Good Reading -- October 2020
Philip C. Ordway
“The Army has always had an internal dynamic that real men don’t need sleep and can just push on, and it’s incredibly stupid,” said Lt. Gen. David Barno, who was commander of combined forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. “Combat is a thinking man’s business and your brain doesn’t function without sleep.”
“A fracking binge in the American shale industry has permanently damaged the country’s oil and gas reserves, threatening hopes for a production recovery and US energy independence, according to one of the sector’s top investors. Wil VanLoh, chief executive of Quantum Energy Partners, a private equity firm that through its portfolio companies is the biggest US driller after ExxonMobil, said too much fracking had ‘sterilised a lot of the reservoir in North America. That’s the dirty secret about shale…What we’ve done for the last five years is we’ve drilled the heart out of the watermelon.’”
Facts & Figures
60 days — the amount of time elapsed between an initial, exploratory meeting with bankers regarding the possibility of a SPAC offering and the closing of its $200 million IPO. Source: The IPO Market Parties Like It’s 1999.
This long-running survey of U.S. teenagers reports an all-time low in self-reported levels of spending, down 9% y/y. Also, “86% of teens own an iPhone and 89% expect an iPhone to be their next phone, both all-time survey highs…Snapchat is the favorite social media platform; Instagram fell from No. 2 to No. 3 as TikTok moved up to No. 2.”
Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation — I had never heard of this book or this character/story, but wow, it’s really fascinating. If Charles Ponzi hadn’t flamed out first — Leo Koretz was more “successful,” perpetrating his fraud for two decades — we would refer to Koretz schemes instead of Ponzi schemes. Koretz’s own investors even threw him a party and jokingly called him “our Ponzi.” Bernie Madoff’s crimes almost a century later also bear some striking similarities. The the period history and the business and psychological angles are intriguing to say the least, and the book is well written too. Highly recommended. (A big thanks to John R. for recommending this!)
The Ride of a Lifetime — Bob Iger’s autobiography is pretty good. It’s not as gripping or well-written as some of my all-time favorites like Shoe Dog or Made in America, but it does have a lot of interesting nuggets. Tom Murphy and Dan Burke make several important appearances; the Bass family apparently failed to meet a $2 billion margin call on their Disney stock after 9/11; the Disney acquisition of Twitter was a done deal until Iger got cold feet; etc. There is also no denying the change and impact from the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox, not to mention the development of BAMtech and ESPN+ and Disney+.
A Columnist Makes Sense of Wall Street Like None Other (See Footnote) — If you don’t read Matt Levine’s “Money Stuff” column on Bloomberg, you’re missing a great education, a lot of laughs, and some brilliant writing. This profile is pretty good too.
A Nation Challenged: Objects; Fighting for Life 50 Floors Up, With One Tool and Ingenuity — Jim Dwyer recently passed away, and Jason Zweig rightfully held up this article about a group of survivors of the attacks on 9/11 as an example of Dwyer’s exceptional writing ability.
How Carlos Ghosn Escaped Japan… — The details are more bizarre at every turn…
The NBA Finals Are Here. Even Superforecasters Are Suprised. — I’ve written about and linked to a lot of Tetlock/forecasting stuff, so this is worth a read even if you don’t like sports. “By the time players entered the bubble without a coronavirus outbreak, the forecasters were confident the NBA season would restart. But they weren’t convinced that the season would end with a champion. Even after the NBA season resumed on July 30, they expected the virus to penetrate the bubble: 75% of forecasts predicted there would be at least eight players who tested positive. That number ticked down to 50% by late August and fell below 25% for the first time in early September. They initially felt that four scenarios—1 to 7 cases, 8 to 14 cases, 14 to 22 cases and 22 or more cases—were about equally likely. But since two players tested positive in the quarantine period, there have been zero reported cases inside the bubble. It’s the most remarkable stat of this NBA season.”
What I Learned Inside the NBA Bubble — More good stuff too, with some excellent writing. “The moment I entered Walt Disney World, I felt extremely sad…I was alone. Florida was a raging pandemic hot spot. The airplane to Orlando was nearly empty, as was the airport itself. For six months, my soul had been clenched in a fist of worry. I had stopped exercising and lost much of my hair; one of the arms of my glasses had snapped in half, but I never got them fixed, so now they tilted at crazy angles on my face. Disney World’s cheerful entrance felt like an exit for a road that had been closed for decades — the route to an old American fantasy that had permanently expired. “In theory, the N.B.A. bubble sounds ridiculous, like a devastating parody of consumer capitalism. In the midst of our global nightmare, the world’s most powerful basketball league decided to finish its season in the candy-colored refuge of the world’s most famous theme park. The N.B.A. bubble was like a circus crossed with a corporate retreat crossed with a space mission. It was March Madness in Versailles. “Say what you will about the bubble — that it was a cynical money grab or a beacon of hope — the other thing to say was that it would never, ever, ever, ever work. To be honest, the scheme’s inevitable failure was a main reason I agreed to go.”
The Army Rolls Out a New Weapon: Strategic Napping — I don’t nap much now that the kids are older and my sleep at night is more predictable, but this all makes good sense and has plenty of reason and logic behind it. The only question I have is when medical schools and residency programs will join the rest of the world on this topic… “‘Soldiers can use short, infrequent naps to restore wakefulness and promote performance,’ the new manual advises. ‘When routinely available sleep time is difficult to predict, soldiers might take the longest nap possible as frequently as time is available….The goal of the Holistic Health and Fitness System is to build physical lethality and mental toughness to win quickly and return home healthy’…To promote good sleep, the manual warns soldiers to avoid video games, texting and other screen activity before bed, and recommends winding down by ‘listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a warm shower or bath’ instead. It also says to avoid alcohol before sleep. The new guidance comes as the military has become increasingly aware that chronic sleep deprivation during missions can cripple decision-making and lead to disaster. The Navy recently overhauled sleep schedules at sea after determining that fatigue was a factor in two fatal warship collisions.”