Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 184

Image result for the sun does shine
Here are a few excerpts from a book I recently read, "The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row," by Anthony Ray Hinton and Lara Love Hardin.

(from the foreword, by Bryan Stevenson)
Reading his story is difficult but necessary. We need to learn things about our criminal justice system, about the legacy of racial bias in America and the way it can blind us to just and fair treatment of people. We need to understand the dangers posed by the politics of fear and anger that create systems like our capital punishment system and the political dynamics that have made some courts and officials act so irresponsibly. We also need to learn about human dignity, about human worth and value. We need to think about the fact that we are all more than the worst thing we have done. Anthony Ray Hinton’s story helps us understand some of these problems and ultimately what it means to survive, to overcome, and to forgive.


Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 183

Image result for tangled tree bookHere are a few excerpts from a book I recently read, "The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life," by David Quammen.

Darwin and Darwin’s followers owned the tree image now. It would remain the best graphic representation of life’s history, evolution through time, the origins of diversity and adaptation, until the late twentieth century. And then rather suddenly a small group of scientists would discover: oops, no, it’s wrong.


The Good Pain

A belated congrats to the Toronto Raptors for a historic playoff run, capped by a finals win over the defending champs, the Golden State Warriors.  Raptors fans and all of Canada are ecstatic, and can probably exhale now that their star player Kawhi Leonard made it through the entire year without re-injuring himself (after missing most of last year with a quad injury).  Speaking of injuries, hats off to the Warriors for fighting to the end despite absorbing devastating and potentially league-altering injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. 

We are in the midst of a historically great era in NBA – as entertainment, as a marker of physical achievement, and as social commentary – and I am largely on the sidelines.  Actually, in the spirit of this analogy, I am not even on the sidelines, and I am not even watching from home.  For my schedule does not permit anything more than watching condensed clips and instructional videos the morning after on sites like ESPN, YouTube, and BBallBreakdown.  Yet even in 5- to 10-minute increments, I have vicariously experienced all the highlights, all the pettiness, and all the gut-wrenching drama.

In life, as in sports, for every thrill of victory, there are usually many more agonies of defeat.  Not sure if winning is sweeter than losing is bitter, but no one goes through life without tasting a little bit of both.  Of course, we all want to win.  But sometimes we have to lose first, and sometimes often, before we can win. 

Indeed, one might argue that losing is a prerequisite to winning.  Because winning requires a level of commitment and determination and sacrifice that is hard to manufacture simply by imagining how sweet it will feel to win.  Before you win, you don’t know how good it feels.  But you’ve often felt how bitter defeat is.  And it can be highly motivating. 

As you must know, here in Philly, we experienced a bitter loss earlier in these playoffs.  It took a dramatic, unprecedented buzzer-beating shot in the winner-take-all Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals for the 76ers to get eliminated.  And 76ers star Joel Embiid left the court in tears as a result. 

Losing hurts.  It is also an effective motivator.  Joel Embiid is only 24 years old.  He is only now maturing as a man and a basketball player, and is learning the difficult lesson of how much losing hurts and how much effort is required to make the leap from defeat to victory.  Here in Philly, we hope to one day draw a direct line from this bitter loss to a sweet win, in the form of one man and one team who, having tasted defeat, decided to do whatever it took to taste victory.


What Am I Working On

As has become my custom every three months, here's what I'm working on now at work. I won't repeat anything from last time that I happen to still be working on, and for confidentiality's sake I have to blur some of the details for some of these studies.

* Background economic research for two proposed cultural institutions.

* Economic impact briefs for two small Christian colleges.

* Economic impact briefs for two proposed mixed-use developments in university-anchored innovation districts.

* Economic development strategy for a municipality whose main industry is tourism.

* Market assessment for a regional tourism destination.


The Trade-Offs We Make

People can sometimes talk about work-life balance as leaving work early to go to your daughter's graduation.  But that's only one half of the story, and as the phrase implies, it's about balance.  So really it's leaving work early to go to your daughter's graduation, and being fully present there to revel in the ceremony, play paparazzi afterwards, and continue the celebration over dinner...but then after all the kids are in bed, catch up on a half-day's worth of emails and tasks and prep. 

My balance is complicated by two additional responsibilities, serving on the Philadelphia Board of Education and teaching a grad-level course at Penn.  Each of these, at different points in the week, similarly require my undivided attention, only after which can I resume my responsibilities to work or to family.  Which can make for late nights, early mornings, and not much free time.

These are the trade-offs we make when we choose into giving a crap about our jobs and wanting to be there for our family members and stepping into opportunities for public service.  There are days when I wish my life was simpler, but you will not find me grumbling either publicly or privately, and not because I'm good at holding it in.  I like everything my life consists of.  Work-life balance for people of limited means and choices can be a real slog, and not everything is likeable.  I am privileged to not be in that situation.  Work-life balance for people like me who have options is about a life full of good things, which we are glad for but which we sometimes have to make tough trade-offs in order to be true to them.  But it's all good.


Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 182

Image result for The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny (Wallis)Here are excerpts from a book I recently read, "The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny," by Michael Wallis.

The story of the Donner Party is a long and complex account of how a group of people from varied backgrounds, stratified in age, wealth, education, and ethnicity, followed their different dreams. Out of necessity, they were made to unite and battle against the unknown—weather, nature, and finally life and death. Their story has come to symbolize the Great American Dream gone awry. The Donner Party’s fate highlighted the ambitiousness, folly, recklessness, and ruthlessness that marked the great expansionist westward movement. The party becomes a microcosm of the United States which, while busily consuming other nations (Mexico and Indian tribes) that stood in the way of westward migration, had the potential to consume itself. This Gothic tale of cannibalism draws a real parallel between individuals consuming flesh and the desire of a country to consume the continent. 

Some members of this party of trail-weary pioneers became victims of their own greed. Their story is a frightening reminder of what could be. Were it not for a few wrong turns, bad directions, and fierce winter storms, the Donner Party would have been an unremarkable wagon train. But as it happened, it became a cautionary tale of Manifest Destiny and an unforgettable calamity.

Personal motives of the emigrants varied. Some planned to build permanent homes or farms, but others hoped to make or enhance their fortunes and return east. A few of the younger single men saw the journey into the unknown as the adventure of a lifetime. The bulk of the Donner Party, however, was composed of people who left the country of their fathers to dwell in the land they sincerely believed their children were destined to inherit. They were vivid examples of those who live in the future and make their country as they go along. They found that in pursuing what came to be known as the American dream, nightmares are sometimes the consequence.


Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet 181

Image result for Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer EhrenreichHere are a few excerpts from a book I recently read, "Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer," by Barbara Ehrenreich.

The paradox of the immune system and cancer is not just a scientific puzzle; it has deep moral reverberations. We know that the immune system is supposed to be “good,” and in the popular health literature we are urged to take measures to strengthen it. Cancer patients in particular are exhorted to think “positive thoughts,” on the unproven theory that the immune system is the channel of communication between one’s conscious mind and one’s evidently unconscious body. But if the immune system can actually enable the growth and spread of cancer, nothing may be worse for the patient than a stronger one. He or she would be better advised to suppress it, with, say, immunosuppressive drugs or perhaps “negative thoughts.” 

In the ideal world imagined by mid-twentieth-century biologists, the immune system constantly monitored the cells it encountered, pouncing on and destroying any aberrant ones. This monitoring work, called immunosurveillance, supposedly guaranteed that the body would be kept clear of intruders, or any kind of suspicious characters, cancer cells included. But as the century came to a close, it became increasingly evident that the immune system was not only giving cancer cells a pass and figuratively waving them through the checkpoints. Perversely and against all biological reason, it was aiding them to spread and establish new tumors throughout the body.