Weekend Reading – April 29, 2018

1. Alan Jacobs, distinguished professor of the humanities at Baylor University and author of The Pleasure of Reading in the Digital Age and How to Think, is profiled by a former student of his in American Magazine.

The article is an inspiring look at someone who has sought to take on the question and role of religion in our modern age head-on, as well as the role that technology plays in our spiritual lives. Unlike many inside the institution, Jacobs seems to be continually evolving as a thinker and critic, and continues to produce work of relevance to the layperson.

With the growing prominence of self-proclaimed Christian intellectual Jordan Peterson and his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, there seems to be a bit of a revival of religion as part of the broader conversation on meaning and living a meaningful life in the 21st century.

 

2. New York Magazine shared its interview with Internet visionary / shaman Jaron Lanier as part of its series, The Internet Apologizing, a collection of conversations that seek to better understand the shortcomings and inherent issues with the contemporary internet.

As someone who was around during the heyday / founding of Silicon Valley, Lanier has a unique perspective on the hacker / geek / outsider culture that was at the core of the Valley’s influx of open-source innovation. Today, Lanier sees Silicon Valley as ideologically stuck between socialism and libertarianism, resulting in “the worst of both worlds,” and presents himself as the  conscience of the Valley, a dreadlocked Jinimy Cricket.

In addition, Lanier paints a scary picture of the looming VR era:

we might remember ourselves as having been fortunate that it happened when the technology was really just little slabs we carried around in our pockets that we could look at and that could talk to us, or little speakers we could talk to. It wasn’t yet a whole simulated reality that we could inhabit.

 

3. Frank Chimero, whose system for listening to and cataloging music in the digital age, returns with a bullet-listed guide to productivity. Right off the bat, Frank mirrors my thinking of late on the benefits that pen & paper provide in our age of distraction:

Stay on paper as long as possible. Sketch and write things out long-hand, possibly even emails. We all know screens are distracting. It’s much more pragmatic to step away from them for a significant block of time than trying to learn an attentional jiu jitsu that may be impossible. If you think you can’t step away, do it anyway for one day to see how much trouble it causes. That’s useful information.

I appreciate the humanity and considered approach taken – there’s no shortage of projects, to-do’s, and things to consider that crowd the mind and engender anxiety, so his system of dumping it all on paper, only to revisit on a daily basis (recognizing that in any given day not everything can be accomplished), seems like a worthy one. Curious to give this a go.

 

4. With the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, the brainchild of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice initiative, Pacific Standard Magazine interviewed Stevenson on a range of issues surrounding race, justice, and America’s tenuous history and record vis-a-vis the two. The interview is an excellent primer on Stevenson and his ongoing, incredibly important work.

As I continue to familiarize myself with Stevenson and his career, I am continually struck by how much authority and knowledge this one man has, based on his decades of struggle and experience. In today’s world of hucksters and lifehacks, Stevenson’s devotion to his cause, and commitment in the face of long odds and continued disappointments is an inspiration, and I am incredibly heartened that his work with the EJI and to the betterment of the United States justice system will be forever be enshrined via the National Memorial.

I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Stevenson’s essential Just Mercy, a book so important that as I make my way through it I continually kick myself for not having read it earlier.

 

5. At first glance, the New Yorker’s article on Japan’s rent-a-family industry could be dismissed as quirky, “only in Japan” oddity. However, the article does an incredible job at going much deeper, and providing a glimpse not only the types of “situations” that reveal some unique aspects of Japanese culture (formal apologies, divorce ceremonies, communal crying), but also the broader humanity that having a family provides.

Reading the article reminded me of the film Still Walking (2008), which provides a glimpse into the (extended) Japanese nuclear family.

 

6. In a NYTimes Book Review covering two recently-published books on entry of the private sector into space travel, Walter Isaacson mulls whether the groundwork laid by NASA over 30 years ago will be the kickstarter used by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to privatize and commercialize space travel, following a common narrative of public sector research leading to private sector innovation (semiconductors, internet, etc.).

Akin to Tesla and Edison, these two titans seem to be competing in lockstep to be the eminent father of modern space travel, propelling their respective innovation and progress forward.

 

7. Last Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals drafted a quarterback named Josh Rosen with the 10th pick. The New Yorker wrote a short piece on him and the history of the Jewish football player.

This article exposes some of the biases that persist by NFL scouts and executives that seem to be solely based on Rosen’s Judaism (though he isn’t even a practicing Jew) – leading to whispers of being ‘too intellectual’, and ‘unliked’ by his locker room peers.

So much of this disrespect and bias is normally reserved for black football players (and white basketball players), so interesting to see it extend even further.

 

8. John Dickerson’s mega read in the Atlantic provides a sobering and impartial analysis of just how difficult it has become to carry out the role of president.

Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable,” Obama told Michael Lewis, writing for Vanity Fair. “Otherwise, someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.”

Dickerson proposes some worthy, out of the box solutions to try and combat the current stalemate associated with the presidency (empower the cabinet more, delegate the ceremonial aspect of the Presidency), but in some ways it feels foregone that in our partisan representative democracy a president would feel sufficiently empowered to enact any major changes without a 24-hour level of scrutiny and partisan criticism.

As Dickerson hints in a hypothetical inaugural address at the end of his piece, it may take our first female president to put forward such egoless changes.

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