Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Basically Good?

In this short video, Dennis Prager tackles a question that often comes up in discussions on ethics:

Are people basically good?

He notes the ramifications of the answer.

Clever and Cute

Daniel H. Pink points to a great example of an emotionally intelligent invoice.

Two Dozen Lawsuits in Three Days

Check out employment attorney John Phillips on the EEOC's activities.


Rob Long reviews the first novel from that wild man about town, Ralph Nader:

Here, for instance, is an actual passage from "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!": "As promised, Ted Turner and Phil Donahue had put their heads together to brainstorm about a mascot for the group's efforts. Ted's thoughts naturally ran along avian lines, and it wasn't long before they hit on the idea of a parrot. . . . Patriotic Polly hit the airwaves in fifteen-second spots shown on thousands of stations, and it was an immediate smash."


I'm not a fan of the use of feelings versus logic when making decisions. So often, it is the lazy thinker's way of avoiding the heavy lifting.

There are times, however, when feelings are a great alarm bell. Something doesn't feel right. You don't know what it is, but little alerts are sounding.

Pay attention to those.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, feelings are lousy for telling you when something might be good but they are often dead-on in spotting the bad. We shut off the alarms with what we think is logic but when we look back at poor decisions, what we felt was logical was incomplete analysis. It was simply a convenient way to quiet the alarms and move on.

Watch out for that. When that persistent feeling that something is incomplete or unexplained arises, set aside or buy some time to dissect your decision. The feeling is the effect. Something is causing it.

The Wonderful Country

Recently, while on a hunting expedition to a used bookstore, I picked up a beaten up first edition of The Wonderful Country by Tom Lea.

Started thumbing through it and was hooked by the simple and beautiful writing.

It was only later that I learned he was also an accomplished muralist:

Quote of the Day

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.

- Henry Miller

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Solar Home Economics

Political Calculations looks at a homeowner's effort to go solar in Phoenix, Arizona and finds that, in order for it to be feasible, the neighbors have to kick in a significant amount of money.

Where to Retire

U.S. News & World Report on the best of the affordable places to retire in the United States.

Hmm. That could be highly debatable.

Smart Execs and Dumb Decisions

Don't just read this one, print it out.

Bill Russell and Tracy Cox on why smart chief executives make dumb decisions. They examine eight common blunders. An excerpt:

The missteps that led to today's economic troubles continue a long history of decision-making failures. Earlier this year the New York Yankees priced box seats in its new ballpark at $2,500 and quickly had to offer discounts. Two years ago Mattel and Nike each recalled carloads of products because of faulty manufacturing in China. The year 2005 saw the delayed response to Hurricane Katrina and the opening of Boston’s Big Dig, five years late and five times the projected cost.

Moral Hazard's Hazard

Writing in Commentary, James K. Glassman on the hazard of moral hazard:

When someone insures you against the consequences of a nasty event, oddly enough, he raises the incentives for you to behave in a way that will cause the event. So if your diamond ring is insured for $50,000, you are more likely to leave it out of the safe. Economists call this phenomenon “moral hazard,” and if you look around, you will see it everywhere. “With automobile collision insurance, for example, one is more likely to venture forth on an icy night,” writes Harvard economist Richard Zeckhauser. “Federal deposit insurance made S&Ls more willing to take on risky loans. Federally subsidized flood insurance encourages citizens to build homes on flood plains.”

Bate on Candor

Coach: And how much TV do you watch?
Client: Oh-don't start that. I have a stressful day. I need to relax. That approach is about as helpful as saying I can save money by changing my venti to a short latte. Where's the fun in that?
Coach: Sure. So how much TV do you watch?
Client: I pay you to help. Not to remind me how lazy I am.

Read the rest of the incomparable Nicholas Bate on probing and candor in a coaching session.

Quote of the Day

One reason pronouncements like [Tom] Brokaw's are so blatantly foolhardy is because great developments in world history can never be chalked up to a single generation. The other fallacy inherent in his argument lies in the fact that different generations accomplish different things at different points in their lives. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Benjamin Franklin was almost seventy, George Washington was in his forties, Thomas Paine was thirty-eight, Thomas Jefferson thirty-two, and Alexander Hamilton was not yet twenty. Which generation gets credit for midwifing the United States? Franklin's for providing its most revered statesman? Washington's for producing the indispensable military leader? Jefferson's for supplying a man capable of doing the important paperwork? Or Hamilton's for figuring out a way to pay the infant republic's bills?

- Joe Queenan

Monday, September 28, 2009

Customer Service: The Dark Side

This post by Tim Berry on the dark side of extreme customer service should be widely read and discussed. An excerpt:

The salesperson, meanwhile, notes that the brand is one the store has never carried. She’s dying to say, loud enough for the sympathetic customers around to hear her, “I’m sorry sir, but I know you didn’t buy this jacket here because this store has never carried that brand.” And, after saying that, to send him on his way. “Now please let me attend to customers waiting for my help.” The other customers want that too.

However, because of the lore of extreme customer service, she has to swallow hard, apologize, and process a return. This is bad for her morale, bad for her health, bad for her spirit, and didn’t do much for the store either.


John L. Herman with a reminder of the power of the incremental:

We slip down the slope in small incremental steps…we don’t just jump off a cliff.

Upturn Strategies

Here are some opinions from The Wharton School on managing in an upturn. An excerpt:

Indeed, many experts at Wharton and elsewhere agree that the decision-making challenges facing corporate CEOs and their top strategists are in some ways more difficult in the second half of 2009 than they were during nearly two years of unmitigated recessionary times. That is because managers must make risky decisions on issues like increasing production back to pre-recession levels: Do it too soon and a company could waste millions on unsold inventory, while inaction could lead to significant lost revenue opportunities if the U.S. economic recovery is strong and takes place quickly.

The Law Reaches Polanski

Various takes on the Roman Polanski case and its coverage:

My own view? It's a vile crime. He tried to elude justice. He deserves the appropriate penalties. And the fact that he is a highly talented film director is irrelevant.

Bop and Zap Dept.

Daniel W. Drezner on what we'd see if author bios were brutally honest. An excerpt:
  • Gwen Pollard is an area expert at a prominent DC think tank. She fervently hopes that everyone has forgotten how completely wrong she was about this topic just five short years ago.

ADA Amendments and More

Read Michael P. Maslanka for a prediction on the new and litigation-prone state of the Americans with Disabilities Act amendments and for some poetry as well.

Don't forget the poetry.

Quote of the Day

Somebody decided that [James] Dean was the ideal person to give teenagers advice on safe driving. He filmed a public service announcement for television advising young people about the desirability of a sensible attitude on the road. Actually Dean's qualifications to talk about road safety were the same as a lemming's to talk about cliff-walking.

- Clive James

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Walk with the Ravens

Cultural Offering gives a sample of Jim Harrison's poetry.

Beautiful and haunting. I'm getting the book.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

For the Stranded Traveler: Mini-Hotel Room

A video of a hotel pod at Heathrow.

Rather impressive. It's better than some regular hotel rooms I've encountered.

Career Non-Guidance

I suspect that many people go into teaching because that's one of the few jobs they've seen up front.

After being subjected to good teachers and bad, most of us have a more accurate idea of the job's demands than we form from cursory contacts with doctors, lawyers, and plumbers unless we have one of those practitioners in our family. Even then there might be some mystery. I have two brothers whose work, the best I can tell, involves walking into a board room, opening a briefcase, and then sipping coffee while people throw in money.

But perhaps I'm wrong.

Anyway, the entire process of career planning is skewed. We major in certain subjects in college and later learn that the actual work in the subject area is only remotely tied to the preparation. Sometimes, that's good news since the preparation may have been partly designed to keep out the competition and the job itself is quite enjoyable. [I found being an Army officer far better than preparing to be one.]

In other cases, the process is reversed. The preparation is the fun part and the job itself is a drag. Many a serious and enthusiastic student of philosophy or political science is now selling insurance. [As the B.A. wannabe groaned in Animal House, "Seven years of college down the drain."]

It's an annual event. As soon as the tassle is moved from one side of the mortarboard to the other, reality arrives for its ritualistic dream-stomping. Pricing one's skills to what the market will bear is a bit disturbing when one finds the market will bear very little if any at all.

In still other cases, of course, neither the preparation nor the job is a barrel of laughs. I've met many an attorney who trudged through law school only to learn that the practice of law faintly resembles television dramas and that none of their colleagues are Atticus Finch.

The only good news is that most of us go through the same mixture of chaos, trial and error, and outright rejection. We learn that life is not only unfair, it's damned disorganized, and that the path to professional happiness is rarely a clean shot from A to Z.

You can search for your passion, but find some passion for what you're doing right now, because the wisest travelers take some joy from the journey and the map is often wrong.

Where We Work: Einstein, Buckley, and Company

Cultural Offering looks at some famous work spaces.

The photos certainly argue against the theory that a clean desk is needed for extraordinarily productivity.

A Governing Style and Secret

Here's an interview with a highly successful state governor, Mitch Daniels. His focus:

The 60-year-old won in 2004 by promising to achieve one goal. "Every successful enterprise has a very clear strategic purpose. . . . So, we said, all right, the strategic purpose of our administration is to raise the net disposable income of Hoosiers," which has fallen dramatically in recent decades. "Everything else is just a means to that end."

Quote of the Day

Let us be of good cheer, however, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never come.

- James Russell Lowell

Friday, September 25, 2009

Music Break: Film Soundtracks

Blast Off!

You want to clean your computer keyboard with some style?

Cool Tools recommends the Giotto Rocket Blaster.

I think it will just look good on my desk; that is, if anyone can see it amid the books and papers.

Gervais Interview

Ricky Gervais is interviewed about his new film. One of his unique recruitment techniques:

Gervais assembled his Invention of Lying cast, which includes Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman and nominee Edward Norton making cameo appearances, in the same way he gathered his guest stars for Extras – he simply asked them.

“I didn’t know Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I sent him an email saying, 'Dear Philip, please do my new film. There’s no money as I spent the entire budget on testicular implants. But don’t think of them as my testicles, think of them as our testicles.’ He loved it, and it worked.

Anti-Americanism: Alive and Well

Perhaps the most fearsome example is Pakistan, where only about 16 percent of respondents express a positive view of the United States—a drop of three percentage points from when Bush was president. Thanks in part to terrorist attacks that have killed scores of ordinary Pakistanis, disapproval of terrorism and the Taliban has risen sharply in recent months. Nevertheless, most Pakistanis (64 percent) view the United States as an enemy. The most alarming finding, in view of Pakistan’s nuclear capability, is that more people express positive views of Osama bin Laden than they do of Obama. Let that soak in. Nearly one in five respondents (18 percent) trust bin Laden to “do the right thing” in world affairs, compared to 13 percent for Obama. Given Al Qaeda’s record of slaughtering Muslims as effortlessly as they do Western infidels, the Pakistani psyche seems headed for moral collapse.

Read the rest of The American article.

Pass the Candy Cigarettes

Remember when major television and film stars were in ads for healthy products?

An Aversion to Wearing Red Suspenders?

Writing in Fortune, Anne Fisher on why more women don't get MBAs.

All That Glitters is Not Gold

My post on dangerous gifts is up at U.S. News & World Report.


Let us ensure that little of consequence is accomplished at this meeting.

Let us pack the agenda with trivia and wear down the intellect with mind-numbing reports.

Watch the feeding frenzy as small matters gobble the larger. Watch the squirming people who are wondering when they'll be able to leave. And Jenkins! Lord, will he ever shut up?

Yes, that item is important, but we've hardly enough time to do it justice. We'll have to keep moving or we'll be here all day.

Perhaps next time. Let me know. I'll be sure it's on the agenda.

Quote of the Day

My mother said to me, "If you become a soldier you'll be a general; if you become a monk you'll end up as the pope." Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.

- Pablo Picasso

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chant Break

Back from a business trip. Answering and writing e-mail. Preparing for a board meeting for a community group.

Appropriate music: Anonymous 4.

Everybody Talks About It

Rob Long on the story behind a television hit:

Mr. Batten took a different approach. Despite an almost universally held belief in the television industry that a channel devoted entirely to the weather would not and could not work, he started one. And he called it, with refreshing and diabolical directness, the Weather Channel.

It was a pretty instant sensation. People, it turns out, absolutely love the weather. They're riveted by temperature, captivated by precipitation, and entertained by hearing about the exterior conditions of towns and places they've never heard of and can't even spell.

Achieve and Pause, Achieve and Pause

As soon as one deadline is met, another is looming. We work, achieve, and perhaps fail a few times, but then work and achieve some more.

What we don't tend to do is celebrate. After all, there's always more to do. Who has time for even a small celebration?

Big mistake.

Even if it is simply a celebratory cup of coffee at some place away from the office, we should do something to note the moment.

I've got to start following my own advice.

Quote of the Day

If you reward cruelty with kindness, with what do you reward kindness?

- Hillel

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sharpe Gentlemen

Sometimes insight is found in comic novels.

From Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe:

"What gentlemen?" the lad had said. "A lot of rich bastards with nothing between their ears who just exploited you."

And Skullion put down his pint and said, "A gentleman stood for something. It wasn't what he was. It was what he knew he ought to be. And that's something you will never know." Not what they were, but what they ought to be, like some old battle standard that you followed because it was a symbol of the best. A ragged tattered piece of cloth that stood for something and gave you confidence and something to fight for.

The Ten Minute Termination

Employment attorney John Phillips looks at a high-profile termination :

After 38 years, any employee deserves more than 10 minutes. He also deserves an explanation as to why he’s being fired. Iger told Cook there were complaints that Cook was too secretive and uncooperative with other divisions. When Cook asked for examples, Iger gave none.

Autumn Songs

Some music recommendations for autumn from Cultural Offering.

Good stuff. I'm ordering Sinatra.

A Cook's Story

In the spirit of disease control, it should be noted that today is the birthday of that notorious "healthy carrier": Typhoid Mary.

Quote of the Day

It may be that each individual consciousness is a brain cell in a universal mind.

- Sir James Jeans

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Falling Stars

John Podhoretz on the myth of the star system in Hollywood. An excerpt:

Like many theories of how to achieve competitive advantage, this one was true only when it was true; when it wasn't true, it was somehow conveniently forgotten. Every star has had failures and successes in roughly equal proportion. In the past 25 years the only performer to go a decade without a box-office failure was Tom Hanks. Between 1975 and 2000, the two actors whose movies grossed the largest amounts of money were--this is not a joke--Steve Guttenberg and Dan Aykroyd.

Godfather Tales

We've heard many of these stories before but the making of "The Godfather" is still inspirational:

Then there was the question of who would play Don Vito Corleone? Paramount had sounded out Anthony Quinn; but also on their list were Laurence Olivier – who was ill – George C Scott, Jean Gabin, Vittorio De Sica, John Huston, Paul Scofield, Victor Mature… Coppola wanted Marlon Brando, whose name was then dirt with the studios due to unreliability and a string of flops. Paramount president Stan Jaffe declared, “Marlon Brando will never appear in this picture”, even forbidding further discussion. But Coppola pleaded to the bosses that Brando was the greatest living screen actor, and finally, extravagantly, collapsed on the carpet before their eyes. They thought he’d had a heart attack brought on by an excess of sincerity and gave in, though on tough terms.

Something to Ponder

If you had to choose, which skill do you think would be more important to your career:

Being a good talker or a good listener?

Leaving Facebook

Cultural Offering has ended his experiment with Facebook.

Having been teased for not entering the Facebook era, I'm glad to receive his report. Facebook can be one less item on my To Do list.

In fact, I haven't mentioned this to my associates but I'm toying with the Gandhian idea of not speaking for an afternoon each week. [Gandhi went silent for an entire day, but that may be asking too much.]

What is the expression? "In the world but not of it?" Less stress. Some creative detachment. More thought.

Let's Drop "Reform"

Left, Right, or Center, let's drop the word "reform" when discussing proposed political changes.

"Reform" is a biased term. It means a change for the better. The Right calls for Social Security reform and the Left wants health care reform. Each side knows the luster carried by the very word "reform." After all, can't anything get better? Well, yes, but that doesn't mean any change will be an improvement. Live long enough and you'll learn that life is packed with unintended consequences. "Reform" is a conclusion disguised as a description.

Journalists, who should know better, run with the reform description when they could be employing a more neutral term. I think they were more inclined to use terms such as "overhaul" or "change" when referring to Social Security proposals but that may just be my natural suspicion of press bias.

It is understandable why political operatives want to attach the "R" word to any of their proposals but one would think that the use of objective language is taught the first week in journalism school. Of course, cynics would say that the line between journalists and political operatives has been blurred. I wouldn't go that far.

At least not yet.

Quote of the Day

If you must be candid, be candid beautifully.

- Kahlil Gibran

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fashion Memories

Clive James, in the second volume of his marvelous autobiography (Falling Towards England*):

It was another episode in my long history of unsuitable shoes, a story which is not yet closed and would need a book of its own. Let's just say that even now, when I have learned to dress as plainly as possible, I still get so impatient with the whole time-consuming business of covering up exposed skin that I will buy the first thing that catches my eye, and that when it comes to shoes the first thing that catches your eye is the last thing you should ever put on your feet. It is almost better to be an impulse shirt-buyer than an impulse shoe-buyer. I have worn shirts that made people think I was a retired Mafia hit-man or a Yugoslavian sports convenor from Split, but I have worn shoes that made people think I was insane.

* The first volume is Unreliable Memoirs.

Photography Break: Tough Shots

Outside magazine asked 16 of its photographers to show their toughest shots.

There are some amazing photos.

Some Basic Civility

Victor Davis Hanson, calling for a return to civility, gives some rules of decorum:

Don't call anyone a Nazi or brown shirt. Avoid shouting down a public official. Remember that there usually aren't clear good and bad political choices, just bad and worse ones. Don't get outraged at a slur against your team, if you once made the same sort of one against the opposition.

And, most of all, remember that while we're shouting at each other, the country is at war and piling up debt at the rate of $2 trillion a year — while plenty of rivals and enemies abroad are smiling as never before.

Formula for Management Best Sellers

  • Take one idea. Repeat every other chapter.
  • Borrow images from nature. Wolves, tigers, and elephants are fine. Dung beetles are not.
  • Without using the word "magic," frequently refer to magic.
  • Leave out key steps; e.g., "Harold was working as a custodian at an obscure newspaper in Frogsquat, Alabama when one day an editor from The New Yorker asked him to write a feature story. From that point on, his rise was rapid."
  • Take strategies that may work in some circumstances and declare that they'll work in all circumstances. Make that "ALL" circumstances.
  • Gloss over major factors: "Startled by the challenge, Ellen turned to her team of Nobel Prize winners and, using The Two Sentence Business Plan, was quickly able to ...."
  • And always have a loophole: "Of course, we cannot promise the same results to those who fail to devote five hours a day to this program."

Quote of the Day

The very best job I can think of is venture capitalist. Not only does it sound great at parties, but you're expected to fail 90 percent of the time. I mean no disrespect to venture capitalists when I say this, but a hamster with Alzheimer's could make those kinds of numbers. It's good work if you can get it.

- Scott Adams

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Continental Drift

Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution in Europe looks like must reading. An excerpt from The Wall Street Journal review:

In his reflections on Europe's slide into a sort of secular suicide, Mr. Caldwell notes the key role played by that most religious impulse: guilt. He argues that the dominant moral mood of postwar Europe was "repentance for two historical misdeeds, colonialism and Nazism." Over the decades, guilt has festered into "a sense of moral illegitimacy" and a "self-directed xenophobia" that now shapes the continent's response to immigration.

Irving's Review

From a 1991 lecture by Irving Kristol on "The Capitalist Future":

From a dissenting culture, to a counterculture, we have finally arrived at a nihilistic anti-culture. This anti-culture permits the post-modernists to abolish the distinction between what used to be called "highbrow" art—it also used to be called "culture" without equivocation—and "popular" culture. The modern movement in the arts, from 1850 to 1950, was distinctly "highbrow." It was "difficult" and it took decades for even our educated classes to feel comfortable with its works, in literature and art. A whole new generation had to be trained to understand and appreciate T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce in literature, Picasso, Miró, and Klee in painting. Today, in contrast, at some of our best universities, you can take a course, for credit, in the meaning of a popular comic strip which explores the ways in which American society and Western civilization in general is infested with race, sex, and class antagonism. Indeed, many students in literature, the arts, and the humanities today, in pursuit of self-expression, reveal an extraordinary ignorance of, and lack of interest in, their avant-garde, modernist forebears. So anti-traditional are they that they happily dispose themselves of their own formative, anti-bourgeois traditions. This explains why the mission of an institution such as the National Endowment for the Arts has become a mission impossible. The so-called "arts" it was founded to support have become enmeshed with "arts" that were unimaginable a few decades ago—indeed, that would never have been designated as "arts."

Something for the Train

Are these the 20 best travel books of the past century?

It's an impressive list.

Misusing the Weekend

What makes for a weekend well-spent?

What can keep you from staring back on Sunday evening at the utter waste of precious hours?

My own formula for a good weekend:
  • Taking some time to think, preferably over a good cup of coffee with a note pad on the table and a large window nearby.
  • Watching nature - be it clouds, mountains, birds, or trees - with a greater than usual awareness.
  • Reading.
  • Writing.
  • Spending time with my family.
  • And yes, doing some work so Monday doesn't seize me by the throat.

In general, a requirement for a good weekend is that time must not be ignored or squandered. That said, there are times when the door should be open to complete sloth and self-indulgence. When those are your goals, they are rarely unattainable.

Best Words Ever



This Telegraph article about marvelous words that are no longer commonly used brought to mind some favorites.

In the wake of financial scandals, one would think that "hornswoggle" would be frequently employed.

Quote of the Day

The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet, and Doctor Merryman.

- Jonathan Swift

Friday, September 18, 2009

Civilization Break: Beethoven's Sixth

A beautiful way to enter the weekend: The Pastoral Symphony.

As good as it gets.

Irving Kristol, R.I.P.

Irving Kristol has died.

From the City Journal essay by Myron Magnet:

For all The Public Interest’s hard-headedness, however, Irving—a New York Intellectual, after all—saw clearly the power of that very intangible reality, culture. He knew how perversely wrong Marx had been to think that economic relations mold the world, giving form even to our ideas. On the contrary, Irving understood, the ideas, beliefs, customs, virtues, even the prejudices that make up the tissue of our culture are the true shapers of reality. As he explained in his greatest essay, “When Virtue Loses All Her Loveliness,” which closes Two Cheers for Capitalism, Adam Smith, for all his greatness as an economist and philosopher, did not see how crucial to the functioning of markets as he described them was the Presbyterian culture of the Scotland that bred him, with its emphasis on probity, thrift, enterprise, and truthfulness. Even in the economic world, material reality is only part of the story.

Illness at Work

Writing in The Mississippi Employment Law Letter, Susan Fahey Desmond has some tips on what to do when contagious illnesses come to work. An excerpt:

Suppose you have an employee who fears he has been exposed to the flu, or maybe the risk is high and he demands to go home or refuses to come to work at all. Can you prohibit him from going home? Can you discipline him if he goes home anyway? Be careful. Depending on the circumstances, the OSH Act may allow an employee to refuse to come to work if he has a good-faith fear of workplace exposure. In that situation, the court may ask whether there were any "reasonable alternatives" available to the employee, even if there was a serious risk. In determining whether the employee has a good-faith fear, there must be a real danger determined by scientific evidence. A panicked employee with no factual basis for his fear won't cut it.

Gimmicks and Job Searches

My post on avoiding gimmicks is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Seven Myths

If we are not careful, we can get drawn into the swirl of myths that destroy careers. Here are seven dangerous ones:
  1. "Money corrupts." Wrong. There are plenty of perfectly nice people who are wealthy and yet are not captured or corrupted by their wealth.
  2. "Planning deadens the soul. Spontaneity is better and more human." Can spontaneity be fun? Yes, but it can also be self-indulgent and irresponsible. Moreover, the opposite of planning is not spontaneity, but drift. The most successful artists are highly self-disciplined in their work life.
  3. "Everybody does it." No, they don't. And even if they did, so what? Do we use a calculator to determine what's ethical? ("If we can get two more people on board with this scheme, it's ethical.")
  4. "Don't waste your time on boring jobs. Find out what you love and then make that your career." You can learn a great deal (along with some money) from unappealing jobs. The hard truth is we often don't know what we want until we learn what we don't want. Jobs that may seem dull on the surface can be very interesting once you get on the inside.
  5. "Be yourself." Yeah, sure, provided you are a nice and productive person. If not, try being someone else.
  6. "Strive for perfection in everything you do." This is a handy formula for paralysis. You should strive to do well and to improve, but life requires balance in all things. There are times when achieving "satisfactory" is wiser than going all out for "outstanding."
  7. "Be open with your feelings. Let it all hang out." This works only if you are surrounded by saints. In other circumstances, your candor will have armed current and future adversaries.

Quote of the Day

Marta keeps telling me I should try to be more aware of things as they're happening. I think it's Marta who says that.

- Jack Handey

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Folk Music: Dwindling Ranks

The death of Mary Travers will bring the inevitable reviews of the days when folk music was extraordinarily popular.

I was a major fan of Peter, Paul, and Mary until a cheerful group called The Beatles came along. [Listening to PP&M later, I was struck by the depressing tone of much of the music.]

Feel free to add to this list and consider: How many of these are still around?

Bob Dylan
Dave Van Ronk
Ian and Sylvia
Judy Collins
Joni Mitchell
Pete Seeger
Theodore Bikel
The Kingston Trio
The Limeliters
Tim Hardin
Leonard Cohen
Joan Baez
Bud and Travis
The Smothers Brothers
Gordon Lightfoot
John Stewart (No, not that one!)

And Not a Moment Too Soon

Good news: Eclecticity is back in action.

Looking for an Honest Man

Everyone has heard the story of Diogenes the Cynic, who went around the sunlit streets of Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man. This same Diogenes, when he heard Plato being praised for defining man as "an animal, biped and featherless," threw a plucked chicken into the Academy, saying, "Here is Platonic man!" These tales display Diogenes' cynicism as both ethical and philosophical: He is remembered for mocking the possibility of finding human virtue and for mocking the possibility of knowing human nature. In these respects, the legendary Diogenes would feel right at home today in many an American university, where a professed interest in human nature and human excellence — or, more generally, in truth and goodness — invites reactions ranging from mild ridicule for one's naïveté to outright denunciation for one's attraction to such discredited and dangerous notions.

Read the rest of Leon R. Kass here.

Some Modest Proposals

  1. That airline executives always fly coach.

  2. That HR professionals in charge of screening applicants hit the street every five years to look for a job.

  3. That technical writers pay a fine for every unclear instruction in manuals on how to assemble children's toys.

  4. That bookstores create a special section for "Dysfunctional Family Fiction."

  5. That MTV go on sabbatical for fifty years.

  6. That Hollywood reduce the number of its awards ceremonies by 50 percent.

  7. That logic be taught in high schools.

  8. That a new line of fashion be developed for those trapped in baggy shorts and reversed baseball caps.

  9. That the junior people speak first at all meetings.

  10. That Subarus be limited to no more than three bumper stickers.

  11. That all conference rooms have windows.

  12. That interest groups stop regarding government as a vending machine.

  13. That every fifth person hired be a maverick.

  14. That use of the phrase "for the children" by a political leader be the equivalent of saying "I hereby resign."

  15. That malware, spyware, and adware perpetrators have their assets confiscated and bodies caned prior to serving a life sentence on a Saharan chain gang.

Mintzberg's Newest

Jim Stroup reviews the new management book by Henry "No Nonsense" Mintzberg.

Quote of the Day

You can't have everything. Where would you put it?

- Steven Wright

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Car Brands and Real Ownership


Who owns Aston Martin?

Rolls Royce?


Fortune takes us on a review of legendary car brands. Some of the answers will surprise you.

Rewarding the Jerks

It is frustrating how often jerks get rewarded.

The old line about the squeaky wheel getting the grease is true (although a reader once reminded me that squeaky wheels sometimes get replaced).

Those of us who are steeped in manners may well wonder if we would get better treatment if we were more difficult. We sense that in many cases, the person who is courteous is easily ignored while jerkish behavior is served and inadvertently rewarded.

The general rule, of course, should be that poor behavior will result in undesirable consequences, not better ones. When the other side is rude, the counter-offer should get worse, not better.

The appeasement of jerks is often justified as an expeditious way of getting the person to go away. I won't say that is always wrong but it is almost always wrong. When the jerk strolls off with a win, we've just reinforced a pattern of negative behavior that will be carried on to someone else.

There is a less extreme scenario where no jerk is present and yet the patience of the polite is taken for granted. That's where the level of service is lowered because it is quietly known that it can be done. The victim risks mistaking meekness for patience and cowardice for courtesy. It is not out of order to say, "I deserve better treatment than this."

And when a polite customer says that, organizations should listen.

Quote of the Day

I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.

- Charles V of France

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Titles: New Edition

This is pretty good: Book titles, if they were written today.

[HT: Andrew Sullivan]

Ethics: When the Front Page Doesn't Matter

Bob Stone and Mick Ukleja take on the issue of appearance and ethics:

But appearances are not realities, and, "How will it look in the newspaper?" is not related to ethics. It might be, if newspapers adhered to the highest ethical standards we aspire to, but sadly, newspapers slip up like the rest of us. Newspapers — and other media — rake in readers by reporting scandal. When real scandal is in short supply, they may have to invent some, and then ethical behavior can be made to look very bad indeed.


I'm sorry I missed this one earlier:

Christina Hoff Sommers's article on stimulus money, shovel-ready jobs, and burly men.

The Not to Do List

I often think that a Not to Do List is as important as a To Do List.

We can put various distractions and bad habits on the list and refer to it frequently to see if they are slipping into our day. Some popular entries might be:
  1. Don't fail to return phone calls within 24 hours.
  2. Don't skip meals.
  3. Don't skip exercise.
  4. Don't schedule too many meetings.
  5. Don't mistake activity for action.
  6. Don't let the best sabotage the good.
  7. Don't miss the opportunity to boost the spirits of at least one other person.

Fame as Costume Jewelry

Eric Felten looks at the perils of modern fame:

"Fame is made up of four elements," writes Leo Braudy in his 1986 book "The Frenzy of Renown": a person, an accomplishment, immediate publicity and, as he puts it, "what posterity has thought about them ever since." Or at least that is what fame used to be. Nowadays, we have the person, but no accomplishment; we have the immediate publicity (and lots of it), but posterity will only ask "who?" Which is to say that what passes for fame now is a counterfeit. The English essayist William Hazlitt warned against just this sort of error—mistaking "a newspaper-puff" for "a passport to immortality," letting "a little echo of popularity mimic the voice of fame."

Quote of the Day

We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators of circumstance.

- Benjamin Disraeli

Monday, September 14, 2009

Once Upon a Time

Forget about copyright!

There are 35 versions of the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the tale goes back more than 2,600 years. As
the Telegraph article notes:

Whilst the European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf.

In Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

The Report

The report has been making the rounds. One after another, members of the board have voiced support for its frank analysis and the recommendations for major changes. Several are excited about the chance to bring in fresh ideas. It is clear the report expresses feelings that many board members have held for years.

That is all encouraging. Some additional questions, however, will have to be addressed:

Why did the board members know the problems for so long and yet refrain from speaking up?

And how can we avoid such silence in the future?

There are three common danger zones in groups: Rapid agreement, drift, and undue deference.

A Beautiful Hand

Barchowsky sat my daughter and me at a slanted writing desk and dictated a paragraph for us to write. She then looked at our work and tried to be diplomatic. She noted that my loops were too big and tended to get tangled in the lines of writing above and below, the sizes of my letters were inconsistent, they slanted in every direction, and certain ones—like R—were illegible while others got omitted altogether. She asked, "Do you ever go back and find you are unable to read your notes?" Yes, all the time!

Read the rest of Emily Yoffe's quest for better penmanship here.

[College ruined my handwriting and then law school destroyed the remains.]

Istanbul Story

Writing in City Journal, Claire Berlinski explores a mystery :

Istanbul’s streets don’t feel menacing. I rarely see drunks and never see crackheads, gangs of feral youths on street corners, or tattooed louts on the subways and buses. The panhandlers inspire pity, not fear. True, in some neighborhoods, the glue-sniffing street kids are dangerous; in others, hookers attract a louche clientele; pickpockets operate near the tourist attractions. But in the four years I’ve lived here, I’ve heard few firsthand stories of violent crime. The International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS), a worldwide poll of householders’ experiences with crime, confirms my impression that Istanbul is an exceptionally safe city. But perusing the ICVS data, I noticed something so odd that I mentioned it en passant to the editor of this magazine. “According to the ICVS,” I said, “Istanbul has the lowest rate of assault in Europe . . . but the highest rate of burglary, higher even than London.” I signed off with an innocent, “I wonder what this means?”

Quote of the Day

I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.

- Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Miscellaneous and Fast

Man at Work: Old Erskine

I ran across a worn copy of "Tobacco Road" in a box of old books in my garage. It reminded me of a story a boss of mine once told. He was seated near Erskine Caldwell on a flight and was stunned by the amount of work the novelist completed during the trip. He said the man seemed capable of total focus.

I suppose that helped to produce material like this:

"Quit chunking that durn ball at them there weatherboards, Dude," he said. "You don't never stop doing what I tell you. That ain't no way to treat your old Pa, Dude. You ought to sort of help me out, instead of always doing something contrary."

"Aw, go to hell, you old dried-up clod," Dude said, throwing the ball at the side of the house with all his might and scooping up a fast grounder on the rebound. "Nobody asked you nothing."

Who Killed California?

The test tube known as California should be carefully scrutinized lest we duplicate its example on the national scene. From Troy Senik's article in the new publication, National Affairs:

And fiscal troubles are just the tip of the iceberg. California's percentage of adults without at least a high-school education is the second-highest in the nation (and the fact that 72% of those without diplomas are immigrants only fuels the state's growing problem of social stratification). The Commonwealth Fund has ranked the quality of California's health care lowest of the 50 states. The state has the highest rate of criminal recidivism in the country. It has six of the ten worst cities in the country in air pollution. Los Angeles and San Francisco have some of the most congested roads in the nation, which costs the state's employers billions in lost productivity each year. The state is seriously discussing mandatory water rationing, and has in recent years experienced severe disruptions of its electricity supply. Unemployment is over 11%, and a recent survey of corporate CEOs ranked California the worst state in the country in which to do business. It is losing native-born ­citizens faster than any other state.

To put the effects of these trends in perspective, from 2004 to 2007 more people left California for Texas and Oklahoma than came west from those states to escape the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. California is in the midst of a man-made disaster.

Zealot Update: No Impact Man

It's not clear whether Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, the directors of the new documentary No Impact Man (Oscilloscope Pictures), know how irritating their protagonist is. In the fall of 2006, Colin Beavan, a New York-based writer, embarked on a project to reduce his family's environmental footprint to a bare minimum, an experience he would turn into a blog and later a book. Along with his wife, Michelle Conlin, a writer for the thoroughly un-green periodical Business Week, and their 2-year-old daughter Isabella, Beavan would go one year without using any nonself-propelled transportation, eating any nonlocally grown food, or even riding an elevator to their ninth-floor apartment. The family would eschew electricity, commercial cleaning products, retail shopping, and toilet paper.

Read the rest of the Slate aricle here.

The Presidential Watch

What kind of watch does the President of the United States wear?

The same type as the Secret Service and it's pretty neat.

Going South

Elizabeth Spencer lists her favorite works of Southern fiction.

It is impossible to read the list without thinking of books that might be added. For example, I'd suggest:

Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner
The Year of Jubilo by Howard Bahr
Provinces of Night by William Gay
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Friday, September 11, 2009

Quote of the Day

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.

- Rudyard Kipling

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Those thinking of taking the big plunge should read Tim Berry on polling, small business, and survivor bias.

Asia Rising?

Writing in Foreign Policy, Minxin Pei takes a skeptical view of Asia's rise. An excerpt:

Asia is nowhere near closing its economic and military gap with the West. The region produces roughly 30 percent of global economic output, but because of its huge population, its per capita gdp is only $5,800, compared with $48,000 in the United States. Asian countries are furiously upgrading their militaries, but their combined military spending in 2008 was still only a third that of the United States. Even at current torrid rates of growth, it will take the average Asian 77 years to reach the income of the average American. The Chinese need 47 years. For Indians, the figure is 123 years. And Asia's combined military budget won't equal that of the United States for 72 years.

Power Women

Fortune is out with another power list: The 10 most powerful women in Washington.

Wisdom from a Comedy Legend

It has been my experience that the best way to end a project in the "works" is to talk about a project in the works. Mum's the word.

- Shelley Berman

United 93

The trailer for the extraordinary film.

Understated and powerful.


My post on the problem of being too sensitive is up at U.S. News & World Report.

Not Forgetting: The Falling Man

They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building's fatal wound. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors -- the top. For more than an hour and a half, they streamed from the building, one after another, consecutively rather than en masse, as if each individual required the sight of another individual jumping before mustering the courage to jump himself or herself. One photograph, taken at a distance, shows people jumping in perfect sequence, like parachutists, forming an arc composed of three plummeting people, evenly spaced. Indeed, there were reports that some tried parachuting, before the force generated by their fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from their hands. They were all, obviously, very much alive on their way down, and their way down lasted an approximate count of ten seconds. They were all, obviously, not just killed when they landed but destroyed, in body though not, one prays, in soul. One hit a fireman on the ground and killed him; the fireman's body was anointed by Father Mychal Judge, whose own death, shortly thereafter, was embraced as an example of martyrdom after the photograph -- the redemptive tableau -- of firefighters carrying his body from the rubble made its way around the world.

Read the rest of the 2003 article by Tom Junod.

Quote of the Day

Gloucester, 'tis true that we are in great danger; the greater therefore should our courage be.

- William Shakespeare, Henry V

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

When I joined the US Marine Corps, it wasn’t to become a Marine, but a lawyer. I had finally decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I didn’t have the financial resources to get there. So, I enlisted in order to qualify for the GI Bill benefits, which help military members pursue a college education. I figured I would serve my country, see a bit of the world, save a little money into the bargain, and then get out, finish my degree, and go to law school. That was the plan, and off to the recruiting station I went.

Approximately one year later I was sitting in a two-man fighting hole filled with me, another Marine, and water from both the constant rain and the rising water table we seem to have tapped when we dug the hole. Periodically a corpsman would come by and order us out of the hole so we didn’t get hypothermia. Shortly later, the lieutenant, checking the lines, would order us back in so we didn’t break combat training discipline. Both the corpsmen and the lieutenant made regular rounds, so the hilarity was only bound to ensue.

Read the rest of the story at Managing Leadership. It describes a career path that probably resembles many. I know that my own has hardly been a straight shot.

Law and the Church Bells

It starts with a church in Phoenix called Christ the King Church. Prior to May, the church rang its bells every hour on the hour, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Despite all that is wonderful with hourly dinging-and-donging, some of the neighborhood’s residents got annoyed and asked a judge to shut down the racket.

Read the rest of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog story here.

Be Happy at Your Work

I had no idea that John Phillips was going to post a video of my typical work day.

Women! Power! Fortune!

Fortune has released its list of the 50 most powerful women in business.

Finding Your Motivation

Many people select motivators as if they were picking bon bons off of a dessert tray. This one is vanilla and that one is dark chocolate.

The effect is pleasurable and short-lived and the motivators are always attractive.

Others listen to motivational speakers who can bring an array of good advice to a group. Unfortunately, their eloquence will only go so far unless the individual audience member is able to discover a burning personal motivator; one that can become a passion. Many are turned off by that search because passions can be hard to identify until they are held. We first get into the water and then we learn to swim.

There is another approach that can be highly effective but is frequently overlooked in the whirl of upbeat messages: Turning demotivators into motivators. Rather than permitting negative experiences nudge you into negative behavior, let their energy propel you into greater productivity. We've all read of individuals who achieved extraordinary things because someone told them they couldn't do it and they were determined to prove that person wrong.

Some may argue that using demotivators as a springboard is undesirable because it is reactive. That may be so, but it can also be highly effective. There's a military expression about handling bad times: "Embrace the suck." You accept and perhaps revel in the circumstances but you do not let them erode your will to prevail; indeed, you turn them into an energy source.

Be Different

Succinct and wise: Why so many of us read Nicholas Bate every day.

The Personal Opportunity

I love the idea of the "mailbox effect." We should call it the "Blackberry effect" or the "email effect" today. My professor, Raymond Tucker explained that deep within us (in 1985) we believe that we will walk to the mailbox each day and open it. There will be a nice letter there addressed to us. It will say "(insert your name here) you are a good person. You have worked hard and deserve to be rewarded so we are sending you a check for $20 million. Congratulations."

Read the rest at Cultural Offering.

Networks Critique

Gene Marks is baffled by a number of things in modern life:

For starters, netbooks are just too small. The most popular brands have keyboards that are at least 10% smaller than laptop keyboards, which aren't so big to begin with. Screen sizes of the most common devices are usually around 10 inches, too. This is a problem for Bob's company. It's one thing for road warriors to fumble with a BlackBerry between meetings and while waiting for planes. But getting a bunch of aging sales guys with thick fingers and failing eyesight to squint for hours on end into a tiny screen while tapping on a keyboard made for a kid simply "ain't gonna happen," Bob says.

My admittedly non-techie question: Does he miss the main virtue of netbooks?

Quote of the Day

As often as any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the abbot call together the whole community and himself set forth the matter. And, having heard the counsel of the brethren, let him think it over by himself and then do what he shall judge to be most expedient....

Now the reason why we have said that all should be called to council, is that God often reveals what is better to the younger.... But if the business to be done in the interests of the monastery be of lesser importance, let him use the advice of the seniors only!

- St. Benedict

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fiction Break: Paul Theroux

Even in his best days in Medford, running the family clothing store, Altman had always imagined that he would return to Africa, to the Lower River. It had been his Eden, for those four years he had spent in a village called Malabo as a young man. Now, after nearly forty years, he was on his way back. The decades in between seemed almost a digression: the business, the marriage, the children. Altman’s Store for Men had closed, the marriage had failed, Altman’s children were grown, absent, living their lives. A little over sixty, he was alone again. He had enough money to see him into his old age, yet he wanted more than that. No one needed him in Medford, and he wondered if the people of Malabo might still remember what he had done there.

From The New Yorker: Read the rest of Paul Theroux's short story, "The Lower River."

Evan Found

So you won't be able to win $5,000.

Wired author Evan Ratliff was on the lam in a magazine-sponsored contest to see if he could be found.

But he has been tracked down in a manner demonstrating significant ingenuity.

Lessons from Disasters

Writing in American Heritage, James R. Chiles examines how the necessity to rescue people from disasters has spawned a series of innovations. An excerpt:

Those trucks carry a lot of stuff: hydraulic jacks and Jaws of Life spreaders; breathing sets and the compressors to refill the tanks; air bags such as those used to hoist wreckage at the Northridge Fashion Center; lumber; acetylene- and gasoline-fueled torches; air-powered braces; plasma cutters for concrete; ropes and blocks; diamond-tipped drills; ultrasensitive microphones and cameras on long rods to probe tight spaces; carpentry tools; toxic-gas detectors; and light stands for night work. For bigger emergencies experts can summon massive cranes, wrecker’s torches, and track-mounted “nibblers,” which can reach high to reduce a concrete slab into bite- size pieces.

Losing Touch

Consider the language that is often used when a person leaves an organization:
  • "Tom has moved on to other things."
  • "Ellen has left to seek new challenges."
  • "Edgar is no longer with us."
The more obscure the message, the more likely it is that listeners will draw a negative conclusion. After all, if they can't say very much about old Edgar's departure, he must have done something really bad.

Naturally, the lawyers have a hand in much of this and, in many cases, an obscure reason may be kinder than an honest one. It is certainly less likely to trigger litigation. The fact that Edgar was forced out because he couldn't organize a two-car funeral would make neither Edgar nor the former employer look good.

All of which means that, unless a non-compete clause would cause problems, people who leave organizations under routine circumstances are well advised to let their contacts know where they landed. Some of those contacts may have grown to regard the dear departed as friends or near-friends. They may want to keep in touch.

Despite the chill of the standard operating procedures, there are times when the rules of etiquette should not be suspended.

Quote of the Day

Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.

- Peter F. Drucker

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Great Moments in Advertising Update

"This destructive kitty has been trained as a proud warrior and will fiercely defend your house, even against you. Has a very soft and furry belly, like a teddy bear - however he will bite your face if you try to touch it. For the love of God, someone please take this thing out of my house."

Read the rest of the top 20 bizarre ads from craigslist.

Alternative to "Followers" Survey

There are a few books out on followership; a clever way of addressing the responsibilities of those who may be leaders in their own right but who also report to leaders.

My question is this: Since "follower" has a certain submissive/subordinate tone, is there a term that is less objectionable and - dare we hope? - even positive; one that you wouldn't mind applying to yourself?

Cybercrime Rankings

Business Week has an interesting - and I thought somewhat surprising - slideshow of the countries with the most cybercrime.

Guessing the first and second rankings wasn't too hard but closely behind were some unexpected contenders.

Age Discrimination: "Just looking for something to do"

The resume made its way around the company, and ended up in the inbox of the company CEO. The CEO, apparently thinking that he was responding to his own HR staff, actually sent an email to the plaintiff which stated, in part: "Damn. I'm here late trying to get through emails -- I just saw this one I missed somehow and it is a week old. Check it out -- I don't know what I think. He must be old -- and just looking for something to do."

Read the rest at Suits in the Workplace.

Google Trends

From Fortune: What Google searches say about life. An excerpt:

Tucked away inside Google Finance is the newly-launched, “Google Domestic Trends”. While it sounds like it might offer the latest in recipes for meatloaf or techniques for pressing a shirt collar, what it does is track search traffic across 23 specific sectors of the economy ranging from auto buyers, to jobs and the retail trade.

All indices use January 1, 2004 as a baseline from which a seven-day moving average is calculated. So if you look at auto buyers, you will see a more or less predictable seasonal car-buying pattern, peaking during the late spring and summer when people are looking at the new models and dealers cut prices on last year’s stock. The number of searches for cars falls off around the winter holidays before ticking up again at the end of the year, presumably for tax reasons.

The Prez and the Kids

Here is the White House press release of President Obama's remarks to the schoolchildren of America.

When I was in elementary and high school, the presidents were Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Had they given such a talk, Eisenhower would have put us to sleep and Kennedy would have been classy. As for LBJ, one comedian accurately noted that his speeches often sounded like greeting cards:

"Your president is here today

To wish you luck in every way."