An Olympic Story

    Around the world, we’re all watching the Olympics and marveling at what a show it has become. I’m in South Africa right now down near Durban and am not seeing the NBC coverage, but rather what sounds like coverage coming out of the BBC – still it’s a show. And I mean that in both a good sense and a bad sense. Truth is, athletics has many wonderful stories of human triumph and tears – with a little larceny and controversy occasionally thrown in. Right now the larceny is over the few drug cheats plus the badminton players who deliberately lost their matches so as to play in a weaker pool. The controversy seems to be over NBC’s decision to tape delay the major events instead of showing them live. Here in South Africa we see everything live so I’m not bothered by NBC’s corporate decision, and neither am I surprised. Corporations are in business to make a profit, not to win accolades from the purists. 
     Speaking of purists – I suppose I’m one of them when it comes to track and field. Since the first Olympics in 765 BC, athletics has stayed true to its roots. It’s still about who can run the fastest, jump the furthest, and throw the best. But because people are involved, it’s always been about more than just the numbers. 
     My favorite event so far has been the men’s 10,000 meter final won by Mo Farah of Great Britain with the silver medal going to 26 year old Galen Rupp of the U.S. As a long time subscriber to Track and Field News and a former distance runner myself, I have followed Galen’s career with great interest. He’s steadily progressed over the years while nevertheless getting regularly thrashed by the east African runners who have dominated world distance running for the last three decades. But then last year a breakthrough – Galen became only the second non-African to ever break 27 minutes in his signature event – the 10,000 meters. Since then he’s added a superlative last lap kick and now suddenly he is the Olympic silver medalist. 
     But here’s the story. Though from different countries and of different skin color, Mo Farah and Galen are close friends and teammates. They train together. They encourage each other. The other night, mid-way through the six and a quarter mile race, Mo, the more experienced runner of the two and the Olympic favorite, noticing Galen getting anxious as several runners started to pull away, tapped his friend on the shoulder and confidently told him to relax, that those runners would be coming back. And they did. Then later as Mo crossed the finish line he immediately looked back for Galen who was less than half a second behind, sprinting for all he was worth, having followed Mo through the tangle of runners, now mouth and eyes wide in realization that he’d secured a medal behind his friend. As Galen crossed the line, the two teammates found each other and hugged. Ahh…what a race and what an example of all that is right and good in these Olympic Games. 
 
Best regards, 
 
Jim 
Umhlanga, South Africa 

My Wife’s Expressions

    My wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary this weekend in Strasbourg, France in the oft-disputed Alsace region on the German border. You could tell the area had been owned over the years by both the Germans and French – many streets signs were in German, the language was French, the cathedral architecture and much of the food was German, but the palace, pastries and chocolates were French. It was a nice combination: German rigor and order coupled with French warmth and chocolates! But I digress.
      My wife is South African British and I am American. In the early months of our marriage she surprised me almost every day with some new idiomatic British expression, to the point where I was soon able to understand the humor in Rowan Atkinson’s riotously funny Black Adder series. For example, when Hugh Laurie talked about discussing ‘LBW rules’ with his date, I was able, after only a few months of blissful matrimony, to laugh along with everyone else. By the way, LBW stands for ‘Leg Before Wicket’ – a cricket expression. 
     Now, after nine years of marriage I know just when to say ‘Bob’s your uncle’ and in exactly what kind of rainstorm to exclaim ‘it’s a regular monkey’s wedding out there, darling!’ But two of her expressions in particular have become favorites of mine: the first is, ‘there’s a lid for every pot’ and the second is ‘you must cut your cloth accordingly.’ Both have resulted in long philosophical discussions between us.
     The first expression is usually said when discussing someone’s marriage prospects – the point being that the world is full of God’s children, each unique and amazing in their own right. For everyone who tries to live a basically good life, there is surely someone of the opposite sex who would appreciate him or her for their innate qualities – there is a lid for every pot. The second expression is very apropos to this age of the world because it speaks to living within your budget – to cut your cloth according to how much cloth you have. Don’t spend above your means. Don’t put on airs. You have to make lifestyle choices in line with the reality of your situation.
     Finally, my wife has taught me many things about life and love, and in so doing has caused me to appreciate stories in ways I never have before. For example, there are scenes in Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms that when I was younger, I wondered why they were in there. They were boring. Frederick and Catherine going for a walk in the snow and sitting on a bench, talking about nothing, then going back to their apartment. Why did Hemingway waste pen and paper to write that scene? It did nothing. Said nothing. But later I recognized that that scene accurately captured many of my wife’s and my favorite times together. Not doing anything exciting. Not saying anything profound. Just being together, sharing the mundanities of life, feeling peaceful in the quiet of a softly falling snow. A somewhat timeless feeling. What could be better? Oh, except on the way back to our apartment maybe stopping off at a local café to have a hot chocolate – one of those hot 4-blend chocolates so thick it could float a horseshoe, with a little wafer and a chocolate square on the side. With Kimmy, of course.
 
Best regards,
 
Jim
Zurich, July 5th 2012

Remembering

     I’ve taken a rather long sabbatical from blog writing – mainly due to my father’s passing. He lived in a clean and comfortable veteran’s home in Florence, Colorado, about an hour south of Colorado Springs. We all ask ourselves sometimes how effectively our tax dollars are being spent. I must say whenever I visited my father in the rest home, it made me very proud of his service to our country during World War Two, but also proud that our country took such good care of its veterans. The rest home was extremely well run and the staff were friendly and kind to the residents. Also, the medical care was top notch. If my father had any medical issues, they were immediately taken care of even if the tests or treatments were expensive. Further, the home’s policy was to respect the agency of the residents. The veterans were well treated, and I’m especially grateful to my country for that.
     In my father’s case, the rest home was a blessing. He’d been in other rest homes that cost $thousands per month where the service wasn’t half as good as he had in the Veteran’s Home. The price for admission into the home was to turn over his social security and pension checks – about $1500 per month. I’ve done a little checking and I’m convinced that in the free market, the price for the services he received would have been $6-8,000 per month. Who could afford that except the rich?  
     My father was born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1924. His father had served in World War One, suffering permanent injuries as a result of being gassed during a battle in France. Nevertheless, my father’s father was a steady worker at Con Edison even during the Depression, until one day he and 5,000 other men were laid off. For my dad’s family, the Depression began then. My father enlisted during World War Two and fought in the Pacific as a U.S. Navy SeaBee – the Navy’s construction battalion. He saw plenty of action, including surviving 3 banzai charges one night on a small island named Los Negros. He later also saw action on Saipan when Japanese soldiers overran an airstrip he was working on. He told the story of how, prior to that fight, General MacArthur came to inspect the airstrip and though there were Japanese in the jungle all around, when MacArthur walked the length and breadth of the strip not a single shot was fired. He said that even the Japanese recognized MacArthur’s special aura.
    My father worked hard all his life. If he ever missed a day of work, I’m not aware of it. We used to live in Brooklyn, New York back in the ‘60s and during the occasional transit strike there, he would walk the 90 minutes each way to his job at the New York Journal American – the Hearst newspaper that folded in 1966. He worked in the Reference Room, where he was one of half a dozen people who every day read every major magazine and newspaper in the country. The newsworthy articles were then cut out and filed in uncounted numbers of cabinets that filled the floor of his office. Needless to say my father was the best Trivial Pursuit player I ever knew. He loved his job at the newspaper. Because he sometimes used the reference room for research, Hemingway used to come by at Christmas and leave a bottle for the boys. Joe Dimaggio and Marilyn Monroe came by several times, and Mickey Mantle once slept off a night of heavy drinking on one of the office cots. My father carried these memories with him all his life.
     In 1966, after the Journal American went out of business after a pointless 140 day strike, my father took his severance pay (I believe around $2,000 after almost 20 years of working at the paper) and the family moved to San Francisco. Moving there changed my life and I’ll always be grateful to my parents for making what must have been at the time a terrifying move. My father didn’t have a job to go to. Eventually he found one and we settled down. However, my father always thought of himself as a New Yorker.
     My father died peacefully and without pain on May 31st. My mother passed away in 2001. They are both greatly missed.
 
Jim
 
Zurich, Switzerland
 

Pet Peeves About American Business

     One of the best things about having your own blog is that you can indulge your pet peeves. One of mine is news articles that attempt to excuse bad behavior in the rich and powerful. Recently passed away Steve Jobs of Apple was a great visionary leader, but, based solely on the articles I’ve read, I’m glad I never worked for him. Call me picky, but I don’t like being yelled at or publicly humiliated. And I don’t like arrogant people – don’t even like being in the same room with them even if they are geniuses.
     The reason I bring this up is that there have been a few articles written lately about Steve Jobs’s ‘management style’, and I’m worried that too many managers in the tech world will get the wrong message and think that his somewhat abusive style was the key to his success. Trust me. It wasn’t. The reason I’m worried, though, is that I’ve seen a trend in the IT world over the past ten years away from the benevolent, consultative, respectful management practices of the late 20th century towards a more dictatorial, tops-down, and largely ineffective style. It seems that all the findings about human motivation and proper boss-employee relationships developed in the post World War Two era are being discarded at an even faster rate than American manufacturing jobs.
     So let me state this unequivocally: No matter how successful Steve Jobs or any other CEO was or is, leaders who listen to, trust their employees, and treat them with respect will have far greater success in the long run. Arrogance is a negative character trait. It turns people off and de-motivates employees. No one except a cringing sycophant works harder for an arrogant manager.
       But there is another particularly galling negative management trait besides arrogance – and that is incompetence. And in my experience the two are frequently found together. Along with the growing arrogance of many overpaid CEOs today, there is a growing trend towards incompetence – and the way the deck is stacked these days, it’s ultimately the workers who pay the price for that all too common coupling.
       Let me illustrate this with two stories. First story: I was in California last week and took the opportunity to walk across the now almost deserted campus of a once thriving electronics company. It was still a wonderful site with large impressive buildings and magnificent trees, a campus originally intended for the thousands of highly paid, highly motivated workers who built one of the world’s great businesses. But today it is all but deserted. So, I asked myself: Who were the giants? – the men who created and grew the business that needed this campus, or the current crop of managers who have efficiently and cost-effectively overseen its shrinkage and sent thousands of jobs overseas?    
           Here’s the second example: This story was reported in the press as part of a commentary on why so many manufacturing jobs have left America. The story goes that after a few weeks of carrying a prototype iPhone around in his pocket, Steve Jobs noticed the plastic screen was getting scratched and decided, just weeks before the product launch, to switch to a glass screen. To accomplish this, the Chinese manufacturing company where Apple had outsourced the assembly, roused employees at midnight from their slumber in the company dormitories, to immediately begin making the new phones as soon as the glass screens arrived. 
      According to the article, it was necessary for Jobs to move manufacturing jobs to China – because American workers weren’t flexible enough – they were too pampered to sleep in dorms or to come back to work at midnight after an all-day shift. The article also saw this situation as a positive commentary on Steve Jobs’s management style. He was decisive. Able to make the tough decisions. Would accept nothing less than perfect quality. A man who bent others to his will regardless of the consequences. And powerful. Say what?? Excuse me! A clear-eyed look at this story reveals an entirely different conclusion. And certainly nothing in the story should be taken as a justification for moving jobs overseas.
     As a 34 year veteran of the IT industry, let me say that the Jobs story was a perfect example of bad management and the waste of company resources to placate an oversized ego. With better planning, the issue with the plastic screen would have been detected long before the product ship-date, thereby saving Apple $millions in panic buying and overtime pay – not to mention the disruption to his employee’s work schedules and to the other projects they no doubt were working on. To me it was a great lesson in how poor planning leads to wasted money. But in the case of Apple, Jobs had the $millions to placate his ego and insulate himself from his lack of proper oversight of a critical project.
      Further, if this is the reason American companies have moved manufacturing jobs to China – to make up for bad planning on the part of their managers – then shame on them. Germany has managed to keep its manufacturing jobs, but only because German workers’ councils forced their country’s CEOs to put their thinking caps on to solve the problem rather than to take the easy way out and simply ship German jobs overseas.
    I haven’t decided what my next post will be on.
 
Best regards,
 
Jim
Zurich

Sitcoms That Have Survived the Test of Time

     Which is the best sitcom ever made? I suppose the answer depends on which generation you’re from. But what do you think? Will earthlings still be watching reruns of Seinfeld and Friends in fifty years? Perhaps not, and that is why I find it so remarkable that you can still find The Andy Griffith Show and Leave it to Beaver – two sitcoms from the sixties – on the rerun circuit. And why are they still around? Because they were both amazingly, wonderfully written, funny, real, and filled with great, enduring characters. Of such are great stories made. 
     A traveling salesman once told me of an experience he had stopping at a rough bar/restaurant in Montana. It was lunchtime and the place was packed and noisy. Above the din, Jerry Springer blared from a wall-mounted TV, but no one was paying attention. The salesman asked the bartender if he could change the channel and at first the bartender refused. Eventually though he relented and happened to turn to the Andy Griffith show with good old Andy, Opie (who grew up to be director Ron Howard), Aunt Bea, Gomer Pyle, and one of the most enduring characters in sitcom history – Don Knotts as Barney Fife. Within five minutes the restaurant was quiet as everyone focused on the TV and watched this G-rated comedy weave its story of characters interacting in a small town in North Carolina.
         Leave it to Beaver has had a similar universal appeal over the years. Back in 1979, I was working full-time and attending Foothill Junior College in Los Altos Hills, California about 35 miles south of San Francisco. I was taking a class in Radio and TV broadcasting towards a two-year degree in Social Science. The class was loaded with twenty to thirty year-olds, most of whom had ambitions of being disk jockeys on a rock-and-roll station. Usually classes were quiet affairs, the professor lecturing and most of the class seemingly bored, stoned, and staring out the window or fighting to stay awake. However, one day the professor made the mistake of making an off-hand slightly derogatory remark about Leave it to Beaver – some reference to it being an unrealistic show that could appeal only to straight-laced Americans. I’m sure to the professor, it seemed like a safe comment to make to the mostly long-haired, alternative students in his class. But to his and my surprise, suddenly the class came to life. Eyes opened. Students sat up. Chins lifted from palms.
     “Excuse me,” said one long-haired, red-eyed student. “I rush home from school every day at 4:30 to catch the reruns.”
     “C’mon,” said the teacher. “June Cleaver (the mother) wearing pearls while she vacuums. Ward, her husband, wearing a suit to dinner every night. How ridiculous!”
     “A half-stoned student roused himself and said aggressively, “Every show is like me and my little brother when we were growing up.”
      The class buzzed angrily. Voices of agreement peppered the room while the teacher looked bewildered and tried arguing back. A vigorous five minute discussion ensued at the end of which the teacher had to back-pedal on his comments to prevent a riot from breaking out (okay, slight exaggeration).
     Leave it to Beaver ran from 1957 to 1963 and was created by former Amos ‘n’ Andy writers Bob Mosher and Joe Connolly who also wrote all 234 episodes. The stories were simple and timeless. Beaver and his older brother Wally deliver newspapers to earn money for a bicycle. Aunt Martha buys Beaver short pants to wear to school. Ward loans Beaver a dollar. Wally’s smarmy friend Edie Haskell, another all-time great sitcom character, gives Beaver a lesson on girls. Simple, gentle stories that nevertheless touched something real and good and timeless in many people. And in its own way, it was much more realistic in its portrayal of children and adolescents than many of the shows I see on TV today. Today, children in sitcoms are given dialogue by the adult writers that all too often portray them as little adults, smarter and more worldly-wise than their parents, and more hip about sex. Now that is what I call unrealistic.
My next post will be something political or perhaps a commentary on the evolution of corporate culture. Or maybe not.
Best regards,
Jim
Zurich   

A Powerful Writing Technique and One Element of a Realistic Thriller

     I came across a wonderful article on writing in the New York Times written by Constance Hale, a San Francisco journalist. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/make-or-break-verbs/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120417    The article talked about the power of verbs and other action words and how important they are in giving power, clarity, and action to sentences, even to descriptions. The points made in that article were also made in Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers where he cited an excellent example of using action words in descriptions, taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
                “The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile,
                 jumping over sun-dials and brick walls, and burning gardens – finally when it reached
                 the house, drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run.”
       So there it is, a simple yet powerful writing technique. I have also noticed that one of my favorite thriller writers, Olen Steinhauer, takes this technique a step further by linking many of his descriptions to the actions of his characters thereby killing two birds with one stone.  Here’s an example from the first page of Steinhauer’s latest thriller American Spy: “She’d been sitting, uncharacteristically, with a salad on her desk, staring out the window where, just over the trees, she could see distant storm clouds.” Notice how the description of the environment is not treated as a separate subject but is tied into the actions of the main character. We know in that single sentence that she is sitting in her office, has a desk, is eating a salad, that the office has a window that she’s been staring through, and that outside a storm was brewing. Really, an amazing amount of information communicated in a single sentence. A less skillful writer would have taken an entire paragraph or two to accomplish the same thing: first describing the room and a bunch of useless details, then talking about the person inside it and what she was doing.
     BTW, my second book, A Thousand Suns has received some positive comments from publishers, including one acceptance. Publishers like the main character and find the book entertaining and well written, but competition is fierce in the industry and the book is not standard thriller fare – it’s not as grim as most thrillers tend to be. There is some humor mixed in with the action. And I do that by conscious choice. I find too many thrillers take themselves way too seriously. They want to be angry, realistic thrillers snarling their way into readers’ hearts. In fact, they’re rarely as realistic as the authors think they are.
      There is more to writing a realistic thriller than just knowing the name of some obscure clandestine department in the U.S. government and the kinds of eavesdropping equipment they use. It is far more important to be emotionally realistic, i.e., having your characters express the correct emotions in various situations. For example, I don’t care for thrillers that treat death and killing lightly. In real life, normal people who kill another human being, even when it is justifiable, pay a terrible price psychologically. If you don’t believe that, I suggest reading, On Combat – the psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and peace by Lt. Co. Dave Grossman and Loren W.Christensen.  
     My next post will be on a possible change in the economic winds. Is it my imagination or are manufacturing jobs starting to leave China and come back to the West?
 
Best regards,
 
Jim
Zurich

New Zealand and the Hobsonville 7/8th grade class

     New Zealand reminds me of California, and Auckland reminds me a bit of San Francisco – both places that I love. It’s something about the freshness of the air, the richness of the blue sky, the emerald green grass, and strangely, the trees, many of which species I thought I recognized from my teenage days running through SF’s Golden Gate park. In any case, NZ is a beautiful place, and though we had been told constantly by our daughter that it rains a lot, we had nothing but good weather during the two weeks we were there. A highlight was driving three hours north of Auckland to the Bay of Islands, taking a ferry to the town of Russell, eating at some great restaurants, and para-sailing a thousand feet in the air on a spectacularly clear and beautiful morning.
    Another highlight was Brad, my son-in-law, inviting me to teach two creative writing classes to his 7/8th  grade students at Hobsonville Grammar school in West Harbor just across the bay from Auckland. What a great experience! I don’t normally get to talk to kids that age, and I was blown away by their eagerness to learn, their respectfulness, and their degree of participation. I wish everyone could meet Brad’s class. If they did, they’d come away with a renewed confidence in the future. These kids were bright, fun, and highly imaginative. We did some writing exercises, including a fun one where they got to write a paragraph using only single syllable words. Try it sometime and you’ll learn a lot about the power and versatility of small words! I also left two copies of Einstein’s Trunk – autographed, of course – as a prize for a writing contest they’ll be having once they are back from vacation.
     While on holiday, I also had a chance to read several thrillers including an early one by Martin Cruz Smith called Stallion Gate, and two by Olen Steinhauer: Liberation Movements and The Bridge of Sighs. Let me preface my remarks by saying that both men are exceptionally gifted writers. The problem is that both have written masterpieces and by that standard, for me at least, none of these books was quite up to their best work. However, all were still a quantum leap better written than the average thriller you’d pull off a book shelf. For example, as soon as I finished Liberation Movement, I picked up a thriller that came highly recommended on the Amazon Kindle book site. Compared to Smith and Steinhauer the writing quality was sophomoric. I read ten pages and put it down.
    Next posting, perhaps an update on the battle to publish A Thousand Suns and the necessity to be true to yourself as a writer.
Best regards,
Jim
Auckland, New Zealand

Viva Stockholm!

     It’s been a busy month at work and home lately, hence, it’s been four weeks since my last posting. However, despite my neglect, my blog did hit a milestone last week, having reached its 2000th hit.  I’ve been flying around a bit including visiting Stockholm, one of my most favorite cities and Las Vegas one of my least. What I like most about Stockholm are the Swedish people: direct but friendly, outspoken but honest. And a bit of a puzzle as well. Here they are, the poster child for European socialism and yet their economy is booming along just fine.
     While at dinner a few nights ago a native Swede explained to me how their safety net worked. If a woman has a baby, she and the father get a total 500 or 600 days paid leave. To encourage fatherly involvement, a minimum 50 of those days has to be used by the man. Since there are only 5 working days in a week, 500 days paid leave would amount to 100 weeks paid vacation. The man and woman could split the days equally if they wanted. On top of that all education is free up through college. Also, there is universal medical coverage for everyone in the country, not just citizens. What else? Unemployment benefits aren’t a lot, maybe $2,000 per month. But it lasts until you find a job. The Swedish people sustain all this through pretty heavy taxation – perhaps over 50% for most taxpayers. The people I learned this from all agreed that the system works because Swedish people are socialists at heart. They don’t believe individuals should be able to amass great wealth, plus they work hard and have a culture that discourages welfare fraud.
     Las Vegas, on the other hand, is the city I joke is dedicated to people who flunked math in high school. The morning I left the Aria, a magnificent 4000 room hotel, I had to walk through a bustling casino at 6:30 a.m. Yes, that’s right, roulette wheels spinning, black jack tables and craps tables full. The party never ends. I guess the economy must be picking up. The one positive thing I can say is that Las Vegas can teach the world a thing or two about customer service. The hotel staff was impeccably trained. Also, saw a few shows, including David Copperfield, who, I am convinced, would have been burned at the stake if he’d been born 400 years earlier.
    During my travels, I found time to read a few books including two by Olen Steinhauer, i.e., 36 Yalta Boulevard  and Olen’s latest, American Spy.  Wow, that man can write. Just like fellow thriller writer Martin Cruz Smith, Olen manages to weave an extremely complex and rich story, seemingly effortlessly, slipping in details and descriptions as part of the plot and action. This is a gift and extremely difficult to master. Most writers stop the action in the book to describe the scene or a person. Steinhauer keeps pushing the action and dialogue while weaving his clear, vivid descriptions. For example, rather than pausing to describe a person directly by saying something like, “the man had a double chin,’ he will instead write, “The man pulled at his double-chin,” or “the shattered window reminded Milo of the pieces of his life he’d left behind.” This sounds easy to do when it’s only for a sentence or two, but try doing it for an entire book and for practically every description. It’s an art, and the effect is to keep the plot moving relentlessly.
 
     My next posting will be from New Zealand as my wife and I are traveling there to visit my beloved step-daughter and her husband. It will be our first visit there. Should be an experience.
 
All the best,
 
 
Zurich, Switzerland

A Lovely Day in Zurich and a Disappointing Movie

     It’s been a month since my last posting. I plead post-vacation email catch-up as an excuse. Like so many people these days, I tried to keep up on my work-email while on vacation but all I managed to do was stem the tide. I’ve decided that for every week you take off, it takes an additional week of working extra hard to catch up. In my case, I took a month off. So it goes…
     My wife was traveling on business on Valentine’s Day so we didn’t celebrate it until the following Saturday. We then went to our favorite Zurich restaurant Tres Kilos (Rulon’s second favorite after The Desperado),– a wonderful, yes, Mexican restaurant only a few blocks away from the American consulate in Zurich. Those of you who read Einstein’s Trunk will remember that Tres Kilos is where Rulon took Yohaba after the killing in the Honggerberg forest.
     Before dinner we did a walking/window shopping tour of Zurich, stopped at the Storchen hotel for the best hot chocolate in the world (and at $9.50 for a somewhat small by American standards cup, maybe one of the most expensive) and then had some glazed, chocolate covered orange slices from a nearby Springli chocolate store.
     After dinner, as an extra treat, we saw a movie we’d been chomping at the bit to see ever since we heard about it: The remake of Tinker, Tailor… starring Gary Oldham as George Smiley, the aged, bespeckled, overweight spy, based on the novel by John LeCarre.
            Alas, the movie was a disappointment. I’m sure the producers, actors, and directors did what they thought was best, but the 1979 BBC Alec Guinness mini-series, I’m afraid, has set a very, very high bar. It was so unbelievably good. There were so many scenes in the six-hour BBC version that were so well constructed, that maybe this new two-hour movie never stood a chance. In any case, there wasn’t a single scene in the new movie that was as powerful as the comparable scene in the original. Also, while it must have been a real challenge for the movie to condense the book to only two hours, I felt they had superfluous scenes, that if they had not been there, they could have had more time for LeCarre’s priceless dialogue. The book was not about men staring silently while they tracked down the mole in British Intelligence. The book was about Smiley’s relentless interrogations of his co-workers to finally arrive at the truth. Again, we see that making good movies is extremely difficult. There are so many mistakes that can be made. When a team gets it right, they should be applauded.    
 
     Next week: for my birthday, my wife bought me an Apple Macbook Air. I will talk about my experience and wax lyrical on changes in the IT industry.  
 
Best regards,
 
Jim
Zurich