Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Concepts Shaped By Signs"

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is only a short road that leads from grammatical laxity to cannibalism. At least, it should be universally acknowledged. Human beings are linguistic beings through and through, after all. Because of our miraculous, almost certainly extra-natural capacity for symbolic communication—uttered, written, or mimed—we are the only terrestrial species that possesses a history. Human personality, community, society, and culture are all informed, sustained, and determined by language; everything we are and can be, everything we think and know and believe, is woven from words; even our most immediate sensuous experiences are ultimately mediated to us through concepts shaped by signs.

Read the rest of David Bentley Hart

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Real World and Writing

Back by popular demand: The screenplay seminar scene from "Adaptation."

Deposition Questions

Michael P. Maslanka suggests some deposition questions for both sides in an employment law case.

First Paragraph

Sir Joseph Blaine, a heavy, yellow-faced man in a suit of grey clothes and a flannel waistcoat, walked down St. James's Street, across the park, and so to the Admiralty, which he entered from behind, opening the private door with a key and making his way to the large, shabby room in which he had his official being.

- From The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O'Brian

Thinking Big?

In many organizations, more attention is devoted to picking up the small particles of grain that have blown onto the barn floor than to harvesting the entire field.

The small particles are studied, new brooms purchased, and sweeping techniques perfected. All this will be done while the field outside remains unharvested.

Where is your attention?

The Adventures of Edwin

The former Governor of Louisiana finds true love:

"People who don't know me don't know what a wonderful, pleasant, modest fellow I am," Edwards said when asked how a man his age managed to land a much-younger wife.

He also told reporters how Grimes, who started writing him letters while he was in prison, visited him there regularly on weekends and holidays in recent years.

[HT: Rick Miller]

Quote of the Day

Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared.

- Eddie Rickenbacker

Friday, July 29, 2011

Behind "Catch-22"

The morning after the opening sentence took shape, Heller “arrived at work”—at the Merrill Anderson Company—“with my pastry and container of coffee and a mind brimming with ideas, and immediately in longhand put down on a pad the first chapter of an intended novel.” The handwritten manuscript totaled about 20 pages. He titled it Catch-18. The year was 1953.

Read the rest of the
Vanity Fair article here.

Arts & Letters Daily]

Film Noir Time

It's Friday. You need
a great list of film noir flicks.

Thanking Zig Ziglar

I've listened to a lot of the old guy's motivational and goal-setting tapes over the years and so was glad to see Seth Godin celebrating the impact of Zig Ziglar.

Good news: Zig's Performance Planner is back. Amazon is temporarily out of stock but if you've ever used this Planner, you know what a great tool it is.

Uncertainty: Living with

From the incomparable Bate: We are sold certainty from the earliest age.

The Case of the iPhone Case

FutureLawyer reports on pairing the iPhone case with the rich smell of mahogany.

What about bacon or chocolate chip cookies?

First Paragraph

In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames between Southwark Bridge, which is of iron, and London Bridge, which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.

- From Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Conversation with a Supervisor

"Did you ever receive any formal training in supervision?"

"No, I just applied for the job, was interviewed and then was lucky enough to get selected. I learned a lot later on. Talked to some people, Made a bunch of mistakes. Still do, to be honest. I think the idea was that they wouldn't tell us how to do it right but they'd sure let us know if we did something wrong."

"That doesn't sound very wise."

"It isn't, nor is it fun to be tossed to the wolves. Being a supervisor is tough if you want to do it right. Plus there are the laws to worry about. I've got a couple of employees who may know more about employment law than I do. My own supervisor is pretty supportive and yet he hasn't had much training either. We each think we are doing well and yet maybe we are operating at a B level when we could be at an A. There are days when we hunker down."

"Do you get much support from HR?"

"You know, everyone jokes about HR, but that isn't fair. I've usually gotten good advice when I've asked HR about a problem but they aren't in my pocket when I'm out talking with someone in the field. I don't make a habit of running to HR on things because just touching base with them can make my bosses nervous. They want things handled in-house and HR tends to ask a bunch of questions. Maybe those questions need to be asked, but the HR director doesn't write my performance evaluations. Let's just say there is a lot of on-the-job training. You know, the School of Hard Knocks type."

"Before you were promoted, did you have any idea how complicated supervision can be?"

"No way. I had a sense of about a third of the territory. Later on, I discovered how often the rumor mill is wrong and that some of the so-called easy decisions aren't that easy. Once you have a system down, however, it gets a whole lot easier. There is one item that is more important than all of the others."

"What's that?"

"Trust. You need to create a climate of trust."

Quote of the Day

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.

- John Barrymore

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Entertainment Break

The trailer for "The Four Musketeers."

Picking a Change Model

Thinking about change? Dan McCarthy reviews some change models.

An Executive's Career Option

Able was I ere I saw Elba.

"Could You Be a Weiner?"

Stanley Bing has some questions for you. An excerpt:

1. Have you ever sent a personal e-mail to somebody that, if it were put on the front page of the newspaper, would put you in the Hall of Shame? Note to my friend Albert: Remember the little poems you wrote to Janie before you both got your divorces and married each other? I believe they are still in the database somewhere.

West Texas

In a 2010 interview, the Governor of Texas recalls his childhood:

The people who were adults that lived through the early fifties in West Texas, I think, are some of the most principled, disciplined people in the world, and faithful. Because every day they got up, it was dry. And the wind and the sandstorms. This was before the days of deep tilling, and the sky would become like before dawn in its darkness—and this is in the middle of the day. Huge clouds of dust would roll in from the west. The only time I ever remember seeing my mother cry as a young boy was—they rarely ever bought anything, and certainly didn’t buy anything new, but she had bought a new couch. And there were places in our house that you could see outside through the cracks by the windows, and this dust storm came in and there was a layer of dust all over that new couch. And it just, you know, kind of—it was a hard life for them.


First Paragraph

The sun was rising over Santo Domingo, the city named for his father, as Christopher Columbus woke to yet another morning in prison. It was eight years, almost to the hour, since he had discovered the New World. Armed guards stood outside the thick wooden door. His ankles and wrists had long ago been rubbed raw by iron shackles. Even lying flat on his back, he could feel their heaviness against his flesh and anticipate the manacles' noisy clank as he threw his feet over the edge of the bed.

- From The Last Voyage of Columbus by Martin Dugard

Casio MQ24 Analog Watch

Cool Tools likes its simplicity. So do I.

Bock: Gleaning the Best from the Military's Best

The military spends far more time training for missions than it does carrying the missions out. In business, the reverse is true. Even so there are some important lessons we can learn from the way military organizations do training. The military has learned that if you don't train your leaders at all levels properly, you can't consistently use mission orders and reap the benefits.

The military does a better job than most businesses of training leaders in decision making, training them in the skills necessary two levels above their current position, and creating the situation where there are multiple qualified candidates for every promotion.

Most training in business decision-making consists of working on case studies. Military services teach decision making the old-fashioned way, by creating a simple, but flexible system, having leaders in training make lots of decisions and critiquing the outcomes. The result is that a freshly minted second lieutenant is usually more adepts at decision making that many mid-level managers. It's one reason why junior military officers are recruiting targets for many business organizations.

Read all of this outstanding post by Wally Bock.

Excellence in the Kitchen

Cultural Offering has the lobster scene from "Dinner Rush."

Consider how it may apply to your job. ("I report to a lobster.")

Quote of the Day

Forever is composed of nows.

- Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

History Break: WWII Photos

Some extraordinary color photographs of Britain during the Blitz.

[HT: Jonathan Wade]

The Fall of Borders

Here's another take on the fall of Borders Books.

The Reliables

You know their names. You've taken the time to know them personally. Some coffee here and a chat about raising kids there. The conversations may have covered where they went to school, their car, spouse, dog, or the medical problem they had last year, but it went further than the standard "How are you doing?"

They are your contacts, your sources for information. On the real organization chart, these are the people you go to when you need the unvarnished truth or something from their department. They are a back-channel way of getting things done quickly and with a minimal amount of hassle.

Some will be executives and managers but your contacts should come from all levels of the organization. [Secretaries in particular are very powerful.] These are the folks who may initially give you the "party line" but then, when you ask, "What's really happening here?" will shut the door and tell you as much of the truth as they can get away with, which may just be a hint, a subtle warning or a heads-up. In some cases, they may say that they cannot say anything and that, of course, says something. You'd do the same for them.

They are gold so long as you remember to put the person first and their role as a contact second. You should never do anything to embarrass them nor should you ask them to do anything unethical.

You also have an obligation to reciprocate. After all, you too are one of the Reliables.

First Paragraph

When I was coming of age in the late 1960s, most of my generation was involved in a heroic effort to depose Bob Hope, John Wayne, Lawrence Welk, Sammy Davis, Jr., and all the other cultural icons who ruled American society with an iron fist. This was an intellectual insurrection from which I defected by my twenty-first birthday. One reason I threw in the towel so quickly was because I recognized almost immediately that Cat Stevens and Iron Butterfly were not all that much of an improvement over Shecky Greene and Liberace.

- From Red Lobster, White Trash, and The Blue Lagoon by Joe Queenan

Well, It Was in the General Vicinity, Right?

Claire Berlinski on how not to send a condolence card.

Quote of the Day

Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.

- Truman Capote

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A belated Happy Birthday to Jeff, the creative force behind View From the Ledge, who has turned 60.

May his many happy returns be filled with books, photographs, writing, and cake.


Back by popular demand: The 1982 Federal Express post office commercial.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The New Republic: The craziest expenditures of dictators.
Poem: "The Congressmen Came Out to See Bull Run."
The New York Times: Conservatives and grad school.
Richard J. Evans reviews the new book on William L. Shirer.
Althouse: Britons complaining of "Americanisms" in the language.
Ed Ring on the California public-pension bubble.

Shrine to Colonel Sanders

Today, though, the Colonel's sainthood seems more official than ever. KFC is proud to present, a website that canonizes the Colonel by collecting his stories, his life, and his deeds and organizing them in a sprawling multimedia extravaganza. The voiceover on the introductory video—fawning, stilted, and armed to the teeth with clich├ęs—almost feels like it's making fun of itself. Only it's not. "A man. A man from a small town. A man who failed. A man who was no longer young. A man who wasn't ready to give up." A man, you say? Not a woman, but a man? Not a dog, nor a rooster, but a man? "This man is Harland Sanders . . . He had a passion. A dream. A recipe for fried chicken."

Read the rest at
Adfreak. [The story is fine but the site is NSFW.]

Top 50 HR Blogs

Evan Carmichael at The Entrepreneur Blog has released his list of the Top 50 HR Blogs of 2011.

A very good group of bloggers. I'm honored to be in their company.

Notebook Lust

Notebooks. Really neat notebooks. Here.

Nicholas Bate]

American Life

One of the many reasons why Cultural Offering is daily reading.

Time Management System

I am determined to develop a technique to avoid wasting time so I've been making a list of activities.

A couple of days were spent converting the list to sub-lists that are broken down by subject, frequency, and geographic location. Each of those in turn has a rating of A (Really Important), B (Important), C (Might Be Important), D (Don't Know), E (Looks Unimportant), F (Really is Unimportant) and G (Importance is Irrelevant). Each factor, of course, is weighted and the Two Standard Deviation formula is applied to avoid unfairness.

A week or so may be devoted to deciding if the sublists should be color-coded and whether footnotes are necessary. Clever acronyms will be assigned, but only after extensive research and debate. Care will be given to the system's three-ringed notebook, since appearance is always a subtle motivator.

Or perhaps it isn't. I'll check into that if I can find the time.

First Paragraph

Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.

- From Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Quote of the Day

The reason most major goals are not achieved is that we spend our time doing second things first.

- Robert McKain

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Italian Job

The trailer for the 1969 version.

[I was also going to post the trailer for the 2003 version but it gives away far too much of the plot.]

Business Ethics: No Such Thing

Here's a thought-provoking essay by Seth Godin on business ethics.

I get uneasy whenever I hear people declare that good ethics = good business because that raises the question of "What would you do if it didn't?" You are supposed to be ethical because it is the right thing to do, not because ethical behavior enhances the bottom line.

EEO Management

Already on Kindle. Now available in paperback.

No Plan B

Michael P. Maslanka on how lawyers can improve their oral arguments.

I'll have to read the book he cites. At this stage, I'm not sure if I agree with the advice of the authors but my assumptions may be unfair.

Your Vocabulary

Anderson Layman's Blog points to a vocabulary test.

I think that reading lots of Dickens and Trollope will boost any vocabulary. Of course, reading many modern writers will boost another type of vocabulary.

Be Thee Discreet

FutureLawyer has some sound advice for Facebook users. An excerpt:

A problem with Facebook that allowed all of a user's friends to see thumbnails of videos posted to one or more members and designated as private is causing another security flap. Of course, as I and others have said before, you shouldn't post anything on Facebook or anywhere on the Net that you wouldn't be okay showing on the front page of the local paper.

What If Today Were Different?

Food for thought from the prolific Nicholas Bate: How are you shaping today?

First Paragraph

Hughes got it wrong, in one important detail. You will have read, in Tom Brown, how I was expelled from Rugby School for drunkenness, which is true enough, but when Hughes alleges that this was the result of my deliberately pouring beer on top of gin-punch, he is in error. I knew better than to mix my drinks, even at seventeen.

- From Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser

Bad Career Decisions - A Series

Not one of Michael Caine's best moves.

Despair's Wailing List

Despair permits you to get on their e-mail list.

By entering your email address, you too can experience our revolutionary new Permission Harassment?. (sic) Be the first person in your miserable company, disaffected dormitory or dysfunctional relationship to:

Know when new products are released that might further exacerbate your frustrations
Be informed of upcoming pricing specials
Learn when Despair makes news, and makes it up
Provide thoughtful feedback to us and have it completely ignored

Beyond the Elements

Would the following describe an attractive job?

Power? Check.
Prestige? Check.
Reasonable pay? Check.
Strong benefits program? Check.
Opportunity for advancement? Check.
A tightly-focused team? Check.
A mission that is strongly supported in the press? Check.
A compartmentalized culture that permits you to deny responsibility for anything that is unpleasant? Check.
Generous budget? Check.
The chance to travel? Check.
Higher status than other parts of the organization? Check.

If the above characteristics sound promising, consider that they could have been touted by the SS of Nazi Germany.

Ethics matter.

Quote of the Day

Our business in life is not to get ahead of others, but to get ahead of ourselves - to break our own records, to outstrip our yesterday by our today.

- Steward Johnson

Saturday, July 23, 2011

First Paragraph

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn't have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

- From To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Debt: A Slight Structural Problem

...The problem is structural: Not enough people do not enough work for not enough of their lives. Developed nations have 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, and then wonder why the shrunken rump of a “working” population in between can’t make the math add up.

Read the rest of
Mark Steyn here.

I'm in the Wrong Business

A woman has paid $10,000 for a "non-visible" work of art.

Culture Break: Caravaggio

The Hammock Papers looks at the work and mystery of Caravaggio.

The Faculty Lounge

Stanley Fish reviews Naomi Schaefer Riley's new book and concludes that the universities should move away from stressing vocational worth and more toward fostering academic inquiry.

On the whole, I think he makes a good point. The blurring of the two has created a great deal of confusion. At the same time, Charles Murray's idea of pushing certifications that would fall short of requiring a degree in various disciplines makes sense.


The New York Times on the Oslo killings:

The Norwegian police on Saturday charged a 32-year-old man, whom they identified as a Christian fundamentalist with right-wing connections, over the bombing of a government center here and a shooting attack on a nearby island that together left at least 91 people dead.

More from Der Spiegel: "Cold as ice."

You Will Smile

This is what happens when your camera is unattended: Some enchanting photos by a world-famous photographer.

Kelly and Stewart

John Farr talking about "Rear Window." One truly great movie.

The Quest for Simplicity

Life veers toward the complicated. If untended, it moves off the smooth path and into the jungle.

Gather a group of bright people and watch them weave intricate nets; a skill they learned in various disciplines and which no doubt pleased their teachers. After all, if something is complex, then the thinking that produced it must be deep; at least so goes the assumption. This may explain why so many academics embrace the obtuse and disdain clear writing.

In a perfect world, sirens would sound whenever a person or group backed away from a simple solution. I recently found an easy way to resolve a problem that has been troubling a group for months. It will save millions of dollars if they have the courage to adopt it. The solution was in the room all along but whenever we bumped into it, we muttered excuses and hurried on to search for the complicated.

Our first task will be to get over our embarrassment.

Quote of the Day

Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.

- St. Francis of Assisi

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tent Life in Siberia

I just heard that this book is marvelous and the price on Kindle is perfect. Click. It's here.

Crisis and Opportunity

Very interesting: Wally Bock on the importance of having an "opportunity plan." An excerpt:

He prepared several grant proposals in advance, so that it only took an hour or so to freshen them up and send them to the foundation. They weren't very big, small enough, in fact that the foundation's CEO could act on them without board approval.

Oslo Attacks

The Wall Street Journal report on the attacks in Norway. Cowardly and cruel don't begin to describe the attackers.

Comments Through the Mist

It is remarkable how comments from years ago can linger. Some that I recall:

An old farmer who told me that if he were ever held up by a robber he would surely be killed because he would never be able to hand over something he had earned to someone who did not deserve it.

A man, active in his church, who, when told that another church member had been arrested for shop-lifting a package of cigars, was more upset with the use of cigars than with the shop-lifting.

A former member of the Hitler Youth who enthusiastically explained the virtues of the goose step.

An exiled Soviet dissident who served me tea in a broken china cup as he described the changes in Russia.

A retired journalist who remarked that life had taught him that today's s.o.b. is tomorrow's hero.

An old law professor who, before talking to me about a research project, revealed that he had finally read all of Trollope's novels.

An Air Force sergeant who questioned my sanity for going into the Army.

A Washington political operative who declared, in rather blunt terms, how much he liked John Kennedy and disliked Robert.

The movie make-up artist who spoke of working with one of the kindest men he ever met, a young actor named Ronald Reagan.

Quote of the Day

Do what you do so well that those who see you do what you do are going to come back to see you do it again and tell others that they should see what you do.

- Walt Disney

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Happiness Techniques

Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project interviews Monica Rich Kosann:

Gretchen: What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Monica: Hanging out with my dogs.

Wat's (sic) something you know now about happiness that you didn't know when you were 18 years old?

That life moves savor every moment and appreciate the things you have..not the things you don't.

First Paragraph

On Wednesday the bishop came in person. He was a modern prelate, brisk and plump in his rimless glasses, and he liked nothing better than to tear around the diocese in his big black car.

- Hilary Mantel, Fludd

Ant Story

A story of an ant and a bureaucracy. [This doesn't only apply to government.]


Class Recovery

Had a very good class session this morning. Was teaching Preventing Harassment in the Workplace. Class members were attentive and nice. The classroom itself was well designed. All moved along well.

Now I'm in recovery mode. Unlike instructors who have a leisurely, let's put up another slide, approach, I wander about, ask a lot of questions, and use scads of case examples. The pace is fast and people are invited to interrupt. There are short breaks every hour. I seldom if ever sit. As a result, when I finish a class I'm exhausted.

Part of this technique is tied to the belief that the instructor should show some passion for the topic. The implicit message is "This is really interesting stuff and I'll show you why."

It works and I like it, but one of these days, I need to find a subject that I can teach from a sofa while smoking a cigar.

Miscellaneous and Fast

A serious site for bird watchers.

Michael J. Totten with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Interesting tie designs.

Michael P. Maslanka on
the power of multiple communications.

Quote of the Day

Whining about the problem only prolongs the problem.

- Larry Winget

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Rigg

Let's get our priorities in order: Today is the birthday of Diana Rigg. Break out the champagne.

The Other Kind of Vacation

Cultural Offering has an announcement:

I am on vacation. Not one of those vacations where you spend three or four days packing five children up, forwarding mail, stopping the paper, climbing into the car at 0:dark-thirty and driving twelve hours to a large water supply.

the rest here.

Creativity Break: The Making of "Lawrence of Arabia"

Steven Spielberg speaking about David Lean's extraordinary film.


I am immersed in a business subject right now. First this source and that and then another and another and back and forth until the boundaries begin to emerge and an order is formed. There may be an easier way but this is mine.

My wife looked at my home office, shook her head, and wandered out. Books and papers scattered about and yet with a reason for each spot if only for them to be near when I need them.

The beautiful moment is when the process begins to make sense.

Quote of the Day

I owe it all to little chocolate doughnuts.

- John Belushi

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Old Friend

I saw an old friend today. He gave me a copy of David McCullough's new book as well as an Alan Furst novel.

He knows me well.

The Critic

The award-winning Mel Brooks short feature.

Dust City

Some nifty pictures of our latest dust storm. This is on the verge of becoming routine.

Ready for the Quake

Claire Berlinski looks at preparation - and lack of preparation - for earthquakes. An excerpt:

In the wake of the Kobe quake, Japanese engineers took extensive measures to reinforce buildings and infrastructure. They installed rubber blocks under bridges. They spaced buildings farther apart to prevent domino-style tumbling. They introduced extra bracing, base isolation pads, hydraulic shock absorbers. A minute before the March earthquake, automatic seismic monitoring systems sent warnings to Japanese cell phones. Elevators glided obediently to the nearest floor and opened. Surgeries were halted. Videos from Tokyo show skyscrapers swaying gracefully, like cornstalks in the wind. Not one collapsed.

Cuisine Break: Knock You Naked Brownies

In case you missed this at The Pioneer Woman.

The Gaps

You've noticed the gaps. Someone describes a plan and it goes: "We are not going to be able to rely upon revenue from our traditional sources and so we can close Operation X, merge Operations Y and Z and then, with the money that has been saved, create a whole new market by using social media."

Say again?

I like bold ideas as much as the next person but the scars on my ancient carcass start to itch when great reliance is placed upon extremely vague plans. I want to know the details of how we get from A to B and if any descriptions sound like magic, nervousness sets in. The problem often resembles what some people have called Chinese Math, where organizations present optimistic projections of how much business can be done in the massive Chinese market without taking into account the enormous difficulty encountered when selling small amounts to folks just across town.

We all like to play Grand Strategy. It can be great fun. But in the end, someone is having to slog through the mud and over the barbed wire and we need to take that into account.

Spare us the magic. Give us the details.

Quote of the Day

Deep rivers move in silence, shallow brooks are noisy.

- English proverb

Monday, July 18, 2011

Top Ten Books

Prepare to bookmark a page. Some distinguished authors pick their ten favorite books.

The Pioneer Woman

Want to see a fascinating site? Go here. Prepare to get hungry.

Prahalad's Business Wisdom

Tanmay Vora has gleaned some great examples from the wisdom of Dr. C. K. Prahalad. An excerpt:

Creating a ‘learning organization’ is only half the solution. Just as important is creating an ‘unlearning organization’. To create the future, a company must unlearn at least some of its past. We’re all familiar with ‘learning curve’, but what about the ‘forgetting curve’ – the rate at which a company can unlearn those habits that hinder future success?

Beating Delay with Quiet Action

Nike's "Just Do It" slogan is powerful advice in a great many circumstances. Lengthy analysis can be a clever disguise for procrastination. It can delay action to the point where action is no longer possible.

We are sensitive to this with big projects, having been warned of "paralysis by analysis," and yet, when our guard is down, a similar hesitation may sabotage minor projects.

How do we combat this? By not making a big deal out of what should be a minor decision. By daring to be wrong, we can subdue any worries about what others may think and avoid slipping into the warm bath of analysis; a bath that leads to inaction.

This involves quietly doing the task that we sense we should do. Once that is done, we can move on to another.

Stop thinking so much. Get it done.

Quote of the Day

The jungle is dark but full of diamonds.

- Arthur Miller

Sunday, July 17, 2011

From an Air Force Chaplain

When I looked up, I could not see a dry eye and more than one cheek had shining tracks of tears down them. I had thought to give the singers a chance to feel good, to feel that they were making a contribution. They were, and the contribution was a blessing to me that exceeded anything I would have expected.

Read the rest at

Book Tip

IMHO: One of the best novelists out there is Hilary Mantel. Have read and enjoyed Wolf Hall, Beyond Black, and Fludd. In the mail: A Place of Greater Safety.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I will now do something other than what I want to accomplish so my mind will drift naturally to what I want to accomplish. It is strange how diverting attention from A to B can so easily bring thoughts back to A.

I am working on A by not working on A.

That Would Be Nice

One of my favorite features at Eclecticity is when he shows a clean well-lighted place to blog.

I almost died of an envy attack with this one.

The Indie Publishing Revolution

Mike Shatzkin and - in the comments - Joe Konrath provide perspectives on whether best selling e-book writer John Locke would have fared better with a traditional publisher.

That is assuming, of course, that Locke would have been able to land a traditional publisher. An interesting argument once surfaced in a separate forum: After their agents scoured the traditional publishers, many authors only received one offer. But for that single offer, they'd still be in the cold.

"Attack of the Cloud People"

Stanley Bing dozes and is visited by three apparitions:

"Behold the Microsoft (MSFT) cloud, how it grows," said the first apparition, a tall, massive, bald gentleman with a friendly demeanor and sharp incisors. "Unlike your hard drive, it has unlimited capacity and neither does it spin. And yet for all that I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his royalty was not arrayed like unto it."

"But I don't want to store my stuff in any cloud," I said. "It makes me nervous."

Send in the Mirrors

Check out the Mayo Clinic description of the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder .

Thank God we don't have any people like that in high office.

Beatles Photographs at Christie's

Almost half a century later, nearly 50 never-before-seen Beatles photographs, including images of the band's first-ever U.S. concert, will be auctioned at Christie's on Wednesday, with a presale estimate of $100,000. The black-and-white photographs feature a sweating and joyful Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr bouncing at the drums and a policeman using bullets as earplugs to block the screams from more than 8,000 fans. The priciest photographs are expected to sell for $4,000 to $6,000 each.

Read the
rest of the article here.

Quote of the Day

I've done the calculation and your chances of winning the lottery are identical whether you play or not.

- Fran Lebowitz

Friday, July 15, 2011

Movie Business Memories

Some great Hollywood stories - and story-telling - from The Dick Cavett Show:

Orson Welles

Robert Altman, Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, and Frank Capra

Frank Capra talks about "Lost Horizon"


Doctor Wade's prescription: Go to The Hammock Papers. Read the entry. You'll be better.

Have Workshops. Will Travel.

This was a good day. Decision made. I'm getting back in the open seminars biz after having spent years of almost exclusively conducting in-house sessions.

Conducting workshops is both exhilarating and exhausting. My favorite part has always been the interactions with class members as we've explored ideas and approaches. I recall a group from one company in the Midwest that returned to the same class two years in a row because, as they put it, "Even though we were here before, we knew we'd get something new."

They were right. The process, if done properly, should be a mutual learning experience. When you are teaching management workshops, hearing what people in the front lines are encountering is essential.

As I said, a good day. Look for me at an airport near you.

Global Weirding

This is almost exactly the wrong way to raise leaders for tumultuous times. We need Teddy Roosevelts, Winston Churchills, Harriet Stowes and Alexander Hamiltons. We are producing legions of promotion-hungry bureaucrats and narrow specialists with no knowledge of or interest in the tumult and chaos that inevitably rises up in times like ours. We then place them in large, bureaucratically run institutions and expect them to deal creatively with the unexpected, the revolutionary and the totally new.

Read the rest of
Walter Russell Mead here.


HR Ninjas?

This post by Paul Hebert regarding HR Stealth Ninjas deserves a lot of discussion in HR circles because it goes to the role and clout of HR.

Fresh Thinking

I read Nicholas Bate every day. Here's a reason why.

Team Mascots

The New Republic has a slide show of controversial athletic team mascots.

Although the article omits Scottsdale Community College's Fighting Artichokes, I could not resist adding the picture of their mascot.

Quote of the Day

I started at the top and worked my way down.

- Orson Welles

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bock on Leadership Levels

Wally Bock answers "How many levels make a good leader?" My favorite part:

Leadership hasn't changed all that much since Caesar was tramping around Gaul. Human nature has been constant for far longer than that.

The McConnell Proposal

Keith Hennessey analyzes the debt limit proposal made by Senator Mitch McConnell.


Bastille Day

The Telegraph has a gallery of the top 10 French cars for Bastille Day.

Look at the first photo and tell me you wouldn't want that one.

The Things Men Carry

Cultural Offering has an interesting post on what men should carry. I gave up carrying a wallet years ago, finding it to be a heavy and cumbersome trap for all sorts of junk. Instead, I carry a small leather business card packet for my driver's license, insurance, and membership cards and then a small hard plastic container for credit cards. [I got it from Levenger a while back.]

Cash is in a money clip.

Aside from that:

Swiss Army pen knife
Moleskine notebook (in coat - the notebook also has a pocket for business cards)

Getting rid of the monster wallet was a liberating move.

General rule: Less is more.

The Art of an Architect

Art Contrarian looks at the work of watercolorist Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

One Comment

One comment can influence a life. It can start a career or end one. It can attract or repel, inspire or devastate. A casual remark made today may be recalled many years later with wonder, appreciation, or pain. Just one comment has started marriages and ended them. It can do the same with friendships.

Perhaps a comment should not have this much power, but it can. In many cases, the recipient can restrict or even eliminate the comment's impact. In others, there are few or no restraints on the power of one comment.

It is out there. For good or bad.

I, Pencil

My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers drink!

Read the rest of
Leonard E. Read's essay here.

Quote of the Day

A distinguished diplomat could hold his tongue in ten languages.

- Anonymous

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


It is a rare evening when I do not engage in some activity related to work. This may involve writing, study or planning. The activity is not a burden for I've found that doing no work is often more stressful than doing something that might eventually pay off. It also does not mean that I work constantly. Far from it, I am - to borrow a marvelous line - a towering castle of sloth.

This habit of work may be, I realize, a little weird. In my defense, let it be noted that I find a lot of connections to work in subjects that may seem unrelated. Some of the histories that are currently on my reading list contain lessons that can be applied to my consulting practice. Biographies are especially informative. I even look for novels that contain insight although in some the only insight rests in the sheer creativity of the author. [Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" comes to mind.]

Perhaps this stems from a desire to detect commonalities and differences. Years ago, a friend stunned me when she said that she never, ever, wonders about the profession or the backgrounds of strangers. I was surprised because I thought everyone did that. We are surrounded by mysteries, clues, and great drama. One of the finest of life's entertainments is to discover the subtle connections. Evenings are well-suited for such reflections.

21 Reasons Why Organizations Keep Idiots

  1. Those who could make the firing decision have little contact with the individual's true work product.

  2. They have low expectations.

  3. They are waiting for someone to complain.

  4. They believe they are the only ones who see the ineptitude.

  5. They don't want to be judgmental.

  6. They see only the work that is done reasonably well.

  7. They don't care so long as the performance doesn't affect them.

  8. There is a family connection.

  9. There is a powerful protector.

  10. They are afraid of a lawsuit.

  11. They are concerned that the replacement might not be much better.

  12. They like the person.

  13. The person looks the part and that, to them, is sufficient.

  14. The person does one thing very well and they discount the importance of everything else.

  15. There are community or client ties that could be jeopardized.

  16. The termination process is too cumbersome.

  17. Procrastination.

  18. Priorities are focused elsewhere.

  19. Previous efforts failed.

  20. Taking action with that person would require taking action with other people.

  21. The person really isn't an idiot.

Hemingway on Writing

Where are some of the places you have found most advantageous to work? The Ambos Mundos hotel must have been one, judging from the number of books you did there. Or do surroundings have little effect on the work?

The Ambos Mundos in Havana was a very good place to work in. This Finca is a splendid place, or was. But I have worked well everywhere. I mean I have been able to work as well as I can under varied circumstances. The telephone and visitors are the work destroyers.

Go to Steven Pressfield's site (and further to Paris Review for the full article) to read the great interview that George Plimpton had with Ernest Hemingway.

The Elephant in the Pool

Right before the Treasury created the Super SIV, the Fed’s own holdings totaled $869 billion. Today, that number has tripled to nearly $3.2 trillion. Essentially, the Fed has become the financial system’s Super-Super-SIV. An institution that is supposed to confine its holdings to plain old U.S. Treasury bonds now owns $918 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities. The Fed also holds $64 billion in investments in “support for specific institutions,” including what’s left of the Bear Stearns toxic assets and AIG’s mortgage-related mess. The Fed says that it values these things at “fair value,” but that’s a canard. It’s like dropping an elephant into a half-filled swimming pool and announcing that the pool is now full of water. The financial system knows that the Fed has to get out of the pool eventually, and when it does, the water level—the prices of these toxic assets—will drop.

Read the rest of
Nicole Gelinas here.

Economist Brian Wesbury

Check out the videos on spending and taxes at Cultural Offering.

Quote of the Day

How come you don't hear about gruntled employees? And who has been dissing them anyhow?

- Steven Wright

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Embracing a Passion

Gretchin Rubin of The Happiness Project looks at passions and happiness. An excerpt:

A passion gives you a reason to keep learning and to work toward mastery. It can often give you a reason to have the new experiences so key to happiness. It gives you something in common with other people, and so fosters social bonds. It gives you purpose. It often has a satisfying physical aspect—rock-climbing, fly-fishing, knitting, smelling. It gives meaningful structure to your time. It makes the world a richer place. When you’re in pain, it can be a refuge, a distraction, a solace.

Plain and Simple

While writing a brief, Michael P. Maslanka gets some advice from Lao-Tzu, Peggy Noonan, and "The Godfather."

Beechey Portraits

Art Contrarian examines the work of Sir William Beechey. The above portrait is of Lord Nelson.

Cutting Spending to the Bone Update

Although mentioned here before, here's a reminder of an important federal RFP with a response date of today! Excerpt:

The Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS) has a requirement for the design, development and delivery of a customized training course for Professional Chinese Chefs.

You can submit a proposal and then go back to reading about excessive federal spending.


I was asleep by 8:30 last night, worn down by an ear infection. I planned on doing some work in the evening but my body said, "No, you're not," so I crawled off to bed.

It was a reminder of the beautiful and regenerative virtue of sleep to one who thought no reminder was necessary. As a rule, I try to get to sleep by 10:30 at the latest and even follow a regimen to produce some solid rest; e.g., no caffeine after seven. Things build up unnoticed, however, and the physical side eventually tugs at the mental and declares time for a break.

I've written here before about the unrecognized role that fatigue plays in organizations. Performance starts to decline because people are simply worn out. The boasting about long hours spent at work has never impressed me. Far more admirable is the person who does as much in three hours as others do in twelve.

Instead of long hours, it is wise for our days to combine real effectiveness with some serious sleep. Each supports the other.

Quote of the Day

If thou are a master, be sometimes blind; if a servant, sometimes deaf.

- Thomas Fuller

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Securing the Data Castle"

CSO interviews security expert David Litchfield. An excerpt:

You've seen your share of database deployments. What would you say is one of the most important things organizations can do today to keep their databases secure?

Litchfield: The first is to change all default and simple-to-guess passwords. The major database vendors have recently become better at helping with this issue. In the past few years they've stopped shipping database servers with default user IDs and passwords. But for a very, very long time they were shipping all of their databases with default userIDs and passwords. Certainly for older systems, default passwords are still a major issue. Many times, while conducting security assessments, it was -- and still is -- incredibly shocking to see how many organizations run default access credentials. Another simple yet often overlooked area is keeping software patches up to date. While it can be very difficult with production database systems, given that they are in use, there are ways to make sure you keep the software up to date during scheduled maintenance.

Advertising Rule: Sex Sells

From Adfreak: Proof that sales pitches can always go back to the basics.

The Ill-Chosen Silence

The ill-chosen remark receives a lot of attention, but how about the ill-chosen silence?

The praise, encouragement, affirmation or defense that should have been spoken may wound as much as any verbal thrust. Silence can be deafening. It can also be hurtful.

Tour Crashes

It's not a mere bicycle race. Here's a gallery of bloody accidents at the 2011 Tour de France.

Constructing The Ideal Day

The ideal day requires a combination of intellectual and physical labor, capped off by some entertainment, socializing, recreation, or reflection. A mixure adds to the enjoyment as only having one element would eventually be boring and exhausting. Achievement in some category is also crucial, even if the achievement consists of catching up on rest or making one important decision. The days that are truly demoralizing are those when we achieve little or nothing. On those days, we neither rest nor work effectively.

So if we are seeking the ideal day, I submit that we should strive for mixture and achievement.

"Selective Shaming"

Mark Steyn on the diverse handling of scandals. An excerpt:

...Stimulus dollars went to fund one federal agency to buy guns for the paid informants of another federal agency to funnel to foreign criminals in order that the first federal agency might identify the paid informants of the second federal agency.

Quote of the Day

Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.

- Margaret Miller

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Morale Question

A quiet question for leaders with a divided team:

Is it that you have some people on your team who are whiners and complainers while the others are satisfied or that the others don't care enough to be upset and the complainers have a stronger commitment and sense of responsibility?

EEO Management Book

The e-book version is now available at Amazon. The paperback version will follow.

Warrior-Poet Mark Helprin

Cultural Offering has Mark Helprin's commencement address at Hillsdale College.

Thoughts for Sunday

Thoughts on how to be brilliant by the incomparable Nicholas Bate (a.k.a. The Man Who Never Sleeps).

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Rising Caine

As they say in this trailer, Michael Caine walked into stardom with The Ipcress File. Wasn't he was already a name by then?

I may go back and read some of those old spy novels. The Bond books were painful. Eric Ambler was great. I liked John Le Carre before he went off the deep end. Have not read Frederick Forsyth or Len Deighton in years. Am currently a major Daniel Silva fan. And, of course, there is Alan Furst whose books transport you to Europe in the Thirties.