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Sic Transit

 

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I watched a documentary on Chicago the other night. Quite a career, transforming from a rather terrific horn band – with Hendrix-approved guitarist – to earnest power ballad millers.

I did spill my bedtime tea when I saw Peter Cetera wearing, in this video, a Bauhaus t-shirt. It’s got the artwork from their “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” single:

 

 

Admittedly, not as shocking as learning Serge Gainsbourg once autographed a copy of “Je t’aime… moi non plus” for Albert Speer, but still.

Here are some other melon-twisting musical facts I have of late accumulated:

  • The guitarist for the Police is 75
  • Pete Townshend was an editor at Faber & Faber
  • The drummer for Culture Club auditioned for the Clash

Well, that’s enough to lay on you for now. Until next time, Gentle Reader, know this: you’re the meaning in my life.

 

 

Career Coach

 

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Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time, especially for the workplace. Bosses should take these pages from his playbook.

Look for Talent Everywhere

The current Patriots roster not only includes players who fielded different positions in college, but those who played lacrosse, rugby, and other sports. Belichick saw skills or traits in each of them that led him to believe they could succeed elsewhere. The obvious example is Julian Edelman, told throughout college he was too small to be a quarterback. His size and quickness make him ideal for wriggling through tackles on kick returns, and evading coverage as a wide receiver.

The Situation

Quick: what’s the maximum numbers of plays you can run with 34 seconds on the clock and three timeouts? Or, on fourth and 17, down by 10 with two minutes left, should you go for the touchdown or kick a field goal?

The Patriots tend to prevail over their opponents (most famously, Seattle, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh) in such moments because they practice these exact situations. In an office setting, it stuns me how often we fail to practice situational football.

How many salespeople actually conduct dress rehearsals before presentations? Or – instead of the standard interview – have potential new hires submit proposals and undergo scenario tests? Or even A/B test email campaigns? (E.g. for a campaign of 30,000, first send to a subset of 300 recipients, trying out different subject lines to see which version gets read the most. That one? Use it for the other 29,700.)

Coach Early and Often

Pundits were astonished to see Belichick turn his back to the field of play during the Super Bowl so that he could give his players pointers. Most coaches would save such advice for film study –  they don’t have the confidence in their staff to delegate while play goes on. And yet –  in my experience – what separates coaching from instruction is the continuous nature of the former. Moreover, by far, the two best times to coach someone are immediately after the mistake and immediately before the next time they attempt the task. (You wouldn’t train a dog by scolding it three days after it peed on the rug; nor does this time lapse in feedback succeed in the workplace.)

Let It Go

This is my favorite. During Belichick’s tenure, he’s had at least a dozen assistant coaches come and go; some have become his competitors. Only by such “flight risk” can bosses ensure they fully cultivate talent. Opening the door, and encouraging our subordinates to walk through it, demonstrates trust and empowers them to do their best – even if it means seeing good people leave.

 

 

Note: As is evident from the business acumen, I didn’t write this. My friend Ben Poor did. He lives in New York City and is a sharp dressed man. He will beat you at poker.

 

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

 

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A few years back I lived across the street from a Ghanaian man. One day I expressed to him my condolences on the death of Ghana’s president, whose obituary I’d just read. Kind of weird, yes, but it seemed the neighborly thing to do.

In that neighborly spirit, I offer condolences to all of us on the passing of Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah.

***

Some of my ancestors are from Norway, and I spend my weekdays with many students from other countries our president recently discussed.

I will concede that what’s most important in all of this is not my feelings, but I also wish to record it was crummy to feel the urgent need to assure my kids that America values them.

(Fine, I should be doing that anyway. I’d prefer to be otherwise inspired, though.)

 

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During college I went to see Senator Paul Tsongas, then running for president, give a speech. He told a story about his Peace Corps days in Ethiopia, and seeing on the wall of a villager’s home a photo of JFK. He asked if we should expect the same with our current president. There was much wry laughter, including mine.

His question bears repeating, but not amusement.

 

#Unclubbable

 

 

Aristippus going to dinner passed Diogenes washing garlic in a gutter. He said to him, “Poor Diogenes, if you knew how to get on with people you wouldn’t have to live like that.”

“Poor Aristippus,” said Diogenes, “if you knew how to live like this you wouldn’t have to get on with people.”

– The Ancient Greeks, Morton Smith

 

PS I’m moving to London:

There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger’s Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion.

– “The Greek Interpreter,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

 

Holly Jolly

 

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It’s the next time of the year, as Twin 2 sings, and the exigencies of the Yule preclude further posts until thereafter. But do read about this Christmas tree.

 

PS oh by golly etc.

 

Three Pointers

 

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Need a little Yuletide cheer? Consider these activities.

1. Do You Hear What I Hear?

If you see a kid walking along bouncing a ball, order him to stop. Then say, all stern-voiced, “I need you to understand something. Are you listening to me?” The kid will nod. Hold your index finger to your temple and say, “No, I need you to really listen. Are you listening to me?” The kid will nod. Then merrily cry “You should hold on to the ball!” and slap it out of his hands.

2. Good Tidings to You

Let’s say you see a bunch of kids playing basketball, and a kid misses a shot. Interrupt the game by wading in and demanding a quiet word with said kid. Pull him aside. Lower your voice and say, “You do know…” Then pause, as if unsure how to proceed, so delicate is the matter in question. “You are aware that the ball is supposed to go into the hoop, right?” (It’ll take the kid a second to get the joke but by gum it’s worth it.)

3. Let It Go

This is a good one. Next time you see a pickup game, halt the proceedings and ask for the ball. Walk to some improbably distant point from the basket and say, “Think I can hit it from here?” Dismiss their objections and begin a laborious process of preparation. Roll up your sleeves. Count paces to the rim and back. Scribble calculations in a notebook (this teacher keeps one in his shirt pocket; perhaps you should too). The kids should be getting impatient by now. Ask for complete silence, face the hoop, and take your final stance. Then fling the ball in some other direction.

 

 

For previous contributions to mirth, see General Hilarity and Reasons to Be Cheerful.

 

Miscellaneous

 

First, a heads up that things are going to change around here. I read in a book that because of Earth’s wobbling Polaris will cease to be the North Star in a few thousand years.

***

Saying hyperbole so that it rhymed with wiper-bowl. Not realizing – until fairly recently – that it’s exorbitant, not exorbinant. I now add to My List of Lexical Embarrassments assuming bodacious was a made-up Bill & Ted word.

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It was startling to come across it in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Apparently bodacious is most non-non-legit.

***

You know the Bechdel Test? This doesn’t really have anything to do with that, but I’ve come up with the Barry Gibb Test.

In 1970 he wrote and recorded an album that was never released. I listened to it and it’s not bad at all. I thereby propose to all bands in the studio: if your album isn’t better than the one Barry Gibb did not release, back to work, amateurs.

 

 

Bons Mots

 

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I’m reading this novel Constellation, about a French plane trip gone wrong, but the damn thing is in French, so I have to keep reaching for the dictionary.

I looked up the word estiver and was not helped by learning its definition was “estivate.”

So I looked that up in my Oxford dictionary (where it’s “aestivate,” maybe because they’re British or something) and was enchanted by the definition: to spend the summer in a state of torpor.

How have I gone my whole life without knowing this word?

Image result for eddie cochran summertime blues

 

I also learned another word flipping through the pages (le YOLO, c’est moi). I honestly don’t understand how we don’t see it all over the place:

 

 

Starstruck

 

Occasionally I will pause my lessons to remind students that the cosmos is not easy to comprehend.

The other day I had kids take out sheets of loose leaf and turn them sideways. I instructed them to draw a (small) Sun at one end, and, a thumb-width away, a (smaller) Earth. Then I asked them to estimate where the nearest star lay in relation.

I offered a candy bar as a prize for the most accurate estimation.

 

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I collected the sheets and, laughing between mouthfuls of chocolate, told the students they’d need paper that extends from their desks to the Cambridgeside Galleria.

Yea, for as they shall know our galaxy’s enormity, so too shall they rue my cheap trickery!

Then I showed them this short video, about going to the desert to construct a properly scaled map of the Solar System. The guys who did this really are ingenious.

 

 

 

School of Rock

 

The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.

-Jean Piaget

 

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What keeps this teacher awake at night isn’t Common Core State Standards or 21st Century Skills or Educating the Whole Child or Social and Emotional Wellness or etc, it’s this: what am I doing to help the next Johnny Marr?

Here’s what Marr had to say about his teachers in his autobiography, Set the Boy Free:

He was an eccentric man who brought a big green parrot called Major to school with him every day. Major was a big talker and had a cage in the classroom, and every hour Mr. Quinlan would let him fly around the room, causing mayhem and landing on pupils’ heads.

Eccentric man? Check. But I don’t have a parrot, dammit.

Continue reading “School of Rock”

Initials B.B.

 

The other week my friend Ben sent me the obituary of Y.A. Tittle, remarking he was surprised to learn the man was not long dead. This naturally made me think of Algeria’s first president, Ben Bella.

 

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You see, just that morning I’d read the following passage about the coup that deposed him:

Ben Bella is said to have been killed. To have been wounded. To be alive. To have been not wounded, but ill. Everything is reported, since nothing is known. One version has him on a ship anchored off Algiers. That version is confuted by a report that they are holding Ben Bella in the Sahara, at an army base. According to another view, he is still staying at the Villa Joly…

Everything is possible, since nothing is known.

The most common version is the official one: that Ben Bella is in Algeria and being well treated. It might even be true.

 

That’s from “Algeria Hides Its Face,” by Ryszard Kapuściński. Seeing as he’d written it in the mid-1960s, I decided to find out what finally happened to Ben Bella.

I must add that my hopes were not high; mortality in 20th century Algeria was not overly characterized by natural causes.

So I was pleased to learn that the official version was more or less true. Ben Bella died in 2012.

 

 

Base Fiddle

 

Occasionally you learn something astonishing. The other day I was in the midst of Mathematics for the Nonmathemetician* and read this:

There are people who campaign for the adoption of base twelve, because it offers special advantages.

I mean, this is America. There’s a lot you can say about the place, but it does not lack for heterogeneity of the mind. Yet I have never heard – or even heard of – anyone saying “You know what? We need to get rid of our base ten numerical system and replace it with base twelve.”

 

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Turns out I’ve led a sheltered life.

Dozenalists aren’t cranks or crotchety anti-metric grouches. We just find the dozenal system easier, more efficient, and otherwise better than the decimal. This is a reasonable opinion well founded in the facts.

Don Goodman, The Dozenal Society of America

 

 

*I could use more books like this, e.g. Conversation for the Nonconversationalist, Patience for the Nonpatient, etc.

 

I Can’t Explain

 

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Because this record did not actually promise any sales, there was little incentive for any corporate entity, particularly a recording company, to accelerate the approval process. I asked Jon Lomberg if there was anything missing from the Voyager record for this kind of reason. “The Beatles,” he responded instantly. All four members of the band wanted “Here Comes the Sun” included – but their publisher wouldn’t grant the rights.

-Jim Bell, The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission

 

I watched some of the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary and what’s been indelible is the Marine saying, regarding a most unhappy matter, that he did not know how to explain it so that it made sense.

That sentiment less unhappily came to mind reading the above excerpt. Imagine trying to explain to the Heptapods or Kanamits such a situation. On the bright side, said situation does illuminate various aspects of human ingenuity.

Personally, my incomprehension regards the quadrofabs. I’d have been all “Uh, guys… You know you have a song called ‘Across the Universe,’ right?”

 

PS “Across the Universe” eventually did go interstellar.

 

Triomph

 

There is so much crap in this world, and then, suddenly, there is honesty and humanity.

-Ryszard Kapuściński, The Soccer War

 

If you were to recommend a band to me, and describe them as a Thai funk/surf soul trio, my central nervous system would probably execute some sort of armadillo maneuver.

And if you were to utter the dread words “jam band,” it would then summon the officer with the football.

 

Mercifully Professor Missionjmk used none of the above to recommend Khruangbin. I attended their show Saturday night and holy moly they were good. Easily the best Thai funk/surf soul jam band trio I’ve seen from Houston.

 

 

Seriously, they are the real deal, and they are on tour now.