Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Color versus Drawing

Art Contrarian
looks at
the styles of Matisse and Fergusson.

Major Secret productivity when on the road: Don't turn on the television in your room.

Read, work or sleep.


Back by popular demand: Jay Thomas tells of his time with The Lone Ranger.

On the Road Today

...and remembering George Carlin's question (and I paraphrase): "Why is it that anyone driving slower than you are is an idiot and anyone driving faster is a maniac?"

How Keen is Your Eye?

A friend's daughter is conducting a survey as part of a paper on forensic profiling. It takes around 12 minutes and will be open until Friday. I took it and scored somewhere above an amoeba.

The survey can be found here:

Good luck!

The Border of Complication

Knowing the location of the border between Simple and Complicated can require sophisticated surveying skills. "Complicated" exerts a magnetic pull for many projects, the development costs are high, and the results are not always beneficial. "Simple" has low development costs but careful maintenance is needed lest it drift into Complicated.

Complicated is mistaken for deep and Simple for dumb and neither assumption is wise. I write this while pondering the state of an exciting new project that, if not watched, may easily slip into Complicated territory.

My goal for the project? Deep But Simple.

First Paragraph

It was the pirate flag flying atop the plumbing truck that first caught his attention. The white skull and crossbones seemed to be straining to keep from being blown off the flapping black flag as the flatbed truck, apparently trying to beat the light, cannonballed through the intersection. The truck heeled over as it cut an arc around the corner. White PVC pipe rolled across the diamond plate of the truck bed, sounding like the sharp rattle of bones. At the speed it was traveling the truck looked to be in danger of capsizing.

- From The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind

Quote of the Day

Worries go down better with soup than without.

- Jewish proverb

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Will on the Gobblers

A market research firm found that people who buy the $43,000 Chevy Volt (seats four in space not taken by its 400-pound battery) or the $34,500 Nissan Leaf, and who get a $7,500 government bribe (a.k.a. tax credit) for doing so, have average annual incomes of $150,000, and half of the buyers own at least two other vehicles.

Under the Essential Air Service program — yes, essential — the federal government contributed $3,720 to subsidize the cost of flying each passenger between Denver and Ely, Nev.

Read the rest of
George Will's review of the 2011 turkeys.

Favorite Science Fiction Inventions

I cannot tell you how many times I have longed for the Star Trekian ability to be transported to distant locations within seconds.

That longing usually occurs before business trips.

The other highly desirable sci-fi invention also comes from Star Trek: the doctor's ability to detect and cure physical problems by waving a special wand in front of a patient. No groping. No shots. No scalpel. That longing comes before the annual physical.

Are there other admirable science fiction powers that should be on my list?

Defending Yourself

This is a must-read article: Sam Harris on
the three principles of self-defense. The Gavin de Becker book cited at the end is also excellent.

[HT: Eclecticity]

A Person to Have in the Room

He is not the person you would want to make the decision, but he is a person you'd want in the room when the options are being explored.

He has insights and ideas that are missed by many advisors and yet sometimes has gaps on the problems that attend execution or the political intangibles that can affect public opinion. He is a brilliant fellow who does not suffer fools gladly although he often pretends to do so. Over the years, his wit has produced an impressive cadre of enemies, most of whom are not in his league when it comes to creativity and analysis.

He can be charming, irritating, and so smart it is scary.

When discussing major decisions, ignore the grumbling of others and make sure that he is in the room.

Major Decisions

Knowing what to:








Quote of the Day

The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

- William Blake

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Knight of the Flowers

Art Contrarian
looks at the painting by Georges Antoine Rochegrosse.


You can find smug attitudes in a variety of places. No workplace, department or job title is immune. I've encountered blue collar shops that are as smug as any executive suite and sales clerks who could rival a freshly-minted MBA grad in the Smugness Sweepstakes.

"Where are we screwing up?" is an essential question. It is not inconsistent with excellence or self-confidence nor should it replace those occasions when the blame must be appropriately placed elsewhere. A failure to ask and listen carefully to the responses is a characteristic of dysfunctional organizations.

There are, of course, gradations. The smugness that afflicts minor practices is the most noticeable while that which surrounds large operational arrangements is seldom challenged. Rooting out that fungus takes a clear eye, a lot of patience, and a willingness to risk unpopularity.

Dim Bulbs

Claudia Rosett, light-bulb addict.

[I can't stand the new bulbs.]

Close to the Truth

Don't miss this
item at Anderson Layman's Blog on coming full circle.

Tact Tips

If you know someone who, ahem, needs some gentle advice on how to be more diplomatic, All I Said Was... What Every Supervisor, Employee, and Team Member Should Know to Avoid Insults, Lawsuits, and the Six O'Clock News is now at a bargain price in its Kindle version.

It will probably remain so until I figure out how to inject some vampire romance into the chapters.

You Unsociable Genius You

This may explain the moat near my front door: Rajesh Setty on why many smart people are not social.

Quote of the Day

Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.

- Shakespeare

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

Margin Call"

"The Ladykillers"

"Tower Heist"

In Arizona

Great stuff: The finalists of the Arizona Highways 2010-2011 photo contest.

The Greatest Board Games

There is much to be said for board games and yet, in this high-tech world, I wonder about their future. Excluding checkers and chess from consideration, my nominees for the top seven are:

  1. Scrabble

  2. Stratego

  3. Monopoly

  4. Clue

  5. Risk

  6. Trivial Pursuit

  7. Parcheesi

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Deserves Your Attention?

God. Country. Honor. Family. Friends. Health. Perspective. Livelihood. Reputation.

Have you ever noticed that it is far easier to make that list than to state what does not deserve your attention? That may be because minor matters have a way of becoming very important and they can certainly harm the major ones.

First Paragraph

All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there, though not for the horror, the hot spots, the massacre-and-earthquake stories you read in the newspaper; I wanted the pleasure of being in Africa again. Feeling that the place was so large it contained many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too - feeling that there was more to Africa than misery and terror - I aimed to reinsert myself in the bundu, as we used to call the bush, and to wander the antique hinterland. There I had live and worked, happily, almost forty years ago, in the heart of the greenest continent.

- From Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Imaginary Advice

From a traffic safety instructor:

"Never use your turn signals. I can't for the life of me figure out why they put them on automobiles. Make a habit of tailgating, even if there is an open lane for passing. Honk at anyone who displeases you. They'll appreciate the correction and all of them are even-tempered. Drive at least 15 or 20 miles above the speed limit and regard Stop signs as a suggestion. Use your cell phone while driving and be sure to text-message to keep from being bored. Unless someone is directly in front of you, change lanes frequently and be sure to look at your passengers when speaking to them. You don't want to be rude."

My Shopping Problem

You would have had to hold a gun on me to get me into a store on Black Friday.

Nothing against that date. I hate shopping year round. Now let me list some exceptions. It is a rare week when I am not browsing in a bookstore or two. For some odd reason, I also like drugstores. Office supply stores have a minor appeal.

All other stores? Forget it. My shopping expeditions for clothes have the same internal clock used by commandoes when they conduct a raid. A favorite memory is of buying a suit, having it fitted, and being out the door with product in hand within 20 minutes.

Grocery shopping is a similar chore. The idea of walking up and down the aisles and studying the products does not strike me as a great use of time. My attitude might change if I cooked more.

That does reveal what may be the cause of my shopping-aversion: the sense that every minute spent in a store could be better spent elsewhere.

Quote of the Day

Good sense about trivialities is better than nonsense about things that matter.

- Max Beerbohm

Friday, November 25, 2011

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

"Boccaccio '70"

The Pianist"

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

"Five Came Back"



"The Crawling Eye"

The Beauty of Cheese

Cultural Offering has the video.

The Important Little Things

Clear the desk of the major items for a moment, be they urgent or not urgent. Consider the small things that can be a much greater influence on the quality of your day than may be acknowledged.

Many years ago, I learned the importance of wearing comfortable shoes. [Coach John Wooden used to teach his basketball players how to put on their socks so a crease would not cause a blister or distract them from the game.] Since then, I've become a major fan of Ecco and Rockport.

I also firmly subscribe to the belief that the design and color of my tie can boost effectiveness and elicit a better response at meetings and workshops. Go figure.

Granted, there may be a certain superstitious aspect to this approach, somewhat akin to baseball players who only eat chicken before a game, but who cares about the root cause?

You need only address what works. Don't overlook the little things. They may not be that little.

Bate: The Real Stuff

The incomparable Nicholas Bate on
The Stuff School Simply Forgot to Mention.

First Paragraph

The only directive Ross ever gave me for writing the "Letter from Paris" for his then new New Yorker magazine in the early summer of 1925 was succinct, characteristic, and perfect, and thus remained unchanged. "I don't want to know what you think about what goes on in Paris. I want to know what the French think," he instructed me. He was still trying to add the personal significance of his constructive, energetic mentality to his four-month-old frail, humorous periodical.

- From Ross, The New Yorker and Me by Jane Grant

Quote of the Day

If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.

- Clint Eastwood

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beautiful and Haunting

The main theme from "October Sky."

The Death of the Individual

It should now be obvious that in the name of “the brotherhood of man,” of human sympathy and an oceanic desire for peace, a travesty is being enacted. Pragmatic democratic institutions and powers ready to entertain the prospect of conflict and sacrifice in the service of specific, empirical commitments to beneficial change, or the preservation of authentic liberal values, are slagged as aggressors, and courageous individuals unwilling to surrender themselves to the chants, slogans, and sentimentalities of the morally occulted are swept aside as vestiges of an archaic state of mind. As C.S. Lewis presciently wrote in his 1944 The Abolition of Man: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” Such is the paideia, the method of education and cultural transmission, that obtains today in the West, chiefly in the debased Humanities.

Read the rest of
David Solway's essay here.

A Little Ottorino in the Morning

The Hanover Chamber Orchestra with Ancient Airs and Dances by Ottorino Respighi.

Dutch Treat

Welcome to the many readers from The Netherlands who have recently visited this site!

The Beacon

One night after visiting my grandmother in Las Vegas, my husband, infant son and I were driving back home to Flagstaff. On I-40 we encountered an unexpected snowstorm. It was dark, and the snow kept getting thicker. The wind started howling through our old car's windows. The big semi-truck in front of us was the only beacon we had to keep us on the road. We soon realized that the blizzard was too ferocious and we were not going to be able to make it home. We didn't even know where we were.

Then a miracle happened.

Read the rest of the story

An Informal Affair

Back by popular demand:

Countless Victorian-era engravings notwithstanding, the Pilgrims did not spend the day sitting around a long table draped with a white linen cloth, clasping each other's hands in prayer as a few curious Indians looked on. Instead of an English affair, the First Thanksgiving soon became an overwhelmingly Native celebration when Massasoit and a hundred Pokanokets (more than twice the entire English population of Plymouth) arrived at the settlement with five freshly killed deer. Even if all the Pilgrims' furniture was brought out into the sunshine, most of the celebrants stood, squatted, or sat on the ground as they clustered around outdoor fires, where the deer and birds turned on wooden spits and where pottages - stews into which varieties of meats and vegetables were thrown, simmered invitingly.

- Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower

Thanksgiving Mission Statement

Enjoy the Company

Savor the Meal

Give Thanks

Count Your Blessings

Quote of the Day

Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: if you're alive, it isn't.

- Richard Bach

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Imaginary Advice

From a lawyer:

"Please don't consult me until all of the major decisions have been made and trouble erupts. When you do get around to calling - remember, no rush - try to withhold crucial information since it might complicate my analysis. Give me plenty of opinions cloaked as facts. An occasional lie is also entertaining. Before seeing me, make sure that you have sent lots of emails about the situation to any adversaries and witnesses. Shun any settlement possibilities and loudly threaten to take the case to the U. S. Supreme Court. That should get matters off to the right start."


Some fences that can confine our thinking:

  1. Titles

  2. Labels

  3. Procedures

  4. Policies

  5. Precedents

  6. Bias

  7. Passion

  8. Fatigue

  9. Time

  10. Resources

  11. Priorities

  12. Peers

  13. Status

  14. Criticism

  15. Ideology

  16. Distance

  17. Architecture

  18. Appearance

  19. Assumptions

  20. Speed

Miscellaneous and Fast

"The New World": The trailer.
Neatorama: The Thanksgiving Food Pyramid.
Heather Mac Donald on
the Zuccotti Park protesters.
Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen on the possible swing to Hillary.
Cultural Offering has a message from the Occupy Bagram demonstrators.
Sit down and shut up:
Scott Turow's proposal re free speech.
George Will on
the high price of the "More" mentality.
The Telegraph: Miss Havisham on film.
"Hugo": The trailer.
"The Lady Vanishes": The trailer.

Quote of the Day

The best labor-saving device is a wastebasket.

- Anonymous

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Make Room for Pie

Hard sauce on warm apple pie could cure the world’s ills, let me tell you.

- The Pioneer Woman

She shows how to make Dreamy Apple Pie

First Paragraph

For sixty-five days, the Mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds, her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles, her leaky decks spewing salt water onto her passengers' devoted heads. There were 102 of them - 104 if you counted the two dogs: a spaniel and a giant, slobbery mastiff. Most of their provisions and equipment were beneath them in the hold, the primary storage area of the vessel. The passengers were in the between, or 'tween, decks - a dank, airless space about seventy-five feet long and not even five feet high that separated the hold from the upper deck. The 'tween decks was more of a crawlspace than a place to live, made even more claustrophobic by the passengers' attempts to provide themselves with some privacy. A series of thin-walled cabins had been built, creating a crowded warren of rooms that overflowed with people and their possessions: chests of clothing, casks of food, chairs, pillows, rugs, and omnipresent chamber pots. There was even a boat - cut into pieces for later assembly - doing temporary duty as a bed.

- From Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Mountain Bike Dog

Try to have as good a day as the one enjoyed by this dog.

Imaginary Advice

From a doctor:

"For God's sake, would you please throw out those worthless vegetables and start eating more meat? Begin the day with some bacon, grab a cheeseburger and chocolate shake for lunch, and track down some decent chicken-fried steak with plenty of gravy for dinner. Don't forget the pie. And while you're at it, burn those running shoes."

Music Break

Saddle up: John Williams conducts the overture from "The Cowboys."

Leadership and Temperment

Whiners, yellers, blamers, back-biters, credit-hoggers, mood-swingers, bullies, narcissists, shirkers, and complainers are very high maintenance people and yet they provide splendid examples of what not to do. Imitating even a portion of their behavior can sink a career.

As a leader, you have a responsibility to provide stable, sober, and reasonable progress. You don't need to be charismatic or eloquent, although those qualities can help. You do need to be credible both with regard to trustworthiness and competence. Mercurial leaders create tension and unpredictability while eroding trust.

If the choice comes down to brilliant but erratic as opposed to stable and productive, pick the latter. You'll go further.

Quote of the Day

Extremists think "communication" means agreeing with them.

- Leo Rosten

Monday, November 21, 2011

Food Break: You Know You Want Several, Not Just One

At the Tasty Kitchen Blog: Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars with a Salty Pretzel Crust.

At The Pioneer Woman: Pumpkin Smoothies.

First Paragraph

Robert Gladstone, multi-millionaire CEO of the M Group, looked around the room at his fellow conspirators and longed for the piranha button.

- From BMOC by Warren Meyer


Take some time today and read
this post by View From the Ledge.

Preaching What You Practice

There is an odd twist to the failure to practice what you preach.

Whereas the usual flaw is to practice a lower standard than that which is preached, with some people the problem involves practicing a higher standard than the one that is preached.

They voice high tolerance for those who exhibit little self-discipline or who embrace loose morals, sloth, and limited ambition. In their own personal lives, however, they are very disciplined and hard working and possess high morals as well as great ambition.

They tolerate behavior for others that they would regard as destructive or undesirable if applied to themselves or their families. The values they voice fall far below the values they live.

Some Questions for Monday Morning

This is adapted from some questions that Warren Buffett once asked a group of MBA students:

1. If you could own 10 percent of the future earnings of any one of your classmates, whose stock would you buy?

2. On the other hand, if you were going to short someone's future, how would you make that pick?

Buffett noted that you probably wouldn't base your choices on grades or test scores, but instead would use character-related qualities to make your choices, such as ethics and the ability to be a team player.

Alan M. Webber relates this story in his thought-provoking book, Rules of Thumb. The anecdote is one to remember when sorting out the criteria for selections and promotions.

Quote of the Day

When they ask about Race in a questionnaire, I always put down Rat.

- Anonymous

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Touch of Civilization

A brief look at Rome via this excerpt from the Sacred Arias program with Andrea Bocelli.

First Paragraph

When a man, a business corporation or an entire society is approaching bankruptcy, there are two courses that those involved can follow: they can evade the reality of their situation and act on a frantic, blind, range-of-the-moment expediency - not daring to look ahead, wishing no one would name the truth, yet desperately hoping that something will save them somehow - or they can identify the situation, check their premises, discover their hidden assets and start rebuilding.

- From For the New Intellectual by Ayn Rand

The Reading Stack

Just added to the reading stack: Robert K. Massie's biography of Catherine the Great.

Art Auction

How much would you pay for the above artwork?

Odds are, it is not what was paid at a recent auction. Art Contrarian has the numbers.

Down the Mountain

I'm back in town, having made a short visit to an area just north of Payson, Arizona. It is beautiful country but the place where I was staying is surrounded by mountains and so cell phone service was nonexistent. Internet access was a bit of a question mark so I didn't take a computer.

This permitted, however, a great deal of reading amid cool pines and beautiful weather.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bodacious Shelby

The Hammock Papers notes that today is Shelby Foote's birthday and provides some video and thoughts.

I could listen to Shelby Foote read the yellow pages. Instead of Talk Like a Pirate Day, there should be a Talk Like Shelby Foote Day.

We'd be a better nation.

California's Regulatory Morass

Last year, a medical-technology firm called Numira Biosciences, founded in 2005 in Irvine, California, packed its bags and moved to Salt Lake City. The relocation, CEO Michael Beeuwsaert told the Orange County Register, was partly about the Utah destination’s pleasant quality of life and talented workforce. But there was a big “push factor,” too: California’s steepening taxes and ever-thickening snarl of government regulations. “The tipping point was when someone from the Orange County tax [assessor] wanted to see our facility to tax every piece of equipment I had,” Beeuwsaert said. “In Salt Lake City at my first networking event I met the mayor and the president of the Utah Senate, and they asked what they could do to help me. No [elected official] ever asked me that in California.”

Read the rest of the City Journal article

Fatwood: To Start a Fire

A nifty product at CoolTools:

This winter, I've solved the problem with the discovery of "fatwood" firestarters: small sections of resin-rich pine (most commonly from the longleaf pine Pinus palustris) produced from stumps. They just work: criss-cross two of them, light them and they will quickly catch and burn long enough to get the big logs going. They work every time. They smell good, they're inexpensive and they're sustainable. They come from existing stumps and the Fatwood company plants three trees for every one they use. Start a cozy fire faster with a clear conscience this winter.

Dress Code

Simple dress code:

If your clothing, hygiene, or appearance keeps you from being able to perform the job safely and professionally, then a change will be required.

Who makes that determination? Management.

Are such determinations ever subjective? Sure.

Does the fact that it is subjective really matter? No.

Art Break: Everett

Art Contrarian
on the work of Walter H. Everett.

Little Notes

There are several secrets to the little notes that can make such a difference to others.

The first is not to procrastinate. If you wait for more time or the right mood you may discover that the proper moment has been lost and the impact of the note has been diminished. If possible, write it shortly after you think of writing it.

Don't worry about obtaining nice stationery. Scrawl it on the back of a cocktail napkin, if need be. Delay is your enemy.

The note should have one purpose and convey a single feeling. Stir in another subject and you'll dilute the drink.

Strike the right tone. If you have doubts about a witty line, don't use it. It is better to be boring than dumb.

Make the note about the other person, not about yourself.

Mail it promptly. Speed will add to its impact.

Once you have mailed the note, forget about it. If you never get a response, that is fine. Just know that you have put something nice into someone's life. That should be more than sufficient.

Extraordinary Blogs

Cultural Offering
25 blogs guaranteed to make you smarter. I'm honored to be in their company.

First Paragraph

They went on. The man Blood in hobnailed boots and rotting leather breeches and a stinking linen blouse, lank and greasegrimed hair tied at his nape with a thin leather binding cut from a cowhide, goad in hand, staggering at the canted shoulder of the near ox, the girl behind barefoot in a rough shift of the same linen as Blood's shirt, her fancy skirt and bodice in a tight roll jammed down in the back of the cart atop her button-hook boots furred now with green slime, the girl's hair no cleaner than Blood's but untied and tangled, redblonde, her face swollen from the insect delirium that her free hand swiped against, an unceasing ineffectual bat about her head. Her other wrist cinched by a length of the same stripped cowhide tethering her to the rear of the lurching groaning cart. The huge dog trotting on the off side, directly opposite Blood.

- From Lost Nation by Jeffrey Lent

Quote of the Day

People are always sincere. They change sincerities, that's all.

- Tristan Bernard

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Discipline: A Story By The Numbers

  1. End of his probationary period.

  2. He really didn't do that, did he?

  3. Perhaps he didn't know what he was doing.

  4. I'm sure it won't happen again.

  5. Do I have to explain why that's unacceptable?

  6. I'll send a memo to the entire staff saying that's unacceptable.

  7. People are grumbling.

  8. He did it again.

  9. I'll send everyone to training and make sure that issue is discussed.

  10. The entire team went to training. He called in sick.

  11. I'm sensing an air of hostility from some staff members.

  12. He's still doing it.

  13. I'll talk to him about it.

  14. He thinks I'm overreacting but promises he'll never do it again.

  15. He did it again.

  16. Perhaps he didn't do it again. After all, Ellen was the one who mentioned it and I think she hates him. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

  17. Nope, he's definitely doing it. I'll meet with him again.

  18. He said he vaguely recalls our first meeting but remembers that I was supposed to remind him not to do it. I tell him not to do it anymore.

  19. He did it again.

  20. We meet. He tells me he thinks I'm picking on him and says that it's hard for him to do the job when I'm always meeting with him. I give him a letter stating that he needs to improve and that his performance will be evaluated in 60 days. He grunts and storms out of the office.

  21. Five days pass. He does it again. I call him into my office and tell him that I'm going to have to let him go. He says I can't do that. I ask why. He says that I put him on a 60 day improvement program and he has 55 more days to go. I send him back to work and call HR.

  22. The HR person groans and asks why I didn't call earlier. I don't really know the answer to that. I guess I was busy.

  23. Whenever I walk through the office, I get death rays from the staff.

  24. He just filed an EEOC complaint. HR's flipping out.

  25. Why can't he just do his job?

Instapundit on Kindle Fire

Instapundit gives a review. I plan on buying one but have been distracted by other priorities such as work, marketing, writing, and doing the hokey-pokey.

If you decide to buy a Kindle Fire, be sure to click on the ad on my side-bar to replenish the Execupundit fund for books, espresso, and chocolate.

Desk Poster

Stop making things
so damned difficult.

First Paragraph

Someone asked me the other day what I do for a living. I found myself hard-pressed for an answer. If he wanted to know my job title, or what industry I worked in, then all I had to do was to recite what's on my business card. But he seemed sincere. He honestly wanted to know what I do most of the day, so I was honest, too: What I do for a living is attend meetings. Bad meetings.

- From Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli

Quote of the Day

Better silent than stupid.

- German proverb

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Italy as Theme Park

Spengler dissects the problem of Italy. An excerpt:

Every Italian businessman famously keeps four sets of books; one for the tax collector, one for the bank, one for his wife, and one for himself. The cost of dealing with the predatory incompetence of the Italian government keeps firms in the family. That is why there's very little that is worth buying on the Italian stock exchange: the best firms remain closely held, many with superb technology.

Kindness of a Stranger

Earl Brandon is a good samaritan. On Sunday, my daughter and a girlfriend were driving back to college in Kentucky from Clemson University and got a flat on Interstate 40 near the Smoky Mountains. Maddie called just after noon and asked what she should do. "Where are you?" I asked. "On the side of the road," she answered. That's my girl. "Think you can change the flat?" I wondered almost to myself, knowing the answer. "No," she said. "What do I do?"

At this point my training failure was apparent. Why I never showed her how to jack a car up and change a tire, I don't know and that will be remedied over the Thanksgiving break. "We should have bought AAA," my wife commented, adding to the sense of helplessness as my daughter spoke to me on the side of the road six hours away. "We finally established that she was 20 or so miles west of Asheville, North Carolina and I set about looking for a garage to assist her. "You two don't split up," I directed Maddie and her friend before we hung up. I'll call you back in a few minutes.

Read the rest of the Cultural Offering post. You'll feel better.

P.S. And while on the subject, a related song from Iris DeMent.

Search for Beauty

Today, you can search for beauty. Look for it in the morning sky, the shower soap, the smile of a loved one, the first sip of coffee, a Pavarotti CD playing in the background, the neat click of your car door, and how the traffic moves on your way to work. Birds and clouds, frost and chill - we are surrounded by the miraculous. Why not notice it?

Quote of the Day

Many might go to heaven with half the labor they go to hell.

- Ben Jonson

Monday, November 14, 2011

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
The Mist"
"Au Revoir Les Enfants"
"Something Wicked This Way Comes"
The Night of the Generals"


A special behind-the-scenes report from the European Union negotiations.

Memorable Book: Rat Run

Gerald Seymour writes books that stun and linger. I read "Rat Run" around a month ago, still think of certain scenes and expect that it, like other Seymour novels, will be tucked in the memory banks for some time to come.

If you want a thriller that is far more than a thriller, check it out.

Basic Questions Too Often Unasked

  1. What is your real job?

  2. Who are your customers?

  3. Why should you in particular be paid to perform your responsibilities?

  4. What is the most important thing that you contribute to the success of the organization?

  5. What have you accomplished lately?

  6. How much of your work consists of simply maintaining or restoring the status quo?

  7. How much of your work moves the organization forward?

  8. Are you sufficiently trained to do your job?

  9. Do you know the priorities?

  10. Is someone or something keeping you from doing the job?

  11. How do you know when you've done good work?

  12. Is your work meaningful?

Where Did They Hide the High School?

I drove by my old high school the other day.

Having been built when people were willing to accept school buildings that were devoid of grace and charm - brick boxes which could be mistaken for shoe factories - my high school alma mater was never going to win any awards for architecture but it wasn't a disaster.

Now, it is worse.

Much worse and disaster is not a poor description.

The Powers That Be have packed in more buildings due to a growing student body and have painted several of them with bright colors; the sort that would cause you to consult an attorney if one of your neighbors exhibited similar taste. I suspect the gaudy tones were a futile attempt to distract from the general ugliness of the campus.

The overall effect is depressing. It is hard to imagine anyone feeling ennobled by the surroundings. Rather than being a school, this hodgepodge resembles the physical plant for a school. You glance at it and think, "This cannot be the real school. It must be hidden elsewhere."

No one with any attachment to beauty could have made that mess. I would feel better if one person involved with the planning process had voiced opposition to the soulless design. You know the likely scenario, of course. Tom Wolfe wrote about the problem years ago. Never in the history of mankind have so many accepted and paid for such ugly architecture.


First Paragraph

In that same year 1302 in which the aristocratic party of the neri (Blacks), having seized the government of Florence by force, exiled Dante and other middle-class bianchi (Whites), the triumphant oligarchy indicted a White lawyer, Ser (i.e., Messer or Master) Petracco on the charge of having falsified a legal document. Branding the accusation as a device for ending his political career, Petracco refused to stand for trial. He was convicted in absence, and was given the choice of paying a heavy fine or having his right hand cut off. As he still refused to appear before the court, he was banished from Florence, and suffered the confiscation of his property. Taking his young wife with him, he fled to Arezzo. There, two years later, Francisco Petrarca (as he later euphonized his name) burst upon the world.

- From The Renaissance by Will Durant

Quote of the Day

It is only when they go wrong that machines remind you how powerful they are.

- Clive James

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Soldier's Soldier

The Washington Post didn’t report his death until January 9, and relegated the story to the obituary pages, rather than featuring a lengthy celebration on page one — which is what Winters’s life demanded. Indeed, we heard very little from the media about this great man’s death, largely because so few in the media actually cared about his life.

If Cher had died, we’d have heard endless stories within hours, with Diane Sawyer, Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and Piers Morgan all fighting desperately to get the exclusive with Chaz.

Our media is bad, but our schools are worse. Our kids are peddled Earth Day celebrations, and cancer-awareness, drug-awareness, even clean-colon-awareness days. They get sex instruction, diversity seminars, and global-warming tutorials from Al Gore, but Veterans Day, and the stories of men like Maj. Dick Winters — well, that’s just not stuff with which we should be pestering our kids.

Read the rest of
Lee Habeeb's article about Major Dick Winters here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Which Would You Prefer: The Museum of Really Boring Stuff or This?

I recall The Wall Street Journal article about the number of lawsuits, but instead of museums that are monuments to boredom, wouldn't you rather go to this museum?

When Soup is Fun

The Pioneer Woman walks us through the preparation of pumpkin soup.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Eclecticity: Bravo, Nordstrom!
Attorney Michael P. Maslanka: Lessons from Penn State.
Speech: George C. Scott in "Patton."
Paul, Elke, and Edward G.: The trailer for "The Prize."
Michael and Maggie: The trailer for "Curtain Call."
Underdogs in France: The trailer for "Le Havre."
A life like a novel: Captain Trevor Hughes.

You Know You Want One

A fashion tip at Cultural Offering. Just the thing for school plays, late-night dinners, and jury duty.

Smoke. Mirrors. More Spending.

Remember the Calvin Trillin book in which he described how his wife would calculate the money they'd made by not buying certain things? A similar mentality is alive and well.

Mark Steyn expounds on the genius of the SuperCommittee on deficit reduction. An excerpt:

Come to think of it, didn’t the Second World War end in 1945? Could we have the CBO score the estimated two-thirds of a century of “budget savings” we’ve saved since ending that war? We could use the money to fund free master’s degrees in Complacency and Self-Esteem Studies for everyone, and that would totally stimulate the economy. The Spanish–American War ended 103 years ago, so imagine how much cash has already piled up! Like they say at Publishers Clearing House, you may already have won!

10 Rules for Thanksgiving

This post is an Execupundit tradition:

  1. Thou shalt not discuss politics at the dinner. There is next to no chance that you'll convert anyone and any hard feelings that are generated may last long after the pumpkin pie is finished. Why spoil a good meal?

  2. Thou shalt limit discussion of The Big Game. This is mainly directed at the men who choose to argue plays, records, and coaches while their wives stare longingly at the silverware. The sharp silverware.

  3. Thou shalt say nice things about every dish. Including the bizarre one with Jello and marshmallows.

  4. Thou shalt be especially kind to anyone who may feel left out. Some Thanksgiving guests are tag-alongs or, as we say in the business world, "new to the organization." Make a point of drawing them in.

  5. Thou shalt be wary of gossip. After all, do you know what they say when you leave the room? Remember the old saying: All of the brothers are valiant and all of the sisters are virtuous.

  6. Thou shalt not hog the white or dark meat. We know you're on Atkins but that's no excuse.

  7. Thou shalt think mightily before going back for seconds. Especially if that means waddling back for seconds.

  8. Thou shalt not get drunk. Strong drink improves neither your wit nor your discretion. Give everyone else a gift by remaining sober.

  9. Thou shalt be cheerful. This is not a therapy session. This is not the moment to recount all of the mistakes in your life or to get back at Uncle Bo for the wisecrack he made at your high school graduation. This is a time for Rule #10.

  10. Thou shalt be thankful. You're above ground and functioning in an extraordinary place at an extraordinary time. Many people paid a very heavy price (and I'm not talking about groceries) to give you this day. Take some time to think of them and to express gratitude to your friends and relatives. Above all, give special thanks to the divine power who blesses you in innumerable ways.

Quote of the Day

Don't be too sweet, lest you be eaten up; don't be too bitter, lest you be spewed out.

- Jewish proverb

Friday, November 11, 2011

Al Jarnow's Cosmic Clock

At Kottke: Watch a billion years in a few seconds.

Anchors Away!

Art Contrarian
looks at
early designs for streamlined battleships.

Lucas: Toughen Up

Suzanne Lucas weighs in on being too delicate to deal with low-grade harassment.

[HT: Lou Rodarte]

Led Zeppelin Management: Stairway to Money

Here's an interesting collection of management lessons from Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant:

In the 1970’s Led Zeppelin was the most profitable band in rock history. Grant’s attention to detail was also noted from his assessment of the quality of PA equipment to lighting sequences to the attention to the fine detail of his accountant’s profit and loss accounts and tax status advice.

Veterans Day 11/11/11

The Christian Science Monitor
the history of November 11 as Veterans Day. An excerpt:

American troops made significant headway in 1918, rebuffing a German offensive along the western front and moving Allied forces deeper into enemy territory. By November, Germany had had enough. It agreed to a cease-fire, signing the official armistice at 5 a.m. on November 11. The treaty took effect six hours later. On the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month," as the saying goes, the world knew peace once again.

Over the River

Because you never know what you'll find on YouTube.

Bock on Moral Fog

The always clear-eyed Wally Bock discusses the moral fog at Penn State. An excerpt:

You can shore up your moral sense in lots of ways. Reading, reflection, and prayer work for me. But when the fog is dense and you're totally turned around or flipped over you need something more, something outside yourself.

When you're in the fog you need people who love you enough to help you get right. Think about it. If someone had been there who said, "Football program? Are you out of your f**k**g mind! What about those kids?" maybe one of the great coaching careers and reputations might not be headed down the chute just now.

First Paragraph

The citizens of the United States do not stand apart from history. We are in it and of it. Many of our ancestors came here hoping to escape it, but history is a pack of bloodhounds. Desperate to put those persistent dogs off the scent, we embrace fantasies in preference to facts. When the baying grows too near, we succumb to superstitious rituals, chanting that peace is the natural order of things and behaving as if violence were a spook we might drive away with Ivy-League fetishes and bouts of self-flagellation.

- Endless War by Ralph Peters

Quote of the Day

Blowing out the other fellow's candle won't make yours shine any brighter.

- Anonymous

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

"A Good Year"




"El Cid"

Semper Fi

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps.

Going Electric

Glenn Reynolds at test drives a Nissan Leaf.

Public Pension Fraud

From an important article by Philip K. Howard:

The indictment of seven Long Island Rail Road workers for disability fraud last week cast a spotlight on a troubled government agency. Until recently, over 90% of LIRR workers retired with a disability—even those who worked desk jobs—adding about $36,000 to their annual pensions. The cost to New York taxpayers over the past decade was $300 million. That’s 30,000 New York state households who each paid $10,000 extra in taxes—to pay for a fraud.

Penn State

The sexual abuse scandal at Penn State raises a lot of questions and yet it is also a reminder of how otherwise good people can make horrific decisions.

I have a theory. They combine the desire to avoid paying a price with a complicated course of action. They epitomize the British expression, "Too clever by half."

Where a less sophisticated - at least in their eyes - person would have quickly called the cops and backed off so the police could do their job, these otherwise good people cobble together rationalizations for a less direct solution. They tell themselves they are protecting reputations and are being so much more deliberative than would be the case if those barbaric cops were involved. They pretend to understand what really happened and believe that they have taken action when, in truth, their only action is to become accomplices.

Amid all of the delay and rationalizations, they were considering everyone but the victims.

First Paragraph

The storks were already migrating as the first Germans began to flee East Prussia. This was in the late summer of 1944. By the following January, with the temperature twenty degrees below zero, more than three million refugees and their animals were trudging westwards to escape the vengeance of the Red Army. For mile after mile they shuffled through the snows, clogging the roads while the retreating German troops tried to force their way through. The last civilian trains were crowded with "huddled shapes, rigid with cold, barely able to stand up any more and climb out; thin clothing, mostly in tatters, a few blankets over bowed shoulders, gray, hollow faces'. As the front came closer, the concentration camps were emptied as well, and their surviving inmates were marched deeper into the Reich; their guards shot the stragglers and left their bodies by the roadside.

- From Hitler's Empire by Mark Mazower

Quote of the Day

If there's a harder way of doing something, someone will find it.

- Ralph E. Roos

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Halo

"You know Ed, I've just been reviewing the performance of that executive you hired a few years ago."

"I know, he's had some problems."

"When you hired him, he had less management experience than the head of the local Burger King."

"But he had an Ivy League degree."

"So do several of our interns. Tell me again why he was selected for an executive post. Did he have some extraordinary accomplishment in his record?"

"No, but he was very well-spoken and appeared to have good judgment."

"So you picked him over some other contenders who had far more experience and some actual achievements under their belts?"

"I know it seems difficult to believe now, but he seemed, well, promising."

"We might try a 'promising' person in a middle management slot. We don't use executive positions for on-the-job training. This has been a very expensive training program."

"You're right. I blew it. I won't do it again. There was something else you wanted to discuss?"

"Yes. Your performance evaluation meeting is next week. Be prepared to talk about decision making."

Lessons from a Talented Jerk

Like other visionary pioneers Steve Jobs also had his limitations – and how he led Apple employees – was surely one of them. His legendary impatience, relentless quest for perfection, domineering presence, and obsessive need to control (he had over 100 direct reports) fostered as much fear within the Apple culture as it did reverence and respect for his genius. Often described as smug, willful, brazen, demeaning, volatile, vindictive and manipulative, he lead the company in a manner far afield from the collaborative norm expected of CEOs running public companies. Reportedly, employees working at Cupertino, CA headquarters even avoided getting into elevators with him lest they be fired by the time the ride ended. And Apple colleagues have described his assessment of employees as the “hero or shithead roller coaster” and where anyone was on that roller coaster could shift in a nanosecond.

Read the rest of Karol M. Wasylyshyn on
the real lessons from Steve Jobs' career.

Koester: Artist with Focus

Art Contrarian
celebrates the work of Alexander Max Koester,
an artist with a particular focus.

The Name Game

Anderson Layman's Blog looks at the popularity of various names and laments the low ranking of Stephen. ["Michael" fares well, possibly because it "fits" with so many last names.]

It seems to me that the names for boys are less exotic than the ones for girls.

Bate's Mantra

Nicholas Bate, a.k.a. The Man Who Never Sleeps, gives a mantra for success.

The Biographer

I once met a man who, with great faith in his ability to play Sherlock Holmes, announced that he could recite various things about my background based solely upon listening to me give a presentation on management.

I eagerly listened to his detailed analysis, but at the conclusion had to inform him that all of it was wrong. He'd constructed a picture of me that had no connection to reality. I could understand how he might have concluded certain things and yet he missed an elementary truth about people: They are complex.

It is so tempting to seize upon one factor and believe that you've captured the substance of a person. Certain words evoke powerful assumptions and prejudices. Think of the images your mind produces when you slowly read the following:

  • Banker

  • Southerner

  • Volvo Owner

  • Biker

  • Hunter

  • Vegan

  • Bow Tie

  • Pony Tail

  • Black Belt

It can be hard to tell whether our assumptions are binoculars or blindfolds.

Quote of the Day

Responsibility educates.

- Wendell Phillips

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

"Mister Johnson"

"The Hurt Locker"

"The Unbearable Lightness of Being"

First Paragraph

I once asked a mother on food stamps what she would do without them. "I'd get a husband," she replied matter-of-factly. Here was news, I thought - a tantalizing bit of evidence of welfare's corrosive effect on the inner-city family. But when I recounted this exchange in an article for one of the nation's most influential newspapers, the editor ordered me to leave it out. Quoting it, he said, would "stigmatize the poor."

- From The Burden of Bad Ideas by Heather Mac Donald

The Horror! The Horror!

A governor calls a Christmas tree a Christmas tree.

Doing Time

What you find if you search an Apaculco prison.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bock on doing a fraction of the job.
Tanmay Vora on the importance of Know Why.
FutureLawyer points to a service for speedy bar exam results.
Gloomy: The job market for lawyers.
Stanley Bing on
the BlackBerry versus the iPhone.
Fashion: A great shirt for the gym.
Supermodels: Then and now.