Suttree

Moving stuff around in my house I found the handwritten list of words I had to look up from Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy, and their definitions.

Trull: a prostitute or a trollop.

Tellurian: an inhabitant of Earth.

Feels like I used to have a lot more spare time.

Suttree is set along the river in Knoxville, TN.

If you think Suttree might be for you, try the first sentence:

Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.


Marijuana and psychosis

This was in today’s Economist newsletter, and I’ve seen it elsewhere too.  Scary!  But then again, what is the definition of psychosis?

Isn’t getting your thought and emotions so impaired that you lose contact with external reality the point of high THC content marijuana?  Is this a feature not a bug?  External reality can be rough.

The study, in The Lancet, used the ICD-10 Criteria (F20-33), so schizophrenia and manic/bipolar episodes. The study compared people hospitalized for that kind of thing versus a control general population. Here’s how the study worked:

We included patients aged 18–64 years who presented to psychiatric services in 11 sites across Europe and Brazil with first-episode psychosis and recruited controls representative of the local populations.

Then this part:

We applied adjusted logistic regression models to the data to estimate which patterns of cannabis use carried the highest odds for psychotic disorder. Using Europe-wide and national data on the expected concentration of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the different types of cannabis available across the sites, we divided the types of cannabis used by participants into two categories: low potency (THC <10%) and high potency (THC ≥10%). Assuming causality, we calculated the population attributable fractions (PAFs) for the patterns of cannabis use associated with the highest odds of psychosis and the correlation between such patterns and the incidence rates for psychotic disorder across the study sites.

“expected” and “assuming” are two words that do a lot of work here, but I don’t have time to read the whole study, I have to write cartoons.

In my neighborhood the most booming new shops sell either marijuana or cold brew coffee.  Personally I wonder if drinking huge amounts of highly caffeinated cold brew might be more crazy-making than marijuana.

There is certainly ample psychosis in Los Angeles, so much so that it might be necessary to induce mild psychosis just so you can understand what’s going on with everybody.  The chicken and egg, correlation and causation on psychosis / drug use is a tough one to unravel, as the study’s authors acknowledge.  The study also notes that patients presenting with psychosis were more likely to have smoked ten or more cigarettes a day.

 


Cornel West and Peter Thiel

This isn’t content for everybody but watching Cornel West and Peter Thiel in convo is appealing to me.

Had a class with Professor Unger and what I most remember is him describing an infantilization he was perceiving among young people.  Perhaps old people always think that the next crop of young people is infantile.


How to tell Bruce Springsteen bad news

silvio

DEADLINE: What parallels were there between Silvio and Miami Steve? You can see the affection between you and Springsteen onstage, and in the stories Bruce tells between songs about the old days.

VAN ZANDT: The common dynamic is, as a best friend you have an obligation to tell the truth and you’ve got to know when to do that and how to do that, and it’s never going to be easy when it’s bad news. But once in a while, hopefully rarely, but once in a while you’ve got to be the one to bring the bad news because nobody else is going to do it, so you’re obligated. That’s your responsibility as a best friend. Sometimes they will get mad at you and then, as happened on the show, you see occasionally Jimmy will be screaming at me over something and that’s how it is in real life.

It’s just one of those things that goes with that job, that relationship, in being the only one who’s not afraid of the boss because you grew up together and that puts you in a special category that is very, very useful and very helpful to that boss whether they like it or not. No boss likes to hear bad news or hear they made a mistake. You can’t do it every day or even that often, but when it’s really, really important, you pick your moment and you’ve got to take the consequences and you just have to live with that. That’s the job. And ironically, right after we filmed, Bruce decides to put the band back together that same year.

from this Deadline oral history of The Sopranos.


John Wayne

some recent Twitter stir about John Wayne’s unwoke Playboy interview from the ’70s got me looking up a phrase that stuck in my craw since I read it.  It’s Charles Portis, author of True Grit, telling his impression of seeing Wayne on a movie set.

What impressions do you have of John Wayne from the film?
“Wayne was a bigger man than I expected. He was actually bigger than his image on screen, both in stature and presence. One icy morning, very early, before sunrise, we were all having breakfast in a motel…. A tourist came over to speak. Wayne rose to greet her. He stood there, not fidgeting and just hearing her out, but actively listening, and chatting with her in an easy way, as his fried eggs congealed on the plate. I took this to be no more than his nature. A gentleman at four o’clock on a cold morning is indeed a gentleman.

Found that here on the Fort Smith National Historic Site website.

 


Munger speaks

Looking forward to getting a transcript of Charlie Munger yesterday at the Daily Journal shareholders’ conference.  Here the 95 year old former meteorologist and HelyTimes Hero talks to CNBC’s Becky Quick:

BECKY QUICK: Anything that rises to your radar screen now that may be under the radar for other people?

CHARLIE MUNGER: Well, nobody knows how much of this money printing we can do. And of course we have politicians who like– and are in both parties, who like to believe that it doesn’t matter how much you do. That we can ignore the whole subject and just print money as convenient. Well, that’s the way the Roman Empire behaved, then it was ruined. And that’s the way the Weimar Republic was ruined. And– it’s– there is a point where it’s dangerous. You know, and of course, my attitude when something is big and dangerous is to stay a long way away from it. Other people want to come as close as possible without going in. That’s too tricky for me. I don’t like it.

BECKY QUICK: In terms of possibly getting sucked up into it?

CHARLIE MUNGER: Yes. I– I– if there’s a big whirlpool in the river, I stay a long way away from it. There were a bunch of canoeists once that tried to– to run the Aaron Rapids. I think they were from Scandinavia. And– and the fact that the whirlpools were so big made them very eager to tackle this huge challenge. The death rate was 100%. I regard that as a normal result.

Are we in The Great Stagnation?

CHARLIE MUNGER: The opportunities that we all remember came from a demoralized period when about 90% of the natural stock buyers got very discouraged with stocks. That’s what created the opportunity for these fabulous records that my generation had. And that was a rare opportunity that came to a rare group of people of whom I was one. And Warren was another.

BECKY QUICK: So you’re talking–

CHARLIE MUNGER: And people who start now have a much less– they have lower opportunity.

BECKY QUICK: Do you think we saw a generational low after 2008, beginning of 2009?

CHARLIE MUNGER: Generational? Maybe.

Life advice:

BECKY QUICK: Charlie, so many of the people who come here come because they’re looking for advice not on business or investments as much as they’re looking for just advice on life. There were a lot of questions today, people trying to figure out what the secret to life is, to a long and happy life. And– and I just wonder, if you were–

CHARLIE MUNGER: Now that is easy, because it’s so simple.

BECKY QUICK: What is it?

CHARLIE MUNGER: You don’t have a lot of envy, you don’t have a lot of resentment, you don’t overspend your income, you stay cheerful in spite of your troubles. You deal with reliable people and you do what you’re supposed to do. And all these simple rules work so well to make your life better. And they’re so trite.

BECKY QUICK: How old were you when you figured this out?

CHARLIE MUNGER: About seven. I could tell that some of my older people were a little bonkers. I’ve always been able to recognize that other people were a little bonkers. And it helped me because there’s so much irrationality in the world. And I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, its causes and its preventions, and so forth, that I– sure it’s helped me.

I noticed a glitch in the transcript, btw.  It’s written as follows:

BECKY QUICK: Do you think we saw a generational low after 2008, beginning of 2009?

CHARLIE MUNGER: Generational? Maybe.

BECKY QUICK: We–

CHARLIE MUNGER: Yeah, I don’t think the market is going to be cheaper.

But if you listen closely it’s pretty clear Munger says “I don’t think Bank of America is going to be cheaper.”  Almost exactly nine years ago today, Feb 2009, BAC was trading at $5.57.  Today it’s at $29.12.

 


On Tactics by B. A. Friedman

 

This book is an excellent size and weight.  Small, portable, yet solid.  It’s published by the Naval Institute Press, they who took a chance on an unknown insurance man named Tom Clancy who’d written a thriller called The Hunt For Red October.

Amazon suggested this book to me as I was browsing translations of Sun Tzu.  Military history has interested me since I was a boy, maybe because 1) the stakes are so high and 2) the stories are so vivid.  Metaphors and similes drawn from famous war events are powerful and stark.  Consider for example Friedman’s description of the Battle of the Bulge:

… Although the Germans had caught the Allies at their culminating point, the Germans reached their own far too early.  Newly created infantry units were filled with hastily trained and inexperienced conscripts.  These green units could not effectively hold the territory gained by the leading panzer units.  On 22 December the fog cleared and Allied air units hammered the German formations from the skies.  Despite the prestaged fuel reserves, panzer units still ran out of fuel, just when they needed it to escape the Allied aerial counterattack.

Buried in there is a tactical lesson, and also an intense story about some poor children getting blown up right before Christmas.

The author was a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  If I understand right, might make this book the equivalent of a book called like Writing A Hit TV Show by a staff writer.  But Friedman seems like he’s gone deep on the knowledge, and there’s a quote from Gen. Anthony Zinni on the back.  Good enough for me.

Alexander The Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying — studying, vice just reading – the men who have gone before us.  We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience.

So goes a quote from James Mattis that opens this book.  Friedman cites the example of Cortes in 1520 CE, referring to written accounts of Alexander’s battle at Gaugamela eighteen hundred years before to design his tactics against the Mexica/Aztec.

What is strategy?  What is tactics?  Where do they divide?  Friedman summarizes Clausewitz:

Clausewitz divided warfare into tactics, actual combat between opposed military forces, and strategy, the latter being the overarching plan for using tactical engagements to achieve the ends as set forth by policy… The strategy acts as a bridge between the tactical actors (military forces) and the desired political end state of the entity those forces serve.

Much of this book is summaries of Clausewitz, really and Sun Tzu as well.  How could it not be?

What I thought I remembered most of all from Clausewitz is the concept of Figerspitzengefühl, fingertips-feel, a sensing of what’s going on, and where.  But I don’t have my copy of Vom Kriege at hand, and searching for fingerspitzengefühl it seems possible the term may be of later origin.  Maybe it was discussed in the introduction.

Clausewitz is very concerned with will, the imposing of one’s will on the enemy, breaking the will of the enemy.  Given the time and place where Clausewitz was coming from, 1800s what’s now-Germany, I can’t help but think this idea of will was connected to other philosophers like Kant who were pondering the meanings and dimensions of will around then.

Friedman picks up on the idea of will, or what he refers to as moral cohesion.  He digs in on the idea of destroying the enemy’s moral cohesion.

Clausewitz defined the destruction of an enemy as “they must be put in such a condition that they can no longer carry on the fight” (emphasis added).  This does not mean that the enemy force must be totally destroyed.  Indeed, he went on to say, “when we speak of destroying the enemy’s forces we must emphasize that nothing obliges us to limit this idea to physical forces: the moral element must be considered.  In other words, breaking the moral cohesion of the opposing force is destruction of that force as an effective unit and the true goal of tactics.

In a whole chapter on moral cohesion, Friedman quotes Marine Major Earl “Pete” Ellis speaking of how important it was to marines fighting insurgents in the Philippines to believe that the United States was acting from “purely altruistic motives.”  Jim Storr’s The Human Face of War is quoted as well: “In general, defeat occurs when the enemy believes he is beaten… Defeat is a psychological state.”

Friedman brings out Clausewitz’s concept of “the center of gravity,” too, and points out, in a thought-provoking way that it’s not totally clear what Clausewitz meant or understood by “gravity,” and what Clausewitz understood about physics.  Clausewitz died in 1831 — have we even figured out gravity now?  Clausewitz noted that the center of gravity could be a capital city, an ally, the shared interests of an alliance, particular leaders, or popular opinion.  The North Vietnamese correctly located the center of gravity of the US in the Vietnam War as American political will.  They destroyed our moral cohesion.

Friedman is tough on the U.S war in Iraq, which he says is “a glaring example of tactics, strategy, and policy in disarray.”  We need to maintain our sense of moral cohesion.  It’s slipping away from us.

We get some Boyd, too, a favorite here at HelyTimes.  As a bottom line lesson on tactics, this is pretty clear and cool:

Boyd says if you move and decide faster than your enemy, you will win.

Friedman concludes by pointing out that tactics are subordinate to strategy.

The tactician employs tactics that will best serve the strategy, but he must also know when a flawed strategy cannot be achieved with reasonable tactics.  Duty might still demand that he try to accomplish the mission, but he will need to inform the strategist that his aims are improbable.

Taking on a big concept like tactics and attempting to codify and create a short, comprehensible theory or unified system is a nobel mission.  I found On Tactics profitable to read and full of stimulating ideas and examples.