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From Russia with Dreams

I recently finished reading Garry Kasparov's Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. Garry is a chess grandmaster and was the world chess champion from 1986 to 2005. He is the guy who famously lost to IBMs Deep Blue computer in 1997. His book mostly talks about events in Russian history focusing on the rise to power of Vladimir Putin. Garry's perspective and writing are very thoughtful and if you are interested in modern Russin history I highly recommend reading it.

One quote from the book about the Russian mentality has stayed with me "[In Russia] thinking people do not aspire to self-realization." Self-realization being "fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality."

The quote struck me with a sharp contrast to American mentality and particularly The American Dream. The Dream being, a path to better one's life through hard work and determination. It makes me sad to think of how many people in the world are not able to dream with such audacity. In many people's plans, the first part of building a better life is leaving their home country for a place more like the United States. A place where personal growth, through hard work and determination, is a realistic possibility.

Today I'm not taking for granted my privilege of being able to build a better future for myself and my loved ones in the country where I was born. Along these lines, I'll leave you with one of my favorite speeches from Warren Buffett.

Just imagine that it is 24 hours before you are born. A genie comes and says to you in the womb, “You look like an extraordinarily responsible, intelligent, potential human being. [You're] going to emerge in 24 hours and it is an enormous responsibility I am going to assign to you — determination of the political, economic and social system into which you are going to emerge. You set the rules, any political system, democracy, parliamentary, anything you wish — you can set the economic structure, communistic, capitalistic, set anything in motion and I guarantee you that when you emerge this world will exist for you, your children and grandchildren.

What’s the catch? One catch — just before you emerge you have to go through a huge bucket with 7 billion slips, one for each human. Dip your hand in and that is what you get — you could be born intelligent or not intelligent, born healthy or disabled, born black or white, born in the US or in Bangladesh, etc. You have no idea which slip you will get. Not knowing which slip you are going to get, how would you design the world? Do you want men to push around females? It’s a 50/50 chance you get female. If you think about the political world, you want a system that gets what people want. You want more and more output because you’ll have more wealth to share around.

The US is a great system, turns out $50,000 GDP per capita, 6 times the amount when I was born in just one lifetime. But not knowing what slip you get, you want a system that once it produces output, you don’t want anyone to be left behind. You want to incentivize the top performers, don’t want equality in results, but do want something that those who get the bad tickets still have a decent life. You also don’t want fear in people’s minds — fear of lack of money in old age, fear of cost of health care.  I call this the “Ovarian Lottery.”

My sisters didn’t get the same ticket. Expectations for them were that they would marry well, or if they work, would work as a nurse, teacher, etc. If you are designing the world knowing 50/50 male or female, you don’t want this type of world for women — you could get female. Design your world this way; this should be your philosophy. I look at Forbes 400, look at their figures and see how it’s gone up in the last 30 years. Americans at the bottom are also improving, and that is great, but we don’t want that degree of inequality. Only governments can correct that. Right way to look at it is the standpoint of how you would view the world if you didn’t know who you would be. If you’re not willing to gamble with your slip out of 100 random slips, you are lucky!

Buffet quote text source: http://www.businessinsider.com/warren-buffett-on-the-ovarian-lottery-2013-12

Small World

I work at an organization that operates all over the world. Which means that whenever we read about a tragedy, no matter where it is, our thoughts immediately go to "are all of our people ok?" There is almost nowhere in the world where reading about an event doesn't evoke the question and a nagging sense of worry. It is kind of profound to have this sort of connection to the greater world.

Think about this: You hear about a tragedy that directly affects a hundred people across the world. What is the chance you know somebody involved? Probably not all that high. But what is the chance that you know somebody, who knows somebody involved? Much higher. There is this idea that everyone in the world is connected to everybody else with a maximum of six degrees of separation. Meaning you would very likely know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone involved.

As the world becomes more connected the estimate of six degrees of separation is lowering. Research from Facebook in 2016 shows that the number may be as low as 3.57 degrees. The days of a big world where problems are too far away or don't affect *us* are gone. Everything now affects everyone, with the degree of directness increasing. I'll probably find myself in conversations saying "what a small world!" more and more often.

MLK and Racial Equality

Today I spent some time reading about Martin Luther King Jr and learned some new things about him that I didn't know before. Here are some of those things which I found most interesting:

  • King's legal name at birth was Michael King, and his father was also born Michael King, but the elder King changed his and his son's names following a 1934 trip to Germany in honor of the German reformer Martin Luther.
  • King sang with his church choir at the 1939 Atlanta premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind.
  • King said that his father regularly whipped him until he was fifteen.
  • King suffered from depression throughout much of his life. At the age of 12, shortly after his maternal grandmother died, King blamed himself and jumped out of a second-story window, but survived.
  • King became romantically involved with the white daughter of a German immigrant. King planned to marry her, but friends advised against it, saying that an interracial marriage would provoke animosity from both blacks and whites, potentially damaging his chances of ever pastoring a church in the South. King tearfully told a friend that he could not endure his mother's pain over the marriage and broke the relationship off six months later. He continued to have lingering feelings toward the woman he left; one friend was quoted as saying, "He never recovered."
  • On January 30, 1956, King's house was bombed with his wife and children inside. Martin immediately returned to their home, and upon finding Coretta and his daughter unharmed, went outside. He was confronted by an angry crowd of his supporters, who had brought guns. He was able to turn them away with an impromptu speech.
  • King narrowly escaped death when Izola Curry, a mentally ill black woman who believed he was conspiring against her with communists, stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener.
  • The FBI, under written directive from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, began tapping King's telephone in the fall of 1963. J. Edgar Hoover feared Communists were trying to infiltrate the Civil Rights movement, but when no such evidence emerged, the bureau used the incidental details caught on tape over the next five years in attempts to force King out of the preeminent leadership position.
  • King was arrested 29 times.
  • A quote I've never heard before and love "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice"

It is mindblowing to me that this was happening in the 1960s, just over 50 years ago. Amazing how much social progress has been made in that time. However, there is still a ways to go. I believe that today the largest thing oppressing people based on race in the United States is our justice system.

For some statistics on how imbalanced our justice system is, read What It’s Like to Be Black in the Criminal Justice System. And to do something about it, and help all of those entrapped by our justice system and it's inability to rehabilitate, support Defy Ventures. Defy Ventures is an entrepreneurship, employment, and character development training program for currently and formerly incarcerated men, women, and youth. Empowering those who were once in prison get by, and even thrive, on the outside.

To better understand the connection between our justice system and racial equality, consider this. Approximately 1 in 110 white children, one in 15 black children, and one in 41 Hispanic children have a parent who is incarcerated. Black children are seven and a half times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison. Hispanic children are more than two and a half times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison. [source] And according to a study conducted by Central Connecticut State University, children of those incarcerated are about three times as likely as other children to be justice-involved. [source]

Defy Ventures helps by removing people from the justice system permanently. The recidivism rate for those that go through their program is less than 3%. Compare that to the normal recidivism rate of close to 76% and it's obvious how big their impact is. [source] Here is an overview video of Defy:

As part of #GiveFirst 10% I'm making a gift and spending a day in prison with Defy this year.

Building on the amazing work of those including MLK, I believe there is a much brighter and more equal future ahead. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Thank you, Dr. King for your dream.

Farewell 2016

There is this running joke online that the year 2016 was horrible. Sure, lots of famous people seem to have died (anecdotal) and there is a general uncertainty about the future (trump). However being an optimist, I think it's important to remember that the word is still getting better. In fact, the world is better than it has ever been.

Worldwide poverty is in a free fall.

Child mortality rates are too.

Although there is a rising global fear around terrorism, conflict-related deaths are just about as low as they have ever been.

And on a really positive note, almost half the world is online. With no sign of the progress slowing down.

Continuing on that positive note, albeit on a much smaller scale, I've personally had a great year. Of the 5 resolutions I set for myself this year, I've completed 4 of them. With the 5th hopefully being completed soon... I know mysterious. I never wrote those resolutions with the intention of sharing them. But this year I'm going to, my next post will contain my resolutions for 2017.

Happy NYE!

Note:

All the charts here are from ourworldindata.org, I highly recommend this article on their site about why most people think the world is getting worse and how they are wrong.