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HLG Notebook | May 2013

Five Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Memorial Day Tribute

A few days after Memorial Day, this year-old speech is very much worth a read. Delivered by Lt. Gen. John Kelly, USMC, to the families of fallen soldiers, it’s a timeless and timely articulation of what only very few of us will ever understand:

I don’t know the details, but their stories are ultimately all the same. Most often it started with a knock on the door, or a ring of the doorbell in the early morning hours by a casualty officer who’d been sitting outside your house waiting anxiously for hours for the first lights to come on. He dreaded the mission he’d been assigned that day. He was not glad to be there, but he was privileged to be there, as the duty is a sacred one. It is an honor to be called to do it. Most often the casualty officer is a complete stranger. Sometimes he’s your best friend.

2. Sham Sommeliers

Shocking, if wholly unsurprising, account of the “art” of winetasting. Perhaps the best evidence yet of the fraudulence of the whole enterprise:

Researcher Frédéric Brochet invited 54 wine experts to give their opinions on what were ostensibly two glasses of different wine: one red, one white. In actuality, the two wines were identical, with one exception: the “red” wine had been dyed with food coloring. The experts described the “red” wine in language typically reserved for characterizing reds. They called it “jammy,” for example, and noted the flavors imparted by its “crushed red fruit.” Not one of the 54 experts surveyed noticed that it was, in fact, a white wine.

3. Downing Dan Brown

Incomparable criticism of mega-best seller Dan Brown from The Guardian. The review is masterful, borrowing Brown’s language and style to mount an argument against Brown’s language and style:

The critics said his writing was clumsy, ungrammatical, repetitive and repetitive. They said it was full of unnecessary tautology. They said his prose was swamped in a sea of mixed metaphors. For some reason they found something funny in sentences such as “His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack.” They even say my books are packed with banal and superfluous description, thought the 5ft 9in man. He particularly hated it when they said his imagery was nonsensical. It made his insect eyes flash like a rocket.

4. The New Yorker Whiffs

Forbes columnist Steve Denning puts a fire-hose to the explosive praise the New Yorker is receiving for its so-called “innovation issue”:

It’s a relic of the 20th Century. It’s all about inventions, not innovation…This is not to say that, sentence by sentence, the writing in this issue is not lively, literate, sophisticated, funny and occasionally brilliant. Indeed it’s the very polish of the writing that makes it easy to miss that the articles are failing to come to terms with the subject under discussion. Overall, the issue presents a scatter-brained, superficial view of innovation that you would expect from an amateur dilettante, not the world’s greatest magazine.

5. The “Gift” of Longevity

Over the past century, the average life span has increased an incredible three decades. Generation X never got the memo about the financial implications:

In just about every regard, Gen X has fallen behind financially. Even before the recession, they were earning less and saving less for retirement than previous generations did at their age while taking on unprecedented debt. They were hit hardest by the recession, losing half of their wealth from 2007 to 2010.

Business Insider reveals the extent of Gen X’s imprudence through this superb set of charts.