Building Perfect

"When the frontiers existed, we could test ourselves against it"

Happy Friday!

Apologies for not having an “On My Mind” section this week — my wife was traveling, so I had to “cut corners” roughly everywhere in my life over the last few days.

It amazes me that there are thriving single parents out there. I am not nearly strong enough — you all are amazing.

Thanks!

EJ

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Quote of the Week

It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.

— Henry Ford

Poll of the Week

On average, do you listen to music from 10+ years ago or from today?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Last Week

Question: Do you watch / attend the Berkshire annual meetings?

Results: 52% said no! On my end, at least for the last six years or so, I have.

Last “On My Mind”

Question: Have you used AI to write something for you at work?

Results: 63% said yes! I would have to say that I have tried to use AI to write things. Often, after editing, the AI proved to be inspiration more than written words…

Things to Read

Leave Me Alone | From They Choose to Live by Adam Goodheart, 2023

The self-assured evangelist, 26-year-old John Allen Chau, had aimed to convert the Native people of a place he felt might be “Satan’s last stronghold.” Yet his brief visit bestowed another, distinctly 21st-century, kind of glory: Within a few days, unbeknownst to the islanders, the fact of their existence went viral…

Many of the islanders’ fans see them as romantic heroes: staunchly rejecting the interconnected world, the planet’s most committed practitioners of digital detox. A few dozen naked tribesmen with handmade bows and arrows seem somehow more powerful—more authentically human—than the billions of other Earthlings clutching smartphones.

In many ways, North Sentinel remains terra incognita. No visitor has mapped the jungle-shrouded interior of the island (roughly the size of Manhattan) or held a conversation with its residents. No one knows the size of the island’s population, which has been estimated at between 50 and 200. No one but the Sentinelese knows what language they speak, what laws might govern them, what god they might worship, or even what the tribe is called in its own language. From passing boats and aircraft, it’s possible to glimpse them spearing fish in the shallows, poling their dugout canoes across the lagoon, and aiming the bows that they use to hunt game…

On my first visit to the archipelago, 25 years ago, I decided to travel, foolishly and illegally, to the coast of North Sentinel. (The surrounding waters are strictly off-limits and patrolled regularly by the Indian coast guard and navy.) I paid some local fishermen to take me across the channel in their small motorboat under cover of darkness.

We arrived at dawn in the waters.

Stagnant Culture | From Culture in Crisis by Ted Gioia, 2024

Is old music killing new music?

When I first looked at this trend in 2022, old music accounted for 69.8% of streaming. I was stunned by that number—it’s not healthy when fans abandon new music—but it’s gotten worse.

More recent figures from research group Luminate indicate that old music has now grown to 72.6% of the market.

The same trend is now impacting live music. Nostalgia festivals are booming, while more up-to-date events like Coachella are struggling. .

According to The Guardian:

It all speaks to the changing face of nostalgia. There was a time when this kind of thing might have been much less high-profile, perhaps taking place on a cruise ship (where bands like Weezer, Creed and Flogging Molly have long performed gigs to captive crowds of superfans). But a decade-plus of the streaming revolution has had a flattening effect on musical eras and what is perceived as “old”.

This comes at a cost. The Guardian warns: “There will be no nostalgia in the future if the present is not properly tended to.”

Ponzi in Hollywood | From Master of Make-Believe by Evan Osnos, 2024

Like other accomplished swindlers, Horwitz excelled by knowing his audience. In Chicago, he was a wealthy heir who flew private jets to movie shoots. In L.A., he was a plucky football talent selling door-to-door. (A surprising number of people he dealt with in California mentioned how good he smelled.) His difficulty showing emotion, a detriment onscreen, turned out to be useful in pitch meetings. Edgar Allan Poe, in an essay on swindling, noted the power of nonchalance—the kind of take-it-or-leave-it indifference that conveys credibility—and Horwitz often succeeded by convincing investors that he didn’t much care whether they bought in. “Remember Zach does not need any money from us,” one wrote to another in 2017…

As the end of 2019 approached, Horwitz had raised three hundred and fifty-eight million dollars in the past year. He was running what scholars of confidence games call an “affinity fraud,” built around trust and personal connections. He found wealthy investors—in Napa Valley, Orange County, Las Vegas, and Chicago—who then spread the word on the tennis court and the charity circuit. But every network has limits, and the arithmetic of a Ponzi scheme is unforgiving. When you run out of new investors, the mechanism begins to collapse. After Thanksgiving, Horwitz fell behind on his payments for the first time…

Building Perfect | From Wither Utopia by Rohit Krishnan, 2024

It's probably not a coincidence that the golden age of Victorian explorers also happened at the same time. The sense of man taming nature, of going to the frontier and finding a new way of life, this was forefront in people’s minds. You can sense it when reading their books, or novels, or newspapers. Dickens wrote in that time, so did Jane Austen. John Stuart Mill too. Not just in the Anglosphere, it was the time of Victor Hugo and Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Melville.

When the frontiers existed, we could test ourselves against it. Which meant we could look at the vast expanse and see infinite potential. We only really have it today in the vast reaches of space or maybe the oceans, but it all feels all too jaded. Without more lands to conquer, we’ve succumbed to the melancholy of the human condition..

Visuals

American New Home Builds at All-Time Highs

NBA Salaries Expected to Soon Cross $100mm per year

Americans’ Asset Values Hit All-Time Highs in Q4

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If you found today’s issue interesting, more than anything, I would appreciate you forwarding it to someone that might also enjoy it. It is a big deal to me whenever someone reads my work, so I appreciate your support.

Have a great weekend,

EJ

Twitter / X: @HistoryEJ

Disclosure: Nothing in this article constitutes investment advice. More detailed disclosure here.

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