Colin Powell is one of those people that I once admired and currently want to admire. He went into the army, rose up the ranks to become a four-star g...moreColin Powell is one of those people that I once admired and currently want to admire. He went into the army, rose up the ranks to become a four-star general, and served as Secretary of State. He’s an icon. A moderate Republican. Then the Bush administration happened and Powell was given an impossible mission – to get other countries to not just accept an American invasion of Iraq, but support an American invasion of Iraq. A moderate in the Bush administration – his credibility was sacrificed in order to make the case for war with Iraq. For me – there is no hindsight. His presentation was wrong. It is wrong now and it was wrong then. Here is where my feelings get complicated. First in what frame of mind did Powell accept this job of presenting to the United Nations? Did he know in his guts that something wasn’t right? Or did he go in believing the story? I don't think either scenario reflects well on him. Second it gives me pause that the voice that was against invading Iraq became the face for invading Iraq. How many people in major institutions eventually give up their own thinking and accept the groupthink because there is little space for disagreement? Thirdly – I want him to redeem himself. I want him to write his second act. And this book is no second act. Herein lies my disappointment. While Powell has good advice – his transgression is so serious – I expect more than folksy homespun advice that he kept as aphorisms on his desk. I expect him to have really processed this “blot” on his record. And I don’t expect his story to diminish those he served. But I do expect the insights of a man who has walked through the storm and came out the other side. This is not that book. (less)
I'm going to give this book 3 stars. Although I am inclined to give it 2 stars. Yes - we over consume. And that consumption robs us of something in ou...moreI'm going to give this book 3 stars. Although I am inclined to give it 2 stars. Yes - we over consume. And that consumption robs us of something in our interactions with other people. She points to Live Aid as having created a greater sense of dependency by those receiving the aid. She also acknowledges a level of corruption in much aid. However, I didn't have enough concrete examples of what she was proposing instead. I felt this could easily let people feel they didn't need to be involved. (the thinking - it's just going to be corrupt, any ways!) She did suggest that we needed to dream a new dream. A powerful request that just hung there in the book. I feel her stories for change were one-offs. I didn't get a sense of how what she was proposing - a major culture shift - would happen. That's a major flaw of the book for me. Or how we would participate. Just telling me to do things differently doesn't help much. Great ideas (none that were particularly new for me) that I don't think she intellectually pushed through. She did examine some American assumptions - which if you aren't thinking about, maybe this book would be good for you. Typing this up - I have to go with 2 stars. (less)
I could give easily give this book one star. However, it's very well written, which kept me reading. I wanted more from the characters and plot. Both...moreI could give easily give this book one star. However, it's very well written, which kept me reading. I wanted more from the characters and plot. Both felt underdeveloped.
I want to like it. Fault - too often the characters are unrealistic. There are several moments where I didn't believe in the characters. Falling in lo...moreI want to like it. Fault - too often the characters are unrealistic. There are several moments where I didn't believe in the characters. Falling in love is a facing life action - not a facing death action. It felt like the main plot worked against itself without any of the characters acknowledging this. Also - at times I was confused by the characters. The absolute magic of the book is interesting - but there is a forced sense of poetry that conflicts with just telling me a story. The glass feet pulled me out of the story more than it pulled me in. Strength - strong sense of location. The island is a believable mysterious place separate from the mainland and reality. (less)
I did not read Three Cups of Tea. It seemed - from a distance - like a schmaltzy look at attempting large social change. That doesn't interest me, bec...moreI did not read Three Cups of Tea. It seemed - from a distance - like a schmaltzy look at attempting large social change. That doesn't interest me, because I feel the terms are simplified to tell a story. And in that simplification, things are presented in a way that is too good to be true. This simplification loses how challenging it is to create lasting social change.
Jon Krakauer gave money to Greg Mortenson early on to support building schools in Afghanistan with an emphasis on reaching girls. Krakauer has three main concerns with Mortenson: 1) his story is not true and likely falsified to make a better story and therefore a better fundraising appeal, 2) he mismanages funds, co-mingling his personal and business expenses and then lets the non-profit entity, CAI, pay for them, 3) he has not built nor sustained the number of schools he claims to support.
This has stirred a lot of controversy including a 60 Minutes segment and an explosion of discussion on blogs. Krakauer also feels that Mortenson has rejected attempts to make CAI more transparent and accountable because ultimately he does not want to change his practice. Krakauer then goes on to guess why Mortenson does not want to be more transparent. It's this lack of transparency that I believe is the biggest problem - it hurts Mortenson but it hurts other organizations engaged in this work. And by this kind of work - I mean more than efforts in Afghanistan - I mean social change that seems insurmountable.
Supporters of Mortenson argue there are cultural misunderstandings that have lead to confusion which justify Mortenson's version of events. My concern is the US's consumption of celebrity driven activities and causes.
For me, this is a good example of the cult of celebrity. People wanted Mortenson's story to be true. I think some people still want it to be true. It helps them believe change is possible and feel that they have contributed to that change. And small projects are a bit like the question - "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" If a project does not receive a lot of attention and no one is around to see it, does it make an impact? The answer is yes - but will it be funded?
That is an imperfect comparison - but I do believe that people struggle with understanding social change as it is happening. We seek simplified stories that make big steps toward progress appear possible in our lifetime.
There’s a generalization that people make that really gets me. It’s the idea that people naturally prefer or practice competition over collaboration o...moreThere’s a generalization that people make that really gets me. It’s the idea that people naturally prefer or practice competition over collaboration or cooperation. Usually this is said as a way to dismiss addressing inequalities in America and to explain why capitalism is the only choice. Socialism or any hybrid economic system is doomed. Doomed! There are several reasons the acceptance of individual competition over striving for the group’s overall well-being seems to be a social norm rather than an innate human trait. And even if it was an innate human trait, I believe we can rise above it. While working together is a shared value in my family, living in Japan showed me it could be a bigger social norm. There are other reasons I question the all-out assumption that competition trumps collaboration, but let’s go with those two.
When I picked up Predictably Irrational, I was worried that the book was going to give me absolute arguments similar to the one I outlined above. It’s the way it is because people practice it that way. Instead, I believe if I brought this observation to Ariely he would say something like: Why do you think that is? How are the innate human traits reinforced by society to make something more commonly practiced?
Ariely describes his interest in understanding people's behavior in groups based on a fire accident. Ariely suffered third degree burns from an explosion. The recovery period isolated Ariely. And that isolation brought him a new perception of people. I believe that it can also happen when you live in another country. Living in Japan, I frequently felt separate from those around me. And while my feelings of isolation were not as deep as Ariely, there were many occasions where I felt like I was observing people around me with new eyes. In other words, I take Ariely to be the kind of person who could acknowledge that people are both competitive and collaborative. And he would be equally interested in what social norms brought out one behavior more so than the other.
That said – his tests (usually of MIT, Harvard or Stanford students) often left me with more questions. For example when given three choices – with one being a decoy choice – 75% of students took the bait and chose the one researchers wanted them to choose. And I would think – what’s happening with that other 25%. Because in my mind – 25% is still a lot of people. What were they thinking?
Another section discusses how people see themselves as mostly honest. When given the opportunity to cheat, they mostly self-regulate even with intentional leeway to cheat more and not get caught. However the further people are from money the more likely they are to cheat. For example, if you take an expense account and have a procedure of receipts and involve another person (an assistant who submits them), these buffers (from the actual cash) lead to a situation where people are more likely to cheat on their expense accounts. In July 2010, my house was flooded. I experienced five feet of water in my basement. FEMA and then later the SBA visited me. And there was a procedure much like Ariely describes. If anything, I underestimated the cost of the damages. This may be because I was warned that if I was found to be lying, I would have to return the money. But at several times I was encouraged to really be sure that I was certain of my reporting because the estimate could go down, but it could never go up. And I should include things that could later be taken out. Perhaps those conversations were a bit like signing an honesty code. However, I do the same thing – underreport my expenses – with my expense account at work. Perhaps that's just me being part of the (figurative) 25%.
What I appreciate about Ariely’s presentation of research is that he doesn't box himself into saying this is the way humans behave. Rather – if you consider these conditions – asking people to sign an honor code – you encourage this kind of behavior – greater rates of honesty. (less)
Definitely a page turner. The book's content is pretty heavy. The book never seriously explores what it is proposing - a reality TV show that demands...moreDefinitely a page turner. The book's content is pretty heavy. The book never seriously explores what it is proposing - a reality TV show that demands children fight to the death. The tone remains light and entertaining throughout. While the author makes a few superficial attempts to deal with the significance of taking human life, I struggled with the brutality of the plot directed at young readers. I can see how it would appeal - but it was very unnerving and felt commercially driven to me. I give it 3 stars for a fast plot driven book. While I'd never ban it - it's not a book that I would encourage for a young reader. (less)
As soon as I picked this up and started reading, I was entranced. I love the close reading of literature and his quotes to help make meaning. I found...moreAs soon as I picked this up and started reading, I was entranced. I love the close reading of literature and his quotes to help make meaning. I found myself highlighting full paragraphs and promising myself that I need to re-read this book. I have given up underlining sections that strike me because I found myself underlining everything. In the introduction, Keith Gessen states: The essays are incessantly self-contradicting.
This set me up to expect the writings of a chaotic mind. Instead I have found a very through wrestling with what interests Orwell in art, language and politics.
In his essay about Charles Dickens, Orwell writes: All art is to some extant propaganda.
In another essay, Inside the Whale, Orwell writes: Literature as we know it is an individual thing, demanding mental honesty and a minimum of censorship.
Orwell is interested in truth. Not a message that upon examination falls apart. But a truth that is strong enough to be examined relentlessly. And this includes contradictions. Pursuing the truth does not lead to a static maxim but part of the human experience and thus open to change.
What energizes me about reading Orwell is his clear dedication to the task. The fact that it is such a daunting activity never seems to deter him. That said, he still carries specific ideas about England and the English language that made me a bit uncomfortable.
I started the essay ‘Propaganda and Demotic Speech’ during the American debt ceiling debate. Watching President Obama make the case for raising the debt ceiling I grew increasingly frustrated. Not because of my feelings towards raising or not raising the debt ceiling, but rather by the language in the speech itself. It felt completely disconnected from any true manner of speaking. Orwell wants politicians to speak in a direct manner. None of what Obama said during his debt ceiling debate felt like it was simplifying the issue in order to be understood. Boehner, who followed, struck me as simplified, but not anymore honest in his true meaning.
Orwell ends the essay by saying: The fact that when you suggest finding out what the common man is like, and approaching him accordingly, you are either accused of being an intellectual snob who wants to “talk down to” the masses, or else suspected of plotting to establish an English Gestapo, shows how sluggishly nineteenth-century our notion of democracy has remained.”
Again, I love this collection. His dedication to pursuing the truth with humor makes for truly pleasurable reading. (less)
This is serious chick-lite. The plot moves quickly. For chick-lite, it's decent, just don't go in with high expectations. Serious things happen to the...moreThis is serious chick-lite. The plot moves quickly. For chick-lite, it's decent, just don't go in with high expectations. Serious things happen to the characters - but it's never delved into too deep. Book took place in Wisconsin - something didn't ring authentic to me. Probably just the one dimension of the characters showing through - so why would the location be realistic? (less)
It didn't appeal to me. The essay that talks about September 11th just made me feel sad for David. That he somehow saw h...moreThis came highly recommended.
It didn't appeal to me. The essay that talks about September 11th just made me feel sad for David. That he somehow saw himself as 'better' or more 'informed' than his neighbors. I thought he underestimated people in general. (less)