Saturday, September 30, 2006

Why Nerds Are Unpopular

In this 2003 essay, Paul Graham has a theory about why nerds are unpopular:

The main reason nerds are unpopular is that they have other things to think about. Their attention is drawn to books or the natural world, not fashions and parties. They're like someone trying to play soccer while balancing a glass of water on his head. Other players who can focus their whole attention on the game beat them effortlessly, and wonder why they seem so incapable.

Even if nerds cared as much as other kids about popularity, being popular would be more work for them. The popular kids learned to be popular, and to want to be popular, the same way the nerds learned to be smart, and to want to be smart: from their parents. While the nerds were being trained to get the right answers, the popular kids were being trained to please.

The Homework Wars

Here's another report on the question of whether children get too much homework and whether it is beneficial.

Frank Lloyd Wrong

The story of a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that benefited from the architect’s neglect:

His inability to visit the site was a blessing in disguise for the Hagans. He was notoriously uncompromising about aesthetics and often sacrificed solid construction to get the look he wanted. Fallingwater has needed millions of dollars in restoration work, and the Guggenheim is currently undergoing large-scale renovation. Since the Hagans first moved in, 50 years ago, Kentuck Knob has needed only superficial work. Herman Keys, a local contractor, oversaw the construction and made sure the building could withstand the region’s hard winters. He added more heating pipes and varnished the cypress. (Wright had originally stipulated that the wood remain untreated, which could have led to warping and cracking.) The original heating system, involving a maze of pipes installed under the floor to avoid unsightly radiators, is still in use. Two local masons, Jess Wilson and Jess Wilson, Jr., cut the home’s sandstone blocks from nearby boulders, hand-incising each one.

Moneyed Midways Up

On the Moneyed Midways, the collection of posts from various business, finance, and management carnivals, is up.

There is a lot of variety this week.

S - E - X Update

A fifth grade art teacher takes her classes to a local art museum where they see, among other things, nude statues.

A parent complains.

The school administration loses its mind.

Click here for the story.

[HT: Althouse ]

Negligent Referral: A Multi-Million Dollar Mistake?

Employers who think that they are protected against litigation if they only give dates of employment in response to queries about former employees aren't completely safe.

This article from the Vermont Employment Law Letter shows the danger of negligent referral.

No Dummy

Let me tell you, Annie, some of these people are unbelievably rude. Either they treat me like a piece of furniture (no hello, no eye contact) or they think I'm their errand girl. (Just this morning somebody sent me out to Starbucks, and it wasn't the first time this happened.) Lately, my two bosses have started asking me for my impressions of job candidates. So far this week, two have been discourteous and dismissive, so I gave both the thumbs-down. Neither is getting called back for the next round of interviews. I don't know how common this is, but please advise your readers who are job hunting that the dummy at the reception desk may be anything but.

- Not "Just a Secretary"

Anne Fisher in Fortune on why you should always be kind to the receptionist.

Eat Your Vegetables?

Kathy Sierra analyzes why telling people that something will be good for them is not an effective motivator.

Goebbels in Iran

Here's a video, with English subtitles, of an Iranian report on the Holocaust cartoon contest that was held in that country.

One look at the vicious anti-Semitism of the images and it's clear that the Iranian regime is not simply totalitarian, it's Nazi.

[HT: Drudge ]

Quote of the Day

No one can have a higher opinion of him than I have, and I think he's a dirty little beast.

- William S. Gilbert

Friday, September 29, 2006

Female and Male Generosity

Which sex is more generous?

Christina Hoff Sommers examines the evidence.

One clue: If you're a panhandler and have been helped out, most likely the giver is a woman. If you are rescued from a car accident, most likely the rescuer is a man.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Margaret Heffernan is advising us to work less and achieve more.

Andrei Hagui argues for
multi-sided software platforms.

The Brookings Institution finds that
political refugees in the United States are moving to smaller communities. [HT: Governing ]

Michael Kinsley wonders if newspapers
are into dinosaur mode. [HT: kottke ]

HP's CEO says
he's not resigning. [Cynical reaction: I wonder if that means he is resigning.]

There's a debate over
evidence that drinking may help your career.

Business Week looks at the world of corporate private investigators.

Security Scan

What airport scanners see.

Covenant Eyes?

I think the product described in this Wilson Quarterly article is more than a little creepy:

Most of us who live with children and computers know about software for controlling how the former use the latter. But what about the grownups who can’t control themselves? For adult Internet users ready to admit that they’re in the grip of a higher power, there is Covenant Eyes, a website that will keep track of all the other websites you visit—and e-mail this potentially incriminating list to an “accountability partner” of your choosing. Covenant Eyes even rates websites on a kind of taboo scale (the higher the score, the raunchier), so that your spouse or pastor can tell at a glance whether you’ve been poring over market research online or taking in a peepshow.

EEOC Sues Denny's

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing Denny's under the Americans with Disabilities Act because of the restaurant chain's maximum leave policy.

It's not a wise move to set a limit when you may have a situation in which additional leave could be provided without producing undue hardship.

Mono-Derailed System?

13th Floor has the sad story of Seattle's mono-rail system.

It's going to be difficult to maintain ridership when service is unreliable.

Did they anticipate the extra weight of all those Blackberries and lattes?

Accelerated Achievement Day

Have you ever noticed how productive you are on the day before a vacation?

Things that are of minor importance get tossed aside while significant projects are either wrapped up or delegated. Associates are brought up to speed on your activities. A sense of urgency gives your energy level a certain boost. No drifting or daydreaming. Things must get done.

By the time you walk out the door, you feel that everything is under control and a great deal has been accomplished.

I'll refrain from asking why we can't duplicate that achievement every day, but why can't we do that at least once a week? Why not designate a day as "Accelerated Achievement Day" and work as if we are leaving for the beach in 24 hours?

If we seriously adopt that practice, I suspect:
  • Our priorities will be clarified.
  • We'll delegate more tasks that should have been assigned to others in the first place.
  • We'll break the bonds of paralyzing perfectionism.
  • We'll achieve a greater sense of control and, along with that, less stress.
  • Our overall productivity will increase.

On the Book Shelf

I'm still reading - and enjoying - Bruce Chadwick's George Washington's War and Michael E. Gerber's E Myth Mastery. (The latter is a sequel to Gerber's extraordinary book on small business, The E Myth Revisited.)

Am also reading Alan Furst's Blood of Victory. If you haven't read any of Furst's spy novels and you've enjoyed film noir of the Thirties/Forties, you might want to give him a try. Blood of Victory starts on a freighter from Odessa to Istanbul in 1940. France has fallen and Istanbul is crawling with German, Russian, and British agents. It doesn't get more exotic than that.

I recently received a copy of Andy Cohen's Follow The Other Hand, a book that uses magic lessons to illustrate marketing techniques. I'll be reviewing it soon.

There are two other management books - one on stories of success and the other on the growth of Disney - that I'll be discussing later. Paul Johnson's book, Intellectuals, is also near the top.

Please let me know if there are any books that you'd recommend.

Obesity Case

A man who weighed 340 pounds was hired as a driver/dock worker.

His weight went up to a high of 450 pounds. He later was injured on the job.

Click here to see what happened to his ADA lawsuit.

Quote of the Day

For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

- 11 Thessalonians 3:11

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Truly Revolutionary

Work has begun on the first Moscow area business school.

There are reports that Lenin's body has started to rotate.

Into The Mind

One of the most amazing things I've ever seen.

An autistic man named Stephen Wiltshire is taken on a helicopter ride over Rome and then asked to draw what he saw.

Click here for the video.

When Academics Host Thugs

Victor Davis Hanson looks at the new anti-Semitism:

We're accustomed to associating hatred of Jews with the ridiculed Neanderthal Right of those in sheets and jackboots. But this new venom, at least in its Western form, is mostly a leftwing, and often an academic, enterprise. It's also far more insidious, given the left's moral pretensions and its influence in the prestigious media and universities. We see the unfortunate results in frequent anti-Israeli demonstrations on campuses that conflate Israel with Nazis, while the media have published fraudulent pictures and slanted events in southern Lebanon.

The renewed hatred of Jews in the Middle East - and the indifference to it in the West - is a sort of "post anti-Semitism." Islamic zealots supply the old venomous hatred, while affluent and timid Westerners provide the new necessary indifference - if punctuated by the occasional off-the-cuff Amen in the manner of a Louis Farrakhan or Mel Gibson outburst.

EEOC Sues University of Phoenix

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against the University of Phoenix, alleging the school favors Mormon enrollment counselors over non-Mormons.

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

Juan Williams Breaks Loose

Mark Steyn reviews Juan Williams’s new book. An excerpt:

Juan Williams is a certified liberal, but he's not a certifiable liberal. And so he's looked at the numbers -- 70 per cent of black children are born out of wedlock, a higher proportion of black men are in prison than of any other racial group (two statistics that are not unrelated) -- and concluded that the post-civil rights black leadership and its policies are a total bust. For having the impertinence to wander off the Democrat victim-culture plantation, he's been damned as merely this season's "black conservative"; a black man who's no longer authentically black, in the way that Colin Powell and Condi Rice's success within the Republican party in effect negates their race; or, if you like, the latest "Oreo" -- a black man who's white on the inside, like the famous cookies, which were supposedly hurled at Michael Steele, a black Republican candidate in this year's Senate race in Maryland.

The concept of "authenticity" -- that one's skin colour mandates particular behaviours, such as voting Democrat and supporting "affirmative action" -- is, of course, racist. But the peculiar touchiness of the black community on this question recurs again and again in Williams's book. "The defence of gangster rap, with its pride in guns and murder, was that it was all about 'keepin' it real,' " he writes. "In that stunning perversion of black culture, anyone who spoke against the self-destructive core of gangster rap was put down as acting white."

Bully Boss

What should you do if your boss is a bully?

This CareerJournal article has some good tips and winds up with an old favorite:


You Know You Want One

This t-shirt is available at ThinkGeek.

Project Runway Investigation

There's been an internal investigation at Project Runway, the fascinating Bravo show featuring a Darwinian competition among fashion designers to make it to Fashion Week.

It appears that Jeffrey Sebelia, the bad boy of the competition, was suspected of taking the phrase "Make it work" a bit too far by outsourcing his sewing. (One of the other contestants, Laura Bennett, allegedly made the accusation.

The investigative results have not been announced. Click here for the New York magazine story.


There's a new box set of music by The Byrds.

BTW: Roger McGuinn is 64.

Hewitt Interviews Edsall

Hugh Hewitt interviews Thomas Edsall, former senior political reporter for The Washington Post and author of Building Red America, on the issue of media bias.

It’s one of the more intelligent – and polite – exchanges on the subject. I wish we’d see more.

Harvard Mag

Yes, there is a private magazine that covers Harvard University alumni.

02138 is named after the University's zipcode. Pick it up if you want to read about Harvard alums such as Al Franken and Bill O'Reilly although they seem to have overlooked the Unabomber.

Unfortunately, you won't find it on the newsstands.

Great Moments in Advertising

Via Neatorama:

For more ads, click here.

Quote of the Day

Tell your boss what you think of him and the truth shall set you free.

- Anonymous

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

College Students and History

Among college seniors, less than half--47.9%--correctly concluded that "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal" was from the Declaration of Independence. More than half did not know that the Bill of Rights prohibits the governmental establishment of an official religion, and "55.4 percent could not recognize Yorktown as the battle that brought the American Revolution to an end" (more than one quarter believing that it was the Civil War battle of Gettysburg that had ended the Revolution).

Read the rest here.

The Jury

Michael Barone gives an account of serving on a jury in the District of Columbia:

This was a criminal case. There was no question that the defendant had stabbed the victim three times after an argument in the parking lot at the end of an hours-long party, at which almost everyone had been drinking. The issue was whether the stabbing was in self-defense. The prosecution and defense presented two different and inconsistent narratives of what had happened.

The New Rules

James Lileks notes the new rules of discourse:

Clip and save, for this may come in handy: If you mock Islam with a drawing or a novel, you get riots and dead people. News of mishandled holy books yields riots and dead people. Insufficiently reverent short films by a Dutchman yields a dead person, specifically the Dutchman.

Now we add this detail: Quoting medieval religious colloquies is a reasonable justification for burning churches, shooting a nun and holding up signs demanding that the pope convert to Islam or saw off his own head. (There have been reports of carpal tunnel syndrome among radical Islam's enforcers, and they have requested we all help out.)

This is a new twist: Now history itself cannot be discussed.

[HT: Tim Blair ]

Rudeness Increase?

Have you noticed that rudeness is increasing in the workplace?

That's the sort of subject that you can haul out once a year and, in many areas, are likely to find people nodding that it has indeed increased. I don't know if it has, but you don't have to look long to see incidents of inadvertent discourtesy.

"Inadvertent" because the practitioners appear to be so divorced from etiquette that it's unlikely that they even know they are being rude. In the past year, I've heard of or witnessed these infractions:
  • Not returning phone calls.
  • Sending abrupt e-mail messages.
  • Agreeing to a course of action, then changing positions but not telling others of the change.
  • Using profanity in mixed company. (And by that I mean in front of people whose position on such language is unknown.)
  • Not even pretending to listen to the other person.
  • Failing to acknowledge the presence of others.
  • Putting heads on desks during meetings.
  • Mocking a person who lacks the power to mount a defense.
  • Requesting customized material from another person and then not thanking the person upon receipt.
  • Taking credit for the work of others.

Have I missed anything?

Considering The Basics

I recall an interview with Peter O'Toole in which he spoke of a teacher who used to make his classes discuss basic concepts, such as loyalty.

Not a bad technique. We could use similar discussions in the workplace. For example:

Courage. What is it? How do we gain it? What can be done if it's missing? Can we be ethical without being courageous? How can a lack of courage create problems in the workplace?

Teamwork. What does it require? Which types of behavior harm it? Can true teams have castes? What are the characteristics of a sick team?

Fairness. What does "fair" mean? Can it ever be achieved? Is it wiser to strive for fairness or to avoid behavior, such as discrimination, that are opposites to fairness?

Respect. What are the basic elements of respect? Are there any actions that we take on a regular basis that can reasonably be perceived as disrespectful? Do we tolerate disrespect?

These, of course, are just a few. I've found that employees welcome the opportunity to discuss the basics because they hunger for clarification in the area of ethics. Management spends a great deal of time talking about what to do and not about what to be and when there is a gap between the two, it is extremely easy for people to slide into their old habits.

Kramer Does Shakespeare

Michael Richards as Caliban in a commercial for the National Endowment for the Arts.

He's pretty good!

[HT: Adfreak ]

Quote of the Day

When some moralists write about the importance of having character, they appear to mean only the importance of having a dull character.

- G. K. Chesterton

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chinese Cars Go Dodge

It looks like DaimlerChrysler is going to import cars from China and sell them as Dodges.

Hugh Macleod Break

From gapingvoid.

A Real Carnival This Time

A real version of the Carnival of the Capitalists is up at Crossroads Dispatches.

This time, it's very well done.

Suspicions, Stories, and Stereotypes

Four employees in a workplace. Their supervisor is Maria.

Charles is wary of trusting Maria because he believes she set him up to fail on a sensitive assignment. He's never talked to her about his feelings, but has formed a lasting opinion that she can't be relied upon. He regards any kind behavior on her part as a ruse.

Ellen is wary of Maria because Charles has talked to her about his experience and Ellen likes Charles. She has no reason to believe that he's lying.

Harold is wary of Maria because of a bad experience with his last employer. So far, Maria has treated him well and yet Harold is still cautious. After all, Harold thought he could trust his last supervisor and then one day he caught it in the neck.

Darrin is wary of Maria because this is his first job and his father told him never, ever, to trust management. In fact, the nicer Maria is to him, the more suspicious Darrin becomes.

Maria likes all of her employees. She sometimes senses a lack of trust, but has concluded that once they see how nice she is, they'll start to accept her.

The Impossible Customer

As this WaiterRant exchange shows, sometimes the customer isn't right.

Litigation Breeding

What types of behavior create a lawsuit-fertile environment?

Unbecoming Behavior. Indiscreet, cruel, and vulgar conduct as well as inappropriate humor.

Unethical Behavior. Lying, deception, discrimination, favoritism, and failure to consider the common good.

Uncaring Behavior. Insensitivity to the needs of others, disloyalty, and indifference.

Unskilled Behavior. Committing and/or tolerating avoidable mistakes and errors that could have been prevented by reasonable amounts of training and diligence.

Keep in mind that the employer may win lawsuits triggered by this behavior, but time and money will be squandered on legal fees. That's a big reason why demanding decent and professional behavior is one of the most effective complaint-reduction strategies.

Back to the Thirties

Christopher Hitchens goes after Stanley Baldwinesque foreign policy:

You may if you choose take the view that resistance to jihadism only makes its supporters more militant and, given the fact that all wars intensify feeling on both sides, there must be some truth to this. But the corollary is a bit disturbing: The most prudent course of action then seems to be compromise or surrender. This is a rather contemptible conclusion. And it also overlooks the unpleasant fact that the jihadists don't seem to be that much interested in compromise. Indonesia and Canada, to take two very different countries, both opposed the Iraq war. But both of them have been targets of vicious terrorist attacks, as have Turkey and Morocco, which likewise opposed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Quote of the Day

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world: those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.

- Robert Benchley

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mind Games

I'm under the weather today.

Am following a time-tested cure of sleeping interspersed with staring at the ceiling.

I did manage to read a Wall Street Journal article about traffic accidents in Belgium where the traffic experts bridle at the thought of stop signs at intersections. The best part of the story was the revelation that once upon a time, the person with the more expensive carriage or the higher social status had the right of way.

I'd like to meet the genius who thought of that.

Last night, I tapped out some posts on management issues but they're being held off by an iron rule: Don't post anything that looks good when you are ill.

Some items may be posted later once the steroids kick in.

Ignore anything involving cold medicine and visions of giant woodchucks.

300 Million

It took the United States 139 years to get to 100 million people, and just 52 years to add another 100 million, back in 1967. Now, one day in October-after an interval of just 39 years-America will claim more than 300 million souls. The moment will be hailed as another symbol of America's boundless energy and unique vitality. It is that, of course. But it is also true America has grown every time the Census Bureau has taken a measurement, starting in 1790, when the Founders counted fewer than 4 million of their countrymen-about half the population of New York City today.

The recent growth surge has been extraordinary. Since 2000 alone, the nation has added some 20 million people. Compared with western Europe, with birth rates plunging, or Japan, its population shrinking, America knows only growth, growth, and more growth. It now has the third-largest population in the world, after China and India. "Growth is a concern that we have to manage," says Kenneth Prewitt, former head of the Census Bureau, "but it's much easier to manage than losing your population."

U.S. News & World Report examines
the ramifications of the population increase.

Where the CEOs Studied

Most CEOs of the biggest corporations didn't attend Ivy League or other highly selective colleges. They went to state universities, big and small, or to less-known private colleges.

Check out the details from
the CareerJournal article.

Biz Grad Students More Likely To Cheat

Not good news:

A study of graduate students in business in the United States and Canada has found they are more likely to cheat than their counterparts in other fields.

Many seem to feel it comes with the subject.

Michigan Civil Rights Initiative

Since I've worked in the area of equal opportunity for years, George Will's column on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative has brought back a lot of memories.

Attend enough meetings of Affirmative Action and diversity groups and you'll enounter this stance:

"Affirmative Action doesn't mean reverse discrimination but banning reverse discrimination will destroy Affirmative Action."

Can you run that by me again?

Turner, Dershowitz, and the UN Show

Mark Steyn reviews the latest show at the United Nations:

The last intervention in public affairs Ted Turner made was a month or two back, when he recounted what an agreeable vacation he'd had in Kim Jong Il's North Korea. (I sent him a postcard saying, "Wish you were still there.") He's now weighed in on the ayatollahs, and his line's pretty straightforward: Why shouldn't Iran have nukes?

"They're a sovereign state," he said. "We have 28,000. Why can't they have 10? We don't say anything about Israel -- they've got 100 of them approximately -- or India or Pakistan or Russia. And really, nobody should have them. They aren't usable by any sane person."

Cut to President Ahmadinejad's address to the United Nations.

Read it all here.

Quote of the Day

He not only closed the subject, he sat on the lid.

- Mary Renault

Sunday, September 24, 2006

HP Leak Investigation: Ethics Officer Leaves

In the wake of the HP leak investigation, the company's director of ethics has resigned.

Dangerous Buffoon

Jeff Jacoby on our friend to the south:

But Chávez, who went to prison in 1992 after trying to overthrow Venezuela's democratic government, has more in mind than striking obnoxious poses. As Franklin Foer noted in The Atlantic last spring, Chávez ``speaks incessantly about the coming military confrontation with the gringos." He has ordered his armed forces to study the Iraqi insurgency and prepare to mount a similar resistance if Venezuela is invaded. ``He has begun organizing citizen militias, purchased 100,000 new Kalashnikovs, and assigned books on asymmetric warfare to his top brass." When Foer asked Nicolas Maduro, now Venezuela's foreign minister, what Chávez foresees in US-Venezuelan relations, he answered: ``Conflict, in all likelihood war, is the future."

Click Fraud

Business Week examines the issue of click fraud which can cost advertisers as much as $8 a click.

The growing ranks of businesspeople worried about click fraud typically have no complaint about versions of their ads that appear on actual Google or Yahoo Web pages, often next to search results. The trouble arises when the Internet giants boost their profits by recycling ads to millions of other sites, ranging from the familiar, such as, to dummy Web addresses like, which display lists of ads and little if anything else. When somebody clicks on these recycled ads, marketers such as MostChoice get billed, sometimes even if the clicks appear to come from Mongolia. Google or Yahoo then share the revenue with a daisy chain of Web site hosts and operators. A penny or so even trickles down to the lowly clickers. That means Google and Yahoo at times passively profit from click fraud and, in theory, have an incentive to tolerate it. So do smaller search engines and marketing networks that similarly recycle ads.

Read the entire article here.

Oh, We Didn't Want To Hear That.

Christopher Swope takes out the stiletto in this analysis of community forums:

The notoriously ineffective D.C. Taxicab Commission is holding a round of "community forums" to hear passenger gripes. Here's how the
press release sells it:

As the Commission consistently receives complaints about refusals to haul, overcharging, discourteous and unsafe practices among drivers, the lack of dispatch service, and inadequate service for the handicapped, it would like to hear from members of the wider community on their experiences...

In other words, we've heard you--and ignored you. So now we'll hear you again. Gee thanks.

South Park Insight

Although I’m no fan of South Park – I know a few people who love it – this article about the show’s creators hits the bulls eye with its analysis of how religions are handled:

"That's where we kind of agree with some of the people who've criticized our show," Stone says. "Because it really is open season on Jesus. We can do whatever we want to Jesus, and we have. We've had him say bad words. We've had him shoot a gun. We've had him kill people. We can do whatever we want. But Mohammed, we couldn't just show a simple image."

During the part of the show where Mohammed was to be depicted — benignly, Stone and Parker say — the show ran a black screen that read: "Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Mohammed on their network."

Other networks took a similar course, refusing to air images of Mohammed — even when reporting on the Denmark cartoon riots — claiming they were refraining because they're religiously tolerant, the South Park creators say.

"No you're not," Stone retorts. "You're afraid of getting blown up. That's what you're afraid of. Comedy Central copped to that, you know: 'We're afraid of getting blown up.'"

[HT: Instapundit ]

FMLA's Baby Care Leave

An employee requests intermittent Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to help his wife care for a newborn child.

The South Carolina Employment Law Letter notes what should be considered.

Elephant Ad

An elephant never forgets.

Check out this classic commercial.

Quote of the Day

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe.

- Larry Eisenberg

Saturday, September 23, 2006

What's Missing?

We often hear of employers who have harmed their chances in the courtroom by destroying evidence.

Here's a Ninth Circuit case in which an employee used a special software program to "clean up" his company computer before returning it to the employer.

Since the material on his computer was related to the reason for termination, the action was found to have damaged the employer's ability to present a defense.

Outsourcing Parenthood

A sign of our wacky times:

New York magazine describes the services available for parents who want to outsource their responsibilities.

Exxon Age Discrimination Case

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Exxon because of the company's age limit for pilots.

Travel Books

Simon Winchester has compiled a list of his favorite travel books.

Some ones I'd add:

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Roughing It by Mark Twain

Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz

Baghdad without a Map by Tony Horwitz

Facing the Congo by Jeffrey Tayler

What Am I Doing Here? by Bruce Chatwin

Islamist Irony

Charles Krauthammer on the response to the Pope’s speech:

Today's Islamists seem to have not even a sense of irony. They fail to see the richness of the following sequence. The pope makes a reference to a 14th-century Byzantine emperor's remark about Islam imposing itself by the sword, and to protest this linking of Islam and violence:

-- In the West Bank and Gaza, Muslims attack seven churches.

-- In London, the ever-dependable radical Anjem Choudary tells a demonstration at Westminster Cathedral that the pope is now condemned to death.

-- In Mogadishu, Somali religious leader Abubukar Hassan Malin calls on Muslims to "hunt down'' the pope. The pope not being quite at hand, they do the next best thing: shoot dead, execution-style, an Italian nun working in a children's hospital.

"How dare you say Islam is a violent religion? I'll kill you for it'' is not exactly the best way to go about refuting the charge. But of course, refuting is not the point here. The point is intimidation.

The Dog Handler

Here's an ethics question for you:

Do you prosecute an elderly woman who, years ago in Nazi Germany, was a dog handler at a concentration camp?

Oh yes, and after the war she lived in the United States where she was married to a Jewish man for over 40 years and contributed to Jewish causes.

Read the story from Der Spiegel.

Subway Wit

A great moment in customer service...from Overheard in Chicago, one of the funniest sites on the Internet.

Quote of the Day

Individualism is the death of individuality...if only because it is an ism.

- G. K. Chesterton

Friday, September 22, 2006

Anti-American Update

Mona Charen has some questions that she wishes the students at Columbia would ask the Iranian president. An excerpt:

If you had told me 20 years ago that Columbia would play host to a religious fanatic who believed in stoning adulteresses and homosexuals to death, who shut down newspapers and harassed journalists, who funded terror organizations around the globe, and who declared that the Holocaust never happened but that he might just do it right this time, I would have told you that he'd be in for a tough session. But today, with universities in America so cordial toward anyone who hates America (e.g., Princeton's Cornel West took time out of his busy lecture schedule to appear with Hugo Chavez in Harlem last week), perhaps the students and professors at Columbia could use a few suggestions on what to ask Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Read it all here.

Miscellaneous and Fast

A very unusual Jeep commercial.

Starbucks is raising prices!

From Finland: A sad tale of price gouging and sex. [HT: Dave Barry ]

And the HP saga continues: Now the CEO is being scrutinized.

Workplace Violence Prevention

The Workplace Violence Research Institute estimates that each day, 16,400 workers are threatened, 723 employees are attacked, and 43,800 employees are harassed. Even more disturbing is the fact that approximately 600 work-related homicides occur every year.
And estimates indicate that workplace violence costs employers $36 billion each year in lost productivity, loss of life, injuries, employee counseling, legal fees, and court awards.

an article in The Nebraska Employment Law Letter.

Leadership By Example

The city manager of Coral Springs, Florida has asked for a reduction in his pay raise.

Commissioners wanted to give their city manager a 10 percent raise, but he asked for less.

"I appreciate the recommendation, but I am unwilling to accept any more than what our employees can receive," City Manager Michael Levinson told commissioners earlier this week. City employees can receive a maximum 7 percent raise.

13th Floor]

Math Wars

A new group is pushing “back to basics” in teaching math. Check out this excerpt:

One Downstate high school math teacher stood up Wednesday after Fennell's presentation and complained that the widespread use of "new math" and a reliance on calculators has resulted in his students not knowing how to perform advanced math skills.The man declined to give his name, saying he feared reprisal.

He feared reprisal? I’m not mocking him. Anyone who’s ever seen the groupthink in academia can appreciate his concern.

13th Floor ]

When More Money Isn't It

George Anders, writing in CareerJournal, explores cases in which the job that gives more money doesn’t mean more happiness:

For one thing, we're a lot shrewder in spotting the hidden ugly side of some high-paying positions. Some jobs, for instance, sound alluring, until you take a hard look at the travel involved. Oversee a bigger territory -- and your Thursday evening routine is likely to involve a barstool, a Personal Pizza and the Denver airport.

We also ponder whether our new colleagues and bosses will pass the "good people" test. No matter how fancy the title or how big the paycheck, we soon learn that it isn't worth joining an organization full of jerks, morons or crooks. In recent years, I've seen two friends shake hands on high-paying job switches and then back out within a matter of days because they suddenly realized there was something toxic about the new workplace.

Europe Wobbles

Gerard Baker, writing in The Times of London, finds that Europe – to borrow a phrase from Margaret Thatcher – has gone wobbly. An excerpt:

After a day of briefings in Kabul, our friendly Nato hosts flew us by military transport to Herat, on the western border with Iran. We were due to spend a day touring a Nato post in the city and then fly back that evening to the capital. But the Danish plane that had taken us developed propeller problems and was grounded. As we cooled our heels outside the airfield , we waited for word of the aircraft that was supposed to come for us: a German C-130.

It soon became clear that the replacement plane was not coming. The reason, it turned out, was that the Germans would not fly in the dark. German aircraft are not permitted by their national rules to undertake night flights.

Now to those who survived the Blitz and Barbarossa, the news that today’s Luftwaffe will not fly at night in potentially hostile environments might be regarded as a welcome historical development. But when you are trying to fight a war against a ruthless band of terrorists who operate 24/7, never pausing to consider the dangers of venturing out in the dark, limiting yourself to daytime operations is a little constraining.

The Germans are not alone. Many of the European nations with forces in Afghanistan are operating under similarly ludicrous restrictions. Though their soldiers and airmen are highly capable and indeed eager to take the fight to the Taleban, their governments are desperately fearful of the public reaction should their soldiers suffer significant casualties. They don’t think that their voters will stomach it. And the tragedy is, they are probably right.

it all here.

[HT: Real Clear Politics ]

Quote of the Day

To be in process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good.

- Marcus Aurelius

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It changed the whole dynamic of the scene...."

What’s it like to work with Jack Nicholson?

According to DiCaprio, they filmed the scene once and Nicholson said to Scorsese: "I don't think he's scared enough of me; I have to be scarier."

DiCaprio continues: "So I came in the next day and Jack's hair was all over the place. He was muttering to himself and the prop guy tipped me off that he had a fire extinguisher, a bottle of whisky, some matches and a handgun somewhere. So I sat down at the table not knowing what to expect, and he set the table on fire after pouring whisky all over the place and stuck a gun in my face.

"It changed the whole dynamic of the scene, and that's what he does – he makes you so much better and he makes you react as an actor, and you take more chances because your character is reacting to this homicidal maniac."

Wahlberg, who plays a tough-talking detective, says succinctly: "Jack is crazy, man. He's always got some sort of weapon on him. He had everybody on their toes."

Read the entire story.

Dumb Moves by Bosses

On a whim, I started listing the dumb moves that I've known bosses to make.

The following is by no means exhaustive and you're invited to add to it:
  1. Holding staff meetings on Friday afternoons just before 5 o'clock and then speaking for over an hour.
  2. Assigning inexperienced people to unusual projects and providing no training or guidance.
  3. Never walking through the work area to meet all of the employees.
  4. Giving an award to an employee in front of his wife and referring to the man as a "go-fer."
  5. Hiding from employees.
  6. Following employees and watching them with binoculars.
  7. Keeping time sensitive projects until the day before the due date and then delegating them to employees.
  8. Reading correspondence while meeting with employees.
  9. Reading email while meeting with employees.
  10. Checking the Blackberry during meetings with the boss's boss.
  11. Telling ethnic jokes to an EEOC investigator.
  12. Leaving Playboy magazines on the end table in the boss's office.
  13. Writing comments on a report that clearly show the boss has not really read the report.
  14. Receiving a resignation from the worst employee in the department and then talking him out of resigning.
  15. Letting top performers leave and not trying to persuade them to stay.
  16. Showing up drunk.
  17. Talking about ethics and then using racial quotas.
  18. Waving a pistol and declaring, "This is how we handle problems!"
  19. Posting a "mail order" diploma on the wall.
  20. Promoting a problem employee.

Setting the Stage for Serendipity

Why is it that so many great ideas occur when we are engaged in activities that have nothing to do with the subject?

There is something about detachment that permits other perspectives to surface and, although this is far from a deep examination of the matter, I've noticed the following:
  • The fact that you're not working on the subject doesn't mean you're not working on the subject. Pushing a project to the back of your mind is not the same as removing it entirely. Often, it will come forward when your mind is ready for it. Not directly addressing the subject better prepares the mind for that moment.
  • Don't assume that the insight will be unforgettable. Carry notecards with you so you can write down the thoughts as they occur. If you don't do this, you lose some good material.
  • Consider your environment. When do those moments of insights tend to occur? While you're on your daily walk or in the back yard or just before meetings? Try to pinpoint the times and circumstances so you can duplicate them.
  • Recognize that one aspect of environment is that by being there you are not elsewhere and that "elsewhere" may be an idea inhibitor.
  • Know when to back away. Why continue to stare at an office wall when you'll get greater insight in a coffeeshop?
  • Don't force your thoughts. The more you do so, the less likely that anything original will occur. You want to create the setting and then see if the ideas appear.

Vigilant and Operational Leadership

At The Wharton School, George Day and Paul Schoemaker explore the differences between vigilant and operational leaders.

Quick guess: Which one is Ford and which is Toyota?

Quote of the Day

No matter what side of an argument you're on, you always find some people on your side that you wish were on the other side.

- Jascha Heifetz

Thursday Schedule

The Thursday posts are up early because most of the day I'll be teaching a workshop on Equal Employment Opportunity, one of my favorite topics.

This involves a drive from north central Phoenix to Chandler in the morning; not a long trip but far enough to spark the desire for simplicity.

Will be posting later in the day.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Spine

Martin Peretz of The New Republic has started a blog, The Spine.

It's quite good. On occasion, I even agree with him!

Stellar Work

Christopher Hitchens looks at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report regarding Niger and is less than impressed:

To summarize: The Senate report gives two versions of Zahawie's name without ever once mentioning his significant background. It takes at face value his absurd claim about the supposedly innocent motive for his out-of-the-way trip. It accepts similarly bland assurances made by the government of Niger. It is unaware of the appearance of A.Q. Khan in the narrative. It does not canvass the views of our allies, or of tried-and-tested experts like Ambassador Ekeus. It offers little evidence and no argument in support of its conclusions. It is a minor disgrace, but a disgrace nevertheless.

Carnival Uncensored - Part Four

Gus Van Horn looks at Wal-Mart and the public trough.

None of Your Business gives
a tip on getting credit information.

Professional services firm management guru David Maister seeks some advice on strategy.

Lording the Land shows why
you can make money in real estate.

TriplePundit sees
a silver lining in China’s acid rain problem.

And finally - shameless plug - looks at Myopic Dysfunctionals.

Carnival Uncensored - Part Three

life: personal, business, social gives tips to those who’ve landed that first job.

The Boring Made Dull wonders if
there is a market for Air America.

The Business Word looks at what communities can do in a world of downsizing.

green rising looks at the marketing of health conscious tacos.

Critical Mastiff urges a shift from statism to one that taps into the role of the people.

Frugal Wisdom is glad business has discovered
that less is more.

Free Money Finance interviews
Wall Street analyst Dan Reingold.

Carnival Uncensored - Part Two

Here's part two of the Carnival:

SOX first examines the
lessons that boards can draw from the HP scandal.
Scott On Money looks at
the new version of the Monopoly board game and wonders about its deeper lessons.
Worker Bees Blog gives
what to do when the loan falls through.
Purple Slog tells of confronting a suspicious security guard.
QueerCents discusses whether the
pay gap should still be an issue for women.
The Liberal Republican tackles
the raising of the minimum wage.
Searchlight Crusade advises on
what to do when the loan falls through.
Free the Drones Personal Finance Blog discusses
the personality type known as “The Moocher.” (Be sure to click through, then scroll down.)

Carnival Uncensored - Part One

Since the person who was supposed to host this week’s Carnival of the Capitalists chose to highlight only a few posts and slight all of the others, I’m listing ones in a series of posts the ones that he thought were too much for the readers. I apologize if I've failed to do justice to any of them in the brief descriptions.
Interested Participant has an update on the post-Katrina rebuilding of the Superdome.
Photon Courier examines the roboticization of customer service.
Scatterbox surfaces the public relations problems that come with outsourcing.
Econobrowser shows why gas prices may drop even more.
Financial Options cites three international economic indicators for this week.
Blog Business World advises what to do when you have to go through an exit interview. InsureBlog notes medical professionals who’ve added side businesses.

What? No "Turok, Son of Stone?"

Take a break: Check out the world's most valuable comic books.

Thoughts During A Meeting

BusinessPundit reveals the thoughts that occurred to him in a meeting. (Actually the accumulation of various experiences over the years). An excerpt:

I give up. I can't listen to this anymore. You just go on and on about him. No one here likes him. He's a suckup. Suck. Up. That's what he does. He won the Thompson account? I don't think so. Their CEO can't stand him. We won it in spite of him, not because of him.

You think we don't understand how this works? We know. The ones that make the most noise are the ones that get the next promotions. 360 degree reviews? Ha. More like rubber stamps.

I thought this place would be different, but... there were signs. That smug smile during the interview when I asked about your management style. You said you just "hire the best people and get out of their way."

Did you think that was original? I only heard it at 10 of my last 12 interviews.

I have lots of potential for advancement? Sure, if I'm willing to sacrifice my integrity to play the game.

I could be like him. I could play politics. I could intercept the good news and run to tell you before anyone else. I could blame the failures on people that aren't around or people that I know will take it. I just wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

Read the entire thing.

Top Business School

The University of Michigan has just taken first place from Dartmouth in The Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive ranking of business schools.

See the entire CareerJournal article here.

European Outsourcing

Cartoon by Hugh Macleod and commentary by Frederick Forsyth.

In 1999 five Nato air forces – US, British, French, Italian and German – began to plaster Yugoslavia, effectively the tiny and defenceless province of Serbia. We were not at war with the Serbs, we had no reason to hate them, they had not attacked us and no Serbian rockets were falling on us.

But we practically bombed them back to the Stone Age. We took out every bridge we could see. We trashed their TV station, army barracks, airfields and motorways.

We were not fighting for our lives and no terrorists were skulking among the civilian population but we hit apartment blocks and factories anyway. There were civilian casualties. We did not do it for 25 days but for 73. We bombed this little country economically back 30 years by converting its infrastructure into rubble. Why?

We were trying to persuade one dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, to pull his troops out of Kosovo, which happened to be (and still is) a Yugoslav province. The dictator finally cracked ; shortly afterwards he was toppled but it was his fellow Serbs who did that, not Nato.

Before the destruction of Serbia, Kosovo was a nightmare of ethnic hatred. It still is. If we wanted to liberate the Kosovans why did we not just invade? Why blow Serbian civilians to bits?

Here is my point. In all those 73 days of bombing Serbia I never heard one British moralist use the word "disproportionate".

Humor in the Workplace

I once heard an attorney tell a workshop, "You should have a bland workplace. No joking. No teasing."

I'd hate to work in a place like that. Productivity would be poor. Morale would be in the basement. It might be a lawyer's dream but it would be a worker's nightmare.

Instead of banning humor, why not stress respect and professionalism? Both of those can head off the harassment problems that are feared by the humor-banners. So too can can some basic ground rules:
  • Don't tell any joke that you could not tell without embarrassment in front of the average member of any group.
  • Don't use humor to harm or divide.
  • Recognize that there is a world of humor that doesn't mention race, national origin, religion, sex, or disability in a disparaging way.
  • If you sense that a joke may be inappropriate, it probably is.
  • Remember that outsiders are judged by a different standard than insiders.
  • Don't underestimate the harm of a cruel joke. People can recall cutting remarks long after the words were uttered.
  • Be extra cautious when joking in emails. Nuances may not be noticed and emails have a habit of being forwarded.
  • Watch out for escalation. Joe tells a mild joke, Mary tops it, Yolanda tops that one, and then Elmer goes nuclear. Before you know it, the humor has gone from mild to mean.
  • Just because you heard a joke on the radio or late night TV doesn't mean it is appropriate for the workplace.
  • Don't play "gotcha." Give others the benefit of the doubt. We've all said things we regret. Respect and courtesy are important but so too is cutting others some slack.

George Washington's War

In addition to the usual management books, I've been reading George Washington's War by Bruce Chadwick.

It's a fascinating examination of Washington's management and leadership skills and how he evolved as a leader.

If you think you've faced some challenges, read the account of Valley Forge.

Quote of the Day

People who think they're generous to a fault usually think that's their only fault.

- Sydney J. Harris

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fictional and Real

Would you buy a Duff Beer?

That's the question of people who want to market fictional products from television shows.

Send the Patient to Punjab

Sorry for the delay in posting this article on the rise of “medical tourism” companies.

What do they do?

Arrange for medical operations in other countries. Excerpt:

In June, GlobalChoice sent a patient to Punjab for a hip replacement that cost about $13,000, including airfare and a 20-day hotel stay. The estimated cost in the United States for the surgery alone? $40,000.

Motivation Essentials

I once met a business owner who had a unique way of motivating the employees in his construction business.

He carried around a big wad of bills and, if he saw someone doing something extraordinary, he'd hand them $100.

I told him, "Show me how that works!"

He laughed and replied, "It doesn't. I gave a guy 100 bucks just the other day and he quit five minutes later."

Much has been written about the limitations of money as a motivator. The real answer, I suspect, falls in the category of "It depends." If you're talking about a young person who is saving for a car or a home, a pay raise can have a real appeal. An older person, on the other hand, with the mortgage out of the way and the kids out of college, may be less interested in a pay boost and more focused on a flexible schedule, a new job challenge, or a sabbatical.

One size fits all doesn't work when it comes to money, but there are some factors that are universal regardless of age, sex, or ethnicity:
  • People want to be respected and appreciated.
  • They want to receive a reasonable amount of pay.
  • They want to be able to trust the boss.
  • They want co-workers that are likeable.
  • They want to feel that their jobs have meaning.
  • They want a clear understanding of their roles.
  • They want a sense of order in the workplace.

Put those together and you'll have a motivated team. Neglect any single factor and you'll have problems.

Defending Free Speech

Anne Applebaum feels that the West needs to stop apologizing:

True, these principles sound pretty elementary -- "we're pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence" -- but in the days since the pope's sermon, I don't feel that I've heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus. A lot more time has been spent analyzing what the pontiff meant to say, or should have said, or might have said if he had been given better advice.

All of which is simply beside the point, since nothing the pope has ever said comes even close to matching the vitriol, extremism and hatred that pour out of the mouths of radical imams and fanatical clerics every day, all across Europe and the Muslim world, almost none of which ever provokes any Western response at all. And maybe it's time that it should: When Saudi Arabia publishes textbooks commanding good Wahhabi Muslims to "hate" Christians, Jews and non-Wahhabi Muslims, for example, why shouldn't the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, Britain's chief rabbi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations all condemn them -- simultaneously?

Newhart Rocks

"Good evening. I'd like to welcome you aboard the Mrs. Grace L. Ferguson Airline (and Storm Door Company). I don't know how much you know about our airline. We've only been in business about a week. Our airline was founded on the premise that what the American public wanted was low-cost overseas transportation. We've attempted to eliminate what we call in the airline business 'frills and extras' . . . like maintenance and a whole bunch of technical instruments. . . . Have you ever had one that hangs on for about four or five days? I don't mind the headache so much, but it's that damn double vision. . . ."

- Comedy routine by Bob Newhart

Jonathan Yardley reviews
a new book by Bob Newhart.

Arts & Letters Daily ]

Handling a RIF

The Louisiana Employment Law Letter provides some guidelines on how to handle a reduction in force. A big point:

In most situations, the circumstances that compel a company to reduce its workforce don't arise overnight. And they usually aren't entirely secret. If there's a downturn in the economy, a planned reorganization, or a prospective business deal that will lead to a RIF, there's usually a point at which the company can let employees know (without revealing confidential information or compromising the company's plans) that there may be significant changes affecting the number of jobs or employees.

Employers sometimes fear communicating that type of information, thinking that it could affect productivity, loyalty, and morale. Studies have shown, however, that employees value employers that keep them informed, particularly of developments that could affect their jobs, and that that type of communication actually fosters loyalty and morale (which also affect productivity).

Additionally, employees who know of potential changes are less likely to feel hurt or surprised if they're included in a RIF. Employers can always use tools like retention bonuses or other incentives to keep employees on board -- before or after RIF decisions are announced- -- through a target date.

[Execupundit note: Avoid NETMA; i.e., Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything. Let the word out as soon as possible so people can start to plan.]

Teacher Training

"Unruly and chaotic."

A new report goes after the training of teachers.

Shocking news. Right up there with the recent arrest of Willie Nelson.

Mavericks at Work

William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre, authors of Mavericks at Work, have received a gushing review in US News & World Report.

Be sure to read the story of the executive who decided to fire a supersaleswoman.

Quote of the Day

"The rule was ‘No autopsy, no foul.’"

- Stewart Granger on the games of his youth

Monday, September 18, 2006

For That Kind and Gentle Look

Picture Dr. Evil or yourself in this beauty:
The Villain Chair.

Handing Over Privacy

Scott Berinato, writing at the CSO site, is onto something.

He’s upset about how much information you have to hand over just to get basic service with some companies. Here's his teasing lead paragraph... just before he goes after Apple:

At the grocery store the other night, I bought a half-pound of turkey from the deli. Only when I got home I discovered that they gave me ham by mistake. I went back to return the errant cold cuts, but before the store clerk would wait on me, he asked me for my name and phone number. I refused, telling him that my request had nothing to do with that information. Then he asked for my store "loyalty card" number. I wouldn't give him that, either. I mean, it was just ham, and it was the deli's mistake! So he told me he couldn't help me until I paid a $49 fee first.

What The Juror Saw

This brief Inc. magazine interview of Wendy Vaughan, an entrepreneur who served on the Enron jury, is one of the best articles I’ve seen on the case:

We learned a lot about Lay from videos of employee meetings that we were shown. At some points in the trial, we were so video'd out from hours and hours of those videos! But they showed him to be very dynamic, to be a very concerned individual. And the employees would ask him tough questions in those meetings, and he was welcoming of that scenario. I don't think you can develop that kind of relationship with employees and not be involved in the day-to-day activities in the office. You can't have it both ways.

Another thing that bothered me happened after the whistleblower Sherron Watkins was sounding the alarm, and some other people were sending letters to supervisors with concerns. Lay finally made the decision to supposedly investigate these concerns--I'll put investigate in quotation marks--and he had the same accountants who were responsible for the screwups go back and investigate themselves. That does not make any sense to me at all. Why wouldn't you bring in somebody who's never been in there? And Watkins even brought that up to Lay in a letter she wrote to him--that he shouldn't use the same accountants.