Monday, December 31, 2012

Wrap Up the Year With Style

Fred Astaire (and Ginger Rogers): "Just the Way You Look Tonight."

Many Thanks!

Many thanks to each of you who read and spread the word about this blog. I am deeply honored by your time and thoughts. Writing a blog is a juggling act. Due to schedule pressures, I'm probably one of the worst bloggers out there when it comes to responding to comments. Please know this is no way means that your attention is not valued.

I hope to justify your support in the year ahead.

Best regards,


First Paragraph

I believe it was the sight of that old fool Gladstone, standing in the pouring rain holding his special constable's truncheon as though it were a bunch of lilies, and looking even more like an unemployed undertaker's mute than usual, that made me think seriously about going into politics. God knows I'm no Tory, and I never set eyes on a Whig yet without feeling the need of a bath, but I remember thinking as I looked at Gladstone that day: "Well, if that's one of the bright particular stars of English public life, Flashy my boy, you ought to be at Westminster yourself."

- From Flash for Freedom by George MacDonald Fraser

Scorsese's List

At Fast Company: Martin Scorsese's list of 85 films you need to see to know anything about films.

Grace on the Playground

At Eclecticity: I think I'll try this today as soon as I can find a reinforced swing.

Bad Picks

At Fortune: The worst performing stocks of 2012.

Art Break: Cooper

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Mario Cooper.

Sing It!

A tradition on this blog: Dougie MacLean shows how to sing "Auld Lang Syne."

Quote of the Day

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.

- T. S. Eliot, "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Music Break

Marc Cohn with "Walking in Memphis."

Saturday Night Short Story

"The Swimmer" by John Cheever.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

If you are a Seinfeld, VW bus, and chess fan, check out this video at Althouse.

[Sorry for the earlier link problem.]

The Ultimate Password

FutureLawyer has a tweet by Stephanie Wright on password requirements.

Looking Back and Forward

Back by popular demand: 21 Things I Wish I Knew in My Twenties.


So much to learn. So much to do. So little time.

I find that as I get older, my curiosity and desire to learn have expanded. If time permitted, I'd get three more graduate degrees and have at least four more careers. As it stands, various projects will have to substitute for part of that ambition. Several are bubbling right along.

This is where the late evenings and early mornings go.

Quote of the Day

I recommend to you to take care of minutes: for hours will take care of themselves.

- Lord Chesterfield

Friday, December 28, 2012

Music Recommendations

Two excellent CDs:

Sinatra: Best of the Best

Tony Bennett: Ultimate Tony

Tax That Man Behind the Tree

Cultural Offering has an interesting chart on tax payments and fairness.

The Real Cliff

And what is to be done to stop the spending cuts and tax increases? This month’s partisan positioning over raising taxes on the wealthy masks a consensus, embraced by the leadership of both parties, on two essential principles of cliff-avoidance. First, the vast majority of Americans who are middle class must be spared any clear-and-present impositions: Their direct income taxes must not be increased, and their Social Security and Medicare benefits must not be reduced any time soon​—​meaning that any reductions will be as contingent, and possibly ephemeral, as last year’s debt-reduction accord. Second, the federal debt must be immediately increased by yet another $2-3 trillion, with further increases of equal magnitude certain to follow.

Read the rest of Christopher Demuth here.

Will The Excitement Never End?

James Lileks has a gallery of photos from the 1961 Montgomery Ward catalog.

The Humble Expert

The novice may only see one or two things that can go wrong with a project. The expert may see dozens. Often, the more we know about a topic, the more humble we are. We bear scars from instances where we were surprised. The big talkers are usually inexperienced.

This doesn't mean that we can't make predictions based on our having seen similar cases. It means that we have a greater appreciation for the unpredictable and that our boldness is accompanied by caution.

"Why don't you just do this or that?" is a question that experts have considered. If they have not taken the obvious route, most likely there is a reason.

As an old military saying goes, the shortest path is usually mined.

"Making Patton"

The story of a film that almost didn't get made.

Management Question: Teams

"At which point does even the most well-meaning team become a collection of factions?"

First Paragraph

The greenroom is that common room between the street and the stage. In coming backstage, one enters the greenroom first. I've heard, over the years, several derivations of the term: The original room was painted green, or was constructed by a man named Green. None are convincing.

- From Theatre by David Mamet

Quote of the Day

His foe was folly and his weapon wit.

- Anthony Hope's inscription on the W. S. Gilbert memorial in London

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Norman Schwarzkopf, R.I.P.

General Norman Schwarzkopf speaking about leadership to the cadets at West Point:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

30 Best Photos from Space

Catch these extraordinary photos from space in 2012.

Early Creativity

A ten-year-old turns a washing machine into a musical instrument.

[HT: Suzanne Stork]

Art Break: Bellows

At Muddy Colors, William O'Connor looks at the work of George Bellows.

Oh Really?

Conversation with my daughter:

Her: "I tell them that you're just like Alan Arkin in 'The In-Laws.'"
Me: "I'm like Alan Arkin in 'The In-Laws?'"
Her: "You're like Alan Arkin in any movie."

Signs of Decline

Illustration Art looks at comics from a bygone era and concludes there has been a dumbing-down since those days. Note the examples from Mad magazine and how the artist assumed that readers would know tunes from Gilbert and Sullivan.

A Cup Too Far?

Mickey Kaus wonders about the Starbucks "Come Together" campaign.

When "Innocence" is Dangerous

A denounces B's conduct, not because B has behaved in an undeniably inappropriate manner - the conduct may have been fairly low-grade - but because A, via passionate denunciations, wishes to establish his or her own virtue and innocence. A's denunciations become a shield as well as a distraction. If B's behavior can be thrown into that hazy "appearance of impropriety" zone, a trip-wire will be triggered and the hounds will be released.

I wonder how many of those bearing pitchforks and shouting insults throughout history were inspired less by genuine anger than by a desire to secure their own status.

Quote of the Day

New ways of thinking about familiar things can release new energies and make all manner of things possible.

- Charles Handy

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

"World War Z"
"To Live"
"The Lady"
"After Earth"

A Slow Letter

A letter to a friend. We went to law school together and were commissioned as Army officers on the same day. I was with the Criminal Investigation Command while he served with the Army Security Agency and our paths have continued to cross because we've made an effort to keep in touch. He's now practicing law and living in a scenic New Mexican town. We've made plans to meet in a few months although I'll be talking with him much sooner.

In the meantime, a letter. We scrawl so many notes in the course of a year that it is a nice change to write at least one slow letter. A fountain pen is required since it adds to the feel as the words are formed. The secret is in the pace. Points can be better made and stories fully developed when there is no rush.

Each note bears the gifts of time and attention.

The Human Factor

I once was asked to explain the behavior of an executive.

"He's scared," I said.

That explained a lot. We can be too eager to ignore simple explanations, particularly if they pertain to emotions. After all, people in high positions aren't supposed to get emotional. Being described as a cool operator is often praise. Many regard emotions as an item to be drained from decisions, much as one might drain a swamp.

There is, however, a problem with that vision and its benefits: no matter how much you try, emotions remain.

That shouts out a point we should never forget. We are dealing with human beings out there, not boxes in a decision chart or walking job descriptions. They have dreams, fears, families, pride, and embarrassments. We miss a great deal if we treat them as machinery or projects.

The human factor has a habit of not going away.

Quote of the Day

In martial arts we say, "Put it on the mat," which means to take your philosophy and see what it looks like in action and deed.

- Richard Strozzi Heckler

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

May this day bring much happiness to you and yours.

Monday, December 24, 2012

From "Dakota Christmas"

Her hair was the same thin shade of gray as the weather-beaten pickets of the fence around her frozen garden. She had a way with horses, and she was alone on Christmas Eve. There is little in my life I regret as much as that I would not stay for just one cookie, just one cup of tea.

- Joseph Bottum

A Brace of Carols

Some Christmas carols from:

Book City

More library shots at Cultural Offering.

I used to feel envious but now I feel deprived.

Mark Helprin

Born in 1947, Mark Helprin was raised on the Hudson and in the British West Indies. After receiving degrees from Harvard College and Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, he did postgraduate work at the University of Oxford, Princeton, and Columbia. He has served in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force.

One of the most interesting writers out there.

Hip Architecture

At Unhappy HipstersHer letter to Santa consisted of just four words: bring me a door.

Popular Sci

The most popular Scientific American articles of 2012.

Tanmay's Three

Tanmay Vora has picked three blogs for his 2012 Management Improvement Carnival.

Confederates and Others

Formula for a cloudy day: Go find "Confederates" by Thomas Keneally. Curl up in comfortable spot and start reading. Truly one of the great novels about the American Civil War.

Some others for the Civil War buff:

"Andersonville" by MacKinlay Kantor
"The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
"The Year of Jubilo" by Howard Bahr
"Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier
"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane
"Soul Catcher" by Michael C. White
"Lincoln" by Gore Vidal

The Christmas Plains

Joseph Bottum discusses his new book, The Christmas Plains. An excerpt:

The funny thing about our Christmas memories is how individual they are — so tied to particular places — and yet, at the same time, so universal. All our best childhood Christmases are set in the same country; we all lived there when we were young.

Quote of the Day

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

- G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Night Short Story

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Not quite a short story but always worth a visit. Click here for the rest.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Hammock Papers on the rise of the sheepdog.
Max Boot on the raids of Ord Wingate.
Wally Bock on leadership and talent development.
The trailer for "A Dangerous Method."
Eclecticity looks at a boy's room in 1964.
Mona Charen remembers the extraordinary Robert Bork.
View From the Ledge on a lunge at evil.
The trailer for "Bonsai."
Mayan calendar: New date for world's end. Gotta keep up on these things.
The trailer for "Wanderlust."
Roger Scruton on fake culture and intellectuals.
The trailer for "Broken City."
Rob Long: California losing jobs to Texas.
The trailer for "The Shadow Cabal."

Love, Hate, and Great Books

At The Spectator, some writers name the great books they hate.

They cite, of course, a few writers who rank high on my list of favorites. We never cross the same river or read the same book.

For Every Event, There is a T-Shirt

FutureLawyer has the Mayan one.

21 Habits to Make Life Better

  1. Learning to forgive others as well as yourself.
  2. Acting happy even when you don't feel happy.
  3. Going for base hits rather than home runs.
  4. Giving credit where credit is due.
  5. Making sure that each decade brings a sizable increase in your bank of wisdom.
  6. Doing good deeds that no one will know of.
  7. Making courtesy part of your personality.
  8. Being reflective at least once a day.
  9. Getting to know yourself.
  10. Being grateful.
  11. Honing your memory.
  12. Remembering that not all eyes are on you.
  13. Caring while making regular deposits in your zone of indifference.
  14. Avoiding meaningless actions.
  15. Showing up and doing the work.
  16. Attributing no special virtues to either the powerful or the powerless, the smooth or the famous.
  17. Respecting people as individuals, not as members of groups.
  18. Pushing back against cheap thought and fads.
  19. Maintaining your independence.
  20. Being willing to die for certain principles.
  21. Recognizing that there is a far greater power in the universe.

Quote of the Day

Give me but one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth.

- Archimedes

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dogs and Christmas Carols

From a 2010 article in The Atlantic: How the barking dogs version of "Jingle Bells" came to be.

Let's blame it on the Danes.

32 Favorite Products

The product above did not make the list.

Fast Company has a slide show of its 32 favorite products from 2012. An impressive list. I was unaware of many of the items. [The stoop and the pasta container are especially neat but they have stiff competition.]

"One Christmas was so much like another...."

It's that time of year:

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

Read the rest of A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.

Bold Words From Florida

FutureLawyer guarantees you will love this phone.

A "Not Sorry" List

Kurt Harden has a great one.

Things That Rapidly Become Outdated

  • Job descriptions
  • Organization charts
  • Specific priorities
  • Time estimates
  • Software programs
  • Computers
  • Smart phones
  • Surveys
  • Orientations
  • Urgent requests

Glossing Over Evil

As a medical historian whose research focuses on a time and place very alien to our own, I rarely comment on current events. However, in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 schoolchildren and six adults dead, I would like to discuss briefly what I would characterise as the "medicalisation of evil."

Read the rest of Lindsey Fitzharris here.

Quote of the Day

I have nothing to declare except my genius.

- Oscar Wilde at the New York Custom House

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Music Break

The New Christy Minstrels with "Today."

A Reminder of Excellence

I occasionally post this link just as a tribute to fine writing and excellent acting:

Lou Jacobi in "Little Murders."

Miscellaneous and Fast

The Incomparable Bate: "Do What You Want" is on Kindle.
The Strategic Learner points to the science behind a saying.
Eclecticity hits the beach.
An analysis of Santa at Anderson Layman's Blog.
Great moments in workers' comp: It was on a business trip.
The sleepy French village advantage.
Dr. Helen Smith: Myths of mass murder.
Mary Jo Asmus on noticing the gifts of others.
The second trailer for "The Hobbit."
Greg Lukianoff: Do colleges teach "cheap dodges?"
Portlandia: "Fat."
CNN Money: 15 top stock picks for 2013.

End of the World As We Know It Update

National Geographic has several articles on the whole Mayan Doomsday story. Don't wait until Saturday to read them.

The Wanderers

Reviewing an old project and wondering, "Why did they have to make it so difficult?"

The goal was clear. The principles were fairly straight-forward, The facts were not that elusive. But at some point, they chose to leave the main highway, that smooth and paved path, and stumble off into the thorny thickets. They emerged, half-crazed and bloody, months later. I won't ask what they thought about during those lost evenings when they stared at the ceiling of the conference room and realized their mistake.

At the beginning, they may have equated pain with thoroughness, depth or insight. Staying on the main road was less adventurous and besides, that was the common route.

For a good reason.

These are not fools so I can't scoff. I will instead consider what seduced their judgment. There had to be some seemingly respectable reasons behind their blunder.

The most valuable lessons will be found there.

First Paragraph

In two or three hours...well, it's hard to three hours, surely, or at the very outside, four hours...within four hours, let us say, I'll be dead.

- From The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

Quote of the Day

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.

- Edmund Burke

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Art Break: Cadell

Art Contrarian looks at the work of F.C.B. Cadell.

I Smell Oscar

The trailer for "Pacific Rim."

Delaying Leadership Training

At Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger notes a dangerous delay in training leaders. An excerpt:

Practice makes perfect only if done correctly. Practicing for hours doesn't automatically create excellent skills. Say, for instance, that, as an aspiring golfer, you go to the driving range and practice by hitting buckets of balls off into the blue. You may leave feeling you've done something to help you improve, but more than likely you will only have practiced whatever swing you came with — good, bad, or indifferent. But say that when you go to the range you take a more deliberate approach. You draw a circle 20 feet in diameter, move back a bit, and proceed to hit balls until 80% land in the circle. Then you move farther back, take a different club, and do the same thing. That is deliberate, focused, and productive practice. Perfect practice makes perfect performance.

A Spy in Your Life

Take a few minutes, watch this video at Cultural Offering, and then act accordingly.

The Fool's Prayer

Back by popular demand: The classic poem by Edward Rowland Sill.

Ray of Light?

A Josephson Institute of Ethics study indicates a drop in lying, cheating, and stealing among young people. An excerpt:

“It’s a small ray of sunshine shining through lots of dark clouds,” said Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and a nationally-noted commentator on behavior. “Changes in children’s behavior of this magnitude suggest a major shift in parenting and school involvement in issues of honesty and character. The number of schools adopting our CHARACTER COUNTS! program, and parents who visit our website, suggests that adults interacting with young people are more concerned with teaching kids that honesty really is important.” Josephson added, “Though there is still far too much cheating, lying and stealing, I think we have turned the corner.”

Quote of the Day

Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.

- Samuel Butler

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Avoiding the Fear Trap

Attorney Michael P. Maslanka on fear-based thinking versus context-based thinking.

Sergio De La Pava's 678 Page Surprise

But how did this big, rambling wodge of words, a novel that dozens of commercial publishers rejected without a backward glance, a book that wiggles with digressions and lurches with side trips and repeatedly begs the reader's indulgence with the wide-eyed earnestness of an overgrown Oliver Twist requesting an additional dollop of porridge, come to be championed by a venerable, dignified scholarly publisher like the U. of C. Press?

Read the rest here. I've been reading the book and last night scooted through a digression into a recipe then read a section that forced me to put down the book because I was laughing too hard. Not for everyone. An unusual book. Lawyers should definitely give it a try.

Just the Daily Commute

Jalopnik has the most unbelievable saves of 2012.

The Popular Tax Exile

The Telegraph reports on the case of actor Gerard Depardieu's escape to Belgium. An excerpt:

But Depardieu is a vastly different proposition from a wealthy tycoon and former asset-stripper whose children’s weddings warrant 10-page spreads in society magazines. When Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s prime minister, contemptuously called him “a pathetic loser”, Depardieu shot back with an open letter published on Sunday. “I was born in 1948,” he wrote, “I started working aged 14, as a printer, as a warehouseman, then as an actor, and I’ve always paid my taxes.” Over 45 years, Depardieu said, he had paid 145 million euros in tax, and to this day employs 80 people. Last year he paid taxes amounting to 85 per cent of his income. “I am neither worthy of pity nor admirable, but I shall not be called 'pathetic’,” he concluded, saying that he was sending back his French passport.

When the Schedule Starts to Bite

When your work schedule begins to get crowded, there is a simple and obvious solution:
Throw stuff overboard

Now if that's so obvious, why don't more people do that? I encounter individuals [that can include the person in my mirror] who run themselves ragged because they seek to do the optional along with the necessary. Low priorities are mixed in with the high and the stress level soars. That's why any "to do" list on a project should also include a "won't do" category.

There are few events more liberating than the conscious decision not to do something.

Quote of the Day

Is it not a strange world in which predation means refraining from taking from others what is rightfully theirs and putting it into your own pocket? Look, then, at all those terrible predators on the street who so unscrupulously fail to relieve us of our wallets when we walk among them! As for those predatory German firms that make better products than anybody else, words fail me to describe their sheer dishonesty!

- Theodore Dalrymple

Monday, December 17, 2012

Care for a Game of "Werewolf?"

CoolTools reviews - and likes - the game:

Werewolf can be played with as few as 6-8 folks and as many as 30 or more. A game can last 30 minutes to an hour, and even very young kids can play. It’s a game of bluff and deduction. Think of poker, but without any cards or money. Some fans call it a “mind game.” In brief, the game assigns roles to players at random and in secret. One emergent group — the werewolves  — must kill the innocent villagers, but no one knows who is who because the deed is done “at night” in a secret way. On each round of the game, the innocents will lynch a supposed werewolf as voted by the group after accusations and debate but they are never sure they have the right person. Maybe it’s the werewolfs leading the pitchforks!? Both the best and worst of human behavior is activated: lying, leadership, mob psychology, democracy, persuasion, deception, deduction logic, and imagination.

A Stiff Dose of Civilization

From Sacred Arias: Rome, Andrea Bocelli, and some great Handel.


In a single post, The Hammock Papers has some poetry by Robert Service and then Julia Lazhneva singing Mozart's Exultate Jubilate, "Alleluia."

Art Break: Fortune

Art Contrarian looks at some of the early covers of Fortune magazine.