A friend of mine many years ago had the habit of describing certain individuals as "a pretty bright boy (or girl)." "He's a pretty bright boy, Mike." One could refer to adults as boys and girls in those days without being instantly corrected but beyond that his label had more significant collisions with reality. The pretty bright person in one arena can be pig-ignorant in another. (Yes, I know that pigs are smart, It's a rather nifty expression that hints at stubborn ignorance.) One could assemble a long list of disasters created by pretty bright people: The Edsel, the Maginot Line, the Bay of Pigs invasion, Vietnam, Gallipoli, New Coke, disbanding the Iraqi Army, the Iran-Contra scandal, the Watergate cover-up, the Munich Agreement, etc. After the smoke clears, there is a tendency to regard those who crafted a poor decision as suspect but that handy judgment overlooks the opportunity to learn just how undeniably bright people wandered into a danger zone that was surrounded by alarm bells. I've touched on this subject before simply because I find it to be of intense interest as an individual and as a management consultant. The literature in the area is sizable - Irving Janis gave us "group-think" as a fine descriptive term for one of the possible causes - and yet there is so much more to learn. It is a rare consulting assignment where I am not looking for this danger. There is only one certainty: The Pretty Bright are not Pretty Bright all the time.
Whereas in England the impetus to deliberations on the origins and nature of property stemmed from strictly pragmatic considerations - the desire to rein in the arbitrary power of the crown, especially in matters of taxation - in France it was inspired by a philosophical revulsion from the world as constituted. The French philosophes viewed the actual world as a perversion of the true or ideal world, of the world as it should and could be. When James Boswell visited Rousseau, who more than any Frenchman of his time influenced public opinion against property, his host told him: "Sir, I have no liking for the world as it is.... a world of fantasies, and I cannot tolerate the world as it is.... Mankind disgusts me." Ill-tempered but honest: utopians have always served as an outlet for misanthropic emotions. - From Property and Freedom by Richard Pipes
It can be very tempting to deal with a surface issue - one that everyone acknowledges and which appears to be pressing - while the real issue lurks beneath the surface. This is understandable. People are busy and attempts to look beneath the surface are easily scorned. A key to effective leadership, however, is identifying the real issue and building alliances so it can be effectively resolved. That usually takes courage, time, and hard work. And a willingness to start.
You're a presidential candidate. Your campaign may rise or fall on your debate performance. Due to the large number of candidates you will have only a few minutes to make a positive distinction between you and all of the others. A standard campaign speech won't work and you cannot afford any blunders. Not easy, is it?
Then there’s the education factor. Better-educated Republicans don’t gain materially improved understanding of Democrats, while Democrats’ knowledge of Republican beliefs “actually gets worse with every additional degree they earn.” Moreover, “this effect is so strong that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate than those with a postgraduate degree” in their perceptions of Republicans.
"The National Park Service's five major Civil War battlefield parks - Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Chickamauga/Chattanooga and Vicksburg - had a combined 3.1 million visitors in 2018," reported the Wall Street Journal, "down from about 10.2 million in 1970, according to park service data. Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, the most famous battle site, had about 950,000 visitors last year, just 14% of its draw in 1970 and the lowest annual number of visitors since 1959." - From "Visit Civil War Battlefields, While You Can" by Quin Hillyer in the Washington Examiner, June 4, 2019
Writing in City Journal, Harry Stein examines the turbulent career of Eugene Lyons and others who sought to expose the nature of Stalin's regime. An excerpt: Another figure who makes a brief appearance in The Red Decade is screenwriter Morrie Ryskind, and his example speaks to the influence that his leftist foes would continue to wield years after The Red Decade’s publication—even during the blacklist years of the late 1940s and early 1950s. One of the industry’s most successful writers, he had numerous credits, running from the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera to My Man Godfrey and Stage Door. Ryskind broke ranks in 1947 by testifying in open session about Communist influence in the film industry. “In the twelve years prior to my testimony,” he’d write in his memoir, I Shot an Elephant in My Pajamas, “I was consistently one of the ten highest paid writers in Hollywood. I turned down, on the average, at least three assignments for every one I accepted, and I feel safe in saying I was welcome at every studio in town. After I testified against The Hollywood Ten, I was never again to receive one single offer from any studio.”
"Picture it," Pravdin cries, folding himself into a comic crouch. "After four hours on line the guard asks me, 'What are you waiting for, comrade?' So what do I tell him? So what I tell him is: 'For the State to wither away is what I'm waiting for.'" The cigarette holder balanced delicately between the fingers of one hand, the stem of a crystal wine glass pressed between the fingers of the other, Mother Russia shakes with laughter. "Don't go away, there's more," Pravdin gasps. "When I say I'm waiting for the state to wither away, this old bat in front of me waves her gouty finger in my face and tells" - Pravdin can barely get the words out he is laughing so hard - 'she tells me, 'Don't hold your breath!'" - From Mother Russia by Robert Littell
"I once developed a new product that failed badly, and General Johnson called me in, and I was sure he was going to fire me. I had just come in late when his secretary called, and he was always in early. I can remember walking over to his office, and I was not that upset. I was kind of excited. Johnson said to me, 'I understand you lost over a million dollars.' I can't remember the exact amount. It seemed like a lot then. And I said, 'Yes, sir. That's correct.' So he stood up and held out his hand. He said, 'I just want to congratulate you. All business is making decisions, and if you don't make decisions, you won't have any failures. The hardest job I have is getting people to make decisions. If you make that same decision wrong again, I'll fire you. But I hope you'll make a lot of others, and that you'll understand there are going to be more failures than successes.'" - James Burke, chairman & CEO, Johnson & Johnson, quoted in On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis
When I was growing up, there was no doubt about it. Churchill was quite the greatest statesman that Britain had ever produced. From a very early age I had a pretty clear idea of what he had done: he had led my country to victory against all the odds and against one of the most disgusting tyrannies the world has ever seen. - From The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History by Boris Johnson
"I have often thought that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, 'This is the real me.'" - William James [Photo by Luis Eusebio at Unsplash]
The enlarging of the potential that, for instance, the Internet brings in is matched by maybe a shallowness that is very much generated by the speed by which things are happening. So for instance in my development, I was sluggish and very, very elementary and very few things were happening compared to what's going on now for a young person. But maybe that had the virtue of letting me sit on my ego and eventually get more knowledgeable. Because I think now we are in love with data and information and we are missing the acknowledgment that comes from a slow process of learning, a slow process of growing and so on. - Paolo Soleri, architect and urban planner
Pravdin hands her the form he has filled out, along with his Moscow residence permit (it cost a small fortune), his internal passport, a letter (forged) certifying he is a member in good standing of the Writers' Union and therefore is entitled to twice the standard nine square meters of living space that is the inalienable right of every Soviet citizen, and a military certificate (the genuine article) indicating he suffers from an old war wound and therefore is entitled to live within a radius of a hundred meters of public transportation. Methodical in her movements the woman piles up the documents, begins with the internal passport, glances at the word Jew penned in alongside entry three (ethnic origin), pockets the two Bolshoi tickets Pravdin has discreetly placed in the military certificate. The interview, Pravdin senses, is off to a reasonable start. Touch wood. "What is the nature of your war wound?" the thin woman asks in a voice that conveys total lack of interest in the answer.
"Shrapnel in the neck," Pravdin explains. "Pinched nerves. I lost the ability to shrug." "That doesn't sound incapacitating," comments the thin woman. "Incapacitating is what it is," Pravdin argues passionately. "In a workers' paradise the inability to shrug is the ultimate wound." - From Mother Russia by Robert Littell
Althouse cites the case of Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck. One encounters an assortment of unusual names while going through life. [I once met a man named Worth A. Nicoll.] And remember Faith Popcorn, the futurist? She is still around. You may have forgotten her predictions but you remember her name.
Cultural Offering has some sage advice from a sage person. Here's another insight from Mr. Buffett: "Most people equate discipline with an absence of freedom. In fact, the opposite is true; only the disciplined are truly free. The undisciplined are slaves to moods, appetites, and passions."
If you don't have much money, you still might be able to achieve many goals. Even if you have no money, you might be able to achieve them. Likewise, the lack of a staff might not keep you from achieving your goals. But if you don't have sufficient time, then you may be facing the ultimate barrier. Time is vital and yet it is often taken for granted. Value and protect your time. Once lost, it is never retrieved and you cannot always buy it. [Photo by Jon Tyson at Unsplash]
He seems at loose ends, half-hearted, polite but distant, vaguely disreputable with his crosscurrents of thick wavy hair spilling off in several directions, vaguely sinister behind his steel-rimmed eyeglasses that trap the light at odd angles and turn into tarnished mirrors. He stares vacantly over the shoulders of people and tends to become aware of their voices when they stop talking. He has trouble swallowing, digesting, defecating. And remembering; especially remembering. His mind wanders; sometimes he gets where he's going with no memory of the trip. Sleep is out of the question. The few times he has managed to doze off, he woke up screaming - though he was never certain which of the recent events in his life he was screaming about. - From The Debriefing by Robert Littell
It is a company of control freaks run by control freaks and lorded over by the king of control freaks. As one ex-engineer famously said, Jeff Bezos is such a control freak, he "makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies." - From The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World's Most Disruptive Company by John Rossman
Recently I was in a meeting at the offices of a ginormous global conglomerate. Eight of us sat around a big, beautiful table made of incredible wood no doubt harvested from some disappearing rain forest. A fancy phone in the middle of the table linked us to voices from three other cities - the media buyer for the company, a rep from the creative firm, and a brand strategist. They served the most amazing oversized oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips that were still warm, the sweet scent filling the room. We were discussing the launch of a new campaign, so the mood should have been corks-popping celebratory. But the day before, the corporation's media budget had been "slashed." Everyone in the room was either dejected or in panic. The disembodied voices on the phone were mumbling mournfully to each other. - From Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business by Nancy Lublin
. . .[U]ntil our robot masters take over the world, the Internet isn't going away. So what our polity needs is a bit more forbearance. A good bit of it. Accept that people who vote differently don't want to destroy the republic. When someone you know says something wacky, don't argue with them - try smiling, being pleasantly bemused, and moving on in the conversation. (This goes double when the wackiness comes from someone you don't know. First of all, you're not going to change their mind. And second, why do you care what they think?} But above all, the next time a Two Minutes Hate ramps up, step away from your computer and get a cup of coffee. You'll be a better person. And you'll feel better too. Forbearance is the rare virtue that provides its own rewards. - Sonny Bunch in The Seven Deadly Virtues, edited by Jonathan V. Last
I now see very plainly that though we achieved a first-rate tragedy, which will never be forgotten just because it was a tragedy, tragedy was not our business. In the broad perspective opened up by ten years' distance, I see not one journey to the Pole, but two, in startling contrast one to another. On the one hand, Amundsen going straight there, getting there first, and returning without the loss of a single man, and without having put any greater strain on himself and his men than was all in a day's work of polar exploration. Nothing more business-like could be imagined. On the other hand, our expedition, running appalling risks, performing prodigies of super-human endurance, achieving immortal renown, commemorated in august cathedral sermons and by public statues, yet reaching the Pole only to find our terrible journey superfluous, and leaving our best men dead on the ice. To ignore such a contrast would be ridiculous: to write a book without accounting for it a waste of time. - Apsley Cherry-Garrard, participant in the Scott expedition to the South Pole, in The Worst Journey in the World [Photo by Bethany Legg at Unsplash]
Some of William Conrad Wade's favorite expressions and bits of advice: "You're a day late and a dollar short." "I don't want to hear any alibis." "Do what?" "Tell 'em to go to hell." "You send them to school and they come back dumber than when they left." As I get older, I find myself borrowing many of these. Happy Father's Day!
. . . [T]he writer Mary Eberstadt notes that we live at a bizarre moment when it is nearly impossible to speak with any moral judgment about sexual practices - but a great deal of moral and philosophical energy is spent on the subject of food. You wouldn't dare say that someone ought not put this part there with that person. And you wouldn't say it because (a) your peers wold think you a troglodyte and (b) you don't really think it's wrong. It's just a lifestyle choice. Maybe it's not for you, but who are you to judge? Food, on the other hand, is different. It's morally elevated to eat organic grains and eggs that come from cage-free hens. You're a better person if you only eat locally grown produce. A better person, still, if you don't eat meat. And the best people eat with one eye always - always! - on "sustainability." Whatever that is. On the subject of food, some lifestyle choices are better than others. And we're not afraid to say so. - Jonathan V. Last [Photo by Jannis Brandt at Unsplash]
You know the answer to this: Which makes a greater impression on a person: assistance on a major project or assistance on a minor item that will nonetheless be noticed every day? There are times when it is very risky to describe any action as minor. [Photo by Daniel Chekalov at Unsplash]
Joel Kotkin gives his take on what's happening in "The Golden State." An excerpt: How long can working- and middle-class Californians endure such conditions while being hectored by billionaires and celebrities? An alternative may exist: the development of a pragmatic, solutions-oriented new party, as proposed by former GOP congressman Tom Campbell. This would constitute what the late historian Kevin Starr called “the party of California”—one that doesn’t adhere to a green religion or do the bidding of tech mavens but instead seeks to restore the promise that attracted so many to this peculiarly blessed state.
The June 2019 issue of Commentary magazine has a great essay by Joseph Epstein on "The Achievement of Vasily Grossman: Was he the greatest writer of the past century?" An excerpt: "In a conversation sometime in the mid-1970s, Saul Bellow remarked to me on the crucial difference between European and American writers of his generation. Writers in Europe have looked the devil in the eye, he said, while in America writers have to make do with irony, comedy, and anything else that comes to mind. The devil, of course, was totalitarianism, in particular fascism and Communism, which promised its adherents heaven and brought them unmitigated hell."
In 1903, during America's darkest period of hate, W. E. B. Du Bois heartbreakingly affirmed his intellectual affinity with Western civilization. "I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas," Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk. "I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension." - From The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture by Heather Mac Donald