Rick Rubin on taking communion with Johnny Cash and why goals can hurt creativity (Rachel Martin, 12/10/23, NPR: Enlighten Me with Rachel Martin)

Martin: Do you believe in God?

Rubin: Yes.

Martin: You do?

Rubin: Yes, yes, yes. Yes. I have a knowingness that there is a power greater than us that seems to animate everything. That’s how I would describe it. However this system works, this world that we’re in, this universe that we’re in, however it works, I don’t think it’s accidental.

I feel like there’s some creative energy behind it. We have help. When we’re making something beautiful, we have help. We’re not working alone.

Martin: I read that when you were producing Johnny Cash, near the end of his life, with his last albums, that you took communion with him. That was something that was important to him and you were enthusiastic about it.

Rubin: From the time he got sick, we did it every day. I said, “I’ve never done communion.” And he’s like, “Oh, it’s a beautiful practice. Let’s do it together.” And then we did it together in person the first time. And then I said, “Well, while you’re sick, should we just continue doing it every day?” And he’s like, “Great, let’s do it.”

So we started doing it every day. And then when we weren’t together, I would call him every day and he would say the words, and I would close my eyes. I didn’t have the wafer physically with me, but I visualized the whole thing. I listened to the words and I experienced it with him every day. And then, when he passed, I could still hear him doing it. And I continued doing it for another six months.

Martin: Wow. I think that would change a person. To do that. Because it’s not like saying a prayer with someone. I mean, it is a highly mystical Christian ritual whereby you imagine the wafer you’re eating is actually the body of Jesus Christ and the grape juice or the wine is the blood.

Rubin: Yes.

Martin: You’re not a Christian.

Rubin: No.

Matin: What effect did that have on you, sharing that with him?

Rubin: I’m a believer. And I got to share it with him, and he was a believer. And this was his way of believing. So I got to experience his way of believing with him. And it was beautiful and I truly believe it enriched my life. It’s not calculable how powerful it felt.


Climate Change Is Breaking Insurance. Here’s How Tech Could Save It. (Christopher Mims, 12/10/23, WSJ)

Owners of homes and businesses have watched with alarm as major insurance companies have stopped offering coverage in California, Florida, and other parts of the country prone to natural disasters. But this shift has also created an opportunity for new types of insurers.

The secret sauce of these startups is technology. They are using better data science and incorporating artificial intelligence. Some, like FloodFlash, use on-the-ground sensors that enable an automatic payout when a catastrophe occurs.

The need for new ways to insure against catastrophes arises from the increasingly extreme nature of our planet’s weather. As we put more infrastructure of every kind into harm’s way, that’s leading to bigger losses for insurers. In the 1980s, the U.S. suffered an extreme weather event that cost $1 billion every four months. Now, one is happening every three weeks, according to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, released in November.

“If you had to pick a canary-in-the-coal-mine industry to measure the extent to which climate change is real, I think insurance is probably the best one I can think of,” says Max Clarke, chief executive of Plover Parametrics, which uses data to structure parametric coverage offered by insurance companies. “The balance sheets—they’re not going to lie.”


Debate Performances Fuel Haley’s Rise in GOP Nomination Race (Molly Ball, Dec. 7, 2023, WSJ)

Deft yet serious, quick-witted yet substantive, Nikki Haley’s debate performances are feats of political athleticism that few can match. Surrounded by men trying to shout and tear her down, she skewers foes, exhibiting a specifically female form of calm yet gleeful aggression. She floats like a fighter jet and stings like a missile. […]

If viewers didn’t already know Haley has become the one to beat, her rivals’ barrage of attacks on her made that abundantly clear. Ramaswamy called her unscrupulous and a “fascist.” DeSantis called her ineffective. Christie called her inconsistent.

“I love all the attention, fellas,” Haley said with a tight smile. “Thank you for that.”


A Cursed Blessing: Søren Kierkegaard’s theory of despair. (CLARE CARLISLE, December 11/18, 2023, The Nation)

You’ve probably had the experience—perhaps while listening to music, seeing an old friend, or walking in nature—of feeling as though you’ve reconnected with some deep part of yourself. These moments might not be outwardly dramatic, but inwardly they feel significant, even profound. They remind you that, for some time, an important part of yourself had gone missing, and you’d forgotten that it even existed. “The greatest danger, that of losing one’s self, can occur so quietly that it is as if it were nothing at all,” wrote Søren Kierkegaard. “Every other loss—an arm, a leg, five rixdollars, a spouse, etc.—is noticed, however.”

Kierkegaard called this loss of the self “despair”: a spiritual sickness that, he believed, afflicts us all. The way he describes it, despair sounds like bad news, and in a way it is. Yet for Kierkegaard, despair reveals the spiritual reality of our being. It is a sign that we are more than just bodies, thoughts, and emotions—since all these things were still there after we’d lost touch with our deeper, truer self. […]

Kierkegaard’s analysis of despair rests on the distinction between a human being and a self. A human being, he explains, is a synthesis of opposites: “of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.” But this he continues, “is not yet a self.” To be a self, a human being—who is already a composite of relations—must develop a relationship to itself. This involves both consciousness and desire. Relating to ourselves means being aware (or unaware) of ourselves and wanting (or not wanting) to be ourselves. It also means recognizing that we did not cause or create ourselves. We are brought into being and sustained in existence by something other than ourselves—and this “something other,” at least in Kierkegaard’s view, is God.

A metaphor might help here. Take a sheet of paper, write “infinite” on the left-hand side of the page and “finite” on the right-hand side, then fold it in half. Repeat this process with two more pieces of paper, the second reading “eternal” and “temporal” and the third “freedom” and “necessity.” Put the folded sheets in a neat pile: Here is the human being. Then fold that pile in half again, to make a thicker wedge: Here is the self, a relation of the relations. But that paper didn’t fold itself, did it? It was folded by God, who holds us in his hands. If God lets go, the pages fall apart and scatter on the ground.

So how does this relate to despair? For Kierkegaard, people who fall into despair are spiritually disconnected from themselves: There is nothing in their lives that holds together that entire composite of relations that makes them who they are. Though he was writing in a Protestant culture, there is nothing specifically Christian, or even biblical, about this notion of godly connection and disconnection. For Kierkegaard, being a self means needing and longing to find yourself, to become yourself—and this means reaching out, across the abyss, in search of God. That search, even in a secular sense, is potent. “God” may mean many different things, even if it only names a mystery, and in Kierkegaard’s work, this concept is seldom nailed down.


After 3 years of pain, America has finally achieved economic nirvana (Neil Dutta, Dec 3, 2023, Business Insider)

The signs of a well-balanced economy are everywhere. The most obvious example is the slowdown in inflation. The core consumer price index, the widely cited measure of inflation that strips out volatile categories such as food and energy costs, has risen since June at an annualized rate of 2.8%, roughly half the pace heading into the year. And there are clear signs of continued disinflation on the horizon: Wholesale auction prices for vehicles imply used-car prices could start to come down, private measures of rent prices suggest that housing inflation will continue to cool off, and an improvement in supply chains suggests prices for core goods outside cars, including washing machines and clothes, will ease.

Another positive signal is coming from productivity data, which measures a worker’s output within an hour. Productivity growth strengthened notably in the third quarter, hitting its highest nonrecession level since 2003, and appears to be growing in line with its pre-pandemic trend. The growth in the number of hours people are working has slowed, but output has been steady, meaning people are accomplishing more in less time. This boom in productivity means that as workers get more efficient, businesses can give employees pay raises without having to turn around and pass on those increased labor costs to consumers in the form of price hikes.

While things are slowing in the labor market, it’s not enough to cause a panic about unemployment. The October jobs report — with the economy adding just 150,000 jobs and the unemployment rate ticking up to 3.9% — was a disappointment. Of particular notice, the unemployment rate has increased by half a percentage point over the past six months. The uptick in joblessness is close to triggering the Sahm rule, which states that the economy is in recession when the average rate of unemployment over the prior three months is half a percentage point above its prior 12-month low. The current three-month average is 3.8%, a meaningful uptick from the low point of 3.5% in April but not quite high enough to hit the 4% average needed to trigger the rule.

But the job market isn’t all bad news. Over the past three months, average hourly earnings for all employees have jumped 3.2% — a strong number for American workers that’s broadly consistent with the Fed’s long-term inflation objectives. It’s also highly likely that the last employment report understated the growth in nonfarm payrolls since tens of thousands of workers were on strike. (You need to be on the job to be counted as employed.)