Saturday, February 28, 2015

Fortunes of War

When the Pringles arrive in Bucharest, there are troubling signs that the pro-British Romanian monarchy is under siege from the local Fascist Iron Guard, whose sympathies lie with Hitler’s Germany. Nonetheless, the local elites, who gather at the English Bar of the AthenĂ©e Palace Hotel, take no notice of the fact until quite late in the day, when the waiters and the menus begin to switch from French to German. Though a European war is clearly on the doorstep, the Romanians the Pringles meet are mainly concerned about the loss of territory to Hungary—that, and impressing their English friends with their elegance and up-to-date sophistication, doing what they can to substantiate Bucharest’s claim to be “the Paris of the East.” When the country falls under German occupation, the Pringles, along with other members of the British community, are forced to flee to Greece. This is the story related in the first two volumes, The Great Fortune and The Spoilt City.

Read the rest of Mark Falcoff's review of the recently re-issued "Fortunes of War" novels by Olivia Manning.

I've read them all and they are - this word is used carefully - brilliant.


Shatner. Nimoy. Priceline commercial.

First Paragraph

Joseph, the office messenger, tapped on the door as lightly as a scurrying mouse. The door did not creak as he pushed it open, and he slid into Maigret's office so quietly that - with his bald head surrounded by its almost ethereal halo of white hair - he might have been playing at ghosts. 

- From Maigret's Failure by Georges Simenon

In Search of "Boredom"

I cannot recall who said it but someone once noted that happiness is when the phone rings on Saturday night and it's not for you.

I can build an entire philosophy of life around that sentiment. 

There are people who sincerely believe that you are to be pitied, or worse yet helped, if you are by yourself in a corner or are in a bookstore or are not running to social events.

They miss the fact that a cocktail party is a working definition of hell for many of us. What they regard as boring, we regard as just fine. Many of us have had enough excitement, thank you, and have found that a little goes a long way.

Call it detachment, zen, shyness, or stoicism. It has its virtues.

Quote of the Day

The best way to drive your competition crazy is to make your customers happy. 

- Guy Kawasaki

Friday, February 27, 2015

Anonymous 4

Some of tonight's background music

Leonard Nimoy, R.I.P.

Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a. Mr. Spock, has died

Longfellow's Birthday

The Hammock Papers has a poem andTom O'Bedlam reads "The Children's Hour."

I wonder if schoolchildren still memorize his poetry. They should.

Dr. Hackenbush

Back by popular demand: The classic scene from "A Day at the Races."

A Man's Quest

This is one of my favorite posts at Cultural Offering and that's saying a great deal because it is an excellent blog. The post is the saga of a man's quest - his odyssey - for a home office.

[You need a special place for books, stacks, awards, posters, knickknacks, pens, notecards, loose files, reminders, mugs and, of course, dust, although you try to keep that last bit to a minimum.]

Anger's Benefits

I ran into a barrier on a project and was frustrated and ready to give up.

Then I had the good fortune to walk away for around 30 minutes. 

While away, I was surrounded by thoughts and discovered at least seven ways that the project could work. What had seemed impossible shortly before had been transformed into something so obviously feasible that I was embarrassed at having failed to notice.

Fatigue may have fogged my initial vision. I'm sure that demoralization contributed. The longer I thought while distracted by other chores, however, the angrier I got about the original barriers, which I regarded as foolish and misguided.

I'm wondering now if the anger created motivation which in turn produced a form of clarity. 

Quote of the Day

Let us be of good cheer, however, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never come

- James Russell Lowell

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Numbers

The numbers will lurk and move and you need to check them again because they can trick you and yet after a while you learn their game - at least you know some of their dodges - and so after your calculations are absolutely solid and you're positive they're right, you check them again.

And often you find something.

I'm Not

"I'm not being rude. I'm in a hurry."
"I'm not being cruel. I'm being honest."
"I'm not procrastinating. I'm thinking."
"I'm not being disloyal. I'm being loyal to something else."
"I'm not lying. I'm just not telling the entire story."
"I'm not being cowardly. I'm being cautious."
"I'm not lazy. I'm recharging my batteries."
"I'm not pompous. I'm polite."
"I'm not hesitant. I'm thorough."

Top International HR Blogs

HR Software Insight has a list of the Top 15 International HR Blogs of 2015.

Periodic Reminders

I've noticed that reminders are one of the vital practices of effective leaders. They don't assume that a course of action is self-evident or memorable. They periodically restate why the team or organization is following a particular strategy. By doing so, they discourage drift and nudge key players to renew efforts to pull in the same direction. 

There is another advantage. The "reminder moments" permit comments from people who may have thought or hoped that the previous strategy had changed. 

It is far better to get those reservations on the table so they can be addressed than to permit them to go unnoticed and unresolved.

First Paragraph

When an individual enters the presence of others, they commonly seek to acquire information about him or to bring into play information about him already possessed. They will be interested in his general socio-economic status, his conception of self, his attitude toward them, his competence, his trustworthiness, etc. Although some of this information seems to be sought almost as an end in itself, there are usually quite practical reasons for acquiring it. Information about the individual helps to define the situation, enabling others to know in advance what he will expect of them and what they may expect of him. Informed in these way, the others will know how best to act in order to call forth a desired response from him. 

- From The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman

Quote of the Day

A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is. 

- Seneca

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Music Break

BBC Proms: The Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story."

Start snapping your fingers.

"Bureaucrats take on bureaucracy"

"Lorna Fong, who retired after 34 years handling state human resources, led the team on a mission to suggest which of the state’s 3,666 job titles could be whacked, which could be rewritten and which should be kept and consolidated.

"They asked questions like this: Does the state really need 27 pay levels for prison math teachers? How about forensic toxicologists I, II, III and IV? The Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency was abolished 11 years ago, so why are its job classes still on the books?"

Read the rest of the Jon Ortiz column in The Sacramento Bee.
Read more here:

ead the rest of the Jon Ortiz column in The Sacramento Bee.

Art Break: Nevinson

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Christopher Nevinson.

One of the Best Jobs in the World

One of the best jobs in the world is yours.

Why? Because you're in it. 

You bring yourself to that job every workday. Your self. That means your character, attitude and skills. Your experience, insight, intuition, and reputation also go into the mix.

After all, your executives and managers didn't hire a machine. They hired you. Regardless of your job title or how much you are paid, you possess a bundle of talents and thoughts which no one else - no one else in the entire world - has.

You are one in billions and you can make a serious difference.

You can help as many people as possible, boost the spirits of co-workers, and study how to do the work better. You can hone your personal skills and set an example for the customers and associates who see you. You can make the day of others, all the while knowing that you will never be able to tell how many you've influenced for the better.

Ignore the negative people who say your job is minor and that it does not deserve anything above a minimal amount of effort. No job is minor and those who give the minimum in life soon have the habit of deserving it.

You give more and you get more, even if it is merely - merely! - the knowledge that you will not become grasping, mediocre, unethical, or cynical.

You have one of the best jobs in the world.

13 Days

Worth remembering.

From February 23 to March 6, 1836: The Battle of the Alamo.

A clip from the 2004 film.

Nicely Done

Check out these scenes at Anderson Layman's Blog

One to make you smile at creative rebellion and another to spark a gasp at talent and courage.

Bezos, The Washington Post, and The Digital Future

Spiegel Online: Amazon's Jeff Bezos brings fresh thinking and hope to The Washington Post. An excerpt:

Since August 2013, a new calendar has begun for the 137-year-old newspaper: B.B. -- before Bezos, and A.B. -- after Bezos. The Amazon CEO has injected new energy into the editorial staff. Instead of simply bringing in cash to allow the staff to continue the status quo, he plunged the Post into a period of cultural change, determined that the paper would reinvent itself and escape the confines of the printed page.

Make Yourself Proud

Anyone can wish, dream, hope, intend, and plan. Far fewer can achieve. Our best days are not when we started something beneficial but when we finished it. The greatest stress comes from the uncompleted tasks, not from the ones which have yet to begin.

We need to pay less attention to our "to do" list and more to the "completed" list. 

Finish something meaningful today. Make yourself proud.

Quote of the Day

As the eminent anthropologist Clifford Geertz observed, common sense is often defined as "what anyone with his head screwed on straight cannot help but think." But as he found, different cultures have far different views of what those commonsensical things are. The same goes for the different functional and divisional cultures in most large organizations. What is needed is not individual common sense, but a common common sense among all the participants in the prioritization conversation - an alignment around a common point of view about what makes sense. 

- Bob Frisch

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hand Me That Mirror

The HR Capitalist explores why narcissists are more likely to become leaders in your organization.

"Making up your memories and thinking they have found you"

Judy Collins singing a song which is a novel: "Albatross."

Getting a Job Done Despite

From Ricochet: When "lying to ourselves" is more a case of the Army working around an insane bureaucracy. An excerpt:

Complained one captain, “Now I’m doing this storyboard because there’s an IED, because a donkey fell off the mountain, because some dude’s dog came in and I had to shoot it on the COP (Combat Outpost) and now this dude is mad. It became an absolute burden… But when I only had 4 hours between this mission and the next, what’s better – spending 15 minutes to make this beautiful storyboard or planning my next operation?”

Music Break

Back by popular demand: Blondie with: 

A Quiet Place to Think

Find a quiet place to think; a spot away from the interruptions. Have a note pad nearby so you can jot down thoughts.

The world closes in and barriers are required to keep it from turning you into part of the chaos. 

Some days are "Leiningen Versus the Ants."

Small Tasks

A good day is a day of achievement and achievements normally come about one small action at a time. If your mind is inclined to be distracted by far horizons - you Big Thinker you - it must be restrained so its focus is on one of the small tasks at hand. 

Once that is done, move to another small task. 

The trick, of course, is to choose the small tasks which Vilfredo Pareto - he of the 80/20 Rule - would designate as among the vital few; i.e. the ones which will produce the greatest beneficial results. If you don't set such priorities, then your time may be squandered by the successful completion of work which produces relatively little progress or which merely restores the status-quo.

I suspect that few of us are natural practitioners of mindfulness. We are slaves to distraction. We resemble the man who jumped on a horse and rode off in all directions. Our inclinations tilt more toward activities than toward action.

Remember, small tasks today.

And more of the same tomorrow.

Quote of the Day

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. 

- Marcus Aurelius

Monday, February 23, 2015

Art Break: Putz

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Leo Putz.

How Cold is It?

I think Kurt Harden is typing to keep his fingers warm:

I love Ohio but it is cold. It is Ivan-Denisovich cold. It’s Jack-Nicholas-at-the-end-of-The-Shining cold; indoor-cat-who-became-outdoor-cat-glaring-at-me-from-his-blanket-in-the-garage cold. Never-warm cold. Feet-cold cold. Permanently-hunched-sholders cold. Kurt-Russell-in-The-Thing cold. It is colder than Robert Frost stopping by the woods on a snowy evening - he would not have stopped in this cold. The dog almost hurries to do his business. I dare you to talk to me about global warming in this cold.

Mean Magnet

I visit left-wing sites and right-wing sites and ones which are in-between. I check out Drudge links and The Huffington Post and others which would fall in "the usual suspects" category. Many blogs about business are on my list. The law and culture sites are also visited.

And I wonder if you've noticed the same thing: No spot comes close to YouTube when it comes to the number of dumb and vicious remarks in its comments section. Even bland videos, ones without an ounce of controversy, are ripped.

What do you think could be the reason for that? Are trolls attracted to videos?

Dinner with Hitchcock

Mel Brooks on a memorable meal with the great director.

Leadership Reading

The ever-diligent Wally Bock with leadership reading to start your week.

One Oscars Prediction

Although I did not watch the Academy Awards it would have been easy to predict one thing: the event would be too long. 

If they didn't keep the Best Picture award until the end, 98 percent of those seats would be filled with seat-fillers, those beautiful young people whose job is to fill any seat which becomes vacant. That practice alone tells us much about the Potemkin Village aspect of this event and the need to shorten the program.

Of course, there is also the grace and style deficit but Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, James Stewart, and Grace Kelly aren't coming back soon.

No Big Game

It is unfortunate but if many organizations were safaris, these would be the guidelines: 
  • Study fleas.
  • Follow zebras. 
  • Shun lions.
  • Ignore elephants.

Health Nut

This is one health recommendation I can follow.

[HT: Instapundit]

When Delegating

Describing the desired results is important. Describing the results which are undesirable can be even more important. Once both of those have been done and it is clear that the person knows what you want, what you do not want, and when you want it, then make sure they have sufficient resources and get out of their way.

Quote of the Day

If you are dependent on people who do not know you, who control the value of your necessities, you are not free, and you are not safe. 

- Wendell Berry

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar? You there?

I have not been watching the Oscars. 

Our ancient television is in the den and my home office is on the other side of the house in a TV-free zone. My wife has been working on paperwork at her desk in the den and provides periodic and cynical updates ("They're talking about wage inequality") and I'm never sure if it's a joke or an accurate report. Of course, the two may not be mutually exclusive.

The only Best Picture nominee I've seen is The Grand Budapest Hotel which I liked because of an irrational bias for any movie where a character wears a Lobby Boy hat but I don't think of it as Best Picture material. [Its stock just went up.]

The last film I've seen? The DVD for The Accountant. Now that is one strange movie. Short and bizarre. 

I may give it to my accountant along with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. 

If you've seen that film, you'll understand.

No Wonder People Have Been Dropping Off Presents

Cultural Offering: Today is International Gentleman's Day.

Timing and the Oscars

It is difficult to look over the list of past winners and contenders for the Best Picture Oscar without realizing how strong the competition was some years and how weak it was some others. 

The golden year for heavy competition, of course, was 1939. Every serious film fan can recall a year or two (or more) when the Best Picture choice was highly questionable. This is not an exact science.

Find Something Beautiful Today

Saturday, February 21, 2015

More Heat

My back has just informed me that it wants a heating pad, rest, and a week at a spa in Taiwan. 

Two out of three aren't bad.

Catch you tomorrow.

Art Break

The painting above is La Japonaise by Emile Villa. Did you notice the guinea pig?

See some other paintings at Muddy Colors.

One of the Most Irritating Messages in Computerdom

"Are you sure you want to leave this page?"

The Rock World

The trailer for the documentary, "When You're Strange."

The trailer for "Almost Famous." [Not a documentary but probably accurate enough.]

Living in the Past

Anderson Layman's Blog has a collection of items.

Setting the Scene

A stack of papers will meet a stack of file folders. The history book will join the books on management, politics, and geography. A project box will be raided and a report prepared. Numbers will be reviewed and analyzed.

All must be separated for there is a seemingly natural tendency to merge, aided and abetted by their chief accomplice, which is the title we may justly assume. 

We need order to think, but not too much order or our only thoughts will be about order.

The Need for Outrage

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on anti-Semitism in France.

Outstanding. More world leaders need to speak that clearly.

Quote of the Day

Every old part of the country is filled with memorials of our past; tombstones and cottages and churches, names and legends, old roads and trails and abandoned mines, as well as the things we built and used yesterday. All these memorials bring us closer to the past, and, so doing, bring us closer to our own present; for we are living history as well as recording it; and our memories are as necessary as our anticipations. 

- Lewis Mumford

Friday, February 20, 2015

As Far As The Eye Can See

Check out this post at Andrew Munro's Blog

Guaranteed to produce heavy breathing by book lovers.


An interesting defense at the "aggravated pimping" trial of ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

The Sidekick Rule

Rob Long, who knows more than a thing or two about Hollywood and the TV biz, writes about Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance and a rumored contractual provision in "I Love Lucy."

First Paragraph

To say that "place" matters is, to some extent, to swim against the principal currents of our times. The globalization of commerce, and the technologies of communication and transportation that have made that globalization possible, make it so easy to move people and products, ideas and styles, that it sometimes seems as if the world is in fact becoming placeless. The tenuous and fungible nature of place in our times is as evident as the phone vibrating in our hands: when we answer, our first question to the caller is likely to be, "Where are you?" and the answer the caller gives us could plausibly be almost anyplace from Manhattan to Mumbai to the house next door. What more powerful evidence is there that place doesn't matter anymore? Isn't stressing the importance of place in our lives just a symptom of backward-looking nostalgia? 

- From Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America edited by Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister

Vampire Movies Entertainment Break

The trailers for:


As we evaluate the experience of actual and potential occupants of the Oval Office, it is revealing to consider a few of the leaders Dwight Eisenhower had dealt with prior to becoming president:
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Harry Truman
  • Winston Churchill
  • Charles de Gaulle
  • Alan Brooke
  • Bernard Montgomery
  • George Marshall
  • George Patton
  • Omar Bradley
  • Douglas MacArthur
  • Georgy Zhukov

Miscellaneous and Fast

"Inglourious Basterds": The strudel scene.
John Daniel Davidson on the literary genius of "Justified."
Historic preservation: The L. Ron Hubbard House in Phoenix.
John Rosenthal on France's lawless zones.
Dr. Sam Rodriguez on the ISIS massacre of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.
Max Boot: We are losing the war on terror.
Alison Krauss: "Ghost in this House."
The trailer for "Aloha."
Recently promoted: Jen Psaki  on the kosher deli attack
Nina Zipkin: What millennials want in a workplace.

Quote of the Day

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. 

- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

[HT: Robin Sharma]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Taste of Civilization

I find it impossible to visit The Hammock Papers without feeling happier.

Sippican Cottage

Whenever I read Sippican Cottage posts such as this one, I think, "This guy is really good."

A while back, I bought his collection of short stories - The Devil's In The Cows - and could not put the book down until every story had been read.

There is a lot of talent in the wilds of Maine.

[And don't forget the boys of the family, who are better known as Unorganized Hancock.]

Music Break

Eva Cassidy: "Over the Rainbow."

First Paragraph

In the space of a single generation, Detroit managed to ruin itself. Some of the factors that led to the immolation of Detroit are unique to the city and its politics, but some are not. As the nation watches the city descend into insolvency and chaos, the question is: Is Detroit an outlier, or is it just ahead of the curve? 

- From What Doomed Detroit by Kevin D. Williamson

You Know You Want One

The Bic 4-Color Ball Pen. 

CoolTools has the details.

The Art Teacher

And speaking of teaching, here's a short and sharp post by Nicholas Bate.

Wolf Hall

The trailer for "Wolf Hall." 

The series is based on the book by Hilary Mantel, a work which presents a very different (i.e. favorable) view of Thomas Cromwell. Great reading. I haven't seen the BBC series. 

Any reports?

Well Said

At one moment a lazy fat man, a perfect sphere his loving wife called him, his name Octavian Gray, was slowly writing a witty sentence in a neat tiny hand upon creamy official paper while he inhaled from his breath the pleasant sleepy smell of an excellent lunch-time burgundy. Then came the shot.

- From The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch

When Multiple Explanations are Needed

Knowing the subject and being able to teach the subject are two very different things. In fact, a thorough knowledge of the subject may blind an instructor from spotting its most complicated or confusing areas; a flaw which can foil good teaching. [Instructors with a poor grasp of the subject can leave everyone thoroughly confused.]

I've taught workshops where two or three explanations of an area were needed in order to get everyone on board.

What if I'd only given one explanation? What if I'd assumed that those who couldn't understand were neglecting their studies or were dumb? In either circumstance, I'd have abdicated the key responsibility of an instructor, which is to teach. 

That may seem obvious but many of us have encountered instructors who are more interested in being able to say that they covered a topic and less interested in whether the students learned it.

They should have never been hired.

Quote of the Day

How can one speak of "progress" without knowing the end to which one is progressing? 

- Harvey Mansfield

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Art Break: Thayer

Art Contrarian looks at the work of Abbott Handerson Thayer.

Thanks Kurt!

Kind words today from Cultural Offering's Kurt Harden.

Cultural Offering is a "must read" blog. Simply outstanding.

ISIS Goals

Graeme Wood, writing in The Atlantic, on what ISIS really wants. An excerpt: 

There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

Music Break

Stevie Nicks: "Rhiannon."

Many Thanks

I am deeply honored by the kind words from Tanmay Vora, a blogger and management thinker for whom I have the highest regard. 

What a great way to start the day!

"History Must Be Told"

No one could ever have held the whole of human knowledge in his mind—not, at least, for several thousand years. The Romans may not have known anything about electricity or the internal combustion engine, but no one man could have held in his mind all that they knew about engineering or the whole of Roman law. But could certain ancients have held in their minds the essentials of their civilizations? The intellectual kernels from which their civilizations could have been rebuilt? I think so. Moses could have re-founded ancient Israel. Pericles could have recreated Athens and Julius Caesar could have re-established Rome. Moving much closer to the present, I’d be tempted to argue that Jefferson or Adams could have recreated much of what was known and valued in the early United States. 

Read the rest of Peter Robinson's essay here.