Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Under Mad Dog's Command

Marine officer Stanton S. Coerr worked for James Mattis when the Defense Secretary nominee was a colonel, a major general, and a lieutenant general. Coerr’s reminiscences make for an incredible portrait of leadership in action:

Good officers study military history, great officers study logistics. Mattis was a great officer. His “Log Light” configuration for the division was meant to get people north fast, and not try to shoot our way through every little town on the way. As only he could do, he described it thus: “If you can’t eat it, shoot it, or wear it, don’t bring it.”

2. Andreesen and the Poverty of the Humanities

In a wide-ranging interview with The Financial Times, Silicon Valley impresario Marc Andreesen makes a passing comment on the dim future of university humanities departments:   

At the University of Illinois, there’s Green Street, and to the north is the engineering campus and to the south the liberal arts campus. To the north, it’s all money. To the south, the buildings are falling down. And it’s like almost entering a different world to take a history class.

Andreesen believes that the backlash against Silicon Valley stems from Old Guard resentment: “They’re threatened. It’s a power recalibration. There’s a coastal element to it. There’s a liberal arts versus engineering element to it. It’s a two-cultures thing.”

3. The Impact of Your Peers

Harvard Business School’s Josh Lerner is probably the most knowledgeable researcher of venture capital, private equity, and start-up companies. In this interview for the Richmond Fed, Lerner talks about the implications of who you sit with in business school:   

We ended up looking at the impact of how students spent their first year at Harvard Business School. In particular, what we have here is a system where people spend the first year with a section of 90 people and they take all of their classes together. These sections tend to be powerful connecting devices for people, still binding them together when they come back for their 25th reunion. So we can ask, does having in one's section fewer or more entrepreneurial peers — people who were entrepreneurs prior to business school — end up affecting the willingness of people who didn't have an entrepreneurial background to start a new venture themselves after school? When we ran the analysis, we were shocked because we got exactly what we thought was the wrong answer: Having more entrepreneurial peers makes people less likely to start businesses.

As the interview makes clear, the answer becomes more complicated with further analysis. Worth reading.

4. Oxford Blues...or the World's Smallest Violin

The British press reports that Faiz Siddiqui is suing Oxford University for £1 million in lost wages because “negligent” teaching he received 16 years ago. Siddiqui must surely be the least sympathetic character in the UK:

Siddiqui, 38, says his life and career have been blighted by the school’s “boring” and “appallingly bad” teaching, and he argues it has prevented him from securing both a first-class degree and a successful career as a lawyer…In particular, it was one class on Indian imperial history that pulled down his overall grade, thanks to the professor’s negligent teaching and overly harsh grading, Siddiqui and his legal team say.

5. What Do Appellate Judges

Judge Richard Posner, judge of the 7th Circuit appellate court, has written dozens of books on law, economics, literature, capitalism, and moral theory. So it is interesting to see what he does when he is actually on the bench. Here, in his characteristically blunt style, Posner affirms the conviction of defendant who was trying to argue that all cash, guns, and cocaine in his car had nothing to do with a drug deal:   

The arguments for reversal made by the defendant’s lawyer in his briefs and at oral argument were exceptionally weak, including his argument that the $353,443 in cash found in the defendant’s car could have been for anything, when obviously it was to purchase cocaine from Martinez, the informant. There was no evidence of any other possible use of the money, or any other possible motive for meeting with the informant, who testified plausibly about his negotiations and meeting with the defendant. No motive was offered for carrying so much weaponry if the money was to be given to the recipient (Martinez) for a legal transaction.

6. Thomas Schelling's Addiction

Thomas Schelling, who won the Nobel Prize in economics, was a pioneer in game theory, nuclear deterrence, and the science of decision making (much of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point comes straight from Schelling’s work). Less known was his work on why people have such a hard time quitting smoking. As an ex-smoker, he was at his most thoughtful on this topic:

Smoking is a socially facilitating activity. People who want to appear poised get support from the motions of extracting a cigarette, lighting it, exhaling the smoke, and holding the cigarette. This benefit is probably independent of the nicotine. Smoking is something that every smoker is good at.

Also worth reading: Richard Zeckhauser’s foreword to The Strategist, an intellectual biography of Schelling, in which he describes Schelling not as a “nuclear strategist, but a prevent-nuclear-war strategist.”


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