Tapestries-6 \\ Rhythms
Looking at annual rhythms on the eve of Rosh Hashana.
1. What I’m thinking
New York has a pace to it. Anyone who has visited the city can attest to the pace you feel day-to-day. But there’s also a pace to the way the year moves. New York has four distinct seasons, and as you feel the transition from one to the other, you also feel the passage of the year. To the extent seasons represent moving through time, the clarity of the change in New York’s seasons adds to the feeling of a city with rhythm, with each change in season helping our internal clocks perceive the passing of a year.
Friday in New York felt like one of those days where the season clearly changed, in this case from summer to fall (autumn). This sense of a change in season also coincides with another event that acts as a pillar in my experience of a “year” as a unit of time, namely the coming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana (explainer here), the Jewish new year. Alongside the change in seasons, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (collectively the High Holy Days) are important annual traditions or occurrences that provide me with another source of rhythm in time.
I wrote about “time” two weeks ago, noting that I’m conscious of its “passing.” Jewish tradition has an interesting perspective on time, namely that instead of thinking of time as linear, Judaism’s “model of time is a spiral. While time is certainly moving forward, it progresses ahead specifically through a seasonal cycle. Each year we pass through the same seasonal coordinates that are imbued with whatever spiritual potentials were initially established within them.” My interpretation of the spiral nature of time in Judaism is that it creates an accountability mechanism. Returning to a place on a regular basis — whether a physical or spiritual one — forces us to account for how we have or have not changed in the intervening period.
This year, we’re spending Rosh Hashana in New York with friends, and Yom Kippur in Melbourne with family. I lead a relatively individualistic life in New York with my only real accountabilities being to my wife, friends and colleagues, whereas in Melbourne my life is defined by the aforementioned groups, as well as a large and wonderful family, and extended group of friends. In the next few weeks, which coincide with these days of reflection, I’ll have the benefit of different mirrors — with different places and contexts — to ask myself a collection of the following questions: In my first year of marriage, how have I developed as a husband and partner? How have I been as a son, brother, grandson and friend to those I hold dear who live on the other side of the world? Have I consciously considered the role I want faith to play in my life? What or who do I consider my community, and have I invested in it or them?
Truthfully I don’t have the answers now, but I’m grateful for the opportunity afforded me — by the spiral nature of Judaism’s time, by the self-reflection baked into the High Holy Days, and the chance to be with friends and family — to ask these important questions. As we enter the weekend and Rosh Hashana Sunday night, and whether you’re celebrating or not, I wish you all a Shanah Tova, or a Happy New Year.
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2. What I’m consuming
A. The Age of Generative Artificial Intelligence, by Joseph Sirosh in Generative Artificial Intelligence
There is a lot happening in the world of artificial intelligence at the moment, with AI-generated art in particular garnering lots of headlines. I’ve been asking people I respect whether the innovations and outputs we’re seeing today are real and worth paying attention to, or are simply more AI-hype; the answer has generally been that there is real progress being made, and on that basis I’m paying more attention. This piece does a very good job of landscaping the latest developments, and noting why they’re important. Whether you buy the hype or not, recent developments shouldn’t be ignored, and this is a good high-level primer for what’s happening in the space. If interested in a counterpoint that asks whether AI-generated art should be considered “art,” you might enjoy this.
Note: The title image of this newsletter was created using an AI-generative tool, called Stable Diffusion (Demo).
Energy continues to be a dominant theme in my reading, and Doomberg’s writing on the topic is sharp and to the point. Energy and its adjacent industries will likely define the geopolitics of the coming decade, but for a topic of such significance, we’re somehow left with a debate untethered from any sense of reality. Rashia Tlaib showed an embarrassing lack of sophistication on the point this week in Congress, and unfortunately her tone and approach are symptomatic of many in the energy and climate debate. This thread attempts to pierce through with realism and practicality at its center, and I recommend the short scroll if interested in a helpful perspective on the geopolitics of energy.
C. The Long Night of the Soul, By Jonathan Tjarks in The Ringer
I grew up reading Grantland and then its successor, The Ringer, for my regular fix of great sports writing. Jonathan Tjarks was one of its better NBA writers. He died recently at the age of 35 after a battle with cancer. He penned an incredibly honest and raw piece when he was diagnosed two years ago, where he talked about adjusting to living with his disease and prognosis.
It’s an amazing piece of writing, and he wrote a follow-up earlier this year which I also recommend reading. His reflections as a father and man of faith are striking, and provided a dose of realism and perspective in a life that is often consumed by everything else.
D. On Medici and Thiel, by Rohit in Strange Loop Canon
I wrote about Peter Thiel several weeks ago (here). Thiel, and specifically The Thiel Fellowship, were in the news this week as one of its recipients (Dylan Field) sold his company (Figma) to Adobe for $20bn. One area where I’m sympathetic to Thiel’s view is in relation to education, where he has stated: "There's been an incredible escalation in price without corresponding improvements in the product, and yet people still believe that college is just something that you have to do. Whenever something is overvalued and intensely believed, that's a sign of a bubble." In response, he has put his money where his mouth is, and the success of Thiel Fellows is truly astounding. Its success as an idea and institution should really force us to think about how we fund people and things. This piece does exactly that, and visits an old patronage model as a source of inspiration.
Peter Thiel is polarizing, and the concept of patronage is probably socially unfashionable. But these two facts in and of themselves should not be grounds for dismissing their relative merits. The piece above is an original bit of thinking, and if we’re serious about building a better future, its discussion is an important one to consider.
3. What I’m writing
My current focus for writing the book is getting into the right routine. I’m sufficiently comfortable with the existing plan, and it’s now time to implement a writing schedule to enable me to complete the first draft before the end of the year. No major update this week, just a comment on what I need to do to move from the meat of the first draft, to finishing it.
Shana tova fam. Until next time.
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