I have received by post a number of papers inviting me to become a member of the Irish Writers, Actors, Artists, Musicians Association, and to pay part of my money to the people who run this company. I am also invited to attend a meeting in Jury's Hotel on Sunday week. Foot I will not set inside that door; act, hand or part I will not have with that party. - From "Waama, etc." - an essay in The Best of Myles by Flann O'Brien
A friend who dropped by to see me a few nights ago expressed two fears in the course of the conversation. One was that, if he did not slow down, he would have a heart attack. The other was that, if he did not hurry up, he would not be able to accomplish enough that was useful before he had his heart attack. - From The Decline of Pleasure by Walter Kerr, published in 1962 [Photo by Nathan Dumlao at Unsplash]
The trailer for "The Real Doctor Zhivago." The Wall Street Journal review of the documentary notes: Among the many sides of Pasternak's story the film manages to include in its hour is also, not surprisingly, commentary on the political impact of the novel: in particular, efforts by the CIA - encouraged by British intelligence - to exploit "Doctor Zhivago" as a propaganda weapon against the Soviet state. Not surprisingly either, the commentary, by an investigative reporter, on the CIA's effort to get copies of the novel smuggled into the Soviet Union comes with a distinct tone of sniffiness. The note of moral superiority is unmistakable, as is invariably the case when a certain kind of journalistic endeavor includes mention of CIA activities. An exceedingly strange tone used in regard to an effort to slip novels into the land of the Lubyanka and the gulag.
Inauguration Day, March 4, 1865, dawned over the city of Washington with a blustery, overcast chill. It rained early in the morning, cleared, then rained again. But even without the cooperation of the weather, thousands upon thousands - "a crowd almost numberless," wrote a visitor - braved the drizzle and cold to watch a giant parade, with now sodden floats, wheel up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the newly completed dome of the Capitol building. There, in the Capitol, the principal actor in this inauguration pageant, Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States, was already at work, signing the last pieces of legislation passed by the outgoing Congress and witnessing a new Senate being sworn into office. - From Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction by Allen C. Guelzo
Espresso. Sausage and toast. Political discussion with wife. Coaching plans. Wall Street Journal. Blog. Coffee. Allen Guelzo book on Lincoln. Think. Notes on new book. Twitter. Email board member on policy governance. Check on irrigation schedule. Counsel from dog. Think. Order book from Amazon. Review of billing. Exercise. Coaching outline. Think. Correspondence. Review proposal. Firm ground rule: Do everything slowly.
As a management consultant, I am expected to study management and organizations. The latter subject covers a lot of territory and it often involves the study of history. That should not be a surprise. History is filled with decisions and mistakes and it is a source of lessons that can be applied to the modern day. It is not difficult to find organizations that favor the McClellans over the Grants and the Halifaxes over the Churchills. I've also seen Maginot Lines, purges, and New Deals. Few large organizations are without a Siberia. My advice to executives, managers, and supervisors is to read the management tomes but also tuck in some history. It helps to know when Alcibiades is in the boardroom or if a project is a moon launch, a Gallipoli or a Vietnam. [Photo by Giammarco Boscaro at Unsplash]
. . . and the pension crisis in Illinois. An excerpt from the City Journal article: The problem that Illinois faces, however, is that what constitutes a pension “promise” there goes beyond what courts elsewhere, including federal courts, have ever considered binding. In the private sector, where pensions are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, federal courts have consistently ruled that while workers are owed the pension money they’ve earned for work they’ve already done, employers may alter the rate at which workers earn new benefits. That’s generally true for many state public-sector pension systems, too.
About ten years ago, I gave a set of lectures at Harvard in which I made the observation that all theology, like all fiction, is at its heart autobiography, and that what a theologian is doing essentially is examining as honestly as he can the rough-and-tumble of his own experience with all its ups and downs, its mysteries and loose ends, and expressing in logical, abstract terms the truths about human life and about God that he believes he has found implicit there. More as a novelist than as a theologian, more concretely than abstractly, I determined to try to describe my own life as evocatively and candidly as I could in the hope that such glimmers of theological truth as I believed I had glimpsed in it would shine through my description more or less on their own. It seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that if God speaks to us at all in this world, if God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks. Someone we love dies, say. Some unforeseen act of kindness or cruelty touches the heart or makes the blood run cold. We fail a friend, or a friend fails us, and we are appalled at the capacity we all of us have for estranging the very people in our lives we need the most. Or maybe nothing extraordinary happens at all - just one day following another, helter-skelter, in the manner of days. We sleep and dream. We wake. We work. We remember and forget. We have fun and are depressed. And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments of even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks. But what do I mean by saying that God speaks? - From The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days by Frederick Buechner
Confederate general Daniel Harvey Hill put the matter more simply: the Confederate soldier "was unsurpassed and unsurpassable as a scout and on the skirmish line," but "of the shoulder-to-shoulder courage, born of drill and discipline, he knew nothing, and cared less. Hence, on the battlefield, he was more of a free lance than a machine. Whoever saw a Confederate line advancing that was not crooked as a ram's horn? Each ragged Rebel yelling on his own hook and aligning on himself." - From Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction by Allen C. Guelzo
See if you have one sizable task or responsibility that is unnecessarily consuming large amounts of your time while producing very little benefit. [And yes, many of us have at least one of those culprits.] Ask yourself why you are still doing it. [Photo by rawpixel at Unsplash]
This morning Rino telephoned. I thought he wanted money again and I was ready to say no. But that was not the reason for the phone call: his mother was gone. - From My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The real turning point in our lives is less likely to be the day we win the election or get married than the morning we decide not to mail the letter or the afternoon we watch the woods fill up with snow. The real turning point in human history is less apt to be the day the wheel is invented or Rome falls than the day a boy is born to a couple of Jews. - Frederick Buechner
We faced a last-minute decision regarding dinner and the question quickly went from "What would you like to eat?" to "What's open on Christmas Eve?" The answer was "Precious little." A Jewish kosher vegetarian restaurant was considered but abandoned since its menu had a definite vegetarian slant and the group to be fed is more carnivorous than a pack of hyenas. The obligatory Chinese restaurant was open but packed. Starving people were wandering around its parking lot. They had dazed looks and began to zombie-walk toward our car but we managed to elude them in time. Sustenance was eventually found at an upscale grocery store's take-home meals section. Sometimes any port in a storm is a very fine port indeed. I wonder if I'll get any diet books tomorrow.
"In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench, puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in The Times." - From And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Life to me, I guess, is a sort of super Grand National Steeplechase, with all sorts of hurdles to jump over and places to fall down, The trick is not to worry about winning, but to get around the course as best you can without doing any damage to the other riders and certainly not to the other horses. - David Niven
Bravo to Robert Boguski. He hits the bulls-eye with this essay on ethics and purchasing procedures. [I actually cheered while reading it.] An excerpt: Not one word about when we can expect to be paid. Not one word either about their tacit expectation that, in addition to providing services, we will also provide interest-free, 90-day financing on those services. But a wonderful portal in that well-designed website, through which we may effectively plead our case to be paid. So, we play the game mainly because we don’t have a choice. Apply for early payment, and offer a bribe of 2% to them for the privilege of them granting what should be ours in the first place.
I have decided upon my purpose: I will slay a Hydra and claim its treasure, like the heroes of old. - From How to Fight a Hydra: Face Your Fears, Pursue Your Ambitions, and Become the Hero You Are Destined to Be by Josh Kaufman
We live in a society of decreasing circles. More and more of us know fewer and fewer of us. We live alone and eat by ourselves, often with a TV or computer rather than a human being for company. If we do marry, the time an average relationship lasts decreases with each passing year.
Back from a business trip. I find it very difficult to get a decent night's sleep on such trips. As a result I am a tired old dog. I stare at my overnight bag. Pleasant memories. I bought it in London to carry back a bunch of books. Money well spent. It is well designed and a pleasure to use. Except it doesn't unpack itself.
I gave some people an early Christmas present today by canceling a couple of meetings. I knew they were already swamped and I've been under the weather so it's probably best for all. Although miles apart, I thought I could hear the cheers.
As you explore the possible reasons why an organization is not functioning properly, be sure to examine the structure and the transparency. The structure is often accepted as something that just "is" and which must be worked around. Unfortunately, if responsibilities are blurred and accountability is vague then unnecessary conflict can arise, effectiveness will be eroded, and demoralization will set in. In short, no one will really know how the organization operates. Don't think a solution will be forced by crisis. Organizations can go for years with severe structural problems. Transparency is important in a variety of ways but the one which I believe is most significant is that without it, you cannot have a true basis for evaluating performance. Some program or action may seem effective but, had we known all of the information, we would see that we are applauding a C performance in what could and should have been an A one. In the deep forest of management issues, keep an eye open for the Giant (structure) and the Ghost (transparency). [Photo by John Westrock at Unsplash]
A woman was arrested at a Human Resources Administration office in Brooklyn last week for sitting on the floor with her baby because all the seats were taken. Jazmine Headley apparently quarreled with a security guard who told her to get up, then refused to stand when police were called in.
Late last night. I was fighting a prolonged cold. Had tried reading a highly-rated book which turned out to be a disappointment so I ditched it and scanned the shelves. "The Last Supper" by Charles McCarry. I've always liked his spy novels. I started it and immediately knew I was in safe hands. First paragraph: In his dream, Paul Christopher, thirteen years old, wore a thick woolen sweater with three bone buttons on the left shoulder. His father's yawl Mahican was sailing before the wind, her port awash in the swelling waters of the Baltic Sea. The weak northern sun was just rising astern, behind the mist that hid the coast of Germany: not the mainland, but the island of Rügen, whose white chalk cliffs rise four hundred feet above the sea. Aboard the yawl, the man the Christophers called the Dandy scampered, quick as a rat, down the ladder into the cabin. Paul's mother was alarmed. "Our guest is hiding in the picnic basket," she said. "Sshhh, every time a secret is told, an angel falls."
I remember the good old days when a cold lasted a week. Now, however, the damned things linger on with many a false recovery. I begin to feel like I'm back to normal and the next moment I'm reaching for a Kleenex box. I've tried the natural cures as well as the usual array of store-bought medicines. All of them provide temporary relief, to one degree or another, but the cold drags on. As I write this, however, there is the small sense that a turning point has been reached. I will know by this afternoon. Aargh.
The Washington Post on the potential for a deal on the Dreamers and the border wall. My reaction: go for a deal. Keep the Dreamers and build the wall. It makes no sense to send the Dreamers back to a nation they don't really know. At the same time, it does makes sense to control our borders. The current immigration control pressures are bad enough but the future may be even worse. Drug wars, severe economic downturns, disease epidemics, and revolutions in Mexico, Central, and South America could easily spark massive surges of people trying to get into the United States for jobs, medical care, or basic safety. When and if that happens, the foresight of building a wall will be evident. Should an immigration policy be humane? Absolutely. But the very term "policy" implies a level of control that the current situation does not provide. Keep the Dreamers. Build the wall.
Oh, we can “do justice” — with vindictive glee. But are we kind? Do we have the slightest trace of humility? As any Christian who grew up in the bonds of fundamentalist legalism can tell you, justice untempered by mercy grinds the human heart into dust. And now we’re besieged by a secular fundamentalism that positively delights in inflicting pain on its enemies.
A farm in a jungle. Things need to be done at certain times. You cannot plant on Monday and harvest on Wednesday. Projects need time to develop. And whenever there is prolonged neglect, things do not improve. The jungle begins to grow back. Just as with an organization. [Photo by Peter Hershey at Unsplash]
I occasionally run across an article that I know I'll be recommending to all of my friends. This essay by Helen Andrews in First Things is one of them. An excerpt: . . . No one has yet figured out what rules should govern the new frontiers of public shaming that the Internet has opened. New rules are obviously required. Shame is now both global and permanent, to a degree unprecedented in human history. No more moving to the next town to escape your bad name. However far you go and however long you wait, your disgrace is only ever a Google search away. Getting a humiliating story into the papers used to require convincing an editor to run it, which meant passing their standards of newsworthiness and corroborating evidence. Those gatekeepers are now gone. Most attempts so far to devise new rules have taken ideology as their starting point: Shaming is okay as long as it's directed at men by women, the powerless against the powerful. But that doesn't address what to do afterward, if someone is found to have been wrongfully shamed, or when someone rightfully shamed wants to put his life back together. Read the entire thing.