Monthly Archives: September 2011

Young 40-Love

I’ll say this: Pete Sampras can still serve.

I was in the Verizon Center last Friday, watching the HSBC Tennis Cup, a exhibition-slash-leg of a tennis seniors tour. The four players (Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, and Jim Courier) have kept a lot of their shotmaking, but you can tell that the speed, the power, the endurance have all been slipping. It’s hard to admit, of people who were larger-than-life back then, but they looked . . . well, old at times.

(It was a little disquieting to be reminded that Michael Chang won the French Open 23 years ago. 23! To steal a line from a Friends episode, his French Open title is old enough to drink!)

What’s more terrifying is, of course: they’re not actually old. Chang is 39; Sampras is 40; Agassi and Courier 41. And yet, as top-level competitive athletes, they’ve been over the hill for almost a decade. In virtually every other endeavor, they would be just hitting their peaks. If they hadn’t made millions of dollars playing tennis, they’d be mid-career. (I wonder what your mid-life crisis looks like when you’ve already been a millionaire world-famous athlete.) But does any of us know when we hit our tipping point, if we already have, or will we just recognize it once we are far past appreciating it in the moment?

I’m glad they’re still playing; it was amazing to see their skills in action, even if they’ve lost a step. But entropy really does go just one way, doesn’t it?

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Two Pieces of Cultural Knowledge Inspired by the Ubiquitous “Moneyball” Trailer

Moneytalks is AC/DC’s most successful song in the US, reaching #23 on the charts. Not the more iconic Highway to Hell (#47), You Shook Me All Night Long (#35) or Back in Black (#37).

Back in Black is the second highest-selling album worldwide, trailing only Thriller.

I’m still trying to figure out which of these facts surprises me more.

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The Hidden (?) Persuaders

It’s hard being your own person these days.

Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me, You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian: You’re all different!
The Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!
Man in crowd: I’m not…
The Crowd: Ssssh!

- Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Okay, maybe it’s always been hard.

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But Then We’re Stuck With Gorillas!

So the Wall Street Journal tells us that the best way to recharge your brain is to take a walk in a park, or on a quiet street. News you can use if your office happens to be in Greenwich, CT, right?

I think what I enjoy most about this is the fact that mood is not only not the focus here, but explicitly excluded from the researchers’ calculus:

“You don’t necessarily have to enjoy the walk to get the benefit,” says Dr. Berman. “What you like is not necessarily going to be good for you.”

So, the Red Bull theory of mental alertness. (I’m still not convinced that anybody actually likes the flavor of Red Bull; it’s like Brussels sprouts, except full of chemicals and actually does taste terrible.) No advice here of how to enjoy what you’re doing when you get back to your desk; maybe the Journal is saving that for next week.

I find this kind of research interesting, but it does remind me of what Michael Pollan calls “nutritionism.” That is, the idea that we can break everything down into its component parts, distill out the parts we like, and lose nothing in the transaction. Decision fatigue is a real problem, and coping mechanisms are helpful, but one wonders whether, if you find yourself in this situation too often, you shouldn’t be looking at some of the larger scale stuff if you can.

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The Fourth Freedom

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

. .

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941

As the news media descended into their typical hyperventilation at the reports that Washington or New York might be the target of an attack on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I tweeted that I would take a run by several of DC’s monuments on the same day. (This isn’t really a big deal, as my usual running path takes me by most of those buildings, but that’s not really the point.) I would say, like everybody on the NFL pregame shows, that this was a way of showing that I “can’t be intimidated” by a terrorist threat. But I think it was as much a petulant reaction to the media’s overreaction: tell me it’s a bad idea, and I’m that much more likely to do it.

So when I woke up to a sunny, muggy, DC late-summer day, I laced up my sneakers and headed south to the National Mall. Instead of turning right, toward the Washington Monument, I turned left, toward Capitol Hill. Because if you can’t trust a random boast on the Internet, what can you trust?

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Game, Set, Match

I was thrilled to see Grantland republish David Foster Wallace’s epic profile of Roger Federer at Wimbledon. It’s probably my favorite piece of sportswriting, and among the best pieces of contemporary writing I’ve read. I recommend it without reservation, even if you don’t watch or play tennis; Wallace puts the kinetic sense of watching tennis onto the page in a way that seems impossible until you read it.

The springboard of the profile, and its most important observation, comes six paragraphs in:

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

Certainly true, but doesn’t this go even further? The aesthetically impressive creeps up whenever a practical endeavor is pushed to its limits. Think of Joseph Welch in the McCarthy hearings. “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” It belongs in the heights of American political rhetoric, but it was said purely in service of a client.* What Welch did during that hearing is what thousands of lawyers do every day; defend a client against an overbearing opposition. That he did it so masterfully, and on such a public stage, elevates it from workmanship to higher aesthetics.

I think this is what we all hope for in our careers–the opportunity to briefly elevate our work to a higher level. Like Roger Federer and tennis, that elevation is not the goal of our work, per se, but we aim for those moments of transcendence. If you find a job that gives you those moments of transcendence on a more than occasional basis, grab like hell onto it and never let go.

* Okay, you got me, all political rhetoric is intended to achieve an end beyond the rhetoric itself. The Gettysburg Address was more than just an attempt to say something that sounded good. But for memorials, convention speeches, etc., the ceremony demands an attempt at beauty. It’s a prerequisite, something that is strived for intentionally, even if not strictly a goal.

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O Brave New World, That Has Such People In’t!

Welcome to DC Accidental! I have some plans for this blog, although I must admit that this is something of an experiment at this point. By my count, this is my third or fourth blog (if you count college websites that existed before the word “blog,” that is). With my qualifications out of the way, into the world of WordPress we go!

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