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Current Topic: Society

For Other People, Not For Yourself
Topic: Society 7:13 am EDT, Apr 22, 2013

Stanley McChrystal:

You have to not lose confidence in what you are doing.

You have to be able to go to the edge of the abyss without losing hope.

Sarah Kendzior:

Hope is something you should have for other people, not for yourself.

Elizabeth Smither:

The sea asks "How is your life now?"
It does so obliquely, changing colour.
It is never the same on any two visits.

It doesn't presume to wear a white coat
But it questions you like a psychologist
As you walk beside it on its long couch.

Rebecca Brock:

You can't even remember what I'm trying to forget.

Rachel DeWoskin:

Is it possible to re-imagine what you can't remember?

My friend, the writer Emily Rapp,
who just lost her baby, Ronan, to Tay-Sachs,
likes to respond,
"Yes, you can,"
when people say, "I can't imagine."

David Foster Wallace:

If you've never wept and want to, have a child.

Wislawa Szymborska:

Even a simple "Hi there," when traded with a fish, make
both the fish and you
feel quite extraordinary.

An Experience of Unfading Freshness
Topic: Society 7:25 am EST, Feb 19, 2013

Michael W. Clune:

Augustine writes that the experience of a person listening to a song he knows well becomes thin, ghostly. The listener feels himself "stretched" between the memory of the notes just played and the anticipation of the notes to come; he hardly hears the present notes as they pass. But the first time he hears that song, the listener's experience is rich and full. Time swells and slows. His mind, trying to grasp the complex form of the song, comes alive. And then, almost at once, the richness fades. As he beings to understand the form of the song, the song's magic begins to disappear. This is the tragic paradox of our perceptual existence. The effort to grasp the object's form triggers the intense sensory engagement that the success of that effort destroys.

But what if what you felt the first time you heard a song could last forever? What if you discovered an immortal song, a song that never gets old? Listening to it provides you with an experience of unfading freshness, of unending novelty. To imagine such music is to imagine a device for stopping time within time. This music would be like a hand grasping your heart, like a lover's kiss, fused with a star's immortality.

Ron Horning:

By consumerist ideology, nothing could be more enjoyable than a shopping spree. What could be better than exercising one's freedom of choice, over and over again, to get new and exciting things, to have novel experiences tailored especially for our personal delight?

To capitalize on convenience and autonomy in a consumer marketplace, we must first allow our desires to be commodified and suppress the desires that don't lend themselves to commodification. We have to permit more intrusive surveillance to enjoy the supposed benefits of customization. We have to buy into a quantity-over-quality ethos for aspects of life where it has never made any sense, like intimacy.

For online dating sites, the optimal customer is an oversexed solipsist addicted to novelty. But interacting with the sites doesn't have to be a matter of sitting alone at your computer (or staring into a phone) and attenuating your personal predilections as if they came entirely from within and existed independently of social relations. Instead, it can be a confrontation with how little we know about ourselves and how we might aspire to be sure of even less.

Roger Ebert:

I used to believe it was preposterous that people could fall in love online. Now I see that all relationships are virtual, even those that take place in person. Whether we use our bodies or a keyboard, it all comes down to two minds crying out from their solitude.

Tim Kreider's married friend:

It's not as if being married means you're any less alone.

Where It's At
Topic: Society 8:04 am EST, Jan 30, 2013

Richard Thaler:

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is... Work on your own ideas, not your advisor's ideas (or at least in addition to her ideas). And spend more time thinking and less time reading.

Try writing the first paper on some topic, not the tenth, and never the 50th.

Stanley McChrystal:

You have to not lose confidence in what you are doing. You have to be able to go to the edge of the abyss without losing hope.

Rafiq Kathwari:

The world is vast. Plumb
your own universe.

Nathaniel Rich:

The deeper you dive, the more you get paid. In his second or third year an apprentice may be promoted, or "broken out," to a full-time diver. His salary will increase to between $60,000 and $75,000. He will start as an "air diver," diving as deep as 120 feet while breathing regular air. Jobs at this depth might include retrieving tools from the worksite, or cutting and retrieving the polypropylene cord that runs between the surface vessel and the underwater worksite. Next the diver will be assigned to more complex jobs below a hundred feet, for which he must breathe mixed gas in order to avoid suffering the effects of nitrogen narcosis while working with heavy machinery. A full-time mixed-gas diver can earn more than $100,000 a year. He will perform jobs at ever greater depths, with higher degrees of technical difficulty, until his diving supervisor deems him ready to graduate to saturation diving. Sat divers can make $200,000 a year. Sat's where it's at.

Nizar Qabbani:

Dive into the sea, or stay away.

Narratives: The American, The General, The Negative, The Predominant, The Persistent, The Fundamental, The Betrayal
Topic: Society 12:07 am EST, Nov 18, 2012

Decius's Lessons from the CDA battle:

Politics costs money.

Politicians care about votes, money, and the general narrative.

Civil liberties really matter, and nobody cares.

Ted Cruz, now the senator-elect from Texas:

I think every case in litigation and every argument in politics is about the fundamental narrative. If you can frame the narrative, you win. As Sun Tzu said, every battle is won before it is fought. And it is won by choosing the field of terrain on which the fight will be engaged.

Jonathan Rauch:

We can assume that if the Iraq War ends badly, some Republican hard-liners, amplified by conservative talk radio, will accuse the Democrats of perfidy. The question is: Will the betrayal narrative find traction with the broader American public?

A message from Quark Lynch Goldwatch & Crassfield:

We can help you develop negative narratives that will undermine the credibility of people who express political opinions that you disagree with.

Montgomery McFate:

Insurgency runs in families and social networks, held together by persistent cultural narratives.


The American narrative centers around Boston with its religious pilgrims and revolutionaries, but there is certainly something alluring about the south of the 1600s, with its walled cities, forts, artillery, sailing ships, pirates, sand, sun, and palm trees.

Slavoj Žižek, from 2008:

The danger is thus that the predominant narrative of the meltdown won't be the one that awakes us from a dream, but the one that will enable us to continue to dream.

The Challenge Of Our Generation
Topic: Society 7:56 am EDT, Mar 19, 2012

Tim Parks:

Is it age, wisdom, senility? ... I'm enjoying it thoroughly, and then the moment comes when I just know I've had enough. It's not that I've stopped enjoying it. I'm not bored, I don't even think it's too long. I just have no desire to go on enjoying it.

Greg Smith:

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

"Lloyd Blankfein":

At Goldman, we pride ourselves on our ability to scour the world's universities and business schools for the finest sociopaths money will buy. Once in our internship program, these youths are subjected to rigorous evaluations to root out even the slightest evidence of a soul. But, as the case of Mr. Smith shows, even the most time-tested system for detecting shreds of humanity can blow a gasket now and then. For that, we can only offer you our deepest apology and the reassurance that one good apple won't spoil the whole bunch.

Casey A. Gollan:

We see life where there is only code, code falling for other code, us falling for code. It can't be long until code really does fall for us.

Sam Knight:

High Frequency Trading now accounts for about 75 percent of all US equity transactions.

Casey A. Gollan:

Part of the reason systems are hard to see is because they're an abstraction. They don't really exist until you articulate them.

However, if you can manage to divine the secret connections and interdependencies between things, it's like putting on glasses for the first time. Your headache goes away and you can focus on how you want to change things.

Atul Gawande:

Making systems work is the challenge of our generation.

Balance Out of Life
Topic: Society 1:11 am EST, Feb 12, 2012

Wyatt Hodgson:

Koyaanisqatsi (1982) at 1552% speed.


There are certain basic pleasures of the ancient world that one has to work very hard to come by today. We've cut ourselves off from things that even our grandfathers took for granted.

Jamie Hogan:

If one genius bear can do it, sooner or later there might be two genius bears.

Balance Out of Life

Things That Can't Be Bought | A Noteworthy Year
Topic: Society 12:12 pm EST, Dec 29, 2011


The challenge of information technology is facilitating the search for truth. Building an infrastructure for truth. Building a process that truly seeks the truth and a system for engaging in that process.

Rebecca Solnit:

Everything changes. Sometimes you have to change it yourself.

Neal Stephenson:

I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done.

Marco Arment:

Attention to detail, like most facets of truly good design, can't be (and never is) added later. It's an entire development philosophy, methodology, and culture.

Steve Jobs:

We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, "What is the purpose of a sofa?"

Rita King:

If people thought about dying more often, they'd think about living differently.

Jonathan Franzen:

The fundamental fact about all of us is that we're alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.

Michael Chabon:

To attempt to live up to your children's expectations -- to hew to the ideals you espouse and the morals that you lay down for them -- is to guarantee a life of constant failure, a failure equivalent with parenthood itself.

Roger Scruton:

The decline of religion has deprived us of sacred things. But it has not deprived us of the need for them.

Patrick McKenzie:

Add revenue. Reduce costs. Those are your only goals.

Rebecca Solnit:

I believe that slowness is an act of resistance, not because slowness is a good in itself but because of all that it makes room for, the things that don't get measured and can't be bought.

How Far Apart We Are | A Noteworthy Year
Topic: Society 9:55 am EST, Dec 28, 2011

Barry Schwartz:

Are people actually liberated by all this freedom? Living a decent life just isn't good enough anymore. Why would you settle for decent when anything is possible?

Lawrence Lessig:

Whether or not you believe in capitalism, nobody believes in crony capitalism, and crony capitalism is what we've got.

Clay Shirky:

Bad discourse isn't a behavior problem, it's a design problem.

David Frum:

Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another. If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don't usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves.

Harold Bloom:

Obsessed by a freedom we identify with money, we tolerate plutocracy as if it could someday be our own ecstatic solitude. I wonder though which is more dangerous, a knowledge-hungry religious zealotry or a proudly stupid one? Either way we are condemned to remain a plutocracy and oligarchy.

Clarence W. Dupnik, the Pima County sheriff:

Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.

Tony Judt:

We appear to have lost the capacity to question the present, much less offer alternatives to it.

Douglas Rushkoff:

The debt-based economy was invented so that people with money could get richer by having money, that's what it's for.

Joe Brown:

In this economy, $2.1 million is probably enough to make you a one-man special-interest group with some serious Washington clout.

But don't. Buy a Grand Sport.

Tyler Cowen:

The pro-wealth cultural vision may be overly optimistic about human willingness to embrace the idea of responsibility.

Paul Krugman:

By all means, let's listen to each other more carefully; but what we'll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are.

The Dynamics of the System
Topic: Society 12:09 pm EST, Nov 24, 2011

Barry Schwartz:

Are people actually liberated by all this freedom?

Living a decent life just isn't good enough anymore. Why would you settle for decent when anything is possible?

It turns out that when you give people this kind of unconstrained opportunity to reinvent themselves, they don't know what to do.

In this land of milk and honey of unimagined freedom and affluence, everybody seems to be miserable.

Louis CK:

Everything is amazing right now, and nobody's happy ...

Brian Eno:

Use the dynamics of the system to take you in the direction you wanted to go.

Tyler Cowen:

The pro-wealth cultural vision may be overly optimistic about human willingness to embrace the idea of responsibility.

The relevant question, in my view, is not about how much you have earned but about how you have earned it.

Doris Lessing:

What government, anywhere in the world, will happily envisage its subjects learning to free themselves from governmental and state rhetoric and pressures? Passionate loyalty and subjection to group pressure is what every state relies on.

No, I cannot imagine any nation -- or not for long -- teaching its citizens to become individuals able to resist group pressures.

The Bigger The Lie, The More They Believe
Topic: Society 1:19 pm EST, Nov 20, 2011

Paul Graham:

I'm not saying we should stop, but I think we should at least examine which lies we tell and why.


The bigger the lie, the more they believe.

From the Wikipedia summary:

Bunk makes this remark after perpetrating an elaborate hoax to trick a young suspect into confessing to a crime. Season 5 of the Wire will revolve around a series of lies, both public and private.

Paul Owen:

The big lie is a unifying theory ... We're led to a world in which a respected public servant has created an enormous lie, manufactured entirely bogus, disparate evidence, produced that evidence to an unquestioning media and prosecuted that lie at huge cost.

The big lie doesn't, of course, become a populist reality ... by repetition. To succeed it must be embraced and amplified by mainstream media.

Mark Bowden:

Journalism, done right, is enormously powerful precisely because it does not seek power. It seeks truth.

"Leonard Nimoy":

It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies. And in the end, isn't that the real truth?

The answer ... is No.

The Bigger The Lie, The More They Believe

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