Friday, September 30, 2011

Brookhiser on Madison

Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Richard Brookhiser about his new book on James Madison. An excerpt:

LOPEZ: We are probably lucky if school kids today know Madison as the “father of the Constitution.” And now you want to tell them not to take it “too literally”?

BROOKHISER: I say that to do justice to all the other men who had significant input, sometimes contrary to what Madison himself at first wanted. Also to do justice to Madison who, when he lost a battle, did not sulk in his
tent, but figured out how to fight on, or how to work with the men who had beaten him.

Entertainment Break

The magic of Edward G. Robinson.

Bock on Moneyball

The always perceptive Wally Bock looks at
the real lesson of "Moneyball." An excerpt:

The book is a bit more nuanced. You'll learn about how the analysis movement on the A's was started by Sandy Alderson who was the GM before Beane and who introduced Beane to the basics and the work of Bill James. And you'll learn that the need to do something different, the "mother of invention" in this case, occurred when the estate of Walter Haas, sold the team to a partnership that was going to cut salaries in an attempt to make the it profitable.

The basics make for a good story. Unlikely hero takes over awful team, comes up with a new way to choose players and leads the team to victory. And that sort of happened.

Why Supervisors Don't Confront Problem Employees

Much could be written about the foolishness of organizations that fail to back up supervisors when they try to do the right thing and correct poor performance. Let us consider, however, two other factors that keep supervisors from confronting poor performers: A desire to avoid unpleasantness and a tendency to procrastinate.

If they confront, there will be immediate unpleasantness. If they ignore the problem, there will be delayed unpleasantness.

If they confront, there will be some immediate work to do. If they ignore the problem, work will be delayed.

If they confront, their authority may be openly challenged. If they delay, they can pretend that their authority is still intact.

In reality, the problem may be getting much worse, the impending crisis may require far more work, and their authority may be imploding.

The cost of confrontation is overestimated. The cost of ignoring poor performance is seriously underestimated.

Quote of the Day

I didn't really foresee the Internet. But then, neither did the computer industry. Not that that tells us very much, of course - the computer industry didn't even foresee that the century was going to end.

- Douglas Adams

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Entertainment Break

Back by popular demand:

Dusty Springfield, "
I Only Want To Be With You."

The Eagles, "
Hotel California."

Litigation Breeding 101

Which option is taken by many organizations?

  1. Train managers and supervisors on how to address sensitive personnel issues.

  2. Follow-up that training with brief reviews of the subjects at staff meetings.

  3. Periodically review personnel practices and job standards to make sure they are defensible.

  4. Wait until a lawsuit is filed and then spend a bundle of money trying to resolve a dispute that could have been prevented.

[Answer: 4.]

Executive Briefing

Earlier this week, I briefed a group of executives on Equal Employment Opportunity issues. The questions were excellent and the reaction was quite positive.

There is a greater level of intensity, of course, when discussing the same subject with managers and supervisors because those two groups are closer to the action. They encounter criticism and personnel problems in the raw and without filters. Jack wants to know why Mary got a schedule adjustment and yet the supervisor is restricted from full disclosure because a disability issue was involved. Carlos is upset about an open recruitment that seems to be a waste of time because "everyone knows" Ted is going to get the promotion.

Supervisors often have to walk a tightrope and there are few chances for them to dodge questions. Certainly there are tough decisions that face people at a higher level but when it comes to the more emotionally-charged matters, the people in the trenches have no peers.


This is
an example of why so many of us start our day with Cultural Offering: values, style, kindness.

First Paragraph

I am an American, Chicago born - Chicago, that somber city - and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.

- From The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

Fear and Logic

A close friend of mine possessed an extreme fear of guns. There was nothing in her experience that sparked the fear. She just had it.

I was baffled by her reaction since I grew up around guns and have always regarded them as a tool, much like a hammer or a buzz saw.

So it is with many fears. You can find combat veterans who are terrified of public speaking and great orators who freeze up when writing. I knew an attorney who spent decades in Phoenix, hardly a bastion of public transportation, without driving a car. It is difficult to imagine the extra work he had to do to accommodate that lifestyle.

Logic only goes so far in countering fears. The needed courage must be found through the steady and frequent performance of courageous deeds. I know of no other solution.

Quote of the Day

There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.

- Christopher Morley

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

General Grant

I have written before about the charm of U.S. Grant's memoirs. [You can read his autobiography online.] It is easy to see why Grant and Mark Twain became friends. An excerpt:

On the evening of the first day out from Goliad we heard the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front. The prairie grass was tall and we could not see the beasts, but the sound indicated that they were near. To my ear it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all, at a single meal. The part of Ohio that I hailed from was not thickly settled, but wolves had been driven out long before I left. Benjamin was from Indiana, still less populated, where the wolf yet roamed over the prairies. He understood the nature of the animal and the capacity of a few to make believe there was an unlimited number of them. He kept on towards the noise, unmoved. I followed in his trail, lacking moral courage to turn back and join our sick companion. I have no doubt that if Benjamin had proposed returning to Goliad, I would not only have “seconded the motion” but have suggested that it was very hard-hearted in us to leave Augur sick there in the first place; but Benjamin did not propose turning back. When he did speak it was to ask: “Grant, how many wolves do you think there are in that pack?” Knowing where he was from, and suspecting that he thought I would over-estimate the number, I determined to show my acquaintance with the animal by putting the estimate below what possibly could be correct, and answered: “Oh, about twenty,” very indifferently. He smiled and rode on. In a minute we were close upon them, and before they saw us. There were just TWO of them. Seated upon their haunches, with their mouths close together, they had made all the noise we had been hearing for the past ten minutes. I have often thought of this incident since when I have heard the noise of a few disappointed politicians who had deserted their associates. There are always more of them before they are counted.

Seeking Credit for Evil

Michael J. Totten reports on an interesting twist: A publication that should know is questioning Iranian trutherism.

Idioms, Cobblers,and Sausages

Mollie Hemingway at Ricochet is collecting foreign idioms. For example:

For "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" -- Portuguese: Cão picado por cobra, tem medo de linguiça // A dog bitten by a snake fears sausages

Wounded Healers

You do not have to be perfect to urge ethical behavior. As ethicists have noted, all of us can be wounded healers. The argument that any advocacy of ethical behavior must be from a saint is a diversionary tactic. It is often wrapped in the cloak of nonjudgmentalism; the idea that no moral judgments must be made on the behavior of others.

That is amusing because, upon questioning, few people are completely reluctant to make judgments. The moral agnostic on one topic may turn into Savonarola on another.

In Class

Today's class will cover several subjects, but all will be related. We'll explore various case examples and I'll twist some facts around for discussion to see if the key principles have stuck. We will move at a fast pace but there will be generous breaks because I pander shamelessly to my audience and I know what it's like when the chair starts to turn on you. There will be humor, history, and philosophy and generalizations backed by examples. No one will be put on the spot. I want the class members to leave with reasonable confidence that they have a solid working knowledge of the subject.

The goal, as always, is to give them practical information that is easily understood and which can be put to immediate use.

It will be fun and satisfaction will be guaranteed.

I have my espresso. I'm ready to roll.

Quote of the Day

He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

- Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eastman on Chemerinsky

It should be no surprise that John C. Eastman is not a fan of Erwin Chemerinsky's judicial philosophy, but this Claremont Institute review was sort of a shock. A mild excerpt:

The most recent submission in this genre of psychological fiction, The Conservative Assault on the Constitution, comes from Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the deans of the living Constitution movement and actual Dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law. Chemerinsky's premise is obvious from the book's title, its cover depiction of the Constitution's "We the People" in the familiar calligraphy, and the book jacket's blurbs about the need to "reclaim the Constitution" and preserve "our constitutional birthright." His tactic is clever: each leftward evolution of the Constitution's meaning becomes a new fixed baseline of constitutional law, and any move to return to the original meaning amounts to a repudiation not of the wayward interpretation but of the Constitution itself. A nice exercise in intellectual jujitsu for the living Constitution crowd, if he can get away with it.

First Paragraph

Julien Barneuve died at 3:28 on the afternoon of August 18, 1943. It had taken him twenty-three minutes exactly to die, the time between the fire starting and his last breath being sucked into his scorched lungs. He had not known his life was going to end that day, although he suspected it might happen.

From The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears

Shultz Talks Demographics and Economics

Cultural Offering points to a speech that George P. Shultz, who served as Secretary of State, Secretary of Labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Secretary of the Treasury, delivered before The Economic Club of New York. It is a soft-spoken dose of wisdom.

[Shultz wrote an especially informative memoir, Turmoil and Triumph: Diplomacy, Power, and the Victory of the American Ideal.]

Great Moments in Oral Argument

In an Italian courtroom: Amanda Knox compared to Jessica Rabbit.


Some of the more effective attention-getters in history:

  1. Heart attack.

  2. Military strike.

  3. Economic depression.

  4. Draft notice.

  5. Rubber glove.

  6. Tax audit.

  7. Scheduled to be hanged in a fortnight.


Sippican Cottage writes about a lucky fellow.

Henry Mancini's theme from "Mr. Lucky."

From "My Fair Lady": "With a Little Bit of Luck."

Daniel H. Pink interviews psychologist Richard Wiseman on how to make your own luck.

Quote of the Day

The only sure thing about luck is that it will change.

- Bret Harte

Monday, September 26, 2011


From Esquire: The story of 24 people who escaped the Joplin tornado. An excerpt:

Except for the wan and skittery illumination of a few cell-phone screens and the intermittent flash of lightning, the inside of the store is very dark. The power went out several minutes ago, and though the sun should still be shining, the storm has blotted it out. Ruben orders the newcomers to join the others crouched against the back wall, using words that, in another context, could have been the lyrics to a disco song.

"Everybody back, back, back, way back!" he says. "Everybody get down, all on the ground!"

Early Klimt

Art Contrarian
looks at
the early work of Gustav Klimt


From Comeback America by David M. Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States and former head of the Government Accountability Office:

Here's how to think of Washington's "investments." The federal government borrowed $787 billion as a "down payment" for the stimulus bill. That's right, there's not a dime of equity, and the entire amount was added to our national debt. Does that remind you of anything? How about all the Americans who made no down payments and took our subprime loans to finance homes they couldn't afford? Those irresponsible borrowing practices, abetted by all the middlemen making a quick buck, caused the subprime mortgage crisis. Now our government is acting like one of those irresponsible mortgagees.

Up Early

I was up early this morning to read a management book.

The family was bustling about, getting ready to depart for work, and I had a chance to slip away and read. There was a slight chill in the early morning air which was nice, because it signals my favorite time of year. I scanned The Wall Street Journal, then checked the local paper to make sure none of my clients had made the news. (I'll later review the obits to see if anyone I know has seriously departed from the scene. It's a strange habit.)

There are marketing tasks today, a proposal to complete, and some additional prep for an executive briefing on EEO that I'll be conducting tomorrow for a public sector client. On the list of these important chores is a reminder: Shine shoes.

One could write an entire philosophy on that.

Bate on Integrity

Analyse a joke and it's no longer funny. Step-by-step sex tends not to be erotic. Isolated muscle exercises at the gym can cause an unbalanced body.

Too much analysis and we can lose the integrity, the whole, the point, the 'mojo'.

Read the rest of Nicholas Bate
here. I recommend checking his extraordinary blog every day.

Positions of Questionable Wisdom

  1. I always support management.

  2. I always support the union.

  3. With rare exception, people on the opposing side must be ignorant/corrupt/greedy/fanatical or they wouldn't take that position.

  4. Once we get in power, there will be no inner circle.

  5. There are more conspiracies than mistakes.

  6. People who disagree with me just need more information.

  7. Studies favor one side so it must be correct.

How to Lose a Portion of an Audience

During a break at the board meeting for a community group. someone talked about using the mysterious device shown above. The younger people didn't know what he was talking about. They knew, of course, the item in the background.

Quote of the Day

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.

- Lao-tzu

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Entertainment Break

The Hammock Papers has the classic Groucho Marx "Florida Medical Board" scene.

First Paragraph

There can be little doubt that if the cudgel descending on that old man's skull had been of lead or iron, rather than some stout timber of the English forest, not much would have come of the attempt - at least nothing worthy of your attention and mine at this late date. The street beside the East India docks was very nearly empty in the dawn, and to any assault with mere metal he would have responded vigorously, and then would have gone on his way to meet his love in Exeter, lighthearted with the sense of having done the metropolis of London a good turn en passant, ridding it of one or two of its more rascally inhabitants.

- From The Holmes-Dracula File by Fred Saberhagen

The Costanza Touch

If you wanted a poster boy for Google Wallet, you couldn't pick a better one than George Costanza:

Check out

Thanking Steve Jobs

Stanley Bing writes a thank-you column :

I want to thank you for my mouse. Can you imagine a world without mouses? I can't. Before you bred them for commercial use, a person needed a host of keyboard commands to get anything done, and a lot of programming code to produce words and numbers on paper. I read somewhere that you got the vision after you visited Xerox's PARC. They showed you what they were up to, but they sort of didn't know what they had. You ran with it. Because that's the way you did everything. All in. Feet first.

Be sure to read the entire thing.

Talking Past One Another

I wonder how many conversations are the non-flirtatious equivalent of flirting.

Subjects come and go and serve as islands in an sea of unexpressed thought. The relationship is restrained by an inability or unwillingness to talk frankly. That may be driven by fear that a dishonest but viable relationship trumps a candid one that is self-destructive.

Is there a word for a non-flirtatious equivalent of flirting? If not, we should invent or modify one. So far, "filtered" may do as in, "They had a filtered conversation about the new logo."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Better Than Most Concerts

Eclecticity reports on what you might hear if you hang around the Wendy's in Greensboro, Georgia.

It's The Greatest Thing I've Ever Read

Are you interested in writing a screenplay and breaking into the movie business?

Rob Long tells
a Hollywood story about words of encouragement.

Reality Check: Spending Reduction That Doesn't Reduce Spending

Mark Steyn on the end of the world as we know it. An excerpt:

You can try this yourself next time your bank manager politely suggests you should try “living within your means”: Tell him you’ve got an ingenious plan to get your spending under control by near doubling your present debt in the course of a mere decade. He’s sure to be impressed.

"It's Lonely in the Modern World"

The word is out: Unhappy Hipsters has a book!

Edit for Ego

A small suggestion: Before sending off an email, edit for ego. Look over the text and ask:

  • Are there too many "I"s?

  • Have I shifted the topic back to myself?

  • Am I injecting one of my concerns when it is not truly relevant to the subject?

Teachers and Professional Development Classes

In Los Angeles, teachers receive a pay increase averaging $800 per year for their first nine years on the job. At that point, the only way for them to earn more money is by taking salary-point classes. So an unambitious teacher—call him “Laid-back Louie”—whose beginning salary is $45,637, and who takes no extra classes, would be making $52,406 beginning in year ten. That will be his annual salary from that point on, no matter how long he teaches. But if a more enterprising teacher—call her “Aggressive Annie”—takes the maximum allowable salary-point classes, but couldn’t be bothered with obtaining a master’s degree, she would make $72,592 starting in her tenth year—just over $20,000 more per year than her laid-back counterpart—simply for taking these courses, regardless of her in-classroom performance. She may or may not be a better teacher than Louie. Additionally, because Annie has taken all of the allowable classes, she is entitled to various other “bonuses” the longer she teaches.

Read the rest of the City Journal article by Larry Sands

Men on TV

Dr. Helen asks if television is portraying men in a better light. If so, it is way overdue.

[As for commercials, my nominee for the worst male-demeaning one is here. Consider how it would look if the sexes were reversed.]

Quote of the Day

The ladies have to go first. Get in the lifeboat, to please me. Good-bye dearie. I'll see you later.

- John Jacob Astor IV, on the Titanic

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bruce The Shark

Entertainment break from "Finding Nemo."

The Dinner Party Question: A Variation

All of us have heard of the dinner party question: If you could invite anyone in history to a dinner party, who would be on your guest list?

Here is a twist: If you could pick anyone in history to serve as executives in your organization, who would make the list?

Let's limit the count to seven.

Delegation Questions

  1. Do I give this to a committee that may bury it or should it go to a smaller group or an individual?

  2. If it is a group, have I designated the leader?

  3. Can the person or group do the job?

  4. Do I have a clear picture of what is wanted and what is not wanted so that contrast can be conveyed?

  5. Have I conveyed that picture?

  6. Have I announced the assignment so others will cooperate with the project?

  7. Have I delegated enough power to get the job done?

  8. Are there strings attached that will keep the person returning to me for approval on minor items?

  9. Does the person have adequate access to needed resources?

  10. Is there a problem of overlap with any other person or group?

  11. Does the person know the potential allies and adversaries?

  12. Have the likely barriers been identified?

  13. Have I set interim deadlines so problems can be caught early?

  14. Are the deadlines reasonable and specific?

  15. Is there a clear understanding of what the situation will be once the assignment is done and which new challenges will await?

Quote of the Day

The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.

- Tom Clancy

Thursday, September 22, 2011

First Paragraph

The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward suddenly, as though to resume full speed. The train's brief deception jolted its riders. The bulge of humans hanging out of the doorway distended perilously, like a soap bubble at its limit.

- From A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Flying Over the Earth

Prepare to be captivated: At Gizmodo, a fluid fly-by video of Earth.

Glazer on Social Policy

Writing in City Journal, Howard Husock examines Nathan Glazer's warning. An excerpt:

This emerges as a key Glazer theme: that social policy must be evaluated not just in terms of its own stated goals but also in terms of its effects on a society rich in family and community institutions that serve as a foundation for happiness and achievement. Any social policy, he writes in Limits, must be judged against “the simple reality that every piece of social policy substitutes for some traditional arrangement, whether good or bad, a new arrangement in which public authorities take over, at least in part, the role of the family, of the ethnic and neighborhood group, of voluntary associations.” In doing so, Glazer continues, “social policy weakens the position of these traditional agents and further encourages needy people to depend on the government for help rather than on the traditional structures. This is the basic force behind the ever growing demand for more social programs and their frequent failure to satisfy our hopes.”

Morning Entertainment

In one of the better night clubs: Bob Hoskins and Jessica Rabbit.

A Home in the Wilderness

In An Island To Oneself, Tom Neale took over an uninhabited island in the Pacific in the 1950s and constructed a beach shack for his solitary home. He’s a sort of Robinson Crusoe, or Cast Away, for real. He voluntarily lived alone, separated from the nearest human by hundreds of miles of open sea. He had to be his own contractor, gardener, shipbuilder, fisherman, and doctor. The amount of household stuff he recreated from scratch is amazing. Neale had a lot of leisure as a full-time beach bum, but it’s a surprise how constantly he worked, and how thoroughly he had to prepare for everything. His account supplies great details about the reality of living on a deserted island. In a place like his the littlest mistakes could be fatal. His journal is a page turner with one small upset after another. It was no day at the beach.

Read the rest at

What Are You Selling?

I'm not talking about your firm or department. I'm talking about you.

What are YOU selling?

Is it reliability? That's a fine product; nothing to scoff at. I'll take reliable over flashy 99 times out of 100.

Is it insight? That too is sorely needed but it can be over-rated. If you can combine it with reliability then your stock has really jumped.

Is it presentation? Some of us couldn't sell beer on a troopship. We need good presentation skills. Fold presentation in with the other products and you'll be on a roll.

Finally, how about persistence? Every day is not a fiesta. If you can take a punch and keep moving, you'll be able to put those other qualities into play. If not, they - and you - probably won't last very long.

Quote of the Day

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted.

- John Lennon

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Music Break

Back by popular demand, a song for the times:

Hank Williams Jr. with "A Country Boy Can Survive."

The Tension Builds

Something is happening at Unhappy Hipsters.

Old Jim

Thanks to
Cultural Offering and The Hammock Papers, I've found a person who is living my ideal life style, minus the gout.

Questions While Reading an Alumni Magazine

  1. Who died?

  2. Did I know that person?

  3. What's with this "Social Sciences" instead of Liberal Arts baloney?

  4. How much did that building cost?

  5. Does my class contribute the least in terms of updates and money?

  6. Wasn't that guy in the Witness Protection Program?

  7. Was I ever that young?

Daily Mantras

You may not control the event, but you control your reaction to the event. Decide quickly on the reversible and slowly on the irreversible. Only two high priorities at a time. Be kinder than necessary. Focus.

Options on Deregulating Lawyers

Truth on the Market has a collection of interesting links on deregulating the legal profession.


Author Meets Audience

Writing in City Journal, Stefan Kanfer on the joys of book tours:

Then there was the bookstore in western Florida. This time, the schedule was much more indulgent. I didn’t have to show up until 4 pm. The audience was large and responsive. I noted, however, that a white-haired gentleman in the last row was fast asleep. No matter how loudly I talked, his low snore punctuated the monologue, discombobulating the speaker and confusing the spectators. When I finished, the store’s owner passed around a microphone so that listeners could ask questions. Suddenly, the somnolent party awoke and demanded to speak. “I didn’t hear a word you said,” he declared, glowering at me. “Everyone else here seems to have followed me,” I pointed out. He rose and shook his bony fist. “Everyone here isn’t 96 years old!” He didn’t buy a book.

Quote of the Day

He hits from both sides of the plate. He's amphibious.

- Yogi Berra

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Music Break

Tony Bennett: "If I Ruled the World."

Miscellaneous and Fast

Tanmay Vora on insights from successful teams.
The Pirates: A new political party in Berlin.
The New Republic: A book on the making of a fashion model.
David Brooks says he's a sap.
Cullen Gallagher has started a crime fiction column at the Los Angeles Times.
The Department of Justice
likes a good muffin.
Michael P. Maslanka on
lawyers, friending, litigation, and Facebook.
Paul Ryan on
simplifying the tax code.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn on
the Internet and groupthink.
Secretaries don't pay more taxes than their bosses.

Tech Marches On

Good news!

FutureLawyer is an app.

He has a great site and all techies (as well as the rest of us) should check it frequently.

Europe's Decline

In 1965, government spending as a percentage of GDP averaged 28% in Western Europe. Today it hovers just under 50%. In 1965, the fertility rate in Germany was a healthy 2.5 children per mother. Today it is a catastrophic 1.35. During the postwar years, annual GDP growth in Europe averaged 5.5%. After 1973, it rarely exceeded 2.3%. In 1973, Europeans worked 102 hours for every 100 worked by an American. By 2004 they worked just 82 hours for every 100 American ones.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article by Bret Stephens

First Paragraph

In the very early hours of July 13, 1942, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were roused from their bunks in the large brick school building that served as their barracks in the Polish town of Bilgoraj. They were middle-aged family men of working- and lower-middle-class background from the city of Hamburg. Considered too old to be of use to the German army, they had been drafted instead into the Order Police. Most were raw recruits with no previous experience in German occupied territory. They had arrived in Poland less than three weeks earlier.

- From Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning

Take a Nap!

Cool Tools
a new book on the virtue of naps. An excerpt from the book:

Just look around your office at 3 p.m. More than likely, instead of a hive of industrious activity, you'll see a bunch of bleary-eyed workers checking and rechecking their e-mail. As the great napper Winston Churchill said, "Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one… well, at least one and half." The latest scientific research has proven him correct.

Quote of the Day

The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.

- Ray Bradbury

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bock: Expanding Your Options

Too many management approaches are cast as either/or.

Wally Bock shows the power of both/and.

Ferguson's Killer Apps

Take some time today and listen to Niall Ferguson's TED talk
on the 6 killer apps of prosperity.


It is indeed a small - and often noble - world, as noted in this story of a Tuskegee Airman.

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

Art of the State

Art Contrarian
looks at
portraits of dictators. [I would not put Pilsudski in that group.]

Demography, Bureaucracy, and the Decline of Europe

The gravity of Europe’s demographic situation became clear at a conference I attended in Singapore last year. Dieter Salomon, the green mayor of the environmentally correct Freiburg, Germany, was speaking about the future of cities. When asked what Germany’s future would be like in 30 years, he answered, with a little smile, ”There won’t be a future.”

Read the rest of
Joel Kotkin's column here.

The Solyndra Story starting to draw attention:

The Associated Press

Charles Krauthammer

Jon Stewart

Will It Help?

A thought while considering a consulting project: My advice may not secure a promotion, win the affection of colleagues, prevent a lawsuit, raise morale, expand one's social life, save a marriage or add another day to the week, but here is the central question: Will it help?

Skepticism Breeders

I may make a series out of articles that inspire skepticism. Here is the first contender:

From Fast Company: For the Western Apaches, place and the values of a community combine to ensure future generations continue to live by this vision. BIG shows us that design can instill in our children a narrative of the deep relationship between us and the natural environment. With this intrinsic knowledge, graduates of the school will go on to respect the natural world and recognize the true wisdom that sits in places.

Be sure to read the entire article.

Quote of the Day

A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

- Baltasar Gracian

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Poetry of Stephen Crane

Writing in The New Criterion, Michael Dirda on the amazing Stephen Crane. An excerpt:

Though he died at twenty-eight from tuberculosis, Crane packed an enormous amount into a short life. His father was an eminent clergyman and he grew up in a Methodist family; the Bible seems to have been the chief reading of the household. At Lafayette College and Syracuse University, from neither of which he graduated, Crane preferred playing baseball to studying. After he became a young reporter, he quickly adopted the dashing, romantic life expected of a newspaperman. He wrote about the slums and slept in a New York flophouse, traveled out to the still wild west, escaped pursuit from Mexican bandits, nearly drowned after a shipwreck off the coast of Florida, covered civil unrest in Cuba and war in Greece, and even entered into a common-law marriage with the former madam of the Hotel de Dream bordello, eventually settling down with her in a country house in England. At Brede Place, his neighbors and admirers included Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and, not least, H. G. Wells, who, in his novel Boon, declared that Crane was “the best writer of English for the last half century.”

As Summer Departs

Summer is on its way out (although it will certainly linger in my neighborhood) and so it is appropriate to give some classic summer film links.

The trailers for:

The Endless Summer

Back to the Beach

First Paragraph

In 1959 Florence Green occasionally passed a night when she was not absolutely sure whether she had slept or not. This was because of her worries as to whether to purchase a small property, the Old House, with its own warehouse on the foreshore, and to open the only bookshop in Hardborough. The uncertainty probably kept her awake. She had once seen a heron flying across the estuary and trying, while it was on the wing, to swallow an eel which it had caught. The eel, in turn, was struggling to escape from the gullet of the heron and appeared a quarter, a half, or occasionally three-quarters of the way out. The indecision expressed by both creatures was pitiable. They had taken on too much. Florence felt that if she hadn't slept at all - and people often say this when they mean nothing of the kind - she must have been kept awake thinking of the heron.

- From The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Things Best Done Slowly

  1. Love

  2. Coffee

  3. Anger

  4. Literature

  5. Sunsets

  6. Bicycle rides

  7. Walks

  8. Appreciation

  9. Observation

  10. Listening

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Culture Break

From the film Henry V, the tennis ball scene.

"Generational Privilege"

Italy and Japan have particularly bad cases of the blues; with relatively small numbers of young people and large ones of older people, the old are not only cunning and entrenched in positions of power: they can still beat the kids in elections. Politicians reinforce generational privilege rather than acting on the knowledge that, in the end, an economy that doesn’t work for the young is an economy doomed to decline.

Read the rest of
Walter Russell Mead.


Going in Style

For all of the Red Sox fans out there: Ted Williams's last time at the plate.

First Paragraph

There are the poor, and there are the terribly poor. Below them are the wretchedly poor. And then there are those who literally have nothing, not even hope. To them, the term is not even any longer applicable. That so many of those utterly forgotten manage to reach adulthood is itself amazing. To belong to this class of humanity is to view the alley as mansion, the street as home, and to live most if not all of one's miserable life in the gutter.

- From Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster

Children as Status Symbols

I recently decided to stop going to social gatherings where I have to listen to people run their mouths. It isn't because I've stopped liking my neighbors and friends, and it isn't because I'm tired of people who feel a need to remind me how much they despise Sarah Palin, as if that were the planet's best-kept secret.

No, I can no longer stand listening to people tell me how great their kids are.

Read the rest of
Joe Queenan here.

Go Goruck: Voluntary Public Hazings

Business Week has a portrait of Jason McCarthy's unusual business:

He’s also the founder of the Goruck Challenge, one of the latest and most grindingly hard core of the new breed of extreme sports. It’s a variation on the current fitness trend of bizarre and exhausting obstacle-course, cross-fit challenges such as Tough Mudder or Muddy Buddy. Goruck is perhaps the most militaristic of the breed—a Navy Seal training-inspired, Special Forces-led marathon of grit and muscle and masochism.


Cultural Offering on the logic and message of stacks of books.

I get very wary of personal libraries that are too neat. They remind me of model homes and there is always the sense that no one really uses them. My wife has not yet subscribed to that theory.

La Rigueur

In Fortune, some advice from a French socialist. An excerpt:

Starting in 1983, the administration of Socialist President Francois Mitterrand abandoned its program of heavy spending and gigantic deficits, and made a dramatic right turn, embracing a solution called "La Rigueur," or austerity. The shift brought balanced budgets from 1985 to 1987, and one of the most prosperous periods in French post-war history. Delors was a principal architect, and Mestrallet helped write the blueprint.

Way Too Much Fun

This has been my year for dental work.

After decades of few problems, I've entered a strange world of dental implants and related exotica. While my dental advisors debate the mysterious cause of some recent discomfort and ponder a remedy, I'm learning the soothing qualities of lemon extract, clove, and pain pills.

Bear with me.

Quote of the Day

Apparently some human resources managers don't appreciate having interview questions answered through interpretive dance.

- Michael Hayward

Friday, September 16, 2011

Music Break

Something for Friday
: Audrey Hepburn with "
Moon River."

"Wheat Belly"

A book review at Dr. Helen: Is modern-day wheat dangerous?

Hilary and Rose

Two of the best writers in the world today are living in England. Hilary Mantel and Rose Tremain are far from obscure but they deserve even more readers. I recommend starting with these books:

Hilary Mantel: "Wolf Hall"

Rose Tremain: "Restoration"

What Would You Take?

A friend of mine lives in a forested area in New Mexico. A few months ago, he received a call from the local police saying that unless the wind shifted, he and his wife would have to evacuate their home in an hour. Fortunately, the wind did shift but he said the incident forced them to consider just what they could afford to lose. Being a good tax attorney, he immediately packed several files of key documents as well as family mementos and art works.

An hour was relatively generous. What would you take if you only had 15 minutes?

Screening Blog Posts

Is it too:

  • Academic?

  • Personal?

  • Political?

  • Frivolous?

  • Narrow?

  • Obtuse?

  • Local?

  • Strident?

  • Common?

  • Mean?

  • Squishy?

  • Stuffy?

A sizable number of drafts will never be posted once the Great Screening Machine is fired up.

That's a good thing.

Russian Advertising

A common event in Russian strawberry fields.

[HT: Adrants]

Hit the Road!

The northernmost of Georgia's barrier islands, Tybee Island has sandy beaches, surfable waves, fishing piers and glowing sunsets over water. Locals coined the term "Lazaretto-itis," a fear of crossing the bridge to the mainland. So why not stay awhile? Mermaid Cottages ( rents more than 40 homes. Nora's cottage, a few blocks from the beach, is a 1930s bungalow with a screened porch and full kitchen for boiling fresh crab or frying fish just pulled out of the Atlantic.

The Wall Street Journal describes
some attractive trips.

Quote of the Day

Virtue is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.

- Adam Smith

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Music Break

John Tams: "Over the Hills and Far Away."

Update: The song has had several versions. Here are the lyrics to this one.

Some are More Equal Than Others

Writing in The Weekly Standard, James W. Ceaser looks at what happened when the American Political Science Association was confronted with a concept known as democracy. An excerpt:

But this time things were a little different. A dissident group of members challenged the American Political Science Association’s governing system, asking for some modest changes to the constitution to institute competition in the selection of officers and the governing council. The dissidents billed their proposal as a small step toward democratization. Imagine, then, their great surprise when defenders of the status quo, who included some of the leading political scientists in the nation, instructed them in no uncertain terms that devices like competitive elections, labeled “procedural democracy,” counted as next to nothing in comparison to “substantive democracy.” Substantive democracy meant “diversity” as computed by race, gender, and ethnicity.

First Paragraph

It was a simple question. "Can you remember the last day you didn't have a drink?" Laura asked in her calm, soothing voice. She wasn't threatening or nagging. She did expect an answer. My wife is the kind of person who picks her moments. This was one of them.

- From Decision Points by George W. Bush

The Treehouse Book

Doesn't everyone want a treehouse? CoolTools reviews the book.

True Grit's Replicas

Writing in True West magazine, Phil Spangenberger notes the special efforts made with the weapons in "True Grit." An excerpt:

Walters got most of the guns needed for the Coen brothers movie from the well-respected replica houses of Cimarron Fire Arms and Taylor’s & Co. Through the use of replicas he was able to simulate many guns as Portis described them in his novel. Rooster Cogburn packs his 7½-inch barreled, plain blued “Peacemaker” Colt (Uberti-made) with walnut grips in a simple cross draw holster (while extra cartridges are carried in a coffee sack). He also carries an 1873 Winchester sporting rifle (Uberti) in his saddle scabbard, while pommel holsters contain a pair of Colt’s 2nd Model Dragoons (Uberti).


View From the Ledge has a video and information on a subway etiquette project.

Busy People

We live in a time when members of Congress admit that they have not read major pieces of legislation. Between service on a multitude of committees and responding to constituent requests, they rely upon the summaries prepared by staff members who may or may not be capable. Similar examples can be found in business and non-profit organizations where executives scurry from meeting to meeting, scan e-mail, and lean heavily on staff.

A natural question might be, "Who takes the time to think around here?"

Unfortunately, in many cases the answer is, "I rely on the boss [or the staffer]." It resembles two outfielders who think the other is going to make the catch and consequently, no one does.

Top Soundtracks

What should be on any list of the top film soundtracks? When musicals are excluded, the competition gets very stiff. Some nominees:

  1. Ben-Hur

  2. Lawrence of Arabia

  3. Nowhere in Africa

  4. The Thin Red Line

  5. To Kill a Mockingbird

  6. Braveheart

  7. Mary Queen of Scots

  8. The Lion in Winter

  9. The Last of the Mohicans

  10. Jurassic Park

  11. El Cid

  12. Gladiator

  13. Gone with the Wind

  14. We Were Soldiers

  15. Amelie

  16. Dr. Zhivago

  17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Quote of the Day

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

- R. Buckminster Fuller

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Afghan Faces

Michael Yon reports from Afghanistan.

Entrepreneur, Innovator, and Rebel

Check out this fascinating story of an Applebee's franchise.

First Paragraph

Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening. Private balls were never more than middling amusements for spinsters, and Miss Tarabotti was not the kind of spinster who could garner even that much pleasure from the event. To put the pudding in the puff: she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire.

- From Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger

Reminder for Leaders

Plans and noble intentions are nice, but they are no substitute for results.

The same goes for eloquence, networks, hard work, corner offices, brilliant ideas, sensitivity, creativity, talent, recognition, really neat logos, and being highly regarded in your industry.

Nonjudgmentalism Mush

David Brooks has an interesting column on the death of character:

Many were quick to talk about their moral feelings but hesitant to link these feelings to any broader thinking about a shared moral framework or obligation. As one put it, “I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.”

Real Clear Politics]

The Office as Theme Park

What if an office resembled a theme park that produced different experiences? A Middle Ages theme park might include:

Marketplace is an open area where people can get a cup of coffee, sit and chat, or watch a group brainstorming a project in the corner. It is bustling, fun, and chaotic.

Monastery is a wing of silence containing small offices. Each holds only one person. Tucked away, people can complete projects without fear of interruption. Phones are not allowed. If communication must be made, it is done via note. Hallways and rooms are designed so noise is softened.

Jousting Arena is where competing ideas are tested before a panel of judges. Spectators are free to toss in challenges or alternatives. The ability to overcome all barriers is rewarded.

The Tower is devoted solely to considering what will happen seven years or more down the road. Its lofty view is accompanied with studies and data. The products are taken to the Jousting Arena or the Marketplace.


Quote of the Day

I don't generally feel anything until noon, then it's time for my nap.

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11 Remembrance: Vive la France!

Keeping Up with Jones has a heart-warming report on the French ceremonies related to 9/11:

The Palais de Chaillot was built for the 1937 Exposition Universelle and currently houses two museums, the Musée de la Marine in the west wing, and the Cité de l'Architecture in the east wing. Atop both of these buildings one normally sees a large tri-color French flag. This past Sunday, on September 11th, things were different. Above the Cité de l'Architecture, flapping in a stiff wind, were the stars and stripes of Old Glory, a small part of an impressive French commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Down below, on the Place du Tracadéro a stage was set up, flanked by two towers symbolizing the World Trade Center. The message on the banners draped from the towers was simple, and in both English and in French: "The French Will Never Forget" and "Les Français n'oublieront jamais". The program for the day included a children's choir singing songs, French high schoolers reading letters of condolence from other students, a live report from a French CNN correspondent in Kabul, and the presentation of a medal to a NYFD firefighter by the US ambassador to France.

A Very Long Engagement

The trailer. [The trailer alone is better than many films.]


From the True Films review:

This is a great film about very ordinary people trying to break out of their humdrum lives. The subjects are the type of people who once seem utterly odd, but now ... less so. They are the folks who dress up in historical costumes and role play in fantasy worlds. They are members of Darkon, a live-action role-playing game that's been continuing for 25 years. Every two weekends hundreds of Darkon enthusiasts take over parks in the DC area and stage physical battles for imaginary cells on a paper map.

Creativity Break

At Anderson Layman's Blog: A legion of doodlers will see this and think, "Why didn't I ever do that?"

Presentation Advice for the Candidates

If I were advising the candidates on their campaign presentations, I'd say:

Michele Bachmann: Vary your rate of speech. You often speak rapidly and that makes you sound nervous and less serious. Study Margaret Thatcher's use of emphasis. Lean toward speaking more slowly.

Herman Cain: You often sound as if you are a CEO giving a PowerPoint presentation. Back off from the bullet points and give a bit more philosophy. Make sure that it is deep, not glib, and that it will reassure people on the experience issue. Don't argue that experience is meaningless; instead emphasize that your different experience has special benefits.

Newt Gingrich: Take fewer trips down Memory Lane because those anecdotes only remind people of your age. The futurist stuff that you like to cite only works in better economic times. Right now, people want to hear about what can be done to improve things fast.

Jon Huntsman: Stop pointing at the audience. It looks aggressive and doesn't match your voice tone. Stop smiling when you attack an opponent. That makes you look deceptive. No more gold ties. Any wardrobe choice that detracts from your message is a problem. Don't talk about your ability to speak Mandarin. It will win as many votes as John Kerry's ability to speak French.

Barack Obama: Edit out all strawman arguments. They are starting to be predictable plus they kill credibility. Shorten your speeches. No more teleprompters. They are adversely affecting your speaking style, you do not use them well, and they are a barrier between you and the audience.

Ron Paul: Some self-deprecating humor would go a long way in reducing the fanatical grandpa image. Either joke about your frumpy appearance or get a tailor. I'd suggest the latter. When you are proposing major changes, you can't look like some guy who just got off of a long bus ride.

Rick Perry: Don't run from but do downplay the macho Texan. [Remember, the rest of the country is not in love with Texas and New York.] Temper the toughness by showing more of the guy who grew up in a dirt-poor Texas town and knows what it's like to be on the outside. Watch the expressions you use when others are speaking. Drop the pointing gesture. Smile more.

Mitt Romney: Ignore the criticisms that you are robotic; most of those come from enemies who wish their candidates were as disciplined. Right now, programmed is fine if it is competent, but you need to let your audience see the ideological framework behind the "turn-around specialist" details. Keep the sunny image.

Rick Santorum: Same advice as Bachmann plus place more emphasis on bringing a new perspective. So far, you have not drawn a clear line between yourself and the others. Your youthful appearance is not reassuring when people are hurting and you have to overcome that.

Renters vs. Owners

Cultural Offering explores the difference between renters and owners. An excerpt:

Renters are temporary. They like the flexibility that comes from their temporary state. They are looking at options - always. Getting a renter to buy or buy in is a challenge. Many buy in to very little; they may not buy in to themselves. Options. They are about options. The renter is ready with advice always; do what they say not what they do. They like distance between themselves and anything that resembles a piece of ground with a flag in it reading: "This is mine. I stand here for this."

Quote of the Day

I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.

- Milton Friedman