Magic in the Moonlight


Woody Allen continues his Europe shooting (in French Riviera this time) and provides a beautiful setting to ponder the meaning of life type questions (usual dose of Cole Porter, but also Nietzsche quotes and Beethoven music). I like the haughty rationalist that Colin Firth plays; reminds me of his 1995 BBC Darcy but also Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady.

I think we all need some magic and illusions in our lives.

Here is an interview with Woody Allen about the movie.

Ageing and Death

The author argues in this article why he hopes to die at age 75:

I am sure of my position. Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

I feel less strongly about death or the timing of it. And while I think I’ll get use to it, the thoughts of ageing still dishearten me.

But it also illuminates a key issue with aging: the constricting of our ambitions and expectations.

We accommodate our physical and mental limitations. Our expectations shrink. Aware of our diminishing capacities, we choose ever more restricted activities and projects, to ensure we can fulfill them. Indeed, this constriction happens almost imperceptibly. Over time, and without our conscious choice, we transform our lives. We don’t notice that we are aspiring to and doing less and less. And so we remain content, but the canvas is now tiny. The American immortal, once a vital figure in his or her profession and community, is happy to cultivate avocational interests, to take up bird watching, bicycle riding, pottery, and the like. And then, as walking becomes harder and the pain of arthritis limits the fingers’ mobility, life comes to center around sitting in the den reading or listening to books on tape and doing crossword puzzles. And then …


First swimming session with Sky

Swim with Sky

Misc. articles

How to Get Into an Ivy League College — Guaranteed. Would the rise of this kind of services worsen inequality and education arms race?

The Trouble With Harvard –  The Ivy League is broken and only standardized tests can fix it. Steven Pinker’s response to William Deresiewicz’s article I linked to earlier.

How to see into the futureby Tim Harford

So what is the secret of looking into the future? Initial results from the Good Judgment Project suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters.

But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness – although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t.

Begin Again

Begin Again – Music and New York, from the director of Once.


From A Field Guide to Getting Lost:

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.


Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.

More here.

What I’ve been reading

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. Evan Osnos wrote an engaging and insightful book on today’s China. In his words, the book “is an account of the collision of two forces: aspiration and authoritarianism.”

The hardest part about writing from China was not navigating the authoritarian bureaucracy or the occasional stint in a policy station. It was the problem of proportions: How much of the drama was light and how much was dark? How much was about opportunity and how much was about repression?


Now and then, a surge of patriotism provided a form and direction to people’s lives, but it was, as the Japanese author Haruki Murakami wrote of nationalism in his own country, “like cheap liquor”: “It gets you drunk after only a few shots and makes you hysterical,” he wrote, “but after your drunken rampage you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning.”

I long for a day when people are less nationalistic, and anyone could travel and live in any country he/she wants.

If there’s a clear trade-off, to what extent is having a say and control over our life more important than a capable government who can make our country strong and prosperous?

PS: Evan’s book has the most detailed account of Justin Lin’s experience I’ve come across.

Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore. Observations of the different culture and lifestyle between Malaysian and Singaporean, as well as racial and political background.

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. Overall I enjoyed reading about the fictional characters that David Brooks created to illustrate a range of social science findings and philosophy. There are plenty of sensible advice on learning, happiness, and success, but I think some of the findings are not as robust as he makes them seem to be.

we are primarily wanderers, not decision makers…We wander across an environment of people and possibilities. As we wander, the mind makes a near-infinite number of value judgments, which accumulate to form goals, ambitions, dreams, desires, and ways of doing things.


The truth is, starting even before we are born, we inherit a great river of knowledge, a great flow of patterns coming from many ages and many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past, we call genetics. The information revealed thousands of years ago, we call religion. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago, we call culture. The information passed along from decades age, we call family, and the information offered years, months, days, or hours ago, we call education and advice.


But looking at her son, Julia didn’t really get the sense that the unsupervised Harold, the non-homework Harold, the uncontrolled Harold was really free. This Harold, which some philosophers celebrate as the epitome of innocence and delight, was really a prisoner of his impulses. Freedom without structure is its own slavery.


“The real great man is the man who makes every man feel great,” the British writer G. K. Chesterton wrote.


“There is no craving or demand of the human mind more constant and insatiable than that for exercise and employment,” the Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote, “and this desire seems the foundation of most of our passions and pursuits.”


Recognition and wealth, she had learned, do not produce happiness, but they do liberate you from the worries that plague people who lack but desire these things.


Life is change, and the happy life is a series of gentle, stimulating, melodic changes.



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