"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Tuesday, May 13, 2008,9:48 PM
Beyond the Carnage: 7 Life Lessons from GTA IV
Buried deep within GTA IV's high-speed police chases, vehicular homicides, cold-blooded killings and large-scale armed robberies, there lie hidden gems of wisdom that you can apply to improve your own life in the real world.

1) If you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. GTA IV teaches you that when you want to accomplish something, you should go for it without worrying too much about stepping on other people's toes. When you carjack an old lady and only have 30 seconds to make it from the gun store to the respray shop, some people are gonna get run over in the process. If you want your boss's job, you might have to get him fired before you get the position. When you get what you want, people may get hurt. It comes with the territory.

2) Trust no one. Everyone you meet has an agenda. Let me repeat that. Everyone you meet has an agenda. Of course, some may have a more malicious agenda than others. Regardless, everyone around you is almost always looking out for #1: themselves. Look at Ghandi -- that guy was practically begging to get 15 minutes of fame with some sort of "MTV True Life: I'm a Revolutionary Peacemaker" documentary. Think about it. GTA IV lets you experience "friends" lying, cheating, stealing and stabbing you in the back to get what they want. Only trust yourself.

3) Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst. Pretend you're in GTA, you just got assigned a new mission, and you envision yourself kicking ass: running, ducking, diving, all while taking out gangbangers with expertly timed shotgun blasts and never getting a scratch on you. So do you walk in to the gun fight with one-third of your health, no body armor and low ammo? Hell no. You stock up. You prepare for the worst. Shit, buy some rocket launchers while you're at it. Why not. In life, you never know what could go wrong. It always pays to be prepared.

4) The more nice shit you have, the more people respect you. We live in a shallow society folks, and GTA IV understands this by letting your character get all types of shit that doesn't have anything to do with the actual game. You can buy nice suits & expensive shoes, move into penthouse bachelor pads, and of course, drive baller whips. If you pick up a chick on a date (yes, the game lets you do this), she'll verbally tell you how impressed she is when you pull up in a luxury car similar to the one 2Pac got shot in. Art is modeled after real life guys. People notice these things. Respect yourself by getting some nice digs.

5) Get revenge when it counts. Don't let people walk all over you. Donald Trump has touted this for years, and its actually good advice. If people know they can screw you and you won't do anything about it, prepare for it to happen with greater and greater frequency. If someone wrongs you, get them back, and make absolute sure everyone sees it so they know you're not one to be messed with. In GTA IV when someone disrespects your crew, you don't sneak around and poison their morning tea -- you roll up right on the basketball court and blow his brains out in front of all of his homies plus a few random bystanders. See how everyone else runs away? This is called leading by example.

6) If you want something, you have to work for it. America is the land of opportunity, not the land of uh-here-take-this. Don't expect things to be given to you on a silver platter, or for the world to be fair. Sometimes when you want something, you have to be prepared to take it. When Niko arrives in Liberty City, he has nothing. By the middle of the game he's got a highrise apartment and a pile of money, not to mention tons of guns and bitches. Get out there and fight.

7) Go off the beaten path. Don't blindly follow the guidelines that society lays out for you. If you followed every traffic law in GTA IV you would get so bored playing that you'd eventually turn off the game, which in real life would be the equivalent of killing yourself. Make life interesting. Think outside the box. There's no one right way to do something. Steve Jobs took the mobile phone market and turned it upside down with the iPhone, a device no one had ever seen before. In one GTA IV mission, Niko dresses up as a gay guy to take another gay man out on a date for the sole purpose of killing him. This type of unorthodox thinking is what you need to succeed in the work place as well as in life. Make it happen.



posted by R J Noriega
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Thursday, May 08, 2008,11:52 AM
The Visionary Minimalist
Responding to Floria again:

I’m not one for big change though, because I think it can be damaging at the outset. I believe if one is to attempt to change the entire process of our government, then there would be several unforeseen consequences at the outset.

I agree with you that “slow and steady” change is more lasting and more desirable than sudden or forced change. That is actually one of the major things that attracted me to Barack Obama’s candidacy and that convinced me of the danger of a Hillary presidency. When Obama first announced, I doubted he was ready, and I tentatively supported Hillary because I wanted a Democrat to win and I believed she would be ruthless in making sure she won. But gradually, little by little, I came to embrace Obama’s candidacy.

There were two key factors - and I think I wrote about this previously in slightly different terms. The first was that I came to believe that America was in a worse condition than I had previously thought - that Bush had fundamentally altered the balance of power in Washington and severely diminished the legislative and judicial branches of government; that partisan polarization was a major problem because it fostered a “team” mentality, in which no matter what the underlying consensus was on the issue, each party sought electoral gain by playing to the extremes. (For me, the Republican advocacy of torture and skepticism of climate change made this clear.) The second factor was that as I began to learn more about Obama and his thought, the more I came to admire him. Specifically, this New Yorker piece called “The Conciliator” (which is long, but well worth it) first introduced me to the aspect of Obama that I admire most, what Cass Sunstein calls in a recent New Republic piece, “visionary minimalism.” What Sunstein describes is the paradox of Barack Obama’s thought (as opposed to the paradox of his campaign). Sunstein describes two differing approaches to the world: minimalist and visionary. As he describes it, “minimalists are fearful of those who are gripped by abstractions, simple ideologies, and large-scale theories” and “visionaries have a large-scale understanding of where the nation should be heading…[and] call for wholesale rejection of the views of “the other side.” Sunstein sees Obama bridging these two conflicting tendencies:

“Visionary minimalist” may sound like an oxymoron, but in fact–and this is the key point–Obama’s promise of change is credible in part because of his brand of minimalism. He is unifying, and therefore able to think ambitiously, because he insists that Americans are not different “types” who should see each other as adversaries engaged in some kind of culture war. Above all, Obama rejects identity politics. He participates in, and helps create, anti-identity politics. He does so by emphasizing that most people have diverse roles, loyalties, positions, and concerns, and that the familiar divisions are hopelessly inadequate ways of capturing people’s self-understandings, or their hopes for their nation. Insisting that ordinary Americans “don’t always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal,” Obama asks politicians “to catch up with them.”

Many independents and Republicans have shown a keen interest in him precisely because he always sees, almost always respects, and not infrequently accepts their deepest commitments.

To the extent that Obama is able to call simultaneously for change and reconciliation, it is in significant part for this reason. And to the extent that Obama’s candidacy is producing a kind of national exhilaration not seen in many decades, his practice of anti-identity politics is a key factor. For him, reconciliation is change, and it is also what makes change possible. Recall that minimalists are willing to endorse large shifts from the status quo–after diverse people have been heard, learned from, and brought on board.

Obama’s minimalism thus has a clear pragmatic purpose. The challenges of health care reform, Iraq, economic growth, climate change, and energy independence cannot possibly be met well, and perhaps cannot be met at all, without cross-cutting coalitions. Real transformations require a degree of consensus. Obama’s point also has intrinsic and not merely instrumental importance, and for one simple reason: It says something deeply true, and long neglected, about how Americans actually understand themselves. If Obama’s visionary minimalism turns out to have enduring power, it will be for that reason.

It is well worth reading Sunstein’s entire article. Sunstein is an informal adviser to Obama - which makes his analysis both more interesting, and forces you to think about the issue skeptically. Several months earlier, Larissa MacFarquhar writing a profile for the New Yorker though wrote something very similar:

In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean. He distrusts abstractions, generalizations, extrapolations, projections. It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good. Take health care, for example.

“If you’re starting from scratch,” he says, “then a single-payer system”—a government-managed system like Canada’s, which disconnects health insurance from employment—“would probably make sense. But we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.”

Obama’s voting record is one of the most liberal in the Senate, but he has always appealed to Republicans, perhaps because he speaks about liberal goals in conservative language. When he talks about poverty, he tends not to talk about gorging plutocrats and unjust tax breaks; he says that we are our brother’s keeper, that caring for the poor is one of our traditions. Asked whether he has changed his mind about anything in the past twenty years, he says, “I’m probably more humble now about the speed with which government programs can solve every problem.”

By focusing on the ends, and using every means at her disposal to achieve those ends, Hillary Clinton both ensures maximal polarization and maximal resistance. The amount of change she will be able to bring about will be determined by what she is able to force through. By focusing on improving the processes - without attempting a radical overhaul, and while bringing in all stakeholders - Obama minimizes polarization, minimizes resistance, and maximizes change over the long-term. In other words - if you believe America is facing serious strategic challenges and that our polity is not in shape to tackle them - Obama is the only candidate which a chance of tackling them. If you are wary of dramatic change, Hillary’s current approach to achieving change may very well prevent her from achieving much. But her focus on ends rather than means would bring about more sudden and drastic change - the kind you presumably fear.

It was these two “realizations” on my part that lead me to embrace Barack Obama’s candidacy: one, seeing the moment we are in; two, understanding more about the Hillary’s and Barack’s thought. This is why I was a fan of Obama before he seemed like he had a chance. This is why I thought he was the best person for the job of president even when Hillary was considered inevitable. The paradox of Obama’s campaign is that even if you believe Obama should be president, many still need to be convinced that he can be elected. Obama as a head of government, a head of state would be a visionary minimalist; but he will only become a great president if a movement is able to coalesce that pushes for meaningful change. Obama, being a minimalist, would then have to channel it, focus it, hold it back where prudent. This dynamic could make Obama one of our greatest presidents. But even as the situation now stands, without such a movement, I still believe he is the best choice.

Postscript: Regarding Obama’s tendency to over-dramatize: I don’t know anything of the example you gave. But in general, I have found that Obama plays down dramatic moments; that in his speeches, he avoids applause lines, preferring to build a gradual narrative. And Obama is the only candidate to have lived in a Third World country for any extended period of time - Indonesia in his youth. If you read Dreams of My Father, he writes about the exact difference in attitude you describe - between living in the midst of a country, and living out of a hotel.


posted by R J Noriega
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,11:38 AM
Judgment Trumps Experience

As these late November days fade away, the critical Iowa caucus looms ever closer -- less than six weeks away. Which explains why the rhetoric of the two leading Democratic candidates is becoming more shrill but also more clarifying.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have taken off their gloves. In one corner stands the champion of experience, with the best executive coach in the free world at her side and a dog-eared playbook of strategies that have won in the past. Standing in the opposite corner is a young contender, fairly new at the game, underweight and probably overmatched, but a natural, as they say. Mr. Obama and his handlers are putting their money on his judgment, disdaining the experience card as a stale rerun of earlier campaigns, skewering Mrs. Clinton's twisty judgments about Iraq, and subtly pushing the present over the legacy of the '60s, destiny over dynasty.

One newspaper article on Mrs. Clinton's latest TV ad noted that it mentioned her experience five times. Bloggers also highlight the themes of experience and judgment whenever they describe the ever more heated fight between the Democratic front runners.

Where do we put our money? First, let us cite Ted Sorenson, one of John F. Kennedy's closest advisers and speechwriters. When asked about his former boss's judgment, Mr. Sorenson responded, "I cannot emphasize how important that elusive quality is; far more important than organization, structure, procedures and machinery. These are all important, yes, but nothing compared to judgment."

After a five-year study of leadership covering virtually all sectors of American life, we came to the inescapable conclusion that judgment regularly trumps experience. Our central finding is that judgment is the core, the nucleus of exemplary leadership. With good judgment, little else matters. Without it, nothing else matters.

Take any leader, a U.S. president, a Fortune 100 CEO, a big-league coach, wartime general, you name it. Chances are you remember them for their best and worst calls. Can anyone forget that Harry Truman issued the order to drop the first atom bomb? Or Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis? When Nixon comes to mind, so does Watergate. The first George Bush: "Read my lips." Clinton? Monica. George W.? Iraq.

Leadership is, at its marrow, the chronicle of judgment calls. These will inevitably write the leader's legacy. Don't get us wrong. We are not discounting the importance of experience. Seminal and appropriate experiences must be drawn on and understood before judgments can be informed. But experience is no guarantee of good judgment. There is a huge difference between 20 years of experience that advances one's learning and one year of experience repeated 20 times.

In fact, there are numerous times when past experiences can prevent wise judgments. Barbara Tuchman long ago observed how generals tend to fight the last war, refusing to face new realities, almost always with disastrous consequences. And often, especially in today's dizzying world, we need to understand what Zen Buddhists call the "beginner's mind," which recognizes the value of fresh insight unfettered by experience. In this more contemporary view, the compelling idea is the novel one. Perhaps no one articulated the nature of the beginner's mind better than the composer Hector Berlioz when he said of his more popular rival Camille Saint-Saëns: "He knows everything. All he lacks is inexperience."

Judgment isn't quite an unnatural act, but it also doesn't come naturally. And speaking from decades of experience, we're not sure how to teach it. (We know it can be learned.) Wisely processed experience, reflection, valid sources of timely information, an openness to the unbidden and character are critical components of judgment as well. As David McCullough reminds us over and over again, "Character counts in the presidency more than any other single quality."

Yes, Mrs. Clinton, experience is not without value. But judgment, fed by solid character, should determine the choice of our next president.

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posted by R J Noriega
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