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One More Step

March 22, 2011 — 8 Comments

Add New Orleans, Austin, Tahoe, Riverside, San Francisco, San Diego, Vicksburg, Dallas, Tombstone, Tucson, Joshua Tree, Phoenix, Vegas to cities I’ve run in during the last year. Add some of the cities multiple times on multiple trips. In the rain. When I was sick. With a weight vest. On the beach, on treadmills, hopelessly lost, in the snow, in the middle of the night, twice in one day.

I wrote a version of that for the first time in 2008. But it was a shorter list for sure. When I look back on that period and partially on this one, what strikes me despite the differences in locations is the sameness of it. It was always about the same distance, at the same speed and usually around the same time at night. I realize now how unnatural that is, unproductive in a way. Periods of lots of activity can still be a stasis. In fact, the body gets used to this and settles itself into handling it.

People with energy cannot not use it. It pours out of them. There’s no question of whether they have time to do this or that, it just happens. They take one more step because they are compelled to. You rack up a history this way. The problem is when it begins such a unconscious part of your decision making process, it starts to not be enough. It ceases to mean anything if it is a routine, physically and in significance. What the body needs is unpredictability and contrast and challenges.

For me that has meant adding in new things like sprinting. Or using a weight vest. And swimming or biking occasionally. It’s less about the cities—I can trust myself now to get up and do it anywhere—and more about the diversity. The evolution of self-discipline ultimately comes to include regulating the discipline itself. To do the same thing over and over takes nothing. To do something different, exhausting, and new each time takes a robust creativity that you can be proud of.

Underlying Motivations

March 11, 2011 — 7 Comments

The underlying premise of a concept like public choice theory is that people respond to incentives. Even the government, as insulated as it is from the market, is still driven by a self-interest that colors and shapes its decisions. It’s a fact that is manifested individually first, and then collectively in second order.

This is something I think about a lot. Asking: what’s behind this? why is it this way? what am I not seeing that influences this situation? The eye of the needle determines what gets threaded through it. And people and the constraints of their environment function much in the same way. I’ve always found that getting things done is about understanding the forces that are acting on the people involved. Ignore the actions; consider the factors that created and shaped them.

It’s funny because what makes people the angriest or the most disappointed was often the most understandable. Yet their energy is typically funneled towards the examples that are least typical (and least changeable). Take something like ethics in the media. People focus on rare but overt conflicts of interest, nevertheless letting subtle but pervasive biases stand and be rewarded. For instance, everyone would agree that journalists shouldn’t cover things they have a financial stake in. But to me, its this kind of brazen corruption we should be the least worried about—at least it is easy to spot. Meanwhile, we have no problem accepting that how journalists or bloggers cover is something from which they receive direct financial benefit. The choice to make a story more than it is, to extrapolate wildly or to create controversy are all part of how a writer makes a name from themselves, particularly in a world of pageview bonuses.

The idea is to make yourself a student of incentives and of motivations. To understand that this person is addicted to chaos, that another gets paid to distort, that what matters to you is not necessarily what matters to them, or that you know what, it just can’t be helped—their self-interest is too compelling. Because if you study it and accept it uncritically, you can position yourself to travel along with that current, instead of fighting hopelessly to make it upstream. But this is contingent acknowledging a simple rule of thumb: there is always more going on beneath the surface. There is always an incentive. And a response.


March 3, 2011 — 8 Comments

There is the impulse when we’re angry or frustrated to take that out on other people. To be short or cruel just to slacken the tension we’ve built up. Sometimes it is harsh words, sometimes it is violence but it’s the same release. I think about that scene in Fight Club where Jack funnels all his rage and pain into destroying Angel Face.

Obviously the appropriate response is to process it, to dissipate it through evaluation and verbalization. I realized the other day that the reason I like running is because it’s inner-directional. All athletic activity is cathartic. Running takes that catharsis out on ourselves. Which honestly, is the only place it should go.

Feel disappointed in yourself, go further than you intended. Feel angry, punish yourself by turning up the treadmill. Just fucking sick of it all, go long and hard—excel. Tired? Fuck you, go faster. You were going to stop? A few more steps.

Think about what it means to play other sports with a vengence. It’s normally characterized by aggression projected outwardly at someone else. It’s never how fast they got back on defense. Never how willing they were to dive perilously for a catch. Never the restraint they showed at bad pitches. It’s about hard they hit someone else, the punishment they inflicted on someone’s body or face, how they’re “taking over the game.”

There is this notion in philosophy about retreating inside yourself. And finding a respite in doing so. In fact, not just a break but a refueling. “Love the discipline you know,” Marcus said, “and let it support you.” The idea is to find solace in self-control, rather than some brief satisfaction in abandoning it.

What I like is the process of using the treadmill to take it out on yourself. Because you know your body can handle the brunt of it. Instead of inevitably taking it out on other people, either literally so in a different sport or in the course of daily life. To walk away and be able to look at things fresh, knowing that whatever baggage you bring to a given situation has no place on other people’s shoulders or in their laps. To have a designated place in your life where you unload and dissemble it, before it piles up unmanageably high. Running for me is the activity that best approximates that, but of course there are others. It’s just a matter of discovering it and amply scheduling enough of it.

Reading List Archive

March 3, 2011 — Leave a comment

Here is an archive of my reading list email recommendations. For ease of use, hit “ctrl+f” and type the hashtag+letter from the table of contents below to jump around.

#A July 25th, 2009

#B August 4th, 2009

#C August 24th, 2009

#D September 17th, 2009

#E October 10th, 2009

#F November 5th, 2009

#G December 31st, 2009

#H January 31st, 2010

#I July 5th, 2010

#J October 7th, 2010

#K November 8th, 2010

#L December 13th, 2010

#M January 17th, 2011

#N February 21st, 2011

#A July 25th, 2009

Asylum: An Alcoholic Takes the Cure by WIlliam Seabrook

The Crack Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s

No Hiding Place: An Autobiography by WIlliam Seabrook

Jungle Ways by WIlliam Seabrook

Public Enemies: Americas Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough

And Then Theres This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture by Bill Wasik

Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America by Julia Angwin

#B August 4th, 2009

On the Rock: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz : The Prison Story of Alvin Karpis as told to Robert Livesey

Addiction: A Disorder of Choice by Gene Heyman

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Ails and How It Can Succeed Again by Bent Fyvbjerg

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

The Man Who Lost Everything by Paul Kuttner


September 17th, 2009

Hustling by Gail Sheehy

The 50th Law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent

The Wauchula Woods Accord by Charles Siebert

The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of his LifeHis Own by David Carr

My Life and Battles by Jack Johnson

#E October 10th, 2009

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz

Cesar’s Way by Cesar Milan

Murder Trials: In Defense of Sextus Roscius of Ameria and In Defense of Aulus Cluentius Habitus by Cicero

Animal Underworld: Inside Americas Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species by Alan Green

Theory of War: A Novel by Joan Brady

Lives of the Later Caesars by Anonymous

#F November 5th, 2009

The Strategy Paradox by Michael E. Raynor

A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer

Ambition by Joseph Epstein

My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn


#G December 31st, 2009

Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporationby Grant McCracken

Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity by G. A. Bradshaw

Googled: The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley

Samuel Bronfman: The Life and Times of Seagrams Mr. Sam by Michael R Marrus

#H January 31st, 2010

The Tacit Dimension by Michael Polanyi

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals: The Lost History of Europes Animal Trials by E.P Evans

On Sparta by Plutarch

The Book of My Life: De Vita Propria Liber by Gerolamo Cardano

#I July 5th, 2010

The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus: A Roman Slave by Publius Syrus

The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream by  Christina Lamb

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America by Daniel Boorstin and Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

#J  October 7th, 2010

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Keith

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization by John Robb

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell

Montaigne by Peter Burke

Within the Context of No Context by George WS Trow

Education of a Felon: A Memoir by Edward Bunker

#K  November 8th, 2010

The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari

The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ and Other Essays by Jay Haley

Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody

The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism by Upton Sinclair

The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves by Andrew Potter

A Nation of Rebels by Andrew Potter

War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges

My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd

On Killing by Lt Dave Grossman

#L December 13th, 2010

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Political Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee

The Satires by Juvenal

Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism by W. Joseph Campbell

Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Waters

#N February 21st, 2011

Memoirs of Heinrich Schliemann: A documentary portrait drawn from his autobiographical writings, letters, and excavation reports by Heinrich Schliemann

Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi by George H Devol

The Big Con by David Maurel

Four Reasonable Men: Marcus Aurelius, John Stuart Mill, Ernest Renan, Henry Sidgwick by Brand Blanshard

Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality by Elias Aboujaoude

Augustus: The Life of Romes First Emperor by Anthony Everitt

Hadrian by Anthony Everitt

Cicero by Anthony Everitt

At Peace

February 16, 2011 — 1 Comment

Heinrich Schliemann’s whole life was an exercise in reification. As a commodities trader, he made his fortune through unswerving self-confidence, repeatedly, from next to nothing in St. Petersburg, Indiana, California and in Paris. Then, through a blind faith that the epic poetry of Homer was literal fact, he discovered the lost city Troy. And then Priam’s Treasure at Mycenae. And then at Tiryns. There’s a story that during the excavation of the last grave shaft at Mycenae, Schliemann unearthed a corpse whose facial features were briefly still visible. In that instance, he wrote to a friend, he recognized the face of King Agamemnon just it has appeared to him in a dream. That is to say, conclusive proof was his own imagination.

After some early missteps during his digs (Schliemann ruthlessly destroyed large parts of Troy), he found a collaborator named Rudolf Virchow. Virchow was basically the opposite of Schliemann. As a biographer wrote, he was “a pillar of strength and sanity, and unlike Schliemann he was uncompromisingly honest with himself, free from vanity and secure enough to be indifferent to success.” Virchow was the professional behind the scene, who barely batted an eye as Schliemann eagerly claimed all the credit because he was too busy directing and channeling the operation to the levels it ultimately reached.

I feel like that throwaway writeup of Virchow is about the highest descriptive achievement someone can accomplish. To be self-aware, to be assured, and to be content. It’s funny because in a way, those are the attributes that Schliemann pantomimed his entire life, with the endless searching, gratuitous wealth and constant demands for academic respect. The difference to me is that is sounds like one of them felt at peace and the other exhausted. But they both, at the end of their lives, were working on the same projects and passionately chased the same discoveries.

If I had to be one, after reading a lot about Schliemann, I would unquestionably have to be Virchow. I mean this in the most deprecating sense, because I don’t think I have the talent, the drive or the boldness to be Schliemann. What I take from the contrast illuminated in comparing the two is that we ought to try to follow the example of Virchow. And follow it fully by finding ourselves a Schliemann, whose boundlessness creates possibility out of impossibility. Someone who through sheer force of will makes their beliefs about the world true. That’s who you want to be work with, but probably not be. And I guess if you’re already and inalterably a Schliemann, fucking find yourself a Virchow. Because you need one or you’ll blow up, just like all people cursed with the natural skills of a trader inevitably do.