Father Joseph’s Folly

Father Joseph, a barefooted Capuchin monk, served as an advisor to Cardinal Richelieu. This pious man—who spent hours a day in orison contemplating Calvary, and who wrote poems about the Crusades betraying a deep sense of bloodlust—pushed for policies that led to the Thirty Years’ War and created the conditions for the World Wars in the twentieth century. Or so believes Aldous Huxley in his moral study of the mystic, Grey Eminence (1941). Not for everyone, but a thoughtful book for those who find the passages below of interest (quotes from the Carrol & Graf: 1985 edition). Continue reading “Father Joseph’s Folly”

Confessions

How unhappy I was, and how conscious you made me of my misery, on that day when I was preparing to deliver a panegyric on the emperor!  In the course of it I would tell numerous lies and for my mendacity would win the good opinion of people who knew it to be untrue.  The anxiety of the occasion was making my heart palpitate and perspire with the destructive fever of the worry, when I passed through a Milan street and noticed a destitute beggar.

Already drunk, I think, he was joking and laughing.  I groaned and spoke with the friends accompanying me about the many sufferings that result from our follies.  In all our strivings such as those efforts that were then worrying me, the goads of ambition impelled me to drag the burden of my unhappiness with me, and in dragging it to make it even worse; yet we had no goal other than to reach a carefree cheerfulness.  That beggar was already there before us, and perhaps we would never achieve it.  For what he had gained with a few coins, obtained by begging, that is the cheerfulness of temporal felicity, I was going about to reach by painfully twisted and roundabout ways.

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Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey (2008).

True joy he had not.  But my quest to fulfill my ambitions was much falser.  There was no question that he was happy and I racked with anxiety.  He had no worries; I was frenetic, and if anyone had asked me if I would prefer to be merry or to be racked with fear, I would have answered ‘to be merry’.  Yet if he asked whether I would prefer to be a beggar like that man or the kind of person I then was, I would have chosen to be myself, a bundle of anxieties and fears.  What an absurd choice!  Surely it could not be the right one.  For I ought not to have put myself above him on the ground of being better educated, a matter from which I was deriving no pleasure.  My education enabled me to seek to please men, not to impart to them any instruction, but merely to purvey pleasure …That night the beggar was going to sleep off his intoxication.  I slept and rose with mine, and was to sleep and get up again with it for many days.  Of course there is a difference in the source of a person’s pleasure.  I know it.  And the joy of a believing hope is incomparably greater than vanity.  But at that time there was also this gulf between us: he was far happier, not merely because he was soaked in cheerfulness while I was eviscerated with anxieties, but also because he had acquired wine by wishing good luck to passers-by, whereas I sought an arrogant success by telling lies.1

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Note:

1 Saint Augustine, Confessions (Oxford World’s Classics: 2008), pgs. 97-8.

Favorite Books of 2015

The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d take to the blog once more to share some of the best books I read during the year.  Following fortuitous retweets from Marc Andreessen and Conor Sen last year, these annual posts have become the most frequently visited pages on the blog, with the 2014 and 2013 iterations attracting nearly one in five views.  So thanks!  I hope you find one or more of the books listed below to be an enriching read. Continue reading “Favorite Books of 2015”

Verisimilitude

The following motion picture is based on first hand accounts of actual events.

In the opening scene to Zero Dark Thirty, the quote listed above fades, and recordings of actual 911 calls from September 11th play to a black screen. It’s unsettling—some might say unethical—and it sets the stage to say: this is how history went down.

When I saw the movie a few years ago, I left the theater uneasy about the blending of fact with fiction in what would ostensibly come to be viewed as the “true story” about the hunt for Bin Laden.  Of course, as we know, it’s not how it went down.

But that opening scene encapsulates a feature that seems to be appearing with more frequency—at least in the handful of shows and movies I’ve watched recently: verisimilitude. Continue reading “Verisimilitude”

The Ancien Régime and the Revolution

With all the hubbub about China as of late, I thought it might be worth reading Alexis De Tocqueville’s The Ancien Régime and the Revolution (Penguin: 2008). A number of China Hands say the Party has used this book to inform their approach to domestic stability and harmony.1 I have no idea whether these assertions are true,2 but if one were a leader seeking to understand the drivers of mass movements and revolutions, The Ancien Régime would be a logical item for the reading list. Continue reading “The Ancien Régime and the Revolution”

A Quick Take on Farhad Manjoo’s Piece About the Public / Private Market Conundrum

Farhad Manjoo has a thought-provoking piece on tech companies staying private. This is a dynamic that Benedict Anderson recently highlighted in an Andreessen Horowitz presentation on the state of U.S. Venture Capital / Tech Funding that deservedly generated a lot of buzz (see: US Tech Funding).  Both are worth reading if you’re into these sorts of things.

In a rare hour of silence I took to the blog to jot down some thoughts / questions that occurred to me while reading the article. Continue reading “A Quick Take on Farhad Manjoo’s Piece About the Public / Private Market Conundrum”

Light Blogging

In the space of 10 minutes this morning, while trying to get out the door for our child’s first pediatrician appointment:

  • Baby decided he was hungry again so had to nurse
  • Baby blew out his diaper
  • Baby peed all over himself whilst being changed
  • Dog barfed on floor

All on a couple hours’ sleep.  Light blogging alert.

Reflections on a Winding Road to EM Private Equity

In late 2005, I would arrive at the office early and catch up on the latest news of sectarian violence in Iraq.  It made for gruesome reading—bodies discovered in vacant houses, tied to chairs with clear evidence of torture.  A favorite tool seemed to be power drills, which were used on knees, ankles, heads.

There were suspicions that Iraq’s interior minister—Bayan Jabr—was at least partially responsible, and that members of the National Police force that he oversaw were effectively operating as Shia death squads, exacting vendettas against Sunnis and former elements of Saddam Hussein’s regime.  The sectarian violence seemed to be increasing until February 2006, when militants bombed one of Shia Islam’s holiest sites, the Golden Mosque in Samarra, kicking off an orgiastic spate of bloodletting that brought Iraq to the precipice of a full-blown civil war. Continue reading “Reflections on a Winding Road to EM Private Equity”

Opinions

‘Intelligence differs from one man to the next,
And yet each is happy with his own insight—
Each thinks himself much brighter than the rest,
Each values and praises himself to the height.
All think their own understanding the best—
Forever lauding their superior intellect,
Forever denigrating all the rest.

‘Men who make common cause share common thoughts—thinking
Much of and ever praising one another.
But when reverses mount, those selfsame men
Find intellectual differences intervene.
Thanks to the unfathomable nature of their thoughts,
There is a difference between man and man—
Each is bewildered in a different way.
For just as a skilled doctor, having diagnosed
A disease according to the book, in practice
Prescribes a medicine to effect a cure
Specific to each case,
So men use their intellect, harnessed to insight,
To put their intended actions into practice—
And other men revile them because of that.1

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Note:

1 Saṃjaya, as quoted in W.J. Johnson (trans.), The Sauptikaparvan of the Mahābhārata – The Massacre at Night (Oxford World’s Classics: 1998), pg. 14.

Technological Acceleration and the Wet Noodle of Monetary Policy

The American boy of 1854 stood nearer the year 1 than to the year 1900. The education he had received bore little relation to the education he needed.  Speaking as an American of 1900, he had as yet no education at all.  He knew not even where or how to begin.1

If science were to go on doubling or quadrupling its complexities every ten years, even mathematics would soon succumb.  An average mind had succumbed already in 1850; it could no longer understand the problem in 1900 … At the rate of progress since 1800, every American who lived to the year 2000 would know how to control unlimited power.  He would think in complexities unimaginable to an earlier mind.  He would deal with problems altogether beyond the range of earlier society … The movement from unity into multiplicity, between 1200 and 1900, was unbroken in sequence, and rapid in acceleration.  Prolonged one generation longer, it would require a new social mind.  As though thought were common salt in indefinite solution it must enter a new phase subject to new laws.  Thus far, since five or ten thousand years, the mind had successfully reacted, and nothing yet proved that it would fail to react—but it would need to jump.2

The Internet is the most deflationary invention of all time.3

A few weeks ago, the Fed determined that the world was not yet ready for a 25 basis point increase in U.S. interest rates.  They’re smart and monetary policy is their day job, so I’m sure they know better than I about these things.  But still, I find it all a bit befuddling.

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Illustrative example.

Lately I’ve been pondering whether monetary policy has been largely ineffective at generating inflation4 because the drivers of deflation aren’t monetary in nature, but rather technological.  In 1904, Henry Adams developed a theory (“A Law of Acceleration”) on the exponential rate of technological change; and he posited that around the time we’re living in now, the rate of progress might exceed our ability to deal with it (see chart). Continue reading “Technological Acceleration and the Wet Noodle of Monetary Policy”