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What I’ve been reading

The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-or Ruin-an Economy. Here‘s a good panel discussion on the book.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant TechnologiesDidn’t learn as much as I thought, perhaps because my expectation was too high. Here‘s a critical review by Robin Hanson, and here‘s a podcast interview on EconTalk.

Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need. –Voltaire

A History of Future Cities. Good historical background on how four interesting cities – St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai – have evolved and influenced by the West.

Transforming India. The more I read about Indian politics, the more complicated it seems. The rise of regionalism is a major trend that’d continue to shape India’s future, which suggests even a Modi-led government might not be a game changer as many expect.

The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Good for the West. The title sums it all.

I was in Tokyo for a short trip and had some free time to wander around this highly walkable city during the cherry blossom season. Beautiful yet transient, Sakura reminds people of the ephemeral nature of life and impermanence of things. Mono no aware is a beautiful concept. And Tokyo remains one of my favorite cities.

PS: here‘s someone walking backward in Tokyo.

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KANO & Dreams

KANO portrays a group of people who pursue their dreams to play baseball at Koshien. It’s the kind of movie that supposed to motivate me to roll up my sleeves and do things. Instead I felt slightly sad after watching it.

Maybe it’s just our tendency to feel nostalgic and to beautify the past, it seems easier to have dreams and ambitions in my 20s than it is now. During school days, future possibilities seem unlimited, and I also seem to have more intense feelings towards things.

Possible paths shrink as we get older. Some might shift their ambition towards their career. My guess is that at some point our drive for that will fade as well, when we realize the transient nature of ourselves.

We would probably adapt to this realization, perhaps by learning to derive pleasure and satisfaction from less ambitious goals, like running a marathon, or from seeing our children pursuing their dreams.

In another 20 years, would I look back and feel the same way like I’m feeling today. If that’s the case does it means I should be doing things differently now.

Her

Even though it might not be realistic, I like its portrayal of the complexity (or simplicity?) of human emotions and relationships. I can imagine myself experiencing similar emotions.

Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever gonna feel and from here on out I’m not going to feel anything new – just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.

……

It was exciting to see her grow – both of us grow and change together. But then, that’s the hard part – growing without growing apart, or changing without it scaring the other person.

–Theodore

Life is messy, relationship even more so. It’s not a surprise that more and more people are choosing different ways of life. Japan could well be the pioneer.

In the end, there is only so much we understand. But for most people, This’s probably not an issue.

I don’t know, I’m not in it. But you know what, I can over-think everything and find a million ways to doubt myself. But since Charles left I’ve been thinking about that part of me, and I realized I’m here only briefly. And in my time here, I want to allow myself… joy. So fuck it.

–Amy

Misc. articles

The cult of children.

Much of what privileged parents are trying to accomplish, says Wolf, is to ensure that their children do not fall out of the upper-middle class. To that end, parents work on their children’s résumés, almost from birth. As infants, their toys need to be educational as well as enjoyable. Getting into the right preschool is a precursor to getting into the right elementary school, and so on, right up until they are set up to get into the most prestigious colleges and beyond. I believe obsessive parenting, born of insecurity about the future, imagines the world to be more precarious than it probably is for upper-middle-class children……

The consequences of hyperparenting are unknown, since the phenomenon is only a few decades old. My views are shaped largely by observing my own family and friends, and that is not much to rely on, but I will speculate anyway. I see great advantages for the children, but also some warning signs. Young upper-middle-class children are, indeed, remarkably precocious. Since they have been exposed to adult conversations almost constantly from birth, they are much more articulate and broadly knowledgeable than children were a generation ago. They are also remarkably at ease with other people, both adults and children, because they are with them so much—with their parents’ friends, in early preschool, and in playgroups often organized among nannies. And having endured little frustration or isolation, they seem to me happier and more affectionate than children were in earlier generations. They love being with their parents (and why not?). They don’t go “up the street” to do “nothing,” as my friends and I did. They stick close to home, and their best friends are their parents. Of course, as they get older, they are subject to the influences of their peers and wider culture, including the omnipresent social media—a mixed bag.

My concerns are the other side of the same coin. If children are the center of their universe, if their parents’ feelings are so contingent on theirs, will they expect that always to be the case? The risk is that these children come to feel entitled and become narcissistic—while they may have a devastating sense of failure if they don’t meet expectations. Moreover, when parents anticipate and fend off all adversity, children might not develop the resilience and confidence to deal with adversity on their own, or the self-discipline necessary to navigate life as an adult. And they might not have enough solitude to learn to think their own thoughts, a lack that Facebook and other social media exacerbate.

Why speed reading is for fools?

‘There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.” - Bertrand Russell

Life is not a race. Speed is good for things you want to get past, not for important things you enjoy.

Intimacy is slow. Depth takes time. If you want intimate thoughts, intimate friends, intimate experiences it can’t happen quickly.  Some people tell me they have great reading comprehension even at speed. They challenge me to test them about information from the book. But I don’t care what they can recall. Being able to recall a fact does not mean they’ve considered it, examined it, or used it to change their thinking or how they feel about the world. Reading comprehension does not equal reading wisdom. Comprehension is for a test, wisdom is for your life.

Good writing, or good anything, offers us the chance to pause and reflect. It’s good to read a good book slowly. To take time to consider the new ideas you’re taking in. To ask questions with other smart people about what you’re reading as you read it. If you’re reading to learn you want to read thoughtfully. If you are reading good books you will be engaged and have little concern about how long it’s taking or how long they are.

Life in the nineties.

Recent and not so recent surveys (including the six-decades-long Grant Study of the lives of some nineteen-forties Harvard graduates) confirm that a majority of us people over seventy-five keep surprising ourselves with happiness. Put me on that list. Our children are adults now and mostly gone off, and let’s hope full of their own lives. We’ve outgrown our ambitions. If our wives or husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories, and mossy opinions. Also the distant whoosh of a surfaced porpoise outside our night windows.

We elders—what kind of a handle is this, anyway, halfway between a tree and an eel?—we elders have learned a thing or two, including invisibility. Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends—old friends but actually not all that old: they’re in their sixties—and we’re finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming in Nyack or Virginia Woolf the cross-dresser. There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it. What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA—a transient ischemic attack? I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two of response. Not tonight, though. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we’re invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours.

Moment

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Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Fun and inspiring lecture by Randy Pausch

Link to his book

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