Seek and Hide: The Tangled History of the Right to Privacy by Amy Gajda

Americans have a long established belief in a right to privacy — even as that right has been outshined by others.

The right to know is prominently American, with its relationship to the Freedom of the Press. The 20th century was “the era of the journalist,” according to James Reston, a one-time New York Times executive editor, who led the publication of the Pentagon papers and died in 1995.

Today, the right to be forgotten is a prominent trend emanating from Europe. But the right to privacy relates to both and much more. It’s important to understand it.

So goes Seek and Hide, a new book by academic Amy Gajda. It is thorough and compelling, rich with court law and the stories that help describe our cultural relationship to privacy. Go buy a copy. (New Yorker coverage here)

Below I share notes for my own future reference.

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The Parable of St Laurentius

Note: This historic church in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood is being replaced.

I want to tell you the parable of St Laurentius Church

St Laurentius is an old church, at least by American standards. It was built in 1882, with the donations from Polish families who wanted something of their own — beyond the other Catholic Church nearby that catered to Irish Catholics.

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The Quiet Before: the unexpected origins of radical ideas by Gal Beckerman

Long before the change happens, people start by talking.

That’s how community organizing really happens. Before intersectionality or the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Civil Rights movement, or even before the recent explosion of the alt-right, somewhere people quietly come together to form a movement. What do those moments have in common?

That’s the focus of The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas, a new book by Gal Beckerman, a books editor for the Atlantic and formerly The New York Times. (Find a review in the Washington Post)

Below, find notes for my future review — and watch an interview Beckerman did with Sewall Chan, who spoke at the 2020 edition of an annual journalism conference I host.

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Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

No time management system can save you if you won’t save yourself.

Our human capabilities are powerless against software, global scale and machine learning. We can’t keep up. It’s the “efficiency trap” — the more effective we get, the more others rely on us. Time management, then, isn’t about getting more done but rather it’s about deciding what not to do and how to be at peace with our decisions.

That’s the biggest theme I took from Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, last year’s bestselling book from former productivity columnist Oliver Burkeman.

The average human lifespan today is about 4,000 weeks — which gives the book its title and its purpose. After spending much of his career chasing each productivity hack, the author came to a newfound philosophy. Late in the book he describes it as his “Cosmic Insignificance Therapy”: recognizing our futility in the universe is a prerequisite for sustaining a balanced life.

High-achievers can still work hard and do great work. He writes about how. More than anything though the book argues we need the right foundation before we ever chase “inbox zero.” As a productivity nerd myself, I enjoyed the book and got lots from it. It is far less tactical and so may not resolve what some want out of a time management book, but it succeeds at adding something new to the conversation.

Below I share notes for my future reference.

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The Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed or Fail

Empires rise and fall in predictable ways that follow long-established patterns.

An emerging power invests heavily in education, infrastructure and trade to create wealth, which it protects by strengthening its military. Elsewhere the current leading power grows decadent with rising wealth inequality, in-fighting and fading investments until the emerging power confronts it – and wins. War and revolution start the cycle anew.

That’s among the biggest themes from the high profile 2020 book from Ray Dalio, the founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds: Principles For Dealing With The Changing World Order Why Nations Succeed And Fail. It’s part of the “principles” series that includes extensive independent research that Dalio’s team maintains here. He intends to look at the longest historical period possible to find patterns that can inform what happens next.

Most pressingly, he argues we’re at the late stage of the American empire, when the United States will continue to decline from its role as the world’s global hegemony and cede that position to China. I’ve been disappointed that much of his coverage has not challenged him on what seems a very big conflict of interest: Dalio is heavily invested in China, an authoritarian country that does not protect criticism, and he has been careful to avoid criticizing the party. In short, the book’s biggest flaws may be that he pulls his punches against China. Still, by using his own determinants and data, he paints a stark picture of unassailable patterns over the last 500 years up until today that looks like this:

Below I share my notes from reading the book for my future reference.

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Dialect Diversity in America: notes from William Labov’s 2012 book on language change

Language variation is becoming more distinct, not less, in the United States.

So argues the 2012 book “Dialect Diversity in America: The Politics of Language Change” by influential linguist and academic William Labov.

One major divergence in dialects is between African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and white dialects but differences go wider too. According to Labov, people from cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, and New York now speak more differently from each other than they did in the 1950s. This seems counterintuitive given the ubiquity of mass media, but academic linguists have shown that one-way communication does less to influence how we talk than our peers.

The book is insightful and compelling Get yourself a copy. My notes for future research are below.

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Thinking in Bets: insights on decision science from the 2018 book by Annie Duke

Life is poker, not chess.

We operate with limited information and are outcomes are heavily influenced by others with varied priorities. That’s the setup for the 2018 book Thinking in Bets by poker player Annie Duke. She was near to several poker scandals but has since focused on decision science — with her poker past as an effective storytelling device.

It was popular in business circles. The book is effective in conveying a clear overall point and synthesizing relevant research. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Below I share notes for my future reference.

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Free to Choose: Milton Friedman’s 1980 defense of American capitalism

Capitalism exposes inequality. It doesn’t cause it.

That’s among the big arguments that influential free market economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006) made in his bestselling 1980 book “Free to Choose.” By 1980, Friedman was the best-known economist of his generation; In 1962, he wrote Capitalism & Freedom, in 1970 he introduced his influential case for shareholder value and in 1976 won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

The book was published in a period of increased government intervention in the economy, high inflation and economic stagflation in the United States. Friedman’s ideas were seen as a counterpoint to the dominant Keynesian economic policies of the time, and he was part of a wave that was epitomized by the so-called Regan Revolution. The book was also the basis for a ten-part television series of the same name that aired on PBS in 1980. The series and book were well received by the public and helped to popularize Friedman’s views on economics.

See my notes below.

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Power of Habit: notes from the 2012 bestseller by Charles Duhigg

Habits work in three steps: the cue, the routine and the reward.

To change a habit, swap out the routine — because the cue and the reward are apparently already successful. That’s a big theme from Power of Habit, the 2012 bestseller by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg. I’m personally interested in the habit of habits so this book was long on my list to read — then a friend encouraged me to read it since it related to a project of ours. And so here I am.

Below I have a few notes for me to return to in the future.

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