Soviet management tips for the American executive

To celebrate having gotten through one month of winter, let’s turn our attention to things Russian (since they are the true masters of the cold).

Last year, I was invited to a family dinner in which the husband’s father is retired from managing a large Soviet enterprise (many bonuses and incentives for performance, so not actually all that different from running a bureaucratic U.S. company). The wife had recently been promoted to manage five divisions of a substantial U.S. company instead of just one. She described her frustration with workers who didn’t want to come back to the office. “Can you make it in every Wednesday?” was an unreasonable ask. Productivity was unimpressive and a lot of people had gotten comfortable with the previous manager, whose standards were low-to-mediocre.

We kicked around some ideas for motivating the workers and gradually acclimating them to the new higher standards. After 10 minutes of mostly unproductive suggestions, the father-in-law offered some advice…. “Old Russian saying: When whorehouse is losing money, you don’t change the beds. You change the whores.”

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Elon Musk pinball machine

Here are some photos from a recent excursion to the Silverball Pinball Museum in Delray Beach, Florida. Statistics that folks in NY, MA, and CA are passionate about watching showed that Florida was in the midst of a raging COVID-19 plague at the time, but patrons were not discouraged nor, typically, masked.

A 1984 Space Shuttle machine reflects the period’s enthusiasm about NASA’s can-do spirit (first launch 1981, ultimate cost 250X more than planned by the best and brightest government scientists (who were following #Science)):

Here’s one from 1976 that celebrates an individual, Elton John:

What if we combine and update these ideas into a modern machine: Elon Musk!

The score is in dollars and the player’s goal is to hit $300 billion for a replay. The game follows the authoritative biography. The first challenge is to move and Confinity together to form PayPal by hitting a bunch of targets. Once that is accomplished, the score goes up by $1.5 billion. The next goal is to move NASA, represented by a lumbering dinosaur, to award a contract to SpaceX. Success results in the score going up by $1.6 billion. Then there is the “build a roadster” challenge in which all of the world’s batteries have to be gathered up by endlessly repeated cycles of hitting bumpers. Once the roadster is built, the Tesla component of the score goes up by $10 billion. Plaintiff Justine Musk comes out from the sidelines to attack Elon in family court. If the player can successfully unlock the prenuptial agreement, she goes away without significantly denting the score (otherwise the player loses 50% to the plaintiff and 10% for legal fees). SolarCity is represented by an albatross and, if captured by the player, results in the score going down by $2 billion. If the ramps are used successfully, a tunnel opens up labeled “Boring Company”. A platoon of Covidcrats pops up to close the Tesla factory. If the player can hit each one with a ball “Reopen Factory and Move to Texas” mode is activated (score boost of $50 billion). Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates run in from the sidelines trying to grab the “world’s richest douche” trophy in the middle. If the player can get the ball into two traps, family court plaintiffs come out to attack both Bezos and Gates, reducing them in size by half. Bill Gates, whether or not reduced in size by half by years of family court action, comes out with a massive syringe and attempts to jab all of the other characters with a COVID-19 vaccine. If the player can get the ball to escape up a ramp, the machine enters “Knucklehead mode“.

Elizabeth Warren pops up in full Native American elder regalia. If the player can hit each feather on a headdress with the ball, Senator Karen disappears. In the “Philip the Sourpuss” special edition of the machine, 600 lb. gorillas named “Toyota”, “Honda”, “Hyundai”, “Ford”, “GM”, and “Volkswagen” come out to attack Elon with electric vehicles that cost less than whatever Tesla can produce, that are much quieter and more comfortable on the highway, and that don’t have an iPad stuck in the middle of the dashboard as the only interface. In this special edition game, there is no way to beat the gorillas and the player’s score goes to $100 billion, reflecting only the value of SpaceX.

Here’s some artwork from another machine at the same venue that can be adapted for the Elizabeth Warren segment:

Readers: What do you think of this idea for a pinball machine? Or it could also be a videogame. In general, wouldn’t it be awesome to have biography-based pinball and videogames?

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The police department job interview

Herschel Mendelbaum goes to the Boston Police Department and applies for a job. He’s interviewed by Sergeant O’Leary, who concludes by saying, “You will be a strong candidate for the job if you can tell me who killed Jesus.”

“Sorry, I don’t know,” answered Herschel.

“Come on now,” winked Sergeant O’Leary. “Everybody knows who really killed Jesus!”

“Sorry – I still don’t know,” said Mendelbaum.

“Tell you what I’ll do,” O’Leary said. “You go home and ask all your little Jew friends who killed Jesus. Come back after St. Patrick’s Day and if you can tell me the answer, the job is yours!”

Mendelbaum got home and his wife asked, “Did you get the job?”

He answered, “Not yet, but I think I’ve got the inside track. They’ve already got me working on a big murder case!”

aaaaand…. Happy Hanukkah for those who celebrate religious intolerance! (“… everyone agrees that the Maccabees won out in the end and imposed their version of Judaism on the formerly Hellenized Jews. So Hanukkah, in essence, commemorates the triumph of fundamentalism over cosmopolitanism.”)

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My most recent Obama moment

An acquaintance who is a Hilton Platinum member was able to give an unworthy person Hilton Gold status and she selected me. At the time, I said “Now I know how Barack Obama felt when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Here’s a more recent example of unearned status/credit:

Dear Philip,

I am seeking permission to use your quote from a Schinn article as an epigraph in my upcoming book, [title regarding children, climate change, and their tender feelings]

Thank you in advance for all you do,


“Children can be frightened if they don’t know there are adults who care about climate change and are trying to fix problems. It can help battle the sense of helplessness and powerlessness.” -Philip Greenspun (Shinn, 2020)

Regular readers of this blog know how important I think it is when a frenetically consuming American speaks sincerely about his/her/zir/their pure intention to “fix problems” and heal our beloved planet. The best way to raise critical awareness is to apply a climate change bumper sticker on a 6,000 lb. pavement-melting SUV.

The quote seems to originate in “Your Guide to Talking With Kids of All Ages About Climate Change”:

Wendy Greenspun, a New York–based clinical psychologist engaged in climate issues. … Children can be frightened if they don’t know there are adults who care about climate change and are trying to fix problems,” notes Greenspun. “It can help battle the sense of helplessness and powerlessness.” Let them know that there are, in fact, millions of adults who are working to protect kids, to answer our own questions about climate change, and to figure out the steps we will take to get to where we need to be, together.

Millions of adults working to protect kids and billions of adults working to burn fossil fuels as fast as time and budget permit!

I thought that readers would appreciate my moment of Climate Sensitivity Glory!

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Annals of English idioms

Conversation with a friend who immigrated to the U.S. to attend Harvard College:

  • Me: Do you and [Betsy] want to go for a walk in the woods tomorrow morning with Mindy the Crippler?
  • Him: I don’t know if she’s free.
  • Me: Can you ask?
  • Him: She’s working from home. I’m not allowed to go into her woman-hole.
  • Me: Take it from a native English speaker… that is probably not the idiom you’re looking for.

(It later transpired that his native-speaker daughter, whose room is upstairs, referred to mom’s ground floor home office as a “woman cave” and this had been slightly altered in the dad’s mind.)

Separately, we came up with a strategy in case any of the righteous townsfolk scolded us for failure to social distance. The response: “I’m sorry if you don’t approve of our lifestyle. My husband and I are accustomed to homophobia, but I think his sister here would learn from a dialog. Shall we head down to the rainbow chairs at the First Parish Church and discuss your feelings about same-sex relationships?”


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