether her character, who professes enjoyment of these encounters, is really supposed to have enjoyed them. The ambiguity struck me as intentional.

-- Bruni, Bruni, and Itzkoff.

September 24, 2011

The language of sociology and common culture has been replaced by the language of economics and individualism.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, as the Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers demonstrates in his recent book, "The Age of Fracture," American public discourse was filled with references to the social circumstances of average citizens, our common institutions and our common history. Over the last five decades, that discourse has changed in ways that emphasize individual choice, agency and preferences. The language of sociology and common culture has been replaced by the language of economics and individualism.

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March 21, 2010

The years from 1989 to 2009 were consumed by locusts.

What caused this dire loss of faith in our government and leaders? Mr. Judt spreads the blame around. He criticizes the narcissistic left of the 1960s, which was largely uninterested in social justice. "What united the '60s generation was not the interest of all, but the needs and rights of each," he writes. He blames that generation's political leaders too. What the baby-boomer politicians have in common, he notes, is "the enthusiasm that they fail to inspire in the electors of their respective countries."

He surveys an earlier and "superior class of statesmen," who, regardless of its members' political leanings, "represented a political class deeply sensitive to its moral and social responsibilities." Politically speaking, he declares, "ours is an age of the pygmies."

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West missed an opportunity to reshape the world. "Instead," Mr. Judt writes, "we sat back and congratulated ourselves upon having won the cold war: a sure way to lose the peace." Here is his historical judgment: "The years from 1989 to 2009 were consumed by locusts."

-- Tony Judt

January 22, 2010

Is it morally right to make ugly buildings look beautiful?

Very nice photos. But, I'm wondering: is it morally right to make ugly buildings look beautiful ?

January 20, 2009

Indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

BHO44, Managing Director, USA

Continue reading "Indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics" »