Monthly Archives: March 2006

Personal Letter of the Day

"We feel a particularly strong responsibility to admit students who are not only qualified but who are ready to continue the crucial business of educating themselves. You have been selected by our faculty and admissions counselors because you recognize the pleasure — the absolute joy — to be found in active, creative learning. Our decision was not based on numbers but on your achievements and your words, a difficult determination to make but one that gives proper honor to the University and to you."

A few lone institutions, worthy of the highest praise for their courage to ignore U.S. News and World Report, are able to evaluate the person, not the file. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Can Globalization Provide Both the Quaintness of a European Village and Hyperconnectedness of Silicon Valley?

In my post America vs. Europe: A False Debate I said the following:

It’s very hard to attribute cultural exports to a single country or region and thus generalize about its aesthetic vibrancy. The character of cultures is increasingly cosmopolitan. Indeed, the spread of markets and commericalism has not diluted the best of culture, it has instead provided more and diverse choices for citizens. So, I think it’s unproductive to argue America vs. Europe and then especially derive predictions about innovation, a process that will be more and more de-nationalized.

Steve Silberman left a thoughtful, lengthy comment summing up the counter-argument which is probably more widely held: globalization, internationalization, Americanization, etc. haven’t made cultures richer, instead they’ve become more standardized, more plain, less interesting, less unique, and so on.

Steve is right that small U.S. towns probably look more similar now than they did 40 years ago. As I said in my post: "For example, 50 years ago kids growing up in New Jersey and Louisiana would be slightly different (though still very similar) due to being in different parts of the country. Now, the kids would be VERY similar, though their hobbies and career paths could be much different than before due to increased opportunities to learn about other cultures, jobs, etc."

In terms of world cultures, I would argue that citizens anywhere now have more and better cultural choices. It’s easier than ever to listen to Japanese jazz in San Francisco. There are more and better genres of literature, dances, music than ever before. It’s just as easy to get good sushi in San Francisco as it is London or Frankfurt or Tokyo. Yes, those four cities are now more the same because of this common offering, but as people we become different through this greater choice; we can buy high quality sushi OR authentic Indian food, and so forth. Diversity decreases across cities, but increases within cities. A San Francisco citizen now has a richer cultural menu to choose from, even if it looks pretty similar to Tokyo’s.

Chris Yeh opines that we can achieve *both* financial and social/cultural gains — a country should be able to engage in free trade and globalization without losing its culture. He says:

What would you rather do? Live in a quaint European village full of charming shops and restaurants but have no access or communications with the outside world? Or live in Orange County with broadband access to the Internet, Skype calls to anywhere on the globe, and the ability to order the world’s treasures delivered to your doorstep by Amazon and UPS?

I want BOTH — I want the authentic élan of a Swiss village combined with the connectedness of Silicon Valley. And so I think the main question should be: Is globalization doing its best to give us the best of both, or is it unduly promoting the hyper connectedness while depriving cultures of any unique authenticity and flavor? At the moment, I think it’s doing a pretty good job at offering both. But it’s easy to think it’s entirely one-sided.

As Tyler Cowen points, the junk food — the McDonald’s– is all around us. Yet this is a symptom of the riches we now enjoy. You don’t have to buy the junk if you don’t want to. He points out that high and low culture are complements: "Paris and Hong Kong, both centers of haute cuisine, have the
world’s two busiest Pizza Hut outlets."

An Old Friend Enrolls in West Point

An old friend from grammar school came by my high school the other day to visit.

He got in to West Point — a terrific feat — and ships in June to start a multi-year process of becoming an officer in the military. He wants to serve his country. In observing his buff body and demeanor, it struck me that he’s the classic, militaristic, "let’s go kick some butt" kind of guy. I guess that’s what it takes to go in a warzone and kill the enemy. I’m proud of his patriotism and enthusiasm for serving his country. We should all be proud. I thought of a post I did in September 2004 quoting from Newsweek:

Please come back safely. Please remember to watch your back. Help where you can with the skills that you have. Use your humor to protect yourself. Use your social skills to help people. You have friends, so don’t be afraid to use us as a sounding board. We wish you well. I wish you well. And… James? Most of all, I wish you peace.

Closing Messages of Emails and Letters

When I was a young lad, selling gumballs to family and pens I obtained for free to my school friends (at exorbitant prices, I might add) I one day stumbled across a Microsoft Word feature that offered stock closings: sincerely, very truly yours, etc. I soon became enthralled at the myriad ways one can end an email or letter. There was a stretch of time when I literally tried to change up my closing for each email I had with someone. Seth Levine — better known in blogland as the man who rocks to disco music — recently provided a humorous analysis of all the ways you can end letters. Here are my takes.

  • Aloha — This has been my go-to closing for the past several months. Some people have told me, "Hey! Aloha means hello. You can’t close with that." Not so. "Aloha" encompasses love, peace, good fortune, and best wishes. See Managing With Aloha for more. And no, I’ve never been to Hawaii.
  • Cheers – I’m a happy guy, and I want you to know that.
  • Best – I don’t want to spend time thinking of something more creative.
  • All the best – It’s been awhile.
  • Sincerely – I’m really formal. I probably wear heavy starched dress shirts.
  • Thanks – Your time is valuable, I respect that. Note: repeated use of this closing dilutes its meaning.
  • Hope all is well – I don’t give a shit how well you are, but I’m supposed to.
  • Warm regards – I have a high EI, thus I can inject "warmth" into plain regards.
  • [nothing but your name] – I’m as plain as vanilla ice cream.
  • [nothing but the first letter of your name] – I’m so busy, I can’t even type a few more letters.
  • Very truly yours – If in an email, the person is probably not a native speaker.
  • Cordially – I got too greedy with Microsoft Word thesaurus.
  • Best wishes – A sincere good luck and don’t talk to me again.
  • Onwards – Things couldn’t be worse, but there’s got to be better times ahead. Then again, maybe not.

So know that the next time you send me an email I am going to psycho-analyze the bejesus out of it!!

Table for Three – Fictional Dialogues

My close friend Tim Taylor is starting a series on his blog called Table for Three, where he will make believe he goes to lunch with two other people and construct a likely dialogue. His first installment is up — him, Jesus, and Mary. Other candidates:

  • Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary
  • Adolph Hitler and George W. Bush
  • Michael Jackson and Prince
  • Jose Canseco and Fidel Castro
  • Madonna and Eva Perron
  • Paul Haggis (writer of Crash) and David Duke

These are sure to be entertaining and packed with subtle nuggets.

It reminds me of that common high school/college application question: if you could meet one person, alive or dead, who would it be? I’ve never had a quick answer to this. If I could wave a wand, I would host a series of dinners with people who vehemently disagree with each other and also bring in the world’s most skilled facilitators, and see what happens. Disagreement always makes for the most interesting conversation.

World Affairs Council 60th Annual Conference

The World Affairs Council of Northern California is having its 60th Annual Conference May 5-7 in the Pacific Grove, CA area on "Global Change: The Balance of Power in 2020." Topics to be discussed include the changing geopolitical situation, the rise of China/India/Brazil, and breakout sessions on globalization, the environment, and international governance.

I will be attending — they’ve generously offered me a scholarship to attend for free as well as room and board. If you are going let me know and we can meet up.

Merit-Based Scholarships

Higher education caters to the privileged and the elite.

I remember reading an article on this topic which bolstered its point by revealing a new trend by colleges looking to attract top students: offer merit-based scholarships out of their scholarship money, regardless of whether they’re financial aid candidates.

I’m fortunate not to need financial aid for college. Today a college offered me an annual $5,000 scholarship if I attend based on "potential to make unique and strong contributions to [college name]’s student life."

It’s a very generous offer and will be on the table when I make my decision. But I know that my receiving this money means money not going to other economically disadvantaged applicants.

I've Been Invited to a Really Cool, Selective Organization

I was recently invited to join this ultra-selective organization. So selective, it’s even called Selective Service System. Check out this cool invitation I got in the mail. The only thing is, they say they’ll fine me hundreds of thousands of dollars and throw me in jail for up to 5 years if I don’t fill it out. Hmm, not much choice here.


An "Untech" Dinner at Renee's House

I stopped by Renee Blodgett‘s house last night for an "untech" dinner — no talk of technology allowed. Similar to the Junto, but way more strict! It was a fun couple hours. Good chats with Auren Hoffman, Josh Weinberg, and Mick Malisic, among others. We talked about religion, neoconservatism, nature vs. nurture, politics, education, globalization, urbanization and cities, and many other provocative issues! It’s always interesting to have these discussions, but you have to be careful: too much time talking about important topics at a cocktail hour level, and one becomes reliant on sound bites while deep, critical analysis goes by the wayside.

Here’s a photo of me at Renee’s.

Overvaluing and Undervaluing Advice

Interesting research presented in Harvard Business Review on advice. I both ask for and give advice regularly so I found this interesting.

  • People tend to overvalue advice when the problem they’re addressing is hard.
  • People tend to undervalue it when the problem is easy.
  • People to overvalue advice that they pay for.

This is not altogether surprising, but important to keep in mind.

Related Post: What Makes a Good Mentor