Thursday, February 26, 2009

World Class Success

I've read some articles recently on world class success in athletics. Outside of some biology limited sports (e.g. woman's volleyball where if you don't have the kangaroo build you are not going to compete), in many sports about 3% of the population has the physical ability to be world class.

Which is amazing. 3 million people or more in the United States have the physical ability to be in the top 100 in the world in a sport. Obviously there is more.

Those links pretty much set out the details. It is a matter of drive and intensity and opportunity. I'm still thinking about how to apply those lessons and insights into what it takes to be a world class father.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why are people dying in Africa?

MOYO Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.

SOLOMON What do you think has held back Africans?

MOYO I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.

Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo and Niall Ferguson

My parents told me the same thing when they came back from a mission to Kenya (though they spent most of it in Tanzania). The places doing the best were those without foreign aid.

They said that Africans were bright, energetic and the equal of any other group on earth, but for what was being done to them in the name of helping them.

It is amazing that there is actually a surplus of food in the world, yet people starve in Africa.

An old book that captures that is:

Malaria Dreams: An African Adventure by Stuart Stevens (Paperback - Jan 13, 1994)

Pick up a copy at your library. (The review below links to a different review than the one quoted -- but one that captures the book well, down to the book's flaws -- and why I recommend getting this book through your library, not buying it.).

From the Inside Flap
Malaria Dreams is a tale of high adventure across Africa, recounted with the wit and humor that delighted readers of Night Train to Turkistan, Stuart Stevens's highly praised first book.

The story begins when a "geologist" friend mentions to Stevens that he has a Land Rover in the Central African Republic which he'd like to get back to Europe. It's only later, when Stevens discovers that half of Africa thinks his friend is a spy and the other half is convinced he's a diamond smuggler, that the intrepid author begins to realize he should have asked a few more questions before leaving home. And then there's the small problem of the Land Rover's seizure by the minister of mines, who has appropriated it as his personal car. It is a new Land Rover. The minister likes it very much.

Three months later, Stevens and his twenty-three-year-old companion (the only woman to ever transfer from Bryn Mawr to the University of Oklahoma) have somehow managed to drive-though not in the ill-fated Land Rover-across the wildest part of Africa, emerging scathed but still alive on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Malaria Dreams takes readers along on close encounters with killer ants in Cameroon, revolutionary soldiers in the middle of Lake Chad (a huge mudhole lacking any water), and strangely frenzied Peace Corps parties in Niger. There's a long search for a functional set of springs in Timbuktu and near disastrous bouts with sickness and automotive malfunctions in the middle of the Sahara.

Through it all, Stevens and his ex-fashion model companion battle the odds, and often each other, to return home to tell this unlikely, highly amusing tale.

"One of the funniest tales of misadventure to come along in quite a while.... Mr. Stevens has a wonderful eye for the curiosities of human behavior, Third World variety; he is witty, but not at the expense of the Africans."--The New Yorker

"Mr. Stevens emerges from the book not only as an engaging, picaresque hero, but also as a clever and observant writer."--The New York Times

"For an...Africa veteran, Stuart Stevens's Malaria Dreams will bring the pleasure of recognition. For all readers it brings much laughter."--The Wall Street Journal

"[Stevens's] depiction of exotic people and locales is often eloquent. And he succinctly limns the opulent and squalid vestiges of colonialism. Thankfully, he survived the adventure with his dry sense of humor intact."--The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"You would have to be out of your mind to go anywhere with Stuart Stevens, but when the travel is only mental, he is the perfect companion: brave, funny, and ever-watchful."--Martin Amis

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A great quote about how culture and tradition inhibits the spirit

Brigham Young:

“[God] would be glad to send angels to communicate further to this people, but there is no room to receive it, consequently, He cannot come and dwell with you. There is a further reason: we are not capacitated to throw off in one day all our traditions, and our prepossessed feelings and notions, but have to do it little by little. It is a gradual process, advancing from one step to another; and as we layoff our false traditions and foolish notions, we receive more and more light, and thus we grow in grace; and if we continue so to grow we shall be prepared eventually to receive the Son of Man, and that is what we are after.” (Journal of Discourses 2:309-318).

My thanks to Lorin for the reminder.

Why some ideas thrive, some die

A friend of mine who is an emeritus professor at Berkeley at a New York Times best seller author had read and commented positively on a book about ideas. I put it on the list of things that some day I'd like to pay attention to. Then I got a review copy.

I'm not finished, I had to take a break and buy copies for a couple of friends, then go to a closing on selling my house and the follow-up closing on the house we are buying. Heather was home for the weekend (to see the house -- I had planned on blogging about how wonderful she is, then found out she knows people who read my blog, so I'm not going to embarrass her by writing in public about how much her mother and I are so really pleased with her) and Rachel was sick (antibiotics seem to have solved that).

But the book is incredible. Even better, it has free, great on-line resources ( and some interesting comments on

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Hardcover - Jan 2, 2007)
Buy new: $25.00 $15.75
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4.6 out of 5 stars (246)
Other Editions: Kindle Edition, Paperback, Audio Download, Audio CD

If you've ever wondered why some ideas thrive and spread and some just do not get anywhere, this book is for you. Even more so if you have an idea you want to have spread and thrive.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Untold Story of Black Mormons

Now available at

Paypal button and all, for only $25.00 (including shipping and handling).

For a link to their paypal purchase form.

My congratulations to Margaret Young and Darius Gray.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Resilience, then comments on life from my Mom

"I'm not convinced that all the recipients possess remarkable intellectual talents. I am certain, though, that every one has demonstrated the power to persevere."

Resilience is an incredibly useful ability or attribute. Like integrity, it is a matter of training as much as it is of aptitude and inherent attitude. Emotional/social intelligence and resilience are the two most important attributes or characteristics in finding success. Interestingly enough, they are two things badly hampered by ADD and Asperger Syndrome. Further, both are culturally influenced, good social and emotional intelligence in one setting will not always transfer into another.

If you've ever wondered why gpa and lsat scores (for example, both indicators of academic and regular intelligence) actually over predict the success of black law students (meaning that if you have a black and a white student with the same gpa/lsat indicators, the white student will perform significantly better), the cultural differences are the key. How important parts of emotional and social intelligence are came home to me when studying some parts of legal education on a project.

But if you can teach your children something, rather than tutoring them in math, or music lessons or any of the other myriads of things out there, if you can help them learn social and emotional intelligence/skills, and help them gain resilience, you've taught them the key to succeeding in life.

Now for my mother's comments. When she was in Saudia, she would meet people who would state that they were doing something extravagant and then they would state "but I deserve it." She finally found herself saying "It isn't that you deserve it, it is that you can afford it." Material things are not the result of some virtue or moral entitlement, they are merely a matter of financial success.

Certainly where she and the others were they had had to work very hard, sacrifice and continue in perseverance, but she had known a large number of people who had done all those things and not made money. She felt that money and moral entitlement were two different things. It was interesting to hear her talk.

Later, I knew a friend's son, who became very uncertain about life as a result of the charitable work his surgeon father had embroiled him in. Time after time he met people who were smarter than he was, physically more capable, and who worked very, very, very hard and who were very poor. He began to worry about what would become of him if that was what had become of them.

But he had realized the disconnect between mere hard work, mere intelligence and success.

Need I say that developing social and emotional intelligence, applied in the right circumstances, resolved his issues. The last time I saw him I would say that by any standard you can think of, almost everyone would consider him a success. I know I was pleased.

Will we need resilience? I think we will, everyone.

And, returning to my "did God really mean that" series:

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.

Monday, February 02, 2009

No ifs, ands or buts ...

I've been teaching my child about apologies. When you make them, you say "I'm sorry." You don't say "I'm sorry, but" or "I'm sorry, and" or "I'm sorry, but if" -- no explanations, no excuses. Those things make an apology into something less and usually make the person you are apologizing to less happy, not more happy.

I just read a post about saying "I love you." Same rules apply to saying "I love you" as do to saying "I'm sorry." You wouldn't say "I'm sorry, even though ..." and you don't do that with "I love you." (Even more so, "I love you even though" carries the message "I love you even though you aren't lovable.")

The only difference is that if someone says something, you can say "what do I care, I love you" in response or similar words. But, you can't say "I don't care about x, I love you anyway." That "anyway" is a killer, though the "I don't care" might be appropriate. Kind of like if you are apologizing and the other person says "yeah, but it was really my fault because" you might say "I don't care about" "I'm sorry."

In an apology, the only "and" you can add is "and I won't do that again." In "I love you" the only "and" you can add is "and I always will."

And always should.