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High Lantern Group Notebook | February 2014

 

1. The Gates of Rage

Military historian Max Boot offers this masterful review of the memoir of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So good and incisive it makes reading the book unnecessary. Although Boot offers a favorable and respectful assessment, he also cleverly reveals how Gates falls victim to one of the grand Washington clichés – the public leader who doesn’t suffer fools gladly:

Gates’s rage is particularly startling. By my count, the words “anger,” “angered,” “angry,” or “angrily” appear thirty-four times to describe his state of mind, sometimes preceded by intensifiers such as “extremely” or “really.” Two more times he is “upset.” Once he is “really pissed.” Ten times he is “furious” or “infuriated”; five times he is “outraged” or finds something to be “outrageous”; twice he is “seething”; six times he is “offended,” including once “exceptionally offended.” That amounts to at least sixty eruptions of bile in a 598-page account, or once every ten pages or so.

 

2. Is This Journalism’s Golden Age?

On the blog of his VC firm, investor Marc Andreesen offers a rambling, preening, and transparently self-serving case about the bright future of media. Nonetheless, he does make a persuasive case that, because of the sheer volume of material online, the search for reliable reporting is increasingly important:

On the Internet, there is no limitation to the number of outlets or voices in the news chorus. Therefore, quality can easily coexist with crap. All can thrive in their respective markets. And, the more noise, confusion, and crap – the more there is an increase of, and corresponding need for, trusted guides, respected experts, and quality brands.

 

3. Kurt Vonnegut’s Infographic Thesis

Decades ago, novelist Kurt Vonnegut proposed a Master’s thesis that showed how stories shared a number of “shapes” – and these shapes could be drawn out on graph paper. The thesis was rejected by the University of Chicago “because it was so simple and looked like too much fun.” Now, graphic artist Maya Eilam has used a series of ingenious infographics to apply Vonnegut’s thesis to stories ranging from The Old Testament to The Sopranos. Not to be missed.

 

And Vonnegut’s not alone. British site The Poke offers this infographic showing every death and murder in the Shakespeare catalogue.

 

4. A Word of Advice on Advice

“Seeking advice you have no intention of following is a time-honored American tradition,” writes Joe Queenan in his spectacular survey of the advice industry and the paradoxical culture it has spawned. He elaborates:

At some level people know that, unless the good word comes from McKinsey or Warren Buffett, most off-the-cuff advice is useless. Consider, for example, people who poke you in the chest and say, “A word to the wise.” This expression makes no sense. If you are already wise, why would you need a word from anybody? It should be: a word from the wise. This is the whole problem. The word never comes from the wise. It always comes from an idiot.

 

5. Microsoft: The Dog that Caught the Car

Who would have guessed that John Gruber, the savviest chronicler of everything Apple, would offer the most insightful assessment of Microsoft’s triumphs and failures. Microsoft’s problem, he writes, is that it never got over its original mantra:

In the beginning, Bill Gates stated the company’s goal: “A computer on every desk and in every home.” That was crazy. The PC revolution was well underway, but the grand total of PCs sold when Gates stated that mantra was, by today’s standards, effectively zero. The industry was measuring sales in the thousands, but Gates was already thinking about billions

A computer on every desk and in every home was incredible foresight for 1977. It carried Microsoft for 25 years of growth. But once that goal was achieved, I don’t think they knew where to go. They were like the dog that caught the car.

 

6. Why Football Punts on Moneyball

In ESPN The Magazine‘s “analytics issue,” Nate Silver attempts to explain why the NFL continues to ignore statistics even as baseball and basketball are becoming overrun by data-geeks. The NFL’s reluctance is not due to a lack of good data:

Since at least 1971, statistical analyses have demonstrated that kicking and punting are not only no fun but are also done far too often. Teams ought to be going for it much more, especially in fourth-and-short situations at almost any time and any location on the field…My view is that NFL coaches aren’t irrational or ignorant of the statistics as much as they are poorly incentivized to get these decisions right. The average NFL team has been owned by the same family or organization since 1980.