Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hints of Power

  1. Carries nothing.
  2. Dresses conservatively.
  3. Is polite and prepared.
  4. Doesn't raise voice.
  5. Listens for the unsaid.
  6. Summarizes.
  7. Decides.

Quote of the Day

Since civilization was something that could be achieved, everything was enlisted in order to push back barbarism and ignorance and spread civility and refinement. Courtesy books that told Americans how to behave doubled in numbers during the middle decades of the eighteenth century. From such conduct manuals people learned how to act in company, how to clean their bodies, how to refine their tastes. Compilers of dictionaries attempted to find the correct meanings, spellings, and pronunciations of words and freeze them between the covers of their books. In these ways peculiarities of dialect and eccentricities of spelling and pronunciation could be eliminated, and standards of the language could be set. Even dueling, which flourished in the eighteenth century as never before, was justified as a civilizing agent, as a means of refinement; the threat of having to fight a duel compelled gentlemen to control their passions and inhibited them from using "illiberal language" with one another.  

- Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different

Monday, July 21, 2014

Joining the Stack

  • Moments of Reprieve: A Memoir of Auschwitz by Primo Levi
  • Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano
  • I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism by Charles R. Kesler
  • A History of The Jews by Paul Johnson
  • Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message by Steven Fink
  • Patriotism edited by Igor Primoratz
  • Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown
  • The Fear Index by Robert Harris
  • For The Good of the Cause by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  • School for Love by Olivia Manning
  • Critical Chain: A Business Novel by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Living on Vegas Time

Many years ago I attended a class on campaign management. It was held in Las Vegas and was conducted by political campaign wizards who spoke on the ins and outs of their craft. They eloquently described the fine uses of well-designed mailing pieces and warned of the dangers of pestering prospective voters with phone calls. One of them noted that he would never use a telephone campaign in Las Vegas because of the odds - an appropriate term for that area - that you'd be waking up and angering someone who sleeps during the day.

Shift forward to today. Many of us have strange work schedules. People are working long hours and the Monday through Friday mode is often broken. The political campaigns and the telephone solicitors, however, do not appear to have gotten that message. Robo-calls are in full force along with robo-surveys.

I'd love to see some cost-benefit analysis on those.

Christina Hoff Sommers

The Millennials have been cheated out of a serious education by their Baby Boomer teachers. Call it a generational swindle. Even the best and brightest among the 20-somethings have been shortchanged. Instead of great books, they wasted a lot of time with third-rate political tracts and courses with titles like "Women Writers of the Oklahoma Panhandle." Instead of spending their college years debating and challenging received ideas, they had to cope with speech codes and identity politics. College educated young women in the U.S. are arguably the most fortunate people in history; yet many of them have drunk deeply from the gender feminist Kool-Aid. Girls at Yale, Haverford and Swarthmore see themselves as oppressed. That is madness. And madness can only last so long. So, I plan to continue writing books and articles, making my Factual Feminist videos and lecturing at as many campuses and laws schools as I can.[sic] American colleges have been described as islands of repression in a sea of freedom. I want to encourage rebellion among the islanders.

Read the rest of the Ravishly interview with Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism?

[HT: Instapundit]

First Paragraph

Under the shadow of Boston State House, turning its back on the house of John Hancock, the little passage called Hancock Avenue runs, or ran, from Beacon Street, skirting the State House grounds, to Mount Vernon Street, on the summit of Beacon Hill; and there, in the third house below Mount Vernon Place, February 16, 1838, a child was born, and christened later by his uncle, the minister of the First Church after the tenets of Boston Unitarianism, as Henry Brooks Adams. 

- From The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

A Person

A person can be very smart and, seconds later, surprisingly stupid; brave on some subjects and cowardly on others, and each of those can be affected by fatigue and memory; at times noble and then mean and insensitive; generous and selfish, far-sighted and short-sighted, friendly and cold, neat and sloppy, logical and illogical - the list can continue.

When dealing with a person, you are encountering a crowd.

Quote of the Day

One of the scariest aspects of our time is how seldom either people or policies are judged by their track record. 

- Thomas Sowell

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Music for Sunday Night

Makoto Ozone and the New York Philharmonic with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Find Something Beautiful Today

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Remaking Yourself

Who's writing your script? Fire them and get someone new. 

- Nicholas Bate

Read the rest here.


The trailer for "Magic in the Moonlight." 

First Paragraph

"This board meeting is adjourned," announces Daniel Pullman, the domineering chairman and CEO of Genemodem. The elegant conference room hums with conversation as the directors start to depart. The last quarter was the best in the history of the company. The directors are pleased, but no one is overly excited. They have come to expect it. For the past six years, almost every quarter has been better than the preceding one. 

- From Critical Gain: A Business Novel by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Exclamation Point!

There are people who overdo the exclamation point. "We went to the beach!" "The coffee was extraordinary!" "Cranston lost his keys!"

Others would endure torture instead of adding what they regard as an unnecessary and gushy form of punctuation. 

I take the middle ground and occasionally use exclamation points for a simple reason. Writing is akin to performing on a stage. Stage actors, as opposed to their colleagues in films, have to exaggerate a bit more in order to project an emotion. They don't have a camera examining their every pore. It is far easier for a film actor to be subtle than it is for the stage performer who must be heard by the people in the balcony and the back row. That is why the "stage whisper" was invented.

Writing poses a similar barrier. Consider this scenario:

An associate sends an idea via email.

You email back: "Great."

Your friend may stare at that and wonder, "Is that 'great' what I mean by great or is it a reluctant great, a cursory great, an 'I can't believe you think this is a good idea" sort of great?"

An exclamation point - "Great!" - conveys sufficient enthusiasm to overcome the potential misinterpretation.

This is, of course, neither fool or knave-proof. Some may use exclamation points as a form of sarcasm. When they do so they risk misdirecting their barb. If you are going to be sarcastic, you want people to know it. 

Others may read too much into the exclamation. They may not know your currency exchange rate. "Great!" may really mean "That's very good" or even "That's good."

Set those quibbles aside. If the exclamation point is appropriate, go for it.

Remember, when they cannot see you or hear your intonations, you are on stage.

Unconventional Interview

If we didn't have to worry about employment law and had no qualms about causing the HR people to seek solace in the nearest bar, we might break out of structured interviews and use a free-wheeling manner that could cut through the neat little answers memorized in employment workshops by asking about favorite dogs, cars, escapes, food, clothing, and which car they'd buy if they had unlimited funds and whether they could persuade you to buy a condo in a swamp. It would be interesting to know the classes they hated in high school and what they felt about people in the band and if they really like cocktail parties and regard rap music as music and can name three magazines they really like and what is their favorite trashy movie and Shakespeare play and their opinion of Mel Gibson and Mardi Gras and the ending of "The Sopranos" and how clean is their car, like right now, and have they ever read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or heard of Alger Hiss, Gilbert & Sullivan, and The White Album or fired a shotgun or had a fight or been lost in the woods.

And others to that effect.

Now what would you like to ask?

Quote of the Day

A critic is a bundle of biases held loosely together by a sense of taste. 

- Whitney Balliett

Friday, July 18, 2014

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

Why I Don't Climb Trees

David Kanigan has a video to wrap up the week. You will watch it more than once.

Parallel Parking Only

Car Style Critic looks at some cars with very long hoods.

Presentations Guide

Kurt Harden at Cultural Offering has posted a very kind review of "How to Make Presentations to Councils and Boards."

It is deeply appreciated. 

[Note: In order to boost sales a future edition will feature a chapter on "Presentations During Zombie Attacks."]

Cosmic Justice

Back by popular demand: Thomas Sowell on the quest for cosmic justice. An excerpt:

Let me try to illustrate some of the problems with this approach by a mundane personal example. Whenever I hear discussions of fairness in education, my automatic response is: "Thank God my teachers were unfair to me when I was a kid growing up in Harlem." One of these teachers was a lady named Miss Simon, who was from what might be called the General Patton school of education. Every word that we misspelled in class had to be written 50 times-- not in class, but in our homework that was due the next morning, on top of all the other homework that she and other teachers loaded onto us. Misspell four or five words and you had quite an evening ahead of you.

Was this fair? Of course not. Like many of the children in Harlem at that time, I came from a family where no one had been educated beyond elementary school. We could not afford to buy books and magazines, like children in more affluent neighborhood schools, so we were far less likely to be familiar with these words that we were required to write 50 times.

But fairness in this cosmic sense was never an option. As noted at the outset, the impossible is not going to be achieved. Nothing that the schools could do would make things fair in this sense. It would have been an irresponsible self-indulgence for them to have pretended to make things fair. Far worse than unfairness is make-believe fairness. Instead, they forced us to meet standards that were harder for us to meet-- but far more necessary for us to meet, as these were the main avenues for our escape from poverty.

Advice to the VA Executive Team - Part One

The Senate confirmation hearing on the nomination of Robert McDonald, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, to become Secretary of Veterans Affairs is scheduled for July 22. 

Sloan Gibson, the former CEO of the USO and the former chairman of AmSouth Bancorporation who is currently serving as Acting Secretary, acknowledged at a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing the other day that current investigations into the Veterans Administration have revealed "data integrity" problems.

Aside from the other integrity problems, of course.

Manipulation of medical appointment lists, neglect of patients, retaliation against whistleblowers, and failing to punish wrongdoing are the current biggies but with Gibson's disclosure, who knows? When you can't trust the data that implies you cannot trust those who assemble and construct the data. Those who are trying to address the problem [unlike the Internal Revenue Service scandal, this appears to be a sincere effort] are still trying to get a grasp on what has happened.

That's the complicated part. The "easy" part is the first stage of any crisis: Stop the bleeding. Control the situation. Mitigate further damage.

The administration has requested additional funds so veterans who have been victimized by the backlog can go to private doctors. That's an external solution and it has much in its favor. A internal solution should also be sought by determining whether the current VA doctors are handling their caseload in a manner which is competitive with the private sector. In other words, can more be obtained from current VA resources so the needs of patients can be more promptly addressed? If their caseload is considerably less than their peers in the private sector, there should be questions of "Why?" and "What can be done to correct that immediately?"

As the investigations proceed, the new executive team at Veterans Affairs should be sensitive to the macro-question of whether the Veterans Administration has too broad a pool of patients. Perhaps its focus should be narrowed to service-related injuries. Find a niche and do it very well. I suspect we'll be hearing much more about that option in the days ahead.

The initial step, however, is to tap internal and external resources to stop the bleeding and stop it fast. 

The VA executive team is currently in Crisis Management 101 mode. I have no doubt that everything in this post is being done or contemplated. Future posts will address the intangible and far more difficult issue of how to reverse the VA's dysfunctional culture; a challenge which makes providing additional medical care look easy. 

I'll also be posting on the benign but baffling cultural issues which a former head of Procter & Gamble is likely find in a government agency. We can safely bet that Sloan Gibson has already encountered his own. It would be fun to be in the room when Mr. Gibson briefs Mr. McDonald.

"Robert, get ready for some culture shock."

Got History?

Anderson Layman's Blog has some great observations about history. One of my favorites is by Michael Crichton. 

If people read as much about history as they do about celebrities, we'd be a better nation. 

One Remark

One remark can boost a person's spirits for years, even for life. 

Conversely, one remark can ruin a day, a week or a month and may be remembered many years later. Our capacity to affect, for good or ill, is huge. We would not swing our arms around if there were the chance of striking someone and yet the potential impact of our words is often ignored.

Do we need a thick skin? Sure. But if the result of words were physically manifested, we might have less need of one.

Quote of the Day

Crises can destroy a company's reputation in a concentrated time frame. 

- John M. Penrose

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Drive Back

Mental notes about this morning's meetings as I drive alongside farms. The corn is high. Can't see any cotton. That was picked earlier along with the onion crops. The smell from the dairy farm isn't as ripe as it was earlier. A turkey vulture wheels in the sky. Can't see any egrets from the nearby wildlife preserve. The rain clouds were gone by nine. Irrigation water flows down a ditch. Traffic is sparse but when I join the freeway there will be a mass of cars from southern Arizona and California. 

Some people would groan about this drive but I like it. Nice clients and a little nature along the way. Plus I can picture my grandfather and my sister driving back from a cattle auction with a calf in the back seat.

First Paragraph

Wednesday, 18 April 1945: American troops are at the gates of the town of Ansbach, administrative capital of Central Franconia. The Nazi District Leader has fled during the night, most German soldiers have been moved to the south, the citizens have been camped out in air-raid shelters for days. Any rational thinking signals surrender. But the military commandant of the town, Dr. Ernst Meyer - a fifty-year-old colonel of the Luftwaffe, with a doctorate in physics - is a fanatical Nazi, insistent on fighting to the end. A nineteen-year-old theology student, unfit for military service, Robert Limpert, decides to act, to prevent his town being destroyed in a senseless last-ditch battle. 

- From The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945 by Ian Kershaw

Today's Tracks

Think. Meet. Listen. Advise.

Repeat as needed.

Another track: Think and Act.

Repeat as needed.

Still others:

Think, Meet, and Learn.

Think and Innovate

Prioritize and Jettison.

Do Less. Get More Done.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bock: By and about leaders.
Popular Mechanics: Weird things the TSA has confiscated.
Kevin Williamson looks at the PoliFact/PunditFact report on Fox News.
Wired: The rise and fall of the tiki bar in American culture.
Richard Overy on the origins of World War II.
Political Calculations: The two Californias.
Die Hard: Mitchell and Webb with a last request.
Spiegel Online: Will Merkel step down?
Stephen F. Hayes on the IRS scandal.
National Geographic: What was built pre-Stonehenge on Scotland's Orkney Islands.
Richard Pascale: Technical change and adaptive change.
The Hill: Harry Reid believes the southern border is secure.
Unusual employee orientation: "New Hire"  

Quote of the Day

A President either is constantly on top of events or, if he hesitates, events will soon be on top of him. I never felt that I could let up for a single moment. 

- Harry S. Truman

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

First Paragraph

My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. 

- From Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The Danger of "Go It Alone"

There is no license in the Madisonian system to “go it alone.” Our country is sharply divided politically and that division is manifested (as it should be) in Congress. During times of division, less may get done. Both sides must either compromise or seek to change the balance of power in the next election. The assertion of executive prerogative to implement changes without Congress is tantamount to a pledge to govern alone.Such a dominant executive certainly promises to “get things done” but at a prohibitive cost. Those who remain silent today should consider that, in less than three years, a different president will sit in the Oval Office. That person could use the very same claims to suspend environmental or anti-discrimination laws. The short-term benefits of achieving such changes will pale in comparison to the long-term damage to our system from fueling the rise of an American über-presidency. The safeguard for our system remains our federal judiciary, but as discussed below, the courts have increasingly detached constitutional rights from judicial remedies.

Read all of Jonathan Turley's testimony.

Small Things

David Kanigan and Wendell Berry show and explain how a small thing can be pleasing.

Random Thoughts

It is a big day when a person realizes that the world has its own set of rules. If you stare at one long enough, the ceiling of a hospital room can contain a lot of wisdom. When non-lawyers try to act like lawyers, why don't they act like nice lawyers? Anyone can arrive at an ethical decision after hours or days. The real trick is to make one within seconds. Everyone should learn how to use a compass. Some of the most arrogant executives I've ever met work for government. So do some of the best. When organizations are in trouble there is a temptation to change everything but the organization. "We've always done it that way" shows signs of eternal life. When making comparisons, it helps to know the industry or else you may benchmark with a corpse. Equality should be a springboard so people can rise and not a hook for dragging people down. Beware of those who adopt politics as their religion. Few people are even close to knowing your burdens. We downplay the importance of experience in theory but recognize it in our daily lives. One skill to seek is to be able to write as effortlessly as you speak. If Churchill had not produced results, his most stirring speeches would now be sources of amusement . . . in a German museum. Every day we assign matters to the Caring and Not Caring columns. If we are to be effective the second had better be longer. Modern technology may be taking us into a very comfortable, well-connected, cave. One of the greatest mistakes we can make is to assume that a healthy civilization cannot become ill and fragile. Take time today to savor a cup of coffee or tea and to give careful thought to a news article. The world is yours and magic can be found in small things. Perhaps it is only in small things.

Explaining Hitler

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ron Rosenbaum examines efforts, including his own, to explain Hitler and evil.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

Quote of the Day

No matter how thin you slice it, it's still baloney. 

- Rube Goldberg