One of my favorite do-it-yourself therapies for the everyday grind is to put on my grungy clothes, plug in my headphones, and fire up the lawn mower.One of my favorite do-it-yourself therapies for the everyday grind is to put on my grungy clothes, plug in my headphones, and fire up the lawn mower. I mow, and I listen to a book, and then when I start to run out of grass, I find other yard work. On a good Saturday, I can crank through a novel or a history and get some yard work done, and it makes for a good Saturday.
As I listened to "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency" this last week, I couldn't help but wonder if it's a Saturday that almost no one in the book has ever experienced. The level of octane and devotion and time--the sheer amount of time--required to work in the White House in the modern presidency makes it difficult to believe that anyone there has any semblance of a life anything like most Americans (not to self: because I mow my lawn and do yard work, does that mean I'm like "most Americans? To be filed away and answered later). And the stakes? The stakes are the highest in the world, a veritable Game of Thrones, or House of Cards...minus the beheadings and murders.
Well, at least as far as anyone knows. (And yes, I know comparison to either of those tv dramas is more than a bit cliche.)
In any case, The Gatekeepers was a great read. Starting with the opening of the Nixon Administration and H.R. Haldeman and finishing with the Obama Administration's Rahm Emmanual, Bill Daley, Jack Lew, and Denis McDonough, Chris Whipple tells the story of each Administration through the lens of how that chief of staff addressed the problems each president faced. There are greats here, like the incomparable James Baker, as well as others who were either failures or just men out of their depth, like John Sununu, Donald Regan, or Bill Daley. Through their eyes you see war, domestic policy, and the internecine warfare of Washington politics.
It's a fascinating and enjoyable history, one I readily recommend....more
One of the most fascinating books I have read in recent months is Peter Thiel's Zero to One. I am not a tech entrepreneur or even starting a new businOne of the most fascinating books I have read in recent months is Peter Thiel's Zero to One. I am not a tech entrepreneur or even starting a new business. But I found Zero to One so thought provoking and interesting, that I bought it after reading a library copy.
I found myself frequently recommending the book (consider this your recommendation. Go read it. Now), and any book hat Good should be on my shelf for easy access, referral, and lending.
Short and succinct, Peter Thiel's tact seems to take any conventional thinking and toss it on its head, reexamine paradigms, and, at its heart, inspire the reader to create, to make something new. As one of the founders of PayPal and Palantir, one of the first outside investors into Facebook, a funder to SpaceX and LinkedIn, Thiel has a track record of finding and funding industry and society changing companies.
Perhaps what I liked most about Thiel, though, is his emphasis on putting learning before university. As a high school drop-out, I've long believed in the importance of not allowing your schooling to get in the way of your education. While he doesn't spend much time talking about this in Zero to One, his focus on out of the box thinking runs throughout the book. It's hard in today's culture to swim against the current. It's one thing to take an idea that someone else has created and to perfect it, or market it, or to improve on it, but it is an entirely different thing to create something totally new. Hence, to go from 0 to 1 is Thiel's focus. As he puts it, the next Bill Gates will not build an operating system, the next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won't make a search engine, and the next Steve Jobs won't invent an iPod. And Thiel's book is about that most difficult of steps, the creation, rather than adding or modifying something familiar.
The book is short, punchy, and far more anecdotal than quantitative, but Thiel's style--and resume--make it a compelling and thought-provoking read, even for non-entrepreneurs. In a sense, we are all entrepreneurs in that it is when we get outside of our paradigms that we begin to truly create our better selves. Perhaps that is why I found it interesting and in a sense inspiring. I'm coming up on my 40th year, and still find myself looking to the future and what I will someday become. But the closer I get to that future the more I realize that it is already here. I'm living in it. Today is as good a day as any to make that future reality....more
Tonight I finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It's a short read and reads fast. A letter to his son, Coates' voice is intenTonight I finished reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It's a short read and reads fast. A letter to his son, Coates' voice is intense and direct.
I'm still processing Coates' message. I admit that I find it distinct from my own life experience, a view of America and the world rooted far from my own. Where I grew up in largely homogenous communities, often in rural parts of the west, Coates is a child of the black inner city of the coast. His book is a personal narrative, a recasting of American history as resting on the backs of African slave labor, the sting and oppression which has never quite left our country, the plunder of which continues to bolster the children of our oppressor ancestors.
The son of a minority religious group--at least until I moved to Utah--there are moments when I can sympathize with the affinity he found at Howard University, a place where he finds for the first time the books to explain his culture, his past, his history, and a multimillennial explanation of the oppression of the African race. Like many of us, he begins to discover that he can become something more, that the ability to write taught him by his mother can become a tool for an inquiry into the world. With this...coming of age?...in the world during college I am able to find some empathy, for I too found people who understood me for the first time when I left home to attend college. But it is a tenuous connection. Coates story remains, for me, almost an anthropological look into a world that is very, very different from my own. It is familiar and yet alien.
And so I'm still processing it.
Have you read Between the World and Me, yet? What was your experience?
If not, have you heard of the book and intend to read it?...more
I'm not entirely sure that I can adequately review Thinking Fast and Slow. It's so chock full of fantastic ideas, insights, and information that I'mI'm not entirely sure that I can adequately review Thinking Fast and Slow. It's so chock full of fantastic ideas, insights, and information that I'm afraid even trying to comment on it will make me look like a fool.
Let me just say, then, that Thinking Fast and Slow is absolutely fascinating, a book worth reading and rereading, especially if you're of the self-improvement, self-examining type. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner for his work in Behavioral Economics has a fascinating mind, and I felt like I had a front-row seat to one of the most incredible lectures about decision making, heuristics, and judgment that had ever been given.
And here's where I start to worry about sounding like a fool: this just isn't my field of expertise. Sure, I love learning and I consider myself to be, in many respects, an autodidact. But Thinking Fast and Slow is, if I'm not mistaken, a summary of all of Kahneman's work from the last fifty years (or more?). It's gobstoppingly dense with studies Kahneman and his fellow researchers have devised to examine who people think, and I quell the thought of trying to comment on it.
But I will gladly comment about it. Thinking Fast and Slow has been, over the weeks that I've been reading it, easily the book I've recommended most, and I admit having to suppress some excitement when someone tells me that they've ordered the book from Amazon. Even if you don't like economics, or maybe especially if you don't like economics, Kahneman's research is accessible to anyone with even a modicum of interest in society, decision-making, or how we think and exercise judgment. Rather than describe the world in terms of complex equations and graphs--though there are certainly a lot of graphs--Kahneman seems to be constantly devising thought experiments to understand how and why people act in certain situations. What a life it must be to be Kahneman, self-tasked with identifying the 'how' and 'why' of any particular decision, whether it is discerning who the best candidates are for officer training from among a cadre of soldiers during field exercises, or figuring out how to redesign the food pyramid to be a food pie, there seems to be no end of topics or situations where behavioral economics can be applied with some revelatory success.
One part of especial interest to me was the section, near the end, when Kahneman begins to describe memory, pain, and suffering. If I understand right, Kahneman makes the point that research shows that it isn't the measurement of pleasure, happiness, or well-being over the duration of an event--such as a surgery, marriage, or vacation--that matters so much as how the event ends that we remember. Even if the event was, for the most part, a wonderful or positive experience we still remember the event based on how it ends. Shakespeare might put this as "All's well that ends well." For me, it's a paradigm-shifting insight about the importance not only of getting things right but also ending things right. How we remember things is, essentially, flawed, and what we are left with in memory often conflicts with what the experience was as a whole.
Anyway, Thinking Fast and Slow is a great book. Prospect theory, framing, reference points, loss versus gain, and more are all raised and addressed and explored, and I am sure I will return to it again soon. I think I probably read it far too quickly, too eager to absorb concepts, and I feel there's more here to understand and examine....more
This book is appropriately named, though perhaps another subtitle could be added: "or how to fake it until you make it."
Scott Adams is known best forThis book is appropriately named, though perhaps another subtitle could be added: "or how to fake it until you make it."
Scott Adams is known best for Dilbert, a "satirical office humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office featuring engineer Dilbert as the title character" (to quote Wikipedia). After listening to his story, it's hard not to see in the eponymous character much of Scott Adams. He is savvy, smart, and, in a way that is uniquely American, confident of doing anything he sets his mind to, regardless of whether he is qualified or not.
It's this last quality, this modern entrepreneurial "daring do" attitude, that makes Adams' book so compelling. As he tells his story, it becomes clear that he has overcome significant obstacles to success. That he overcame these obstacles makes the things he did compelling and persuasive. Indeed, there are times when I had to remind myself that even Adams himself had opened by admitting that he was only sharing what had worked for him, was simplifying the information he had learned from others, and that the readers should figure out what works best for them. Adams is so persuasive a story teller that it is difficult not to be inspired. You too can be a rich and famous--something--if you only think it, believe it, and work harder at it than anyone else.
Also, get lucky along the way. There's no doubt that luck plays a part in success, and you can see it in Adams' tale, but it was his ability and tenancy at taking advantage of both the opportunities, as well as capitalizing on the setbacks, that led him down a road to fame and fortune.
I truly admire Scott Adams for his success. I'm not sure I'll apply his methods or suggestions, but just listening to his story had the effect on me to get my creative juices and ambitions going. It's easy to believe success is in reach and that I can make the changes I need to obtain that success as you listen to Adams' tell how he turned one lemon after another into lemonade. Luck favors the prepared and at the heart of Adam's story is his application of his preparation at the opportune moment. It's a lesson we can all learn from....more
Joby Warrick's Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS makes a complicated mess easier to understand. Readable and accessible to anyone with an interest in howJoby Warrick's Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS makes a complicated mess easier to understand. Readable and accessible to anyone with an interest in how we ended up with ISIS, his Pulitzer prize winning narrative of the rise of the terrorist cum state of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq is a must-read.
If there's anything I know about the politics of the Middle East, it's that it's bloody, and it almost always has been (go check out Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem: A Biography for a fascinating, if relatively brief, history of that piece of the Middle East). After centuries--nay, millennia--of war between various international interlopers, small-time despots, and religious zealots, recent years have seen the rise of ISIS, something more than just another political movement in the vein of the Palestinian Liberation Organization or a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda.
No, ISIS is something else, something more dangerous, a boogeyman that is every bit as malignant for the chaos it breeds as for the violence it intentionally perpetuates.
That ISIS holds itself out as a state, controls territory, and was born of the mistakes during the early days of the invasion of Iraq only complicates the world's response. More clearly, it complicates the United States' response. On the heels of an invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, American response is handicapped. But perhaps that is another story.
This story, though, is not about the impact those invasions have had on America's influence on the world. Rather, this is a narrative about the individuals that turned the quagmire of Iraq into the quagmire of ISIS. Primarily, it's the story of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who rose from street thug to a terrorist mastermind who turned the Iraq insurgency against the US into a Shia-Sunni civil war. Although he ostensibly gave his due respects to bin Laden as the senior leader, al-Zarqawi eventually competed with Osama bin Laden for the top place on the US Most Wanted list and became known for his brutality and ability to turn terrorism into propaganda. Even after his kill by US Special Forces in 2006, al-Zarqawi continued to influence others. The chaos in the Syrian civil war gave space to his followers, and as the country digressed into deeper instability gave breathing room to extremists seeking their own Islamic-based state. Al Qaeda in Iraq soon becomes the Islamic State in Iraq, controlling massive assets of oil and the innocent people caught up in the crossfire.
Joby Warrick's narrative is fascinating, carefully told to build a story accessible to the lay reader and more informed alike. Warrick never lets the story lag or falter with the minutia of Middle East politics. He builds his characters with portraits that are descriptive and clear and brings life to a story that is for most Americans no more than fear inducing headlines. It makes for good reading, and it left me feeling like I understood what had happened and where ISIS had come from. I don't know that it makes solutions any more obvious than before, but it does help to explain why solutions for stopping ISIS, or for bringing peace to the Middle East, are not easy. Warrick's writing, however, makes the story seem effortless, and an easy choice for winning a Pulitzer....more
I can't tell if Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration belongs more in management, inspiration, self-I can't tell if Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration belongs more in management, inspiration, self-help, or fodder for fans. What I can say, though, is that I loved reading it.
Though he was born in West Virginia, Ed Catmull moved to Utah as a child and was raised in neighborhoods near my own. Despite interests in animation, during college at the University of Utah, he became pursued at talent in math and studied physics and computer science. Eventually, this led him to a graduate degree under Ivan Sutherland, the "father of computer graphics," also at the University of Utah. Decades before computer animation was a thing, Catmull began developing the programming to do 2D and 3D programming. During this time, he found himself recruited to work at Lucasfilm, becoming vice president of Industrial Light and Magic's computer graphics division until 1986 when a guy named Steve Jobs bought it up and started Pixar. Catmull became Chief Technical Officer...and the rest is history.
Okay, that's probably a gross summary of Catmull's path to Pixar, but it gets us to the point when things get really interesting. A major part of Creativity, Inc. is Catmull's anecdotes about the process of developing some of the biggest cartoons--or movies--in recent decades. It's a combination of management and creativity, and leveraging good management practices to help people access their most creative solutions and abilities, that made Pixar great. Catmull, who has an engaging and magnetic story telling ability, uses different obstacles the company ran into throughout his career to show how creativity can be unleashed.
Another very interesting aspect of the story is hearing Catmull's perspective on working with Steve Jobs. Never an easy person to work with, Jobs' story has been thoroughly told elsewhere. But Catmull comes with a perspective of someone who needed Jobs, but was also needed by Jobs...and together they succeeded. Even though it is only a small portion of the larger story, it's a fascinating piece.
I'm not a manager, but I ate up what Catmull wrote here. Between the anecdotes, behind the scenes stories, and the lessons he learned to deal with obstacles, organizational change, and difficult partners, Creativity, Inc is an enjoyable read....more
Mormon Rivals: The Romneys, the Huntsmans, and the Pursuit of Power is an engrossing political drama, an in-depth look at the lives, families, historyMormon Rivals: The Romneys, the Huntsmans, and the Pursuit of Power is an engrossing political drama, an in-depth look at the lives, families, history of and connections between two of the biggest names in politics to come out of Mormon ranks in a generation. Authors Matt Canham and Thomas Burr are masters of their subject, weaving a fascinating look at how the two families took parallel paths to rise from pioneers on the American frontier to leadership on the national political stage.
For political junkies, Mormon Rivals, published by the Salt Lake Tribune, is like opening a bag of Cheetos: You promise yourself that you're going to just read a page or two and then put the book down, turn off the light and go to bed. Hours later, you're still reading, gripped by a saga that is as dramatic as that of any modern political dynasty. Before you know it, morning light is filtering through the bedroom windows and you realize that you've got orange dust up to your elbows and the Cheetos are gone. Oh, and you know far more about the Romneys and Huntsmans than you ever thought to ask. Canham and Burr carefully document not only the family history of both of the former presidential candidates, but detail the path that each took to political prominence, and the combination is both fascinating and informative.
Here are the “saloon keepers and rabble rousers” in Jon Huntsman’s past on father’s side and the “ministers and proselytizers” on his mother’s. We watch Mitt’s father’s quest for the White House and the poorly conceived comments that ended that campaign for the Republican nomination. And there’s more, with the authors tracing both families’ history into their past as pioneers of the American west. I thought I had done a pretty decent job of following the presidential race in 2012, reading numerous stories about both Mitt and Jon, but I found much that I had missed, or had been unclear, a more thorough and less loaded picture than most accounts provided of the candidates during the heat of a presidential campaign.
It’s also clear that Canham and Burr know their subjects, if not personally, well enough to provide appropriate context, whether the reader is a political debutant or veteran. As if it weren’t clear from the title, a major part of the friction between Huntsman and Romney that the authors are examining is the common religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mitt and Jon come at their religion differently from each other, with Romney seeming, apparently sincerely, the more orthodox of the two, while Huntsman’s dedication to the LDS faith seems at times to be more cultural. The authors are able to use a deft hand to explain the faith to non-believers or the uninitiated, demonstrate how the faith impacted and was demonstrated by both Romney and Huntsman (and their families), but without the mistakes or faux pas that often characterize the writing of journalists from outside of the mountain west. It’s a style that neither flaunts not flogs the faith. Instead, it merely explains Latter-day Saint history and doctrine with sufficient information to provide a framework for the world from which Romney and Huntsman emerged.
In many respects, the Romney and Huntsman families come from different places and have made distinct choices that set them apart. Both have strong good looks, beautiful wives, and large families, but similarities fade from there. Romney may be culturally closer to Utah, but is more a child of Michigan and Massachusetts. Huntsman, a Salt Lake City native, often seems to have more in common with an east coast prep school crowd than with the social and economic conservatives of his home state.
There are other differences, as well. Both owe much to their fathers for help in building their careers, but Huntsman career seemed to rely more on his father’s connections, and large financial donations, to political elites. Whether in his appointment to the USTR or employment with Huntsman Corp, Jon’s biggest benefactor has always been his father Jon Huntsman, Sr. It’s hard to argue that Romney was as reliant on his father for Mitt’s immense success in business or in politics. On the other hand, the influence of George Romney on his son’s choices in life cannot be underestimated. However, it was an influence that is born of Mitt’s admiration for his father, not based on his father’s money.
And, of course, there is the 2012 campaign for the White House. Canham and Burr tell the story that is still fresh in the public’s mind with a thorough look at the ups and downs of the campaign.
As Mormon Rivals draws to a close, Canham and Burr look at the scions of the Romney and Huntsman clans, evaluating how the next generation has participated in their fathers’ political lives and whether a second generation of rivalry might continue the rivalry. Whether Abby Huntsman and Josh (or Tagg) Romney will enter politics, though, remains an open question, and the book closes with an eye on the future. ...more
At some point while reading Ashley's War, I started to read faster, flipping pages, and almost skimming. It must have been shortly after I realized thAt some point while reading Ashley's War, I started to read faster, flipping pages, and almost skimming. It must have been shortly after I realized that Ashley--the title character, but by no means the only female soldier documented in Gayle Tzemach Lemmon's book--was going to go to Afghanistan to serve on the front lines with special forces and wasn't going to tell her parents any more than that she would be an "enabler." They thought she was doing humanitarian work; Ashley was actually participating in raids with U.S. Army Rangers to capture insurgents in the dark of night.
As the father of three daughters, it scared the living daylights out of me. If I wasn't gripped by the book before, I was after this. I couldn’t put the book down, and it was closer to sunrise than it was to sunset when I finally closed Ashley's War on the last page.
Indeed, the entire book is gripping, fascinating reading, and Ashley’s War is a story that should be read by anyone seeking to understand American military policy, as well as the war in Afghanistan. The women Lemmon depicts in the story are admirable, incredible, and inspiring, and they deserve credit for their sacrifices. Ashley's War documents the creation of Cultural Support Teams by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, a pilot program to put women on the battlefield to "enable" Green Berets and Army Rangers on sensitive missions in Afghanistan.
Simply put, aspects of Afghan culture prevented U.S. Special Forces—comprised entirely of men—from interacting with Afghan women without offending and alienating the population they were sent to protect. Because women in Afghanistan play an important role in the community and were aware of the movement of insurgents, American soldiers missed out on vital intelligence gathering that could have helped their efforts. In contrast, American women are seen as something of a third gender by Afghans, being neither men (and so prohibited from seeing, communicating, or being seen by Afghan women) nor Afghan female. Cultural Support Team members--women--could build relationships with women in ways that men could not. They could go where American men could not.
In great detail, Lemmon tells the stories of the women who heard about and applied to join the teams, the rigorous physical testing required of the applicants, and the bonding and friendships that grew during the experience. Lemmon is thorough and detailed in her reporting, relying on first-hand interviews with both the women and their families. The women are tremendous, every bit as brave, courageous and strong as the men they were joining on the front line. Lemmon’s writing is easy to read and understand, and she provides a level of background that allows anyone with any level of understanding about military affairs (or none at all) to read and enjoy.
In 2016, the United States moves to full integration of women in the Armed Services. When the history of women in the military is written, the Cultural Support Teams and Ashley's War may be seen as a critical moment and test in the policy shift.
That said, it was hard for me to read Ashley's War and not experience some reticence about America's foreign wars in recent years. Do America’s best and brightest need to be spending their best and formative years fighting, bleeding and dying in a faraway land? Has their sacrifice made America more secure? I believe in the men and women that have gone so far and given so much, and I was moved by the realization that far too few of us recognize or acknowledge the enormous burden that those few individuals have carried as a result of the war.
I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher....more
If you're a novice, beginner, starting a blog in a new market, this might be the book for you. As it is, though, I've been blogging for half a decade.If you're a novice, beginner, starting a blog in a new market, this might be the book for you. As it is, though, I've been blogging for half a decade. Much of the advice in Born to Blog feels like rehashed advice, stuff I already know.
That said, if someone asks me how to start, I'll hand them this book, recommend they read it, and then suggest we get together to discuss how to apply it to their situation. There's no way to beat experience, but this can help provide a lay of the land for getting started. ...more
Previous to 500 Ways to Write HarderI'd never read anything by Chuck Wendig, and I still may never. But if you're looking to kick start your writing hPrevious to 500 Ways to Write HarderI'd never read anything by Chuck Wendig, and I still may never. But if you're looking to kick start your writing habits, Wendig has the weirdest, most energetic, and, well, most kick butt ways of telling you to write...harder. Yes, harder.
It's a fun, foul mouthed list of 500 thoughts, insights and ideas to help the budding writer. Wendig divides the 500 bite size thoughts into lists of 25, dealing with character, ideas, stories, publishing, agents, critics, editing, and more. Truth to tell, I didn't really read this straight through. Rather, I have it on my mobile phone and iPad, and I would pull it out between...stuff. Outside the elevator, waiting in line, and on the porcelain throne. I'd read a couple of Wendig's "ways to write harder" and recharge my motivation to write, be awesome, and to create. I'll keep it on there, too, because writing doesn't seem to get easier, just better, with practice.
The 500 ways all seem to have one thing in common: write, write, and write more. Reading a book about writing is not writing. Writing is writing.
Which is why this review is shorter than as is typical for me. I'm going to go write.
PS. When I say "foul mouthed," I really do mean it. Wendig likes to cuss. ...more
Spoiler alert: the trick to writing productivity is writing all the time. And you have a lot more time than you think. I promise.
I picked thSpoiler alert: the trick to writing productivity is writing all the time. And you have a lot more time than you think. I promise.
I picked this gem of a book up at Salt Lake Comic Con after a panel that included the author was asked a question along the lines of how they avoid writer's block. Without missing a beat, one of the panelists (Larry Correia, I think) said there's no such thing as writer's block, and each of the panelists agreed. Now, I've never had a problem with writer's block, per se, but there have been times when I've questioned my own ability to accomplish much writing.
Sure, I can bust out a 140 character long tweet without two brain cells, and I can click 'like' on about 19,000 Facebook posts of LOL Catz and cute little babies without losing a single calorie. But writing something substantive? A blog post? Finishing the fourteenth short story that I've begun this summer? Rounding out the outline of that space opera novel I've been working on since my first child was born (alright, it's not the same novel anymore, but the point remains)?
Then it's a bit more difficult.
Back to Salt Lake Comic Con and the author's panel. The panel was a list of fairly illustrious--if also fairly local--authors, including the not unproductive Brandon Sanderson, Larry Correia, Dave Farland/Wolverton, and the currently being reviewed book's author, Kevin J. Anderson. Somewhere in that discussion about writer's block (which was not the panel topic, by the way), Anderson noted that a lot of times it was a productivity problem, not a lack of material to write about, and if you keep working, you manage to blow through the block. Coming from a guy who has busted out 125 novels--a number of which a bestsellers--and doesn't look like he's been parked on the couch consuming potato chips for the last five years, I was interested.
(Did you see the subtle way he plugged his book there? Yeah, me neither.)
So, naturally, I bought it as soon as the panel was over and I could make my way through the crowds over to Anderson's Wordfyre booth.
I read it that night. The book is short because, let's be honest: you should spend more time writing than reading about how to spend more time writing.
I won't give away the million dollar secrets here, because that's how Anderson's going to make his million dollars, but the $10 I dropped on the book was worth it, even if just to inspire me to change my habits and behavior to write more.
And I have: the last half week has been substantially more productive and useful than in a long while. Productivity is a fantastic thing; it builds on itself and creates more productivity and more success. That's worth way more than $10. ...more
Perhaps we’re doing third world development all wrong.
That was the thought that stuck with me most after I finished reading James Tooley’s The BeautifPerhaps we’re doing third world development all wrong.
That was the thought that stuck with me most after I finished reading James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World’s Poorest are Educating Themselves, a surprisingly readable book about the role of private schools in education in some of the world's poorest neighborhood. In The Beautiful Tree, Tooley tells his story about discovering private schools in some of the world’s poorest neighborhoods and discovering that in case after case they are doing well, are educating the poor, and are often, if not always competitive with the much better funded government schools that are found nearby.
It’s a proposition that surprised me, and for good reason: the private schools in my neighborhood—which is already among the higher income brackets in the state—are prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, I have a high degree of confidence in the public schools available to my family, but what about in places where public schools are failing or are inadequate? What choices do those who live there have?
Tooley found himself in some of these places while researching private schools in India for the World Bank. One day, he wondered into one of the poorer neighborhoods Hyderabad’s Old City and found it overflowing with small, parent-funded schools. At first, such schools seemed to be the exception rather than the rule, but as Tooley began to look for schools in other countries where his World Bank research took him, he found similar schools and similar stories, often existing in spite of the protests of government officials that private schools could not and did not exist for the poor (Tooley finds them specifically in India, Nigeria, Ghana and China, though this latter case is unique from the others).
Ironically, the book is not a critique of what is going wrong in the world, but rather seems expository of something that is going right and without the interference or help of the state. Parents, dismayed at slovenly, under-motivated and underperforming schools, banded together to form schools that are accountable to them, and the results are astounding, providing education to student who would not otherwise have opportunity.
Did I mention that these private schools are not subsidized, let alone acknowledged, by the government? Rather, parents scrimp and save, putting a premium on the education of their children. No one is going to get rich teaching at private school, thought: Tooley quotes fees at $10 per year in some cases, and generally in the range 4-20% of the minimum wage of the country. Some schools even offer scholarships to help students who still cannot afford the fees.
How do private school students rate against their peers? Tooley tested 24,000 students in India, Nigeria, Ghana and China in math and language proficiency. In India and Africa, children in private schools almost always excelled over those in public schools; in China, private schools were more likely to be limited to remote locations where travel to public schools was not safe. The one place that the government did better than private schools was in providing playgrounds for schools.
Tooley seems to attribute the cause to a general lack of accountability among government teachers, whereas private school teachers were held directly accountable by parents. With no incentive to excel among government teachers, they often delivered high rates of absenteeism, failed to teach altogether, or allowed classes to collapse into chaos. Tooley also notes that government inspectors meant to assure teaching standards were easily paid off and kept away from government classrooms.
If there’s more I would have asked from Tooley, it would have been how to replicate the successes that he saw in India, Ghana, and Nigeria. If there’s a way to bring about serious and long-term change to the third world, it should be replicated.
Tooley tells the story in a series of anecdotes that is appealing and makes the reading easy. not to mention powerful. Even if third world development is not your cup of tea (it’s not mine), the story is fascinating....more
Over the years, I've run into Camille Paglia's essays at unexpected times, and I seem to always come away thoughtful and, occasionally, amused. ClearlOver the years, I've run into Camille Paglia's essays at unexpected times, and I seem to always come away thoughtful and, occasionally, amused. Clearly coming from a perspective distant from my own, politically and culturally a member of East Coast academia, I never the less found her insights and way of putting things provocative.
When I heard that her newest book argued that George Lucas was one of greatest, if not the greatest, of modern artists, I was intrigued. First off, because I've been a Star Wars fan since I was a child making light sabers out of wrapping paper tubes. And second, because I've occasionally, like many other fans, wondered if Lucas had lost his way with the Prequels.
How does an art critic find Lucas, who has turned Star Wars into one of the most profitable franchises in history, to be an artist?
Of course, I was intrigued.
Paglia's Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars is a survey of art through history, with each entry a selection of an era. Paglia describes the piece of art, starting in the bronze era and passing through ancient Greece, the middle ages, the Renaissance, and so on. Each entry is two to three pages long and provides background and narrative, analysis and context for the work. The writing is fluid, colorful, and, like I had found in Paglia before, intriguing.
I'm not an art critic, let alone an art historian. At best, I can appreciate a few pieces of well known art. What I found in Paglia was an informative survey of art through the ages. In the introduction Paglia argues that what we are losing in our quest to get to the top of the education ladder is an appreciation of what art has brought us to where we are.
It's fascinating reading, even if there are a few pieces of art from the modern era looked--to me--more like spatters of paint than art.
I recommend it, whether you are an experienced art critic or a novice, as I am.
And Lucas? I'll let you discover on your own why Paglia thinks he is today's greatest living artist.