wait a second

“It’s a free lunch—there’s no way around it,” said Michael Ohlrogge, an assistant professor of law at New York University.

from a Wall Street Journal article by Amrith Rankumar about the boom in Special Purchase Acquisition Companies, or SPACs.

I would say after looking into it and asking some informed people that the lunch has some cost, in the form of you have to pay attention and do some study. Here is more information.


Really rich people

His unlikely rise from obscurity began when he launched a trade publication for data-communications firms in the 1970s. 

I often find that the answer to “how did they get so rich?” is frequently “doing something really boring.”

(That example Sheldon Adelson, but Robert Kraft (packaging) and the Koch Bros (processing) come to mind as well.)

A local angle:

A Boston Globe reporter who interviewed him in 1988 noted that his Needham, Mass., office was ratty, with a peeling vinyl cover on his chair. “I don’t need the trappings of success to feel successful,” Mr. Adelson said.


Brain balls

Discovery of the tomb of Ollamh Fodhla Ireland’s famous monarch and law-maker upwards of three thousand years ago
by Conwell, Eugene Alfred
Publication date 1873

In Irish history and legend, brain balls are small stone-like balls claimed to have been made from the heads or brains of enemies.

a Wikipedia page worth reading.


Morgan Housel

In 1960 journalist Hugh Sidey attempted to gauge JFK’s economic credentials. “What do you remember about the Great Depression?” Sidey asked. Kennedy responded candidly:

I have no first-hand knowledge of the depression. My family had one of the great fortunes of the world and it was worth more than ever then. We had bigger houses, more servants, we traveled more. About the only thing that I saw directly was when my father hired some extra gardeners just to give them a job so they could eat. I really did not learn about the depression until I read about it at Harvard.

Morgan Housel, who writes this semi-regular column for The Collaborative Fund, has a great gift for historical anecdotes. How about this one:

The Battle of Stalingrad was the largest battle in history. With it came equally superlative stories of how people dealt with risk.

One came in late 1942, when a German tank unit sat in reserve on grasslands outside the city. When tanks were desperately needed on the front lines, something happened that surprised everyone: Almost none of the them worked.

Out of 104 tanks in the unit, fewer than 20 were operable. Engineers quickly found the issue, which, if I didn’t read this in a reputable history book, would defy belief. Historian William Craig writes: “During the weeks of inactivity behind the front lines, field mice had nested inside the vehicles and eaten away insulation covering the electrical systems.”

The Germans had the most sophisticated equipment in the world. Yet there they were, defeated by mice.

You can imagine their disbelief. This almost certainly never crossed their minds. What kind of tank designer thinks about mouse protection? Nobody planned this, nobody expected it.

But these things happen all the time.

“These things happen all the time” reminds me of the opening of the movie Magnolia.


Latitudes and attitudes

somehow this map of Dublin swam into my ken, maybe on Twitter or something. I was struck by how the shape of Dublin’s harbor is similar to that of Boston’s. I’ve had three chances to visit Dublin, and I never put this together:

Tried to get those at roughly the same scale, with help from Zaia Design’s Two Maps:

Both east-facing harbors. Dublin’s a little smoother, makes sense, it’s older*, more time to smooth it down.

Dalkey, in vibe, is kind of like Hingham, too. Is Winthrop like Howth? I don’t know enough about the vibes of either Winthrop or Howth to report. There was a girl from Winthrop at a nerd camp I attended one summer. I remember her talking about the difficulty of going back and forth to the school she attended in Cambridge, but that’s about it, it’s neither here nor there when it comes to comparative geography, although maybe there was some girl in Howth at the exact same time with the exact same problem.

If there’s a Dublin equivalent of Hull, I bet that’s interesting, but it looks like in the south portion of Dublin harbor there are no crooked fingers of that nature.

Boston is at a latitude about 42.36 N. Dublin’s at 53,74, farther north, even north of Montreal (45.50) and even north of St. Johns, Newfoundland (47.56). The reason why Dublin’s climate is more temperate than that of Montreal has to do with, I believe, the gulf stream bringing warm air across the Atlantic. In very southern Ireland I visited a town that had some palm trees, I forget which town that was, it was over twenty years ago. I could probably find out but I’m not going to bother.

As for latitudes, Los Angeles is at 34.05, comparable to Baghdad (33.31). You might think weather-wise it might be aligned with Mediterranean cities, Barcelona for example, but Barca is further north (41.38). Paris is at 48.85 N. Tokyo is a close latitude cousin to LA, at 35.68 N. Interestingly, in the southern hemisphere, several major cities with attractive weather are in a similar range:

Melbourne: 37.85 S

Sydney: 33.86 S

Cape Town: 33.92 S

Buenos Aires 34.06 S.

In that same band N:

San Francisco: 37 N

Athens: 37 N

Las Vegas: 36 N

Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto: 35 N

“Somebody out there must’ve compared cities by latitude before me,” I thought, and sure enough, here is “174 World Cities by latitude: Things Line Up In Surprising Ways” from a website about the business of travel.

Crazy that Chicago and Barcelona are at the same latitude. Both great, but quite different vibes (and climates. And food tastes).

* kidding?


Strange times

during the takeover of the Capitol by goons I went to see what Eric Trump, the President’s second son, had to say. Turns out it was his birthday so a graphic of balloons was going across his page on my phone


Hold your breath

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Republican who voted to convict Trump in last year’s impeachment trial, pointed out that there’s little time for either an impeachment or what likely would be a drawn out battle over the Constitution’s 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president.

“I think we have to hold our breath,” he told reporters.

Is that gonna be the plan, in this country? We’re a lucky country, but nobody’s lucky forever. (it’s like this bit!)

(source for that bit: Steven T. Dennis and Billy House for Bloomberg)


Napoleon meets Metternich

In the course of a face-to-face meeting in Dresden in June 1813, Metternich, by now the Austrian foreign minister, reminded Napoleon of the appalling human cost of his wars. ‘In ordinary times,’ Metternich observed, ‘armies are formed of only a small part of the population. Today it is the whole people that you have called to arms.’ This was a matter also of ‘future generations’, he remarked, in reference to the extreme youth of many in the latest cohort of recruits who had perished on the Russian campaign. Napoleon made an extraordinary reply. ‘You are no soldier,’ he barked, ‘and you do not know what goes on in the soul of a soldier. I was brought up in military camps, I know only the camps, and a man such as I am does not give a fuck about the lives of a million men’ – ‘un homme comme moi se f(out) de la vie d’un million d’hommes.’ Metternich sometimes wondered how Napoleon did not shrink from himself in horror at the pain and injury he had inflicted. Here was the answer. A lasting peace with such a man was not possible. That the Napoleon who turned up to meet Metternich the day after this chilling exchange was the soul of amiability and charm merely confirmed his intuition.

Christopher Clark, reviewing Wolfram Siemann’s biography of Metternich, translated by Daniel Steuer, in LRB.

The Napoleon whom Metternich came to know resembled a Calabrian crime boss: tender to the point of indulgence with his family, formidably shrewd and utterly pitiless in his dealings with the wider world.

Must the history-makers be psychos? Reminded of the scene in Oliver Stone’s Nixon:


Ishiguro meets the Queen Mother

INTERVIEWER

It says in your biographies that you were a grouse beater. Please explain.

ISHIGURO

My first summer after leaving school I worked for the Queen Mother at Balmoral Castle, where the royal family spend their summer holidays. In those days they used to recruit local students to be grouse beaters. The royal family would invite people to shoot on their estate. The Queen Mother and her guests would get into Land Rovers with shotguns and whiskey and drive over bits of the moor from shooting butt to shooting butt. That’s where they would aim and shoot. Fifteen of us would walk in formation across the moor, spaced about a hundred yards apart in the heather. The grouse live in the heather, and they hear us coming, and they hop. By the time we arrive at the butts, all of the grouse in the vicinity have accumulated and the Queen Mum and her friends are waiting with shotguns. Around the butts there’s no heather, so the grouse have got no choice but to fly up. Then the shooting starts. And then we walk to the next butt. It’s a bit like golf.

INTERVIEWER

Did you meet the Queen Mother?

ISHIGURO

Yes, quite regularly. Once she came round to our quarters, frighteningly, when there was only me and this other girl there. We didn’t know what on earth to do. We had a little chat, and she drove off again. But it was very informal. You’d often see her on the moors, though she herself didn’t shoot. I think there was a lot of alcohol consumed and it was all very chummy.

from his Paris Review interview. How about this?

I was at a writers’ festival in Australia, sitting on a beach with Michael Ondaatje, Victoria Glendinning, Robert McCrum, and a Dutch writer named Judith Hertzberg. We were playing a semi-serious game of trying to find a title for my soon-to-be-completed novel. Michael Ondaatje suggested Sirloin: A Juicy Tale. It was on that level. I kept explaining that it had to do with this butler. Then Judith Hertzberg mentioned a phrase of Freud’s, Tagesreste, which he used to refer to dreams, which is something like “debris of the day.” When she translated it off the top of her head, it came out as “remains of the day.” It seemed to me right in terms of atmosphere.