My own 2017 jealousy list

Bloomberg editors compile an annual link-wrap – the “jealousy list” – of pieces published elsewhere that they wish we’d written. I thought that’d be a fun exercise to try myself so here are a dozen picks.

1. The High Street Abduction (BBC)
A tick-tock account of what followed a child abduction in Newcastle in April, 2016.

2. The Rise and Fall of a K Street Renegade (WSJ)
Tragic tale of a D.C. corporate lobbyist who couldn’t keep up with his own greed. The amount of colour – $2000 bottles of wine –  is engrossing.

3. Is the Chicken Industry Rigged? (Bloomberg)
There are *at least* two very fun finance things about this story. First, chicken LIBOR! Second, the vexing question of whether a souped-up industry newsletter (that’s Agri Stats) can be so good that its subscribers violate antitrust laws.

4. My Double Life as a KGB Agent (Guardian)
“It’s as if they had spent time looking at fish swimming in an aquarium, and now they are training you to be a fish,” Barsky says. “But they don’t actually know what it’s like to be a fish.”

5. The pragmatic case for moving Britain’s capital to Manchester (Economist)
A rare take that totally transformed my view.

6. The Exquisitely English (and Amazingly Lucrative) World of London Clerks (Bloomberg)
“Many barristers regard clerks as their pimps. Some, particularly at the junior end of the profession, live in terror of clerks. The power dynamic is baroque and deeply English.”

7. The Secret Plan for the Days After the Queen’s Death (Guardian)
To get these kind of details before the event, which few insiders have any motive to discuss, is so impressive.

8. Anthony Scaramucci Called Me (New Yorker)
“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.” The short-lived WH Press Secretary’s fit of bitchy profanity was toe-curlingly joyful.

9. The Sorrow and the Shame of the Accidental Killer (New Yorker)
A gentle profile of individuals who carry with them the grief they’ve caused to others. I also like the discussion of “moral luck,” citing Jeff McMahan‘s notion that “people who are not culpable can nevertheless be responsible.”

10. Inside London’s Booming Secrets Industry (FT)
Investigating the (private) investigators. “Its services range from tracing fraudsters’ assets to darker arts that include hacking, infiltration, honey traps, blackmail and kidnapping.”

11. A woman approached The Post with dramatic — and false — tale about Roy Moore (Washington Post)
The Post, New York Times and New Yorker have exposed a torrent of allegations against powerful men in the media, arts and politics this year. The Post was subject to an undercover sting operation seeking to discredit its revelations about Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate. Its failure vindicates the quality of the Post’s reporting.

12. The 100 greatest nonfiction books in English (Guardian)
These were drip-fed by author Robert McCrum through 2017. I like the list because enough titles are familiar to flatter the ego while the unfamiliar blurbs make for delightful discoveries.

Bonus pick because it’s Christmas: the Economist myth-busting the cliche that economists disapprove of all non-cash gifts.



Best of the Web: Bill de Blasio, Robert Caro and Thanksgiving in Mongolia

‘Best of the web’ is my weekly semi-regular attempt to squeeze something useful out of my (nerdy) procrastination. See last time’s here.

The 99% Mayor: Bill de Blasio’s promise may also be his problem

Chris Smith, New York Magazine

Bill de Blasio’s campaign first caught my attention when I saw this advertisement, which proved hugely effective.

Smith writes:

de Blasio ran probably the most surgically focused mayoral campaign in modern New York political history, relentlessly repeating a few key phrases—“a tale of two cities” … “income inequality” … “end the stop-and-frisk era”—that played brilliantly to the hopes, angers, and guilts of the city’s liberal, Bloomberg-fatigued Democratic-primary electorate…..The stakes are high—not just for the continued vitality of New York, but as a test of whether progressive values can deliver a more equitable city.

American politics has seen its fair shared of populist right-wingers; can a candidate who was elected as a populist left-winger truly govern as one? If so – if De Blasio is able to redistribute income, raise taxes and get re-elected in 2017 – what purchase will that have with other Democratic politicians nationwide?

Thanksgiving in Mongolia

Ariel Levy, The New Yorker

Levy is a foreign correspondent who, a few years ago, suffered a miscarriage in Mongolia. The piece is moving, harrowing but – and this is where the elegance of the writing shows its worth – light, almost, in parts.

I felt an unholy storm move through my body, and after that there is a brief lapse in my recollection; either I blacked out from the pain or I have blotted out the memory. And then there was another person on the floor in front of me, moving his arms and legs, alive. I heard myself say out loud, “This can’t be good.” But it looked good. My baby was as pretty as a seashell.

‘Unholy storm mov[ing] through my body’ and ‘my baby was as pretty as a seashell’ don’t belong in the same paragraph, right? How can you feel one emotion, of sheer anguish, one second followed by another, of pleasant curiosity and benevolence, the next? But it works.

Robert Caro’s Big Dig

Charles McGrath, The New York Times

Another one for US politics buffs. This is an interview from last year, but I stumbled across it recently and took an interest because I’m reading the first volume of Caro’s five-volume biography of LBJ at the moment. The last instalment, covering LBJ’s presidency, is yet to be published. The books have taken Caro four decades to research and write. McGrath says, “In his years of working on Johnson, Robert Caro has come to know him better — or to understand him better — than Johnson knew or understood himself”. He’s right. The level of detail is, in a commendably unonerous way, unreal. I was amused by the fact that The Power Broker, Caro’s Pulitzer-winning biography of Robert Moses, had 350,000 words cut from it by the editor, Robert Gottlieb (the book came in at a snip: 1,336 pages).