Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. When Infrastructure Mattered

Ninety years ago, New York was captivated by an infrastructure war that would define the modern city: who would build the tallest skyscraper? Popular Mechanics recounts the rivalry between architects William Van Alen, the designer of the Chrysler building, and his erstwhile friend, H. Craig Severance, who had plans to build the world’s tallest bank on 40 Wall Street:

Under no circumstances was Van Alen going to lose to Severance. And under no circumstances was Walter Chrysler going to let a bank beat his quest for skyline supremacy. The pair went silent, vowing to keep every design change private. Not even the 2,400 workers assembling the tower could know the full details, lest word reached Severance. Van Alen scrambled in secret to add hundreds of feet to the Chrysler Building, and to figure out a way to hide as much of the additional construction from the city as possible. Chrysler signed a blank check to make it happen. 

2. The Life and Death of King Kong Bundy

Has The Ringer published an obituary of this early wrestling hero…or a tribute filled with awe and fear?

Bundy was a mountain of a man, a 450-pound roadblock of rectangular flesh, and he stomped and splashed his foes into oblivion. His bloodied face at WrestleMania 2, jammed against the bars of the steel cage by a heroic Hulk Hogan fighting against both Bundy and the rib injuries Bundy had inflicted, still haunts my dreams.

3. Carving Lincoln

John Wilderming, the dean of American art critics, reviews a new biography of Daniel Chester French, the man who carved the Lincoln Monument. He shares an interesting point about the conception of America’s most famous statue:

The sculptor’s first instinct was to create a standing Lincoln, but he soon realized that, if the statue were of adequate size, “the head would be too far above the eye” of the visitor. Instead French decided to create a “seated figure, rugged hands resting on the arms of a throne-size chair, face downcast and staring ahead, as if deep in reverie, past the crowds of admirers likely to gather before him.”

The interview at the National Archives with “Monument Man” author Harold Holzer is terrific.

4. What Facebook Learned from Microsoft

Ben Evans considers Zuckerberg’s recent memo on what the Facebook CEO calls a “privacy focused vision for social media.” Evans believes Facebook is drawing upon Microsoft’s response to the “virus problem” that plagued Windows in the early 2000s when the company shifted to the Cloud:

In the 1990s, Microsoft was the ‘evil empire’, and a lot of the narrative within tech focused on how it should be more open, make it easier for people to develop software that worked with the Office monopoly, and make it easier to move information in and out of its products. Microsoft was ‘evil’ if it did anything to make life harder for developers. Unfortunately, whatever you thought of this narrative, it pointed in the wrong direction when it came to this use case. Here, Microsoft was too open, not too closed.

5. That’s Not Funny

There is no shortage of advice telling executives to crack jokes in their presentations. But a team of researchers finds that “women may actually be harmed by using humor at work.” They share their findings inHarvard Business Review: 

We find that when men add humor to a business presentation, observers view them as having higher levels of status (that is, respect or prestige) within the organization, and give them higher performance ratings and leadership capability assessments compared to when they do not include humor. However, when women add the same humor to the same presentation, people view them as having lower levels of status, rate their performance as lower, and consider them less capable as leaders.

6. Government's Best Civil Servants 

Andy Marshall and Alan Kreuger, both of whom served in government with great distinction, died this month. Marshall, who led the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment, was possibly the most influential national security thinker of the past 50 years. He was described by a colleague in The New York Times obituary as someone who “would always pick the least studied and most strategically significant subjects.” Last year, Foreign Policy tried to capture his influence: 

Though he remained obscure to the public during much of his time in the Pentagon, Marshall achieved near-rock star status within national security circles for challenging bedrock assumptions of the intelligence and defense communities. One of Marshall’s most cited successes was his upending of Cold War assessments of the Soviet Union’s economic and military strength…He was right.

Kreuger, an economist who chaired President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, wasremembered by his former classmate Miles Kimball as someone who, like Marshall, had “enormous impact by homing in on the most important questions and being entrepreneurial in tackling those questions”:

Because Alan focused on important questions, others often contested his answers. But that is what good science is all about: getting many people to work on the most important questions and hashing things out. Someone like Alan, who gets others to focus on the most important questions, accomplishes great good both when others confirm a result and when others show that a seeming result is wrong.  

Websites Worth Reading

Jeff Wise: Still the best theory about the missing Malaysian flight 

Car Design: Photo essay of a Ford concept car

Pedestrian Observation: How to make American cities walkable

Feeds We Follow

@Ass_Deans: Middle management at universities

@NormMacdonald: No one live tweets the Masters better

@Harry_Stevens: Science and graphics editor at Axios