[Photo by Omer Salom at Unsplash]
Saturday, January 30, 2021
I don't know if it is the pressure of the times - and I hate even to say that because we aren't in war-time London dodging the Blitz - or if it can be explained by a simple decline in manners, but lately I've noticed some examples of rudeness from people who should know better.
These are usually nice people. That added to the shock.
I'd politely describe their conduct as extreme disagreement along with crude characterizations of positions and people. There's also the idea that no reasonable person could possibly disagree with their positions or perceive things differently.
Is there another common characteristic of these incidents? Yes. Rapid reactions.
I think all of us - and I include myself here - need to slow down our judgments and weigh our reactions.
Let's sleep on it.
[Photo by Anton Malanin at Unsplash]
Friday, January 29, 2021
Read the rest of Pedro Domingos in Quillette.
"We'll be doing the same thing we did five years ago."
"The same thing?"
"Well, of course, we now have a different leadership team that hasn't seen it and the mission has been altered."
"Our best technicians left."
"True, and we have fewer resources."
"There are some legal concerns but you know how lawyers are."
"And remember that the union is still hopping mad about the last time."
"That's correct, but we'll essentially be doing the same thing."
"You're saying it's no big deal."
A perceptive point by Neil Postman:
"...[C]onsider the primitive technology of smoke signals. While I do not know exactly what content was once carried in the smoke signals of American Indians, I can safely guess that it did not include philosophical argument. Puffs of smoke are insufficiently complex to express ideas on the nature of existence, and even if they were not, a Cherokee philosopher would run short of either wood or blankets long before he reached his second axiom. You cannot use smoke to do philosophy. Its form excludes the content."
And similar limitations, I would add, exist on Twitter.
City Journal: Joel Kotkin on the Biden administration's possible use of California as a model.
[Photo by Mat Weller at Unsplash]
Thursday, January 28, 2021
- "Coming Out of the Ice" by Victor Herman
- "Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag" by Armando Valladares
- "The Gulag Archipelago" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
- "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
- "Life and Death in Shanghai: China Under Mao's Cultural Revolution" by Nien Cheng
- "The First Circle" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
- "Darkness at Noon" by Arthur Koestler
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
My desk is awash with policies and bylaws. They flop about like fish but it is important to consider whether any fish have eluded the net. In a busy world, that can easily happen.
"The policy was adopted, but did anyone put it in the Policy Manual?"
"The policy was adopted, but did anyone check to see if it conflicts with our bylaws?"
"And do any of our bylaws conflict with one another?"
[Photo by Patrick Boucher at Unsplash]
Twenty common ways in which people make matters more complicated than need be:
- Mistaking the rigid for the flexible and the flexible for the rigid.
- Thinking that their organization rewards Behavior A when it really rewards Behavior B.
- Believing that solutions don't have an expiration date.
- Assuming that their perspective is the common one.
- Seeking perfection.
- Making unnecessary enemies.
- Believing they have time for nonessentials.
- Failing to communicate values and assumptions.
- Regarding caution as a form of cowardice.
- Falling in love with a strategy.
- Thinking they are too good/big/smart to fail.
- Omitting practice.
- Letting ego block reality.
- Rushing to judgment.
- Emphasizing results more than efforts.
- Caring too little or too much.
- Choosing the wrong team members.
- Underestimating the competition.
- Failing to "go see."
- Refusing to ask for help.
Take the bad with the good, we stoically tell ourselves. But that's not how the brain works. Our minds and lives are skewed by a fundamental imbalance that is just now becoming clear to scientists: Bad is stronger than good.
- From The Power of Bad: How The Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It by John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Monday, January 25, 2021
Tablet magazine: Armin Rosen on the journalists who are against free speech.
Political Calculations has a simple introduction to quantum tunneling.
And it is explained by Maryam Tsegaye, a high school senior from Canada who does an excellent job while coming across as a charming person you'd like to meet at a party.
I have a feeling we'll be hearing much more from Maryam in the future.
The baby boomers were born between 1945 and 1964, in the era of prosperity and self-confidence that followed America's victory in World War II. The same spirit of optimism and good fortune that boosted the birthrate in those years gave those children a lifelong sense that the world was made just for them.
- From Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster by Helen Andrews
Patrick Rhone points to Annie Mueller's reasons for re-reading books (and the books she re-reads).
Some books and plays that have made my re-read list:
- "The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame
- "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl
- "The Balkan Trilogy" by Olivia Manning
- "The Last Hurrah" by Edwin O'Connor
- "The Comedians" by Graham Greene
- "Life with a Star" by Jiri Weil
- The Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian
- "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
- "The First Circle" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
- "Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare
- "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare
- "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare
- "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison
- "Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain
- "I, Claudius" by Robert Graves
- "Good-bye to All That" by Robert Graves
- "1984" by George Orwell
- "Modern Times" by Paul Johnson
- "Chronicles of Wasted Time" by Malcolm Muggeridge
- "The Flame Trees of Thika" by Elspeth Huxley
- "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry
- "The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane
- "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens
- "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens
- "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- "Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville
- "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" by Alexandra Fuller
- "Vanity Fair" by William Makepeace Thackeray
- "The Bonfire of the Vanities" by Tom Wolfe
- "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel
- "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole
- "Eagle in the Snow" by Wallace Breem
Arnold Kling examines what I've long regarded to be a brain-dead policy: zero tolerance.
I believe many organizations have adopted it as a way to avoid responsibility for nuanced decision-making.
"We didn't decide. The policy did."
Have the guts to make a decision.
President Biden's decision on the Keystone pipeline is experiencing the world of unintended consequences.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Saturday, January 23, 2021
In Commentary magazine, Joseph Epstein writes about the hubbub that was unleashed when he wrote the Wall Street Journal essay about Jill Biden's use of "doctor."
I have no problem with her use of the title but I think the reaction to Epstein's essay was way over the mark.
The press may have referred to "Dr. Lynne Cheney" but I can't recall an instance.
In 1976, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan debated James Buckley in their race for the Senate, Buckley referred to "Professor Moynihan."
Moynihan humorously replied, "The mudslinging has begun!"
Of all Primo Levi’s searing stories, the one that I can’t get out of my head is his account of his arrival at Auschwitz, parched with thirst after days in a boxcar with no water, and reaching for a glistening, crystal-clear icicle hanging out a window. An SS guard slapped it out of his hand. “Why?” asked Levi. “Hier ist kein warum,” growled the Nazi. “Here, there is no why.”
Western civilization arose on why. We had better keep asking it, draining every fetid pool of political correctness that lies in the way of an answer.
- From Myron Magnet's "Liberty-If You Can Keep It" essay in the 2016 City Journal
Friday, January 22, 2021
Andrew Sullivan notes President Biden's early actions. An excerpt:
Biden has also signaled (and by executive order, has already launched) a very sharp departure from liberalism in his approach to civil rights. The vast majority of Americans support laws that protect minorities from discrimination, so that every American can have equality of opportunity, without their own talents being held back by prejudice. But Biden’s speech and executive orders come from a very different place. They explicitly replace the idea of equality in favor of what anti-liberal critical theorists call “equity.” They junk equality of opportunity in favor of equality of outcomes. Most people won’t notice that this new concept has been introduced — equity, equality, it all sounds the same — but they’ll soon find out the difference.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Above the Law: Check out the story of a law professor and the use of what could be termed "offensive abbreviations."
I don't think he should have apologized.
There are parts of our nation that are nearing the fringes of Chinese Cultural Revolution/Red Guard territory.
Read all of David Bernstein's essay here.
Tablet: Michael Lind examines "The New National American Elite." An excerpt:Constantly replacing old terms with new terms known only to the oligarchs is a brilliant strategy of social exclusion. The rationale is supposed to be that this shows greater respect for particular groups. But there was no grassroots working-class movement among Black Americans demanding the use of “enslaved persons” instead of “slaves” and the overwhelming majority of Americans of Latin American descent—a wildly homogenizing category created by the U.S. Census Bureau—reject the weird term “Latinx.” Woke speech is simply a ruling-class dialect, which must be updated frequently to keep the lower orders from breaking the code and successfully imitating their betters.
Martin Gurri explores post-journalism in a City Journal essay. An excerpt:
A cynic (or a conservative) might argue that objectivity in political reporting was more an empty boast than a professional standard and that the newspaper, in pandering to its audience, had long favored an urban agenda, liberal causes, and Democratic candidates. This interpretation misses the transformation in the depths that post-journalism involved. The flagship American newspaper had turned in a direction that came close to propaganda. The oppositional stance, as Mir has noted, cannot coexist with newsroom independence: writers and editors were soon to be punished for straying from the cause. The news agenda became narrower and more repetitive as journalists focused on a handful of partisan controversies—an effect that Mir labeled “discourse concentration.” The New York Times, as a purveyor of information and a political institution, had cut itself loose from its own history.
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
This book is about love of country - not unalloyed love, or unwary, unquestioning love, or infatuated, one-night, wink-in-the-bar love. But love, pure, steady, and complicated. I wrote it in a time when I found it useful to dredge up feelings about America that for a long time lay inside me. These feelings gave me comfort and resolve, and they are offered to you in hopes of the same. If you are put in the position of defending your way of life, as we have been, it may help to remember that we live in a pretty great country.
- From Where We Stand: 30 Reasons for Loving Our Country by Roger Rosenblatt
[Photo by Luke Stackpoole at Unsplash]
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
What makes a great memoir? The answer is that it matters less what the life lived actually was, than that it should be described with the utmost honesty. Ordinarily that means it must be written by somebody who either does not expect the book to be published in their lifetime or else has no special desire to still leave the house. Barbara Amiel’s Friends and Enemies, the personal history of the British-Canadian journaist and wife of the one-time press baron Conrad Black, falls very clearly into the latter grouping.
Read the rest of Douglas Murray's review in Commentary.
We are a better country when we listen to those who disagree with us and accept or reject their conclusions without rushing to condemn them as evil or ignorant people and seeking to drive them out of society. The marketplace of ideas should be large and diverse.
[Photo by Thomas Kelley at Unsplash]
The declared purpose of the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission is to “enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.” This requires a restoration of American education, which can only be grounded on a history of those principles that is “accurate, honest, unifying, inspiring, and ennobling.” And a rediscovery of our shared identity rooted in our founding principles is the path to a renewed American unity and a confident American future.The Commission's Report has been issued.
I look forward to reading it.
Update: There is a report that the report has been removed from the White House website and that the Commission itself has been abolished by the new administration. The report's removal may simply be a website glitch. I have not seen any official announcement.
I was what the world would term a failure until I was forty-two years old. I did not regard myself as a failure; I learned from every mistake as best I could. My wife, Toshiko, once told me that what others call failure is merely a stepping-stone. I am now eighty-four years old: I look back on my life and see that everything that happened to me in its first half was somehow part of the preparation for what I would do with its second half. As Shakespeare reminds us, "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will."
- From Captured By History: One Man's Vision of Our Tumultuous Century by John Toland
- Morris Udall, explaining his dark horse candidacy in 1976
Monday, January 18, 2021
"I lived and worked in France for a good many years, beginning in 1925 when the country was not only the greatest power on the continent of Europe but, to me at least, the most civilized and enlightened. In the ensuing years I watched with increasing apprehension the Third Republic go downhill, its strength gradually sapped by dissension and division, by an incomprehensible blindness in foreign, domestic, and military policy, by the ineptness of its leaders, the corruption of its press, and by a feeling of growing confusion, hopelessness, and cynicism (Je m'en foutisme) in its people. And though at the beginning of the 1930s I left for assignments elsewhere, I returned frequently to Paris throughout the decade and thus was able to keep in touch with the deterioration one could see - or at least feel - all around."
- William L. Shirer, The Collapse of The Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Saturday, January 16, 2021
What [the Germans] did, in effect, was to institutionalize military excellence . . . and more than any other single factor it was the German general staff that made the difference . . . . There were generals in World War II, Russian generals, American generals, British generals, who were as good as the best of the Germans, but the Germans had about ten times as many very good generals.- Col. T.N. Dupuy
The late and great Alan Brunacini, a legend in the fire service, talking about the essentials of customer service. [Alan was the fire chief for the City of Phoenix for many years. Highly innovative and insightful, he influenced fire departments around the world.]
One of the finest executives I've ever known.
In the famous time management quadrant, the Important and Urgent category and the Important and Not Urgent category take precedent over the Not Important and Urgent and certainly over the Not Important and Not Urgent.
I think a sub-category might be helpful: Important and Ugh.
You know the characteristics of Important and Ugh: not urgent but so distasteful that an extra effort will be required to trick/nudge/cajole you into tackling it.
What to do?
First, think of how happy you'll be when the Important and Ugh items are finished.
Very happy, right?
Now, use this strategy:
- Divide the chore into distinct portions.
- Quickly jot down the steps needed to complete each portion.
- Start with the easiest one. [It will still be Ugh but it will be easier than the others.]
- Use the dedicated 20 minutes approach and focus your attention on completing the portion.
- Take a short break.
- Take another 20 minutes and complete the first portion or, if it is done, shift to the next portion.
- Repeat steps 3 through 6 until the all of the portions are completed.
Friday, January 15, 2021
I cannot tell you how many times I seen or read of cases where a leadership team adopted a plan based on certain assumptions and then operated as if it were timeless.
Embracing a strategy which once may have been sound, they fail to realize that new challenges and competitors can quickly make it obsolete. In fact, plans often began to fade on the day they are completed.
In most cases, bright and busy people were involved in the planning. Those two qualities, however, can contribute to a reluctance to revisit a decision they thought was complete.
But it never is complete. Periodic sparring sessions with the assumptions should be placed on the leadership team's calendar on the same day the plan is finished.
And if the sessions don't draw some blood, they may not be tough enough.
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Bari Weiss on what comes after the fall of the old order. An excerpt:I don’t know the answer. But I know that you have to be sort of strange to stand apart and refuse to join Team Red or Team Blue. These strange ones are the ones who think that political violence is wrong, that mob justice is never just and the presumption of innocence is always right. These are the ones who are skeptical of state and corporate power, even when it is clamping down on people they despise. The ones who still hold fast to the old ideas enshrined in our constitution.
The planned impeachment trial of Donald Trump after he leaves office would be our own version of the Cadaver Synod. In 897, Pope Stephen VI and his supporters continued to seethe over the action of Pope Formosus, who not only died in 896 but was followed by another pope, Boniface VI. After the brief rule of Boniface VI, Pope Stephen set about to even some scores. He pulled Formosus out of his tomb, propped him up in court, and convicted him of variety of violations of canon law. Formosus was then taken out, three fingers cut off, and eventually thrown in a Tiber River.
Read all of Jonathan Turley's column in USA Today.
An elementary school in Cupertino, California—a Silicon Valley community with a median home price of $2.3 million—recently forced a class of third-graders to deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to their “power and privilege.”
Read the rest of Christopher F. Rufo's City Journal article here.
[Photo by Kelly Sikkema at Unsplash]
You must always work not just within but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle five. In that way the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.- Pablo Picasso
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Political Calculations has the charts and analysis.
[My wife, who works in a high risk environment, is getting her vaccine soon. Being young, dynamic, and a quasi-recluse, I will be getting mine later.]
William Voegeli, writing in City Journal, analyzes the debate technique that has become so popular in recent times. An excerpt:
"The whataboutism indictments mean that we, who wield this cultural power, can deliver crazy and dangerous pronouncements during one historical circumstance, and then a few months later use that power to decree that the earlier pronouncements are irrelevant to whatever points we’re making today. Cultural power means never having to say you’re sorry and never having to feel you’re constrained. Go ahead: take outrageous positions or issue preposterous formulations today, confident that if they make you or us look bad in the future, we, the culturally powerful, will join together to manufacture a consensus that even alluding to those embarrassments is now impermissible. It will be as if they never happened. Kant’s categorical imperative about committing or defending only those actions you would uphold as universal principles is ground down to a speed bump. Cultural power demolishes universality with situational assertions of relativity: That was then; this is now. If some annoying troll complains about our inconsistency or hypocrisy, we’ll respond with accusations of whataboutism, an update of the credo voiced by Eric Stratton in Animal House: You f---ed up. You took us seriously."
I know the series has been around for several years, but my wife and I are re-watching it in order to avoid the lunacy in Washington.
And that brought this to mind: if you've watched "Sherlock", you have seen my candidate for the most chilling villain to ever reach the screen. [Example to follow.]
If you have not seen the series, don't cheat by watching this excerpt. Watch the entire series.
A Sherlock Holmes based in modern London? That's creative enough but the portrayal of Moriarty went far beyond the usual "mad professor" depicted in the usual Sherlock Films film portrayal. This one is young, hip, thoroughly dangerous, and he gets scarier as the series progresses.
Identity politics is not satisfied with the Christian account that there will always be an imbalance of payments that only God can redress through His infinite mercy. Identity politics demands a complete accounting, so that the score can be settled once and for all - or, if it cannot be settled, then held over the head of transgressors like a guillotine, in perpetuity.
- Joshua Mitchell in American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Dangerous Assumptions At the Beginning: We are the bold change-makers and are expected to take bold action. Our predecessor(s) failed to be as perceptive and/or competent. Anything that inept previous team was doing is suspect. Doing the opposite may be a good rule of thumb. We have momentum and are pumped up and ready to roll. We'll quickly make decisions and move things along. Things that were stuck will be unstuck. People will be impressed by our energy. What could go wrong?
Dangerous Assumptions Near the End: We are short-termers but seasoned. We know what we're doing. Although jaded, we've gotten this far and can handle things in stride. Sure, some people feel dejected and most are exhausted, but many are thinking beyond the present and are looking over the horizon. They are devoting more time than they'd admit to preparing job searches and schmoozing their contacts than hunkering down and considering potential problems. Who could blame them? After all, at this stage, what could go wrong?
[Photo by Gian Paolo Aliatis at Unsplash]
They almost missed the train. They had always planned to arrive close to departure time, so that Amanda had to spend as little time as possible on her feet, but there was a flash mob on the Place de la Concorde and all the streets leading into it were blocked.
- From Europe in Winter by Dave Hutchinson
[Note: This is the third volume of an extraordinary science fiction series based in a fractured Europe. Having read the first two novels, I highly recommend the series. I'm looking forward to this novel.]