- Practices and exercises that make a soccer player good at age 12 could make them bad at 22. The incentive structure is all wrong. Bill Simmons cites her daughter in Southern California where soccer clubs are forming around the players just to monetize them. Children are a business! Apparently, SoCal has invented a U-6 team… only in America!
- France has instituted a system that produces a diverse pipeline of players. Children are encouraged to try different sports during a sampling period… during this time they’re encouraged to try to find what most interests them and what they’re best at. In Croatia (I think?), Epstein cites a study where all the most gifted and most promising girls are pulled out of the general pool between 9-12 to be put into a specialized soccer program. By 16-18, virtually all of these girls had quit due to burnout.
- The American military is starting to change its program to be more of a “talent branching system”— people change as they grow older. It’s important that their careers change too.
- “Grit” is not a constant quality– Epstein/Simmons cites James Harden. Growing up, Harden apparently possessed tons of grit. But after he became a superstar, Harden started to slack off and wasn’t as consistently hardworking. Grit changes. People change.
- Major League Baseball hitters able to knock 100 MPH+ fastballs outta the park are unable to hit 60 MPH softballs (which are larger than baseballs!) thrown by women. It’s because it takes 200 MS for the human brain to just to even visually see the ball. By this time, the ball is already halfway to the plate. Epstein remarks: “You could close your eyes at that point and you’d have all the exact same information by the time the ball got to you.” When players hit baseballs, they’re doing it based on visual cues that the pitcher emits; they’re not actually reacting to the ball (which would require faster-than-human reflexes). When confronted with a new pitcher, like a woman from softball or a baseball professional from Japan, MLB hitters strike out because they don’t possess the pattern recognition and experience to react to hit the ball.
- The one upside to this is that American Women’s National Team being so dominant in soccer is proof that gender equality in America (for sports) far outstrips gender quality is the rest of the world! Both Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach have said to Simmons that they didn’t start playing soccer until 16! Morgan played lots of softball and Wambach played lots of basketball. Wambach credits learning how to rebound well in basketball as the reason why she’s so good at headers in soccer.
Last week I heard this episode of Planet Money which was cross-posted from their sister podcast, The Indicator, and have found its subject recently on my mind, for some reason. The episode describes the current California governor, Gavin Newsom, suing Huntington Beach, California –a place that describes itself as “Surf City USA”— over not providing enough affording housing.
Newsom is trying to force Huntington Beach to construct more affordable housing because that’s apparently mandated somewhere, passed long ago, in California’s state charter/body of statutory law. Huntington Beach is resisting, saying something to the effect: “If we build all this new affordable housing here, it’ll change the character of our surf city! And we don’t want that! Don’t tread on us!”
While I totally understand both sides of the issue, here my sympathies are definitely more with Huntington Beach. It makes sense to me that the town’s existing residents should have the final say over how they run their city. Now, obviously, this doesn’t give them free reign to go about discriminating against folks based on religion/sex/ethnicity/etc. For all that stuff, they need to adhere to federal anti-discrimination laws/the ‘equal protections’ clause in the 14th amendment/etc.
But when it specifically comes down to “affordable housing,” Newsom needs to get outta here. Some Soviet-style, top-down, divine command from on high in Sacramento just has no place in Huntington Beach, California. If the residents of HB don’t want more people in their backyard, then they have that right. This is a democracy; we vote on things. This is what self-rule looks like. For all of the people priced out of HB, sorry– but I encourage you guys to go live somewhere cheaper. I say this as someone who was similarly priced out of my own hometown, a place I lived in for nearly two decades. Of course it’s unfortunate to be forced to leave your friends and family, and that comfort and security. But I had no job and simply couldn’t find one where I’d been. And so I set off for greener (read: cheaper) pastures. I left my church and everyone I’d ever known to embark upon a new life with Bagel in a cheaper state and area. And yes– while there have certainly been setbacks, I feel it’s ultimately been worth it. America is still the land of opportunity, but you’ve gotta chase it. It doesn’t just magically fall into your lap.
America is largely a capitalistic society. High housing prices are market forces at work trying to redistribute people to geographically more affordable areas that need those displaced people and their talent. This in turn reinforces a virtuous cycle– more housing is built in underdeveloped areas. Blighted areas are revitalized. New businesses, like restaurants and cafes, then spring up to meet the new influx of residents. Etc. This is good; this is a feature. Not a bug. But for it to happen, people need to be redistributed across the country. Housing and living costs need to increase so people relocate.Continue reading “Not In My Backyard”
Earlier this afternoon, I saw Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. It was nearly three hours long but actually pretty good. My primary takeaway from the film was that it impressively and laudably portrayed the story of two men who find themselves in the twilight of their careers, knowing that “all my best years are behind me.” To me, this was easily the most affecting part of the story.
Generally, when we are young, we read many books and watch numerous Disney movies that are always hopeful and optimistic. We’re taught at any early age to always simply have faith that our best days are ahead of us. And that’s why we should never give up and always continue striving endlessly to constantly improve, to be better. That if we just try hard enough, our dreams are within reach and achievable.
But for most of us, especially as we hit our mid-thirties and forties, there is another reckoning that is seldom told in books or movies: The idea that the vast majority of us will never live up to our childhood dreams. Most of us will never end up becoming astronauts or movie stars or hall of fame athletes. It just doesn’t happen. And so that’s why I really appreciated OUaTiH— it shines because it portrays this tale of failure and disappointment, and grappling with that reality.
In the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play characters far past their prime who are now simply spiraling towards an unenviable, ignominious end. There is something incredibly profound about acknowledging, “Tomorrow will never be quite as bright as today. And today is already a little dimmer than yesterday.” The way DiCaprio comes to grip with this sobering reality is phenomenal to watch. He was once a big shot, the leading man of his own TV shows in the 50s and 60s, only to slowly piss it all away and watch everything gradually slip away from him… that’s good filmmaking. Also, Pitt is a marvel too– someone who long ago tethered his cart to DiCaprio. And so as DiCaprio’s fortune wanes, Pitt’s career too declines following a similar trajectory, an agonizingly slow death over many years which he is likewise powerless to stop or even retard. This narrative theme of futility, resignation, and acceptance was by far my favorite part of the film. To be honest, I knew nearly nothing about the Charles Manson murders so that entire part of the storytelling was pretty lost on me.
A most hearty congratulations to The Right Honorable Boris Johnson who succeeded Theresa May yesterday, July 24, as the UK’s new Prime Minister. May certainly gave it her best shot but was never able to figure out the flaming dumpster wreck that was Brexit and so off into the sunset she rides. So long and thanks for all the fish, Mrs. May! You will most likely in the annals of history be neither missed nor remembered.
As for the current incoming PM, The Right Honorable Boris Johnson… oh man, this is going to be good.
I will confess something now, which is only fair: I was initially very much opposed to both the Donald Trump presidency here in the US as well as the Brexit referendum in 2016. From everything that I’d read online, it’d seemed to me that all of the experts and professionals who’d studied politics, economics, sociology, etc, for a living were all making dire predictions about what both a Trump presidency and a Brexit would entail. All of the political, academic, and economic elites –people with Nobel Prizes, Pulitzers, MacArthur Fellowships, etc– were all shouting from the rooftops grave warnings about what would happen if we continued down these two populist paths.
But we’re now nearly three years into the Trump presidency here in the US (and in this time, Brexit has yet still to happen) and I think I’ve changed my tune. The person who convinced me most was Michael Lewis, actually. Recently, I finished reading The Fifth Risk which was a remarkable book about the US government and just how many unsung heroes work tirelessly in civil service to serve us average Americans. Yet, despite all their efforts, the public servants in US government continue to occupy an incredibly despised and ungrateful quarter in the collective public imagination. As Lewis writes, “Big Government” continues to be repeatedly used as a pejorative term by many American citizens, especially in many conservative and rural areas. It is consistently unappreciated, derided, and mocked. On one hand, while many Americans happily accept social services provided by Big Government (the interstate highway system, Social Security, Medicare), they merrily/happily/ignorantly give Big Government the finger with their other hand. It’s really quite a sad situation. If I worked in government at all, I’d be extremely depressed. How to do you continue to dedicating your life to helping people who hate you?Continue reading “Congratulations, Mr. Prime Minister!”
Disney recently announced that Halle Bailey, 19 years old and who is black, has been tapped to play Ariel in the 2020 live-action remake. Since the announcement, there have been numerous hot takes that abounded the interwebs. So, why not, here’s my contribution to the cacophony:
I disagree with it.
Bailey is one half of the singing sister duo, “Chloe x Halle”, and there’s absolutely no doubt she can sing. She has a positively marvelous voice. But Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid cartoon from 1989 just isn’t black. In the original source material by the Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, Ariel (who wasn’t called that, but the mermaid, I mean) wasn’t black either. But more to the point, in the Disney cartoon version, Ariel is a white redhead. Hundreds of millions of children have identified with that as Ariel’s image. Yes, I totally understand we’re talking about fiction and mermaids don’t exist, but that’s all beside the point. The point is people possess a preference (or a prejudice, you could call it) for nostalgia. Especially if that nostalgic symbol is an important part of their childhood.
The Little Mermaid was never in the pantheon for me but Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1991 was a huge part of my childhood. There was one summer when my family was traveling abroad visiting Grandma’s house and B&B was only one of two VHS tapes that my sister and I had access to. (The Wizard was the other one. Yes, the 100-minute long Nintendo Power Glove commercial.) I must’ve watched B&B something close to seven hundred times that summer. It got to the point where I could sing along to all of the songs and knew much of the dialog by heart.
If Disney had remade B&B‘s live action remake in 2017 with a Belle that wasn’t a white brunette, I probably would have exploded into a puddle of sadness. And some degree of anger/resentment would’ve then likely followed, despite my full knowing that such emotions are unproductive. I mean, that’s how feelings work– they’re not always logical. They just happen.
This has nothing to do with racism or being “against diversity or representation.” I’m all for diversity and better representation in Hollywood. Crazy Rich Asians, which I saw with Bagel last year, was fantastic. And of course mermaids can be black! They’re imaginary; they can be any color of the rainbow. They could fly. I mean, whatever. It’s all make-believe.
But here, we’re specifically talking about Ariel. We’re also talking about a children’s cartoon that is beloved by hundreds of millions of people. That signifier has already been taken! Its signification has already been set! In the public consciousness, “Ariel” is a reserved word now! Would black people like it if Hollywood casted some white actor in the role of the Black Panther superhero in the MCU? If someone like Miles Teller portrayed T’Challa? Good God, the very internet would probably combust into flames if that ever happened.Continue reading “A Prejudice for Nostalgia”
Last night I watched the 2018 rendition of Robin Hood starring Kingsman’s Taron Egerton; Academy Award Best Actor, Jamie Foxx; and Villain-in-all-Movies, Ben Mendelsohn. Before going any further, let’s establish first though: This movie is positively phenomenal. IMHO, the critics are all wrong.
I totally understand why this movie fared poorly at the box office (an anemic $14m haul over its opening Thanksgiving weekend on a film budget of +$100m). But I still feel sad that Robin Hood only managed a 15% | 41% on Rotten Tomatoes.
*** Warning: SPOILERS! ***
Robin Hood is an updated and modernized version of the old fairy tale. The opening features a set piece with the dashing Robin of Loxley with this military commando group somewhere in Arabia on some black ops mission. The special effects are absolutely spectacular. There’s tons of automated crossbows, a crossbow bazooka, and close-quarters Kung-Fu action. This is what I live for! This is a movie! From this opening scene forward, I knew I was in for a treat. Debut-director Otto Bathurst heavily borrows from both Call of Duty and Saving Private Ryan with terrific results. There’s a Moor (that’s who the English are fighting; this is supposedly during the Crusades?) with a heavy-duty, crossbow Gatling rifle dispensing death from a bell tower. There are tons of slow-motion shots with stone mortar exploding as Robin valiantly runs, dodging hundreds –no, thousands— of arrows shot from every direction imaginable.
It’s not just the incredible special effects though; the story is excellent too. I’m a huge fan of the storytelling trope where the hero (here, Taron Egerton) needs to don a secret identity that he keeps hidden from his love interest– in this case, the gorgeous Marian (strongly portrayed by Eve Hewson in a star turn). Jamie Foxx (Little John) whispers the classic line: “If you love her, let her go. Letting her know just puts her in danger.”
Man, I could watch this stuff all day.
And then when Marian does finally discover Robin Hood’s true identity, what a cathartic moment! All of that feeling. The sudden realization that the man who she’d longed for and pined over for so long wasn’t deliberately treating her coldly out of spite, but was actually the secret hero she’d admired all this time and that he’d never stopped loving her… it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Additionally, no classic is complete without a completely despicable villain. And here, Mendelsohn delivers in spades. Hot off his villainy streak in Ready Player One and Rogue One, Mendelsohn plays Robin Hood’s nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. The storyline features a truly ludicrous plot where the good Sheriff is in cahoots with the Arch Cardinal of Rome to ally themselves with the Moors to overthrow the King of England. At least I think that was the plot? Anyway, no matter– it was all stupendously glorious.
In closing, I think what I enjoyed most about this 2018 version of Robin Hood was simply just how old fashioned it was. I know nowadays it’s become en vogue to feature more progressive storylines. Empowered female characters. Plots that subvert expectations. Etc. And that’s all fine– I think it’s great that Hollywood is getting more diverse and representative. But every once in a while, I think there’s an appetite for classic material too. And that’s where, for me at least, Robin Hood really shines. Long live the Hood!
What has surprised me about writing is just how exhausting it is. When I was working, there was a general cadence to my day that was very non-taxing. Going at half-speed, I was able to join conference calls, attend meetings, reply to emails, and write code. It was, only seldom when working on a thorny programming challenge, that I would come anywhere close to spinning up my full mental repertoire.
But with writing, that’s been completely different.
Every day I sit down at my keyboard is fraught. I’ve been trying a version of the Pomodoro Technique (but with one-hour sprints) which means each hour is similar to taking a standardized test like back in my schooldays. The heart rate is raised, my palms are slightly sweaty, and there’s a constant underlying tension and anxiety. It’s intense.
Consequently, my daily rhythms are weird. Sure, I’ve been currently fighting a long-term illness and maybe my stamina isn’t currently what it once was when I was a younger man. But every fourth or fifth day I’ll simply be so exhausted that I spend nearly the entire day sleeping. I’ll wake in the morning at my usual time, eat breakfast, try to write a bit or look at stock charts, maybe place a trade or two, and then a sudden unyielding exhaustion will simply overtake me. I never return to bed when I nap, because I’ve found that I always sleep even longer on a mattress and will only awake groggy or with a pounding headache. Instead, I nap on the floor which is just uncomfortable enough to prevent me from oversleeping. And it’s just mind-boggling, every fourth or fifth day, I’ll just sleep half the day away. By the time I wake, it’ll be around 4p. I get up off the floor, try to eat something, maybe do the laundry, and then that’s the day.
Every evening, Bagel and I also video-chat. And she’s always telling me how at her office, people are routinely putting in 12+ hour days. In fact, when I worked at the bank, I too remember routinely working from 8a – 10p. That was a pretty standard day. But now I’m just amazed by how much of that work was Grundoon-like busy-work and not truly challenging in any way, shape, or form. I must have written thousands of emails during my time at the bank. And programmed hundreds of thousands of lines of code. Not to mention spent hundreds of hours in meetings and on calls. But during all my years there, none of that holds even the remotest candle in mental effort and challenge it takes for me to brainstorm ideas, write characters and plots, and edit/revise/polish prose. Not even in the same galaxy or universe of difficulty.
Similarly, I remember from many years ago how professional mathematicians are pleased with themselves if they manage to get four solid hours of work done in a day. I’ve started developing a theory that if you’re in a job where you’re routinely working 10/12/14 hour days, then that job is clearly pretty menial in some sense. Simply because the human brain is unable to do more than four or five hours of “deep work” in a day. And definitely not consistently, day-in and day-out. Of course, I’m only talking about white-collar, office type jobs, because that’s all I have experience with. But seriously, this writing project is a whole other beast entirely.
Yesterday, I visited the theater alone to watch Spiderman: Far From Home. It was pretty good! I don’t watch movies much anymore– the last one I saw in theaters was John Wick 3 with my sister who’d happened to be in town visiting for the weekend. So it was nice to go out on a discount Tuesday to see a movie on the cheap. With Bagel still abroad, life around here has gotten pretty isolated and lonely. I don’t really have many friends here and so I pour my time mostly into day-trading, writing, and doctor visits nowadays. It’s not the life I’d choose but it’s the life I lead. It is what it is. In the grand scheme, despite my current challenges, I recognize I’m already luckier and more privileged than something like 80% (at minimum) of the global population which lives on less than $2 USD a day. So I’m grateful and brook no complaints. We do the most with what we’ve got and just try our best.
*** Warning: SPOILERS! ***
My favorite moment in the film is a scene after Happy (Jon Favreau) has picked up Peter Park in his Stark Industries jet. Peter has just gotten beaten senseless and nearly killed by Mysterio, only escaping by the skin of his teeth after being hit full frontal by a highspeed train bound for the Netherlands. In the jet, Happy lets Peter access Tony Stark’s super-futuristic in-jet lab where Peter designs a new Spidey suit using Stark’s nifty holographic 3D interface. There’s a small moment, with no dialogue, of Happy watching Peter expertly manipulating the holographic controls, clearly reminding viewers of how much Peter and Tony Stark are alike. Both are geniuses with hi-tech gadgets; both have chosen to suit up to fight villains; both have chosen lives of self-sacrifice in order to serve the greater good; etc. IMHO, these are the strongest moments of any of the MCU films. At this point, it’s been 11 years and 23 MCU movies. Sure, there are plenty of impressive set pieces with millions of dollars of CGI and stunt action. But for me, while the eye candy is nice, it’s the small human drama moments –especially those that leverage continuity and callback– that really make the MCU shine. Remembering that amidst all of the spectacle, that these are nonetheless human beings with human stories that we’re watching on screen is paramount to making this whole enterprise work.
Additionally, I read these thoughtful Verge and GameSpot pieces today which also got me to thinking: The worldbuilding consistency of the MCU has really taken a backseat to the individual storytelling within each self-contained movie. And this is probably a good thing. Honestly, I never considered this aspect much previously. But I think both Noah Berlatsky and Meg Downey make excellent points in their respective write-ups.
After I met Bagel, it was definitely like finding another gear. I keep a few photos of us on my desk. And it always helps when I’m in my weaker moments, when it’s late at night and I’m feeling tired, sick, or frustrated, I’ll look over at us to remind me that we’re worth it. And so I’ll write another few hundred words or two. Granted, they’re not always the best words of the day, but the point is that, for me at least, external motivation has made all the difference. I do consider myself a pretty disciplined, determined person. But, man, writing a novel is a whole other beast. It’s mostly the incredibly distant time horizon that makes the project so difficult. I mean, when you’re a student, you kinda get used to cramming the night before in the library or pulling the all-nighter to finish the paper, right? And even when I was working at the bank, we were still delivering software projects in well-defined two/four/six-week sprints. There was constant feedback every step of the way, your team that you were meeting daily with to make any course corrections necessary, and a consistent sense of progress. Even if it wasn’t always exact, there was still (usually) a forward sense of momentum and progress.
But writing is a multi-month (maybe even multi-year?) process? This is a campaign of an entirely different stripe. And it’s one without as finely defined, well-understood goals and milestones. For every successful Normandy invasion, you may also get a Waterloo or a Gettysburg. Sometimes you spend years building the Atlantic Wall or Maginot Line and it, well, just doesn’t quite do what you expected.
Additionally, with novel-writing, the formative initial “requirements gathering phase” is a little different. There’s a discovery process that’s actually more like the beginning of a data science project or trying to QED a math proof; initially you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. But you have some ideas of what might work. And so you poke around to see if any of your pet theories have legs. And then the entire project starts to (slowly) crystallize and firm up and you mold the beast as best as you can.
Obviously, along the way there’ll be dead-ends. And there’ll be days when you take one step forward but two steps backwards. But if you just keep laboring away, every day in the salt mines, it will slowly start to come together. I can’t remember who said this but I remember once hearing on a Fresh Air podcast an interview with a famous writer and she painted the analogy: “It’s like driving up a foggy, pitch-black mountain. Your head-beams only allow you to see a few meters ahead of you at any given time. But it’s enough. Slowly, but surely, you’ll make it to the top. That’s what writing a book is like.”
Or, similarly apropos, writing’s a lot like having faith: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
Two weeks have now passed into my new fiction writing project and what I’ve been a bit surprised by is the fecundity required to generate, unceasingly, two-thousand words a day, which has generally been my target. (Needless to say, I have definitely not been consistently hitting this daily goal.) I’ve always enjoyed writing, but other than a few Novembers when I attempted NaNoWriMo (without succeeding), I’ve never tried to consistently hit daily word counts when I write. I historically just wrote when I was struck by a particular idea or thought that I found intriguing. Being forced to hit a daily count is exhausting though. Maybe I’m doing something wrong? I honestly don’t know.
Once you set off on a journey produce an actual, complete fictional product though, the process changes a bit. It’s an interesting project of mixing several components: Of course, the writing. But there’s also editing, revision, ideation, and organization. There have been some days in the past two weeks where I’ve written zero new words and either just edited/revised old writing (trimming fat, adding color, etc) or just brainstormed and organized, doing a lot of “meta-writing” like tagging certain passages or writing out certain ideas/characters/plots just so they make more sense to me. That “meta-writing” is a bit like commenting code when I program my day-trading bot (which I’m also simultaneously still slaving away at! Need to find a way to pay the bills!) None of the comments compile into any assembly, obviously; they’re just there to help me keep track of what’s going on. Between day-trading, writing, and seeing doctors and taking meds, it’s all been pretty draining. Yet, where there’s a will there’s a way. “Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Confucius once said (I think).
I don’t know if I’m doing this right, but I’m currently just trying to race through 100,000 words as fast as humanly possible so I can get some sort of scaffolding up, even if I know I’ll have to eventually toss some here or there; or revise heavily. It’s much easier to carve an ice statue once you have an actual block of ice.
I read a lot about other writers. Specifically, I’m fascinated with people’s different creative processes. How do people ideate? How do they develop their ideas? What are the rituals or sources of inspiration that they use to get the train going?
While there are obviously many different schools of thought on the matter, the approach that seems to work best for me so far is a combination of John Scalzi’s and Lev Grossman’s.
From the Scalzi school, I’ve adopted a very commercial, capitalist approach: First and foremost– what subject is probabilistically most likely to sell the greatest number of books? What is the “Product Market Fit?” Notably, when Scalzi wrote Old Man’s War, he perused the shelves at his local bookshop and identified the genre which appeared to move the most units. Military Sci-Fi was the answer. As the story goes, Scalzi aspired to be a professional novelist (he was already an accomplished newspaper columnist by that point) and really didn’t possess an allegiance to any particular genre. More than anything else, he was motivated by how to make the most money possible. Additionally, then he honestly assessed his own abilities and that intersection of the Venn Diagram was thus the birth of Old Man’s War.
I really enjoy following Scalzi’s blog and writings because this guy is one fecund sob. Truly, Scalzi’s production is genuinely legendary. Sure, the quality might not be Lev Grossman-level. But Grossman only puts out a book once every half-decade or so. Magician’s Land was published in 2014, already nearly six years ago. As Scalzi has remarked previously in multiple places, writing to him is a cold-hard vocational trade. It’s a feature, not a bug, that he deliberately aims for being as mass-commercial-mainstream as possible. He enjoys raking in the cash! And possesses not an iota of romanticism about it. And I think that’s profoundly inspiring. I too, like Scalzi, hope I can one day make a living from writing fiction. So I pretty much hang on his every word anytime he says something about the craft/business.
My other huge inspiration is Lev Grossman. Man, this guy can really write. I’ve actually had the opportunity to meet Mr. Grossman at various book-signings that he’d hosted in the past. And what I admire most about him is just the sheer beauty of Grossman’s writing. Sure, it doesn’t always go somewhere, plot-wise, but the absolute gorgeous prose just can’t be denied. I once read an Amazon review somewhere that compared Grossman’s writing to “cul-de-sacs” and that analogy is entirely accurate. Again, it doesn’t always go anywhere, but the words fit together so enchantingly that that alone is worth the admission price.