Notes from Spring Speakers ’08

I saw a bunch of speakers this spring who visited Claremont. Below are my rough notes from Joel Kotkin, David Gergen, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Rodrick MacFarquar, David Brooks, Jonathan Rosenberg, Joel Fleishman, Orville Schell, Seth Leher, Marcy Wheeler, Robert Rosenthal, Gregg Vanoureck, Josh Lerner, and Kazuhiko Togo.

Here are my notes from last semester, which include Bono, Gregg Easterbrook, William Kristol, Anderson Cooper, Peter Wehner, and Orhan Pamuk.


Joel Kotkin, author, The City: A Global History and The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution is Reshaping the American Landscape

On cities and California’s economic future:

  • Superstar cities don’t have room for a true middle class.
  • Are cities still vehicles for upward mobility?
  • Second tier cities should stop trying to model themselves after creative cities — every city is different. Kansas City invested $500 M in a performing arts center instead of focusing on the basics.
  • Catholic Church weakening in influence is a problem for cheap, good education.
  • Cities should focus on growth and retention of jobs, esp blue collar ones.
  • Shortage in plumbers, welders. We don’t need more PhDs. More machinists, less poets.
  • LA job growth – 9th out of 10th out of the top ten metro areas in US. That’s bad.
  • The left is a holding cell for every kind of special interest lunacy.
  • Republicans demonize immigrant groups, but they’re 40% of the CA population.
  • CA infrastructure used to be 20% of its budget; now only 3%.
  • 1/3 of LA-USD budget is paying retired teacher pensions.

Here’s a QuickTime version of Kotkin’s speech.


Sonja Lyubomirsky, author, How of Happiness

  • "Hedonic adaptation" – as we adapt to good things the positive effects of the good thing diminish. The moment something is in your attentional background (you stop actively noticing the new car smell) – you’ve adapted.
  • Definition of happiness has two components: Positive emotions and a sense that one’s life is good.
  • Determinants of happiness:
    • 50% genetic
    • 10% circumstances
    • 40% uncharted: intentional activity
  • If you study happy people you find commonalities. They’re social, gracious, savor the present, spiritual religious, etc.
  • Everything in life requires effort. Why is your emotional life exempt from this? Happiness takes effort.
  • Acts of kindness make you feel good. They involve sacrifice. Acts not normally expected are good.
  • People who practice optimism and gratitude letters, etc are happier over the long term. Gratitude more powerful than optimism.
  • "Art of Happiness" by Dalai Lama is good book.

Rodrick MacFarquar, Leroy B. Williams professor of history and political science, director, John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, Harvard University

On China:

  • Empire concept collapsed because it no longer had guiding ideology.
  • Warring period: 1916-1928.
  • 1950′s – class struggle yrs – many died and suffered
  • Can’t understand China if you don’t understand cultural revolution.
  • CCP have lost credibility – members in the party today don’t believe in anything.
  • More Chinese are better off today than ever before.
  • There will be a traumatic event that triggers a revolution of sorts.

David Brooks, columnist, New York Times:

  • "I’ll be brief because many of you are academics, and you’re not here to hear me talk, you’re here to hear yourselves talk."
  • He likes Edmund Burke.
  • People learn when there’s an emotional connection.
  • All factions of conservative movement united around distrust of government – this ain’t enough.
  • Obama’s perceptiveness / self-awareness / stability is striking.
  • McCain’s morality is based on honor, not morality. #1 trait is aloofness – somewhat detached personality.
  • Conservatism shouldn’t have permanent policies (like tax cuts): don’t get moral about a situational policy issue.
  • Conservatism is about not knowing much; modest about what we can know/do.
  • Conservatism is philosophy first, policy second. Liberalism is policy first, philosophy later.
  • Conservatism values social mobility more than equality.
  • Top issues in the election: bipartisanship, immigration, healthcare.
  • People aren’t solely self-interested economic rational creatures. If this were the case, why would 30% of students drop out of high school even though it’s econ ruinous to do so?
  • What’s the point of being a democrat if you can’t play the class card?
  • Bush seems 40 IQ points smarter in private than in public.

Here’s a QuickTime version of Brooks’ speech.


Jonathan Rosenberg, senior vice president of product management and marketing, Google, Inc.

Keys to innovation:

  • Small groups of specialists are bad
  • ideas can come from anywhere
  • hire great people
  • sharing/openness: trust your people with things
  • can’t control the platform anymore
  • morph ideas but do not kill them
  • convergence will be at the data level, not device level
  • users before money
  • disinformation is online; but the truth also emerges faster
  • iterate on products
  • data must drive everything. at GOOG when making a prez there are two projectors, one for your PPT, the other for your source data
  • have big vision / think big
  • Bet on a trend or fall victim to one
  • accept a smaller piece of a bigger pie, rather than a big piece of a small pie
  • Feed the winners, starve the losers
  • HIPPO – be careful of the highest paid person in the room’s opinion – don’t let him/her dominate or over-influence
  • Never surrender
  • Reward innovation: pay the best guy the most
  • Learn how to learn

Here’s a YouTube video of Rosenberg’s speech.


Joel Fleishman, professor of law and public policy, director, Samuel and Ronnie Heyman Center on Ethics, Public Policy, and the Professions, Duke University; author, The Foundation: A Great American Secret- How Private Money is Changing the World

On foundations and philanthropy:

  • Last year there were 20 gifts @ $400 M or more
  • Buffett gave $31 B to Gates Foundation
  • Gates will spend itself out of existence within 50 yrs of the death of the last of three survivors
  • Foundations have done more than most know
  • They need to be more transparent
  • Only 5% of foundations have acknowledged failures in public
  • US Treasury loses $40-50 B a year from tax savings on gifts
  • There’s no R&D in non-profit world – crazy – they need to spend to figure out how to best spend their money.
  • Last year $1.4 trillion was spent by non profits

Here’s a QuickTime version of Fleishman’s speech.


Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center for U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society; former Dean (1996-2006), Graduate School of Journalism, U.C. Berkeley

On China and the environment:

  • China thinks they have a right to develop
  • Den Xiaping wanted to reform China economically, not necessarily politically
  • When China does something, they do it extremely
  • Several million people pulled out of poverty recently
  • Leninist capitalism: more stable than Kenya, for example
  • Coal is what makes China work
  • Historical baggage: US polluted during their industrial revolution. Why should China have to hold back just because US has gone Jesus on global warming?
  • Tibet is the water tower of Asia; glacier melt
  • 25% of particles over LA is from China
  • 750k people dying prematurely due to pollution
  • Their challenge is our challenge: the environment

Here’s a QuickTime version of Schell’s speech.


Seth Leher, Avalon Foundation in the humanities and professor of English and comparative literature, Stanford University; author, Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language

On linguistics:

  • Economic constrains affect the aesthetic content of a book. In the Victorian Era, reading took place on trains, so books came out in three volumes.
  • Movies are its length due to economics, not necessarily aesthetic value.
  • Is a linguist supposed to describe language or prescribe what language is supposed to be? not possible to legislate language use. Can’t impose linguistic rules and regs.
  • Language will change at points of linguistic contact — e.g. Eng/Span.
  • Sports reporting goes on in the present tense. Children today talk more in the present tense – self-description in the present.
  • Strunk and White represent core puritan values, simple, direct, etc. Just one aesthetic.

Here’s a QuickTime version of Leher’s speech.


Marcy Wheeler, political blogger (emptywheel), Comment is Free section, Manchester Guardian Online; author, Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy

On bloggers and journalism:

  • When politicians feed journalists, the journalists re-hash the soundbites.
  • Journalists try to propagate the narrative about journalism — journalism first, story second. Judy Miller depicted as this first amendment martyr even though she had been printing the erroneous WMD stuff Bush fed her, and the Scooter case.
  • Gotta understand the sources of journalists: everyone has a source and we do their biddings, sometimes.
  • Bloggers can help build timelines — reporters have tunnel vision because they have daily deadlines.
  • Bloggers can do deep dives on publicly available information
  • An aide to Dick Cheney said, "When Dick Cheney goes on Meet the Press, he controls the agenda." We need to accept that it’s not as it sometimes seems — ie that Russert asks tough hitting questions.
  • Every journalist has their own definition of "off the record".

Robert Rosenthal, distinguished professor of psychology, U.C. Riverside; co-author, Contrasts and Effect Sizes in Behavioral Research: A Correlational Approach

  • expectations matter – those labeled "genius" outperform others
  • Interpersonal expectation effect is powerful
  • Undergrads do stuff b/c they don’t know it can’t be done

Gregg Vanoureck, author of Life Entrepreneurs

  • Biz entrepreneurship is 1.0, Social entrepreneurship is 2.0, life entrepreneurship is 3.0
  • Entrepreneurial life is not linear; it’s iterative.
  • Finding your purpose in life is a combination of reflection and action.
  • A business entrepreneur owns his own enterprise. A life entrepreneur owns his life.
  • Common traps:
    • Walking a path in life that others have chosen – ie, not YOUR path
    • Sticking with the first path you choose – if you’re successful on a path, the switching costs increase over time, so you get locked in and have a hard time jumping off the train. As Drucker said, your odds of choosing the right career/job right out of school is one in a million
    • Postponing happiness – "someday I’ll be able to lie on a beach" etc.

David Gergen, frmr presidential advisor, author, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton.

  • "Reagan: when faced with two temptations, I choose the one which gets me home by 9:30 PM."
  • The next presidency will face some of the most difficult challenges…ever? In the first year s/he will deal with economic issues and foreign policy. Year two Bush tax cuts expire. Year three social security/healthcare. Healthcare costs are massive.
  • American superpower status has been great for the world.
  • Bill Clinton is a hard dog to keep on the porch.
  • There’s the inside game – DC people. And the outside game – the people. Gifted politicians can play both games.
  • Hillary Clinton would be a great OMB director.
  • With Clinton we’ll get a predictable D.C. slog.

Josh Lerner, Jacob H. Schiff professor of investment banking, Harvard University; co-author, Innovation and Its Discontents: How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What to Do about It

Are there job losses in a firm that gets taken over by a private equity firm via an LBO? First two years yes, but long term no difference.


Kazuhiko Togo, former Japanese ambassador to the Netherlands; visiting professor of international relations, Seoul National University; author, Japan’s Foreign Policy 1945-2003

On Japan:

  • Abe tried to revise constitution away from pacifism
  • Defeat in WWII was searing and to understand Japanese psyche requires understanding this loss
  • Koizumi partnered w/ US on many things
  • ’78 – China reform: doing diplomacy
  • ’82 – controversies about how to refer to China in school textbooks
  • ’89 – Tiannamen incident – Japan said it was unacceptable but "we shouldn’t isolate China" – this won good will w/ China
  • ’95 – Murayama statement apologizing for its aggression against Korea
  • Koizumi re-tensified relations w/ Korea and China…regional cooperation decreased and progress diminished.

Here’s a QuickTime version of Togo‘s speech.

6 Responses to Notes from Spring Speakers ’08

  1. Chris Yeh says:

    Excellent summaries, Ben!

    Seth Lerer: Seth is an old professor of mine from Stanford. Great guy. He’s the one who convinved me that I could hack it as an English major. I remember submitting a copy of the essay on Chaucer that I wrote for his class as one of my Rhodes/Marshall sample essays.

    Important to note: It’s Lerer, not Leher.

  2. Cory Levy says:

    “Learn how to learn”

    How do you do that? In what ways have you done that?

  3. Agree with the need for more skilled tradespeople and fewer Ph.D.s. After all, when the new lab needs to get up and running, who are you going to call? My money’s on the plumber and the electrician.

  4. Paul Russell says:

    “People who practice optimism and gratitude letters, etc are happier over the long term. Gratitude more powerful than optimism.”

    Very interesting observation.

  5. Shefaly says:

    What a wonderful illustration of the need to and the power of taking notes!

    Before blogging your less-inclined-to-notetaking peers would not have had the benefit of reading your executive summaries. :-) Even when they do, they have to remember that these nuggets are filtered through your system of values and preferences, which may not necessarily be theirs too. Either way, better to take one’s own notes.

  6. Can flowers really elevate your mood? I think it’s the intention behind them thats the key. Flowers really make you feel appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>