From George F. Kennan: An American Life
“Here a bridge is collapsing. No sooner do you start to repair it than a neighbor comes to complain about a hedge row which you haven’t kept up half a mile away on the other side of the farm. At that very moment your daughter arrives to tell you that someone left the gate to the hog pasture open and the hogs are out. On the way to the hog pasture, you discover that the beagle hound is happily liquidating one of the children’s pet kittens. In burying the kitten you look up and notice a whole section of the barn roof has been blown off and needs instant repair. Somebody shouts from the bathroom window that the pump has stopped working, and there’s no water in the house. At that moment, a truck arrives with five tons of stone for the lane. And as you stand there hopelessly, wondering which of these crises to attend to first, you notice the farmer’s little boy standing silently before you with that maddening smile, which is halfway a leer, on his face, and when you ask him what’s up, he says triumphantly ‘The bull’s busted out and he’s eating the strawberry bed’.”
Policy planning was like that. You might anticipate a problem three or four months into the future, but by the time you’d got your ideas down on paper, the months had shrunk to three to four weeks. Getting the paper approved took still more time, which left perhaps three or four days. And by the time others had translated those ideas into action, “the thing you were planning for took place the day before yesterday, and everyone wants to know why in the hell you didn’t foresee it a long time ago.” Meanwhile, 234 other problems were following similar trajectories, causing throngs of people to stand around trying to get your attention: “Say, do you know that the bull is out there in the strawberry patch again?”
The farm analogy feels uncomfortably familiar, and I have a bookmark in that biography as well as Hidden Order while I make slow progress through A History of the Jews.
Yet I still open e-mails from Bookperk and couldn't resist grabbing a digital copy of Reamde on sale for $3.
The guy who recommended The Road to Wigan Pier reminded me of the Great Brain series, which absorbed February and were just as delightful this century as last.