Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Quote of the Day -- John Updike

Surprisingly few clues are ever offered us as to what kind of people we are.
-- John Updike

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Quote of the Day -- W. H. Auden

Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the differences between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.
-- W. H. Auden

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Simone Weil

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.
-- Simone Weil

Friday, September 16, 2016

Station Eleven -- Calamity, Serendipity, Six Degrees of Separation, and more..

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is, simplistically, a dystopian novel -- definitely not my favorite genre. Perhaps one of the dystopia scenarios might very possibly occur in my lifetime (probably not the zombie kind) and I should therefore face up to the reality. But I find most novels in this genre to be unrelentingly humorless and grim. I prefer grim reality served up with a human touch and some people that I care about. Thank you ESJMl!

Sometimes, when I'm sitting at a stoplight in my very responsible Prius hybrid, I look around me and marvel. How could we have evolved to live like this? Tall buildings, cars, electricity, cell phones, books, television, social media... A thousand years ago, we were very different, at least as a culture. Our lives today were unimaginable back then, or even 150 years ago. We've evolved culturally to be so specialized that few of us have the expertise to recreate even one element of all the technologies that define our lives.

That's an important premise of Mandel's novel. Her description of the post-apocalyptic world -- after the catastrophic pandemic wiped out 99% of our race -- is understated and matter-of-fact, but effective. Imagine a world without any modern conveniences or modern necessities. No medicines of any kind, including simple things like insulin that keep thousands of people alive every day. Imagine a world without electricity, running water, gasoline, heat or air conditioning. No television, no Internet, no telephone. She doesn't fill in all the blanks of how the survivors cope without all those things, but with her springboard, your mind easily takes you there.

With her lightly but effectively drawn dystopian world as a canvas, Mandel depicts the before and the after for a handful of characters, loosely connected (six degrees of separation) through an aging actor. The story goes back and forth, from just Before, to just After, to Year Ten and (mostly) Year Twenty. The intermingling of the characters' lives is serendipitous, as is their survival of the initial disaster.

As with any good novel, Mandel does an outstanding job of putting you in the shoes and in the heads of her characters. You can begin to appreciate what it might be like to be an apocalyptic survivor. And you are left wondering what it really means to be civilized.

An excellent read! 

Quote of the Day -- John Wooden

You can't have a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.
-- John Wooden

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Malcolm Forbes

Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.
-- Malcolm Forbes

Friday, September 9, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Garrison Keillor

People with too much money and too little character, all sensibility and no sense, all nostalgia and no history.
-- Garrison Keillor

I can't resist Garrison Keillor's wonderful turns of phrase...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Digital Disruption

People have bemoaned how fast the world is changing for as long as I can remember. I often marveled at the changes my parents (born in the early 1920's) saw in their lifetimes. The ubiquity of the automobile, air travel, television. And then computers, VCRs, microwaves, cell phones, the Internet. That's a lot to happen in 90 years, and they coped pretty well with the degree of change.

But the changes that technology has wrought in the last 10 to 15 years are of a completely different order of magnitude. Social media, crowd-sourcing, a modern "barter economy." Being connected all the time. The Internet of Things. When we talk about educating our children (or grandchildren), we often hear that the types of jobs many of them will have when they graduate from college don't even exist yet. 

I worked in technology of sorts for my entire career. I consider myself more tech-savvy than most of my contemporaries, but it is definitely a struggle. For most of my career, I could at least understand the value and use of technological advances, but that has become increasingly difficult. And I don't think it is only because I am older. We're seeing a veritable explosion in many many directions. Few people can begin to get their arms around all of it.

Take the list on the graphic above. I've only participated in a few of these (Facebook, Netflix, Apple, Google, Skype). I understand the basics of the others, except for SocietyOne. What in the world is a bank with no money? I struggle to explain the value of Facebook to friends just a few years older than I. And it took me a long time to appreciate how Twitter provides quite different value.

As I watch my grandchildren grow and embrace technology as a given, I wonder a lot about the world that will greet them when they enter college, or when they enter old age. And I wonder about the divide between the digital "have's" and "have not's." Will the gap be unbridgeable? And will the generation gap be similarly vast as our grandchildren reach adulthood. 

Digital disruption. Definitely.

Quote of the Day -- Robert Louis Stevenson

Don't judge each day by the harvest that you reap but by the seeds that you plant.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, September 5, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Garrison Keillor

This is a great country and it wasn’t made so by angry people. We have a sacred duty to bequeath it to our grandchildren in better shape than however we found it. We have a long way to go and we’re not getting any younger.
-- Garrison Keillor

Sunday, September 4, 2016

On Being a Minnesotan

Jim and I emigrated to Minnesota in 1973. He was passionately interested in public policy and impressed with the "Minnesota Miracle." The University of Minnesota offered a masters in public affairs, which, in part, taught future policy wonks to dissect the miracle and keep it going. I had nothing more pressing to do, so why not join him? I, at least, assumed that it was a temporary move.

For those who weren't old enough to pay attention in 1973 (or don't live in Minnesota), the "Miracle" was all about fairness and sharing and raising the water so everyone's boat would float. It was redistribution of wealth on a small scale. Affluent communities and school districts with a large tax base shared their wealth with less fortunate communities via state-run taxation and distribution. Services and education throughout the state improved.

After a few years, we decided that the Twin Cities, specifically the suburban Minneapolis, was a pretty good place to settle down and raise a family, so we stayed. But two houses later, with our kids approaching adulthood, I still didn't list "Minnesotan" as one of my identities. I didn't identify with any other place (maybe "citizen of the world") but I just couldn't quite see myself as a Minnesotan.

Despite the incredible array of cultural opportunities in the Twin Cities, the good life in Minnesota still meant fishing, hunting, or racing along in an ATV or a snow mobile. Drinking beer instead of wine. Going to church every Sunday morning. None of that was "me."

As retirement approached and we thought about what we would do, we agreed that we loved to travel most of all (except of course for spending time with our kids and grandkids). We wanted time away from the cold, but not in the same place. A different place in Asia or the southern hemisphere every winter, not Florida or Arizona for us. So we embarked on transforming the home where we had raised our kids into a more grown-up place with nicer furniture and wonderful artifacts from our travels. And I decided that I must be a Minnesotan after all, because I didn't have a desire to live someplace else.

One of my daughter's friends recently unearthed an old Garrison Keillor article written during the 2004 election season. It's an acerbic and effective diatribe, and it's also a treatise on Minnesota values and why this state is reliably blue. 
The state was settled by no-nonsense socialists from Germany and Sweden and Norway who unpacked their trunks and planted corn and set about organizing schools; churches; libraries; lodges; societies and benevolent associations; brotherhoods and sisterhoods, and raised their children to Mind Your Manners, Be Useful, Pay Attention, Make Something of Yourself, Turn Down the Thermostat (If You’re Cold, Go Put on a Sweater), Share and Share Alike, Be Satisfied with What You Have—a green Jell-O salad with mandarin oranges, miniature marshmallows, walnuts, and Miracle Whip is by God good enough for anybody. I grew up in the pure democracy of a public grade school where everybody brought a valentine for everybody on Valentine’s Day so we should feel equally loved
I so admire Garrison Keillor's self-deprecating, articulate, and funny prose, especially when he's skewering what I consider the opposition. And despite his corniness, he and his words make me proud to finally officially declare myself a Minnesotan.

Quote of the Day -- Maria Shriver

... the empty nest label is a misnomer -- or better yet, an outdated label. Because once a mother, always a mother. A loving home is always a loving home (whether kids are in their rooms or not).
-- Maria Shriver

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Quote of the Day -- Craig Sager

Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God and it is not in endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life.

Craig Sager, sportscaster, cancer warrior, crazy, fun-loving guy, and my friend and high school classmate