Nassim Taleb



From the Telegraph

Still my favorite philosopher/economist/misanthrope. Still agree with him on nearly everything.

Antifragile resembles a self-help book, though it is difficult to imagine any other self-help book as intemperate and cranky. The author is a tireless self-aggrandiser, boasting of his gargantuan reading habits; of being a weightlifter, ready to physically slap down detractors; and a gourmand, recommending fine wines and camomile tea to ease a troubled mind.

Here are some excerpts from press about him+ Antifragile:

Actually, Antifragile feels like a compendium of people and things Taleb doesn’t like. He is, for instance, annoyed by editors who “overedit,” when what they should really do is hunt for typos; unctuous, fawning travel assistants; “bourgeois bohemian bonus earners”; meetings of any kind; appointments of any kind; doctors; Paul Krugman; Thomas Friedman; nerds; bureaucrats; air conditioning; television; soccer moms; smooth surfaces; Harvard Business School; business schools in general; bankers at the Federal Reserve; bankers in general; economists; sissies; fakes; “bureaucrato-journalistic” talk; Robert Rubin; Google News; marketing; neckties; “the inexorable disloyalty of Mother Nature”; regular shoes.


A reader could easily run out of adjectives to describe Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.” The first ones that come to mind are: maddening, bold, repetitious, judgmental, intemperate, erudite, reductive, shrewd, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, provocative, pompous, penetrating, perspicacious and pretentious.


He also comes across as a helluva personality: irascible, finicky, vain, prone to fits of pique at those who mischaracterize his ideas (uh-oh, better watch out), disdainful of journalists (double uh-oh), a weightlifter, too (this is your third and final warning).

On the other hand, he has habits I admire: He told the New Scientist he only goes to doctors if he’s really sick, he takes a dose of local water (a drop, no more) when visiting India (good for the immune system) and apparently he’s never been in debt


You’re critical of various groups who claim to be able to predict and manage the future – which, in your opinion, has done the most damage? The most damaging group are economists; probably the most damaging individual is [former chairman of the US Federal Reserve] Alan Greenspan, and maybe also [current Fed chairman] Ben Bernanke and [US treasury secretary] Timothy Geithner. The reason I’m against the top-down state isn’t so much theoretical, but because of what I call having skin in the game – bureaucrats have no personal stake in their decisions. I don’t tell you what I predict; I tell you what’s in my portfolio. So economics-wise, I don’t want people to tell me what to do; I want to know what they’re doing.


“Exactly!” says Taleb. Once you get over the idea that you’re reading some sort of popular economics book and realise that it’s basically Nassim Taleb’s Rules for Life, it’s actually rather enjoyable. Highly eccentric, it’s true, but very readable and something like a chivalric code d’honneur for the 21st century. Modern life is akin to a chronic stress injury, he says. And the way to combat it is to embrace randomness in all its forms: live true to your principles, don’t sell your soul and watch out for the carbohydrates

How a real show about nothing would go

Photo from here.

Every Saturday, 1:12 PM, every Uzbek-style restaurant in any city in America.

—Oh, Ludochka! That was such a great meal. I’m licking my fingers!

—I know! Wasn’t it, Verka? Those shashliki.  That kartoshka! Mmm. *reaches for the last of the plov* This place is the best.  Now what were you saying about your son?  He’s done with pharmacy school, right?

— Yes, Mishka just graduated, but he decided he doesn’t want to be a pharmacist! Can you imagine! After $100,000 of our blood, sweat and tears, he decides he doesn’t want to be a pharmacist! He quit after his first week! He could have told us that before we made him take the exam.  And now what girl is going to look at him?  It’s not stable!

— What a horror. What a horror. (Uzhas, uzhas.) Remember when he was small and you stayed up with him all night when he had a fever?  So many nights spent…and this is what you get back! What an ungrateful swine.  So what’s he going to do now??

— Oh, God only knows.  Ludochka, don’t even talk to me about it.  My nerves are all destroyed. *takes a strong sip of tea* How’s your Dashenka?

—Oh, she’s not bad. Not so great, either. You know that art history major I told her not to get? Well, she’s going for it, anyway. What is she going to do with an art history major? She’s going to be an art expert right back in her old high-school bedroom, that’s what.  Ten years. TEN YEARS I’ve slaved away at this job as a programmer so she can have a good college education. Her father and I came with nothing. WITH NOTHING. All for her.  And how does she repay me? Wit this! This art history.

—Be strong, Lud’ka. Be strong.  Maybe if we have them marry each other, they can live in one of our houses and be ungrateful swine together. *nibbles on the last of the bread*

*waitress comes with the check*

—Ready, ladies?

*waitress puts check down on table* *both women look at it like wolves look at prey* *waitress leaves*

—Oh yes, I believe we are. *gets out credit card*

—Verka, what are you doing?  *also gets out credit card*

—I’m paying for lunch, Luda! And I don’t want to hear another word about it!

—Verka, no. There’s no way you’re paying for lunch.  You have a whole family on your shoulders again, you have Mishka to worry about, let me do this one thing for you.

—Luda, no. I’m perfectly capable for paying for myself, and that’s it. *grabs check* Besides, you brought the wine. That’s it-Vsyo!

—Vera, no. Listen to me.  Remember how last time you paid?  Now I owe you. That’s it. No arguments. *grabs check and starts to look at it* Vsyo!

—Lud’,  nu come on. Don’t hooligan.  *hits her lightly on the hand* Let me just pay for this, you can pay for the tip.

—Vera, don’t even talk about it.  Look at how you’re acting. A grown woman. I’m paying for lunch. *puts credit card in check holder*

—Luda, you are impossible.  *takes credit card out, slams it on the table, puts her credit card in*  I am PAYING for your lunch, and that’s it.

—*takes check, takes credit card out, and pays entirely in cash* If you want, you can leave the tip.  I’m paying, and that’s final.  I don’t even want to hear another word about it. Vsyo.

*waitress comes by* Are you ready?

*Luda hands her the check, smiling* Yes, we are

*Vera is deflated*

—Ok, but I’m paying for the tip, and that’s it. Look at how you behave. Embarrassing! You won’t even let a friend enjoy her meal.  Next time, I’ll pay.  And I’ll bring Misha.

—And I’ll bring Dasha.



The recession is over

Put down your Economists and Forbes magazines. They’re lying to you.  I’m here to tell you that the recession is over.

How do I know? The movie trailers for upcoming films in the next couple months are getting better and better.

Movies are a risky investment, kind of like a start-up, and the movie industry is brutal.  Each movie is a separate company:

Studios have no problems finding finances, if we’re talking about the major studios. With the studio movie, such as “Wall Street 2,” which is coming out, it goes into production in September and it comes out in the theaters April 23 — so it’s only six months that the money is at risk. If you are making an independent movie, it may be years before the movie gets released, so you have to borrow the money for a very long period of time. And no one wants to lend you this money, except at high rates of interest.

Movie studios, one of their great arts is basically taking the risky movies and using other people’s money, and taking movies that are less risky and using their own money. The movies that are most risky, dramas and comedies — because with comedies, you don’t know if you’re going to get foreign rights and how they’re going to play abroad — they try to sell them to hedge funds or to equity investors or to production companies that want to get in the game.

If you’re with a big-time company, you could invest millions into a crappy movie, only to see it flop, which is fine, but how many of these risks do you want to take?  So if the economy is bad, you stick with safe bets like remakes, sequels, and terrible god-awful movies based off video games and..board games. Here are some of the movies of the past couple years; See if you can notice a trend:

  • Men in Black 3
  • Battleship
  • The Hangover 2
  • Cowboys and Aliens
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II
  • Spy Kids 4
  • Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
  • Cars 2
  • Jack and Jill (from Adam Sandler)
  • War Horse
The trend is that they’re all reliable. We already know the first one did well, so we make more and more and more. In the case of Adam Sandler, he always turns enough of a profit to turn out crap movies.  In the case of action movies like Cowboys and Aliens, there’s a chance they could flop, but they’re so mindless and stupid that you’re guaranteed at least a baseline audience. Or, we know the director, as was the case with Stephen Spielberg in War Horse, and we know people will pay for him.

If you are a risk-taker, you go for movies you know won’t cater to the lowest-common denominator AND you use big-name actors, who you have to pay for.  This means you have to seek out capital that isn’t frozen-up with scared investors.   Movies take years to make.  So right now, we’re seeing movies come out where the capital was set up a couple years ago.  This means we turned the corner sometime in 2010-2011. And now, finally, we’re out of recession.

And out of the shitty movie cycle and into beautiful, thought-provoking, lovingly-made films.

Because here’s what we have coming up:

Brave, the Pixar version of my best-selling book about Scotland. Just kidding.  But really, who would go to see a movie about some Scottish girl, even if it’s by Pixar?  They’re taking a risk with this one in assuming I’ll go 10,000 times.

The Great Gatsby. “We know Americans don’t and can’t read, but we’re still going to try to recreate this great American novel in theaters and take a huge risk on it. To lessen the risk, we’ll make it in 3D. Americans love that.”

Les Miserables. Musical about the French Revolution…and Wolverine has to sing? AND it’s operatic?   HUUUUUGE risk. (Even though it is my favorite musical of all-time)

The Hobbit. Only LOTR fanboys care about this one. Again, a risk, especially given how much it was held up in production.

And..Anna Karenina.  If Americans don’t want to read American books, how the hell are they going to watch this? Oh yeah, Keira Knightley.


See you at the movies.

I bet Audrey Hepburn hates everyone

Last weekend, I was in Ikea, as I have been every weekend for the past year of my life since we bought this house to practice good old American consumerism (except for when I’m out on the streets). I was browsing their art section because we still have almost no art in the living room and bedrooms.  We have some good stuff in the kitchen, though.  This one’s my favorite:

Anyway, so I was at Ikea and I saw this poster:

I mean, I’m sure you all have seen this poster, somewhere, in a million iterations.  In fact, if you go Etsy and type in Audrey Hepburn, the Etsy search engine will just say, “I give up.  I can’t do this, man.  Everything on this site is Audrey.” Because there are Audrey posters and Audrey onsies and, yes an Audrey Hepburn flask.

Even Mr. B, Audrey’s biggest fan, hates these prints and will not buy them out of the principle that they’re super-tacky.

And it got me to thinking, what if Audrey Hepburn really hated having her picture taken? I mean, we don’t really know her true personality beyond a couple of quotes, right?  What if she was massively anti-social? And also hated black and white? And was more interested in her humanitarian work than the fact that she “believed in pink,” which almost of these prints talk about?

What if she’s in heaven or Tiffany’s right now, all like, “Goddamn those consumerist assholes that think that a print of me will add glamour to their cookie-cutter suburban houses? They wouldn’t know glamour if it hit them over the head with a Blahnik.”

I can just picture her, sitting on a cloud, smoking a cigarette and talking to God.   “You know, I did so much for the orphans in Somalistan, but no one cares since they can just slap a quote that I said offhandedly once about believing in fairy tales on their wall.” She passes the cigarette to God.

“Sorry, I really didn’t mean to design you that way,” God says, taking a drag. “It’s just that people are morons and they need to have the not so pretty stuff packaged up in a pretty way and I thought if I made you pretty but also involved in UNICEF and shit, that they would get the message.”

“Well, that’s not how it worked out, did it,” Audrey says, frowning, picking out a piece of cloud out of her LBD.

“Oh well,” God says, with a shrug. “I tried.”

“Might as well make that your epitaph,” Audrey says, rolling her big, darling eyes.

Then she takes a swig out of her Audrey flask.