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Archive for the ‘Things to ponder’ Category

Author and journalist George Monbiot has some good career advice:

“So my final piece of advice is this: when faced with the choice between engaging with reality or engaging with what Erich Fromm calls the “necrophiliac” world of wealth and power, choose life, whatever the apparent costs may be. Your peers might at first look down on you: poor Nina, she’s twenty-six and she still doesn’t own a car. But those who have put wealth and power above life are living in the world of death, in which the living put their tombstones – their framed certificates signifying acceptance to that world – upon their walls. Remember that even the editor of the Times, for all his income and prestige, is still a functionary, who must still take orders from his boss. He has less freedom than we do, and being the editor of the Times is as good as it gets.

You know you have only one life. You know it is a precious, extraordinary, unrepeatable thing: the product of billions of years of serendipity and evolution. So why waste it by handing it over to the living dead?”

Tariq Jahan, whose son was killed during the UK riots in August, talks to The Independent about being inundated with letters of condolence from all over the world and continues to set an example for us all:

Despite everything that happened, he won’t accept politicians’ rhetoric that we live in a “broken society”. He speaks of the sense of unity that drew 35,000 people to Haroon’s funeral. “It was amazing,” he says. “It was beautiful. It made me respect the public even more. There are a lot more good people than there are bad people… but unfortunately the bad people find a way into our lives a lot easier.” (The Independent)

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Journalist David Brooks has some good advice for happiness:

“I can’t resist concluding this column with some kernels of consumption advice accumulated by the prominent scholars Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert and Timothy D. Wilson. Surveying the vast literature of happiness research, they suggest: Buy experiences instead of things; buy many small pleasures instead of a few big ones; pay now for things you can look forward to and enjoy later.” (ThinkProgess)

– novelist John Crace finds happiness in football and his new book explains how  being a lifelong Spurs fan helped him through depression:

The one inarguable gain as that season came to an end was that I was still alive, something you may take for granted but I never have. I had made it through another year. It’s good to have a few constants in my life. After my mum and sisters, Spurs is the longest relationship I have ever had, and it’s an infinite source of enrichment: Spurs show me how to win and lose, how to say hello and goodbye. From 90 minutes to a lifetime. (The Guardian)

– Jonah Lehrer writes about how to find happiness by pursuing the right dream:

Perhaps you want to invent the cure for malaria, or bake a perfect baguette, or create the next Facebook. Whatever – don’t apologize for your obsession. Just be grateful you are obsessed with something, that you’ve found a goal worth getting gritty over. Because if your goals ever feel tedious, if you find them as unnecessary as that last bite of chocolate cake, then you’re never going to put in the necessary work. Grit requires passion. Grit requires love. And love is just another name for what never gets old. Love is the opposite of underwear. (Wired)

the post-it war makes me happy

– as do holidays (they also make you more productive)

So make sure you take a break and enjoy the Labor Day weekend.

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Last week I wrote about Tariq Jahan, who managed to speak with dignity and compassion after his son was killed in the UK riots, and this week 20,000 people attended a prayer event before the  funeral:

” Atif Iqbal, from the multi-faith group United Birmingham, said the number of people turning out to show their respects on Thursday would be testimony to the men’s honour.

“Tariq Jahan has become an inspiration for all of us because he really at that moment in time showed the best of humanity,” he said.

“He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t shouting, no bitterness, he was a calming, reassuring voice and single-handedly, there’s no doubt about it, he brought peace and calm to the streets not only of Winson Green and Birmingham, but he had a profound impact nationally as well.” (BBC)

– Christopher Hitchens offers his unique take on the riots : Britons have been violent and cruel for generations (Slate) ;

– more cheerfully the last ten years have seen fewer war deaths than any decade in the past 100 years, based on data from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (Foreign Policy) ;

– which is good as although the human race took about one million years to reach one billion people (around the year 1800), we have been adding successive billions every 10-20 years since 1960 (Project Syndicate) ;

– in an ever-changing world “retweet’,  “sexting” and “cyberbullying” enter the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (The Daily Telegraph) ;

Have a good weekend.

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The words of Tariq Jahan, who managed to speak with dignity and compassion after his  son was killed in the UK riots, are truly inspirational :

From The Guardian :

“Tariq Jahan, said he was nearby and rushed to help. “I ran towards the commotion and the first guy I found was someone I didn’t know. I started giving him CPR until someone pointed out that the guy behind me was my son on the floor,” he said.

“So I started CPR on my own son, my face was covered in blood, my hands were covered in blood. Why, why?

“He was trying to help his community and he has been killed.” Describing his son, a mechanic and keen boxer, as “a very well-liked kid”, he said: “I can’t describe to anybody what it feels like to lose a son. He was the youngest of three, and anything I ever wanted done, I would always ask Haroon to sort it out for me.

“A day from now, maybe two days from now, the whole world will forget and nobody will care.”

In a message to the local community, he implored: “Today we stand here to plead with all the youth to remain calm, for our communities to stand united.

“This is not a race issue. The family has received messages of sympathy and support from all parts of society.”

Visibly emotional, Jahan added: “I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please.” “

Amid all the bad news, Tariq Jahan made me proud to be British (Daniel Hannan in The Daily Telegraph) ;

Matthew Taylor in The Guardian :

It seemed that these words had struck a chord. Following a moving candle-lit vigil on the petrol forecourt, those that had gathered after final prayers followed Jahan’s lead.

There was quiet anger – at the police and those that had been responsible for the rioting – and a deep sadness. But there was also a determination that they would act “nobly”, that they would stand together and show that there was a way through this that did not involve revenge or violence.

Tariq Jahan’s is the patriotic voice of a first-generation Muslim migrant (Faisal Hanif in The Guardian)

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As a Brit in New York it has been amusing to watch the firestorm kicked off by Matthew Engel’s piece in the BBC Magazine on Why do some Americanisms irritate people?.

A fellow Brit in The New Yorker perfectly sums up the difference between the two cultures:

What most of these (American) commentators fail to recognize, in any case, is that English people enjoy complaining about things, and that the content of any particular English person’s complaint is rarely anything more than a pretext for the act of complaining. From Mr. Woodhouse to Basil Fawlty, complaining about things—the weather, the food, the trains—is what the English have always done best, and with the greatest eloquence and esprit.

– a new book,  The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer looks interesting as he finds out what modern cognitive research has to say about belief:

As a back-of-the-envelope calculation within an order-of-magnitude accuracy, we can safely say that over the past ten thousand years of history humans have created about ten thousand different religions and about one thousand gods,” Mr. Shermer writes. He lists more than a dozen gods, from Amon Ra to Zeus, and wonders how one of them can be true and the rest false. “As skeptics like to say, everyone is an atheist about these gods; some of us just go one god further. (Reason.com)

– to celebrate President Obama’s 50th birthday this week, Amazon revealed the top 10 most highlighted passages by Kindle readers from Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope

My favourites from the highlights of each book :

What is a family? Is it just a genetic chain, parents and offspring, people like me? Or is it a social construct, an economic unit, optimal for child rearing and divisions of labor? Or is it something else entirely: a store of shared memories, say? An ambit of love? A reach across the void?

No, what’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics—the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem. (Reading Matters)

The last seems particularly apt given the events of this week.

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– Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo‘s poignant  op-ed on the shootings in his native country: The Past is a Foreign Country :

“On Monday night, more than 100,000 citizens gathered in the streets to mourn the victims of the attack. The image was striking. In Norway, “keeping a cool head” is a national virtue, but “keeping a warm heart” is not. Even for those of us who have an automatic aversion to national self-glorification, flags, grandiose words and large and expressive crowds, it makes an indelible impression when people demonstrate that they do mean something, these ideas and values of the society we have inherited and more or less take for granted. The gathering said that Norwegians refuse to let anyone take away our sense of security and trust. That we refuse to lose this battle against fear.

And yet there is no road back to the way it was before. ” (The New York Times)

– Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, provides a hopeful lesson on how bigotry can be overcome as shown by the experience of Australian football :

The evidence of the last few weeks is that history, at last, really has moved on. The revelation of the abuse of players of Sudanese and Nigerian origin generated a surge of genuine, visible, and tangible public repugnance – a very real sense that the perpetrators had shamed not only themselves, but also their country. For an Australian of my generation, that is a very new, and hugely welcome, experience. And there is every reason to hope, and believe, that our experience is gradually becoming universal. (Project Syndicate)

– a 617-digit prime number (BBC) ;

– as someone who took nine months to travel the world, and then decided to change careers, I heartily agree with this suggestion of a gap year for grown-ups (Harvard Business Review) ;

– because you get to see sights like these volcanoes (The Big Picture)

I will not be seeing volcanoes this weekend I will be staying within the boundaries of Manhattan but won’t let that spoil my fun .  Have a good one.

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– loved this commencement speech by Atul Gawande, surgeon, New Yorker writer and bestselling author.  My favourite part is below , but I suggest you read the whole thing  :

“Developing a skill is painful, though. It is difficult. And that’s part of the satisfaction. You will only find meaning in what you struggle with. What you struggle to get good at next may not seem the exact right thing for you at first. With time and effort, however, you will discover new possibilities in yourself—an ability to solve problems, for instance, or to communicate, or to create beauty. I never imagined I’d find beauty in surgery. But with time I discovered there could be beauty in the way that I put things together under the skin, beauty no one might ever see, but still strangely satisfying nonetheless.

I said there are at least two kinds of satisfaction, however, and the other has nothing to do with skill. It comes from human connection. It comes from making others happy, understanding them, loving them. The relationships you’ve made are what you will miss most about college. I suspect you did not find forging them nearly as difficult as your classes. Most of you are more worried about the skills and work you will have in your future than the relationships. But neither will you find easy.” (Gawande.com)

– in the same vein, the American Psychological Association finds freedom and personal autonomy are more important to people’s well-being than money;

– this will make you smile. A list of famous opening lines from novels updated for the modern age:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of an internet startup to call his own. (McSweeney’s)

– The Guardian has a list of a different kind: the 100 greatest non-fiction books

So get reading and have a good weekend.

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