Busy week this week (and of perhaps greater relevance, busy weekend as well), so I didn't read much. So here's an abbreviated-but-still-fairly-fun edition...
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Book Review Review: Little Soldiers / Slate Star Codex
Sorry for excerpting so much...I found this really interesting. If you do too, it's worth reading the full review that Scott reviews, as well as Scott's fake commencement speech.
Dormin describes the “plot”: The author is a second-generation Chinese-American woman, raised by demanding Asian parents. Her parents made her work herself to the bone to get perfect grades in school, practice piano, get into Ivy League schools, etc. She resisted and resented the hell she was forced to go through (though she got into Stanford, so she couldn’t have resisted too hard). Skip a decade. She is grown up, married, and has a three year old child. Her husband (a white guy named Rob) gets a job in China, so they move to Shanghai. She wants their three-year-old son to be bilingual/bicultural, so she enrolls him in Soong Qing Ling, the Harvard of Chinese preschools. The book is about her experiences there and what it taught her about various aspects of Chinese education. Like the lunches: "During his first week at Soong Qing Ling, Rainey began complaining to his mom about eating eggs. This puzzled Lenora because as far as she knew, Rainey refused to eat eggs and never did so at home. But somehow he was eating them at school. After much coaxing (three-year-olds aren’t especially articulate), Lenora discovered that Rainey was being force-fed eggs. [...] Outraged, Lenora stormed to the school the next day and approached the teacher in the morning as she dropped Rainey off. Lenora demanded to know if Rainey was telling the truth – was this teacher literally forcing food into her three-year-old son’s mouth and verbally berating him until he ate it. The teacher didn’t even bother looking at Lenora as she calmly explained that eggs are healthy and that it was important for children to eat them. When Lenora demanded she stop force-feeding her son, the teacher refused and walked away." Or the seating: "As Lenora hears more crazy stories from her son and friends, she keeps coming back to one question: 'what does Rainey actually do in school?' Lenora tries to ask Rainey, but he always replies, 'we sit still.' He also occasionally mentions painting and eating, but that’s it. [...] Since Lenora couldn’t get a look into Soong Qing Ling, she went to another local school and bribed her way into a classroom-observation post with some well-placed handbags. She discovered that Rainey was basically right. Chinese preschool really does seem to consist of sitting still. Unless given different orders, all students were required to sit in their seats with their arms at their sides, and their feet flat on a line of tape on the ground. This is not an easy task for three-year-olds. [...] After a few years in China, Rainey changed. Though Lenora constantly worried if Rainey’s creativity and leadership potential was being snuffed out, she couldn’t help but be impressed by his emerging self-control. He could sit still for longer. He always greeted people politely. He finished eating his food. He asked permission a lot. Lenora didn’t realize what Rainey had become until she took him back to the US for a few weeks to visit family. There, the contrast between Rainey and his same-aged American counterparts become stark. Lenora’s friends’ kids ate junk food all day while Rainey asked for vegetables. They couldn’t read or do basic addition while Rainey was close to being bilingual and had started double-digit addition and subtraction by first grade. They wandered obliviously in their own worlds while Rainey’s Chinese grandparents were thrilled to receive respectful greetings every time Rainey entered the room." [...] How might the personified Chinese education system respond? What if it said “I don’t know what you 老外 are doing in America, but I’m not crushing anybody. I’m just telling kids to sit here drawing 1,000 raindrops in a row without moving or protesting. If after that you decide you don’t want to found the next Uber, that’s on you. But if you do decide to found the next Uber, I will have taught you the most important skill: discpline. Learning how to sit still and obey others is the necessary prerequisite to learning how to sit still and obey yourself.” If it was really mean, it might go further. “I notice most of you Americans suck at this skill. I notice you’re always whining about how you don’t have enough discipline to pursue your interests. Some of you are writers who spend years fantasizing about the novel you’re going to publish, but can never quite bring yourself to put pen to paper. Others want to learn another language, but reject real work in favor of phone apps that promise to ‘gamify’ staying at a 101 level for the rest of your life. You don’t need to feel bad about having no self-control; after all, nobody taught you any. If you’d gone to 宋庆龄幼儿园, you would have spent your formative years learning to sit still and focus, having your natural impulse to slack off squeezed out of you. Then you could have pushed through and written your novel, or learned 官話, or if you wanted to start Uber you could start Uber. At the very least you’d be doing something other than lying in bed browsing Reddit posts about how adulting is hard.” My Bay Area friends treat people as naturally motivated, and assume that if someone acts unmotivated, it’s because they’ve spent so long being taught to suppress their own desires that they’ve lost touch with innate enthusiasm. Personified China treats people as naturally unmotivated, and assumes that if someone acts unmotivated, it’s because they haven’t been trained to pursue a goal determinedly without getting blown around by every passing whim. What evidence is there in favor of one education system or the other?
Luka Doncic hadn’t been born yet when Mark Cuban’s online streaming company, Broadcast.com, made its initial public offering in July 1998, a deal that soared nearly 250 percent on its first day of trading even though the business had lost millions for years. (Like impeachment trials and scrunchies, everything old is new again.) And Doncic was only an infant in April 1999, when Cuban sold that same business to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in stock and pretty much top-ticked the dot-com market. So when I ask the 20-year-old Doncic whether he remembers how he first heard about Cuban, the 61-year-old Dallas Mavericks owner, it makes sense that the young Slovenian point guard’s answer is at best tangential to Cuban’s ’90s tech trajectory and even to the NBA. “Probably because of Shark Tank,” Doncic says. To the future of the franchise, the origins of ownership may as well be ancient history. [...] When Cuban bought the Mavericks 20 years ago, he was an offbeat, self-assured rich guy who exemplified the tenets of the franchise’s name, like if the kid from Blank Check grew up to be Ted Turner with a Lloyd Christmas haircut and a terrible wardrobe. But while he once sought to knock down the doors and pull the rug out from under the league, he now owns the damn place. He has won a title and has elevated some of the NBA’s most exciting talent over the years, but he has also dropped the ball, tearfully apologizing in 2018 for overlooking systemic sexual harassment within his organization. He has eschewed the more typical anonymity of ownership to crow about his successes and smite his opponents—usually, the refs—but he has also been personally called out for his own decisions, like trading last season for Kristaps Porzingis, a player who had been recently accused of, though never charged with, sexual assault. “In many ways,” Newsday wrote of Cuban in February 2001, “he is redefining the role of an NBA owner. Not everyone is happy about that.” This assessment was correct on both counts, and perhaps even an understatement. In the 20 years since buying the team, Cuban has pushed the NBA’s limits on everything from decorum to statistics, running his mouth while running the numbers, serving as both the jester of his castle and the king. This season, as the Dallas Mavericks have gotten off to an irresistible start, buoyed by the joyous play of sophomore sensation Luka Doncic, Cuban is once again presiding over a franchise with legitimate relevance and near-future title hopes. For years, Cuban has been changing the game by doing everything in his power to win it, and he doesn’t appear to be stepping back anytime soon.
Clayton Christensen, guru of disruptive innovation and Latter-day Saint leader, dies at 67 / Deseret News
I wasn't fortunate enough to get into his class, but Clay Christensen was still the professor whose thinking (and humane approach to business and management) had the greatest impact on me while I was in business school. This obituary in Deseret News is a good tribute to a highly respected person:
Clayton Christensen, whose theory of disruptive innovation made him a key influence on Silicon Valley powerhouses like Netflix and Intel and twice earned him the title of the world’s most influential living management thinker, died Jan. 23 at age 67. [...] Christensen initially used the term “disruptive technologies.” Grove dubbed it the “Christensen Effect.” After Christensen altered it to “disruptive innovation,” the term became ubiquitous. Five years ago, the Economist said it had long since entered the zeitgeist. Though he coined the term, Christensen grew uncomfortable with it as he saw it overused and misapplied. He utilized it narrowly to describe innovations that upended existing markets, but only if they fit a certain pattern he had discovered. A true disruptive innovation, he taught, first appealed only to a niche market and appeared less attractive than the powerful incumbent it eventually usurped. In fact, the incumbent typically looked down on it as inconsequential until it ate up huge swaths of its market share. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings used “The Innovator’s Dilemma” with his team. The biographer of Steve Jobs said the book “deeply influenced” Apple’s co-founder. Jeff Bezos tells his Amazon executives to read another Christensen book, “The Innovator’s Solution.” A masterful storyteller, Christensen was a perfect fit for Harvard’s case study method and the way CEOs thought and acted. He shared his case studies with roomfuls of CEOs. His story about the disruption of steel mills gripped Grove, for example. [...] Grove applied that story to help Intel ward off a disruption that could have undone the company. He did what flocks of CEOs would, bringing Christensen in to speak to vast teams at Intel. Grove then identified low-end personal computers as a potential disruptive innovation that threatened the high-end computer chip maker, and he instructed his managers and sales team to focus on them. Soon, Intel introduced the cheaper Celeron chip. Within a year, Intel owned 35% of the market share for chips in cheaper personal computers.
These buildings are in almost every U.S. city. They range from three to seven stories tall and can stretch for blocks. They’re usually full of rental apartments, but they can also house college dorms, condominiums, hotels, or assisted-living facilities. Close to city centers, they tend toward a blocky, often colorful modernism; out in the suburbs, their architecture is more likely to feature peaked roofs and historical motifs. Their outer walls are covered with fiber cement, metal, stucco, or bricks. They really are everywhere, I discovered on a cross-country drive last fall, and they’re going up fast. In 2017, 187,000 new housing units were completed in buildings of 50 units or more in the U.S., the most since the Census Bureau started keeping track in 1972. By my informal massaging of the data, well over half of those were in blocky mid-rises. These structures’ proliferation is one of the most dramatic changes to the country’s built environment in decades. Yet when I started asking around about them, they didn’t seem to have a name. I encountered someone calling them “stumpies” in a website comment, but that sadly hasn’t caught on. It was only after a developer described the style to me as five-over-one—five stories of apartments over a ground-floor “podium” of parking and/or retail—that I was able to find some online discussion of the phenomenon.
In 1995 Pepsi ran a promotion where people could collect Pepsi Points and then trade them in for Pepsi Stuff. A T‑shirt was 75 points, sunglasses were 175 points, and there was even a leather jacket for 1,450 points. Wearing all three at once would get you some serious 1990s points. The TV commercial where they advertised the points‑for‑stuff concept featured someone doing exactly that. But the people making the commercial wanted to end it on some zany bit of “classic Pepsi” craziness. So wearing the T‑shirt, shades, and leather jacket, the ad protagonist flies his Harrier Jet to school. Apparently, this military aircraft could be yours for 7 million Pepsi Points. The joke is simple enough: they took the idea behind Pepsi Points and extrapolated it until it was ridiculous. Solid comedy writing. But then they seemingly didn’t do the math. Seven million sure does sound like a big number, but I don’t think the team creating the ad bothered to run the numbers and check that it was definitely big enough. But someone else did. At the time, each AV‑8 Harrier II Jump Jet brought into action cost the United States Marine Corps over $20 million and, thankfully, there is a simple way to convert between USD and PP: Pepsi would let anyone buy additional points for 10 cents each. Now, I’m not familiar with the market for second-hand military aircraft, but a price of $700,000 on a $20 million aircraft sounds like a good investment. As it did to John Leonard, who tried to cash in on this. And it was not just a lame “tried.” He went all in. The promotion required that people claimed their prizes with an original order form from the Pepsi Stuff catalog, traded a minimum of 15 original Pepsi Points, and included a check to cover the cost of any additional points required, plus $10 for shipping and handling. John did all of that. He used an original form, he collected 15 points from Pepsi products, and he put $700,008.50 into escrow with his attorneys to back the check. The guy actually raised the money! He was serious.
The same year, Anne Desclos, writing as “Pauline Réage”, published The Story Of O, a wildly explicit tale of female submission. She apparently wrote it as a love letter to her eminent literary critic husband, who was a fan of the writings of the Marquis de Sade. It won at least one major literary prize. I cannot imagine any of that happening in Britain – or indeed, anywhere else but France. If you’ve read the book (or most works by de Sade), you’ll maybe agree. The Parisian events of May 1968 re-slackened the stays of popular morality. Whether this was considered a good or a bad thing, it was undoubtedly a thing. Licence became as widespread as France’s image abroad had always suggested it was. A 2017 survey maintained that Parisians had, on average, slept with 19 people each – around double the London figure. It is claimed that 44 per cent had slept with someone without knowing his or her name. [...] But France remains France. When #MeToo was at max volume, Catherine Deneuve was one of a hundred prominent French women to sign a letter published in Le Monde that suggested, among much else, that a man shouldn’t necessarily lose his job for attempting to “steal a kiss” or “touch a knee”, that “chatting up, even if insistent or clumsy, isn’t an offence, nor courteousness a sign of macho aggression.” They detected in the movement evidence of that puritanism which, in the name of protecting women, infantilises them as perpetual victims.
Matt MacMillan came to the stunning realization that his son's baby talk made an excellent instrument.
Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t / New York Times
(But see Jonathan Haidt here for somewhat conflicting research.)
A growing number of academics are challenging assumptions about the negative effects of social media and smartphones on children.
This paper provides evidence that daily fluctuations in the stock market have important–and hitherto neglected–spillover effects on fatal car accidents. Using the universe of fatal car accidents in the United States from 1990 to 2015, we find that a one standard deviation reduction in daily stock market returns is associated with a 0.6% increase in fatal car accidents that happen after the stock market opening.