One of my influential books
When I was a senior in high school I went to visit my Uncle Mack and Aunt Corinne at their home outside NYC. They were fascinating and unpredictable relatives for several reasons. For one, they lived in urban areas far from Ohio. For another, they tried to treat me like an adult. Furthermore, they liked to talk about things other than sports, TV shows, or music. My aunt was tireless in encouraging me to improve my vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. My uncle, on the other hand, always had a recommendation of a book that might help me to become a better, or at least more thoughtful, person.
One of the books that Uncle Mack recommended was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I remember reading it and thinking, “Wow, this book is weird!” There was a kind of creepy tension to the text, because the narrator had admitted mental problems, he seemed to be struggling in his interaction with this son, and you just hoped that he would make it through his motorcycle trip without having a relapse and being institutionalized. It may well be that the weird vibe of the book helped to make some of its message more memorable, but in any case it is one of those books that had an enormous impact on me. I am not alone in this regard. It has now been 35 years since Zen was first printed, and Wikipedia states that it is regarded as the most widely read book about philosophy, ever.
I particularly recall the portion of the book where the narrator discusses his view that “quality” is a kind of innate characteristic that people can recognize intuitively. He relates an incident where an English class reads well-written pieces and poorly written pieces, without having received special training in sentence structure, foreshadowing, character development, or other technical aspects of writing. Notwithstanding the lack of such training, the class was easily able to distinguish the high-quality pieces from the low-quality pieces. That particular concept, and anecdote, has stuck with me, and I often refer to the book when I talk to associates at the firm about legal writing and the need to strive for “quality” in their work. If my comments about writing have had any positive impact on the work product of our lawyers, the firm and its clients have Robert M. Pirsig to thank.
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Posted in Politics, tagged stimulus on March 12, 2009 |
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Driving home today I heard a report on NPR about the the use of the National Endowment for the Arts share of the stimulus bill swag. The report touted how the NEA had put its guidelines on submitting grants up on its websites only two weeks after the stimulus bill was enacted, and that the NEA approach was focused on preserving jobs in the arts that otherwise would be cut — jobs like assistant concertmaster for a symphony orchestra or marketing director of a museum. This seems like an even sillier use of federal tax dollars that what I discussed in an earlier post — see http://webnerhouse.wordpress.com/2009/03/04/thanks-but/ – about stimulus money being used to hire Columbus police officers for a year.
I can understand spending money to build or repair roads, bridges, rail systems, and port facilities — all of which have an obvious effect on interstate commerce — or on federal buildings, national monuments, the refurbishing of the National Mall, and national parks. All of those forms of stimulus spending would create jobs and have a federal, national focus. Spending on employees of museums, or opera companies, or other local arts organizations, however, has no federal focus, unless you take the view that any preserved job has an impact, however slight, on the national economy. If that is the test, then, why not just give stimulus money to any local manufacturing plant, law firm, or other business that promised to use the money to hire a new worker or to avoid laying off an existing worker? My guess is that most people would not be willing to go so far, because that does not seem like an appropriate use of federal tax dollars. Why should local arts organizations be any different?
I am a big fan of museums and symphony orchestras and have served for years on the board of a local cultural organization, but I simply do not believe that support of local arts and cultural organizations should be a federal concern. If a municipality cannot support a particular arts organization, like a symphony orchestra, that may be a problem for the municipality, or for the director of the symphony who has elect to put on programming that has been unpopular. Such a situation may pose a challenge for the community to adequately support the arts organization, or for the arts organization itself to demonstrate to the community that what the organization offers is interesting, relevant, and worth having. In either case, it should not be a concern for Big Brother in Washington, D.C.
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Posted in Humor, The Economy, Work, tagged economy, Humor, Work on March 12, 2009 |
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The other day I was somewhere — out of a sense of propriety and fairness I won’t say where — and had to use the facilities. While there I discovered, to my dismay, that my host had decided to save a few bucks by buying cheaper toilet paper. Typically, cheap toilet paper is either rougher or thinner. This particular type managed to capture both qualities, combining the consistency of wood pulp and the gossamer transparency of a fairy’s wing. Kish has wisely observed, in the past, that there are two things you should not scrimp on — shoes and toilet paper. Truer words were never spoken. Nothing says “we’re economizing!” more definitively than cheap toilet paper in the stall.
The incident reminded me of one of the best work-related stories I ever heard from an attorney at our firm. One of our lawyers was negotiating a collective bargaining agreement for one of our corporate clients. The union workers had presented a list of demands which addressed the expected topics, such as pay, overtime, and health benefits, but also included a requirement that a particular, upscale brand of toilet paper be used in the restrooms at the plant. During negotiations, the union reps doggedly insisted on the demand for improved TP. Finally, our lawyer asked one of the union reps, in a sidebar talk, what the deal was with the demand. The union rep responded: “We may be blue-collar guys, but our assholes are just as tender as yours!”
Good advice for businesses trying decide where they can appropriately cut back.
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