Practice Heroes

For people who played football1 growing up, on every team there were bound to be players who memorized both offensive and defensive playbooks and knew where to be to make a play against his teammates. These players tended to garner the coaches’ favor because they were excellent at doing what the coaches wanted them to do. But as most kids learn, these players tended to be studs on the practice field and complete soup sandwiches come game time. They were practice heroes. Continue reading “Practice Heroes”

David Bromwich and the Vanishing Art of Independent Thinking

The intelligence is defeated as soon as the expression of one’s thoughts is preceded, explicitly or implicitly, by the little word “we.”1

Recently, in The London Review of Books, David Bromwich penned an excoriating piece on Barack Obama and the political class that had me chuckling in my chair (see “The World’s Most Important Spectator”). The writing is absolutely poetic; Bromwich delivers so many zingers that to quote the essay piecemeal would risk deriving you of one of the great reading pleasures of 2014. So I shall refrain. Continue reading “David Bromwich and the Vanishing Art of Independent Thinking”

The Age of Entropy

…we are on the cusp of an eternal purgatory. It will be a world full of confusion and instability. The age of entropy will be a time of restless disorder, an aimless but forceful hostility to the status quo…

How serendipitous. A week after posting Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs, I stumbled across an article in Foreign Affairs from Randall Schweller—a professor at Ohio State University—that argues we’re now living in “The Age of Entropy.” It’s worth a perusal if you’re interesting in reading “why the new world order won’t be orderly.”

Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs

Expanding prosperity contributed to the popularity of the doctrine [of harmony of interests] in three different ways. It attenuated competition for markets among producers, since fresh markets were constantly available; it postponed the class issue, with its insistence on the primary importance of equitable distribution, by extending to members of the less prosperous classes some share in the general prosperity; and by creating a sense of confidence in present and future well-being, it encouraged men to believe that the world was ordered on so rational a plan as the natural harmony of interests.1

Politics are made up of two elements — utopia and reality — belonging to two different planes which can never meet. There is no greater barrier to clear political thinking than failure to distinguish between ideas, which are utopia, and institutions, which are reality.2

Stocks are near their all-time highs and show few signs of correcting anytime soon; debt markets appear frothy; the VIX is low—the capital markets are telling us that we’re living in “the best of all possible worlds.”3 Even TV commercials show us people dancing on their decks while telling us “the fun is back!”

But in the real world, for a while now I’ve been nagged by this feeling of entropy in global affairs; that order and institutions are giving way to chaos and ungovernability. Continue reading “Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs”

Vox on Millennials, Risk Aversion, Investing and Success in Life

OMG. Millennials are idiots. They put less than half of their savings in stocks. When they’re old, they’ll subsist on a cat food diet because they were terrible investors.

Reading this article on Vox.com raised my blood pressure and left me baffled/speechless.1 Conor Sen (@conorsen) asked me why, so I’ve pulled together some thoughts on why the piece was misleading.

Seven Ways a Vox.com Article Provided No Context

Continue reading “Vox on Millennials, Risk Aversion, Investing and Success in Life”

Meditations (at ~ 3,000 feet)

Call to mind, say, the time of Vespasian, and you will see the same old things: people marrying, bringing up children, falling sick, dying, fighting wars, feasting, trading, working the land, flattering, putting on airs, suspecting their fellows, hatching plots, praying for the death of others, grumbling at their present lot, falling in love, piling up fortunes, lusting for high office or a crown; and now that life of theirs is utterly dead and nowhere to be seen. And then pass on to the time of Trajan. Once again the same old things; and that life too is dead. Consider likewise the annals of other ages and of entire nations, and see how many people, after their brief exertions, soon fell prey to death and were resolved into their elements. But above all, you should run over in your mind those whom you yourself have known, who, distracted by vain pursuits, have neglected to do what their own constitution demanded, and to hold firm to this and rest content. And here it is essential to remember that the care bestowed on each action should be proportionate to its worth; for then you will not lose heart and give up, if you are not busying yourself with lesser matters to a greater extent than they deserve.1

Think of substance in its entirety, of which you have the smallest of shares; and of time in its entirety, of which a brief and momentary span has been assigned to you; and of the works of destiny, and how very small is your part in them.2

Leaving DC (May 2014)
Leaving DC (May 2014)

# # #

Notes:

1 Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.32 (Oxford World’s Classics, 2011), pgs. 29-30.

2 Op. cit., 5.24 (Oxford World’s Classics, 2011), pg. 42.

Lagos: Reflections on the Epicenter of the Frontier Market Phenomenon

Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun … It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on earth!1

It’s dirty and an environmental nightmare, with piles of rubbish literally everywhere, and its natural resources have been stripped bare. Nothing works and everything is seriously dilapidated, the infrastructure is totally inadequate, there are frequent shortages of fuel, electricity and water, and vehicle traffic and human congestion are tremendous … It’s appalling and awful, fascinating and appealing, and funny and sad, all at the same time; Nigeria is that extreme … But if you’re up to the challenge, it’s one of the most exciting and engaging countries in the world and I have been treated with nothing but friendliness and helpfulness at all times.2

I would say that Ikoyi island is fine to wander but VI might be a bit dodge. I can only share the story of a [brewing company] employee who wandered home from a bar in VI drunk and, after a brief express kidnap, found himself deposited in the middle of the third mainland bridge wearing only his Y-front underpants and facing a long walk home …3

To say my expectations for Lagos, Nigeria were low would be an understatement. They were positively subterranean. Despite the intervening three decades since Chinua Achebe composed The Trouble with Nigeria—source of the opening quote to this post—virtually everyone I knew who had visited Nigeria believed it to be an accurate description of the country today, and they left me with the distinct impression that I (1) was an idiot; (2) had signed up for a miserable experience; and (3) may very well not make it home alive. I was half convinced I was going to be kidnapped by Boko Haram. Continue reading “Lagos: Reflections on the Epicenter of the Frontier Market Phenomenon”

Rome

Il Colosseo, an evening before flying to Cairo.
Il Colosseo, an evening before flying to Cairo, 2008.

 

…in 1860 the lights and shadows were still mediaeval, and mediaeval Rome was alive; the shadows breathed and glowed, full of soft forms felt by lost senses.  No sand-blast of science had yet skinned off the epidermis of history, thought, and feeling.  The pictures were uncleaned, the churches unrestored, the ruins unexcavated.  Mediaeval Rome was sorcery.  Rome was the worst spot on earth to teach nineteenth-century youth what to do with a twentieth-century world.  One’s emotions in Rome were one’s private affair, like one’s glass of absinthe before dinner in the Palais Royal; they must be hurtful, else they could not have been so intense; and they were surely immoral, for no one, priest or politician, could honestly read in the ruins of Rome any other certain lesson than that they were evidence of the just judgments of an outraged God against all the doings of man … Two great experiments of Western civilization had left there the chief monuments of their failure, and nothing proved that the city might not still survive to express the failure of a third … Rome dwarfs teachers.  The greatest men of the age scarcely bore the test of posing with Rome for a background.1

# # #

Note:

1 Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (Oxford World’s Classics, 2008), pgs. 79-81.

 

Munich Nights

This was fun music, joyous music, not the austere minimal techno of downstairs, or the jazzy techno of Jonson and Minilogue, or the hardcore techno that would inspire one to press the dwarf. The bass rattled the empty tin record bins behind the d.j.1

To those who are into these sorts of things, the latest issue of The New Yorker has an essay on the techno music/club scene in Berlin (“Berlin Nights”). I’ve not been to Berlin, and the scene in the article is not my cup of tea, but I do enjoy electronic music and have managed to emerge from clubs bleary-eyed with ears ringing in cities ranging from Rio to Moscow.

The New Yorker piece brought to mind a relatively recent weekend layover in Munich that ended with a pretty sweet, impromptu techno music experience. Continue reading “Munich Nights”