Influence people

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Koch, Kant and Cant

Blessed be schools with endowments. They don't have to mouth propaganda.

When I worked in grad school as a teacher's assistant, I taught two semesters of Philosophy 101, a course every undergraduate was required to take. My students were freshmen in the nursing and business schools.

The course covered writers like Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Hume and Kant, and gave the uneager students a taste for the three major periods of Western thought.

That was 40 years ago. Universities had dough and bell bottoms rocked.

Today, the University of Arizona offers another brand of Philosophy 101, thanks to a gift from billionaire libertarian Charles Koch.

Instead of mind, matter, meaning and morals, the course covers money, markets, margins and monopoly.

Students learn that reality is the free market; that evil's source is regulation; and that life's purpose is threefold: deal-making, tax-dodging and self-reward.

Writer and former philosophy professor David Johnson calls the course "a peculiar mixture of the utterly banal and the frighteningly ideological" and "propaganda, plain and simple."

I call it pure cant.

Things don't go better with Koch.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lust for Life

I just spent an idyllic Sunday sketching outdoors at Kuerner Farm, the Pennsylvania dairy farm Andrew Wyeth visited repeatedly for seven decades, and the spot where he found the subjects of many of his most inspired paintings.

One of those is Trodden Weed, based on a 1951 drawing he did of himself traipsing one of the Kuerner family's fields.

Wyeth had encountered near-death the previous year, when he flatlined during a surgery to remove pieces of his infected lungs. Recuperation took months, during which time he spent many hours walking about his neighborhood for exercise. The idea for the self-portrait came to him during one of these outings. 

In a 1952 letter to Art News, Wyeth said, "The painting came to signify to me a close relationship between critical illness and the refusal to accept it—a kind of stalking away."

He later told an interviewer, "I suddenly got the idea that we all stupidly crush things underfoot and ruin them—without thinking. Like the weed here getting crushed. The black line is not merely a compositional device—it's the presence of death. Before my operation, I had been looking at Albrecht Dürer's works. During the operation they say my heart stopped once. At that moment, I could see Dürer standing there in black, and he started coming at me across the tile floor. When my heart started, he—Dürer—death—receded. So this painting is highly emotional—dangerous and looming. I like it."

Art critics have noted that Trodden Weed represents a turning point in Wyeth's work, a departure from sentimental subjects to fierce ones.

On that operating table, Wyeth became what Roman Krznaric calls a death gazer, a person "who decides to seize the day after coming face to face with death."

Psychologists have studied death gazers and label their response to oblivion "post-traumatic growth," Krznaric says.

A brush with the Grim Reaper propels some survivors to become caregivers or preachers. 

"But one of the most prevalent effects is that it induces a carpe diem zest for life," Krznaric says.

"People abandon their tedious jobs, embark on bonding travel adventures with their children, or dedicate themselves to taking chances and squeezing every ounce of experience out of being alive."

Or, like Wyeth, they become lifelong fans of the weeds underfoot.

Seize the day!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Ain't No Forrest Gump

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.

— Seneca

When it favored a ship coming into port, Ancient Romans would say the wind was ob portus.

The Latin phrase gives us our word opportunity.

We think of every opportunity as something a "good wind" blew our way.

But like Roman seafarers, you have to have the port in sight before you can gauge the wind.

Know where you're heading before you assess an opportunity.

You ain't no Forrest Gump.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Burning the Bridge

Bored by her job as a typist, Washington, DC, resident Lizzie Magie liked to indulge her creative side.

Whenever she got the chance, she'd stump on behalf of progressive political causes or moonlight as a freelance writer, comedic actor, and game designer.

She was particularly passionate about
income inequality, and in 1905 published a board game she described as "a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing."

The Landlord's Game became an immediate hit on college campuses, and among leftist groups nationwide. Some Quakers in Atlantic City were so taken with it, they published a bootleg edition, renaming the landing spaces after the local streets.

Thirty years later, at the height of the Great Depression, Magie sold the rights to her invention for $500 to a Boston-based game publisher, Parker Brothers. The company repackaged the Quakers' version and renamed the game Monopoly.

One hundred and twelve years have passed since Magie released her "practical demonstration" and the subject of income inequality again tops progressives' agenda.

MIT economist Peter Temin, author of the new book The Vanishing Middle Class, says it has fractured American society.

We now live under a "two-track economy," Temin says, in which Wall Street and Silicon Valley workers enjoy steady gains while the rest—"subsistence workers"—suffer regular setbacks.

We arrived here after four decades, during which technology, globalization, the decline of unions, the treatment of minorities, and public policy all worked in tandem to disconnect wages from productivity.

Public education, he says, is the only bridge workers can take to cross from the subsistence to the growth economy.

But the bridge is being burned by the current party in power, whose officials openly detest educators and prize the uneducated—provided they keep to their side of the tracks. Which they will.

Sadly, few people outside academia will likely read Temin's 250-page book. Too bad he didn't create a video game, instead.

Lizzie Magie, where are you when we need you?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Little and Good is Twice Good

Even if you cover your ears, 10 seconds into the presentation, you know the rep is an extrovert.

There's too much copy on her slides.

Whether writing or speaking, extraverts cannot grasp Mies' motto, "Less is more."

Adam Grant studied 300 salespeople and proved extroverts underperform both introverts and "ambiverts,” because they can't practice restraint.

Extroverts leave themselves "vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident," Grant says, and wind up overselling.

They'd do well to heed the words of the 17th century writer Baltasar Gracián, who advised colleagues to "leave off hungry."

"Demand is the measure of value," Gracián says. "Even with regard to bodily thirst, it is a mark of good taste to slake but not to quench it. Little and good is twice good. The second time comes a great falling off. Surfeit of pleasure was ever dangerous and brings down the ill-will of the highest powers. The only way to please is to revive the appetite by the hunger that is left."

In other words, be brief, and leave customers breathing room to consider your proposal.

Little and good is twice good.

"If you must excite desire," Gracián says, "better do it by the impatience of want than by the repletion of enjoyment. Happiness earned gives double joy."

Or as the showman P.T. Barnum said, "Always leave them wanting more."

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Buck Stops Here

The President, whoever he is, has to decide.
He can't pass the buck to anybody.

— Harry Truman

Harry Truman kept a foot-long sign on his desk in the White House that said, "The Buck Stops Here."

The saying derives from poker.

In frontier days, a knife with a buckhorn handle was used to indicate which player had the turn at dealing. If that player didn't want the responsibility, he would "pass the buck."

Most people mistake the "buck" in the expression to mean "dollar."

That meaning also derives from frontier days, not from poker, but from trading.

Deer hunting was common at the time, and buckskins could be used as legal tender. Traders valued a "buck" at one dollar.

They valued a doe at half a dollar.

Females have always been undervalued.

HAT TIP: Word-nerd Ann Ramsey inspired this post.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What Clothes are You Wearing?

Ever since the Creative Revolution, marketers have insisted brands have character.

A brand, they say, can be friendlyplayful, rebellious, sexy, wise or generous—or possess any of a score of other human- or animal-like attributes.

Marketers can feel vindicated in this belief by the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United that corporations are people.

They can also feel vindicated by the lending practices of banks, which define "character" as a business' willingness to pay back a loan.

Character, according to the National Association of Credit Management, "imputes a level of ethics, integrity, trustworthiness and quality of management that is provided or available to the business."

So what's your brand's character?

Is it admired, adorable, confident, dynamic, efficient, fair, honorable, innovative, kind-hearted, likable, painstaking, plucky, proud, romantic, self-assured, silly, sincere, thoughtful, upbeat, warm, willing, witty or wonderful? Or is it something else?

Well, here's a hint: Despite all your words, your brand's character is not what you say it is, but what your customers perceive it to be.

As Priceline's co-founder Jeff Hoffman says, a brand's character is a lot like clothing: what you choose to wear every day forms others' opinions of you.
As the old saying goes, clothes make the man—or the brand.

The company Hoffman co-founded, Priceline, says it's admired and innovative.

But Priceline's recent refusal to refund me the price of tickets that it admits in writing it cancelled tells me the brand's character—the company's words notwithstanding—is altogether different. Try abusive, arrogant, callous, creepy, deceitful, evasive, greedy, malicious, materialistic, mean, nasty, obnoxious, pesky, ruthless, savage, self-serving, sneaky, tacky, tiresome, venomous, vile, wicked, and wolflike.

What clothes are you wearing?

UPDATE: I received a phone call late today from Priceline's PR department. The individual who called informed me the company had decided to refund the cost of my tickets in full, and would process the refund to my credit card within one day.
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