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I publish WendellNotes for significant books I read to make their perspective available to friends and GIN subscribers who may not otherwise have time for them. Before I started writing WendellNotes in 2011, book notes were part of my Journal. [Brackets separate my comments from the author's.]

Our memories are not in our things--they are in us. Literary texts are the only creations that impart an exchange of consciousness between author and audience. Passion is a mixture of love and obsession. My priorities are what I do each day. The real value was in the words—in the act of reading. You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you. The best way to give yourself a raise is to spend less money. You can skip the pursuit of happiness altogether and just be happy. You can’t grow unless you give. When you discover your true motivation, you don’t need an arbitrary goal. I could see happiness getting closer and closer as I walked away from the stuff I thought would make me happy.

Download this file (Everything that Remains.pdf)Everything that Remains166 kB

Wright’s Law: For every doubling in units produced, costs fall by 15%--otherwise known as the “learning rate.” It better describes what happened to silicon chip prices than Moore’s Law. Free-market capitalism unleashed the power of exponentiality. Stability is an important force within institutions. In fact, it’s built into them. Exponential processes are counterintuitive—most processes follow a linear scale. Executives in established industries regularly look at the spread of a new product or service and dismiss it. Influence goes to the individuals that 1st understand the power of exponential technology. In the end, across an economy, automation leads to more jobs, not less. Platforms are incredibly capital-efficient. In all of its guises technology functions as an instrument of governance. It molds all of the ethical, legal, and social systems on which we depend. We cannot prevent this from happening, but we can direct it.

Download this file (Exponential Age1.pdf)Exponential Age286 kB

The only thing we learn from history is that men never learn from history, perhaps because our studies are brief and prejudiced. The heroes of declining nations are always the same—the athlete, singer or  actor. All dominant nations go through the same procedure from the Age of Conquest, Commerce, Affluence, Intellect, to Decline and Collapse. 

Download this file (Fate o Empires.pdf)Fate of Empires203 kB

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Endearing companies tend to be enduring companies. Intangible assets account for 80% of the market cap of S&P 500 companies. Public FoEs returned more than 8X of S&P 500 companies. Middle age and older people are now the culture shaping majority. Endearing behavior toward its stakeholders is one of the most decisive competitive differences ever wielded in capitalistic enterprise. Principles: positive relationship, transparency, empathy, reciprocity. Employees either benefit or burden every dimension of a company’s existence. The components of the FoE and SRM models constitute a strategic system, enabling them to outperform their competitors on a consistent basis. FoEs draw on 4 key elements to build trust with employees: respect for individuals, transparency, team building, and empowerment. Most companies that are highly profitable are not principally focused on profit making.Love your neighbor embodies the value system of FoE.

Download this file (Firms of Endearment.pdf)Firms of Endearment222 kB

The nation became more than a language. It became a moral bond and a universal administrative system. The Europeans, with their empires, were now operating on a global scale in a world filled with other powers of vaster size and organization. The European Union intended to achieve what the Romans, Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Hitler had all failed to do: create a united Europe. The Maastricht Treaty bound together 6 countries—France, German, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Italy in a European Community (EC). After WWII Europe boiled down all its dreams to safety and wealth. For the most part, every language now had its own nation. Since 1945 Europeans have tried to achieve a collective amnesia, but memory is reemerging. You see this most clearly in the borderlands--the underlying problem of the EU. Families are each hardened by history and conflict, never forgetting, rarely forgiving. All post-Soviet post-Maastricht wars occurred here where Christianity and Islam mixed, the first harbingers of a resurrected issue—Islam within Europe. The Balkans are a fragmented region caught between 3 great powers: Turkey, Russia, and the Germanic countries. You can probe as deeply as you like for the reason behind the hatreds, but in the end, each loved his own and that is who he was. Events 500 years before are as if they had happened yesterday. Germany intends to have an economic policy without political and military consequences. Southern Europeans will resist the discipline, and they have the power of all debtors—default. Germany will eventually become a full-fledged power, first flexing its political muscles and in time its military ones as pressures develop. Whereas the peninsula has diversity that can’t be overcome, Russia has homogeneity that cannot be destroyed. The fundamental question of the relationship between Germany and Russia is a question that will define Europe as a whole. It is the relationship between the mainland and the peninsula. When Germany demanded austerity, it addressed its own needs and constraints, and alienated those who would bear the burden. The concept of nation is shared blood, language, or at least common birth. In Europe, where the stranger remains the stranger because of birth, friction is not the problem of the wealthier Europeans who can insulate themselves from the lower class. It is the problem of the lower middle class and the poor, who cannot ignore the foreigners’ presence. Muslims are sufficiently religious to put them at odds with the secularism of Europe. The maniacal efficiency of northern Europeans, the culture of work as life, is not compatible with those of their Arab neighbors across the Mediterranean, with whom they have fought and traded for millennia. Being rich and weak is a dangerous combination. Virtually any country that wishes to pose a military challenge can force the Europeans to try to buy their way out of the problem, ignore the problem in the hopes it goes away, or capitulate, but not to fight. The engine of conflict—a romantic nationalism that challenges the legitimacy of transferring authority to multinational institutions and resurrects old national conflicts—is stirring again.

You cannot change methods without changing the message—they’re inseparable. The media through which we acquire information are not neutral. The East and the West began thinking in ways that mirror their respective alphabets. The tools we use to think shape the way we think. Under the force of the printed word, the gospel message was efficiently compressed into a linear sequential formula. Protestant Christianity is a by-product of a single medium—the printed Bible. Without printing, no one could have challenged the authority of the pope. The technology of writing weakens and even destroys tribal bonds and profoundly amplifies the value of the individual. Written words stimulate and liberate the imagination, while images usually captivate it. Our political discourse is now based on intuition rather than reason. The shift from emphasizing our intellectual beliefs to the ethics of following is a direct consequence of the influence of images. America was born at the height of the print age. Power is derived from information control. This shift marks the first time in the history of the world that parents have limited access to the world of teens and children. Parents have reduced ability to provide oversight, boundaries, or direction to their kids. We move from understanding salvation as a light switch to seeing it as a gradual illuminating.

Download this file (Flickering Pixels.pdf)Flickering Pixels.pdf178 kB

All of the high points of your life take place around other people. Doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we tested. Government policy should be measured not by increases in gross domestic product but by increases in global well-being. Depression is the costliest disease in the world. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill were severe depressives. But both learned to function extremely well even when they were massively depressed. The failure of children to control their fast emotional and cognitive impulses is the seed crystal around which the cascade of school failure begins. Self-discipline outpredicts IQ for academic success by a factor of 2, and also solves one of the perennial riddles about the gap in school achievement between girls and boys. It is the queen of all virtues, the strength that enables the rest of the strengths. Left and right are the politics of means— empowering the state versus empowering the individual. Happiness turns out to be more contagious than depression.

Download this file (Flourish2.pdf)Flourish178 kB

Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it ensues as the unintended side-effect of our personal dedication to a course greater than ourself. The path to this elusive goal begins with controlling our consciousness. Flow is the state in which we are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. Those who master their consciousness live a happier life. Consciousness is intentionally ordered information. Its complexity increases as a result of flow experiences. Words enable abstract thinking and increase the mind’s capacity. The fact that the mind rules the body is the most fundamental fact about the process of life. Turn all of life into a unified flow experience. The meaning of life is meaning.

By explaining, we learn more and faster about the world than those who don’t bother. Only humans can imagine scenarios that never happened—the power of counterfactuals. With causation we get understanding, with counterfactuals we get agency, and with constraints our frames become actionable. [Apple U is the source of Apple’s continued success after Job’s death]. The only bad frame is one that denies other frames. Framers see the world not as it is, but as it can be. Agility of mind is the foundation of human framing.

Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life and understanding them, or finding them, is the key to solving just about any riddle. Unwantedness leads to high crime; abortion leads to less unwantedness, and therefore to less crime. In the KKK and life insurance, dissemination of information diluted power and profit, respectively. Most drug dealers have no choice but to live with their mother because they don’t make much money. Here are the factors that strongly correlate with test scores and those that do not: child has highly educated parents/child’s family is intact; low birthweight (negative)/attended Head Start; adopted (negative)/regularly spanked; IQs of biological parents/IQs of adoptive parents; many books in his home/frequently watches television; things that parents are/things that parents do. The back-white income gap is largely a product of a black-white education gap. It’s the imminent possibility of death that drives fear. The per-hour death rate of driving versus flying is about equal. Teachers, criminals, real-estate agents, obstetricians, athletes, politicians, and CIA analysts may lie. Numbers don’t.

Download this file (Freakonomics.pdf)Freakonomics176 kB

The most important explanation for the US growth slowdown in the 21st century is the decline in the growth rate of human capital per person, which is the result of a fall in birth rates. Rising living standards and women’s reproductive rights explain about 2/3 of the 1.25% point drop in the growth rate of GDP per capita from the 20th to the 21st century. Without R&D, there are no nonrival innovations or productivity growth. Slow growth, it turns out, is the optimal response to massive economic success.

The greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others. Giver burnout has less to do with the amount of giving than the amount of feedback about the impact of that giving. The perception of impact serves as a buffer against stress. Giving seems to make people richer. People who gave more, go on to earn more.

Download this file (Give and Take.pdf)Give and Take201 kB

Only when we reject the warfare worldview in favor of one in which one sovereign will governs all are we saddled with an understanding of God and his relationship with the world in which evil becomes impenetrably mysterious. The Augustine perspective attributes pain and suffering to the mysterious “good” purposes of God. The reality of evil: No single theological problem has occupied more intellectual energy, time and ink than this one. This way of posing the problem seems to render it logically unsolvable. Since God has delegated power, it follows that omnipotence cannot be equated with meticulous omnicontrol. Evil is evil precisely because God hates it--even more than we do. Neither Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. The struggle of nations to dominate or resist Israel is a struggle of other gods with whom these nations are in league to resist Yahweh. The disciples’ questions, like the many assertions of Job’s friends, were based on the false assumption that God is behind everything. God used Satan’s evil to bring about his own demise.

Download this file (god_at_war.pdf)god_at_war.pdf59 kB

Nearly half of African Americans born in the year 2000 are expected to develop type II diabetes. Four of every 10 African Americans over the age of 20 have high blood pressure. Healthy foods that are not as energy dense can cost more than 10 times as much. Vegetables and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods. Fresh fruits and vegetable are rarely offered because they are highly perishable, require a large amount of refrigerator space, and sell poorly relative to processed food. Many also do not know how to prepare fresh food. A single worm bin could yield several thousand dollars in products before expenses.  Our breakout sessions included beekeeping, community-project design, vermiculture, aquaculture, composting, marketing, animal health, youth leadership, and the essentials of gardening. All of the innovations at Growing Power came from relationships. Urban agriculture is not yet reliably profitable.

Download this file (Good Food Revolution.pdf)Good Food Revolution195 kB

Operational excellence [discipline] is the best and most sustainable way to provide superior returns to investors in the long term. Customer satisfaction and financial performance depend on managing operations and customer interactions. Most retailers view store labor as a cost-driver, not a profit-driver. Managers pay more attention to the costs of more labor than to the benefits. It over-weights the measurable and under-weightis what’s hard to measure. Involving employees in continuous improvement is in the DNA of operationally excellent companies.

Download this file (Good Jobs Strategy.pdf)Good Jobs Strategy232 kB