Saturday, October 31, 2009

For Halloween: Some Stories with a Slight Chill

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury

Should You Become an Entrepreneur?

Here's an absolutely outstanding post from What Would Dad Say (with some nifty links) on the life of an entrepreneur.

"No way these are local boys."

The trailer for Tremors.

Cultural Literacy

Writing in City Journal, Sol Stern looks at education reformer E. D. Hirsch's push for cultural literacy. An excerpt:

I was one of those parents. My children were students at P.S. 87 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, also known as the William Tecumseh Sherman School. Our school enjoyed a reputation as one of the city’s education jewels, and parents clamored to get their kids in. But most of the teachers and principals had trained at Columbia University’s Teachers College, a bastion of so-called progressive education, and militantly defended the progressive-ed doctrine that facts were pedagogically unimportant. I once asked my younger son and some of his classmates, all top fifth-grade students, whether they knew anything about the historical figure after whom their school was named. Not only were they clueless about the military leader who delivered the final blow that brought down America’s slave empire; they hardly knew anything about the Civil War, either. When I complained to the school’s principal, he reassured me: “Our kids don’t need to learn about the Civil War. What they are learning at P.S. 87 is how to learn about the Civil War.”

Were it not for Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy, I might have accepted the reassurance. But Hirsch, as it happened, had cited an experiment that found that college students unable to comprehend a difficult passage about the Civil War by historian Bruce Catton were also likely not to have learned anything about the Civil War in the early grades. From that point on, my wife and I accelerated our children’s supplementary home schooling and sometimes used the Core Knowledge Foundation’s guide to the “mere facts” that children should know in each grade.


"The very simple thought I started from," said David Attenborough, the BBC executive who dreamed up "Civilisation," "was to get on the screen the loveliest things created by European man in the past thousand years." When Clark was invited to serve as its host and writer, he added an urgent imperative of his own: "It's worth trying . . . to make people realize how fragile civilisation is and how easily it might slip from our grasp."

Read the rest of Terry Teachout's essay here.

Creativity Plus

Back by popular demand and appropriate for the day:

Intro to The Nightmare before Christmas

Nominees for Scariest Book and Scariest Film

Serious contenders: Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, The Blair Witch Project, The Exorcist, The Omen, The Shining

Serious contenders: Dracula, Ghost Story, The Haunting of Hill House, The Exorcist, The Mist, The Shining

[Unconventional contenders: Film: The Wizard of Oz; Book: The Federal Budget.]

Quote of the Day

Wagner's music is better than it sounds.

- Mark Twain

Friday, October 30, 2009

Brooks on Dracula

As Halloween approaches: The trailer to Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

So Bad It's Good

AdFreak is groaning over the slogan for the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film that is coming out on December 25:

"Holmes for the Holiday."

On the other hand, if they want people to know when the film is coming out, the line is brilliant. You hear it once, you don't need to be reminded. It's not witty, but think of how many witty ads you see where you are hard put to remember the product three minutes later.

Sometimes, not-so-witty is very bright.


The story goes that when Sam Rayburn was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, he was once asked how much money the Defense Department should get.

Rayburn responded, "Enough."

When Change is Bad

Jeffrey Pfeffer examines disruptive change:

Smart leaders understand these dynamics. They focus on changing only what needs to be changed because it isn’t working — the recipes that aren’t up to snuff or the product features that bother customers — and they keep what works, even if it’s a legacy from the past. Second, they understand the costs and risks of change and losing focus, so they don’t overburden the company by trying to do too many new things at once. Every business has a few core elements that make it successful, and the shrewd leader focuses on the minimum amount of change needed to improve those things, not making a bunch of other disruptions in activities that matter less.

[HT: Jim Stroup]

Making It Personal

My post on putting "personal interests" in resumes is up at U.S. News & World Report.

English Everywhere

John McWhorter explores the feasibility and desirability of English as the universal language:

And notice how daunting the prospect of Chinese as a world language is, with a writing system that demands mastery of 2,000 characters in order to be able to read even a tabloid newspaper. For all of its association with Pepsi and the CIA, English is very user-friendly as the world’s 6,000 languages go. English verb conjugation is spare compared to, say, that of Italian—just the third-person singulars in the present, for example. There are no pesky genders to memorize (and no feminine-gendered tables that talk like Penelope Cruz). There are no sounds under whose dispensation you almost have to be born as a prerequisite for rendering them anywhere near properly, like the notorious trilly rˇ sound in Czech.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

The Pilots and the Zarkon Warriors

Stanley Bing has a theory (Don't we all?) on the Northwest Airlines pilots who overflew their destination:

Yesterday I heard that the somnolence theory has now been supplanted by the story that the two were cruising the web and lost track of the time. This summons up a couple of images to my mind. I’m thinking they weren’t just Googling. I’m willing to bet that if they were online, it was some kind of World of Warcraft thing. As good as YouTube or Wikipedia might be, you don’t lose yourself in it the way you do when a Orc is about to hammer in your brain pan and send you back sixteen levels. There they are, 37,000 feet up, a planeful of people behind them, whacking away at their joysticks in some digital dungeon? I can buy that. In the days I was addicted to DOOM, I used to spend the entire night blasting away at hideous monsters, so in the zone that I didn’t realize that the sun had risen until my wife came in to tell me it was time to go to work. So maybe that’s what they were doing when they were out of touch for 78 minutes. As an explanation, it still seems pretty lame to me. Maybe one was sleeping and the other was earning experience points as a Zarkon warrior or something like that.

Halloween Memories and Costumes

Eclecticity's look at some Halloween costumes from 1967 sparked a chain of memories. I recall:
  • Heavy rubber masks that got so hot you had to remove them every ten steps and wipe your face;
  • Halloween costumes that were made from whatever happened to be available in the house ["Here's an old sheet. Be a ghost."]; and
  • A custom called Devil's Night which, in our area, was the night before Halloween. In essence, it was an extra day for begging for candy but some mild vandalism was implied. This died out in the Sixties.

In recent years, some interesting costumes have appeared at our front door. Three boys wearing boxes with cords attached came as the Internet. Bill and Hillary Clinton arrived with pumpkins. And several Goths have come by but I'm not sure if they were in costume.

Changes in a College Dorm

When I was in college, I lived in a dorm that had sleeping porches. Four men shared a porch, so you got to know at least two other people in addition to your roommate. [You could also study without disturbing a roommate who wanted to sleep.] There was no air conditioning, so doors and windows were often open in the fall and spring. Television was not permitted in the rooms. If you wanted to watch TV, you had to join the crowd in the lobby. The bathroom and shower stalls were down the hall. There were no phones in the room. A telephone was in the hallway and there was an arcane buzzer system to tell you if you had to go to the phone, a visitor was coming up, or you were wanted in the lobby.

The result of all of these conditions was that you got to know quite a few people and they got to know you.

What is it like nowadays? There is central heating and cooling so the doors are closed. The sleeping porches were chopped up to make additional rooms so that extra contact is gone. Rooms have televisions, phones, and - perhaps the greatest change of all - computers. The buzzer system is no more. There is a much greater sense of isolation.

Ah, progress!

[Photo by Christopher Yoder]

Quote of the Day

Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources.

- William James

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Great Moments in Technology

The telephone scene from Topsy-Turvy, one of the best films ever made.

Bate on Being Brilliant

More from the author, consultant, professor who never sleeps:

Nicholas Bate has put his series on how to be brilliant into one, easy-to-read, document.

Talent Management 30

Fistful of Talent has released its list of the top 30 "Talent Management" blogs.

Whispered But Gentle Reprimands Dept.

Spanking is considered child abuse, now shouting is frowned upon. Is there anything parents can do to correct their child that places like the New York Times don't despise, besides timeout which merely teaches a child that hitting his or her sibling gets the same lame punishment as making a mess on the floor?

Read the rest of Dr. Helen here.

Wanted: Blimps and Robots

Wired looks at some new thinking on Mars exploration. An excerpt:

To test how teams of autonomous robots working together could explore an area, Fink’s team built a miniature lab version of the system, as seen in the image above. At just 4 feet by 5 feet, it’s not exactly the surface of Mars, but it allowed the team to test a piece of software that picks out anomalous objects in a landscape, the Automatic Global Feature Analyzer.

The software doesn’t try to place what it reads in images into known categories. Surveying a scene, it doesn’t try to identify certain kind of rocks or geological features. Instead, it just looks for the odd stuff out — the Waldo — in the scene. For a place like Mars, where we know a lot of the territory is similar and seemingly lifeless, the weird stuff is probably the good stuff.

A Forgotten Question

If you want to be formal about it, you can designate a person. That person's task will be to ask this question at every meeting: "What are we doing here?"

Asking the question is important, but receiving an honest answer is even more important. Too often, the answer may be:

  1. Pretending to address a problem none of us really want to resolve.

  2. Meeting because we always meet at this time.

  3. Consulting others on a decision that has already been made.

  4. Protecting turf.

  5. Making sure the group doesn't do what it might do in our absence.

  6. Gossiping.

  7. Massaging an ego.

Little Novels

Here are some little novels that you'll see hidden in the workplace:
  • The person who routinely plays dumb in order to avoid embarrassing others.
  • The team members who devote most of their time to sabotaging one another.
  • The manager who long ago mistook timidity for deliberation.
  • The employee who hates the workplace so much he won't leave until it is perfect.
  • The executive who secretly longs to be an artist.
  • The director who measures personal success solely in dollars.
  • The burnt-out case who is just going through the motions.
  • The grizzled veteran who barks at people but genuinely cares for them.
  • The smiling chief of staff who'd cut your throat for a quarter.
  • The young supervisor who has better judgment than several department heads.
  • The quiet technician who is a vast reservoir of untapped knowledge.
  • The lawyer who keeps nudging top management to do the right thing.
  • The worker who has been looking forward to retirement from the first day on the job.

Star Stumbles

Fortune looks at the biggest mistakes of some rising stars. An example from Kiva President Premal Shah:

I got some great advice once: "The relationship trumps the issue." Like a lot of entrepreneurs, and especially social entrepreneurs, I get pretty fired up and attached to my own viewpoints. At times when I have disagreed with someone, when the stakes are high, I can take it personally and it's added distance between me and the person. Remembering that the relationship trumps the issue is key.

Quote of the Day

The older they get the better they were when they were young.

- Jim Bouton

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ready for Autumn

Put a smile on your face and get in the mood of the season:

listen to Kent Risley reciting When the Frost is on the Punkin

and check out this photo from Cultural Offering.

Search for an Inexpensive Laptop

Future Lawyer is one of the few tech-oriented sites that I can understand.

A Toshiba laptop for $389? I can understand that.

Dramatic Shopping

BusinessPundit has the story on why one wife now chooses to shop alone.

Types of Reputations

Whenever someone is said to have a good reputation, some relevant questions are "For what?" and "In which circles?"

I've known individuals whose peers thought they were manipulative or lazy but upper management had them tagged as extraordinary performers. [They were, but only when it came to impressing upper management.] Conversely, their competitors may have secured the trust and respect of peers but were little known by the folks who would make promotion decisions.

Aside from knowing how your own reputation fares at various levels, you are wise to know the people who know; the ones who will give you blunt but accurate assessments of the knowledge, skills, and abilities of Tom, Dick, and Maria. That information is invaluable when assembling teams or allies.

Eventually, your knowledge of who's real, who's improving and who's fake or dangerous should approach that person's. At the back of your mind should be the equivalent of George Marshall's little black book in which he assessed the caliber of officers he'd met in his career. [Hmm. Patton is good for this and Eisenhower is good for that.]

Trust me. It will come in handy.

Meeting Checklist

This checklist has been designed to help improve the caliber of the comments at this meeting.

Please read it before uttering a word.

  1. Unprepared? Don't speak.

  2. Your point has already been made? Don't speak.

  3. Eager to "share something" that is off-topic? Don't speak.

  4. Want to impress the boss? Don't speak.

Quote of the Day

A doctor can bury his mistakes but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines.

- Frank Lloyd Wright

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

H1N1 Poster

What Would Dad Say has produced a nifty H1N1 poster for the workplace.

The Fatal Conceit

Humans are overconfident creatures. Ninety-four percent of college professors believe they are above average teachers, and 90 percent of drivers believe they are above average behind the wheel. Researchers Paul J.H. Schoemaker and J. Edward Russo gave computer executives quizzes on their industry. Afterward, the executives estimated that they had gotten 5 percent of the answers wrong. In fact, they had gotten 80 percent of the answers wrong.

Read the rest of David Brooks on the fatal conceit here.

[HT: Robinson and Long]

Hip-Hop Studies Update

Bravo to Ann Althouse!

So what is it? The answer, Ms. Herron (Merron?) is precisely that pop culture permeates the world of young Americans. Why pursue even more of it in college? Learn new things. Get what you can't get just living in the world soaking up the things you naturally love and enjoy. What is the point of going to college?

[HT: Instapundit]

Another World: Gamemakers and Social Networking

I confess to never hearing of FarmVille and Mafia Wars until I read this Fortune piece about another company that is making money in social networking:

Once hooked, Pincus says, players spend real money on virtual goods to help them advance to higher levels — thereby enriching Zynga. And although playing requires only short spurts of time, the game never ends, as Zynga's designers keep adding levels so that players come back for more.

Swine Flu and FMLA

In a review of how employers might apply the FMLA to swine flu cases, employment attorney John Phillips brings up one of those road bumps that can occur with the best of planning:

Here’s the snag: Getting a medical certification may be harder than you think. Some doctors are telling patients, once symptoms are described, to stay at home. The physicians may prescribe medication over the phone, but they don’t want swine flu victims coming to their offices and infecting other patients and medical staff. Thus, no medical certification.

"Where are we going to get the money?"

William F. Buckley Jr. once fondly recalled a state legislator who used to rise during debate on every significant piece of legislation and ask, "Where are we going to get the money?"

A basic question. An important question. And one to ask frequently because it smokes out the dodges, dreaming, and distortions that are behind so many fine speeches. When the answer is given, then ask:
  1. "Is that a plausible response?"
  2. "Has that ever worked in the past?
  3. "Do the institutions that will be in charge of achieving those actions have a good record of performance?"
  4. "Is the desired improvement worth the cost?"
  5. "What might be the unintended consequences and do they erase the benefits?"


Reverse decision-making is an amusing and informative exercise in which a group is asked to list what they would do if they were trying to produce a disaster. In no time, various actions such as "Don't seek legal advice" and "Alienate your best customers" may be on the board. As the participants ponder the list, someone usually says, "You know, we're sort of doing that third one and we're definitely into the seventh."

It's a good mind-stretcher because it breaks the usual pattern and forces us to think anew. [Some people are great mind-stretchers but that's a subject for another day.] I was reminded of mind-stretchers while reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, the novelist whose Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became the classic film Blade Runner.

The Man in the High Castle explores a dark world in which Germany and Japan, after winning the Second World War, have carved up various nations, including the United States. Dick raises interesting questions, such as what would have happened if FDR had died before Harry Truman was vice president and a less capable replacement stepped into the White House. He does a good job of illustrating how so many major developments can be near-run things and how one person in a key position at a particular time can make an enormous difference.

What are other mind-stretchers? I'd recommend:
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Doomsday by Connie Willis
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Any additions?

Quote of the Day

. . . [A]ll the major troubles the world has had in our era have been caused by people who have let politics become a mania.

- Robert Conquest

Monday, October 26, 2009

Music Break

Reverse Role Models and Their Exceptions

Many of us have reverse role models. We can recall individuals who exemplified terrible leadership, poor judgment, and frighteningly bad people skills. In a number of those cases, we vowed never to be like that individual.

Which is all to be good, with one caveat. Doing the direct opposite of the jerk or the loon may put us in equally dubious territory. In order to determine the proper path, we must dissect the poor behavior and identify just where and how the person crossed the line.

This takes time - too much for those who want comic book simplicity - and yet the process can be enormously rewarding. Analysis is further complicated by the elusive factor of personality. One person can succeed beautifully with an approach that would spark a riot if used by another. Consider this description of a famous leader:

Anyone who served anywhere near him was devoted to him. It is hard to say why. He was not kind or considerate. He bothered nothing about us. He knew the names only of those very close to him and would hardly let anyone else come into his presence. He was free with abuse and complaint. He was exacting beyond reason and ruthlessly critical. He continuously exhibited all the characteristics that one morally deplores and abominates in the boss. Not only did he get away with it but nobody really wanted him otherwise. He was unusual, unpredictable, exciting, original, stimulating, provocative, outrageous, uniquely experienced, abundantly talented, humorous, entertaining - almost everything a man could be, a great man.*

All of which illustrates that leadership is far more than a mere checklist of mannerisms. It can achieve its greatest heights when dusted with a mixture of poetry and personal magic.

[*Sir George Mallarby, Undersecretary in the Cabinet Office, commenting on Winston Churchill.]

Frank Footage

I think there's something rather chilling about this footage of Anne Frank. A young girl looking out at a quiet neighborhood and monsters are coming her way.

Gourmet Update: McDonald's Map

News you can use:

BusinessPundit has a map of the United States by distance to a McDonald's restaurant.

The "Man Up" Issue

Joe Queenan goes after Obama's critics on the Left:

I for one am sick of reading the "Man Up, Barack" editorial, which is then regurgitated by friends and neighbors as if they were the sole authors of this retread banality. Invariably, the person suggesting that Mr. Obama man up thinks of himself as a tough-as-nails hombre. In reality, they are usually the kinds of people who send their kids to Oberlin College, swoon over Andrea Bocelli, and think Jimmy Carter was a macho man. Teamsters they are not.

European Fashion Trend?

A lingerie ad that looks like standard Euro-daring but then the end has a special twist.

Alert Mark Steyn, Bruce Bawer, and Christopher Caldwell!

Knowing Enough to Spot Ignorance

Gavin de Becker, in his extraordinary book "The Gift of Fear," observes that one of fear's benefits is whatever you are fearing has yet to happen. Fear permits you to take precautionary actions.

A related twist may be found in many other conditions. There are people who are too ignorant to know they are ignorant, too biased to know they are biased, and too insensitive to know they are insensitive. Being able to spot those flaws would constitute - as is said in so many recovery programs - the first step toward recovery and yet it requires a basic level of self-awareness and honesty.

Greater study and exposure to varying viewpoints can help to achieve that level. The sign of an educated person is a healthy skepticism toward sources of information. An alert history student quickly learns that there are various schools of historians and that the slant provided in a particular text should not be taken as holy writ. This warning applies as well to the opinions of the professors, journalists, and . . . bloggers.

Quote of the Day

The tyrant must never sleep. He must vary the locations and times. He never sleeps in his palaces. He moves from secret bed to secret bed. Sleep and a fixed routine are among the few luxuries denied him. It is too dangerous to be predictable, and whenever he shuts his eyes, the nation drifts. His iron grip slackens. Plots congeal in the shadows. For those hours he must trust someone, and nothing is more dangerous to the tyrant than trust.

- Mark Bowden

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Travel Highs and Lows

National Geographic gives a list of the best and worst travel destinations and no, Sudan did not make the cut.

Living Deliberately

I recently recalled the cab driver who explained why he had not had an accident in over 30 years of driving busy city streets. He said that when he drives, that's all he does. He doesn't listen to the radio. He doesn't look at girls. He doesn't marvel at the scenery.

He drives.

We are surrounded by distractions and yet are often so absorbed by what we plan to do in the future that we fail to appreciate - and attend to - the now.

And that, of course, is the trick: being able to shift from a glance down the block to the task immediately before you and then back again. Finding a zen-like peace in sharpening a pencil well, organizing the files, or focusing on a conversation while also having the capacity to think ahead.

Mother Teresa said she helped people one person at a time. Zig Ziglar said he started on his path to better health when he realized that he'd never eaten anything by accident. Each alluded to the power of the incremental.

Is there greater meaning and satisfaction to be found in the accumulation of well-done micros as opposed to the completion of a macro?

Michael Jackson: Money Manager

Writing in Fortune, Richard Siklos finds that Michael Jackson's money management was shrewd, lucky, and a little off. An excerpt:

Sony/ATV was a calling card that separated him from being a mere musical megastar. By following Paul McCartney's advice and buying up music catalogues, Jackson bet wisely on a segment of the music business that has actually grown over the past few years, as music gets licensed for new uses, like ring tones and advertising and TV shows like "American Idol" and video games like Rock Band.

Honey Enthusiast Report

One of the pleasures of The Dennis Prager Show is the periodic report by honey enthusiast and executive producer Allen Estrin.

Here is his report on an Ours Brun Rosemary honey from France:

Color: Caramel
Flavor: Pleasant mix of cashews and golden raisins -- sweet, but not cloying.
Consistency: Medium thick, but will separate of over time, the thinner honey rising to the top and the thicker honey falling to the bottom.
Fragrance: Light floral bouquet.

Allen reported over the radio that most of the honey that is found in American supermarkets comes from China.

Rat Rods

It's the weekend so you're probably riding around in one of these.

Quote of the Day

Every man is an omnibus in which his ancestors ride.

- Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes

Friday, October 23, 2009

Science and Creatures of the Night

Neatorama points us to scientific reasons to believe in vampires, werewolves and zombies.

[I think there may be a correlation between advanced age and vampirism. Lately, I've started to avoid mirrors.]

Survivor's Anxiety

Here's an intriguing story from Business Week about those who survived a lay-off and those who didn't. An excerpt:

As more manufacturing was outsourced, workers said they no longer felt as if they were building planes. They were simply snapping them together. They obsessed about the loss of institutional knowledge. Managers who had fired people, meanwhile, confessed deep, pervasive grief—what researchers sometimes call "executioner's lament." Moore says they tended to become emotionally numb and disengaged.

In the greatest surprise of all, the researchers discovered that the people who had been laid off often were happier than those left behind. Many had new jobs, even if they didn't always pay as well. Over and over, Moore says, average depression scores were nearly twice as great for those who stayed with Boeing vs. those who left. The laid-off were less likely to binge drink, often slept better, and had fewer chronic health problems.

Keeping Your Customers

Joe Calloway's 10 steps to keeping customers loyal is worth printing out and reading once a week.

I especially liked his point about letting customers know what was done "above and beyond." There are times when we've done work at no charge and have not mentioned it to customers. It shouldn't be brought up in an obnoxious, look-how-much-we've-sacrificed sort of way but it should be noted.

[HT: Cultural Offering]

Island Reading

My post on management books for a deserted island is up at U.S. News & World Report.

[This is the sort of list that you write, then two days later think, "Why didn't I put in this book or drop that one?"]

Exec Pay and Contract Rights

Professor Bainbridge weighs in on the administration's actions on executive pay:

The basic problem is here is that many (most?) of the compensation deals the Obama administration is shredding were set in employment contracts. Granted, some of those employment contracts were signed after the law setting up pay "czar" Kenneth Feinberg's position and empowering him to review pay packages at TARP firms. But a lot of them are pre-existing contracts and it's those contracts that are the main concern.

David Frum asks:

Suppose we discovered that during the tense days of September and October 2008, executives at the big banks were ordering lavished catered dinners for themselves at their offices. WE'd all disapprove. Those executives should have been eating sandwiches at their desks! But would it be OK for the government to order the banks to refuse the invoices from the catering company?

Cover Story

The executive bristled when asked about the candidate's qualifications and the caliber of some of the individual's decisions. Questioning the quality of the person was regarded not just as rude, but a form of heresy.

And then it struck me: He resents the questioning because the candidate is a member of his group, not because it is inappropriate. And members of his group are beyond questioning. Their credentials are to be presumed. The resentment may also stem from the fact that the executive knew little of the person's judgment and abilities. That task was regarded as a waste of time.

I am both amused and frustrated at how many times I've seen this attitude. Decision makers who demand high levels of scrutiny for individuals outside of their group unknowingly drop their standards when one of their own is proposed for an honor or promotion. All of the fine talk about merit becomes mere sound. This is different, they insist. This candidate is unassailable.

What they mean is this candidate is one of our own.

When Feel-Good Becomes Feel-Bad

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Steve Salerno thinks the self-help movement is a sham:

Apologists argue that there are bad outcomes in any endeavor, that it's unfair to single out self-help when, say, conventional medicine kills thousands each year. The difference is that in medicine, practitioners share demonstrated expertise in methods that evolved over time and have been tested and retested for efficacy. A bad outcome in a field with proven benefits is unfortunate. A bad outcome in a field with little basis for existing in the first place is unforgivable. As noted psychologist Michael Hurd told me, "Gurus encourage these poor, already troubled souls to literally take leave of their senses, as if departing reason will somehow liberate you."

Quote of the Day

The good governor should have a broken leg and keep at home.

- Miquel de Cervantes

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alexander Kent

After reading Graham Greene's "The Tenth Man" the other day, I was in the mood for something exciting with clear heroes and villains instead of Greene's usual brooding and flawed protagonists.

[I recall reading "A Burnt-Out Case" while down in the dumps in law school. Not a wise move.]

So I started Alexander Kent's "The Midshipman Bolitho" series about a young man in the Royal Navy in 1773.

It was just the ticket. A mission to West Africa. Kill the pirates. Free the hostages.

Run up the Union Jack!

Windows 7: The Myths?

David Lagesse discusses "7 myths about Windows 7."

Wooden's Thoughts and More!

What Would Dad Say has a marvelous post with a list of John Wooden sayings plus a bunch of other quotes related to sports.

Read it. You'll thank me for it.

How Much Time is Left?

This will perk you up.

BusinessPundit discusses retirement planning and the living to 100 life expectancy calculator.

Rescue Charges

Writing in Slate, Brian Palmer examines whether government can charge someone for a search and rescue operation:

No. As a general rule, the United States adheres to the "free public services doctrine," which states that the cost of law enforcement, fire suppression, and search and rescue should be shared by all taxpayers. However, there are some situations in which the state can demand payment for a rescue operation from a particular person. Under federal and state restitution laws, for example, the victim of a crime can try to recover any costs that were incurred as a result of that crime. Since the Colorado government was itself the victim of the balloon boy hoax, the state can argue for restitution on those grounds. (The cost of a rescue involving aircraft can be tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars.) The same principle holds true for wildfires, which led to a federal court fining a homeless man $101 million last year.

Trouble in Bloom County

Much has been written about highly accomplished people who regard themselves as impostors. That came to mind while reading this rather sad story about Berkeley Breathed, the cartoonist who created "Bloom County" and other strips. Note the last paragraph:

He looked down at “Bloom County: The Complete Library” with the same expression of disinterest. “This is an amazing book, amazing to see,” Breathed said, sounding anything but amazed. Then he delivered the droll punch line. “When you write about it you should say, ‘This guy is a fraud and a cheat.’ There’s your headline.”

Pillow Talk

Here is a story that wouldn't have gotten my attention a few years ago but now seems highly important: The search for the perfect pillow. An excerpt:

Take a standard-issue product, throw in the expertise of a chiropractor and variable sizes and shapes, add some secret density formulas, and you have a niche market. We tested four services, including a do-it-yourself option that had us do everything but wrestle geese to pluck their soft feathers.


For every hypersensitive soul who searches for slights that may or may not be there and then complains about them, there must be legions who either shrug off genuine slights or tuck them away and move on.

John F. Kennedy said to forgive your enemies but never forget their names. Small wounds can produce long memories. All of us have inadvertently slighted someone, possibly without even suspecting any harm. We should silently pray that our victims have a statute of limitations.

But do we have one as well?

Quote of the Day

Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Quieter Market

Seth Godin examines the difference between true believers and the truth:

The truth of the market is that the market you sell to isn't filled with true believers. It's filled with human beings who make compromises, who tell stories, who have competing objectives. And as a result, the truth of the market is that the products and services that win (if win means you can make a good living and make positive change) are rarely the products and services that are beloved without reservation by the true believers.

"And Brutus is an honorable man."

Back by popular demand: Brando as Marc Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Mantra: It's Only a Car

The Lexus LFA: Only 500 will be produced and the price is a mere $375,000.

Mexican Justice

I read this Wall Street Journal story about Mexico's justice system several days ago and am still wondering how one would begin to reform such a system:

Unlike the U.S., Mexico's legal system has no jury trials. In the majority of cases, there are also no oral arguments, meaning lawyers don't stand in front of a judge to plead their client's case. Judges usually never meet the accused. Everything is done via paperwork. Judges are subject to a Napoleonic code of justice, meaning laws are strictly codified, leaving them little room for judgment.

Your Avoidance Schedule

I'm convinced that part of any good time management program should include scheduling activities in a way that facilitates the avoidance of negative behavior.

There are times of the day when we are most prone to negative actions, such as watching mindless television programs, overeating, gossiping, etc. Look at your schedule and you'll probably spot your vulnerable zones. We do not consciously book negative actions. They slip into the unbooked territory; those times when we have let down our guard.

Those are the hours that need to be filled with more productive activities. Doing so gives us the dual benefit of the positive action itself and the avoidance of the negative action.

Those open hours need to be filled in consciously and productively or they will inadvertently be devoted to actions that can be truly harmful.

Quote of the Day

I am a believer in punctuality though it makes me very lonely.

- E.V. Lucas

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Just another in the classic survival techniques that this site routinely passes along to its readers.

Read All About It

Don't tell me the headline writer didn't have fun with this one.

A Coming Pandemic?

This isn't pleasant reading. In Foreign Policy, novelist and physician Robin Cook discusses the danger of a new plague. An excerpt:

At that point, the story moves quickly as the deadly new agent races around the planet, thumbing its nose at all vain attempts to stop or contain it. Governments and individuals will do desperate things, some rational and others not so, like deploying the military to try to close borders or using firearms to keep possibly infected strangers at bay. Hospitals will be overwhelmed at first and later forced to lock their doors. To avoid interpersonal contact, people will hole up in their homes, causing government offices, schools, and businesses to close. Many public officials will be forced to quarantine themselves from a diseased population and retreat to undisclosed locations, which will only fuel the public panic. Riot police in biohazard suits (if there are even enough to go around) will increasingly be called upon to beat back waves of sick, scared, and helpless civilians, desperate for food, water, and medicine. This won't just be the case in failing states like Somalia and Yemen, but also in successful ones like France and the United States.

In the Mail

Recently arrived:

Reviews to follow.


Photographs of some of Europe's most famous battlefields.

And Carl Sandburg's poem, "Grass."


John L. Herman Jr. explores the use of FREE! as a marketing tool:

Stop having “huge discounts” on some things trying to lure customers in for a bargain. Today every store, every restaurant and every service company now offers “huge discounts” and people would be insulted if they didn’t see a price reduction. BUT…people will stop in, call you for help, and at least give you a try if they could get something for FREE.

"Administrative Zombies"

Deep down, managers are a form of administrative zombie. What other explanation could possibly explain the apparently brain dead things that so many of them do repeatedly during the course of carrying out their duties on the job?

That's the teaser.

Click here and read the rest from Political Calculations (a must-read site) about how managers can stop wasting time and money.

The Boo Biz

Temporary Halloween stores, which in past years haven’t had as many available spaces to choose from, are taking over the vacated spots of shuttered Linens ’n Things, Circuit City, and other big-box stores. This is helping landlords not only fill up empty spaces and earn rent, but also avoid big financial penalties by restarting the clock on agreements with other tenants to fill the larger retail spaces within a certain time period.

And the locations are perfect for a business based on just a few weeks’ worth of traffic.

Read the rest of the Portfolio article here.

Handel Rules!

Watch this video at Cultural Offering and you will have a smile on your face, especially if you are a fan of Handel.

Multiple Bosses

A person once told me that I was very fortunate to be a part-owner of a business because I didn't have a boss.

But he overlooked my four bosses: Customer Service, Supply, Demand, and Cash Flow.

Quote of the Day

The United States has become the most rigidly credentialized society in the world. A B.A. is required for jobs that by no stretch of the imagination need two years of full-time training, let alone four.

- James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield, Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Brain Surgeon

Marvelous stuff: The Mitchell & Webb take on the brain surgeon at a cocktail party.

[HT: Idea Anaconda]

Creativity Break

The original trailer for "The Muppet Movie."

Loose Lips Sink Ships

Fistful of Talent recounts a painful story of a resignation gone bad:

CANDIDATE: What (his face started to heat up) NO I did not!

BOSS: Yes, you did. You called my cell phone over the weekend while you were eating out Saturday and talking to your wife about resigning. It was a 10 minute call - I heard everything.

Slippery Managers

Slippery managers don't give straight answers. They are masters of vague generalities, continued research, additional reviews, and details - masses of details - on items that do not matter.

"I'm sorry, I thought you knew" is one of their favorite phrases. If pressed, they also employ language that implies prior candor regarding items that have been hidden. [When they say, "As we all know," rest assured that what is about to be disclosed was neither known nor admitted.]

Simple, methodical, and relentless pursuit of the truth is the best way to box in the slippery manager. The facts are against them so they try to elude detailed examination of the facts and cloud their trail with theories, crises, and distractions.

Watch for what is said but, more importantly, watch for what is not said. As with any accomplished magician, their efforts will lead you in one direction when you should be looking in another.

One tip: Ask yourself, "What simple facts do I not know?" and "Do I have confirmation that what has been asserted is the truth?"

"Second class medicine"

In Germany, there's an uproar over allegations that politicians are being given a better form of the swine flu vaccination than the general population.

Flu Tracker

This is fascinating: The Wall Street Journal has a flu tracker.

Watch the states change as the months roll up to the latest report.

I've never gotten a flu shot, but I'm getting one this week.

Learning About People

Quick question: If you had to recommend three novels to a young person who wanted to learn about people, which ones would you name?

My picks:
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor

Work-Life Balance: The Easy Solution

In the midst of a book review, information emerges on how film director Robert Altman balanced his personal and professional lives:

Less favorable are the contributions of his children, made all the more damning by their evident desire to say something nice. In a chapter titled "Fatherhood I," Stephen Altman gives a chilling account of what it was like to be the son of the man many considered America's greatest living director: "At one point, I think I was around ten . . . he had everybody sit down in his Malibu mansion . . . and told us that if it ever came down to it and he had to choose between all of us and his work, he'd dump us in a second." Stephen then tries to qualify this, inadvertently providing the coup de grâce: "I don't know, maybe it was alcohol that made him say it. It's hard when you're young to know when people are drunk and belligerent and surly or hungover."

A List for All Seasons

Cultural Offering provides a great list for a great week.

Quote of the Day

What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.

- Robert F. Kennedy

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Looking for Henry VIII

David Starkey and Hilary Mantel discuss Henry VIII.

I'm looking forward to reading Mantel's new novel, Wolf Hall.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sears: 1934

James Lileks takes us on a slide tour of the 1934 Sears catalog.

Check out those Depression-era prices and be sure to read his commentary.

Good Thoughts for the Weekend and Beyond

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

Read the rest of The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith.

Poetry and Polanski

The most devastating commentary on the Roman Polanski matter?

It has to be this poem by Calvin Trillin.


Instapundit thinks this is a sign that the end times are upon us.

He's wrong. This is.

The Leonardo Code

Well, my portfolio has not been this successful:

A $19,000 purchase two years ago is now valued at $150 million.

The iPhone and Blackberry Squeeze

Nokia suffered a loss of how much?!!

Check our SOX First on competition in the smart phone biz.

Fitting In or Losing an Advantage?

Michael P. Maslanka points to an intriguing article on keeping your job by not trying to fit in.

As I read the article by Peter Bregman, however, it seemed more like a recommendation to build a distinctive and competitive advantage. That can be very different from not fitting in. It may be possible to fit in with the general culture of an organization while being a highly creative thinker. Furthermore, exhibiting an inability or reluctance to fit in during a job interview can be lethal.

It's a thought-provoking piece. Just how much "distinctiveness" will your organization tolerate?

Great Moments in PR

Which is stranger?

The media battle between Conan O'Brien and the mayor of Newark, New Jersey; or

The White House communications director extolling Chairman Mao in a speech to high school students?

The Piano Stairs

Daniel H. Pink shows a Swedish project to encourage people to use the stairs.

It may be cuter in the video than in real life.

Must We Politicize Everything? Department

I recall receiving some green Halloween candy but it may have had more to do with age than with the environment.

Fast Company lists some "green" candy options.



I walked into a gym at 4:00 this morning. The guy at the desk said, "You must be dedicated. There are only three other people here."

Dedication doesn't enter into it unless weird sleeping patterns constitute dedication. His comment, however, triggered some thoughts. Those three other people probably picked the gym for the same reason I did: It never closes.

Our firm has used a Fed Ex/Kinko's outlet because of the reassurance that if we need to pick up copies of consulting or training materials at midnight, they're open.

And that may be the operative word: reassurance. Some might emphasize convenience, but I think the deeper attraction is the "I will always be here for you" one. That goes beyond convenience. It is not simply an open door. It is an embrace.

So now I'm thinking more about how to convey that same sort of reassurance to clients. There have been times when I've given out my home telephone number and yet I don't routinely do that. My home number has seldom been used by clients, but that's not the point. They know they have it.

That small gesture may make more of a difference than we realize.

Quote of the Day

Character is much easier kept than recovered.

- Thomas Paine

Friday, October 16, 2009

Beautiful, Simple, and Elevating

It's Friday: Take a civilization break.

Look at Vermeer's "The Milkmaid."

What lessons from that can we apply to our life and work?

Google's Story

Jonathan V. Last reviews Ken Auletta's new book, "Googled." An excerpt:

After three years of losing money, Google came up with the idea to sell little text ads on its search-results page. The ads a user was shown depended on what they had searched for, making them particularly attractive to advertisers. Adding to the enticement was that Google only charged advertisers if a user clicked on their ad. It was a revolutionary idea which turned into gushers of money for Google. The year before they began serving up these ads the company had revenues of $86 million. The next year (2002) revenues jumped to $400 million. The year after that they stood at $1.5 billion, and they've continued to increase at a phenomenal pace ever since.

Honor Roll of One

In April of 1972, he was sent into the midst of 30,000 North Vietnamese soldiers who were invading South Vietnam along with five South Vietnamese soldiers. He survived behind enemy lines for a week seeking to rescue a downed American flyer. Somehow, he found the man, badly wounded, and got him out while engaged in a constant, nonstop firefight with the enemy. Disguised as a local, in a sampan, he got the pilot to safety.

A few months later, in another action behind enemy lines, Tom was shot in the face and was barely able to escape to a nearby Navy vessel, thanks to the heroism of another Seal named Michael Thornton.

Read the rest of Ben Stein's article here.

An Immigration Turning Point: "Authentic" Ethnic Food

Dara Horn sees the search for authentic ethnic food as an important sign:

The history of American food is really a history of immigration, and the nostalgia that comes with a cuisine's decline is an indicator of an ethnic group's confidence in its American identity. When a group first attains critical mass in America, its restaurants are mostly for its own members. Later, as these groups gain confidence, they begin selling their more accessible foods to a general public craving cheap exotic eats. These dishes then mutate into American form, a la chow mein, and the group's American-born children typically spurn these foods as they try to assimilate. Around the third or fourth generation, the descendants of immigrants are secure enough in their American credentials to explore their "roots." Shortly thereafter, food nostalgia sets in, and the quest for the "authentic" begins.

The Importance of Friday

I learned the importance of Friday while in college. Not only is it a great day for taking stock of what was accomplished during the week and for plugging any gaps, it is also an opportunity to get ahead of the coming week and for reducing the amount of work that needs to be handled over the weekend.

Make a habit of goofing off on Friday night and you may have much busier - and perhaps panic-driven - Sunday evenings.

Even with the extra work, Friday is a day of promise. Breathing space beckons with its lure of a sizable portion of time devoted to recovery and reflection.

Some helpful Friday questions are:
  1. What have I overlooked in the past four days that can be addressed today?
  2. Which meetings for the coming weeks can be scheduled, but not held, today?
  3. As I look over my list of contacts, which people have been neglected and need to be contacted?
  4. Can I do a better job of booking time for projects, not meetings, for the next two weeks?
  5. Can I devote at least one uninterrupted hour today to thinking?
  6. Can I devote three to four hours to intense action; the level and sort of activity that occurs on the day before a vacation?

Gladwell on Football, Concussions, and Dementia

In an alarming article in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell asks how different are dogfighting and football? An excerpt:

“The first concussion was during preseason. The team was doing two-a-days,” he said, referring to the habit of practicing in both the morning and the evening in the preseason. “It was August 9th, 9:55 A.M. He has an 80-g hit to the front of his head. About ten minutes later, he has a 98-g acceleration to the front of his head.” To put those numbers in perspective, Guskiewicz explained, if you drove your car into a wall at twenty-five miles per hour and you weren’t wearing your seat belt, the force of your head hitting the windshield would be around 100 gs: in effect, the player had two car accidents that morning. He survived both without incident. “In the evening session, he experiences this 64-g hit to the same spot, the front of the head. Still not reporting anything. And then this happens.” On his laptop, Guskiewicz ran the video from the practice session. It was a simple drill: the lineman squaring off against an offensive player who wore the number 76. The other player ran toward the lineman and brushed past him, while delivering a glancing blow to the defender’s helmet. “Seventy-six does a little quick elbow. It’s 63 gs, the lowest of the four, but he sustains a concussion.”

Quote of the Day

My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four unless there were three other people.

- Orson Welles

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Music Break: Redbone

A great culture contains a mighty range.

And it should include Leon Redbone singing Polly Wolly Doodle.

Too Smart for Wall Street's Own Good?

Writing in The New Republic, Noam Scheiber wonders if the "smart guys" destroyed Wall Street. An excerpt:

Until about the 1970s, the firms that held most of the power on Wall Street were establishment institutions. The downside of this is that Wall Street tended to be inbred, clique-ish, unimaginative, inefficient, intellectually flabby, self-satisfied, and effete. (This was largely the three-martini-lunch crowd that had gone to elite schools and whose fathers and grandfathers had held more or less the same jobs.) The upside was that it was inbred, clique-ish, unimaginative, inefficient, intellectually flabby, self-satisfied, and effete. Which is to say, the global economy wasn't exactly at risk of being super-charged by these guys. But neither were they going to flame out spectacularly.

The Cocoon Office

This is one of those office design ideas that looks neat at first glance but then - o ye of little faith - consider what it would be like to work there:

All of the building's spaces lie along a ramp that rises gently from the ground to the top-most floor; the entire building wraps around a single, light-filled atrium, thus bringing airy, natural light throughout. Meanwhile, the various rooms have been designed with flexible partitioning, so that in the future the occupants won't be bound to a layout that seemed natural 10 years ago, but no longer makes sense.

[The rolling contest starts at five.]

Shamelessness Update: Going Camp and Topless

The vivid dreams of a topless equestrian enthusiast.

Too Clever by Half

"He failed because he was too smart - he made other people feel stupid by always having to prove his intelligence." - Description of a failed executive from a study by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Ann Morrison of the Center for Creative Leadership.

Think of how often you've seen that mistake!

Bad Conversation

I had a bad conversation the other day; the sort in which you and the other person are talking at cross-purposes. We agreed far more than we disagreed on the subject, but he was so surprised that I disagreed at all that he kept returning to the difference.

In retrospect, I should have said, "Time out. I propose that we erase everything we've said up to this point. Can we start over again with a blank slate?" We then could have proceeded by focusing on the central subject.

That might have worked because the disagreement was not over a fundamental or crucial point. It was on an issue which was irrelevant to the purpose of the meeting.

There is certainly no guarantee that the tactic would have been successful, but it would have been worth the attempt. We finally got around to the areas of agreement but the detour consumed a lot of time. It was not a waste of time, however, because the experience provided one more lesson in the perils of communication.


Think of how frequently your life has been affected by nudging.
  • The teacher who nudged you to consider a different perspective.
  • The parents who nudged you to say "Please" and "Thank you."
  • The boss who, rather than tearing your work apart, quietly showed how it could be improved.

Bold gestures and words have their moments, but the nudges of life are more powerful, possibly because they are often not recognized and are barely felt.

How do you lead? You nudge.

Quote of the Day

Everyone pushes a falling fence.

- Chinese proverb

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Care for Some Gopher, Everitt?

Entertainment Break: A memorable scene from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Reich and Candor

Belmont Club analyzes - and provides additional excerpts from - the now famous Robert Reich speech in which the former Labor Secretary reveals what politicians are afraid to admit about various issues.

[HT: Instapundit]

Zero Thought + Zero Guts = Zero Tolerance

Bravo to employment attorney John Phillips for his insightful thrashing of nitwitted zero tolerance policies!

I see these policies as a sign of craven behavior. Rather than having to make - and defend - a decision, organizations seek to place all responsibility on a mindless mechanical process.

I'm surprised they don't use mood rings.

Being a Better Student

I've been both a student and a teacher and have posted before on tips for students. Here are some additional thoughts (consider it a confessional) on what I should have done more often to be a better student:

  1. Less memorization and more translation. If you cannot explain a concept in plain language, you probably don't know it.

  2. Less procrastination. Work in increments and then review. Don't permit masses of work to accumulate. Recognize that most of us do our best work in short bursts.

  3. More engagement. It is a rare professor who does not appreciate a serious student. Don't make a habit of darting out at the end of class. Stay and ask questions if clarification is needed.

  4. Less resistance. Learning can be like swimming. You can panic at the sense of being overwhelmed or you can relax, comprehend the surroundings, and eventually move forward.

  5. Clear vision. Knowing the subject is not the same as getting a high grade. Understand what is needed for the grade and don't confuse that with a deeper knowledge of the subject. Try to achieve both.

  6. Act like a great student. What do the best students do? They don't spend a lot of time groaning about how tough the class is. They seek help and create a system for absorbing the information.

  7. Know your barriers. What sort of learner are you? Does your impatience cause you to rush through analysis? Are you too analytical? Are you trying to fit the square subject in a round hole? Which parts of learning do you enjoy and which do you dislike? Is your ego causing you to try to bend the subject to your viewpoint rather than accepting the reality of the subject?

California's Turning Point

Donald Pittinger wonders when California started to decline:

One of my minor hobbies is assigning dates when places start going to hell. In California's case, I say it was around 1960, just as it was about to overtake New York as the country's most populous state. After that, the Sixties literally and figuratively kicked in, with California bearing the brunt. By 1990 I lost my desire to live there. (Well, if I had gobs of money, I can think of a few places such as Carmel and Santa Barbara that I might find tolerable.)

[But note this gem from the comments: "California will continue to be important as long as Starfleet Headquarters continues to be based in San Francisco."

Leadership, Deliberation, and Decisiveness

Writing about Afghanistan in The Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan notes the danger of being perceived as indecisive:

Even if Obama does end up making the correct decision on Afghanistan strategy (by which I mean adding troops, since counterinsurgency is manpower-intensive), the public agony over his deliberations may already have done incalculable damage. The Afghan people have survived three decades of war by hedging their bets. Now, watching a young and inexperienced American president appear to waiver on his commitment to their country, they are deciding, at the level of both the individual and the mass, whether to make their peace with the Taliban—even as the Taliban itself can only take solace and encouragement from Obama's public agonizing. Meanwhile, fundamentalist elements of the Pakistani military, opposed to the recent crackdown against local Taliban, are also taking heart from developments in Washington. This is how coups and revolutions get started, by the middle ranks sensing weakness in foreign support for their superiors.