Interesting Articles, Links, Etc.

Some more links.

  • Why do companies buy out startups just to get their employees, rather than just offering them higher salaries, which seems like it would be cheaper? An interesting article in the NYT gives some answers to this puzzle about so-called acqui-hiring in Silicon Valley.1 See also the longer law article by the original authors of the study for more (which, I admit, I haven’t read yet). [Update: A friend who works in Silicon Valley points out an additional argument for aqui-hires: companies like hiring teams of programmers who are already used to working with each other. By doing an aqui-hire, the company ensures that it has the whole team.]
  • HL Mencken on how to drink like a gentleman.
  • An article by Robert Gottlieb2 in the Atlantic about Lorenz Hart, lyricist of Rodgers and Hart fame. A very interesting character (especially as regards love, sex, the comparison with Cole Porter, etc.).
  • A really interesting article by Colin Dickey in the Believer about controversies over how to set pitch. Who’d have thought that you’d ever read about Placido Domingo and LaRouche in the same article?
  • An obituary of Anthony Lewis, whose book Gideon’s Trumpet I remember enjoying a long time ago. An amusing quote is hidden in the article.

    Mr. Lewis’s coverage of the court impressed Justice Felix Frankfurter, who called Mr. Reston. “I can’t believe what this young man achieved,” Justice Frankfurter said, as Mr. Reston recalled in his memoir, “Deadline.” “There are not two justices of this court who have such a grasp of these cases.”

    This recalls a quote of Lionel Abel, recalled by Dick Schaap, from Abel’s NYT obituary:

    Sartre says Abel is the most intelligent man in New York City. Kenneth Rexroth, the poet-critic, says Abel is the most intelligent man in New York City. Abel himself will not say that he is the most intelligent man in New York City. But he will say that Sartre and Rexroth are both magnificent judges of intellect.

  • An interesting interview on NPR’s Fresh Air about near-death (or after-death, as it’s called) experiences, with Dr. Sam Parnia. About 10-20% of patients who are resuscitated after heart failure report memories of white lights, can recall conversations that occurred in the hospital, etc.; interestingly (if I heard correctly), in certain cases this happens in spite of the fact that their brains showed no activity.
  • This blew my mind: the anecdote about Hemingway’s famous six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn” ) is probably apocryphal. It’s not surprising when certain things—a quote attributed to Churchill, say—are apocryphal. But this seems like the sort of thing that would have been debunked. (So does this mean everything creative writing professors say is false? Can I tell things without showing?)  Along these lines, a segment from the Freakonomics podcast,3 The Legacy of a Jerk [full transcript], noted that Ty Cobb, in fact, wasn’t necessarily such a bad guy—and maybe Roberto Clemente wasn’t the saint he was turned into. Again, you’d think this information-filled internet age would change these things. (And perhaps it has; after all, I learned about Ty Cobb and Roberto Clemente from, yes, a book, circa 1995. Surely the nascent baseball fan nowadays learns things from the internet.)
  • A 1991 interview of Siskel and Ebert in Playboy. An interesting tidbit:

    Playboy: So besides yourselves, who has the biggest ego in the business?

    Siskel: I’m sure it’s a sixty-way tie.

    Ebert: When you say, “Who has the biggest ego,” there’s an implicit criticism. You’re actually asking who’s the biggest asshole. I would say that the biggest ego of anyone I’ve spoken to in the movies belongs to Ingmar Bergman, but I would want that to be heard as praise. He has a very highly developed sense of self, of who he is, what he thinks and what he cares about. He’s one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. Woody Allen has an extremely well-developed and healthy ego. That does not mean he’s conceited; it doesn’t mean he’s insufferable. It just means that he takes himself seriously, and he should.

    In terms of dynamic energy and infectious enthusiasm, very few people are the match of Martin Scorsese. I gave him his first print review. It was his first film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door? I said, “In ten years, he’ll be the American Fellini.” Well, of course, that was wrong, because there’s nothing similar between Scorsese and Fellini. But he called me up and said, “Geez, do you think it’s gonna take that long?” 

  • A good article from Gawker: Journalism is not narcissism.
  • Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? An interesting article in the NYT. Economic theory says a lot about how self-interested actors ought to behave. This is only a crude approximation of reality, but it’s particularly problematic when one considers what happens within, say, a corporation. This is both because (a) even if employees are self-interested, there’s a challenge of aligning their interests with that of their employer and (b) of course people aren’t purely self-interested, at least not in the simplest sense for economic models (assuming they just want to maximize success and money). (Within academia—which is an interesting test case, since there are many of the same corporate issues, like challenges in aligning interests, managing finite resources, motivating employees, even though the ultimate goal is different than profit maximization—this comes up, too.)  So there are really two different issues here. One is more economic, thinking about how to align incentives well, so that employees will work hard, so that the desire for promotion doesn’t lead to interoffice politics where favoritism beats meritocracy, so that (appropriate) whistle-blowing is rewarded. But another is psychological. How do we acknowledge the reality that humans care about many other things than money and promotions?  I think culture—which is such a complicated beast—plays a big role in this. How, though, to effect cultural changes in a way that’s not artificial?  When I see the HR emails I get from University of Michigan, with their various ploys and awards, or when I go to a medical complex and read banal “Mission Statements”, I can’t help but think that these only create a more deadened, Orwellian world. Yet you can certainly tell the difference when you’re in institutions where there is a great culture, and it redounds to the benefit of all. I imagine Adam Grant’s research can shed some light here.

  1. The article is by law professor Victor Fleischer, who often writes good stuff about taxation. Taxation, stereotypes of boredom notwithstanding, is a fascinating topic; after all, if the world is all about different actor’s incentives, then taxation is a primary lever the government can use to effect change. 

  2. Apropos of Gottlieb, a good Paris Review interview with him. I love the Jewish prayer he cites: “May we never reach our dreams.” 

  3. Which I find problematic, unlike the fantastic Planet Money podcast.