Work-life imbalance

I have seen three articles today drawing attention to the norms of the American workplace, the multi-tasking; the send-and-resond, send-and-respond email culture; and the working long hours. All of these articles explain why this approach is sapping people’s energy and making them less productive. The prevailing belief is that putting more time in the office shows you are more committed to your job. As these articles suggest, that is so often not the case.

Bring back the 40-hour work week (Salon)

It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing.

Modern Americans are multitasking their minds away
(LA Times)

The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time (Harvard Business Review)

What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It’s like an itch we can’t resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.

The Knicks Playing on Valentine’s Day…

The Knicks playing on Valentine’s Day is the plot of many a husband-and-wife sitcom

c/o Mark's All in the Family Page



But how good is the impression of Todd Palin?

Like many of us on the internet, the trailer for Game Change, the adaptation of the popular book about the 2008 election, did not go unnoticed over here. I must agree with everyone that Julianne Moore seems to do a fine Sarah Palin. Ed Harris is rightly commended for his John McCain. He is spot on at aping the nervous I’m-about-to-explode mannerisms of Arizona’s senior Senator.

But here’s my question: where’s the other, oh, uh much more interesting first half of the book that focused on Obama versus Hillary and Jon Edwards’ painful implosion? What I’m saying is, I don’t really care about Sarah Palin. We all know this story. We saw this story. The least surprising parts of Game Change were the parts about this story. It was pretty clear in the fall of 2008 that the McCain campaign strategists who scouted her eventually came to regret their choice of Palin. It was pretty clear then that she didn’t know much about policy, geography, world leaders, etc.  It was pretty clear then that she quickly took to her celebrity. It’s no longer an even mildly interesting story, and yet it appears to be exactly what HBO’s Game Change is giving us. Are people really still that interested in Sarah Palin? Has she not worn herself out? Have we not worn out whatever joy we once took out of seeing how so totally in over her head she was? If this movie is only going to focus on the Palin story, there is nothing it will illuminate athat we don’t already know. The Edwards story on the other hand is driven by the compelling and yet still not quite answered question: how did a once fairly promising, down-to-earth politician make so many terrible decisions that alienated his loyal staff?

Sure, I’m going to at some point watch Game Change, but I am going to go in with no higher hopes than I had for another 2008 book-turned-movie called Too Big To Fail. An unmemorable HBO film, the only two things I can recall about Too Big To Fail are the strange but delightful choice of Paul Giamatti as Ben Bernanke and William Hurt as Hank Paulson walking around Times Square dizzily as the news tickers tell him that the world financial system is teetering on the brink.

Oh, and Game Change receives another demerit for the opening cliche — er line — to its trailer, from strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson): “We live in the age of YouTube and the 24-hour news cycle.”

Decide for yourself:

Tragically American

Here is the concluding passage from the wonderful book I just finished reading, Nixonland, by Rick Perlstein.

What Richard Nixon left behind was the very terms of our national self-image: a notion that there are two kinds of Americans. On the one side, that “Silent Majority.” The “nonshouters.” The middle-class, middle American, suburban, exurban, and rural coalition who call themselves, now, “values voters,” people of faith,” “patriots,” or even, simply, “Republicans” — and who feel themselves condescended to by snobby opinion-making elites, and who rage about un-Americans, anti-Christians, amoralists, aliens. On the other side are the “liberals,” the “cosmopolitans,” the “intellectuals,” the “professionals” — “Democrats.” Who say they see shouting in opposition to injustice as a higher form of patriotism. Or say “live and let live.” Who believe that to have “values” has more to do with a willingness to extend aid to the downtrodden than where, or if, you happen to worship — but who look down on the first category as unwitting dupes of feckless elites who exploit sentimental pieties to aggrandize their wealth, start wars, ruin lives. Both populations — to speak in ideal types — are equally, essentially, tragically American.

Nixon bloopers

Much better than “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

The King’s Speech is actually a Best Picture algorithm

Last night my friend Alex and I saw The King’s Speech. I left the theater with both a warmed heart and a firm conviction that this film will almost certainly win the Oscar, unless the Academy tries to be cool and chooses The Social Network instead. This is because The King’s Speech is the quintessential Oscar movie — it’s almost as if someone made an algorithm for the perfect Oscar movie yielding this film. Here’s why (spoiler alert):

  • It features a largely British and Australian cast. Just about any actor with a British accent is considered a good actor, as are most Australians, save Mel Gibson.
  • It is produced by notorious Oscar strongmen the Weinstein brothers.
  • It is a period piece.
  • And it’s not just any period piece, it is set on the eve of World War II, Hollywood’s favorite period.
  • It tells the story of a man overcoming the adversity of a disability. The only thing Hollywood loves as much as people overcoming disabilities (Forrest Gump,Ray, Rain Man) is people who train in order to fight and win against a stronger opponent (Gladiator, Rocky, Million Dollar Baby).
  • Not only is the film’s protagonist, King George VI (Colin Firth) sympathetic owing to his speech impediment, he is also portrayed as a firm opponent of totalitarianism and consistently supports going to war against Hitler and the Nazis. (This is, unsurprisingly, where one of the movie’s biggest historical inaccuracies comes into play, probably because Hollywood-produced films are adverse to moral ambiguity, especially moral ambiguity during World War II. In The King’s Speech, Winston Churchill, one of the early anti-Nazi voices in the UK, is portrayed as fully supportive of George’s coronation when his brother Edward abdicates the throne. In fact, Churchill was a friend and supporter of Edward, who was a Nazi sympathizer. And, in reality, George was not a reflexive anti-Nazi. He was instead for a time a supporter of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin’s policy of appeasement).
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Helena Bonham Carter
  • King George VI is a benevolent, well-intentioned and humble leader who, while not well-acquainted with the common man, has respect for him. In Hollywood, the only thing better than a poor, downtrodden soul who overcomes adversity is a rich, regal person who does the same.
  • The script gives a nod to the media revolution in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when the radio is revolutionizing how heads of state communicate with the public. This causes us viewers to feel smart for knowing how much the radio and then the television will transform how the royal family relates to its subjects.
  • George’s speech therapist Lionel Logue’s methods are eccentric and unorthodox. But it is precisely his bucking of convention that allows him to successfully help George overcome his stutter.
  • At the end of the day, this is a movie about friendship, between George and Logue.
  • Colin Firth is the perfect best actor contender. He has been in enough legitimate movies in the past to be more than a throwaway nominee, but he also has a distinct arc in his career trajectory, having come a long way from his less serious films, such as Bridget Jones’ Diary. And with his successful portrayal of a stutterer, Hollywood is probably chomping at the bit to coronate him best actor. I’m actually 99% sure Firth will win this award.

In spite of its many advantages in the Oscar race, The King’s Speech still lacks a few elements that would seal the deal. Those are:

  • Dame Judi Dench
  • Maggie Smith
  • A lower class character who shows the king how a live of humble modesty is ultimately more satisfying than one of entitled wealth.

Correction: I stand corrected about one thing. Apparently the Weinstein brothers are no longer the forces in Hollywood they once were, according to this New York Times article published yesterday.

Song of the day

Some songs are just good. One such song is Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” 

It is used to great effect in this mock ad for Shining


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