Saturday, March 31, 2012

Entertainment Break

The trailers for:

"Rome - 1st Season"

"Rome - 2nd Season"


"Julius Caesar"

Bradbury Speaks

The Paris Review interviews Ray Bradbury. An excerpt:

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself. 

The Inexplicables

I can usually determine the reason for a person's success, even if I'm not an admirer of the individual. I've known some people that I wouldn't consider for any position of responsibility but it is not difficult to understand why others did so. To varying degrees, we all have peculiar tastes and, truth be known, mine might be wrong.

That said, there are some success stories that completely baffle me. Even if the individual comes from what might be considered a talent swamp, I can usually think of x number of swamp denizens that would have been far better picks. Why, I wonder, did they decide to go with that wretch?

This leads me down two roads. On one, what I view as negatives are regarded as positives by the Powers That Be. My jerk is their bold maverick. My dullard is their quiet sage. On the other road, the selection is the equivalent of winning the lottery except it has been disguised as a rational decision. The process has a certain dynamic: once you've worked for Apple, Disney, IBM or NASA, you'll enjoy that special aura the rest of your life, even if the sinners who made the decision subsequently moan, gnash their teeth, and carry an extra portion of stomach acid to their end of their days. Any number of subsequent promotion decisions may be justified because, hey, if Apple and friends decided to take a chance on this wonder boy or girl, why not good old fill-in-the-blank? Those original hiring officials don't know what damage they unleashed.

Anyway, these observations may just be a version of sour grapes. I munch those occasionally. Bear with me.

First Paragraph

The evils of the twentieth century arose from populist movements that were monstrously exploited in the name of utopian ideals, and had their power amplified by new technologies. The Nazi party began as a crusade for workers' rights organized by Munich locksmith, Anton Drexler, in 1919, before Hitler took it over the following year. The Bolsheviks also emerged amid emancipating political upheaval and, like the Nazis, exploited the dream of social renewal. Once the Nazis and Bolsheviks were in power, the inventions of the Industrial Age became crucial to their crimes. As for Mao Zedong, his push for labor-intensive industrialization, through the establishment of utopian communes, led to the deaths of at least 20 million Chinese during the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962.

- From Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos by Robert D. Kaplan

Five on Campaigns

Lewis L. Gould gives his five best list of books about presidential campaigns.

[I'd add "Losers" by Michael Lewis and, of course, "The Making of the President 1960" by Theodore H. White.]

The Book That Drove Them Crazy

The purpose of a four-year liberal arts program​—​defended by Bloom as an exploration of the big questions that life presents to the fully conscious human being​—​became confused. What was the point of a bachelor of arts degree? Was it to plumb the depths and origins of Western civilization, which had after all invented the university, and to develop the student spiritually and morally? Or was it to set the kid up for a cushy job? Humanists in our universities lost confidence in the traditional answer. By the time Bloom’s book was released, the crisis in the humanities was acknowledged by everyone except the people who worked in the humanities. Parents wondered why their college-age children were taking classes called “Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen Bitch 101” and coming home after four years with degrees in “Peace Studies” that cost $100,000. State legislators wondered about political indoctrination at tax-funded universities. The most casual observers noticed that teachers of philosophy or literature could no longer describe their disciplines in plain speech, favoring a professional language that was no more intelligible than Esperanto, and much less useful.

Quote of the Day

Science advanced, knowledge grew, nature was mastered, but Reason did not conquer and tribalism did not go away.

- Harold Isaacs

Friday, March 30, 2012

Public Speaking: The Way to Do It

Back by popular demand: V.S. Naipaul's two minute speech at the Nobel banquet.

Was Alexander Murdered?

Writing in History Today, James Romm examines the theory that Alexander the Great was killed by his associates. Were they too tired to conquer more lands?

Olbermann v. Current TV

One more for the Great Moments in Employment Law series:

It goes almost without saying that the claims against me implied in Current's statement are untrue and will be proved so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently.

Gimme That Old Cellphone

Julie Barbour-Issa calls her eight-year-old cellphone "the dinosaur. It's a brick, and I could use it as a weapon in an emergency," says the 30-year-old Norwood, Mass., civil engineer.

Read the rest of The Wall Street Journal article here.

Back to the 70s

At Cultural Offering: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

[The 1970s, a.k.a. a train wreck for fashion.]

Miscellaneous and Fast

"Yes, Prime Minister" is coming back.
NashvilleBizician looks at where music is heading.
A Simple, Village Undertaker knows how to pack for a vacation.
The trailer for "Billy Liar."
Robert Samuelson on the media and medicare.
Ann Althouse goes after what passes for deep thought at Esquire magazine.
The Hammock Papers has an observation about your dreams.
The trailer for "Night and the City."

Fast Wisdom

Here's a very nifty summary of March links from the incomparable Nicholas Bate.

Bock on Success

Wally Bock examines the common characteristics of successful people he knows. An excerpt:

The successful people I know have values and standards. They live their lives by them even when it's uncomfortable.

The successful people I know don't have it all. At any given time in their lives some things are great and others need work and forbearance.

What They Leave Out

"They'll tell you everything except what is really needed."

Have you ever felt that way about some of the job training you've received in your career? I've seen workshops and orientations that resemble job descriptions: long on detail and short on practicality.

These gaps may be due to the sensitivity of information. No one wants to announce that an executive's pet program is a waste of time and should be given lip-service only. No one wants to advocate the neglect of some minor item and then find that it gained importance overnight. Unless trust (or a don't-give-a-damn attitude is present, candor won't walk in the door.

That's why it is highly beneficial to find someone who tells it like it is and is willing to talk about the real job; someone who can say which balls have to be kept in the air and which ones can be dropped. If no one is available, you have to learn that on your own - and quickly - because it is unlikely that you'll do able to do it all.

Knowing what to downplay or neglect is an essential element of success.

Quote of the Day

Praise makes good men better and bad men worse.

- Thomas Fuller

Thursday, March 29, 2012

First Paragraph

There are some jobs I believe are distinctly not worth having. Urologist, proctologist, seismologist come immediately to mind. In a more general line, I would add any job that requires sucking up to the rich. (Oops: eight university presidents, five museum directors, and the business managers of three opera companies just left the room.) Or any job that puts you in charge of vast sums of money, which entails other people feeling the need to suck up to you. (When a man I know took a job as a foundation executive, a wise friend told him that he would probably never eat another bad lunch and no one would ever again tell him the truth.) Or any job that, because of the relentless social obligations, makes it impossible to find the time to read a book. Or any job that forces you to make life worse for other people. Or any job that causes you to lie to yourself a lot more than you now do. And finally, to close out this depressing list, there is one job instead of having which I'd rather be the last (and possibly also the first) Jewish coal miner in West Virginia, or a veterinary cosmetic surgeon in Malibu, or the man wielding the wide broom who follows the elephants in the great Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus parade - and that job is poet laureate of the United States.

_ From Thank You, No, one of the In a Cardboard Belt! essays by Joseph Epstein

Wolfe on Style

Some sage style advice from Tom Wolfe.

[Summary: Stop dressing like you're sixteen.]

Update: Wolfe's new novel, Back to Blood, will be out in October.

Art Break: Varley

Portrait of Sir George Parkin - 1921

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Frederick Varley.

Tending the Fire

In my career, I've worked in the private sector and the government and have served in the military. My work as a consultant has brought me into close contact with government and private sector firms.

I've found government offices and teams that are as competitive and hard-charging as any of their equivalents in the private sector. On the other hand, there are private sector departments that are as slow-moving and bureaucratic as the most rule-saturated swamps of the civil service. Unless rooted out, incompetence and lethargy can spread in any organization.

Government, of course, needs special oversight and control. A corporation can't prosecute you or put you in jail and it cannot hide behind the claim that its actions are on behalf of the people. I've worked with a lot of altruistic and dedicated government workers but those warm memories are tempered by my also having been in the room when government execs, managers, and professionals displayed attitudes that could easily have been uttered by the most arrogant corporate villains ever concocted by Hollywood.

Putting faith in any particular organization is a very risky endeavor. The more powerful an organization is, the more it is prone to abusive practices. Power is a fire that requires tending.

Ethics and the Truth

Good stuff: Rabbi Joseph Telushkin on when telling the truth is wrong.

Quote of the Day

Men are never attached to you by favors.

- Napoleon Bonaparte

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Entertainment Break

The trailer for "About a Boy."

Less is More: Coolidge

The book will be out in June. Something to look forward to. [One of my favorite presidents.]

10 Qualities for Staff Officers

The effective staff officer exhibits the following:
  1. Honesty. Important information is not hidden, filtered or distorted. It is surfaced in a manner that will gain the necessary attention and the analysis is not weighted with a bias against other viewpoints.
  2. Initiative. Matters that require attention are promptly addressed. Deference is given to the proper procedures and areas of responsibility but subjects are not allowed to languish. Problems and questions are anticipated and addressed early on.
  3. Discretion. Words and behavior that cast doubt on the professionalism and integrity of the work unit are strictly off-limits.
  4. Openness. Rank is not unduly invoked. Concerns and objections are carefully considered. Options are not manipulated to produce a rigged result.
  5. Knowledge. The procedures, substance, and needs of the job are known. That knowledge is never static.
  6. Judgment. Excellent decision making skills are combined with wisdom and good old common sense.
  7. Urgency. Making things move is not enough. They must move in the right direction. Continually restoring the status quo is not acceptable.
  8. Intuition. Spotting problems and sensing when something is not quite right is vital. Attention is paid to both the tangible and the intangible.
  9. Coordination. Proper roles are respected and the deft coordination of those roles is standard.
  10. Humility. There is a keen appreciation of when to speak up, when to back off, and when to be silent.

First Paragraph

By ten-forty-five it was all over. The town was occupied, the defenders defeated, and the war finished. The invader had prepared for this campaign as carefully as he had for larger ones. On this Sunday morning the postman and the policeman had gone fishing in the boat of Mr. Corell, the popular storekeeper. He had lent them his trim sailboat for the day. The postman and the policeman were several miles at sea when they saw the small, dark transport, loaded with soldiers, go quietly past them. As officials of the town, this was definitely their business, and these two put about, but of course the battalion was in possession by the time they could make port. The policeman and the postman could not even get into their own offices in the Town Hall, and when they insisted on their rights they were taken as prisoners of war and locked up in the town jail.

- From The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

The Android Watch

FutureLawyer has bought one. Full report to follow. Very mixed feelings here.

Scariest Workplace Novel

What is the scariest novel based in a workplace?

My nominee would be Moby Dick. The scene in which Ishmael realizes that he is stuck in a vast expanse of ocean on a whaling ship captained by a mad man with unquestioned authority still gives me the chills.

Reputations, Rumors, and Mirrors

Think of how often a person's reputation does not match your own experience with the person.

I've heard of people who were not to be trusted and yet when I worked with them, they were professional and honest. I won't even bother to count the number of times so-called brilliant people turned out to be less so. The "wild mavericks" may turn out to be very reasonable.

I've concluded two things:
  1. It is wise to form your own opinion of a person. Beware of relying solely on reputation.
  2. People are seldom completely one way or another. Today's genius can be tomorrow's fool. We need only to look into the mirror to see someone who is capable of significant swings in terms of competence. [I write as someone who is routinely humbled by his lack of knowledge.]

Quote of the Day

Rust wastes more than use.

- French proverb

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Escape the Desk

Writing at Fast Company, Emily Heyward sees desks as the enemy of creativity.


Some takes on the health care mandate arguments from:

Between Law and Ethics

We all know of conduct that is legal but unethical. There can also be conduct that is ethical but illegal.

But here are some questions: Is there a zone that falls between the legal, the illegal, the unethical, and the ethical? Can conduct flirt with the boundaries of each without clearly crossing? Can it raise our eyebrows without drawing our condemnation or praise? Or is this a case in which there is no gap but we simply choose to put on some blinders in favor of, for want of a better term, "street justice?"

I'm pondering that right now. Will keep you posted.

Spring Training with an Old Friend

An old friend invited me to go with him to a baseball game today.

I eagerly agreed, not just for the chance to see him but because he almost died a few months ago. His "medical emergency" - to use a sterile description - came out of the blue. Few expected him to make it. He proved to be a pretty tough customer.

Years ago when we first met, it was about a discrimination case and as I recall, we argued about some arcane point that is now forgotten. I subsequently came to thoroughly appreciate his integrity, kindness, and insight.

It should be a good game today in the new Diamondbacks stadium. I know the conversation will be excellent.

Don't take your friends for granted.

Update: Diamondbacks won. Good game.

Quote of the Day

Everybody's friend is nobody's.

- Arthur Schopenhauer

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hollow Behavior and Culture

I recently read an account from a writer who traveled through several countries where he found words meant little. The national constitutions and laws were hollow. The governments' pronouncements were invariably as false as they were grandiose.

Even worse, these practices were duplicated in everyday life. People changed stories without embarrassment. Boundaries were always negotiable.

This "Alice in Wonderland" meets "Lord of the Flies" aura illustrates the extent to which the lives of those of us in advanced nations are reasonably predictable. Rules are respected. There is a serious striving for justice.

This requires a dedication to objectivity in our culture so favoritism and outright bribery are disdained. As the culture goes, so goes the justice system. Once that goes, there goes the nation.

The New China

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Richard Wolin reports on a recent trip to China. An excerpt:

“This place is more American than America,” I observe candidly to my student minder on the taxi ride toward downtown Shanghai, sorely sleep-deprived following my 13-hour flight from New York. “It makes Manhattan look provincial.” One’s first sighting of Shanghai is unforgettable. Perhaps nowhere else in the world today does one find such a massive concentration of concrete high-rise structures, stretching as far as the eye can see. Most of these distinctly unsightly edifices have been built over the last 20 years. With its 20 million-plus inhabitants, Shanghai is the metropolis of the future — and it is already here. Along with it come all the joys of the 21st-century urban experience: smog, pollution, overcrowding, and epic traffic jams. Whatever one’s destination, one always needs to depart an hour early to account for traffic.

Art Break: Sickert

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Walter Sickert.

The Limits of Magic

Throughout my time in the workplace, I've heard people predict that something magical was going to take place.

"With that sort of background, headhunters will be knocking on your door." [They won't be.]

"Once you've achieved that, your promotion is assured." [Don't count on it.]

"With the pool of potential customers, this will sell like hot cakes." [Potential buyers have minds of their own.]

It is as if Hollywood has fostered an unrealistic atmosphere in which it is safe to underestimate difficulties and competitors because Cinderella stories are not the exception, but the norm.

This does not mean that luck plays no role in careers. Some people are in the right place at the right time and that makes all the difference. But those lucky folks often had to work very hard to get to the spot where lightning struck.

It is one thing to believe in magic. It is another to rely on it.

Quote of the Day

Critics can't even make music by rubbing their back legs together.

- Mel Brooks

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Music Break

Roy Orbison and k.d. lang with "Crying."

Willie Nelson with "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

As One Devil to Another

Devin Brown interviews Richard Platt, author of "As One Devil to Another." An excerpt regarding C.S. Lewis:

Brown: Everyone, it seems, has a story about how they first came across Lewis. Can you talk about your first contact with his work?

Platt: I first came to Lewis many years ago, at a time when I chose my reading companions merely for their stylistic excellence. Content, heaven help me, was a secondary consideration. Knowing my predispositions, a good friend placed in my hands Surprised by Joy. I’m still thanking him. It was presented to me simply as a masterly narrative, which surely it is. It was also the small end of the wedge. As Lewis wrote, ‘God is very unscrupulous.’ When we met for coffee the following week, I asked my friend what else Lewis had written. He was ready for me. I went home with a copy of The Case for Christianity. It was a rough ride for a lazy agnostic.

50 Ways to Increase Your Productivity

The incomparable Nicholas Bate provides a list to jump-start your week.

The Fine Line between Work and Play

The Happiness Project has some insight from George Orwell on work and play.

Happy in the Yard

Some observations by Cultural Offering. An excerpt:

About halfway through the weeding, I noticed how happy I was there in the dirt. The dog was laying nearby looking around. A cool breeze visited me every now and then. The cigar tasted exceptionally good and I moved methodically through my tasks attempting to restore order to the yard. My mind wandered through a variety of subjects, both practical and ethereal.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Memorable Film Scene

Michelle Pfeiffer singing "Making Whoopie."

First Paragraph

April drove north on Washington Boulevard in the late-afternoon heat. She passed housing developments behind acacia and cedar trees, Spanish moss hanging from their limbs like strings of dead spiders. Between her legs was the black coffee she'd bought at the Mobil station on the way out of town and it was too hot to drink, the sun still shining bright over the Gulf and blinding her from the side like something she should've seen coming, like Jean getting laid up and now there's no one to watch Franny and no one calling in sick at the Puma. And little Franny was strapped in her car seat in the back, tired and happy with no idea how different tonight will be, how strange it could be.

- From The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III

Do The Computer Privacy Limbo

These aren't for Halloween.

And while you're cleaning the cookies, you can enjoy the fine music of a cultural icon.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The trailer for "The Hunger Games."
Don't use the same compliments and expect it won't be noticed.
The last scene of "Henry V."
Steven Pressfield on why he doesn't give speeches.
Kevin D. Williamson on "no wi fi" signs.
The trailer for "This is Spinal Tap."

Lesson: Chairs Make a Difference

This program with Montgomery Clift may have been the first and last use of rocking chairs during a television interview.

Getting Greeced

I was in Australia earlier this month, and there, as elsewhere on my recent travels, the consensus among the politicians I met (at least in private) was that Washington lacked the will for meaningful course correction, and that, therefore, the trick was to ensure that, when the behemoth goes over the cliff, you're not dragged down with it. It is faintly surreal to be sitting in paneled offices lined by formal portraits listening to eminent persons who assume the collapse of the dominant global power is a fait accompli. "I don't feel America is quite a First World country anymore," a robustly pro-American Aussie told me, with a sigh of regret.

Read the rest of Mark Steyn's column here.

The Control Wars

Stress and fear increase as control diminishes. Rather than acting logically to assert control and thus reduce stress and fear, many people engage in short-term fixes - this wine is nice - that may produce pleasure but don't expand control. A great portion of our schedule can be devoted to losing or increasing control.

Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where, if you aren't increasing, you are losing. Drift - as opposed to conscious rest - is loss and your schedule can be either an ally or an enemy.

But wait, some would note, is it not possible to be indifferent? That is true; in fact, it is healthy to be indifferent to many things. We would lose our sanity if we constantly considered the ongoing cruelty and injustice of the world. We can increase our control by using our indifference and carefully setting our priorities. The minute fear rises, however, we know that a control problem exists.

The sooner we address that, the better.

Quote of the Day

He who thinks by the inch and talks by the yard deserves to be kicked by the foot.

- Leopold Fechtner

Friday, March 23, 2012

Win By Winning

At Forbes, some basic but classic career advice from a very successful attorney.

Music Break: DeMent

Iris DeMent with "I Still Miss Someone."

Back to Basics

Glenn Reynolds points to some tips on the ultimate survival preparedness kit for your car.

Expanding Perspectives

Books That Should Be Movies

Assume that Hollywood would not do to your nominee what it did to "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "Ghost Story." Which novels deserve a fine film version?

My initial nominees:

"A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole
"Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel
"The Known World" by Edward P. Jones
"Rat Run" by Gerald Seymour
"Mendelssohn is on the Roof" by Juri Weil
"The Road Home" by Rose Tremain
"A Long Way Down" by Nick Hornby
"The Roots of Heaven" by Romain Gary
"Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin

Irritants That Can Create Serious Conflicts

  1. Failing to return calls.
  2. Failing to return e-mails.
  3. Failing to coordinate on projects.
  4. Agreeing to a course of action and then reversing that position without giving a heads-up.
  5. Displaying pleasure when saying no.
  6. Not listening.
  7. Using sarcasm.
  8. Talking to subordinates or superiors instead of directly communicating with the person.
  9. Rushing to ascribe bad motives.
  10. Being disrespectful.

Miscellaneous and Fast

Nicholas Bate on how to sell brilliantly in good times and bad. Free on Kindle!
FutureLawyer has dating tips for nerds.
CoolTools reviews a book on self-help medicine.
The trailer for "The Laughing Policeman."

You Could Do It

Or you could think of all of the things that might go wrong or you may wait until conditions are perfect or you're in the right mood or the team is wholeheartedly behind it or until after vacation or when you've reached that time of the day which your bio-chart says is your most effective and, of course, the resources must be right and plentiful and there's that one part that still seems a little questionable and it would be great to have that in order and besides, the downsides of doing it now are that some other very important projects will be pushed aside and at least one of them may deserve to be the highest priority and, well, you didn't think that part through so perhaps you should do it tomorrow when you're rested.

Yeah, tomorrow will be just fine.

Quote of the Day

If we are to make the best and sanest use of our laws and liberties, we must first adopt a sober view of man and his institutions that would permit reasonable things to be accomplished, foolish things abandoned and utopian things forgotten. A sober view of man requires a modest definition of progress.

- James Q. Wilson

Thursday, March 22, 2012

First Paragraph

Marriage was once represented as a field of battle rather than a bed of roses, and perhaps there are those who may still support this view; but just as Dr Maturin had made a far more unsuitable match than most, so he set about dealing with the situation in a far more compendious, peaceable and efficacious way than the great majority of husbands.

- From The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian

Charles Murray Interview

Cultural Offering has a link to the PBS interview with Charles Murray.

I purchased his latest book but my wife snatched it and is still jotting notes in the margins.

A good argument for secret purchases.

The Little BIG Things

Check out this interview with Tom Peters.

China Coup Rumors

Rumors of a coup in Beijing ricocheted around the Chinese Internet on Tuesday and even caused the cost of credit default swaps on Chinese debt to rise slightly. That's remarkable considering there wasn't one iota of evidence that shots were fired at the Diaoyutai State Guest House or tanks were taking to the streets, as viral microblog posts had it.

Read more of The Wall Street Journal on China's coup jitters.

Orange and Chocolate. What More Do You Want?

The Pioneer Woman gives her recipe - an easy one - for pots de creme a l"orange.

Get out the blender. Report back.

Diarist in France

Claire Berlinski is back in France and pondering decline:

France can no longer pay for its comfortable way of life. French exports are declining, French budget deficits are increasing, and French taxes are too high. Despite the statistics, though, Paris feels like a city whose troubles are far away. Alain is still hawking his oysters. Over the years, like a master who begins to resemble his dog, he has come to look like a hairy oyster himself—a tiny man with a great bushy beard and long, gray, matted hair, sea salt permanently embedded in the deep wrinkles around his eyes and in the creases of his blue proletarian overalls. He’s always drunk and fiendishly proud of his display. “Come try my oysters, mesdames and messieurs!” he hollers to no one in particular. “Excellent for your gymnastique de nuit!”

Entertainment Break

Joe Cocker with "Bye Bye Blackbird."

The trailer
for "Gold Diggers of 1933."

Sam Cooke with "Twistin' the Night Away."

Schwarzenegger as Hamlet.

Hard Truths

No office affair is secret. Sometimes even the biggest whiners have valid complaints. The smartest person in the room is not always the best person for the job. There are people who beg to be fired. At some lofty levels, the most superficial solutions are hugely attractive. When high quality is combined with the lowest price, it dooms a proposal. Most oral boards are poorly trained. "Other duties as assigned" often constitutes 80 percent of the job. Few people could fulfill their entire job description. The greatest hostility toward employees can be found in human resources departments. Choosing areas of ignorance can be as important as choosing areas of expertise. There are individuals who have three years of experience 10 times over. If it weren't for the restrictions on interview questions, we could learn a lot about applicants. It is shocking how quickly the power structure can change. All weasels manage to have admirers. One of the most revealing things about people is the behavior they excuse. You need to watch where you invest your time. A poor ally can be more dangerous than a skilled adversary. Words must be weighed. Learning about people is a lifetime occupation. Goals require periodic affirmation. You can't do it all.

Quote of the Day

The American's classic response to wealthy people has never been "Let's take it away." It has been "How do we get it?"

- Dennis Prager

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

First Paragraph

Me and Pete would go down to Old Man Killegrew's and listen to his radio. We would wait until after supper, after dark, and we would stand outside Old Man Killegrew's parlor window, and we could hear it because Old Man Killegrew's wife was deaf, and so he run the radio as loud as it would run, and so me and Pete could hear it plain as Old Man Killgrew's wife could, I reckon, even standing outside with the window closed.

- From Two Soldiers by William Faulkner

Art Break: Getting Kiki

Art Contrarian looks at the many faces of Kiki de Montparnasse.

Ethics Class

I'm teaching a workshop on ethical decision making in Phoenix on April 4.

The topic sounds easy until you encounter those Right versus Right situations where one virtue must prevail over another. Some of the nicest people are capable of doing some very unethical things and so checking out our rationalizations - and aren't we creative when it comes to those? - can be the equivalent of getting a flu shot.

An odd aspect of ethics training, however, is it can be exhausting. A strange silence falls as people churn over the times when their behavior was questionable or perhaps, in retrospect, just flat-out unethical.

I'm hardly immune from this so it's not as if the participants are getting training from a saint.

When management is the topic, we often talk about the importance of the basics. The subject of ethics is about as basic as it gets. At your next staff meeting, ask people about the situations in which honesty is optional. Listen carefully to the responses.

I guarantee that they'll be interesting.

Llosa on Writing

From a 1990 interview with Mario Vargas Llosa in The Paris Review:

First, I write by hand. I always work in the morning, and in the early hours of the day, I always write by hand. Those are the most creative hours. I never work more than two hours like this—my hand gets cramped. Then I start typing what I’ve written, making changes as I go along; this is perhaps the first stage of rewriting. But I always leave a few lines untyped so that the next day, I can start by typing the end of what I’d written the day before. Starting up the typewriter creates a certain dynamic—it’s like a warm-up exercise.

"The Light's Better in Here"

Remember the old joke about the person who lost a ring in the bedroom but was searching for it in the living room because "The light's better in here?"

That's not too far removed from designing a product or service with the existing resources rather than determining and getting the resources needed to produce a better outcome.

It may make sense to stick with existing resources and time-tested approaches BUT it is important to know what is being missed by doing so and whether that will have an unacceptable effect on the quality of our work. This is especially true when developing new products.

Miscellaneous and Fast

The trailer for "Game of Thrones."
FutureLawyer and the face of God.
The trailer for "The Proposition."
The trailer for "Barton Fink."

Quote of the Day

The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

- Arabian proverb

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Christopher J. Gray, a long-time reader of this blog, has started one of his own that focuses on the intersection of business and music.

That's an intriguing combination.

He's off to a great start. Check him out and visit often.

Organizations and the Inner Journey

From a Future of Work article on "future-proofing" leadership:

The ‘Inner Journey’ takes a leader to deep insight that helps them to discover their authenticity and provides the resilience so crucial for judgment under pressure? Here, I think the corporation is often a poor crucible for development.

How Fast Your Site Downloads Can Seriously Affect Your Business

If your web site takes longer than four seconds to download, 1 in 4 American visitors will have already clicked on to another site.

Read the rest of the Fast Company article here.

You Don't Know Jack

Your email to Jack, one of your associates: "How did that meeting go?"

Jack's response: "It went very well."

Your analysis:
  1. Jack liked the outcome.
  2. You know little about the meeting's outcome other than that.
  3. Jack thinks his statement was sufficient.
  4. Jack might not want to elaborate.
  5. Jack might be busy.
  6. If he's busy, why didn't he say so?
  7. You've spent more time parsing Jack's response than Jack spent making it.
  8. Aargh.

The Swimmer

The fanatics are on the stair-climbers. The exhibitionists drift to the weights. A cross-section goes for the treadmill machines. A few loons are rowing.

The geezers are in the pool.

Years ago, after a doctor told me that my knees would not take more jogging. I eagerly seized on that advice, having never experienced the mythological "runner's high." Rather than choosing some less-jarring exercise, of course, I headed for the chair.

Not a good choice.

Swimming has many virtues but the main one is that when it is done methodically and patiently, it does not scream "Exercise." The splash and feel of the water and the exploration of technique don't produce the sense of torture that accompanies so many other physical endeavors. You leave the pool tired but refreshed.

The exercise itself, not any post-exercise state of superiority, is the high. Not a bad choice at all.

Where Does He Get This Stuff?

Have you ever wondered what it looks like inside a musical instrument?

Here's just one of many reasons why Eclecticity is a daily visit.

Our Main Man Epictetus

Anderson Layman's Blog has some great quotes from Epictetus.

[For an enjoyable peek at this philosopher, check out Tom Wolfe's novel "A Man in Full."]

Slowly and Appreciative

If your day does not have big projects, let it be a collection of small tasks that need to be done. Small is not the same as unimportant and if the chores are taken slowly, they may be savored. The rate of progress will surprise you.

You may reach the evening with a fully justified sense of accomplishment.

Quote of the Day

High seats are never but uneasy, and crowns are always stuffed with thorns.

- James Gordon Brooks

Monday, March 19, 2012

Memorable Scenes

The ending of "Master and Commander."

Miscellaneous and Fast

Five pages a day: A MysteryNet.Com interview with Robert B. Parker.
The trailer for "Intolerable Cruelty."
Jonah Goldberg defends "This American Life."
The trailer for "The Man Who Wasn't There."
The trailer for "The Ipcress File."
The trailer for "I Dreamed of Africa."

Whit's Wit: Stillman is Back

I always look forward to Whit Stillman films; an all-time favorite being "Barcelona." From The New York Times Magazine article:

Stillman is the knight-errant of sneered-at bourgeois values. He extols the overlooked merits of convention and the hidden virtues of the status quo. Inveighing against “cool people” and the social cachet of “uniqueness, eccentricity, independence,” the transfer student Lily asks: “Does the world really want or need more of such traits? Aren’t such people usually terrible pains in the neck? What the world needs to work properly is a large mass of normal people — I’d like to be one those.”


Art Contrarian looks at the work of Arthur Carles.

Book Review: Who's in the Room?

I read a lot of very good books on leadership and management.

Who's in the Room? How Great Leaders Structure and Manage the Teams Around Them by Bob Frisch falls in the great category. That rating is due to the book's ability to jar your perspective of how teams do and should operate. I found myself wondering why I had overlooked - or failed to pursue - some of the items cited. That feeling was interspersed with admiration for Frisch's recommendations on how to escape the bondage of the organization chart.

Rather than denouncing "kitchen cabinets," Frisch shows how to make them work more effectively. [Keep them informal, he cautions, and don't announce their membership lest a line of wannabes form outside your door.]

Frisch jabs at the common practice of expecting holistic thinking from senior management team members who have gotten to the big table through their knowledge of various specialties. That may cause many of us to wince because, I would wager, most of us have fallen into that trap. What we've failed to appreciate is how much constructive speech we've chilled by demanding a holistic view that should largely come from the leader/CEO.

Frisch prescribes a portfolio of teams for various projects; an adroit combination of permanent and ad hoc groups that permits a nimble response to the organization's needs. He is rightly suspicious of standing committees and recommends a review to justify their existence.

His book goes from macro to micro. For example, he notes the execution problems that arise when senior management teams fail to identify internal resource constraints ("rub points") that will erode the organization's ability to achieve its goals and wisely observes that such points are usually addressed only after a project has gotten into trouble.

Bob Frisch has done an excellent job of spotting and explaining decision making problems that are created by the very structures we embrace, even while we grumble at bureaucracy. [Throughout the book, I kept thinking of Dwight Eisenhower's response when he was president of Columbia University and the staff wanted him to crack down on students who refused to use the sidewalks: "Build sidewalks where the paths are."]

Bob Frisch has a similar mindset. His book has my highest recommendation.

Reinforcing Goals

You've talked with key staff members about the importance of Goal A. Strategies have been designed to achieve Goal A. Other programs are slated to support Goal A. The virtues of Goal A are self-evident. It is Numero Uno, no doubt about it. You might call it The Goal of Goals.

But inquire further and you may hear these comments:

"I didn't know that was Goal A."
"Has Goal A been formally set?"
"I thought the Goal A efforts weren't going to start until later."
"Doesn't Goal B take priority?"
"I understand it was set, but I'm wondering if Goal A is really necessary."
"Quite frankly, we've been too busy to worry about Goal A."
"Oh yeah. We'll get right on it."

Quote of the Day

You can go to meetings or you can go to work.

- Mike Norman

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Brian Lamb Will Be Missed

Cultural Offering rightly praises the professionalism of Brian Lamb and gives a excellent snippet of an interview with William F. Buckley Jr.

A Dash of O.Henry

It looked like a good thing: but wait till I tell you. We were down South, in Alabama -- Bill Driscoll and myself -- when this kidnapping idea struck us. It was, as Bill afterward expressed it, "during a moment of temporary mental apparition"; but we didn't find that out till later.

Read the rest of "The Ransom of Red Chief" here.

From SHRM India: Top Indian HR Influencers

It's no surprise to me that Tanmay Vora is in the Top 20 Indian HR Influencers on Social Media. I'm an avid follower of his blog and his Twitter work.

He deserves the recognition as well as congratulations.

Getting Used to Technology

A brief video: "So dad, how do you like the iPad we got you?"

[HT: Rick Miller]

Saturday, March 17, 2012


A treat for the weekend: The first song from "Fiddler on the Roof."

First Paragraph

I first met Franz Stangl on the morning of April 2, 1971, in a little room which was ordinarily used as a waiting and rest room for lawyers visiting the Dusseldorf remand prison. The room was the same size as the cells in the prison's modern block, the block in which Stangl was detained. It had the same barred windows, the same dreary view of the paved inside yard, and the same kind of minimal furnishings in blond polished pine. It was impersonal, neutral, with nothing in it to please or edify, but equally nothing to distract the eye or mind: the right place for the particular seventy hours I was to spend with this particular man.

- From Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny

The Law and the Back of a Buggy

If it felt to them like they were a long way from home, well, they were — the men live in homes they built, without electricity, driving horse-drawn buggies, and mostly eating the food from their own farms. There are no televisions and Internet, of course.

From The Wall Street Journal Law Blog on "The Amish Have Their Day in Court."

Miscellaneous and Fast

Wally Bock gives some weekend imagination igniters.
Sensory Dispensary: Les Paul McCartney.
Johnny Depp wins style icon award.
The trailer for "The Inner Circle."
The trailer for "Jeff, Who Lives at Home."
An obituary for Encyclopedia Britannica.
The trailer for "Being Julia."
Michael J. Totten reviews a book on Hezbollah.

And snakes. Don't forget snakes.

Political Calculations notes three of ten things you don't need on St. Patrick's Day.

Quote of the Day

The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself.

- Washington Allston

Friday, March 16, 2012

Entertainment Break

Bob Newhart on bus driver training.

Fast and Slow

Two key concerns for any manager: What to speed up and what to slow down?

The need to act quickly in an emergency is obvious. Less clear are those chores that don't appear to be pressing but really are if deadlines are to be met weeks, months or even years down the road. You can't plant today and harvest next week. Planting season is difficult to postpone.

Tasks that are unduly rushed are another category. To paraphrase a line from the late Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, sometimes the three most important words in the world are "Wait a minute." Many self-imposed deadlines are detached from reality. All they do is cultivate disaster.

Every day is accelerator and brake. Is that a rest stop ahead?