Friday, September 4, 2015

An Incredible Spy Story + A Half Dozen Takes on Creativity (September 4, 2015)

I've finished one great book recently and have two more going that could be wonderful. What a bounty of riches for the early fall.

I'd like to recommend the book I just finished: The Billion Dollar Spy by David Hoffman. The United States, in the 1970s, had never recruited a Soviet source inside the USSR. They'd done so with Soviet nationals operating elsewhere, but Moscow was a much harder place to operate. Then, all of a sudden, a senior weapons engineer desperately tries to contact American diplomats to offer his services. They refused to speak with him for months and months... Yes, the Americans feared it could be a KGB sting, but the story is stranger and more baffling than that. This was such an involved, interesting, and ultimately sad story. Because the engineer does become a spy, only to be outed by an American CIA-washout gone rogue some years later. You will probably strain to believe these events actually happened because they're more twisty and dramatic than anything a spy thriller has ever served up.

If the other books prove just as excellent, I'll write about them in the future.

A few more things you may care to watch or read:

  • Video. Louis CK honors the late George Carlin and talks about his creative process as a comic [YouTube] (The process is something like this: tell all best stuff you can think of, throw it away, then dig deeper. Do it again the next year. Do it again and get even deeper the next year. It's a great way to think of creativity.)
  • Video. Always punchy Richard Feynman lecturing on the scientific method. Even in B&W, he's pugnacious and amusing. [YouTube]
  • A NYT reporter uses family connections to look at the Kansas government experiments in progress. I still don't know whether to be interested, horrified, concerned, skeptical, or what. This is downside of creativity: sometimes experiments are horrible, failures, or hurtful (or all three). [New York Time Magazine]
  • Stephen Colbert talks creativity and more with GQ. He's not the goofy guy he played on Comedy Central for so many years. There's a mind there, a good one. He's got some interesting thoughts on the process of being creative. He's also on point about failure. "You gotta learn to love when you're failing.… The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you. Fear is the mind killer." [GQ]
  • I want to nod my head to this essay about 'the good old days of college when students were serious,' but I don't think those days ever really existed. College, like much of the rest of life, is a set of options and the student makes his choices. This author of this piece rages against the choices they make. I feel his pain, but I don't think complaining solves much. If the culture sucks, work to replace the culture. (It's next to impossible to 'improve' a culture nudge-by-nudge, though entropy can degrade it easily enough. It is possible to replace a culture, though.) [Harper's
  • I've just come across the site Wait But Why, and I particularly enjoyed this essay on not giving a fuck about other people's opinions. The writer introduces a useful metaphor: the Mammoth of Social Conformity that weighs us down. Very clever, the article synthesizes a lot of things I've been grappling with in the last few years. [Wait But Why]
  • The links between creativity and persistence [Pacific Standard]
  • Some of the beautiful signs you can find, if you look, in Paris (though some are now beginning to disappear) [Slate]

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