Archive for the ‘Worth Reading’ category
David Brooks is an insightful political commentator, but half the reason that I follow his work closely is that he’s also got some interesting thoughts and insights about this thing called life. In this, he talks about the self in a way that reminded me the Buddhist “no-self” concept, but also about how to really be productive. This bit I thought especially insightful:
One of the hard things in life is learning to ask questions that you can actually answer. For example, if you are thinking about taking a job, it’s probably foolish to ask, “What future opportunities will this lead to?” You can’t know. It’s probably better to ask, “Will going to this workplace be rewarding day to day?” which is more concrete. If you are getting married, it’s probably foolish to ask an unknowable question like, “Will this person make me happy for 50 years?” It’s probably smarter to ask, “Is this person admirable enough that I want to live my life as an offering to them?” You can at least glimpse another’s habits here and now.
The Economist, with it’s trademark dense brevity, offers a nice little review of some of the most notable and drastic turning financial history. Many I’d not known about at all:
Luckily investors had a host of exotic new options. By the 1820s London had displaced Amsterdam as Europe’s main financial hub, quickly becoming the place where foreign governments sought funds. The rise of the new global bond market was incredibly rapid. In 1820 there was just one foreign bond on the London market; by 1826 there were 23. Debt issued by Russia, Prussia and Denmark paid well and was snapped up.
But the really exciting investments were those in the new world. The crumbling Spanish empire had left former colonies free to set up as independent nations. Between 1822 and 1825 Colombia, Chile, Peru, Mexico and Guatemala successfully sold bonds worth £21m ($2.8 billion in today’s prices) in London. And there were other ways to cash in: the shares of British mining firms planning to explore the new world were popular. The share price of one of them, Anglo Mexican, went from £33 to £158 in a month.
I really appreciated David Brooks recent column about how — especially as the recent “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign for those abducted schoolgirls of Nigeria filters through the American media — the outside world still has Africa as a whole quite wrong.
In 2011, roughly 60 million African households earned at least $3,000 a year. By next year, more than 100 million households will make that much. Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by 200 percent since 2000. Since 1996, the poverty rate has fallen by 1 percent per year. Life expectancies are shooting up.
Only about a third of this new wealth is because of commodities. Nations like Ethiopia and Rwanda, which have no oil wealth, are growing phenomenally. The bulk is because of economic reforms, increased productivity, increased urbanization and the fact that in many countries political systems are becoming marginally less dysfunctional.
I count Carl Sagan on my list of “Greats” — which I’ve never formalized but should — but it’s for reasons like this. As his daughter writes in a great little essay on the event of the new version of Sagan’s seminal Cosmos television series, she was told quite young that:
My parents taught me that even though it’s not forever — because it’s not forever — being alive is a profoundly beautiful thing for which each of us should feel deeply grateful. If we lived forever it would not be so amazing.
I’ve always, and still do, harbor a vague distaste for the New Yorker — I feel it smells a bit of middle class indulgence in both its topics and writing style. But I enjoyed this bit about a new food-alternative liquid diet whose marketing has made it far more interesting and curious than existing alternatives.
There are a number of interesting quotes, but this was the only one that made me laugh out loud (like a five year old):
I asked the Skurves if there had been any social repercussions from their use of Soylent. They looked at one another. Erin said, “So the first week can be pretty bad, because you fart pretty bad.”
“It’s a big issue,” JohnO, a computer-science major, said.
Eugene added, “There was, like, a week when I stopped going to class.”
The second sentence is intentionally vague: click here to finish the thought, answer the question, solve the riddle! And, like most unfinished stories, the conclusion is rarely satisfying. But as someone who rarely clicks on Upworthy links, I have come to appreciate the beauty of these teases. Read the above titles again, but without registering the hyperlink: now they read like Buddhist koans. You want to know how you might be a war mercenary, but can you know, really? Bask in the not-knowing.
(via Merlin Mann)
Threre’s a lot encoded in Merlin Mann’s Tumblr post about the verbal tick “So,” but I don’t think I should unpack it too much. I point to it because this observation is so apt:
In a nut, Karl Van Hœt [a super-charged-pedant character Mann plays regularly], like so many others, knows that “So” is the most efficient way to say what you want to say in a way that brilliantly turbos you one or more levels above the actual context of the actual conversation.
Essentially, “So…” is the universal shorthand for, “I’ve given this a lot more thought than you have and will now proceed to refocus the conversation in a way that interests me and highlights my personal file card on this particular topic.”
A conservative writer talks about the American political situation in light of the works of Karl Marx. As someone who’s obsession with my country’s politics is behind me, it’s an interesting analysis. It’s heart is this:
Here’s what Marx got right—profoundly, overwhelmingly, admirably right: capitalism is unforgiving to “conservatives,” those who care about neighborhood, Church, family, loyalty, tradition.
(via Alan Jacobs)
The well-known Apple analyst Horace Dediu has a nice profile of what innovation is, and how it differs from things people common call “innovative.” His post whole post is well worth reading, but his point can be summed up in these bullet points:
- Novelty: Something new
- Creation: Something new and valuable
- Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
- Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful
Really interesting story of how since deciding that technology wasn’t a sinful temptation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has found it much more effective as a way to use the young people engaging in its famous missionary period:
Even within a church legendary for adding converts with machine-like efficiency, the Internet-only mission has been an outlier. Whereas traditional Mormon missionaries convert, on average, six people during their 18- to 24-month service, the online apostles in Provo have averaged around 30 converts per missionary per year, says Burton. And these people stick around. Ninety-five percent of the Internet converts have kept active, a retention rate more than triple the norm.
(via The Browser)