Category Archives: Ideas

Plants reaching out

We can’t perceive changes in plants because any position changes they make are too slow to be notable in realtime.

By using time-lapsed photography, some plant “movement” can be sped up. I don’t know the best descriptive word to use, but there seems to be some intention, plan, or drive behind some plant movements.

Check out Michael Pollan discussing how time-lapse photography reveals the hidden life of plants, pretty interesting.

 

Tyler Cowen and reading

Here’re a couple of observations from Ryan Holiday about Tyler Cowen the bestselling author, economist and thinker. Tyler has a blog called Marginal Revolution that I check daily.

Read However You Want — People are amazed at how much Tyler reads (it’s a lot) but they miss that he has his own set of rules for doing it. He skips around. He quits books he doesn’t like. He might read a novel from only the perspective of one of the characters. He’ll ruin the ending. He just does whatever—and so should you. This isn’t for a test. It’s for your own enjoyment (he does the same with movies apparently).

Knowledge Compounds — I think what he’s also saying there is that the value of reading compounds over time. Reading more makes you a better and faster reader, learning about stuff makes it easier and faster for you to learn more.

I read a lot, but I haven’t found that I’m reading faster as time goes by.

How to be a stoic

The stoic philosopher  Senaca said, “Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

Elif Batuman wrote “How to be a Stoic” for The New Yorker last year. Here’s a shortened version of it:

Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, was born a slave, around 55 A.D., in present-day Turkey. The first line of his manual of ethical advice, “Some things are in our control and others not”—made me feel that a weight was being lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we can totally control, and therefore the only thing we should ever worry about, is our own judgment about what is good. If we desire money, health, sex, or reputation, we will inevitably be unhappy. If we genuinely wish to avoid poverty, sickness, loneliness, and obscurity, we’ll live in constant anxiety and frustration. Of course, fear and desire are unavoidable. Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being “ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’ ”

Most of the pain in my life came not from any actual privations or insults but, rather, from the shame of thinking they could’ve been avoided. Wasn’t it my fault that meaning continued to elude me or that my love life was a shambles? When I read that nobody should ever feel ashamed to be alone or to be in a crowd, I realized that I often felt ashamed of both of those things. Epictetus’ advice: when alone, “call it peace and liberty, and consider yourself the gods’ equal”; in a crowd, think of yourself as a guest at an enormous party, and celebrate the best you can.

Epictetus also won me over with his tone. If you want to become a Stoic, he said, you’ll suffer losses and humiliations and yet every setback is an advantage, an opportunity for learning and glory. This is a very powerful trick.

Epictetus’ advice about not getting angry at slaves is this simple exercise: “Starting with things of little value—a bit of spilled oil, a little stolen wine—repeat to yourself: ‘For such a small price, I buy tranquillity.’ ”

Born nearly two thousand years before Darwin and Freud, Epictetus seems to have anticipated a way out of their prisons. The sense of doom and delight that is programmed into the human body? It can be overridden by the mind. The eternal war between subconscious desires and the demands of civilization? It can be won. Now cognitive-behavioral therapy is based largely on Epictetus’ claim that “it is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.”

If you want a good place to start checking out Stoic philosophy try Ryan Holidays’ book “The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.” It’s a daily bite sized nugget from various Stoics accompanied by a short discussion of the quote. In a nutshell, use your own judgment about what’s good and ignoring what’s beyond your control.

 

 

Who gets to complain?

There’re lots of Americans  unhappy with what President Trump is doing.

If you take a look at this infographic, it’s easy to see the portions of Americans that voted as well as the portion that couldn’t be bothered to vote.

So if you’re complaining about Trump and you don’t fall into either the blue or red group, please stop.

 

Refining your Google search

Sometimes searching for answers can frustrating on the internet. Here’s Kevin Kelly’s advice for what to do when your Google or YouTube search isn’t yielding much:

I simply add the suffix “solutions” to the query. The terms “problem X + solutions” is more likely to yield sources that have answers, not just the same problem I have. 

Silos and stockpiling

 

An article in the New Yorker described how some wealthy Wall Street and Silicon Valley folks are preparing for big catastrophes by buying luxury condos in decommissioned US missile silos, or creating large stockpiles of food and other necessities.

If there is a complete collapse of civilization, I don’t think they’ll last very long hunkered down. Stronger, tougher people will find them and take what they need from them.

Consider the highly trained US soldiers who’ve been discharged into the general population or the many highly skilled hunters and outdoors people. Do you think those types are going out without a fight?

One of the wealthy interviewees said the super rich will be better off spending to make our society stronger not trying to create a stronghold for themselves.

Anyway, if there’s a calamity, knowing about hedge funds won’t be as useful as just having a down jacket and a positive attitude.

What’s the best way to survive a rocky ride? Start with how you perceive the world. Like a hummingbird’s beating wings, your brain is constantly putting out 300 to 1000 words every minute. Feelings (anger, shame, delight) appear almost instantly. Left alone they don’t last very long. But when you invent negative narratives around events, feelings can go for a very long time.

You can feel impulses, think, and experience situations without becoming hampered by mental narratives about how things should or shouldn’t  be. Navy SEALs deal with stressful situations and work to keep the chatter in their heads positive by shifting how they frame  situations.

They view setbacks like this: View bad things are temporary, tell yourself, “That happens occasionally, it’s no big deal.” Understand that bad things have a specific cause and aren’t universal, by reminding yourself, “When the weather’s better that won’t be a problem.” And realize it’s not your fault and say, “I’m good at this but today was just an unlucky day.”

They use goal setting too. When your mind says, “I need X to be happy,” SEALs are taught to set goals properly by setting goals for very short chunks of time, like making it to lunch, then dinner. But it’s enough to keep them going when their body is screaming for them to quit.

And what happened when they achieve those goals? They set new ones. The focus is on always improving because nothing motivates you better than seeing progress. The first time I ran in a marathon, instead of thinking about needing to cover 26 miles, I’d pick someone just ahead of me to catch, then pick another runner a little bit ahead as that person slowed. It worked really well.

Don’t wait until you’re in a grave situation to implement using positive framing and small goal setting. Practice during low stress situations so they become habits. Make positive deals with yourself all the time.

In the military they say, “Train like you fight,” not, “O.K., when it’s for real then we’ll really ramp up.”  Because that’s not what happens. You need to train as hard and as realistically as possible. Otherwise, you won’t rise to the occasion, you’ll likely sink to the lowest level of your training.

Good luck in that missile silo!

The special snowflake

Everyone believes they’re special. Everybody.

But nobody escapes physics and probability. This Friday’s posting is a short excerpt from a NYT interview with Peter Thiel. It wasn’t an interview about being special, but this funny little nugget was in there about his pal Elon Musk thinking he was exempt from what could happen.

 

Then there was the time they were driving in Mr. Musk’s McLaren F1 car, “the fastest car in the world.” It hit an embankment, achieved liftoff, made a 360-degree horizontal turn, crashed and was destroyed.

“It was a miracle neither of us were hurt,” Mr. Thiel says. “I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, which is not advisable. Elon’s first comment was, ‘Wow, Peter, that was really intense.’ And then it was: ‘You know, I had read all these stories about people who made money and bought sports cars and crashed them. But I knew it would never happen to me, so I didn’t get any insurance.’ And then we hitchhiked the rest of the way to the meeting.”

Charlie Munger’s insights

Here’re some strong opinions that have worked well for Charlie Munger who’s the less well known partner of Warren Buffett. The filters and concepts he and Buffett use for investing have produced incredible returns. I’ve shortened some and combined some for clarity:

Often just a few actions that produce most of what we are trying to achieve.

The big thing to do is: avoid being wrong. A lot of success comes from knowing what you really want to avoid. Avoid what might cause the opposite of what you want to achieve because a single, big mistake could wipe out a long string of successes.

Hire people genetically able to recognize and avoid serious risks, including those never before encountered. Look for three things: intelligence, energy, and character. If they don’t have the last one, the first two will kill you.

If a buyer doesn’t care about whose product or service he uses, industry economics are certain to be unexciting, or even disastrous. Take candy bars for example, customers buy by brand name, not by asking for a “two-ounce candy bar”. But it doesn’t work with sugar: people don’t ask for “a coffee with cream and C&H Sugar”.

Look at stocks as part-ownership of a business, and at market fluctuations as your friend to profit from folly rather than participating in it.

Why should we want to play a competitive game in a field where we have no advantage – maybe a disadvantage – instead of playing in a field where we have a clear advantage?

Temperament is also important. Independent thinking, emotional stability, and a keen understanding of both human and institutional behavior is vital to long-term success.

Use “negative” rules – tell people what they can’t do.

If you want to ruin your civilization, pass laws people can easily cheat. It’s much better to let life be hard – than to create systems that are easy to cheat.

With the Navy Model there’s no excuse. If your ship goes aground, your career is over. It doesn’t matter whether it was your fault or not. It’s a rule for the good of all, all effects considered. Civilization works better with some of these no-fault rules. Considering the net benefit, I don’t care if one captain has some unfairness in his life.

Say no to anything that has a strong chance of killing you.

I walk away from anything I don’t understand or can’t quantify or doesn’t work. I only deal with people I trust.

Extraordinary discipline does not eliminate losses; it does prevent foolish losses. We can say no in 10 seconds to 90%+ of all things, simply because we have these filters.

Evaluate new business ideas using four criteria as filters:
* Can I understand it?
* Does it look like it has some kind of sustainable competitive advantage?
* Is the management composed of able and honest people?
* Is the price right?

A checklist must include each critical item necessary for “safety” and avoiding “accidents” so we don’t need to rely on memory for items to be checked. If there are very important items that aren’t on your checklist, you can crash.

A few major opportunities, clearly recognizable as such, will usually come to one who continuously searches and waits, with a curious mind. There’re often just a few actions that produce most of what we are trying to achieve. We make fewer and better decisions. The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.

It’s usually far more profitable to simply stick with the easy and obvious than to resolve the difficult. A good business throws up one easy decision after another, whereas a bad one gives you horrible choices, decisions that are extremely hard to make.

Nobody keeps a record of their erroneous prophecies since they are infinite and everyday. We pay no attention to times when nothing happens. We shouldn’t find significance in amazing past events. Mysteries are not necessarily miracles.

You only have to get rich once. Added money has no utility whatsoever. We never risk something we have and need for something we don’t need.

After years of buying and supervising a great variety of businesses, we haven’t learned how to solve difficult business problems. What we’ve learned is to avoid them. We’ve concentrated on identifying one-foot hurdles we could step over. We haven’t acquired the ability to clear seven-footers.

People go broke because they can’t stop, rethink and say, “I can afford to write this one off and live to fight again. I don’t have to pursue this thing as an obsession.” You must learn how to handle mistakes and new facts that change the odds.

What you won at an auction was really just the right to pay more for something than everyone else thought it was worth.

Nobody can forecast interest or currency rates, the GDP, turning points in the economy, the stock market, etc.

Adding $20k to the payroll should be evaluated as a $3M decision, over lifetime, factoring in raises, benefits, and other expenses.

Don’t underestimate the influence of randomness in bad or good outcomes.

The OTC “pill”

Here’s this Friday’s pick. It’s an article from The Outline about how odd it is that something as safe, easy, and effective as the birth control pill can’t simply be bought without a prescription. This is my condensed version:

Many countries, including China and India, sell birth control over-the-counter. The US and many European countries require a prescription.

Doctors have been arguing since the late 1960s that it could be sold safely without a prescription, and the The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists officially endorsed doing so in 2012. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family also agree that it is safe for over-the-counter use.

It doesn’t, after all, have a lot in common with many prescription medications: It’s not habit-forming, pretty much everyone takes the same dose, it’s preventative so nothing needs to be diagnosed to begin taking it, and it rarely interferes with other medications.

The precautions for the medication are pretty run of the mill, and overall, it’s much less dangerous than many other medicines that are currently available over-the-counter. The birth control pill is linked to very few deaths. In other words: There’s pretty much no reason we need a prescription for the pill, other than the fact that that’s the way we’ve always done it.

Reasons that 2016 was a good year

To all my regular readers, starting today, on Fridays I’ll post something interesting I’ve run across on the internet. Here the first one:

Despite all the grim news we read and hear about, there is good news too. Future Crunch collected 99 of them from 2016 and here they are:

1.British Columbia protected 85% of one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests. Reuters

2. In February, Peru and Bolivia signed a $500 million deal to preserve Lake Titicaca. HNGN

3. In March, the US government abandoned its plan for oil and gas drilling in Atlantic waters, reversing its decision from a year ago. Guardian

4. After nearly 13 years of difficult negotiations, Malaysia established a 1 million hectare marine park that pioneers a mixed-use approach to marine conservation. Guardian

5. In 2016, more than 20 countries pledged more than $5.3 billion for ocean conservation and created 40 new marine sanctuaries covering an area of 3.4 million square km. Reuters

6. That included a new record holder for the world’s biggest marine reserve, off the coast of Antarctica. National Geographic

7. New research showed that acid pollution in the atmosphere is now almost back to the level that it was before it started with industrialisation in the 1930s. Science Bulletin

8. In 2012, the US and Mexico embarked on an unprecedented binational project to revive the Colorado River. By 2016, the results had astonished everyone. Audubon

9. In December, the United States and Canada announced a joint permanent ban on all offshore oil and gas activity in the Arctic. CBC News

10. The World Health Organisation released a report showing that, since the year 2000, global malaria deaths have declined by 60%. WHO

11. In 2016, some of the world’s biggest diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, started declining in wealthy countries. New York Times

12. A new study from the world’s leading health journal reported that the number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved since 1990. Guardian

13. Fresh evidence showed that public smoking bans have improved health in 21 nations. Wiley Blackwell

14. Uruguay won a major case against Philip Morris in a World Bank ruling, setting a precedent for other small countries that want to deter tobacco use. CS Monitor

15. Malawi achieved a 67% reduction in the number of children acquiring HIV, the biggest success story across all sub-Saharan nations. Since 2006, they’ve saved 260,000 lives. Al Jazeera

16. Child mortality rates came down by 12% in Russia. Article

17. Life expectancy in Africa has increased by 9.4 years since 2000, thanks to improvements in child survival, progress in malaria control and expanded access to ARVs. Quartz

18. Mobile phones made significant inroads in the fight against rabies, a disease which kills more people annually than all terrorists combined. Ars Technica

19. Thailand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. World Health Organisation

20. Harvard scientists created a new platform for antibiotic discovery that may help solve the crisis of antibiotic resistance. GEN

21. Liberia was officially cleared of Ebola, meaning there are now no known cases of the deadly tropical virus left in West Africa. Vanguard

22. The WHO announced that measles have been eradicated in all of the Americas, from Canada to Chile. It’s the first time the disease has been eliminated from an entire world region. NBC

23. The proportion of older US adults with dementia, including Alzheimer’s declined from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012, a decrease of about a million people. Scientific American

24. The number of cigarette smokers in the US dropped by 8.6 million since 2005. That fall will be accelerated by a tobacco tax just passed in California. NPR

25. 93% of kids around the world learned to read and write this year. That’s the highest proportion in human history. And the gender gap between girls and boys in school narrowed in 2016 too. Medium

26. In 2016, for the first time ever, the amount of money it would take to end poverty dropped below the amount of money spent on foreign aid. Vox

27. World hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years. New York Times

28. In February, Ontario announced a $100 million initiative to curb violence against indigenous women. The Star

29. Myanmar swore in its first elected civilian leader in more than 50 years. BBC

30. Black incarceration rates fell in the United States. Not fast enough, but certainly something worth celebrating. Washington Post

31. In 1990, more than 60% of people in East Asia lived in extreme poverty. As of 2016, that proportion has dropped to 3.5%. Vox

32. Homelessness in the United States declined by 35% since 2007, and Los Angeles committed to $1.2 billion to help get more people off the street. CS Monitor

33. Taiwan is on the verge of becoming the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. New York Times

34. Gambia and Tanzania banned child marriage, following sustained lobbying by civil society groups. Independent

35. In June, after years of wrangling, the drive to end female genital mutilation in Africa made a major breakthrough, when the Pan African Parliament endorsed a continent-wide ban. The Wire

36. Germany took on rape culture, introducing a law to broaden the definition of sex crimes by zoning in on the issue of consent. Catalogue

37. Two weeks before Brexit, the African Union announced a new single African passport that permits holders to enter any of the 54 AU member states without a visa. Washington Post

38. The United States now feeds healthy lunches to more than 30 million children, is about to ban trans fats, and has enacted one of the biggest overhauls of nutrition labels in decades. Vox

39. Italy became the last large Western country to recognise same-sex unions in 2016, following a long-running battle by campaigners. Independent

40. Denmark became the first country to no longer define being transgender as a mental illness, and Canada announced a ban on transgender discrimination. Telegraph.

41. 2016 marked the 24th year in a row that teenage pregnancy rates declined in the United Kingdom and the United States.

42. The Paris Agreement became the fastest (and largest) United Nations treaty to go from agreement to international law in modern history. CBS

43. Global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels did not grow at all in 2016. It’s the third year in a row emissions have flatlined. Scientific American

44. Thanks to rapid technological innovation and political support from around the world, renewables now account for more newly installed capacity than any other form of electricity in the world, including coal.. Gizmodo

45. The Chinese government placed a ban on new coal mines, created new rules for grid access and doubled its renewables targets for 2020. WRI

46. India announced it won’t need any new coal plants for the next three years because it’s flush with generation capacity. Times of India

47. In April, the UK’s Chatham House released a report saying “Big Oil is screwed.” Chatham House

48. In the same month, 25% of European countries announced that they had quit coal. EcoWatch

49. The BRICS New Development Bank approved $1 billion in renewables investments in China, Brazil, South Africa and India. RT

50. In 2016 Costa Rica ran solely on renewable energy for over 100 days. Now it’s aiming for an entire year with no fossil fuels. The Independent

51. In July, the USA, Mexico and Canada committed to getting 50 per cent of their electricity from renewables by 2025. Their leaders also nailed the awkward handshake thing. Time

52. A new report showed that China reached peak coal in 2014. A landmark moment in the fight against climate change that was reported by every media outlet on the planet. Right? Guardian

53. China installed 20GW of solar in the first half of 2016, three times as much as during the same period a year ago. Reuters

54. In October, the International Energy Agency reported that half a million solar panels were installed each day around the world in 2015. It also drastically increased its five year growth forecast for renewables. IEA

55. In the same month, 197 countries agreed to drastically reduce their use of HFCs, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation agreed to measures to combat the impact of flying on greenhouse gas emissions. Scientific American

56. The world’s biggest offshore wind farm received the go ahead for its second phase. Guardian

57. Mexico announced $6 billion in renewables investments, Argentina $2.7 billion, Scotland connected underwater turbines to its grid for the first time, and solar energy generated more power than coal in the United Kingdom. Independent UK

58. In November, India unveiled the world’s largest solar power plant, and revealed that it is now on track to be the world’s third biggest solar market in 2017. Al Jazeera

59. And in the same month, the United Kingdom agreed to phase out coal by 2025, France said it would get there by 2023, and Germany promised to reduce emissions by 95% by 2050. Guardian

60. Following the end of conflict in Colombia in 2016, all of the war in the world is now limited to an arc that contains less than a sixth of the world’s population. Associated Press

61. ISIS quietly started preparing its followers for the eventual collapse of the caliphate it proclaimed with great fanfare two years ago. New Yorker

62. In April, a new report revealed that for the first time ever, the death penalty has become illegal in more than half of the world’s countries. Article

63. Juarez, in Mexico, used to be the world’s most dangerous city. In 2016, crime came down and residents started losing their fear. National Geographic

64. Crime rates in the Netherlands plummeted, with total recorded crime shrinking by 25% in the last eight years. One third of the country’s prison cells are now empty. Dutch News

65. Three years ago Honduras was the most dangerous place on earth. Since then community crime programs have achieved a remarkable reduction in violence. New York Times

66. According to US mayors, 2016 celebrated years of positive gains in US cities. Politico

67. Good science and simple economics have started a reversal in overfishing in the United States. New York Times

68. Norway became the first country in the world to commit to zero deforestation. The Independent

69. In June, a new survey showed that the ozone hole has shrunk by more than 3.9 million square kilometres since 2006. Scientists now think it will now be fully healed by 2050. Sydney Morning Herald

70. In July, more than 800,000 volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in one day. The country is planning on reforesting 12% of its land. National Geographic

71. Later that month, Israel revealed that it now makes 55% of its freshwater. That means that one of the driest countries on earth now has more water than it needs. Ensia

72. McDonalds announced it would be removing corn syrup from its hamburger buns and removed antibiotics from its chicken months ahead of schedule. CNBC

73. By August, every major grocery and fast-food chain in the US had pledged to use only cage-free eggs by 2025. Washington Post

74. The average number of large oil spills around the world has been drastically reduced, from an average of 24.5 per year in the 1970s, to just 1.8 a year in 2015. ITOPF

75. The citizens of Mumbai conducted the largest beach clean-up in human history, removing more than 4000 tonnes of rubbish. Washington Post

76. Plastic bag use plummeted in England thanks to the introduction of a 5p charge in 2015. BBC

77. The Italian government overwhelmingly backed a new set of laws aimed at cutting down the vast amounts of food wasted in the country each year. Independent

78. In December, four of the world’s biggest cities, Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City, agreed to ban diesel cars from their centres. Guardian

79. At this year’s CITES conference, 183 countries agreed to the strongest protections ever for endangered animals, with big wins for parrots, rhinos, porpoises, rays and elephants. Washington Post

80. In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the global manatee population is no longer endangered. Scientific American

81. Wild wolves started coming back to Europe, and for the first time since the American Revolution, wild salmon began spawning in the Connecticut River. Al Jazeera

82. In March, Yellowstone’s grizzly bears passed a major milestone, completing one of the greatest wildlife comeback stories in history. National Geographic

83. Fifty years ago, the Columbian white-tailed deer population was 450 animals. This year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service took it off the endangered list. CS Monitor

84. Green sea turtles in Florida and Mexico were taken off the endangered list. Huffington Post

85. Sea World agreed to stop breeding captive killer whales. NPR

86. Humpback whales were removed from the endangered species list, having fully recovered in the last 46 years. Science Mag

87. The US finalized new regulations to shut down commercial elephant ivory trade within its borders and stop wildlife crime overseas. WWF

88. Mongolia created one of the world’s largest protected areas for snow leopards. Snow Leopard Trust

89. In September, giant pandas became the latest species to be taken off the endangered list. Guardian

90. And in 2016, for the first time, we heard that the number of tigers in the wild rose for the first time in 100 yearsNational Geographic

91. At the beginning of the year, we heard that global spending on aid and development increased by 7%, and spending on refugees has doubled. OECD

92. In April, Pony Ma Huateng, the chief executive of the Chinese internet giant Tencent, donated $2 billion to charity. South China Morning Post

93. 2015 was America’s most generous year ever, with charitable donations from individuals, estates, foundations and corporations reaching record highs. 2016 is on track to be even bigger. Associated Press

94. In 2016, charitable giving in China rose to $15 billion, a 10 fold increase from just a decade ago Bloomberg

95. Online crowdfunding raised almost $1 million for the kids of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to go to college.

96. Warren Buffett gave $2.9 billion to charity, again. And his son, a farmer and environmentalist, quietly continued to spend his billion dollar inheritance on sustainable agriculture and hunger eradication. The Atlantic

97. The Gates Foundation announced another $5 billion in charity for Africa.

98. Germany took in an additional 300,000 refugees in 2016, despite growing concerns about integration and a backlash from populists. Guardian

99. In Canada, hockey moms, poker buddies and neighbors took in Syrian refugees, one family at a time. New York Times