Friday, October 31, 2008

Do You, Yosemite Sam, Take ...

Ed Driscoll notes the bigamy problem in a Japanese man's petition drive to permit marriage to cartoon characters.*

He does not, however, explore the potential for avatar alimony.

* I thought that was a common practice in some circles.

Boo Tunes

Some appropriate music for the day:

In the Hall of the Mountain King

Warren Zevon: Werewolves of London

Intro to The Nightmare before Christmas

Fear of Thinking

Erica Jong declares herself the new Susan Sontag and expounds on matters political.

[HT: Drudge Report ]

Halloween Creativity/Pumpkin Abuse

Take a break at this site and carve your own pumpkin.

[HT: Jonathan Wade]

Defending against Bioterror

Writing in City Journal, Judith Miller explores the math of bioterrorism . An excerpt:

The Hamilton-Leighton study builds on earlier work by Lawrence Wein, a Stanford University business school professor. In 2003, he calculated that a large aerosolized anthrax attack in New York might result in 100,000 deaths, even if early cases were successfully diagnosed and drugs quickly delivered and taken. Two years later, he calculated that decontaminating New York by traditional methods could cost well over $20 billion and take 314 years. Wein has also argued that current plans for distribution of antibiotics from PODs could result in delays costing up to 10,000 lives a day.

Dell Goes Hip

Dell is going with splashy designs to sell its laptops.

Why not?

4 Reasons to Vote for McCain or Obama

Vote for John McCain so you can:

  1. See Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and Andrew Sullivan become completely unhinged.
  2. Learn if there is anything to those rumors of an Incredible Hulk temper.

  3. Indulge all of those Boomers who dream that 72 is the new 52.

  4. Energize the "Hillary in 2012" campaign.

Vote for Barack Obama so you can:

  1. Have Joe Biden around for at least one comedy-filled term.

  2. Discover if experience matters as much for a president as it does for an administrative assistant.
  3. Watch the press corps cover The Second Coming.

  4. Smile as the anti-American European elites continue to be anti-American European elites.

Creativity and Zadie Smith

There was a lot of positive buzz when Zadie Smith wrote White Teeth several years ago.

I resisted reading it for a while, simply because many of the reviewers struck me as standard literary types whose idea of a fun Saturday night is curling up with a novel about a darkly dysfunctional family planning a trip to the corner grocery. I finally relented and found her comic novel to be marvelous.

Her subsequent books have been uneven - I'm cautiously reading On Beauty - and that fact is a reminder of the nature of creativity. Few authors, playwrights, and directors are consistently at the top of their game. One can wonder how many of the B+ or even C efforts are needed to eventually produce an A.

Dickens, Shakespeare, and other extraordinary talents produced, at times, fine but lesser work. Were those simple exceptions or were they necessary components of a creative process?

Quote of the Day

Living in the lap of luxury isn't bad, except you never know when luxury is going to stand up.

- Orson Welles

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blog Tech Problem

My apologies for the low posting. It is due to blog glitches.

A decision will be forthcoming regarding the technical management of this site.

I'm in an Old Testament sort of mood.

Hide the baseball bats.

Assuming Competence

It is a jarring day when the hard reality of the world's incompetence hits one on the head.

As a child, you go to school and learn about various professions and organizations and an odd attitude infects your thinking: you assume that these exalted groups know what they are doing.

And then one day, you learn that all of those assumptions about things working like clock-work are unfounded. You realize the extent to which "faking it" and "getting by" are standard operating procedures in many organizations. You discover that Prussian efficiency may have always been a myth and that getting basic performance can be a major achievement.

This does not mean that you cannot encounter excellence. There are people with astounding skills and insight. It means that assuming the presence of competence can be a costly and even dangerous blunder.

Do you think that the average professional is thoroughly steeped in his or her subject matter? Think again. Do you believe that the person who went through many years of school has the ability to blend a multitude of disciplines? Forget it. Do you expect that organizations will forego comfort for excellence? Please.

What is needed is not a system that will work when dedication and skill levels are high. No, an effective system is one that fulfills basic needs when dedication is minimal and skill levels are average. Systems that require superhumans will not work for long. The best can function when people are tired and distracted and eager to go home.

We should design our strategies for human beings, not wizards, because wizards are in short supply.

Quote of the Day

I have nothing to declare except my genius.

- Oscar Wilde at the New York Custom House

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Professors I Have Known

There are some professors you never forget. They burrow into your memory through their style as well as their substance and, with time, it is usually the style that remains.

Some who stay with me:

The constitutional law professor who chain-smoked throughout his lectures and who could quote obscure dissents and facts. He never went near any notes, but would lean against the blackboard - that term dates me - and would occasionally mistake the chalk for the cigarette. His lectures were fascinating.

The history professor who would spice his Soviet History classes with anecdotes about Lenin and Stalin, jump up on his desk top to make dramatic points, and sometimes conclude class by singing Russian folk songs.

The law professor who, unlike most of his colleagues, treated the students with respect and would respond to every question by following a pattern. His approach could be easily mocked as:

Student: "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

Professor R: "That's a very good question from a very good man. Now I know you didn't mean to ask that question. What you meant to ask was, 'How, given the history of the common law, can the reasoning of no fault divorce be justified?' And the answer is: 'To get to the other side.'"

One of my professors, whose specialty was the American Civil War, was famous for dissolving into tears whenever he read Lincoln's second inaugural address. He loved his subject and he transmitted that love to his students.

Four very different professors and yet they had a common and very appealing trait: a passion for their subject.

Picking Battles

A sign of an experienced operator in any organization is that the person knows which battles are worth fighting. The inexperienced individual jumps on a horse, rides off in all directions, and in no time is exhausted, disliked, and disoriented.

Cautiously picking your battles is wise because organizations are conflict-adverse and enemies accumulate. The person who is crossing you this week may be needed as an ally a month or two in the future and upper management begins to wonder about any person who does not play well with others.

A battle that is well-chosen is one that reasonable people would expect you to fight. Failing to fight one of those can diminish your clout and reputation. That makes it worth your time and energy. There are, however, few of those in most careers. Each time one is fought, it should be quickly followed by a review of how it might have been avoided for few battles are waged without casualties on both sides and some are ended without any obvious victor.

The 4 Year Scam

Four years makes sense for students who are trying to get a liberal education and therefore need to take a few dozen courses in philosophy, religion, classical and modern literature, the fine arts, classical and modern history (including the history of science), plus acquire fluency in a foreign language and take basic survey courses in the social sciences. The percentage of college students who want to do that is what? Ten percent? Probably that is too optimistic. Whatever the exact figure, it is a tiny minority.

For everyone else, four years is ridiculous.

Read the rest of Charles Murray's essay "Down with the Four-Year College Degree!"

Quote of the Day

Do not choose to be wrong for the sake of being different.

- Lord Samuel

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tony Hillerman, R.I.P.

Mystery writer Tony Hillerman, whose novels about police officers Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee, provide a fascinating look at Navajo culture and life, has died at the age of 83.

[HT: Diane Sanders ]

Stevens Guilty

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has been found guilty.

Who's in Politics?

Instapundit and law professor Glenn Reynolds [aka He Who Never Sleeps] writing in Forbes on the current state of American politics:

Having produced a political system that is so miserable it's likely to deter well-balanced people with integrity, and one in which the most important skills involve raising money and looking good on TV, we shouldn't be surprised if we wind up with a lot of people who want the jobs out of a narcissistic desire for importance, or a corrupt desire for power and spoils, and whose chief skills involve getting people to donate cash to their campaigns while looking good on TV. The problem is that a political class made up of corrupt and/or narcissistic money-raisers isn't likely to produce much in the way of good government, and certainly there's not much evidence that we're getting a lot of good government out of the political class that we have.

The Melon Factor

A few years ago, when I had a television show on a major American broadcast network, and I was completely convinced – despite the slow southern drift of the ratings chart, despite the total lack of buzz or interest from the media – that we weren’t just doing well, we were thriving. I saw hope in every piece of bad news; I saw opportunity in every sad look from a network executive.

I didn’t notice the small things: the snacks laid out for the production crew went from top-shelf cookies to off-brand chips. The bottled water was no longer Fiji but something from Arkansas.

Read the rest of Rob Long
on firings in Hollywood.

Busily Ineffective

There is a middle ground between the stages of indolence and effectiveness. It is where we are busily ineffective.

This middle stage is deceptive for we so often confuse being busy with being effective. What we are frequently doing in that stage, however, is avoiding honest sloth and focused effectiveness. We are in alibi territory and our cover story is that we are busy.

Later, when we regret our wasted time, we realize that it would have been far better to get the rest and pleasure that true indolence would have provided instead of the exhaustion and the demoralized state that result from busily accomplishing little of substance.

Consider how much of your week is permitted to slip into this land. From now on, when you find yourself blankly staring at a computer screen or messing around with worthless projects, either turn your attention to something serious or walk away and seize the pleasure of unadulterated goofing-off.

Quote of the Day

Talk to a man about himself and he will listen for hours.

- Benjamin Disraeli

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Naked Sushi

Two more reasons to avoid sushi:

Vanity Fair has confessions of a naked sushi model and . . .

The Wall Street Journal looks at bullying sushi chefs.

Two Mergers: Quiz and Commentary

There are two high-profile mergers in the works right now: Wells Fargo-Wachovia and GM-Chrysler. So here’s a little quiz question. Which merger has a pretty good chance to create value for investors and customers, and which one is so destructively insane that the executives shilling for it should be publicly outed as self-serving incompetents and then summarily ousted?

Read the rest of Oren Harari here.

Solution's Problems

Scene: Client Meeting
Objective: To solve a pressing problem.
Related Objective: To keep the solution from creating problems of equal or greater gravity.
Common Problem: Forgetting the Related Objective.

"And then?" should be asked frequently in such meetings in order to prevent the myopia that can set in once a solution is in sight.

It's the old game of unintended consequences. To paraphrase Dee Hock, what we intend may happen, but what we do not intend will happen.

7 Books for a Proper Scare

First, a confession.

When it comes to stories that scare, my tastes lean more toward the light fare of The Twilight Zone rather than heavier plates served up by The Shining.

All the same, a good scare can be fun. Some favorites are listed below and you are invited to add recommendations.

  1. Ghost Story by Peter Straub. This was made into a terrible movie, but the book is chilling. It reminds us that evil is out there.

  2. The Mist by Stephen King. I haven't seen the film, but the original story is enough to make you check the windows and doors.

  3. Neverwhere by Neal Gaiman. There is another world in London's underground and, although some of its inhabitants are very unpleasant, Gaiman's tour is a treat.

  4. "Man from the South" and other short stories by Roald Dahl. I read most of these stories in high school and still remember them. Great stuff. Definitely not Wonka territory.

  5. The Road by Cormac Mccarthy. I reviewed this in an earlier post. A haunting story of a father and his son in a post-disaster world. This will become a classic.

  6. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. Another disaster story, made weirder and scarier by exotic plants that walk and kill.

  7. Dracula by Bram Stoker. Ignore the movies. They failed to do justice to this genuinely frightening novel.

Quote of the Day

With affection beaming in one eye and calculation out of the other.

- Charles Dickens

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Daniel Gross proposes the Starbucks theory of economic predictors:

The higher the concentration of expensive, nautically themed, faux-Italian-branded Frappuccino joints in a country's financial capital, the more likely the country is to have suffered catastrophic financial losses.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]


Lionel Chetwyn and Roger L. Simon talk about politics and Hollywood.

[HT: Instapundit ]

Rule of Life

I've been up for some time. Coffee. Working on projects. Throwing away papers. Reading and more reading. Books, newspapers, and blogs.

And what recent line stays with me?

"You can never go wrong with a cog."

The video is rather nice too.

Stroup on Leadership

Jim Stroup, who is always thought-provoking, on leadership. An excerpt from a must-read post; one that I'll be pondering while revising one of my leadership workshops:

It is more than possible – even reasonable, given the evidence – to argue, as Peter Drucker broadly hinted, that the concept of individual leadership as described and promoted by the modern leadership movement for employment in contemporary business and other organizations is, essentially, a fraud. The intent of this current series, certainly, has been to present the case that it is at the very least an unfortunately ill-conceived distinction that has a distorting, and usually destructive, influence on modern organizational dynamics.

Seeing and Substance

Augustus Caesar was one of the most successful with the technique. Unlike the less deferential Julius Caesar, he carefully paid respect to the Roman Senate while systematically stripping it of authority.

He knew a simple truth: In the eyes of many people, if you provide the trappings of belief, you need not provide the substance, for they will find it difficult to conceive that anyone can be so hypocritical and, under some circumstances, the illusion will be more important to them than the reality.

Dictators have long mastered the practice. Stalin joked with audiences of party leaders who were already slated for the Gulag or worse. The Nazis put "Work Will Make You Free" over the entrances of their death camps and had musicians play Mozart while people were marched to the gas chambers. The idea was to permit just enough hope so those fervently searching for it could find a basis to justify their belief.

Some of the greatest scoundrels I've ever met were quite personable. They had all of the trappings of a normal, civilized person, but if you ignored their soothing words and looked at their record, you would find a very different picture. At some point, they had learned that a winning smile and vows of sensitivity will cause others not simply to drop their defenses, but to suspend judgment even in the presence of one damning bit of evidence after another. Like the greatest of magicians, they could make their victims devoutly determined to see something that did not exist.

Nature Channel at the Gym

The gym is open 24 hours a day causing it to resemble one of those Nature Channel films on Africa.

Most of the animals are out between noon and 8 p.m. After that, the herd thins out, possibly because the buff type are off to various watering holes.

As midnight approaches, the older animals arrive to join the remaining younger members. The young ones head for the machines, with the females choosing the treadmills and stairclimbers - it's easy to check out others from a stairclimber - and the young males moving to the weight lifting area so they can pump iron while being watched by the females on the stairclimbers.

The pool becomes geezer territory. No aerobics here. The lap swimmers take over. Most of them look like they remember Harry Truman. A few look like Harry Truman. As age increases, the waist band of the swimming trunks moves up toward the armpits. For the most part, the old crocs are better swimmers than the young otters, who splash about like shark attack victims.

Which creatures are the most fit? There's no contest at all. It's the staff.

Quote of the Day

No one would have doubted his ability to reign had he never been emperor.

- Tacitus on Emperor Galba

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Greenspeed Trike

This does look fun but the price will also get your attention.

Great Moments in Media Objectivity

A former Newsweek journalist fantasized about disabling Rudy Giuliani. And how does he feel about objectivity?

“There’s no pretending to be objective. What we’re fighting to save here is our city, our culture, and by extension, our jobs, our houses, our schools. When we write this s—, we don’t just report the stuff and let it fall where it may. We’ve got way too much at stake to be dispassionate observers covering a sporting event and not caring who wins,” Rose said in an interview with Vermont Web site, 7D.

He's correct about one point. This year, there is no pretending to be objective on the part of many reporters.

Bill Maher: Charmer

Maher's boorish conduct on his own shows is nothing, however, next to the behavior on display in Religulous. His method in Religulous is to interview people who are far poorer, far less sophisticated, and vastly better mannered than he, and as he does so, to laugh at them, tell them that their deepest beliefs are the sort of nonsense he gave up when he was 11 years old, and then press ahead with another question intended only to expose their idiocy.

Read the rest of John Podhoretz on Bill Maher's new film .

Creative Evasion

My post on artful dodgers is up at U.S. News & World Report.

The Need for Discretion

I remember studying the Tinker v. Des Moines case in law school. The professors made it quite clear that the Supreme Court decision upholding the right of students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War was a noble moment in the history of free speech. I pretty much yawned - something I did a great deal of in law school - and went along.

Having been in the real world and studied organizations, however, I now have a different take. I think it would have been wiser if the Court had accorded greater discretion to the school administration to control such conduct. This is not because the administrators would decide wisely (let's not get carried away), but because they have a school to run. School administrators should not be expected to be constitutional lawyers nor should they live in fear of being dragged into a costly lawsuit because they made some minor decision to promote order and discipline. There are moments when the person on the ground should be given a reasonable level of discretion.

Micromanagement by courts, of course, is one of the Halloween stories of our time and the threat is all too real. I see company executives who adopt rules that defy common sense, but which will protect them if a lawsuit arrives. These rules almost invariably have an automaton nature to them. The willingness to make a "subjective decision" - as in one based on years of study and experience - is squelched out of fear that the hapless decision maker will be put into an emotional meat-grinder and then grilled by an advocate who's never had to run an organization. That unseemly concoction is spiced by the sense that career-conscious higher-ups will quickly back away from the person who made the tough calls.

I'm not sure how much liberty the removal of discretion has provided, but I know it has created a definite climate of fear.

Perk Up

Stanley Bing is tired of the doomsday business.

Quote of the Day

Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film.

- Steven Wright

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Media Objectivity Update

Biden could shout on "Meet the Press," "Get these squirrels off of me!" and the collective response would be, "There goes Joe again." But if Palin flubs the name of the deputy agriculture minister of Kyrgyzstan, the media will blow their whistles saying she's unprepared for the job.

- Jonah Goldberg

Democratic campaign consultant Kirsten Powers agrees. Here's her take on on the media and Senator Biden.

Auto Trivia: Stainless Steel Car

A clever promotion and check out how many are still operational.

You know you want one.

[HT: Rick Miller ]

What Both Sides Should Vow

If our candidate loses:

  • We won't shout that this is the end of the United States. It isn't.

  • We won't make snippy remarks about the low intelligence or bigotry of the average voter. The voters are neither dumb nor bigots.

  • We won't treat the new president as shabbily as George W. Bush has been treated in many circles.

  • We won't assume that decisions with which we disagree are motivated by greed or evil.

  • We won't spread wacko conspiracy rumors.

  • We won't become Internet trolls.

  • We won't threaten to move to Canada, Australia, Britain, France or some other "enlightened" land, all of which have their own problems.

  • We will work hard to understand the reasons for the loss.

  • We will continue to fulfill our civic responsibilities.

  • We will go out of our way to act patiently and respectfully with those who hold opposing opinions.

  • We will increase our involvement in community affairs.

  • We will happily redouble our efforts to ensure that our side prevails next time.

Thinking Anew

Creativity consultant Roger von Oech provides a thought-provoking map of economic equivalence.

I live in the equivalent of Thailand?

Quote of the Day

But the avant-garde in the 1980s had turned largely political: It was about one form or another of ethnic or sexual liberation, of protest and leftwing politics. Its chief message tended to run: I'm an outraged gay or lesbian - or an angry black man, or an aging sixties radical - and I've had it with this detestable bleeping country, with its middle-class respectability, its vaunting of the family, its organized religions, its censorship, and its hideous capitalist system. And by the way, nice to learn that I've been awarded an NEA grant, and when do you suppose I might receive my check?

- Joseph Epstein

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It Was a Dark and ....

Rowan Manahan is messing around with bad romance novel opening lines.

Types of Crises

Sudden crises are unexpected events that organizations have virtually no control over or responsibility for, such as a devastating earthquake or terrorist attack. These are what might be called low probability, high-impact events. And, while they may be foreseen by some, such events are unanticipated by most.

Smoldering crises, on the other hand, start out as diffuse problems. These problems are well known but never receive attention until they reach crisis stage. Crises such as the meltdown of Wall Street this year, or the collapse of New York City's finances in 1975, are characteristic of smoldering problems whose dimensions were understood to be unsustainable and that should have been addressed earlier on a large-scale. However, the considerable political and economic costs of dealing with the underlying problems were simply too daunting and nothing was done to mitigate or prevent the subsequent economic and social dislocation.

Read the rest of Paul L. Posner, writing in Governing, on
the crisis next time.

Unusual Ways to Save Time and Be More Productive

We've all heard of the conventional ways to save time and be more productive. Here are some that usually don't make those lists:

  1. Don't commit adultery. This is a little strange and perhaps my reaction is common to management consultants, but whenever I see some film character involved in a lengthy adulterous relationship, I wonder, "Where does he (or she) find the time?"

  2. Kill your television. That line used to be on a bumper sticker. It deserves a come-back. For the most part, the portion of our life that is spent in front of a television wastes time while filling our minds with trivia. Boomers can more readily name the cast of Gilligan's Island than list the authors of The Federalist Papers. I don't even want to speculate on the later generations.

  3. Don't drink to excess. Hang-over recovery time is not noted for its productivity and no, it doesn't enhance your creativity.

  4. Close the "open door." Supervisors and managers who have open door policies are prey to malcontents and gossip-mongers. Some jobs, such as those dealing with apprentices, require an open door, but in most positions it is wiser to designate certain hours as the "no appointment needed" time.

  5. Beware of the computer. Granted, this sounds odd coming from a blogger, but time spent on a computer is especially seductive because it looks like work. Unfortunately, the computer habits of many are the workplace equivalent of a man reading Playboy for the interviews.

  6. Duck the entertainment overload. DVDs, CDs, iPods, YouTube, you name it. We've got greater access to entertainment than any generation in history. Much of it is enchantingly repetitive but how many times do we need to see a lion take down a wildebeest?

  7. Be out of touch. You don't need to check e-mail every hour and were those last three calls really necessary? Turn off the cell phone and get some things done. Don't think that your real life is waiting for your return to the grind. It may be waiting for your escape.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Quote of the Day

No author is a man of genius to his publisher.

- Heinrich Heine

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Prince of a Fellow

Overlawyered has the details on an attorney recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for . . . some unusual practices. An excerpt from the news article:

The records said Stork lived in the home of a deceased client from 1987 to 2002 and deposited money from the sale of the home into his own bank account.

Premium Class

Portfolio examines a new option between flying business class and flying coach.

War and Decision

Douglas J. Feith's War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism is, in a word, fascinating.

Always swamped with a backlog of books, I picked this up one evening and found myself engrossed. As the former head of the Pentagon's policy organization, Feith can put you in the room because he was in the room. Whether or not you agree with the invasion of Iraq, this is an account that needs to be considered, especially since the press seems devoted to providing comic book-level analysis.

Those of you who share my enthusiasm for studies on decision-making will find Feith's dispassionate accounts of the meetings, the machinations, and the evidence to be especially interesting.

Chess: As It Should Be

Groggy. Woosy. The Valium must still be working.

Perhaps that's why this chess game doesn't seem that unusual.

[HT: Jonathan Wade ]

The Docs

I'm going in for some routine medical testing today.

It should contain, of course, the usual procedures and warm atmosphere that make medical exams resemble a trip to Disneyland.

One of the advantages of early testing is that it may save you from having to endure further exposure to the medical profession. Fine people, the doctors, but as a group I'd rather encounter them at cocktail parties.

I'll be posting more later when the drugs wear off. [ed. note: Why not post before they wear off? That should boost traffic.]

Is That All?

Seth Godin on how individuals can quickly become dissatisfied.
  • How long after getting a big promotion does it take for an executive to get antsy?
  • Why does a powerful senator take small bribes and risk his entire career?
  • Why do Amazon customers, with a choice of every book, delivered overnight, for free, whine about their customer service going downhill?
  • Why do customers at a truly great 4 star restaurants often feel a little bit of a let down after the last course is served?

Movie Break: Cable Hogue

Finally found it: The trailer for The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Marvelous film.

Fear of Feasibility

"It won't work. The entire thing will be too big of a hassle."

"Perhaps that is correct. But we won't know until we've completed a feasibility study and if it can work, the new approach might be our salvation."

"I'm not wild about even checking into the strategy. We have so many other priorities."

"Those other priorities have been producing the same results for years. There is no commitment if we just check into doing something different. This study isn't going to be a big time-grabber. The pay-off could be enormous."

"I'm not sure. I'm uneasy about this."

"Why are you uneasy? It's only a feasibility study. Are you afraid the project might work?"

Quote of the Day

All publicity is good, except an obituary notice.

- Brendan Behan

Monday, October 20, 2008

Safe and Weird

Donald at 2Blowhards looks at the Aurora safety car.

What is Big Money?

The other dude nodded sadly. “Fifty million!” he scoffed.

“How embarrassing! That guy’s career is, like, dead.”

“Hate to be him,” said the other one.

“Guys,” I said, interrupting their conversation. “Can I get my turkey sandwich?”

Read the rest of
Rob Long's column here.


I've given up counting the number of digs that the film and television crowd routinely slip into their films and shows, but this one has to be one of the most vile.

[HT: Ed Driscoll ]

Critics and Available Information

We make decisions based upon the available information, not the information that arrives next week or next year, but upon the information available now.

Those who challenge decisions on the basis of new information are engaging in a gross act of unfairness. The new information was not available when the decision maker had to decide. An employer may decide to terminate an employee based upon evidence that is subsequently revealed to be weak, but if the employer, given the available evidence at the time, was making a reasonable conclusion, then the employer has behaved properly.

Those who use new information to criticize the earlier decision should bear the burden of explaining what the basis of their decision would have been had they been confronted with the same range of information available to the decision maker they are assailing. In my experience, these individuals offer only vague explanations as to how they would have avoided the same conclusion. They casually dismiss persuasive evidence and ignore the possible downsides of the decision they so warmly embrace.

Their criticism raises an ethical question. If they are so adroit at ascribing blame to those who had to make tough decisions, does it not indicate that they will be just as slippery when it comes to avoiding responsibility for their own actions?

Quote of the Day

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

- Saul Bellow

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mean Streets

If you’ve spent a couple of years being unable to get past the opening chapter of one of the later novels of Henry James, it’s hard to resist the idea that there might be a more easily enjoyable version of literature: a crime novel, for example. After all, quite a few literary masterpieces spend much of their turgid wordage being almost as contrived as any crime novel you’ve ever raced through. On page thirteen of my edition of The Wings of the Dove, Kate Croy is waiting for her father to appear. “He had not at present come down from his room, which she knew to be above the one they were in…” But of course she knew that; knew it so well that she wouldn’t have to think about it; she is only thinking about it so she can tell us. If a narrative is going to be a clumsy as that, can’t it have some guns?

Read the rest of Clive James on crime fiction.

See Film Differently

Thanks to Michael at 2Blowhards for bringing our attention to this ad campaign by Volkswagen in which an eclectic group - filled with candidates for creative writing professorships - gives unusual interpretations of famous films.

Quote of the Day

You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you.

- Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Late Bloomers

Malcolm Gladwell writing in The New Yorker on a subject close to my heart: late bloomers. An excerpt:

Ben Fountain’s rise sounds like a familiar story: the young man from the provinces suddenly takes the literary world by storm. But Ben Fountain’s success was far from sudden. He quit his job at Akin, Gump in 1988. For every story he published in those early years, he had at least thirty rejections. The novel that he put away in a drawer took him four years. The dark period lasted for the entire second half of the nineteen-nineties. His breakthrough with “Brief Encounters” came in 2006, eighteen years after he first sat down to write at his kitchen table. The “young” writer from the provinces took the literary world by storm at the age of forty-eight.

Great Moments in Modern Journalism

From a message that was sent to a classmate of one of John McCain's daughters by what was once regarded as a great newspaper:

I saw on facebook that you went to Xavier, and if you don't mind, I'd love to ask you some advice about a story. I'm a reporter at the New York Times, writing a profile of Cindy McCain, and we are trying to get a sense of what she is like as a mother. So I'm reaching out to fellow parents at her kids' schools. My understanding is that some of her older kids went to Brophy/Xavier, but I'm trying to figure out what school her 16 year old daughter Bridget attends-- and a few people said it was PCDS. Do you know if that's right? Again, we're not really reporting on the kids, just seeking some fellow parents who can talk about what Mrs. McCain is like.

The Word from Big Warren

Some advice from Warren Buffett:

A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors. To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation’s many sound companies make no sense. These businesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now.

{HT: Liz Wolgemuth ]

Prepare to be Wowed

Watch this clip of Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers.

Somehow, many of the modern entertainers don't even come close.

[HT: Jonathan Wade ]

Using Elmore's Method in Teaching

Whenever I prepare a training workshop, I keep one of novelist Elmore Leonard's rules of writing before me: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

The class is for the students, not the teacher. How can I reach their concerns, fears, and questions? Which examples will cause them to suspect that I've been watching them and their associates? Which guidelines will they want to underline and which ones will they talk about over lunch?

It is so easy for an instructor to fall in love with material that is of no use to the class. Any material that is designed to demonstrate the brilliance of the instructor should be rapidly deleted. The test is Tarzanian: Class need? Class want?

The class may need items they don't want. That's fine. Just make sure that those are presented in a manner that will shock them with interesting aspects of the topic. Make it interesting and they will find it relevant. Make it relevant and they will find it interesting.

Quote of the Day

Critics commonly suggest that every problem is the result of some policy maker's error. But policy making often involves choosing to accept one set of likely problems over another....Historical events look different before the fact: Once one knows how a story turns out, it is easy to sift the record for telling comments and actions that can be connected to grand outcomes. But before the fact, we cannot know which potential problem or opportunity might become the hinge of fate.

- Douglas J. Feith

Friday, October 17, 2008

He Said What?

She closed the door and offered him some coffee.

"Jack says he has a problem working with you," she said.

"I'm stunned. Jack has never said anything to me about any problem."

"Well, apparently he has one. He feels that you dominate the conversation at client meetings. He thinks he should have more time with the clients."

"That's crazy. I've purposely held back so Jack would speak up and he sits there like a bump on a log. We can't just visit a client and stare at them. Someone has to talk."

"That may be true, but you two have a problem."

"No, we don't have a problem. Jack has a problem. If he has any issue with how I behave, he should come and talk to me about it. If we can't work things out, then we should get you involved. I have to admit I'm a little hurt that he didn't come directly to me."

"Jack says he's hurt."

"And now he wants to hurt me?"

And Research Does Not Mean Watching "Letterman"

Bravo to Cultural Offering for stating what needs to be more widely acknowledged:

Not everyone should vote. An excerpt:

The problem I have with feel-good (read self-serving) voter registration drives is that I view voting as a responsibility that I bear. I take that responsibility very seriously and that means that it is my responsibility to register myself, take the time to research the issues and cast my ballot. It is not ACORN's responsibility to register me, it is not any organization's responsibility. It is the reason I don't like motor-voter, same day voting or anything close to these approaches.

Political Humor Update

Ann Althouse has the videos of Senators McCain and Obama at the Al Smith Dinner.

Slow is Fast

My post on how slow can mean success is up at the U.S. News & World Report site.

Quote of the Day

We've all heard the criticism "he talks too much." When was the last time you heard someone criticized for listening too much?

- Norman Augustine

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Roberts Goes Noir

If only all court opinions could be written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

"Narcotics Strike Force, North Philly, May 4, 2001. Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift. Undercover surveillance. The neighborhood? Tough as a three-dollar steak. Devlin knew. Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force. He'd made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.

"Devlin spotted him: a lone man on the corner. Another approached. Quick exchange of words. Cash handed over; small objects handed back. Each man then quickly on his own way. Devlin knew the guy wasn't buying bus tokens. He radioed a description and Officer Stein picked up the buyer. Sure enough: three bags of crack in the guy's pocket. Head downtown and book him. Just another day at the office."

[HT: Ann Althouse ]

Maintaining Morale

All good things have their limits and the situation is no different when it comes to open discussion in the workplace.

You want vigorous discussion of all sides prior to making the decision, but once the decision has been made, then it is not unreasonable to expect strong support for its execution. Some individuals seek to prolong the debate in the name of dissent. Their behavior can divide and demoralize.

Is that unreasonable? Is that intolerant? No. It is practical and yet you can find some leaders who are so reluctant to shut down debate that they permit their teams to turn into an ongoing college bull session. This is collegiality - no pun intended - carried to an extreme.

Quote of the Day

Do not let yourself be tainted with a barren skepticism.

- Louis Pasteur

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate Reality Take

When a candidate says he opposes A, but then favors all of the inherent elements of A, then that candidate favors A.

When a candidate says he favors B, but then opposes all of the inherent elements of B, then that candidate opposes B.

As Casey Stengel used to say, "You can look it up."

When Some Spice is Required

I've been working with a community group that is seeking to promote a great product. Unfortunately, their product is perceived by many as being somewhere between dry and boring.

The reason is the marketing has traditionally been done by academics and we all know what party animals they are. Nice folks, but their tendency is to take an exciting topic and analyze, analyze, analyze it until the joy has been removed.

I'm a rather conservative fellow, but I leave meetings with them feeling like I'm Mel Brooks. "Let's try this," I say and they start to look nervously around the room. "Then again, we can also do this" I shout and they look for the door.

We joke about this and yet it is a serious issue. They don't come from an environment that is divided between the Quick and the Dead. Their usual division is between the Quick and the Living. They may be politically left of center, but their general approach is hyper-traditional. That is appropriate in some areas [I'll be posting an article later on the need to slow down), but in the eyes of their customers, they are already well-stocked with stodgy.

They need to become daring and exciting. They need to hustle.

When bland threatens to put you on the street, you need to add some spice.

Not Just Another Hollywood Memoir

What we have here is a showbiz memoir from a star whose gilded cage was no metaphor; who views the great days of Hollywood in zoological terms.

More on this tell-all here.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Humor Break

Breaking news from The Onion:

Bored Cheney Googles 'Bloodless Coup.'

Child's Play

It is possible to pretend that a manager will suddenly change abusive mannerisms or that a dysfunctional team will somehow begin to click. We may hope that a person's medicocre record is not indicative of how he or she will perform in the future and may even declare that experience, despite all evidence to the contrary, is not that important. We can tell ourselves stories of times when the miraculous transpired and human proclivities for aggression, greed, and prejudice were banished by the sincere repetition of idealistic slogans.

But we should not do so if we are adults.

Quote of the Day

A friend to all is a friend to none.

- Greek proverb

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Miscellaneous and Fast

The occupational hazard of being a town crier.

Andrew Ferguson examines the world of Twitter and its twits.

The cynic in me kept recalling this Seinfeld scene during the debates on the financial rescue/bailout program.

Dennis Prager believes the Left and the Right have two irreconcilable views of America.

Writing on The Tim Ferriss blog, Leo Babauta on how to never forget anything again.

Finding a Way

I have little tolerance for the easily discouraged; those sad souls who wander in wringing their hands and describing a minor barrier they've encountered.

Life is filled with barriers. Frequently, their excuse is akin to proclaiming that there are traffic jams, rain is on the way or the copier is broken.

So you encountered a barrier. Find a way around, over, under or through it. Unless those options are stymied, it is simply a temporary delay.

Team members who mention significant problems and then energetically work to resolve them are gems. So too are those who have the courage to note serious problems that might block the entire project but who do so with a genuine dedication to the mission. The ones who trip over pebbles, of course, are beyond frustrating.

One of the most dangerous types, however, is the nay-believer who is not a nay-sayer. These sly operators believe that the difficulties are insurmountable but never voice their concerns. That group can become unknowing saboteurs since their defeatist mentality may hinder the vigorous execution that is needed for success. Their unspoken mantra is "We'll never win" and the resulting behavior can be a morale-killer.

I suspect their attitude inspired the slogan, "Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way."

Wall Street 101

Victor Davis Hanson examines some lessons learned from the financial crisis:

The fools in Washington and New York who blew up Wall Street had degrees from our finest professional schools.

The most chilling example, at the very beginning of this ongoing mess, came in 2003 during the House Financial Services Committee's hearing on Fannie and Freddie. At one point, Harvard Law School graduate Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., asked Fannie Mae CEO and fellow Harvard Law School graduate Franklin Raines — who took millions in bonuses even as he helped bankrupt the once-hallowed institution — whether he felt the mortgage giant had been "under-regulated." Raines answered him under oath, "No, sir." Then overseer Frank announced, "OK. Then I am not entirely sure why we are here."

Quote of the Day

The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.

- William James

Monday, October 13, 2008

Born to Consult or Born to Insult?

The Business of America is Business has a Deloitte video that may both amuse and irritate.

[Quick question: Will the kid go on to become a famous actor, a CEO, or just another wise guy?]

Follow-Up: Phillips on ADA Amendments Act

More from John Phillips on the ADA Amendments Act.

Here's hoping he's right on the eyeglass/contact lenses exception.

Emotional Self-Interest

Ralph Peters suggests that foreign and military affairs analysts should consider emotional self-interest rather than national self-interest. An excerpt:

Consider a range of historical examples — chosen from many, many more — that snap into focus if we accept that emotion trumps reason in human affairs:

The Crusades. Since abandoning religious belief as beneath contempt, academic historians have struggled unconvincingly to explain why, over two centuries, hundreds of thousands of European dukes, knights, retainers, laborers, peasants, priests, mendicants and not a few women left their homes to march east to free the Holy Land through force of arms without so much as reliable maps to guide them. Yes, younger sons were superfluous. But kings went, too. Yes, Europe had surplus labor. But why not let your neighbor risk his life? Yes, there was a chance of glory and wealth. But that was for the very few, not the masses, and even after riches proved illusory for most and tens of thousands perished miserably long before nearing the Holy Land, tens of thousands more knelt and took the cross.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily ]

Clean Desk

Audi implements a clean desk policy while Herman Miller is more tolerant. An excerpt from the Fortune article:

Some researchers, however, dispute the benefits of a spotless workplace. When Herman Miller (MLHR), an office furniture supplier, conducted an observational study of workplace organizational habits, they found that "filers" actually stored more useless information than their unkempt counterparts. The company identified a group of "work masters," or efficient employees, and reported that those staffers were more inclined towards piling than filing.

[My own objective study has found that the messy desk people are better looking, fun at parties, and kind to animals.]

You May Already Be a Wiener

I keep getting these e-mails informing me that I've won - or someone wants to give me - millions of dollars and yet no one ever sends me a check.

Do you suppose there's something wrong with the postal system?

Not the Best

No, we don't hire the best here. We routinely select and promote people if they fall into one of these categories:
  • They won't make us look dumb.
  • They are nice.
  • They will get along with their co-workers.
  • They won't try to change us.
  • They have some unusual skill or credential that will give us some luster.
  • They sound smart.
  • They look the part.
  • Their selection will please someone in upper management.
  • They will satisfy some hiring goal.
  • They will make us feel good about ourselves.
  • They will only give safe opinions.
  • They are readily available and we are pressed for time.
  • They won't cost much.
  • Their performance will be okay and okay is all we need.
  • They won't leave us for another employer.
  • They are not brilliant but are reliably above average.
  • They bring valuable contacts.
  • They work hard.
  • They remind us of ourselves.

Quote of the Day

To become more profound, give up your selfishness.

- Lao Tzu

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hanging Tough

Joshua Zumbrun, writing in Forbes, on the wisdom of hanging tough. An excerpt:

Stefan Nagel, an assistant professor of finance at Stanford recently co-wrote a paper on this very topic titled "Inexperienced Investors and Bubbles." Harvard's Robin Greenwood and Nagel found that inexperienced investors, in terms of age, are particularly likely to focus too heavily on recent returns.

After the lousy returns of the 1970s, inexperienced investors were more reluctant to invest in stocks. They missed out when stocks returned. After the boom years of the '90s, inexperienced investors were more likely to increase their stock exposure. When the dot-com bubble burst, they got burned.

[HT: Real Clear Politics ]

Seth's Tribes

Hugh Macleod at Gaping Void interviews Seth Godin about Seth's new book, Tribes.

Bate: Instant MBA

Just arrived in the mail: Instant MBA by professor, consultant, and old blogging compadre Nicholas Bate.

I'll be writing more about this later. From a quick glance, this may be one of his best books.

A Word from the Negative

Never fear, the negative people can always translate any action for you:

Being sent to a conference? What a waste of time! Why don't they give you a raise instead?

Taking a class to improve your promotion chances? Hey, it's who you know, not what you know.

You got a raise? That's not very big. They're just buying your silence.

The office is being renovated? I bet it's not as nice as the CEO's.

Tom likes his job? He hasn't been here long enough.

Mary got promoted? I know how she got there.

A team has been formed to improve quality? Do they think we're Japanese?

The company won an award? They must hand those out to anybody.

We're having a training session? They can't teach us anything we don't already know.

The CEO is visiting all of the outlying facilities? Get ready for the lay-off.

The boss wants to have coffee with you? This must be "Make the Employees Feel Good Month."

GM and Chrysler

Business Week looks at the possibility of a General Motors - Chrysler merger. An excerpt:

GM and Chrysler could easily cut billions in cost, Casesa says. "They would have one set of pickup truck engineers, one for minivans and crossover sport-utility vehicles, one group for marketing or accounting, and so on…But that's the easy part." The bigger challenge, says Casesa, is holding on to the revenue of both companies. Both companies are struggling to slow a freefall in truck sales, Casesa says, and merging won't solve the problem each company has with luring customers to showrooms.

Hollywood's Myths

Author Andrew Klavan would like regime change in Hollywood. An excerpt:

For the past 30 years or so, Hollywood storytelling has been guided by a liberal mythos in which, for example, blacklisting communist screenwriters during the '50s was somehow morally worse than fellow-traveling with the Stalinist murderers of tens of millions ("Trumbo"); Che Guevara was a dashing, romantic liberator instead of a charismatic killer ("The Motorcycle Diaries"); and the worldwide violence currently being waged by Islamo-fascists is either a figment of our bigoted imaginations or the product of our evil deeds ("V for Vendetta").

Quote of the Day

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

- Alvin Toffler

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Voter Fraud: Uriah Heep Was Unavailable

Aargh: ACORN representative Scott Levenson versus John Fund of The Wall Street Journal.

The Return of the Western

George F. Will likes "Appaloosa" and ponders the heyday of the western:

Imitation being, as Fred Allen said, the sincerest form of television, in 1958, 11 of the 18 top-rated television shows were "Gunsmoke" (1), "Wagon Train"(2), "Have Gun Will Travel" (3), "The Rifleman" (4), "Maverick" (6), "Tales of Wells Fargo" (7), "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (10), "Zane Grey Theater" (13), "The Texan" (15), "Wanted: Dead or Alive" (16) and "Cheyenne" (18).

ADA Amendments Act

Employment attorney John Phillips provides analysis of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act.

Given the Act's inclination to promote the broadest possible coverage, I'm wondering if the exception for eyeglasses and contact lenses will be rigidly held by the courts.

That Name Rings a Bell

Culture Break: The film trailer for The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Campaign Problems

Charles Krauthammer on a character issue that may haunt the Obama campaign. An excerpt:

Obama’s political career was launched with Ayers giving him a fundraiser in his living room. If a Republican candidate had launched his political career at the home of an abortion-clinic bomber — even a repentant one — he would not have been able to run for dogcatcher in Podunk. And Ayers shows no remorse. His only regret is that he “didn’t do enough.”

Nicole Gelinas on flaws in the McCain mortgage buy-out plan. An excerpt:

McCain says that he’d limit his offer to people who “cannot make payments” on their current loans; who live in the home whose loan they want restructured; who can show that they didn’t falsify their original loan application; and who put some kind of payment down when they purchased the house. It could be an administrative nightmare to figure out who can or can’t afford his current mortgage: two families earning the same income with the same mortgage may have different spending habits, pushing one into foreclosure but not the other. McCain’s declaration of a vast new government program, which could encourage many more people to try their luck, only complicates things further.

The strangest thing about McCain’s proposal, though, is that he doesn’t seem to realize that it directly contradicts his own previous backing of the Paulson bill—for which he suspended his campaign, jetted to Washington, and lobbied his own party.

Present at the Surge

"Baghdad at Sunrise" ends with a Manhattan cocktail party that Col. Mansoor attended after returning from Iraq. Upon learning that the hostess's teenage son had a strong interest in military affairs, Col. Mansoor suggested that he apply to West Point. "No, no, no!" the hostess replied. "He has much more important things planned for his life." Col. Mansoor aptly warns that if America's elites persist in that attitude, we may well lose our current wars -- and, in the longer term, our very civilization.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal review of Colonel Peter Mansoor's book.

Quote of the Day

If A is success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x, y is play, and z is keeping your mouth shut.

- Albert Einstein

Friday, October 10, 2008


Paul Graham on the distractions that surround us:

After years of carefully avoiding classic time sinks like TV, games, and Usenet, I still managed to fall prey to distraction, because I didn't realize that it evolves. Something that used to be safe, using the Internet, gradually became more and more dangerous. Some days I'd wake up, get a cup of tea and check the news, then check email, then check the news again, then answer a few emails, then suddenly notice it was almost lunchtime and I hadn't gotten any real work done. And this started to happen more and more often.

Books that Cheer

You know someone who needs to be cheered up. You are going to take them some books.

Which ones would you take?

My choices:

A Confederacy of Dunces

Nobody's Fool


Boss A, Boss B

My post on praise and supervisory styles is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Culture's Power

Check out Jim Stroup on corporate culture. An excerpt:

When we do turn to what is going on inside the corporate culture, we tend to view it simplistically. It is, we persist in imagining, a passive force that can resist, but not organize or create. Without the active and guiding force of the individual leader it is at best a pointless, rudderless force, and at worst a negative influence that must be suppressed or sent to the reeducation camps.

The truth is, it is much deeper than we think. There is life stirring in its depths that we can’t see, influence, or benefit from if we only offer it a glancing surface examination while we skim along overhead with blithe self-absorption.

Perspective, Not Panic

Put the bailout's $700 billion price tag in perspective: American households, until recently, had net assets of $56 trillion. A 2% decline in the value of those financial and hard assets overwhelms that $700 billion.

Read the rest of Steve Forbes's column here.

Play within a Play

At what point does a job applicant become too smooth?

We say we want articulate responses, but there are times when the answers sound rehearsed. We sense we are watching a performance instead of a person.

Employers can blame themselves for the rising number of slick applicants. The market has caught on that being genuine can be dangerous. The applicant who responds to "Why do you want this job?" with "So I can pay my rent" may be given high marks for candor and low ones for judgment.

For their part, the interviewers are often restricted from asking questions that might give a glimpse of the real person.

As a result, the job interview turns into a drama in which the players improvise while fulfilling certain roles and the drama itself is a casting session. It is a play within a play.

The applicant's strategy: If I want this job, I will say the things (within limits) that I think will make you want to give it to me.

The interviewer's strategy: I will try to determine if, underneath all of the answers that are given to make us want to hire you and which we may truly want to hear, you can be trusted, will not embarrass us, and will fit in.