Monday, April 23, 2018

Something to Ponder

Black and white shot of street musician performing with cello in doorway in Riga


[Photo by Aruna Naujokas at Unsplash]


There is at bottom only one problem in the world and this is its name. How does one break through? How does one get into the open? How does one burst the cocoon and become a butterfly?

- Thomas Mann

Quick Look

The trailer for "Mary Shelley."

Scene Sparking Immediate Curiosity

People browsing vinyl records at a stall on the street

[Photo by Clem Onojeghuo at Unsplash]

Which albums are on that table?

The Fatigue Factor

Ruffled gray covers and sheets with two pillows and a large window with blinds above it


[Photo by Quin Stevenson at Unsplash]

A question that should arise whenever watching a lengthy process that produces a major decision: did that decision come about as the result of careful analysis or was it simply reached because of fatigue? 

Long-time followers of this blog know that I regard fatigue as a sadly-neglected subject. This post was inspired by reading Winston Churchill's account of the diplomatic intricacies that followed the end of the First World War. It is likely that time after time key decisions were being made by extremely tired people. [It is an even safer bet that their staffs were worn out.] 

If such decisions sometimes seem to be baffling, the political considerations are not the only factors to explore. 

Lack of sleep may also have played a role.

As You Stare at the Screen for Three Hours

Eclecticity Light has a video (via Buster Keaton) of your workday.

Don't Mix Dinosaurs with Oaths



Although I failed to provide a specific analysis of the use of dinosaur sock puppets in re-enlistment oaths, the general subject is addressed.

Now available in paperback and Kindle format at Amazon

Read it. Learn it. Live it.

First Paragraph

The date is 480 B.C.E. The place is Abydos, the town on the Asian side of the Hellespont where it narrows to just over a mile in width. The scene is worthy of Hollywood in its heyday. Xerxes, Persia's King of Kings, ascends a throne on a promontory from which he can see armies assembled, the historian Herodotus tells us, of over a million and a half men. Had the number been only a tenth of that, as is more likely, it would still have approximated the size of Eisenhower's forces on D-Day in 1944. The Hellespont has no bridge now, but Xerxes had two then: one rested on 360 boats lashed together, the other on 314, both curved to accommodate winds and currents. For after an earlier bridge had broken apart in a storm, the furious king beheaded the builders and ordered the waters themselves whipped and branded. Somewhere on the bottom there presumably lie, to this day, the iron fetters he had thrown in for good measure.

- From On Grand Strategy by John Lewis Gaddis

Quick Look

The trailer for "Final Portrait."

The July 23, 2012 Solar Storm


Extreme Tech from 2014: The July 23, 2012 solar storm that could have zonked the world's electrical grid and sent us back to the bad old days.

It's Monday: Get Your Act Together




[Photo by seabass creatives at Unsplash]

Quote of the Day

Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

- Peter Thiel

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday Thought

Churchill's post-Pearl Harbor address to Congress was a work of political genius. Its structure was artistic, with four sections that could be titled:

I

We

They

Us Against Them

- From Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks

Friday, April 20, 2018

Miscellaneous and Fast


Bock's Assignments



Wally Bock has some weekend leadership reading assignments for us. 

[I am especially interested in the self-employed article.]

Quick Look

The trailer for "Casanova."

First Paragraph

In the midst of World War I, in February-March 1917, the tsarist regime which had ruled Russia since the fourteenth century collapsed with startling speed and finality. The causes of its breakdown were many and reached deep into history, but the most immediate of them was public dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war. Russian armies did not acquit themselves well in the campaigns of 1914-16, being repeatedly beaten by the Germans and forced to abandon to them vast and rich territories, including Poland. There were widespread rumors of treason in high places which alienated conservative elements. The inhabitants of cities were angered by inflation and shortages of food and fuel. The spark that ignited the revolutionary conflagration was a mutiny of the Petrograd military garrison, manned by superannuated peasant conscripts. Once the mutiny erupted, public order broke down in no time, the process being encouraged by liberal and radical politicians eager to take over power. With the abdication of Nicholas II on March 2, the entire bureaucratic machinery of the state dissolved.

- From Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime by Richard Pipes

The End of Anything is a Danger Zone





[Photo by Brooke Lark at Unsplash]


I've heard that one of the most dangerous stages of any road trip is when you are returning home and are close to your house. You may be tired and thus let down your guard. Perhaps you are less attentive because you have - at least in your mind - already returned.

A similar danger faces novelists. Consider how often you have been impressed by a novel until you near the ending. One wonders if fatigue and the desire to finish the damned thing cause many writers to cut corners. They just get sloppy. Either way, the danger zone for any novel is in the last chapter or two.

You can find similar dangers with meetings, conversations, dates and other areas. Parting is not sweet sorrow. Often it is simply sorrow. 

May your internal alarm bell ring whenever you near the end of anything. That is where the goblins lurk. 

Quick Look

The trailer for "Giant."

Writing in The Weekly Standard, John Podhoretz reviews a new book on the making of the film.

GQ's PC Reading List



[Photo by Morgan Basham at Unsplash]


The editors of GQ list "21 books you don't have to read."

Understatement alert: They don't make their case.

This excerpt provides a glimpse at their mindset:

"I actually love Lonesome Dove, but I'm convinced that the cowboy mythos, with its rigid masculine emotional landscape, glorification of guns and destruction, and misogynistic gender roles, is a major factor in the degradation of America."

Wait until they get to Hemingway and Twain. 

Did I somehow miss that the list is a clever attempt at satire?

Seeking Silence



The Hammock Papers has Thomas Merton's thoughts on silence.

I find myself seeking silence far more than in the past: turning off the radio while in the car, pausing in my work for brief moments of meditation, and settling into a quiet place where I can simply consider what is being overlooked.

The maxim "Silence is golden" is frequently true and yet silence is not always silent. It has an eloquence that connects us even more intensely to the world.

On Order

Image result for gaddis on grand strategy amazon

First Paragraph

"What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," teases the city's risqué advertising slogan as it invites visitors to lose their inhibitions, violate their moral principles, forget about their spouses, and ignore their credit card balances. A metropolitan area of 1.8 million people in the Mojave Desert, Sin City encourages irresponsible behavior about everything from sex to water.

- From Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do About It by Robert Glennon

Quick Look

The trailer for "Charlie Wilson's War."

Quote of the Day

Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility. In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility.

- Michael Korda

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Discover the System

A group of people brainstorming over a laptop and sheets of paper

[Photo by Stefan Stefancik at Unsplash]

Most of us are familiar with the management maxim: That which is rewarded gets done.

What is often missed is a serious review of just what gets rewarded. [Note: not who gets rewarded, but what.] 

I emphasize that because of the common tendency to focus on the conduct of people instead of the underlying operation of systems.

Watch for the slant and nudging of the system that rewards or encourages the conduct. In many cases, that is where the true source of the action is found.

White Coat Syndrome



Instapundit has info on why it is wise to have your blood pressure taken twice at the doctor's office.

I routinely do so. Mine is always much lower the second time. Of course, the initial test is right after the scariest part of the doctor's office visit: the scale.

Quick Look

The trailer for "The Ipcress File."

The Dirty and Dangerous Streets of San Francisco


San Francisco Chronicle: A tourism leader calls for a clean-up.

That is long overdue. It is truly sad what years of poor decisions have done to a once-charming city.

First Paragraph

When I was a boy, there were days when I was outrageously, deliriously happy, even while I knew such happiness to be a mistake. Perhaps it is merely the way memory works, but over the decade that followed. I came to believe that the day of my greatest happiness was also the last time I knew of any happiness at all.

- From The Day of Atonement by David Liss

A Glimpse of 1911

Fascinating: A brief film of New York City in 1911.

Who is filming your city today? Who is preserving that film?

Quick Look

The trailer for "A Lonely Place to Die."

"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history"

Image result for lincoln portrait eugene ormandy amazon


The competition is fierce but I believe that Adlai Stevenson's narration of Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" remains the best.

Because a Developer's Day is Never Done


Anderson Layman's Blog has on-going posts on the work involved with a development project.

Great stuff.

Merit Unless




[Photo by Pete Bellis at Unsplash]



"We hire on merit unless. . .

  • it's a close relative of a friend or business associate."
  • we need to get the feds off our back in which case we'll use quotas and deny that we ever did so."
  • we hear otherwise from the boss."
  • the person just looks the part."
  • we find a clone of ourselves."
  • Human Resources is off at a conference."
  • it requires a lot of work."
  • we are really in a hurry and don't have time to interview a bunch of people."
  • we got to talking at a business conference and, over a few drinks, made a job offer. On a cocktail napkin."
  • we think 'merit' is a racist concept meant to perpetuate white privilege."

In the Background

Image result for greatest hits bach amazon

Quote of the Day

I've never really allowed anyone else to tell me whether I'm good or not.

- Kelsey Grammer

Monday, April 16, 2018

Quick Look

The trailer for "Anastasia."

It Always Works for Me

Dog sways in a child seat on a swing set


[Photo by Marion Michele at Unsplash]

Cultural Offering has evidence of an effective motivation technique.

Pulitzer Prize List

The New York Times lists the winners.

Miscellaneous and Fast



Thiel's Perspectives



[Photo by Ember + Ivory at Unsplash.]


Take a little time and listen to these excerpts from talks where Peter Thiel discusses success.

Quick Look

The trailer for "Bedazzled."

Investing Your Time: Examine the "Fit-Ins"

A woman holding a white cup while working on a laptop near a window

[Photo by Andrew Neel at Unsplash]


As you review your upcoming two weeks (remember that a one week review is not enough), look for the projects that you are squeezing in-between other projects; i.e., those projects that you work on only when it is convenient to do so.

Make that "intend to work on when it is convenient to do so."

The reason for this suggestion is it is not unusual to find that some of the famous "important but not urgent" projects are hidden there. You have every intention of eventually getting around to them but those good intentions become excuses for inaction. The beauty of designated time is that it is a commitment and not a wish.

Rescue those hidden but important projects by giving them some meaningful blocks of time on your calendar. That means they should get at least 30 minutes but preferably an hour or more. Find a spot (or spots) on your calendar where you are less likely to be disturbed and block out the time.

That will be a big step toward achievement in an area that may make far more difference than any of the other actions that have been hogging your schedule.

Quick Look

The trailer for "In Darkness."

Something Else



[Photo by Aaron Burden at Unsplash]


We are used to considering things. We buy cars and houses, clothes and food. We have family, friends, and viewpoints as well as allegiances and beliefs.

And yet many of us sense that there is something beyond our possessions and relationships and limited horizons that is far greater than we can begin to imagine.

An exchange from one of G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown novels:

"I'm afraid I'm a practical man," said the doctor with gruff humor, "and I don't bother much about religion and philosophy." 

"You'll never be a practical man till you do," said Father Brown.

Poem in the Middle of the Night

April is National Poetry Month.

Don't miss this poem by Rick Georges of FutureLawyer. 

It is evidence that some fine poems are written in the middle of the night.

Quick Look

The trailer for "Salmon Fishing in The Yemen."

Quote of the Day

You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.

- Frank Zappa

Friday, April 13, 2018

Great Companions

A blurry close-up of a turntable needle


[Photo by Luke Chesser at Unsplash]

When the world closes in, I often find myself in the company of Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Copland, and Bach.

John Wayne on Insults



"I've always followed my father's advice: He told me, first, to always keep my word and, second, to never insult anybody unintentionally. If I insult you, you can be goddamn sure I intend to. And, third, he told me not to go around looking for trouble."

- John Wayne in a May 1971 Playboy interview

Yes, some words by John Wayne inspired this book.

First Paragraph

Max Heller had trouble pulling himself up. His six-foot frame barely fit in the BMW sidecar, but a military motorcycle was the only vehicle available. He winced as he freed his right leg and planted both feet on the cobblestones. A freezing drizzle had set in on the ride over, and he wiped his face, then shook his head in disapproval. Instead of driving him all the way up to the building, Strampe had dropped him off at the gate. Heller took this as a show of contempt. The young SS sergeant clearly didn't like him.

- From The Air Raid Killer: The First Case of Max Heller, Dresden Detective by Frank Goldammer

Quick Look

The trailer for "Rampage."

4 Important Truths about Leadership




[Photo by Hue Graphy at Unsplash]


Wally Bock's brief post on four important truths about leadership contains more wisdom than a pack of leadership books.

[Update: Wally assigns some leadership reading for the weekend. Quiz on Monday.]

Quick Look

The trailer for "I Kill Giants."

Mattisms

I'm glad to see that Matthew Lang is back to blogging.

He was missed.

In the Background

Image result for copland leonard slatkin amazon

Decision versus Outcome

A black-and-white shot of people sitting on stools at a long table



[Photo by Samuel Zeller at Unsplash]


I often hear people say "It was a mistake" when referring to a decision that resulted in a bad outcome.

What they might want to consider is that not every bad outcome means that the initial decision was a mistake. We make decisions based upon the available information and a reasonable analysis. Both of those have limitations. Just as a good decision doesn't guarantee a favorable outcome so too a bad outcome does not mean that the decision was poor.

What particularly worries me is that if good decisions are regarded as mistakes, then in the future the bar will be raised to an impossible level, producing inaction when action is sorely needed.

Congratulations!




All hail FutureLawyer (a.k.a. Rick Georges, Attorney at Beach) for the recognition by Sui Generis as a top technology site for lawyers!

It is well-deserved and totally expected by those of us who have followed his excellent blog for years.

Art Break: Reuters



Art Contrarian looks at the Volkswagen illustrations of Bernd Reuters.

Quick Look

The trailer for "Withnail and I."

Eclecticity Light



Where does he find this stuff?

Quote of the Day

Tragedy is if I cut my finger. Comedy is if I walk into an open sewer and die.

- Mel Brooks

[Update: Note the comments below. I think Daniel's version is correct.]

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Quick Look

The trailer for "The MEG."

First Paragraph

Are your emotions pure? Are your nerves adjustable? How do you stand in relation to the potato? Should it still be Constantinople? Does a nameless horse make you more nervous or less nervous than a named horse? In your view, do children smell good? If before you now, would you eat animal crackers? Could you lie down and take a rest on a sidewalk? Did you love your mother and father, and do Psalms do it for you? If you are relegated to last place in every category, are you bothered enough to struggle up? Does your doorbell ever ring? Is there sand in your craw? Could Mendeleyev place you correctly in a square on a chart of periodic identities, or would you resonate all over the board? How many push-ups can you do?

- From The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell

Uncle Earl

If today's political scene seems unusual, here's a 1959 news-reel clip on the unforgettable Earl K. Long.

And if you haven't read Liebling's book, you are missing a classic:

Image result for the earl of louisiana amazon


Stormy Mitigation

Andrew C. McCarthy on the Michael Cohen matter and the Stormy Daniels case.

Balance



[Photo by Beto Galetto at Unsplash]


Every day brings the same - usually unspoken - questions: how much is too much and how little is too little? Whether it is in planning, activity or environment, those questions are important and if one area is out of balance then the others are affected.

Quick Look

The trailer for "Mortal Engines."

Enjoyment



[Photo by John Mark Kuznietsov at Unsplash]


"I always enjoy what I'm doing because I don't do things that I don't enjoy."

- Comment by a wise old friend during a recent conversation

Quick Look

The trailer for "Little Pink House."

The Ability to Question

Close-up of a pen on a black notebook


[Photo by Thomas Martinsen at Unsplash]

A management lesson remembered: Years ago, I handled Equal Employment Opportunity matters for the City of Phoenix. Our team was very successful at preventing discrimination. A very big reason why was that, unlike many other EEO offices, we were not in the Human Resources Department.

Now this is not to say that our HR people were difficult to deal with or that they constituted any sort of barrier. Quite the contrary. We had an excellent HR Department and I enjoyed great rapport with them. But if you are going to prevent discrimination problems, one of the first and constant areas you need to examine is your organization's personnel practices, including recruitment, testing, and job requirements. You need to be free to question Human Resources.

It is far more difficult to raise such questions about your own department. As a relative outsider who reported to a Deputy City Manager, I was independent. I could discuss HR practices that might need to be changed and do so with a clout that would have been absent had my team operated within HR.

I mention this because that independence did not make a small difference. 

It made a huge difference.

Organizations that ignore it are running silent but significant risks.

"Must"



[Photo by Ben White at Unsplash]

  • "Must read"
  • "Must see"
  • "Must hear"
  • "Must buy"
  • "Must have"
  • "Must believe"
  • "Must support"
  • "Must visit"
  • "Must experience"
  • "Must do"
"Must" must not mean what it used to mean.

Quick Look

The trailer for "Hurricane."

Quote of the Day

The artist must say it without saying it.

- Duke Ellington

Monday, April 09, 2018

Quick Look

The trailer for the new "Fahrenheit 451."

Bate's Lists

A fountain pen on a spiral notebook



[Photo by Aaron Burden at Unsplash]


Two helpful lists from Nicholas Bate:
  1. Brilliant at the Basics of Business
  2. The Excellence Kit Bag

Works Every Time

There is a simple way to generate a new idea: 

Type a "to-do list" and print it off.

All Americans


Salena Zito with the Lee and Grant story that deserves more attention.

The Monday Wednesday Friday Blogger


Since starting Execupundit.com back in the closing days of the Lincoln administration, I have tried to post every day with the exception of Sundays.  Even Sundays have occasionally received several posts.

I am now immersed in an unusual but desirable project in addition to my usual consulting work. When it is done, I'll make an announcement but until then I'll have to be suitably mysterious, partly due to a belief that to talk about it would be to jinx it.

As a result, I'll be blogging on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Bear with me. 

Less is sometimes more, even much more.

Fascinating

Image result for on his own terms amazon

The Magic of Shakespeare

The magic of Shakespeare is precisely that he is always apt to our circumstances. The same passage can speak to us in contradictory ways at different moments in our life. Keats called it his "negative capability."

Read the rest of Daniel Hannan in the Washington Examiner.

Quick Look

The trailer for "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote."

Quote of the Day

I always advise people never to give advice.

- P. G. Wodehouse  

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Weekend Leadership Reading




Wally Bock has some assignments for us.

The Shadow of an Unseen Enemy

The Guardian: Novelist Howard Jacobson on antisemitism in Britain.

Quick Look

The trailer for "Howards End."

If Life Had a Rewind Button





[Photo by Nicolas Lobos at Unsplash]


If life had a rewind button, I probably would not have written the All I Said Was book

After all, it is tailored to assist people who sincerely want to avoid inadvertently offending others. With a magic button, they would be able to rewind ill-chosen words and replace them with what they truly meant to say or with a good old friend named Silence.

Those people are my target audience. I know them because I am among them. I am not incapable of using poorly chosen words. Memory often tugs at my sleeve and reminds me of when I could have been kinder or more diplomatic. For many of us in that group, our second language is self-reproach.

As for the louts of the world, they are beyond reach. Anyone who enjoys being obnoxious or abrasive won't be influenced by advice on tact. They don't need a book or a workshop. They need to buy a new personality. 

Another - and I would argue a related - group may also shun the book. People who need a safe space whenever an opposing viewpoint comes near won't like the book's advice. [Their frequent eagerness to squelch speech puts them closer to the louts than they'd ever admit.] I hope that life eventually teaches them that you can learn a great deal from opposing opinions.

So here's my proposal: if you think that you or your team could benefit from the book, check it out. It could prevent a lot of hassle down the road.