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.
The End of Big by Nicco MeleIf Thomas Friedman's thesis in his 2005 The World Is Flat is that globalization has led to a flatter playing field, then TThe End of Big by Nicco MeleIf Thomas Friedman's thesis in his 2005 The World Is Flat is that globalization has led to a flatter playing field, then The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath tells author Nicco Mele's vision that the ultimate tool of that equalization is the internet.
In truth, it's not a hard argument to make.
An young tech geek when the Howard Dean for President campaign hired him to help with their online fundraising, Mele learned first hand how the internet could allow the little guy to compete with establishment forces, or what he calls the "big" of politics. Using broad strokes, as he calls it in the first chapter, Mele describes a world where, increasingly, the little guy can, by virtue of the internet, take on what is big, whether it be in politics, business, the news media, entertainment, education, government.
Its a fascinating picture. Whether he is citing use of online social media networks in the Arab spring or the rise (and fall) of illicit arms and drugs trade through the Silk Road, touting local communities outsourcing of government functions to minimize costs or sharing anecdotes about online retailers cutting out the middle man and creating their own business, or explaining the rise of bloggers and new media to compete with and disrupt traditional print and broadcast news companies, Mele provides a broad and interesting view of the the world that the internet has made possible.
As interesting as that picture is, however, it does lead to one shortcoming of the book, which, to be clear, Mele owns and anticipates early on. Because he paints in broad strokes, covering so many large areas in general and with anecdotes rather than hard data, the book is perhaps more appropriate to the internet novice than the seasoned or even semi-experienced who have used the internet for more than a simple Google search or Facebook update. It's a great entry overview, but lacks any specifics or guidance for how to reach the kind of success he trumpets.
If you're new to the internet or perhaps looking to understand an area outside of your current usage, The End of Big is perhaps an interesting, and quick, overview that is worth a read. As a user's guide, however, it is perhaps more useful as tales of successes than a course in attaining the skills to join the brave new world. ...more
With a page count a bit lower than Civilization, The Great Degeneration is based on his 2012 "Reith Lectures" on the BBC and walks through four institutions that Ferguson sees as crucial to the prosperity of the modern state. Faced with growing symptoms of decline, such as slowing growth, crushing debts, increasing inequality, aging populations, antisocial behavior, Ferguson believes that our institutional degeneration may be the major cause.
Ferguson opens by first addressing other arguments about why wealthy countries have declined. China and India's impressive economic growth, in contrast to relative stagnation in western democracies, is not a matter of the rest of the world catching up to the West, but is also a result of actual decline in real terms in western countries of certain institutions, especially in the decline of political, economic, legal and social institutions.
The west's success, relative to "the rest," over the last few centuries has been in large part due to four institutions: democracy, capitalism, the rule of law, and civil society.
Democracy has deteriorated not so much due to access, but rather due to the breakdown of the social contract between generations, says Ferguson. For this, he cites the expensive benefits that older generations have voted themselves to be left to the next generation to pay for, noting that Edmund Burke, in his Reflections On The Revolution In France saw the generations as an important part of the social contract. By taking on astronomical amounts of debt, we have put future generations on the hook for our expensive lifestyles.
When it comes to capitalism, Ferguson is not so much anti-regulation as he is anti-bad regulation. There is not such thing as a market without some kind of regulation, he says, but the regulation must makes sense and malefactors must be made to pay. On the contrary, in the recent recession, Wall Street came out ahead, despite risky behavior and dangerous bets, while average Americans bailed them out with giant debt producing stimulus packages.
Where once the rule of law protected contracts and property rights, tort law has slowed down the legal system, raised the costs of doing business, increased the costs of products, and failed to produce a corresponding benefit, stifling innovation and creativity.
It is when Ferguson reaches civil society that I am most intrigued. He quotes from both Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam and Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray, both landmark works on the dramatic decrease in voluntary associations over the last century. Where as at one point both wealthy and poor attended the same churches, participated in the same organizations (think Lions Club or Rotary or even Boy Scouts), and lived in the same neighborhoods, recent decades have seen lower and lower membership and participation in these voluntary associations that have brought people together for a common purpose. Instead, government has replaced these voluntary associations in many cases as the source of resort and not often with improved results. We may have more "Friends" on Facebook, but the relationships there are no more substantial than the effort to click "Like." The result is less civic-mindedness and less civic-participation.
And no, showing up to vote does not reflect civic participation. Voter turnout is merely a symptom of increased, or decreased, civic engagement.
Since I listened to the book over the course of several days commute and while doing a bit of home improvement, I found the shorter analysis and references to other works useful and was unsurprised to hear, as Ferguson closed up the book, that it was based on a series of lectures. While The Great Degeneration is a fascinating, if bite-sized, look at the problems assailing western civilization, it proceeds along lines that are more prescriptive than proscriptive. As a gateway, however, it is a starting point, and on that score, I recommend it as a place to begin your examination of the future of our democracy. ...more