Tuesday, October 08, 2013
The First Dissident The Book of Job in Today's Politics By William Safire Illustrated. 304 pages. Random House, 1992.
Purchased February 5, 1993 at the ‘Bookstop’ in Orlando after reading a 11/5/92 review in the New York Times.* Notes on 1/17/94 en route to Salt Lake City and Reno; 2/7,9,10/94 en route to and from New York; 7/17/96 en route to and from Fort Lauderdale; 5/6/06 in on balcony in Schaumburg; 9/29/02 and 10/6/02 in Kent, CT.; 2/7/10 in Medford; 10/8/13 in Pittsfield; many other times.
“…The Book of Job sanctifies defiance of unjust authority. It enshrines dissent and demands moral self-reliance…“ p.225 “
…it is better to react by questioning rather than accepting. Confronted with inexplicable injustice, it is better to be irate than resigned…it is for each person who assigns his portion of sovereignty to a higher authority, spititual of temporal, to renegotiate the terms of submission so that we can see beyond our present ken…” p.219
“…here on earth, in the distribution of justice and fairness, retribution and reward, humanity is on its own…” p. 226
* The 1992 NYT review follows…
November 5, 1992
Books of The Times; The Politics of the Book of Job
By NICHOLAS LEMANN;
The First Dissident The Book of Job in Today's Politics By William Safire Illustrated. 304 pages. Random House. $23.
James B. Stockdale, the ex-prisoner of war who was Ross Perot's running mate, was quoted during the campaign as saying that he used to teach the biblical Book of Job to his students at the Naval War College. He summed up its message thusly: "You have to be a man, as Job was asked to be a man by his Lord, and stand up like a man when you are faced with undeserved hardship."
After seven years in a Hanoi prison, Mr. Stockdale certainly knows about undeserved hardship, but William Safire must have winced when he read that encapsulation of Job. Mr. Safire strenuously objects to the standard view of Job as a nobly suffering, essentially passive figure onto whose name the adjective "patient" has been grafted like a flying buttress. His Job is an angry man whose most notable act was his initial daring direct questioning of God, not his later apology and submission to God's will. Although Mr. Safire doesn't mention Mr. Stockdale, he does at one point explicitly reject the idea that all prisoners and hostages have Job-like qualities; for him, only people "in jail for political beliefs" qualify.
The Book of Job has obviously been on Mr. Safire's mind for a long time, nagging to be written about in the way that unlikely subjects often do for writers. He has the kind of intense, almost obsessive familiarity with it that can only have come from years of repeated readings, and he has also kept up with the scholarly literature on Job. What entrances Mr. Safire about the book is partly the beauty of the writing and partly the theme, which, involving as it does great questions about the exercise of power, would appear to be directly relevant to the higher concerns of a New York Times political columnist.
Mr. Safire proposes to accomplish two missions here: first, to make an airtight case that Job was a rebel engaged in an unprecedented challenge of God, not a receptacle of misfortune; and second, to demonstrate that the Book of Job has echoed through American culture and history and has specific political applicability today. Mission 1 is successful; Mission 2, less so.
The one line in the Book of Job that has most contributed to Job's unjustified image is this, from the King James Version of the Bible: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Mr. Safire says this is a mistranslation and should read (as it does in the New English Bible) "If he would slay me, I should not hesitate; I should still argue my cause to his face." That change alone makes Job a substantially different person. Otherwise, the picture of Job as a fall guy comes from the end of the Book: Elihu's long speech to him, counseling acceptance, and finally Job's own repentance to God. But Mr. Safire says these parts of the book were probably tacked on by an author so eager to be published that he "made such compromises in his copy as he thought necessary to bring along enough religious leaders to ensure canonical status for his book."
To demonstrate the length of the Book of Job's shadow, Mr. Safire has assembled a distinguished list of latter-day fans, ranging from Martin Luther and John Calvin to William Blake and Soren Kierkegaard (and he has the good sense to leave out such dubious legacies as Archibald MacLeish's play "J. B.," which Dwight Macdonald left bleeding on the floor in a famous essay called "Masscult and Midcult"). He makes an intriguing case that our greatest President, Lincoln, and our great novel, "Moby-Dick," repeatedly -- though obliquely -- alluded to Job.
When Mr. Safire turns to the difficult task of projecting the Book of Job into the present, he is much less intellectually formidable. His central message, which is that man will never get perfect justice from God and so ought always to be in respectful conflict with Him and with other authorities, doesn't seem to have risen inexorably from his reading of the Book of Job, but rather to be something he already believed and sought biblical support for. He augments his political points with a series of breezy anecdotes drawn from his careers as a speechwriter for Richard M. Nixon and as a journalist, and with score-settlings and snap judgments about various political leaders.
Mr. Safire's Washington does have a biblical quality about it: in a small territory where everybody seems to know everybody else, extremely powerful forces roll out a never-ending series of evocative dramas. There is, however, a resonance to the Bible -- conferred by the cadence and discipline of the prose, as well as by thousands of years of great p.r. -- that isn't matched by Mr. Safire's parables about his barber, Bert Lance and his niece Ellen's adult bat mitzvah. It doesn't help, for his present purpose, that Mr. Safire is the most self-conscious of writers. He keeps himself so busy dodging and feinting with his own words -- playing the simultaneous roles of authorial God and critical Job -- that the sense of command a book this ambitious needs never gets a chance to form.
In his conclusion Mr. Safire admits, with disarming candor, that this book turned out differently from what he had intended: in effect, he thought he would be completely on Job's side but found himself surprisingly sympathetic to God. Perhaps the reason is that Washington is fundamentally about working things out, rather than fiery dissent; it's no accident that nearly all of Mr. Safire's contemporary nominees for Job status are rebels against foreign dictatorships. It might have been more difficult than it appeared to tease out lessons about a democracy from a story about the most complete denial of due process of all time.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
Ed Tufte and Graphics Press 20131005
Third annual open house at Edward Tufte's 234-acre outdoor landscape sculpture park and tree farm, which shows 80 monumental ET artworks. Recent pieces include 30 stone megaliths by ET and Dan Snow, stainless steel Feynman diagrams, and the new Ironstone series. Saturday afternoon, October 5, 11.00 to 5.00 at Hogpen Hill Farms, 100 Weekeepeemee Road, Woodbury, Connecticut 06798. For directions use Google maps or similar. Hogpen Hill Farms is in Litchfield County in northwest Connecticut, 100 minutes from Manhattan. Wear walking shoes. Call Graphics Press at 203 272-9187 if you have questions. Rain date is Sunday October 6.
"Edward Tufte and Triumph of Good Design" nymag Tufte one-day course "The thinking eye," NPR Science Friday,transcript + recording. "The Information Sage,"Washington Monthly Tufte presidential appointment
"Sometimes curious misfits turn out to be Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Edward Tufte—or Aaron Swartz," Slate, Phreaks and Geeks "Edward Tufte on Aaron Swartz: vigorously, marvelously different," here.
Saturday, October 05, 2013
The Six Habits of Tomorrow’s Economically Sustainable Independent Schools
(The following piece will appear in the November issue of "Net Assets," the trade journal of the National Business Officers Association, an association of independent school business managers. It was solicited by the editors. jb)
It’s easy to stay locked in the status quo and look to traditional cost/revenue solutions to balance the budget. But a few thoughtful habits can forge another path to success.
By John Barry
A common outlook today is that “the independent school business model is broken” and that we should fix our broken business model by cutting costs and finding new sources of revenue.
If by a “broken business model” we mean a model that assumes we can simply keep raising tuition prices to cover any costs we want to incur, then perhaps that idea of a business model is in fact broken, if it was ever really viable to begin with.
I take a different view. I believe that the road to economic durability for independent schools lies not in novel revenue-producing activities or in cost-cutting strategies, but in looking closer to home for immediate ways to make our schools more attractive to students, families, and philanthropists.
I want to cast off from the idea that our independent schools are uniquely immune to market forces, and look for ways to make ourselves more valuable by putting our students in the presence of demonstrable excellence every day in every part of our programs.
The economically sustainable independent school of the future, in my view, will start to do the following things today:
1. Identify and implement ways to significantly increase the value of its program to its students and their families.
2. Ensure that current annual operating revenues – mostly net tuition and annual gifts – cover the school’s full costs of operations.
3. Develop goals and budgets for assets and liabilities and the balance sheet, not just the annual income statement.
4. Vigorously cultivate and listen to major philanthropists.
5. Plan rational and comprehensive capital campaigns.
6. Develop program and support activities that are fully informed by independent school marketplace realities.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these points:
1) Identify and implement ways to significantly increase the value of its program to its students and their families.
Great athletic teams, manufacturers, think tanks, etc., do not become legendary by using tricky tactics or constantly changing strategies. They become great by consistently doing “ordinary” things in extraordinarily good ways.
This is extremely hard to do. People get invested in the status quo, so change usually comes at the cost of some altered career paths. But the main thing is to deliver more and more student value in a constantly changing world. The ability to do this will be the distinguishing characteristic of tomorrow’s successful independent school – as it will be with any organization in any industry.
How many independent schools have a permanent “Committee on Constant Improvements?” No school is perfect. Every school could, if it looked hard enough, find better ways to serve its students and families. The successful schools of the future will be the ones that systematically and consistently identify ways to deliver more and more value to students at lower costs. This is not impossible.
Rather than search for ways to create new and novel ways to create revenues and cut costs, what if your school managed to put each student in the presence of recognizable excellence every hour of every day? That is, how would a school do economically if it exposed students and families to nothing but unmistakably superior teaching, uncommon coaching, well-designed and excellently maintained facilities, and first-rate administrative and support services.
So set up that Committee on Constant Improvements and identify what it will take to show your students what excellence really looks like in each aspect of your school’s activities.
2) Ensure that current annual operating revenues – mostly net tuition and annual gifts – cover the school’s full costs of operations.
It is not enough to have an annual budget that is “bookkeeping balanced” – it has to be “real world balanced.” A bookkeeping balanced budget is one in which the operating revenues appear to cover the operating expenses, but some important elements of the school’s operating expenses are not being adequately funded.
Here are two examples: 1) A bookkeeping balanced budget might include a campus maintenance expense that does not adequately maintain the campus. This allows a potentially enormous invisible liability to grow year by year – sort of like a “reverse mortgage” – for the unfunded but essential preservation costs of the buildings and grounds. 2) A bookkeeping balanced budget might include an underfunded information technology expense that does not succeed in keeping the IT system sufficiently current to serve the school and its students.
3) Develop goals and budgets for assets and liabilities and the balance sheet, not just the annual income statement. Schools need to actively manage their assets and liabilities, not just their revenues and expenses.
Running an economically durable Independent school is an exercise in a cash flow activity. What matters most is having a steady, reliable, and predictable annual operating cash flow. This involves more than just the traditional bookkeeping view of revenues and expenses.
Managing receivables and payables, for example, influences cash flow just like managing budget line items such as office supplies. Keeping a weather eye on debts can be as important as managing financial aid.
4) Vigorously cultivate and listen to major philanthropists.
This sounds simple, but it is often not done well enough. Major philanthropists both represent the promise of long-term sustainability, but they require far more effort and information than the average annual fund donor. Capital donors are sophisticated people who are the target of many solicitations every year.
An old adage: If you want advice, ask for money; if you want money, ask for advice. Simple occasional requests for major gifts usually result in the fundraiser getting lots of advice. Sometimes the advice is sincere. But sometimes the advice is merely a deflection of the solicitation. A more successful approach is to constantly communicate with the handful of most promising capital donors, sharing with them regularly the important financial features of the school, and listening to their ideas. Not that every idea should be implemented, of course; the idea is that economically successful people rarely give large gifts out of blind faith or uninformed enthusiasm, or because they receive two or three brief and uninformative “asks” per year.
5) Plan rational and comprehensive capital campaigns.
Annual revenues cannot build dorms, replace old buildings, buy whole new information technology infrastructures, or build endowment assets. It is ambitious enough for regular annual revenues to just cover the real-world operating costs of an independent school. (See “bookkeeping balanced” vs. “real world balanced” above.) Real sustainability comes from prudently designed and operated capital campaigns.
A good capital campaign is rational and comprehensive. “Rational” means that the goal of the campaign is objectively connected to the capacities and intentions of a school’s well-informed and well-cultivated capital campaign patrons. “Comprehensive” means it takes all of the school’s needs into account – not just a disconnected piecemeal one-thing-at-a-time approach that fails to either address comprehensive needs or harvest the full potential of capital patrons.
An old adage says, “I bargained with life for a penny, and life would pay no more.” An independent school will rarely, if ever, receive more capital gifts than it asks for, and big “asks” need to be obviously well thought through to appeal to perceptive, affluent donors and foundations.
One respected fundraising consultant one told me that an excellent capital campaign strategy is to: 1) prepare a detailed case statement, with financial projections; 2) prepare a donor pyramid that reflects the 90-10 rule (90 percent of the money will come from about 10 percent of the donors); 3) meet with the school’s dozen or two top potential capital donors, one at a time, for an hour or two each, to present and discuss the case statement prospectus; 4) obtain from each donor a thoughtful commitment of what they can give the campaign over, say, five years;
5) add up the commitments of this prime group, then multiply it by two. According to this expert, that result is about 90 percent of what the campaign can expect to raise.
This method of estimation might be off the mark in some cases, but it is real-world rational in the sense that it is tethered to economic reality – as opposed to simply making a wish list of school capital desires, adding it up, and announcing that goal as the target of the next capital campaign.
6) Develop program and support activities that are fully informed by independent school marketplace realities.
Think of the many formerly single-sex independent schools that are now co-ed.
Think of the independent schools that used to be racially limited that have long since become diverse. Or think of the many formerly sectarian schools that are now non-sectarian. Or the many college preparatory military schools that are either no longer in business, or are now non-military. The changes in all of these cases came painfully, after soul-searching processes within each of these schools. All these changes came about because the leaders in each case saw handwriting on the wall, and changed their schools so that they remained competitive in the marketplace for independent secondary education in the United States.
Economically sustainable independent schools evaluate their programs from time to time based not just on the habits and preferences of their dedicated employees, but on some pragmatic, reasonably objective assessment of what parents and students are looking for, and of what they are willing and able to afford.
Unfortunately, in this regard the past may not be prologue; to remain economically viable, today’s independent school leaders must continually evaluate the market in which they are operating, and change to respond to new realities.
Finally, many schools have traditions and habits that endear the school to its people, which is good. But the question is whether those traditions and habits are those that ensure that the school appeals to enough clients and patrons to stay viable over the years. This is particularly challenging for independent schools that operate within a certain theme, or motif (i.e., religious, military, Montessori, etc.) which tend to limit their financial and marketing options.
Gravity (Movie) (to be seen)
Directed by Oscar (R) nominee Alfonso Cuaron, stars Oscar (R) winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a heart-pounding thriller that pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone
(Rotten Tomatoes: 202/5 ‘fresh’)