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Outliers: The Story of Success – Capitalizing On Your Opportunities (This Might Be My Favorite Thing That I Will Ever Post)

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For the last 6 years my very favorite book has been “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell. This book tells a story of modern man that resonates very deeply with me. He depicts the life stories of some very familiar cultural icons, and as a part of telling those stories he explains that these people had enormously unique opportunities, and then they took advantage of them. It wasn’t just that they were self-made people (he actually thinks that is a silly thing to say) because people need to have an opportunity to capitalize on. I have listened to this audiobook probably about 14 or 15 times at this point, and every time I think about some different, or other things just differently.

I wanted to post this first chapter because it describes something very important. Gladwell talks about the importance of interconnectedness, and the importance of having a civilly inclined community. My family has tried to use this as a model, some of us more than others, but this story of Roseto was very impactful to me. If you are from Oklahoma you might enjoy that the doctor being discussed in this 1950’s study is from the University of Oklahoma, so just a fun little heads up on that 🙂

I hope that you enjoy the article, but I also decided to post the entire audiobook from YouTube, I dare you to listen to is, and please tell me what you think if you do!

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FIRST CHAPTER

‘Outliers’

By MALCOLM GLADWELL
Published: November 28, 2008

Outlier, noun.
out·li·er

1 : something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body

2 : a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample

1. Roseto Valfortore lies one hundred miles southeast of Rome, in the Apennine foothills of the Italian province of Foggia. In the style of medieval villages, the town is organized around a large central square. Facing the square is the Palazzo Marchesale, the palace of the Saggese family, once the great landowner of those parts. An archway to one side leads to a church, the Madonna del Carmine — Our Lady of Mount Carmine. Narrow stone steps run up the hillside, flanked by closely-clustered two-story stone houses with red tile roofs.

For centuries, the paesani of Roseto worked in the marble quarries in the surrounding hills, or cultivated the fields in the terraced valley below, walking four and five miles down the mountain in the morning and then making the long journey back up the hill at night. It was a hard life. The townsfolk were barely literate and desperately poor and without much hope for economic betterment — until word reached Roseto at the end of the nineteenth century of the land of opportunity across the ocean.

In January of 1882, a group of eleven Rosetans — ten men and one boy — set sail for New York. They spent their first night in America sleeping on the floor of a tavern on Mulberry Street, in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Then they ventured west, ending up finding jobs in a slate quarry ninety miles west of the city in Bangor, Pennsylvania. The following year, fifteen Rosetans left Italy for America, and several members of that group ended up in Bangor as well, joining their compatriots in the slate quarry. Those immigrants, in turn, sent word back to Roseto about the promise of the New World, and soon one group of Rosetans after another packed up their bags and headed for Pennsylvania, until the initial stream of immigrants became a flood. In 1894 alone, some twelve hundred Rosetans applied for passports to America, leaving entire streets of their old village abandoned.

The Rosetans began buying land on a rocky hillside, connected to Bangor only by a steep, rutted wagon path. They built closely clustered two story stone houses, with slate roofs, on narrow streets running up and down the hillside. They built a church and called it Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and named the main street on which it stood Garibaldi Avenue, after the great hero of Italian unification. In the beginning, they called their town New Italy. But they soon changed it to something that seemed more appropriate, given that in the previous decade almost all of them had come from the same village in Italy. They called it Roseto.

In 1896, a dynamic young priest — Father Pasquale de Nisco — took over at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. De Nisco set up spiritual societies and organized festivals. He encouraged the townsfolk to clear the land, and plant onions, beans, potatoes, melons and fruit trees in the long backyards behind their houses. He gave out seeds and bulbs. The town came to life. The Rosetans began raising pigs in their backyard, and growing grapes for homemade wine. Schools, a park, a convent and a cemetery were built. Small shops and bakeries and restaurants and bars opened along Garibaldi Avenue. More than a dozen factories sprang up, making blouses for the garment trade. Neighboring Bangor was largely Welsh and English, and the next town over was overwhelmingly German, which meant — given the fractious relationships between the English and Germans and Italians, in those years — that Roseto stayed strictly for Rosetans: if you wandered up and down the streets of Roseto in Pennsylvania, in the first few decades after 1900, you would have heard only Italian spoken, and not just any Italian but the precise southern, Foggian dialect spoken back in the Italian Roseto. Roseto Pennsylvania was its own tiny, self-sufficient world — all but unknown by the society around it — and may well have remained so but for a man named Stewart Wolf.

Wolf was a physician. He studied digestion and the stomach, and taught in the medical school at the University of Oklahoma. He spent summers at a farm he’d bought in Pennsylvania. His house was not far from Roseto — but that, of course, didn’t mean much since Roseto was so much in its own world that you could live one town over and never know much about it. “One of the times when we were up there for the summer — this would have been in the late 1950’s, I was invited to give a talk at the local medical society,” Wolf said, years later, in an interview. “After the talk was over, one of the local doctors invited me to have a beer. And while we were having a drink he said, ‘You know, I’ve been practicing for seventeen years. I get patients from all over, and I rarely find anyone from Roseto under the age of sixty-five with heart disease.'”

Wolf was skeptical. This was the 1950’s, years before the advent of cholesterol lowering drugs, and aggressive prevention of heart disease. Heart attacks were an epidemic in the United States. They were the leading cause of death in men under the age of sixty-five. It was impossible to be a doctor, common sense said, and not see heart disease. But Wolf was also a man of deep curiosity. If somebody said that there were no heart attacks in Roseto, he wanted to find out whether that was true.

Wolf approached the mayor of Roseto and told him that his town represented a medical mystery. He enlisted the support of some of his students and colleagues from Oklahoma. They pored over the death certificates from residents of the town, going back as many years as they could. They analyzed physicians’ records. They took medical histories, and constructed family genealogies. “We got busy,” Wolf said. “We decided to do a preliminary study. We started in 1961. The mayor said — all my sisters are going to help you. He had four sisters. He said, ‘You can have the town council room.’ I said, ‘Where are you going to have council meetings?’ He said, ‘Well, we’ll postpone them for a while.’ The ladies would bring us lunch. We had little booths, where we could take blood, do EKGs. We were there for four weeks. Then I talked with the authorities. They gave us the school for the summer. We invited the entire population of Roseto to be tested.”

The results were astonishing. In Roseto, virtually no one under 55 died of a heart attack, or showed any signs of heart disease. For men over 65, the death rate from heart disease in Roseto was roughly half that of the United States as a whole. The death rate from all causes in Roseto, in fact, was something like thirty or thirty-five percent lower than it should have been.

Wolf brought in a friend of his, a sociologist from Oklahoma named John Bruhn, to help him. “I hired medical students and sociology grad students as interviewers, and in Roseto we went house to house and talked to every person aged twenty one and over,” Bruhn remembers. This had happened more than fifty years ago but Bruhn still had a sense of amazement in his voice as he remembered what they found. “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”

Wolf’s profession had a name for a place like Roseto — a place that lay outside everyday experience, where the normal rules did not apply. Roseto was an outlier.

2. Wolf’s first thought was that the Rosetans must have held on to some dietary practices from the old world that left them healthier than other Americans. But he quickly realized that wasn’t true. The Rosetans were cooking with lard, instead of the much healthier olive oil they used back in Italy. Pizza in Italy was a thin crust with salt, oil, and perhaps some tomatoes, anchovies or onions. Pizza in Pennsylvania was bread dough plus sausage, pepperoni, salami, ham and sometimes eggs. Sweets like biscotti and taralli used to be reserved for Christmas and Easter; now they were eaten all year round. When Wolf had dieticians analyze the typical Rosetan’s eating habits, he found that a whopping 41 percent of their calories came from fat. Nor was this a town where people got up at dawn to do yoga and run a brisk six miles. The Pennsylvanian Rosetans smoked heavily, and many were struggling with obesity.

If it wasn’t diet and exercise, then, what about genetics? The Rosetans were a close knit group, from the same region of Italy, and Wolf next thought was whether they were of a particularly hardy stock that protected them from disease. So he tracked down relatives of the Rosetans who were living in other parts of the United States, to see if they shared the same remarkable good health as their cousins in Pennsylvania. They didn’t.

He then looked at the region where the Rosetans lived. Was it possible that there was something about living in the foothills of Eastern Pennsylvania that was good for your health? The two closest towns to Roseto were Bangor, which was just down the hill, and Nazareth, a few miles away. These were both about the same size as Roseto, and populated with the same kind of hard-working European immigrants. Wolf combed through both towns’ medical records. For men over 65, the death rates from heart disease in Nazareth and Bangor were something like three times that of Roseto. Another dead end.

What Wolf slowly realized was that the secret of Roseto wasn’t diet or exercise or genes or the region where Roseto was situated. It had to be the Roseto itself. As Bruhn and Wolf walked around the town, they began to realize why. They looked at how the Rosetans visited each other, stopping to chat with each other in Italian on the street, or cooking for each other in their backyards. They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town’s social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in a town of just under 2000 people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the town, that discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures.

In transplanting the paesani culture of southern Italy to the hills of eastern Pennsylvania the Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world. The Rosetans were healthy because of where they were from, because of the world they had created for themselves in their tiny little town in the hills.

“I remember going to Roseto for the first time, and you’d see three generational family meals, all the bakeries, the people walking up and down the street, sitting on their porches talking to each other, the blouse mills where the women worked during the day, while the men worked in the slate quarries,” Bruhn said. “It was magical.”

When Bruhn and Wolf first presented their findings to the medical community, you can imagine the kind of skepticism they faced. They went to conferences, where their peers were presenting long rows of data, arrayed in complex charts, and referring to this kind of gene or that kind of physiological process, and they talked instead about the mysterious and magical benefits of people stopping to talk to each other on the street and having three generations living under one roof. Living a long life, the conventional wisdom said at the time, depended to a great extent on who we were — that is, our genes. It depended on the decisions people made — on what they chose to eat, and how much they chose to exercise, and how effectively they were treated by the medical system. No one was used to thinking about health in terms of a place.

Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that you couldn’t understand why someone was healthy if all you did was think about their individual choices or actions in isolation. You had to look beyond the individual. You had to understand what culture they were a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town in Italy their family came from. You had to appreciate the idea that community — the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with — has a profound effect on who we are. The value of an outlier was that it forced you to look a little harder and dig little deeper than you normally would to make sense of the world. And if you did, you could learn something from the outlier than could use to help everyone else.

In Outliers, I want to do for our understanding of success what Stewart Wolf did for our understanding of health.

(Continues…)

Excerpted from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell Copyright © 2008 by Malcolm Gladwell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

*If you’d like to finish the book you can either listen to the audiobook posted above or buy it. I’m also happy to lend a copy to anyone who enjoyed this.

Warning This is Graphic – Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer

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WARNING: this is one of the more got wrenching and heartbreaking documentaries I’ve ever watched, and it is graphic. This is a personal piece about a personable man, who had some personal problems, that were compounded by cruel treatment. In our increasingly technological world things are easily marginalized and magnified to exceptional degrees.

This documentary is about a man named Budd Dwyer, who served in state politics for the state of Pennsylvania. I actually lived in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, off and on for about two months. The tragic event that took place at the Capitol happened about three or four blocks from where I lived. Budd Dwyer seemed to be a people pleaser, and when the people and the rhetoric turned against him it was too much… This happened in the late 1980s, which in reality was not that long ago, but in terms of communication and technology it is a world apart.

People love to criticize politicians and public servants – but when they get a sincere one it’s very likely that they might mistreat them. If people wonder why they question politicians and politics so much they should probably consider the nuances involved, and the maze that is created by hyper-partisan rhetoric. This story should be told as an example of how we should not treat others, and that includes our elected officials.

WARNING: this is graphic. And if you are already experiencing depression I don’t think you should watch this.

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Swing State Polls as of First Debate

So it’s the day of the First presidential debate of 2012. Morning Joe did some analysis of the holes today in swing states. It sounds like Ohio is a lost cause for Mitt Romney, but maybe we can make history and win the presidency without it. I don’t think that’s likely… But we will just have to see.

The three poles that they seem to find most notable were in: Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.

Republicans do not win the Presidency without winning Ohio… But everything that isn’t is a rule, until of course that rule is broken.

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They also discussed Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada:

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It seems obvious to me that the 2 states to consider on this list are Ohio and Florida. However, the states not on this list that probably need the most consideration are: Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The Midwest is becoming the new South in Republican politics, and therefore Presidential politics. But we’ll see if they can get a real stronghold over the next few years. I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s just get ready for this debate tonight.

Median Household Income and Benefits By State (2010)

While I do believe in having some collectivist programs to keep this country as one nation, I understand that these gaps will really make some of those collectivist ideas on a national scale hard to pull off…

Little Rock, Here I Come!!! (And Rockapella)

Friday, December 17, 2010

On The Road Again

In May I moved back to my parent’s house in Norman from school in Stillwater. In October I moved to Harrisburg, PA (but spent a lot of time in Washington D.C.), and now in December I’m moving to Little Rock, Arkansas to manage an Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt shop. I’m really excited about running a small business. I’ve always been numbers oriented, and I think that keeping track of purchasing as well as doing the financials for the store will be just like a more intense sudoko puzzle, that I’ll get paid to do!! Hahaha, I say that jokingly, but that is kind of the attitude that I’m going to try to take, it would help me do better in school when I had that attitude.

I’ve truly enjoyed my time in Pennsylvania with my sister Carrick. She is such a wonderful friends, and a great older sibling. I’m really going to miss curling up and watching one of our shows over some dinner that we made (which was a big thing for me).

This past night was my last night and Carrick and I went to see the group “Rockapella”, and if you haven’t heard of them you should just look them up on YouTube. They basically remake Pop songs in accapella, and I have loved them for about 5 years, so it was great to meet them.

Here’s me with the main singer and organizer for the group Scott Leonard.

Oh, and also on the walk to the theater we saw this sign, and thought that it was cool:

I am packing right now, and need to get some rest, so I will update along the way.

P.S.
Here is a video that I made by taping my camera to the front of the bus as the No Labels team was pulling in to New York. Enjoy:

I’m Now a Native Harrisburger!!!

Updated: October 20

So I realized that I needed to share a couple of videos that I took on my way to Harrisburg, PA from Oklahoma.

The first one is of about the first hour of my drive starting exactly at downtown and just driving East on I-40 until this song ran out. The video was a time lapse, which means that I was holding my camera while I was driving and it took a picture every 1 second and it tied them together to make a video. I just thought it was fun.

The second video is from the Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forrest football game. Apparently at the end of every 3rd quarter they play the “Hokie Pokie”, and pretty much everyone wants to dance, but only the brave few actually do it. Oh, and It is cool because they invite some of the other teams band to participate (the people in the white). Enjoy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I’m excited to say that after driving and exploring for about 5 days I’ve finally made it to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I’ll be staying with my sister Carrick for a while. While I’m hear I am going to look for work, and travel. I’m trying to get all of that kid out of my system as much as I can before I have to conform to the norm more so.

I just thought that I would let everyone who has been calling/texting or whatever else to keep up with me that I have arrived!! I’ve very excited to spend this time with my sister, and even in the 1 day that we’ve already had together I’ve had a blast.

P.S. On part of my drive I’ve been listening to “Freakonomics” on audio, and so far I love it… As an Econ major I was a little bit worried that it would challenge me in some way and make me feel bad about my lack of real economic expertise, however I have found the book to be very, very easy to understand, and very worthwhile. I just thought I’d throw that out there for anyone who cares. I’ll probably be posting about the book soon.

Moving to/Visiting Pennsylvania

Monday, October 11, 2010

Updated: I just added the video that we recorded from when my mom, Carrick and I were all setting up the apartment in early July. We thought that I would probably go there at the time, and so we set up a room for me, but now it’s actually happening. Enjoy, and feel free to give me feedback.

For the last few months I’ve had to analyze my life and try to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Of course people do this throughout their lives, but now that I’ve graduated from college the time has come for me to become much more proactive in becoming the grown man that I want to be. One of the biggest lessons that I learned during college was that taking a big step after college can really help a person grow. I learned that first in Dr. Halligan’s class about the history of higher education, but I also had a real life lesson when I went to China for a semester and was forced out of my comfort zone a little bit. Because I believe so much in stepping out and giving yourself a chance to fail I’m going to be making what could be considered my first of many steps towards my grown-up future. This week I will be driving my little green Ford Ranger to Pennsylvania to stay/live with my sister Carrick. I haven’t had the chance to live with her for more than a couple of days or weeks at a time since I was in 8th grade (2001).

I don’t have a grand plan yet, but I am excited to see what is out there. I have saved a little bit of money, not a lot, and I plan to travel and stay with some friends in the North East while I can. I will be applying for jobs in Oklahoma, as well as in the North East (so feel free to let me know if you hear about any good jobs ;-).

Here is a video of the apartment:

The apartment!

And here is the route I’m taking to get there:
The route, for now (it could change).

This summer I had time to do some “odd jobs”, but mostly I spent my summer working with preschoolers at Pumpkin Shell school, with my mom. Working with my mom has been an absolute blast, and I am going to miss riding to work with her, a lot. But we’ll have plenty of chances to do more fun stuff like that when I come back. For now my plan is literally to go explore as much as I can with the little money that I have, and I just thought that I should share that with my friends and family who cared to hear about it. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers during my travel this week, I’ll be driving alone.

One thing that I’m very excited about is going to the rally in D.C. on October 30th being put on by Jon Stewart that he has named “The Rally to Restore Sanity”. I think that if nothing else it will be funny, and a fun cultural experience for me. Here is a link to what I’m talking about:
Rally to Restore Sanity

Being from Oklahoma, and Stewart being considered somewhat liberal I understand that many of you will think that this is Grady just being a big liberal and being ashamed of where he comes from… Not true, but if you do feel that way I’d love to talk about it. The whole point of his rally is supposed to be about being more reasonable in our discourse, and not just calling the other side evil, or crazy for thinking that something else might work better than what someone else thinks.

Ok, I didn’t mean to get political or anything, just telling about an upcoming event that I think will be super fun. If anyone wants to talk while I’m driving over the next few days I would love it so feel free to text/call me anytime. (but of course I can’t text back while I’m driving.)

Alright, it’s time for me to stop ranting and start packing up my stuff. I am planning to leave tomorrow (Tuesday, October 12) and I’ll get there either Thursday or Friday, depending on how distracted I get by things on the way. If you’re reading this I love you, and I hope to talk to you soon.

Grady

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