Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trolley-Problem Variations for Entrepreneurs

By now you’ve probably tried the trolley problem.  Wikipedia describes it as a thought experiment in ethics that goes something like this: 

There's a runaway trolley barreling down the tracks. Ahead on the tracks there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the correct choice?

There are all kinds of variations to extend the problem, including throwing large people off bridges to stop the train.  It makes for an interesting and often surprising discussion, the kind where your spouse isn't sure she wants to ride in the same car with you anymore.
Recently in McSweeney’s, Kyle York wrote a brilliant, laugh-out-loud send-up of the trolley problem.  I don’t know Kyle, but I now consider him my inspiration for the following variations, designed to test your meddle as a modern entrepreneur.

Play on.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

"Old Oliver" & "A Nation of Entrepreneurs" Podcast

I'll be speaking at the annual Ames Family dinner on May 9.  "Old Oliver" Ames is one of the "Revolutionary entrepreneurs" featured in my A Nation of Entrepreneurs (in draft, still unfinished, no publisher yet, so-called) book.  I'll be highlighting his earliest years at the Springfield Armory (the "Google" of 1800 America) and more generally what it was like to launch a business in the Early Republic.  Some of the adjectives I'll be using include dirty, violent, sick and drunken. . .

Thanks to Bill for making it easy.  The link to the podcast is here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

20 Observations from Just Wandering Around, 2015

1. It's better to have a good reputation than a good brand.

2. Alcohol, war and the Web are three things that make us more of what we really are.  That's kind of scary when you think about it.

3. Luck is still regularly confused with talent.  Talent is still regularly confused with money.  What never changes is this: You know it when you meet it.

4. Passion isn't dead, it just smells funny.  (Tip of hat to Zappa.)

5. Once upon a time a CEO had to know about selling, distribution, finance, marketing, (often) manufacturing and, of course, how to make money.  Today, a CEO can be wildly successful with (almost) no knowledge of any of those things. What we now call companies used to be called product development.

6. Once upon a time CEOs were taught that shareholder value was the only thing.  Thankfully, that's over now.  (My favorite recent story is here.)

7. When we all learned in Economics that people knew what made them happy, we couldn't have been any more wrong.

8. The two best pieces of life advice to come out of social media: Don't read the comments.  Don't feed the trolls.

9. Email is the new snail mail.

10. When I total up the Web, with its incredible access to knowledge, entertainment, and community on one side and Gamergate, revenge porn, Silk Road, trolls, bullies, scams, sexting, government abuse, misogyny, hate, theft, wasteful start-ups and social media self-destruction, I'm not sure if we are ahead.  Truly.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Miss Conduct to the Rescue: A Case for "Big Narrative"

Chillicothe, Missouri, paved and tidy for the automobile,
was also home of the first sliced bread in 1928
It’s relatively easy to measure the speed of technology adoption. We know, for instance, that there were 8,000 automobiles on American roads in 1900 and about 25 million in 1950.  Both quantitatively and intuitively, that’s rapid growth.   Likewise, U.S. smartphone penetration in 2005 was 20.2% and in 2014 was 50.1%, another technological blur.

What’s harder to measure is the speed at which technology changes our behavior, or our ideas about how the world should work.  Speed, penetration and adoption are a function of numbers and can be charted.  Behavior is a function of opinion and emotion, and for that we need narrative.

In 1950 journalist Clyde Brion Davis (1894-1962) wrote a colorful biography, The Age of Indiscretion, about growing up at the turn of the 20th century in Chillicothe, Missouri.  Davis’s folksy story of the coming of the automobile provides a textured narrative for how one small Midwestern town adapted.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Innovator's Dilemma, 1972 Style

I was reading an article in the November 1972 Harper's Magazine and came upon this advertisement for a Hermes typewriter.  It reads like an early recipe for Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma, a book not due out for another 25 years.

"We've always made big, fancy-featured" typewriters, the ad says.  "Then we realized. . .the secretaries hardly ever used the fancy frills we put on the machines.  And what they really needed was a typewriter that could do all the basic things well. . .Best of all, the clever Swiss engineering that makes our typewriters just half the size of the usual office clunkers, also makes it about half the price."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What Motivates an Entrepreneur? (Can I Get Some Help?)

One of the common theories explaining why people become spies is summarized in the acronym “MICE,” meaning Money, Ideology, Compromise (or Coercion) and Ego.  Find any spy, anywhere, and he or she will be motivated by one or more of those impulses. 

In my research over the last few years I have studied entrepreneurs in a variety of settings across three centuries, from the invention of new agricultural tools and insurance plans to novel street cars, dining experiences, national holidays and cryptocurrencies.  Inspired by MICE, I recently attempted to crystallize the issue of motivation with an acronym that captures the complex impulses which drive entrepreneurs: FECOM.  

As an acronym I know it's clunky; I hope it’s at least accurate.   I’d love to get your thoughts about whether I have covered all the right ground, and (for you English majors and crossword aficionados) offer a challenge for improving on the acronym.  (Even I have to admit that FECOM sounds like a chorus of cats singing on the back fence at 2 in the morning.  In fact, it means something even less attractive.)

Here’s what I mean by FECOM:

Monday, February 2, 2015

Gone With the Hogshead Cask and Demijohn

Over the last week I have breezed through about 20 issues of The Outlook, a national magazine published in New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The Outlook had broad appeal as a general interest magazine not unlike the Saturday Evening Post, but paid particular attention to the social ills of the Industrial Revolution.  I had a special interest in getting a “boots on the ground” feel for the opening years of the 20th century, and with that in mind, had acquired on eBay a cluster of the magazine ranging in dates from 1898 to 1908. 

It only takes a few hours to get drawn into the old century.  Queen Victoria died in January 1901, the end of an era.  President McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo.  The Boer War raged in South Africa.  America struggled with what to do in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, how to deal with Hawaii, and whether to pick up work in Panama on an abandoned French canal.  Reporters also closely followed France’s shameful Dreyfus Affair.  The Outlook detailed the so-called "Japanese problem” and “Chinese problem,” wrestling with how America could assimilate tens of thousands of immigrants whose cultures seemed so different.  The lynching of blacks in the South and West was becoming more violent and pervasive.  Labor and “capital” were at each other’s throats from the mills of Pennsylvania to the textile factories of New England to the mines of Colorado.  There were features on skyscrapers, the nascent automobile industry, women’s education, and the ten greatest books of the 19th century (with the consensus #1 being Darwin’s Origin of the Species followed closely by Goethe’s Faust).

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hardware Engineers Are Cool Again

I've got a new post over on Ascent's Investing Edge blog.  See here.  As the son of a Hardware Engineer who spent his entire career at Raytheon, I am, of course, partial.  But being married to an Aero Engineer, it goes without saying that they rock the most.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Recapping 2014, Resolving 2015

This was my seventh year blogging, something about which I might be prouder if the pay were better.

The single best-read post for 2014 was the very first of the "Barnyard of Entrepreneurs" series, Predicting the Futurefollowed by the fifth (A Lesson in Business History). Upon re-read, Future came off as a little crankier than I had intended, but History was more in the spirit of poking fun at how short our industrial and commercial memories have become.  In no event did I even begin to approach the hilarious and creative evil of David Sedaris in his Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, still one of my favorite books of the new millennium.

The third best-read post of 2014 was the sixth in the Barnyard series, Failure is Success.  Failure, which Mankind concluded sometime back in the Stone Age could be a profitable learning experience, has morphed under Big Entrepreneurship to be a badge of honor--provided you eventually attain success.  Stories proclaiming the value of failure by repeated failures are less easy to find. 
By the way, when I wrote the term “Big Entrepreneurship”—hardly earth-shattering, I know—I Googled it and had not a single hit.  So I stuck it in a post here, like planting a flag on a new continent.  (History suggests that if you want to claim territory, an army is better than a flag.) It’s a concept I have developed much more fully in my working (and still alleged) book on the American entrepreneurial experience, now entering its third (or possibly fourth) year of research and writing.  (Though the mills of God grind slowly, the poet wrote, they do grind.) I am hoping in the meantime that Pat Riley does not add it to “Three-Peat” in his stable of dubious trademarks.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

One of My Wild Neighbors, "General" Solomon Lowe

General Solomon Lowe (1782-1861)
Every so often on one of my morning runs I feel energetic enough to pass by the Harmony Cemetery in our little town of Boxford.  I've known for many years that there's a certain General Solomon Lowe (1782-1861) buried there, and that he had either three wives (and a mistress, one story goes) or four wives--each of whom presumably he loved with all of his heart in life--but whom he used as kind of decorative ornamentation around his grave in death.

Today, looking for a reason not to finish my Christmas shopping, I finally stopped by to check out the General.  It turns out, back in 1901, a travel reporter for The New York Times had a similar idea.

I leave the story, 113 years old if a day, to him.

At a place known as Boxford, about ten miles from Andover, Mass. far, far from the madding crowd, there is as curious a burying ground as can be found in all New England.  As a matter of fact, Boxford is just a section of country, beautiful country at that, but there is no village or gathering of habitations which could be dignified with the name of town.  The quiet farmspeople go their peaceful ways utterly oblivious to the odd humor to be found in their old burying ground.

I might point out that there's a little city-slickerism going on here, and throughout the article.  Boxford is still today no booming metropolis, but the town had a "center" in 1645 (the same year Manhattan was just being deeded to the Dutch), a railroad stop in 1854, and by 1901 both an East and West Boxford Village.  It also had in 1901 a rather substantial match factory.  It's fair to say, however, that if Route 95 hadn't altered the town's quaint ambiance in the late 1950s we might still have only 600 residents, about the number the Times reporter found in 1901.  

He continued:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Silicon Valley and the Miracle of Spontaneous Combustion

One of the truly interesting discussions among really smart business people is how to replicate new “Silicon Valleys” in different parts of the country and world.  There are certainly vibrant technology communities in places like the Research Triangle in North Carolina, New York City and, for that matter, most of the nation of Israel.  But when we say “Silicon Valley,” we refer to something special, something I would define as a geographic region that produces extraordinary innovation, commercial success and global impact over multiple generations
AnnaLee Saxenian, Dean of the School of Information at the University of California Berkeley, was interviewed recently on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of her superb book, Regional Advantage: Culture inSilicon Valley and Route 128. In it, she contrasted Silicon Valley with the Route 128 technology loop (nicknamed “America’s Technology Highway” in the 1970s) in Massachusetts.
A grad student at the time, Saxenian learned that “being able to innovate very, very quickly and being able to be the first to market with new products, being able to adapt to crises and to change quickly was a much more sort of enduring advantage” for Silicon Valley, which had a dynamism “rooted in a structure that was very decentralized and very flat and allowed for very rapid change.”  This all seems like gospel now; after all, how else would a company compete in 2014?  But at the time Sexenian was helping us understand (what seemed) a new phenomenon—a region that created extraordinary innovation and, when faced with collapse (as it was when Japanese firms upended the silicon market), was able to engineer a kind of self-healing that allowed it to come roaring back in a whole new and formidable shape.  (Read and hear the audio here.)
Of course, Route 128 was held up as a model of innovation for a generation or more as well thanks to large, vertically-integrated minicomputer companies like Data General, Digital and Prime Computer.  But in the East, management was top-down, business was close-mouthed, and companies siloed—a GM and defense-inspired model so effective in 1950--such that the flat, fluid ecosystem by which SV is now defined never had the opportunity to develop.
Consequently, for a generation or more we have watched, analyzed and debated what makes Silicon Valley so great but been stumped and frustrated about how to actually go about planting the next one. 

Another Way to Come At It
In my own research I have taken a slightly different look at the question: I’ve been wondering not so much how to plant the next one, but if, instead, there might not have been others.   If so, what did they look like?  How did they compare to last generation’s Route 128 or this year’s Silicon Valley?  And—most importantly--how did they get started?   Were there certain commonalities that we could divine in the long historical view that are not so obvious staring at the offices on Sand Hill Drive?
This question, of course, is the invitation to a monumental long-form essay that won’t be written here—in the interests of having a life, getting some real work done, and keeping my digital sharecropping to a minimum.   But a less-than-monumental overview might still be fun, and below is my shorthand for the next few paragraphs to come:

An overview of six "Silicon Valleys" in American history.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Age of Big Entrepreneurship 2: Innovation is a Sausage?

I remember years ago seeing the survey results from a church where members were asked a variety of questions about their faith.  One query, “Do you consider yourself a Christian?” elicited a 100 percent affirmative response.  This made sense, I thought, since this was a survey of Christians.  But to the question “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” only about 45% were definite.  Some 20 or 25 percent were sure he was not.  And to the question “Do you believe in God?” some 10 or 15 percent said they were not certain or certainly did not.

I am tempted to say this was an Episcopal congregation where, the old joke goes, people are such lousy singers because they are reading ahead in the hymnal to see if they agree.  But that would be hitting too close to home.

These results did suggest to me that there are “Christians” and there are “christians” and they all hang out in the same place on Sunday, though whether some eventually get into Heaven and others into heaven remains to be seen.  It also indicates that the word “Christian” has come to encompass a greater variety of humankind than perhaps originally intended.

“Dynasty” is another word that is often used with a great deal of latitude.  Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan exploded last month when the term was applied to the San Francisco Giants after having won three World Series in five years.  “You want a dynasty?” Ryan wrote.  “Try the Romanovs, who ruled Russia from 1613 until the revolution you may have heard something about in 1917—304 years.  That’s a dynasty.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Age of Big Entrepreneurship 1: Confusing Personality for Impact

You may have more pressing questions in your life than to wonder if former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham is an entrepreneur or not, but just such a debate raged across my LinkedIn Pulse screen last week.  Beckham had recently been crowned UK Entrepreneur of the Year by a British magazine, and columnist Gene Marks took issue. 

“I don’t think Victoria Beckham is an entrepreneur,” he wrote.  “That’s because entrepreneurship is not just about business savvy. . .Or celebrity.  Or wealth.  Or even about financial success.  She’s got all that too.  It’s about the risk one takes to achieve those objectives.”

Marks then invoked the spirits of Sam Walton, who borrowed money to purchase a variety store, and Richard Branson who “started his record business with next to nothing in a church basement.” He also conjured up the story of a person who left her job selling wholesale clothing to pitch her own jewelry online, and another who left college and went into “their dad’s business selling electronic components to the computer industry.” Marks added, “These are the risk takers.  These are the dreamers.  These are the entrepreneurs.”

This might make for a good slogan for a weekend Tony Robbins retreat, but it’s hard to find a definition of entrepreneur that’s wandered further off the path of economic impact into the world of personality than this.  Welcome, my friends, to the 21st-century Age of Big Entrepreneurship, where the world revolves around the personal attributes of the individual.  In this case, Marks believed,  Beckham might be a successful businesswoman, but she’s no entrepreneur—just “ask any successful entrepreneur who took risks and suffered failures and they’ll tell you there is a difference.”[2]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mount Auburn Cemetery Redux: More Dead Entrepreneurs

I returned to the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown/Cambridge last weekend, my second visit this year.  (See here for the June 2014 post, I See Dead Entrepreneurs.)  I don't generally spend this much time hanging around cemeteries, but Mount Auburn is a very special place, and one full of folks worth meeting--nearly 100,000 at last count.  The leaves also happened to be turning and--while I sound like a old, doty leaf-peeper writing that--Mount Auburn is a world class arboretum.  And sometimes it is fun to indulge my inner National Geographic photographer.

In my last visit I was collecting entrepreneurs, and I was interested this time in adding to that list.  But it's worth saying that Mount Auburn itself is also one of the most interesting social innovations of the 19th century: go visit King's Chapel graveyard in Boston and then head out to Mount Auburn.  It's hard to be more innovative than changing the way people think about death and remember their loved ones.

Below is King's Chapel on a summer day in 2009.

I won't press the point, but there might be a half dozen people per family grave (dust to dust was taken literally), all confined to a rapidly growing urban environment dependent on clean aquifers and wells.

By way of contrast, see Mount Auburn below.  It was made for strolling, for unfurling an oriental rug and laying out a picnic in your large family plot on a Saturday afternoon.  The day we were there last weekend the 170 acres were filled with visitors.

A group of us took a tour called "Not So Rich or Famous," an introduction to a number of folks who had interesting, full, sometimes very difficult lives--but who have been mostly lost to history.  Thanks to some hardworking folks at Mount Auburn, however, their stories are starting to be told.

Monday, November 3, 2014

When Fortune Accidentally Lands in Your Mailbox

I am fully capable of playing Mickey the Dunce on most any occasion, but multitasking is my forte.

A few weeks ago I tried to purchase a 1954 Saturday Evening Post on eBay.  Unfortunately, I was also answering email, booking a trip, and trying to figure out why the cat was tormenting me.  Needless to say, last week I received a Fortune magazine from 1952.  Brilliant.  Wrong magazine, wrong year.

And now that I think of it, I haven't seen the cat for a while, either.

There is a silver lining to my tale of woe, however: this particular edition of Fortune magazine turned out to be absolutely fascinating.

I wasn't alive in April 1952, but it wasn't exactly the Dark Ages, either.  We now know the American Baby Boom was in full swing, life expectancy in the US was almost 69 years, Bill Clinton and George Bush were both well out of diapers, I Love Lucy (in one memorable evening) attracted 10 million viewers, and a killer fog descended on London resulting in the first use of the term "smog."  That all feels pretty modern.

Though--and I write this with some surprise--there's nothing quite like a big, fat, colorful magazine from 1952 to remind us just how far we've really come.  David Lowenthal said famously that the past is a foreign country; with that in mind, let me take you for a quick tour of America in 1952.

First of all, where did Fortune get this picture--a 1933 Christmas Tree Shop?  Was this really the best example of the average American consumer in 1952?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Entrepreneurs, Predators, Robber Barons and Martians

I had reason the other day to re-read Malcolm Gladwell's "The Sure Thing: How Entrepreneurs Really Succeed" in the January 18, 2010 New Yorker (here).  I admire Gladwell but also have come to distrust him just a little, since his MO is to take academic papers and dumb-them-down for a general audience.  Sometimes he puts an odd twist on a topic--I assume--to create greater appeal for the masses.  It can be a twist that doesn't always seem to square with a more careful reading of the original research.

This bit of discomfit led me back to the source for his article, Michel Villette and Catherine Vuillermot's book From Predators to Icons: Exposing the Myth of the Business Hero.  Villette is a sociologist at AgroParisTech and Vuillermot a business historian at L'Universite de France Comte.  Written in 2005, the book was translated into English in 2009, presumably when Gladwell bumped into it and wrote his review.  The authors conclude that the captains of industry--and they study 32 of the richest men in the world--made their fortune neither by taking risk nor innovating, but by taking advantage of (often low-risk) market weaknesses and vulnerabilities. (In fact, the original French title was Portrait of the Businessman as Predator.)  The authors conclude that a successful businessman does whatever it takes competitively to dominate a market and then "once his fortune is made and he invests some of his profits in foundations that reflect the social values of his time, he is forgiven for everything, even if his early career was punctuated by numerous predatory acts."  Think Carnegie and libraries, Stanford and education, Gates and vaccines.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Lessons of History: A Few Takeaways

History has had its share of prolific authors, sometimes astoundingly so.  Sir Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979), the Cambridge professor and philosopher of history, published 22 books on history, the history of history, and the histories of science, religion and international relations.  Fellow knight Sir Arthur Bryant's (1899-1985) vast output included eight "lesser" books and a regular column for the Illustrated London News while he completed his three-book opus on Samuel Pepys; this was followed by 19 books between 1931 and 1944 and 13 more from 1950 to 1975.  In this country, Allan Nevins (1890-1971) authored over 50 books including a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Grover Cleveland and an eight-volume series on the Civil War.  Men like Sir Winston Churchill, George Bancroft and Theodore Roosevelt turned out copious amounts of superb historical writing in between running countries and saving Western Civilization.  There are many other historians who are awe-inspiring in both their literary volume and its quality.

Few, however, equal the breadth and prodigious output of Will (1885-1981) and Ariel (1898-1981) Durant.  Their 11-volume Story of Civilization was researched, written and published over a period of forty years and is still the most successful historiographical series ever. (For those of you seeking a writing project, the last completed volume was The Age of Napoleon.  The Durants left behind notes for The Age of Darwin and an outline for The Age of Einstein which would bring the series up to 1945.  That would leave only The Age of Aquarius and, perhaps, The End of the Civilization As We Know It and we'd be fully caught up to 2050.)

Fortunately, Will and Ariel also left behind The Lessons of History, a 167-page summary of their magisterial series.  Lessons, which distills decades of thought and thousand of pages to their essence, can be read in an evening or two.  

Below, I've highlighted a few of the Durants' conclusions that resonated with me--though some challenging and not what we necessarily want to hear--and help to explain what we see everyday as our own history unfolds in real time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ground Zero of the American Industrial Revolution: Slater Mill

Last year, the Committee on the Theft of American Intellectual Property released a report that estimated annual theft of American IP at about $300 billion, an amount comparable to the current level of U.S. exports to Asia.  This unintended foreign subsidy was termed the "greatest transfer of wealth in history."

While it's perhaps only small comfort, history suggests that Americans themselves are some of the best in the world at corporate espionage and theft, and have been since the American Revolution.  (Wouldn't it be interesting to net out the purloined IP we gather in each year, just to see what our "balance of theft" looks like?)  Among the very first beneficiaries of stolen technology, and still one of the most important in American history, was the Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Slater Mill is a kind of "ground zero" for the American edition of the Industrial Revolution, the first place where English factory technology--the latest system for mechanized textile production--was firmly planted in the New World.  Financed by William Almy and his father-in-law, Moses Brown--and just up the road a piece from the Brown family's namesake university--Slater Mill was the first successful cotton factory in the United States.

This is the Blackstone River, which has several names as it flows from Worcester to Providence.  The yellow structure to the left is Slater Mill with the Pawtucket Falls in the foreground.  The Art Deco building (dating from 1933) in the center of the picture is the Pawtucket City Hall.  I managed a 90-minute visit to the Mill site a couple of weekends ago.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Do You Want to Be An Entrepreneur? (A Helpful Flowchart)

In the October 2014 Harvard Business Review, Walter Frick asks an interesting question:  Why do we lionize the tech industry's past and mock its present?  For example, Frick notes Walter Isaacson's new book, The Innovators, which looks at the computing giants who "set the world afire."  He also mentions Michael Malone's new work, The Intel Trinity, which extols the work done by men like Robert Noyce.  He then compares these examples with HBO's Silicon Valley where "characters care more about ideas they can code in a weekend than they do about truly world-changing innovation."

Perhaps that's the answer. Modern tech, at least the most visible kind based on apps like MonkeyParking and Yo, and the ease with which clueless individuals can get bankrolled and suddenly become "entrepreneurs," really might be mockable.  "A few decades from now we may look back on this era," Frick writes, "as one in which the tech world, notably Silicon Valley, mostly just spun its wheels, producing many more trivial or even laughable ventures than truly disruptive technologies."

The analogy I like to use for SV's current iteration is that if the semiconductor phase was like John Adams, and the software phase like John Quincy Adams, then what's going on now is like Gomez Addams.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life Lessons From the NFL

In the good old days, we watched football on Sundays.

Today, we follow The Sport of Modern Man from games on Sunday, Monday and Thursday to hi-jinks and escapades all week long.  The season ends with the Super Bowl in January and begins with the first arrest for unlawful possession of a firearm in February.  Baseball has the Hot Stove League, but football has 1,700 or so young men who, thanks to large doses of human growth hormone, money and entitlement, participate in a virtual laboratory of civilization all year long as the league lurches from guns and drugs to dog fighting and domestic violence.  For those of you too afraid to finish Lord of the Flies, you can now see the final chapters play out each morning on ESPN.

Fortunately for all of us, there are important lessons to be learned, and lessons that may yet enhance civilization.  It seems like only yesterday that a defensive back for the Oakland Raiders lined up a defenseless receiver and broke his cervical vertebrae with a vicious and entirely gratuitous blow, causing a gifted athlete to become a quadriplegic.  It was all part of a meaningless preseason game.  The NFL's defense: It was a legal hit.  The receiver's autobiography: Happy To Be Alive.  The defensive back's autobiography: Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum.  And Jack Tatum never apologized, saying that if you want to play football, you're going to get injured.  The NFL eventually outlawed this especially vicious kind of hit of a defenseless player, just as the law doesn't allow a sucker punch at a bar.  But, like Bogie and Bergman, we'll always have Oakland.

Pre-Lesson: If you want to play, expect to get injured.  A simple enough life lesson.  But there's more.  Suppose for brevity's sake we simply stick to the last decade or so?