Friday, April 27, 2007

Killed Cartoons, edited by David Wallis

Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War On Free Expression, edited by David Wallis

This books contains about 100 political cartoons that were banned from various newspapers and magazines across the country. Accompanying the images are narratives telling why they were banned; these descriptions are what makes this book both fascinating and annoying. With several of the cartoons it is easy to see why they were banned: women tied up on a conveyor belt waiting to be raped or a naked Uncle Sam, complete with pubic hair. Most aren’t as obvious though, which is where the text becomes enlightening. A cartoon showing the American auto industry in a poor light was killed—in Ohio, not in Detroit—because the paper was worried that they would lose the related advertising revenue. One showing the corpse of Orville Redenbacher literally popping out of his casket was not printed because obituary humor is considered hard to defend. Good stuff, much of it thought provoking. The annoying part is the one-sided political slant.

Out of just under 100 cartoons, 26 directly lampoon Republicans and 4 target Democrats. This imbalance wouldn’t have bothered me if much of the text didn’t rail against unfair and unwarranted censorship. The media inevitably takes a point of view in deciding what stories to print and how much attention each story receives. So it is bad for the editor of a newspaper to selectively choose topics but acceptable for the editor of this book? Eh. Newspapers and magazines are printed to make a profit; killing content that cause people to end subscriptions and advertisers to pull ads is going to be a rare thing. Is anyone really surprised that a cartoon with the image of MLK as a kid explaining the wet spot on his bed to his mother with the phrase, “I had a dream” is going to get yanked? (Ignore the fact it is fairly funny!) But wait, don’t journalists look at both sides of every issue and report things in a fair manner? Isn’t any form of press censorship a violation of free speech? Please. Journalists’ reflect their own beliefs in their art, consciously or unconsciously. To believe that what you read in the Sunday paper is fair and balanced is just as naive as believing the spin from the White House Press Secretary. If Wallis wants to make a point about censorship then more power to him (and frankly, I agree with him!), but doing so while showing his political agenda severely damages the legitimacy of his message.

First Sentence:
Success to Paul Conrad means ruining your appetite.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, by Sam Calagione

Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, by Sam Calagione

The story of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is fascinating. It is part corporate history, part entrepreneurial manual, and part beer odyssey. Before he was 25, Sam Calagione created several beer recipes and opened a brewpub, convincing the state of Delaware to change their laws along the way. The book is pretty honest, talking of failures as well as successes; the fact that a mere 12 years later I can buy the beer over 1,500 miles away tells you that happily the successes are much more frequent. Calagione describes the lessons he learned along the way as well, covering marketing, selling, leadership, management, and pretty much everything else an entrepreneur needs to know. I picked it up because I’m interested in brewing, but found it much more inspiring than I’d ever expected. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in starting a business—or anyone interested in beer!

The book was so good I decided to try some of the product Dogfish Head creates. My local supermarket has a pretty good beer selection and I was able to pick up both Raison D’Être and 90 Minute Imperial IPA. The Dogfish motto is “Off-centered beers for off-centered people;” the two types I tried certainly live up to this unique goal. Raison D’Être had a complicated flavor that I liked quite a bit, and the 90 Minute IPA may be my new favorite beer! I’ll be on the lookout for more brews from Dogfish Head, and hope to visit Delaware at some point in the not-so-far future.

First Sentence:
My dad backed our red pickup truck beneath the second-story window of my dormitory bedroom.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The No Asshole Rule, by Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D.

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, by Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D.

The premise of this book is laid out in the subtitle: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. It tells of the effects of bullies in the office and how to create an environment that avoids them. I found it to be a little light in the latter goal, but an excellent book overall. Nobody wants to work with idiots, but I was surprised to find that evidence shows that jerks at work aren’t just unpleasant, but they can have serious adverse effects on a group. Research says nasty interactions affect mood five times more than positive ones; makes me think the old saying, “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch” has more truth in it than I’d have guessed.

I had an interesting discussion about this book with a friend. I found the word asshole to fit the premise fairly well; bully and jerk for instance bring up much different images in my mind. My friend is much more civilized than I am and doesn’t approve of such language and certainly doesn’t use it himself. He made the excellent point that to folks with his mindset, simply using the word asshole can make you seem like well, an asshole. It really brought the point home that what is innocent or funny to one person can be offensive to another. Does this mean that political correctness is a good thing for society? I still say no (hell no, actually!); this thinking leads to prejudice for simply questioning ideologies and outright censorship. As a manager, though, I do need to juggle the various views and personalties of my team to reduce the impact of asshole-ish tendencies.

This was a very timely book for me. I’ve been recently disappointed by the lack of integrity the senior management at my company has displayed. The problem is mine; I continually look for a place about which I’m passionate. Sutton writes, “Passion is an overrated virtue in organizational life, and indifference is an underrated virtue.” While I’m not going to abandon hope in an enlightened workplace, I do need to try and concentrate more on the positives. Sutton also has a counterpoint to this advice: to avoid becoming an asshole yourself, get out as fast as you can. Hmmm.

Creating an asshole-free environment is not just management’s job; the group needs to discover ways of peer enforcement as well. Management of course has an important role in all this; they have to not only give lip service to the concept, but walk the walk as well. Simply saying that assholes won’t be tolerated won’t have much effect if the top salesman or friend of the boss gets a pass when push comes to shove. At a personal level, we can make a difference by controlling our own actions. There is a quiz in the book (recaptured online for your edification) that can help you decide. I get between a four and a six depending on how I’m feeling at the time. Are you an asshole?

First Sentence:
Who deserves to be branded as an asshole?

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