Second Acts

Why successful second acts often need a new context

In this newsletter:

  • The Camp of the Saints and Stephen Miller

  • Second Acts

  • Stay Married

  • Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

  • Is New York City dead?

The Camp of the Saints and Stephen Miller

Earlier this year, Associate Professor Pete Lentini (Monash University) and I had a brief exchange on The Camp of the Saints, a famous white supremacist novel which has influenced the Alt-Right political subculture. The Camp of the Saints takes an anti-immigration stance to Fortress America and Europe, and is filled with dystopian violence. This weekend, the book’s influence on Trump Administration speechwriter and immigration official Stephen Miller was noted in a profile ($, NY Times) that critiqued how white supremacist language has become integral to President Donald Trump’s re-election chances. The profile’s author Jean Guerrero wrote:

The book, by the French author Jean Raspail, characterizes “anti-racists” as an apocalyptic “mob” of “agitators” and “anarchists,” and depicts the destruction of the white world by brown refugees described as “monsters,” “beasts” and “toiling ants teeming for the white man’s comfort.” He wrote of a world where “anti-racists” are “servants of the beast” tainted by the “milk of human kindness.” Empathy and interracial ally-ship are associated with primitive bodily functions.

Raspail’s rhetoric has moved from the subcultural margins to shape how the White House and the Republican Party is framing antiracist protests in the United States. Having studied paramilitary dynamics this will not end well. Raspail’s influence on Miller highlights why it’s important to be familiar with extremist literature: fringe ideas can rapidly move to the mainstream in times of sociopolitical crisis.

Second Acts

Guitarist Walter Lure of New York’s punk band the Heartbreakers has died ($, NY Times). In an almost throwaway paragraph the profile mentions Lure’s second act on Wall Street after the Heartbreakers broke up:

And in the early 1980s, through his father’s connections, he got a Wall Street job running financial data for a computing company. It led to a position at a brokerage firm overseeing a team of 125 and a long career in finance that lasted until he retired, in 2015.

At the time Wall Street jobs were built on familial networks and privilege. Lure entered Wall Street just as physicists and other scientists called ‘quants’ were transforming trading strategies into techniques like statistical arbitrage which used statistics to find market mispricings. Today’s Wall Street has expanded this shift to big data, alternative data sources, and high frequency trading algorithms.

Lure’s anecdote contains an important lesson about how successful second acts work. You sometimes have to exercise an Abandon option - getting out of your original niche and taking what you have learned to apply in a different niche. Simply trying to repeat the unique conditions of the original success will often lead to failure. For example, when Richard Metzger left Disinformation to run Dangerous Minds he dropped the former’s Frankfurt School-style analysis of conspiracy theories and the occult - well before anti-vaxxers and QAnon became Facebook staples. Later, Lure turned his punk rock days into stories for the nostalgia talk circuit.

Stay Married

Financial adviser ‘Downtown’ Josh Brown (The Reformed Broker) has posted an excerpt from his Riskalyze Fearless Week virtual conference speech on how the COVID-19 lockdown has affected his marriage. You can hear the full talk here on Brown’s six lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

In my 2020 PhD, I covered some aspects of Japan’s contemporary political economy to contextualise the climate around the executions of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara and other senior officials. I also followed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s fiscal policy to understand the impact of ‘Abenomics’ as a partly successful attempt to overcome Japan’s ‘lost decades’ of debt deflation. Prime Minister Abe has announced his decision to resign due to having a relapse in his medical condition of ulcerative colitis. Michael J. Green and Nicholas Szechenyi of the Center for Strategic & International Studies have compiled a helpful Q&A document on the leadership transition plans.

Is New York City Dead?

This past week, the former fund of funds manager and attention merchant James Altucher trolled New Yorkers with a lengthy LinkedIn article on why New York City will not recover from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Altucher is known for these tactics: several years ago he spammed financial news websites with an endless stream of Bitcoin advertisements. In his LinkedIn article, Altucher considers a range of trends, from the closure of restaurants and cultural facilities to the exodus of New Yorkers and the rise of widespread remote working. 20 megabits per second internet changes everything, Altucher claims.

This is the kind of internet that I envisioned when working on the Smart Internet Technology CRC’s Smart Internet 2010 report (2005). It was what I hoped Australia’s bungled rollout for its National Broadband Network would be. But as comedian Jerry Seinfeld pointed out in a scathing, funny op-ed ($, NY Times) it’s a false techno-utopian ideal:

Energy, attitude and personality cannot be “remoted” through even the best fiber optic lines. That’s the whole reason many of us moved to New York in the first place.

You ever wonder why Silicon Valley even exists? I have always wondered, why do these people all live and work in that location? They have all this insane technology; why don’t they all just spread out wherever they want to be and connect with their devices? Because it doesn’t work, that’s why.

Real, live, inspiring human energy exists when we coagulate together in crazy places like New York City. Feeling sorry for yourself because you can’t go to the theater for a while is not the essential element of character that made New York the brilliant diamond of activity it will one day be again.

Seinfeld, you could have saved the world so many Zoom meetings!