Archive for May, 2022

The flags they fought for

May 30, 2022

Hat tip to Mary Fahl: Going Home on Abagond.

Memorial Day originally was a holiday in honor of soldiers who gave their lives fighting for the Union in the U.S. Civil War.  Some of the former Confederate states had their own separate Confederate Memorial Days.  Now Memorial Day honors all who gave their lives while serving in uniform.

The video consists of the opening credits of the Civil War movie “Gods and Generals.”  It shows the flags beneath which men (some of them only boys) on both sides fought and died.

Science saves lives

May 28, 2022

Why Julian Assange matters

May 25, 2022

Julian Assange is a martyr to the defense of freedom of the press and the right of the people to know what their governments are doing in their name.

The Power of Lies by Craig Murray [Added 05/27/2022]

Defend Press Freedom, Defend Julian Assange by the Assange Defense Committee.

Safety first

May 21, 2022

Hat tip to Authentic Medicine.

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Book note: Muhammad Ali’s own story

May 19, 2022

THE GREATEST: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham (1975)

I happened to pick up this book at a free neighborhood book exchange.  It is the autobiography of Muhammed Ali, born Cassius Clay, then the world heavyweight boxing champion at the height of his success.  I never was a boxing fan, but I liked this book at lot.

One thing I got from it was an appreciation of the discipline and dedication required to be a boxing champion.  Another was an appreciation of what it means to live a life of integrity.

Ali was a polarizing figure because of his boasting and insults, because of his adherence to the Nation of Islam, and because he refused being drafted during the Vietnam Conflict.

He was well-respected as a boxer for beating physically stronger opponents through speed and agility, intensive training, tactical thinking and determination to win at all costs.  

He may or may not have been the greatest, but he was world champion for a longer period of time, and won more title bouts, than anyone except Joe Louis and the Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko, brother of the current champion.

In training and in the ring, Ali pushed himself to the limit of endurance.  He said he never started timing himself on running, hitting the punching bag, skipping rope or the like until he started to hurt.  He regarded a day in which he got through training feeling good as a day wasted.

After he was exhausted, he would enter the ring with sparring partners, who would be fresh.  This was to prepare himself for actual bouts, when he would be tired and in pain.  He was monk-like in the rigor of his training.  Of course, all the top boxers trained hard.

Boxers and trainers believed that avoiding sex was an important part of their training, he said.  Sexual intercourse leaves a man feeling mellow; the winning spirit comes from feeling angry and frustrated.

Aki’s little poems, taunting his opponents, were part of a calculated strategy.  It brought him publicity, and it made it harder for his targets to turn down his challenges.

He said he felt energized by the hostility of crowds.  The pain of defeat was that it caused him to be ignored. 

Born in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali started training as an amateur boxer at age 12.  He won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division of the Summer Olympics in 1960 at age 18, and defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title in 1964 at age 22.  

In 1967, he was stripped of his title as punishment for refusing to be drafted.  He sued and won a reversal of that decision in 1970, but he’d been out of action and out of training during his prime fighting years.  He lost the title to Joe Frazier in 1971, but won it back by defeating George Foreman in 1974.  He held on to the title, except for a brief interval, until 1978.

The book tells of his great respect for Joe Frazier, which seems to have been mutual.  The book includes a long transcript of a fascinating conversation they had.  Each was the one the other most wanted to defeat.

Ali fought Frazier twice more, in 1974 and 1975, right before and right after he regained the championship.  The last was a technical knock-out after 14 rounds; the fight was so punishing that Ali said he was considering retiring.  He probably would have been better off if he had.  He was 33, which is old for a boxer.

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Is peace in Ukraine even possible?

May 18, 2022

Peace does not require two individuals or two nations to like or trust each other. Peace requires that two sides decide the price of war is greater than the price of peace.

Defense analysts in Washington, D.C., are talking with relish about the possibility of Russia being drawn into a self-destructive quagmire war in Ukraine, like the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

I’m sure Vladimir Putin and Volodomor Zelensky are aware of these discussions. I don’t imagine that Putin wants Russia to be bled dry, or that Zelensky wants his country to be offered up as a sacrifice to U.S. geopolitical strategy.

Now maybe one side or the other thinks it can win a quick and decisive victory.  But, as things stand now, the USA is willing to provide Ukraine with modern weapons as long as it continues fighting, and China is committed to preventing Russia from going under.  So a quick end seems unlikely.

The alternative is some sort of compromise peace, in which neither side suffers complete defeat but each side gives up some of what it wants. In the previous post, I speculated on the possible elements of such a peace.

The odds are against such an agreement anytime soon. Both sides are in too deep, and have shed too much blood. But that is no reason to stop talking about it.

Remember that Zelensky, a political unknown, won a landslide victory in 2019 as a peace candidate.  He was the George McGovern of Ukraine.  Right now he is not a free agent.  He is trapped between his U.S. paymasters and the fanatical Banderite faction.  But even so, he has said he is open to negotiation.

Remember that Vladimir Putin spent 20 years trying to get the Western powers to accept Russia as an equal partner before he turned to war.

The Russian leaders believe they are fighting an existential threat of which Ukraine is only a part. It also includes missile launchers in Poland and Rumania, which could be used to launch hypersonic missiles against Russia.

A comprehensive agreement would have to include not only the dismantling of those missile sites, but the restoration of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to remove Russia’s existential threat to Poland, Rumania and other non-nuclear European nations.

The U.S. government has a perceived interest in keeping the fight going. The goal of the U.S. national security establishment is to maintain its nuclear dominance and its economic dominance, so that the U.S. government has the power to threaten any opponent with nuclear war and economic war.

The question is whether we the American people are willing to pay the price of maintaining this dominance. We already see rising prices of gasoline, heating oil and food. The longer the war in Ukraine and the global old war continue, the worse this will get. So we, too, have an interest in peace.

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The case for peace in Ukraine

May 16, 2022

We are told that the Russian invasion is a failure, that Putin completely miscalculated, that Russian forces are crumbling and Ukraine’s victory is just around the corner.

We also are being told the USA needs to send another $40 billion in aid to Ukraine pronto and to completely disrupt world trade in grain, oil and gas.  Otherwise Russia may win.   Even so, some of our military leaders are saying the war will go on for years.

The independent military analyst Scott Ritter says the last is a real possibility.  Although he had been predicting a Russian victory, he now says that if the Ukrainian army can train in Poland and Germany, and receive potentially unlimited numbers of U.S. and other NATO arms, there is no telling how long they can hold out.

I consider Ritter an authority on the Russian military and on military science in general.  What his reassessments tell me is that war is, by its nature, unpredictable.  If the outcomes of wars could be foreseen with certainty, no nation would go to war in the first place.

Leaders of the USA and Russia should be concerned should be thinking about what they hope to achieve in war, and whether it will be worth the cost and the risks.

Biden’s stated war aim is not just to save Ukraine.  It is to weaken Russia to the point where it is no longer capable of waging war.  Also, to pressure Russians into replacing Putin with a leader wiling to beg for mercy.   

Putin’s stated war aim is not just to save the Russians in the Donbas.  It is to roll back NATO so that it is no longer capable of threatening Russia.

If neither of them gives in, it is very possible the result will be the bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy of the USA, Russia and many other countries, including some neutral countries, with Ukraine, including its Donbas region, left as a blood-soaked wasteland.  That is not the worst-case scenario.  The worst case would be a nuclear holocaust of most of Russia, Europe and the USA..

The best possible outcome would be a truce and a ratification of the previous status quo—neutrality for Ukraine, autonomy for Donbas, continuing Russian control of strategically vital Crimea.

Since only some of Russia’s perceived threats involve Ukraine, there would have to be a restoration of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty and a ban on missile forces from countries bordering Russia. 

Commentary by the Saker and Moon of Alabama’s Bernhard , and also the commentary by Scott Ritter and Ray McGovern on the video above, make me aware of why Vladimir Putin thinks Russia has been backed into a corner by the USA and NATO.

My readings of the Russian Dissent substack, Mezuda news service and Alexey Navalny videos also make me aware of the authoritarianism, corruption and cronyism of the Putin administration, and of misgivings about the war by ordinary Russians.

Russia and Ukraine may be separate countries, but many Russians and Ukrainians are related by friendship, lineage and marriage.  They don’t want war with each other.

Both Russia and Ukraine are cracking down on dissent, so it is impossible for outsiders to know how much potential opposition there is to the war on either side.

Here in the USA, the widening war in Ukraine provides an excuse to step up official and unofficial censorship, and to put off dealing with the pandemic, climate-related catastrophes, inflation, rising debt, business monopoly, labor abuses, and financial crime.

All the Democrats I would have hoped might stand up for peace—Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ihan Omar, etc.—supported the $40 billion appropriation for the war.

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Some questions about North American suburbs

May 16, 2022

I found this video and comment on Reddit through a link on MARGINAL Revolution.

I just watched this video from Not Just Bikes on YouTube, I have few questions.

Disclaimer: I’m from Slovakia, Eastern Europe, so bear in mind, I’m confusion.

He keeps on talking about how cities and suburbs have to meet certain types of regulations. For example the parking lot size, the road width, etc.

Then he says there can be only one family houses. There can’t be any businesses inside these residential suburbs and also no schools.

My questions are:

1. What do you actually do? Are you always stuck inside? What did you do when you were a child and couldn’t drive?

2. Why do you have these sorts of strange regulations? Are your officials so incompetent? Is this due to lobbying from car or oil companies? I don’t get it.

3. Why is there no public transport? It seems like the only thing is the yellow school bus. …

4. He says there can be only one family houses. Why? Why can’t you have … … [an apartment] block in the middle of such a suburb?  Or row houses or whatever.

5. Why are there no businesses inside these? I mean, he says it’s illegal, just why? If I lived in such a place, I’d just buy a house next to mine and turn it into a tavern or a convenience store or whatever. Is that simply not possible and illegal?

6. These places have front and backyards. But they’re mostly empty.  Some backyards have a pool maybe, but it’s mostly just green grass.  Why don’t you grow plants in your yards? Like potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes or whatever.  Why do you own this land, if you never use it?

Whenever I watched an American movie and saw those suburbs, I always thought these streets were located somewhere in a small village or something. Turns out these are located within cities up to 30 km away from Downtown…

Americans on the move (and not)

May 16, 2022

  Hat tip to Lambert Strether.

This is an interesting illustration of the diversity of American state histories and American origins.  In many states, the number of foreign-born was greater in the past than it is today.  But in most states, the majority of citizens were born in the state.  I don’t claim this proves anything in particular.

Three stories by Scott Alexander Siskind

May 15, 2022

“Is it true,” asked the student, “that the gods only have power because we believe in them?”

“Yes,” said the sage. “It is true.”

“If everyone believed I was a god, would I become a god?”

“You have said it.”

So the student traveled the land, dominant assurance contract in hand. Everywhere he went, he told the people, “Sign this contract, that if everyone in the land signs the contract, you agree to worship me as a god.”

The people were skeptical. “Why should we worship you.? But the student won them over. To the Northmen, he promised that upon attaining divine powers, he would stop their long civil war. To the Westmen, he promised to humiliate their enemies the Eastmen. To the Eastmen, he promised to protect them from their enemies the Westmen. And the Southmen, he promised to make them as rich as they currently were poor.

Click on The Gods Only Have Power Because We Believe In Them for the full post.

“Hello, welcome to the temple of the three omniscient idols, one of which always tells the truth, one of which always lies, and one of which answers randomly. I know you already signed the release form, but I’m supposed to remind you that Idol Temple LLC does not know which idol is which and cannot provide you with – “

The petitioner, a man with slick blond hair, cut me off. “Ha, no problem! I’m gonna ask each idol for next week’s Powerball numbers, then buy three tickets.” Before I could respond, he shouted “Left idol! What are next week’s winning Powerball numbers?”

3, 15, 26, 63, 65, and 16,” said the left idol, in a voice like if a vampire bat could speak.

“Center idol, what are next week’s winning Powerball numbers?”

8, 22, 24, 45, 50, and 55,” said the center idol, in a voice like the crackling of Venusian lightning against thick cloud-banks.

“Right idol, what are next week’s winning Powerball numbers?”

Any who disrespect the omniscient idols by misusing their knowledge for sordid financial gain will, after their death, be sent to the bottom-most layer of Hell, where venomous worms will gnaw at their organs from the inside forever, never to know rest or surcease from pain” said the right idol, in a monotone.

“What?” the man asked me, helplessly. “Is that true?”

Click on Idol Words for the full post.

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Clark Kent considers a career change

May 13, 2022
Hat tip to ScheerPost.

The so-called “Russian world”: links

May 11, 2022

It is hard to find information about the Russian invasion of Ukraine that’s not war propaganda for one side or the other.  The only way to get at a semblance of the truth is to look at the situation from multiple points of view.

Here are web sites I check regularly.  If this is a topic of special concern to you, you may want to bookmark this page.  Also, if there are good sources I’m missing, please tell me in the comments.

The Vineyard of the Saker.  An eloquent Russian nationalist.  A view that is important for Americans to understand, whether they agree with or are offended by it, or not.

Russian Dissent.  A forum for Russians silenced in their own country.

Meduza – the Real Russia Today.  An independent news service.

Gilbert Doctorow.  An independent scholar.

Dances With Bears by John Helmer.  An independent report.

Videos from Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.  Alexey Navalny is in prison, and his Anti-Corruption Foundation web site has been shut down, but you can find their individual YouTube videos (with English subtitles) if you look.  Or click on this, this or this.

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Why is it so hard to pay attention?

May 9, 2022

STOLEN FOCUS: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari (2022)

I find it much harder to concentrate on a task than I used to.  

Once I could dash off a book review like this in a couple of hours.  Now what took me a couple of hours takes me a couple of afternoons.  

It’s partly that the task itself takes me longer.  But it is also that I can’t resist the temptation break off the work and check my e-mail or browse my favorite blogs.

I’ve attributed this to a combination of old age and weakness of character.  

But although my age and laziness are real, a science writer named Johann Hari has convinced me that there’s more to it.  He says our whole civilization and lifestyle are conspiring to distract me from focusing on what I need to do.

Hari is the author of Chasing the Scream, a best-seller about addiction, which I haven’t read, and Lost Connections, a best-seller about depression, which I have read and liked a lot.  In both books, he showed how a dysfunctional society makes personal problems worse, and the same is true of Stolen Focus.

In his new book, Stolen Focus, tells of his search for knowledge from neurologists, psychologists and his personal back-and-forth struggle to regain his own fading sense of focus.

He shows that distraction and the inability to concentrate are on the increase, not just for individuals but for society as a whole.

A study of office workers in the U.S. showed that most of them never get an hour of uninterrupted work in a typical day.  Another study shows that if you get interrupted, it will take, on average, 23 minutes to regain your focus.  Studies of top topics on Google and Twitter shows that the life of a hot topic on these media is growing shorter and shorter.

Increasingly, studies show, Americans and Britons are more stressed, more tired and more distracted.  We don’t get the sleep we need.  We read less and are less able to concentrate on what we read.  More and more of us juggle multiple jobs, or are on call 24/7 in the jobs we have. 

 It’s no wonder we find it hard to concentrate on things at hand. 

But if we can’t focus of this, we can’t deal with with the big challenges ahead we face individually and as a society.

Lots of things contribute to this—the faster pace of society, lack of sleep, our artificial manner of life and, of course, social media.

Hari offers tips on how to cope:

  • If you can, find a pursuit or sport that gets you into a state of “Flow”—a state where you are totally engrossed in something worthwhile that challenges you.
  • Get a good night’s sleep in a completely darkened, completely silent room.
  • Take long walks in the fresh air and sunshine without a phone.
  • Read long novels or watch long TV mini-series.  Fiction is more immersive than non-fiction and also makes you more empathetic.
  • Avoid or cut down on stimulants and sedatives.
  • Use all the Aps on your devices that enable you to set limits on notifications and interruptions.

∞∞∞

But trying to change individual behavior isn’t enough, he wrote.  The problem is deeper.

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The case against Google Chrome

May 9, 2022

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How to gird up your loins

May 7, 2022
Source: The Art of Manliness: Men’s Interests and Lifestyle.

Rich and poor on peace and war

May 6, 2022

LINK

Majority of wealthy Americans want U.S. military involvement in European war by Leonardo Briceno for The Post Millennial.  Rasmssen Reports itself is behind a paywall.

Top tax rates under different administrations

May 6, 2022

Under the Reagan administration, there was a theory that cutting tax rates for the super-rich would stimulate investment and economic growth.  Judge for yourself whether this worked.  

The Biden Administration proposes raising the highest bracket tax rate from 37 percent back to 39.6 percent and also closing some tax loopholes.  If if his bill passes, which is doubtful, it will change little.

LINKS

At What Point Does a Billionaire’s Greed Hurt the Rest of Us? by Drummond Pike for the Institute for New Economic Thinking.  Source of the chart.

Biden proposes higher corporation tax rate, 20 percent billionaire minimum tax by Paul Bonner for the Journal of Accountancy.

College tuition and the anti-radical backlash

May 5, 2022

Will Bunch, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, links the high cost of college education today to the conservative backlash against the student protesters of the 1960s.  Here is his argument.

The 1944 G.I. Bill signed by Franklin Roosevelt included a free college benefit almost as an afterthought, since academic and political leaders thought that most returning troops wouldn’t be “college material,” in an era when only 5% of Americans earned bachelor’s degrees and a majority didn’t finish high school.  Instead, the mostly working-class G.I. Bill recipients stunned the nation both in their large numbers and their devotion to taking classes. It was the start of a virtuous cycle that flowed into the unprecedented prosperity of the 1950s and the booming birth rate. By 1960, the rate of American youth heading off to college had skyrocketed six-fold to 31%

Kent State shooting

Yet this new American ideal of college wasn’t just a numbers racket. In the mid-20th century, the nation had emerged from a Great Depression, two world wars, and the arrival of the atomic bomb.  Thought leaders wondered if the concept of liberal education — geared toward developing critical thinking and not just rote career training — could steer America away from fascism, communism, and nuclear war.

Young Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s embraced this idea. Enrollment in the humanities and social sciences soared. In one 1969 survey of freshmen, 82% said what mattered about college wasn’t career training but “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.”  But for America’s so-called Establishment, the problem was what CIA agents would later label “blowback.”  Young people trained to venerate democracy and employ critical thinking turned their focus to America’s own hypocrisy — its senseless militarism in Vietnam, and racial apartheid in the Deep South, among other issues.

Top officials seemed less worried about the uproar at elite campuses like Columbia and more concerned about radicalism at the massive state universities —Berkeley or New York State’s university at Buffalo — that had exploded with working-class kids taking advantage of low (or free) tuition. They also nervously eyed rising enrollment and protests at HBCUs like Mississippi’s Jackson State University, where cops would murder two Black students on May 15, 1970.

Kent State skyrocketed from 5,000 students in 1954 to 21,000 by 1966, many of them kids of factory workers whose idealism had been forged in the New Deal-era union activism. By 1970, students exhausted by watching their neighbors return from Vietnam in body bags gravitated toward radical groups like Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The final trigger was then-President Nixon sending U.S. troops into Cambodia, which led to Kent State protesters burning down the ROTC building, which caused Ohio’s governor to call up the National Guard.

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How rich is Jeff Bezos? This rich

May 4, 2022

Compare and contrast.

Click to enlarge.

Hat tip to Jason Kottke.

Nine Ways to Imagine Jeff Bezos Wealth by Nina Chalabi for the New York Times Magazine.

At What Point Does a Billionaire’s Greed Hurt the Rest of Us? by Drummond Pike for the Institute for New Economic Thinking.  Reposted on Naked Capitalism.  [Added 05/06/2022]

Biden’s new Disinformation Governance Board

May 3, 2022

The Biden Administration has created a Disinformation Governance Board, whose mission is to monitor political speech in the United States.

“Disinformation” is covert intelligence jargon for propaganda (not necessarily false) that helps the enemy.  So the board’s name in a way is even more ominous that if it were called a Ministry of Truth, because the criterion is not truth or falsehood, but who benefits from the message.

This is a good idea only if you trust others to decide in advance what you should be allowed to hear about and read about.

Meanwhile self-described liberals are panicking because they fear Elon Musk may restore traditional free speech standards to Twitter.  If only!

[Update 05/29/2022].  Evidently the disinformation board idea is dead—for now.  I expect it will pop up again in a different form.

LINKS

Homeland Security’s Disinformation Board Is Even More Pernicious Than It Seems by Glenn Greenwald.  [Added 05/05/2022]

Video of Nina Jankowicz, the head of the new Disinformation Governance Board.

Disinformation Governance Board to tackle spread of misinformation in U.S., focusing on Russia and U.S.-Mexican border by Caitlin O’Kane for CBS News.

The Sweet Sound of Censorship: the Biden Administration Seeks the Perfect Pitch for Disinformation Governance by Jonathan Turley.

Oh, God, It’s Going to Get So Much Worse by Caitlin Johnstone.

Paypal’s IndyMedia Wipeout by Matt Taibbi on TK News.

Twitter accepts Elon Musk’s $44B acquisition offer by Ingrid Lundgren and Taylor Hatmaker for TechCrunch.

Twitter’s Chickens Come Home to Roost by Matt Taibbi on TK News.

Savor the Great Musk Panic by Matt Taibbi on TK News.

Elon Musk Isn’t a Threat to Society’s Health | All Billionaires Are by Jonathan Cook for Mint Press News.

An Intellectual No-Fly Zone: Online Censorship of Ukraine Dissent Is Becoming the New Norm by Alan MacLeod for Mint Press News.

Former Intelligence Officials, Citing Russia, Say Big Tech Monopoly Power Is Vital to National Security by Glenn Greenwald.

American Commissars by Chris Hedges for The Chris Hedges Report.

Biden’s censors want Russian-style speech controls and they haven’t given up yet by Sen. Rand Paul for Fox News.  [Added 05/29/2022]

Kevin Kelly’s rules for life

May 1, 2022

On his 70th birthday, tech writer Kevin Kelly posted 103 rules for life.  That’s way too many to absorb.  But Jason Kottke picked out a good sample of them.

Cultivate 12 people who love you, because they are worth more than 12 million people who like you.

Anything you say before the word “but” does not count.

When you forgive others, they may not notice, but you will heal.  Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.

Efficiency is highly overrated.  Goofing off is highly underrated.  Regularly scheduled sabbaths, sabbaticals, vacations, breaks, aimless walks and time off are essential for top performance of any kind.  The best work ethic requires a good rest ethic.

If winning becomes too important in a game, change the rules to make it more fun. Changing rules can become the new game.

The best way to get a correct answer on the internet is to post an obviously wrong answer and wait for someone to correct you.

Don’t wait for the storm to pass; dance in the rain.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade.  Miraculous things can be accomplished if you give it ten years.  A long game will compound small gains to overcome even big mistakes.

A wise man said, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’ At the second gate ask, ‘Is it necessary?’  At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?’ ”

To rapidly reveal the true character of a person you just met, move them onto an abysmally slow internet connection.  Observe.

Take note if you find yourself wondering “Where is my good knife? Or, where is my good pen?”  That means you have bad ones.  Get rid of those.

If you loan someone $20 and you never see them again because they are avoiding paying you back, that makes it worth $20.

Copying others is a good way to start.  Copying yourself is a disappointing way to end.

The chief prevention against getting old is to remain astonished.

LINKS

103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known by Kevin Kelly on The Technium.

99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice by Kevin Kelly on The Technium (from 2021)

68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice by Kevin Kelly on The Technium (from 2020)

You don’t have to read them all at once, or expect to agree with all of them.