Excerpts from WAR

I’m reading the book WAR: As Soliders Really Live It by Sebastian Junger, who also wrote The Perfect Storm. It’s an intense look at the lives of the soliders fighting in the most brutal and dangerous areas of Afghanistan, as told by a journalist who spent months in the bunks with these guys. I’ll do a full write up some day, but just wanted to quote sections because much of Junger’s writing can just stand on its own.

On the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan

Captain Dan Kearney, the commander of Battle Company, drove down to Aliabad in a Humvee to help evacuate the casualties and remembers turning a corner in the road and hitting a wall of Taliban firepower. “I was blown away by the insurgent’s ability to continue fighting despite everthing America had to throw at them,” Kearney told me later. “from that point on I knew it was – number one – a different enemy than I fought in Iraq and that – number two – the terrain offered some kind of advantage that I’d never seen or read or heard about in my entire life.” pg 19

On which team is taking the most heat in Afghanistan

I ask him [Capt. Kearney] who is pushed the farthest out into the valley and he doesn’t hesitate. “Second Platoon”, he says. “They’re the tip of the spear. They’re the main effort for the company, and the company is the main effort for the battalion, and the battalion is the main effort for the brigade. I put them down there against the enemy because  I know they;re going to get out there and they’re not going to be afraid.” I tell Kearney those are the guys I want to be with. p 26-7

On the strange group dynamics of Second Platoon.

In Second Platoon you got beat on your birthday, you got beat before you left the platoon – on leave, say – and you got beat when you came back. The only way to leave Second Platoon without a beating was to get shot. No other platoons did this; the men called it “blood in, blood out.” after a movie one of them had seen, and officers were not exampted. I watched Gillespie get held down and beaten, and Pops got pounded so hard his legs were bruised for days. pg23

On the psychological buffer smoking affords

The fact was that the men got an enormous amount of psychiatric oversight from the battalion shrink – as well as periodic “vacations” at Camp Blessing or Firebase Michigan – but combat still took a toll. It was unrealistic to think it wouldn’t. Anderson sat on an ammo crate and gave me one of those awkward grins that sometimes precede a confession. “I’ve only been here four months and I can’t believe how messed up I already am,” he said, “I went to the counselor and he asked if I smoked cigarettes and I told him no and he said, ‘Well, you may want to think about starting.’”
He lit a cigarette and inhaled.
“I hate these fuckin’ things, he said. pg 40

On medics and how they can inspire a team

The combat medic’s first job is to get to the wounded as fast as possible, which often means running through gunfire while everyone else is taking cover. Medics are renowned for their bravery, but the ones I knew described it more as a terror of failing to save the lives of their friends.

When Second Platoon arrived in the valley, their medic was Juan Restrepo. He was extremely well liked because he was brave under fire and absolutely committed to the men. If youo got sick he would take your guard shift; if you were depressed he’d come to your hooch and play guitar.

On the afternoon of July 22 a foot patrol left Firebase Phoenix and moved south to the Village of Aliabad under a light rain

Restrepo was the only man hit. He took two rounds to the face and fell to the ground, bleeding heavily. THere was so much fire coming from so many different directions that at first on one even dared to run out and get him. When they finally pulled him to safety they didnt know what to do with such a bad wound, and he struggled to tell them how to save his life. Within minutes thre HUmvees roared out of KOP and a MEDEVAC flight lifted off from the airbase in Asabad, twenty miles away.

The radio call came in three hours later. [O’Bryne] and Mac were in the Second Platoon tent cleaning the blood off Restrepo’s gear. They had to use baby wipes because the blood had combined with diret to sement into the cracks of his M4. They were almost done when a sergeant neamed Rentas stepped into the tent and grabbed O’Byrne by the shoulders. ‘He didn’t make it, man,’ Rentas said. O’Byrne almost punched him for lying.
“For a long time I haded God.” O’Byrne told me. “Second Platoon fought like animals after that.”

On how war makes young men feel more useful than almost anywhere

For some reason there is a profound and mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only situation in which that happens regularly. These hillsides of loose shale and holly trees are where the men feel not most alive – that you can get skydiving – but most utilized. The most necessary. The most clear and certain and purposeful. If young men could get that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again, but they can’t.

Being Right vs Being Effective

We have all encountered this situation: you disagree with someone over some nontrivial issue -a friend, a classmate, a coworker – and you KNOW you are right and they are just so wrong. So you make sure they know it over and over again … but they still won’t budge.

The question you have to ask yourself here is: “Am I more concerned with being RIGHT or being EFFECTIVE?” If it’s the former, then keep doing what you’re doing. They’ll see the brillance in your ideas, I’m sure. Meanwhile, nothing will move forward.

If it’s the latter, then I advise you change tactics. Admit your view has flaws. Think about how their values affect their decision making. Ask someone they trust to talk to them. Provide some data from the real world that solidifies your stance. Or just let them have this issue and use the chits elsewhere.

Being right is never enough. No one wants to hear “Well it would have worked if s/he had just listened to me”. It is YOUR responsibility to ensure the right outcome.

Save the Constellation Program

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve learned that the in your proposed budget, you are planning to shut down NASA’s manned space flight program and use the funds to invest in commercial ventures designed to replace the Constellation Program. I’m a big fan of market based solutions – after all, I live in Silicon Valley  - but I don’t think this is the right move. We’ve lost a vision to rally behind as a nation, and ambitious goals for space exploration are what this country needs. Returning to the Moon or going to Mars are not the kind of ideas with 10x ROI that most venture capitalists are looking for.

I’m very excited about burgeoning space travel industry, but it’s still in its infancy. Instead of shutting down the Constellation Program, let’s give it a bold vision, lots of support and then hold it accountable for results. Space is something we still need to pursue as a nation – and don’t worry, the corporations will come soon enough.

Respectfully,

Jason Shen

Thank You! | The White House

Open Letter to Daily Staffers

Hey Daily staffers,

I’m frequently in contact with business managers at other colleges and a few months ago the Stanford Daily was invited to attend CONBY – Conference for Newspaper Business at Yale. Hosted by Yale Daily News’s Business Division, it featured opening and closing keynote speeches by senior executives at The Wall Street Journal and Time Inc, and workshops and round tables with business staff at Brown, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, and others.

We sent along a Stanford contingent of myself, Mary Liz, VP of Sales, Nikhil Joshi, Director of Strategy and Jane LePham, Head Copy Editor. It was a fun trip and well worth the time and cost. We tweeted much of the trip on the hashtag #yaletrip but I just wanted to recap on some of what came out of the event.

Education

I find learning about how other papers operate fascinating:

  • Most other schools have a sizable student business staff with a few older adults manning the offices.
  • My counterpart and Kamil’s at Yale is always junior, and it is a highly competitive (read cuthroat) position.
  • The Wall Street Journal guy advocated finding people who will pay for the content we produce that no one else can offer. Subscriptions to parents & alumni and Stanford admissions advice come to mind, but I’m sure you can think of others.

Collaboration

Another great thing from this trip is a trial collaboration between many of the papers at the event. We are planning to build a top tier college paper ad network and earn ad revenue from national firms that want to reach top tier students, at lower cost than current ad agencies.Other schools also wanted advice and support on going independent or renegotiating their lease with the University. We have a lot of experience here and it’s great to be able to help these smaller papers get established.

Appreciation

One thing we don’t appreciate enough is our (relatively) friendly biz/edit relationship.Discussions between biz/edit teams at other schools often, in their own words, degenerate to shouting matches. Other schools make less money than us, have fewer distribution points, less support from the administration and for the most part don’t pay any staff. Nice to be reminded of our blessings.

Action

Finally, we came away with some action items to generate more revenue:

  • Subscriptions – We’re going to push this during Parents weekend and next year at Homecoming. UPenn says they have over 1000’s of paying subscribers (which would be 100k’s worth of revenue for us)
  • Be more consultative to clients – Our account executives have really tried to give our clients “options” and now we’ll try to be more directive and offer specific dates and sizes to our advertisers, to help make the buying decisions easier for them
  • Offer web ads as an upsell – one of the challenges of online advertising is that we don’t want to cannibalize our print ad revenue so we rarely sell them directly. Going forward, we’re going to offer web ads as a bonus to people already buying a print ad.

Here in the business division, we are also trying to work with an overall strategic vision toward a better future. Thanks for reading and keep up the good work everyone. Despite the challenges ahead, I’m optimistic for the future of the Daily.

Jason

Notes from Too Big To Fail

It’s been a year and half since the turmoil of the US & Global financial markets really came to a head. I remember being throughly confused about everything that was going on. Words like sub-prime mortagage, credit crisis, bailouts, Fannie & Freddie, were thrown around. It’s a big deal and something that everyone in our generation should seek to understand.

I didn’t really understand what was going on and it was hard to stay on top of all the new developments. I like to get the whole picture – not just the facts but the context and a insight into the how and why it all happened.

Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book, Too Big to Fail is a wonderful segway into the this whole story. Sorkin introduces the major players of the crisis, their background, and the roles they played. The fact that he got so many in depth interviews with people featured in the book is a double-edged sword. On one hand, he can provide narrative and details that no one else can, on the other, he has an incentive to keep all this big shots happy so that his access remains unfettered. Even so, I trust his journalistic integrity enough to believe that we get a fairly accurate portrayal of what happened – and the narrative makes the complicated financial jargon easier to swallow.

I’m going to start with just some observations I had after reading the first 207 pages or so. Please forgive me if any of this sounds naive, simple or just uninformed.

  • there are five major types of “characters” on Wall Street: traders, (investment) bankers, insurers, commercial bankers, and hedge fund guys.

  • a major problem for many of the firms in the crisis was poor liquidity, or lack of cash on hand. The bailout $$ was needed to keep companies from collapsing due to insufficient funds

  • the lack of cash was due to an improper assessment of the risks involved in and the value of certain assets that were bought/sold/owned by these financial characters

  • it’s hard to keep talented people from jumping off a sinking ship, like many of of these companies were, especially when your compensation is closely tied to overal company proofs. Big bonuses were promised to key people in exchange for staying on and risking their reputations on a potential failed firm.

  • the people who end up leading major firms are a self-selected group of aggressive workaholics who really care about their performance, and even more about their reputation (both within the industry and externally)

  • these firms are marked by a paradoxical mix of meritocracy, nepotism, loyalty, and betrayal. You can’t make it to the top with out ability -but you also need a great deal of political savvy and some ruthlessness.