But What For Takeaways - No. 022

"The practice is not the means to the output. The practice is the output because the practice is all we can control."

Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter, sent out every Thursday, with curated quotes and one-line takeaways from material I think is worth reading. I also share my own thoughts, inspired by others’ works, on Sundays. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues.

As always, any suggested materials for our Sunday newsletter can be sent to social@butwhatfor.com. Thank you!


This Week from But What For?

I’ve recently felt like I am stuck in a rut - or a kind of negative feedback loop that is making it difficult to feel motivated/content with how I spend the majority of my time (day job is investing in the tech space).

Each morning, I wake up feeling unhappy with what I am going to have to do during the day and who I am going to have to spend my time with. It feels like the reason I go into the office is to leave the office as soon as I can. When something new comes along that needs to be done, it ruins my day - my brain just doesn’t seem to care about any of it.

These feelings are entirely my fault - and likely entirely unfounded. When you look at the entire picture, I am extremely fortunate to be able to do what I do every day.

It has taken some time to figure this out - introspection is always painful - but I have let negativity in one area of my life bleed over into most parts of it. Being negative about something makes you less likely to want to take action. Not taking action results in things falling behind and the feeling of being behind / making no progress. When you feel like you are not making progress and there is too much to do, effort feels futile. So you don’t make any effort. And then this loops - feeling like you are making no progress begets no desire to put in the effort required to make progress.

Excluding the post from Sunday on American folk songs, you will notice that this week’s links were probably influenced by me working through some of the above in my head.

It is important to not only notice when something is wrong - but you have to take steps to fix the problems as well (“What To Do If You're In A Rut“). But, you need to remember that progress doesn’t come quickly (“The case for opsimath“) and requires consistent effort over time (“Why You've Been Lied to About Where to Put Your Time, Energy, & Focus”).

So - if you are ever feeling the same - remember to look at the things you can control and make sure you take ownership of making them the best that they can possibly be. It’s not always easy - and I am a perfect example of what failing in this regard looks like currently - but we don’t have much of a better alternative, do we?

If you have any thoughts related to the above, please share them with me and the other subscribers by leaving a comment. It is always great to learn from others who might be going through similar things or those who have found ways to approach similar problems effectively.

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Best of luck to everyone stuck in a rut currently,

— EJ


Latest from But What For?

America’s Tradition of Murder Ballads & the Story of Omie Wise

As might be expected, it is hard to track down the whole truth of something that happened so long ago. But there are a few clues and hints – collected by numerous people more curious and more determined than me – that we might be able to piece together – so let’s start with what we do know is (almost) certainly true.

Omie (actually, Naomi) Wise and her song-stated murderer, John Lewis, were actual people that lived in the early 1800s in and around Randolph Country, North Carolina – which was settled in the 1740s as immigrants moving south from Pennsylvania and west from the coast found themselves in what is now the heart of North Carolina. It was said that the County was made up of “on the one hand, men who distinguished themselves for vice, rapine and the most villainous of crimes; on the other hand, men who displayed the noblest virtues and highest patriotism.”

John Lewis’ grandfather, David Lewis, was one of the earliest settlers in Randolph County, and served as the patriarch of a line of “tall, broad, muscular and very powerful men… [that] sought occasions of quarrel as a Yankee does gold dust in California.” Richard, one of David’s sons, fled to a nearby county after killing his own brother, Stephen, following a far too complicated story involving home invasions, a fleeing wife, and an odd court ruling stating that, despite the fact that Richard had snuck into Stephen’s home while he was in bed and shot him, Richard had acted in self-defense. It was in this nearby county that John Lewis was born.

John grew, much like the other men in his family, into an imposing figure and inherited his father’s character traits, which, while not being the noblest, might have been viewed as desirable if you were a woman living in the Carolina wilderness in the early 1800s.

At the time of this story, John was in his early 20s and working as a clerk at a store owned by a Benjamin Elliott, which happened to be 15 miles from his permanent home. Making this journey every weekend, John often stopped by the home of William Adams, in the northern portion of Randolph County. It is said it was at Mr. Adams’ house that Naomi first laid eyes on John.

And that is where the closest items to facts in this story end in order to make way for a folk tale to begin…


Elsewhere

(Underlined titles are links to sources)

About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, by David Hackworth & Julie Sherman [Book]

  • Takeaway: Discipline equals freedom

It was another page in the continuing, unfortunate saga of the KATUSAs. Through attrition, their numbers had dwindled as the war dragged on, and they'd become less and less effective as their untrained ranks continued to be integrated into American units (leading, naturally, to more and more resentment among their U.S. counterparts). It wasn't until a short time after this fight, when I put all the Koreans in one unit under a great little Korean liaison-sergeant-turned-line-NCO named Chung and got results, that I finally understood how much of the damn problem was the Yanks themselves.

Most American leaders had given up trying to communicate with the KATUSAs, except through sign language (more often than not obscene) and name-calling. The war had made all the U.N. troops cannon fodder, but the KATUSAs were treated like subhuman cannon fodder. The Americans came and went every nine months; it was the KATUSAs who stayed on these slopes for the duration. And as time passed, we, the Americans, were the ones who, through the continued introduction of green EM and in most cases even greener officers, were becoming increasingly less proficient in our trade.

It should have been little wonder that the South Korean soldiers were cool, cunning, and more adept at keeping their heads down than joining in the fray; no wonder, in a jam, that they'd save their own asses and not their U.S. "buddies."

It was a lie; in terms of the Officers' Code of Conduct a lie as bad as any other lie... But the fact was, I was slowly beginning to see myself developing my own Code of Conduct; rather a Code of Conscience, the rules of which were based on the needs and welfare of my men versus regulations, or the desires of my higher-ups. The switch was unconscious (it had probably come with the Raiders, if not before); the long-term ramifications were enormous (something I couldn't have known in 1952). But the little book of What Really Matters, what's really important, had begun to write itself in my head, and it was something I'd trust in the rest of my life.


The case for opsimaths. Maybe late bloomers aren't so late [Article]

  • Takeaway: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who others are today

You spot talent by looking at what people persist at, not what persistently happens to them.

Taking the ideas of cognitive peaks, fluid and concrete intelligence, the role of luck and persistence in scientific success, and other recent empirical findings, we should be able to start re-thinking how we write the lives of late bloomers. We might start by dropping the ‘late’ designator all together.

Rather than thinking of people as late bloomers, people who were in some way held back or prevented from success, we would be better off seeing them as opsimaths: smart people who carried on learning and achieved things when the timing and circumstances were right.

Biography’s contribution to this is to contextualize and show the ways in which talent can express itself seemingly out of nowhere. Tracing the factors that were in place before the biographical subject made their achievement, using the general factors detailed from recent empirical research, might offer a useful approach…

Oblique success and lifelong learning are essential parts of many of these stories. And the list could go on… Henry Rolls founded his famous company late in life. The writer Oliver Goldmsith is acknowledged as a late bloomer in The Life of Johnson. Charles Spearman spent many years in the army before starting a PhD aged 34. He later did seminal work on the theory of intelligence, creating the theory of general intelligence… Julia Child didn’t graduate from cookery school until she was in her forties. Mary Wesley published her first book aged seventy. She sold millions of copies and produced a best seller a year for the next decade. Isaiah Berlin considered himself to be a late developer, coming to the history of ideas in the middle of his career. Thomas Hobbes didn’t begin to study maths or science until he was middle-aged. Quentin Skinner has said, ‘This sudden awakening, coming as it did when Hobbes was in his forties, entitles him to be regarded as one of the latest of all the late developers in the history of philosophy.’  I would, of course, prefer to think of him as an opsimath: he didn’t start late, he just carried on


What To Do If You're In A Rut - Jocko Willink [Video]

  • Takeaway: If you identify a problem, make sure you also fix the problem

“I am stuck in a prolonged period of things not going my way professionally or socially all that really is going on well is my time management still even after having owned up to my part in getting here I still seem stuck in a failure loop”…

Taking ownership of those failures, of those problems, that's very important but guess what - that alone doesn't solve them at all. Just saying I didn't get promoted - ok, it was my fault. Period. That doesn't solve the fact that you didn't get promoted. I'm not getting called back to do this other contracting job - it's my fault. Does that mean you get called back? No, it doesn't mean anything.

Taking ownership means that you actually have to identify the problem you know you're responsible for it and then you actually have to solve the problem… Just taking ownership of the problem doesn't make it go away. If you take ownership of the problem, you have to take ownership of finding a solution - and you have to take ownership of implementing that solution.


Why You've Been Lied to About Where to Put Your Time, Energy, & Focus [Video]

What I'm trying to reflect back on people is you can pick yourself - and you can show up and ship work that makes things better, that you are proud of, and you don't need anyone's permission…

This practice says I don't have to be in the mood. It's my work - and I don't have to be motivated and I don't have to have the muse talk to me. I simply do this work. I chop the wood. I carry the water - and then maybe it resonates with people. Or if it doesn't, I learned something and I do it again…

The practice is not the means to the output. The practice is the output because the practice is all we can control.


Take care and have a great rest of the week,

— EJ


But What For? Writing about anything, as long as it’s interesting


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The Great American Murder Ballad - The Murder of Omie Wise

"Oh, listen to my story, I'll tell you no lies; How John Lewis did murder poor little Omie Wise"

Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter, sent out every Thursday, with curated quotes and one-line takeaways from material I think is worth reading. I also share my own thoughts, inspired by others’ works, on Sundays. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues.

As always, any suggested materials for our Sunday newsletter can be sent to social@butwhatfor.com. Thank you!


Last Sunday I wrote a short introduction about Doc Watson’s version of Ready for the Times to Get Better - here for those that missed it (I embedded a video, which apparently is something that spam filters hate…).

That got me thinking more about some of the folk songs that Doc popularized, and I ended up learning the chord changes to Omie Wise (Youtube link, won’t embed videos anymore due to spam filters), a song with a chilling story - a murder ballad. The linked version has Doc’s son, Merle, playing the banjo - it was recorded shortly before Merle was unfortunately killed on the family farm in a tractor accident… maybe it is bad luck to dig in here, then again…

… was Omie’s story fiction? Or was it true - or somewhere in between?

The American Murder Ballad

But as I thought about it a bit more, I realized that murder ballads are not that rare in American folk and bluegrass music (Others had obviously already noticed this, but better late than never…). Nor are they rare historically. Many American folk songs have their origins in Europe (and some in Africa, which is also where the banjo originated).

As to traditional American songs, you have ones such as “The Banks of the Ohio” (version by Doc Watson and Bill Monroe), where an unhappy potential suitor is rebuffed by his sweetheart, so…

I took her by her pretty white hand,
I led her down the banks of sand,
I plunged her in
Where she would drown,
An' watched her as she floated down.

You then have Pretty Polly (version by Abigail Watson and Bela Fleck, a husband-wife banjo duo), which most likely is a modified-and-shortened story inspired by The Gosport Tragedy, an old English ballad from the 1700s. That song tells the story of lust-turned-murder after an out-of-wedlock pregnancy threatens a sailor’s life at sea.

Back in Appalachia, Pretty Polly was led deep into the woods where…

She went a little further and what did she spy?
A newly-dug grave with a spade lying by…

Polly, Pretty Polly, you’ve guessed about right,
I dug on your grave the best part of last night…

He stabbed her in the breast and her heart’s blood did flow,
And into the grave Pretty Polly did go…

He threw a little dirt over her and turned to go home,
Leaving no-one behind but the wild birds to mourn.

A bit less popular than the above, The Knoxford Girl (version by the Louvin Brothers) is still sung today. Similarly, the song seems to have taken on a new form in the Americas after being inspired by events in England, this time in the late 1600s - a ballad called The Cruel Miller.

Again, an unwanted pregnancy scares a suitor into murder, with the Knoxford Girl following her lover into the woods where…

She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry
"Oh Willy dear, don't kill me here, I'm unprepared to die"

She never spoke another word, I only beat her more
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow

I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town

A final example, for now, and less of a ballad - but still about murder - is the popular Tom Dooley (version by Billy Strings). Inspired by the 1866 murder of Laura Foster and subsequent conviction / hanging of her previous lover, Tom Dooley. While Tom was being sent to the gallows, there were still rumors going around that a jealous cousin murdered Laura in an attempt to get Tom to herself.

Depending on the version of the song, you have another lover-turned murderer - or a young man convicted of a murder he did not commit. Sitting in a prison cell, it’s…

Trouble, oh it's trouble
A-rollin' through my breast;
As long as I'm a-livin', boys
They ain't a-gonna let me rest

I know they're gonna hang me
Tomorrow I'll be dead
Though I never even harmed a hair
On poor little Laurie's head."

But what about Omie Wise?

What do we know about her story?

Omie Wise, Selected Lyrics

Oh, listen to my story, I'll tell you no lies
How John Lewis did murder poor little Omie Wise

He told her to meet him at Adams' Springs
He promised her money and other fine things…

“John Lewis, John Lewis, will you tell me your mind?
Do you intend to marry me or leave me behind?”

“Little Omie, little Omie, I'll tell you my mind.
My mind is to drown you and leave you behind.”

“Have mercy on my baby and spare me my life,
I'll go home as a beggar and never be your wife.”

He kissed her and hugged her and turned her around,
Then pushed her in deep waters where he knew that she would drown…

Two boys went a-fishin' one fine summer day,
And saw little Omie's body go floating away.

They threw their net around her and drew her to the bank.
Her clothes all wet and muddy, they laid her on a plank.

Then sent for John Lewis to come to that place -
And brought her out before him so that he might see her face.

He made no confession but they carried him to jail,
No friends or relations would go on his bail.

As might be expected, it is hard to track down the whole truth of something that happened so long ago. But there are a few clues and hints - collected by numerous people more curious and more determined than me - that we might be able to piece together - so let’s start with what we do know is (almost) certainly true.

Omie Wise & John Lewis

Omie (actually, Naomi) Wise and her song-stated murderer, John Lewis, were actual people that lived in the early 1800s in and around Randolph Country, North Carolina - which was settled in the 1740s as immigrants moving south from Pennsylvania and west from the coast found themselves in what is now the heart of North Carolina. It was said that the County was made up of “on the one hand, men who distinguished themselves for vice, rapine and the most villainous of crimes; on the other hand, men who displayed the noblest virtues and highest patriotism.”

John Lewis’ grandfather, David Lewis, was one of the earliest settlers in Randolph County, and served as the patriarch of a line of “tall, broad, muscular and very powerful men… [that] sought occasions of quarrel as a Yankee does gold dust in California.” Richard, one of David’s sons, fled to a nearby county after killing his own brother, Stephen, following a far too complicated story involving home invasions, a fleeing wife, and an odd court ruling stating that, despite the fact that Richard had snuck into Stephen’s home while he was in bed and shot him, Richard had acted in self-defense. It was in this nearby county that John Lewis was born.

John grew, much like the other men in his family, into an imposing figure and inherited his father’s character traits, which, while not being the noblest, might have been viewed as desirable if you were a woman living in the Carolina wilderness in the early 1800s.

At the time of this story, John was in his early 20s and working as a clerk at a store owned by a Benjamin Elliott, which happened to be 15 miles from his permanent home. Making this journey every weekend, John often stopped by the home of William Adams, in the northern portion of Randolph County. It is said it was at Mr. Adams’ house that Naomi first laid eyes on John.

And that is where the closest items to facts in this story end in order to make way for a folk tale to begin.

A Folk Tale Begins

Legend states that Noami was an orphan in Randolph County, bound as a child to Mr. and Mrs. Adams to work in their kitchen and garden. The Adams’ were said to be fond of the girl, who at the time of the story had just passed the age of 18. Accounts from the day point to an industrious, happy, and noticeably pretty young Naomi. As young people are wont to do, the two fell head-over-heels for each other.

But, unlike Noami, John’s mother was still alive, and “that mothers are ambitious everybody knows… [and despite] that they are the worst of matchmakers being equally well known,” his mother had set her eyes on another young woman, of higher status than Naomi, and unrelentingly did the one thing no one else in the County could do to a man of the Lewis family - she beat him down.

The new woman’s name was Hettie Elliott, daughter of John’s employer, and it was well known in the County that John had affection for Naomi despite his formal courting of Hettie. Hettie eventually pushed him on the question of marriage, seeing the politics of the situation as in her favor, and well aware that politics were indeed in her favor, Lewis assured Hettie of his intention to marry her.

A few days later, Naomi left the Adams’ home to fetch water, pail in her hand - but she did not return that evening, nor return alive ever again.

A Night Ride on Horseback

The Adamses awoke the next morning and knew something was wrong. A search party was gathered after Naomi’s footprints were followed to a spot where hoof prints marked that a rider had lifted her up and headed toward a secluded river. A widow living nearby had heard a scream the night before and the search party’s hearts sank when they found Noami’s body tangled in the weeds on the bank of the river.

“Drowned by violence” was the official verdict written on Naomi’s death certificate by the County’s coroner. Naomi’s throat was torn and bruised by powerful hands. Her skirt had been wrapped around her face in order to muffle her cries. Unexpectedly, however, came perhaps the biggest surprise. Naomi had been pregnant when someone took her life.

No one questioned who the prime suspect might be - John Lewis’ name was on everyone’s minds. And it just so happened that he was not at his normal clerking position that morning… instead, his mother innocently shared that he had come home late last night in soaking wet clothes. His horse had thrown him in the river so he needed to change, John had said, before taking off again.

A Prison Escape

John was caught the next night by a deputy from Randolph County - a man named Hancock was throwing a party and free drinks were too much for John to ignore. Arriving late that night, with a few friends alongside him, the deputy found John in the parlor of a nearby home with a young woman on his lap. Without putting up a fight, John was led back to Randolph County, handed a murder charge, and tossed in jail.

Stories spread throughout the County - a murder of a young woman like this was unheard of - and many in the community wanted blood. County officials appointed a small group of guards to protect John from the increasing threats of vigilante justice.

Meanwhile, John professed his innocence to unlistening ears. Seeing a hangman’s noose in his future, John pulled some strings with friends and family.

He disappeared after thirty days in jail and was nowhere to be found.

The Long Arm of the Law

With public sentiment strongly against them, and rumors of them playing a part in John’s escape, the Lewis family slowly moved out of the area. But even as they left, no one in the County could forget what had happened to Naomi. In her honor, a song had begun to be sung - “A sorrowful story you quickly shall hear; A story I’ll tell you about ‘Omi Wise; How she was deluded by Lewis’ lies.”

In 1814, Randolph County became aware that the Lewis families had settled in Kentucky. Rumors trickled in that John himself was now married with a son, living south of the Ohio River as if he had never done anything wrong.

Six years’ time was not nearly enough for the community to forget about the lack of justice for Naomi. A small group of men head off for the Ohio River, hired a couple of headhunters to not arouse suspicion in John in case he recognized them, and had them ambush John after posing as members of a deer hunt.

Hands tied behind his back, and despite a second escape attempt, John was brought back to Randolph County, and this time he was thrown in a much more secure jail.

But the Long Arm Isn’t Strong

His trial took place in a nearby county given the prejudice against him in Randolph. And many witnesses came forward with impassioned stories and pleas for justice. Mrs. Adams told of the relationship John had with Naomi. The widow shared stories of the screams she heard the night of the murder. The men who captured John both times - and even Benjamin Elliott, John’s employer - all shared their piece. But what was not available was any form of evidence.

It is not written down exactly how the jury came to its decision. But John did leave the courthouse a free man after the trial. The final verdict? John was fined for attorney’s fees, which he could not pay, and thus declared bankruptcy before swiftly making his way back to Kentucky.

Six years later, word came back to North Carolina - sickness had taken John to an early grave. Perhaps there was some justice in that? But rumors then started to spread of a deathbed confession - the guilt of a man facing heaven with a dead woman still in his heart.

Naomi’s Leverage

John said that Naomi had pleaded endlessly for him to marry her. Eventually, she realized tears would not persuade him, so she threatened to stir up trouble with Hettie, John’s mother’s choice for a wife, by preaching to every passerby that John had promised to make her his wife.

This threat was too much for John, and so he lied. He said that he would marry her. He said she should meet him outside the Adamses’ house and he would carry her on horseback to a preacher on the other side of the river.

She soon realized his real intentions and begged for her life - promising to quietly forget about John and never say a word about their relationship to another soul. Unfortunately, John had moved past the point of no return and threw her dead body into the river hoping it would never be found.

And thus ends the story of Naomi’s murder… or does it?

A Twist in Naomi’s Past?

In the 1980s, a notebook was uncovered in a set of materials from Randolph County that had been donated to UCLA. The notebook was owned by one Mary Woody, born in 1801, and she had written a long poem entitled “A true account of Nayomy Wise” shortly following the murder of Naomi. It is the only near-contemporary account yet discovered and was probably written about the time of John’s second trial.

And what does it tell us?

1) Spelling aside, children in the 1800s could kick today’s high school students in the butt when it comes to literature - and 2) Noami might not have been as naive as the popular story likes to suggest.

Interestingly, the poem ties with additional evidence discovered after inquiries were made following the discovery of the poem… the most relevant part of Mary’s poem to a change in our story is copied below:

To Such as here and Wants to know
A woman Came Some years ago
Then from a Cunty named by hide [Hyde Count North Carolina]
In Randolph after did reside
And by Some person was defild
And So brought forth a basturd Child [first child out of wedlock]
She Told her name neomy Wise
Her Carnal Conduct Some did despise
It was not long till She another
that might be Cald a basturds Brother [second child out of wedlock]
And Being poor and Credit low
From hous to hous She had to go
And labor hard in tiol and pain
Herself and babes for to maintain

Naomi had two children - and we now even know that they were named Nancy (born in 1799) and Henry (born in 1804). This knowledge is thanks to the childcare system of the time, and specifically “Bastardy Bonds” - a system whereby fathers were forced to cover the expense for children out of wedlock by posting a bond with the County. These bonds can be found in the North Carolina State Archives (not yet digitized apparently).

But then, the third child is on the way - this time, John’s Lewis’ child.

In Eighteen hundred Six the year
She was over come a gain we here
And by a lewis was defiled [John Lewis]
And a third time became with Child

It now seems that Naomi knew she was pregnant like the rumors of John’s deathbed confession suggest. But, following the poem further, it seems that she pressed hard on John not to post a “Bastardy Bond” like the two other fathers had done, but having happened on something equivalent to a poor North Carolina woman’s lottery for the early 1800s, she pressed John for the security that comes with marriage. After all, he had a stable job as a clerk, and she was soon to have three mouths to feed.

But remember that John’s mother wanted nothing to do with Naomi - and if she did really have two children out of wedlock, doesn’t that fit 1800s stereotypes for the kind of woman a mother would want her son to avoid? John risked both public shaming at having a child outside of marriage and the risk of losing Hettie’s hand in marriage.

Thus he turned to murder as a way to try to escape. Unfortunately for him, he has now been immortalized in song as the cowardly murderer of his future child’s mother.

If history is anything to go by, just like the songs from Europe discussed up top - maybe 200 years from now someone singing a version of Omie Wise will remind listeners of why it is that John Lewis was despised.

Sources

Copy of first full-length account of Naomi Wise’s murder

Allred Family History Website

Murder by Gaslight Blog

Randolph County History Blog

Mary Woody’s Poem


Take care and have a great week,

— EJ


But What For? Writing about anything, as long as it’s interesting.


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But What For Takeaways - No. 021 - The American Murder Ballad, About Face, Alexander Hamilton, Casinos & Origination

"She went a little further and what did she spy? A newly-dug grave with a spade lying by…"

Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter, sent out every Thursday, with curated quotes and one-line takeaways from material I think is worth reading. I also share my own thoughts, inspired by others’ writings, on Sundays. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues.

As always, any suggested materials can be sent to social@butwhatfor.com. Thank you!


General Update

As suggested by me sending out this email today, going forward, I am going to change up the days of the week that I send out emails. In summary, I am going to be sending out the longer articles on Sunday (previously Tuesday) and the links email on Thursday (previously Sunday).

I looked back at subscriber additions over time, and ~2/3 of them originated from articles versus 1/3 having originated on the emails. However, the split of writing is roughly 1/3 articles and 2/3 emails. Thus, I feel like I need to do a better job getting out the articles.

However, given a few day job-related constraints, I think I can do a better job sending out the articles on Sundays. This sounds like a procrastination problem, and it most definitely is, but let me give Thursdays / Sundays a shot going forward and we can see what happens.

Once again - thank you for subscribing and please let me know if you would like to see anything specific/different in the future.


Preview from But What For?

… (Full article to be sent out on the 14th) …

On Sunday I wrote a short introduction about Doc Watson’s version of Ready for the Times to Get Better - here for those that missed it.

That got me thinking more about some of the folk songs that Doc popularized, and I ended up learning the chord changes to Omie Wise, a song with a chilling story - a murder ballad. The linked version has Doc’s son, Merle, playing the banjo - it was recorded shortly before Merle was unfortunately killed on the family farm in a tractor accident… maybe it is bad luck to dig in here, then again…

… was Omie’s story fiction? Or was it true - or somewhere in between?

The American Murder Ballad

But as I thought about it a bit more, I realized that murder ballads are not that rare in American folk and bluegrass music (Others had obviously already noticed this, but better late than never…). Nor are they rare historically. Many American folk songs have their origins in Europe (and some in Africa, which is also where the banjo is generally considered to have originated).

As to traditional American songs, you have ones such as “The Banks of the Ohio” (version by Doc Watson and Bill Monroe), where an unhappy potential suitor is rebuffed by his sweetheart, so…

I took her by her pretty white hand,
I led her down the banks of sand,
I plunged her in
Where she would drown,
An' watched her as she floated down.

You then have Pretty Polly (version by Abigail Watson and Bela Fleck, a husband-wife banjo duo), which most likely is a modified-and-shortened song inspired by The Gosport Tragedy, an old English ballad from the 1700s. That song tells the story of lust-turned-murder after an out-of-wedlock pregnancy threatens a sailor’s life at sea.

Back in Appalachia, Pretty Polly was led deep into the woods where…

She went a little further and what did she spy?
A newly-dug grave with a spade lying by…

Polly, Pretty Polly, you’ve guessed about right,
I dug on your grave the best part of last night…

He stabbed her in the breast and her heart’s blood did flow,
And into the grave Pretty Polly did go…

He threw a little dirt over her and turned to go home,
Leaving no-one behind but the wild birds to mourn.

A bit less popular than the above, The Knoxford Girl (version by the Louvin Brothers) is still sung today. Similarly, the song seems to have taken on a new form in the Americas after being inspired by events in England, this time in the late 1600s - a ballad called The Cruel Miller.

Again, an unwanted pregnancy scares a suitor into murder, with the Knoxford Girl following her lover into the woods where…

She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry
"Oh Willy dear, don't kill me here, I'm unprepared to die"
She never spoke another word, I only beat her more
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow

I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town

A final example, for now, and less of a ballad - but still about murder - is the popular Tom Dooley (version by Billy Strings). Inspired by the 1866 murder of Laura Foster and subsequent conviction / hanging of her previous lover, Tom Dooley. While Tom was being sent to the gallows, there were still rumors going around that a jealous cousin murdered Laura in an attempt to get Tom to herself.

Depending on the version of the song, you have another lover-turned murder - or a young man convicted of a murder he did not commit. Sitting in a prison cell, it’s…

Trouble, oh it's trouble
A-rollin' through my breast;
As long as I'm a-livin', boys
They ain't a-gonna let me rest

I know they're gonna hang me
Tomorrow I'll be dead
Though I never even harmed a hair
On poor little Laurie's head.

But what about Omie Wise? What do we know about her story?

As might be expected, the truth is hard to find. But let’s start with what we do know for certain is true…

… (Full article to be sent out on the 14th) …


Elsewhere

(Underlined titles are links to sources)

About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, by David Hackworth & Julie Sherman [Book]

  • Takeaway: Discipline equals freedom

I never wanted to die, but I never feared death either. I guess I always knew that the price of admission to life was one owed death; my father and mother both paid it before I was a year old, Uncle Roy just eight years later… With me, I figured when it came it would be with the roll of the dice. It was really a matter of luck and probability… And if you had to go, sure, you wanted to do it heroically, but real heroism, I believe, was just returning to the front - when you knew the score and how the game was played, and when you knew what it was like to have hot steel ripping through your body, and your wounds healed in a ward full of kids your age who might never walk, see, and think the same again.

Almost to a man, the wounded Raiders refused to leave the hill. Doc Brakeman was performing miracles in his ever-growing "field hospital" in a shell hole behind the trench below us; the kids determinedly returned to the fighting the minute they got patched up. Some, like Jimmie, didn't even bother with the patching— everyone knew we were a lean outfit and that every gun counted. It was that family bonding again: no one was going to let his brothers down, especially in a fight like this. Even at the cost of his life.

I spent the night at Division CP. At dawn I awoke to the sounds of running and the count of calisthenics; I looked out of the tent to see a superbly fit General Cleland double-timing down the road with members of his staff… Joe Cleland, fifty years old if a day, led the pack, shaping up the 40th Division from the top, by personal example.


Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow [Book]

  • Takeaway: Don’t try to win a fair fight, only fight the ones in your favor

To confess my weakness, Ned, my ambition is so prevalent that I contemn the groveling and conditions of a clerk or the like to which my fortune &c. condemns me and would willingly risk my life, tho' not my character, to exalt my station. I'm confident, Ned, that my youth excludes me from any hopes of immediate preferment, nor do I desire it, but I mean to prepare the way for futurity. I'm no philosopher, you see, and may be justly said to build castles in the air. My folly makes me ashamed and beg you'll conceal it, yet Neddy we have seen such schemes successful when the projector is constant. I shall conclude [by] saying I wish there was a war.

If the sword of oppression be permitted to lop off one limb without opposition, reiterated strokes will soon dismember the whole body.

Let it be remembered that there are no large plains for the two armies to meet in and decide the conquest… The circumstances of our country put it in our power to evade a pitched battle. It will be better policy to harass and exhaust the soldiery by frequent skirmishes and incursions than to take the open field with them, by which means they would have the full benefit of their superior regularity and skills. Americans are better qualified for that kind of fighting which is most adapted to this country than regular troops.


Casinos as a Business Model [Article]

  • Takeaway: Prioritize goals by those that have a higher risk-adjusted probability of meaningful change, not by that which is most expedient

Casinos sell an unfair(worse than even) chance to win a prize. With iterated attempts, the odds are “forever in their favor.” The house does not always win, unless you play infinite times, then the house is winning 51% plus…

Say you want to buy a loaf of bread.
Or some iron.
Or a bicycle.

Which do you buy first?

Why, whichever one increases your reach, of course.

Because when you increase your reach, you increase your options. Your access and availability actually get an upgrade. If something on your to-do list has the potential to significantly re-sort your to-do list, it likely ought to be done earlier than later.

Every day he gets up, goes down to the beach, and starts shoveling sand full-force. The tide comes in and undoes his work. Others see he feels important doing the digging and the shoveling, and start to join him. Every morning they rush down to the shore, only to find him there first, shoveling and shoveling away…

One day, our main character stubs his toe on the way down to the beach and must sit above the beach, on a rock, helplessly observing while others move past him to start shoveling. At first he is annoyed, losing his most precious spot to others, but gradually, it dawns on him: “Wow, we’re all shoveling sand at the beach. The tides wash it all away. Our hard work does not seem to make a dent here.”

Is it wrong to pursue anything then? No, it is only wrong to pursue the wrong things in the wrong places. To shovel earth and clay anywhere else would leave a more lasting impression. To assist someone, to jolt them out of their mindless stupor is to make a dent. To invest in oneself and keep making strides in one’s skills and way of relating with the world is to make a dent. To contemplate how best one can make a dent is also to make a dent. As a parting remark, focus on what will leave a lasting impression. The treasures of the earth are ephemeral, the treasures of the spirit by ocean water are not washed away.


Origination [Article]

  • Takeaway: Saying no quickly is as important as saying yes thoughtfully

The more limitations you place on yourself at the point of outreach - the less likely you'll find the special opportunities. Whether it is about finding jobs or potential investments, you should aim to apply/reach out everywhere… 

There's a catch when it comes to considering everything. You need to be able to disqualify just as quickly. Your ability to disqualify opportunities is the best measure of focus. A lot of people focus on the 100+ acquisitions that Constellation buys every year or the number of houses that real estate investors purchase or even the number of job offers that an individual can receive. 

I think it's far more valuable to understand how people disqualify opportunities. I'll admit the hardest part of my job is to continue to considering everything while disqualifying the vast majority of the opportunities I source. It's a complete paradox but a big part of being a productive investor. 


Take care and have a great week,

— EJ


But What For? Writing about anything, as long as it’s interesting


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But What For Newsletter - No. 020

Ready for the Times to Get Better, About Face, Risk, Crazier Than You Expect, and Landmines

Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter, sent out every Sunday, with curated quotes and one-line takeaways from material that I think is worth reading. Occasionally, I share my own thoughts, inspired by others’ writings, on Tuesdays. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues.

As always, any suggested materials for our Sunday newsletter can be sent to social@butwhatfor.com. Thank you!


Latest from But What For?

I was lazy this week and did not get out a full article on the main website, but I did want to share something that I stumbled across.

As almost none of you are aware, I play the banjo. Or, more accurately, used to play the banjo a long time ago. I actually found a recording online from back then - nothing beautiful, but something fun - a song I wrote and uploaded when I was 15/16. It’s always nice to remember that pre-adult you could kick your adult butt in most things. Since then, it has been an endless game of trying to get back into it playing more while life seems intent on making that increasingly difficult.

But, what I did retain from all my time spent on that banjo was an appreciation for a few bluegrass & folk artists. One of them, Doc Watson, is an American treasure. He was born in the 1920s, blinded before the age of two, developed the bluegrass flat-picking style of guitar that you hear in music still today, and went on to become one of the most important influences on American bluegrass / folk music by popularizing traditional songs that may have been forgotten or stuck in only Appalachia otherwise.

He covered less-traditional songs as well, and I had forgotten about his cover of Ready for the Times to Get Better until earlier this week - thank you, Amazon Wire Tap (…I mean, Alexa) for your algorithm-based playlists.

I have not commented on the pandemic so far because, well, everyone else is and it’s not fun talking about how depressing everything is still a year into things - but I will be honest, it is finally starting to wear on even introverted me.

At the same time, things seem to be (starting to be) making a turn for the better, however slowly. As Doc covers through his lyrics, sometimes we just have to hold on and wait until the “changes are comin’, no doubt.”

In the meantime, we can work on learning new things, appreciating the time we do have with loved ones, and remember to pick up that phone to give our parents / grandparents a call as the modern world can be a very lonely place during a pandemic for those not fully plugged-in through technology.

Doc fingerpicks and sings this one - so not much of the flashy flat-picking we talked about - and I have to agree with him - I am ready for the times to get better.

Ready for the Times to Get Better

I've got to tell you I've been rackin' my brain
Hopin' to find a way out
I've had enough of this continual rain
Changes are comin', no doubt

It's been a too long time
With no peace of mind
And I'm ready for the times
To get better

You seem to want from me what I cannot give
I feel so lonesome at times
I have a dream that I wish I could live
It's burnin' holes in my mind

It's been a too long time
With no peace of mind
And I'm ready for the times
To get better


Elsewhere

(Underlined titles are links to sources)

About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, by David Hackworth & Julie Sherman [Book]

  • Takeaway: Discipline equals freedom

Infantrymen were fighters, not writers. In one way, we prided ourselves on it; we didn't have time for such "pussy" stuff. But the act was that infantrymen in Korea came, as a rule, from the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder. The squads were mainly made up of poor whites, blacks, and yellows—a dispensable rainbow—uneducated, with nothing to keep us a step ahead of the point of a bayonet. And if a doughfoot got killed, his parents generally didn't have the education to write and ask why. They'd silently, stoically wear their loss like a sad badge of honor. In Korea, a heroic, dead comrade-in-arms; at home, a gold star in a cracked window in a little house on the wrong side of the tracks.

Upon volunteering to go on line as an FO, he was told his life expectancy would be only twenty-one days. Why is it twenty-one days? he asked himself, assuming that if he could figure it out, he could beat the odds. His conclusions were simple battlefield common sense that apparently too many FOs never lived long enough to learn. The first was "he who hesitates pretty quickly gets blasted away." The other was that the minute you get to a lay-up point you have to look around for an extra bit of good cover in case things don't go according to plan, because, in Bell's words, "Once the unexpected occurs it's too late to start looking around to see where you're going to go."

In that poker is very much science, you can read as much as you like about it, but you really can’t be good at it without playing a hell of a lot.

There were rumors of peace talks, though, which was good news for everyone; we all shared the hope that we would soon see a cease-fire. All things considered, it was probably best that our youthful naivete prevented us from recognizing the enemy’s real intention: to fuel the peace flame only to gain time to rebuild its gutted forces.


Risk [Article, 2006]

  • Takeaway: You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that is where the fruit is, but take a hard look at that limb first

We’re all preoccupied with the quest for excellent investment returns, and most of us understand that risk management has a lot to do with achieving them. From there, investment orthodoxy often takes over, with the discussion turning to the relationship between return and volatility. But I think that tells so little of the story that I’ve decided to devote an entire memo to the subject of risk…

In my opinion, especially in good times, far too many people can be overheard saying, “Riskier investments provide higher returns. If you want to make more money, the answer is to take more risk.” But riskier investments absolutely cannot be counted on to deliver higher returns. Why not? It’s simple: if riskier investments reliably produced higher returns, they wouldn’t be riskier!

The correct formulation is that in order to attract capital, riskier investments have to offer the prospect of higher returns, or higher promised returns, or higher expected returns. But there’s absolutely nothing to say those higher prospective returns have to materialize…

Let’s say someone makes an investment that works out as expected (or better). Does that mean it wasn’t risky? Or let’s say the investment produces a loss. Does that mean it was risky? Or that it should have been perceived as risky at the time it was analyzed and entered into?

If you think about it, the response to these questions is simple: The fact that something happened doesn’t mean it was likely, and the fact that something didn’t happen doesn’t mean it was improbable. Improbable things happen all the time, just as likely things often fail to occur…

Rick Funston performs a service by organizing risks into two categories: those that are suitable for probabilistic modeling and those that aren’t. He includes among the elements that render a risk suitable for modeling (1) recurring situations, (2) processes that are subject to known rules, (3) conditions that can be counted on to remain stable, (4) controllable environments, (5) a limited range of outcomes, and (6) certainty that combinations of things will lead to known results.

What could be less descriptive of investing? Given the non-recurring situations we face, the fact that many of the rules are unknown, and the largely unlimited range of outcomes (among other things), I would argue strongly that models and modelers are of very limited utility in measuring investment risk at the extremes, where it really matters.


Why It’s Usually Crazier Than You Expect [Article, 2021]

  • Takeaway: Feedback loops can both hurt and help

Forecasting when a species might go extinct is hard because whatever is causing a species to die off rarely progresses at the same rate. It can speed up in the blink of an eye in ways that surprise people.

Say an elephant is being hunted for its tusk. The rate of hunting often massively speeds up over time, cascading into a frenzy that pushes a mildly at-risk species into quick extinction.

It’s simple: As the number of elephants declines, tusks become rare. Rarity pushes prices up. High prices make hunters excited about how much money they can make if they find an elephant. So they work overtime. Then fewer elephants remain, tusk prices rise even more, more hunters catch on, they work triple-time, on and on until the number of hunters explodes as everyone chases the last herd of elephants whose super-rare tusks are suddenly worth a fortune…

Feedback loops – where one event fuels the next – often lead to that kind of bewilderment.

Find a feedback loop and you will find people who underestimate how crazy prices can get, how famous a person can become, how hard it can be to change people’s minds, how irreparable a reputation can be, and how tiny events can compound into something huge…

GameStop – whose stock is up 100-fold in the last year as a Reddit message board coordinates a buying spree to hurt short-sellers – is experiencing a similar thing.


Philosophical Landmines [Article, 2013]

  • Takeaway: Don’t let terminology prevent you from having a conversation

I went away and formulated the concept of a "Philosophical Landmine"…

In the course of normal conversation, you passed through an ordinary spot that happened to conceal the dangerous leftovers of past memetic wars. As a result, an intelligent and reasonable human was reduced to a mindless zombie chanting prerecorded slogans. If you're lucky, that's all. If not, you start chanting counter-slogans and the whole thing goes supercritical.

It's usually not so bad, and no one is literally "chanting slogans". There may even be some original phrasings involved. But the conversation has been derailed.

So how do these "philosophical landmine" things work?

It looks like when a lot has been said on a confusing topic, usually something in philosophy, there is a large complex of slogans and counter-slogans installed as cached thoughts around it. Certain words or concepts will trigger these cached thoughts, and any attempt to mitigate the damage will trigger more of them. Of course they will also trigger cached thoughts in other people, which in turn... The result being that the conversation rapidly diverges from the original point to some useless yet heavily discussed attractor.

Notice that whether a particular concept will cause trouble depends on the person as well as the concept. Notice further that this implies that the probability of hitting a landmine scales with the number of people involved and the topic-breadth of the conversation.


Take care and have a great week,

— EJ


But What For? For a break from the urgent: Ideas that matter. Insights that don’t get old.


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But What For Newsletter - No. 019

Speech at the Stadium, About Face, Berkshire Hathaway in 2004, Pushing Yourself, the Road Not Taken, and the Brooklyn Investor

Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter, sent out every Sunday, with curated quotes and one-line takeaways from material that I think is worth reading. Occasionally, I share my own thoughts, inspired by others’ writings, on Tuesdays. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues.

As always, any suggested materials for our Sunday newsletter can be sent to social@butwhatfor.com. Thank you!


Latest from But What For?

(Underlined titles are links to full articles)

Joseph Brodsky: Speech at the Stadium

I regard you as a bunch of young, reasonably egotistical souls on the eve of a very long journey. I shudder to contemplate its length, and I ask myself in what way I could possibly be of use to you. Do I know something about life that could be of help or consequence to you, and if I do, is there a way to pass this information on to you?

The answer to the first question is, I suppose, yes — not so much because a person of my age is entitled to out-fox any of you at existential chess as because he is, in all probability, tired of quite a lot of the stuff you are still aspiring to. (This fatigue alone is something the young should be advised on as an attendant feature of both their eventual success and their failure; this sort of knowledge may enhance their savoring of the former as well as a better weathering of the latter.) As for the second question, I truly wonder…

Now and in the time to be, I think it will pay for you to zero in on being precise with your language. Try to build and treat your vocabulary the way you are to treat your checking account. Pay every attention to it and try to increase your earnings. The purpose here is not to boost your bedroom eloquence or your professional success — although those, too, can be consequences — nor is it to turn you into parlor sophisticates. The purpose is to enable you to articulate yourselves as fully and precisely as possible; in a word, the purpose is your balance. For the accumulation of things not spelled out, not properly articulated, may result in neurosis. On a daily basis, a lot is happening to one’s psyche; the mode of one’s expression, however, often remains the same…

At all costs try to avoid granting yourself the status of the victim. Of all the parts of your body, be most vigilant over your index finger, for it is blame-thirsty. A pointed finger is a victim’s logo — the opposite of the V-sign and a synonym for surrender. No matter how abominable your condition may be, try not to blame anything or anybody: history, the state, superiors, race, parents, the phase of the moon, childhood, toilet training, etc. The menu is vast and tedious, and this vastness and tedium alone should be offensive enough to set one’s intelligence against choosing from it. The moment that you place blame somewhere, you undermine your resolve to change anything; it could be argued even that that blame-thirsty finger oscillates as wildly as it does because the resolve was never great enough in the first place. After all, a victim status is not without its sweetness. It commands compassion, confers distinction, and whole nations and continents bask in the murk of mental discounts advertised as the victim’s conscience.


Elsewhere

(Underlined titles are links to sources)

About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, by David Hackworth & Julie Sherman [Book]

  • Takeaway: Discipline equals freedom

When I first met "The Hack," he was a fine soldier, fresh from service with TRUST—possibly our sharpest military formation, then occupying Trieste in Italy. He was the epitome of a TRUST trooper—sharp, dedicated, eager to learn, proud of the Army. Usually, these young soldiers die right away. "The Hack" was a volunteer for infantry service in Korea. The rest that follows, of course, is his punishment for such stupidity.

In Korea, the Wolfhounds were known as the “Fire Brigade,” because whenever there was trouble they were sent in to save the day. They weren’t a special unit - just a group of guys that thought they were good, so they were good.

So much for no more retreats. I began to think about all the generals' proclamations concerning this war: that we'd be home before Christmas, that the Chinese would not intervene, that we'd hold here or hold there. All of it was bullshit, and I started to wonder how they could possibly make so many dumb statements when each, invariably, fell apart when put to the test.

Then I thought, Well, maybe they just don't know—we never saw a general on the front. We seldom saw a colonel, a lieutenant colonel, or a major either. And at squad level, we only on the rarest occasion saw a captain. So how could the brass know how defeated its army was if they weren't there to see an exhausted guy lie down on the road and just give up? How could they know how cold and ill-equipped we were if they weren't there to see blue, gloveless hands stick to the frozen metal of capons? How could they know how steep and rugged the terrain was if they never climbed a hill?


Berkshire Hathaway - Morning Session - 2004 Meeting [Transcript]

  • Takeaway: Invest in a skillset that creates value for others; don’t constantly need more than you have

The best thing is to have a lot of earning power of your own. If you’re the best brain surgeon in town, or even the best lawyer in town, you will retain purchasing power, in terms of your income, no matter what happens, you know, whether people are using seashells for money, or whatever as time goes by…

One of the great defenses to being worried about inflation is not having a lot of silly needs in your life. In other words, if you haven’t created a lot of artificial demand to drown in consumer goods, why, you have a considerable defense against the vicissitudes of life.


How hard should I push myself? [Article]

  • Takeaway: There is a reason for stress, but you are probably misapplying it

The stress response is built to get us out of danger. If you're an animal in the Serengeti and you're being chased by a lion you really, really want to have a stress response. Being stressed means you’re preparing your muscles to move—a lot. Your heart rate rises and pushes blood to your extremities. Glucose is released into your bloodstream to help run your muscles as fast as possible. 

What’s different about our stress response? Well, we have the ability to anticipate danger. Other animals have this ability too: it’s a good thing to get stressed seeing the lion all the way across the savannah, instead of only when it mauls your intestines out. But humans have evolved this anticipation ability to extend far beyond other animals. We anticipate bad things months, years, or even decades out. And when we do this, the very same stress response gets turned on—even though there is no immediate danger, and there is no immediate way to avoid it. 

Suddenly, you aren’t just activating the stress response for a few minutes when you’re running for your life. Instead, it’s activated all the time—chronically. And this is where the problems start. 

Rats that are exposed to repeated electric shocks are more likely to get ulcers. But if you ring a bell before you administer the shock—making the shock more predictable—the rats are less likely to get ulcers. [Man, are we mean to mice. Hopefully, they know they are appreciated… ]


The Road Not Taken: Stripe, Ant, PayTM & Defi [Article]

The evolution of the financial systems in different geographies has taken some improbable twists. To illustrate why, let’s play a matching game:

Governments in the 1990s:

1) Democratic superpower at the forefront of innovation and the commercialization of the internet—championing privatization and liberal values across the globe

2) Communist government striving for a delicate balance between market reforms and single-party, technocratic political control

3) Messy, bureaucratic democracy—known for poor infrastructure investment, dysfunctional politics, and a challenging business environment

Vs. 

Financial systems today:

A) Private tech juggernauts capitalizing on the mobile revolution and (until-recently) light regulatory scrutiny to blitzscale closed-loop payment monopolies—largely outside the purview of the legacy system

B) State-of-the-art inter-bank transfer infrastructure produced by a government-led coalition to upgrade the legacy tech within the existing, regulated system

C) A hodgepodge of legacy infrastructure and regulation colliding with private company middleware to make 1960s technology (barely) usable for 21st-century commerce.

From the perspective of the 1990s, the logical matching exercise would have probably rendered: 1 -> A, 2 -> B, and 3 -> C. But clearly, history had other plans. The world’s three largest countries have diverged markedly in their financial architecture—in unexpected ways.

The evolution of payments is central. Evolution means adapting to fill a niche, so each payment system was built around the deficiencies of the environment in which it operated. 


Happy New Year! Bubble Yet? [Article]

  • Takeaway: Don’t make bets that take you out of the game if you are wrong

I saw record stores go away very quickly, even when people in the industry kept telling me that it won't go away so fast as people love physical CD's, liner notes, plus people hate waiting for their music to download. Apparently, some of these people didn't understand the exponential nature of technology. Book stores shouldn't exist either (and yes, book-lovers keep telling me that they can't read on their phones or Kindles; that they need real books to touch. This too will change. This is not to say that small, specialty bookstores can't survive and exist). 

If you look around, and especially in the Covid world, you realize how the world is built around old technologies and capabilities. As Buffett says, if you were to rebuild something today knowing what we know now, and having the technology that we do now, would you build it the same way? (He actually asked if you would create the same company today from scratch, but close enough) Of course not. Think about that for a second, and you will see how much of what is in this world is obsolete.

The fast models used by Medallion (of course, I have no idea what they do, but do guess they are very fast models) and others use a lot of data and only make trades where there is a statistically meaningful chance that it will be profitable. And they will make enough trades for that statistic to play out. For example, if you have a 60% chance of success, but you are going to die because there is a 40% chance of death, then that's not a good bet. But if you can roll a dice that is 60% in your favor and you are allowed to roll it 100 or 1000 times, then that's a good bet. Odds are in your favor and you have enough opportunities for that statistic to be meaningful.


Take care and have a great week,

— EJ


But What For? For a break from the urgent: Ideas that matter. Insights that don’t get old.


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