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Posts Tagged ‘Not Recommended’

Today a book review and a movie re-review.  The book is titled: “The Faiths Of Our Fathers” and the movie: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice“.
The Faiths Of Our Fathers” is written by Alf J. Mapp, Jr. (2003©).  Mapp is a colonial historian and this book is somewhat interesting in providing context about the differences in beliefs across the colonies.  Other than that, my own belief is that the author is biased towards “Christian” beliefs and caries this bias across in his writing.  The book attempts to offer a Catholic (Charles Carroll of Carrollton) and a Jew (Haym Solomon) as secondary evidence that one (an American of historical significance) can be deeply religious without being Protestant.  In fact, many of the most prominent founders – Washington, Jefferson and Franklin (for example) were Deists – they believed in a supreme being – but did not hold that being MUST be Christian (let alone a trinity).
While it is certainly true that most of the founding fathers were raised in a Christian faith, it is NOT accurate to portray them as devout Christians – which is definitely the feeling I was left with after reading this book.  For example: Washington did not partake of Communion.  When confronted about this and advised that others in the church found his actions “confusing”, Washington stopped attending services altogether.  Jefferson rewrote the Bible removing all references to miracles, because he considered them fantasy.  And, Franklin was a deist who questioned the divinity of Jesus Christ in his autobiography and in letters to friends.
As stated, the book is somewhat interesting as it describes the faiths during the time of the founding of the United States and it is a short book.  Other than those two observations, it is difficult to give this book more than a passing recommendation.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a movie I saw with my kids on first release back in July of 2010  (my initial review is here).  I enjoyed the movie initially, and I thought even more highly of it after seeing it this second time.  I watched it on one of the cable movie channels, so there were no commercial interruptions.  While Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina are the two “stars” of the movie (and Molina is pretty good in his bad-guy role; Cage less so as the good-guy), the real stars are the apprentice – Dave – and his lifelong (lost and rediscovered) girlfriend – Becky (played by Jay Baruchel and Teresa Palmer, respectively).  I don’t recall seeing either of them in any other roles, before or since, so I don’t have much to compare them with beyond this role.  In any case, Jay makes for a believable Nerd and Teresa holds her own as a beautiful girl who falls for a nerd (right, that’s gonna happen!)
The movie has good to great special effects and is a pleasant family movie with a minimum of blood, killings and swearing.  It was refreshing to watch a movie that was pleasant, entertaining and contained pretty good action scenes.  The “Fantasia” mop scene is pretty well re-created in the movie, which I felt added a little bit of movie geekiness to the movie.  As I tend to be a movie-geek, this was a plus for me.
One final note, as I did not see this back-to-back with another very good movie this time (last time I saw it the day after “Inception“), the movie came across even better than after the first viewing.  I highly recommend this movie.  Particularly now that you can watch it on cable.
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This week I completed two books – one very good and one not very good.
The very good book is titled: “On Becoming A Leader” (2003©) and was written by Warren Bennis  – updated version from the original published in 1989.  Bennis is considered to be the “father” of the developed leader school.  His mantra is that leaders are not born, they are made.  Some are made by history, but Bennis goes farther in that he believes many (if not most) make themselves.  They (leaders in process) have various ways of “making” themselves, but ultimately they follow similar paths to becoming a leader.  The book is meant to lend framework to the path – partly to define the framework, but mostly to lay out the map for readers (leaders in process).
Shakespeare states: “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”  This is a quote often seen when discussing how great leaders come to be.  I believe all three are true for “historic” leaders and am not convinced that any one is more prevalent than the other two.  I do feel that history and luck play the biggest role in “greatness”, though.
Bennis is firmly in the “achieving” camp.  It should be pointed out there is a difference between “greatness” and “leadership” and Bennis is concerned with the latter and not the former.  This book is his version of “how” to become a leader – the personal traits you need to develop, how you should lead, and how you must form your organization or how it will form you.  There is a statement that great leaders understand themselves and “express” their nature fully.  This is the part where I start to fall away from Bennis.  While I can understand “warm-fuzzy psycho-babble”, it’s not my cup of tea.  It simply doesn’t “resonate” with me.  This may simply be because I’m not a “great” leader and I’m therefore not  able to feel the “expressive” nature of great leadership hidden away in me.  (But, I doubt it…)
Anyway, as negative as the preceding paragraphs sound, this is actually a VERY good book and I highly recommend it – not because I believe everything Bennis says, but rather because I love his use of language.  I probably hope that being “fully expressive” is all it takes to be a great leader, because this implies I may still develop into a great leader myself.  (But, I doubt it…)
By the way, this was another $2 clearance book at Half-Price Books (and worth ten times as much), and you’ll be seeing frequent quotes from the book in future posts.
The second book is titled: “Marathoning A-Z” and was written by Hal Higdon (2002©).  The book is sub-titled: “500 Ways to Run Better, Faster,and Smarter“.  The book is a series of alphabetically sorted snippets from his question and answer columns and emails about running.  The book is a very fast read.  This is partly because each offering truly is a snippet and partly because there is almost nothing stated which makes one pause to think.  As such, I could not recommend this book to any but the most rank beginner of a runner.  Even then I’d qualify the book to them by stating at least 20 to 30 of the items are repeated in a different alphabet letter.  I’m not sure if this was meant to introduce humor or simply filler because you’ve promised the publisher 500 items.  (I have a feeling it’s the latter…)  Sadly, this was NOT a $2 book for me.  It was $4.95 and I was over-charged about $4 in value vs cost.  Save your money and check this out of a library.  Better yet, just go out and start jogging.  You’ll get more from jogging yourself than you will ever get from this book.

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Over the last few days I read a book titled: “A Government Ill Executed: The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It” written by Paul C. Light (2008©).  The book is conceived as a compare and contrast argument between the governing ideas of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.  Hamilton prefers the centralized and closely controlled government based on ability, training and pay.  Jefferson prefers a decentralized, smaller and looser government based on a gentleman’s sense of duty.
The book is well written if fairly academic.  It has about three or four useful pieces of information and is otherwise fairly useless.  The most interesting bits of information are 1) the premise that two of the founding fathers had such diametrically opposed views of how to run a Federal government; 2) an explanation of the rule of 1 to 6 for supervision; 3) a fairly good chronology of the public bashing of the Federal government (and Federal employees) over the last 40 years; and 4) the rough estimate of the “shadow” civil service – contracted out and grantees doing primarily government jobs.
That’s what’s good about the book.  On the other hand…
As I understand the author’s biography, he has no working knowledge of the Federal service.  He has only ever served as a senior executive at department level or a consultant to Congressional committees.  As such, he has no personal knowledge of what he’s talking about (Federal “workers”).  I’m not saying you have to have been a swimmer to explain swimming and critique modern racing, but it would raise my level of confidence in the author’s statements if he had ever “walked the walk” for even a short period of time.  This is not to say he doesn’t make some interesting points / observations, but his suggestions are largely uninformed (to be kind).  Another objection I have to the book is the heavy reliance on survey’s to “establish facts”.  Actually, all they establish are facts about opinions.  It does not make the opinions correct or based on facts.  Polling various groups of people in one of three job sectors – civil service, private companies and non-profits – and asking them vague questions about why they chose one over the other.  Give me a break…  Most people fall into any job they can get hired into and then use contacts to get other jobs for more money or experience.  I would bet fewer than 20%, know exactly what they want to do and go directly into their chosen field.  With no experience of one sector, how do you know the others are more or less “fulfilling”?
The author also complains about how difficult it is to get a Federal job and that Federal jobs have such high turnover.  For example, young people don’t understand how to apply for a Federal job and the process is overly complicated and the selection process is lengthy…  I’m sorry, I thought we were trying to hire adults.  Another example, senior positions have to complete a sixty page job application describing their past.  It has several parts which are redundant and personal.  I’m sorry, I thought we were trying to hire SENIOR executives – most of whom will have some flunky complete the forms for them, so they only have to sign on the bottom line.  I never realized life was so difficult for people at the top!  And high turnover? Give me a break!  Try a small or medium size private business if you want to see high-turnover…
Finally, the last chapter is supposed to be an offering of solutions. After, all the buildup, I was hoping for some insight.  Alas, the suggestions are even more inane than the purported causes of the problems (as proven in the surveys).  Here is only one example: if the President can’t get the Senate to agree to a nominee in six months, the job should be eliminated because the agency / department was able to get by without an executive for six months.  I guess the author has never heard of temporary / developmental assignments until a job gets filled.  A hostile Senate would never fill any positions and we have ample evidence this is already happening and has been for several administrations.
All in all, an interesting, but to me, very disappointing read.
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Friday night I finished reading “Blood, Sweat and Chalk” by Tim Layden (2010).  I saw an advance article about it in Sports Illustrated and the book was also highly recommended by Peter King (a columnist with SI).
I was hoping for some insight into the game I grew-up loving – American Football.  Not your usual personality piece so common today.  Sorry, that’s EXACTLY what this book is and it offers almost nothing else.  It’s basically a history of a number of main schemes without explaining the scheme, why it works, what it doesn’t work against and why it may be different from any other scheme.  If you want to know about when a general idea (wishbone, split-t, I formation, etc) was thought up, and by whom, the book is barely adequate.  If you want to know which coaches had direct influence on others (because they worked together on the same team), this is the book for you.
I found the writing dull (a surprise for Tim Layden, who is normally pretty good in SI); the scheme selection adequate; the scheme descriptions poor (at best); and, for me at least, fairly useless in terms of better understanding the game at any level Pop Warner, high school, college or professional.  All in all, a major disappointment which I (stupidly) paid full price for.
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