Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Hero Code by William McRaven

The Hero Code by William McRaven is a solid and short book with the subtitle Lessons Learned From Lives Well Lived. McRaven is a retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral who wrote the excellent books Make Your Bed and Sea Stories and his latest has ten short life lessons with brief stories of people who personified each.

1. Courage - something that comes in all different forms of actions that confront fears: could be fighting enemies in battle, bullies in life, or demons within

2. Humility - the story of McRaven meeting Charlie Duke, who described himself as "an Air Force pilot," without noting he walked on the moon, one of only 12 who have 

3. Sacrifice - the story of Marine Ralph Johnson who in 1968 saved lives jumping on a grenade in Vietnam, and in 2018 had a Navy destroyer named after him

4. Integrity - mention of McRaven as a young lieutenant being told the importance of never lying or misrepresenting the truth, if caught doing that, trust will be forever lost

5. Compassion - the story of Gary Sinise, who played Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump, his support of wounded soldiers, and how even small acts of kindness create a society

6. Perseverance - the story of Dr. Jim Allison and his long battle to have a method of fighting cancer brought to market, saving thousands of lives, as well as Navy SEALs persevering through "one evolution at a time"

7. Duty - the story of Senator John McCain, someone who could have been released early from his Prisoner of War camp in Vietnam based on his four-star admiral father, but chose to stay with his fellow captives

8. Hope - the idea that tomorrow will be a better day, something that both is a way to look at things and an idea that we can work to impart to others

9. Humor - something that bonds us together, it's important to try to have a life filled with laughter, both for ourselves and to give to others 

10. Forgiveness - the Gandhi quote of "the weak can never forgive, forgiveness is the attribute of the strong" and stories from Afghanistan with how forgiving is letting go of one's burden and Charleston, South Carolina with how pardoning the unpardonable makes one not an accomplice to hatred and the victor, not the victim

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Weiner

 Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner is a memoir by a technology writer for The New Yorker who in her mid-twenties left a job in book publishing for one in tech, moving first to a New York-based startup and then one in San Francisco. It's an interesting look at a culture she portrays as centered around work and the ideas of growth, disruption, and scale along with absolutism, self-aggrandizing, and pseudo-intellectualism.

Weiner was 25 in 2013 when she left a role as an assistant at a small literary agency in Manhattan to take a 3-month trial job at an e-reader startup working with the three founders and an engineer. She then took a customer support job in San Francisco at a data analytics tech startup, where she employee number 20, and the 4th woman. 

She describes in the book how the job, and overall culture of tech in San Francisco, was all about confidence and a never-ending focus on work. People didn't really have outside lives, but they liked to talk about outside lives, how their work would change the world and how that work was about and created a philosophy of life, one with lots of "opportunities," "revenue," and "strategy." Everything was wrapped in the language of business. If you could spew philosophy wrapped in business, the ideas of stoicism, people as operations systems, or war analogies tied to company growth, all the better.

People claimed they craved authenticity, but it’s described by Weiner as craving an authenticity and community about them. The mantra was work and good faith, believing in the rightness of their own actions, with the phrase the CEO used being “Down for the Cause.” He was also noted as talking about things like "wanting more women in leadership roles," rather than actually putting them in leadership roles. Weiner also had male colleagues described to her as "strategic" and that she someone who "loved their customers." Also, when the data analytics company released a new feature about user website engagement, it was named Addiction.

Weiner then left to do support at a different company, a 200-employee open-source startup tech company with channels where people shared information online. Part of her new role was content moderator, with she and her team as the arbiters of what was acceptable on the platform, and four of them overseeing content from nine million users. People were in enormous positions of power, but everything was "trust the system." Weiner also notes that her high-paying job existed for, and on, the internet and left the open-source startup in 2018.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown

Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown is an excellent book by the author of The Boys in the Boat, with his latest subtitled A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II. The book tells two stories—one of the Americans of Japanese ancestry who fought valiantly in the war, and one of the over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry living in the U.S. who were labeled as “enemy aliens” and forced into internment camps.

Many of the people detained were U.S. citizens, the Nisei who were born in the U.S. after their Issei parents immigrated to the county and started families and businesses, but not allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. Brown writes of how after Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, racism against people of Japanese ancestry was rampant in America, with many calling for them to be detained. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing his military commanders to designate areas of the country from which “any and all persons may be excluded.” The exclusion zone area was all of California, the western halves of Washington and Oregon, and the southern part of Arizona, including Phoenix. Additionally, many people from Hawaii were removed to detention sites on the mainland and a curfew was established for all people of Japanese ancestry. This was regardless of whether people U.S. citizens, and something not done to anyone in the U.S. of German or Italian ancestry.

Brown dedicated the book to Kats Miho, Rudy Tokiwa, Fred Shiosaki, and Gordon Hirabayashi. Kats grew up on Maui where his parents owned and ran the Miho Hotel. Their father was detained after Pearl Harbor and sent to what would become an internment camp on the U.S. mainland. Rudy was from Salinas, CA where his family leased farmland and after the February 1942 order, the two young men and their families were all detained by the U.S. government. Fred was from Spokane, WA—outside the exclusion zone—where his parents owned and ran the Hillyard Laundry. Gordon was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle and was a conscientious objector, first to the curfew, then to registering for removal to an internment camp, or “assembly center” as it was described, and later to the signing of a loyalty oath, something required of people of Japanese ancestry, but not of other American citizens—which Kats, Rudy, Fred, and Gordon were. 

On February 1, 1943, Roosevelt signed a memo that said all Americans could serve in the military, enabling the Nisei, the second-generation American citizens of Japanese ancestry to join. Thousands did, many from internment camps where they were being detained by the American government, and those who did not volunteer later were subject to the draft. The American citizens of Japanese ancestry who joined the military made up the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese American fighting unit that trained in Mississippi. Initially there were huge divisions in it, with fighting between young men from Hawaii and those from the mainland of the U.S. Eventually they bonded together, in part because the troops from Hawaii were sent to visit internment camps and saw firsthand what the families of their mainland counterparts had to live in. While there, some of them were sent to Alabama to guard German POWs and found them living in better conditions than their own families being held in camps by the U.S. government.

Kats, Rudy, and Fred all were part of the 442nd, and in April 1944, the order came for them to ship to Europe. They left from Virginia boatyards on May 1 and after landing in Italy were soon in heavy combat. The 442nd then in September 1994 boarded ships for France and were sent into the Vosges, heavily forested mountains between France and Germany. In late October, they suffered heavy losses rescuing what become known as the Lost Battalion—two Texas units, the 141st and 143rd Infantry Regiments with more than 200 troops that had gotten trapped—near the French town of Bruyères. Later the 442nd was sent back to Italy, and broke through the Gothic Line, a German foothold across Italy. Germany surrendered in early May 1945, Japan in early August, and it's noted by Brown that the 442nd RCT was likely the most decorated military unit of its size and length of service in American history. Of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, 473 received Medals of Honor, with 21 of those from the roughly 18,000 who served in the 442nd. This group that made up just over .11% of the U.S. military earned 4.4% of the Medals of Honor. 

When the men were back home, they again had to confront racism—despite being American war heroes—and had to help their families rebuild after homes and businesses lost when they forced into internment camps. As Brown tells the story of Kats, Rudy, Fred, and the others fighting, he also writes of Gordon and his bravery standing up for his constitutional rights that were being denied him as an American citizen. Gordon died in January 2012 and in May of that year was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is a short and interesting novel by the British writer. It's a nice read about the choices we make—and how we have more choices than we think—with below from the book...

"'You need to realise something if you are ever to success at chess,' she said, as if Nora had nothing bigger to think about. 'And the thing you need to realise is this; the game is never over until it is over. It isn't over if there is a single pawn still on the board. If one side is down to a pawn and a king, and the other side has every player, there is still a game.'"