Wednesday, October 01, 2014

First Paragraph

Like other books, this one began in a garden. Almost twenty years ago I came across a newspaper notice about some local college students who had grown a hundred different varieties of tomato. Visitors were welcome to take a look at their work. Because I like tomatoes, I decided to drop by with my eight-year-old son. When we arrived at the school greenhouse I was amazed - I'd never seen tomatoes in so many different sizes, shapes, and colors. 

- From 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann


They may know more now, though not much more, and if you knew them for a couple of hours you'd laugh at the assumption, once held, that they are so much brighter than you or your friends. You think of their best moments and compare them to your worst but you glide past the times when they've behaved selfishly or rashly or with a brand of stupidity that must be imported straight and undiluted from wherever it is that stupidity is brewed.

The only real difference is they are where they are and you are where you are and if you want to get to their spot you need to be willing to make the trip and pay the expenses.

Get out your map.

Quote of the Day

What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
Of hard-fought engagements or sieges tremendous what
deepest remains?

- From The Wound-Dresser by Walt Whitman

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

White House Security: From Fence-Jumper to Hall-Runner

At The Dish, an animated GIF of how far the intruder was able to get into the White House.

The word is a Lt. Frank Drebin has been brought in to advise the Secret Service.


Lunch with an old friend, a retired attorney. It is a friendship which grew from an argument many years ago. We quickly went from adversaries to allies and now can almost - almost - complete one another's sentences. Fortunately, we have enough divergent interests so the conversations are often unpredictable. 

I came prepared to talk to him about his work as a docent at the art museum and we both rambled off into a discussion of how to market history, art, and science.

We've agreed that an annual lunch is insufficient. I'm sending him a note this afternoon to set up another one. 

After a certain age, friends have a habit of disappearing. See them while you can.

Rock History Update

At The Telegraph: The very unusual story of Genesis.

No wonder I stuck with the more sedate groups like The Rolling Stones.

Language of Poor Leaders

When things go well: "I" and "my" and only rarely "we."

When things go wrong: "They."

Writers to Know

If the world were fair, these writers would be as famous and as widely read as Stephen King:
  • Olivia Manning
  • Wendell Berry
  • Rose Tremain
  • Patrick O'Brian
  • Richard Price
  • Jim Harrison
  • Mark Helprin
  • Paul Theroux
  • Charles Portis
  • Robert Hicks
  • Howard Bahr
  • Nick Hornby
  • Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Donald Westlake
  • Ben Elton
  • Jiri Weil
  • Edwin O'Connor
  • Louis de Bernieres

Need Some Help?

Look over the list at Cultural Offering.

Right on target.


While watching The Roosevelts series by Ken Burns, I was reminded of research that I did years ago on presidential management styles. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's approach was highly pragmatic but it was also manipulative and chaotic. He sometimes assigned the same task to different members of his Cabinet just to see which one prevailed and he kept enormous amounts of responsibilities on his desk; in many cases jobs which clearly should have been delegated. 

Although he was quite good about deferring to his generals when it came to the military conduct of the war - a practice in stark contrast to Hitler's - he hogged turf on the home front. By 1944 there were 47 war agencies directly reporting to him.

That is one reason why film footage of his last days shows an exhausted man. FDR was an extraordinary president who accomplished a great deal but he worked himself to death in the process. 

Quote of the Day

Not geniuses but average men require profound stimulation, incentive towards creative effort, and the nurture of great hopes.

- John Collier

Monday, September 29, 2014

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

First Paragraph

On this day, which is the Ninth day of November in the year 1683, a most singular thing has occurred. 

- From Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain

By The Book

From The New York Times interview with Clive James:

My best bad review, as it were, was a takedown of “Princess Daisy,” an appalling best-selling novel by the once-famous Judith Krantz, who clearly believed every word she wrote about sex, glamour and the higher levels of shopping. But I was careful to pay her the compliment of saying that I had found her book unputdownable, although I might have said the same about a pot of glue. My best good reviews were mainly about Philip Larkin; it was a privilege to be in a position to call him a great poet. After he died and he started to be denigrated as a racist and misogynist, I took several opportunities to say that his prejudices were a private matter and that he had never even dreamed of expressing them in public, least of all in his poetry. Spraying cold water on a witch hunt is one of the duties that a critic should be ready to perform.

Leadership Reading to Start Your Week

Wally Bock always assembles a fine collection of articles

Relax. You don't need to read them all at once.

The Fast Track Route

I especially like the ones about the MBA and bashing a newspaper against a chair: 

More sound advice from the ever-astute Nicholas Bate.

What is the Appeal?

If you are selling slow and good to someone who wants fast and cheap, you have a problem,. The same is the case if you think they want a high quality product and their standard is so low that any product will do. I've seen instances where efforts at keeping the price affordable are harmful because the prospect wants the bragging rights - bizarre though they may be - which come with a very expensive product or service. Snob appeal can beat content. You can also find cases where a low price makes people worry about quality. Recommendations by a friend can trump expensive advertising. A nudge by a trusted advisor, such as attorney to client, can give you a monopoly. Some people like dealing with a person who is accessible and down-to-earth and others prefer the cool operator in a pin-striped suit. Some want a lot of your time and others just want the decision off of their desk.

A few things to keep in mind: A lot of what we are selling is unseen. What they want is more important than what you want - don't sell rocky-road if they want vanilla - but the choice has to be on the menu. The customer is not always right. As Steve Jobs demonstrated, people may not know that they want a product until they receive it. You are not trying to "get something over" on the other person but are examining how - and if - you can be of service. Your goal is to create and maintain a relationship of mutual trust and mutual benefit.

The Race

Should have said thanks. Should have taken more time and not rushed. Should have listened to what was meant and not what was said. Should have avoided the default script in the back of my mind. Should have noticed the hesitation and the silence. Should have called. Should have resisted the temptation of a quick conclusion. Should have picked up on the signals.

When we are tired, egotistical, or hurried, we can get sloppy. When that happens, we can hurt others, far more than we realize.

Every day, we are running for the office of Better Person. And there are days when we don't want to see the poll results.

Quote of the Day

Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful. 

- Ann Landers

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Birth of a New World

A century ago today, Russian forces were beginning the 133-day siege of Przemyśl and the German army took Péronne. Meanwhile, in a Nottinghamshire farmhouse, a young man wrote a poem about a mariner who sails off the earth into the sky. The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star deserves its day in the spotlight alongside war commemorations. It was the founding moment of Middle-earth.

Read the rest of The Guardian article here.

Walk in the Park

Spend some time today at The Hammock Papers. You'll be surrounded by beautiful things.

Find Something Beautiful Today

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Night Piano

Tarek Refaat plays the theme from "Terms of Endearment."


Copland playing in background. Reading the Federal Register regulations regarding federal contractors and individuals with disabilities. Using the jeweler's eye on any changes from earlier definitions. Outlining a client fact sheet to translate the bureaucratese into plain language. It is beyond me how anyone in Congress could have supported the extraordinarily sloppy language in the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act. [I wonder how many bar napkins were needed for the first draft.] It's getting a tad cloudy outside. Rain? When I retrieved the newspapers this morning there was evidence of a slight sprinkle. I accidentally stepped on a snail and mourned briefly. Went out early and bought coffee. Will brew a pot now. Let's see: "The contractor, in making hiring decisions, should consider applicants who are known to have disabilities for all available positions for which they may be qualified when the position(s) applied for is unavailable." [Yes, you read that correctly.] Gee, that shouldn't create any complications. The Copland has played out. Time for some Gershwin. Also want to get through a leadership book today and to read some chapters on Wellington's campaign in Spain. Just took the dog out in the backyard. She stared at the sky and sniffed. Some water is coming.

Howard on When Humans Lose Control of Government

The Veterans Affairs scandal of falsified waiting lists is the latest of a never-ending stream of government ineptitude. Every season brings a new headline of failures: the botched roll-out of Obamacare involved 55 uncoordinated IT vendors; a White House report in February found that barely 3 percent of the $800 billion stimulus plan went to rebuild transportation infrastructure; and a March Washington Post report describes how federal pensions are processed by hand in a deep cave in Pennsylvania.

The reflexive reaction is to demand detailed laws and rules to make sure things don’t go wrong again. But shackling public choices with ironclad rules, ironically, is a main cause of the problems. Dictating correctness in advance supplants the one factor that is indispensable to all successful endeavors—human responsibility. “Nothing that’s good works by itself,” as Thomas Edison put it. “You’ve got to make the damn thing work.”

Read all of Philip Howard's essay in The Atlantic.

1965 - Paris

The Beatles singing "I Feel Fine."

What to Ask When Networking

Writing at Entrepreneur, Natalie Bounassar provides an important perspective on networking. An excerpt:

Ask not what your network can do for you. Yes, there are times when people need to reach out to others for advice, for a reference, for an introduction. But in building and maintaining relationships, this should not be the focus. The constant taking is what makes individuals feel dirty. The constant exploiting and taking -- that needs to take a back seat.

The Yerka

Political Calculations has a video on the bicycle that you can wrap around a post. An excerpt:

It could well be if you were concerned about the risk of having your new bike stolen. In fact, the fear of that risk motivated three Chilean design students to develop a bicycle frame with an integrated locking device - one where the bike would be rendered completely unrideable if it were ever cut.

What's So Damn Funny?

Sometimes a joke will offer no hint of violation whatsoever, but will instead be a story with an amusing ending. The conductor of a great symphony has a heart attack an hour before performance. The assistant director is on sabbatical. The artistic director asks if there is anyone in the orchestra who has any experience conducting. A modest man from the viola section steps up to say that he had some minor experience conducting a student orchestra in Vienna. He’ll have to do. That night he conducts and at the end his performance is greeted with a 20-minute standing ovation and raves in the next day’s press. He conducts again the next night and the night after to similar acclaim, and takes over the job. Only at the close of the season does the regular conductor, now recovered from his heart attack, resume the podium. The violist returns to his old seat in the viola section. “Good to see you,” the violist seated next to him says. “Where’ve you been?” Nothing violative here in this joke about overrating the importance of symphonic conductors.

Read all of Joseph Epstein's essay in Commentary.

The Bucket Story

You're heard the story. If you think you are indispensable, just stick your hand in a bucket of water, remove it, and then see what a difference you made.

As I've written before, I believe that story is both vile and stupid.

You can refill positions but you never replace people. The world might well have been dragged into a new Dark Ages if Winston Churchill had not been prime minister of Great Britain during the Second World War. 

Ah, the Bucket People say, but if Churchill had not been there some series of events would have produced a similar result. Magically, of course. I assume they say that before running off to search for unicorns.

Sure, there are times when there is not a huge or even discernible difference when one person is replaced by another. That, however, does not mean there are no indispensable people. There are many situations where organizations are harmed for years by the loss of one person. The bucket story downplays the importance of people who make a huge difference. The next time you hear that story, think of Churchill, Washington, Lincoln, de Gaulle, and Mandela.

Quote of the Day

The sweaty players in the game of life always have more fun than the supercilious spectators. 

- William Feather

Friday, September 26, 2014

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

Song for Pets (and Children)

Lately, I've been singing the chorus of this song to my dog. 

So far, the message hasn't gotten through.

Is Leadership for You?

Read Wally Bock's excellent post. Remember that everyone, regardless of job title, can be a leader.

Story of a London Cabbie

I’d finally been awarded the coveted green badge; the small, oval-shaped, metal brooch which allowed me to go out onto London’s streets and ply for hire.
Of course, in order to kick-start my new career, I also needed a taxi.
For over four years, I’d fantasised about driving the iconic London Black Cab, and now, like so many drivers before me, it was time to go out and secure one.

Read the rest here.

Replacing Holder

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog gives the top picks to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General.

The excitement builds. Of course, there is always a long shot.

Back By Popular Demand

A reminder of the brilliance of Buster Keaton: The motorcycle scene from "Sherlock, Jr."

Special Report: No News

The news is there's no news.

It took me far too long to learn that clients want to be updated even when there is nothing new happening. They want to know that their project has not been forgotten. They want a status report even if the status is No Change.

Obviously, they don't want the project to drag but most of them understand that things take time and that there can be any number of good reasons for a delay.

They know that. But never let them feel neglected.

An Alarm Bell Rings

"Confronting his performance would be too much hassle. We'll just have to work around him."
"The requirement is stupid. We'll just have to work around it."
"The process would take too much time. We'll just have to work around it."
"They'll never agree with us. We'll just have to work around them."


It will be a good sign when we start hearing young people using words such as humbug, mollycoddle, loafer, pussyfoot, hornswoggle, barnstorm, rogue, villain, and abode.

Art Break: Michalek

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Santiago Michalek.

Instant Gratification Society

FutureLawyer has the cartoon.

[Have you ever completed a 10K just to get a really neat t-shirt?]

The Fear Culture

The fear led to rapidly-set goals resulting in frantic activity and micromanagement and multiple committee meetings and a reluctance to set boundaries on unreasonable demands which produced increased fatigue and burn-out and high turn-over and more micromanagement and more meetings and more fear which led to additional rapidly-set goals resulting in frantic activity and micromanagement and multiple committee meetings and a reluctance to set boundaries on unreasonable demands which produced increased fatigue and burn-out and high turn-over and more micromanagement and more meetings and more fear which led to. . . .

Quote of the Day

There is a new American disease that strings two or three nouns together where one noun - or better yet, one verb - will do. Nobody goes broke now; we have money problem areas. it no longer rains; we have precipitation activity or a thunderstorm probability situation. Please, let it rain. 

- William Zinsser

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Lazy Person's Ifs

  • If I can find a quick explanation then I can stop thinking.
  • If I can label the person, place or thing then I've got them tagged for life.
  • If I can get spoon-fed opinions from journalists then I don't have to worry about developing my own thoughts.
  • If I attach myself to a charismatic leader then I'll have someone to blame if things go wrong.
  • If I adopt the biases and opinions of the "in" group, they will always have my back and I'll be automatically regarded as a person of discernment.
  • If I parrot the results of studies, no matter how dubious, I can utter the magical words, "Research shows."
  • If I can avoid seriously considering the opinions of the other side, then I can rest assured that my own are always correct.

Art Break: Falter

Art Contrarian looks at the work of John Falter.


What's important and what isn't. What you can control and what you can't. What to do and what to stop doing. How to blend caring and not caring.

Tips from the Movies

A good day starts with the proper attitude.

Quote of the Day

The day [Mikhail] Gorbachev said to the masses in Moscow: do not be afraid of the KGB, I took a deep breath. This man is a real genius, I said. . . . He is sitting on top of a terror machine that holds the damn pile together, and he says: do not be afraid. He must have a tremendous formula to democratize. Until I met him, and I found him completely bewildered by what was happening around him. He had jumped into the deep end of the pool without learning how to swim. 

- Lee Kuan Yew