Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve Trivia: Dinner for One

People watch "Ivanhoe" in Sweden and eat grapes in Mexico, but what is a traditional part of New Year’s Eve in Germany?

Watching “Dinner for One.”

The short 1963 comedy sketch, starring the late British comedian Freddie Frinton, a music-hall staple in the 1950s and 1960s, is screened on most major German television channels every December 31, and has been since 1972. Incredibly, it has entered the record books as the world's most repeated television show (230 airings and counting).

Almost always broadcast with its original English soundtrack, it is quite brilliant in its simplicity: Miss Sophie, celebrating her 90th birthday, sits down to dinner with four friends and is served by her faithful butler, James (Frinton).

But there's a catch. None of the old maid's guests — Sir Toby, Admiral Von Schneider, Mr Pommeroy and Mr Winterbottom — is actually in attendance because all of them presumably have long since expired. So it's down to James to hop from chair to chair and fill in for Miss Sophie's enigmatic erstwhile suitors.

Before every course and its accompanying splash of booze, the rapidly declining butler slurs: "The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" And his aged employer replies: "The same procedure as every year, James."

Read the rest of The Telegraph article and its link to the film by clicking here.

Coach Knight

A few years ago, I spoke with some basketball players who’d played for Bobby Knight and was surprised, having read the press reports, to find enormous admiration.

Michael Ledeen looks at Coach Knight’s career and agrees:

In the world of big-time college athletics, overpopulated with fakes and cheats, Knight is the real deal. He recruits according to the rules, and he insists that his players take real courses and pass them, and then graduate. This is not what the boy wonders of hoops want from life, and they rarely go to play for Knight. They want to be coddled and enriched and tutored and given a free ride and then cash in. Not Knight’s players. I once interviewed a member of his first team at Indiana, an all-American who met with Knight shortly after the coach’s arrival in Bloomington. Knight glared at him and said, “I’ve just looked at your transcript. You’re not going to class, you’re not doing your work. If you miss class, you won’t practice. And if you don’t practice, you won’t play. If that’s too tough for you, I’ll help you transfer to some place where they don’t give a damn.”

The all-American called his father in a panic, only to find that his dad was thrilled. “Thank God,” he said, “now you’ve got a chance in life.”

Office Space Video

For an end of the year break:

A video with scenes from the workplace classic, Office Space.

Advice from a Snake Handler

I’m standing somewhat warily on the front porch of a wooden shack in Darwin, capital of Australia’s torrid Northern Territory. Before me is 23-year-old Chris Peberdy, Darwin’s official snake catcher, and he’s not alone.

The 7ft king brown snake he’s holding up is writhing like a fireman’s hose, doubling back on itself in medusan contortions as it tries with all its might to bite its way out of trouble. Although a single nip from this creature contains enough venom to kill about 125,000 mice, 20 horses and any number of overconfident herpetologists, Chris seems unperturbed.

“Nineteen of the last 26 people to die from snakebite in Oz were bitten by these fellas,” he notes, and steps smartly backwards as the snake lunges for his throat. “Steve Irwin was a great man — really loved his snakes — but he taught a generation of Aussies a lot of bad habits.”

Read the rest of Chris Haslam’s London Times article here.

Dave Barry on 2006

Rumors about Fidel Castro's health continue to swirl following publication of a photograph showing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shaking Castro's hand. The rest of Castro's body is nowhere to be seen.

Yes, Dave Barry has written his traditional year in review.

Bergergate, Somalia, and Other Strange Events

Mark Steyn on the curiosities of 2006. An excerpt:

Here's something else nobody's curious about: Sandy Berger. Consider this passage from the inspector general's official report on the Sandypants and his destruction of classified materials from the National Archives:

''Mr. Berger exited the Archives on to Pennsylvania Avenue, the north entrance. It was dark. He did not want to run the risk of bringing the documents back in the building risking the possibility [redacted] might notice something unusual. He headed towards a construction area on Ninth Street. Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ, and did not see anyone. He removed the documents from his pockets, folded the notes in a 'V' shape and inserted the documents in the center. He walked inside the construction fence and slid the documents under a trailer.''

Why is this man getting his security clearance back in 2008?

Aw, who cares? The thousands of Americans who drive around with that ''9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB'' bumper sticker are positively blase when confronted with an actual verified documented instance of a former national security adviser carrying on like a Cold War double agent making a dead drop.

[HT: RealClearPolitics ]

Pig Races as Protest?

A diversity mediator is needed in Katy, Texas.

Motivating the Unmotivatable

A sizable percentage of time is wasted attempting to motivate the unmotivatable.

You can try all of the techniques such as praise, fresh assignments, more money and prestige and still get few results.

And when that occurs, what do many managers do? They ladle out more of what they've already been giving in the belief that at some point, the medicine will take and the employee will make a dramatic transformation.

What they are missing is that some people cannot be motivated.

The motivation books and seminars gloss over that fact. They operate with the assumption that there is a magic button that each of us possesses and all the boss needs to do is to discover that button and press.

This simply doesn't work with some people. You will encounter employees who will shun, for whatever reason, the obvious actions that are required for success. They may be suspicious of the world in general or the supervisor in particular. They may question their own ability if they were to gain extra responsibilities. In many cases, they fear success.

You have three choices if these success-shunners are on your team: Keep them, put them in jobs in which no harm can be done, or fire them. In most cases, the latter is the only viable choice. The first is the worst. Keeping the unmotivatable will waste your time, ensure low productivity, and erode morale.

Quote of the Day

Whenever you read a good book, it's like the author is right there, in the room, talking to you, which is why I don't like to read good books.

- Jack Handey

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Larry King + Elizabeth Taylor + Seven

As we approach 2007, here is a mind-numbing list of trivia related to seven.

Report from a Maze

Here's the second installment of Michael J. Totten's report from Lebanon.

Eco-Terrorism or Eco-Sabotage?

At what point does violence in the name of protecting the environment become terrorism?

Matt Rasmussen visits Eugene, Oregon and finds a divide.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Census Estimates

Michael Barone looks at the latest census estimates.

Quick peek: People are leaving California and the East. The U.S. is becoming more Western and more Southern.

Chasing Chinky

In an organized crime case, the feds are going after Albert "Chinky" Facchiano, 96 years old.

The story reads like an episode from The Sopranos.

If convicted, will he get life?

Patterns in Giving

Katherine Mangu-Ward, writing in Reason magazine, looks at the results of Arthur C. Brooks's extraordinary book, Who Really Cares?

The people who give the least are the young, especially young liberals. Brooks writes that "young liberals—perhaps the most vocally dissatisfied political constituency in America today—are one of the least generous demographic groups out there. In 2004, self-described liberals younger than thirty belonged to one-third fewer organizations in their communities than young conservatives. In 2002, they were 12 percent less likely to give money to charities, and one-third less likely to give blood."

Solar Power to the People

Solar power and bank loans to poor people are bringing light to rural India. An excerpt from the Business 2.0 story:

These were not the most obvious customers for Harish Hande, a 37-year-old engineer with a dream of selling solar power, not least because they seemed unable to pay for it. But Hande and his solar energy company, Selco India, realized that the rose pickers were prime candidates for solar-powered headlamps and partnered with local banks to help the workers get loans to buy them. Wearing the charged lamps in the predawn darkness, the pickers can work with both hands; they've doubled their productivity and boosted their take-home pay and now have enough income to start paying down the headlamp loans.

Space Books

William Burrows gives his list of the top five books on space.

Quote of the Day

Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.

- Mel Brooks

Friday, December 29, 2006

Tyrant's Epitaph

An appropriate time to read W. H. Auden's poem, Epitaph on a Tyrant.


When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

Glenn Gould Video: True Talent

Andrew Sullivan has done us all a favor by posting this remembrance of Glenn Gould along with a video of Gould performing The Goldberg Variations.

Watch the video and - I guarantee you - there will come a point when you say, "Wow!"

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Could this personal flying device gain much wider usage?

If so, Yves Rossy may go down in history as an aviation pioneer.

Confederate Statues

The University of Texas is reviewing the presence of statues of prominent Confederates, such as Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, on its campus.

Execution Pending

Al-Maliki said opposing Saddam's execution was an insult to his victims. His office said he made the remarks in a meeting with families of people who died during Saddam's rule.

"Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence," al-Maliki said.

State television ran footage of the Saddam era's atrocities, including images of uniformed men placing a bomb next to a youth's chest and blowing him up in what looked like a desert, and handcuffed men being thrown from a high building.

About 10 people registered to attend the hanging gathered in the Green Zone before they were to go to the execution site, the Iraqi official said.

Those cleared to attend the execution included a Muslim cleric, lawmakers, senior officials and relatives of victims of Saddam's brutal rule, the official said. He did not disclose the location of the gallows.

Read the rest here.

[HT: Drudge ]

Lessons Learned

Here’s a fascinating article from Spiegel on how the American military, via its Center for Army Lessons Learned, analyzes – and learns from – its mistakes. [Think of how many corporations could use that approach.] An excerpt:

His job here has changed by quantum leaps in recent years. It all started with the computer and Internet revolution of the early 1990s, and it continued after Sept. 11, 2001, a day Lacky sees as marking a radical turning point. Before this seminal date, Lacky says, it would take two to three months until the information gleaned from an experience with value for the entire army had been processed, printed and distributed.

But these days, when a brigade reports from Iraq that the insurgents are hiding their roadside bombs in dead cats, all it takes is a few inquiries, a few e-mails and a few mouse clicks and, within the space of a few hours, the news has been distributed to everyone. Lacky and his staff used this approach to develop concepts for building checkpoints after US military personnel had repeatedly fired unnecessarily at civilians in Baghdad. The regulations for convoys were rewritten, as were those for how to behave during mass gatherings and while on foot patrols.

Lacky's department now has precise location descriptions for every sector of every Iraqi city, descriptions that are a far cry from the information the military would gather and disseminate in the past. While the old documents described the world topographically merely as a battlefield, officers nowadays can consult information that tells them where kindergartens, mosques, Koran schools and meeting points are located. They can also learn a great deal about the social makeup of a neighborhood, including ethnic affiliations, local customs and unwritten laws.

How many civilian organizations do you know that have a systematic way to distribute lessons learned?

Litigation Decline

Business Week examines the decline of the lawsuit industry:

What has happened in Texas is not unique. In state after state, the tide has turned in one of the most protracted, hard-fought political struggles of the past two decades—the battle over so-called tort reform. Few other business issues have generated more controversy, polemics, and campaign spending than the effort to scale back the types of lawsuits people can file and how much they can recover. In a speech on Nov. 20, for example, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. charged that "the broken tort system is an Achilles' heel for our economy" and exhorted his audience to tackle "one challenge that will take a concerted effort over the long term to correct—the need for reform of our legal system."

But what Paulson and others have overlooked is that in large areas of the country, that "reform" has taken place, and business has emerged triumphant. The American Lawyer, an influential trade publication, recently declared an end to the era of mass-injury class actions, but the changes are far broader than that. Courthouse doors have slammed shut on a wide variety of claims. Michigan, for example, has virtually wiped out all lawsuits against drugmakers in the state. Six states have passed laws seriously restricting the kinds of asbestos suits that can be filed, and 23 now have statutes saying you can't sue the likes of McDonald's (MCD ) for making you fat. Damage limits in many states have rendered medical malpractice litigation nearly comatose.

The Nobody Cares Manifesto

Dennis Howlett of AccMan blog has issued his Nobody Cares Manifesto for Accountants at Some excerpts:

* We work hard to earn letters behind our names - nobody cares. Importance isn't derived from academic achievement but what you do for others.

* A tidy office implies a tidy mind - nobody cares. A tidy mind is often compartmentalised to the point of tunnel vision. You don't see tidy at the edge of innovation. Which is where you should be when your clients come up with great ideas.

The West's Fatal Bugs

Daniel Pipes, in a thought-provoking article, notes that the comparisons with past victories over Nazism and Communism may mislead us and that the Islamists can win:

What have Islamists to compare with the Wehrmacht or the Red Army? The SS or Spetznaz? The Gestapo or the KGB? Or, for that matter, to Auschwitz or the Gulag? Yet, more than a few analysts, including myself, worry that it's not so simple.

Islamists (defined as persons who demand to live by the sacred law of Islam, the Shari'a) might in fact do better than the earlier totalitarians. They could even win. That's because, however strong the Western hardware, its software contains some potentially fatal bugs. Three of them - pacifism, self-hatred, complacency - deserve attention.

Read his entire article here.

[It reminds me of the saying to the effect that man may be a more highly advanced creature than a crocodile but that is not an advantage when swimming the Nile.]

Clever as a Clam

Via Creative Criminal blog, some pictures of a clever PR campaign that places artificial clams on a beach to advertise a seafood festival.

Entrepreneur of the Year

Ken Hendricks, worth 2.6 billion dollars, is Inc. magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year for 2006. An excerpt from the interview:

What has been the most rewarding moment in your decades of entrepreneurship?

Our last annual managers meeting. I gave my motivational talk and then I asked, How many people here started as a forklift operator, a warehouse person, a roof loader, or a truck driver? We had 600 people and almost half of them stood up.

Vacations in Space

It is safe to say that there are people living right now who will take vacations in outer space.

And I'm not talking about daydreams during business meetings.

Business 2.0 examines the rush to accommodate the guests.

Quote of the Day

Winston Churchill's habit of guzzling a quart or two a day of good cognac is what saved civilization from the Luftwaffe, Hegelian logic, Wagnerian love-deaths and potato pancakes.

- Charles McCabe

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gahan Wilson Lives!

For fans of the bizarre: There is an official Gahan Wilson web site.

Totten in Lebanon

Michael J. Totten is writing from Lebanon. Both his account and the photographs are well worth your time. An excerpt:

I returned to Beirut after eight months and a hot summer war and found that the city had little changed, at least on the surface. My old neighborhood in West Beirut was intact. Civil war reconstruction continued downtown. More restaurants and pubs had opened close-in on the east side of the city. Solidere sported a brand-new Starbucks. Beirut did not appear to be reeling from war. Post-Syrian gentrification had proceeded as scheduled.

On second glance, though, all was not well. I was the only guest in my eight-story hotel, and I genuinely shocked the staff when I stepped into the lobby first thing in the morning. “Why are you still here?” one bartender asked me. Almost all my friends and even acquaintances left the country during the July War and hadn’t returned. Milk was still hard to come by in grocery stores and even some restaurants because the Israeli Air Force destroyed Lebanon’s milk factory. Party and sectarian flags were flown on the streets in abundance, a tell-tale sign that the post-Syrian patriotism and unity were coming apart.

All that and, you know, the private army of an enemy state was threatening to topple the government.

Too Clever By Half

Creating Passionate Users hits another home run with this post on the dangers of using demos that look done.

In Search of the Reasonably Good

I once knew a department director who did impeccable work. Any project that came his way received beautiful analysis and a solid course of action eventually ensued.

He had only one, recurring, problem: By the time he took action, it was irrelevant.

The word quickly spread: If time is of the essence, don't let any project get near his operation. It will be taken aside and smothered with excessive analysis. On the other hand, if you have plenty of time and want a marvelous analysis, he's your boy.

How he was able to keep his job was a mystery. He worked in a field in which most matters were time-sensitive. My only guess is that the organization accommodated his work style to such a degree that although he was like the broken clock that is right twice a day, twice a day was sufficient.

He was an extreme example and yet you can find less-severe versions in many a workplace. They consist of the executive who keeps thinking of new options, the creative type who cannot focus, and the young striver who becomes paralyzed by perfectionism.

We all know of organizations that routinely accept shoddy work.There's no excuse for that.

But attention must also be given to the teams and individuals who need to be urged to drop their slug-like search for excellence so a new and more meaningful standard can be achieved: The reasonably good.

Tongue in Cheek

When Enron founder Kenneth Lay died suddenly, less than two months after being convicted of conspiracy and securities fraud in May, it seemed to be the final chapter in the collapsed energy giant's infamous saga. Yet the disgraced executive managed to extend a hand of generosity from beyond the grave, leaving an inheritance of 4,000 Enron employee pensions to his grieving children.

Read the rest of The Onion article here.

With just 23 months before the next presidential election, former Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, announced today that he would seek the Democrat nomination for president in 2008, 2012 and 2016, but refused to comment on his plans for 2020.

Read the rest of the Scrappleface article here.

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

National Journal has released its 2006 Awards of Excellence.

Hollywood's Bias: Stupid or Evil

Toby Harnden, writing in the British newspaper The Telegraph, notes a bias that most Americans have spotted for years:

Have you noticed how Republicans are always portrayed by comedians as stupid? Remember Spitting Image's Ronald Reagan - "The President's Brain is Missing"? Democrats are never stupid. Thus we have Carter (clever but ineffectual), Bill Clinton (clever but over-sexed), Al Gore (clever but tedious), John Kerry (clever but vain), Howard Dean (clever but unhinged) and Hillary Clinton (clever but cold).

Come to think of it, with Republicans it's stupid or evil - Nixon (evil), Ford (stupid), Reagan (stupid), Bush Snr (stupid), Bush Jnr (stupid and evil). Chase is on record as calling George W. Bush worse than stupid - a "dumb f----" who "started a jihad", an "uneducated, real lying schmuck". So as he goes to his maker maybe poor old Jerry Ford should be grateful he only got saddled with being stupid. And whatever one's politics, those Chevy Chase sketches were pretty damn funny.

Toyota's Concept: Hybrid Sports Car

Geekologie has the details on this fast hybrid concept sports car from Toyota.

I think I want one.

Squandered Heritage

Squandered Heritage is a blog devoted to historic preservation of parts of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

[HT: 13th Floor ]

Dr. Pepper, The Heart Attack Grill, and "Brainless Sluts"

John Stossel goes after another nanny state activity. An excerpt:

The motto at the popular Heart Attack Grill in Tempe, Ariz., is: "Taste ... worth dying for!" That's because it serves only artery-clogging food like big hamburgers (the biggest is called the "Quadruple Bypass") and "Flatliner Fries," which are boiled in lard. (LINK: The restaurant's website says: "Insane political correctness stands as a barrier between the average man and his pursuit of happiness."

I guess that's why they refuse to sell diet soda or "diet" anything.

And, oh, yes, the waitresses wear sexy costumes.

But this is not what earned the Heart Attack Grill a threatening letter from Arizona's attorney general. What upset the government was that the Heart Attack Grill waitresses call themselves "nurses." The waitresses dress like nurses -- although in some cases like nurses you'd see only in an X-rated movie. After customers eat the fatty food, they can ask their "nurse" to wheel them out to their car in a wheelchair -- just like at the hospital.

Rain, Mist, Cannon, President

I was a young officer in the headquarters of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command in Washington, D.C. on the day Gerald Ford became president.

It was a rainy day and although everyone was trying to conduct business as usual, a few of the offices had radios so the events could be followed. We didn't have one in my office but occasionally someone from the department across the hall would drop by and give us an update.

I looked out of my window and watched the mist. Our headquarters was in an old building next to Fort McNair, nestled right by the Potomac and home of the Old Guard, the elite unit that is used at Arlington and White House ceremonies.

As President Nixon's helicopter left the White House, you could hear the methodical blast of cannons being fired as a salute by troops at Fort McNair. The effect was almost mystical.

Rain, mist, cannon, and a new president.

Quote of the Day

The old repeat themselves and the young have nothing to say. The boredom is mutual.

- Jacques Bainville

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Duke Rape Case Implosion

Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson on the implosion of and racial politics in the travesty known as the Duke Lacrosse Team rape case. An excerpt:

How can we be confident that the charges are false? Let us count the ways: The police who interviewed the accuser after she left the March 13-14 lacrosse team party where she and another woman had performed as strippers found her rape charge incredible, and for good reason. She said nothing about rape to three cops and two others during the first 90 minutes after the party. Only when being involuntarily confined in a mental health facility did she mention rape. This predictably got her released to the Duke emergency room for a rape workup, whereupon she recanted the rape charge.

Then she re-recanted, offering a ludicrous parade of wildly implausible and mutually contradictory stories of being gang-raped by 20, five, four, three or two lacrosse players, with the other stripper assisting the rapists in some versions. After settling on three rapists, the accuser gave police vague descriptions and could not identify as a rapist any of the 36 lacrosse players whose photos she viewed on March 16 and 21. These included two eventual defendants: Dave Evans, whom she did not recognize at all, and Reade Seligmann, whom she was "70%" sure she had seen at the party, but not as a rapist.

Read the entire article here.

One of the things that has surprised me about the case is the silence of the members of the prosecution team. Are they so worried about their jobs that they are unwilling to come forward and protest their boss's behavior?

World's Wealth?

Thomas Sowell on the rhetoric about the world’s wealth. An excerpt:

You can check in your local phone book, surf the Internet, or do genealogical research: There is no one named “The World.” How can a nonexistent being own wealth?

Human beings own wealth. Once we put aside lofty poetic nonsense about “the world’s wealth,” we at least have a fighting chance of talking sense about realities.


Have all the people in the world had an equal chance to produce wealth? No, nowhere close to an equal chance — either in the world or within a given society.

Geography alone makes the chances grossly unequal. How were Eskimos supposed to grow pineapples or the bedouins of the desert learn to fish?

How were people in the Balkans supposed to have an industrial revolution like that of Western Europe, when the Balkans had neither the raw materials required by an industrial revolution nor any economically viable way of transporting raw materials from other places?

The geographic handicaps of Africa would fill a book. French historian Fernand Braudel said: “In understanding Black Africa, geography is more important than history.”

New Zealand Possum: The New Mink

Good news!

Now you can be green and still wear fur.

Leo Palmer

Take a break and check out these extraordinary photographs by Leo Palmer.

[HT: Neatorama ]

Winning the War

Historian Victor Davis Hanson gives his formula for success in the war:

So how, aside from killing jihadist terrorists, can we defend ourselves against the insidious spread of radical Islam? Here are a few starting suggestions:

Bluntly identify radical Islam as fascistic — without worrying whether some Muslims take offense when we will talk honestly about the extremists in their midst.

At the same time, keep encouraging consensual governments in the Middle East and beyond that could offer people security and prosperity, while distancing ourselves from illegitimate dictators, especially in Syria and Iran, that promote terrorists.

Establish that no more autocracies in the Middle East and Asia will be allowed to get the bomb.

Seek energy independence that would collapse the world price of oil, curbing petrodollar subsidies for terrorists and our own appeasement of their benefactors.

Appreciate the history and traditions of a unique Western civilization to remind the world that we have nothing to apologize for but rather much good to offer to others.

Finally, keep confident in a war in which our will and morale are every bit as important as our overwhelming military strength. The jihadists claim that we are weak spiritually, but our past global ideological enemies — Nazism, fascism, militarism and communism — all failed. And so will they.

Chuck Norris Redux

The Hidden Persuader is back on the appeal of Chuck Norris.

Party Incentive

The South Korean government is launching a unique incentive program for companies that make a pledge to have a prostitute-free New Year's party.

There's no word on what the North Korean government is promising its workers.

Unusual Job Opening: Iraq

Click here for the details.

{HT: Drudge ]

Rising Expectations, Stress, and the Middle Class

Robert Samuelson sees stress amid the rising expectations of just what constitutes the middle class.

Cartoons: A Strange and Brutal Business

If you think you face rejection in your job, try submitting cartoons to The New Yorker.

No. Yes. No. No. Remnick picks up a cartoon of a corporate boardroom with a bunch of guys in suits sitting around a conference table with one chair occupied by a brain in a jar. The caption reads, "But first let's all congratulate Ted on his return to work."

" Ewwww!" Remnick says, half groaning, half laughing. "Bob!"

"It's great!" Mankoff says.

"It's horrible!" Remnick responds, laughing.

"What? A little brain in a jar?" Mankoff replies. "No animals were hurt in the making of this cartoon."

Remnick laughs. But he doesn't change his mind. "Not here," he says. It's a No.

What was Remnick thinking? That is a funny cartoon. It would have made the rounds of HR departments.

Read all of Peter Carlson’s Washington Post article here.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Progressive or Just Plain Nuts?

From a story about law firm management:

The story reports that one of Beu’s first initiatives was assessing the diversity of the firm’s lawyers by asking them about their race, sexual orientation and whether they had any disabilities. He tells the Tribune: “As a result, we increased our numbers of diverse attorneys by almost 30 percent.”

It is odd to see what is considered to be progressive human resources work nowadays.

The Wizards and the Cheerleaders

An undiscussed topic in most organizations is the role of cheerleaders.

Obviously I don't mean the ones with pom poms and flips. Their antics can be easily ignored. The cheerleaders who worry me are the ones who boost the reputations and careers of individuals who are less than deserving.

In my experience, only a small percentge of the individuals with a reputation for brilliance or effectiveness deserve it. I've left meetings stunned after seeing these wizards in action and it wasn't because I went in with unrealistic expectations. These are the people who are famous for being insightful and yet, when you examine their track records, they've amassed a frightening collection of disasters.

Conversely, you'll often find the real talent holding up the wall in the board room, listening while people who did something right 20 years ago continue to coast on an image that should have been altered.

How do the faux wizards acquire a cheerleading crew? I've noticed several characteristics:

1. They woo cheerleaders. In politics, they take the time to chat with reporters. In companies, they schmooze with peers and superiors, especially those who are influential. They don't alienate the boss's secretary or spouse.

2. They know how to keep their mouths shut. Silence is often mistaken for deep thought or deliberation and they are masters of the concerned expression and the meaningful glance.

3. They look the role. It is easy to think of the person as impressive because the person looks impressive. No wrinkled shirts or stained ties for them.

4. They avoid extreme positions. In moderation is safety, acceptance, and few rude challenges. The moderate position may be wrong, but it is presumed to be thoughtful.

Once a few of the influential cheerleaders are won over, then the reputation is secure. Those people, and their more easily-swayed associates, will continue to trumpet the wisdom of the person who is now famous for being wise, much as some are famous for being famous.

The dance between the wizards and the cheerleaders will always be with us. Our task is to spot it and to exert extra caution when the superficial begin to tout the shallow as wise.

Quote of the Day

My coaching tip is this: Look at your current life and ask yourself: "Where can I see that I've set myself up for stress or failure?"

- Thomas J. Leonard

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

President Gerald Ford, R.I.P.

President Gerald Ford, a thoroughly decent man who will be treated kindly by history, has died.

[HT: Drudge ]

The Day After Christmas 1941: Churchill Speaks to Congress

As he entered that chamber on the afternoon of December 26, he knew the high stakes of the occasion. Anglo-American relations were more important than ever before, and it was his job to rally the spirits of America’s leaders. Furthermore, his speech would be carried by the three major broadcasting companies and beamed across the United States and into Great Britain. Many millions would hear his words.

He rose easily to the immense demands of the moment. His speech, just over half an hour long, struck a tone that was simultaneously comforting, confident, cheerful, and defiant. Raising his hand in the air, he reassured his listeners that they would triumph over foreign aggression, declaring that the Allies were “masters of our fate.” He repeatedly emphasized the shared identity and purpose of the United States and Great Britain, always speaking about them jointly, as “we,” and he dryly referred to his mother’s American roots: “By the way, I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own.” In a climactic moment, speaking in steady and rising tones, he delivered a powerful warning against the military foes of the Allies. “Is it possible,” he demanded, “they do not realize that we will never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?” As he delivered this rhetorical question, his listeners answered, with thunderous applause.

Read all of Alexander Burns’s American Heritage article here.

Nerd Weaponry

The latest in nerd cubicle defense.

[HT: Barry Moltz ]

A Well-Oiled Machine

The oppression of workers' rights continues.

Apparently you can't even conduct an exorcism at work anymore.

Must Viewing: Shatner

It doesn't get better than this:

Shatner does "Rocket Man."

[HT: linkbunnies ]

When Generic Works

Upscale, generic, products are looking very promising at Office Max and Costco.

Job Interview: "Please, Please, Please"

In February of 1956, the Famous Flames crossed the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time, and drove into Cincinnati, where King Records had its headquarters in an old ice factory. When they were shown into the studio, King's founder and president, Syd Nathan, was seated in the sound booth—a fat little man with a big cigar, a shouter and a bully, who reminded James Brown of Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar." Nathan's first impression of his new talent was equally unflattering: the Flames were barely a minute into "Please, Please, Please" when he exploded from his chair, hollering, "What in hell are they doing? Stop the tape," and "Nobody wants to hear that noise," and "It's a stupid song," and so on, until he stalked out. In his autobiography, the singer recalled protesting to King's music director, "Mr. Nathan doesn't understand it. Everybody's music can't be alike."

Read all of Philip Gourevitch’s New Yorker article on James Brown here.

Hackers and Holidays

Are you more prone to be zapped by a hacker attack during the holidays?

The security folks say no.

The idea that attacks somehow spike during the holidays is "more of a fallacy than anything else, said David Marcus, security research and communications manager with McAfee’s Avert Labs. "Most enterprises I’ve dealt with have just as much coverage during the holidays as any time of year."

Microsoft’s Griesi agreed that the traditional holiday business slowdown in the United States does not apply to security professionals. "The holiday season doesn’t affect our ability to respond," he said.

Though enterprises may be prepared for cyberattacks, the December rush of online shopping does spur certain types of online scams, Marcus said. "You’ll see certain techniques become prevalent at certain times of the year," Marcus said. "You’ll see some holiday spam or some charity spam."

[My new business partners in Nigeria also assure me that there's nothing to worry about. I'd get a direct quote but they're currently unavailable.]

Corporate Prayer in Holland

Is Europe’s most liberal country becoming more religious?

An excerpt from Joshua Livestro’s Weekly Standard article:

When the "corporate prayer" movement first started in 1996, few people in Holland took any notice. Why should they have done so? After all, Holland's manifest destiny was to become a fully secularized country, in which prayer was considered at best an irrational but harmless pastime. That was then. Cue forward to 2006, when prayer in the workplace is fast becoming a universally accepted phenomenon. More than 100 companies participate. Government ministries, universities, multinational companies like Philips, KLM, and ABN AMRO--all allow groups of employees to organize regular prayer meetings at their premises. Trade unions have even started lobbying the government for recognition of workers' right to prayer in the workplace.

The idea that secularization is the irreversible wave of the future is still the conventional wisdom in intellectual circles here. They would be bemused, to say the least, at a Dutch relapse into religiosity. But as the authors of a recently published study called De Toekomst van God (The Future of God) point out, organized prayer in the workplace is just one among several pieces of evidence suggesting that Holland is on the threshold of a new era--one we might call the age of "post-secularization." In their book, Adjiedj Bakas, a professional trend-watcher, and Minne Buwalda, a journalist, argue that Holland is experiencing a fundamental shift in religious orientation: "Throughout Western Europe, and also in Holland, liberal Protestantism is in its death throes. It will be replaced by a new orthodoxy."

The Markets and the Commentators

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Lawrence H. Summers notes a gap between the market and the commentators:

The headlines and opinion writers focus on how the U.S. is badly bogged down in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; on an increasingly unstable Middle East and dangerous energy dependence; on nuclear proliferation that has already occurred in North Korea and that is coming in Iran; on the potential weakness of lame-duck political leaders; on record global trade imbalances and rising protectionist pressures; on increased levels of public and private-sector borrowing combined with record low saving in the United States; and on falling home prices and middle-class economic insecurity.

At the same time, financial markets are pricing in an expectation of tranquillity as far as the eye can see. Stock prices in the U.S. are at all-time highs. The risk premiums that corporations or developing countries have to pay to borrow money are at or near historic lows. In addition, estimates of the volatility of the stock, bond and foreign exchange markets inferred from the prices of options are near record lows.

Read the entire article here.

[HT: RealClearPolitics ]

Get a Rope

Iraq's highest appeals court has upheld the death sentence for Saddam Hussein, clearing the way for his execution.

Time to Think

Look at the schedules of many executives, managers, and supervisors and you'll find plenty of meetings booked but two items missing:

1. Time for uninterrupted work on projects.

2. Time to think.

Unlimited open door policies doom the ability to have uninterrupted work time and so many offices promote the need to look busy that individuals are reluctant to take time to think. The thinker may appear to be "intellectual" and that is a lethal label for the ambitious in many companies since it is perceived as the opposite of bold decision makers and hard workers.

Taking time to think and setting aside meaningful blocks of time for uninterrupted work on projects are important but they won't be achieved unless the individual has the courage to make those choices.

And it is a wise organization that makes those choices easier.

Quote of the Day

Innovation almost invariably threatens the status quo, and consequently, innovation is an inherently political activity.

- Jeffrey Pfeffer

Monday, December 25, 2006

Film: A Christmas Story

TBS has a Christmas Day marathon of the film classic, A Christmas Story.

As this Wikipedia entry notes, at one point Jack Nicholson was considered for the role of the father! That could have given it a macabre twist.

FYI for the real cult fanatics: You can now buy one of those tasteful leg lamps!

WaiterRant Between Jobs

WaiterRant, the on-going account of a waiter in New York City, is experiencing a change. He's left his job at The Bistro and will be starting up at another restaurant. He also has a book deal!

No Che for Christmas

Until last Thursday Christmas shoppers at Target department stores could purchase a 24-CD carrying case decorated with the image of Che Guevara. When I heard about it, I wondered why the retailer would want to promote the memory of a mass murderer. What's next, I asked, when I spoke with a representative of the company on Wednesday, Pol Pot pajamas?

Late Wednesday evening Target sent me this statement: "It is never our intent to offend any of our guests through the merchandise we carry. We have made the decision to remove this item from our shelves and we sincerely apologize for any discomfort this situation may have caused our guests."

That it took only a day for Target to make that admirable decision suggests that at least someone at the company knows who Guevara was and what Cuba is today thanks in part to him. The misstep, though, probably occurred because others at the company allowed Target to become a target itself of the Che myth.

Read the rest of Mary Anastasia O’Grady’s Wall Street Journal article here.

One Gift

Christmases come and go and yet there are some gifts you never forget.

I recall an old, used, bicycle, with wide-tires and worn handle grips, standing next to the tree. It had been spray-painted red by my mother and hidden in our shed until Christmas morning. With five children in the family, a new bike was not in the budget.

I've never received a finer present.

Quote of the Day

What are we to make of Jesus Christ? This is a question which has, in a sense, a frantically comic side. For the real question is what is He to make of us?

- C.S. Lewis

A Wish from the Desert

May all of you have a Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year!


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fish Story

For those who have had difficulty finding the answer to the Einstein fish puzzle cited earlier, you can find it and a few other versions by clicking here.

Eat Up

In the interest of expanding my readership:

I have not test-driven this but here is what is being touted as the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.

[HT: digg ]

And there's more! Here is the Carnival of the Recipes, with a variety of items for the Christmas table.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Birthrates and Rationalism

Mark Steyn sees an overlooked message in the Christmas story. An excerpt:

Christmas is a good time not just for Christians to ponder the central proposition of their faith -- the baby in the manger -- but for post-Christian secularists to ponder the central proposition of theirs: that religion is a lot of goofy voodoo nonsense and that any truly rational person will give it the bum's rush. The problem with this view is that "rationalism" is looking less and less rational with each passing year. Here are three headlines from the last couple of weeks:

• • "Mohammed Overtakes George In List Of Most Popular Names" (Daily Telegraph, London)

• • "Japan's Population 'Set To Plummet' " (BBC News)

• • "Islam Thrives As Russia's Population Falls" (Toronto Star)

By comparison with America, those three societies are very secular. Indeed, Russia spent three-quarters of a century under the most militantly secularist regime of all: Under Communism, the state was itself a religion, but, alas, only an ersatz one, a present-tense chimera. As a result, Russians more or less gave up begetting: Slavs are in steep population decline, and, on present trends, Russia will be majority Muslim by 2050. And the Russian army will be majority Muslim by 2015. In western Europe, societal suicide isn't quite so advanced, but the symbolism is still poignant: "George" isn't just the name of America's reviled cowboy president, but of England's patron saint; the national flag is the Cross of St. George, under which Englishmen sallied forth to smite the Mohammedans in those long-ago Crusades. Now the Mohammedans have managed to smite the Georgians big time, not by conquest but simply by outbreeding. Mohammed is also the most popular boy's name in Brussels, Amsterdam and other Continental cities.

TMI: Too Much Information

An executive once said that his company suffered from NETMA - "Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything" - and that productivity and morale increased once management started letting the employees in on the big picture.

That approach is commendable on a macro-scale but requires caution on the micro. You can encounter executives, managers, and employees who reveal far too much of their personal lives and in doing so damage their ability to perform the job.

Here's an actual case that I encountered years ago: A young woman was hired as an administrative assistant. Within a couple of weeks, her co-workers knew the details of her sex life, political positions, disputes with family members, problems with former employers, and preferences in underwear. She was a highly talented worker, but those disclosures caused her to be stigmatized with unattractive labels. What she saw as candor, her co-workers regarded as bizarre. She would have been wise to limit her disclosures and recognize that not every listener has her best interests at heart.

The Sixties produced a "Let it all hang out" mentality that may work in a commune but is lethal in a workplace. The idea that all subjects can be discussed without negative repercussions assumes that people are angels, not people. Until people achieve that loftier status, discretion is the better course.

A Christmas Carol

There are plenty of film versions of A Christmas Carol. The story is so powerful that it fares well even when the stars are The Muppets or Mr. Magoo.

But you can't beat the original story for real magic.

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Click here.

Modern Dance

The old line is that when it comes to new products or ideas, you can spot the pioneers because they're the ones with the arrows in them.

Here's a budding entrepreneur who has taken an old form of moneyraising - performing on the subway - and has improved upon it.

You can just imagine the thought process: Audience + poles = Hmmm.

[HT: 2Blowhards ]

Time Gobblers

Kottke has posted a list of links to a bunch of addictive on-line games.

Some are dorky. Some are fun. Some are dorky and fun.

News Headlines

An interesting site: Newspaper headlines from around the world.

[HT: Neatorama ]

Weigel's List

George Weigel gives his list of the top five books for understanding Christianity.

I'd add the C.S. Lewis books, such as Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. Lewis has probably done more to convert people to Christianity than many churches.

Quote of the Day

You ask my advice about acting? Speak clearly, don't bump into the furniture and if you must have motivation, think of your pay packet on Friday.

- Noel Coward

Saturday, December 23, 2006

P.S. Season's Greetings

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports that Susette Kelo, whose house was taken as a result of the infamous eminent domain case of Kelo v. New London, has sent holiday cards to relevant parties, such as city council members, with a photo of her house and these cheery lines:

Here is my house that you did take
From me to you, this spell I make
Your houses, your homes
Your family, your friends
May they live in misery
That never ends
I curse you all
May you rot in hell
To each of you
I send this spell
For the rest of your lives
I wish you ill
I send this now
By the power of will

RSS Fixed

For those who have wanted to use the rss feed, I have been assured by Erica The Computer Wiz that it is fixed!

Thanks to all of you who gave me a heads-up on the problem and special thanks to Erica.

Remedials and Preventives

There are days when I'm convinced that the world is divided between Remedials and Preventives.

Remedials act quickly and then strive to repair any damage. In some cases, they shrug off the damage as the cost of taking action.

Preventives act with deliberation in order to avoid damage. They sometimes apply so much deliberation that the benefit of prompt action is lost.

Remedials speak up and then apologize or correct. They can upset others and then minutes later be shocked to find their audience is still angry.

Preventives filter their speech in order to avoid offense or inaccuracy. They may be so diplomatic that their point is hidden.

Remedials take few precautionary efforts and often lack fall-back plans.

Preventives are "worst case scenario" thinkers and have at least one fall-back plan.

Remedials see few options and are impatient to act. They want to get things done.

Preventives see many options. They want to get things done right.

Each side has its virtues and vices. I know which camp I'm in. Where are you?

Craig's Planet

This list from Reason magazine on who should have been Time’s Person of the Year combines the reasonable with the nutty.

Consider this choice from Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List:

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They speak truth to power at significant risk, challenging the entire press to do so.

What planet does he live on?

Regardless of how you feel about the politics of Stewart and Colbert and whether they are speaking truth, the notion that they do so “at significant risk” is a hoot. In their circles, there would be at far more risk if they supported the president and the war in Iraq. Being liberal in Hollywood and New York is playing it safe, risks zero, and often has career benefits, such as The New York Times best-seller list and Oscar nominations. Stewart and Colbert, whose careers are soaring, don't fear a midnight knock on the door or some McCarthy black list.

“[C]hallenging the entire press to do so” is another baseless concept. Check the surveys on the political beliefs of American journalists and their coverage and you find they tilt overwhelmingly to the left. Those folks need no nudging when it comes to opposing the administration.

But it sounds very brave and revolutionary to talk of speaking truth to power.

Intolerance for Racism

Shelby Steele on the decline of racism:

When Richards blasted forth with the "N-word" at a comedy club, his language met with universal condemnation. Today's acts of racism play out within an American society obsessed with purging itself of racism, a society that measures its very legitimacy by its intolerance for racism. When I was growing up in the last decade of segregation, even violent acts of racism were no threat to American legitimacy. When Richards said to his hecklers, "Fifty years ago we would have hung you up by your feet," he was longing for the days of my childhood, when blacks would fear to heckle a white comic — a time when violence enforced a much larger pattern of black subjugation. But Richards' hecklers only laughed at him. The difference between the two eras is the death of white supremacy.

This does not mean that racist behavior today is somehow benign. It means that today racism swims upstream in an atmosphere of ferocious intolerance. Moreover, today's racism is no longer in concert with an overt and systematic subjugation of blacks. While racism continues to exist, it no longer stunts the lives of blacks.

Lemony Snicket "Vile Video"

The marvelous marketing for the Lemony Snicket books, as shown at the web site and in this clever video, has probably lured many a parent.

With humor like this, who cares if the kid reads the books?

Was It a Snoop Raccoon Dogg?

This AP story reminds me of a crisis management class I used to teach:

NEW YORK - Macy's has pulled from its shelves and its Web site two styles of Sean John hooded jackets, originally advertised as featuring faux fur, after an investigation by the nation's largest animal protection organization concluded that the garments were actually made from a certain species of dog called "raccoon dog."

Read the rest here.

[HT: Drudge ]

To Be Read - and Enjoyed - Slowly

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

Read the rest of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales here.

Midways Up and Moving

On the Moneyed Midways, the weekly collection of posts from management, business, and finance blogs, is up at Political Calculations.

Quote of the Day

Keep the circus going inside you, keep it going, don't take anything too seriously, it'll all work out in the end.

- David Niven

Friday, December 22, 2006

Einstein's Puzzle

It's Friday. Time for a break.

Solve a fish puzzle written by Albert Einstein.

Flu Pandemic

A new study indicates that if a flu as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu hit today, it could kill as many as 81 million people.

When Unproductive

On those days when you feel unproductive:

Consider that you may feel unproductive while actually being highly productive. Samuel Johnson, the author of the first dictionary of the English language, referred to himself as a "castle of indolence."

Work on something - anything - however small, so at the end of the day you can note one thing that was done.

Recognize that being unproductive can be productive. You may be subconsciously preparing yourself to be more effective when you eventually turn to the central task. You may also be refraining from rash action that would be harmful. As Secretary of State George Shultz put it, "Don't just do something, stand there."

We were not made to be speed-reading minute-fillers. We were designed to be distracted and to ponder; to mess around and approach problems from different angles. Few lives and careers proceed in a straight line; instead, they resemble mountain climbers who occasionally move sideways in order to gain the better grip or clearer perspective that permits them to proceed upward.

In short, there are days when "being unproductive" is the most productive thing you can do.

Service with a Grunt

Lileks goes to the barber shop/hair styling salon/hair place and encounters a warm Gen Y moment:

My stylist was unpleasant. Usually I get a cheerful lass with a balloony bosom (displayed for all to see, so we can marvel at the tattoos) but this time I got a sullen minx who radiated indifference and self-regard: why is my hotness wasted here? Why is my hotness not rewarded immediately with money and wild sex with Abercrombie & Fitch models? Who the hell are you? I made the first tentative offering of small talk, which was backhanded away with a grunt. Fine; I’ll just sit here, then, recalculating the tip.

Do you use scissors? she asked.

I had no idea what she meant. I mean, I did, inasmuch as she had scissors in her hand like every other person who’s ever cut my head, and I had entered into the transaction with the assumption, however unvoiced, that scissors would be involved anew, but I didn’t quite understand, and asked her what she meant.

Do you use scissors? On your hair?

No, I don’t, I said, carefully, but the people who cut my hair do?

Despair Calendar

Despair, Inc., which puts out inspirational poster and cards such as the above, is releasing its 2007 calendar.

Toyota's Production Targets

Toyota's 2007 production targets will put it on track to replace General Motors as the world's leading car maker.

There is a secret to their success: They make great cars.

Shopping for Procrastinators

It’s getting down to the wire.

If you’re just recently sensed that a holiday is approaching, you may be in sore need of some last minute gift ideas; items that are easy to find and affordable.

Not that I’ve been there, of course, but for some reason I can vaguely recall wandering through a drugstore on Christmas Eve wondering how many friends and relatives have longed for a bottle of Aqua Velva.

Fortunately, the calendar is still on your side but just barely. Here is a suggestion:

Think travel books.

Men like them. Women like them. They strike some primal chord and you stand a reasonable chance of finding some decent titles in the bookstore.

Any of the books by travel writer/novelist Paul Theroux can be a hit but the best are The Great Railway Bazaar, Riding the Iron Rooster, and Dark Star Safari.

Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country provides a highly entertaining look at Australia.

Tony Horwitz’s Blue Latitudes follows the journeys of Captain Cook. His earlier book, Confederates in the Attic, tags along with a strange bunch of Civil War re-enactment buffs.

Jeffrey Tayler’s Facing the Congo wanders into much tougher territory but he somehow muddles through.

Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight is less of a travel book than an account of growing up in Rhodesia but it is riveting.

If these don’t seem promising, just remember this:

Drugstore. Christmas eve. After-shave.

Ah, yes. Those books are looking pretty good now, aren’t they?

Quote of the Day

The tongue is a beast, which once at large, is hard to recapture and to chain....

- Baltasar Gracian

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Giuliani's Viability

Michael Barone has looked at the polls and argues that Rudy Giuliani may fare better in the GOP presidential primaries than the pundits predict.

Click here for his analysis.

Einstein Update

A woman has complained to police about some bad crack cocaine that she purchased.

Sadly, the police have become rather narrow-minded about her plight, thus striking another blow to customer service in the holiday season.

Career Manifesto: The Word is Out

Many thanks to Seth Godin for his mention of my Career Manifesto.

That strengthened the wave generated by the posting at Hugh MacLeod's and sent a lot of new readers to this blog.

It was a pleasure writing the manifesto and a double-pleasure to see the reaction.

Thanks too to the other bloggers who are helping to get out the word. I'll be listing all of those next week.

Gentle Wisdom

Adrian Savage at Slow Leadership analyzes the importance of two steps: Being yourself and letting go.

The letting go part may be a lot harder.

Take a "Worst Gift Ever" Break

Check out this amusing video from Lowe in which people describe "the worst gift ever."

Nicely done.

[HT: AdRants ]

Charisma's Deficits

Here's an impressive article from Chief Executive magazine on charisma, one of the most overrated qualities.

[I've seen teams seriously weakened by a charismatic leader. The team members wind up switching off their brains and bowing to the wizard. It's a far from healthy situation and a test of a true leader is how he or she addresses it.]

Two Bosses

Animals instinctively know the most dangerous predators but many people seem to have lost the ability to spot a workplace carnivore.

I'll cite two bosses as an example. I have two people in mind but I've seen their types in a multitude of workplaces.

The first one is a yeller. She frequently shouts at employees and one of their common questions is, "What sort of mood is she in today?" When she is happy, all is calm and her team members are about as relaxed as they can be about a dangerous creature who can become foul-tempered within seconds. But when she is unhappy, as the old expression goes, ain't nobody happy.

The second boss would never shout. He speaks softly and is always polite. He is thoughtful and patient. His patience is deceptive.

It's why people are so surprised when he fires them.

There is a saying: "Beware the anger of the patient man." The first boss vents and shouts and yet is less inclined to terminate than the second one whose politeness is often misinterpreted as weakness. Talk to people who deal with these two personalities and invariably they describe the first boss as the tough one.

The oddest aspect of the scenario is that the boss with the rough edges may be the more caring. Although she clearly needs to change her management style, she is not reluctant to engage with people. Her quiet colleague, on the other hand, would rather fire than counsel or coach. In his book, you are either with the program or you are gone.

Those who think that the yeller is the more dangerous are missing vibrations that any gazelle would quickly sense.


From Wikipedia:

Festivus was invented in 1966 when the father of Daniel O’Keefe, future “Seinfeld” writer, crafted a unique family holiday with untraditional practices such as the wrestling of the household head to the ground. O'Keefe introduced the holiday into “Seinfeld” lore in 1997, and a cult phenomenon was born. According to O'Keefe, the only tradition that was made up by the show’s writers was the decorated Festivus pole – everything else was taken directly from his family celebrations.

From his family celebrations? They must resemble my family's.

P.S. The spirit of Festivus may have been present at this bizarre office party.

Joe Barbera: Smarter Than The Average Bear

In a meeting the other day someone used the expression, “Smarter than the average bear” and I immediately thought, “Yogi.”

John Canemaker fondly reviews the extraordinary career of Joe Barbera:

I remember that my younger brother and I insisted on eating our Swanson's TV Dinners off trays in front of the Motorola, so we wouldn't miss H-B's Ruff and Reddy, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, Pixie and Dixie, Snagglepuss, Augie Doggy and Doggie Daddy, and later the Flintstones and the Jetsons, among other favorite characters. So did millions of other youngsters.

Barbera and his partner soon built an empire that encompassed and exploited all areas of popular entertainment, from television and movies to stage shows and merchandising. They pioneered new markets for animation, leading the way for the current diversity of formats, styles, shows and characters that populate the new media outlets of cable, interactive games, iPods and futuristic gadgets yet unborn.

Office Noise

When I first heard about a business that sells background office noise to make it sound as if a small operation is a large one, I thought it was a joke.

That may be, but it's also real. Click here for information on Thriving Office.

Quote of the Day

No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes.

- William Gladstone

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Elusive Accountability Index

Percentage of times “as soon as possible” was used to describe a due date: 40

Percentage of times ASAP was interpreted to mean “when convenient”: 85

Percentage of times “We” was used to describe who should complete the assignment: 60

Percentage of times “We” was interpreted by the recipient of the assignment to mean anyone but the recipient: 85

What Did He Take?

So much for the argument that he accidentally removed classified documents:

Former national security adviser Sandy Berger removed classified documents from the National Archives in 2003 and hid them under a construction trailer, the Archives inspector general reported Wednesday.

The report was issued more than a year after Berger pleaded guilty and received a criminal sentence for removal of the documents.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld reported that when Berger was confronted by Archives officials about the missing documents, he said it was possible he threw them in his office trash.

[HT: Instapundit ]

A New Therapy

Workplace Prof Blog reports on the case of an employee who alleges that his visits to on-line sex chat room are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Back in Action

I apologize for the delay in posting.

Our server was down and finally Brad Patten, who speaks computer as well as ancient Mayan, put things right.

More coming.

The Nanny State

John Stossel sees a real danger in the food police. An excerpt:

New York City has ordered restaurants to stop selling food made with trans fat. "It is a dangerous and unnecessary ingredient," says the health commissioner. Gee, I'm all for good health, but shouldn't it be a matter of individual choice?

A New York Times headline about the ban reads: "A Model for Other Cities."

"A model for what, exactly?" asks George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux. "Petty tyranny? Or perhaps for similarly inspired bans on other voluntary activities with health risks? Clerking in convenience stores? Walking in the rain?"

Do What?

What do deaf people want to be called?

Find the latest in-terms here.

The NASCAR Success

Sixty years ago today, on December 14, 1947, a group of mechanics, promoters, and race car drivers met in Daytona Beach, Florida, to bring some order to the chaotic world of stock car racing. One of them, Big Bill France, Sr., insisted that “stock car racing has got distinct possibilities.”

He was right. The National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, which they formed at that December 14 meeting in the Streamline Hotel, became one of the biggest success stories in the history of American sports. Today stock car racing is the fastest growing sport in America, and NASCAR is a fixture of our national culture.

Read the rest of Jack Kelly’s American Heritage article on NASCAR by clicking here.

Great Moments in Advertising

Adfreak dissects the intricacies of a 1970s board game promoting Colt 45 malt liquor:

The rules are a bit fuzzy, but they involve drinking lots of Colt 45 and following the instructions listed on the “action cards,” such as: “Smoke two cigarettes simultaneously.” “Obey any wish or request of the player on your right.” “Put an article of your clothes on backwards.” “Do a Jack Benny imitation for 30 seconds.” “Explain to other players why you think that sex before marriage is a necessity.”

Quote of the Day

If I want to stop a research program, I can always do it by getting a few experts to sit in on the subject, because they know right away that it was a fool thing to try in the first place.

- Charles Kettering

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Vegas Falling

Fortune magazine lists the ten housing markets that are ripe for a fall.

Reading List

Here's an interesting collection of book recommendations from contributors to The New Yorker.

Son of Dracula

Since the job prospects for vampires were limited, Bela Lugosi's son instead chose to become a lawyer.


What is an Educated Human Being?

Peter Berkowitz, writing in Policy Review, ponders the state of American universities:

An auto repair shop in which mechanics and owners could not distinguish a wreck from a finely tuned car would soon go out of business. A hospital where doctors, nurses, and administrators were unable to recognize a healthy human being would present a grave menace to the public health. A ship whose captain and crew lacked navigation skills and were ignorant of their destination would spell doom for the cargo and passengers entrusted to their care.

Yet at universities and colleges throughout the land, parents and students pay large sums of money for — and federal and state governments contribute sizeable tax exemptions to support — liberal education, despite administrators and faculty lacking a coherent idea about what constitutes an educated human being. To be sure, American higher education, or rather a part of it, is today the envy of the world, producing and maintaining research scientists of the highest caliber. But liberal education is another matter. Indeed, many professors in the humanities and social sciences proudly promulgate in their scholarship and courses doctrines that mock the very idea of a standard or measure defining an educated person and so legitimate the compassless curriculum over which they preside. In these circumstances, why should we not conclude that universities are betraying their mission?


Take two political science majors at almost any elite college or university: It is quite possible for them to graduate without ever having read the same book or studied the same materials. One student may meet his general distribution requirements by taking classes in geophysics and physiological psychology, the sociology of the urban poor and introduction to economics, and the American novel and Japanese history while concentrating on international relations inside political science and writing a thesis on the dilemmas of transnational governance. Another political science major may fulfill the university distribution requirements by studying biology and astronomy, the sociology of the American West and abnormal psychology, the feminist novel and history of American film while concentrating in comparative politics and writing a thesis on the challenge of integrating autonomous peoples in Canada and Australia. Both students will have learned much of interest but little in common. Yet the little in common they learn may be of lasting significance. For both will absorb the implicit teaching of the university curriculum, which is that there is nothing in particular that an educated person need know.

There's a Bear in the Forest

Ben Stein believes that when it comes to controlling Europe, Russia may have beaten the Muslims to the punch. An excerpt:

Here is a terrifying thought. Europe is now dependent on Russian energy exports for about 40 percent of its daily needs. Europe gets more energy products from Russia than from OPEC, by far. This kind of dependence on Russia would have been unthinkable in Stalin's day or Brezhnev's day. Sensible people would have considered that Red Russia was an unreliable supplier and would use its energy exports to control and subjugate Europe. But now, with capitalist, money-mad Russia regnant, we assume that we can trust Russia with keeping the lights on in Paris and Berlin and Rome and Prague, because Russia is a law-abiding society based on human decency.

Read the rest here.

A Poem for the Season

In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn't anybody's joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.

In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies' reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn't any Santa Claus.

Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying 'Boo' at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
'There isn't any Santa Claus!'

Read the rest of the darkly comic Ogden Nash poem and learn the fate of Jabez by clicking here.

No Termination

Donald Trump didn't say, "You're fired!" to Miss USA.

A memorable moment in reality TV has been missed.

Management and Defense

Victor Davis Hanson, writing in Commentary (a.k.a. The Greatest Magazine in the World) on the new books by Frederick Kagan and Max Boot:

The most important of these is that sheer numbers do not always ensure victory. In the Sudan in 1898, Kitchener’s redcoats defeated a Mahdi army that enjoyed as much as a three-to-one advantage in manpower over the English. As Boot argues, modern military success has depended less on bulk (or firepower) than on the broader capacities possessed by nations that are “intellectually curious and technologically innovative.” The dynamism of imperial Britain gave Kitchener the expertise, organization, and capital to build a railroad across a bend in the Nile, thus enabling his expeditionary force to arrive near Khartoum intact, with plenty of artillery and machine guns and better supplied than its native adversaries. A similar intellectual dynamism, illustrated in another of Boot’s accounts, enabled the innovative Japanese navy to achieve its astonishing victory over the Russian fleet in 1905 in the battle of Tsushima.

By the 20th century, modern-looking regimes, often statist like Japan, were ostensibly best positioned to harness the natural resources and industrial labor demanded by modern warfare. They also appeared most adept at raising the mass-conscript armies that would distinguish the two world wars to come. But, as Boot demonstrates, their seeming advantages proved transitory. In World War II, the American bomber plant at Willow Run, Michigan—a mammoth 3.5-million-square-foot structure that, by August 1944, was producing one B-24 every hour—ultimately counted much more heavily toward the outcome of the conflict than the innovation and craftsmanship that had given the Nazis V-2 missiles and a few hundred advanced ME-262 jet fighters. The initial battlefield successes of the Axis powers were made possible by surprise and a head start in rearming; but this was eventually reversed by the wartime defense bureaucracies of the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States, all three of which, in their various ways, proved better at mastering the principles of interchangeable parts, the assembly line, and the fielding of millions of conscripts.

Blacks, Car Dealers, and Prejudice

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, started a firestorm of discussion with his posts on the study regarding blacks and car dealers. An excerpt:

In Blink, I tell the story of a study done by the law professor Ian Ayres. Ayres put togother of group of young men and women--half white and half black--and sent them to 242 car dealerships all around Chicago. All were attractive, well dressed, and well-educated. All had the same cover story: that they were professionals from a wealthy part of Chicago. All pointed to the lowest-priced car on the floor and said--"I'm interested in buying this car." Ayres's question was--all other things being equal, how does skin color and gender affect the initial price quoted by a car salesman? His results: white men, on average, got quoted a price $725 above invoice, white women got quoted a price $935 above invoice, black women $1195 above invoice, and black men $1687 above invoice.

Read his first post here.

Read his second post here.

Read his third post here.

Read his latest post here.

Office Attire Guidelines via Hollywood

Rather than go through a convoluted explanation of what does, and does not, constitute appropriate attire at work, employers might want to use movies as memorable illustrations. For example:

Michael Douglas in Wall Street: Appropriate
Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct: Inappropriate

Cary Grant in North By Northwest: Appropriate
John Belushi in Animal House: Inappropriate

Steve Martin in Father of the Bride: Appropriate
Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?: Inappropriate

Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl: Appropriate
Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls: Inappropriate

Marlon Brando in The Godfather: Appropriate
Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire: Inappropriate

Will ADA or FMLA Keep You From Firing a Violent Employee?

Maybe Steven Anders was just having a bad week, or perhaps, as he claimed, he suffered from a panic disorder. Whatever the reason, the Waste Management driver blew a gasket on November 12, 2002, when, after receiving a route assignment that wasn't to his liking, he walked off the job, claiming he was ill and wanted to go home.

Rather than heading home, however, Anders drove 30 miles to confront his superiors at the company's regional office. There, he attempted to attack a manager in front of several other employees.

Read the rest of the article from the Illinois Employment Law Letter here.

Quote of the Day

Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinion of things that happen.

- Epictetus

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Career Manifesto

Many thanks to Hugh MacLeod at for publishing my Career Manifesto as part of his manifesto series:

1. Unless you’re working in a coal mine, an emergency ward, or their equivalent, spare us the sad stories about your tough job. The biggest risk most of us face in the course of a day is a paper cut.

2. Yes, your boss is an idiot at times. So what? (Do you think your associates sit around and marvel at your deep thoughts?) If you cannot give your boss basic loyalty, either report the weasel to the proper authorities or be gone.

3. You are paid to take meaningful actions, not superficial ones. Don’t brag about that memo you sent out or how hard you work. Tell us what you achieved.

4. Although your title may be the same, the job that you were hired to do three years ago is probably not the job you have now. When you are just coasting and not thinking several steps ahead of your responsibilities, you are in dinosaur territory and a meteor is coming.

5. If you suspect that you’re working in a madhouse, you probably are. Even sociopaths have jobs. Don’t delude yourself by thinking you’ll change what the organization regards as a “turkey farm.” Flee.

6. Your technical skills may impress the other geeks, but if you can’t get along with your co-workers, you’re a litigation breeder. Don’t be surprised if management regards you as an expensive risk.

7. If you have a problem with co-workers, have the guts to tell them, preferably in words of one syllable.

8. Don’t believe what the organization says it does. Its practices are its real policies. Study what is rewarded and what is punished and you’ll have a better clue as to what’s going on.

9. Don’t expect to be perfect. Focus on doing right instead of being right. It will simplify the world enormously.

10.If you plan on showing them what you’re capable of only after you get promoted, you need to reverse your thinking.

Person of the Year

Through careful deduction, I have uncovered Time magazine's Person of the Year choices for the near future:

2007: Pets
2008: Everyone's Crazy Uncle
2009: Dead People
2010: The Unappreciated Journalist

Gay Marriage = More Money for States?

Zack Patton at The 13th Floor wonders if states will start to regard gay marriage as a new way to increase revenue.

Botched Presentation Index

Number of times the speaker said "Uh": 42
Number of times the speaker said, "Basically": 28
Number of PowerPoint slides: 31
Number of PowerPoint slides that could be easily read: 3
Percentage of the audience that read ahead in the PowerPoint handouts: 80
Percentage of the audience that wondered why they didn't just skip the presentation and read the handouts in the bar: 100

Capitalist Carnival

The Carnival of the Capitalists, in a very creative format and with a lot of posts on business and management issues, is up at The Entrepreneurial Mind.

Quote of the Day

The worst vice of the fanatic is his sincerity.

- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, December 17, 2006

High Culture Update

Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine passes along a video showing how New Jersey celebrates the season.

Click here.

Entrepreneurial Success Story

Guy Kawasaki has an inspiring interview with Aziza Mohmmand, a woman who runs a soccer-ball and leather goods manufacturing plant in Kabul, Afghanistan.


Well, the environmentalists may salute the 2007 "ecobabes calendar" but I'm not sure if the feminists will applaud.

Monument to Tackiness

Arizona's 9/11 memorial has received national publicity and, in many cases criticism, for its inclusion of inscriptions that are more of a political statement than a memory of the dead.

In contrast, one reason why the Vietnam War Memorial is so effective is it can be comfortably embraced by supporters and opponents of that conflict and it contains no jibes at the nation itself. That wall would be far less powerful if it included angry statements made during that war. It would be even worse if it tossed in stuff from the general culture so amid the names of the departed we'd be reading the wisdom of Abbie Hoffman or Jefferson Airplane.

Arizona's 9/11 Memorial is, to put it bluntly, tacky. It includes sentiments likely to appeal to the anti-American crowd ["FEAR OF FOREIGNERS" "FOREIGN-BORN AMERICANS AFRAID" "YOU DON'T WIN BATTLES OF TERRORISM WITH MORE BATTLES" 06-03-02 CONGRESS QUESTIONS WHY CIA & FBI DIDN'T PREVENT ATTACKS]and more hawkish sentiments [PATRIOTISM PEAKS "MUST BOMB BACK"].


Picture the equivalent of those timeless words inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument: THEY CALLED HIM A GREAT APE. WOODEN TEETH.

The critics of Arizona's 9/11 memorial missed the target.

They frothed over its hand-wringing political tone.

They should have hooted at its lack of style and sensitivity. As memorials go, it's a velvet Elvis painting.

Lost in Translation

Zia Haider Rahman, writing in the Times of London, notes the language issues and the need for assimilation in Britain. An excerpt:

The financial cost is bad enough, but there is a wider problem about the confused signals we are sending to immigrant communities. We are telling them they don’t have to learn English, let alone integrate. Worse, by insulating them linguistically we have created communities that are now incubators for Islamo-fascism.

The evidence is plain to anyone who visits Brick Lane in the East End of London. In the Bangladeshi community from which I come, English is a foreign language. Restaurants, shops and doctors’ surgeries all cater to a population that speaks Bengali or Sylheti. Even the street signs are in Bengali. The language barrier is reinforced by multiculturalists whose zeal to translate everything has given people a disincentive to speak this country’s language.

Every year Bangladeshis sit at the bottom of rankings of educational achievement. Their society persists in economic stagnation that locks many people into the catering industry. Drug abuse and crime are on the rise in the East End. Functionally illiterate young Bangladeshi males, with no hope of employment, can choose between extremists in the mosques or the gangs in the streets.

A Tidbit from Japan

Here's a report on one of those "small" bits of news that may be far more significant in the years to come.

After hearing of the North Korean nuclear tests and seeing China's military expansion, it was an easy call to predict what Japan would do.

The Owl in Winter

Kissinger claims to be unconcerned about his place in history.

“I cannot affect my legacy,” he says.

And what does he think his legacy is?
“I have no view,” he says. “I can’t control it by what I say.”

I tell him I don’t believe him.

“You’re not in your eighties yet,” he replies.

Joe Hagan interviews Henry Kissinger in New York magazine.

Congressional Feedbag

If you've wondered where members of Congress dine, here's a photographic tour.

[HT: American Heritage ]

When You Need a System

You know you need a system when:

You spend a sizable amount of time looking for the same material on project after project;

You have 12 versions of a document in your computer and no clue as to which is the one that should be used;

You have customized a basic product so frequently that it is difficult to determine just what is the basic product;

You would have to engage in a lengthy training session to get a stranger up to speed on your records and filing;

You handle the same task differently with each project because you don't have a defined technique for handling it; and

You don't have a clue as to where and why the bottle-necks exist.

Quote of the Day

The important thing is not to stop questioning.

- Albert Einstein

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Firefighting Video Goes Wrong

A simple rule: If you're going to conduct a firefighting demonstration, don't do any of the things done on this video.

Just Ignore the Blood and Admire the Architecture

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Sonny Bunch finds that the multiculturalists and some academics don't make a persuasive case in their criticism of the use of history in Mel Gibson's film Apocalypto.

And now, the litigation

A Virginia school district is facing an unusual question: What to do with an art teacher who has a very different outside business.

Jungle Law

Jungle Law, one of Michael Yon’s most popular dispatches from Iraq. An excerpt:

Like the time when some ISF were driving and got blasted by an IED, causing numerous casualties and preventing them from recovering the vehicle. The terrorists came out and did their rifle-pumping-in-the-air thing, shooting AKs, dancing around like monkeys. Videos went ’round the world, making it appear the terrorists were running Mosul, which was pretty much what was being reported at the time.

But that wasn’t the whole story. In the Yarmuk neighborhood, only terrorists openly carry AK-47s. The lawyers call this Hostile Intent. The soldiers call this Dead Man Walking.

Deuce Four is an overwhelmingly aggressive and effective unit, and they believe the best defense is a dead enemy. They are constantly thinking up innovative, unique, and effective ways to kill or capture the enemy; proactive not reactive. They planned an operation with snipers, making it appear that an ISF vehicle had been attacked, complete with explosives and flash-bang grenades to simulate the IED. The simulated casualty evacuation of sand dummies completed the ruse.

The Deuce Four soldiers left quickly with the “casualties,” “abandoning” the burning truck in the traffic circle. The enemy took the bait. Terrorists came out and started with the AK-rifle-monkey-pump, shooting into the truck, their own video crews capturing the moment of glory. That’s when the American snipers opened fire and killed everybody with a weapon. Until now, only insiders knew about the AK-monkey-pumpers smack-down.