It hung in the sky like a giant fireball, I thought to myself. Not that there was anyone to hear me if I had said it out loud; I was two hours into the two hour and fifteen minute trip from New York City to Wilmington. I had started in the city around 6 in the evening, relieved to finally get my car out of a place that was actively hostile to its presence.

The drive is basically a straight shot, heading south, the sun very definitively on my right as I zoomed through the rather pointless state of New Jersey. I say pointless not to dismiss its many contributions to American history — whatever they may be — but rather because it’s the only landmass between my home and my school, and usually I want to be at one or the other.

But, so, the fireball. Near the end of New Jersey you get off the Garden State Parkway and head onto a different road, US-322, which heads towards the Commodore Barry Bridge. The bridge, in turn, takes you from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, spitting you out right on I-95 about ten minutes from my house. And in order to do this, US-322 points west, right towards where a setting sun would be.

It had been a clear, hot day along the East Coast, the only clouds wisps of haze that seemed to be many miles above the land. As I began to cross the bridge, I looked out at the horizon, where the sunset was beginning.

The sun was a pure and radiating orange, transforming the sky around it with shades of pink and blue and purple, the sort of color you could replicate in photoshop but it wouldn’t feel real, somehow, you just have to see it and know what sort of a day it had been and how this glorious, beautiful moment could have come to pass. Maybe now you just created some mental image of the moment I’ve just described; rest assured that you are still far from the spectacular truth.

And that’s when my internal monologue, which had been keeping me entertained throughout this solo adventure, decided to try to describe it. People have been staring at sunsets for as long as there have been people. Generations upon generations of writers have been trying to describe the great sunsets of their time; how could I, in one simile, even hope to convey what I saw over the Commodore Barry Bridge?

It hung in the sky like a giant fireball, I thought to myself, and it wasn’t until I stared at the sunset for a few more seconds until I realized what a banal and pointless simile I had constructed. For one, the sun is literally a giant fireball, so I’m not sure what another person could gain from describing it as what it is. But, perhaps more importantly, calling the sun “a giant fireball” is a woefully inadequate way to describe the beauty and complexity of the moment. Some sights need more than a few words, or a few dozen, or a few thousand. Some moments you cling tightly to because they’re yours, and no language in the world can fully describe them.


Some thoughts on Man of Steel

A movie about Achilles: Man of Heel

A movie about Bambi: Man of Veal

A movie about Justin Timberlake: Man of Biel

A movie about FDR: Man of Deal (credit Ben Sheng, @cbbsheng)

A movie about Tebow: Man of Kneel (credit Ben Sheng, @cbbsheng)

A movie about Madoff: Man of Steal (credit Ben Sheng, @cbbsheng)

A movie about Dan Marino: Man of Teal

A movie about a traveling preacher: Man of Zeal

A movie about Hitchcock: Man of Reel

A movie about Tropicana: Man of Peel

A movie about a ship captain: Man of Keel

A movie about Emeril Lagasse: Man of Meal

A movie about a carnival barker: Man of Spiel

A movie about Stevie Wonder: Man of Feel

Okay, I think I’ve just about beaten that to death.

(p.s. I really enjoyed Man of Steel, though I enjoyed even more the new seats installed at the 84th Street AMC theater — they recline completely. )


Beach reading

Some thoughts on a couple of books that I read while relaxing at Rehoboth Beach last week. I also read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time, which was just as great as advertised — but I don’t want to tread old ground too much.

The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, Sasha Issenberg

Issenberg, a political writer at Slate, has written an engaging history of new techniques used to win campaigns. Generally speaking, these techniques are driven by the ability to collect large amounts of data on the electorate and a new willingness to conduct experiments with all this data — culminating in the 2008 and 2012 Obama re-election campaigns. While I’m skeptical of a lot of trends in political science (an overreliance on jargon, an tendency to simplify complex political decisions to fit neat proclamations), it seems that voting behavior is much more fertile terrain. Particularly when, as Issenberg points out, many of the assumptions of campaign operatives and consultants is based on little more than “gut feeling” or how it’s been done in the past. Some of the discussion on data management was of special interest to me, having been on the other side of it working with the database on Beau Biden’s reelection campaign in 2010.

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, Jonathan Wilson

I bought this book in England around the middle of April. (It’s football in the European sense, not the American one — though that’s a book I’d also like to read.) The fact that I’m just finishing it now is a testament to (a) how hectic my life has been over the past month and a half and (b) how difficult it is to make the history of football tactics engrossing. The book is deeply researched, integrating contemporary accounts from newspapers (aka my favorite thing about history) and personal stories to demonstrate how observers and participants reacted to the slow yet vibrant history of tactical innovations in football. Wilson is at his most entertaining when he assaults proponents of “direct football” — punting the ball long downfield at every possible opportunity — for elementary errors of math in their analysis. And even when the tactical talk gets a bit dry the book remains a very effective introduction into the footballing histories of about ten nations. Between this and Soccernomics, which I read in March, a good few months for investigating the sport.


New name

Hi yall! I’ve changed the name of the blog to to more accurately reflect the fact that I’m no longer in London. You’ll need to type in this new URL to access the site. Rest assured that none of the old content has gone away!