Book Recommendations – Volume XII

“However, while staying outdoors will become less and less pleasurable, this is definitely the time of the year to dive into your reading and to get back into the swing of things when it comes to reading good books.”

The end of the Summer is always a bittersweet one. With mixed feelings, August turns to September, fall season will soon be upon us and the daylight will become shorter while the cold weather is drawing near. However, while staying outdoors will become less and less pleasurable, this is definitely the time of the year to dive into your reading and to get back into the swing of things when it comes to reading good books. Colder weather, shorter days, and back to work / school will cause our minds to re-focus our attentions on the tasks at hand in our lives but we should not forget at night or on the weekends to kick back, relax, and enjoy a good book.

These four books that I’ve chosen are all non-fiction, but they tackle different subjects and are relevant to different academic or personal interests such as history, sociology, travel, or entrepreneurship. Each author brings something different to the table as well and the writing style is different along with the kind of narration you can expect. I can definitively say that each of these books is educational and you would not go wrong with reading any of the following books in the upcoming Fall season.

  1. The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success by Ross Douthat

New York Times op-ed writer and author Ross Douthat is not optimistic about the future. Given that the present involves polarization, stalemates, and a lack of technological innovation, what does humanity have to look forward to? That is the main argument of Douthat’s book ‘The Decadent Society’ on how we may have reached the limits of our own ‘progress’ and that modernity is less fulfilling than we thought it would be. Douthat’s view is that our current culture, innovations, and motivations like originality and that we have become too complacent as a society.

Douthat cites falling birth rates, more reliance on video games / virtual reality, lack of new businesses being started along with increasing government dysfunction leading us all to be ‘comfortably numb’ as the famous Pink Floyd song goes. Douthat’s diagnosis of our current cultural and political malaise is quite convincing from citing Star Wars remakes to the fact that the Trump and Clinton families have stayed relevant for decades in politics with a lack of a fresh face to get us out of our national ennui.

While our ‘modernity’ has left us more comfortable than satisfied, Douthat struggles to mention ways that we can get out of the malaise or the needed policy or cultural changes that should take place to push our horizons more and our boundaries as a society. This was my one main gripe with the book as in the 2nd half or towards the end, a little optimism or forward-thinking would have gone over well but perhaps that was done on purpose. Douthat is not optimistic that much will change in the future and that perhaps it is best to accept our current ‘decadence’ as being set in stone or perhaps to prepare for a fall from grace that would shake more of us out of our slumber. I hope either scenario is not the case. ‘Decadence’ in my perspective gets boring after a while and human beings are creative and innovative at our core so hopefully our current malaise is not permanent as Douthat argues but rather a temporary blip on human history.

2. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Perhaps the great ‘irony’ of our age will be that a President or a Senator won’t be the one to lead us out of our current decadence. Perhaps it will instead be a foreign-born entrepreneur who rose from nothing to build multiple successful ventures that could transform the way we transport ourselves and how we interact with the cosmos. Entrepreneur Elon Musk may be the one to help lead us out of decadence and he seems to be on the way to making a dent in the wall that prevents us from creating the future. As many people don’t realize, Mr. Musk did not have an easy childhood, moved around multiple times, and even was a mediocre student at times but what he has that all entrepreneurs need is grit, resolve, and determination. To create something out of nothing and build your vision to make it a reality is where Elon has succeeded where many others have failed.

Musk clearly did not do it on his own whether it was Zip2, PayPal, or SolarCity but he was able to create a team and even companies to carry out his lofty vision. His tolerance for risk as an entrepreneur both financially and personally is simply beyond most people’s comprehension. Elon Musk is an entrepreneur so dedicated to making his companies a success that he will pour millions of dollars from a previous venture into his next one to ensure its longevity. Elon is currently the third richest person in the world and this autobiography gives rare insight into what it took for Musk to get to this point today with more than two decades of setbacks, failures, and even a few lawsuits here and there to overcome.

Ashlee Vance does an excellent job highlighting who Musk is as a person, what drives him, how his childhood and family affected him, who were the people around him, how could Tesla and SpaceX change life in the future and how big of an impact could they really have. Vance is illustrative in showing the whole of Elon Musk, both the good and bad, of the visionary entrepreneur. While he disdains any notion of socialism in government policy, he has received millions in government subsidies to help his businesses; His commitment to succeed can sometimes cause him to fall out with others who feel they were not treated well or were not given the recognition that they thought they deserved. A good biography shows both the triumphs and the warts of a man and this one is no different. Overall, this biography is an excellent look into the man behind both Tesla and SpaceX who continues on his quest to change the world by molding its future.

3. The World: A Brief Introduction by Richard Haass

This book is a love letter to International Relations in 2020 (pre-COVID) by the President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass. For those new to this field, it is a very enlightening and comprehensive book to ground someone especially in high school or their 1st year in college to know about the basics of the world in terms of foreign affairs and what are some of the main challenges of the 21st century for nation-states. While primarily a guide to the world for those new to international relations, I found that it is a good refresher for more advanced or experienced students of international affairs.

I enjoyed the historical overview, the breakdown of the regions in a succinct manner, and the number of economic, security, and development challenges that the world is grappling with at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century. Richard Haass would definitely be an excellent professor to have in your Introduction to International Relations / International Relations Theories and this book would be a good starter text to have.

Clocking in at around 400 pages total, no major detail is spared, and no region of the world is left uncovered. If you are not familiar with an issue in IR or a region where you don’t know the culture or the language, Haass’s book is a good way to familiarize yourself and to stay up to date with what is going on regionally or thematically. For those of you in high school interested in the world and geopolitics, this book is a good place to start. For those of you starting college and planning to major in international relations, it is likely you will be reading this book not before too long.

4. Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home by Matthew Kepnes

Home is whatever place you can find yourself comfortable in over a long enough period of time. I remember reading this piece of wisdom in Matthew Kepnes’s book and finding it to be quite the piece of truth. As a fellow traveler and shorter-term ‘nomad’ myself, Matthew’s travel memoir appealed to me because of its raw honesty and vulnerability. Life at home is comfortable but it can get dull and repetitive. Life on the road is new and exhilarating but can also lead to a sense of fatigue moving from place to place without settling down roots or losing friends and relationships as you feel the call to move somewhere else.

In my experience, Travel memoirs can be rather hit or miss but this one by Mr. Kepnes is on the mark in terms of the ups and downs of long-term travel and also about staying in a country for a year or more. I was personally away from home in my 20s for over three years and I can only imagine how ten years on the road would fundamentally change who I am, what I value, and how I want to live my life.

I really admire Matthew’s deep understanding on the joys of travel and how lucky we are to be on the road when we can. Travel is a privilege that especially now, we tend to have taken for granted. Once you get started on the path outside your town or country, it can be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. That nomadic yearning to live life on your own terms, on your own pace is a flickering light that can burnish again with renewed intensity often times when we least expect it. This memoir highlights how rewarding travel can be, how much it can develop your personality and your worldview, and why it is so important to listen to your gut at times to know what you want in life.

Some of us travelers are meant to have one foot out of the door at all times and when we stay in one place too long, we tend to get stir crazy. I think what Matthew learned is how important it is to find that balance of being a nomad at heart but finding roots somewhere while keeping the freedom he gained over many years of hard work of being an independent writer, a recognized travel expert, and an overall creator with an ability to work remotely, which may becoming more and more common into the future.

You may think starting the journey is the hardest step to take when you’re going out on the road, but I find it’s true instead how coming home is often the hardest thing you’ll do when the journey comes to an inevitable end at some point. The good thing that Matthew notes in his memoir is that the nomad or the traveler is always within us even after the journey ends and that eternal flame can be rekindled making it easier and easier to get out on the road in the future to have more journeys without feeling that fear of the first step as happens on the first journey out of our comfort zone.

Book Recommendations – Volume XI

“There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading?”

There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading? Regardless if the book is fiction or non-fiction, spending a few hours each day reading a good book can make the time pass by quicker and get rid of any kind of twiddle-your-thumbs moments that can happen when you don’t have a movie, concert, or sporting event to distract you. While live events may be out of order this summer, your bookshelf is dying to have you open up a book, sit down on your favorite couch or chair, and let your mind wander to an imaginary or a real place to pass the time.

  1. The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and The Case for Its Renewal by William J. Burns

William J. Burns might be one of the best diplomats the United States has ever had. With over thirty years of experience and having served in two of the most important regions of the world, Mr. Burns’s story is an example of the good that diplomatic efforts can do in resolving conflicts, promoting peace, and ensuring cooperation among both allies and adversaries. He is one of only two career diplomats to have ever earned the title of ‘Deputy Secretary of State’ and he gave advice and counsel to five U.S. Presidents and ten Secretaries of State.

Mr. Burns’s storied career includes Ambassadorships to both Jordan and Russia and he held numerous Assistant Secretary positions within the State Department during his three-decade tenure. He was partly responsible for ceasefire agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for helping to eliminate Libya’s nuclear weapons program, and for helping to reset U.S. relations with Russia in the early 2010s. He also shares insights in this book that were previously not publicly known involving his views on the Iraq War, the Civil War in Syria, and of the Russian aggression against Ukraine at the end of his tenure.

This 400+ page memoir is simply a must-read for anyone interested in how diplomacy works and how vital it is to maintain within a government’s foreign policy. In a time now where it has been underinvested and mismanaged, Burns’s book illuminates how big of a difference it can make and how one man’s impact can be felt throughout an entire foreign policy apparatus due to his vigorous study of culture, languages, and history in order for him to be taken seriously. The book is not only educational but is also gripping in terms of his recall of major events throughout his diplomatic career as well as the written cables that explain them. It is a real page turner and should be required reading for any student of international relations and who hopes to become a diplomat in their own future career.

2. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux

Cooperation, friendship, and understanding is important among friends, but it is even more important among your neighbors. The US-Mexico relationship has been fraught with mistrust and tension especially during the years of the Trump administration. The best way to do away with stereotypes and misgivings about each other is to visit the lesser known places of a country and visit the non-touristy areas. Paul Theroux may be the best living American travel writer today.

From his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi in the 1970s to his trek in the American Deep South, Paul Theroux has traveled around the world over five decades and counting. His latest novel about his travels in Mexico is a must-read for Americans and anyone else looking to understand Mexico from an outside lens. While not an exhaustive take on the complex country and its people, Theroux’s book, somewhat observant and otherwise felt like you’re in the middle of his travels is both illuminating and powerful.

Paul Theroux is really a true traveler and even though this is the first of his travel novels that I have read, this one felt very timely as it was released in 2019 during a time of souring relations between the two North American neighbors. Theroux spares no miles or kilometers in seeing all of Mexico that he can. From the desert Region of Sonora in the North to the Mexico mundo of Mexico City to the Southeast of the country where he visits the Zapatistas, this is an extremely educational look at modern Mexico.

Theroux’s book highlights the issues that Mexico is going through from immigration from the Northern Triangle to the ever-present threat of the drug cartels to the hopes of Mexico’s indigenous populations who believe that they have been left behind as other villages and towns hollowed out while the economic gains went elsewhere. It’s not just the issues that Theroux shines a lens on but also the beauty of the country’s culture and its warm people. As an elderly traveler, Theroux is treated with great respect and even reverence as ‘Don Pablo.’

He is welcomed as a guest, kept safe by complete strangers, and invited to interview Mexicans who normally would not talk to foreign travelers. Theroux travels all the way from Massachusetts across the border where few Americans are found to cross. He does so in his own car on his own dime and does not travel with any security or any kind of companionship. He learns Spanish and teaches writing to Mexican students. He is a refreshing kind of traveler, one who remembers to show people through a human lens and to not deal with harmful stereotypes.

Overall, ‘On the Plain of Snakes’ is an excellent travel novel for anyone interested in learning more about Mexico’s people, its culture, its struggles, and its hopes for a better future.

3. Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele J. Gelfand

This book has been my favorite one of 2020 and I only heard of it through a weekly David Brooks column in The New York Times Opinion section. The differences and similarities between cultures and societies is a topic that has fascinated me for years. As someone who has lived in both loose and tight countries as Mrs. Gelfand so brilliantly classifies, it is fascinating to see her extensive research come into fruition and how these loose and tight countries affect our outlook on everything from celebrations to driving to health care to tattoos.

Tight countries are cultures where norms are preserved and breaking them is frowned upon. Societal cohesion is encouraged and straying from norms is open to punishment. Loose countries are cultures where norms are often broken and breaking them usually comes with a shrug or a lack of care. Why do Germans always stop at a red light even when its 3 AM? Why do Brazilian clocks never run on time? Why do Japanese trains always run on time? Why do Singaporean laws ban gum from being chewed?

These tight and loose differences do not just extend to countries but also to states, cities, organizations, businesses and even within us. This book of ‘tight and loose’ norms highlights how we feel about any subject and how that is reflected in how we act with others. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether living in a tight culture is better or if living in a loose culture is better. Mrs. Gelfand excellently points out in each chapter how they both have their advantages and disadvantages depending upon the norm being considered.

Our upbringing, our environment, our country’s history, etc. all have effects on how ‘tight’ a culture is or how ‘loose’ a culture is. There can also be changes to a culture depending if there are big events like a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a natural disaster, etc. Cultures can tighten or loosen depending upon what is going on in the country and how people are being affected by these natural or manmade shifts to our lives.

Having seen both ‘tight cultures’ and ‘loose cultures’ up close and personal, this book has been a revelation to me in terms of explaining what I thought about only in my theories that I concocted after traveling from country to country but never really expressing it as well as she has in this great book. Mrs. Gelfand has done extensive research across many countries and continents to explain why some countries have more ‘rule makers’ and why other countries have ‘rule breakers.’ In order for our own cultures to shift from one spectrum to the other, we have to first understand why the country’s culture is the way it is and if it can shift, what benefits are there to tightening up or loosening up depending on what is going on in our lives and in our society at the time?

The Maracanã

“One of the most famous football stadiums in the world and which was featured in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Maracana Stadium or Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Steady As We Go

As we all know by now, the world is going through a very tough time right now. Instead of speculating about when will things be back to some sense of normalcy, it would not be right to do guesswork about that as of today. Instead, I think it would be best to remind ourselves of a few things we can do over the next few weeks or months to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically for these challenging times. I would like to give my readers out there some advice which has helped me so far in terms of moving forward with my day-to-day activities and also the larger goals that I have for myself.

  1. Take Care of Your Friends and Family: Now is the time to be there for your family and close friends in any way that you can. Even if you are not in the same city or in the same country, take some time out of your day to call or message them to see how they are doing. If you can do so, try to help around the apartment or house with cooking, cleaning, running errands, etc. This is a time to be close to the ones you love and to be there for them.

Remote work and schooling are important and should be a priority, but you should not forget to make time for those around you and to check in on them. Given how much running around you could be doing, you will likely have more time to reach out to loved ones and really take the time to engage in conversation or have dinner together or just to FaceTime every night before bed. I think it is the #1 priority right now to have during this difficult time.

  1. Look for New Opportunities: Obviously, this is a hard time both employment wise and financially. If you have to find a new job or a new opportunity, do your best to be prepared to find those jobs and work opportunities even if they are not ideal for your long-term career pursuits. In a time like this, it would be best to swallow your pride and expand your availability for jobs that will be coming down the pipeline. You have to do what you have to do within reason to keep the lights on and feed your family. It may be working to stock shelves to delivering groceries or to work as a receptionist but if it comes with health insurance and a decent wage, it may be in your best interest to take that opportunity at least for a few months.

Nothing is permanent and even if it is not a job you want to be doing, consider it a way to build up your resilience and to be helping others especially if the job calls for it. The wider you broaden the search, the better off you will be. You just want to make sure you polish off your resume and your cover letter to update it after a gap of some time.

  1. Be Kind to Others: People are stressed out and worried. You have to act like that is currently the situation and give others the benefit of the doubt. You don’t know what is going on in their lives during this crisis and it’s not something you should be asking about. Be respectful, patient, and kind. Don’t be demanding, rude, or just overall a bad person to others. There is such a thing as karma, and it can accrue in both good and bad ways especially now. I do believe that you should treat others the way you would want to be treated and that is how you should approach life under quarantine.

Tempers can flare with ease and things can get out of control so just be aware of your emotions, realize that nothing is worth a verbal or physical confrontation over (especially toilet paper), and always remember to say please and thank you. It does not cost anything to be nice and you should always leave the house if you have to now with that in mind. Good manners will always help you get through a crisis like that.

  1. Volunteer and Donate If You Can: This is only a suggestion but this is the time to give blood if you are eligible, donate extra food and clothes to those organizations who need it and can vouch as to where the money is going, and also see if you can deliver groceries if you have free time. It should go without saying that you should only be volunteering in public if you have a clean bill of health and have not been traveling overseas in the past two weeks. I have seen numerous remote volunteering opportunities pop up in the past week include video conferencing with senior citizens and asking as a pen-pal for them as they stay secluded at home and could use a friend.

Get together with some friends and put together a spreadsheet of organizations / places in your local town or city that are asking for monetary donations or for food/clothing/supplies, etc. It is a misconception that you need to leave the house to donate or to volunteer. In a time like this, sometimes, people especially the elderly or the solitary just could use someone to talk to or listen to them. I have heard stories of mental health professionals volunteering their time for free to help those people in need and that warms my heart quite a bit. If you are not completely healthy and/or free of symptoms, you should not be volunteering outside of the house!

  1. Stay Home and Wash Your Hands: This advice should go without saying by now, but it should be repeated that you should not be leaving your home unless your job requires it or if you need to pick up groceries or go to the pharmacy. I try not to compulsively wash my hands but it’s better to overdo it than under-do it so make sure you sing the ‘happy birthday’ song twice and use enough soap for the 20 seconds it takes to wash your hands.

If you can go for a walk on your own, it is great to get some fresh air even if it is just around the block. You will need some sunlight (vitamin D) and as long as you maintain your social distancing of 2 meters (six feet), there’s nothing wrong with walking for 10-15 minutes to clear your head and shake off the inevitable cabin fever.

  1. Cleaning, Cooking, and Organizing: A good way to avoid being lethargic during this time is to occupy yourself away from work and/or school by keeping things neat, tidy, or clean in the house or apartment where you reside. Daily tasks like cooking meals, cleaning your room, or organizing your papers will definitely keep you busy. Currently, it’s ‘Spring cleaning’ season so you will have your work cut out for you these next few quarantined weeks if you have not cleaned your place since the beginning of the wintertime.

Who knows? If you found extra items or clothes around during cleanup time, you could perhaps donate them when you’re finished collecting all those things you may not need but may help out somebody else during this tough time. With restaurants closed for the time being and delivery every day an expensive proposition, now is the best time to crack open your old recipe book and take your cooking more seriously.

You may be able to eat healthier now more than ever with the added time to cook and prepare your meals in advance and it is a good way to bond if you have a family or a loved one with you. Organizing extends to your personal computer and devices as well to make sure your files, bills, and documents are in order. Don’t forget to take the time to give your phone, tablet, or laptop a good cleaning too because it is a germ magnet and it would be wise to keep it clean as much as possible.

  1. Get Some Exercise In: Gyms and fitness centers are closed. No more pools, saunas, or even Yoga classes. So, what do you do now? Well, it can be easy to give up on your fitness goals but luckily, we have the Internet and delivery services are still working. You can utilize both to keep working out as there are hundreds of home workout exercises and guides out there now. Most of the information is free to use and easily accessible especially with YouTube videos showing you exactly how to do these exercises.

I believe you don’t need much to do these workouts as most of them can be done just with your bodyweight when it comes to pull-ups, sit-ups, pushups, squats, crunches, etc. If you can spend the money, it doesn’t hurt to get some free weights or some barbells in order to add some weight to your exercises. You can also get creative by doing some Yoga and Meditation with just a simple mat.

Due to the Internet, you can look up practically anything fitness related to create a good 30 to 45-minute workout. As if that wasn’t enough, you can always use your body to move quickly with sprints, hill runs, jogs, or a brisk walk if you can get out of the house for a bit. It won’t be the same as going to a physical gym, which has a ton of equipment and a sauna or other great amenities but it’s better than nothing and it is relatively easy to make the most of it.

  1. Flex Your Creative Muscle: If you have some extra time on your hands now, put it to good use by being creative. Sit down and figure out how best you want to pass the time in a productive way. Perhaps you can learn an instrument, pick up a new language, or even write an eBook or an entire book. Harness that energy into action to make the most of your time spent indoors and without most of the distractions that we have in our normal daily lives.

In the next weeks and months, I am positive that there will be an absolute growth in creative pursuits, both online and offline. There are a number of skills and traits that you can work on almost always for free or if you spend money, it is likely be a worthwhile investment from the right teacher. It is also a great time to develop that business idea or side hustle you have been thinking about but never actually committed to. You can always bounce these ideas off your family and friends or if you are able to do so, try to find like-minded people through your network or your organizations to see what they think of your idea and if it has some potential.

Isaac Newton, for example, worked day and night, when a great plague was spreading around the world and due to the time he had to just sit, learn, and experiment, he was able to come up with the brilliant equations and inventions that helped invent the modern life that we have today. Even if you fail, it is better to have tried and done your best than to have wondered later on, what if?

We will all get through this difficult time. It will be a tragic time in human history, but you will be a stronger and more compassionate person at the other end of this pandemic. There are often things in life that happen that are out of our control. It sucks and it is demoralizing but you have to move on, move forward, and keep on moving. We have no choice but to move on and to make the most of the time that we are given. We owe it to ourselves, our family, and our community to be the best that we can be especially now. I hope you take this difficult time to be caring, be kind, and be productive. I wish you well and hope you are well.

Book Recommendations – Volume VIII

As always, the summer season is an excellent time to be catching up on personal reading. One of my favorite activities during the summer is to lie out in the park or at the beach and dive into some books that have piqued my interest. Whether you are a fiction fan or a non-fiction fan, there are a lot of excellent books out there to keep you occupied. My three choices for reading this summer deal with non-fiction topics yet I hope they peak your interest as well even if you are a fiction fan.

1.) “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari

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The follow-up to Harari’s first book, ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ dives into the promise, the challenges, and the problems facing humanity as we go through the 21st century and beyond. ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ looks at how human beings got to this point in our collective history and how we will need to come up with new solutions whether political, economic, or social to adapt to this current age of rapid technological and climatic change. Clearly, this book deals with more speculation on the part of Harari as he lays out a number of possibilities that could come about in this century and beyond, rather than solely focusing on past human history as ‘Sapiens’ did.

Harari devotes a large part of the book to the fact at how much progress has been made across humankind in terms of eradicating disease, famine, and also how war has been limited in a time of relative peace and prosperity. The question that Harari poses is what will humanity focus its efforts on now that we have been able to get past in large part major sources of human suffering in the form of disease, famine, and war. Mr. Harari makes the argument that humanity will focus a lot of its collective effort on artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, machine learning, etc.

The goal particularly of the rich and wealthy will be to conquer death and achieve immortality through various means that the author goes more into detail about. However, how will social harmony be insured as artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning wipe out a large percentage of human jobs over the next few decades? Will the rights of the individual be maintained when a large part of the population no longer are able to find work or where they can receive adequate educational training for the jobs of tomorrow?

Harari is a sociologist so the details of the actual engineering and technology that would need to occur to make this shift happen is lacking in the book. However, he poses urgent questions for policymakers, economists, and other leaders as to what will happen when ‘big data’ algorithms know us and our desires better than they ever have. How will the meaning of ‘work, leisure, and relationships’ change as artificial intelligence continues to advance? Increasingly, Mr. Harari concludes that humans and machines will complement each other in various ways whether its in education, technology, the workplace, etc. and there can be nothing done to avoid this shift from happening in our lifetimes. What remains to be seen is how human societies react to a future where people must adapt to these technological changes to survive, prosper and how man and machine will act as they merge together beyond what was considered possible just a century ago.

2.) “Us v. Them: The Failure of Globalism” by Ian Bremmer

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Ian Bremmer, a notable political scientist has written a new book on the populist resurgence in the United States and around the world. He tackles the failure of ‘globalism’ as an ideology and how unfortunately it doesn’t look like we will all be able to live and thrive in a truly borderless world without political, economic, and social differences getting in the way. The fear of the ‘other’ and the tendency for human beings to organize themselves in separate tribes whether it’s the form of nations, races, and religions takes precedence even today as the reaction to globalism.

Mr. Bremmer makes the argument that ‘globalism’ and ‘globalization’ are separate in their meanings as ‘globalism’ as a term is primarily political in nature while ‘globalization’ is primarily economic. Globalization will continue to expand and thrive because its’ practical for nations to engage in trade and finance at the international level to boost and grow their national economies. As long as it is economically advantageous for nations to trade and do business with each other, globalization will continue to be a mainstay in economic relations.

‘Globalism’ however has received a backlash from the rise of political populism primarily in the Western world (the U.S., the U.K.) but also in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland), and also in developing nations like India, Mexico, Turkey, etc. Issues of mass migration, cultural shifts in nations, growing income inequality have led populations to look towards protectionism and ‘strongmen-lite’ politicians to address these systemic issues. In my opinion, Bremmer correctly argues that while the world is collectively doing well in terms of economic growth and the subsequent rise in living standards, there is still a serious political recession going on with far left and far right politicians gaining stream in terms of popularity.

‘Us v. Them’ reflect the growing unease and anxiety that a lot of people have regarding ‘globalism.’ Besides the cosmopolitan populations that live in the major cities of the world and who have benefited from the cross-cultural exchange of peoples, trade, finance, etc., there are many others who feel threatened by the ‘other’ and how their country and culture may be changing as a result. Mr. Bremmer sees the happening of Brexit, the election of Trump, and the rise of strongmen around the world as a reaction to ‘globalism’, and how there are drawbacks in that many people feel left behind by their political and economic elites who enacted these policies without their support. ‘Us v. Them’ is something that has occurred throughout human history and to myself, it goes back to our fundamental nature of our willingness to divide ourselves into separate tribes and to look upon the ‘other’ with suspicion and fear.

According to Mr. Bremmer, political populism is not likely to go away anytime soon and the rise of automation, an increase in artificial intelligence, the weakening of the middle class in both the developed and developing world are likely to put continued pressure on weakening political institutions who may or may not be agile and forward-thinking enough to come up with satisfactory solutions to these 21st century issues.

3.) “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World” by Suzy Hansen

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‘Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World’ by Suzy Hansen is a refreshing take on the way American foreign policy decisions have affected the U.S.’s relationships with certain countries such as Iran, Greece, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, and specifically the people who feel that they have been negatively affected by those decisions. The average American is likely to be unaware of how large of a role the country has played beyond its borders and how some of those decisions have left deep, festering wounds in the people of those countries who were directly affected and still haven’t forgotten.

Ms. Hansen who came from a personal background similar to mine has lived in Turkey for over ten years and has traveled to the Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Egypt looking for the perspectives of those citizens in regards to how America changed their countries, mainly for the worse. Her personal background growing up was very insular and she went to travel and live overseas in order to see her country differently.

From reading this book, it was refreshing to see Ms. Hansen do her research about the countries she was living in and visiting as well as interviewing many people in those countries to hear their stories and their perspectives. I believe that her book does a great job of enlightening Americans about negative foreign policy decisions made in the past that our country may not like to remember but is still forefront in many other countries’ perspective of the United States.

As Hansen left home and lived overseas, her innocence and that of America is stripped away because it’s a harsh truth to face yet it is one that we must all face is that America has not always done good in the world and there have been negative effects of past U.S. foreign policy decisions that heavily resonate with those peoples to this day. The key aspect of this mix of journalism and personal memoir makes this book stand out as a referendum on America’s role in the world, and how its likely to decline in the future. While our impact may lessen on our nations in the future, Hansen sees that as a possible good occurrence do the damage that has already been done.

My main critiques of this book is that while Ms. Hansen diagnoses that issues with U.S. foreign policy, I do wish there was an addition to the book where the author discusses how America can better its foreign relations in the future and to move forward positively with the countries she has become familiar with. However, to be fair, that would take a whole another book to diagnose how U.S. foreign policy should move forward. Also, I believe that this book was a bit too negative in its perspective on America and it could have been more balanced in its overall viewpoint. Ms. Hansen’s book pulls no punches and is a clear-eyed look on the blindspots of American exceptionalism and how our values have not always been well received beyond our borders.

Choosing the Right Travel Backpack for You

You have the money, you have the time, and you have some destinations in mind: you’re ready to live the nomadic lifestyle for a while and travel the world. This may be your dream life but the question is: are you prepared to make the jump? and do you have everything you need to make the journey? Having the right backpack with you could make the difference between having the time of your life or booking an early flight home.

Where’s Your Backpack?

Despite having the money, the time, and the destinations finalized in your mind, do you have the gear that you’ll need in order to complete the journey? Unless you plan on lugging a suitcase through the Andes or the Himalayas, you’re going to need a sturdy and reliable travel backpack. However, thankfully for you, there are more options now than ever when it comes to travel backpacks and they’re not as expensive as they used to be.

There are dozens of backpacks that I could write about but then this article would be ten thousand words total. Instead, I’m going to focus on three great options that you should seriously consider, one of them which that I have personally used during my travels throughout South America and can highly recommend to my readers.

You can check out a number of options if you visit the website titled, ‘Live Once Live Wild’ and see their ‘What is the Best Travel Backpack’? article which you can access here: http://liveoncelivewild.com/best-travel-backpack/. Regardless of which backpack you choose, you’ll have plenty of good options to choose from.

JanSport Katahdin 40L – Best Bargain

If you’re not looking to spend a lot of money but still want to get some good value out of a travel backpack, you may want to consider buying the JanSport Katahdin 40L. This backpack is made out of Polyester material so it can withstand the elements pretty well and it can store a good amount of camping gear as well as a laptop if you’re going to need to do some work when you’re on the road.

There’s a top loading main compartment, a padded hipbelt for comfort, and dual water bottle pockets on the sides in case you get thirsty. The price may vary depending upon which store you buy the JanSport Katahdin but if you go to (goo.gl/MuNVtX) you can get it on sale now for about $55, which is a pretty good discount considering the original price is about $80. While not as flashy as some other options on the market, this travel backpack has a good amount of features that make it worth a look when you’re shopping for a bargain option that still gets the job done.

Mountaintop 50L

If you can’t spend all that much money, the cheapest option you may want to divulge in would be the Mountaintop 50L. The best thing about this travel backpack is the amount of storage for your items and clothes that you can fit in there. You can do a lot with 50L of storage and there are a lot of deep pockets, expendable collars, a big front pocket, and even a hydration system that make up this backpack. It’s also a comfortable fit for your body and back.

There’s a good amount of cushion and comfort for you so that you won’t feel too uncomfortable during your journeys when you are carrying this backpack around. Even though this Mountaintop 50L is one of the cheapest options out there, it’s still a top rated travel backpack that has become increasingly popular over the past couple of years. If you’re looking to buy one of these bad boys, you can go to (goo.gl/dTCNXI) where you can buy one for only $45, which is extremely affordable compared to other options. As if that wasn’t enough, you can buy the Mountaintop 50L in different colors including red, blue, green, gold, etc.

Osprey Farpoint 55

A personal favorite of mine that I have used during my recent travels in South America is the Osprey Farpoint 55. Depending upon how big you want your backpack to be, Osprey has you covered by offering the average traveler the Farpoint 40, 55, and 70. The bigger your Osprey is, the more expensive it’s going to be to buy. Osprey’s are top-notch quality but they are among the costliest backpacks on the market. However, in return, your Osprey backpack will last for years because of its’ high quality. It’s made entirely of polyester, is resistant to most weather elements, and comes with a lot of storage and space including an extra daypack bag that’s attached to the front of your Osprey backpack.

You can choose from three different colors and you can find the price for the Farpoint 55 at (goo.gl/z3EvQc). As noted, the price of this backpack can range from $160 – $190 so it’s important you make sure to save some money up before you go ahead and click the ‘buy’ button.

If you want to check out some more backpack options for travel, go to your local camping store and it’s likely that you’ll find what you’re looking for. I hope you choose the backpack that you believe is right for you and I’ll see you out there on the road.

 

Valle del Cocora

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CameraCanon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Valle del Cocora; Salento, Quindio, Colombia

Book Recommendations – Volume III

After a five-month break, I’m back with another edition of “Book Recommendations.” I’ve had some free time on my hands lately which has allowed me to read these really great books. I would like to share my latest selections with my visitors and hope that you will check these books out for yourself.

Note: I have also posted the links to these books so you can check them out on Amazon.com. You simply need to click on the books’ images below in order to be re-directed to the Amazon page of the book itself. Enjoy.

1.) And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades In The Middle East by Richard Engel, Chief Foreign Correspondent for NBC News

As someone who has studied the Middle East region extensively in college and has made a few trips to the region (Turkey, Israel, Jordan), I continue to enjoy learning about this tumultuous part of the world despite its rough past and present.

This book by Richard Engel is excellent because it comes from someone who understands the complexities and historical background of the region. He is also a great correspondent and storyteller who weaves his own history of working in the Middle East alongside the tumultuous events over the past two decades, which have fundamentally transformed the region.

Mr. Engel has been a foreign correspondent in the Middle East for over twenty years now. In this book, he clearly displays his vast knowledge of its’ history, culture, societies, and the troubles that continue to plague the region. Engel is fluent in Arabic, Italian, and Spanish. He has worked for NBC News and other major news organizations for over two decades. He re-tells his firsthand experiences and stories of starting out as a freelance journalist for the Agence France-Presse in the late 1990’s during the time of Mubarak’s Egypt. He goes on to discuss his experiences of working and living in Iraq during the collapse of Saddam’s regime and the subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In addition, Mr. Engel has also spent a lot of time covering the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and the recent civil war in Syria. Richard Engel has also endured some trauma during his career as he was captured and kidnapped by ISIS in late 2012. For the readers of his book, we get personal insight into the hellish situations he has been drawn into through his accounts of witnessing the deaths and injuries of many of his journalist colleagues over the past twenty years. This book is fundamentally a more personal story as he recounts how his 20 years of covering the Middle East had affected his marriage, his friendships, and his mental state.

What I like most about this book is that Mr. Engel gives you the historical background and the straight facts of what happened in the region and why it happened. You can tell that he was both physically and emotionally affected by the wars and insurgencies that he bravely covered for the U.S. media. More than anything else, it is a well-written account of what it means to be a journalist in a very difficult region of the world for journalists. Richard Engel doesn’t preach about what should have happened or what could have been different in terms of the politics but he simply relays his past experiences for those of us who want a more personal, firsthand account of what it is like to cover the Middle East.

2.) Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Cultural Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

A world-renowned traveler, famous television show host, coolest American alive over 50 years of age. You can also add best selling-author to this list as if it wasn’t long enough. These are just a few of the titles that Mr. Bourdain has earned over the course of his life. However, most people forget that he was a very successful chef in New York City and elsewhere during the 1980’s and 1990’s. He is especially known for being the executive chef at the famed restaurant of ‘Les Halles’ in Manhattan, NY.

Due to his years in the kitchen, Kitchen Confidential is an in-depth, intriguing look into the actual process of how the food we eat in restaurants ends up on our plates. You may not feel very hungry after reading this book due to the expose on some food industry practices that could be considered unsatisfactory in terms of health regulations. I know now that I won’t ever order fish or any other seafood from a restaurant if it’s a Monday.

This book is an unfiltered look into life as a cook and Bourdain hilariously delves into stories from his past and the characters he encounters in the various kitchens he’s worked in. He discusses how he worked alongside drug dealers, degenerates, thieves, loose cannons, etc. in the kitchen but that didn’t detract from the excellent chefs that they made themselves out to be. If anything, Bourdain argues, their eccentricities and attention to details help make these people into great cooks.

Kitchen Confidential is also useful in that Bourdain gives tips and advice to his readers on how to cook and prepare food better. His advice ranges from what kind of knives are best to which simple gadgets make the most difference in having a decent kitchen to cook in. If you like his travel shows and his antics as a TV host, you will most certainly enjoy this book.

3.) Connectography: Mapping The Future of Global Civilization by Parag Khanna

The race to win the 21st century will not be a race between militaries, or of competing arms but of overall connectivity. Mr. Khanna argues that whichever country becomes the most connected to the global supply chains of trade, finance, technology, infrastructure, etc. will stand to benefit most in our current globalized world. A geopolitical strategist, consultant, and world traveler, Mr. Khanna displays his in-depth knowledge of international affairs and geopolitics from his past travels and from his extensive research.

From Ukraine to the UAE and from China to Nigeria, Mr. Khanna details how national borders are no match for the global supply chains that are increasingly emerging. Physical boundaries of geography are becoming less important than the priorities of developing high-speed rail lines, building intercontinental pipelines, expanding the World Wide Web, along with increasing energy outputs and resource trading among many different nations.

While some prominent figures in politics are advocating for resurgent nationalism and wall-building, Mr. Khanna understands that this perspective is detrimental in a world which is becoming more fundamentally connected. In the 21st century, countries and continents need each other now more than ever. With ten trillion dollars and growing being spent per year on infrastructure, transportation, energy, and communications, this trend is likely to continue unabated.

Among the notable ideas in this great book that Mr. Khanna highlights are the emerging North American Union with related maps in the book showing how the United States, Canada, and Mexico are becoming more interdependent. China is also connecting itself to many of its neighbors in Eurasia through gas, oil pipelines and freight rail networks.

In Connectography, Mr. Khanna gives us an in-depth perspective on the world’s growing interdependence and how its’ affecting our everyday lives. While there are numerous challenges to this worldwide trend, which are also highlighted in the book, Mr. Khanna strikes on a final note of optimism. Even with the difficulties and struggles of climate change, terrorism, civil wars, etc., only a more inclusive, connected global society can meet these challenges head on and succeed together.

Interconnected

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“Will humanity become more or less interconnected during the 21st century?”

When the 21st Century is over and becomes apart of the history books, it will be known as the first truly interconnected, interdependent, and entangled era of human history. Compared to past eras, borders are more open, long-distance travel is common place due to modern aviation, and global commerce is more free than it ever has been. Globalization as a phenomenon has been made possible not just through open borders and advances in aviation but also due to the wonders of the Internet.

While many human beings can not physically cross borders or take modes of transport to other countries, the Internet has helped to minimize that gap of connection by allowing people from around the world to connect virtually at an increasing frequency. As the technology continues to improve and advance, the Internet has made our planet interconnected on a scale once considered unthinkable a generation ago.

I woke up one morning in New York, had my breakfast and juice, and then was able to log-in to Skype and chat with my good friend who is living in Beirut, Lebanon about his work there and how he has adjusted to living in the Mediterranean metropolis. After that, I sat down to have lunch and finished some homework for a 1:30 PM Spanish lesson with my teacher who is originally from Mexico but currently lives in Italy. Somehow, we were able to make the six-hour time difference work between me in New York and her in Italy. Before the day was over, I had two more Skype and Google Hangout based English lessons with my students from countries like Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Satisfied with my day of both teaching and learning, I settled the rest of my affairs and went down to the kitchen to prepare my dinner for the evening.

None of these lessons or exchanges of information would be possible between persons of different countries and backgrounds without the invention of the Internet. Too often, the average person either takes for granted the capabilities that allow us to stay connected on a worldwide scale or doesn’t take advantage of using this technology to bolster their abilities personally or professionally.

Professionally, as an ESL teacher, the fact that I have been able to use the Internet and web applications such as Skype, Google+, etc. to connect with numerous students from around the world virtually has been a real treat for me. Sometimes, my students with whom I’m working with online do not have the means or ability to work with a native English speaker / teacher in person in their own city or country. Those of us language teachers who commit time out of our lives to help others learn our native languages should be commended for making this a possibility. It is truly enjoyable for me to work with those students online from different countries who will share with me interesting tidbits about their cultures and societies.

Personally, I have been able to stay in touch and meet up again with friends of mine from different regions of the world thanks to staying connected through social media websites like Facebook, CouchSurfing, Twitter, etc. The Internet has allowed me to stay connected with international friends, both new and old, thanks to the rise of social media and its applications. It is funny to think that only fifty to hundred years ago, or even before the advent of the Internet, twenty years ago, the best that you could do is send a handwritten letter by mail or make an expensive call to any location overseas. Now, such communication to an international location is often very cheap or even free of charge depending on which application you decide to use.

While the advent of globalization has its positives and negatives, which are often debated and discussed endlessly, I believe that one net positive from globalization has been how the Internet and the “world wide web” has made humanity interconnected. This one trend of “Interconnectedness” for the 21st century is one that isn’t going to reverse course anytime soon and is going to be hard pressed to find itself limited in total amount of users or overall global popularity.

According to the World Bank’s recent report titled “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends”, the number of people worldwide who have access to the Internet has tripled from about 1 billion people in 2006 to about 3.5 billion people in 2016. This recent development is an extraordinary occurrence. This means that over 40% of humanity now has some type of access to the Internet which has become increasingly possible due to rise of mobile technology and the spread of 3G and 4G cellular networks.

As more and more people connect to digital markets of e-commerce, become new entrepreneurs and start to create their own small businesses, this will also allow more students to connect and learn with me here in New York and other teachers around the world to learn English or another foreign language. The possibilities of eventually having everyone connected to the Internet would be truly endless. It could lift millions more people out of poverty and create new economic opportunities where there were none before.

Some of the big questions to be answered in the coming decades is how do we as a global community work together to connect the remaining 60% of humanity to the Internet? How do we work together as governments, NGOs, and individuals to give people the means virtually to benefit economically and personally from the advent of the Internet? These are not easy questions to answer let alone solve. However, if humanity is to continue advancing and developing into the future, we must continue to become more interconnected to each other. That is a fundamental truth of the 21st century for which we all must be aware of.

Sources:

1.)  http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jan/13/internet-not-conquered-digital-divide-rich-poor-world-bank-report

2.) http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2016

The Limits of Perception

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“Do you see what I see?”

“Perception” is an interesting word when you think deeply about it. No, I’m not just talking about your two eyes, and the vision that allows you to perceive the world visually. In other words, we can only perceive the experiences that we have or had in the past, the people we met, the places we visited and lived in, and the choices that we make or made.

Human beings are mortal which means we have limited time on this Earth to see and experience all that life has to offer. For some people, this is a very frightening and gloomy notion. However, others would see this fact as a way to get the most out of life and expand their perception of the world as much as possible.

A limited “perception” of life and the world has consequences when you think about it. If you don’t have the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes or to imagine or experience life as they do, then your ability to emphasize with them would be diminished. Yes, you can have sympathy for their plights or jubilation for their successes but you wouldn’t be able to connect with them on a deeper level.

A consistent problem in human nature is our lack of ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see life as they do. When we are unable to break down barriers between social classes, races, religions, and gender, disagreements and hostilities between these groups is likely to continue. From my perspective and my past travels, the similarities of humans around the world drastically outweigh the differences. That doesn’t mean that these differences are bad or that they should be eliminated. I happen to believe that cultural and social differences are part of what makes humanity unique and should not be demonized.

This leaves the question that my blog readers would wonder to themselves hopefully after reading this entry: How do I expand my perception of life and the world around me? Now, when I ask this question, I do not mean for you to go out to the nearest pharmacy and get yourself some contacts or a pair of prescription glasses.

What I mean and what I believe is that we humans have limited time on Earth and we can’t live forever to experience everything and to meet everybody around the world. However, there are ways to expand this perception by traveling the world, reading books, and meeting different kinds of people. These three concepts are not crazy ideas but rather novel concepts to create greater empathy in yourself and for others along with a more profound view of humanity as a whole.

Traveling has always had the highest return on investment for me and the experiences I have had have helped me view the world in a different way. I know that it’s not feasible for everyone to travel but if you can’t make a huge jump to another country, try to travel to different places and cities within your own country. Learning about the local culture and customs, enjoying the local cuisine, and indulging in the history and background of the society are important for any seasoned traveler.

You will start to view the world in shades of grey rather than pure black and white. You would also learn that cultures and societies are complex and that it takes a lot of time to immerse yourself in its deeper reaches. Most of all, you are communicating in a different language which is fascinating and complex in its own right. Above all else, you are seeing the commonalities and similarities that exist between your family and their family, your town and their town, and your country and their country.

Meeting new people from different backgrounds and places ties into traveling as well but it really makes your perception of the world grow. If you stay in the same town where you grow up and never leave, chances are that you’ll have a limited perception of people and life itself. Talking to different people, hearing their stories, cooking with them, and sharing a meal or drink has many benefits. You may be able to build a friendship that lasts for years even if you don’t speak the same language or come from the same culture.

By hearing their story and listening to them, you expand your own perception of the world and the people who inhabit it. You can get beyond the stereotypes and the clichés and really get into deeper social connections with people, especially in this interconnected world that we all live in.

Lastly, reading books is an integral park for learning about the world and facilitating a deeper perception. As individuals, we cannot experience everything or know everything there is to know. However, by reading about the stories of others who have come before you and who had lived, and died, you will gain greater knowledge and wisdom. Regardless of whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, you’re reading someone’s life story or reading about a subject that spans a part of human history.

Book by book, you are enlightening yourself by learning about the experiences and perceptions of others. By learning about the men and women who have come before you and who have lived exemplary and distinguished lives, you can take lessons from their existence and apply those lessons to your own life. If you can’t travel or meet different kinds of people, reading books by those authors who have and whom shared those unique experiences with their readers is the next best thing.

We all have one live to life, and you can only see what’s right in front of your eyes. Make sure that you continue to give yourself the opportunities and chances to indulge in the knowledge and wisdom that can be gained by expanding your perception of the world and its inhabitants. Travel, read books, and meet different people for as long as you may live. Only then will you gain true enlightenment and wisdom.