My heart laid bare

Poe told us to expect [humiliation], too. When, near the end of his career, he laid out a formula for making great art, he said:

If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own—the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, and unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is to write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple— a few plain words—“My Heart Laid Bare.”

There’s just one catch, Poe said: “this little book must be true to its title.” And that is why “no man ever will dare write it.”

“No man could write it, even if he dared,” Poe concluded. “The paper would shrivel and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen.”

Catherine Baab-Muguira, author of the fantastic Poe for Your Problems, in a post about Edgar Allen Poe and “Why you should aim for 100 humiliations a year.”


Evacuation Day

Today is Evacuation Day in Boston, the day the British finally quit the city, giving up on the siege. Conveniently, it falls on Saint Patrick’s Day, so it’s Brits Out all around.

“Had Sir William Howe fortified the hills round Boston, he could not have been disgracefully driven from it,” wrote his replacement Sir Henry Clinton.

I thought this was interesting in this plaguey time:

Once the British fleet sailed away, the Americans moved to reclaim Boston and Charlestown. At first, they thought that the British were still on Bunker Hill, but it turned out that the British had left dummies in place. Due to the risk of smallpox, at first only men picked for their prior exposure to the disease entered Boston under the command of Artemas Ward. More of the colonial army entered on March 20, 1776, once the risk of disease was judged low.

How about Howard Pyle’s painting of Bunker Hill? (I can hear a Bostonian voice correcting me: “you mean Breed’s Hill?)

Can’t have been a fun time for British troops, half of whom were probably Irish recruits anyway. And what of the Dublin born Crean Brush, who met a sad fate for his Loyalism?

While imprisoned in Boston, Brush was denied privileges. He consoled himself with alcohol.


our number came up

“Now through the very universality of its structures, starting with the code, the biosphere looks like the product of a unique event,” Jacques Monod wrote in 1970. “The universe was not pregnant with life, nor the biosphere with man. Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game. Is it any wonder if, like a person who has just made a million at the casino, we feel a little strange and a little unreal?”

quoted in The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick, a nutrient-rich book I am working my way through.

On Monod:

During World War II, Monod was active in the French Resistance, eventually becoming the chief of staff of the French Forces of the Interior.Monod became a member of the French Communist Party after the end of the Second World War, but distanced himself from the party after the Lysenko Affair.

His quotations are intense:

  • “The first scientific postulate is the objectivity of nature: nature does not have any intention or goal.”[4]
  • “Anything found to be true of E. coli must also be true of elephants.”[25]
  • “The universe is not pregnant with life nor the biosphere with man. … Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.”[26]


March forth

Pretty good start to a book:

Here’s how the Penguin translation warms us up:

I’ve found both editions of The Persian Expedition to be a bit of a slog. I do enjoy a work based on Xenophon, 1979 film The Warriors, which begins with a summons from Cyrus.

Here’s what Benet has to say in his Reader’s Encylopedia:

(Two Benet brothers won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry!)

Xenophon was pals with Socrates, and wrote a book about horsemanship and one about hunting with dogs.

historians disagree on whether his nose was actually like that

The Greek verb exelauno, meaning “to march forth,” occurs frequently in Xenophon.


now this just seems wasteful

via


WWOZ

Homebound at the opening stages of the pandemic (around the time of the “Tom Hanks Crisis”) we started listening, via Internet stream, to WWOZ, roots radio from New Orleans. The music is festive, the catalog is deep: it’s kind of amazing how much music there is about New Orleans. WWOZ could fill days and days with specifically local music.

Metro New Orleans has 1.2 million people, putting it below Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh, greater Orlando, Sacramento, just a hair above Fresno in terms of size. But New Orleans punches so far above its weight culturally as to make it a unique exception and special case on a world scale.

Something about listening to an actual radio station with live DJs feels more connective, although Bryson Whitney at Spotify keeps a WWOZ playlist that has way beyond 24 hours of music at the ready.

WWOZ is the station where Steve Zahn’s character, Davis McAlary, is a DJ in the 2010-2013 HBO series Treme*, but don’t let that put you off. The DJs for the most part are remarkably unobtrusive.

Tuesday is Mardi Gras. There are enough songs specifically about Mardi Gras to power WWOZ for probably weeks of steady airtime. You will hear Professor Longhair and Wild Tchoupitoulas. It’s funny to observe the transition in music when Ash Wednesday rolls around. They really do have to dial it back!

Previous coverage of New Orleans.

* when Treme first came out we found it a little offputting, it seemed to be criticizing us, the viewers, for not appreciating New Orleans enough. This may have been partially based on a scene in the pilot where some well-meaning tourists are humiliated by Sonny (Michiel Huisman), a street musician. But we rewatched a few years ago and found the series went deeper than we may have perceived. For instance Sonny himself is a transplant. His pretentious attitude is deflated over the course of the series as he experiences a humbling journey related to his efforts to get out of addiction and restore himself. On review ,Treme does a powerful job of capturing not only what’s so special and alluring about New Orleans, but also what’s probably annoying and frustrating about living there. The dilapidations, corruptions, poverty and inevitable hangovers of a place that survives by selling itself as partytown. Some of New Orleans is disgusting, some of it is really refined and beautiful. Those contradictions are captured in the show, full of inhabited characters who aren’t always having good times. Treme is deep and interesting if not always fun.


Xth

The ten year anniversary of Helytimes rolled around without our really noticing.  We started this website* in February 2012.  The posts from that month are as clear a reflection as there is of the idea (extinct links and lost images are a curse but come w/t/territory).

There wasn’t a master plan.  “I should know something about writing for the Internet.” The directness is powerful (and frightening): what writer of the past wouldn’t have dreamed of an instantaneous worldwide publishing platform you could control? A piece published on Helytimes generates a link that’s as accessible as a link to The New York Times. How could we not try that? Authors had websites; I’d published two books and hoped to do more.  The magic of putting up pieces that entered the great Google library, the creation of a personal wondermuseum, it seemed fun.  

A strong sense memory lingers about the day of origin: I was in my office on the TV show The Office. Across the hall was my college Alison Silverman. Our offices were in an annex trailer in the parking lot, which often roasted in the sun. Inside between our offices was a treadmill people sometimes used. That was a funny time and place. I told Alison I was thinking of starting a blog and I remember not having any reaction at all. It was like I said I’d had a salad for lunch. But what was I expecting?

WordPress provided the structure. I’m not sure I’d recommend WordPress, it feels flimsy, it feels like it could collapse tomorrow. GoDaddy sold us the URL. Although GoDaddy’s name and TV ads make it seem ridiculous, they are really dependable, we’ve never had a problem. I copied a simple design template my cousin was using and off we went.

Since then we’ve published 1,624 posts.  Some of the most popular are:

– a guest post by Hayes about a local political issue, No on Measure S (No prevailed, and thank goodness). This post shows the value of possessing an easy distribution platform

– a post about the alleged subject of Gordon Lightfoot’s song Sundown. People Google this person and find the site, it’s celebrity gossip.

– a comparison of the UK in size to California. Another Google inbounder.

Mountaineering movies on Netflix (needs updating, The Alpinist and 14 Peaks both great)

– an investigation of whether the last joke Abraham Lincoln heard was funny

– a consideration of how a mosaic at Disney World was made by Hanns Scharff, one of the Luftwaffe’s top interrogators (and revealing insights in interrogation)

– a look into the darkness of Donald Trump’s father and the destruction of Coney Island

Some posts about JFK were also quite popular, as was a post about The White House Pool.

Anything about Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger will pop.  

Anything about writing or writing advice from other people will move the needle.

We consider Record Group 80 to be kind of a signature post.

Ten years as an amount of time is significant.  We once heard an interview with Joseph Campbell, he was talking about a young student who was asking Campbell about whether he thought he, the student, could make it as a writer.

Well, can you go ten years without making it?

was Campbell’s question. A good question to ask.  

What would “making it” mean?  We don’t profit off this website, but it’s very valuable as as storehouse of material that caught our attention. And it feels contributive.  It’s brought about many connections and friendships of great value, even if you can’t put a price on them.  

Once I was talking to a guy who knew a thing or two about SEO and metrics and online business about the site. He suggested we should pick any one specific niche and go deep, make that our thing. For instance, “Navy photos.” But that’s not the idea (and it would be boring).

Once I was talking to a successful Hollywood type guy who’s a reader of Helytimes. I asked him what I should do to get more readers. He looked at me like I was kind of an idiot.

Write about the Kardashians

he said.

That’s not the idea here either.

This isn’t any kind of business. During the lifespan of this website we published a book, wrote several other books, wrote lots of television, co-hosted hundreds of episodes of The Great Debates. This is a straightup side project. But sometimes that’s where the life is.

My life times out so my growing up parallels the Internet growing up. My age 18 was close to the Internet’s age 18. So I followed and tracked the rise of what we unfortunately have to call blogging. 

Andrew Sullivan was an early one. Blogging eventually burned him out and he had to stop.  Matt Yglesias was my near contemporary in college (I don’t think I ever met him).  He seems built to be a blogger and has made a job of it.  That takes stamina, focus, and drive we don’t have.

Hot takes aren’t the game around here. Unless they’re hot takes on something from like the 15th century

We maintain this site out of desire to clean out the brain-attic, to keep an independent publishing vector open, to settle anything that’s gnawing at us, to share (and clear the mind of) passions, obsessions, curiosities and discoveries.  

Over the years we’ve had a worldwide readership, lured in some surprising customers, lost one contributor to death by tragedy, and had some touching comments.  The funniest people reach out to us. Usually about content we never would’ve thought anyone would care about. 

We made a scratchmark on the cave wall, which, what else are we here for?  

So, onward!  Thanks for reading, we really appreciate you.  

* the word blog just isn’t a winner, is it folks?


The Qur’an: A New Translation by Thomas Cleary

Finally completed a seventeen year mission: to read the Quran.

The Opening:

I am no expert on the Quran.  Any statement about the Quran is in danger of inviting disputation.  With respect, I offer here the modest fruits of my studies in case they prove useful to you.

Recite

The first thing to know about the Quran is that like Shakespeare, it is not intended for you to read it.  It’s intended for you to hear it.  In Arabic.

The first word of the Quran is often translated as “recite.”  (Good Quora post about the first word).

About the meaning of the term `Quran`, there are two famous opinions:

1) it is driven from al-Qar` meaning `to collect`.
2) It is driven from `Qara` (to recite).

So says Ask the Sheikh.

The idea of whether the Quran can even be translated is a question with centuries of discussion and commentary and argument on it.   

Regrettably, learning Arabic at this time proved not practicable for me.

The problems surrounding the nature of the Quran are so many that this guy:

barely even gets to the content of the book.  This book focuses on the unique place of the Quran within Islam, and the sort of meta-questions of the Quran itself.  And I’m told Prof. Michael Cook is a leader in the field of English language Quranic interpretation.

This one I found more useful for basic setup:

A monologue

The Quran is a sort of monologue by Allah delivered through the angel Gabriel (Jibril).

In the Bible God doesn’t actually talk that much.  Nor is He (Bible God) quite as firm as Allah on the importance of getting His exact words right.

Allah put forth this monologue in seventh-century Arabic.  Even if I spoke Arabic like a native 2022 Saudi, Quran Arabic would be difficult for me to understand.

To put it mildly, a lot of thinking has gone into translating the Quran.  Here is a sample of some the various translations for 6:32:

Some translations of the Quran are so stiff as to be almost incomprehensible.  I cannot think this is correct, because the sounds and rhythms of the Quran from the time of its first recitings convinced so many.

Reciting it is the key.  So the Quran must flow, right?

But what do I know, maybe Allah wanted to sound stiff.

Cleary’s translation

The translation I chose is done by the mysterious and astounding Thomas Cleary.

source, cannot confirm this is really him

from the only interview I can find of Thomas Cleary:

Sonshi.com: According to a recent LA Times story, you were with the Dalai Lama. The news reporter incorrectly described you as a Harvard professor. Could you tell us more accurately what happened?

Cleary: I am not a Harvard professor, as the LA Times article says. All the other representations and their implications are likewise fictitious. I was not onstage with the Dalai Lama, and did not flank him at any time. I was not among those sporting the silk scarf he bestows. My work is not connected to any personal, political, or sectarian associations or alliances. My message that day had no relation whatsoever to the Art of War, and I was not introduced or identified that way.

As I have already translated both Buddhist and Islamic scripture from their original Sanskrit and Arabic, I was requested to address that assembly. I just recited some scripture as an amicus mundi, friend of the world.

These are the passages I presented.

Qur’an:

The Age

By the age, man is indeed at a loss, except those who have faith and do good works and take to truth and take to patience.

The Atheists

Say, “O atheists, I don’t serve what you serve, and you don’t serve what I serve. And I won’t serve what you serve and you won’t serve what I serve. You have your way, and I have my way.”

Assistance

Do you see the one who repudiates religion? That is the one who rebuffs the orphan and does not encourage feeding the poor. So woe to those who pray yet are inattentive to their prayer: those who put on the appearance and yet are withholding assistance.

Good enough for the Dalai Lama, good enough for me.

Wolfgang H. Wörderer took this one

I found Cleary’s translation comprehensible and approachable.  As far as I can tell he is a serious scholar with respect for the tradition.  Here’s a very thoughtful review by a Muslim.

Don’t make fun of the Quran.

That’s one of the big messages in the Quran.

But there are some people

who vend amusing tales

to lead astray from the way of God

in the absence of knowledge,

making a joke of it;

there is a degrading punishment

in store for them.

My intention is not to make a joke of the Quran.  For the most part it’s not funny.  Much of it is very beautiful and clear-sounding.

People, an example is set forth:

so listen to it:

those to whom you pray instead of God

could not create a fly,

even if they all cooperated at it.

And if the fly should snatch anything from them,

they would not recover it from it.

The seeker is weak, and so is the sought.

Is it a sacrilege to compare the Quran to a series of long raps?

Several times in the Quran, 11:13 for example, Allah challenges anyone who doesn’t believe in the Quran to try and produce their own verses.

Segments

And We have divided the Recital

so you could recite it to people

in segments, with logical stopes:

We have discharged it

by sending down inspirations.

Say, “whether you believe in it or not, those to whom knowledge was given before you

fall on their faces humbly

when it is recited to them”

The Quran is organized from longest chapter to shortest.  I can think of no other book organized this way.

Controversial passages

I can’t top this list.  If you’re reading the Quran looking to condemn it, you might be disappointed.  I find nothing in it that’s much worse than stuff you can find in the Bible.

62:5 says that “those who were charged with the Torah but then did not carry it out were like a donkey carrying books” which is a funny phrase.

Top quote?

So hard to pick.  I won’t.  I do like The Family of Imram:92 or 3:92:

You will not attain righteousness

until you give of what you care for

33:53 is funny, discusses how too much chatting annoys the Prophet.

How about 13:26:

God expands the provision

of anyone at will, and limits

Yet they delight

in the life of the world.

But the life of the world

is but a utensil

in respect to the hereafter.

Bold mine.

There’s the Quran, and then there’s the sayings of the Prophet

Whole other story.

I like this one.

Not sure what to do with this.

There’s the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet and then there are the interpreters

The Quran has had thirteen centuries of people interpreting it.

Graeme Wood’s surprisingly (?) entertaining book about the rise of ISIS is, in a way, about how study and interpretation and interpretation of interpretation of the Quran can lead to wild and wildly different outcomes, with ISIS being a no bueno example.  Conversation with Graeme Wood much improved my Quranic studies.

Not scoffing

The Quran several times warns “scoffers” or disbelievers.  Let me be clear: the Quran is nothing to scoff at.

Or do they say, “he made it up!”?

They simply don’t believe

Let them come up

with a story like it

Peace be upon the Prophet.  I am happy to have had Thomas Cleary’s help in taking the first step towards understanding the Quran and recommend his translation.


Healy

“I think that fact that we did it live really made the show what it was,” Ensley said in 1997. “We’d show film of me fishing someplace, then we’d have live guests. People from everywhere would call us to see if they could be on to show the fish they had caught. One time a guy from Hiawatha, Kansas came in with a 72-pound flathead catfish. We had it in a horse tank in the back of a pickup, and he drove it right onto the set. When he pulled that big catfish out of the tank, water went flying everywhere.

Harold Ensley probably the most famous person from Healy, Kansas. He hosted a TV show called The Sportsman’s Friend.

The cast of Gunsmoke appeared on his show, and he appeared on Gunsmoke as one of Festus Haggen‘s drunken cousins who was thrown in jail.

He really did it:

During their last conversation, Ensley claimed, to his son, to have been dreaming about fishing. “He said he’d been dreaming about bass fishing at Table Rock Lake using a buzzbait,” Dusty Ensley said. “He went out thinking about hunting and fishing.” Harold Ensley died at his home in Overland Park, Kansas, at the age of 92.

As for Healy, pop 195:

The community is served by Healy USD 468 public school district. Their mascot is “The Eagles”, and offer volleyball, basketball and track, collaborating with Ransom, KS. Since the 2012-2013 season, the Healy High School basketball team holds a record of 5-97, and according to MaxPreps, is ranked as the second worst team in the state of Kansas, just ahead of the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe


Soviet memorial, West Hollywood

The only monument to soldiers of the former Soviet Union on US soil* is in West Hollywood.

The monument was and is controversial.

Out for a walk the other day we spotted this at the Russian language library:

How many of those are left?

* haven’t confirmed this myself and wouldn’t be shocked if there’s another example. I’m pretty sure there are at least like US-Soviet friendship memorials from WW2, or memorial stones/plaques given in tribute to the alliance of that time, or commemorating units that coordinated on the Siberian airlifts, at the Punchbowl in Hawaii for instance.


Pipelines

To understand the Kremlin’s motivations in regard to its smaller, and relatively impoverished, neighbor, the key fact to know is that Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s heating-fuel supplies — namely, natural gas.

To get it there, Russia relies mostly on two aging pipeline networks, one of which runs through Belarus and the other through Ukraine. For this, Russia pays Ukraine around $2 billion a year in transit fees.

Russia is a petrostate and relies on oil and natural-gas sales for about 60% of its export revenue and 40% of its total budget expenditures. Any crimp on Russia’s ability to access the European market is a threat to its economic security.

so writes Lukas I. Alpert in Marketwatch. Samuel Bailey is credited for the below map, found on the Wikipedia page, “Pipeline Transport.”

Ironically the cost for Russia will be “decertification” of Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Closer to home: big news came from the Supreme Court today re: the Dakota Access Pipeline. The court declined to hear Energy Transfer’s plea to avoid a legally mandated environmental review.

The ruling is a huge victory for North Dakota tribes including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

It signals the end of the litigation road for the Texan energy company, but the pipeline, known as DAPL and open since 2017, will continue to operate as the review is carried out.

You gotta be on the side of the tribes here, they don’t want a pipeline under their lake. But on the other hand, aren’t pipelines a pretty good way to transport oil? What’s better, trucks? Trains?

Oil and gas is extracted in inconvenient places and is messy to move. The limited pipelines create chokepoints. Remember when “hackers” shut down Colonial? 45% of all the fuel consumed on the East Coast comes through that one pipeline.

A map of US pipelines made using a tool at FracTracker.

Here in greater Los Angeles we have refineries, so several pipelines flow out. If I understand right, just two pipelines, one from here and one from Utah, bring all the necessary jet fuel, heating oil, and gasoline to Las Vegas.

You’d think there’d be one of those books called like Invisible Veins: How Pipelines Run Our Lives but I couldn’t find one. If you look up “pipeline” in books on Amazon, you get a graphic novel, some books about metaphorical “pipelines” like in education and income, and this one:

Beautiful cover. The target audience for that one seems to be those involved in legal matters:

In this edition of Oil and Gas Pipelines in Nontechnical Language, Tom Miesner and Bill Leffler leverage the hundreds of courses they have taught in the past decade, along with the interaction with their audiences, clients, and opposing attorneys to present a totally understandable view of pipeline inception, planning, construction, start-up, and operation. Those experiences allowed them to expand but simplify the complexities of pipelines, including a totally revised chapter on equipment that provides a complete view of pipeline components. A separate chapter on control systems updates this technology.

At over $100 that’s too expensive for a probably very boring book right now, but we did get this one:

and will report

In this lyrical manifesto, noted climate scholar (and saboteur of SUV tires and coal mines) Andreas Malm makes an impassioned call for the climate movement to escalate its tactics in the face of ecological collapse. We need, he argues, to force fossil fuel extraction to stop–with our actions, with our bodies, and by defusing and destroying its tools. We need, in short, to start blowing up some oil pipelines.

Haven’t read it yet, but blowing up an oil pipeline seems like one of the messiest things you could possibly do! You really gotta believe in the ends justifying the means etc. if you’re blowing up pipelines to help reverse ecological collapse.

I wonder if we ought instead to say a prayer for the health and safety of all pipelines!

We’ll let Malm make his case.


Texifornia

Inspired by the shirt the crew wears at Bludso’s BBQ decided to compare. How big is California compared to Texas?

And just for a laugh:

True Size Of... is the tool used for that.


Courteney Cox snack

mark us down as intrigued. Via LAT.


Munger speaks, 2022

The Daily Journal annual meeting gave Charlie Munger an occasion to hold forth.

Getting rich is gonna get harder:

It is hard. It’s going to be way harder for the group that’s graduating from college now. For them to get rich, stay rich, and so forth is going to be way harder than it was for my generation.

Think what it costs to own a house in a desirable neighborhood in a city like Los Angeles. I think we’ll probably end up with higher income taxes too, and so on.

I think the investment world is plenty hard. In my lifetime, 98 years, it was the ideal time to own a diversified portfolio of common stocks that updated a little by adding the new ones that came in like the Apples and the Alphabets and so forth. I’d say people got maybe 10 or 11% if you did that very intelligently before inflation and maybe 8 or 9% after inflation. That was a marvelous return. No other generation in the history of the world ever got returns like that. And I don’t think the future is gonna give the guy graduating from college this year nearly that easy an investment opportunity. I think it’s gonna be way harder.

He’s not that worried about global warming (his term):

I’ll be very surprised if global warming is going to be as bad as people say it’s going to be The temperature of the Earth went up, what, one degree centigrade in about 200 years. It’s a hell of a lot of coal and oil that was burned and so forth. It was one degree. I’m just skeptical about whether it’s as bad as these calamity howlers are saying.

On his weird dorm:

Question: What was it specifically that prompted the idea for windowless dorm rooms? Please walk us through this decision. This is in regards to your design for student housing.

Charlie Munger: Nobody in his right mind would prefer a blank wall in a bedroom to a wall with a window in it. The reason why you take the windows out is that you get something else from the design considered as a whole. If you stop to think about it big cruise ships have huge shortages of windows in bedrooms because too many of the rooms are either below the waterline or they’re on the wrong side of the aisle. So in the very nature of things you get a shortage. You can’t change the shape of the ship. You have to do without a lot of the windows to have a ship that’s functional. That’s required by the laws of hydrodynamics.

So we get the advantage of a big ship but it means a lot of the rooms can’t have windows. Similarly, if you want a bunch of people who are educating each other to be conveniently close to one another, you get a shortage of windows. In exchange, you get a whole lot of people who are getting a lot of advantage from being near one another, and they have to do without a real window in the bedroom. It doesn’t matter. The air can be as pure as you want and the light that comes in through an artificial window can mimic the spectrum of daylight perfectly.

It’s an easy trade off. You pay $20,000/week or something on a big cruise ship to have a room with an artificial window. For a long time on a Disney cruise ship, they had two different kinds of window rooms, one with a window and one without a window. They got a higher price in rent for the one with an artificial window than they got for a real one. In other words, they reduce the disadvantage to zero. In fact, they made it an advantage.

So it’s a game of trade offs. That poor pathetic architect who criticized me is just an ignoramus. He can’t help himself. I guarantee the one thing about him is that he’s not fixable. Of course, you have to make trade offs in architecture.

Emphasis mine.

You’re lucky if you’ve got four good assets.

Some of his:

Question: How will this all play out? And what’s the best advice you have for individual investors to optimally deal with the negative impact of inflation other than owning quality equities?

Charlie Munger: Well, it may be that you have to choose the least bad of your options. That frequently happens in human decision making. The Mungers have Berkshire stock, Costco stock, Chinese stocks through Li Lu, a little bit of Daily Journal stock, and a bunch of apartment houses. Do I think that’s perfect? No. Do I think it’s okay? Yes. I think the great lesson from the Mungers is that you don’t need all this damn diversification. You’re lucky if you got four good assets. If you’re trying to do better than average, you’re lucky if you have four things to buy. To ask for 20 is really asking for egg in your beer. Very few people have enough brains to get 20 good investments.

He’s anti gamer:

Some of the games are kind of constructive and social and others are very peculiar. Do you really want some guy 40 hours a week running a machine gun on this television set? I don’t. But a lot of the games are harmless pleasure. It’s just a different technique of doing it. I like the part of it that’s constructive but I don’t like it when people spend 40 hours a week being an artificial machine gunner.

Speaking (admiringly) of the history of modern China. (tw if you find abortion to be nasty):

China could never have handled its life with a government like ours. They wouldn’t be in the position they’re in. They had to prevent 500 million or 600 million people from being born in China. They just measured the women’s menstrual periods when they came to work and aborted those who weren’t allowed to have children. You can’t do that in the United States. It really needed doing in China. And so they did what they had to do using their methods. I don’t think we should be criticizing China, which has terrible problems, because they’re not just like the United States. They do some things better than we do.

Agony:

If you stop to think about it, what makes capitalism work is the fact that if you’re an able-bodied young person and you refuse to work, you suffer a fair amount of agony. It’s because of that agony that the whole economic system work. The only effective economies that we’ve had that brought us modernity and the prosperity we now have, they imposed a lot of hardship on young people who didn’t want to work

Finally a stock pick:

But I would argue that if I was investing money for some sovereign wealth fund or some pension fund with a 30,40, 50-year time horizon I buy Costco at the current price. 

full transcript put up by Oliver Sung of Junto Investments.


so the caves are the stars?

Christopher Reynolds writing about Pinnacles in the LAT, “Why are so many people heading to California’s newest national park?”


Hello on the Steps of Friendly Greetings

Francis Ford Coppola profiled in GQ by Zach Baron:

But he has made a lot of money: first in the film business and then, spectacularly, in the wine business. His second fortune has allowed him to spend most of his time here now, he said, reading things like the 18th-century Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the longest books ever written. “They spend their time inventing poetic names for things,” Coppola told me about the characters in the novel. “For example, if I were to say hello to you, I should have met you on the Steps of Friendly Greetings and greeted you there. And when I say goodbye to you, I should take you into the Pavilion of Parting. And it’s the sort of attitude of making everything in life beautiful and a ritual of a kind. And you can do it! I’ll say goodbye to you in the Pavilion of Parting—you’ll never forget it.”


The Nineties

This was a decade of full-on metacognition, when people spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about why they were thinking whatever it was they were thinking.

This book was absolutely fantastic, I was riveted. The Nineties ran, for me, from age 11 to age 21. It’s kind of neat to have your life decades synced up to the actual decades, although as Klosterman describes in this book and related interviews, the Nineties might be the last time we think culturally in terms of decades: there’s no reason why we have to.

Chuck Klosterman is seven years older than me (if we believe Wikipedia). Some of his obsessions (Motley Crüe, Guns n Roses), even the idea of manically chasing to their endpoint the meaning of obsessions with a rock band, are just a click or two beyond of my own experience with pop culture, so some of his earlier books, although intriguing, I just never got the activation energy to read. Then I got this text from my buddy Sgro, who I met around 1993 or 94, with whom I spent many summers in the Nineties:

Flattery will get you everywhere bud. Here is Klosterman warming up to baseball in the 90s:

A football game in 1995 bore no resemblance to a football game from 1945. The greatest pro basketball player from the fifties, George Mikan, could not have made an NBA roster in the eighties. The physical and technical evolution of football and basketball had been so dramatic that the past wasn’t comparable with the present. That wasn’t true with baseball. Baseball had evolved less. The aesthetics and physiology were more similar than different, and it was not remotely unreasonable to suggest that the greatest player of all time was still an overweight alcoholic who’d retired in 1935. Part of what made baseball historically compelling was its ability to transcend time. The skills of hitting and pitching were static, frozen in amber. It was the rare game where statistics from the past were comparable with statistics from the present.

And then Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs on one season.

Klosterman points to a pivotal moment in Seinfeld. George, who’s been working with Jerry on a pilot for a show about nothing, is confronted by NBC executive Russell Dalrympe:

“Well, why am I watching it?” asks Dalrymple.

“Because it’s on TV,” replies George.

That was how it was then. You watched what was on TV. A related fact:

The Kirstie Alley vehicle Veronica’s Closet, when packaged in NBC’s Thursday night lineup, could sustain a weekly audience of 24 million viewers. When it was moved to Monday, its viewership dropped to 8 million.

(last week, by comparison, the most popular non-Olympics broadcast show, FBI, got seven and a half million viewers. I don’t think any comedy came close to even 5 million viewers).

On the OJ trial:

It is a hinge moment in U. S. media history, ostensibly for its effect on race and celebrity but mostly for the way it combined tragedy and stupidity on a scope and scale that would foretell America’s deterioration into a superpower that was also a failed state. It was a TV show that proved everything that had always been feared and suspected about the medium of TV.

Within a brilliant riff/exploration on Bill Clinton and the much-imitated (though only once actually said) “I feel your pain”:

Without even trying, [90s Americans] could dissect a broadcast like Clinton’s Oklahoma City address with the acuteness of self-taught media analysts. And within those conditions – within the context of grading a speech’s sincerity as much as feeling that sincerity – Clinton was unstoppable.

This is an error:

Proof:

But, I forgive! I thought Klosterman’s analysis of Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines alone was worth the price of admission.

It’s interesting how we talk about a writer having a voice: Klosterman literally has a distinctive speaking voice (as do Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris, who else?)


Supreme

James Jebbia, founder of Supreme, has said that the red box logo with “Supreme” in white Futura Heavy Oblique was taken from the work of Barbara Kruger. Kruger herself commented on this issue on the occasion of a recent lawsuit between Supreme and a women’s street clothing brand that used the Supreme logo to make a “Supreme Bitch” logo that was printed on T-shirts and hats. In response, Kruger said, “What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.

Emphasis mine. Reading up on the streetwear brand whose store is a center of gravity in the Melrose/Fairfax region of LA.


How to skate a 10k

We were intrigued by this WSJ story:

He Broke Every Record. Then He Told His Rivals How to Beat Him.
After Swedish speedskater Nils van der Poel took Olympic gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, he published his entire training plans so others could copy it

Nils van der Poel could have easily kept his training program a secret.

No one needed to know about the months of aerobic work, the endless laps of a speedskating oval, or the allowances for beer, ice cream, and the odd skydive. The eccentric 25-year old from Sweden could have collected his two Olympic gold medals and quietly left Beijing.

Instead, van der Poel did something unthinkable in a sport where every marginal gain is guarded like a state secret: the double Olympic champion posted his entire training program online, all 62 pages of it. It was the speedskating equivalent of Bill Belichick publishing his playbook the day after the Super Bowl.

Sure enough, you can follow the link to Nils van der Poel’s thoughts on training and detailed training plan.

On the mental aspects:

The media:

This round of Olympics seemed bleak to us, the women’s figure skating finals in particular were like a horrible accident we couldn’t look away from. But this kinda thing is what it’s all about.

He knows that the training manual can’t be for everyone. For the van der Poel method to really work, you not only need the freakish van der Poel lungs and commitment. You might also need the van der Poel touch of crazy.

“I often wished that I would’ve had company,” he writes, “but no one else wanted to join my lifestyle.”


Peabody

Came across a story about coal company Peabody Energy, and went looking into the founder of the company, Francis S. Peabody. (Is he the Mr. Peabody mentioned in John Prine’s song Paradise? Think so).

There are prominent Peabodys in the history of Massachusetts but this Mr. Peabody was from Chicago.

And how does a coal baron die? He died of a heart attack during a fox hunt on his own estate.

Only a year after Mayslake Hall was completed, Francis Peabody died of a heart attack during a fox hunt on his property. He was 63.

(source for that photo: MichaelBNA on Wikipedia)