Boutique Baltic Armies

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

When the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — joined NATO, the organization pressured them to turn their militaries into boutique armies:

The NATO plan for the Baltics was for Latvia to specialize in NBC (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical) decontamination, Lithuania to focus on military medical care, and Estonia to do minesweeping and bomb detection. The official argument pushing all this specialization was that the last thing NATO needs is a “toy army” with its own separate air force of a half-dozen planes, navy with two or three ships, and army with one tank unit. The idea is that in an alliance composed of a few huge countries, several middle-sized powers and a dozen-odd tiny ethnic enclaves, the best thing the little ethnic enclaves could do for the group is take on some of the more technical jobs and leave combat to the big boys.

If you’re sitting at a NATO desk in Brussels or trying to line up your forces in the Pentagon, that makes perfect sense. If you’re hunched nervously at the edge of the Baltic Sea, with Mother Russia holding huge military exercises a few miles inland, it’s not such a cheering concept. If the three Baltic countries let their armies get turned into auxiliary units for NATO, basically give up any notion of defending their home countries, they’re putting absolute trust in a squabbling, slow, bureaucratic mess.

Latvia and Estonia went along with the plan. Lithuania did not.

The Love Affair With the Fireplace Cools

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

The love affair with the fireplace cools, the New York Times declares, in a piece of inadvertent self-parody:

“A wood-burning fire in the city is a ridiculous luxury — we would never have put it in ourselves,” said Mr. Arpels, grandson of one of the founders of Van Cleef & Arpels and the former managing partner of Netto Collection, a baby furniture company bought by Maclaren. “In the city, it doesn’t make sense to burn fires, because it’s inefficient and it’s polluting.”

Hard as it may be to believe, the fireplace — long considered a trophy, particularly in a city like New York — is acquiring a social stigma. Among those who aspire to be environmentally responsible, it is joining the ranks of bottled water and big houses.
Ms. Brown’s and Mr. Arpels’s solution was to install an energy-efficient wood stove in one of the three fireplaces at their farm in Chatham, N.Y. The surrounding countryside is filled with downed trees that would decompose anyway, said Ms. Brown, 38. And Mr. Arpels, 41, gets some exercise from splitting the logs.

“Basically we’re not transporting things using oil from across the world to our house,” she added. “We think this is pretty good, environmentally.”

The Safety of Playground Equipment

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

A mother from Arvada, Colorado summarizes what a playground designer told her local Parks Board about the safety of playground equipment:

There is such a permeating fear of lawsuits and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) that playgrounds are required to be as generic as possible, lest a lawsuit occur. There was great discussion about the $600 test each playground inspector must take every three years to be certified to be able to even inspect a playground, and the number of people we have employed just to complete inspections on the equipment in our city alone. Each playground is inspected every 3-6 months: every screw and nut is examined, along with the width of all the poles,  and evidence of settling, protrusions, wear, etc. It takes several hours to inspect one playground thoroughly and completely.

Swings are still allowed, but the CPSC rules — ”which are treated as law” — are so stringent on how and where they’re installed, it’s almost not worth putting them in. It was so sad to listen to how the paranoia that has determined how playgrounds will be built, resulting in homogeneous, boring play zones for kids.

At the end of the discussion it turned out that in our town of roughly 100,000 people there has been a single lawsuit over the last 12 years regarding play equipment. A grown woman got stuck in a baby swing and couldn’t get out so the fire department was called to cut her out of the swing. She sued for humiliation. And now swings are becoming a rare commodity.

Vertical Farming

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

The Economist takes a look at vertical farming:

The idea is that skyscrapers filled with floor upon floor of orchards and fields, producing crops all year round, will sprout in cities across the world. As well as creating more farmable land out of thin air, this would slash the transport costs and carbon-dioxide emissions associated with moving food over long distances. It would also reduce the spoilage that inevitably occurs along the way, says Dickson Despommier, a professor of public and environmental health at Columbia University in New York who is widely regarded as the progenitor of vertical farming, and whose recently published book, “The Vertical Farm”, is a manifesto for the idea. According to the UN’s Population Division, by 2050 around 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. So it just makes sense, he says, to move farms closer to where everyone will be living.

It takes about a tablespoon of diesel fuel to move one pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail. So, reducing food-miles doesn’t pay off.

While growing food hydroponically in the controlled environment of a greenhouse may make sense, stacking the greenhouses does not, because — you may be surprised to learn — plants need light:

Indeed, even in today’s single-storey glasshouses, artificial lighting is needed to enable year-round production. Thanet Earth, a 90-hectare facility which opened in Kent in 2008 and is the largest such site in Britain — it provides 15% of the British salad crop — requires its own mini power-station to provide its plants with light for 15 hours a day during the winter months. This rather undermines the notion that vertical farming will save energy and cut carbon emissions, notes Mr Head, who has carried out several studies of the idea.

What might make sense would be planting crops on a steep slope facing south, for more direct sunlight.

Nate Simpson’s Nonplayer

Friday, April 29th, 2011

When Cyriaque Lamar of io9 called Nonplayer one of the most gorgeous comics of 2011, I expected the art to impress:

When the artist, Nate Simpson, cited his three major influences as Hayao Miyazaki, William Stout, and Arthur Rackham, I immediately found myself — as a Miyazaki and Rackham fan — asking, who’s William Stout?

I didn’t realize Stout was the artist behind the iconic Necron 99 poster for Bakshi’s Wizards — a film I’ve discussed before, by the way.

Whose Size 8 Are You Wearing?

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Tanya Shaw’s company, MyBestFit, is tackling the crazy quilt of women’s clothing sizing by setting up body-scanners in malls. The free 20-second scan comes with a printout of which sizes should fit that customer best at various stores:

The retailers pay a fee when they appear in the results, but they cannot pay to be included in the results; the rankings are based solely on fit. (The company saves the data, with ID numbers but not names, and may give aggregate information to retailers as feedback.)

Don Thomas, who manages the Eddie Bauer store at the King of Prussia Mall outside Philadelphia, said the system was helpful to shoppers. “Nine times out of 10, if left on their own, they will choose the wrong size pant,” he said. With a printout, “if it says they’re a 4 or a 6, they’re a 4 or a 6, generally. So it’s really good for the customer who’s time-starved, which we all are.”

Ms. Shaw says there are plans for 13 more scanning machines in malls along the East Coast and in California by the end of the year.

The sizing variations are a big contributor to $194 billion in clothing purchases returned in 2010, or more than 8 percent of all clothing purchases, according to the National Retail Federation.

The scanners are a modern solution to an old problem. Studying dress sizes in Vogue advertisements from 1922 on, Alaina Zulli, a designer focusing on costume history, found clothing sizes have been irregular for decades.

A woman with a 32-inch bust would have worn a Size 14 in Sears’s 1937 catalog. By 1967, she would have worn an 8, Ms. Zulli found.

Today, she would wear a zero.

It’s almost as if the retailers don’t want to present honest sizes…

“Nerf” is the way to go

Friday, April 29th, 2011

“Nerf” is the way to go with urban guerrilla warfare, Gary Brecher (The War Nerd) concedes, citing the Irish example:

The IRA had this “Nerf” strategy of not striking back at stuff like this [Loyalist hit teams torturing and killing insurgents' families], and not killing civilians, which seemed weak to me. But it worked way, way better than I could have imagined. First of all, by not reacting to LVF hit teams, the IRA kept the focus on the Brits, who they considered the real enemy. The Loyalist hit teams, I realize now, were a classic SAS attempt to turn the whole Ulster fight into a tribal war, so the British could come off as the impartial referees trying to keep the savages from tearing each other apart. If the IRA had settled for taking all these Loyalists down into nice soundproofed basements and giving them some hands-on experience of their favorite games, it would’ve been satisfying short-term but would have fed right into the enemy propaganda model.

Now that I understand what they were doing, I’m blown away by the discipline. That’s the key to every good guerrilla group, that sort of discipline that’s almost creepy, not human. I mean, imagine your cousin just got hacked to death in some gaudy way by these Shankill Butcher guys and you know exactly who did it. Which they did; the IRA always had great intelligence on the streets of Belfast, they knew exactly who was doing these killings. But the order comes down that you can’t take revenge, because it’d look like religious gang warfare and take the focus off the Brits. I couldn’t do it. Those guys did, and I feel ashamed for using a word like “nerf” to make fun of military discipline like theirs.

When you look back at the IRA strategy over the 30-odd years they did urban guerrilla warfare, there’s a clear pattern: They always wanted to shift the violence away from Northern Ireland and to the financial center of London. It was fucking brilliant, and I was too dumb to get it. That’s why they ignored all the Loyalist killings, which would be harder than ignoring a pit bull gnawing your leg, and put all their resources into setting up deep-cover sabotage teams in London.

By the early 1990s they had men and women working at the airports, the construction industry, and even in British security. And they used their operatives carefully, never spending their lives until they could get maximum effect. In 1984 one of their men rented a room at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where the Conservative Party was scheduled to have its yearly meeting. He put the bomb under the flooring, paid his bill and left. A month later the long-delay timer went off while Thatcher and all her allies were sound asleep in their rooms. They missed Thatcher—they didn’t call her the Iron Lady for nothing—but she had the novel experience of seeing a few floors fall into her room at 3 am. And the IRA statement afterwards was a model of guerrilla patience: “Today you were lucky, but you will have to be lucky always. We only have to be lucky once.” That’s the way you play it, for the long haul.

The Brighton bomb was designed to kill, because Thatcher was a legitimate target by their reckoning. (In fact, so many Brits hated her that this was about the only time the IRA was popular in England, with people giving them the old “Try, try again!” cheer.) But most IRA bombings, especially the huge truck bombs that won the war for them, weren’t designed to kill. The IRA had a whole system in place with recognized code words that they’d use when they phoned British TV stations, radio stations, and cops to warn them to evacuate the area. They had to do that because both sides realized that when the IRA killed ordinary civilians, they lost. The British tv stations would replay the footage of wounded and killed civilians over and over and over for years, and eventually the IRA worked out a whole new “nerf” (nerf in a very effective way) method of making war without killing people. They’d park a truck near a financial target like the London stock exchange with a multi-hour timer, then call everybody they could. That was to make sure the Army and Intel Services didn’t decide to sit on the warning in the hope of getting a high civilian death toll, which would have been a big defeat for the IRA.

It’s All Material

Friday, April 29th, 2011

When he graduated with a degree in classics, Robert Greene (The 48 Laws of Power) had no idea how the real world worked:

I was immersed in studying philosophy and literature and languages. And so when I started working, essentially in magazines, I worked at Esquire magazine and a few others. I had no idea of how things operated in the real world, and I was very much shocked by all of the egos and the insecurities and the game playing and the political stuff. It really kind of disturbed me and it upset me. I can remember when I was about 26 or 27 years old one particular job that was kind of the turning point in my life.

I am not going to tell you which job this was. I don’t want you Googling it and figuring out who I’m talking about. But, basically, the job was that I had to find stories that would then be put into either film or a magazine, whatever. But I was basically judged on how many good stories I found. So in this job, I thought, I am a very competitive person, and I was doing better than anybody else there. I was finding more stories that ended up getting produced, because I felt that’s the point. You are trying to produce. You are trying to get work done. Isn’t that the most important thing? Isn’t that why we are all here?

Suddenly I found that my superior, this woman, who’s name I won’t mention, made it very clear that she wasn’t happy with me. That something was wrong. I was doing something wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was.

So going on what I was mentioning, that theory of mind, this power that we have, I sort of put myself in her shoes. And I’m thinking, what is it that I’m doing that is displeasing her? I am clearly producing. And I figured out, well, maybe it is because I’m not involving her in what I’m doing, in my ideas. I need to run them by her. I need to make and involve her more so she feels like she is a part of the research that I am doing.

So I would go into her office and I would tell her where my ideas were coming. I was trying to engage with her, figuring that was the problem. Well, that didn’t seem to work. She was still clearly unhappy with me. Maybe didn’t like me. So, I thought, going further, well, maybe I’m not being friendly enough with her. Maybe I need to be nice to her. Maybe I need to go in and not talk about work, but just talk, be nice and talk like a human being.

Okay. So that was strategy number two. I started doing that. Still didn’t have any effect. She still seemed really cold and kind of mean. I figured, all right. She just hates me. That’s just life. Not everybody can love you. That’s just it. I mean, what the hell? I’ll just do my job. Then one day we are having a meeting in which we are discussing our ideas, and she suddenly interrupts. She says, “‘Robert. You have an attitude problem.”

“What?” “You’re not listening to people here.” “I’m listening.” But, I mean, I produce. I do my work. You are going to judge me about how wide my eyes are open and how I’m listening to people? She goes, “No. You have a problem here.” “I’m sorry. I don’t think I do.”

Anyway, over the course of the next few weeks she just started kind of torturing me about this idea that I had an attitude. And, of course, naturally, I developed an attitude. I started resenting her. And a couple of weeks later, I quit, because I just hated it. I probably quit a week before they were going to fire me anyway. And I went home, and over the course of several weeks, I thought really deeply about it. What happened here? What did I do wrong? I mean, she just didn’t like me? I think I’m a likable person.

I figured, I came to this conclusion. I had violated a law of power 12 years before I ever wrote the book. Law number one: Never outshine the master. I had gone into this environment thinking that what mattered was doing a great job and showing how talented I was. But, in doing that, I had made this woman, my superior, insecure that maybe I was after her job or that maybe I was better than she was. And I would make her look bad because the great ideas were coming from me and not from her.

I had violated law number one. And when you violate law number one, you are going to suffer for it, because you are touching on a person’s ego and their insecurities. That is the worst thing you can do, and that is what had happened.

So in reflecting over this, it was kind of a turning point in my life. And I said, “I’m never going to let this happen again. I’m never going to get emotional.” Because that it what happened. I basically reacted emotionally to her torturing me and developed an attitude. I’m never going to let that happen again. I don’t care. I’m a writer. I don’t care about these jobs that I get. I am just going to become a master observer of the game of power. I am going to watch these people as if they were mice in a laboratory, with some distance.

I developed a motto. A motto that I still use to this day, and that motto is, “It’s all material.” Everything that happens is material. Material for a book. Material for a novel, for a screenplay. I want to be the master observer of this world.

This suddenly allowed me, now, to not only observe the power games going on in the many different kinds of jobs that I’ve had. And I can tell you, I’ve had jobs from working in journalism. I worked in a detective agency. I worked for a music producer. I worked for film. Everything possible.

In having this distance and looking at the world like this, suddenly I had power. I wasn’t emotionally involved. I had some distance, and I could deal with things. From that, I developed “The 48 Laws of Power,” when I was finally given the opportunity to write the book. What I decided in “The 48 Laws,” and it’s a very much a part of me, is that this is the reality that we must all deal with. That we are social creatures. That we live in environments where there are all kinds of complicated networks. We are, in a way, defined by how we handle these environments, this reality.

Al Qaeda Never Made Sense

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Al Qaeda never made sense, according to Gary Brecher (The War Nerd):

The whole concept of Al Qaeda is wrong. The name means “The Base” in Arabic, and the idea is that it’s a central clearinghouse for dozens of different guerrilla groups, sharing an Islamic ideology but representing different countries and tribes and languages. They get together and share intelligence and personnel and materiel, because they’re all good Muslims working for a common cause. It’s the old kiddie dream of a vast umbrella group of baddies, S.P.E.C.T.R.E from Man from Uncle, KAOS in Get Smart, the ridiculous villain and his volcano HQ in every lame Bond film.

It’s just a terrible idea. The last thing any sane guerrilla group wants to do is to go to an international guerrilla jamboree like the Boy Scouts. Sure, you’ll share ideas and prop up each others’ morale—and in the meantime, the informers—because every decent-sized guerrilla group must assume it’s been penetrated—will be taking careful notes, taking quiet candid pictures, and putting together organizational charts. By the time you go to your home country from the big Jihad Jamboree in Waziristan or Tora Bora, you can be sure that the informers have shared their info with their handlers. And although some intel agencies can be stingy, most of them share info very readily, so every informer has in effect given the breakdown of every local group to every intel agency in the world.

And that’s death to a guerrilla, literally death, and not a quick or easy death either. Sharing info is good for intelligence agencies (most of the time; there are exceptions, like sharing the identity of some agents), but it’s the worst thing in the world for guerrillas.

That’s why guerrilla groups either start out with or switch to cell style organizations. Many times you’ll see a guerrilla group starting out imitating military organization, with big units and uniforms and parades. That’s asking to be wiped out. Sometimes they are wiped out; but if they survive, their second coming always involves switching to four-person cells, where three out of four members don’t know anything except the identity of the other cell members. And even the fourth, the cell leader, only knows the identity of one contact in the larger organization.

By bringing Jihadis from around the world to get Osama’s blessing, Al Qaeda was giving them a short-term boost in morale and finances but pretty much guaranteeing they’d be penetrated and destroyed within a few years. And that’s what happened: a big splash on 9/11, a few aftershocks in East Africa, Bali, Madrid and London, and then nothing but cops breaking down doors all over the world to the soundtrack of Hellfire missiles from Predator drones vaporizing mud houses in Northern Pakistan.

What made Al Qaeda so scary was that they went all out, in an age where the military norm is to use a tiny little fraction of your actual power. To see that style in action, just look at Libya now: NATO has the largest common air force in the world and could make every Qaddafi-held town in Libya a column of black smoke in a few minutes, but what they actually do is hold a classic EU discussion before taking out a single tank.

Al Qaeda made its mark by using everything they had. Every contact in every country. Every dime of finance. Every pound of plastique. Every willing suicide bomber. They literally doubled up on their attacks, trying for at least two big targets every time: the WTC, Pentagon and White House on 9/11, multiple tube stations on 7/7, two Israeli vacation spots and a US Embassy in Kenya. That sort of splurging really shocked bureaucrats who’ve spent their lives hedging their bets. And it worked, short-term; it made Al Qaeda look much bigger and more important than it really was. For that matter, the only reason they lasted as long as they did is that Western intel didn’t have any decent Arabic-speaking specialists.

MMO Class Design: An Economic Argument

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

My gaming experience largely predates modern massively multiplayer online (MMO) roleplaying games (RPGs), but the design decisions going into such games mimic the design decisions going into their pen-and-paper predecessors.  John Hopson looks at class design through an economic lens:

At the heart of the hybrid problem is the fact that if a hybrid can perform a given role as well as a specialist while also having other abilities the specialist can never have, playing a specialist becomes pointless.

To put it in terms of our earlier example, if a paladin can tank as well as a knight but can also heal, then there is never a reason to play a knight instead of a paladin. If the hybrid has all of the advantages of its parents plus extras, then the parent class is doomed to extinction.

Conversely, if a hybrid is always inferior to a specialist in any given role, then it’s always better to have a specialist fill that role. As game designers, we want to create a vibrant ecology of classes, where players have a wide variety of classes and play styles available to them.

The standard solution to this problem can be summed up in the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Hybrids are generally made less effective in each area than their parent classes, with the intent that they make up the deficiency with their abilities from other areas. The paladin mentioned above might not be able to survive as much damage as a knight, but they can heal other players and help them survive, something a knight could never do.

Historically, MMOs have had a great deal of difficulty designing hybrids that are powerful and valuable without completely displacing their parent classes. The catchphrase for these overly successful hybrids is “tank-mage”. This term comes from the early days of one of the first MMOs, Ultima Online, where some characters could both wear heavy armor and cast powerful damaging spells. A tank-mage could both take and deal a lot of damage, creating a character that was superior to any other type of character in most situations.

Since Ultima Online, other MMOs have tried to avoid this problem, but players inevitably gravitate towards the latest incarnation of the tank-mage whenever possible. This is not a sign that the players are cheating or deliberately trying to abuse the system, it’s just the natural result of players trying to find the golden path and “win” the game. A character who can take more damage is better and a character who can dish out more damage is better — therefore a character that can do both is ideal.

Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Enjoy Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two:

Until Arnold Kling pointed it out, I didn’t realize that EconTalk regular Mike Munger played the security guard in the intro.

American and Chinese Attitudes

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Henry Kissinger contrasts American and Chinese attitudes toward foreign relations:

America’s exceptionalism finds it natural to condition its conduct toward other societies on their acceptance of American values. Most Chinese see their country’s rise not as a challenge to America but as heralding a return to the normal state of affairs when China was preeminent. In the Chinese view, it is the past 200 years of relative weakness — not China’s current resurgence — that represent an abnormality.

America historically has acted as if it could participate in or withdraw from international affairs at will. In the Chinese perception of itself as the Middle Kingdom, the idea of the sovereign equality of states was unknown. Until the end of the 19th century, China treated foreign countries as various categories of vassals. China never encountered a country of comparable magnitude until European armies imposed an end to its seclusion. A foreign ministry was not established until 1861, and then primarily for dealing with colonialist invaders.

America has found most problems it recognized as soluble. China, in its history of millennia, came to believe that few problems have ultimate solutions. America has a problem-solving approach; China is comfortable managing contradictions without assuming they are resolvable.

American diplomacy pursues specific outcomes with single-minded determination. Chinese negotiators are more likely to view the process as combining political, economic and strategic elements and to seek outcomes via an extended process. American negotiators become restless and impatient with deadlocks; Chinese negotiators consider them the inevitable mechanism of negotiation. American negotiators represent a society that has never suffered national catastrophe — except the Civil War, which is not viewed as an international experience. Chinese negotiators cannot forget the century of humiliation when foreign armies exacted tribute from a prostrate China. Chinese leaders are extremely sensitive to the slightest implication of condescension and are apt to translate American insistence as lack of respect.

The 1972 Chouinard Catalog

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

The 1972 Chouinard catalog was remarkably influential in shaping the sport of climbing:

The backstory to the company is a “scratch your own itch” tale. It starts with pitons, the metal spikes climbers drive into cracks. They used to be made of soft iron. Climbers placed them once and left them in the rock.

But in 1957, a young climber named Yvon Chouinard decided to make his own reusable hardware. He went to a junkyard and bought a used coal-fired forge, a 138-pound anvil, some tongs and hammers, and started teaching himself how to blacksmith. He made his first chrome-molybdenum steel pitons and word spread. Soon, he was in business and selling them for $1.50 each to other climbers. By 1970, Chouinard Equipment had become the largest supplier of climbing hardware in the U.S.

But there was a problem. The company’s gear was damaging the rock. The same routes were being used over and over and the same fragile cracks had to endure repeated hammering of pitons. The disfiguring was severe. So Chouinard and his business partner Tom Frost decided to phase out of the piton business, despite the fact that it comprised 70% of the company’s business. Chouinard introduced an alternative: aluminum chocks that could be wedged by hand rather than hammered in and out of cracks. They were introduced in that 1972 catalog, the company’s first. The bold move worked. Within a few months, the piton business atrophied and chocks sold faster than they could be made.

So what kind of catalog do you put out when you’re reversing your entire business? Chouinard went with a mix of product descriptions, climbing advice, inspirational quotes, and essays that served as a “clean climbing” manifesto.

It takes guts to kill off your old product and to produce a manifesto introducing a new way of doing things — but climbers have guts.

Why Leaders Lie

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

John J. Mearsheimer’s Why Leaders Lie notes that democratic leaders lie more than dictators:

The University of Chicago political scientist argues that the leaders most likely to lie are precisely those in Western democracies, those whose traditions of democracy perversely push them to mislead the very public that elected them. In fact, Mearsheimer says, leaders tend to lie to their own citizens more often than they lie to each other.
Such state-to-state lies are relatively uncommon, Mearsheimer contends, and successful ones are even less so. In a world where each state must fend for itself, leaders are unlikely to take each other’s word on serious stuff. (The world doesn’t buy Iran’s pronouncements that its nuclear program is peaceful, insisting instead that international inspectors verify the claims.) Also, if you lie too often, no one will trust you, so what’s the point?

Mearsheimer says that “fearmongering” — when leaders cannot convince the public of the threats they foresee and so deceive the people “for their own good” — is far more prevalent and effective.
Next is the “strategic cover-up,” in which a leader misleads in order to cover up a policy that has gone badly wrong, or to hide a smart but potentially controversial strategy. Mearsheimer cites a French World War I commander so incompetent that French authorities hid his bungling, fearing it would undermine morale at home. He also recalls President Kennedy’s decision to deny that he had struck a deal with the Soviet Union to withdraw missiles from Turkey in exchange for Moscow pulling its missiles from Cuba. Whether or not the press believed it, Mearsheimer calls it “a noble lie, since it helped defuse an extremely dangerous confrontation between two states armed with nuclear weapons.”

The last two types of lies — “national mythmaking” and “liberal lies” — deal with a country’s self-perception. National myths fuel solidarity by putting a country’s history in the best possible light. This is why French schoolchildren read textbooks praising the country’s colonial past, or why America’s founders have achieved demigod status over the centuries. (Founding myths are particularly untrustworthy, Mearsheimer warns.) And liberal lies — a term the author uses apolitically — are used to justify odious behavior that conflicts with traditional ideals. For example, Winston Churchill and FDR served up a generous helping of deceit when depicting Stalin as a good guy (friendly ol’ “Uncle Joe”) to justify their cooperation with the Soviet leader during World War II.

What They Don’t Teach You at HBS

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Ben Casnocha shares his list of highlights from Mark McCormack’s What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School:

The importance of reading people and studying body language. Be wary when someone strikes a pose or when their casualness is a little too studied.

The most important question of all when assessing a person’s ego: How secure is this person?

People often reveal their innermost selves in the most innocent of situations. (E.g. dealing with a waiter.)

Business is a constant process of keeping your own guard up while encouraging others to lower theirs.

If I am presumed to be knowledgeable about a situation, I will often say something within the first minute or two of a meeting that might indicate otherwise. At the least it’s disarming; and generally the less knowledgeable one appears the more forthcoming and revealing the other party will be.

When a crisis occurs or is in the process of occurring, don’t react. Just say you’d like to think about it.

Once you’ve sold, shut up. And don’t try to dot every i and cross every t. Confirm the understanding later in writing but don’t dampen the enthusiasm once deal closes in person or on phone.

In sales, people have a need to say no, so let them say no to a few (trivial) things. A few well-placed no’s create the environment for “yes.”

Ask when we can meet and how soon — and then show up. The farther you have to fly, the more impressive it is.

A large group is more than one. Sell to one person. Find the key guy and sell to him. If you try to sell into more than one person at the same time, you are introducing into the sale the dynamics of their interrelationships, which can do nothing but detract from your purpose. The key guy will know how it sell it into the organization.

A woman approached Picasso in a restaurant and asked him to scribble something on a napkin, and said she would be happy to pay whatever he felt it was worth. Picasso complied and then said, “That will be $10,000.”  “But you did that in thirty seconds,” the astonished woman replied.  “No,” Picasso said, “It has taken me forty years to do that.”

99% of the world should be working for somebody. Not everybody should be entrepreneurs.