Highlights from Lean UX

We went over to the client’s office and spent an entire eight-hour day going over each and every pixel and word in that deck. When it was over, the client clapped (really). They loved it. We were relieved. And we never looked at that deck again. Six months after that meeting, nothing had changed on the client’s site. I don’t think they ever looked at that deck again, either.

It’s also for developers who understand that a collaborative team environment leads to better code and more meaningful work.

each principle detailed here will help you build a product design organization that is more collaborative, more cross-functional, and a more useful fit for today’s reality.

Insight on each idea is brought in from all relevant disciplines earlier in the process.

Translated to Lean UX, this concept means creating only the design that is necessary to move the team forward and avoiding a big “inventory” of untested and unimplemented design ideas.

It’s worth noting that there’s been a lot of backlash in the design world against measurement-driven design.

The most effective way I’ve found to rally a team around a design direction is through collaboration.

These conversations may seem awkward at first; after all, you’re breaking down time-tested walls between disciplines.

That’s why you should include a researcher on your team if you can. Just don’t outsource the work to that person. Instead, use the researcher as a coach to help your team plan and execute your activities.

Here’s why: it becomes very easy to create a situation in which the entire team is never working on the same thing at the same time.

The people on the team generally performed in their area of expertise/strength but were supportive of other specialties and interested in learning new skills.

I looked for opportunities to work in real time with other people on the team (such as developers and the product manager) and rough things out as quickly as possible at the lowest responsible level of fidelity.

At most, these teams plan an iteration or two ahead. This perceived “short-sightedness” tends not to satisfy most high-level managers.

Keep the conversations focused on outcomes (how you’re trending towards your goal), not feature sets.

The more discrete a person’s job is, the easier it becomes to retreat to the safe confines of that discipline.

Too often, people in organizations discourage others from working outside the confines of their job descriptions.

Every team member possesses a core competency—design, software development, research, etc.—and must deliver on that skill set. However, he or she may also possess secondary competencies that make the team work more efficiently.

Designers must open up the design process.

The entire concept of design as hypothesis immediately dethrones notions of heroism; as a designer you must expect that many of the your ideas will fail in testing.

Don’t waste time debating which type of artifact to create, and don’t waste time polishing them to perfection. Instead, use the one that will take the least amount of time to create and communicate to your team.

Designers can demonstrate their problem solving skills by illustrating the path they took to get from idea to validated learning to experience. In doing so, they’ll demonstrate their deep worth as designers.

To use the concept of UX debt, write stories to capture a gap analysis between where the experience is today and where you’d like it to be.

Instead, their engagements are based on simple time-and materials agreements, or, more radically, on outcome-based contracts.

Some managers may be threatened by proposals to work in a new way, which could result negative consequences for you.

If your manager still doesn’t see the value in working this way and you believe your organization is progressing down a path of continued “blind design,” perhaps it’s time to consider alternative employment.

Highlights from Green Mars

Kuhn had written about Priestley— that a scientist who continued to resist after his whole profession had been converted to a new paradigm might be perfectly logical and reasonable, but had ipso facto ceased to be a scientist.

He won every argument but never got anywhere.

So in the current political situation, information technology was creating not totalization but balkanization.

It was fairly humorous to see how responsive mood was to chemical manipulation, despite what it implied about the precarious balance of one’s emotional equanimity, even sanity itself.

Certainly the common wisdom was correct; the emergence of the transnationals in the 2040s had set the stage, and was the ultimate cause of the war.

For the record showed that the industrial nations had prospered under the transnats, while the developing nations had had no recourse but to fight each other for flag-of-convenience status.

Well, you know, this particular division of Subarashii is run by Georgians, and they’re in the grip of a big Stalin revival there. It’s a patriotic gesture to run their country as stupidly as possible.

What was personal gain but the freedom to do what you wanted to do? And what was power but the freedom to do what you wanted to do? And once you had that freedom, any more wealth or power actually began to restrict one’s options, and reduce one’s freedom. One became a servant of one’s wealth or power, constrained to spend all one’s time protecting it.

“The resistance begins fighting itself, because that’s the only thing it can beat. Happens every time. You can’t get any movement larger than five people without including at least one fucking idiot.”

Especially since most minimalists want to keep exactly the economic and police system that keeps them privileged. That’s libertarians for you— anarchists who want police protection from their slaves.

At Praxis we believe nations were never truly sovereign, but were always semiautonomous in relation to the rest of the world.

If only the rich would behave decently, then the system would be okay. That’s crap. The system overdetermines everything, and it’s the system that has to change.

In these arrangements the client government becomes the enforcement agency of the metanational’s economic policies. In general they enforce what are called austerity measures, but all government employees are paid much more than they were before, including the army and police and intelligence operations.

But either way, the scientist’s job is to explore everything. No matter the difficulties! To stay open, to accept ambiguity. To attempt to fuse with the object of knowledge. To admit that there are values shot through the whole enterprise. To love it. To work toward discovering the values by which we should live. To work to enact those values in the world. To explore— and more than that— to create!

“That is the great pleasure of conspiracy theory— not explanation, but narrative. It is like Scheherazade.”

What use was utopia without joy, after all? What was the point of all their striving if it did not include the laughter of the young?

Highlights from The Dictator’s Handbook

“In fact, bad behavior is more often than not good politics.”

“It is hard to imagine that anyone, including ourselves, cares much about what we think ought to be. Neither do we exhort others to be better than they are.”

“Why do leaders do what they do? To come to power, to stay in power and, to the extent that they can, to keep control over money.”

“If we are going to play the game of politics, and we all must from time to time, then we ought to learn how to win the game.”

“No one rules alone; no one has absolute authority. All that varies is how many backs have to be scratched and how big the supply of backs available for scratching.”

“Managing the interchangeables, influentials, and essentials to that end is the act, art, and science of governing.”

“This support is only forthcoming if a leader provides his essentials with more benefits than they might expect to receive under alternative leadership or government.”

“It’s always better for a ruler to determine who eats than it is to have a larger pie from which the people can feed themselves.”

“The most effective cash flow for leaders is one that makes lots of people poor and redistributes money to keep select people—their supporters—wealthy.”

“Why do some political parties favor immigration? Rule 2: Expand the set of interchangeables.”

“The problem for democrats is that they face different constraints and have to be a little more creative than their autocratic counterparts.”

“Anyone who thinks leaders do what they ought to do—that is, do what is best for their nation of subjects—ought to become an academic rather than enter political life.”

“When democratic politicians lament “mortgaging our children’s future,” they’re really regretting that it was not them who came up with the popular policy that voters actually want.”

“To achieve power means recognizing the moment of opportunity, moving fast, and moving decisively to seize the day.”

“Unless such a purge can be accomplished in the dark, presented as a fait accompli to the old group of influentials, the risk of failure is real.”

“This is the essential lesson of politics: in the end ruling is the objective, not ruling well.”

“Both leaders knew that it is better to have loyal incompetents than competent rivals.”

“Any action he took—say, sending so-and-so to Siberia—was the will of the people, and any of the people in the replacement pool had a chance, albeit a slight one, of being called up to serve as an influential or maybe even an essential somewhere down the line.”

“The real decisions are made by the group leaders who deliver blocs of votes. They are the true influentials. It is therefore unsurprising that it is common for the rewards to flow through them, so that they can take their cut, rather than go directly to the people.”

“Leaders, however, are rather fond of taxes—as long as they don’t have to pay them.”

“Ruling is about staying in power, not about good governance.”

“In autocracies, it is unwise to be rich unless it is the government that made you rich. And if this is the case, it is important to be loyal beyond all else.”

“It is ironic that while oil revenues provide the resources to fix societal problems, it creates political incentives to make them far worse.”

“Of course, borrowing more today means higher indebtedness and a smaller ability to borrow tomorrow. But such arguments are rarely persuasive to a leader.”

“This makes the current leader vulnerable. Incurring debt today is attractive because, after all, the debt will be inherited by the next administration. That way, it also ties the hands of any future challenger.”

“They resist the cry of people like us who demand improved governance before any bailout money is offered up to rescue a troubled autocratic economy.”

“That this uneven distribution of top-notch universities favors large-coalition locales is no accident.”

“To know what the people need, governments need to make it easy for the public to make clear what basket of public goodies they desire. That is best done by allowing the least costly and most precious public good of all: freedom.”

“The causal ties run both ways: power leads to corruption and corruption leads to power.”

“Anyone unwilling to undertake the dirty work that so many leaders are called on to do should not pursue becoming a leader.”

“Most of us would like to believe that foreign aid is about helping impoverished people.”

“Yes, it is true that a lot of aid is given to corrupt governments but that is by design, not by accident or out of ignorance. Rather, aid is given to thieving governments exactly because they will sell out their people for their own political security.”

“This is all just the dance of the donors and the takers, the recipients looking for as much money as possible and the donors looking for a highly salient, costly political concession.”

“A UNSC seat gives leaders valuable favors to sell in the form of their vote on the Security Council, and the aid they receive results in worse performance for their economy.”

“It is perhaps ironic that while aid affords the resources to alleviate poverty and promote economic growth, it creates the political incentives to do just the opposite.”

“A common argument is that the locals know much better how to address their problems than do far-away donors. That’s probably true, but knowing how to fix local problems and having the will or interest to do so is quite another matter.”

“Dictators are cheap to buy. They deliver policies that democratic leaders and their constituents want, and being beholden to relatively few essential backers, autocrats can be bought cheaply.”

“Buying democrats is much more expensive.”

“However, as long as we the people want cheap gasoline and an abundance of markets in which to dump agricultural products, and we want that more than we want to see genuine development in poor countries, then our leaders are going to carry out our wishes.”

“A prudent dictator nips rebellion in the bud. That is why we have reiterated the claim that only people willing to engage in really nasty behavior should contemplate becoming dictators. The softhearted will find themselves ousted in the blink of an eye.”

“Effectively the government told these survivors to go away and die quietly: inhumane in the extreme, but good small-coalition politics. Dead people cannot protest.”

“Allowing people to die reveals serious policy failure.”

“The willingness of democracies to try harder goes a long way to explaining why seemingly weaker democracies often overcome seemingly stronger autocracies.”

“Democrats more often than autocrats fight when all other means of gaining policy concessions from foreign foes fail. In contrast, autocrats are more likely to fight casually, in the pursuit of land, slaves, and treasure.”

“Democracies don’t fight with each other, true. Rather, big democracies pick on little opponents whether they are democratic or not, with the expectation that they won’t fight back or won’t put up much of a fight.”

“Democracy overseas is a nice thing to believe in, in the abstract. In practice it’s probably not what we, the people want.”

“It is precisely this predictability and normality of war that makes it, like all the pathologies of politics we have discussed, susceptible to being understood and fixed.”

“Pursuing the perfect world for everyone is a waste of time and an excuse for not doing the hard work of making the world better for many.”

“Think about what is good for interchangeables, influentials, and essentials, the three dimensions of political life:”

“The essential facts of political life are that people do what is best for them.”

“At the beginning and the end of an incumbent’s reign the danger of being purged is greatest and so, at these times, coalition members should be most receptive to reform.”

“Effective reform means expanding the coalition and that means that everyone, including the current essentials, has a good chance of being needed by tomorrow’s new leader.”

“Outsiders would be wise to take cues from the same lessons: the time for outside intervention to facilitate democratic change or improved corporate responsibility is when a leader has just come to power or when a leader is near the end of his life.”

“As the rules to rule by lead us to expect, states in which leaders required support from a larger proportion of the population developed faster.”

“The rules of the electoral college make it possible in a two-candidate race for one candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and the other candidate to be elected president of the United States.”

“Expanding immigrant access and rights, then, can boost the required size of the winning coalition and, in the process, improve the quality of public policy.”

“Give us your poor and let’s see if they can make a better life. Give us your tired and let’s see if they can be energized by participating in making a more public-goods oriented government work better. Give us your huddled masses longing to be free and let’s see if their children don’t grow up to be the foundation of a stronger, more peaceful, and more prosperous society than they first came to.”

“Using foreign aid to set up nationwide wireless access to the Internet and to provide the poor with mobile phones could be a win-win-win-win among the four constituencies affected by aid.”

“Offering such deals might prove self-fulfilling. Once essential supporters believe their leader might take such a deal, they themselves start looking for his replacement, so even if the leader had wanted to stay and fight he might no longer have the support to do so. “

“Leaders want to survive in office and maximize their control over money. But what if their choice is to trade the power of office in exchange for the right to the money?”

“Our individual concerns about protecting ourselves from unfriendly democracies elsewhere typically trump our longer term belief in the benefits of democracy.”

“Democracy overseas is a great thing for us if, and only if, the people of a democratizing nation happen to want policies that we like. When a foreign people are aligned against our best interest, our best chance of getting what we want is to keep them under the yoke of an oppressor who is willing to do what we, the people, want.”

“Every government and every organization that relies on a small coalition eventually erodes its own productivity and entrepreneurial spirit so much that it faces the risk of collapsing under the weight of its own corruption and inefficiency.”

ThingsCon Amsterdam 2016 Talk

Local politics in Berlin

Somewhere between language proficiency levels C1 and C2 lies a plateau that I’m finding difficult to cross in German. Living in Berlin I’m simply not exposed to enough of the language on a day to day basis. The usual advice would be to join a Verein and hang out with Germans. That sounds fun but I’m not in the market for a new hobby.

I’m going to approach it from another direction by becoming kind of politically active. I don’t think people of my generation will become members of political parties much again. I also don’t have much of an interest in political work. I do want to figure out why things work the way they do. If nothing else I hope it makes me a better citizen and improves my German.

To do this I’m going to attend events of the two major progressive parties around: die Grüne (the Greens) and die Linke (the Left). There have been local elections last month and both parties are likely to enter in a coalition with the SPD and rule, so it is an exciting time to dive in.

I’ve now attended one event by each and here’s a quick write-up.

die Grüne

A while back just after the September election I attended an event by my local Green chapter. It was fun to see all the people I knew from the campaign posters gathered in one place. In general they’re nice people of the kind that I would normally hang out with anyway.

The Greens were peeved that they’d suffered a loss but not super peeved. They are still the biggest party in Friedrichshain/Kreuzberg and they will likely get to govern Berlin as a whole as well.

I’d attribute that loss to a campaign that felt complacent and did not have a strong narrative to address economic justice issues. Rent and income disparities in Berlin are on the rise which makes them the most important political issue here. I see the Greens focused more on social justice, environmental and quality life issues.

The Greens may really not have to worry since the more an area gentrifies, the more it seems to vote green. Berlin as a whole will definitely continue to gentrify.

die Linke

Last Saturday I finally found a Linke event that I could attend which happened to be the education session for their locally elected representatives. Each borough in Berlin is governed by a BVV (Bezirksverordnetenversammlung) which is the lowest level of representation and the only one I am allowed to vote for in Germany. This event was meant to give the newly elected legal and administrative foundations to help them through the next five years.

I showed up this Saturday morning at 09:00 for a four hour lecture. Some thirty people, mostly newly elected Linke BVV representatives but also some stray SPD/Grüne members, were there. I wouldn’t say the Linke is a more representative cross-section of Berlin but it seems somewhat more social-economically diverse.

A session like this is not the recommended way to get acquainted with a party, but it proved to be very educational if you enjoy twisted, complicated things. I had some rough ideas of what the BVV can and cannot do and this lecture filled in the blanks. My preconceived notions notions were confirmed (as they too often are).

The main problems are as follows:

The BVV is not authorized to do anything. From the handout I got: the boroughs are not a legal entity and they have no rights to set budgets or to create statutes. This means they have no actual responsibilities and cannot determine anything. They are fully beholden to the state of Berlin (every borough has the suffix ‘von Berlin’). BVV work seems to revolve around applying whatever little agency you can find or whip up.

The BVV is a huge amount of work. What I gathered from the Grüne meeting as well is that the workload for local representatives is ridiculous even by German standards. Just the committee meetings on weekday evenings take a lot of time. Add to that the various other meetings and all the preparation that goes into them and it looks like a full-time job (but it isn’t). Being a BVV member is a voluntary position that is nominally compensated (with some €500/month). I have no clue why people would volunteer to do this.

The BVV is a democratic distraction. I got the idea that the various levels of government do not communicate with each other that much. As said the BVV is the lowest level and has near zero power but it is the place where democracy connects with citizen’s lives. If you interrogate the BVV about something in the city not working properly, they’ll usually answer that they’re not zuständig (not competent). Both hearing that things are the fault of the senate and having to tell people that, get really annoying really fast for everybody. The BVV functions as a democratic pretense that allows the state government to do its thing without being bothered by people.

Highlights from Science, Strategy and War by Frans Osinga

This network is the seat of scientific opinion; it is split into thousands of fragments, held by a multitude of individuals, each of whom endorses the others’ opinion at second hand, by relying on the consensual chains which link him to all the others through a sequence of overlapping neighborhoods.

The practice of science/engineering and the pursuit of technology permit us to continually rematch our mental/physical orientation with that of the changing world so that we can continue to thrive and grow in it.

Analysis means taking something apart to understand it; systems thinking means putting it into the context of the larger whole.

The goal, again, is to survive, and to survive on one’s own terms, or improve one’s capacity for independent action.

Orientation shapes the character of present observations-orientation-decision-action loops – while these present loops shape the character of future orientation.

Enmesh adversary in an amorphous, menacing, and unpredictable world of uncertainty, doubt, mistrust, confusion, disorder, fear, panic, chaos.

Boyd finds fault with the separation of inductive and deductive approaches.

Armed forces are like autopoietic systems, continually making efforts to maintain their distinctive character despite the turbulent environment.

War is like the non-linear clash of two Complex Adaptive Systems.

An armed force is by design a fairly robust system. It is designed to cause change within an opponent’s system and oppose the need to do so itself.

Because an error in response or a slower response will magnify in impact over time through the feedback loops, it is basically only necessary to create an initial advantage and prevent the opponent from compensating for it.

Fortunately, there is a way out. Remember, as previously shown, we can forge a new concept by applying the destructive deduction and creative induction mental operations.

It may be advantageous to possess a variety of responses that can be applied rapidly to gain sustenance, avoid danger and diminish an adversary’s capacity for independent action.

All revolve around maintaining cohesion among one’s own units, creating confusion and disrupting cohesion in the enemy camp.

The defense should have better intelligence, operate faster, be more mobile, move even more inconspicuously.

Diminish adversary’s capacity while improving our capacity to adapt as an organic whole, so that our adversary cannot cope while we can cope with events/efforts as they unfold.

This, combined with shattered cohesion, paralysis, and rapid collapse demonstrated by the existing adversary regime, makes it appear corrupt, incompetent, and unfit to govern.

Consequently, the name of the game becomes one of consciously shaping the opponent’s perception of the pattern of operations unfolding before him, while hiding the real picture.

He who is willing and able to take the initiative to exploit variety, rapidity, and harmony – as basis to create as well as adapt to the more indistinct – more irregular – quicker changes of rhythm and pattern, yet shape focus and direction of effort – survives and dominates.

Get inside adversary observation-orientation-decision-action loops (at all levels) by being more subtle, more indistinct, more irregular, and quicker – yet appear to be otherwise.

The Art of Success Appear to be an unsolvable cryptogram while operating in a directed way to penetrate adversary vulnerabilities and weaknesses in order to isolate him from his allies, pull him apart, and collapse his will to resist; yet Shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success.

Orientation, seen as a result, represents images, views, or impressions of the world shaped by genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences, and unfolding circumstances.

Orientation is the Schwerpunkt. It shapes the way we interact with the environment – hence orientation shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

The pay-off is ‘a command and control system, whose secret lies in what’s unstated or not communicated to one another (in an explicit sense) – in order to exploit lower-level initiative yet realize higher-level intent, thereby diminish friction and compress time, hence gain both quickness and security.’

Leadership Implies the art of inspiring people to cooperate and enthusiastically take action toward the achievement of uncommon goals.

Survive, survive on own terms, or improve our capacity for independent action.

That is what strategy is about. It is: ‘a game in which we must be able to diminish an adversary’s ability to communicate or interact with his environment while sustaining or improving ours’

Morally our adversaries isolate themselves [!] when they visibly improve their well being to the detriment of others (allies, the uncommitted), by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold.

Here the expected pay-off is: vitality and growth, with the opportunity to shape and adapt to unfolding events thereby influence the ideas and actions of others.

Put another way, ‘one should preserve or build-up moral authority while compromising that of our adversaries in order to pump-up our resolve, drain away adversaries’ resolve, and attract them as well as others to our cause and way of life’.

The central theme is one of interaction/isolation while the key ideas are the moral-mental-physical means towards realizing this interaction/isolation.

In this sense the practice of science/engineering and the pursuit of technology permit us to continually rematch our mental/physical orientation with that changing world so that we can continue to thrive and grow in it.

Furthermore, novelty is produced continuously, if somewhat erratically or haphazardly. Now, in order to thrive and grow in such a world we must match our thinking and doing, hence our orientation, with that emerging novelty.

Uncertainty associated with the unconfinement, undecidability, incompleteness theorems of mathematics and logic. Numerical imprecision associated with using the rational and irrational numbers in the calculation and measurement processes. Quantum uncertainty associated with Planck’s Constant and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Entropy increase associated with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Irregular and erratic behavior associated with far from equilibrium open non-linear processes or systems with feedback Incomprehensibility associated with the inability to completely screen, filter, or otherwise consider the spaghetti-like influences from a plethora of ever-changing, erratic, or unknown outside events. Mutations associated with environmental pressure, replication errors, or unknown influences in molecular and evolutionary biology. Ambiguity associated with natural languages as they are used and interact with one another. Novelty generated by the thinking and actions of unique individuals and their many-sided interactions with each other.

The hidden message for his audience is that, if organizations want to survive in a highly dynamic environment, in peace-time as much as in war, they need to embrace uncertainty and novelty.

To that end we must effectively and efficiently orient ourselves; that is, we must quickly and accurately develop mental images, or schema, to help comprehend and cope with the vast array of threatening and non-threatening events we face.

Significantly, whereas the D and A of the OODA loop generally are seen to stand for Decision and Action, in this model Boyd offers his own view on the meaning of both words by tying Decision to Hypothesis and Action to Test.

The OODA loop is much less a model of decision-making than a model of individual and organizational learning and adaptation in which the element of orientation – made up of genetics, experience, culture – plays the dominant role in the game of hypothesis and test, of analysis and synthesis, of destruction and creation.

Boyd instead argues that the aim is to create and perpetuate a highly fluid and menacing state of affairs for the enemy, and to disrupt or incapacitate his ability to adapt to such an environment.

Moreover, Boyd emphasizes the capability to validate the schemata before and during operations and the capability to devise and incorporate new ones, if one is to survive in a rapidly changing environment.

At the strategic level adaptation is more indirect and takes longer time intervals. It revolves around adjusting doctrines and force structures and disorienting the opponent’s orientation patterns, or mental images. At the grand-strategic level it revolves around shaping the political and societal environment, including an attractive ideology, and selecting a form of warfare.

Boyd advocates an agile cellular organization – networked through ideology, experience, trust, aim and orientation pattern – that thrives in uncertainty and fosters innovation, creativity and initiative.

Higher command levels must restrain themselves in their desire to know all that is going on at lower levels and to interfere. Higher commands must shape the ‘decision space’ of subordinate commanders. They must trust and coach. They must encourage cooperation and consultation among lower levels. They must accept bad news and be open for suggestions, lower-level initiatives and critique.

In an abstract sense, Boyd regards these schools of thought as alternative modes of behavior, and the theories as orientation patterns. He regards strategic theories and strategic concepts, like doctrines, as part of the repertoire of a strategist’s orientation pattern, integrating them in the cognitive dimension and in the discovery of fundamental similarities when he strips the theories to their bare essentials and expresses them in systems-theoretical/neo-Darwinist terms.

His very starting premise is that the world is fundamentally uncertain, truth is an arena of combat, knowledge is a weapon, as is the capability to evolve one’s knowledge base.

In the ‘Information domain’ the force must have the ‘capability to collect, share, access, and protect information’, as well as ‘the capability to collaborate in the information domain, which enables a force to improve its information position through processes of correlation, fusion, and analysis’.

Also the reasons for fighting cannot be understood within the nation-state framework: ‘more fundamental is the clash over different conceptions of community and how these conceptions should be reflected in political arrangements and organizations’.

The distinction between combatant and non-combatant is irrelevant. Deliberately ignoring and destroying this distinction is an explicit part of strategy in these conflicts.

Thus, academically they open the possibility of being engaged in a war, employing non-military methods to achieve their aim, while the West would not recognize that it was engaged in one.

Regarding war not as a military but as a political struggle, they focus on the political will of western politicians and polities; exploit their impatience and casualty-sensitivity.

Highlights from Master and Margarita by Mikhaíl Afanasyevich Bulgakov

Riukhin sat in complete solitude, hunched over his bream, drinking glass after glass, understanding and recognizing that it was no longer possible to set anything right in his life, that it was only possible to forget.

‘Yesterday, in your office, I saw this individuum briefly, but it only takes a fleeting glance at his face to understand that he is a bastard, a squabbler, a trimmer and a toady.’

Today I’m an unofficial person, and tomorrow, lo and behold, I’m an official one! And it also happens the other way round — oh, how it does!’

The counting-up took place, interspersed with Koroviev’s quips and quiddities, such as ‘Cash loves counting’, ‘Your own eye won’t lie’, and others of the same sort.

It was necessary at once, right on the spot, to invent ordinary explanations for extraordinary phenomena.

Love leaped out in front of us like a murderer in an alley leaping out of nowhere, and struck us both at once.

‘Can they be crooks?’ the magician asked worriedly of his visitor. ‘Can there be crooks among the Muscovites?’

Never ask for anything! Never for anything, and especially from those who are stronger than you. They’ll make the offer themselves, and give everything themselves.

Highlights from Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.

a place where little is bright or graceful, where it is routine to misplace the future and easy to start looking for it in bed.

Joan Baez was a personality before she was entirely a person, and, like anyone to whom that happens, she is in a sense the hapless victim of what others have seen in her, written about her, wanted her to be and not to be.

Now, at an age when the wounds begin to heal whether one wants them to or not,

As it happens I am comfortable with the Michael Laskis of this world, with those who live outside rather than in, those in whom the sense of dread is so acute that they turn to extreme and doomed commitments; I know something about dread myself, and appreciate the elaborate systems with which some people manage to fill the void, appreciate all the opiates of the people, whether they are as accessible as alcohol and heroin and promiscuity or as hard to come by as faith in God or History.

Our favorite people and our favorite stories become so not by any inherent virtue, but because they illustrate something deep in the grain, something unadmitted.

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.

The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others—who are, after all, deceived easily enough;

However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.

They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds.

If we have been taught to keep our promises—if, in the simplest terms, our upbringing is good enough—we stay with the body, or have bad dreams.

Of course we would all like to “believe” in something, like to assuage our private guilts in public causes, like to lose our tiresome selves; like, perhaps, to transform the white flag of defeat at home into the brave white banner of battle away from home. And of course it is all right to do that; that is how, immemorially, things have gotten done.

Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.

She is an open and trusting child, unprepared for and unaccustomed to the ambushes of family life, and perhaps it is just as well that I can offer her little of that life.

It is hard to find California now, unsettling to wonder how much of it was merely imagined or improvised; melancholy to realize how much of anyone’s memory is no true memory at all but only the traces of someone else’s memory, stories handed down on the family network.

Misinformation about rattlesnakes is a leitmotiv of the insomniac imagination in Los Angeles.

That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.

the canker, you see, was already in the rose

Everything that was said to me I seemed to have heard before, and I could no longer listen.

All I mean is that I was very young in New York, and that at some point the golden rhythm was broken, and I am not that young any more.

Highlights from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

There was something immodest about her modesty: it announced itself.

But Ifemelu had always sensed, in Sister Ibinabo, a deep-sown, simmering hostility to young girls. Sister Ibinabo did not like them, she merely watched them and warned them, as though offended by what in them was still fresh and in her was long dried up.

the easy relationship between two people who carefully avoided conversations of any depth.

He was tall and rangy, with the easy manner of the entitled.

She had always liked this image of herself as too much trouble, as different, and she sometimes thought of it as a carapace that kept her safe.

With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.

If you are not careful in this country, your children become what you don’t know.

Afterwards they would return to America to fight on the Internet over their mythologies of home, because home was now a blurred place between here and there, and at least online they could ignore the awareness of how inconsequential they had become.

It had to be that Americans were taught, from elementary school, to always say something in class, no matter what.

The wind blowing across the British Isles was odorous with fear of asylum seekers, infecting everybody with the panic of impending doom, and so articles were written and read, simply and stridently, as though the writers lived in a world in which the present was unconnected to the past, and they had never considered this to be the normal course of history: the influx into Britain of black and brown people from countries created by Britain.

They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.

She wished she believed in the devil, in a being outside of yourself that invaded your mind and caused you to destroy that which you cared about.

He was left-leaning and well-meaning, crippled by his acknowledgment of his own many privileges.

They were the sanctified, the returnees, back home with an extra gleaming layer.

The best thing about America is that it gives you space. I like that. I like that you buy into the dream, it’s a lie but you buy into it and that’s all that matters.

But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.

Highlights from Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

When you shoot a person, you say why and do it, without excuse. This is how the Radchaai are.

She was old enough to know firsthand that we had, indeed, shot people in the past. She could hardly be blamed for fearing we might do so in the future.

There had been a time when a property owner like her would have been shot early on, so someone’s client could take over her plantation.

And within the gravity well of the planet Shis’urna itself—or for that matter any planet—lay the Underworld, the land of the dead from which humanity had had to escape in order to become fully free of its demonic influence.

And you don’t like my saying that, but here’s the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”

Human bodies to make into ancillaries weren’t exactly a scarce resource.

Among the wealthy, clientage was a very hierarchical relationship—a patron promised certain sorts of assistance to her client, both financial and social, and a client provided support and services to her patron. These were promises that could last generations. In the oldest, most prestigious houses the servants were nearly all the descendants of clients, for instance, and many businesses owned by wealthy houses were staffed by client branches of lower ones.

“Only criminals, or people who aren’t functioning well, are reeducated. Nobody really cares what you think, as long as you do what you’re supposed to.”

Others took longer to leave, testing my authority, perhaps, though not far—anyone with the stomach to do such a thing had been shot sometime in the last five years, or at least had learned to restrain such a near-suicidal impulse.

You see murder and destruction on an unimaginable scale, but they see the spread of civilization, of Justice and Propriety, of Benefit for the universe. The death and destruction, these are unavoidable by-products of this one, supreme good.

To noncitizens, who only ever see Radchaai in melodramatic entertainments, who know nothing of the Radch besides ancillaries and annexations and what they think of as brainwashing, such an order might be appalling, but hardly surprising. But the idea of shooting citizens was, in fact, extremely shocking and upsetting. What, after all, was the point of civilization if not the well-being of citizens? And these people were citizens now.

Justice, propriety, and benefit, isn’t it? Let every act be just, and proper, and beneficial.