The Exact Word

The last several years have been spent (among other things) studying related things across a few disciplines, with the desire of becoming a more well-rounded person. Through this, I've learned a few thematic things, and one of them is that improving one's vocabulary rarely gets old. This is generally because you get the joy of realizing that there are specific words dedicated to entire concepts - however abstract - that you may often think about. This word, discovered years ago, is one of them. An otherwise verbose and potentially vague concept, distilled into a few syllables. Beautiful. 

And even better was pairing that thought straight back to a book I thoroughly enjoyed - The Conquest of Happiness (online here) by Bertrand Russell, which manages to be both of its time and occasionally timeless. After writing at length about the importance of cultivating the will in order to achieve our goals in life (for which it is an indispensable component), he then cautioned against relying on it excessively. 

Podcast: University of Chicago Professor on Research

Our latest guest on the podcast Alex and I run is Dr. Andrew Abbott, a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. He talks about learning via the experience of his students and the general decline of research skills, as well as the researcher's relationship with the Internet. One particular quote I liked of his: 

We’re moving to a point where everyone in the world thinks everything can be abstracted... This notion that you can get to ‘the point’ and extract ‘the point’ has become central to people’s thinking about how knowledge works. Well, that isn’t the way knowledge works, and we’re actually in a bigger crisis about this, than about libraries. The bigger problem is that students coming up don’t actually know what knowledge is. They only know what the internet is. And the experiential message of the internet is that everything has an address somewhere, you just need to find it, you just need an address. Of course, that’s not what knowledge is. Knowing is not knowing a web address. It’s assembling things, it’s making new things in your own head. The internet only teaches you to find things.
— Dr. Andrew Abbott

Checkout the show here

My New Favorite Correction


Flipping through an (otherwise) useful story on IS and antiquities, saw this little note at the bottom here, which gave me pause. Not even for all the usual reasons about how different those two countries are (the numbers and key dates here, as at least a first step, though honestly probably better to just look at a map - you don't exactly learn much about a place from their key exports) but just for the sentence itself - that IS could have been in Iran at all, letting alone smashing antiquities. All in all, another baffling day for the US in the Middle East. 

Hosting a Yemen Expert on our Podcast

Listen to / download this show (and view the links to useful resources) here.

By: Alex Strick van Linschoten and Matt Trevithick

Description: Our guest this week is Gregory Johnsen, author of "The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia." Johnsen went to Jordan with the Peace Corps and first went to Yemen on a Fulbright Fellowship. In addition to his book, he has also written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy and others. He holds a BA in History, an MA in Near Eastern studies from the University of Arizona and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University. He was the 2013 - 2014 Michael Hastings National Security Reporting Fellow at Buzzfeed. We talk to Gregory about writing books, learning languages and how to get to know complicated places. Show notes are available at