2017 Predictions Guaranteed or Your Money Back

It’s time to gaze into the ol’ crystal ball, say crazy stuff, and hope that no one checks after the fact.

These were my predictions from a year ago:
1. Google kills Google+, buys Twitter, and does an April Fools prank that is so good it causes a national security crisis.  This could still happen!

2. Synthetic meat hits the shelves at Whole Foods for the first time.  I think this happened?

3. Rio 2016 is an unmitigated logistical disaster, including a food poisoning or contagious infection outbreak that knocks out a huge number of marquee athletes.  Logistical snafus, yes.  Zika virus, thankfully no.

4. Silicon Valley’s woes come to a head – arrogant CEOs, lack of diversity, shaky state budget, transportation gridlock, social unrest, housing costs – leading to high-profile relocations to Seattle, Austin, and Wilmington.  A slow drip.

5. After 7 years of gridlock and obstinacy, President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress have a really productive last year together, including all kinds of compromises – on immigration, deficit reduction, and energy policy – that confound cynical pundits and a fed-up public alike. Totally correct, if I was in Bizarro world.

6. Africa has its “Arab Spring” moment, as young tech-savvy social activists in country after country seize the global spotlight.  Waiting...

Not bad, actually.  Let's peer into 2017:

1. Trump walks back all the trade protectionist talk, much to the chagrin of his core followers.  The new base he cultivates: truck drivers angry about autonomous vehicles.
2.Major online security breach leads to huge uptick in high-end credit cards with multiple verification steps, and huge chill in the market for virtual home assistants (e.g. Google Home).

3. Concussion-related complications for two high-profile QBs - one active, one retired - are the final prod for major rules changes to protect players.

4. The song of the summer will be an out-of-nowhere mashup of socially conscious hip hop and good ol' boy country.

5. A robust year for the global economy and world stock markets, but signs of a pullback at the very end.


Lazy Linking, 178th in an Occasional Series

Stuff I liked lately on the Internets:

178.1 Just 1 yr of HS football can change your brain (gulp) bit.ly/2fRlIqB @neurosciencenew

178.2 Racism towards Asians in America changed during WWII wapo.st/2gxg6kt @washingtonpost

178.3 Trump's protectionism may actually increase US trade deficit bv.ms/2fHNGjY @bv

178.4 Amy Gutmann will be Penn’s president til 2022 (18 yrs total) bit.ly/2gL3KmO @phillymag

178.5 Feed cows seaweed = no methane in their farts/burps = save the world from global warming bit.ly/2eV2nEz @cbcnews


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

Here are two excerpts from a book I just read, "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future," by Ashlee Vance.


Musk’s behavior matches up much more closely with someone who is described by neuropsychologists as profoundly gifted. These are people who in childhood exhibit exceptional intellectual depth and max out IQ tests. It’s not uncommon for these children to look out into the world and find flaws—glitches in the system—and construct logical paths in their minds to fix them. For Musk, the call to ensure that mankind is a multiplanetary species partly stems from a life richly influenced by science fiction and technology. Equally it’s a moral imperative that dates back to his childhood. In some form, this has forever been his mandate.

 Each facet of Musk’s life might be an attempt to soothe a type of existential depression that seems to gnaw at his every fiber. He sees man as self-limiting and in peril and wants to fix the situation. The people who suggest bad ideas during meetings or make mistakes at work are getting in the way of all of this and slowing Musk down. He does not dislike them as people. It’s more that he feels pained by their mistakes, which have consigned man to peril that much longer. The perceived lack of emotion is a symptom of Musk sometimes feeling like he’s the only one who really grasps the urgency of his mission. He’s less sensitive and less tolerant than other people because the stakes are so high. Employees need to help solve the problems to the absolute best of their ability or they need to get out of the way.


I’m more convinced than ever that Musk is, and has always been, a man on a quest, and that his brand of quest is far more fantastic and consuming than anything most of us will ever experience. It seems that he’s become almost addicted to expanding his ambitions and can’t quite stop himself from announcing things like the Hyperloop and the space Internet. I’m also more convinced than ever that Musk is a deeply emotional person who suffers and rejoices in an epic fashion. This side of him is likely obscured by the fact that he feels most deeply about his own humanity-altering quest and so has trouble recognizing the strong emotions of those around him. This tends to make Musk come off as aloof and hard. I would argue, however, that his brand of empathy is unique. He seems to feel for the human species as a whole without always wanting to consider the wants and needs of individuals. And it may well be the case that this is exactly the type of person it takes to make a freaking space Internet real.


Finding My Protest Voice

Earlier this month I joked about launching into a mini-treatise on the past 400+ years of Taiwanese history for the poor sweet girl who made the mistake of  asking the innocent question of whether I was a “China boy.”

But I am proud to be Taiwanese, which is not the same thing as Chinese and in fact is quite an explosive topic if you are familiar with Asian geopolitics.

Taiwan’s strategic location off the mainland has made it a common landing spot for a revolving door of oppressors, from the Dutch to the Ming, Qing, and Han, to the Japanese, and finally the mainlanders from China when they were ejected by the incoming Communist Party.  It’s been a while, but I’ve taken all the stories in many times in my life, through oral history and documentaries and books.

This may not be representative of all Taiwanese folks, but one angle I distinctly picked up from my family members was that over the course of its history and through many generations of overlords, we Taiwanese put our heads down and work.  Over time, that has meant working the land, working the factories, and working the business.  Indeed, along with its fellow “Four Tigers” (Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea), Taiwan has become a modern success story as a result of its economic might and political progress. 

For most of my life, that heritage also meant that protest was just something I didn’t do.  You didn’t push back against wrong, you just worked through it, and the heavier the oppression the harder you worked. 

To be sure, there is some good to that.  But obviously there is a time to protest, and events and causes and people worth protesting for or against.  To have no category for protest is not good.

But Taiwanese folks actually have a lot of protest in their blood.  Their modern democracy did not arrive without a fight, and one that was bitter and bloody at that.  Even in my own family, my parents have through the years been very active and very vocal in joining in on demonstrations on behalf of Taiwan.

And in my own way, I am finding my protest voice too.  Sometimes it is through loud and charged words, while other times it is through action that is wordless but that speaks volumes.  It may not look like how others do it, but it is what works for me.  And it is based, in part, on where my people come from.


Mandarin as a Second Language

It sounds strange to say, but English is my second and only language.  As the child of Taiwanese-American immigrants, the first language I heard in the home was Taiwanese.  I grew up a hyphenated kid, hearing and speaking one language at home and another outside of home.  Since then, my Taiwanese has gotten so rusty I can hardly claim to be able to speak it.  So I am now a typical American, who speaks English and no other languages.

But hopefully not for long.  Since the end of summer, I’ve been doing a 30-minute Mandarin audio lesson just about every day.  By the end of the calendar year, I’ll have covered the equivalent of one year’s worth of Mandarin.  I would venture to say that by a year or two after that, I will be able to hold a reasonable conversation in a language besides English.

For much of my early childhood, my parents sent me to Mandarin school on Friday nights.  All of the other kids spoke Mandarin in the home so the teacher conducted classes in Mandarin.  Which wasn’t helpful for me, since I didn’t speak Mandarin.  What I’m trying to say is, that at the same time I was a straight A student during the day, I was the class flunkie on Friday night.  So while I have some base of knowledge (I even took two semesters in college, oh so many moons ago), I still have a ways to go.

I have been pleasantly surprised that, though my schedule is really busy, I’ve been able to squeeze my 30-minute lesson in just about every day for the past 2+ months.  Which is, I guess, the first thing I’ve gained from doing this, which is that every day is a little bit of a game to figure out whether, when, and how I will work this into my schedule.  Here are a few other reasons I’ve decided to make this time commitment:

1. For over a year, I’ve forced my kids to listen to these same audio lessons.  They are Asian and from Mandarin-speaking countries in Asia (Jada from China, Aaron from Taiwan), so it’s important for me that they know the language.  The least I can do is learn along with me. 

2. It may seem simplistic for folks to assume that because I’m Asian I speak Chinese; after all, I could be from a non-Chinese speaking country, or my family could’ve been in the US for long enough that English has long been the native and only tongue in the household.  Nevertheless, it is of some motivation that when people assume that or ask if I speak Mandarin, I will one day be able to say, “why yes.”

3. Knowing any tongue opens doors, both personal and professional, to more parts of the world.  And obviously Chinese is a particularly useful language to know, given China’s ascendance on the world stage.  So whether it is one day being able to conduct business in China or merely going there as a tourist, knowing the language will be a useful thing.

4. Going from knowing one language to more than one really opens up your mind.  Too many Americans only speak one language, and that’s a problem.  To use a peculiar sort of example which I will hopefully describe clearly, imagine a cat.  If all you know is English, you assume that that thing is, inherently, “cat.”  You realize other people use different words for it.  But, ultimately, its base definition is “cat.”   But that’s not true at all.  Rather, it’s a thing that we call “cat” in English” and “chat” in French and “gato” in Spanish and “mao” in Mandarin and so on and so forth.  Strange as it may seem, knowing more than one language reminds you that English is not the base language and the US is not the center of the universe.  And, practically, stumbling through my Mandarin lessons has given me newfound appreciation for folks in America who make do in English even though it is not their mother tongue. 

That’s a lot of gain, for just a 30-minute-a-day investment of time.  Sign me up.


Thanks for Everything

'Tis the season to cultivate a thankful spirit.  Indeed, thanksgiving is an important, active, and intentional thing to practice, lest we are overcome by the prevailing moods of unsatisfying materialism, haughty cynicism, or callous disrespect.  This age would do well to say no to a spirit of ungratefulness and yes to humbly receiving just how good we have it.

And yet I understand why expressing a posture of thanksgiving is fraught.  All is not right in our society and in our own selves.  It may seem incongruous to be grateful when there is much that is not worth giving thanks about.  We are rightly hesitant to preen with gratitude when others struggle and suffer.

One could argue that thankfulness is only good to practice if it also leads one to realize how good one has it, and to take action for those who aren't as well off.  And that is a good thing to think.  But then where does it end?  If I am richer, more privileged, and more resourced than others, then I ought to care about helping others who are less so, and it should be a lifelong attitude and not just a one-time guilt-cleanser.  But can I still be thankful if those injustices and inequities remain?  If no, then when?  If yes, then am I being insulting?

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers has drawn national attention for his unwillingness to stand for the national anthem.  He believes he cannot celebrate a country that continues to oppress and kill.  I respect his thought process, and am glad his protest has drawn in others and opened up the conversation about race in America.

I am not as aware as he is, but I am well aware of the oppression and violence that is taking place in this nation.  And I grieve those things.  But I am still able to celebrate this country.  I want it to be better, which means it is not quite where I think it should be.  In many areas, not only are we not close, but we are heading in the wrong direction.  But, warts and all, I still celebrate this country.

Similarly, I am aware of many things that should not and do not engender gratitude.  But I can still be grateful, and not selectively so but rather thankful for the whole package.

In spiritual terms, the great battle for our souls has been won and is being won.  God has made a way, and is making a way.  We have a long way to go, and in many respects we are heading in the wrong direction.  But our ultimate and eternal destination has been secured.  And so, in spite of and through many tribulations, I can be thankful for it all.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


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

Here's an excerpt from a book I just finished, "Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor," by Anthony Everitt:

Once, when he was entertaining Augustus at dinner, a waiter broke a valuable crystal goblet. Paying no attention to his guest, the infuriated Vedius ordered the slave to be thrown to the eels. The boy fell on his knees in front of the princeps, begging for protection.

Augustus tried to persuade Vedius to change his mind. When Vedius paid no attention, he said: “Bring all your other drinking vessels like this one, or any others of value that you possess for me to use.” When they were brought, he ordered all of them to be smashed. Vedius could not punish a servant for an offense that Augustus had repeated, and the waiter was pardoned.