Gladwell on Late Bloomers

Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker: “Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?”

Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law. How old was T. S. Eliot when he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (“I grow old . . . I grow old”)? Twenty-three. “Poets peak young,” the creativity researcher James Kaufman maintains. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the author of “Flow,” agrees: “The most creative lyric verse is believed to be that written by the young.” According to the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading authority on creativity, “Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.”

A few years ago, an economist at the University of Chicago named David Galenson decided to find out whether this assumption about creativity was true.

(Emphasis mine.)


Understanding the Subprime Crisis

A few days back, I asked some of my Twitter friends to share some good resources for understanding the subprime crisis and global credit crunch.

  • Wise Kwai suggested The Subprime Primer, a 45-slide presentation using (profanity-spewing) stick figures to illustrate the meltdown. I suggest giving it a read (but be mindful that it’s — obviously — simplified).

    Understanding the subcprime crisis

  • Jay Dedman recommended the helpful This American Life episode called The Giant Pool of Money, which I’ve mentioned before. It remains an excellent resource, and one that I plan to listen to again.**

    Here are some other links that have caught my eye:

  • “Everything you need to know about the global money crisis of 2007-?.”
  • WSJ: Yes, Dow’s Record Was Year Ago Today, which contains this illustrative infographic. (Click the image for a larger version, or go to the article.)

    WSJ Infographic

  • I’ve read Zimran Ahmed’s blog, Winterspeak, since 2001, and he’s been posting some interesting thoughts on the credit crisis. Here was his take on things last week:

    My prediction: deflation will continue through 2008 and 2009. The economy will continue to contract as consumers reduce consumption (and increase saving, which they must do) and businesses scale back operations so they fit the new, lower personal consumption environment. This will be a slow process, though, as the Fed and Treasury have worked mightily to obfuscate prices, and drag out the bubble deflation. Eventually, Helicopter Ben will say enough is enough and start to (finally) mail freshly printed greenbacks to households. Now we will switch from a deflationary environment to an inflationary environment, China will complete it’s transition out of the dollar, and we will get real, honest-to-God 70s style stagflation. And then we will wait for the next Volker.

    I suggest reading the whole post.

  • is a good source for ongoing news. Thanks to Lan Anh N. for the tip.
  • The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki has a piece called “Public Humiliation,” in which he concludes:

    Considering that Wall Street firms spend all day dealing with the market, they have been slow to understand just how vulnerable they were to it. Companies like Lehman and, earlier, Bear Stearns saw going public as an excuse to take on more risk and act more recklessly, when in fact becoming a public company makes caution more important, since the margin for error is smaller, and the punishment for failure swifter. Now that the government has acted, Wall Street (or what remains of it) may yet be able to regain investors’ confidence. But long-term survival really depends on remembering the fundamental truth about playing with other people’s money: it’s a lot of fun until they suddenly decide to ask for it back.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    **And on a related note, thanks to reader Paul D. for pointing out a NY Times article providing the backstory on how “The Giant Pool of Money” came to be.

    –> What about you? Got some good links to share? Leave them in the comments or email me (newley AT

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    Bangkok Protests: Thursday Update

    The clashes between police and anti-government protesters here in Bangkok on Tuesday morning left two people dead and more than 400 injured. Order has been restored, but political uncertainty remains. Here are some recent news reports:

    WSJ editorial: Thailand in Turmoil

    Two years after the Thai military ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the full cost of that bloodless coup is finally becoming clear. Violent antigovernment protests this week have left two people dead, 443 injured, and the country’s democratic prospects in jeopardy.

    The struggle is over whether Thai citizens will continue to enjoy their democratic rights. The protesters, who seek to oust the current government, have brought the government to near paralysis. The cast of characters is similar to 2006: Seven months ago the same group that had helped organize protests to oust Mr. Thaksin re-formed, led by a similar coterie of Bangkok elites, businessmen and academics.

    They now call themselves the People’s Alliance for Democracy, but they are anything but. Their goal is to eliminate Thailand’s one-man-one-vote democracy and replace it with a parliament that is 30% elected and 70% appointed. Why? To make sure that no one like Mr. Thaksin is ever elected again.

    NY Times: Some Thai Protest Charges Dropped

    In a victory for anti-government demonstrators, a Thai appeals court on Thursday dropped charges of treason against nine protest leaders, calling the evidence against them too “vague.”

    The court, however, upheld a charge of inciting unrest.

    Thousands of demonstrators have barricaded themselves in the compound of the prime minister’s office for the past six weeks and shows no signs of abating.

    Reuters: Thailand’s political crisis: how it might play out

    Thai protesters vowed to intensify their campaign against the government on Wednesday, a day after two people died and more than 400 were injured in the worst street violence in 16 years.

    The Southeast Asian nation has been locked in crisis since the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) began street protests in May, accusing the government of being a puppet of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    Following are some scenarios of what might happen next, although none are likely to heal the fundamental rift between the rural and urban poor who support Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, and the Bangkok middle classes who despise him…

    AFP: Deadly Thai protests will shake economy: industry experts

    Violent clashes between police and protesters will send shockwaves through Thailand’s economy, which is already struggling with the global financial crisis and prolonged unrest, industry experts say.

    News that two people died and more than 400 were injured during protests outside Bangkok’s parliament on Tuesday could discourage foreign investors, wary since a September 2006 coup overthrew premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

    For more news, go to:

  • The Bangkok Post
  • The Nation

    For ongoing links to news reports, check out:

  • BangkokPundit
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    Thai Police Fire Tear Gas at Protesters

    Bloomberg: Thai Police Fire Tear Gas to Disperse Protesters, Several Hurt

    Thai police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who were blocking the Parliament building to prevent Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from presenting his new administration’s policies. Dozens of people were injured.

    Thousands of Bangkok residents who have occupied the prime minister’s office since Aug. 26 moved to surround Parliament last night in a bid to stop today’s session. Somchai called on the police to ensure that lawmakers could convene, saying they were “representing the whole country.”

    AP: Police fire tear gas against crowd

    Police fired tear gas Tuesday at several thousand demonstrators attempting to block access by lawmakers to the Parliament building in the Thai capital.

    Reporters at the scene Tuesday saw at least one person injured by the gas. Sounds of gunfire were also heard but senior police officials said that only tear gas was being used against the crowd.

    “I don’t think there are many injuries,” police Maj. Gen. Viboon Bangthamai said.

    The protests are part of an effort by the People’s Alliance for Democracy to bring down the government, which it says is merely a proxy for ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006 by military leaders who accused him of corruption and who now resides in exile.

    BBC (with video): Tear gas fired at mass Thai rally

    Police in Thailand have fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration by thousands of anti-government protesters in Bangkok.

    Dozens of people were injured as police intervened in the dawn protest in front of parliament.

    The clashes came just hours before new PM Somchai Wongsawat was to deliver a key policy statement.

    The protesters say he is a proxy for ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra and want the government to resign.

    The political crisis has gripped the country for about six weeks.

    UPDATE, 8 p.m. Bangkok time:

    BBC: Thai deputy PM quits over clashes

    A senior government minister in Thailand has resigned after violent clashes between police and protesters.

    Deputy PM Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said he was stepping down to take responsibility for the clashes, which injured at least 65 people.

    The unrest came just hours before new Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat delivered his inaugural speech.

    NY Times: Thai Protesters Trap Legislators

    Thousands of anti-government protesters surrounded Parliament on Tuesday, trapping hundreds of legislators, cutting off power to the building and vowing to remain until the government falls.

    Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat escaped over a back fence after delivering a policy address but other members were unable to leave, according to reporters inside the building.

    The siege escalated a six-week sit-in on the grounds of the nearby prime minister’s office that has forced the government to relocate its activities to a former international airport.

    AFP: Thai police fire tear gas at protesters

    Thai police fired tear gas Tuesday to try to disperse anti-government protesters blocking parliament, injuring 116 people as months of political turmoil boiled over, police and medics said.

    Twenty-one people suffered serious injuries, a medical official said, as police tried to disperse several thousand protesters surrounding parliament who tried to stop the first policy speech by new Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

    The address went ahead, but the special session ended after two hours as protesters continued to mass outside, forcing Somchai and five ministers to climb over a fence to escape the mob, an AFP correspondent saw.

    CNN’s In the Field blog: We all scream for ice-cream

    In how many riot zones can you eat an ice-cream?

    Seriously, Bangkok this morning, was a sea of choking tear gas, baton-wielding cops, firing stun grenades, furious anti-government protesters launching rocks into the air… and ice-cream salesmen. I’m not complaining. Ice-cream, I like, I lick.

    You scream, they scream, we all scream for ice-cream, especially when the tear-gas is choking you and you need some soothing cool coconut glace down your throat.

    But it was slightly incongruous to say the least, to see cold refreshments being served amid the chaos.

    Thailand though, does a good line in juxtaposition and defying cliche. It’s a riot, but only until lunchtime, when protesters and police retreat to enjoy a fiery plate of rice and minced pork. Then it’s back to the serious business of overthrowing the government.

  • Here are my previous posts about the ongoing Bangkok protests.
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    Elmore Leonard on Writing — and New Yorker Stories

    A snippet from what Elmore Leonard had to say at the New Yorker festival:

    “I don’t write New Yorker stories. I mean, my stories are easy to understand. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

    Leonard — aka the Dickens of Detroit — is one of my favorite writers.

    Related: his 10 rules for writing. The central guideline: “If it sounds like writing, re-write.”