From the Robert Browning poem My Last Duchess.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
From the Robert Browning poem My Last Duchess.
Since 1999, when Vladimir Putin, a career K.G.B. officer, was, in effect, anointed as President by Boris Yeltsin, thirteen journalists have been murdered in Russia. Nearly all the deaths took place in strange circumstances, and none of them have been successfully investigated or prosecuted. In July, 2003, the investigative reporter Yuri Shchekochikhin, a well-known colleague of Politkovskaya’s at Novaya Gazeta, died of what doctors described as an “allergic reaction.’’ Shchekochikhin, who became famous in the Gorbachev era with his reports on the rise of a new mafia, had been investigating allegations of tax evasion against people with links to the F.S.B., the post-Soviet K.G.B. Nobody ever explained what Shchekochikhin was allergic to, and his family is convinced that he was poisoned. On July 9, 2004, Paul Klebnikov, the founding editor of the Russian edition of Forbes—who had made powerful enemies by investigating corruption among Russian business tycoons—was shot dead as he left his Moscow office.
Read the entire article here.
Google intends to scan every book ever published, and to make the full texts searchable, in the same way that Web sites can be searched on the company’s engine at google.com. At the books site, which is up and running in a beta (or testing) version, at books.google.com, you can enter a word or phrase—say, Ahab and whale—and the search returns a list of works in which the terms appear, in this case nearly eight hundred titles, including numerous editions of Herman Melville’s novel. Clicking on “Moby-Dick, or The Whale” calls up Chapter 28, in which Ahab is introduced. You can scroll through the chapter, search for other terms that appear in the book, and compare it with other editions. Google won’t say how many books are in its database, but the site’s value as a research tool is apparent; on it you can find a history of Urdu newspapers, an 1892 edition of Jane Austen’s letters, several guides to writing haiku, and a Harvard alumni directory from 1919.
In a word: Wow.
1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, 1966)
[HT: Marginal Revolution ]
- Dust off that ancient job description and use it to craft the recruitment announcement. [Just be sure to substitute PC for Commodore.]
- Don't bother consulting with the people who actually perform the job. That's why the phrase "Other duties as assigned" was invented.
- Always state a degree requirement. If you need someone who can write well, rather than asking for that skill, require a diploma in English. Better yet, ask for a Master's.
- If you decide to ask for experience, pick a convenient number out of the air and use that for the number of years of experience that candidates must have.
- Hold the oral board in a setting resembling a prisoner of war interrogation. That will permit you ask questions while measuring the candidate's ability to handle stress.
- Let the oral board members ask whatever questions that happen to come to mind regardless of whether they relate to the performance of the job. It will spur creativity.
- Start the interview by signaling the type of skills you seek so the candidates can easily repeat your words in response to the board's questions.
- Score all questions as if they are of equal importance. Why bother with weighting?
- Ask plenty of close-ended questions so the answers will be short. This will restrain the long-winded.
- The final step is crucial: Ignore the declared job standards and the interviews and select whichever candidate you personally like.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Along those same lines is "the cycle of violence" we hear so much about. No curiosity as to who initiated the violence. No inquiry into the justice of the matter. Hitler would invade Poland and these types would refer to the "cycle of violence."
Is it ethical to hire people to clean up after you?
Sixty-nine percent of office workers admit that they access the Internet at work for non-work purposes, and the same percentage use their work telephone to make and receive personal calls, according to a recent survey conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Lawyers.com. In addition, 55 percent of the 1,711 respondents said that they send and receive personal e-mail on their work accounts.
Read the rest of the Inc. article here.
An empty Crown Victoria in one of the parking spaces confirmed it. "That's heat right there," he told his two passengers -- 29-year-old girlfriend Bridget Trevino, and his crime partner Kim Marvin Taylor, a balding, middle-aged master of fake identities he'd met on the internet.
It was November 2002, and Thomas, then a 44-year-old Texan, was in Washington to collect more than $30,000 in merchandise that a Ukrainian known as "Big Buyer" ordered from Outpost.com with stolen credit card numbers. His job was to collect the goods from a mail drop, fence them on eBay and wire the money to Russia, pocketing 40 percent of the take before moving to another city to repeat the scam.
But things didn't go as planned.
Read the rest of Kim Zetter’s Wired article about Thomas’s stint as a cyber-crook for the FBI by clicking here.
In his 1997 book, "Trump: The Art of the Comeback," Trump wrote, "To me the only good thing about the act of shaking hands prior to eating is that I tend to eat less." During his short-lived run for president in 1999, Trump kept antiseptic wipes in his limousine, and passed out little bottles of Purell hand sanitizer stamped with his campaign Web address. He told an NBC interviewer that year that he wouldn't be doing much gladhanding on the campaign trail. "You catch colds," he said, "you catch the flu, you catch this, you catch all sorts of things."
In recent months, I’ve read about President Bush, former Vice President Gore, and Barack Obama’s routines of using hand sanitizers after pressing the flesh with constituents. I also recall that one of Mussolini’s arguments for the fascist salute was that it replaced hand-shaking.
Some people seem oblivious to the risks. I’ve given speeches and, while shaking hands with audience members, found myself shaking a hand containing a wet handkerchief.
Donald Trump would have loved that!
Monday, January 29, 2007
The Inspector General's report found that the papers Mr. Berger took outlined the adequacy of the government's knowledge of terrorist threats in the U.S. in the final months of the Clinton administration--documents that could have been of some interest to the 9/11 Commission, before which Mr. Berger was scheduled to testify. The Washington Post buried news of the Inspector General's report on page 7; the New York Times dumped it on page 36.
["Do you know why divorce is so expensive?"]
The last decade in California shows the power, and the limitations, of the crusade for a colorblind America led by Ward Connerly, architect of the 1996 anti-preference initiative. Without a doubt, Proposition 209, as that measure is called, has cut the use of race quotas in the Golden State’s government. But it has also exposed the contempt of the elites, above all in education, for the popular will. “Diversity”—meaning socially engineered racial proportionality—is now the only official ideology of the education behemoth, and California shows what happens when that ideology comes into conflict with the law.
When Prop. 209 passed, a few politicians, such as San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, loudly vowed to disobey it. Most public officials, though, were more circumspect. Doubtless they counted on a highly publicized lawsuit, filed the day after the election, to eviscerate the new constitutional amendment before it affected their operations. A coalition of ethnic advocacy groups and big labor, represented gratis by some of the state’s top law firms, had sued to block the amendment from taking effect. The plaintiffs argued, remarkably, that requiring government to treat everyone equally violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Read the rest here.
The 13th Floor notes that you can pay up to $3 per hour to park at the city's meters but the average take per day is only $4 a meter.
But the number of handicapped parking passes could also play a role.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Last winter came the news that a low-fat diet, long believed to protect against breast cancer, may do no such thing — this from the monumental, federally financed Women’s Health Initiative, which has also found no link between a low-fat diet and rates of coronary disease. The year before we learned that dietary fiber might not, as we had been confidently told, help prevent colon cancer. Just last fall two prestigious studies on omega-3 fats published at the same time presented us with strikingly different conclusions. While the Institute of Medicine stated that “it is uncertain how much these omega-3s contribute to improving health” (and they might do the opposite if you get them from mercury-contaminated fish), a Harvard study declared that simply by eating a couple of servings of fish each week (or by downing enough fish oil), you could cut your risk of dying from a heart attack by more than a third — a stunningly hopeful piece of news. It’s no wonder that omega-3 fatty acids are poised to become the oat bran of 2007, as food scientists micro-encapsulate fish oil and algae oil and blast them into such formerly all-terrestrial foods as bread and tortillas, milk and yogurt and cheese, all of which will soon, you can be sure, sprout fishy new health claims. (Remember the rule?)
[HT: Instapundit ]
Ricky and I always sit together. Sit in a room and stare at each other. I won't let him play music, which he often wants to, because I find it distracting. We have a barren office. Few distractions. We throw ideas and anecdotes back and forth until something bubbles to the surface. Initially, we will talk about the mood of the project, trying to find a common language. With The Office, it started with realising we had met similar types of people. We had both had a little experience of offices and understood the dynamics of them.
It was only a matter of time before someone was able to spot the test driver deep within me. O.K., test parker: I was asked if I would do a road test of the self-parking device on the new Lexus LS 460 L. Although I like to think that I was being perceived as a laconic man with steel nerves and steady hands, I suspect that the invitation had something to do with my authorship of “Tepper Isn’t Going Out,” which is considered by most scholars to have been the first parking novel. It might even have had something to do with the fact that in 1964 I was the founding co-editor of Beautiful Spot: A Magazine of Parking, which I’ve seen referred to as a one-issue publication even though we prefer to say that the second issue hasn’t come out yet. (We’ve had some production difficulties.)
Read the rest here.
Here’s the first and here’s the second.
A point he touches upon: What to do when you feel that you're being used as a weapon?
- Baltasar Gracian
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Rowan Manahan reflects on childhood, perfectionism, and the workplace:
Albert Einstein very perceptively once said that common sense is the collection of prejudices we acquire by the age of eighteen. We now know that babies arrive with a great deal of their personality already hardwired in at birth. But don't tell me that growing up in a household like the one I grew up in doesn't have a 'nurturing' effect.I didn't have high standards when I came out into the world; I just had the standards that were 'normal' for the home I grew up in. It never occurred to me that you could use less than five coats of paint on railings in a coastal area. Of course you would sandpaper a door back to bare wood before repainting it. And it went without question that you would countersink and sand all screw heads ...
Difficulties between human beings occur at so many levels. I find it fascinating to watch the little Universes colliding when very small children are learning to socialise and to take turns in the schoolyard. I don't see the world of work as being much different. When Mr Countersink-And-Sandpaper guy collides with Mr Bash-Two-Pieces-Of-Wood-Together-With-A-Nail, it's not that either of them are wrong in their worldview, it's just that they've been brought up so veeery differently.
Read it all here.
In all fairness, moviemakers have a legitimately baffling problem with the nature of the war itself. In order to honestly dramatize the simple truth about this existential struggle, you have to depict right-minded Americans — some of whom may be white and male and Christian — hunting down and killing dark-skinned villains of a false and wicked creed. That's what's happening, on a good day anyway, so that's what you'd have to show.
[HT: The Belmont Club ]
Friday, January 26, 2007
One of the most striking instances of Washington turning attention from himself to others is what I believe to be the only authentic utterance we have from him on a battlefield. Of course, after he died, old veterans remembered a lot of things he said in battle. But much of this was embroidered: There was a General Scott, for instance, who remembered Washington at the battle of Monmouth cursing at General Charles Lee. “He swore like an angel from Heaven,” Scott recalled. “He swore ’til the leaves shook on the trees. Never in my life have I heard such wonderful swearing.” The problem is, General Scott at the time was two miles away, so unless he had bionic ears, he didn’t hear anything. There is one phrase, however, that comes up over and over again in the accounts of many different people, for which reason I suspect it’s a real quote. It’s a phrase Washington used to address his troops – “my brave fellows.”
At the battle of Princeton, Washington is reported to have said, “Parade with me, my brave fellows. We will have them soon.” Before the battle of Trenton, when he was trying to get the troops to re-enlist, he said: “My brave fellows, you have done more than could be expected of you. But I’m asking you to do this one more thing and re-enlist.” Time and again he uses this phrase. And in doing so, of course, he’s asserting what remains to be seen: The soldiers, at the moment he addresses them, are not necessarily showing bravery. They may be confused. They may not know what is expected of them. They may be on the point of panic or fear. But he addresses them as “my brave fellows” to motivate them.
This is not the only way to motivate troops. Other generals have done it differently. Frederick the Great would say to his troops, “Do you dogs want to live forever?” That’s one way to do it. But Washington’s way was to say, “my brave fellows,” which means, “My fellows, be brave.”
Those who react to kidnappings and beheadings, to massacres of people of other faiths, and to eruptions of collective hysteria with a call for "cultural dialogue" don't deserve any better.
"The West should desist from engaging in all provocations that produce feelings of debasement and humiliation," says psychoanalyst Horst-Eberhard Richter. "We should show greater respect for the cultural identity of Muslim countries. ... For Muslims, it is important to be recognized and respected as equals." In Richter's view, what the Muslims need is "a partnership of equals."
But Richter neglects to describe what this partnership might look like. Does achieving such equality mean that we should set up separate sections for women on buses, as is the custom in Saudi Arabia? Should the marrying age for girls be reduced to 12, as is the case in Iran? And should death by stoning be our punishment for adultery, as Shariah law demands? What else could the West do to show its respect for the cultural identity of Islamic countries? Would it be sufficient to allow Horst-Eberhard Richter to decide whether, for example, a wet T-shirt contest in a German city rises to a level of criminal provocation that could cause the Muslim faithful in Hyderabad to feel debased and humiliated?
[HT: RealClearPolitics ]
Recently, I reviewed a training project that has been a success with everyone but its creator: me. I’ve looked over the material and, in classic nitpicking fashion, found any number of things that could be improved. As a writer, I’m used to discovering that last night’s brilliant draft is this morning’s piece of garbage and so the second thoughts were not a surprise.
What did shock me was how quickly the culprit could be identified:
I’d failed to think slowly.
That may sound strange. The ability to think quickly is usually a treasured ability but just as speed reading can gloss over the poetry of paragraphs, fast thinking can miss the little intangibles that elevate a product or service from A to A+.
Obviously, this depends upon the project. Speed is of the essence in emergency services. Slow thinking may not be an admirable quality in an ambulance driver. In many other endeavors, however, we can gain a great deal by slowing down the process. What should I have asked myself during the preparation process? A few items come to mind:
Am I simply assembling a bunch of interesting ingredients without considering the overall effect?
Am I excited about each component or is there a part that is just sort of “there?”
Does the material go to concerns that people discuss around a kitchen table or is it designed for a lecture hall? [Hint: Kitchen table is better.]
If you were rating your level of enthusiasm about the project on a 1 to 10 scale with 10 being absolute enthusiasm and 1 being absolute lack of enthusiasm, where would it be? If it is below 10, what are the reasons?
An ancient Sufi Muslim saying probably put it best: “You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one make two. But you must understand and.”
Agents Ramos and Compean were guarding the Mexican border near El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 17, 2005, when they encountered a van driven by Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila. When the driver saw the agents he sped off, eventually abandoning the vehicle and fleeing toward the border on foot. At one point, Aldrete-Davila stopped running and raised his empty hands to surrender. But when the first border agent to approach him stumbled, Aldrete-Davila took off again toward the Rio Grande.
At this point, Agents Ramos and Compean opened fire, shooting at the back of a suspect who they knew was unarmed. They fired 14 rounds in all--Agent Compean even paused to reload--finally hitting Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks. The suspect was wounded but still managed to make it across the border and escape.
It later was determined that Aldrete-Davila was in the country illegally and smuggling drugs. Nearly 750 pounds of marijuana were found in the van. But Ramos and Compean didn't know the suspect's immigration status when they shot him. Nor did they know the contents of the vehicle he was driving. What the agents did know is that they had broken any number of border patrol policies.
There was an interesting study in the late 90s which examined these unconscious discriminatory processes. When shown candidates who were apparently indistinguishable in terms of qualifications, experience and track record, 94% of hirers chose the candidate with no facial hair and 96% of them chose the less heavy candidate - even if that candidate was overweight him- or herself. We're back to the tall CEO issue here; for some reason we still select people for important roles who 'look' healthy.
Read the rest here.
- Make sure that the lines of authority overlap so people will dispute over turf.
- Refrain from establishing systems and procedures. Use fear of bureaucracy to create anarchy and confusion.
- Impose no penalties if people violate the rules.
- When conflict arises, ascribe it to personalities and not to systems. That way, you can be assured that the disputes will continue.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
A Des Moines hotel worker has been fired for using her employer's computer to keep a massive, detailed journal cataloging her efforts to avoid work.
Read the rest here.
In what could mark the first major step toward reversing oversize executive payouts, Home Depot set new CEO Frank Blake's base salary at $975,000 and his bonus target at 200%, or $1.95 million. Of the target bonus, 70% is based on achievement of financial goals and 30% on achievement of individual performance measures, the company said in a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission.
Blake's pay package stands in sharp contrast to ousted CEO Nardelli's $2.25 million base salary and $7 million cash bonus in 2005, none of it tied to performance. Most dramatic is that Blake's deal has no provisions for severance pay, compared to the $210 million retirement package with which Nardelli decamped. "It's fair to say that Nardelli's pay package, among others, was the high-water mark of CEO pay excess," says Nell Minow, editor and co-founder of governance adviser the Corporate Library. "The pendulum is swinging very drastically now." (See BusinessWeek.com, 1/4/07, "Out at Home Depot.")
"He attacked my position and I defended it." It uses the metaphor of argument as war. Or how about "this program isn't going anywhere," which uses the metaphor of progress as motion.
Says Pinker: "Look at almost any passage and you'll find that a paragraph has five or six metaphors in it. It's not that the speaker is trying to be poetic, it's just that that's the way language works.
"Rather than occasionally reaching for a metaphor to communicate, to a very large extent communication is the use of metaphor," he says.
"It could be that 95 per cent of our speech is metaphorical, if you go back far enough in language."
Why? Here, the teacher part of researcher and author Steven Pinker comes to the fore, offering a boring explanation and an interesting explanation, both with an element of truth.
The boring explanation is that using metaphor is a quick-and-dirty way of expressing a new idea without the trouble of coining [notice the metaphor] and propagating a new word.
"But that presupposes that the mind itself works metaphorically, that we see the abstract commonality between argument and war, between progress and motion. And it presupposes that the mind, at some level, must reason very concretely in order that these metaphors be understand and become contagious.
"And that's the more interesting part of the story."
[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
His success in governing what many people had regarded as an ungovernable city makes the records of most of the other candidates, whose records of substantial accomplishments are embarrassingly thin, look like jokes.
Writing in City Journal, Steven Malanga provides a good review.
Remember the Concorde?
Writing in Wired, Daniel Gross notes two companies that are striving to bring back supersonic air travel.
The business case for the planes presumes sales of 300 such jets over 10 years at $80 million each - a $24 billion market. Analysts say that, given recent trends, such assumptions aren’t unreasonable. The private-jet business has risen from $3 billion in deliveries in 1996 to about $16 billion in 2006 (bigger than the market for fighter planes). Boeing and Airbus each produce about 10 luxury jets for private use annually, which sell for $45 million to $60 million apiece, while Gulfstream produces 30 to 35 planes a year that go for $45 million or more a pop.
Over the years, I've seen or heard of some managers who appear to have been raised by wolves. Some examples:
- One manager, during important group meetings with clients, would inexplicably wander off to get coffee or thumb through a business magazine.
- Another manager would astound others at business lunches by attacking his food with the intensity and manners of a ravenous beast, scattering crumbs and spilling food.
- Still another would spring up shortly before the end of business presentations, interrupting the speaker and causing others to wonder what was behind the hurried exit.
What has surprised me is how seldom such managers are helped or confronted. Manners are regarded as private territory - some arcane skill that the parents should have taught - and so the person is permitted to continue with these potentially career-killing habits.
It's a real shame because failing to address the behavior is not an act of kindness.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Some of them are so extreme that they're humorous.
[You don't get your severance pay until you train your replacement? My favorite is the tip about retrieving stuff from the trash. I think that is known as The Costanza Technique.]
Christopher Swope, going to what the indirect would call the line at the bottom, points out why state governments might not like it if Americans cut back on their gasoline usage.
We all have hang-ups when it comes to language. (Some of us have hang-ups about the term “hang-ups.”) And we react in an almost Pavlovian fashion when certain language is used. That’s why it can be extraordinarily easy to flip out a portion of your audience simply by using everyday words.
I used to work in a headquarters where the top staff studied the chief executive’s word preferences with the intensity of a Cold War CIA analyst examining the pecking order of the review panel during the Soviet May Day Parade. As I recall, “render” was one of the prohibited words because the CEO associated it with melting fat. “We provide services” – it was whispered – “not render them.” When that CEO left, a new one arrived, and another lexicon was developed.
A late friend of mine, one of the most enjoyable language snobs I’ve known, hated to see any qualifiers or additions to the word “unique.” She rightly noted that “unique” is like being pregnant; an item either is or isn’t and so it can’t be “really unique” or “fairly unique.”
I’m not immune from such prejudice. To my ears, “irregardless” is like nails on a blackboard - although I haven’t heard that sin in years – and whenever someone describes a product as a “quality product” I’m tempted to ask, “Poor quality?”
Aside from “hang-up,” are there any words that drive you nuts?
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
We see this with telemarketers who exploit our general tendency to be kind and, following a script, regard our polite “No, thanks” as simply a signal to move on to another way to break down our defenses. We see this with manipulators who seek to exert control by intimidating people who strive to be fair.
In short, these obnoxious toads use our virtues as weapons to subdue us.
So it is with power in the workplace. In dealing with disagreeable people we often fall into the trap of giving them the power to hurt, irritate, or frustrate us. We do so by:
Granting them our presence. If a person is not going to behave appropriately, then that person should not be granted the presence of people who do behave appropriately.
Caring about how they feel. We owe others basic courtesy. When they do not reciprocate, then that obligation ends along with the ending of the relationship. We may not be able to control their actions but we can control our reaction to those actions and our reaction should be designed to give them as little control as possible.
Paying attention to what they say. Some remarks and behavior are worthy of no attention.
Feeling obligated to respond to what they say or do. Not every action or comment merits a response. Remember the old line, “You should never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig loves it.”
Feeling obligated to explain our actions. As security consultant Gavin de Becker says, “No is a complete sentence.”
Following ground rules that they have established. Who elected them Pope?
Holding a grudge or plotting revenge against them. Why let resentments control your life? Stun them with your indifference.
An elementary strategy when dealing with offensive people is to examine if our own actions are inadvertently giving them power. If that is the case, we can methodically remove the sources of that power. Remove the oxygen and put out the fire.
Every time oil prices shoot up, there are cries of "greed" and demands by politicians for an investigation of collusion by Big Oil. There have been more than a dozen investigations of oil companies over the years, and none of them has turned up the collusion that is supposed to be responsible for high gas prices.
Now that oil prices have dropped big time, does that mean that oil companies have lost their "greed"? Or could it all be supply and demand -- a cause and effect explanation that seems to be harder for some people to understand than emotions like "greed"?
Monday, January 22, 2007
Steyn cannot seem to make up his mind about the defense of secularism in this struggle. He regards Christianity as a bulwark of civilization and a possible insurance against Islamism. But he cannot resist pointing out that most of the Christian churches have collapsed into compromise: choosing to speak of Muslims as another “faith community,” agreeing with them on the need for confessional-based schooling, and reserving their real condemnation for American policies in the war against terrorism.
This is not to deny Steyn’s salient point that demography and cultural masochism, especially in combination, are handing a bloodless victory to the forces of Islamization. His gift for the illustrative anecdote and the revealing quotation is evident, and if more people have woken up to the Islamist menace since he began writing about it, then the credit is partly his. Muslims in one part of England demand the demolition of an ancient statue of a wild boar, and in another part of England make plots to blow up airports, buses, and subway trains. The two threats are not identical. But they are connected, and Steyn attempts to tease out the filiations with the saving tactic of wit.
A law professor has analyzed it as a form of sexual stereotype discrimination.
I thought it was a rather wise decision to avoid turning every personal appearance policy into a lawsuit.
At a young age, he began to keep a diary–it was about the size of the palm of your hand, and his handwriting so small you need a magnifying glass to read it–with the idea that by reckoning day-by-day his moral assets and liabilities, he could improve himself: “Oh! that I could wear out of my mind every mean and base affectation, conquer my natural pride and conceit,” he wrote. His natural pride and conceit would be among the things his critics would throw at him for the rest of his life. What's so interesting here is that he recognized this himself so early. On July 21, 1756, at the age of 20, he wrote this memorable entry:
I am resolved to rise with the sun and to study Scriptures on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, and to study some Latin author the other three mornings. Noons and nights I intend to read English authors . . . . I will rouse up my mind and fix my attention. I will stand collected within myself and think upon what I read and what I see. I will strive with all my soul to be something more than persons who have had less advantages than myself.
But the next morning he slept until seven, and in a one-line entry the following week he wrote: “A very rainy day. Dreamed away the time." There was so much that he wanted to know and do, and he would have moments when he thought life was passing him by: “I have no books, no time, no friends. I must therefore be contented to live and die an ignorant, obscure fellow.”
Read McCullough's entire speech here.
Dictatorships in particular are filled with fascinating lessons of the use of raw and subtle power. For example, an important part of Joseph Stalin's strategy to become Lenin's primary successor involved a touch of office politics that any corporate Machiavelli would recognize.
It was assumed by many that when Vladimir Lenin died, his replacement would be the eloquent, charismatic, Leon Trotsky who could both discuss theory and command armies.
Trotsky was a far better speaker than the drab Stalin whose reputation was that of an able but invisible bureaucrat. In a debate there would have been no real contest. But while Trotsky was getting applause at the party events, Stalin was laboring as the personnel director of the Communist Party, granting and earning favors and placing his supporters into key positions. Trotsky was the rock star while Stalin was the workhorse and that may have triggered a sense of invulnerability and arrogance. The intellectual Trotsky had a habit of letting others know how smart he was. In contrast, Stalin took the time to listen to the rank and file. In doing so, he built bonds while learning about vulnerabilities.
A modern manager can read Stalin's speeches, looking past some of the deaden discussions of Soviet planning, and find a person who knew the foibles of organizations. In his report to the Seventeenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1934, Stalin related a humorous story about a conversation he had with a party official:
I: How are you getting on with the sowing?
He: With the sowing, Comrade Stalin? We have mobilized ourselves. (Laughter.)
I: Well, and what then?
He: We have put the question squarely. (Laughter.)
I: And what next?
He: There is a turn, Comrade Stalin; soon there will be a turn. (Laughter.)
I: But still?
He: We can see an indication of some improvement. (Laughter.)
I: But still, how are you getting along with the sowing?
He: So far, Comrade Stalin, we have not made any headway with the sowing. (General laughter.)
Stalin then noted:
There you have the portrait of the windbag. They have mobilized themselves, they have put the question squarely, they have a turn and some improvement, but things remain as they were.
Stalin spoke of the organization as a symphony long before Peter Drucker made that comparision and many of his observations on management could have come out of a modern business bestseller. There is a chill, however, that comes with his words. A large portion of Stalin's audience wasn't around for the next party congress. They'd been purged by this lethal bureaucrat and, as for Trotsky, he eventually was murdered with an ice pick by one of Stalin's assassins while in exile in Mexico.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Petraeus has been assiduous in matching his reputation as a field soldier with his reputation as an intellect. He not only earned a doctorate from Prince ton's Woodrow Wilson School--writing on the effects of the Vietnam war on civil-military relations--but also keeps himself maniacally fit. The speed of his recovery from a gunshot wound received on a rifle range when he was commanding a battalion in the 101st Airborne is legendary. (The wound required a five-hour operation--performed by Dr. Bill Frist.)
Further, Petraeus is coming off a successful tenure as head of the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. While this job took a winning commander away from his war at a crucial moment, it has helped Petraeus polish his institutional credentials in a way that will now serve him well. The main efforts during his 15 months in Kansas were the recasting of Army training for counterinsurgency operations and the creation of a new counterinsurgency field manual. The manual has gotten tremendous attention and is now quoted in every profile of Petraeus, but he sagely conceived the new doctrine as process more than product, as dialogue more than decalogue. Petraeus brought in not only a good number of academics and experts, but Marines as well as soldiers. The manual is, importantly, a two-service publication, and Petraeus worked well with Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis--another tremendously successful commander in Iraq, a serious thinker, and a folk hero to Marines. Mattis's message to Iraqis was that they could have "no better friend, no worse enemy" than the Marines. Petraeus will be sending a similar message to Baghdadis.
Ann Althouse discusses the controversy over casting 13-year-old Dakota Fanning in a rape scene.
Sally Spitfire is a professional pillow-fighter.
Motorola CEO Ed Zander is cutting jobs and looking at a smarter phone.
Robert Hughes was stoned on hashish when he got a call from a drunken editor offering him the job as art critic for Time magazine. [HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]
Incan civilization was a technological marvel. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1532, they found an empire that spanned nearly 3,000 miles, from present-day Ecuador to Chile, all served by a high-altitude road system that included 200-foot suspension bridges built of woven reeds. It was the Inca who constructed Machu Picchu, a cloud city terraced into a precarious stretch of earth hanging between two Andean peaks. They even put together a kind of Bronze Age Internet, a system of messenger posts along the major roads. In one day, Incan runners amped on coca leaves could relay news some 150 miles down the network.
Yet, if centuries of scholarship are to be believed, the Inca, whose rule began 2,000 years after Homer, never figured out how to write. It's an enigma known as the Inca paradox, and for nearly 500 years it has stood as one of the great historical puzzles of the Americas. But now a Harvard anthropologist named Gary Urton may be close to untangling the mystery.
Read the rest of the Wired article here.
The number of German converts to Islam has risen. Details in this Spiegel report.
Joshua Muravchik, writing in Commentary, nominates Jimmy Carter as our worst ex-president.
Here's the science on the health benefits of red wine.
CareerJournal has advice on when the boss gives the silent treatment.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
We are into the political season and the prospects of various candidates carry lessons for anyone who wants to see how organizations make personnel selections. Here are a few:
- The skills that are needed to get selected are not necessarily the ones needed to perform the job.
- Being nice will get you a long way and being likeable even farther.
- You must look the part. Personal appearance matters.
- Humor can be dangerous.
- No off-hand remark is minor and nothing is off-the-record.
- Being articulate helps but it is not the only consideration. There are many articulate bumblers.
- It may not be fair, but your past has a way of catching up with you.
- The best resume does not always get the job nor should it.
- The ones who promise you the most are not always your friends.
- Your allies may come from unexpected quarters. The same applies to your enemies.
- The prize often goes to the relatively noncontroversial, and not the best qualified, candidate.
- Selections should be nondiscriminatory on the basis of race, sex, and other irrelevant factors but many times they aren't. Both bigotry and tokenism are alive and well.
- If you represent change, then the selection board must see a compelling reason for it or you will be seen as unnecessarily disruptive.
- Optimism usually trumps pessimism.
- You don't get far by bad-mouthing the entire organization.
- Negatives about opponents are best raised by others.
- Timing matters.