Occam’s Razor

October 26, 2007

Are You Kidding Me?!@

Filed under: Uncategorized — lesturla @ 1:19 pm

An executive pardon??? Are you fuckin kidding me? Could that midget of a President be more guilty of all the allegations thrown at her? Don’t you fuckin forget that you were propelled to your position by people who marched to unseat that filthy bastard out of Malacanang!

I for one marched along EDSA during that time. So it fucking irritates me that you’d pardon the sonofabitch and put to waste what I, along with millions of Filipinos, fought for. And what you say is your reason? Fuck your reasons. We all know why you did this!

Oh you’re so quivering with fear right now because you know you were exposed and are vulnerable. So you had to use a lifeline. While you do this shitty stunt, I want you to know that you disgust me! I am ashamed that you are the President of my country!


Hoy GMA, that corrupt sonofabitch was convicted of stealing from the country’s coffers. Meaning yung tax na binabayaran ko for years binulsa nya! That’s one-and-a-half iPod Classic worth of my salary EVERY FREAKIN month. Put that in perspective, in a few months meron na dapat akong MacBook Pro! Pero I gave that to the government and this mofo stole it. Same case sa mga ibang Pinoy — that dude stole from us. we put you on your seat para lang you can pardon this bastardous thief? Some bitch you are!


October 18, 2007


In the mail today: some documents from the Foreign Affairs and a copy of Ian McEwan‘s Atonement — the main reason why I have this wild grin on my face. I have previously read Atonement about six years ago (bought the book twice and lost it twice) but I felt this strong urge to read it again due to the Booker Prize fever I am currently having.

My problem has been that here in Hanoi it is so difficult to get books that I’d care to read. Yes, I was able to get a copy of Catch 22 and Mr. Nice but they’re rip off’s as in photocopies of the real books — xerox with a putrid ink scent from a possibly beat up copier with the edges of the pages coming off as you flip through the book. It’s horrible! I have scoured all the bookstores here and saw quite a number of interesting titles. Alas, they are all translated in Vietnamese and possibly censored, too.

This of course made me want to acquire books even more. More than any time in my life I am craving for literature. I wake up each morning reaching beside me for a book but there is none! I tried to quench this urge by reading blogs like a total maniac but nothing beats the feeling of leafing through pages and hearing that flicking sound of pages turning while avoiding a nasty papercut. Or smelling ink on paper while you are in the midst of say Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love.

Thanks to my ate for sending me Atonement, I am finally going to be able to read good literature of the non-boring kind. Quite honestly I would rather read a good book again than waste time in say, HP ooops did I hurt any fans’ feelings? Oh, I blogged about HP before and yes I will someday try to read the darned thing when I’m done re-reading Ian McEwan.

Is it too obvious now that I am a rabid fan? If you’ve previously read Ian (yes first name basis) you’d know what I’m talking about. If not, well YOU HAD BETTER READ THE GUY! I usually recommend reading Enduring Love first because that book has the best opening scenes (yes scenes) I’ve read in the past ten years. Its exposition of a person with de Clerambault’s Syndrome (a disorder which makes the sufferer believe that another person is in love with them) and how it affected the life of his character Joe Rose is far from clinical as it is sordid. The subject itself is very interesting, I mean how many times have you had suspicions that a particular person is in love with you or vice versa? In this book, your suspicions become real and you’d have a very close glimpse of your vain thoughts and feel how these suspicions, translated to reality, can actually be completely destructive and tragic in a non sappy kind of way.

But the best thing about Ian is that he writes with so much ease that as many critics say, it’s as though the words are transparent and what he writes is not even inked on paper but are mere thoughts that are flowing in your mind or are scenes that you see with your naked eyes. Flipping through an Ian McEwan book is like watching a movie with perfect cinematography, compelling story and real life dialogues. His characters’ thoughts make you feel telepathic.

Enduring Love was made into a movie in 2004 and it didn’t quite work for me. So I’m hoping that Joe Wright’s movie version of Atonement will do the book some justice. He did a pretty good job with Pride & Prejudice. Atonement stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. It is a tale of how one small mistake (in this case a kid’s annoying mischief) can have dire life-long consequences. (This actually reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder in a weird stroke of parallel). Read the book first before you watch the movie. Always works best that way.

Yesterday, this year’s Booker Prize was awarded to Anne Enright for her book The Gathering. I was rooting for Ian to win for On Chesil Beach although I haven’t read it yet (kasi nga walang expat friendly bookstore dito sa Hanoi), mainly because I feel that he should have won for Atonement on 2001. But then again this ain’t the Oscars with a backlogged awards system. I was told that On Chesil Beach is his weakest work but damn he still got shortlisted for the Booker. Ian has previously won the Booker Prize for Amsterdam.

I already emailed bookstores in KL so hopefully when I go there next month I will bring with me tons of books to keep me occupied for a few months here in Hanoi. Until then you can choose to send me a book or two because you’re, well, in the mood to do so. Teehee! Hint: I’m trying to put together the six shortlisted books for this year’s Booker:

·         Darkmans by Nicola Barker

·         The Gathering by Anne Enright

·         The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

·         Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

·         On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

·         Animal’s People by Indra Sinha

Message me if you want my mailing address. Yeah, like seriously!

October 16, 2007

Dans La Crainte

Some explanation on why I am passionately awed by this robotic-balletic-perfectly idyllic tennis god named Roger Federer. His peers praise him on end. People whom he should have as idols like Borg, Becker, McEnroe all bow to him and his talent. They pronounce him the greatest ever. Who am I to question that even for a bit? Watch him play and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Here are some quotes from Tennis Planet. One of ’em blogs I stalk.

What Roddick said last year when he lost to Roger in Cincinnati:

INTERVIEWER: Last time, at Wimbledon, you said “Next time I may have to punch him.” Do you have a plan B?
RODDICK: Kick him.

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel like Federer is the guy everyone is chasing?
RODDICK: Yeah basically nobody stands a chance against him… maybe we should all join together, you know like Power Rangers or something….

-”I am getting really sick of this guy,” Ljubicic joked. “But I guess he likes the same tournament as me, so I will have to keep seeing him. It is the first time I have done something like this. It seems I have to be careful choosing my tournaments in the future.”

-“He’s the most gifted player that I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve seen a lot of people play. I’ve seen the (Rod) Lavers, I played against some of the great players – the Samprases, Beckers, Connors’, Borgs, you name it. This guy could be the greatest of all time. That, to me, says it all.” – John McEnroe, winner of 7 Grand Slams.

-“I’d like to be in his shoes for one day to know what it feels like to play that way.” – Mats Wilander, winner of 6 Grand Slams.

-“Roger can produce tennis shots that should be declared illegal” – Tracy Austin

-“But there’s probably — I don’t think there’s anyone that hits the ball like that. Sure, if you take Roddick’s serve and Agassi’s returns and my volleys and Hewitt’s speed and tenacity, then you’ve probably got a good chance against Federer (laughter). That’s a lot of people involved in, you know, one player.”  Tim Henman

A quote from an article on James Blake:

Despite his recent play or, more likely, because he represents the Great American Hope, Tennis Magazine picked Blake to win the U.S. Open.

“Someone there hasn’t been paying attention if they are picking against Roger [Federer],” Blake said. “If you poll the top 200 guys in the world, about 199 are going to say Roger. The only one who won’t is Roger because he’s too nice about it.”

“I just have a very strong belief in my capabilities, in not showing my opponent how I feel fighting like crazy even though it doesn’t look like I am.”– Roger Federer on himself after beating Richard Gasquet in Toranto Masters.-

“I’d love to cook an egg on Rogies head.”-Tiger Woods.


reposted from Tennis Planet

October 15, 2007

I Want Your Flag

Filed under: drivel, play, travel, world — lesturla @ 8:04 am

I have this silly fascination with flags lately courtesy of Globetrackr.com. I have since included this “widget” in my wordpress blog. And I must admit that everytime I get a new hit from a new spot in the world I get a silly high. At the top are the flag hits that my blog has received (can’t do it here in Multiply though.)

As you can see, I have so far amassed hits from the UK to Munich to both US coasts all the way to Caloocan. Besides Vietnam, my hits mostly come from the US. The Philippines is only at third place in terms of the traffic that my site receives. I am sure to get hits from East and West Coasts because of family and friends over there. But my friends in PI should really step up a bit (hahaha!) and give me those hits! I don’t even think that the traffic I’ve been getting from PI are from friends, I mean I have received hits from Caloocan and Roosevelt — places that I’ve never been to (not by choice but there just wasn’t a chance).

And boy, Munich? UK? Possibly random hits although it will be a blast to realize that I have readers from those places who find my extremely self absorbed posts entertaining. The funny thing is I don’t even have ads in my blog yet so this fascination is really just for the “kilig” factor knowing that you are read around the world! Wahoo! Les Turla is going global ampotah! I feel like giving away virtual beers again! Yebah! I know it’s extremely babaw but what the heck, I find joy in simple things like this. So give this one to me na. Knowing me, I’m sure to outgrow this fascination in say two more weeks… but right now… Woohoo! I’m lovin it heaps!

October 14, 2007

On What’s Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — lesturla @ 5:32 pm

October has been one heck of a busy month. It’s only the 14th and I feel as though I’ve put in one whole month of work already. So now I blog and there are some bits and pieces that have happened here in Hanoi that I haven’t blogged about yet.

For example a few months back we had a chance to meet some Pinoys here in Hanoi. It was quite an impressive mix of people, we’ve got an international lawyer, diplomats who work for the Philippine Embassy, an Urban Planner who works for the World Bank and of course a Global Outsourcing Professional (ako yun, I just made my job title a little, err, high fallutin). We had dinner at this swanky, over-priced resto-bar in Hanoi Towers and proceeded to have coffee at Highlands Coffee (their version of Starfucks oops Starbucks pala). We talked about Manila and how each of the people round the table misses Manila already. But that conversation didn’t really stick to me coz at that time I was at a stage of thinking that missing Manila is a bit ridiculous since, well, I was just in Manila a few weeks back then.

I remembered though the conversation about the Chocolate Buffet at Sofitel Metropole which Thea and I still haven’t tried yet so must make mental note to go there soon. I have however, during one wandering-around-Hanoi noon-time, tried their lunch buffet. It was actually pretty good my Shang and Marriott raised palate was treated to a wide selection of European dishes. I totally snubbed their Japanese food section although I am a Japanese food fiend. I especially loved their selection of cheese and scooped up their unending serving of caviar with matching Italian red wine. The best thing about going to good restos here in Hanoi is that the waitresses speak French. So with all the Sofitel ambience and European food feeling mo talaga nasa Paris ka. My conversation with the waitress:

Me: Parlez-vous l’anglais? (although I knew she could speak some English)
Waitress: Oui! Comment est-ce que je peux vous aider?
Me: Je voudrais essayer le votre secoue.

Basically, meaningless and I’m pretty sure mispronounced French. Nonetheless I had a blast.

A few weeks back I also finally decided to cut my hair. My motivation to have it long then was that I never really had it long before. And my motivation to cut it short now? I was starting to look like a dirty professor when I go to work — the type you’d make fun with kasi hindi nagsusuklay. Good thing that they have Toni&Guy here although I never really tried T&G in Manila but their stylist here was really good.

Oh, and I also took to heart our Vietnamese life and leased a motorbike. This actually made people at work so excited that I have locals asking me left and right how I find it. I tell them it’s fun coz during the weekends when you use the motorbike for pasyal it can be fun. But heck when you have to ride it going to work amid the Hanoi traffic:

it can really bad. But I have since learned to drive through the pavement albeit ever so carefully in traffic cases like the one in this photo. And cussing in English goes a long way here. Who would have thought that yelling “Outta my way styoopid fart!” can make people freeze in their tracks? But some of the disturbing things I’ve noticed was that motorists here can get really hot tempered. Geez, ilang suntukan na sa daan ang na witness namin ni Thea. And everytime we make usyoso talaga the classic Pinoy way with Thea providing commentaries like, “Oh my god, I think he’s really gonna kill the other guy na!” or, blow! “Ay!” blow! “Ay!”. One time a motorist ran to a sidewalk vendor and got the poor vendor’s knife to make saksak his kalaban with in the street duel. I stared at them and thought shet parang Fernando Poe movie. Asiong Salonga in Hanoi!

I also experienced getting caught in the rain on my way to work. So you could imagine how much cursing was involved while I got wet and gooey. Compound that with the fact na it’s autumn here and it can get a bit cold especially when it rains so I was wet and cold and I didn’t really like the fact that I was scampering like a literal na basang sisiw looking for a shed while I wait for the rain to stop. Eeeek!

On a darker note, just yesterday we saw a guy killed in a motor accident as in with oozing blood from the face and a desperate man (whom we thought was the one responsible for the accident) trying to shake him up in a desperate attempt to wake him up. Our reactions:

Thea: “Oh my god, may patay sa daan Boo!”
Me: “Huh?” I slowed down, got about 10 feet away from the mob of people making usyoso. I didn’t speak further as I tried to analyze the crime scene a la Grissom of CSI. With distraction of the mob and all the shock that comes with seeing the scene I didn’t get much out of it.
Thea: “Did these people bother calling 911 or an ambulance man lang? Oh my God, I think he’s dead!”

Sadly the other man kept shaking the victim. If the victim were merely unconscious with all the injuries he’d have had he would have had died because of the shaking that could have snapped his spine and stopped blood flow to his brain. Even more sad is that amid all the bickering and analyzing we did nothing to help. We felt a bit guilty later on for not calling 911 or its equivalent here coz well, we didn’t know 911’s equivalent here and we were shocked! We treaded on with the speed of a turtle on tranquilizers and went to the dentist for our appointment. It was not the first time we saw a bloody scene in the streets of Hanoi due to motorcycle accident but seeing death freezes us and saps out something in us — that thing that would be bibo enough to do something significant to help.

If you can see the photo of the traffic above you’d notice how motorists don’t bother wearing helmets. Very few people actually wear helmets here. Relatively speaking, motorbiking in Hanoi should not be all too dangerous because the streets are narrow like that of Italy’s and the traffic is not really that fast. But some motorists like anywhere else in the world really want to be daredevils and like the man from yesterday, they don’t bother putting on helmets. From all that I’ve seen, the novelty of riding motorbikes has surely ended. I’ll just finish the lease and settle with riding cabs after. Nonetheless, I promise to ride ever so carefully and I would never forget my helmet.

On a lighter note Thea and I got influenced by Cullen to try on new things like, kiddie slides and rides:

Anyway, what else has been keeping me busy? This:

My endless fascination with my Roger Federer – Pete Sampras and Nadal – Gasquet exhibition tickets. Also my Krzysztof Kieślowski collection. Thea and I just finished watching Blue from the Three Colors cycle. Stars Juliette Binoche (nurse Hanna in The English Patient and star of Chocolat). I am convinced completely that Kieslowski is a genius of the lens. Each frame in this movie is a meaningful photograph with carefully choreographed pans of the camera and oh so lovely splashes of blue here and there. No wonder Blue consistently makes it in the listS of greatest movies ever made. Will tell you more when I finish his collection especially when I finish the highly acclaimed Decalogue. I’m also starting on The Sopranos. Will fill you in soon with the experience. Right now my two-year old is bugging me to sing the Barney song. So next time.

October 9, 2007

Vampire Runs

Filed under: Uncategorized — lesturla @ 10:21 am

I’ve never been one to like outdoor activities, heck I don’t even like the beach save for Bora or some awesome Carribean beach I’m destined to see someday. In fact, I secretly define outdoor running as a desperate attempt to achieving distance when glaring and/or throwing invectives don’t work in throwing disgusting humanoids off of my periphery.

Having said that, why then was I out of town for two days getting all outdoorsy and running with a fierce smile?

It was for a good cause… Alright, i’m kidding! Although in a genuinely non-sarcastic manner, that is also true. We took existing and potential leaders in the company I work for to a two-day out of town leadership training.

Oh, and there was a team competition involved a la Amazing Race but with five members and no flights to catch involved. Or at least that’s how I treated it to be, since I am unforgivably, intrinsically and neurotically competitive (imagine Cristina Yang of Grey’s Anatomy screaming “What’s up!?!” and “Come on!@!” at every challenge a la Lleyton Hewitt).

I thought this is it! All those dreams of joining the Amazing Race have finally come to these two glorious days! My team will win! (Insert cracking knuckles, neck bending and jumping in position emoticons here. Alternatively, you can imagine Gollum saying, “My preciousssss!” That’s how bad it is.)

I was still asleep when I got to the pick up point and officially woke up only when we got to the “Lake House” the venue for the leadership training. Hence I was in an extremely gullible state during the bus ride. Proof:

Owing to the fact that I am wearing army type Abercrombie shorts and “Vietcong Style” cap, they asked me to make a Vietcong pose but I didn’t hear clearly coz I was still technically asleep. So I did it again, here:

Boy, I suck at being a soldier. Anyway, I lost interest in the story that I was gonna say. Plus I’m busy making the slide show for the event. So here are the pictures:


Team cheer? Like song and dance? We’re so fucked! I couldn’t dance to save my life!

Roll the lemmins! Yay we won here, we also won in charades, pick the balloon, pretty much during day one my team dominated save for the cursed Team Cheer competition.


Passing the French, Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese message.


Photo Op

Second place finish here. The Quack Quack team!

Day two: exercise with Ric.

The most stable tower. Basically we scare off the judge and say, IT’S STABLE!!!

How very kanto boy running with no shoes!

My first time to experience water falls! That fat naked idiot at the top is me!

I totally fell in love with the lake here!

Oh and before I forget, my team was overall champion. Teehee!

September 26, 2007

Buti Na Lang

Filed under: Uncategorized — lesturla @ 6:14 pm

What the fuck am I doing up this late when I gotsta go to work in the morneng? I can’t sleep. I’m having one of them “too-many-shit-cycloning-in-my-mind” spells. Was having terrible migraine already this afternoon because of too much thinking all day so I had to take 2 glasses (not cups) of unadulterated Vietnamese coffee. Migraine gone but shit cyclone went on full throttle. You guessed it right, migraine looms anew in a few hours unless of course I get to sleep. Which won’t happen because of the freakin effective coffee.

Anyway, on a positive note, buti na lang TJ brainwashed me to drop the Bangkok Open at buti na lang din I found out that Rafa will be in KL on November so I willingly obliged with no hard feelings to forego Bangkok — why? Coz Rafa, Nole, Roddick (the top three seeds) withdrew from the poor tournament in Bangkok. Which means Tommy Haas na lang the one worthy to watch. Other almost worthy names also got eliminated during the early rounds so if ever I pushed through I would have probably be cursing at the high skies by now.

These big tennis stars what I hate about them is how obviously Asian tourney are no biggie for them. They withdraw from the tournament with no remorse and can cite a plethora of reasons. The easiest of course will be injuries. At the same time it’s hard to blame them coz these are like latak tournaments na, what with all the 4 Grand Slams done already obviously they’d only want to win these small tourneys if number 1. they need the money, 2. they need those points to end the year at number 1. Eh does not apply to any of them, it’s not like anyone can topple Roger at the top anytime soon. And since they are the top players, they get millions from endorsement deals so what for do they need the barya they can win from say the Bangkok Open?

You know it’s a bad thing that I am up at this time coz fuck I’m speaking this horrible hybrid language again. Must get sleep and hopefully tomorrow I’m a normal person again sans this horrible language deficiency.

September 20, 2007


Filed under: Uncategorized — lesturla @ 7:34 am

Over the past few days I have been thinking a lot on how classmates from grade school, high school and college are doing now. My hope of course is that everyone’s enjoying their bliss or at least are having a great time pursuing them.

It started with a YM conference that I had with Joy and Ryan. We were having casual discussion on how life has been for us. Joy is now an expectant mother and has since established a career as an Industrial Engineer. Ryan has passed the Medical Board exams and is keen on becoming an extraordinary doctor along the lines of Burke of Grey’s. A lot of our classmates have made it big already and quite a number of them are at least pursuing their dreams. I’ve always maintained that the pursuit of dreams often provides for more meaningful joy than its achievement, so I had my peace. In essence I was glad that people are doing well.

It disturbs me however that last night, I was laughing my head off upon discovering that one of our classmates is now pursuing a career as a Jollibee mascot. Right there on his online profile, was a photo of him wearing Jollibee’s costume with Jollibee’s head in his right hand as though it were some helmet that he just took off. The caption read: I’m Jollibee. How freaky is that? He is Jollibee and it dawned to me that fuck, I used to be classmates with Jollibee!

I first thought that it was some really good albeit sick joke that he was playing but then when I clicked for the next photo, he was with ten other Jollibee mascots.

Apparently, the Jollibees were in a meeting of sorts. Imagine how the boardroom talks go with them bees all in one room.

At this point I couldn’t hold my laughter anymore and I had to share it with someone, so I pinged Stine in Chicago and showed her the pictures. We spent the next 15 minutes or so in a good cross continental laugh.

And then I started to think, was it such a mean thing for me to be laughing that way?

I’m giving myself a break here, after all I chunk mimes, clowns and mascots into the collective freak category. Call me a wuss but they scare me on end although from a distance I find them a bit hilarious. I am laughing not because of the odd career choice but with the fact that I can now call Jollibee a former classmate. Perfect! Even more, the sight of ten Jollibees in one place making weird poses is much too freaky funny for me. I immediately imagined being in a room full of Jollibees and I imagined myself scared at wits end possibly screaming with fear like a total wimp.

Is it possible that I have turned into a horrible human being who laughs at possibly another clear reminder of the lack of choices in our homeland? Or perhaps, was I ridiculing what could be a downright passion to being a mascot? Or is it because I laugh at almost anything that I see?

Whatever it is, the laughter sure didn’t last long.

September 17, 2007

It’s Final!

Sealed it! Nailed it! It’s final!

I am going to see Roger “mindworks”Federer play against Pete Sampras on 22nd November in Kuala Lumpur (they called the event Clash of Times: Roger Federer vs Pete Sampras.) My tickets are confirmed and will be arriving via courrier next week. Seats are Section West – Category C. The tickets started selling last Saturday and quickly got sold out for Categories A & B which are the prime seats but my seats aren’t too bad in fact I was told they have better view although di masyadong center.

But wait, there’s more! I just found out today when I purchased the tickets that Rafa Nadal will also have an exhibition match 2 days before the Federer-Sampras showdown vs. Richard Gasquet another very promising and highly talented young tennis pro. So what did Lesley do? I bought tickets for their match, too. I love it! This means I won’t have to go to Bangkok later on this month to see Rafa in action. Plus I got a prime seat North Category B, baby! Which means prime view of the players during changeovers. Woohoo!

Alright, now I just have to catch my breath and take this moment in. Need to get in touch with friends in Kuala Lumpur for pasyal buddies! Thea, Cullen and I will be there from 20th November and will leave for Hanoi on the 23rd. The 21st will be free for pasyal as well as daytime of the 22nd. So for those who’ve been to KL, suggestions for best pasyal places are most welcome!

Weehee! Literal I was jumping like a kid sa yosi area kanina! Love it! Love it!


Thanks Ric for the help!

for those lookin for tickets, you can buy online from here

September 13, 2007

Harvard Commencement Remark of Bill Gates

Filed under: Uncategorized — lesturla @ 6:06 am


(Text as prepared for delivery)

President Bok, former President Rudenstine, incoming President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, parents, and especially, the graduates:

I’ve been waiting more than 30 years to say this: “Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree.”

I want to thank Harvard for this timely honor. I’ll be changing my job next year … and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume.

I applaud the graduates today for taking a much more direct route to your degrees. For my part, I’m just happy that the Crimson has called me “Harvard’s most successful dropout.” I guess that makes me valedictorian of my own special class … I did the best of everyone who failed.

But I also want to be recognized as the guy who got Steve Ballmer to drop out of business school. I’m a bad influence. That’s why I was invited to speak at your graduation. If I had spoken at your orientation, fewer of you might be here today.

Harvard was just a phenomenal experience for me. Academic life was fascinating. I used to sit in on lots of classes I hadn’t even signed up for. And dorm life was terrific. I lived up at Radcliffe, in Currier House. There were always lots of people in my dorm room late at night discussing things, because everyone knew I didn’t worry about getting up in the morning. That’s how I came to be the leader of the anti-social group. We clung to each other as a way of validating our rejection of all those social people.

Radcliffe was a great place to live. There were more women up there, and most of the guys were science-math types. That combination offered me the best odds, if you know what I mean. This is where I learned the sad lesson that improving your odds doesn’t guarantee success.

One of my biggest memories of Harvard came in January 1975, when I made a call from Currier House to a company in Albuquerque that had begun making the world’s first personal computers. I offered to sell them software.

I worried that they would realize I was just a student in a dorm and hang up on me. Instead they said: “We’re not quite ready, come see us in a month,” which was a good thing, because we hadn’t written the software yet. From that moment, I worked day and night on this little extra credit project that marked the end of my college education and the beginning of a remarkable journey with Microsoft.

What I remember above all about Harvard was being in the midst of so much energy and intelligence. It could be exhilarating, intimidating, sometimes even discouraging, but always challenging. It was an amazing privilege – and though I left early, I was transformed by my years at Harvard, the friendships I made, and the ideas I worked on.

But taking a serious look back … I do have one big regret.

I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world – the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.

I learned a lot here at Harvard about new ideas in economics and politics. I got great exposure to the advances being made in the sciences.

But humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement.

I left campus knowing little about the millions of young people cheated out of educational opportunities here in this country. And I knew nothing about the millions of people living in unspeakable poverty and disease in developing countries.

It took me decades to find out.

You graduates came to Harvard at a different time. You know more about the world’s inequities than the classes that came before. In your years here, I hope you’ve had a chance to think about how – in this age of accelerating technology – we can finally take on these inequities, and we can solve them.

Imagine, just for the sake of discussion, that you had a few hours a week and a few dollars a month to donate to a cause – and you wanted to spend that time and money where it would have the greatest impact in saving and improving lives. Where would you spend it?

For Melinda and for me, the challenge is the same: how can we do the most good for the greatest number with the resources we have.

During our discussions on this question, Melinda and I read an article about the millions of children who were dying every year in poor countries from diseases that we had long ago made harmless in this country. Measles, malaria, pneumonia, hepatitis B, yellow fever. One disease I had never even heard of, rotavirus, was killing half a million kids each year – none of them in the United States.

We were shocked. We had just assumed that if millions of children were dying and they could be saved, the world would make it a priority to discover and deliver the medicines to save them. But it did not. For under a dollar, there were interventions that could save lives that just weren’t being delivered.

If you believe that every life has equal value, it’s revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. We said to ourselves: “This can’t be true. But if it is true, it deserves to be the priority of our giving.”

So we began our work in the same way anyone here would begin it. We asked: “How could the world let these children die?”

The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and their fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system.

But you and I have both.

We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism – if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities. We also can press governments around the world to spend taxpayer money in ways that better reflect the values of the people who pay the taxes.

If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world. This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world.

I am optimistic that we can do this, but I talk to skeptics who claim there is no hope. They say: “Inequity has been with us since the beginning, and will be with us till the end – because people just … don’t … care.” I completely disagree.

I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with.

All of us here in this Yard, at one time or another, have seen human tragedies that broke our hearts, and yet we did nothing – not because we didn’t care, but because we didn’t know what to do. If we had known how to help, we would have acted.

The barrier to change is not too little caring; it is too much complexity.

To turn caring into action, we need to see a problem, see a solution, and see the impact. But complexity blocks all three steps.

Even with the advent of the Internet and 24-hour news, it is still a complex enterprise to get people to truly see the problems. When an airplane crashes, officials immediately call a press conference. They promise to investigate, determine the cause, and prevent similar crashes in the future.

But if the officials were brutally honest, they would say: “Of all the people in the world who died today from preventable causes, one half of one percent of them were on this plane. We’re determined to do everything possible to solve the problem that took the lives of the one half of one percent.”

The bigger problem is not the plane crash, but the millions of preventable deaths.

We don’t read much about these deaths. The media covers what’s new – and millions of people dying is nothing new. So it stays in the background, where it’s easier to ignore. But even when we do see it or read about it, it’s difficult to keep our eyes on the problem. It’s hard to look at suffering if the situation is so complex that we don’t know how to help. And so we look away.

If we can really see a problem, which is the first step, we come to the second step: cutting through the complexity to find a solution.

Finding solutions is essential if we want to make the most of our caring. If we have clear and proven answers anytime an organization or individual asks “How can I help?,” then we can get action – and we can make sure that none of the caring in the world is wasted. But complexity makes it hard to mark a path of action for everyone who cares — and that makes it hard for their caring to matter.

Cutting through complexity to find a solution runs through four predictable stages: determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and in the meantime, make the smartest application of the technology that you already have — whether it’s something sophisticated, like a drug, or something simpler, like a bednet.

The AIDS epidemic offers an example. The broad goal, of course, is to end the disease. The highest-leverage approach is prevention. The ideal technology would be a vaccine that gives lifetime immunity with a single dose. So governments, drug companies, and foundations fund vaccine research. But their work is likely to take more than a decade, so in the meantime, we have to work with what we have in hand – and the best prevention approach we have now is getting people to avoid risky behavior.

Pursuing that goal starts the four-step cycle again. This is the pattern. The crucial thing is to never stop thinking and working – and never do what we did with malaria and tuberculosis in the 20th century – which is to surrender to complexity and quit.

The final step – after seeing the problem and finding an approach – is to measure the impact of your work and share your successes and failures so that others learn from your efforts.

You have to have the statistics, of course. You have to be able to show that a program is vaccinating millions more children. You have to be able to show a decline in the number of children dying from these diseases. This is essential not just to improve the program, but also to help draw more investment from business and government.

But if you want to inspire people to participate, you have to show more than numbers; you have to convey the human impact of the work – so people can feel what saving a life means to the families affected.

I remember going to Davos some years back and sitting on a global health panel that was discussing ways to save millions of lives. Millions! Think of the thrill of saving just one person’s life – then multiply that by millions. … Yet this was the most boring panel I’ve ever been on – ever. So boring even I couldn’t bear it.

What made that experience especially striking was that I had just come from an event where we were introducing version 13 of some piece of software, and we had people jumping and shouting with excitement. I love getting people excited about software – but why can’t we generate even more excitement for saving lives?

You can’t get people excited unless you can help them see and feel the impact. And how you do that – is a complex question.

Still, I’m optimistic. Yes, inequity has been with us forever, but the new tools we have to cut through complexity have not been with us forever. They are new – they can help us make the most of our caring – and that’s why the future can be different from the past.

The defining and ongoing innovations of this age – biotechnology, the computer, the Internet – give us a chance we’ve never had before to end extreme poverty and end death from preventable disease.

Sixty years ago, George Marshall came to this commencement and announced a plan to assist the nations of post-war Europe. He said: “I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation. It is virtually impossible at this distance to grasp at all the real significance of the situation.”

Thirty years after Marshall made his address, as my class graduated without me, technology was emerging that would make the world smaller, more open, more visible, less distant.

The emergence of low-cost personal computers gave rise to a powerful network that has transformed opportunities for learning and communicating.

The magical thing about this network is not just that it collapses distance and makes everyone your neighbor. It also dramatically increases the number of brilliant minds we can have working together on the same problem – and that scales up the rate of innovation to a staggering degree.

At the same time, for every person in the world who has access to this technology, five people don’t. That means many creative minds are left out of this discussion — smart people with practical intelligence and relevant experience who don’t have the technology to hone their talents or contribute their ideas to the world.

We need as many people as possible to have access to this technology, because these advances are triggering a revolution in what human beings can do for one another. They are making it possible not just for national governments, but for universities, corporations, smaller organizations, and even individuals to see problems, see approaches, and measure the impact of their efforts to address the hunger, poverty, and desperation George Marshall spoke of 60 years ago.

Members of the Harvard Family: Here in the Yard is one of the great collections of intellectual talent in the world.

What for?

There is no question that the faculty, the alumni, the students, and the benefactors of Harvard have used their power to improve the lives of people here and around the world. But can we do more? Can Harvard dedicate its intellect to improving the lives of people who will never even hear its name?

Let me make a request of the deans and the professors – the intellectual leaders here at Harvard: As you hire new faculty, award tenure, review curriculum, and determine degree requirements, please ask yourselves:

Should our best minds be dedicated to solving our biggest problems?

Should Harvard encourage its faculty to take on the world’s worst inequities? Should Harvard students learn about the depth of global poverty … the prevalence of world hunger … the scarcity of clean water …the girls kept out of school … the children who die from diseases we can cure?

Should the world’s most privileged people learn about the lives of the world’s least privileged?

These are not rhetorical questions – you will answer with your policies.

My mother, who was filled with pride the day I was admitted here – never stopped pressing me to do more for others. A few days before my wedding, she hosted a bridal event, at which she read aloud a letter about marriage that she had written to Melinda. My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

When you consider what those of us here in this Yard have been given – in talent, privilege, and opportunity – there is almost no limit to what the world has a right to expect from us.

In line with the promise of this age, I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue – a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. If you make it the focus of your career, that would be phenomenal. But you don’t have to do that to make an impact. For a few hours every week, you can use the growing power of the Internet to get informed, find others with the same interests, see the barriers, and find ways to cut through them.

Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.

You graduates are coming of age in an amazing time. As you leave Harvard, you have technology that members of my class never had. You have awareness of global inequity, which we did not have. And with that awareness, you likely also have an informed conscience that will torment you if you abandon these people whose lives you could change with very little effort. You have more than we had; you must start sooner, and carry on longer.

Knowing what you know, how could you not?

And I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent and your energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities … on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.

Good luck.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.