Mildly Malevolent

"So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information." --George Orwell

"Anbody can make history. Only a great man can write it."--Oscar Wilde

contact info:

ecohn-at-uchicago-dot-edu

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Thursday, May 29, 2003

Back when I still harbored the illusion that I'd have plenty of time to do freelance writing while I was in grad school, I planned to write an article about an amusing trend in publishing: the proliferation of books on the business "leadership secrets" of historical figures. (There are several books on what Elizabeth I's reign should teach CEOs, for example.) The best of these books can be kind of amusing if you don't take them seriously as history, I suppose, but most of the books in this genre that I looked at were poorly written, historically questionable volumes that offered shallow and uninteresting leadership hints.

I was somewhat amused, then, to come across the website for an organization called Movers and Shakespeares, which teaches business executives about corporate leadership through the writings of England's best-known writer. Seminar participants break up into small groups, and then "report back to the whole seminar on whether and how the company handled the situation better (or worse) than King Henry V, Portia, or Claudius." Movers and Shakespeares provides after-dinner entertainment at conferences and retreats, complete with the recitation of "fun, easy-to-understand Shakespearean lines". (They wouldn't want to scare business executives with more challenging fare, after all!) The website shows various people at the company's performances, including a woman who looks suspiciously like Cokie Roberts. It even includes glowing recommendations of the book Shakespeare in Charge by such luminaries as Sam Donaldson, Warren Buffett, and Colin Powell.

Interestingly enough, Movers and Shakespeares was founded by Ken Adelman, a former Reagan administration official who's now a chum of the Rumsfelds and Cheneys. (I believe that he and his wife share a wedding anniversary with Dick and Lynne Cheney; he's a member of the Pentagon advisory board that Richard Perle used to chair, and is a very prominent neo-con.) I wonder what Shakespeare character he thinks George W. Bush most resembles these days...


Monday, May 26, 2003

It's always fun to read a British newspaper. Would an American advice columnist ever tell a reader "Get a life. Get a man. Even, if all else fails, get a guinea pig," while making random references to Plato's allegory of the cave, P.G. Wodehouse, and Etruscan pottery?

I can't help but wonder, though: which of the two advice columnists quoted above was more annoying? Both could be pretentious and irritating. Both could be a little uneven in the advice they dispensed. I'd never read the British columnist before, but Randy Cohen's "Ethicist" column is one of many reasons I don't much like the Sunday New York Times. Don't get me wrong--I prefer them both, say, to Ann Landers and Dear Abby, but that's not setting the bar terribly high. Why can't more newspapers have an advice columnist like Miss Manners?


In all my life, I've only been accused of being un-American a handful of times. One of those times was when I told someone I didn't like the movie Toy Story.

I was reminded of that chain of events last night, when Toy Story was shown on TV. I had a little time to kill before going out for the evening, so I turned on the movie in the background to see if it was as mediocre as I remembered. It was. The animation was technically impressive without being very appealing. The story was a little boring (and sometimes overly sappy.) I approved of the scene with the little green aliens and the claw, and there were fun moments sprinkled throughout the movie, but I just couldn't warm up to it. Is it just me, or was Toy Story one of the more over-rated movies of recent memory? Or am I just un-American?