Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tremble and Obey

Some bigotry in Kansas against the symbol of a new religion.


"What did you think of his report? It sounds to me like he's on the right track."

"I think it was an eloquent and carefully worded cry for help."

"How's that? He seemed pretty upbeat."

"He would sound upbeat if we were holding a blowtorch to his heels. He believes he will be punished if we hear anything but upbeat. The message between the lines was 'I need help but please don't make me ask for it.'"

"So you think I should get back with him and offer to help out?"

"Absolutely. And do it within the next 10 minutes."

Presidential Reading Lists

I am amused at the attention given in the media to presidential reading lists. Much is made of whether a President is reading fiction or non-fiction and which authors are catching the Chief Executive's eye and yet there is no report of whether five pages were read and then the book was thrown across the room.

My take is: Cut them some slack. A President should be able to read any and all types of books. Eisenhower reportedly read a lot of westerns, but those reports also failed to mention that he was already well-grounded in political and ancient history. If reading westerns produces the type of savvy that Ike brought to most decisions, I'd suggest perpetually stocking White House book shelves with Louis L'Amour.

30 Years of Media

Put down that cassette. Check out this fascinating - and changing - chart at Cultural Offering.

Two Questions for Leaders

In an excellent post, Tim Berry suggests that you
test your leadership with two questions.

Quote of the Day

The problem with jogging is that the ice falls out of your glass.

- Martin Mull

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gamification: The Next Big Thing?

Gamification -- the application of online game design techniques in non-game settings -- has been quickly gaining the attention of leaders in business, education, policy and even terrorist communities. But gamification also has plenty of critics, and the debate over its future could become an epic battle in the same vein of many online game favorites.

Read the rest of
the Wharton article.

Workplace Types

A few types to watch for in the workplace:

  1. The Supportive. These people pitch in without being asked. They rarely complain and are highly cooperative. They care deeply about the mission, meet deadlines, and don't badmouth co-workers or gossip.

  2. The Present. This group shows up but takes no initiative and offers no ideas. They will do the minimal amount needed to justify their presence and sometimes far beneath that.

  3. The Grumpy. These individuals will almost always find something objectionable. Their work may be technically acceptable but they fall short in terms of cooperation and attitude. People try to work around them. They drag down the team.

  4. The Withholding. This group requires a special invitation or a magic word before it springs into action. The quality of their work may be very high, but they demand a special request.

  5. The Toxic. These people are poisonous. They intend to be disruptive and negative. They are saboteurs. Why are they still around? As soon as possible, get rid of them.

  6. The Brilliant. A group that can have three times as many good ideas as anyone else, The Brilliant need direction and boundaries or they will get little done. They often thrive on recognition.

  7. The Politicians. These operators have a separate personal agenda. Their strategy is passive-aggressive but they also have a major vulnerability: They want to avoid embarrassment lest it harm their promotion chances.

  8. The Academics. Chores that would bore the other groups may please The Academics who prefer research, analysis, and conversations with their own kind. They regard ideas as products. Sometimes, they are.

  9. Others?

First Paragraph

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

- From The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Crackpot. Problem Child. Great General.

Steven Pressfield on the varied attributes of George Patton.

Marketing Reminder

General rule: We should not go after the prospects that need us the most. It makes more sense to pursue the ones who want us the most. The trick is it is usually easier to reach the ones who need us the most, but that is a diversion. We will resemble the person who wanted to search in the living room for a ring that was lost in the bedroom simply because the living room had more light.

Is this always either-or? No. Sometimes the prospect that needs us the most will buy and we will not ignore or refuse their business. Unless we are careful, however, those transactions can lure us down a dark alley and we will miss the stairs to the bright avenue of prospects who want us the most.

Quote of the Day

Never underestimate the totalitarian temptations of the smart set.

- Mark Steyn

Monday, August 29, 2011

Great Courses. Great Product.

Writing in City Journal, Heather Mac Donald on the marvelous public service provided by Great Courses:

And the company offers a treasure trove of traditional academic content that undergraduates paying $50,000 a year may find nowhere on their Club Med–like campuses. This past academic year, for example, a Bowdoin College student interested in American history courses could have taken “Black Women in Atlantic New Orleans,” “Women in American History, 1600–1900,” or “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl: Gender and the Suburbs,” but if he wanted a course in American political history, the colonial and revolutionary periods, or the Civil War, he would have been out of luck. A Great Courses customer, by contrast, can choose from a cornucopia of American history not yet divvied up into the fiefdoms of race, gender, and sexual orientation, with multiple offerings in the American Revolution, the constitutional period, the Civil War, the Bill of Rights, and the intellectual influences on the country’s founding. There are lessons here for the academy, if it will only pay them heed.

When A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Viruses

How cybercriminals poison image searches on Google.



Cultural Offering offers the thought-provoking, both in prose and art.

Say What?

How powerful are car sound systems?

Check out this and this.

Wandering Thoughts

Think ahead, be in the moment, and yet reflect on the past. [That's a neat trick but it is worth learning.] Yes, reflect on the past, but don't nurse wounds or let your steps be entangled with regrets. Look for lessons, not grievances. Take time to think, but not too much for we all have deadlines and excessive thought can be procrastination in expensive clothes. Consider not just what you think of things but how you do so. Your compass may be broken. Beware of people who peddle envy. Their prescriptions will do you no good. Given the choice of freedom or security, choose freedom. Security can be a prison. Remember that institutions aren't as strong as the people who lead them. They are as strong as the incentives and restraints that govern the people who lead them, for even the most well-intentioned can go astray. Beware of basing actions on sudden emotions but pay careful attention to your intuition. It can be transmitting a signal from years of experience. Value good friends. They are rare. To understand their worth, try being one.


At CoolTools, some info on Diceware, a random password generator. And it's free!

First Paragraph

It is a job requirement of auction house experts to keep a dinner jacket and black tie on the back of their office door. Private views and cocktail parties come straight after work - so at 6:00 P.M. one brisk April evening in 1996, every lavatory and spare corner of Sotheby's, New York, was alive with staff slithering into their smart evening outfits.

- From Sotheby's: Bidding for Class by Robert Lacey

Quote of the Day

When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it.

- Sigmund Freud

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Under the weather. [No pun intended.] Especially in Phoenix where the weather ranges from comfortably warm to chilly to very hot. We are still in the last stage and will be for some time. It still amazes me how sparse the traffic is on weekends. A common practice among us desert denizens is to hide out like lizards until the sun goes down.

Anyway, I'm fighting this bizarre sinus/ear problem with a variety of home remedies. The ones involving pain must be the best since we all know that pain is needed for improvement.

Bear with me. I'm reading some more of C. S. Lewis on miracles and then taping the book to my forehead.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paris Break

The trailer for "Midnight in Paris." I just saw it today. [May well be the last person in the United States to do so.] Very enjoyable. Am planning move to a Parisian garret where I can learn to write like Josephine Baker and dance like Ernest Hemingway.

Time Management Tip

Here's some advice that will easily free up several hours for you this weekend:

Don't watch any of the television coverage of Hurricane Irene. Most of it is worthless and/or repetitive.

Banaian on Friedman

An excerpt from professor King Banaian's speech celebrating the birthday of Milton Friedman:

Think a moment, please, about the following fact. In Asia and in particular in China and India, a middle class is developing that rivals in size and significance the first middle class formation of Europe in the early 19th Century. There are now more members of the bourgeoisie that call Asia home than they do America and Europe combined. 57% of the world now lives with middle class incomes, compared to only 1/3rd in 1980.7 For whom should they thank? Who should China thank for the decline in poverty there: the World Bank and the IMF? Or Wal-Mart?8

Socialist Realism

Art Contrarian examines an unworldly example of Soviet art from 1937.

It reminds me of Solzhenitsyn's account of how prisoners were transported in trucks that had "Meat" painted on the outside.

Entertainment Break

The trailer for "Miller's Crossing."

Life and Indifference

I have no doubt that during the French Revolution, a few blocks away from the crowds surrounding the busy guillotine, you could find individuals worried about the details of life. Should I see a physician about this cough? Will my children be happy? Do I have enough money to get to the countryside in a month? Does this coat need to be brushed?

The major events come and go while so many of us are consumed by the smaller issues. This should not always be condemned. Our sanity may be protected by the zones of indifference to which we consign subjects over which we can exert little or no control or which we lack the resources to confront.

Some of the dreariest people I've known have their own foreign and domestic policies. They possess opinions on every subject and are eager to spread their knowledge, such as it is. Are there issues that demand attention? Certainly. But there must be a balance and often that can only be achieved via a healthy indifference.

That choice is part of being free.

Quote of the Day

Never judge a book by its movie.

- J. W. Egan

Friday, August 26, 2011

First Paragraph

In all my life I have met only one person who claims to have seen a ghost. And the interesting thing about the story is that the person disbelieved in the immortal soul before she saw the ghost and still disbelieves after seeing it. She says that what she saw must have been an illusion or a trick of the nerves. And obviously she may be right. Seeing is not believing.

- From Miracles by C. S. Lewis

Flying Solo

FutureLawyer on why he is a solo practitioner. It involves an Umbrella Cockatoo.

Why Crime Falls

Writing in City Journal, the always fascinating James Q. Wilson on why crime declines. An excerpt:

Imprisonment’s crime-reduction effect helps explain why the burglary, car-theft, and robbery rates are lower in the United States than in England. The difference results not from willingness to send convicted offenders to prison, which is about the same in both countries, but in how long America keeps them behind bars. For the same offense, you will spend more time in prison here than in England. Still, prison can’t be the sole reason for the recent crime drop in this country: Canada has seen roughly the same decline in crime, but its imprisonment rate has been relatively flat for at least two decades.

Musical Distraction: Irene and Company

Back by popular demand: Some hurricane music from Jerry Lee Lewis and Van Morrison plus Lena Horne with Stormy Weather.

100 Big Ones

Be sure to check out the 100 Greatest Albums list at Cultural Offering.

Praise Someone

Never assume that fine performance is acknowledged. Too often, it is taken for granted. Even when praise is given, one negative remark can erase the effect of fifty positive ones.

Someone out there doesn't just deserve your praise today, they need it.

Quote of the Day

The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.

- John Burroughs

Thursday, August 25, 2011

International Cafe 1931, Kingman, Arizona

From an ad published in the Mohave County Miner in 1931:

Jim Angell’s
Is Now Offering You an Old-Fashioned
Including your desert, side dishes and all the coffee you
want to drink
Rib Eye Steaks 40 Cents T-Bone Steaks 50 cents
Sunday Chicken Dinner 50 cents
Front Street Kingman

First Paragraph

Veldt to scrub to fields to farms to these first tumbling houses that rise from the earth. It has been night for a long time. The hovels that encrust the river's edge have grown like mushrooms around me in the dark.

- From Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Getting Mellow

For some calm today, check out The Hammock Papers and a very nicely done - and relatively new - blog, Wanderations.

"Edvard Munch in the Marijuana Patch"

The Soldier points; there is a pistol on his side. The helicopters disappear, and now only the sounds of breathing and the crunching of parched soil under boot can be heard. There is also the pungent smell of growing marijuana, outlawed in America but as normal here as okra. Alcohol is forbidden here, while marijuana and opium-poppy grow by the thousands of tons. A sentence for alcohol here could be as severe as a sentence for heroin in the United States. Bar tabs in America are paid with money that says “In God We Trust,” while Afghans are notorious drinkers and are normally barred from Kabul bars. And here we were, in a marijuana patch, in Kandahar Province, hypocritically calling each other hypocrites.

Read the rest of Michael Yon's photo essay here.

Scorsese: George Harrison

I had no idea that Martin Scorsese was making a film about George Harrison. Here's the trailer.

Make a Decision

There are notable exceptions, but in most cases a clear decision is better than hesitation or half-hearted execution. It's that old Yoda line about do or do not, there is no try.

That can be difficult to learn for those of us who are perfectionists. We would like to ponder a multitude of options while sipping a cool drink on the veranda. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that doing so would improve the caliber of our thinking. There are times when you have to make a command decision, quickly, confidently and without all of the information, because you have the responsibility, the clock is ticking, and others are looking to you for direction. You decide and move on. If a mistake has been made, you take prompt corrective action, but you don't bemoan the unfairness of life and blame others.

This is an aspect of leadership that must be learned by doing or else you might not believe its wisdom. There are times when an well-executed poor plan can trump a poorly executed good one.

Much is made nowadays of servant-leadership and deservedly so. That is, however, very different from wimpy-leadership.

Be bold. Make a decision.

Quote of the Day

The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology.

- Red Auerbach

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

The Money Pit
Goodbye Columbus
A Good Man in Africa
The Coca-Cola Kid
The Road
The Long Good Friday

Sending Food Back

My girlfriend Isabel and I are eating at P.F. Chang’s and we’ve run into a problem. The waiter got the order wrong.

“This isn’t sweet and sour pork,” Isabel says, pushing her entrée around the plate. “It’s sweet and sour chicken.”

Read the rest of
WaiterRant here.

The Big Chicken Barn

Pulp Serenade goes on a shopping spree in Orlan, Maine:

The Big Chicken Barn boasts 21, 600 square feet of floor space, 150,000 books, and 20,000 magazines. Plus, two new indoor restrooms!

You Call That a Quake?

Tongue-in-cheek empathy at Cultural Offering.

The Start of a Big Story

Steve Jobs is resigning?

Make It Work

The robes. The hats. The sunglasses.

There is a logical next step for a deposed Libyan dictator.

First Paragraph

Fallacies are not simply crazy ideas. They are usually both plausible and logical - but with something missing. Their plausibility gains them political support. Only after that political support is strong enough to cause fallacious ideas to become government policies and programs are the missing or ignored factors likely to lead to "unintended consequences," a phrase often heard in the wake of economic or social policy disasters. Another phrase often heard in the wake of these disasters is, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." That is why it pays to look deeper into things that look good on the surface at the moment.

- From Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell

Did You Notice?

Did you notice...

  • The slight pause?

  • What was not said?

  • That one glance?

  • Who was carrying the materials?

  • Who got into the car first?

  • The person who was never interrupted?

  • The one who didn't have to raise his voice?

  • When they started to stall?

  • The precision and then the sudden ambiguity?

  • What was tucked in-between the favorable descriptions?

  • When they gave too much detail?

  • Who spoke on which topics?

  • How often qualifying phrases were used?

  • The person who said nothing?

  • The mistake on the third page?

  • The shift in topics?

  • The new alliance?

  • The change in due dates?

  • A crack in their previous position?

  • The argument that went unanswered?

  • The rate of speech?

  • They did not speak with one voice?

  • The designated jerk?

  • The poor choice of words?

  • What was missing from the summary?

Quote of the Day

You can learn a line from a win and a book from a defeat.

- Paul Brown

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Dan McCarthy explores "fun" programs at work. An excerpt:

Silly ice-breakers at meetings or training sessions. Are there still trainers out there that are doing these ridiculous pre-school birthday party games in the name of “loosening up” a group? It’s always amazed me how willing grown adults are usually willing to do anything they are told in a work setting.

Totalitarian Studies

Writing in City Journal, Michael J. Totten reviews The Devil's Double:

Uday Hussein pushes drug abuse, sex, and impulsive violence to their extremes. He doesn’t just blow cocaine up his nose; he snorts it off the tip of a dagger. He likes to kill people when he gets drunk and even disembowels one of his father’s best friends at a party. We see him prowling the streets of Baghdad in his sports car and abducting young girls in school uniforms—including one still wearing braces—and taking them back to his bedroom to drug and rape them. He rapes another woman on her wedding day while she is wearing her wedding dress; a few minutes later, he is annoyed when she throws herself off a balcony. The man is pure id, scoffing at the Muslim saying “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and insisting that God never gave him anything. “Everything I want, I just take for myself,” he says. He sure does. “You should have been killed at birth,” his furious father says, holding him down and aiming a long curved sword at his genitals. You ought to know you’ve gone off the rails when Saddam Hussein is appalled by your behavior.

Get Real

This is not a badger.

A reality check from Wally Bock.

First Paragraph

When I was a boy I was taught that the men upstairs knew what they were doing. I was told, "Peter, the more you know, the further you go." So I stayed in school until I graduated from college and then went forth into the world clutching firmly these ideas and my new teaching certificate. During the first year of teaching I was upset to find that a number of teachers, school principals, supervisors and superintendents appeared to be unaware of their professional responsibilities and incompetent in executing their duties. For example my principal's main concerns were that all window shades be at the same level, that classrooms should be quiet and that no one step on or near the rose beds. The superintendent's main concerns were that no minority group, no matter how fanatical, should ever be offended and that all official forms be submitted on time. The children's education appeared farthest from the administrator mind.

- From The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull

Novels of Hard Times

I just read an essay by Mark Steyn in which he discussed the London riots and mentioned Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed by Anthony Burgess.

When times are strange, it is tempting either to seek escape in literature or to go the opposite direction in search of doomsday or extreme scenarios. A few books to consider:

  1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  2. 1984 by George Orwell

  3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

  4. Children of Men by P.D. James

  5. Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

  6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

  7. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

  8. The Postman by David Brin

  9. The Pesthouse by Jim Crace

  10. The White Plague by Frank Herbert

  11. Malevil by Robert Merle

  12. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

  13. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

  14. A Canticle for Lebowitz by Walter Smith

  15. The Stand by Stephen King

  16. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

  17. Others?

"A Better Mousepad"

I've never considered that a mousepad could extend the life of a wireless mouse but CoolTools has the details.

Our Day

How shall we think about our day?

Is it a mountain to climb, a field to plow or a table of brightly-wrapped presents? Is it a garden to water or a machine to maintain? Shall we be on a journey through the lowlands or will we be secluded in a castle? Perhaps our hours will resemble a voyage amid choppy seas or a smooth glide down an unknown river. The day may be a grueling trek or a duel or a visit to the Roman Senate.

Whatever the picture, make it a refuge or an adventure.

Quote of the Day

The smart ones ask when they don't know. And, sometimes when they do.

- Malcolm Forbes

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is There a Blogger's Discount?

At Eclecticity: Yes, I would like this Cadillac.

Big Albert

FutureLawyer has some success tips from Einstein.

Gorbachev: Recalling The Evil Empire

SPIEGEL: But you lacked a concept for these changes.

Gorbachev: If I had had a plan for it, I would have quickly ended up in Magadan.

SPIEGEL: The capital of the Stalinist gulag, 6,000 kilometers from Moscow.

Gorbachev: Both of you were very familiar with the Soviet Union. Don't you remember what kind of a country it was? All it took was a tiny political joke to end up in Magadan. And I was supposed to have a plan and a supporting team? First we had to lead the people out of torpor. The party establishment didn't need perestroika. Each of them had it made. The district party leader was the king in his district, the regional leader was a czar and the general secretary was practically God's equal. That's why we needed glasnost -- openness -- first. It was the path to freedom. We later conducted the first free elections in Russia in 1,000 years.

Read all of the Der Spiegel interview here.

[HT: Arts & Letters Daily]

First Paragraph

Anyone wishing to purchase a book in London in the year 1660 had a choice of four areas. Ecclesiastical works could be bought from the booksellers in St. Paul's Churchyard, while the shops and stalls of Little Britain specialised in Greek and Latin volumes, and those on the western edge of Fleet Street stocked legal texts for the city's barristers and magistrates. The fourth place to look for a book - and by far the best - would have been on London Bridge.

- From Ex-Libris by Ross King

Start the Week with a Brilliant Dash of Civilization

Back by popular demand. I searched for this performance of Corelli at Cultural Offering.

Extraordinary and inspiring.

"This is a fact. You can check it."

Flashback time: Some great moments in press relations from Baghdad Bob.

Pebble in the Shoe

The major problem that seizes your throat will not be ignored, but the minor problem that does not demand immediate attention can be an irritation for years. It may eventually cause significant erosion in morale and effectiveness.

Retreats often have sessions devoted to major issues. Taking a couple of hours to address Minor Irritants might be time well spent.

Quote of the Day

If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is go to a state fair. Because five minutes at the fair, you'll be going, "You know, we're all right. We are dang near royalty."

- Jeff Foxworthy

Sunday, August 21, 2011

So What's Stopping You?

The incomparable Nicholas Bate
on reinvention. [My favorite Bate book pictured above.]

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Eloquent Fields

Cullen Gallagher on the great W.C. Fields:

When it comes to one-liners, W.C. Fields is hard to beat. Million Dollar Legs has one of my favorites: “The Constitution says I can’t hit a man under 200 lbs.” Pacing is key to Fields’ delivery, such as this prolonged line from The Bank Dick: “I’m very fond of children. Girl children. Around 18 or 20.” He’s also a master at backhanded compliments, like “She’s all dressed up like a well-kept grave” from The Old Fashioned Way, or “I voted for you in the last election…five times” from You’re Telling Me. And when it comes to wisdom, no one was as worldly (or otherworldly) as Fields, as evinced by this jest from You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man: “Getting married is like buying a new horse, or going into a strange saloon.”

[HT: Pulp Serenade]

First Paragraph

Captain MacWhirr, of the steamer Nan-Shan, had a physiognomy that, in the order of material appearances, was the exact counterpart of his mind: it presented no marked characteristics of firmness or stupidity; it had no pronounced characteristics whatever; it was simply ordinary, irresponsive, and unruffled.

- From Typhoon by Joseph Conrad

Entertainment Break

The match scene from Lawrence of Arabia.

Learning to Swim

Supervisors often remind me of swimmers. Some are graceful and glide through the water with seemingly little effort. Others will eventually get to their destination but only with much splashing and some swallowed water. Still others require a life jacket until they have improved.

This image is reinforced by the fact that so many new supervisors are tossed into the water with little or no instruction. They may occasionally hear a tip from the shore but they have to learn quickly lest they sink or fall prey to creatures of the deep. It is a hard school and I am amazed at how many organizations believe this is a good way to produce good swimmers.

Locking Them Up

Over the course of the last decade, I’ve periodically met with official visitors from the United Kingdom who have come to New York City to learn about its revival—specifically, about the city’s successful war against crime, which I’ve watched closely for the past 20 years. Most of these visitors had already heard quite a bit about the NYPD’s campaign against crime. As complaints of public disorder rose in the U.K., the press there featured more stories about what had happened in New York, where crime is now down an astounding 80 percent since the early 1990s. In a 2008 article in the BBC News’s Magazine titled “Where Is It Safe To Walk The Streets?,” the British home secretary, Jacqui Smith, admitted that she felt unsafe on London’s streets late at night, while her Conservative counterpart, David Davis, called it “shameful” that one could safely walk at night in New York but not in London.

Read the rest of
Steven Malanga's City Journal article here.

Slippery Customer

In a now infamous 1994 interview with journalist Michael Ignatieff, the historian was asked if the murder of "15, 20 million people might have been justified" in establishing a Marxist paradise. "Yes," Mr. Hobsbawm replied. Asked the same question the following year, he reiterated his support for the "sacrifice of millions of lives" in pursuit of a vague egalitarianism. That such comments caused surprise is itself surprising; Mr. Hobsbawm's lifelong commitment to the Party testified to his approval of the Soviet experience, whatever its crimes. It's not that he didn't know what was going on in the dank basements of the Lubyanka and on the frozen steppes of Siberia. It's that he didn't much care.

Read the rest of
Michael Moynihan's review of "How to Change the World" .

Quote of the Day

There must be 500,000 rats in the United States; of course, I am only speaking from memory.

- Billy Nye

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Paragraph

"Eh bien, mon prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now no more than family estates of the Buonapartes. No, I warn you, if you don't say that this means war, if you still permit yourself to condone all the infamies, all the atrocities, of this Antichrist - and that's what I really believe he is - I will have nothing more to do with you, you are no longer my friend, my faithful slave, as you say. But how do you do, how do you do? I see I am frightening you. Sit down and tell me all about it."

- From War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy [The Ann Dunnigan translation]

Pick At Least One

Seth Godin on the three things clients and customers want:

It's tempting, particularly for a small business, to obsess about the first—results—to spend all its time trying to prove that the ROI is higher, the brownies are tastier and the coaching is more effective. You'd be amazed at how far you can go with the other two, if you commit to doing it, not merely talking about it.

Music Break

Good country song lyrics can be remembered for years. Such is the case with The Amazing Rhythm Aces and "Third Rate Romance."

Doing the Optional

He didn't have to visit us, but he did. She didn't have to write a thank-you note, but we got one within days. He could have dodged the meeting, but he stayed until all of our questions were answered. She went out of her way to give credit to the entire team. When he listened, he made you feel as if you were the only person in the audience. She must have noticed something in my voice because she later called and said she wanted to know what was troubling me. I'm sure he knew I'd fumbled it but he never mentioned it to me. She stood up for me when others were heading for the lifeboats. They didn't have to do any of this. That's why I'll never forget them.

Quote of the Day

If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative.

- Woody Allen

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Bench Sank into the Corner

The bench sank into the corner; after seeing the wood-chunk-wall, he knew all too well why the chairs had invited him over.

Check it out at Unhappy Hipsters.

Dust City

Geez. Another dust storm is rolling through Phoenix.

This is getting weird.

Music Break: Emmylou Harris

From 1978: Singing "Pancho and Lefty."

No Speedo. No Job.

The tale of an unusual employment discrimination case:

Roy Lester is out to prove that no man above the age of 50 has any business wearing a skimpy, form-hugging Speedo.

In 2007, Lester was forced out of the
Jones Beach lifeguard job he had held for four decades when he was told he had to squeeze into a Speedo for the annual swim test.

[HT: Drudge Report]

"I have the charisma of a chipmunk"

First Paragraph

Friday the nineteenth of May was a full day. In the morning I bought a counterfeit sweepstakes ticket from a one-armed man in a barbershop on West 22nd Street, and in the evening I got a phone call at home from a lawyer saying I'd just inherited three hundred seventeen thousand dollars from my uncle Matt. I'd never heard of Uncle Matt.

- From God Save the Mark by Donald E. Westlake

Career Techniques

Some people build a career by:

  1. Keeping a low profile.

  2. Being underestimated.

  3. Being not brilliant but thoroughly reliable.

  4. Being pleasant.

  5. Periodically coming up with one or two great ideas.

  6. Looking the part.

  7. Knowing when to leave a meeting.

  8. Knowing when to keep quiet.

  9. Knowing when to be blunt.

  10. Being discreet.

  11. Trying new things.

  12. Calming the waters.

  13. Putting out corporate fires.

  14. Making the boss look good.

  15. Showing up.

  16. Thinking ten years ahead of everyone else.

  17. Spotting areas of vulnerability.

  18. Doing their homework.

  19. Hustling.

  20. Fitting in.

Watching a Debate

I watched a mayoral debate the other day. As someone who has written on and teaches presentation skills, I was more than stunned at the low caliber of the performances by most of the candidates.

The sins were numerous. Too smooth, poorly dressed, mumbling, closed eyes, kept buttoning coat, and way too many generalities were among them. What was baffling was each of the candidates has distributed some pretty impressive campaign material. That part of their campaigns was well done. Did they fail to get advice on their debate techniques or simply choose to ignore it?

The candidate who came off best - in fact, did quite well - was a non-incumbent who has advised some campaigns. He obviously put his experience to work. I wonder if the incumbents felt that, with several successful campaigns under their belt, they didn't need any stinking coaching.

If so, they violated one of the main rules for successful presentations: Prepare.

Quote of the Day

For three days after death hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off.

- Johnny Carson

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Every Man Makes His Own Summer"

At The Happiness Project, some wisdom from Robertson Davies.

What The Market Will Bear

Shortly after I started management consulting - in the days when the Earth was still cooling - a prominent attorney and I submitted in what we thought was a brilliant proposal to help a major university set up its EEO/Affirmative Action program.

When we didn't get the contract, I made some discreet calls to learn why. The answer: "The committee was very impressed but they thought your price was too low."

Since then, I have proceeded with the knowledge that pricing decisions may not be the most logical part of business. Strong arguments can be made for being the highest priced competitor and yet "pricing yourself out of the market" also takes place.

That's why you need to study your market and know what can bend and what cannot. With some products and services, people want a "reasonably good" and a low price. [Sometimes, all they want is "anything that resembles the product/service and a low price" so they can check an item off of their "to do" list. They aren't concerned about the quality.]

Often, price is the least of the factors. I've turned down projects where the parameters set by the prospect would sabotage quality, all the while knowing they would eventually find someone out there who would do anything for the gig. That is not an easy decision if they are offering a respectable amount of money for a disreputable level of service.

What this gets down to is that there is no easy formula other than asking a lot of questions to determine just what the prospect wants and then listen carefully for what is truly meant. What they say they want may not be what they really want. You may hear:

  1. "Get this off of my desk."

  2. "If it can be done under this figure I won't be picky as to content."

  3. "I want some state-of-the-art product that will be a showcase."

  4. ""I want this problem fixed once and for all and am not really concerned about price."

  5. "Anything that is done by this date will be fine."

  6. "My status is everything."

  7. "I want this handled so I have minimal stress."

  8. "I don't want to be embarrassed."

  9. "This is foreign territory and I need a guide."

  10. "I want you to handle this but I want to tell you what to do."

  11. "I'll give you a lot of running room but I don't want to be surprised."

  12. "I want you to agree to take on the project and then I'll tell you about the monsters in the closet."

  13. "I want you here but my staff will do everything they can to sabotage your success."

  14. "I want a scapegoat."

  15. "I want insight."

  16. "Just tell me if I'm missing anything."

  17. "I want to be able to vent to someone who understands what I'm going through and who will tell me the truth."

Peter Pan with a Baseball Cap on Backwards

Cultural Offering goes after adults who want to act like kids. An excerpt:

I have developed a theory about many of our societal problems. We have spawned a nation of children. Some of these grown up children were created by their very own parents who willingly raise the grandchildren as the grown up children wander through life from drama to drama, or by holding their tongue as the grown up children make bad decision after bad decision. Others have been created by the societal parent - our government - which pays these adult children not to make good decisions, not to get jobs and to bring more and more children into a world where they will soon be unwelcome.

But it doesn't stop there; it is more pervasive and spreads across socio-economic levels. We are a nation of adults who fear growing up more than almost everything. Growing up is associated with getting older and God forbid we become old and "uncool". We need to dress young, act young, look young, be young.

Quote of the Day

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

- Scott Adams

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

11% of Cell Phone Users are Just Pretending

Rob Long examines the ramifications of this serious national problem.

First Paragraph

The grocery store on Uhuru Avenue (formerly Queensway) was owned by Sam Fong, a Chinese immigrant. They called him an immigrant; actually he had lived in East Africa longer than the Prime Minister, who was an African. But to be one Chinaman in a country of seven million Africans is not easy; you stand out; the East cannot save you; you remain a visible immigrant all your born days and so do your children, and so do theirs.

- From Fong and the Indians by Paul Theroux

Vulnerability Management

Gary McCully on signs that your vulnerability management program is failing. An excerpt:

As a security consultant, I have performed my share of quarterly vulnerability assessments for many of our clients. Many times I find a critical vulnerability on one of the client's systems, and contact them to inform them that I recommend the vulnerability be addressed as soon as possible. Three months pass, and once again it is time to perform a vulnerability assessment on the client I found the critical vulnerability on three months earlier. To my amazement, I find that the critical vulnerability I had said should be addressed as soon as possible had not been addressed.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bock: Make appointments with yourself.
Narcissism: This should be required reading for selection committees.
Mary Jo Asmus: "Midwest Nice" and conflict.
Art Contrarian on
depictions of Helen of Troy.
Tanmay Vora:
Change, vision, and execution.
Der Spiegel:
Nostalgia for the Berlin Wall.
Rob Long: The secrets of Amish business.

Vanity and Fear

Two paralyzing - and motivating - forces in life are vanity and fear. To direct them in positive directions, it helps to use some counterweights.

Fear is reduced by control while vanity is restrained by perspective. Control and perspective can be gained through preparation, acceptance, and wisdom.

At least, that is where my thinking is now. I'm still learning about this.

Quote of the Day

Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish. Do not overdo it.

- Lao-tzu

Monday, August 15, 2011

Looking Forward

Tom Selleck in a 1993 ad. How many of the predictions came true?

Fashion Statement for Idiots

I thought I had seen some crazy iPad accessories, and have written about some of them. But, an IPad case made out of Bernie Madoff's pants is so over the top that I have trouble saying the words.

- FutureLawyer has more on
the story.

Anything Doesn't Go

When is a flawless, gleaming, plate-glass shopwindow a broken window? Boston mayor Thomas Menino had no trouble answering the question after one look at the Nike sneaker shop’s display on his city’s upscale Newbury Street. There, above the company’s just do it slogan, were eight T-shirts bearing, in boldly graphic lettering, such messages as get high, f**k gravity, and dope, this one accompanied by an open pill bottle with skateboards spilling out. The mayor clearly understood George Kelling and James Q. Wilson’s theory that one broken window left unrepaired in an empty building suggests that nobody is watching and nobody cares, sparking more vandalism and disorder, which in turn emboldens the violent and lawless to commit hard-core crimes. Here, the mayor saw, was cultural vandalism: Nike’s fashion statement, so to speak, was that it is trendy to take drugs. And the company was happy to turn its teen and preteen customers into walking billboards for drug use.

Read the rest of Myron Magnet on
the importance of stigma.

Growing On and Through the Job

Hard experience has taught me that there are many individuals in the workplace who, far from being driven by any pursuit of excellence, are satisfied to perform at an above average level.

These are not people who lack ambition. They can be more accurately described as lacking a sufficient standard of measurement. Left to ourselves, most of us would describe our job performance as above average and, not surprisingly, we aren't about to search for any evidence to the contrary. After all, we have things to do, the boss isn't complaining, and we're certainly doing a better job than that slug down the hall.

Like Jackie Mason's joke that his mother didn't know how much he drank until the day he came home sober, many of us don't realize what a low standard we embrace until the day we learn how much better we could be doing. That's one reason for the "If I knew then what I know now" stories. We look back and are stunned at how much better we could have been.

Improvement requires curiosity and a willingness to go beyond, often far beyond, what is required. You don't need to read those management books, but you do. You can come up with plenty of excuses for not attending that workshop, but you grit your teeth and go. Your pride may suffer a bit if you ask some more experienced managers for advice and ideas, but you do so anyway.

This gives you a major advantage because many of your competitors are willing to coast. By investing in yourself and honing your skills, you can catapult yourself past rivals who stopped learning 10 or 20 years ago. There is only one catch:

You have to do it.

You can't just think about doing it or purchase the books and classes and then ignore them. You must have the raw commitment to delve into and master the subject; to question your assumptions; and to change course if you are on a slow or wrong path.

This is not easy, but it is invigorating. You will see your job with new eyes. Opportunities and challenges will emerge. As you achieve a higher skill level, other skills may be needed in order to stay there or move on. In fact, count on that.

There may be times when you look back at your previous practices with a bit of longing for the simpler days, but you'll know that the person you've become would never again find that to be acceptable. You have not just transformed your job performance; you have transformed yourself.

All for the better.

First Paragraph

The man from Bisbee was large and heavily whiskered. He brought his boots down on the dusty surface of Tombstone's main street as if he were stomping the life out of something he loathed and despised. His gleaming eye was full of the scorn which all the citizens of Bisbee felt for Tombstone. Growling to himself, he kicked open the swinging door of the Crystal Palace and turned to jerk viciously at the leash which was wound around his hand. At the other end of the leash was a large, live, resentful wildcat.

- From Billy King's Tombstone by C. L. Sonnichsen

Quote of the Day

The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.

- Yogi Berra

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Corelli Break

At The Hammock Papers.

Is there any composer nowadays who belongs in the same room with Corelli? If so, please give me the name.

"Baseball and Memory"

Joseph Epstein reviews the new book by Lee Congdon on national pastime:

Lee Congdon has spent—I hesitate to say wasted—his youth and much of his manhood as a Chicago Cubs fan. (So, too, did I, until a few years ago, when I proclaimed myself the baseball equivalent of a bisexual and began also rooting for the White Sox which is, to put it very gently, not de rigueur in Chicago, where ardent fans of either team loathe fans of the other.) As is well known, the Cubs have had an uncanny knack for letting their fans down—hard. The team has not appeared in a World Series since 1945 and not won a World Series since 1908. But then, any team, as a sad local quip has it, can have a bad century.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Joan Holloway and Company

Eclecticity looks at the main character in Mad Men. In fact, I'm not sure if that program has any other characters.

Beats Those Canadian Air Force Exercises

Miquel Angel Jimenez has adopted the Cultural Offering exercise routine.

First Paragraph

A head of department, working quietly in his room in Whitehall on a summer afternoon, is not accustomed to being disturbed by the near-by and indubitable sound of a revolver shot.

- From The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch

"Vodka Nation"

The next time you visit a bar, see if you can count on one hand the number of vodkas on the shelf. Chances are you’ll need both hands, and possibly feet. The bar at the original Pizzeria Uno in downtown Chicago contains 13 different vodkas: one bottle of Skyy, one bottle of Smirnoff, four flavors of Stolichnaya, five flavors of Absolut, one Ketel One, and one Grey Goose. At the T.G.I. Friday’s in Reagan National Airport outside Washington, two shelves are devoted to 14 varieties of vodka. Meanwhile, Boston’s übertrendy 28 Degrees restaurant boasts an astounding 22 bottles (13 brands, 15 flavors).

Read the rest of
Victorino Matus here.

Music Break

With scenes from "O Brother Where Art Thou": "I'll Fly Away" by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch.

Styles Before the Flame Goes Out

Art Contrarian looks at some last ditch car styling.

Spitfires Over France

Steven Pressfield has a memorable post on a true hero:

Pierre Clostermann was a Free French aviator who flew over 400 missions as a Spitfire and Tempest pilot in RAF squadrons during WWII. He is credited with the destruction (reports vary) of between 15 and 33 Luftwaffe aircraft.

Clostermann was awarded, among numerous other decorations for valor, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Silver Star and the Croix de Guerre with 19 palms. His memoir,
The Big Show (Le Grand Cirque), has sold two and a half million copies. “Take a look at those eyes,” says a friend of mine who was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. “That’s the look of a combat flier.”

[Be sure to read the entire post.]

Kristol's Salon

Writing in First Things, Wilfred M. McClay on Irving Kristol:

He seemed to accept such symptoms of physical decline with remarkable equanimity, even humor. As his son Bill relates in his lovely foreword to The Neoconservative Persuasion, a posthumous selection of his essays, when Irving would lunch with his colleagues Irwin Stelzer and Charles Krauthammer, sometimes at the end of one of their debates he would advise them, “I can’t hear what you’re saying. So I make it up. And,” he added, smiling, “sometimes you disappoint me.”

Pictures to Study

Extraordinary: The week in pictures at The Telegraph.

Plan B

There are days when Plan B is not only as good as it gets but as good as it would have ever gotten. We can plan various actions and then the world intervenes. We inwardly (sometimes outwardly) groan over the obstruction of those narrow-minded people who don't see things our way.

But they don't and today's adversary may be tomorrow's ally so we aim for the possible. We cannot indulge ourselves in doing what feels good; e.g., telling them to go to hell or putting people down.

If we are to fulfill our responsibilities our only indulgence must be effectiveness.

Quote of the Day

I would rather regret the things I have done than the things I have not.

- Lucille Ball

Friday, August 12, 2011

L.A. Sinking

Joel Kotkin on the decline of Los Angeles. An excerpt:

Those “emperors” are the leaders of L.A.’s public sector. As business retreated, power in Los Angeles, largely by default, shifted toward the government and its workers. Through the long decline that started in the 1990s and accelerated after 2005, government employment has climbed. Back in 1990, 13 percent of employed Angelenos worked for the government; by 2008, that figure had jumped to 16 percent. Even after a deep recession, the public sector—both county and city—continues to pull in big payouts. Today, almost 18,000 county workers earn more than $100,000 annually. The city has followed a similar path, with its city council the highest-paid in the nation. In L.A., as in much of California, public employees’ pensions have risen at unsustainable rates.

The Bad Shopper

I've posted this video by Dennis Prager before, but am doing so again due to some recent conversations that have indicated the problem is much worse than many of us have assumed.

The System Isn't Broken

Charles Krauthammer extols the beautiful messiness of democracy:

The conventional complaint is that the process was ugly. Big deal. You want beauty? Go to a museum. Democratic politics was never meant to be an exercise in aesthetics.

Not just ugly, moan the critics, but oh so slow. True, again. It took months. And will take more. The super-committee doesn’t report until Thanksgiving. The next election is more than a year away. But the American system was designed to make a full turn of the carrier difficult and deliberate.

First Paragraph

On Monday the thirteenth of May in the year 1876, between the hours of two and three in the afternoon on a day that combined the freshness of spring with the warmth of summer, numerous individuals in Moscow's Alexander Gardens unexpectedly found themselves eyewitnesses to the perpetration of an outrage that flagrantly transgressed the bounds of common decency.

- From The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin

The Beauty of Cars

A preview of the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Quote of the Day

Designed by architects with honorable intentions but hands of palsy.

- Jimmy Breslin

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Seth Godin on dealing with hecklers. Sound advice.

[I do like the story of the speaker who dealt with a man who was hissing: "There are three things that hiss: a goose, a snake or a fool. I'd ask whoever is hissing me to stand so he can be identified."]

Wardrobe Update

T-shirts at Mental Floss.

Touch of Style

These days, it is refreshing to see an example of civilized behavior.

The Hammock Papers provides one.