August 20, 2017

Perfectionism: The Horror. The Horror.

Clients pay for excellent--not for perfect. Excellent is way harder.

Clients 99.5% of the time are not paying you to be perfect. Clients don't want perfect. In the rare instances they do want perfect, they will let you know. So clients want excellent. Be excellent, not perfect. Got it? See, e.g., Rule 10: Be Accurate, Thorough and Timely--But Not Perfect of our repetitive and irritating but life-changing 12 Rules of Client Service.

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The Horror. The Horror.

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August 19, 2017

Disraeli on Books.

Books are fatal: they are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense.

--Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

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"Dizzy"

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August 17, 2017

Emerson and Thompson.

Writing in 1841, Emerson, essayist, poet and deeply spiritual Transcendentalist, is almost derisive about our progress. Hamstrung by tradition, routine and yearnings for safety, we (non-Emersonian mere mortals) cannot or will not grow:

To us, in our lapsed estate, resting, not advancing, resisting, not cooperating with the divine expansion, this growth comes by shocks. We cannot part with our friends. We cannot let our angels go. We do not see that they only go out that archangels may come in.

We are idolaters of the Old. We do not believe in the riches of the soul, in its proper eternity and omnipresence. We do not believe there is any force in to-day to rival or recreate that beautiful yesterday. We linger in the ruins of the old tent

--Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): Essays, First Series, "Compensation" (1841)

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Emerson in 1857

Thompson, writing about 130 years later, while covering the turbulent, exhausting contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, including George McGovern's star-crossed campaign against Richard Nixon for the White House, is far more charitable, struggling to be emphatic with 20th century Everyman, and funny, as always--but he seems to reach the same conclusion:

Once they let you get away with running around for ten years like a king hoodlum, you tend to forget now and then that about half the people you meet live from one day to the next in a state of such fear and uncertainty that about half the time they honestly doubt their own sanity. These are not the kind of people who really need to get hung up in depressing political trips. They are not ready for it. Their boats are rocking so badly that all they want to do is get level long enough to think straight and avoid the next nightmare.

--Thompson in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72

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Thompson circa 2003. He died in 2005.

And what would each of them, Yankee mystic Emerson and unruly, feral Thompson, in mid-2017, think about our progress now? Have we learned to "let our angels go"?

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August 16, 2017

Mannish boys grow up to be Senators.

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August 15, 2017

Stand-up Guys: Daniel O'Connell, Trial Lawyer.

Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847), the "Liberator of Ireland", led a movement that forced the British to pass the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, allowing Catholics to become members of the British House of Commons. History knows him as a witty, eloquent and formidable politician, and the Member of Parliament for Clare. The English found him infuriating. But O'Connell was first and foremost a consummate and thorough trial lawyer, called to the bar at age 23 in 1798. As a cross-examiner, one modern writer has said, "he had no equal at the Irish bar." And not surprisingly O'Connell was a bit of a showman. In lectures published in 1901, Prof. John L. Stoddard said of him:

He was a typical Irishman of the best stock--wily, witty, eloquent, emotional and magnetic. His arrival in town was often an occasion for public rejoicing. His clever repartees were passed from lip to lip, until the island shook with laughter.

In court, he sometimes kept the spectators, jury, judge and even the prisoner, alternating between tears and roars of merriment. Celtic to the core, his subtle mind knew every trick peculiar to the Irish character, and he divined instinctively the shrewdest subterfuges of a shifty witness.

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Stand-up Guys: John Henry Holliday, Gambler.

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John Henry Holliday in 1872.

He despised and, whenever he could, preferred to engage bullies. He had a knee-jerk resistance to following the crowd in anything. He thought for himself. He argued with everyone (including the Earp family) about everything. He liked underdogs.

The Gift of Loyalty, Being There, Standing Up. Nine-tenths of what has been said or written about him, including Hollywood's versions, is hype. Doc Holliday wasn't a great shot, or anything like an artist with that big knife he carried around with him. He didn't kill scores of people. He wasn't drunk 24/7. Not everyone hated or feared him. Yes, he could be as mean as a snake.

But when you clear away the Old West myth, he's still a tragic but compelling and often admirable loner. Biographers do agree that John Henry Holliday (1851-1887) was fiercely loyal and could be counted on to stand up for friends--not just the Earp family--and a few others who might need a bold if flamboyant assist.

To be honest, I wish more lawyers--too many of us are cowards and wimps--had Doc's pluck, his ever-readiness to "be there" for you and his fine madness. Most of us? We don't come by strong character, action or decisiveness naturally. Face it: as a group, we are barely above-average Dorks. We've raised holding back, and even common cowardice, to an acceptable art.

Like many lawyers-to-be, Doc grew up comfortably and was well-educated. He was raised in Georgia as a popular and bright youngster in a close, supportive and fairly well-to-do family in which, among other things, he learned about card games. His clan's fortunes were badly set back, but not destroyed, by the Civil War and the subsequent occupation by Union soldiers.

He started out adulthood in 1872 as a 20-year-old graduate of a fine dental surgery school in Philadelphia. But Holliday caught Tuberculosis from either his stepmother or a patient in his first year of practice. At 22, still the beginning of his dental practice, he was diagnosed as "consumptive"--and told that he had but a few months to live.

This shock, coupled with what some researchers believe was a star-crossed love affair with a first cousin, made Holliday move West for his health. Dentistry quickly took a back seat to gambling. He became a binge-drinking rogue with only a few friends, professional gambler, resident wit, expert womanizer and prankster who was somehow menacing to most of the people he met, even at a weight of around 140 pounds. Although he was clearly an emotional and in some respects volatile man, most reports have him clear-headed, quick-witted and even strangely calm in violent situations the moment they erupted.

This was a bit of Social Critic and Philosopher in Holliday, too. I've read three bios now on Doc. (The best, to me, is Doc Holliday by Gary L. Roberts, John Wiley & Sons (2006)). Even when drunk, or when he had lost his temper (both happened a lot), Holliday was clear-eyed in a number of respects.

He wouldn't beat up on weaklings. He despised--and, whenever he could, preferred to engage--straight-up bullies and self-hating creeps. He had a knee-jerk resistance to following the crowd in anything. He thought for himself; he argued with everyone (including the Earp family) about everything. He liked underdogs. And even when cornered--or was about to be hauled off to jail (also happened a lot)--he had something caustic and often incredibly funny to say.

Tuberculosis did finally claim him in Colorado at age 37. There is no end to the lore about what he did and said, or to the speculation about what made him tick in those last 15 years. But even the most sober historical sources on Holliday do agree on one thing. Over and over again, if a friend--in a few cases a total stranger--needed him, he was there immediately.

Instinctive. No hesitation. An angry yet adept explosion. None of the pathetic step-by-step "analysis" of modern white collars that should shame us deeply every time and never does. You didn't need to ask Doc to help. Doc didn't need to think about it.

He just did it.

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August 14, 2017

John Irving: On Revisions and Rewriting.

Half my life is an act of revision.

--John Irving (1942-)

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Proud Highway.

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August 13, 2017

Caravaggio. Quality. Endurance.

Quality has a yen for resurrection. It endures; it repeats. Quality has great legs.

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Above: Caravaggio's "The Cardsharps", c. 1594. Oil on canvas, 37" x 52". Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX.

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August 06, 2017

America's Trump Era Street Fight: What happens long-term? Does anyone have a clue?

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So what's the future for America and the West? What happens? Long-term, I mean. The divisiveness in this country is at an all-time high in my Boomer lifetime. No, I don't think it will result in armed civil war. Or in attempted secession of a state or two. Those worst two things won't happen. But something has to give eventually. A year. Two years. Maybe longer. But, unlike others, I like--yes, like--the way things are progressing because I'm in this for the long haul.

First, let me explain something. I didn't vote for Donald John Trump to be President of the United States. No. Not because he's a Bad Person--Trump is not; a political scientist named David Barber wrote years ago the POTUS job brings out the best and worst in its holders, and we may be seeing that now. No, I thought HRC was a better candidate. But I've thought for 2 years and still think that Trump's bid to become POTUS has been an enormously healthy and positive thing for America in the long term.

Yes, Trump has been and is a good thing, mostly inadvertent.

Why? Three separate things. Trump (a) highlighted and (b) turned up the volume on a bitter, divisive and important ongoing conversation about The Future of America (and generally the West). That conversation is beyond politics. It's a conversation about Culture. One that no other candidate/president could have illuminated and made even better. Moreover, in my view, due to his own unrestrained personality, Trump made it possible to (c) to talk about the future of America more openly (if often vulgarly) than before.

Now? Now we can talk, folks. It's a street fight--but at least there's a dialogue.

In the dialogue, there are far more than two factions in the Trump Age culture conversation. In fact, "liberal", "conservative", "Democrat", "Republican" and "Libertarian" have all but lost their meanings. (Best example? The Left once fancied free speech in a religious if not absolutist way. That's no longer as true. Conservatives and Libertarians now own that ground under their freedom-and-liberty rubric.)

But maybe this generalization is useful. One the one hand, you have traditional Democrats and The Left lamenting that the march of progress--in human, civil, gay, women's and minority rights--is being halted and reversed. You are ruining our social justice working masterpiece, they say. That's understandable. I get that. On the other hand, on the right and with moderate conservatives, the mantra in the ongoing conversation of the famously "left-behind" Midwestern, Southern and GOP base that elected Trump is:"Wait. Not so fast. We weren't ready for a lot of this in the first place." In short, they are saying, Liberals, please don't make us evolve morally or in terms of values on your schedule. We'd like to think about this. We're not bigots. We simple don't want to be told how to think, feel, talk and behave.

My take? I think it's always tricky to pass any laws in a democracy which go directly to anyone's notion of right or wrong. Nothing harder. This is not Cuba. Not North Korea. Not Iran. You can't legislate morality or values. But even the American system permits the chief executive, the Congress and the courts to give people a "push"--but the timing on the push has to be good to justify the statism. Maybe close to perfect.

President Johnson's 1964 Civil Rights Act had brilliant timing. The passage of time, some ugly events, much peaceful civil rights protest, and Congress-made and judge-made law for 100 years paved the way for the 1964 Act. Few or the right or left would now dismantle it. Brilliant. A bit lucky. But same-sex marriage and trans-gender bathroom rights, for examples? Sounds good. Why not? Legislative that? Make that law now? No. Not brilliant. Good idea probably. Bad timing. Slow down. That was a mistake. A large segment if not most Americans were NOT ready for those--and we should never expected it to be.

Anyway, go back to the beginning of this post. Re: Divisiveness in America and The West generally. 3 questions. But Item 2 is the most important.

1. Where is it leading us?

2. Exactly why happens long term?

3. And, if you're feeling brave and prescient, what happens next? Short term?

And from a favorite movie:

MICHAEL: How bad do you think it's going to be?

CLEMENZA: Pretty goddamn bad. These things gotta happen every five years or so, ten years. Helps to get rid of the bad blood...

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August 05, 2017

Virgina-Missouri Hulls at The Willard.

From a Facebook post I did Monday, July 31:

Yesterday I had the pleasure (no, thrill) of seeing my cousin Nan Hall for the first time since my grandad's funeral in Springfield, Missouri 20 years ago. And I had the honor to meet for the first time 2 other cousins: the fabulous and authentic-as-hell Jean James (Jean is also independently related to Missourians Jesse and Frank James) and Nan's bright strong son Jim Hall, a well-regarded nuclear plant engineer. Finally, I met Jim's energetic fun wife Donna Bowers Hall and Jean's partner Grace Palmer, who reminds me of a movie actress who plays smart beautiful women.

The Virginia-Missouri Hull family hatches or attracts strong women. No one need sign up for assertiveness training any time soon...I'm missing these guys already. And I was amazed to hear stories about my Dad, grandad and great-grandad I'd never heard or had heard incompletely. The six of us all met at the new WWII Memorial on the Mall and then had lunch at the Willard.

This was a thrill. Even my extended family is pretty small. Nan and Jean are 2 of four first cousins my Dad had. Wish I'd done it earlier but will surely do it again.

Thank you Nan, Jean, Jim, Donna and Grace. Thanks so much cousin Mary Helen Allen for suggesting this.

c: Kristi Towe Diane Healey

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August 04, 2017

A "Political CV" need not match up with a party or ideology. Here's mine.

Over the years this blog has had a number of pet issues and themes apart from customer service, litigation strategies, lawyering abroad and cultural literacy. One of them has been the importance of thinking independently about law, government, politicians and political ideologies. Or about Anything. There are these days lots of good, and arguably "bad" notions and ideas--nationally and internationally--all along the political spectrum, and there is no reason to pick one party, camp or pol to follow on all ideas.

After all, people, not ideologies, solve public problems. You don't need a label. You need not be a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Anarchist or Nihilst. You can "mix and match" both pols and ideas. Me? I've changed, if subtly, and in ways that trouble a friend here and there. But my thinking is pretty much the same as it was when I was in my 20s. As a "liberal", I never trusted Big Labor. I've never liked the "politically correct" speech regimen many traditional liberals unfortunately embraced. To the contrary, I've always admired free speech--and I revel in it. But the main change is that last year I registered Republican for the first time. Not much else is different.

Most of us do have a Political-Civil Rights-Human Rights-Social Justice resume, CV or profile (hereinafter "Political CV"). I use "political" broadly here to describe anything related to participation in public affairs where some social purpose was fully served beyond my own self-aggrandizement, ego or pleasure. More than one purpose is okay; few of us do anything out a pure heart to "will one thing." So below I've fashioned my Political CV. Forget about Dem or GOP or Libertarian scripts. I've listed things that I did in large part "for the public good." For example, things I'm not including are Senior Class President (mix of duties and agendas), Eagle Scout (the same), working in a union-shop factory (Keebler's, in my case), membership in student or church groups with some but not primary political or social welfare slant, merely being asked to run for Congress (and saying no), merely voting, serving on an elected but non-partisan Zoning Board for a community of 40,000 or going to see Jerry Rubin, Timothy Leary or Milo speak at the Cow Palace. Or throwing a huge pickle at an on-stage Iggy Stooge (and hitting him).

But passing out leaflets for a political candidate, demonstrating against POTUS candidate and Alabama Governor George Wallace or working regularly with the urban homeless? Oh yeah. Those are "political". They reflected my idea of furthering "the public good" at the time I did I them. You get the idea. There's got to be a cause, some heat, some passion in an activity that helps others. Doesn't matter if it's a national issue or not. Doesn't matter if there's rhetoric involved.

Anyway, I've been an "activist" in everything I've ever done--and particularly with respect to groups I've joined or with which I've identified. So since I was 16, here is my political resume in chronological order. I'll update it as I remember things things:

1. Campaigned twice for Jerry Springer (Ohio-D), for runs for Congress and City Council in Cincinnati.

2. Campaigned more briefly but earnestly for Howard Metzenbaum, U.S. Senator (Ohio-D)

3. Worked with Armstrong United Methodist Church in Indian Hill, Ohio on several long-term projects for inner-city kids in Cincinnati, Ohio. Some with my mother (Head Start). Some in connection with working toward God & Country Award for BSA. (I was Boy Scout.)

4. Worked twice at as counselor at a camp for inner-city handicapped kids at summer camp in Cincinnati.

5. My party's candidate for 1970 Governor of Ohio Boys State. I was "liberal" party candidate and lost to a black kid from Sandusky. Ohio named Tony Harris. The race made news on television and in newspapers all over Ohio.

6. Student Reporter, Duke University Daily Chronicle. Civil Rights beat, Durham. (1972-73)

Dan Hull 1976.jpg Dem then, GOP now. But still a classic liberal, and always the same guy.

Continue reading...

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August 03, 2017

On Great Cities.

What strange phenomena we find in great cities. All we have to do is to stroll about with our eyes open.

--Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

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A friend in Buenos Aires.

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August 02, 2017

Phillip James Loutherbourg: River Wye at Tintern Abbey, 1805.

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The River Wye at Tintern Abbey, 1805, Philip James Loutherbourg.

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Speakers Corner, London.

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July 30, 2017

Hermann Hesse on Real Life.

It is hard to find this track of the divine in the midst of this life we lead.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf (1927)

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July 29, 2017

Trump

Earlier today.

MOM: So what do you think of Trump?

ME: Most authentic and energetic President in my lifetime. Only a matter of time until we turn on him.

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July 28, 2017

My Earl's Court '75

It's been a long time since I rock and rolled,
It's been a long time since I did The Stroll.

It's been a long time since the book of love,
I can't count the tears of a life with no love.

Seems so long since we walked in the moonlight,
Making vows that just can't work right.

- Peaking Indian Hill, Durham, LA, England, DC


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Highland Park Beach, off South Deere Park, 1976
Photo by A. Johnston

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July 27, 2017

You think you're a Rebel? Hear John L. Stoddard on Jonathan Swift.

Swift was a Titan in rebellion against Heaven.

-- John L. Stoddard, 1901

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Anglo-Irish, Angry and Brave: See one of our past tributes to Dean Swift (1667–1745) in "Heroes and Leaders: Anyone out there with soul and sand?"

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You think you're Outdoorsy? Hear Mark Van Doren on William Wordsworth.

We no longer require humor in poets. We demand salvation. Of that commodity, Wordsworth still supplies the purest sort.

--Mark Van Doren, 1950, commenting on the subtle graduation of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) from his role as "nature poet" to one of philosopher who offered hope and reassurance to troubled Europe.

All his life, Wordsworth preferred the beauty and solitude of the outdoors to London and the most literary cities on the Continent. His poetry was seeing, feeling and emotional, its inspiration springing from northwest England's famous Lake District, where he was born, wrote and spent most of his life. In his younger years especially, the upheavals in France between 1789 and 1799, and his extensive travels through Europe, made Wordsworth sad, cynical and pessimistic about man and society. Writing 100 years after Wordsworth's death, Mark Van Doren (1894-1972), the remarkably influential Columbia English professor, himself a poet who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940, gave Wordsworth high marks for his power in his later years "to soothe and console an age fallen victim to philosophic despair."

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Wordsworth in the Lake District

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July 26, 2017

Hermann Hesse: Goethe jokes with the Immortals.

Eternity is a mere moment--just long enough for a joke.

--Hermann Hesse's version of Goethe, dead, possessed of a superior perspective, and speaking to Harry Haller, in Steppenwolf (1927).

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Winging It. Generally? Not Cool. No Bueno. No Bueno.

You've a talent for Winging It? Great. Congratulations. We will alert the media. Use that gift when you must. But please don't make it a procedure. Prepare.

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Blarney Castle, Cork, Ireland

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July 25, 2017

Dog Days.

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The Summer Heat. It's mostly not climate change wrought by the relatively recent industrial revolution. It's been going on a while. In fact, the six week period between July 1 and August 15 was named by the both the ancient Greeks and the early Romans after Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky. In the Mediterranean region, the notion of linking that star to oppressively hot summer weather dates back well over 2700 years. 27 hot summer centuries.

But the Dog Days of Summer wasn't just about the heat.

If you are feeling not just hot but a bit strange, maybe confused or otherwise out of sorts this time of year--and you're not too much of a whack-job or flake to begin with--you may be on to something. Dog days of summer was also associated with Chaos: "the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies." Brady's Clavis Calendarium, 1813.

Chaos had a good side, too. Just two thousand years ago, and after he had given up the study of law that his family had foisted on him, Ovid (43 B.C.-17 A.D.), the playful poet writing during Octavian's long reign, gave us a more famous--and less grim--take on Chaos in Book I of Metamorphoses. Chaos, he thought, might be the best possible starting point for anything worthwhile. But you will need to read Ovid yourself. Preferably alone--in a cool, calm, quiet and well-lighted place.

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July 24, 2017

Redux: Cultural Literacy in American Professionals. When?

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Île Saint-Louis on the Seine, seen from a famous bridge.

Americans, the Alpha-humans, the elect and the "winners" in modern world history, are not well-rounded in our knowledge of the world, its people, and how we all got to this point on earth. Art, literature, the humanities, world history and political theory are not just for the rich, the elite, intellectual, and people who attended Choate and Oberlin. These things are the best part of all of us; they can inform, stir and improve every moment. If America could put real education before "jobs", we would astonish--and charm--the entire world.

Education is about more than just getting a job. Cultural literacy has never been an American strength. Oddly, even American professionals, and executives in leadership positions, continue to be satisfied with becoming, and remaining, in effect, "techs". Four years of college or university training. Seven years. Eight years. More. We are not "well-educated" in a traditional or historical sense.

If you don't regularly read this blog--we have a small but steady non-wanker following--here's a suggestion. Before reading further, skim "Thinking Warriors " and "Ernest, the French Aren't Like You and Me". If these posts make you angry, cause a tizzy, give you a headache, or make you pull a hamstring, just try another blog.

Put another way, Americans, the Alpha-humans, the elect and the "winners" in modern world history, are not well-rounded in our knowledge of the world, its people, and how we all got to this point on earth. Browse the American blogs of the Internet for a few hours. Mostly bad neighborhoods--and getting worse and dumber every month. We are insular and at best (being charitable here) semi-literate as a people. We are uninformed about the history, political roots, ideas and art of the West.

Continue reading...

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July 23, 2017

Pat Moynihan: The Irish.

There's no point in being Irish if you don't know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.

I guess that we thought we had a little more time.

--Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then-Assistant Secretary for Labor, a few days after November 22, 1963


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Continue reading...

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Larry Flynt: Voting.

Majority rule only works if you're also considering individual rights. You can't have five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for supper.

--Larry Flynt (b. 1942)

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(Columbia Pictures)

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July 22, 2017

The First Franchisor: Singer Corporation.

The first formal business format franchise is an honor that belongs to Singer Corporation. In 1851, Isaac Merritt Singer and lawyer Edward Clark started I.M. Singer & Co. in New York City. In the mid-1850s, Singer started to use franchise contracts to distribute its sewing machines over the then-widespread and disconnected geographic areas of the U.S. The company is now headquartered in La Vergne, Tennessee.

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