Saturday, November 26, 2016
An impossible and unheard of thing twenty years ago, mass customization is apparently one of the sweeter fruits of technological growth. Seth Godin has the story - here.
Now if men were so constituted by nature as to desire nothing but what is prescribed by true reason, society would stand in no need of any laws. Nothing would be required but to teach men true moral doctrine, and they would then act to their true advantage of their own accord, wholeheartedly and freely. But human nature is far differently constituted. All men do, indeed, seek their own advantage, but by no means from the dictates of sound reason. For the most part the objectives they seek and judge to be beneficial are determined only by fleshly desire, and they are carried away by their emotions, which take no account of the future or of other considerations. Hence no society can subsist without government and coercion, and consequently without laws to control and restrain men's lusts and their unbridled urges. Yet human nature will not submit to unlimited repression, and, as Seneca says in his tragedy, rule that depends on violence has never long continued; moderate rule endures. For as long as men act only from fear, they are doing what they are most opposed to doing, taking not account of the usefulness and the necessity of the action to be done, concerned only not to incur capital or other punishment. Indeed, they inevitably rejoice at misfortune or injury to their ruler event when this involves their own considerable misfortune, and they wish every ill on him, and bring this about when they can. Again, men are impatient above all at being subject to their equals and under their rule. Finally, there is nothing more difficult that to take away freedoms from men to whom it has once been granted.
-Baruch Spinoza, as excerpted from Theological-Political Treatise
What is the big human brain for? About five hundred thousand years ago, the cranial capacity of our hominid ancestors' skulls doubled in size from 600 cubic centimeters to its present 1,200 cubic centimeters. The fashionable explanation for all this extra brain is to enable us to make tools and weapons; you have to be really smart to deal instrumentally with the physical world. The British theoretical psychologist Nick Humphrey has presented an alternative: the big brain is a social problem solver, not a physical problem solver. As I converse with my students, how do I solve the problem of saying something that Marge will think is funny, that won't offend Tom, and that will persuade Derek that he is wrong without rubbing his nose in it? These are extremely complicated problems - problems that computers, which can design weapons and tools in a trice, cannot solve. But humans can and do solve social problems, every hour of the day. The massive prefrontal cortex that we have is continually using its billions of connections to simulate social possibilities and then to choose the optimal course of action. So the big brain is a relationship simulation machine, and has been selected by evolution for exactly the function of designing and carrying out harmonious but effective human relationships.
-Martin E. P. Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being
Friday, November 25, 2016
“The whole thing taught me not to worry about the things you can’t control,” Kushner says. “You can control how you react and can try to make things happen as you want them to. I focus on doing my best to ensure the outcomes. And when it doesn’t go my way I have to work harder the next time.”
-Jared Kushner, as excerpted from this Forbes article
Since Donald Trump’s surprise victory -- though it wasn’t a surprise to those of you with the power of hindsight -- there have been numerous after-the-fact explanations for why Trump beat Hillary Clinton. Many appear to be delightful exercises in data mining, the finding of “historical patterns that are driven by random, not real, relationships.” Add to this the assumption that these explanations are durable and will repeat in the future, and you have the makings of a terrible investment process.
-Barry Ritholtz, as extracted from this post
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable way up. Hence my snide comment about Sartre's "Hell is other people." My friend Stephen Post, professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook, tells a story about his mother. When he was a young boy, and his mother saw that he was in a bad mood, she would say, "Stephen, you are looking piqued. Why don't you go out and help someone?" Empirically, Ma Post's maxim has been put to rigorous test, and we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.
-Martin E. P. Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being
The fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9th 1989, was when history was said to have ended. The fight between communism and capitalism was over. After a titanic ideological struggle encompassing the decades after the second world war, open markets and Western liberal democracy reigned supreme. In the early morning of November 9th 2016, when Donald Trump crossed the threshold of 270 electoral-college votes to become America's president-elect, that illusion was shattered. History is back - with a vengeance.
-The Economist, as excerpted from this Leaders essay
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
"Confidence is the common consequence of success. They whose excellence of any kind has been loudly celebrated, are ready to conclude that their powers are universal."
-Samuel Johnson, Johnson on Shakespeare: essays and notes
That praises are without reason lavished on the dead, and that the honours due only to excellence are paid to antiquity, is a complaint likely to be always continued by those, who, being able to add nothing to truth, hope for eminence from the heresies of paradox; or those, who, being forced by disappointment upon consolatory expedients, are willing to hope from posterity what the present age refuses, and flatter themselves that the regard which is yet denied by envy, will be at last bestowed by time.
-Samuel Johnson, Johnson on Shakespeare: essays and notes
..................the statistics, you know trouble is ahead. This may, or may not, be an interesting breakdown. Let me take a stab in the dark at it and suggest it is misleading. The root article is behind the Washington Post paywall (and I won't be paying). Just wondering how they define "economic activity"? I'm guessing that Wall Street accounts for a significant percentage all by itself, but how truly productive is that activity? Farming and the oil/gas industry may not add up to a lot of "economic activity," but I am fairly certain they are truly productive. Just wondering.
.............................asks some great questions. For instance:
Can MSNBC news reader Brian Williams tell the truth any better than the Michigan lathe operator?
-as excerpted from this essay discussing "wisdom."
Everyone's true happiness and blessedness consists solely in the enjoyment of good, not in priding himself that he alone is enjoying that good to the exclusion of others. He who counts himself more blessed because he alone enjoys wellbeing not shared by others, or because he is more blessed and fortunate that others, knows not what is true happiness and blessedness, and the joy he derives therefrom, if it be not mere childishness, has its only source in spite and malice. For example, a man's true happiness and blessedness consists solely in wisdom and knowledge of truth, and not in that he is wiser than others, or that others are without true knowledge. This adds nothing at all to his wisdom, that is, his true happiness. So he who rejoices for this reason rejoices at another's misfortune, and is therefore spiteful and malicious, knowing neither true wisdom nor the peace of the true life.
-Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, as translated by Samuel Shirley
Of course, when I urge a multidisciplinary approach - that you've got to have the main models from a broad array of disciplines and you've got to use them all - I'm really asking you to ignore jurisdictional boundaries.
And the world isn't organized that way. It discourages the jumping of jurisdictional boundaries. Big bureaucratic businesses discourage it. And, of course, academia itself discourages it. All I can say there is that, in that respect, academia is horribly wrong and dysfunctional.
And some of the worst dysfunctions in businesses come from the fact that they balkanize reality into little individual departments with territoriality and turf protection and so forth. So if you want to be a good thinker, you must develop a mind that can jump the jurisdictional boundaries.
You don't have to know it all. Just take the best big ideas from all these disciplines. And it's not that hard to do.
-Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie's Almanack, the Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
..................George Herbert Walker Bush's 1989 Inaugural Address:
A President is neither prince nor pope, and I don't seek a window on men's souls. In fact, I yearn for a greater tolerance, and easygoingness about each other's attitudes and way of life.
And so, there is much to do. And tomorrow the work begins. And I do not mistrust the future. I do not fear what is ahead. For our problems are large, but our heart is larger. Our challenges are great, but our will is greater. And if our flaws are endless, God's love is truly boundless.
Some see leadership as high drama and the sound of trumpets calling, and sometimes it is that. But I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds. And so, today a chapter begins, a small and stately story of unity, diversity, and generosity -- shared, and written, together.
........................William J. Clinton's 1993 Inaugural Address:
Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. And so today we pledge an end to the era of deadlock and drift, and a new season of American renewal has begun.
To renew America, we must be bold. We must do what no generation has had to do before. We must invest more in our own people, in their jobs, and in their future, and at the same time cut our massive debt. And we must do so in a world in which we must compete for every opportunity. It will not be easy. It will require sacrifice, but it can be done and done fairly, not choosing sacrifice for its own sake but for our own sake. We must provide for our Nation the way a family provides for its children.
Our Founders saw themselves in the light of posterity. We can do no less. Anyone who has ever watched a child's eyes wander into sleep knows what posterity is. Posterity is the world to come: the world for whom we hold our ideals, from whom we have borrowed our planet, and to whom we bear sacred responsibility. We must do what America does best: offer more opportunity to all and demand more responsibility from all. It is time to break the bad habit of expecting something for nothing from our Government or from each other. Let us all take more responsibility not only for ourselves and our families but for our communities and our country.
To renew America, we must revitalize our democracy. This beautiful Capital, like every capital since the dawn of civilization, is often a place of intrigue and calculation. Powerful people maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting those people whose toil and sweat sends us here and pays our way. Americans deserve better. And in this city today there are people who want to do better. And so I say to all of you here: Let us resolve to reform our politics so that power and privilege no longer shout down the voice of the people. Let us put aside personal advantage so that we can feel the pain and see the promise of America. Let us resolve to make our Government a place for what Franklin Roosevelt called bold, persistent experimentation, a Government for our tomorrows, not our yesterdays. Let us give this Capital back to the people to whom it belongs.
................from Barack Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address:
Forty-four Americans have now taken the Presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.
So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our Nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted, for those who prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things--some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor--who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.
.......................from Ronald Reagan's 1981 Inaugural Address:
From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.
It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we're too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We're not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope.
full text is here
Monday, November 21, 2016
Furthermore, as men's ways of thinking vary considerably and different beliefs are better suited to different men, and what moves one to reverence provokes ridicule in another, I repeat the conclusion already stated, that everyone should be allowed freedom of judgment and the right to interpret the basic tenants of his faith as he thinks fit, and that the moral value of a man's creed should be judged only from his works. In this way all men would be able to obey God whole-heartedly and freely, and only justice and charity would be held in universal esteem.
-Baruch Spinoza, as culled from Samuel Shirley's second edition translation of his Theological-Political Treatise
Sunday, November 20, 2016
.......................................sensible writing I've seen in the Washington Post for a long time (granted, I'm not an every day reader). As they say, read the whole thing. Two wee excerpts:
Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.
Finally, the Democratic Party should also find a credible candidate among young leaders, one outside the party’s Brahmins. The news that Chelsea Clinton is considering running for office is the worst possible. If the Democratic Party is turning into a monarchy, how can it fight the autocratic tendencies in Mr. Trump?
"I used to think that paired opposites were a given, that love was the opposite of hate, right the opposite of wrong. But now I think we sometimes buy into these concepts because it is so much easier to embrace absolutes than to suffer reality. I don’t think anything is the opposite of love. Reality is unforgivingly complex."
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
The life of Darwin demonstrates how a turtle may outrun a hare, aided by extreme objectivity, which helps the objective person end up like the only player without a blindfold in a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
If you minimize objectivity, you ignore not only the lesson from Darwin but also from Einstein. Einstein said that his successful theories came from "Curiosity, concentration, perseverance, and self-criticism." And by self-criticism, he meant the testing and destruction of his own well-loved ideas.
-Charlie Munger, as extracted from Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger
-Charles Munger, as culled from Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger
“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”