Like Lena, I’ve been completely consumed by work these past few months. Shifting to a consultant’s role for two very different programs within one massive institution has been no easy thing. I love my work, but god damn is it a lot of work. Revaz asked some friends to take a photograph that represents their December. Mine, sadly:


At my desk. That’s where I spend my mornings, afternoons, evenings. Just about 12 hours a day, seven days a week. I spend most of my days reading and writing reports, so the last thing I want to do during my time off is read and write even more. It’s been months since I’ve read a novel and even longer since I’ve been inspired to write creatively myself.

Mostly I listen to podcasts these days – either while I’m running, cycling, or at the gym. Occasionally I watch a movie at night, mostly documentaries. Here’s a selection of what I’ve found particularly interesting:

Nils Gilman – Deviant Globalization

I listened to this as an audio podcast, but my guess is that the video version is more rewarding. Gilman’s presentation at the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco is a condensed preview of his forthcoming book, Deviant Globalization. It is perhaps the final and most authoritative nail in the coffin of modernization theory. And if you have a difficult time understanding why protesters in Morelia are holding up signs in favor of local drug gangs and against the federal police, then you must give this a listen. Gilman is also a thoughtful blogger and a funny Twitterer. A 5-minute abbreviated version of his talk is on YouTube, but I recommend watching/listening to the whole thing.

Manda Bala

Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) is one of those movies that very few people seem to have seen, but those who have always count it among their favorites. When I told a Brazilian friend about it her face lit up and she said she doesn’t know another person in Brazil who has seen it. By far this is the most gripping non-fiction account of corruption that I’ve ever seen. The plot is impossible to describe; in fact, it might very well be plotless. There are frog farmers, helicopter-riding businessmen, Vin Diesel-like special operative police, kidnappers that stir sympathy, plastic surgeons that specialize in amputated ears, and plenty of douche bags to go around. The cinematography is stunning and it’s a movie that sticks with you for the rest of the month at least. It is apparently on Google Video, though I get a “This video is not currently available” message. Torrent here.

Okrent on Prohibition

Daniel Okrent discusses his new book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition with Russ Roberts of EconTalk. Their conversation describes the entire history of alcohol prohibition in the United States and how it brought about insane corruption and a transnational mafia that continued for decades after the experiment-gone-wrong was cancelled. Like many of the commenters, I was stunned that they made no reference to today’s prohibition of marijuana and the social impact it has had in Mexico. But the parallel is so obvious that perhaps there is no need to.

The Two Escobars

From the unlikely source of ESPN, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year by releasing 30 stunning documentary videos, The Two Escobars follows the lives of Colombia’s two most famous Escobars, Andrés and Pablo. (They are not related; as a friend once remarked, Colombia is surely the country with the fewest last names per capita.) Andrés Escobar was the country’s beloved football star during the team’s meteoric rise to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. After scoring a goal against his own team there he was shot upon return to his native Medellín, a city which holds a special place in my heart. Pablo Escobar, meanwhile, practically ruled Medellín – and the country’s soccer team – as he built up the Medellín Cartel throughout the 1980’s to become the 7th richest man in the world by 1989, according to Forbes Magazine. This is a can’t-miss documentary.

After listening to Nils Gilman’s theoretical framework as a guide to thinking about the role and dynamic of the black market in international development, then watching Manda Bala, The Two Escobars, and listening to the interview with Okrent you will likely – as I did – have a slightly different viewpoint as to how the world works. I should note that I have strong reservations about featuring two movies that portray Latin America as hopelessly corrupt and violent. It’s true that there is probably both more corruption and violence here than most other regions in the world, but there is also so much more. So two more quick recommendations — Alfonso Cuarón’s Sólo Con Tu Pareja, one of my favorite Mexican movies, and Daniel Hernandez’s soundscape of Mexico City with a reading from his forthcoming book, Down & Delirious in Mexico City.

A few more miscellaneous recommendations:

I have written previously about Alain de Botton’s latest book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work and I was delighted by his conversation with Russ Roberts about how our relationship with work – in fact, our very conceptualization of what is work – has changed over time. Among the many topics they discuss is the fact that there is a social taboo against speaking about work when we are not working. I break this taboo all the time. I am fascinated by people’s work – what they dedicate their lives to either out of passion, necessity or happenstance. It doesn’t matter what the job is – making quesadillas, car parts or skyscrapers – the process and perspective will likely fascinate me.

We all know the lyrics to This Land is Your Land by Woodie Guthrie, but why that is happens to be a pretty fascinating story, as is the way that it has been re-appropriated by countless and competing causes in the following decades. I’ve stopped listening to Studio 360 as much as I used to, but it’s still an important connection to American culture for me.

Finally, the cult of Possibilianism from David Eagleman. This year I have also watched fewer talks from TED and PopTech. After a while all these “big ideas” seem to follow a rather predictable formula. But by chance I caught a video of Eagleman’s presentation and he charmed me. From now on whenever anyone asks me that dreaded question – “do you believe in god” – I’ll simply point them to this video. In fact, I’ve already listed Possibilianism as my official religion on Facebook. How’s that for identity construction?

So there you have it – seven recommendations, slightly off the top of my head – of podcasts and videos that I’ve found particularly interesting over the past six month. I will be working like a robot right up until December 23rd, but then I am taking five weeks off of work. I am planning on finally delving into Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, considered by many to be a masterpiece at just over 900 pages. I’m also ready to finally get started with Season One of Mad Men. But what else should I be aware of? What are the videos, podcasts, books, and articles that most inspired you this year?