Saturday, April 28, 2007

Making Changes

"It’s easier to change one’s religion than one’s café."

I saw this sign at Baristas Café in Kolkata.
It's worth letting that thought percolate for a while.

Geoff Pound

Monty Python Divided Over Work

Michael Palin writes this entry in his diary (December 31, 1971) about differences in the Monty Python Team over their attitudes to work:

“The split between John [Cleese] and Eric [Idle] and the rest of us has grown a little recently. It doesn’t prevent us all from sharing—and enjoying sharing—most of out attitudes, except for attitudes to work. It’s the usual story—John and Eric see Monty Python as a means to an end—money to buy freedom from work. Terry J [Jones] is completely the opposite and feels that Python is an end in itself—i.e. work which he enjoys doing and which keeps him from the dangerous world of leisure. In between are Graham [Chapman] and myself.”

Michael Palin Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, 65.

Image: The Python Team

Friday, April 27, 2007

Woody Allen on Dealing with Differences

When Woody Allen was talking about his 11 year marriage with Mia Farrow he reflected on the challenge of seeking to manage their many differences:

“She doesn’t like the city and I adore the city. She loves the country and I don’t love the country. She doesn’t like sports at all and I love sports. She can’t sleep with the air-conditioner on. I can only sleep with the air-conditioner on. She loves pets and animals. I hate pets and animals. She would love to take a boat down the Amazon or go up to Mt Kilimanjaro. I never want to go near those places. She has an optimistic yeah feeling toward life and I have a totally pessimistic negative feeling. She has raised nine children now with no trauma and has never owned a thermometer. I take my temperature every two hours.”

No wonder they came to live in separate apartments that faced each other across Central Park in New York.

Geoff Pound

Image: Woody Allen and Mia Farrow

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cookie Communication: Sinning Boldly?

Why ever would you print the nutritional facts on the icing of a biscuit, especially if it comes in a packet?

As an act of honesty and transparency?

To warn consumers so that they don’t buy too many?

Maybe so that people can do what Martin Luther spoke about when he said, “If you’re going to sin, sin boldly.”

What fun, being able to lick these details off about calories and fat, on a biscuit or three.

Geoff Pound

Image: Eating the truth.

Fiddler On The Roof: Why are we doing this?

In ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ there is a Passover scene in which the mother and father gather all the children dressed in their best clothes. The table is set with everything in its rightful place then the children ask the question, “Why are we doing this?” Their eyes, especially those of the younger ones say, “I don’t understand. “Why do we go to all this trouble?”

The answer, in the parents’ eyes and in everything they are doing, is “because we are Jews.” They are Jews in Russia. They are in danger but they will never forget the fact that they are Jews. They do this, all this, to remember who they are. They do it because their fathers and mothers did it before them beginning at a time when they too were too young to understand it fully.

Geoff Pound

Image: Cast from Fiddler on the Roof

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Michael Palin Goes to Church

Michael Palin writes in his diary, Sunday February 28, 1971:

I had been feeling guilty for some weeks that I had made no effort to follow up my decision to have William [his son] christened at St. Martin’s, the local church standing amongst the rubble of the Gospel Oak rebuilding scheme.

And today I took the snap decision to go. I was literally summoned by the bells. It was a strange feeling going into a church I did not know for a service that I did not really believe in, but once inside I couldn’t help a feeling of warmth and security. Outside there were wars and road accidents and murders, striptease clubs and battered babies and frayed tempers and unhappy marriages and people contemplating suicide and bad jokes and The Golden Shot [a British television game show between 1967 and 1975], but once in St. Martin’s there was peace. Surely people go to church not to involve themselves in the world’s problems but to escape from them. And surprisingly also, here in the middle of devastated Kentish Town, was a large unusually designed stone building, with polished pews and shining brass and a vicar and faithful people gathered. Though rationally I would find it difficult to justify my participation, I nevertheless was glad I went. In a funny way, I was really moved by the faith of the fifteen old ladies, four men, a choir (black and white) who were there with me. But seeing the vicar afterwards I felt a fraud.

Michael Palin Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, 55-56.

My review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Geoff Pound

Image: St Martin’s Gospel Oak. The web site says that, “the church has recently been restored. Come and see.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Wright Way to Develop a Vision

On December 17, 1903 at 10.35am Orville Wright secured his place in history by executing the first powered and sustained flight from ground level. For twelve gravity-defying seconds he flew 120 feet along the dunes of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In the field of aviation, this historic event represented a beginning. But for Orville and Wilbur Wright, it was the end of a long and tedious journey. A journey initiated by a dream common to every little boy. The desire to fly. But what most children abandon to the domain of fantasy, Orville and Wilbur Wright seized upon as a potential reality. They believed they would fly. More than that they believed they should fly.

Wilbur described the birth of their vision in this way:

“Our personal interest in it [aviation] dates from our childhood days. Late in the autumn of 1878, our father came into the house one evening with some object partly concealed in his hands, and before we could see what it was, he tossed it into the air.”

“Instead of falling to the ground, as we expected, it flew across the room until it struck the ceiling where it fluttered for a while and finally sank to the floor. It was a little toy, known to scientists as a ‘hélicoptère’ but which we with sublime disregard for science, at once dubbed a ‘bat’.”

“It was a light frame of cork and bamboo, covered with paper, which formed two screws, driven in opposite directions by rubber bands under torsion. A toy so delicate lasted only a short time in the hands of small boys, but its memory was abiding.”

(Orville and Wilbur Wright, “The Wright Brothers Aèroplane,” Century Magazine, September 1908.)

This childhood experience sparked in the boys an insatiable desire to fly. The only thing they lacked was the means. So they immediately went to work removing the obstacles that stood between them and their dream and they began building their own helicopters. In doing so they stumbled upon the principles of physics that could pave the way to their first successful manned flight. In short they began to engineer their vision. They took the necessary steps to ensure that what they believed could be, would be..

Andy Stanley, Visioneering (Sisters Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 1999), 7-8

Image: Orville (left) and Wilbur Wright.

David Halberstam: A True Professional

David Halberstam, the Manhattan-based Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of books on many topics was killed yesterday in a car crash at the age of seventy-three.

In the recent interview, Mr. Halberstam summed up his approach to work by quoting a basketball player. “There’s a great quote by Julius Erving,” he said, “that went, ‘Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.’ ”

Clyde Haberman, ‘David Halberstam, 73, Reporter and Author, Dies’, New York Times, April 24, 2007

Image: David Halberstam

Monday, April 23, 2007

Look at the Birds of the Air

Many people cannot walk through a forest to do bird watching but the Collaborative Observatory for Natural Environments (CONE) Sutro Forest is a new bird watching project in which you can participate from your computer.

An ultra-high resolution telerobotic camera is mounted outside a home that overlooks San Francisco's Sutro Forest.

You can log on to observe birds, take photos, and identify the different species.

Here is the link to look at the birds.

Geoff Pound

Image: Birds at the feeder of the CONE project.

Dame Edna: Showering Embarrassments

Michael Palin’s Diary entry, 23 May, 1976 after having lunch with Ian, [who collaborated on material for Barry Humphries’ stage show]:

“Ian tells a good Barry Humphries tale—apparently Barrie was in full swing as Edna in his show at the Apollo, when a man in the front row, ever so discreetly, left for a pee. But he couldn’t really escape Edna’s eye and Edna remarked in his absence and talked to his wife for a while about his waterworks. Having found out the man’s name, Edna and the audience plotted a little surprise for him. So when he duly reappeared from the gents and made for his seat, once again stealthily and soundlessly, without disturbing a soul, Edna gave a cue and as he was half-way down the gangway, the entire theatre chanted, ‘Hello Colin!’”

Michael Palin Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, 317.

Image: Dame Edna.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Story for World Earth Day

On this World Earth Day I thought I would do some recycling!

Here is a story that I posted last year about a great environmentalist, John Muir.

Have another look at Engaging Life Fully.

Geoff Pound

Image: John Muir

US Building Walls in Iraq: Do 'Good Fences make Good Neighbors'?

Residents of a dangerous district in Baghdad are accusing the United States of hardening sectarian divisions as US forces wall them in behind a five-kilometre security barrier.

The walls separating Palestinian and Israeli in Israel and now Sunni and Shia in Iraq, call to mind Robert Frost’s poem that begins with these haunting words, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall.’

Mending Walls by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Source: ‘Iraq Residents Angered by US Wall’, Al Jazeera, 21 April 2007

Image: Proposed placement for the wall in Iraq.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Nick Hornby: The Gift of Good Fiction

"What I’ve always loved about fiction is its ability to be smart about people who aren’t themselves smart, or at least don’t necessarily have the resources to describe their own emotional states. That was the way Twain was smart, and Dickens; and that is surely one of the reasons why Roddy Doyle is adored by all sorts of people, many of whom are infrequent book-buyers. It seems to me to be a more remarkable gift than the ability to let extremely literate people say extremely literate things."

Nick Hornby, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, London: Viking, 2006. 161-162. A review of this book can be found at Reviewing 'The Complete Polysyllabic Spree' by Nick Hornby.

Image: “One of the reasons why Roddy Doyle is adored by all sorts of people…”

Geoff Pound

Tips from a Master Storyteller

Three recent articles giving some reasons why F W Boreham was an effective communicator and storyteller are entitled:

The F W Boreham Approach: Urging Connections

F W Boreham Shares His Greatest Secret and

F W Boreham on Communication that Connects

Geoff Pound

Image: Ever tried to communicate on the topic of window dressing? Pictured is one of the most popular shop windows in Melbourne—the Myer window at Christmas time.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Brian Lara: ‘Strength from my Parents’

At the Press Conference, at which Brian Lara announced his retirement from all international cricket, he paid tribute to the strength that his parents had given him:

"I am also proud," Lara said. "I have been knocked down so many times, as a player and as a person, and I have had the strength, I suppose that has come from my parents, to be able to pick myself each and every single time and go out there in the face of adversity and try my best and perform. I didn't read it up in a book. It's deep down and it's part of my family trait."

Source: Sambit Bal, ‘Lara and the Art of Leaving’, CricInfo, April 19, 2007.

Image: Brain Lara in action on the cricket field.

Lara and the Art of Leaving

In his report on the West Indies v Bangladesh game in the Cricket World Cup on 19 April, Sambit Bal writes about Brian Lara and the art of leaving:

“You could never accuse of Brian Lara of lacking in timing. And if his retirement announcement was made without customary flourish, it didn't lack drama. It was the most delectable of late cuts: perfectly conceived and deftly executed, it left those in its presence breathless.”

“There was no gasp, because it took time to register. He dropped it in casually, just after he had finished answering his last question and when notebooks were being put away. He leaned forward, almost as if he was preparing to leave, and whispered these words into the microphone: "I gave extensive consideration to this. I want everybody to know that on Saturday I'll be playing my last international match."

“Journalists turned around and looked enquiringly at each other. Did I hear it right? Did he say merely international or was there a one-day before it. Some rushed to the dais to confirm it with Imran Khan, the West Indies media manager, who nodded his head. Some shoved miniature bats and notebooks to be autographed. But Lara had made it clear that there would be no further questions, and none were asked.”

Sambit Bal, ‘Lara and the Art of Leaving’, CricInfo, April 19, 2007.

Image: Brain Lara leaves the international field in the match between the West Indies and Bangladesh at Barbados, April 19, 2007.”

Beatrix Potter: Daring to be Courageous

This story about calling a spade a spade, concerns Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), the English author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, and other children's books:

"In 1912, by which time Beatrix Potter, the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was a hugely successful forty-six-year-old writer and illustrator, she sent her publisher Harold Warne a new story, her darkest yet, called The Tale of Mr. Tod. The story is about an argument between a fox and a badger, and features the abduction and near death of a sackful of baby rabbits. The story had a particularly good opening sentence: 'I am quite tired of making goody goody books about nice people.'

But the candor and acerbity of that were too much for Warne, and he fussed until Potter agreed to change the opening to something inarguably less punchy: 'I have made many books about well-behaved people.' Before she succumbed to this bad editorial advice, Potter relieved herself of her feelings in a letter to Warne:

"'If it were not impertinent to lecture one's publisher, you are a great deal too much afraid of the public for whom I have never cared one tuppeny-button. I am sure that it is this attitude of mind which has enabled me to keep up the series. Most people, after one success, are so cringingly afraid of doing less well that they rub all the edge off their subsequent work.' "

"The world's most popular children's author had a low opinion of both books and children: 'I never have cared tuppence either for popularity or for the modern child; they are pampered & spoilt with too many toys & books.' ...

"Potter's work was always tinged with a bleak realism about death, right from the opening of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, in which we learn that Peter's father has had 'an accident' and ended up in one of Mrs. McGregor's pies. ...

"Even in the lighter stories, such as Two Bad Mice, the main characters experience 'no end of rage and disappointment,' and that is before we encounter the outright evil of the fox in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, who encourages Jemima to pick the flavorings and seasonings in which she is to be cooked—a gesture of macabre cruelty which would give pause to Hannibal Lecter.

"This darkness and violence is a central reason to why children like Beatrix Potter. Her bright, brisk, no-nonsense sentences, her sharply observed and beautifully tinted images, and her strong feeling of coziness and domesticity are all underpinned and made real by underlying intimations of darkness, cruelty, and sudden death."

Source: John Lanchester, "The Heroine of Hill Top Farm," The New York Review of Books, March 15, 2007, p. 25.

This excerpt came (7/3/07) from the very good web site, Delancey Place.Com, which sends subscribers an article each day.

Image: “But Peter [Rabbit], who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor's garden, and squeezed under the gate!”

Federer and Nadal Serve up a Lesson in Conflict Resolution

How do you go about resolving your differences when one person or party prefers one thing and the other prefers another?

The solution for has come from an unlikely quarter—the two champion male tennis players in the world.

Four-time Wimbledon champion, Roger Federer, is the world’s best player on grass courts while Rafael Nadal has won the last two French Open titles and has a 64 winning streak on clay. Which player is the best? It depends on what type of court they are playing.

A special exhibition match has been arranged for these two to settle their differences and decide who is the greatest. The game will be played on 2 May in Mallorca, Spain, where Nadal was born.

For the first time in history the court will be half grass and half clay. The characteristics of the match will be normal. That is, it will be played to the best of three sets with the usual changes of side, in uneven games.

Dubbed “the battle of the surfaces”, this initiative began with an idea by Pablo Del Campo, president of Del Campo Saatchi & Saatchi.

The idea has already met with widespread support as this fun game is a sell out.

This proposal has far-reaching implications for any people who are wanting to resolve their surface differences.

Geoff Pound

Image: Nadal and Federer.

Change Your Name or Change Who You Are

The army general, Alexander the Great, was known to be strict with his soldiers.

One night a soldier was found asleep on his guard duty. This was a serious offence and he had to appear before his commander.

Alexander was seated on his horse, the charge was read out and the soldier was asked, “What is your name?” The soldier said, “Alexander.”

The general was furious and he asked again, “What is your name?”

After the confirmation the general leant over and said, “Young man, either change your name or change who you are."

Geoff Pound

Image: Alexander the Great

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Clinton and the Role of Humour

Using humour, US President Bill Clinton conceded things in his speeches that he had never acknowledged anywhere else.

Clinton never called a press conference to concede that his administration got off to a rocky start, despite fiascos such as the issue of gays in the military, a rejected economic stimulus package and a $400 haircut.

But when his first appearance at the White House Correspondence coincided with his first one hundred days in office, the President joked to the White House press corps: "I don't think I'm doing that bad. On the 100th day after his inauguration, William Henry Harrison was already dead for 68 days."

Image: Bill Clinton

"We Shall Die Before We Kill!"

Two leaders, in similar positions, can deal with conflict in very different ways. This is true in every conflict, whether the stakeholders are highly educated university officials or uneducated peasants.

The campesinos who live along the Carare River in the jungles of Colombia are ordinary people without academic degrees or training. Yet when they were ordered by a general in the army to take up weapons against the guerillas (i.e. to take one side against another), they refused to be forced against their will into a civil war and were determined to live in peace. Committed to nonviolence (their slogan: "We shall die before we kill!"), they beautifully articulated the power of an integral vision. Its principles included the following:

• Faced with silence and secrecy: do everything publicly.
• Faced with fear: be sincere and dialogue.
• Faced with violence: talk and negotiate with everyone.
• Faced with exclusion: find support in others.

To put their integral vision into action, the residents of this war-torn region formed the Association of Peasant Workers of Carare. For many years, they accomplished what others considered impossible. They created an organization that helped ordinary citizens protect themselves without aligning with either the guerillas or the army.'

Mark Gerzon, Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences into Opportunities, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 68.

Image: Campesinos marching for peace.

Mrs. Niebuhr: Giving Recognition where it is Due

A few years ago at an American University, a person by the name of Niebuhr was honoured at a graduation ceremony.

It wasn't the late Reinhold Niebuhr who was so versatile a scholar that the President of Harvard offered to make him the professor of any chair he chose.

Nor did the honor go this time to his brother Richard or their sister Hulda who were both bright lights in the academic firmament.

The award in the form of an honorary degree went to the person who had given so much support and strength to her family. It went to their aged mother.

Too rarely do the people outside the spotlight get the recognition they deserve, however, Mrs Niebuhr's role was pivotal to the success of her famous children.

Geoff Pound

Image: Graduation ceremony.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Preferring to being President than Being Right

A few years ago psychologist Ruth W. Berenda and her associates carried out an interesting experiment with teenagers designed to show how a person handled group pressure. The plan was simple. They brought groups of ten adolescents into a room for a test.

Subsequently, each group of ten was instructed to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the longest line on three separate charts. What one person in the group did not know was that nine of the others in the room had been instructed ahead of time to vote for the second-longest line. Regardless of the instructions they heard, once they were all together in the group, the nine were not to vote for the longest line, but rather vote for the next to the longest line. The experiment began with nine teen-agers voting for the wrong line. The stooge would typically glance around, frown in confusion, and slip his hand up with the group. The instructions were repeated and the next card was raised.

Time after time, the self-conscious stooge would sit there saying a short line is longer than a long line, simply because he lacked the courage to challenge the group. This remarkable conformity occurred in about 75% of the cases, and was true of small children and high-school students as well. Berenda concluded that, “Some people had rather be president than right,” which is certainly an accurate assessment.

Chuck Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Thomas Nelson, 1990, 225.

Image: Which is the longest line?

Knowing our Strengths and Weaknesses

Several years ago in the US state of Massachusetts, a number of people were running for the post of State Auditor. At a meeting the public were able to hear the speeches given by the various contenders.

Mr. Thomas Buckley was one of the candidates and his speech was said to have consisted of only seven words:

“I am an auditor not an orator.”

With this speech, Thomas Buckley won the election.

It is important that we know our gifts. It is equally important that we know our limitations.

Geoff Pound

Image: Some of the auditor’s tools.

Civet Poop Coffee: Good to the Last Dropping

In today’s Melbourne Age there is a story by Shelley Markham entitled, Australia’s Most Expensive Cup of Coffee? It is about the import to Australia of the rare and expensive Kopi Luwak coffee, produced in Indonesia from coffee beans that are eaten and discharged by the civet, or in Indonesian, Kopi Bubuk.

You might like to read the story I wrote last year about this coffee, entitled Crap Coffee. There are some good applications to this story.

Since writing this article I have visited Indonesia on two occasions. During my visit I was asked if I would like a drink and I jokingly said, “Yes, I’d like some civet coffee.” I was amazed when they poured out a cup of Kopi Luwak and then, after I said how delightful it was, they presented me with two packets of the prize coffee to bring home!

It is earthy, somewhat nutty, a little bitter and with a beautiful bouquet. But, it’s not worth AUS $50.00 a cup at the Townsville café, but why not go for the experience?

A grocery store in Edmonton, Canada is advertising this as coffee made from cat’s feces! [faeces in the UK] Doesn’t that sound attractive? The advertising says it is “Good to the last dropping.”

By the way when you are in Vietnam it is called ‘weasel coffee’ but it is still derived from the civet.

Geoff Pound

Image: Packet of Kopi Luwak with the picture of the Kopi Bubak at the top.

Rei Hamon through Suffering to New Life

Rei Hamon is a New Zealander who had a job with the Ministry of Works. He suffered a back injury in a farming accident that left him almost paralyzed.

In 1965 as he sank hopelessly in debt, he and his wife prayed and they asked the questions: “Why the pain? Why the suffering?”

He said: “Why were we having the hardships piled on us when we as a family were trying to live and uphold our Christian ideals?

Looking back on that testing time Rei said that he was really going through a sort of probationary period.

“Unbeknown to me,” he said, “Because I was blinded by the lesser things we call worry and pain we had in fact climbed to that high pedestal of humility through overcoming temptations the suffering and hardships placed directly in our paths.”

One day, he and his wife Maia were praying together in their bedroom. They were telling God about Rei’s suffering and their financial hardships. Rei’s thoughts and vision slowly roamed around the room until they were arrested by a drawing book and a ballpoint pen belonging to his six year old daughter.

He crossed the room and grabbed them as if they were precious things he had lost for years. He began to sketch the first of his many pictures. Feeling a little embarrassed with his first works Rei cautiously hid them from his wife but Maia found them and showed them to a local photographer who took them to the director of a leading Art Gallery in Auckland.

The rest is history. Rei has developed the control and discipline to capture in superb detail the New Zealand bush in this unique Pointillism style or dot art.

Now in his eighties Rei Hamon has established himself as one of the foremost artists of the New Zealand bush and he receives the utmost joy in sharing this blessing with others.

Rei Hamon did not want the suffering, the unemployment and the debt yet he was given the insight and the grace to make something good out of his limitations.

Rei Hamon Gallery

Image: Picture by Rei Hamon of albino opossum.

Ole Bull: Going on when your A string snaps

Ole Bull, the famous Norwegian violinist, was giving a concert in Paris when his A string snapped. He transposed the composition and finished it on four strings.

That is life—to have your A string snap and then to finish on three strings.

Some of the finest things in life have to be done that way.

Geoff Pound

Image: Ole Bull

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Monty Python: Judging By (Second Hand) Experience

Michael Palin records his notes of a Monty Python business and writing session (November 23 1979) at the home of John Cleese:

“A very angry, abusive letter to The Times from a man called Allott in Finchley, who clearly doesn’t like The Life of Brian, but admits he hasn’t seen it.”

“It is proposed to send a Python reply to The Times, saying, ‘We haven’t seen Mr. Allott, but we don’t like him’”.

Michael Palin Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, 599.

This book is reviewed at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: The MPFC team.

Monday, April 16, 2007

'Come, Buy Wine and Milk Without Money and Without Price.'

Can you imagine going to a restaurant where there are no prices listed on the menu?

What about an eating establishment that has a sign that reads: “Pay what you can afford?”

A café of this variety has been operating by Libby and Brad Birky in Los Angeles, for the last six months. This is a SAME eatery meaning: So All May Eat.

Unlike a soup kitchen where the hungry are rounded up and publicly identified, this is a restaurant with tables open to all without distinction.

The No Price policy means those who have more wealth can pay for those who have little or none. Those who choose may go to the kitchen to dice onions or wash the dishes or volunteer to serve at the tables.

Although feeding the body is an essential factor for Libby and Brad, the open table beams out the message that everyone is valuable, thus providing nurture for the person’s wellbeing.

Read more of Stephanie Simon’s interesting article to discover why this couple got into this caper and what draws customers to the tables of this little café.

Source: Stephanie Simon, ‘Where the table is open to all’, LA Times, 16 April 2007.

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘Open to all.’

Michael Palin Considering God

This reflection is from the actor, Michael Palin, when he was starring in The Life of Brian which had just been launched in England and was being criticized by conservative groups and labeled blasphemous. He was preparing for an interview that evening with Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark on BBC2's Friday Night Saturday Morning Show. Michael wrote:

“As I work in the afternoon on committing to paper some of my morning thoughts, I find myself just about to close on the knotty question of whether or not I believe in God. In fact I am about to type, ‘I do not believe in God’, when the sky goes black as ink, there is a thunderclap and a huge crash of thunder of epic proportions. I never do complete the sentence.”

Michael Palin Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, 594. A review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: “When the sky goes black as ink, there is a thunderclap and a huge crash of thunder of epic proportions.” Rolling thunderstorm (Cumulonimbus arcus) photographed on July 17, 2004 in Enschede, The Netherlands. Photo by John Kerstholt.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Emo Philips on Prayer

"When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn't work that way, so I stole one and asked for forgiveness."

Source: Emo Philips, American comedian.

Image: Emo.

Longing to be Settled?

The American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:

“People wish to be settled; only so far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.”

Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall (London: Hodder & Staughton, 2002), 39.

Image: Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

‘And Words Will Never Hurt Me’?

In 1985 Bob Greene, a journalist with the Chicago Tribune, wrote an article in an American newspaper about a 12 year old boy who received a card from his classmates which said, “The most unpopular student award.” Bob wrote about the tremendous emotional damage it caused the boy.

That article set off an avalanche of mail from adults who told of the lasting hurts they were carrying around as a result of childhood incidents in the home and at school. Most of these people said they were still troubled by low self-esteem. Greene entitled his column, “The Pain that Never Goes Away.”

Those who engage in counselling are familiar with the variety of damaging statements that parents make to children that put them down and make them despise themselves. Do any of these sound familiar?

If there is a wrong way to do it, you’ll find it?
What makes you so clumsy?
I can’t believe you would so such a thing?
Why can’t you be more like your sister?
What does God think about you when you do that?
Don’t let anyone know what you are really like!
Why couldn’t you have been a boy?
You have been nothing but trouble since you were born!
Can’t you do anything right?
No wonder you don’t have any friends!

What hurtful lashings we can give with our tongues.

Happy the children who are valued and affirmed, whose parents, teachers and other carers take delight in them.

Geoff Pound

Image: Some children from South America.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Communication: Get a Good Start

Reflecting on his stage performance the previous day, actor, Michael Palin, pens this entry in his diary for April 2, 1979:

“If it starts well, then there is great laughter all through, but if something goes wrong at the beginning (God knows why) it can go in silence.”

Source: Michael Palin, Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years (London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 2006), 544.

Image: Michael Palin as Dennis in ‘Jabberwocky’.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut: ‘You’ve got to be kind.’

The writer Kurt Vonnegut died last night (April 11, 2007) in Manhattan at the age of eighty-four.

Dinitia Smith has written a tribute for the New York Times entitled, ‘Kurt Vonnegut, Counterculture’s Novelist, Dies’, April 12, 2007.

Dinitia writes:
“Mr. Vonnegut wrote plays, essays and short fiction. But it was his novels that became classics of the American counterculture, making him a literary idol, particularly to students in the 1960s and ’70s.”

“With his curly hair askew, deep pouches under his eyes and rumpled clothes, he often looked like an out-of-work philosophy professor, typically chain smoking, his conversation punctuated with coughs and wheezes.”

“Like Mark Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well? He also shared with Twain a profound pessimism.”

“To Mr. Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” summed up his philosophy:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

Source and to read the entire article: Dinitia Smith ‘Kurt Vonnegut, Counterculture’s Novelist, Dies’, New York Times, April 12, 2007.

Image: Kurt Vonnegut.

Geoff Pound

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Most Shows Go to Hell"

In an earlier article entitled, On Not Going Off the Boil, I wrote about the value of repetition in communication, so long as your talk is ‘born again’.

In this anecdote from the field of acting, the other side of the coin is presented, when renowned author and screenwriter William Goldman comments on the difficulty of performing on Broadway:

“It is always wisest to try and see a show as soon as possible after it opens (because) most shows go to hell, sometimes quickly.”

“You can't blame the actors for the deterioration. Doing the same precise thing eight times a week, 416 times a year, becomes numbing to the soul.”

Barry Nelson says, 'The longer you play the performance, the more your mind resents it. You're in the middle of a scene, and suddenly all you're thinking about is whether you should have Chinese food after the show.'

‘I don't think any actor really likes long runs. I don't think humans were meant to do them.’

William Goldman, The Season, Limelight, 1969, pp. 19-20

Source:, 11 April 2007. This is a great source of stories and I recommend professional speakers and writers to sign up for the free daily excerpt.

Image: William Goldman being mobbed by his fans.

The Influence of Domesticity

Ever thought of the effects that having a partner, looking after kids and cleaning the house has on your work as a communicator?

To support his contention about ‘the damaging effects of domesticity’, Nick Hornby quotes Cyril Connolly in his book, Enemies of Promise:

“There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”

Source: Nick Hornby, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, London: Viking, 2006, 47.

A review of The Complete Polysyllabic Spree can be found at the site, Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: ‘the pram in the hall’.

Geoff Pound

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Adding Interesting Chapters to your Life Story

The New York Times has a stimulating series of articles in today’s (10 April 2007) issue on creative retirement.

It covers the need to be planning for retirement so we won’t be 'healthy, wealthy and bored’ in Training to Be Old.

It suggests that as people get older we can increasingly get involved in causes that have real purpose in To the Barricades.

It encourages doing some intentional mapping or getting help from others to morp into something creative and satisfying in Mapping Changes in the Life Course.

It offers the story of how one guy transitioned into a new retirement career that excited him in Caroming into a Second Career in the Land of Green Felt.

It encourages slowing the ageing process and making sure you’ll meet the challenges physically in Shuffleboard Gets Pushed to the Closet.

There’s an article on downsizing and relocating to where you want to live in Downsizing Help is on the Way.

And reinvesting ideas in, Pizza to Go, Shares to Stay.

There is also a fascinating encouragement as we get old to put our story together and tell the story of our life through a blog or on YouTube, in Lives on the Record and on the Web.

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘Stop the War!’ Cele Meyer protesting the war in Iraq.

Communicating Because You Have to Say Something

If you write or speak frequently you know the vital difference between communicating when you have to say something and communicating when you have something to say.

Nick Hornby touches on this theme in his reading diary:

“But there comes a point in the writing process when a novelist—any novelist, even a great one—has to accept that what he is doing is keeping one end of a book away from the other, filling up pages, in the hope that these pages will move, provoke and entertain a reader.”

Source: Nick Hornby, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, London: Viking, 2006, 73.

A review of The Complete Polysyllabic Spree can be found at the site, Reviewing Books and Movies.

Geoff Pound

Image: “filling up pages…”

Monday, April 09, 2007

If we Could Talk to the Animals

I was visiting Thailand recently and was reminded not only of the fact that the elephant is their national symbol but the way this animal is loved. My visit coincided with National Elephant Day in Thailand and as a mark of appreciation the elephants were paraded and served a special ‘buffet’ of fruit and vegetables.

Throughout the world elephants are almost universally admired for their unique appearance, their intelligence and their amazing memory. Some reports of the 2004-2005 tsunami in Thailand noted the super sensitivity of elephants who, “went crazy as they bellowed, broke their tethers and headed upland,” a long time before the waves struck the coast. The number of proverbs relating to elephants is a sign of the qualities humans attribute to them. Writer and preacher, F W Boreham has an interesting essay on the way the term, ‘white elephant’ has come into our language.

An office I used to visit regularly had a sign on the window with these words:

“Getting things done around here is like mating elephants. It’s done at a very high level. It’s accomplished with a great deal of bellowing and it takes two years for anything to be produced."

Some recent research into the plight of elephants has highlighted the stress and grief facing these social animals when their relatives have been killed by poachers.

One of the innovative campaigns intended to raise public consciousness about the evil done to elephants is the [golden!] award winning Great Elephant Poo Poo Paper Company’. Elephant dung is collected and processed into odorless paper. One turd, they state, can be transformed into 25 large sheets of gift paper which they sell with other paper products through their online ‘Pootique’. The news of the award and this poo-to-gift paper business caused comedian, Jay Leno to get to the bottom line and remark, “I hope they provide self-sealing envelopes!”

Here is one fascinating glimpse into elephant behavior that is used to illustrate the cross cultural insensitivity of some human beings:

A person talking about her experiences of living in East Africa told a group of people what happens when a herd of elephants approach a water hole that is surrounded by another herd. She said the lead elephant of the second group turns around and backs down toward the water hole. As soon as its backside is felt by the elephants around the water, they step aside and make room for it and this is the signal to the others that the first herd is ready to make room and invite them to the water.

And then the person talked of how she and her colleagues had gone to work among a tribe in Eastern Africa and she confessed, “Unlike the approaching elephants we did not back in.”

Geoff Pound

Image: African elephants at a water hole.

"Strad Made New Fiddles'

In any field of endeavor (science, music, religion), it can be a trap to go back and revere their performance with nostalgia and a big dose of unreality.

John Marchese notes this propensity, in his New York Times article, ‘Second Fiddle to an Old Master’. He records that $2.7 million was paid on 2 April 2007 for a 268 year old Stradivari violin. Music author, John Marchese admits that some of these expensive instruments don’t quite add up to their billing and many expert players cannot tell the difference between a Stradivari and a new model.

He calls the violin a ‘tool’ to be played not a relic to lie in display cases for people to fawn over. The article makes this point well when it concludes with an anecdote about Sam Zygmuntowicz. This violin maker carves away each day in Brooklyn, [and] likes to remind his customers of a fact so obvious it is often overlooked. He’s even made it into a pin and stuck it over his workbench. It reads, “Strad Made New Fiddles.”

Geoff Pound

Source: John Marchese, ‘Second Fiddle to an Old Master’, New York Times, April 7 2007.

Image: The Stradivari that went for a mere $2.7 million at Christie’s this month.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

On Not Going Off the Boil

Ever been told after you have given a speech or an address, “I have heard you tell that story or give that talk before!” The criticism implies that people are not getting their money’s worth, or you, the speaker are being lazy. Stories seem to be remembered more than the structure of a talk.

I have found great liberation in the encouragement expressed (many times!) by F W Boreham to repeat material, in order that hearers really get the message. The only rider he gave was this: “It’s alright to preach a sermon a second time, so long as it is born again!”

It is interesting to note that F W Boreham’s retirement from local church ministry in 1928 marked the increase of his extensive recycling of editorials and sermons and, in the case of the former, the practice of long-term (up to a year) stockpiling.

It is not the view of everyone (and I have been criticised for saying this in a public address—‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ and all that)—these two practices produced staleness and further detachment from the context. Even when editorials were recast, there were few signs of fresh insights, up-to-date illustrations or new applications.

Dr Boreham had succumbed unknowingly to a touch of the condition to which George Orwell courageously confessed, when he said, “I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”[1]

The moral of the story? Stay involved with people and life. Otherwise, like F W Boreham, you’ll start to go off the boil.

Geoff Pound

Image: “so long as it is born again!”

[1] George Orwell, ‘Why I write’, George Orwell: Essays (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), 7.

Sure to Rise

The only public evidence yesterday that it was Easter in Fujairah, UAE, was the sign, 'Easter Greetings' in a local supermarket.

The sign wasn't in the chocolate section because there were no Easter eggs for sale.

It wasn't in the fish area to recognize the Good Friday tradition of eating the harvest of the sea and Peter's 'I am going fishing'.

It wasn't in the section of detergents and bleaches to symbolize Easter's message of cleansing and forgiveness.

The sign, 'Easter Greetings' was in the bread section of the supermarket.

I wondered whether it was strategically placed there to proclaim, 'He is Risen'! But then, looking around at the piles of flat Arabic bread, it may just be that, tucked away in the bread section the shop assistant found a convenient space.

He is risen indeed!

Geoff Pound

Image: Arabic Bread.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Caught Napping


No. 5. "They told me at the Blood Bank this might happen."

No. 4. "This is just a 15 minute power nap they raved about in the Time management course you sent me to."
No. 3. "Whew! Guess I left the top off the Whiteout. You probably got here just in time."
No. 2. "Did you ever notice sound coming out of these keyboards when you put your ear down real close?"


No. 1. Raise your head very slowly and say: "Amen."

Thanks to Barrie Hibbert for passing this on.

Geoff Pound

Image; Sleeping at the desk.

Dressing Up With Words

Frank Luntz argues that a single word choice can make a profound difference in perception-such as the word 'spirits' replacing 'liquor' or the word 'gaming' replacing 'gambling':

"One of the best examples of an industry tackling its greatest image weakness and turning it into its most beneficial strength just by changing a single solitary word is the 'gaming' industry--formerly known as the 'gambling' industry. ... Turning gambling into gaming wasn't [industry association president] Frank Fahrenkopf's idea ... [but he] intensified the effort. ...

"What's important to understand is that the underlying products and services changed not a whit. Same slot machines. Same deck of cards. Same dice. Same casino advantage. But the switch from 'gambling' to 'gaming' in describing one's behavior contributed to a fundamental change in how Americans see the gambling industry. ...

"All the old, unsavory associations (e.g., organized crime, pawnshops, addiction, foolishly losing one's fortune) gave way to a lighter, brighter image of good, clean fun. 'Gambling' looks like what an old man with a crumpled racing form does at a track, or sounds like the pleas of a desperate degenerate trying to talk a pawnshop punter into paying a little more for his wedding ring, or feels like the services provided by some seedy back-alley bookie in some smoke-filled room. 'Gaming' is what families do together at the Hollywood-themed MGM Grand, New York, New York, or one of the other 'family-friendly resorts' in Las Vegas. 'Gambling' is a vice. 'Gaming' is a choice. 'Gambling' is taking a chance, engaging in a risky behavior. 'Gaming' is as simple as playing a game with cards or dice or a little ball that goes round and round and round."

Dr. Frank Luntz, Words That Work, Hyperion, 2007, p. pp. 129-130.

Source: Used with permission. Check out this good web site at:

Image: Gaming Table or is it a Gambling Table?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter Stories

I’ve done a quick check through the archives of Stories for Speakers and pulled out stories or quotes that have an Easter theme. Some have more of a direct connection than others!


Geoff Pound

Anointed with ashes
Anxious to Please
Ride on Ride On
Don’t Try and Explain Everything
This Will Happen to you
Lifting the Bails and Back to the Pavilion
Out of Pain Hope is Born
Born in a Grave
Here comes the dreamer. Let us kill him!
Check Mate
Easter News
In the Beginning it was fun
Exit and an Entrance
A Faith to Sing About
Giving the Right Message
Where do you place the comma?
Starting Over
What can you see in this?
Get the Picture?
No Full Stop
Newness from the rubbish
Candlesticks of Forgiveness
Communicating by Gesture
Kneel Where Believers Have Knelt
It’s Not Over Until It’s Over
Hearing the Story for the First Time
Where are we looking?
The Power that Brings Hope
“…but now I’m found…”
Two Sides to Every Story
Easter Gifts

Image: In Easter 2001 the churches of the inner city of Melbourne conducted a Stations of the Cross, which is a regular happening each Good Friday. The two Stations of the Cross outside St. Paul’s Cathedral were designed by Anna Meszaros (pictured). This one, by the Swanston Street steps, shows Jesus' death on the Cross. For more information see the St. Paul’s Virtual Tour.

Easter Gifts from Iran to Britain

Further to the ‘two sides to every story theme’ , The Sun newspaper was interpreting the hostage release as Easter gift-giving.

It said, “Conniving President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bragged to the world that he ordered their release as an Easter gift to the British people. Then he insisted on taunting the group one by one in a sickening line-up at his palace in Tehran, for which they were kitted out in brand new suits — with no ties.”

Continuing the Easter gift-giving theme, The Sun front cover read: ‘I went to Iran and all I got was this lousy suit.”

Geoff Pound

Source: Tom Newton Dunn and Andrew Porter, Freed 15 Taunted by Captors, The Sun, April 5, 2007.

Easter Hostage Release: Two Sides to Every Story

The Independent newspaper had an interesting slant on the release of the British hostages in Iran today.

For the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it was ‘Victory’ as he basked in the diplomatic triumph while announcing that the 15 British sailors and marines captured in disputed waters of the Persian Gulf two weeks ago would be freed.

For English Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the families and the hostages themselves, as they received the news and were putting the champagne on ice, the message was ‘Rejoice’.

The Independent was discussing, “Who came out on top at the end of the hostage crisis?”

It all depends which way you look at it.

For every event, even Easter, there are more than two sides to the story.

Geoff Pound

Source: Angus McDowall in Tehran and Colin Brown, ‘Both sides claim victory as Iran frees hostages’, The Independent, 05 April 2007.

Image: Front page to The Independent.

Robert Lowell: Writers and Storytellers Must be Interested

In a letter from the American poet, Robert Lowell to Randall Jarrell (another American author and poet) he wrote:

“In prose you have to be interested in what is being said… it’s very exciting for me, like going fishing’.

Source: Nick Hornby, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, London: Viking, 2006, 15.

Geoff Pound

A review of The Complete Polysyllabic Spree can be found at the site, Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: Robert Lowell.

Dickens: The Secret to His Storytelling Success

Charles Dickens was endurable as a writer and storyteller not because he makes you think, but he makes you feel, and he makes you laugh, and you read to know what is going to happen to his characters.

Source: Nick Hornby, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, London: Viking, 2006, 6.

A review of The Complete Polysyllabic Spree can be found at my site, Reviewing Books and Movies.

Geoff Pound

Image: Charles Dickens.