and neither can we

ellen luna:

Have you ever been to Northern California and stood at the base of a redwood tree? If you have, you know firsthand its majesty, its size, the trunk that you and even two or three friends cannot wrap your arms around. These trees reach unfathomable heights, strong and beautiful, lifting skyward. But what you cannot see when you stand at the foot of this tree is what is happening underneath. While a redwood tree can grow 360 feet tall, the roots are only, on average about ten feet deep. This is because they spread their roots outward, searching for other redwood trees. Their roots intertwine under the ground, and they hold each other up. A redwood tree cannot stand on its own, and neither can we.

zero to one by peter thiel and blake masters

Today’s “best practices” lead to dead ends; the best paths are new and untried.

Indeed, the single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.

Horizontal or extensive progress means copying things that work—going from 1 to n. Horizontal progress is easy to imagine because we already know what it looks like. Vertical or intensive progress means doing new things—going from 0 to 1. Vertical progress is harder to imagine because it requires doing something nobody else has ever done.

At the macro level, the single word for horizontal progress is globalization—taking things that work somewhere and making them work everywhere. China is the paradigmatic example of globalization; its 20-year plan is to become like the United States is today… The single word for vertical, 0 to 1 progress is technology. The rapid progress of information technology in recent decades has made Silicon Valley the capital of “technology” in general. But there is no reason why technology should be limited to computers. Properly understood, any new and better way of doing things is technology.

Positively defined, a startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future. A new company’s most important strength is new thinking: even more important than nimbleness, small size affords space to think.

In business, money is either an important thing or it is everything. Monopolists can afford to think about things other than making money; non-monopolists can’t. In perfect competition, a business is so focused on today’s margins that it can’t possibly plan for a long-term future. Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits.

Ellison and Siebel spent the second half of the ’90s trying to sabotage each other. At one point, Ellison sent truckloads of ice cream sandwiches to Siebel’s headquarters to try to convince Siebel employees to jump ship. The copy on the wrappers? “Summer is near. Oracle is here. To brighten your day and your career.”

Every monopoly is unique, but they usually share some combination of the following characteristics: proprietary technology, network effects, economies of scale, and branding.

What really matters is generating cash flows in the future, so being the first mover doesn’t do you any good if someone else comes along and unseats you. It’s much better to be the last mover—that is, to make the last great development in a specific market and enjoy years or even decades of monopoly profits. The way to do that is to dominate a small niche and scale up from there, toward your ambitious long-term vision. In this one particular at least, business is like chess. Grandmaster José Raúl Capablanca put it well: to succeed, “you must study the endgame before everything else.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson captured this ethos when he wrote: “Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances.… Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

The philosophy of the ancient world was pessimistic: Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Lucretius all accepted strict limits on human potential. The only question was how best to cope with our tragic fate. Modern philosophers have been mostly optimistic. From Herbert Spencer on the right and Hegel in the center to Marx on the left, the 19th century shared a belief in progress. These thinkers expected material advances to fundamentally change human life for the better: they were definite optimists.

Making small changes to things that already exist might lead you to a local maximum, but it won’t help you find the global maximum.

The biggest secret in venture capital is that the best investment in a successful fund equals or outperforms the entire rest of the fund combined.

VC investment accounts for less than 0.2% of GDP. But the results of those investments disproportionately propel the entire economy. Venture-backed companies create 11% of all private sector jobs. They generate annual revenues equivalent to an astounding 21% of GDP. Indeed, the dozen largest tech companies were all venture-backed. Together those 12 companies are worth more than $2 trillion, more than all other tech companies combined.

A startup is the largest endeavor over which you can have definite mastery. You can have agency not just over your own life, but over a small and important part of the world. It begins by rejecting the unjust tyranny of Chance. You are not a lottery ticket.

institutionalized education traffics in a kind of homogenized, generic knowledge.

The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside.

A board of three is ideal. Your board should never exceed five people, unless your company is publicly held.

A company does better the less it pays the CEO—that’s one of the single clearest patterns I’ve noticed from investing in hundreds of startups. In no case should a CEO of an early-stage, venture-backed startup receive more than $150,000 per year in salary.

If a CEO collects $300,000 per year, he risks becoming more like a politician than a founder. High pay incentivizes him to defend the status quo along with his salary, not to work with everyone else to surface problems and fix them aggressively. A cash-poor executive, by contrast, will focus on increasing the value of the company as a whole.

A startup is a team of people on a mission, and a good culture is just what that looks like on the inside.

Why would someone join your company… But there are two general kinds of good answers: answers about your mission and answers about your team.

The best thing I did as a manager at PayPal was to make every person in the company responsible for doing just one thing. Every employee’s one thing was unique, and everyone knew I would evaluate him only on that one thing. I had started doing this just to simplify the task of managing people. But then I noticed a deeper result: defining roles reduced conflict. Most fights inside a company happen when colleagues compete for the same responsibilities.

But advertising doesn’t exist to make you buy a product right away; it exists to embed subtle impressions that will drive sales later. Anyone who can’t acknowledge its likely effect on himself is doubly deceived.

In mid-2000, we had survived the dot-com crash and we were growing fast, but we faced one huge problem: we were losing upwards of $10 million to credit card fraud every month (at Paypal).

Today’s companies have an insatiable appetite for data, mistakenly believing that more data always creates more value. But big data is usually dumb data.

Doing something different is what’s truly good for society—and it’s also what allows a business to profit by monopolizing a new market. The best projects are likely to be overlooked, not trumpeted by a crowd; the best problems to work on are often the ones nobody else even tries to solve.

OF THE SIX PEOPLE who started PayPal, four had built bombs in high school.

Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better—to go from 0 to 1. The essential first step is to think for yourself. Only by seeing our world anew, as fresh and strange as it was to the ancients who saw it first, can we both re-create it and preserve it for the future.

So good they can’t ignore you by cal newport

Quotes from the book

If “follow your passion” is bad advice, what should I do instead?

Don’t follow your passion; rather, let it follow you in your quest to become, in the words of my favorite Steve Martin quote, “so good that they can’t ignore you.”

We’ll also return to Thomas, who after his dispiriting realization at the monastery was able to return to his first principles, move his focus away from finding the right work and toward working right, and eventually build, for the first time in his life, a love for what he does. This is the happiness that you, too, should demand.

In an interview with the public radio host Ira Glass, for example, a group of three undergraduates press him for wisdom on how to “figure out what you want” and “know what you’ll be good at.” “In the movies there’s this idea that you should just go for your dream,” Glass tells them. “But I don’t believe that. Things happen in stages.”

Noticing the stricken faces of his interviewers, who were perhaps hoping to hear something more uplifting than work is hard, so suck it up, Glass continues: “I feel like your problem is that you’re trying to judge all things in the abstract before you do them. That’s your tragic mistake.”2

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work:

  • Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important

  • Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do

  • Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people

To summarize, I’ve presented two different ways people think about their working life. The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you.

(Ira Glass) “All of us who do creative work… you get into this thing, and there’s like a ‘gap.’ What you’re making isn’t so good, okay?… It’s trying to be good but… it’s just not that great,” he explained in an interview about his career. “The key thing is to force yourself through the work, force the skills to come; that’s the hardest phase,”

Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors. The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level. The grand masters, on average, dedicated around 5,000 hours out of their 10,000 to serious study. The intermediate players, by contrast, dedicated only around 1,000 to this activity.

(Geoff Colvin) Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands…. Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.

Dan Pink’s 2009 bestselling book Drive, for example, reviews the dizzying array of different ways that control has been found to improve people’s lives. As Pink summarizes the literature, more control leads to better grades, better sports performance, better productivity, and more happiness.

Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.

(Derek Sivers) “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules,” he said. “Do what people are willing to pay for.”

To have a mission is to have a unifying focus for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides an answer to the question, What should I do with my life? Missions are powerful because they focus your energy toward a useful goal, and this in turn maximizes your impact on your world—a crucial factor in loving what you do. People who feel like their careers truly matter are more satisfied with their working lives, and they’re also more resistant to the strain of hard work.

Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid, leaving more opportunity for those like us who are willing to take the time to carefully work out the best path forward and then confidently take action.

For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.

Working right trumps finding the right work—it’s a simple idea, but it’s also incredibly subversive, as it overturns decades of folk career advice all focused on the mystical value of passion.

Don’t obsess over discovering your true calling. Instead, master rare and valuable skills. Once you build up the career capital that these skills generate, invest it wisely. Use it to acquire control over what you do and how you do it, and to identify and act on a life-changing mission.

think like a freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life.

Knowing what to measure, and how to measure it, can make a complicated world less so.

The conventional wisdom is often wrong. And a blithe acceptance of it can lead to sloppy, wasteful, or even dangerous outcomes.

Correlation does not equal causality. When two things travel together, it is tempting to assume that one causes the other. Married people, for instance, are demonstrably happier than single people; does this mean that marriage causes happiness? Not necessarily. The data suggest that happy people are more likely to get married in the first place. As one researcher memorably put it, “If you’re grumpy, who the hell wants to marry you?”

The absurdly talented George Bernard Shaw—a world-class writer and a founder of the London School of Economics—noted this thought deficit many years ago. “Few people think more than two or three times a year,” Shaw reportedly said. “I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.”

One thing we’ve learned is that when people, especially politicians, start making decisions based on a reading of their moral compass, facts tend to be among the first casualties.

It has long been said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are I love you. We heartily disagree! For most people, it is much harder to say I don’t know.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan was famous for saying: “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.”

The world is also thick with “entrepreneurs of error,” as the economist Edward Glaeser calls them, political and religious and business leaders who “supply beliefs when it will increase their own financial or political returns.”

…ultracrepidarianism…“the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence.”

Think back to the soccer player who was about to take a life-changing penalty kick. Aiming toward the center has a better chance of success, but aiming toward a corner is less risky to his own reputation. So that’s where he shoots. Every time we pretend to know something, we are doing the same: protecting our own reputation rather than promoting the collective good. None of us want to look stupid, or at least overmatched, by admitting we don’t know an answer. The incentives to fake it are simply too strong.

While one might expect that suicide is highest among people whose lives are the hardest, research by Lester and others suggests the opposite: suicide is more common among people with a higher quality of life. “If you’re unhappy and you have something to blame your unhappiness on—if it’s the government, or the economy, or something—then that kind of immunizes you against committing suicide,” he says. “It’s when you have no external cause to blame for your unhappiness that suicide becomes more likely. I’ve used this idea to explain why African-Americans have lower suicide rates, why blind people whose sight is restored often become suicidal, and why adolescent suicide rates often rise as their quality of life gets better.”

“It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ,” said the esteemed neurologist Roger Bannister, best known as the first human to run the mile in less than four minutes.

Thinking like a Freak means you should work terribly hard to identify and attack the root cause of problems.

Small questions are by their nature less often asked and investigated, and maybe not at all. They are virgin territory for true learning.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote across many genres, including children’s books. In an essay called “Why I Write for Children,” he explained the appeal. “Children read books, not reviews,” he wrote. “They don’t give a hoot about the critics.” And: “When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.” Best of all—and to the relief of authors everywhere—children “don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity.”

We’ll often say one thing and do another—or, more precisely, we’ll say what we think other people want to hear and then, in private, do what we want. In economics, these are known as declared preferences and revealed preferences, and there is often a hefty gap between the two.

Once people are asked to donate, the social pressure is so great that they get bullied into giving, even though they wish they’d never been asked in the first place.

But let’s consider a different set of parents: the ones whose children are currently dying in traffic accidents. Around the world, some 180,000 kids are killed each year, or roughly 500 a day. In wealthy countries, this is easily the leading cause of death for kids from ages five to fourteen, outpacing the next four causes—leukemia, drowning, violence, and self-inflicted injuries—combined. In the United States alone, traffic accidents kill more than 1,100 kids, age fourteen and under, each year, with another 171,000 injuries.

As scientists like to say: The plural of anecdote is not data.

Anecdotes often represent the lowest form of persuasion.

That’s the idea behind a “premortem,” as the psychologist Gary Klein calls it. The idea is simple. Many institutions already conduct a postmortem on failed projects, hoping to learn exactly what killed the patient. A premortem tries to find out what might go wrong before it’s too late. You gather up everyone connected with a project and have them imagine that it launched and failed miserably. Now they each write down the exact reasons for its failure. Klein has found the premortem can help flush out the flaws or doubts in a project that no one had been willing to speak aloud. This suggests one way to make a premortem even more useful: offer anonymity.

We might add that Winston Churchill, despite his famous advice to those Harrow schoolboys, was in fact one of history’s greatest quitters. Soon after entering politics he quit one party for another, and later he quit government altogether. When he rejoined, he quit parties again. And when he wasn’t quitting, he was getting tossed out. He spent years in the political wilderness, denouncing Britain’s appeasement of the Nazis, and was returned to office only when that policy’s failure had led to total war. Even in the bleakest moments, Churchill did not back down one inch from Hitler; he became “the greatest of all Britain’s war leaders,” as the historian John Keegan put it. Perhaps it was that long streak of quitting that helped Churchill build the fortitude to tough it out when it was truly necessary. By now, he knew what was worth letting go, and what was not.

from the notes section:

Family firms in Japan have a long-standing solution to this problem: they find a new CEO from outside the family and legally adopt him. That is why nearly 100 percent of adoptees in Japan are adult males.

In defense, however, of Germanic Catholicism: a new research project by Spenkuch argues that Protestants were roughly twice as likely as Catholics to vote for the Nazis.


Notes from Haruki Murakami’s appearance at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday


Haruki Murakami appeared at the 2014 Edinburgh International  Book Festival and talked about The Wind Up Bird Chronicle with the Guardian’s John Mullan on Saturday.

These are my notes from the events. No recording was allowed. I am satisfied I have tried my best in the note-taking.

The director of the book festival said this event was a “highlight of the festival” and he has worked many years to bring Murakami to Edinburgh.

The director said Murakami had requested the audience to respect his privacy and not to take photos.

I sat on the fourth row.

HM had chosen to discuss The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (WUBC) for this event. It’s been nearly twenty years since it was published.

Noriko, the translator at the event (rarely used) worked as a waitress at Peter Cat, the jazz bar owned by HM and his wife.

The moderator, John Mullan opened with a story that happened a day before the event. He was in London and was carrying WUBC at a cafe and ordering coffee. One of the owners said What a coincidence and reveals herself to be a HM fan. John told them he was going to interview HM the next day. The other owner heard this and dropped his cup. “You’re not lying”, he asked. The female owner showed John her copy of Norwegian Wood. John: “Life becomes a Haruki Murakami novel”.

HM wrote his first novel in 1979. First-person narrative. He was uncomfortable writing in the third person. He felt that was like “looking down”. He “want(s) to be at the same level” – “it’s democratic”. For 10 years, he did not give his protagonist names. He felt it was “arrogant” and “presumptuous”. It was WUBC that he first gave his protagonist a name.

HM took 20 years to write in the third person. It was Kafka on the Shore.

John described Toru Okada, the protagonist in WUBC as passive (“things happen to him”) and possessing a negative self-image and quoted a line said by Toru that he possessed no “external distinguishing characteristics”. HM was surprised: “He said that???”

HM has forgotten a lot about his own novels. Once he’s done with them, he never re-reads them. So throughout the session, he always says “Really?” to John when asked to comment on specific incidents or lines from the novel. Really funny. The audience enjoyed it.

HM thinks that Toru is not passive but “strong”, “confident” and “modest”. HM: “In fact, he’s my hero”, “When I was younger, I wanted to be like him. I want to be a quiet person, live a quiet life.” He no longer sees him as a hero. HM: “Life is strange.”

John comments on the extraordinary things that happen to HM’s characters. HM: “When I write fiction, I need interventions… Intervention takes him (the protagonist) to another world.”

HM says that things that happen in his novel are things that happen to him (“That’s what happens to me in my life.) HM: “in those days, my cat is missing.”; “I like ironing (the audience really enjoyed this)… my wife brings her blouse and shirt, I iron.”

HM takes 2 years to write a novel. He writes everyday. Interventions help “open a window and get fresh air”. Interventions help him entertain himself and prevent him from being tired of writing.

JM comments on the stories within the stories in HM’s novels. HM said that the stories within the stories allowed him to write in the third person. The first person narrative “need(s) something else.”

Regarding the skinning incident in WUBC, HM: “I was scared when I was writing it… all the translators complain to me… writing the book was scary to me.”

Basball bat – “Yes, it’s scary… I hate that.”

HM: “violence and sexual things. I need that… I don’t like to write (that)… but for the story’s sake.”

JM comments on how he feels the characters in WUBC are cursed by World War II. HM: “Everybody is cursed. The world is haunted. We are living in the dark part.”

HM quotes Woody Allen. The actual quote: “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

HM: “We have a bloody history. History is our collective memory… I inherit those memories from my father.”

HM said he was interested in the Manchurian war. His cousin was there.

John: “Can I ask you about the well? What it’s all about?” (I got really excited here.) HM: “Is my life dream to sit at the bottom of the well. I don’t know why.”

On writing about the well, HM: “my imagination is vivid and strong. I was really happy.”

JM asked about the role coincidences play in his novels. HM: “I love Charles Dickens. His books full of coincidences.” He also refers to Phillip Marlowe whose novels has many dead bodies. Too many dead bodies, “even for LA (Los Angeles)”. That gets a big laugh from the audience.

HM on WUFC origin: “I just heard the bird (an actual one)… in the backyard of my house… just like winding up like a big clock… It’s the first time (hearing it)… I have not heard the call since then.” HM felt this was “predicting something”. He named the bird “Wind up bird”.

HM: “Answer is not so important to me… I have a sense of the unfinished… That is what I want.”

HM doesn’t reread his novels and often forgets things about his novels. “It’s fun to read the translation. I don’t know what will happen next.” Gets a laugh.

HM: “I don’t have any idea when I start writing.”

HM wrote WUBC with only 2 things in his mind – hearing the call of the bird in his backyard and once when he was cooking spaghetti, the telephone rang. That was all.

HM on writing: “I say to myself. What’s going to happen today.”

HM: “My imagination is like a kind of animal.”

Before we went to Q&A with the audience, Murakami interrupted John and said to the audience, “I live in Hawaii, 2 years, my English is not like yours.” He then said “Hang loose” and did the shaka sign, which now i know after checking it out, “is a gesture often associated with Hawaii and surf culture.” Big laughs.

When asked if he will reused some of the characters in his novels, he said no. HM: “I want to be blank in my mind”. He is not fond of going back.

When asked if he has any spiritual beliefs, “I’m not ready yet to die.” Big big laughs (This was what i wrote down and i don’t know if he said “i’m not yet ready to die”)

When asked about advice for writers, he said “No commuting, no meeting, no boss.” Again a lot of laughs.

HM says he writes about his obsessions – elephants, cats, etc.

When asked to comment on how sad his characters are, HM: “Really? I didn’t notice.” John said that Toru was sad about his marriage. HM: “Everybody’s sad (about their marriage). Funny.

HM commented on Gabriel Garcia Marquez and magic realism. He doesn’t think it’s magic realism. “I don’t think that way. These things happen naturally.”

HM: “It’s just simple realism. He wrote them down as they were.”

HM: “I don’t care if it’s natural or supernatural.”

HM: “I need music to write to” referring to harmony, rhythm and improvisation. Rhythm is especially important (“It’s so important to keep readers reading.”)

HM on what certain music pieces are used: “There must have been some reason… but I don’t remember.”

HM closes by describing how he recently got a letter from a Japanese fan who had been reading him for twenty years. The fan did not like his latest novel (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) but said he will still buy his next novel. HM describes this fan as an “ideal reader of mine”.

I didn’t find anything


When he started writing “My Struggle,” Mr. Knausgaard said during the interview on Wednesday, “I didn’t really know what my life was like.” He called the book “a search,” and said, “I didn’t find anything.”

Notes from “Let’s Talk About Love – Carl Wilson”

i have been wanting to read this ever since Nick Hornby reviewed it in McSweeney’s. it’s about Celine Dion and our ideas of taste. i love the book, especially the chapter where he writes about “My Heart Will Go On” in Gilmore Girls and how it made him cry and realise that surface is ok.

“Hell is other people’s music,” wrote the cult musician Momus in a 2006 column for Wired magazine.

A 2006 BBC TV special went two better and named “My Heart Will Go On” the No. 1 most irritating song, and in 2007 England’s Q magazine elected Dion one of the three worst pop singers of all time, accusing her of “grinding out every note as if bearing some kind of grudge against the very notion of economy.”

…when a blog ran a Dion joke contest that produced the riddle, “Q: Why did they take the Céline Dion inflatable sex doll off the market? A: It sucked too hard.”

“Tastes,” wrote the poet Paul Valéry, “are composed of a thousand distastes.”

This was the outcome of many cycles of revisionism: one way a critic often can get noticed is by arguing that some music everyone has trashed is in fact genius, and over the years that process has “reclaimed” genres from metal to disco to lounge exotica and prog rock, and artists from ABBA to Motorhead.

If critics were so wrong about disco in the 1970s, why not about Britney Spears now? Why did pop music have to get old before getting a fair shake? Why did it have to be a “guilty” pleasure?

I realized my easy scorn had betrayed an ignorance of whole communities and ways of life, prejudices I did not want to live with.

Elliott Smith admitted to the music zine Comes with a Smile that he arrived that night “pre- pared to keep a lot of distance from Céline Dion. I thought she’d blow in with her bodyguards and be a weird superstar to everybody,” he said. “But she wasn’t like that at all.” “She was really sweet,” he added in another interview, “which has made it impossible for me to dislike Céline Dion anymore. Even though I can’t stand the music that she makes—with all due respect, I don’t like it much at all—she herself was very, very nice. She asked me if I was nervous and I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she was like, ‘That’s good, because you get your adrenaline going, and it’ll make your song better. It’s a beautiful song.’ Then she gave me a big hug. It was too much. It was too human to be dismissed simply because I find her music trite.”

Becca Costello, Sacramento News & Review, June 30, 2005: A few days after my return from a two-week trip to Northern China, a friend asked me, “What’s the biggest misconception the Chinese had about the West?” . . . As I struggled to answer my friend’s question, I suddenly remembered one misconception I’d encountered often enough to suspect a sort of mass hysteria had settled over the whole country. I lowered my voice and confessed China’s shameful secret: “The Chinese believe Céline Dion makes good music.”

April 21, 2003: The Chicago Tribune reports that the most visible cultural influence in Afghanistan was Titanic, with Céline in tow. Most residents had seen the movie on illegal video when the Taliban regime was still in place, but now: “In [Kabul’s] central market, vendors now sell Titanic Mosquito Killer, Havoc on Titanic Perfume Body Spray, Titanic Making Love Ecstasy Perfume Body Spray. . . . Whatever is big is Titanic. Large cucumbers and potatoes are sold as Titanic vegetables. Popular thick-soled sandals are called Titanic shoes.” And Céline tapes played from boomboxes in many stalls.

The unofficial rule seemed to be, “If you hear Céline Dion then you’re in the wrong place.” That’s not to say that roughnecks (as gangsters are also called in Jamaica) are the only ones who appreciate and publicly show their love for Saccharine Céline. It’s just that, for some reason, they show her more love than just about any other group.

After artist Paul Chan went to Baghdad in 2003 with American activist group Iraqi Peace Team, he told the Omaha World-Herald that there, “Everyone loves Celine Dion. For some reason they see her as the pinnacle of sadness. Her songs speak to the plight of the Iraqi people.”

For a century or more, sentimentality has been the cardinal aesthetic sin. To say a work of art is sentimental is perforce to damn it. To be sentimental is to be kitsch, phony, exaggerated, manipulative, self-indulgent, hypocritical, cheap and clichéd. It is the art of religious dupes, conservative apologists and corporate stooges. As kitsch, it is likened to fascist or Stalinist propaganda by Milan Kundera, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Dwight Macdonald and of course Theodor Adorno. The German novelist Hermann Broch wrote, “The producer of kitsch does not produce ‘bad’ art. . . . It is not quite impossible to assess him according to aesthetic crite- ria; rather he should be judged as an ethically base being, a malefactor who profoundly desires evil.”

Consider Zen scholar R. H. Blyth’s elegant definition, “We are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it.”

(Milan Kundera): “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succes- sion. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.”

… Saul Bellow wrote, “Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.”

Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin once said, “I think that melodrama isn’t just life exaggerated, but life uninhibited.” It’s a provocative thought: that the melodramatic, the sentimental, might be a repressed truth of human feeling, inhibited by the modern imperatives of reason and ambiguity.

When this album was first released I assumed that it was shallow, that it was beneath me. A decade later I don’t see the advantage in holding yourself above things; down on the surface is where the action is, the first layer of the unfathomable depths. Down there is where your heart gets beaten up, but keeps on beating. It does go on and on. The story is true. It’s a big thing, it’s big Time, and then it’s gone with the wind. There’s a Magnetic Fields song about “The Book of Love,” the place, songwriter Stephin Merritt sings, “where music comes from.” To sum up this new edition of Céline Dion’s album, I can’t improve on his conclusion: Let’s Talk About Love “is long and boring / and written very long ago. / It’s full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes / and things we’re all too young to know.”

I cringe when I think what a subcultural snob I was five or ten years ago, and worse in my teens and twenties, how vigilant I was against being taken in—unaware that I was also refusing an invitation out.

As critic Ann Powers argued in her essay “Bread and Butter Songs,” you might even love a song, like “Living on a Prayer” or “My Heart Will Go On,” for its “meaningful unoriginality,” for stirring up feelings in an everyday, readily absorbed way, rather than in a shock wave. Bread-and-butter songs are good for group yell-alongs.

Sonic Youth, for instance, is not great music to dance to, but it’s a terrific soundtrack for making aesthetic judgments. (Part of the reason for the recent backlash against indie rock, I suspect, is a weariness with how much of it seems to be mainly music to judge music by.) Céline Dion, on the other hand, is lousy music to make aesthetic judgments to, but might be excellent for having a first kiss, or burying your grandma, or breaking down in tears.

you have to be brave

How do you fall in love?

“You don’t fall in love like you fall in a hole. You fall like falling through space. It’s like you jump off your own private planet to visit someone else’s planet. And when you get there it all looks different: the flowers, the animals, the colours people wear. It is a big surprise falling in love because you thought you had everything just right on your own planet, and that was true, in a way, but then somebody signalled to you across space and the only way you could visit was to take a giant jump. Away you go, falling into someone else’s orbit and after a while you might decide to pull your two planets together and call it home. And you can bring your dog. Or your cat. Your goldfish, hamster, collection of stones, all your odd socks. (The ones you lost, including the holes, are on the new planet you found.) And you can bring your friends to visit. And read your favourite stories to each other. And the falling was really the big jump that you had to make to be with someone you don’t want to be without. That’s it.

PS You have to be brave.”

– Jeanette Winterson in Big Questions from Little People

How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric

A mere 160 pages. What I learnt -“Act first, reflect later”. The homework section at the end of the book is useful for readers who want more on the topic, with some tried and tested recommendations.

“The thought once occurred to me that if I wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, one at which the most fearsome murderer would tremble, shrinking from it in advance, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Open Samuel Johnson’s celebrated Dictionary, published in 1755, and you will discover that the word ‘fulfillment’ does not even appear.”

“Work is a necessary evil to be avoided.” – Mark Twain

“The Russian for work, robota, comes from the word for slave, rab. The Latin labor means drudgery or toil, while the French travail derives from the tripalium, an ancient Roman instrument of torture made of three sticks.”

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.” (the book misattributed the quote to François-René de Chateaubriand but it’s from L. P. Jacks in Education through Recreation, 1932)

Note: read more about the play ethic here:

Interesting: In Belgium, anyone with over 12 months work experience is entitled to free career guidance services.

“By far, the biggest mistake people make when trying to change careers is to delay taking the first step until they have settled on a destination… The only way to create change is to put our possible identities into practice, working and crafting them until they are sufficiently grounded in experience to guide more decisive steps… We learn who we are by testing reality, not by looking inside…
Reflection best comes later, when we have some momentum and when there is something to reflect on.” – Herminia Ibarra

“I don’t want to join the rat race.
Not be enslaved by machines, bureaucracies, boredom, ugliness.
I don’t want to become a moron, robot, commuter.
I don’t want to become a fragment of a person.

I want to do my own thing.
I want to live (relatively) simply.
I want to deal with people, not masks.
People matter. Nature matters. Beauty matters. Wholeness matters. I want to be able to care.”

– E.F. Schumacher

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

“For the first time in human experience, we have a chance to shape our work to suit the way we live instead of our lives to fit our work… We would be mad to miss the chance.” – Charles Handy

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” –  Pablo Picasso

Marriage, a History – Stephanie Coontz



Many… assume that there had been some Golden Age of Marriage in the past… The ancient Greeks complained bitterly about the declining morals of wives. The Romans bemoaned their high divorce rates, which they contrasted with an earlier era of family stability. The European settlers in America began lamenting the decline of the family and the disobedience of women and children almost as soon as they stepped off the boats.

many of the things people think are unprecedented in family life today are not actually new. Almost every marital and sexual arrangement we have seen in recent years, however startling it may appear, has been tried somewhere before. There have been societies and times when nonmarital sex and out-of-wedlock births were more common and widely accepted than they are today. Stepfamilies were much more numerous in the past, the result of high death rates and frequent remarriages. Even divorce rates have been higher in some regions and periods than they are in Europe and North America today. And same-sex marriage, though rare, has been sanctioned in some cultures under certain conditions.

…some things that people believe to be traditional were actually relatively recent innovations. That is the case for the “tradition” that marriage has to be licensed by the state or sanctified by the church. In ancient Rome the difference between cohabitation and legal marriage depended solely upon the partners’ intent. Even the Catholic Church long held that if a man and woman said they had privately agreed to marry, whether they said those words in the kitchen or out by the haystack, they were in fact married. For more than a thousand years the church just took their word for it. Once you had given your word, the church decreed, you couldn’t take it back, even if you’d never had sex or lived together. But in practice there were many more ways to get out of a marriage in the early Middle Ages than in the early modern era.

Almost everywhere people worry that marriage is in crisis. But I was intrigued to discover that people’s sense of what “the marriage crisis” involves differs drastically from place to place. In the United States, policy makers worry about the large numbers of children born out of wedlock. In Germany and Japan, by contrast, many planners are more interested in increasing the total number of births, regardless of the form of the family in which the children will be raised. Japanese population experts believe that unless the birthrate picks up, Japan’s population will plunge by almost one-third by 2050… in Singapore the government launched a big campaign to convince people to marry at a younger age. In Spain, more than 50 percent of women aged twenty-five to twenty-nine are single, and economic planners worry that this bodes ill for the country’s birthrate and future growth. In the Czech Republic, however, researchers welcome the rise in single living, hoping that will reduce the 50 percent divorce rate.4

Everywhere marriage is becoming more optional and more fragile. Everywhere the once-predictable link between marriage and child rearing is fraying. And everywhere relations between men and women are undergoing rapid and at times traumatic transformation. In fact, I realized, the relations between men and women have changed more in the past thirty years than they did in the previous three thousand, and I began to suspect that a similar transformation was occurring in the role of marriage.

In the eighteenth century, people began to adopt the radical new idea that love should be the most fundamental reason for marriage and that young people should be free to choose their marriage partners on the basis of love… Until the late eighteenth century, most societies around the world saw marriage as far too vital an economic and political institution to be left entirely to the free choice of the two individuals involved, especially if they were going to base their decision on something as unreasoning and transitory as love.

As soon as the idea that love should be the central reason for marriage, and companionship its basic goal, was first raised, observers of the day warned that the same values that increased people’s satisfaction with marriage as a relationship had an inherent tendency to undermine the stability of marriage as an institution. The very features that promised to make marriage such a unique and treasured personal relationship opened the way for it to become an optional and fragile one. The skeptics were right to worry about the dangers of the love match. Its arrival in the late eighteenth century coincided with an explosion of challenges to all the traditional ways of organizing social and personal life. For the next 150 years, societies struggled to strike the right balance between the goal of finding happiness in marriage and the preservation of limits that would keep people from leaving a marriage that didn’t fulfill their expectations for love.

The Real Traditional Marriage

…for most of history, marriage was not primarily about the individual needs and desires of a man and woman and the children they produced.

Marriage became a way through which elites could hoard or accumulate resources, shutting out unrelated individuals or even “illegitimate” family members. Propertied families consolidated wealth, merged resources, forged political alliances, and concluded peace treaties by strategically marrying off their sons and daughters. When upper-class men and women married, there was an exchange of dowry, bridewealth, or tribute, making the match a major economic investment by the couple’s parents and other kin. In Europe, from the early Middle Ages through the eighteenth century, the dowry a wife brought with her at marriage was often the biggest infusion of cash, goods, or land a man would ever acquire. Finding a husband was usually the most important investment a woman could make in her economic future.7 Even in the lower classes, marriage was an economic and political transaction, although on a much smaller scale. The concerns of commoners were more immediate: “Can I marry someone whose fields are next to mine?”; “Will my prospective mate meet the approval of the neighbors and relatives on whom I depend?”; “Would these particular in-laws be a help to our family or a hindrance?”

Marriage was the most important marker of adulthood and respectability as well as the main source of social security, medical care, and unemployment insurance.

Certainly, people fell in love during those thousands of years, sometimes even with their own spouses. But marriage was not fundamentally about love. It was too vital an economic and political institution to be entered into solely on the basis of something as irrational as love… Because marriage was too important a contract to be left up to the two individuals involved, kin, neighbors, and other outsiders, such as judges, priests, or government officials, were usually involved in negotiating a match. Even when individuals orchestrated their own transitions in and out of marriage, they frequently did so for economic and political advantage rather than for love.

The system of marrying for political and economic advancement was practically universal across the globe for many millennia.

But only in the seventeenth century did a series of political, economic, and cultural changes in Europe begin to erode the older functions of marriage, encouraging individuals to choose their mates on the basis of personal affection and allowing couples to challenge the right of outsiders to intrude upon their lives. And not until the late eighteenth century, and then only in Western Europe and North America, did the notion of free choice and marriage for love triumph as a cultural ideal. In the nineteenth century, most Europeans and Americans came to accept a new view of husbands as providers and of wives as nurturing home-bodies. Only in the mid-twentieth century, however, could a majority of families in Western Europe and North America actually survive on the earnings of a single breadwinner.

it was the culmination of a package of ideals about personal life and male-female relations that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century and gradually became the norm across Western Europe and North America. These ideals gave people unprecedented opportunities to get more personal satisfaction from their marriages, but they also raised questions that posed a fundamental challenge to traditional ways of ordering society. If marriage was about love and lifelong intimacy, why would people marry at all if they couldn’t find true love? What would hold a marriage together if love and intimacy disappeared? How could household order be maintained if marriages were based on affection rather than on male authority? No sooner had the ideal of the love match and lifelong intimacy taken hold than people began to demand the right to divorce. No sooner did people agree that families should serve children’s needs than they began to find the legal penalties for illegitimacy inhumane. Some people demanded equal rights for women so they could survive economically without having to enter loveless marriages. Others even argued for the decriminalization of homosexual love, on the ground that people should be free to follow their hearts.

For centuries, marriage did much of the work that markets and governments do today. It organized the production and distribution of goods and people. It set up political, economic, and military alliances. It coordinated the division of labor by gender and age. It orchestrated people’s personal rights and obligations in everything from sexual relations to the inheritance of property. Most societies had very specific rules about how people should arrange their marriages to accomplish these tasks.

For thousands of years, husbands had the right to beat their wives. Few men probably meted out anything more severe than a slap. But the law upheld the authority of husbands to punish their wives physically and to exercise forcibly their “marital right” to sex, and that structured the relations between men and women in all marriages, even loving ones.

Today most people expect to live their lives in a loving relationship, not a rigid institution. Although most people want socially sanctioned relationships, backed by institutional protections, few would sacrifice their goal of a loving, fair, and flexible relationship for those protections.

Life is not a court of law, where precedent is key. No historical “logic” requires us to respond to change in a particular way. In fact, precedent is a poor guide for the choices we face today in personal life and public policy. Throughout most of history a key function of marriage was to produce children and organize inheritance rights. Marriages were often nullified if a couple did not produce a child. But in our modern world no one suggests that couples who don’t have children should not have access to the legal benefits of marriage. Precedent doesn’t help much on the controversial question of same-sex marriage either. Some people argue that because at various times in history same-sex marriages have been accepted in some societies, such marriages should therefore be legal now. But should precedent also apply to other alternatives to the heterosexual nuclear family? On the basis of historical precedent, dissident polygamous Mormons in the United States have an open-and-shut case. Polygyny, whereby a man can have multiple wives, is the marriage form found in more places and at more times than any other.9 If precedent is our guide, shouldn’t we legalize polygyny, bring back arranged marriages and child brides, and decriminalize wife beating?

Between the mid-eighteenth and the mid-twentieth century, the social functions and internal dynamics of traditional marriage were transformed. The older system of arranged, patriarchal marriage was replaced by the love-based male breadwinner marriage, with its ideal of lifelong monogamy and intimacy. New expectations came to structure marriage. Then, in just the last thirty years, all the precedents established by the love-based male breadwinner family were in turn thrown into question. Today we are entering uncharted territory, and there is still no definitive guide to the new marital landscape.