Monthly Archives: February 2006

Why The Economist is So Successful

I’m a loyal reader of The Economist. Clive Cook has an excellent piece in the National Journal on why The Economist has been so successful – both as a journalistic powerhouse and as a business. There’s a similar article in the TimesOnline (UK) which discusses the state of the magazine — er, "newspaper" as it likes to call itself — as its top editor is stepping down.

There are many reasons why The Economist rocks: single text for a global, intelligent audience. Topics span politics, business, books, and science. Consistently serious and hilarious coverage of the world. On and on and on. But for me, one reason trumps all: you can’t pigeonhole the magazine’s bias.

Most know The Economist as right-of-center since it’s staunchly free-market, pro-capitalist. Yet they endorsed John Kerry, they support abortion rights, etc.

People who haven’t changed their mind in 15 years or show no signs of confliction on tough topics are not very interesting. For me, there’s nothing more boring than hearing about some news event or product release or whatever and you know exactly where a commentator/pundit is going to stand. I know that Paul Krugman will always despise anything Bush does economically. So I don’t read him. I know that certain Mac aficionados are going to say the latest from Microsoft is always evil. So I don’t read them.

I want to read people who are guided by an underlying intellectual philosophy, not ideology. I want people who admit newfound uncertainties about positions they’ve held for a decade.

Franklin Foer Named Editor of the New Republic

Franklin Foer has been named editor of the New Republic. I love all these young 30 somethings taking over. TNR is not one of my top reads, but I read it when I can. I think daily newspapers are in big trouble from a business model perspective, but long form journalism and magazines will endure the next decade just fine, I think, unless someone invents screens that don’t strain eyes. I

‘d love to write for TNR and its kin someday.

Who Are You? instead of What Do You Do?

When I first meet someone one of the first questions I’ll ask is, "So what do you do?" Almost always I’ll get some generic response like, "I’m a software entrepreneur" or "I’m a teacher." I do the exact same thing when someone mistakes me for a 30-something and I’ll say "Oh, I’m just an entrepreneur and writer." Not very helpful. With only one question, I’m hesitant to dive into my full bio because that comes across as arrogant.

Umair Haque, in a recent parenthetical, said that only in the U.S. do you ask "what do you do?" as the first question at a mixer.

Maybe this is because in America we unfortunately value what someone is doing as much more important than who someone is.

Is there a better question to ask when meeting someone for the first time that will elicit a richer perspective on who they are? Obviously, in the virtual world, a personal blog does this magnificently!

Autistic Basketball Player Creates Mayhem

Your YouTube video of the day – autistic waterboy finally gets a chance to play and takes the world by surprise. Wonderful.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

The Role of Psychotherapy

An interesting op/ed in today’s NYT about the role of psychotherapy in a world celebrating "hard sciences" and exact measurements. Money quote:

Religion has historically been the language for people to talk about the things that mattered most to them, aided and abetted by the arts. Science has become the language that has helped people to know what they wanted to know, and get what they wanted to get. Psychotherapy has to occupy the difficult middle ground between them, but without taking sides. Since it is narrow-mindedness that we most often suffer from, we need our therapists to resist the allure of the fashionable certainties.

Book Review: Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss

Given that Switzerland is the only country I’ve been to — I spent three weeks in Zurich last summer as part of an SF-Zurich partnership — I consider myself part-Swiss. I loved it. My friend Massimo Chiasera from Zurich sent me The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Swiss. It’s hilarious, thin, tongue-in-cheek, and a largely accurate portrait of Swiss people, culture, government, land, etc. I wish I had read it before going there! Apparently there is a whole series of "Xenophobe’s Guide to…" and I will be sure to pick them up before I travel again this summer.

A nice respite from tackling the thick works of Benjamin Friedman’s Moral Consequences of Economic Growth and Richard Posner’s Sex and Reason.

Thanks Massimo!

Book Review: Swimming Across by Andy Grove

I finished my second memoir of the week and it was Andy Grove’s excellent Swimming Across. Most of us know Grove as founder of Intel and as such I expected the company to play some role in the book. The company is not mentioned once. Instead, we are treated to a front seat on Grove’s childhood in Hungary. With plain and earnest prose, Grove recalls fleeing the Nazi occupation, and then later, fleeing Soviet troops after an unsuccessful populist uprising. He escapes the country alone into Austria and, with the help of refugee organizations, gets on a ship to New York City where he finds asylum with his uncle. In New York, he studies chemistry at City College, changes his name to Andy Grove, and realizes that New York weather is unkind. His professor tells him the only city he thinks could meet Grove’s climate needs is San Francisco. He ends up at UC Berkeley, starts Intel, and the rest is history.

Swimming Across is well written, vivid, inspiring. Highly recommended.

Interview with Me on Money Crashers

As if you’re not sick of my two cents already, there’s an interview with me up at the Money Crashers blog — “a guide to financial fitness for young people” — where Erik Folgate and I discuss entrepreneurship, luck, starting a company, and so on.

Billionaire in this Decade? Donations Welcome

A Technorati ping alerted me to this post by a blogger in Kenya named Nicholas Ochiel who apparently stumbled across my web site and wrote a post on me, declaring:

"…Barring a galaxy rending explosion of the sun, nothing will stop him from becoming a billionaire within this decade.  He has triggered infinity and once destiny starts pulling you in a certain direction,  nothing can stop it,  not even you."

You heard it, folks. 4 years, $999.98 million to go. Email me to request a donation form.

Contexualizing the Summers Fall Out

As a fascinated observer and soon to be consumer of higher education, I have been following Larry Summers’ resignation from Harvard with interest because I think it speaks volumes about the state of academia. Peter Beinart, editor The New Republic and an impressive person, has an excellent contexualization (free username/pass required) of the Summers debacle. Read it and it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for the man.

He wanted top professors to actually teach. What???

He wanted the college to serve the nation, not merely itself. Is he nuts?!?

Higher education needs a reinvention.