Thursday, December 31, 2009
On this small base surrounded by a mixture of enemy and friendly territory, a memorial has been erected just next to the Chapel. Inside the tepee are 21 photos of 21 soldiers killed during the first months of a year-long tour of duty.
Read the rest of Michael Novak, in the first of three installments, on the truths Americans used to hold.
It is one of the best novels I have ever read.
The book was in a stack of used paperbacks purchased years ago. I recall thinking the subject might be interesting. The jacket touted it as a "classic" but that term is overused.
Not in this case. "The Time of the Assassins" is indeed a classic.
And that caused me to wonder: Why isn't this book better known? I don't have the answer. There is the chance that its clear-eyed view of both the Communists and the Nazis was not favored in circles that were willing to give the Communists a pass and yet that doesn't make sense because "Darkness at Noon" found a large audience. Some might point to a bias against Australian authors, but Blunden was a journalist who also wrote for TIME magazine. You might think the book would have gotten more press.
Which raises the issue of why some writers and thinkers - and yes, executives, managers, and employees - get enormous attention while others of equal or greater caliber do not. The PR wizards will rush forward with charts and PowerPoints to give their pitch. I've no doubt that it has a lot of merit.
And yet, there is often something more subtle at work. Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin have alluded to the fact that it is not enough to be mentioned; if one is to attain a certain level of fame then the mentioning must be done by the right people at the right time and, in some cases, for a prolonged period of time. Conversely, a negative report from an influential person at just the wrong moment can have an effect far beyond what it deserved. I recently remembered an executive board meeting of a community group several decades ago in which one executive's career was greatly altered by a few seemingly off-hand comments made by a higher-up who felt the exec wasn't ready for promotion. A quick zap and the board was on to other candidates. No deep analysis or weighing of the pros and cons. Nothing to see here. Move along, folks.
Just as we can be surprised to learn that a celebrated leader is actually an empty suit, we can be shocked to find work and individuals of enormous talent toiling, as the phrase goes, in obscurity. Who are those people? They are The Great Unmentioned.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
- Eat more chocolate.
- Gain at least three pounds.
- Misplace your keys.
- Hear about some celebrity and wonder, "Who is that?"
- Go another year without reading "Ulysses."
- Confuse Monet and Manet.
- Avoid beets.
- Let unread magazines stack up.
- Boycott the samba.
- Do something really stupid.
But then, of course, something will come between me and my resolution: a deadline, for example. However much I would like to be tidy, a deadline that I have to meet is more urgent, more important and - at least in the short term - more lucrative. After all, I can always catch up with the resolution after the deadline has been met.
But that is the problem with New Year's resolutions: One can no more comply with them intermittently than a woman can be a little bit pregnant. They are like jealous gods who will brook no deviation from the ancient propitiatory ceremonies. They allow no compromise; they are absolutist in their demands. They are like Old Testament prophets.
Fahrenheit's answer to that is "100-day plans." Every 100 days, everyone gets together, locks the doors, ditches the cell phones, and sits down to a company-wide strategy session.
Together, they set the company's goals for the next 100 days. And they go around the table to hear how each staffer -- execs included -- did on his personal deliverables over the last 100 days. They ask each other questions, weigh in with their own perspectives on their colleagues' work, and do lots of ribbing, reflecting, and cheering.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
It's getting to the point where the twin news stories more or less write themselves. No sooner is the fanatical and homicidal Muslim arrested than it turns out that he (it won't be long until it is also she) has been known to the authorities for a long time. But somehow the watch list, the tipoff, the many worried reports from colleagues and relatives, the placing of the name on a "central repository of information" don't prevent the suspect from boarding a plane, changing planes, or bringing whatever he cares to bring onto a plane. This is now a tradition that stretches back to several of the murderers who boarded civilian aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001, having called attention to themselves by either a) being on watch lists already or b) weird behavior at heartland American flight schools. They didn't even bother to change their names.
You can get answers to the following items and more:
What Are the Chances Your Marriage Will Last?
Picking the Right Date for Valentine's Day
Should You Call in Sick?
Are You Too Good for Your Job?
Should You Buy Something (or Not)?
How Many Cups of Coffee Should You Drink This Morning?
How Many Beers Should You Have at the Company Picnic?
Earth Live: Walk, Bike or Drive?
Should You Say It on the Grapevine?
Should You Start or Stop Procrastinating?
Should You Apologize?
Should You Lie?
Is Your Personal Grooming Adequate?
Should You Quit Your Job?
Since 1990, the global labor market has doubled. By 2050, the world population will be over 9 billion. But in spite of this, employers face an HR paradox: How to find the right people at the right time in the right place – and fill the gap in the midst of plenty?
The implications of this are that older workers will be more prevalent and we will need to find ways to keep them engaged in the workforce longer. There will be an increase in multi-generational workforces and managers will need to learn how to navigate the nuances of each generation.
[Execupundit note: Prior to the recent economic downturn, one of the challenges was the middle manager glut; i.e. the large number of highly skilled middle managers who were "all dressed up with no place to go." Due to layoffs, that pressure may have been eased but organizations still face the question of how to retain extraordinary people when there are fewer opportunities for advancement. Special assignments, training options, and flexible schedules may help but customization will be crucial.]
I disagree with some of her choices; e.g. "Sideways" and "Little Miss Sunshine". Her readers' comments turned the focus into the "worst films we were suckered into seeing by gushing reviews." I like that slant but let's not limit this to the decade. I'll start off with:
- The English Patient
- Dances with Wolves
- Out of Africa
- Good Will Hunting
- True Grit
It was a combination that appealed to the director of “Taxi,” Gregory Ratoff. He liked the look of Kelly, all the more so because, in his view, the look was that of a plain Jane. According to Kelly, “I was in the ‘too’ category for a very long time. I was too tall, too leggy, too chinny. I remember that Mr. Ratoff kept yelling, ‘She’s perfect! What I love about this girl is that she’s not pretty!’ ”
I'll see how long that lasts.
Anyway, the productive part is the challenge. I'm not in the best voice to call clients, serious e-mail is approached with caution, and it doesn't make sense to go to the office and infect others.
But since the mind is wandering anyway, why not jump on its back and jot down various ideas for new products, twists on established ones, and matters to discuss with various people? The points may be amusing later - How could I have thought that would work? - and yet thinking with the fences down may produce some breakthroughs or guides leading to them.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Read all of The Adventure of the Priory School by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The big health story in April is the rapid spread of swine flu, a dangerous new virus strain developed by the makers of Purell. Public anxiety over the flu increases when Vice President Joe Biden, demonstrating his gift for emitting statements, declares on the Today show that he would not recommend traveling by commercial airplane or subway. A short while later, White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs assures reporters that he is ``not aware of any `Vice President Joe Biden.' ''
In another embarrassment for the White House, New York is temporarily thrown into a panic when Air Force One flies low over Manhattan for a publicity photo shoot. Responding to widespread criticism, Gibbs notes that President Obama inherited Air Force One from the Bush administration.
Apple may throw everyone a curve ball here. Imagine an Apple tablet about the size of a 11-in. spiral notebook with an iPhone-like touch screen. How about the ability for the machine to recognize voice commands and dictation of text? A built-in video camera and maybe a mini-projector for meetings would be nice. And if the reports of Apple's discussion to land print media content in the iTunes store are true, how about an easy-on-the-eyes display for reading electronic magazines and books?
“Western Ascendancy”: that was the grandiose title of the course I taught at Harvard this past term. The subtitle was even more bombastic: “Mainsprings of Global Power”. The question I wanted to pose was not especially original, but increasingly it seems to be the most interesting question a historian of the modern era can address. Just why, beginning in around 1500, did the less populous and apparently backward west of the Eurasian landmass come to dominate the rest of the world, including the more populous and more sophisticated societies of eastern Eurasia?
My subsidiary question was this: If we can come up with a good explanation for the west’s past ascendancy, can we then offer a prognosis for its future?
Put differently, are we living through the end of the domination of the world by the civilisation that arose in western Europe in the wake of the Renaissance and Reformation – the civilisation that, propelled by the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, spread across the Atlantic and as far as the Antipodes, finally reaching its apogee in the age of industry and empire?
[HT: Real Clear Politics]
Read the rest of Claire Berlinski here.
First, a taxi driver points out that it’s a long way around to get to Gare du Nord, and there’s a Metro stop right next to me that will get me there much quicker and cheaper. I forget to retrieve my Metro ticket after going through the turnstile (you need it to get out of the station). A woman chases after me to give it to me. On the train, I look confused about where to get off, and another woman asks if I need directions. At the Gare du Nord, a very confusing place, still another woman patiently gives me thorough directions. I head off, go down an escalator, am looking around for the not-at-all-obvious sign to the airport train, and suddenly there she is again, apparently having decided I looked too stupid to be trusted to get there on my own. Good call. She walks me all the way to the platform.
I will brook no more dissent. Vive la France. Vive la Paris. And watch out if you start to go after the French in my presence.
A common dream, but it misses the chance to be truly frightening. For example, was there a high school class on decision making? If so, I missed it. And was any classroom time spent on handling adversity? I must have ditched that day. What about a session or two on how organizations operate? No? Well, surely some instructors covered the essential subject of "people skills." Hmm. Not quite.
If we had those dreams, we might never wake up.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Although a year late, the Google phone is living up to its promise. Phones based on the Web giant's Android software appear ready to challenge the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Nokia brands as a leading contender in the smartphone wars. A slew of Google phones have suddenly descended on the market, with dozens more expected to arrive late this year and early in 2010.
Although he exerts a noble effort to make those characters and their record store counterparts seem necessary, even beneficial, it is hard to cover up the fact that they are jerks.
The way the experiment works is that each day emphasizes new actions, which then roll over to the next day, so that by the end of the week, all actions are working in concert, and you've been transformed from a conspicuously consumptive carbon monster into a virtuous person who can then go on to lecture less virtuous people about how they're destroying the earth.
Every once in a while a science fiction book unleashes a vivid, important alternative vision of the future that has not been fleshed out before. Daniel Suarez does that with Daemon, a fasted-paced thriller about a world in which a virtual bot takes over. Sort of a digital Armageddon, only worse. It's a techno-thriller more informed than a Tom Clancy novel, more plausible than The Matrix, more graphic than War Games, and more thought-provoking than Neuromancer -- yet it introduces a science fiction future new to all of them.
Again, most of those targeted are not the already rich — a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates — but millions of the wannabe rich. They may have achieved larger-than-average annual incomes, but they’re not the multimillionaire speculators on Wall Street who nearly wrecked the American economy in search of huge bonuses and payoffs. Most are instead professionals and small-business owners who take enormous risks in hopes of being well-off and passing their wealth on to their children.
Read the rest of the Newsweek interview with Amazon's Jeff Bezos here.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Read the Fast Company article on how Microsoft responded. [In short, they're still selling Word.]
- Wall Street Journal Law Blog: Another side to the White House party crashers story. Hmm.
- Joe Queenan on how Tiger can come back.
- Trailer: A Christmas Story.
- John L. Herman: HermanUniversity.com
- Arthur Herman: The 35 Year War on the CIA.
- Herman: The cartoon.
- Jonah Goldberg: Are Americans coming together?
- Trailer: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
- Dennis Prager: The most important verse in the Bible.
- Scott Thill: Who was the best Bat Man?
- Melvin Belli
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I’m excited that somebody made it so easy to help people stuck in a personal financial crisis situation (these days, there are many). CNN has more:
Here’s how it works: People e-mail their requests — help with rent or a car repair or a medical bill, for example — to Modest Needs, whose seven-person staff researches and verifies their legitimacy. The vetted requests are then posted on ModestNeeds.org, where donors can choose which ones they want to help fund. Once the funding level is reached, a check is sent out.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said, “Rather than sitting here and carping about what Nelson got for Nebraska, I would say to my friends on the other side of the aisle: Let’s get together and see what we can get for South Carolina.”
And Majority Leader Harry Reid has said, “I don’t know if there is a Senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that was important to them. And if they don’t have something in it important to them, then it doesn’t speak well of them.”
Read the rest of Louis Menand's article on Arthur Koestler in The New Yorker.
Sometimes you catch sight of a turn, heading off into the distance—a dirt track or a county road at right angles to the highway, as you drive along those straight, miles-long lines you find only in the West. And you know you’ll never go up it, never come back to find where it leads, and always there remains a sense, as you roll past, that maybe this time you should have turned and followed that track up into the distant hills.
Her hair was the same thin shade of gray as the weather-beaten pickets of the fence around her frozen garden. She had a way with horses, and she was alone on Christmas Eve. There is little in my life I regret as much as that I would not stay for just one cookie, just one cup of tea.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Verging on Pertinence takes us to Paris for a snack in the park and then waxes philosophical about aging and biscotti. An excerpt from the latter:
The biscotti are a treasure-trove of life's hard experiences to be enjoyed in little nips, followed by a chewing and mulling over. To the biscotti you must bring your own liquid, coffee, tea ,or your mouth's juices so you can wear down time's hardening of things gone past. The madeleine? A young man's cookie, malleable and without the hard inner core of substance. It is the elemental biscotti, flour, eggs, water (o.k. an almond or two for additional mulling over), that serves le penseur best. Time and heat. Twice. That's what life, aging, and cookies are all about.
How did the researchers cope with all this unexpected data? How did they deal with so much failure? Dunbar realized that the vast majority of people in the lab followed the same basic strategy. First, they would blame the method. The surprising finding was classified as a mere mistake; perhaps a machine malfunctioned or an enzyme had gone stale. “The scientists were trying to explain away what they didn’t understand,” Dunbar says. “It’s as if they didn’t want to believe it.”
The experiment would then be carefully repeated. Sometimes, the weird blip would disappear, in which case the problem was solved. But the weirdness usually remained, an anomaly that wouldn’t go away.
This is when things get interesting. According to Dunbar, even after scientists had generated their “error” multiple times — it was a consistent inconsistency — they might fail to follow it up. “Given the amount of unexpected data in science, it’s just not feasible to pursue everything,” Dunbar says. “People have to pick and choose what’s interesting and what’s not, but they often choose badly.” And so the result was tossed aside, filed in a quickly forgotten notebook. The scientists had discovered a new fact, but they called it a failure.
Monday, December 21, 2009
An excerpt from his essay on Personal Liberty:
In our time, alas, many people have come to think of human liberty as the ability to flow with their instincts, let go of restraint, and do what they feel like doing. Such people like to invoke animal images of their dream of liberty: They are “born free” like a lioness on the African plains or “free as a bird.” They look on animal nature as innocent and unrestrained, separated from social customs, traditions, mores, and moral rules imposed from outside the animals’ own instincts, urgings, and longings. Woody Allen very neatly expressed this sort of impulsiveness when he said, “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
But is this not a paradoxical claim? Some people claim to be compelled to follow instinct. They claim to have lost the liberty to persuade their hearts, lost all will to resist, lost all ability to do anything other than what the heart wants. We all know that pull of the heart. But true liberty demands that we open ourselves to other pulls and other persuasions, while listening to the calming voice of wisdom. Experience teaches us, in this way, that human liberty is not constituted by bondage to impulse, even to prolonged and seemingly irresistible impulse. Such bondage describes the liberty of wild animals, but it does not describe the liberty available only to the fully developed human animal—the free person.
Dr. Max Pemberton, writing in The Telegraph, on the war against the obese.
Imagine that you're at dinner with some very bright friends who like to draw fascinating and seemingly unlikely connections between various events. You may argue with them and concede different points and yet your overall reaction will be pure pleasure.
SuperFreakonomics is great fun for those of us who believe in the law of unintended consequences. Push in here and look for the reactions elsewhere. Levitt and Dubner discuss a collection of connections. Which was safer? A New York City filled with automobile traffic or one where horses were the chief mode of transportation? (Go with the cars.) Why may patients of the better doctors have a higher death rate? With all things being equal, who is more likely to gain tenure, professor Albert Aab or professor Albert Zyzmor? How do the habits of some prostitutes resemble department store Santas? What were the effects of the September 11 attacks on traffic fatalities? On the spread of flu? On investigations of the Mafia?
The book is a grand exercise in looking for the unintended, in considering how what may seem positive or negative can have the opposite effect. It should serve as a caution to those reckless souls who believe in grandiose plans. Levitt and Dubner would say, "Be careful. You might just get what you asked for."
- The Washington Post
I have. And when the event that the feeling was warning of comes to pass, I've often vowed never again to make that mistake.
But then the schedule gets packed, deadlines loom, and it seems only wise to brush aside featherweight concerns. After all, larger issues beckon.
One solution: Before concluding any major decision, ask yourself if there has been any sense of unease, no matter how small. If so, fashion an approach that would reduce or eliminate that concern.
Later, when the results are in, consider if the minor change made a difference. I predict that in many instances, it will have made a big difference.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
. . . Remember that story a couple of weeks ago about how Danish prostitutes were offering free sex to Copenhagen delegates for the duration of the conference? I initially assumed it was just an amusing marketing cash-in by savvy Nordic strumpets. But no, the local "sex workers union" Sexarbejdernes Interesseorganisation, was responding to the municipal government's campaign to discourage attendees from partaking of prostitutes. The City of Copenhagen distributed cards to every hotel room showing a lady of the evening at a seedy street corner over the slogan "BE SUSTAINABLE: Don't Buy Sex."
"Be sustainable"? Prostitution happens to be legal in Copenhagen, and the "sex workers" understandably were peeved at being lumped into the same category as such planet wreckers as Big Oil, car manufacturers, travel agents and other notorious pariahs. So Big Sex decided not to take it lying down. Yet in an odd way, that municipal postcard gets to the heart of what's going on: Government can - and will - use a "sustainable" environment as a pretext for anything that tickles its fancy. All ambitious projects - communism, the new caliphate - have global ambitions, but when the globe itself is the cover for those ambitions, freeborn citizens should beware. Nico Little, a Canadian leftie at the Rabble Web site, distilled the logic into a single headline:
"Hookers Are Killing Polar Bears and Now You Can't Water Your Lawn."
One major lesson I’ve learned, and it’s not a good one, probably, is that I can actually function on three or four hours, not just now and then, but consistently. Some days I need to close my door and faint for a couple of minutes to set things right, a habit I’ve been pursuing since I was new to the corporation. I used to sleep on the floor with my head right next to the closed door, so that if anybody opened it I would be slammed in the head and wake. Sounds stupid, I know, but it worked. “What are you doing down there?” they would say, and I would reply, “Looking for a cuff link. What’s up.” And life would go on.
And one reader (Steve from Anaheim) comments:
Dude! With your unconventional sleep pattern philosophy, You have a bright, bright future at Northwest Airlines! I suggest you sign up for Pilot training right away!
Friday, December 18, 2009
Only 3% of jobs are filled by ‘mega’ job boards such as Monster, Careerbuilder, and HotJobs. They are not only expensive and bloated, but they simply do not deliver quality candidates. Equally as detrimental for employers, the pay-to-post job boards are filled with old, outdated job listings, work-at-home scams, phishing jobs, scam jobs, identity theft postings, and other garbage listings which seriously erode the user experience and potentially a company’s employment branding. This means, as well, that aggregators such as Indeed and Simplyhired that do nothing more than mash all of those bloated, polluted databases into a giant pile of garbage are equally as counter-productive.
Bangor is the airport where numerous troops going to or returning from Iraq or Afghanistan stop over. It’s not unusual for there to be what seems to be hundreds of military men and women roaming around the airport, using computers, talking on cellphones, getting a bite to eat, or just hanging out with each other.
Each time troops fly into or out of Bangor, the Maine Troop Greeters are there. Composed of veterans and Mainers who want to show support for our troops, these greeters bring handshakes, hugs, blankets, Bibles, cellphones, flags, snacks, and other gifts of friendship for these brave young people whom almost not a single greeter knows. There’s no telling how many times the greeters say “Thank you” or “God bless you” or “Good luck, or “See you when you return.” It’s a model workplace of friendship and support.
Read all of Peggy Noonan's column here.
- Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister, First Among Equals
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The good news is that a tiger doesn’t need to completely understand the jungle to survive, navigate, and then dominate. It is not necessary to know every anthropological and historical nuance of the people here. If that were the case, our Coalition of over forty nations would not exist. More important is to realize that they are humans like us. They get hungry, happy, sad, and angry; they make friends and enemies (to the Nth degree); they are neither supermen nor vermin. They’re just people.
But it always helps to know as much as you can. This will take much time, many dispatches, and hard, dangerous work. Let’s get started.
Read the rest of Michael Yon's overview on Afghanistan.
I just got a free golf cart.
Actually, it cost me $6,490—but the dealer, Colin Riley of Tucson, Ariz., points out that there's a $6,490 federal tax credit on such vehicles. Riley runs ads that say: "FREE ELECTRIC CAR … !"
Some consumers probably assume it's a car-dealer scam, but it's not. It's an Uncle Sam scam.
Read the rest of John Stossel on free stuff from Uncle Sam.
The Journal of Labor Economics has an interesting study in its most recent issue (October 2009) about the patterns of hiring that managers of different races exhibit. According to the study, white, Asian, and Hispanic managers tend to hire more white and fewer black employees than do black managers. The article, Laura Giuliano, David I. Levine, and Jonathan Leonard, Manager Race and the Race of New Hires not only documents the pattern but also offers some explanations:
Using more than two years of personnel data from a large U.S. retail chain, the study found that when a black manager in a typical store is replaced by a white, Asian or Hispanic manager, the share of newly hired blacks falls from 21 to 17 percent, and the share of whites hired rises from 60 to 64 percent. The effect is even stronger for stores located in the South, where the replacement of a black manager causes the share of newly hired blacks to fall from 29 to 21 percent. . . .
- They will only push so far because they sense a day may arise when a reluctant but worthy ally will be needed;
- Each secretly admires the other;
- They've grown to enjoy the sparring more than they could ever savor a total victory;
- They serve as an unpaid Total Quality Management consultant for one another;
- They don't take it personally;
- Their jousts are carefully choreographed for the education of their staffs;
- If they didn't have an adversary they would have to invent one.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Back in the early days of "Saturday Night Live," the character Father Guido Sarducci (aka the comedian Don Novello) tried to explain the wages of sin to a secular, consumer society. As Father Guido described it, we all accumulate a certain balance in our heavenly bank account ($14.50 for every day we live, though he never said if this was inflation-adjusted), but we suffer withdrawals when we misbehave. Father Guido purported to know exactly how much each transgression cost us. A stolen bag of potato chips was $6. Lying cost us $10. An embarrassing sexual act? Just 35 cents but, as the good father pointed out, it added up if you did it over and over again.