Non-fiction

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, by Tony Wagner

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“If we are to remain globally competitive in today’s world, we need to produce more than just a few entrepreneurs and innovators. We need to develop the creative and enterprising capacities of all our students” (pg 4).

“the greatest innovations of the 21st century will be those that have helped to address human needs more than those that had created the most profit” (pg 6).

“Innovation may then be defined as the process of having original ideas and insights that have value, and then implementing them so that they are accepted and used by significant numbers of people” (pg 8).

“Incremental innovation is about significantly improving existing products, processes, or services. Disruptive or transformative innovation on the other hand, is about creating a new or fundamentally different product or service that disrupts existing markets and displaces formerly dominant technologies” (pg 10).

Seven Survival Skills of Innovators:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving

  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

  3. Agility and adaptability

  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship

  5. Accessing and analyzing information

  6. Effective oral and written communication

  7. Curiosity and imagination


Tim Brown’s Five Characteristics of “Design Thinkers”

  1. Empathy

  2. Integrative thinking

  3. Optimism

  4. Experimentalism

  5. Collaborators


Leader: “someone who will take control of the situation verses waiting to be led.” The ask, “How can I make things better?” (pg 15).

Innovators have the following qualities:

  1. Curiosity, which is a habit of asking good questions and a desire to understand more deeply

  2. Collaboration, which begins with listening to and learning from others who have perspectives and expertise that very different from your own

  3. Associative or integrative thinking

  4. a bias toward action and experimentation (pg 16)


“If you look at 4-year olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work. But by the time they are 6.5 years old they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more then provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up and are in corporate settings, they have laready had the curiosity drummed out of them. 80% of executives spend less then 20% of their time on discovering new ideas . . . The problem is that school sometimes treat {curiosity} as a bad habit . . . like any habit, creativity can either be encouraged or discouraged” (pg 17).


“It’s a lot easier to name the things that stifle innovation like rigid bureaucratic structures, isolation, and a high-stress work enviornment” (pg 23).


“Expertise and creative thinking are an individual’s raw materials - his or her natural resources, if you will. But a third factor - motivation - determines what people will actually do” (pg 25)


Intrinsic motivation, play, passion, and purpose: Whether - and to what extent - parents, teachers, mentors, and employers encourage these qualities make an enormous difference in the lives of young innovators” (pg 26).


“A child has to get bored before he can figure out how to get himself out of the boredom, and a lot of that happens out of door” (pg 36).


Empowerment: “students can go out and apply what they’ve learned to the problems that they’ve never seen before with the parts that they’ve never used before” (pg 50).

“The most important aspect of being in an innovative environment is not being afraid to fail” (pg 67).

“So often in school, the what-if question is eliminated, but that’s the source of true creativity and innovation” (pg 97).

“Our education system does not encourage risk-taking and penalizes failure, and too many parents and teachers believe that a “safe” and lucrative career in business or law or medicine is what young people should strive for - rather than something to do with ‘changing the world’” (pg 113).

“Without a reason - without passion and purpose - many disadvantaged young people simply can’t tolerate the tedium of school. Passion and purpose are what give them hope, a clear focus, and a reason to acquire the skills and the knowledge they will need to succeed” (pg 128).

“What you know is far less important that what you can do with what you know. The interest in and ability to create new knowledge to solve new problems is the single most important skill that all students must master today. All successful innovators have mastered the ability to learn on their own ‘in the moment’ and then apply that knowledge in new ways” (pg 142).

Traditional classrooms are all about instructor control. You tell students what’s important to learn and why and then you evaluate them. I’ve come to realize a lot of responsibility and choices can and should be turned over to the learner” (pg 163).

For more one . . .

Education : Reading Log : Creativity

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, by Jon Krakauer

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In January 1457, a domestic sow and her six pigs were charged with murdering and partly devouring an infant. “The sow was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging”, but her offspring were pardoned, “partly because of their youth . . . and the fact that their mother had set them a bad example,” (via).

The mother, for her part, was “hanged and strangled on a gibbet of wood, near the gallows” (via), as an example to the other pigs and livestock on how they were expected to behave.

Because in the mid 1400’s, animals were running amuck, and they needed to be held accountable.

In his 1906 book, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, historian E.P. Evans recounts dozens upon dozens of instances where animals were put on trial and convicted for their crime: sparrows were prosecuted for chattering in Church, a cock burnt at the stake for laying an egg, and sheep, according to Criminal, “a true podcast that understands crime,” were being tried, sentenced, and executed “for seducing men into more than friendly relationships” (via).

It was a very scary time young sheep in America.

At any given time, a man could see a sheep, misinterpret it’s bleating and body language for sexual advances, and be unable to control himself. He would have to have that sheep.

And the sheep - not the man - would be held accountable.

“Eventually,” the podcast continues “people decided that criminal intent wasn’t something you could ascribe to animals” and a sort of paradise was restored. For the sheep, at least.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. “Every 8 minutes, that victim is a child,” with” only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators” ending up in prison.

Six out of 1,000! That number is abhorring. So too is the fact that “{n}o more than 20 percent of rapes are reported to the police” (via), a number that many find unbelievable. “If it was as bad as you say,” the argument goes, “if he was doing something you didn’t want, why didn’t they scream or fight back? Why didn’t they fight for their life?”

And the answer, unfathomable to many, is that by staying silent and allowing it to happen is exactly what they were doing, fighting for their lives.

“One of the things that is difficult for most of us {to understand} about a rape,” Dr. Lisak states, “is that there doesn’t have to be a gun to the head, there doesn’t have to be a knife present, there doesn’t have to be a verbalized threat for the act itself to be enormously terrifying and threatening.

There is a difference between sexual violence and other forms of assault. Sexual violence is so intimate.” When your body is penetrated by another person against your will. It often induces a uniquely powerful kind of terror. According to many peer-reviewed studies, a large percentage of the victims of non-stranger rapes “actually feared they were going to be killed,” even when “there was no weapon and no overt violence.”

Staying silent means staying alive, so too is remaining silent. “Around 90% of rapes are committed by known men, and often by someone who the survivor has previously trusted or even loved. People are raped in their homes, their workplaces and other settings where they have previously felt safe” (via). Rapists can be friends, colleagues, clients, neighbors, family members, partners or exes”, not some stranger hiding in the bushes. It’s someone they see consistently, that they know by name, and that will probably see in their house, at work, or at the next family reunion.

Which makes the allegations all the more difficult, because the victim will be asking family and friends to face each other rather than stand united. And that, according to Judith Lewis Herman in Trauma and Recovery, is extremely difficult. “It is morally impossible,” she writes, “to remain neutral in {cases of sexual assault}”, because “{t}he bystander is forced to take sides.”

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering . . .

Victims of sexual assault demand empathy. Sadly, however, what they often receive is apathy. “Boys will be boys,” they hear echoing from police officers, school administrators, lawyers, friends, and the many others who are meant to serve and protect them. “You shouldn’t have been drinking,” victims are told, or “Look at what you’re wearing” and “why did you put yourself in that position?”

Instead of empathy, victims are often attacked and maligned for speaking out. Instead, they are held accountable for the perpetrators actions, or mocked on live television.

“Drunk guys,” Krakauer writes in his terrifying book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, “who may have ‘made mistakes’ nearly always get the benefit of the doubt. Drunk girls, however, do not” (via).

Why is that?

The answer - or problem, rather - seems to be that we, as a country, lack empathy. At least for those unlike ourselves.

In the classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus finds himself defending Tom Robinson, a black man, before a white jury. Tom Robinson has been accused of raping a white woman, but the evidence against the claim is as clear and as simple as “black and white.” Atticus, the judge, and every person in the courtroom knows Tom Robinson is innocent, but because black men were considered little more than cattle, it wasn’t shocking to expect a black man to pay the price for a white man’s (or woman’s) sins.

Atticus understood this. He understood that in order to win and save Tom Robinson, he needed the jury to empathize with the victim; he needed them to see and understand Tom Robinson like they saw and understood themselves - as human. A task as murky and complicated as black and white.

“You know the truth,” Atticus states, “and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women - black and white.” And you can almost see the jury, nodding their heads in approval, perhaps even whispering, “them Negros” under their breath or quietly in their minds. But then, Atticus asks them to reach towards empathy.

But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire.”

Atticus paused and took out his handkerchief. Then he took off his glasses and wiped them” (pg 205).

It is here, perhaps, that Atticus lost the jury, and the point were Tom Robinson was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. In order for the jury to acquit Tom Robinson, they would have to empathize with him. And in order to empathize with him, they would have to admit that they, white men, were similar to a black man. And if they were similar to a black man, that would mean black men weren’t property or cattle, they were human. And if they were human, then the white population would have a lot of explaining and reconciling to do.

Instead, they convicted him of a crime he didn’t commit, as an example of how they were expected to behave.

It was also an example and reminder to themselves and their fellow white Americans, because if they sided with Tom Robinson, if they took his word over the white man’s - if they empathized with him - they would reduce the gap of power. And if they lost the gap of power, they might lose control. If they lost control, the African American community would have a voice and the ability to defend themselves against the white power. They could also accuse it. And that would be extremely dangerous for the young white men of the coming generation.

So they chose to avoid empathy and embrace power. They decided to keep things as they were: divided, and imbalanced.

It is often said that history is written by those who win, by those who have the power. But so too is the present.

Those in power decide what is real and what is fake. They determine who is right and who is wrong, and perhaps most importantly, they decide who is responsible. Be it sheep, black America, or woman.

But the thing is, “Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs,” writes Jessica Valenti, a Guardian US columnist, “Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them” (via).

Sure, woman can become better educated on how to defend themselves, where they should or shouldn’t go, on how much is too much to drink, and on how to recognize the warning signs of a possible sexual assault.

Or, men can just stop sexually assaulting women.

It is a scary time for young men. It is a scary because if they are consistently allowed to behave like animals, if they are not be held accountable for their actions, and if we as a country do not collectively begin to expect more from them, it is indeed scary to think of the men they will become.

And the offices they will hold.

You Are A Badass, by Jen Sincero

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“If you want to live a life you’ve never lived, you have to do things you’ve never done” (pg 15).

“We’re all busy, but it’s the people who make enjoying their lives a priority who, um, enjoy their lives” (pg 57).

“The only questions you ever need to consider when making decisions about your life are:

  1. Is this something I want to be, do, or have?

  2. Is this going to take me in the direction I want to go?

  3. Is this going to screw over anybody else in the process (pg 64)?

“There’s no better way to fall prey to outside input than when you’re feeling insecure. And there’s no better way to feel insecure than knowing you half-assed something or don’t really believe in what you’re doing. No matter what it is - raising your prices or raising your children - if you do the absolute best you possible can, and come from a place of integrity, then you can be proud of yourself and not give a damn about what anyone else thinks” (pg 68).

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure” (pg 71).

“When we share what were brought here to give, we are in alignment with our highest, most powerful selves” (pg 72).

“It’s through our thoughts that we create our realities . . . your thoughts and beliefs dictate your reality, so if you want to change your reality, you ahve to change your beliefs.” (pg 93, 94).

“If you wanna stay stuck in the same place and keep getting spanked with the same lessons over and over, be negative, resentful, and victimized. If you want to get over your issues and rock your life, be grateful, look for the good and learn . . . write your thank-you notes!” (pg 120).

“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past” - Lily Tomlin

“Sometimes the road to freedom lies in deciding you’d rather be happy than right” (pg 125).

“What you choose to focus on becomes your reality” (pg 137).

“If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse” (pg 153).

“We tiptoe through life trying to safely make it to death” - unknnown

When successful people were asked the secret to their success, the overwhelming majority answer: tenacity (pg 199).

How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough

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“GED recipients look exactly like high-school dropouts, despite the fact they they have earned this supposedly valuable extra credential, and despite the fact that they are, on average, considerably more intelligent than high-school dropout” (pg xviii).

“Those traits - an inclination to persist at a boring and often unrewarding task; the ability to delay gratification; the tendency to follow through on a plan - also turned out to be valuable in college, in the workplace, and in life generally . . . GED holders are wise guys who lack the ability to think ahead, persist in tasks, or to adapt to their environments” (pg xix).

“You can’t expect to solve the problems of a school without taking into account what’s happening in the community” (pg 5).

“The key channel through which early adversity causes damage to developing bodies and brains is stress (pg 12).

Quantifying Character:

  1. Grit

  2. self-control

  3. zest

  4. social intelligence

  5. gratitude

  6. optimism

  7. curiosity

“The best way for a young person to build character is for him to attempt something where there is a real and serious possibility of failure . . . and in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything” (pg 85, 86).

“Habit and character are essentially the same thing . . . It’s not like some kids are good and some kids are bad. Some kids have good habits and some kids have bad habits. Kids understand it when you put it that way, because they know habits might be hard to change, but they’re not impossible to change. William James says our nervous systems are like a sheet of paper. You fold it over and over and over again, and pretty soon it has a crease . . . When your students leave, you want to make sure they have the kind of creases that will lead them to success later on” (pg 94).

“Two of the most important executive functions are cognitive flexibility and cognitive self-control. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to see alternative solutions to problems, to think outside the box, to negotiate unfamiliar situations. Cognitive self-control is the ability to inhibit an instinctive or habitual response and substitute a more effective, less obvious one” (pg 114).

“Non-cognitive skills like resilience and resourcefulness and grit are highly predictive of success in college” (pg 168).

What Great Principals Do Differently, by Todd Whitaker

Introduction:

“The difference between more effective principals and their less effective colleagues is not what they know. It is what they do” (pg xi).

“Education is extremely complex, and so is school leadership” (pg xi).

It’s People, Not Programs:

The quality of the teachers determines our perceptions of the quality of the school” (pg 5).

“Get better teachers or improve the teachers you already have” (pg 5).

“Programs are not the solution, and they are rarely the problem” (pg 6).

“Ineffective principals paid much less attention to individual growth. Instead, they focused their efforts on whole-school goals and issues. As school leaders, we must recognize that no matter what programs we introduce or seek to strengthen, our most important work is to improve the people in our schools” (pg 10).

Develop an Accurate Sense of Self:

“The principal who ‘doesn’t have time’ to praise teachers regularly may not realize how many less important tasks could - and should - be delegated to other so that they can focus on more important things like nurturing staff members” (pg 15).

“The most valuable gift a principal can give teachers is confidence” (pg 17).

Any time a teacher refers a student to the office, it’s a big deal to them, so be sure to let that teacher know it matter to you too. Always inform the parent so that the student is not off the hook, then “close the gap by getting back to the referring teacher after taking action” (pg 18).

Who is the Variable?

“ . . . effective principals viewed themselves as responsible for all aspects of their school” (pg 21).

. . . effective principals viewed themselves as the ultimate problem solver” (pg 21).

Be the Filter:

“We must keep our attention on the issues that matter, not divert our effort and energy to trivial annoyances” (pg 36).

“I wanted the teachers to be more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today” (pg 37).

Teach the Teachers:

Great principals focus on students - by focusing on teachers.

Get teachers into each other’s classrooms (pg 44).

Hire Great Teachers:

A principal’s single most precious commodity is an opening in the teacher staff (pg 49).

Understanding the Dynamics of Change:

“ . . . it can take anywhere from three to nine years, to bring about substantive change” (pg 57).

“Average people tend to thing of solutions that make their job easier” (pg 61).

Standardized Testing

Care most about “ . . . staff motivation, teacher morale, school culture and climate, and student behavior” (pg 65).

Focus on Behavior, then Focus on Beliefs:

“Effective principals recognize the difficulty of changing a person’s lifelong beliefs” (pg 71).

“ . . . effective principals believe in the power of praise. As long as they praise correctly . . . we cannot praise too much . . . we must teach them the techniques of appropriate praise and get them to try it” (pg 74).

“ . . . if we can swallow our pride and ask them for their opinions in advance when appropriate (and after the fact when that is our only option), all of us can improve our skills and practice something that the best principals consistently do” (pg 83).

Understand the High Achievers:

“The very best leaders ignore minor errors” (pg 97).

“Teachers who say they are burned out were probably never on fire in the first place” (pg 102).

“Our first staff members can succeed anywhere, doing just about anything. if we do not take care of them, someone else will, and we will have squandered our most valuable resource” (pg 103).

Make it Cool to Care

“ . . . the key is to develop and establish a school-wide environment that supports everyone’s effort to do what is right” (pg 106).

The Wizard and the Prophet : Two remarkable scientists and their dueling visions to shape tomorrow's world

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Wizards unveil technological fixes, Prophets decry the consequences of our heedlessness (pg 6).

. . . “the clash between Vogtians and Bolaugians is heated because it is less about facts than about values . . . Prophets look at the world as finite, and people as constrained by their environment. Wizards see possibilities as inexhaustible, and humans as wily managers of the planet . . . Wizards regard Earth as a toolbox, its contents freely available to use; Prophets think to the natural world as embodying an overarching order that should not casually be disturbed” (pg 8).

“Human-ness is the quality - a mix of creativity, drive, and moral awareness - that transforms humans into persons. It is a special spark or spirit, unique among living creatures, a flame possessed in abundance by our heroes, possessed in small amounts by all” (pg 29).

“Only as humans were reduced to humankind did humans gain their humanity” (pg 30).

“Humans grab ‘about 40% of the present net primary production in terrestrial ecosystems’ - 40 percent of the entire world’s output of land plants and animals” (pg 35).

“Economists talk about the ‘discount rate’ which is their term for the way that humans almost always value the local, concrete, and immediate over the faraway, abstract, and distant in time. We care more about the broken stoplight up the street now than social unrest next year in Chechnya, Cambodia, or the Congo” (pg 36).


The Prophet:

{From the roots of the Prophet} “‘ If the present drift be not changed, we whites are all ultimately doomed,’ {Lothrop Stoddard} wrote in Rising Tide. The disappearance of Caucasians ‘would mean that the race obviously endowed with the greatest creativity ability, the race which had achieved most in the past and which gave the richer promise for the future, had passed away, carrying with it to the grave those potencies upon which the realization of man’s highest hopes depend’” (pg 79") . . . but also, “‘Our forefathers,’ {Vogt} thundered, were ‘one of the most destructive groups of human beings that have ever raped the earth. They moved into one of the richest treasure houses ever opened to man, and in a few decades turned millions of acres of it into shambles’” (pg 87).

“Until something has a name, it can’t be discussed or acted upon with intent” (pg 89).


The Wizard:

“To the question of how to survive, his work said: be smart, make more, share with everyone else” (pg 96).

“Hungry people are lured by promises, but may be won by deeds. Communism makes attractive promises to underfed peoples; democracy must not only promise as much, but must deliver more” (pg 120).

We’ve got to do something. “Much like Vogt, Borlaug was acquiring a sense of mission - a shiver in the spine that would drive him for the rest of his life” . . . yet neither “gave any thought to how the consequences of their ideas would ripple across the world” (pg 131).


Earth: Food

“the health of the soil, plant, and animal were linked to each other, that fertile soil held the key to increased crop yield, and that manure was the key to soil fertility” (pg 177).

Which reminded me of this podcast:

“The slow poisoning of the life of the soil by artificial manures is one of the greatest calamities which has befallen agriculture and mankind” (pg 179).

“One values a kind of liberty; the other, a kind of community. One sees nature instrumentally, as a set of raw materials freely available for use; the other believes each ecosystem has an inner integrity and meaning that should be preserved, eve if it constrains human actions. The choice lead to radically different pictures of how to live. What looks like a dispute over practical matters is an argument of the heart” (pg 250).

Kottke.org also read and wrote about this book, comparing it to Avengers: Infinity Wars. He wrote, “Thanos is a prophet and the Avengers are wizards…both are even specifically referred to using those exact words at different points in the movie. More specifically, Thanos is a Malthusian…he wants to cut the population of the galaxy in half to up everyone’s quality of life (via).

You can buy the book here.

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge

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A great and powerful read. A hard read. And a must read. 

To paraphrase the many white men and women who have reached out to Eddo-Lodge, "Don't give up on us." Even though, sometimes, I want to.

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race

"Their (white people) intent is often not to listen or learn, but to exert their power, to prove me wrong, to emotionally drain me, and to rebalance the status quo (pg xii).

Racism is "about being in the position to negatively affect other people's life chances (pg 2).

"If all racism was easy to spot, grasp, and denounce as white extremism is, the task of the anti-racist would be simple. People feel that if a racist attack has not occurred, or the word 'nigger' has not been uttered, an action can't be racist. If a black person hasn't been spat at in the street, or a suited white extremist politician hasn't lamented the lack of British jobs for British workers, it's not racist (and if the suited politician has said that, then the racism of his statement will be up for debate, because it's not racist to want to protect your country!) - pg 63. 

This is what structural racism looks like. It is not just about personal prejudice, but the collective effects of bias. It is the kind of recism that has the power to drastically impact people's life chances. Highly educated, high-earning white men are very likely to be landlords, bosses, CEOs, head teachers, or university vice chancellors. THey are almost certainly people in positions that influence others' lives. They are almost certainly the kind of people who set work-place cultures. They are unlikely to boast about their politics with colleagues or acquaintances because of the social stigma of being associated with racist views. But their racism is covert. it doesn't manifest itself in spitting at strangers in the street. Instead, it lies in an apologetic smile while explaining to an unlucky soul that they didn't get the job. It manifests itself in the flick of a wrist that tosses a CV in a bin because the applicant has a foreign-sounding name (pg 65). 

This quote reminded me of LaDonna, "A security guard at the airport notices something going wrong on the tarmac, and takes it upon herself to fix it. It’s way harder than she expects." It's a podcast hosted by This American Life. And it is fully disturbing. 

"In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon - earned or not - because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system (pg 84). 

White privilege is an absence of the negative consequences of racism . . . is the fact that if you're white, your race will almost certainly positively impact your life's trajectory in some way (pg 86,87). 

The difference between racism and prejudice is that racism IS being prejudice, plus power (pg 88,89).

What if Hermione's character was black? "It brings to light the incredibly racialised language of blood purity used in the wizarding world, of mudbloods and purebloods. This is terminology that could have been easily lifted straight from Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa. Hermione's parents were muggles after all, and that is how states and scientists have categorized race and fueled racism - as through lineage and blood. A black or mixed-race Hermione enduring spat-out slurs of 'mudblood' from he peers, plucked from her parents, told she's special and part of a different race altogether, might be very keen to assimilate, to be accepted. No wonder she tried so hard. No wonder she did her friend's homework, and was first to raise her hand in class. She was the model minority . . .
That some Harry Potter fans struggled to imagine a black Hermione meant that they couldn't imagine little black girls as precocious, intelligent, logical know-it-alls with hearts of gold . . . The imaginations of black Hermione's detractors can stretch to the possibility of a secret platform at King's Cross station that can only be accessed by running through a brick wall, they can't stretch to a black central character" (pg 138,139). 

"There is an old saying about man's homophobia being rooted in a fear that gay men will treat him as he treats women" (pg 141). The same can probably be said about our racism.

 

 

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff, by Chip Gaines

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I was recommended this by a friend. It's okay.

If you love or even like their show, Fixer Upper, and if you want a super simple and lite read, it's worth it. There's a few small gems (the chapter on fear is pretty good. I might even have my son read it) and some interesting history to the show and their lives, but overall, I thought it a bit, I don't know, elementary?  Nothing groundbreaking, nothing super deep, and nothing that will stick with you forever. Just like candy. 

And every now and then, I take the free sucker from the teller at the bank and enjoy it the whole way home. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit

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This book started off extremely strong. Then . .  meh.

Here are a few highlights, all from the first five pages.

We can pursue our ideals not out of diligence but because when they are realized there's joy, and joy is itself an insurrectional force against the dreariness and dullness and isolation of everyday life (pg xviii).

Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair . . . One of the essential aspects of depression is the sense that you will always be mired in teh misery, that nothing can or will change. It's what makes suicide so seductive as the only visible exit from the prison of the present. There's a public equivalent to private depression, a sense that the nation or the society rather than the individual is stuck. Things don't always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history (pg xix).

The struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invisible in their determination to hold onto it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience - whether be blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungry, and the Soviet Union itself (pg xxii).

We don't know what is going to happen, or how, or when, and that very uncertainty is the space for hope (pg xxiii).

This one reminded me of school shootings: 
Even things that seem to happen suddenly arise from deep roots in the past or from long-dormant seeds (pg xxiv).

To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on the future, or your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk . . . hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope (pg 4). 

 

For more on . . .

Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

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Cannot recommend this book enough, even though for us slow readers, it's quite the undertaking. However, for all the pains and troubles and time, it's fully worth it. 

Not only does Harari somehow manage to capture the entire scope of human history in an engaging and challenging sort of way, he also aptly and continually finds ways to challenge our current mindset and norms of life and living and understanding. He's brilliant! 

Sapiens is one of those must-read books that will linger in its readers mind long after it has been placed on the shelf, only to be passed around or reached for time and time again. If only just to refresh our memory. 

HERE ARE A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump (pg 12).

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into e better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud (pg 79).

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally, they reach a point where they can’t live without it (pg 87).

Ted Kaczynski actually said something very similar in his Manifesto:

Another reason why technology is such a powerful social force is that, within the context of a given society, technological progress marches in only one direction; it can never be reversed. Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it . . .Thus the system can move in only one direction, toward greater technologization. Technology repeatedly forces freedom to take a step back, but technology can never take a step back—short of the overthrow of the whole technological system.

Interesting. Might have to consider that a bit longer.

Back in the snail-mail era, people usually only wrote letters when they had something important to relate. Rather than writing the first thing that came into their heads, they considered carefully what they wanted to say and how to phrase it. They expected to receive a similarly considered answer. Most people wrote and received no more than a handful of letters a month and seldom felt compelled to reply immediately. Today I receive dozens of emails each day, all from people who expect a prompt reply. We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated (pg 88).

How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy, or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature.People are unequal, not because Hammurabi said so, but because Enlil and Marduk decreed it. People are equal, not because Thomas Jefferson said so, but because God created them that way. Free markets are the best economic system, not because Adam Smith said so, but because these are the immutable laws of nature (pg 113).

In order to establish such complex organizations, it’s necessary to convince many strangers to cooperate with one another . . . There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break down our prison walls and run toward freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison (pg 118).

This next quote might be the most disturbing. Growing up in a Christian home and attending church most of my life, I've always heard of the persecution of Christians from the non-believing world. Not how much we've killed ourselves.

In the 300 years from the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, polytheistic Roman emperors initiated no more than four general persecutions of Christians. Local administrators and governors incited some anti-Christian violence of their own. Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians. In contrast, over the course of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion . . . On 23 August 1572, French Catholics who stressed the importance of good deeds attached communities of French Protestants who highlighted God’s love for humankind. In this attack, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants were slaughtered in less than twenty-four hours. When the pope in Rome heard the news from France, he was so overcome by joy that he organized festive prayers to celebrate the occasion and commissioned Giorgio Vasari to decorate one of the Vatican’s room with a fresco of the massacre (the room is currently off-limits to visitors). More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence(pg 216).

There is poetic justice in the fact that a quarter of the world, and two of its seven continents, are named after a little-unknown Italian whose sole claim to fame is that he had the courage to say, “We don’t know” (pg 288).

Strange. That there might be a downside to curiosity. What are the ramifications/consequences of pursing understanding or insight? What (or who) are we killing off? What are we losing?

Just as the Atlantic slave trade did not stem from hatred towards Africans, so the modern animal industry is not motivated by animosity. Again, it is fueled by indifference. Most people who produce and consume eggs, milk and meat rarely stop to think about the fate of the chickens, cows or pigs whose flesh and emissions they are eating. Those who do think often argue that such animals are really little different from machines, devoid of sensations and emotions, incapable of suffering. Ironically, the same scientific disciplines which shape our milk machines and egg machines have lately demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that mammals and birds have a complex sensory and emotional make-up. The not only feel physical pain, but can also suffer from emotional distress (pg 343).

Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over (pg 349).

As long as my personal narrative is in line with the narratives of the people around me, I can convince myself that my life is meaningful, and find happiness in that conviction . . . commercials urge us to “Just Dot It!” Action films, stage dramas, soap operas, novels, and catchy pop songs indoctrinate us constantly,: “be true to yourself”, “Listen to yourself”, “Follow your heart”. Jean-Jacquess Rousseau states this view most classically: “What I feel to be good – is good. What I feel to be bad – is bad.”

People who have been raised from infancy on a diet of such slogans are prone to believe that happiness is a subjective feeling and that each individual best knows whether she is happy or miserable. Yet this view is unique to liberalism. Most religions and ideologies throughout history stated that there are objective yardsticks for goodness and beauty, and for how things ought to be. They were suspicious of the feelings and preferences of the ordinary person. At the entrance of the temple of Apollo at Delphi, pilgrims were greeted by the inscription: “Know thyself!” The implication was that the average person is ignorant of his true self, and is therefore likely to be ignorant of true happiness. Freud would probably (392, 393).

So much to chew on. So much to consider. Just as a good book should be. 

 

For more on . . .

Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

Born a Crime : by Trevor Noah

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"In the hood," Trevor Noah writes, "everybody knows who the best dancer in the crew is. He's like your status symbol. When you're poor you don't have cars or nice clothes, but the best dancers get the girls, so that's the guy you want to roll with. Hitler was our guy" (pg 193). 

In his New York Times best selling memoir, Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah dedicates an entire chapter to his good friend and great dancer, Hitler. And the result is absolutely brilliant. Just like Hitler.

"I often meet people in the West who insist that the Holocaust was the worst atrocity in human history," he continues,

But I often wonder, with African atrocities like the Congo, how horrific were they? The thing Africans don't have that the Jewish people do have is documentation. The Nazis kept meticulous records, took pictures, made films. And that's really what it comes down to. Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and rightly be horrified. But when you read through the history of atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It's harder to be horrified by a guess. When Portugal and Belgium were plundering Angola and the Congo, they weren't counting the black people they slaughtered. How many black people died harvesting rubber in the Congo? In the gold and diamond mines of the Transvaal?

So in Europe and America, yes, Hitler is the Greatest Madman in History. In Africa he's just another strongman from the history books . . .

Because to many South Africans, Hitler was a kind of "army tank that was helping the Germans win the war, or a man so powerful that "at some point black people had to go help white people fight against him - and if the white man has to stoop to ask the black man for help fighting someone, that someone must be the toughest guy of all time" (pg 194). So mothers named their son's Hitler. Because they wanted them to be strong and tough.

So Trevor Noah, while working and thriving as a DJ, had a friend and dancer named Hitler. And it was never a problem. Until King David School hired them for a school dance. It was a Jewish school.

A short while into their set, Trevor started getting the crowed psyched, "Are you guys ready?!" he screamed, and they were. They yelled and hollered and screamed back, "Yeeeeaaaahhhhhh!"

"All right! Give it up and make some noise for HIIIIIIIITTTTTTLLLLLEEEERRRRRR!!!!" Trevor writes. Then, "The whole room stopped. No one was dancing. The teachers, the chaperones, the parents, the hundreds of Jewish kids in their yarmulkes - they froze and stared aghast at us up on the stage" (pg 197). Seconds later, a teacher was on stage, yelling and berating and demanding that the boys apologize. But Trevor didn't understand, was she offended by his dance moves? Where they a bit too sexual and offensive? Either way, she should have know because that's what she hired, those dance moves are their culture. He hadn't a clue that the name Hitler was offensive, and she hadn't a clue that he hadn't a clue. 

They both operated from a truth they believed was universal, and they both interpreted the other through that preconceived truth. Neither was right, and neither was wrong. But they both lost. 

 

Other Favorite quotes and ideas:

“If you stop to consider the ramifications, you’ll never do anything” (pg 22).

“Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people” (pg 56).

“Racism exists. People are getting hurt, and just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s not happening” (pg 57).

“A knowledgeable man is a free man, or at least a man who longs for freedom” (pg 61).

“That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation. My mother calls it “the black tax.” Because the generation who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero” (pg 66).

(Advice from Mother) “Learn from your past and be better because of your past, but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter” (pg 66).

“Catholic school is not the place to be creative and independent” (pg 88).

“You do not own the thing that you love” – story about Fufi (pg 100).

“When a parent is absent, you’re left in the lurch of not knowing, and it’s so easy to fill that space with negative thoughts. ‘They don’t care.’ ‘They’re selfish.’” (pg 108) . . . “Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being” (pg 110).

“That’s where the government came up with things like the pencil test. If you were applying to be white, the pencil went into your hair. If it fell out, you were white. If it stayed in, you were colored. You were what the government said you were. Sometimes that came down to a lone clerk eyeballing your face and making a snap decision. Depending on how high your cheekhones were or how broad your nose was, he could tick whatever box made sense to him, thereby deciding where you could live, whom you could marry, what jobs and rights and privileges you were allowed (pg 119).

For the first in my life I had money, and it was the most liberating thing in the world. The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want toe be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money” (pg 188).

“People love to say, ‘Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.’ What they don’t say is, ‘And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.’ That’s the first part of the analogy that’s missing” (pg 190).

“In society, we do horrible things to one another because we don’t see the person it affects. We don’t see their face. We don’t see them as people (pg 221).

“There were some {parents} who’d actually do that, not pay their kid’s bail, not hire their kid a lawyer – the ultimate tough love. But it doesn’t always work, because you’re giving the kid tough love when maybe he just needs love. You’re trying to teach him a lesson, and now that lesson is the rest of his life” (pg 228).

Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag

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I thought this book was going to be about more than what it was, but I still found it worth reading because, if nothing else, it raised some pretty provocative thoughts and questions. And any book that can do that at least once is worth reading, at least once.

Here are some of the highlights:

The photographs are a means of making “real” (or “more real”) matters that the privileged and the merely safe might prefer to ignore (pg 7).

This reminded me of Jacob Riis and his revolutionary work, "How the Other Half Live" which exposed the rich and privileged to the reality of how many lower income families lived. His work is largely credited with the reform in child labour laws and opening the door to a new way of thinking about the world - Realism.

We are not monsters, we members of the educated class. Our failure is one of imagination, of empathy; we have failed to hold this reality in mind (pg 8).

This sentiment struck a cord with me because it doesn't simply apply to financial status, but all. To those who are emotionally wealthy, to those who are physically or mentally healthy, political or religious it doesn't matter. Those who have find it difficult, at times, to imagine a life that does not. 

In contrast to a written account – which, depending on its complexity of thought, reference, and vocabulary, is pitched at a larger or smaller readership – a photograph has only one language and is destined potentially for all (pg 20).

The slight of hand allows photographs to be both objective record and personal testimony, both a faithful copy or transcription of an actual moment of reality and an interpretation of that reality – a feat literature has long aspired to, but could never attain in this literal sense (pg 26).

This might apply to most writers, but whenever I ask my students to draw what they see in "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, they all draw - almost to perfection - the exact same thing. It doesn't matter the age, the ethnicity, the location, or anything else, it's all the same. And that's pretty amazing.

Photography is the only major art in which professional training and years of experience do not confer an insuperable advantage over the untrained and inexperienced  - this for many reasons, among them that large role that chance (or luck) plays in the taking of pictures, and the bias toward the spontaneous, the rough, the imperfect. (There is no comparable level playing field in literature, where virtually nothing owes to chance or luck and where refinement of language usually incurs no penalty; or in the performing arts, where genuine achievement is unattainable without exhaustive training and daily practice; or in filmmaking, which is not guided to any significant degree by the anti-art prejudices of much of contemporary art photography) – pg 28,29

This is perhaps the single most reason why photography is so popular, but also why it is so difficult. Anyone can take a good shot once or perhaps just a few times, but to capture the moment, the mood, or the spirit of a moment time and time again takes experience and expertise. Just like any other art form.

What does it mean to protest suffering, as distinct from acknowledge it? 

I don't know, but that's a great question. I'll have to think more on it.

But surely the wounded Taliban soldier begging for his life whose fate was pictured prominently in The New York Times also had a wife, children, parents, sisters and brothers, some of whom may one day come across the three color photographs of their husband, father, son, brother being slaughtered – if they have not already seen them (pg 73).

This quote really struck me. Because it's right. How often do I see the death and suffering of people all over the world and forget, especially in times of conflict, that they too are fathers, sons, brothers, and friends. That they too will have people weeping over the loss of life. That they too are just as human. 

For photographs to accuse, and possibly to alter conduct, they must shock” (pg 81). Yet, “Shock can become familiar. Shock can wear off (pg 82).

Which then begs for more provocative, more shocking photographs, which dulls us even more. The question here that isn't asked but should be is how long will this cycle continue before we no longer feel shock at all? Before all suffering and abuse is simply familiar?

And what can we do to fight against it?

 

Resources:

-       Tennyson, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

-       Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by Walker Evans

-       Kazuo Hara’s, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

 

To Consider:

-       The planting of the American flag on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945 by photographer Joe Rosenthal was reenacted. It was staged. Is this okay? For the purpose it was wanting to serve, was it okay to reproduce an event? It has inspired thousands and has become an iconic moment and image of American history . . . does that fact that it isn't completely authentic in time and space make it any less relevant or powerful of a moment? Of what it symbolizes? 

-       How could church going citizens create and use postcards that depict lynched and murdered African American men and woman? But even before that, how could church going citizens LYNCH AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN AND WOMAN?!?!? And how can they/we still do it today?

What will people be saying of us, in just a few short years from now?

 

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Reading Log 2017  :  Reading Log 2018

We Need to Talk, by Celeste Headlee

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As in many other cases, this book is probably best read as a short pamphlet or heard in 18 minutes or less TedTalk. It just gets repetitive, preachy, and a bit shallow as it tries to fill the non-fiction quota of pages.

“The ease of having ‘friends’ online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don’t feel like responding to others’ ‘problems.’ (pg 23)

It’s not about what someone can do for you, it’s who the two of you become in each other’s presence (pg 25)

Make a list of things people do in conversation that bother me. Do they repeat themselves? Ramble on? Interrupt? Then, ask if you do those things often or just once in a while (pg 45)

Story of Xernona and Craig – She didn’t set out to change his mind, rather change his heart, because, “you’ve got to change a man’s heart before you can change his behavior” (pg 62).

Halo and horns effect – the tendency to lump people into groups

“When we enter a conversation, all of our preconceived notions – most of which have no basis in reality – will affect its outcome. No matter how right and true your opinion feels, you consider that it may be a stereotype and not fact” (pg 68).

“ . . . assume that everyone is trying to bring about some kind of positive result in their lives (pg 69).

“It really didn’t matter if I agreed . . . or not. What mattered is” the acknowledging of pain and allowing for the opportunity to speak about it (pg 79).

Conversation Narcissim: The desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking, and to turn the focus of the exchange to  yourself (pg 105).

“In time of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to liste with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers” (pg 165).

Resources:

1.     Wired for Culture, by Mark Pagel

2.     Reclaiming Conversation, by Sherry Turkle

3.     My students don’t know how to have a conversation, 2014 Atlantic

4.     The Norton book of Frienships, by Ronald Sharp

5.     The power of Apology, by Beverly Engel

6.     Think like a freak, by Steven Levitt

Look Into: Loving Kindness Meditation