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Book Notes — ‘Asian Godfathers,’ by Joe Studwell

Note: I have long kept, on index cards, written notes about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.

2016 06 01 asian godfathers

Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
By Joe Studwell
Published: Oct. 2007
Read: Nov. 2015
Amazon link

Brief recap: An incisive look at how Southeast Asia’s godfathers got rich by exploiting the region’s dysfunctional governments — and how local elites have used godfathers, in turn.

One of the best books, if not the very best, on the region that I’ve encountered; should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the history of modern Southeast Asia.

My notes:

  • The region’s godfathers — largely Chinese and Indians — emigrated to Southeast Asia before World War II, taking advantage of opportunities for concessions and monopolies from local political elites in exchange for not seeking their own political power. Typical godfather behavior would be, for example, to bribe local politicians for lucrative monopolies, which they then used to build their own fortunes. Local elites got a steady stream of incoming cash in return, and weren’t challenged in the governmental sphere.

  • Southeast Asia and Hong Kong have very few global brands because they employ “technology-less industrialization” — entrepreneurs seek rents and have monopolies, so don’t need to improve productivity or become globally competitive.

  • The economic landscape in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong is “shaped by the interaction of two historical forces: migration and colonization.” That is, migrants came to Southeast Asia and began building their riches by taking advantage of colonial systems.

  • Thailand’s Thaksin was a godfather who committed the sin of political ambition — and alienated his fellow godfathers.

  • Studwell is highly critical of Singapore despite the fact it is known globally for good governance and its outsized economic development. He argues that its small size makes comparisons with countries irrelevant, and that both the city-state and Hong Kong show that small cities with deep water ports and good banking facilities were always destined to flourish in the region, despite their very different political models. “As relatively easily managed city states, with highly motivated and purely immigrant populations,” Studwell writes, “Hong Kong and Singapore perform a simple economic trick: they arbitrage the relative economic inefficiency of their hinterlands. In other words, business comes to them because they perform certain tasks — principally services — a little better than surrounding countries.”

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Book Notes — ‘The One Thing,’ by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

Note: I have long kept written notes on index cards about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.

2016-01-02_one_thing

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
By Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
Published: April, 2013
Read: December, 2015
Amazon link.

Brief re-cap: This is a short book with a simple thesis: In every job, there is one single activity that you should focus on that will improve your value to your company or your customers. You should focus on that, above all else, even if it means neglecting other responsibilities, the authors argue.

I didn’t find this book revelatory, exactly, but it served as a useful reminder of the necessity of prioritizing the most crucial projects over all others.

My notes:

  • You must disabuse yourself of several common notions in order to have the biggest impact in your work and life. One is the idea that humans are adept at multitasking, that we can do it all. You can only ever concentrate on one thing at a time. So choose wisely.

    Another myth is the idea that willpower is available on demand. In fact, willpower decreases throughout the day, like a cellphone battery draining bit by bit. That means you must get your most important work done early in the day, while you’re still able to concentrate to the best of your abilities.

  • You should block out four hours on your calendar every day for your “one thing,” and treat it like an appointment that can’t be broken. Day after day of concentration on your most important work will yield big results down the line.
  • Embrace chaos. When you prioritize your “one thing,” some other stuff won’t get done. But that’s okay.
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    Book Coming Out Later This Year: ‘The Art of Atari’

    2016 05 02 atari

    “The Art of Atari,” a book by pop culture author Robert V. Conte and designer Tim Lapetino set for publication in October, looks really amazing.

    From the description on Amazon:

    Sourced from private collections worldwide, this book spans over 40 years of the company’s unique illustrations used in packaging, advertisements, catalogs, and more.

    And:

    The Art of Atari includes behind-the-scenes details on how dozens of games featured within were conceived of, illustrated, approved (or rejected), and brought to life!

    There’s more artwork to marvel at on the book’s official site, ArtofAtari.com.

    (Via Kottke.)

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    On Exercise and Weight Loss — and a Re-Plug for the Excellent ‘Why Calories Count’

    2016-04-30_why_calories_count

    There’s a Vox story doing the rounds on social media called “Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies.”

    Much of the post will be old news to those who have read the excellent book “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics,” by Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim.

    In Aug. 2012, I recommended the book here on Newley.com, summarizing some of the points the authors made on exercise:

    Many people over-emphasize the importance of exercise in weight loss. The best way to lose weight, or to maintain a healthy weight, is not to overeat. Yes, exercise is important because it keeps our bodies functioning optimally, and it provides psychological benefits. But to maintain your weight, just as we’ve heard through the years, its best to consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, etc. Yes: this is common sense.

    Interestingly, one reason, the authors say, that weight loss strategies in the U.S. so often focus heavily on exercise — think about the workout scenes in “The Biggest Loser” — is that exercise doesn’t threaten the food industry or policymakers. If you tell people to eat less, then the question becomes: Eat less of what? And that raises problems for, say, companies that derive their revenues from packaged food products. (As the saying goes, you can only squeeze so much profit out of broccoli.)

    If you’re interested in nutrition, exercise, and the culture of food, the book is a must-read.

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    2015 Media Picks: My Favorite Book, Album, Movie, TV Show — and Goal and Save

    2016-01-04harrisjpgBook: “Waking Up”

    I read a lot of really great books this year, most of which were published prior to 2015.

    The one that comes closest to qualifying for this list, however, since it was published in late 2014, is Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

    Harris, a neuroscientist, illustrates that our perception of the world quite literally dictates the quality of our lives. He discusses eastern and western religions, consciousness, the illusion of the self, meditation, gurus, and psychedelic  drugs.

    “Our minds are all we have,” he writes early on in the book. “They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.”

    Highly recommended.

    Album: “Meamodern Sounds in Country Music”

    2016-01-04_sturgillAgain, I’m kind of cheating here. Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” came out in mid-2014. But it’s too good to ignore. I blogged about it back in February.

    Unfortunately, it’s not available on Spotify — my current pick for music streaming given Rdio’s demise and my brief but ultimaely ill-fated dalliance with Apple Music — but you can listen to it on Amazon or YouTube.

    Movie: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

    2016-01-04SWSerious “Star Wars” nerds may have their quibbles. But as a casual fan — as in, I like the movies, I really do, but I don’t live or die by them — I found “The Force Awakens” to be thrilling and fun.

    It’s great to have the crew back again.

    TV show: “Fargo”

    2016-01-04fargoHoly shit, “Fargo.”

    Season one was fantastic. And so was season two, which just concluded.

    It seems crazy, the idea of replicating, for TV, the setting (mostly) for one of the finest films ever made. But it works. And there’s more to come!

    Goal: Messi vs. Athetic Bilbao

    Okay, so a goal represents the greatest achievement in the world’s greatest game (except for saving a penalty), and isn’t a piece of media, exactly. But it kind of is, when it’s reproduced. Like it is here. I don’t care.

    THAT MESSI GOAL against Atheltic Bilbao, which I mentioned back in June, was outrageous:

    Save: David De Gea vs. Everton

    Again, we have to go back to late 2014, but it’s worth it.

    As I blogged at the time, De Gea was exceptional against Everton. The save he pulls off at the one minute mark here is just…I’m speechless.

    What a year.

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    Richard Scarry, 1963 vs. 1991

    2015 11 12 scary

    These photos from Flickr user alan taylor show how editions of the popular book for children, “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever,” changed between 1963 and 1991.

    Males in the kitchen, less overtly obedient kids, fewer “handsome” airline pilots, the addition of menorahs, gender neutral professional titles and more.

    A fascinating study.

    Via Kottke. There’s more over at Fusion.

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    There’s Finally an Ebook Version Available of Nicholas Negroponte’s ‘Being Digital”

    2015 03 07 being digital

    Back in Dec. 2012, I blogged about the irony that there seemed to be no ebook version available of Nicholas Negroponte’s popular book about the future of technology, “Being Digital.”

    A major theme of the book, which was published in 1995: We’re moving “from atoms to bits,” and everything that can be digitized eventually will be.

    Yet 17 years after the hardcover came out, the very book itself apparently hadn’t been digitized into an ebook format.

    No more.

    Behold:

    2015 03 07 ebook bd2

    Thanks to reader Pierluigi Montinaro, who recently left a comment on my earlier post pointing out that an ebook version of the book is finally available, as of Jan.

    Atoms do indeed turn into bits. Sometimes it just takes time, it seems.

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    Another Novel I Really Loved: Adam Johnson’s ‘Orphan Master’s Son’

    2015 02 11 oms

    Back in September, I wrote I post called “A Novel I Really Loved: Adam Johnson’s ‘Parasites Like Us’”:

    At the airport on my way to a recent beach getaway I picked up a copy of Adam Johnson‘s “Parasites Like Us.”

    It is a remarkably good novel.

    Though the book was published ten years ago, I hadn’t heard of it. (Johnson’s 2012 novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. “Parasites Like Us” is his debut novel.)

    Well, I recently got around to reading “The Orphan Master’s Son.” It, too, is exceptional.

    Sam Sacks wrote in a WSJ review after the book was published:

    Adam Johnson’s remarkable novel “The Orphan Master’s Son” is set in North Korea, an entire nation that has conformed to the fictions spun by a dictator and his inner circle. Mr. Johnson’s book is based on years of research (including a trip to North Korea that the regime carefully choreographed), and though experts on the region will know better than I, his depictions have the feel of eerie authenticity. Set during the recently ended reign of Kim Jong Il, the book is a work of high adventure, surreal coincidences and terrible violence, seeming to straddle the line between cinematic fantasy and brutal actuality.

    Indeed, there is a Gabriel García Márquez-style magic realism about the book.

    It’s very much worth reading, especially for those interested in North Korea.

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    A Novel I Really Loved: Adam Johnson’s ‘Parasites Like Us’

    2014 09 21 parasites

    At the airport on my way to a recent beach getaway I picked up a copy of Adam Johnson‘s “Parasites Like Us.”

    It is a remarkably good novel.

    Though the book was published ten years ago, I hadn’t heard of it. (Johnson’s 2012 novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. “Parasites Like Us” is his debut novel.)

    It tells the story of an eccentric anthropology professor, his similarly wacky students, and an apocalyptic scenario. (Previous post about apocalypic scenarios is here.)

    But the book’s mostly about relationships, love, the passage of time, and what, if anything, we can learn from those who inhabited the earth 10,000 years ago, at the dawn of civilization.

    The writing is evocative. The characters are vivid. And it’s extremely funny. I found the passages describing the landscape — the story takes place in South Dakota — especially moving.

    For more, here’s the New York Times‘s review. Some reviews I’ve read are critical of certain elements of the book. But I loved it.

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    There’s No E-Book Version of Nicholas Negroponte’s ‘Being Digital’?

    Being digital no ebook

    More later on this topic, perhaps, but I wanted to post this for now.

    Is there truly no e-book version of Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 book Being Digital?

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    The text I’ve circled in the image above is Amazon’s standard “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle.”*

    Is this situation ironic? (It would seem so. It depends on your perspective on technology and traditional media, I suppose.)

    Is it telling? (Perhaps.)

    *My initial searching reveals there isn’t an e-book version available elsewhere, via any other retailers.

    UPDATE: Here’s a new post — there’s an ebook available now!

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