Interesting times the past couple of day, with revelations that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account and also a private email server in her home to conduct business while she was Secretary of State. Illegal? Election politics? Bad practice? Why was it necessary? All valid questions.
There must have been a conversation between executives and the IT department at the Secretary of State’s office about this, and it’s fascinating to imagine how that conversation went. What reasons were offered? Did anybody push back? Was there a discussion of why this was a bad idea for everyone except Hillary (or maybe her as well – time will tell).
Federal Records Act or not, it is nearly impossible for me to imagine the same conversation happening in the private sector – a high-powered executive who comes into a company and demands to use their own email server and their Gmail account to conduct all company business. It just wouldn’t happen, at least not any any company that has read a newspaper in the past 20 years.
I’ve been listening to vintage Bob Newhart lately, specifically “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” which amazingly was his first big standup performance, recording, and the one that made him a star. In the spirit of Bob, here’s how that phone call might go.
Hey Steve, Barry here. How are things in IT? Good? Good.
I need to talk to you about getting the new VP of Sales set up. Yeah, she’s starting Monday.
Yeah, that Hilary. Yeah from the New York office. Right, big promotion.
Anyway, let’s see if we can get her all set up for Monday . . .
A call from her? What she she say?
She doesn’t want an email account? Well why not?
She didn’t say? How are we going to communicate with her?
She wants to only use a personal Gmail account?!? And she has her own email server at her house . . . you said no, of course . . .
You didn’t? What the hell, Steve . . . . yeah . . . yeah . . . authority from who?
She didn’t say?
She was scary? Like scary how?
Hmm. Right. And there’s no way we can talk her out of it?
She wouldn’t take the job?!
She sounded serious did she?
OK, fine, fine.
Don’t we have policies on this kind of thing, Steve?
Nobody takes them seriously?
I know the email system is terrible, Steve . . . yeah I know you need more budget . . . right, right . . . but listen, I use the damn thing.
What the hell are we going to do if we get sued? How do we get her email from Gmail? How do we make sure she isn’t spreading our stuff all over the place?
What did the lawyers say?
Haven’t returned your calls?
Just as well, you remember what happened last time those bastards stuck their fingers . . .
Yes, I know I’m a lawyer, Steve. That’s why I can make those jokes.
An edited and condensed transcript of this speech is available here.
Over the holiday season while were visiting family in Alberta, Canada, my 92-year-old grandfather – who had been healthy and active his whole life – passed away. He went quickly and surrounded by his family, and I was honored to be there with my family and to participate in his funeral. I was asked to make a “slide show,” and spent a couple of days with hundreds of photos going back to the 1920s, which was a beautiful way to meditate on this man’s life. I can’t say that I was particularly close to him as an adult – our lives diverged in many important ways – but I loved and respected him.
I thought I would share a eulogy that I delivered at the funeral. I stood alongside my Uncle, sister, and two cousins who did an amazing job remembering Cecil, as did his children and the rest of the family.
Eulogy for James Cecil Blair
February 13, 1922 – December 27, 2014
James Cecil Blair, my Grandfather, was a man who had everything. A man who built, with his hands and his grit and his faith, an entire world. An empire that began with just two cows and a saddle. Also, of course, a man who would be mortified to hear me describe him this way. There are more than 40 people in this world whose lives – who they are and how they live – are a direct result of Cecil and his wife of 71 years, Chrissie. A man who, despite living to nearly 93, was survived by all his children.
My Grandfather built a legacy. A legacy in his land, in his church, in the Christian camps he built and supported, and in the lives of his family and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He left this world with his reputation solidly intact and the love and respect of two large communities, one here in Brooks and one in Youngstown. He was given many years, each one of them with the woman he loved, and until the end: health, spirit, love, wit, pleasure, clarity, and memory. His name, his memory will now be carried forward by a dozen, then dozens, then hundreds.
If this is not a picture of a man who had everything, then I don’t know what a such a picture would look like.
Grandpa had more than one successful career, at least to the extent that you can call farming a career. One career was as a pioneering farmer and rancher right in the middle of the Palliser Triangle; a part of the world that the Royal Geological Society in London declared in the 1800s as unsuitable for human settlement, and also made very clear that nobody should ever try to settle there, much less farm. He had other careers, or at least avocations, as a building mover, an inventor, a whisker rubber, a harmonica player and jigger, a hobbyist haymaker, a land developer, and of course a semi-professional par 3 golfer and curler. Grandpa was curling up to a couple of weeks before his death.
What do you say about a man who had all of this?
Well done, certainly. Great job, of course, and even congratulations. But what else?
Here are a few more things.
I knew Cecil Blair primarily through one lens, that of my grandfather. A grandfather that I no doubt saw nearly every day for the first 5 years of my life as we shared a farm yard, probably at least weekly for the next 8 or 9 after we moved a few miles away, then monthly, then annually, then every year or two over the rest of my life.
As it is with your grandparents, you don’t necessarily know much about them as non-grandparents. Was he a good husband? Based on the evidence of 71 years with Grandma, it feels safe to assume so. In fact, I remember Grandpa publicly declaring his love for her in a self-knowing joke that could have been written specifically for him and the rest of the “Blair Men” as my mother likes to say.
At the end of a big family do for their 50th wedding anniversary, Grandpa came up to the mic to say a few words, and among those words he told a story about an old Scotsman and his wife. One day at the breakfast table, years and years into their marriage, his wife asked him, “why do you never tell me that you love me?” The old Scotsman replied, “I told you that I loved you on the day I married you and if anything changes, I will let you know.”
Aside from being my grandfather, what was James Cecil Blair like as a man? Again, I can safely assume from what I saw and heard over the decades that he was a good man. A man with flaws, like all of us. A man that could be harsh and even insensitive. A man driven to work, and work, and work some more. I remember a family friend telling me as a teenager that there was something most people in our community knew about called “the Blair work ethic,” and hinted that like my grandfather and my father, and the other Blairs, I might have it too. That was a strange but valuable moment of self-consciousness and awareness of the tradition that I came from, and one that I have tried in my own way to honor.
I can tell you from a young age, without being able to put into words why, I knew I was proud to have the last name Blair. To be part of Grandpa’s family.
When I was young and trying to figure out who I was – not that I have it figured out still – I used to believe that every aspect of who we are is fungible, changeable, up for grabs. That you could, for example, move to a new place, get a new job, grow your hair long, grow a beard and, say, pierce a couple of holes in your ear, and you would be a whole new person, a creature entirely of your own making.
But, it has taken me many more years to realize that this is a lie. Only about 20-30% of you is up for grabs, and the rest of you is you, for better or for worse. It took me years to realize that I am, in fact, my mother’s son, my father’s son, and of course, my grandfather’s grandchild.
So what became a part of me, the center part of me, I could not change even if I wanted to.
How fortunate then, how incredibly lucky then, to be the grandson of Cecil Blair.
* * *
There was a kind of frontier sense of justice and toughness in Grandpa. I’m told that by the time I was around, he had mellowed somewhat, and that by the time the great-grandchildren were around, he was practically a pussycat. As tough as he was, I’m told he was a real softie compared to his own father Floyd.
The greatest compliment you can pay a young boy is to treat him like a man. Grandpa knew that and my father knew that when raising me. The day that my dad let me cut in a wheat field on my own with a swather was and will always be one of the most important days in my life.
You could also argue that Grandpa kind of taught me to swim – using the sink or swim method. When I was a baby, Grandpa wanted to weigh in my training as a swimmer, and asked my mom to hand me over to him as he stood in the dugout, telling her that babies just naturally know how to swim. She wasn’t convinced, and resolutely refused.
Grandpa’s views on swim training were tested a few years later at a family waterskiing party down at Fisher’s Dam. I was too young to waterski so I was playing in the mud on the edge of the dam and I suddenly slipped down a steep drop-off where I couldn’t touch the bottom and I started thrashing and screaming and my mom screamed (i.e., a kind of quiet gasp) and ran towards me but Grandpa stopped her and there I was drowning until I finally got close enough to touch bottom and it turns out that I didn’t die after all. I don’t know if this taught me anything but at least it gave me a good story and something to present to my kids as evidence that we were so much tougher back in my day. Water wings and blowing bubbles in the pool – ha – throw you in the dam and see if you float.
After my dad and Grandpa separated their farms we would still work together a lot, including in the spring when it was cattle branding time. Now my dad and his dad didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on everything – a state of affairs that seems to continue on down the line, and one of those things was the method of branding. Of course when my brother and I were heading over to Grandpa and Uncle Merle’s to brand, we pretty much understood that we weren’t supposed to say that the way that God intended branding to be done was with horses, cowboys, ropes and sitting in fresh calf manure while trying not to get burned, cut, fried with dehorning acid or kicked in the head. We weren’t supposed to say that because the way we branded at Grandpas was with a calf cradle – a mechanical device that holds the calves still. We didn’t say anything but we kind of hated it.
Anyway, one time I was pushing what seemed like the 3000th calf through the chute and was straddling the chute with a foot on both sides and my feet slipped and I fell face first into the mud and the calf in front of me was loaded up and ready and kicked me square in the mouth and laughed about it too, leaving me with a split lip and chipped tooth and a pretty huge wound to my pride and I was hurt and mad and even may have been crying a little and I stumbled over to Grandpa and blubbered that a calf had kicked me in the face, and, looking up for a second from castrating bawling soon-to-be-steer, I saw for an instant the look which said well, are you still breathing and if so, why isn’t the next calf coming down the chute? Then he looked back down then up again and seeing that I didn’t seem to be moving anywhere, muttered go see your grandmother and I trudged to the house and I frankly I didn’t get much sympathy there either.
Here is what I learned from his life.
Living with Dignity
I learned from him that you should strive to live your life with dignity. This means conducting yourself in a way that demands that people treat you with respect. This means working hard to ensure your words and actions line up, looking out for your blind spots, and treating others as your equals, even if they are not. It means a clean truck, a straight furrow, getting the crop in early, and staying in the field late. It means not doing business with some people. It means not indulging in anger when it would feel so great and even right, letting go of personal slights, and paying attention to the context you live in. It means living like you see the beauty and worth of life, and striving to fulfill your potential and live up to your promises even if, while doing so, you are poor. It means living this way even if you are rich. At its worst, this quality can be exclusionary, narrow and even bigoted, but at its best it is what gives life quality and substance.
I think all kids are on some level afraid of their grandfathers. Or at least those grandfathers who were raised during the depression on the bald prairie. Grandfathers where are stalwart, moral, seemingly perfect. I always was. That’s why it was good to be reminded that Grandpa was human.
My friend Kevin, who was working for Grandpa on his farm at the time, told me a story that provided a glimpse into Grandpa’s humanity. One spring day, a muddy day in the corrals, Kevin was busy on one side of a tall windbreak fence, when he heard Grandpa on the other side, struggling to get his quad unstuck. He was pushing and revving and grunting, and then . . . my Grandpa swore! Yes an actual swear word passed my grandpa’s lips. I never asked Kevin what the swear word was, but there’s a good chance it was something as foul as “crap” or “bloody.”
Though I am sure that he would never put it this way, Grandpa was ambitious. Working hard was good, but working smart was even better. A man does not build an operation like his by accident. A man does not start with a saddle and two heifers and turn that into what he did without ambition. Ambition drives you and rewards you and in and of itself it is a value worth honoring, through both success and failure.
The Power of Story
I also learned about the power of the story from my Grandpa. The Blair men don’t really communicate much, but when they do, it’s typically in the form of a story. Stories about people doing the wrong thing at the right time, saying the right thing at the wrong time, and most of all, people doing funny stuff. You can all picture Grandpa approaching you with a twinkle and a crooked smirk and knowing you were in for a treat because he was going to tell you a story – and you knew you would laugh and you would tell that story yourself dozens of times. These stories were passed around and passed along, like a kind of currency that said something real and even profound about both the teller and the listener and bound us together in a sense of shared understanding, experience, and values.
Once I almost drowned myself and my horse trying to swim with him across Fisher Dam during a cattle roundup, ostensibly to cut a few miles off my trip but in reality I did it mostly so I could tell the story to Grandpa and my dad and they would think I was cool. I think they mostly thought I was kind of dumb, but they laughed at my story and that was even better.
It’s no doubt a cliché to say that family is important. The Blairs are not huggers. At family gatherings there are no long meditative soliloquys about how special everyone is.
But as a child there was no mistaking the unspoken message. Family is something to build and protect, and to take seriously.
Grandpa was the first man I remember seeing cry. I was very young, playing with Grandma’s toy farm set on the lino floor in their kitchen when Grandpa got the call that his mother had died. It was also the last time I saw Grandpa cry, or come to think of it, any of the Blair men. Until today.
I also wish I would have learned how to be thrifty, how to be humble, how to dance a jig, how to play golf with just a 7 iron, how to live to 93, how not to get fat, and how to fill a room with people like this who love and respect you. Perhaps there is still time.
* * *
There’s no predicting which memories will stick with a child, which is one of the reasons that raising children is so terrifying. I’ve shared some of the things that I remember about my grandfather. I can’t say that each one of my memories is good – that would be a lie and a disservice, quite frankly, to his memory as a real, living human being. In later years as our cultural tastes, lifestyles, and ultimately religious beliefs diverged, I felt an uncloseable gap open up between us that I mourned.
But those are not the memories that I dwell on.
I dwell on the futility of trying to explain to him how my new digital watch worked or what I did for a living and how his response was always the same – the completely unreadable utterance, “Oh?”
What exactly did that “Oh?” mean?
I dwell on him saying that he heard that the shape of soon-to-be-built Calgary Saddledome hockey stadium was called a reverse hyperbolic paraboloid and what the heck did that mean, and I must know because I had encyclopedias and was studying high school physics. So I took it as a challenge and wrote a school paper answering that question in excruciating detail and when I presented it to him, illustrations and all, ending with a proud flourish, his response of course was . . . “Oh?”
And finally, I dwell on being out in the treeless pasture on a July day, sweating alongside my grandfather, building a barbed wire fence, the hawks screaming high overhead, then him suggesting that we go for a dip in nearby low spot, and him stripping down naked and I stripped too and the water was cool and smelled like life itself, and for a moment it was just me and my grandpa swimming in the July sun and nothing else.
Here’s the Christmas Story That The North Pole Does Not Want You to Read!
No Reason to Rejoice – Information Governance Scrooge Ups Widely Believed to Freeze North Pole Operations
A North Pole Business Insider Exclusive
the npbi snapshot™
- Christmas 2014 cancelled
- Big Data & information governance woes to blame
- Belief in Santa at all-time low
- Avalanche of mismanaged data reported
- Key accounts frozen by hacking attacks at critical manufacturing facilities
- Elvin workforce in open revolt
North Pole Business Insider has exclusively learned that United Christmas Consolidated Corporation (UCCC) has scheduled an emergency press conference for December 24th where it is expected to announce that Christmas 2014 is cancelled.
The shocking announcement is expected to receive a frosty reception from families and retailers alike, although some harried shoppers we spoke to this morning reported experiencing an astonishing sense of relief and deep well-being upon hearing the news.
According to internal documents obtained by NPBI, the cancellation is a result of “wholesale failure of manufacturing and logistics systems as a result of unforeseen exigencies in our Big Data 2020 program.”
Our attempts to speak directly with beleaguered UCCC CEO, Santa, have been unsuccessful.
However, company insiders have revealed exclusively to NPBI that their efforts to become a “data-driven” institution have largely failed, bringing Christmas 2014 to an unceremonious end.
Rumors of large-scale hacking attacks in the company’s frozen data lake have also plagued the company. Executives from The Halloween Industrial Concern, Valentines Conglomerated, Thanksgiving Partners LLC, and other proto-nation-states have been angered by the continuing encroachment of UCCC. In particular, The Halloween Industrial Concern vehemently protested the upcoming distribution by UCCC of a gift depicting a pumpkin head exploding.
It is widely suspected that UCCC email messages recently provided to the media were stolen by disgruntled Christmas crackers working for Halloween. These communications shockingly revealed UCCC executives to be completely normal and flawed people rather than the fictional heroes portrayed by the toys the company manufactures and distributes.
As widely suspected by parents worldwide, internal company documents provided to NPBI reveal that the failed 2013 big data and information governance program resulted in bad children receiving 10,000 Instagram followers and a YouTube production deal, and good children receiving coal. As previously reported – exclusively by NPBI – both the coal lobby and environmental groups have surprisingly found common cause in battling the coal program, which UCCC continued to defend on the basis of “tradition and nostalgia for a time that never really existed.”
This has been a troubled year for the company, with global turmoil arising from its “Disruptortation” division that uses a network of mobile device-enabled contract delivery drivers to replace incumbent government-supported systems. As we reported in October, a senior manager of the Disruptortation division threatened to permanently put one of our reporters who has been fiercely critical of the company on the permanent naughty list. The reporter and her family have been forced to move every few days, to ensure that UCCC will not be able to track her and deliver the rancid egg nog and fetid mincemeat pies that those on the list famously receive.
In a recent AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, an anonymous member of the UCCC logistics team fought back against accusations that “these supposed IG failures” were in fact a ploy to “extort the world” by “holding the holidays hostage” in hopes of influencing ongoing wage negotiations. The Elvin manager also fielded several questions regarding her stature, skin color, mating habits, and views on the people who were “truly behind” a decade-old terrorist attack on one of the North Pole’s most famous manufacturing towers. A coordinated group of commenters frequently disrupted the AMA by claiming that female elves should not be in the game and toy manufacturing business at all.
Insiders tell NPBI that the company’s information governance program has been chilled by executive jockeying and political resistance. Santa himself has been described as outwardly supportive but bureaucratically resistant, ensuring that the program moves at a glacial pace. Insiders say dreams of “big data sugar plums” have been iced by “almost complete ignorance” of legal, compliance and risk issues, immature corporate governance programs, and outdated technologies.
Reached for comment, Eöl the 117th, Chief Data Officer at UCCC, said, “Big Data allows us to move past the dark days of gut-based decision making and into the era of clear-eyed, data-driven rationality.” When pressed on how he decides which data to include in UCCC’s analytics programs or how he determines that its algorithmic outputs are reliable, Mr. Eöl responded, “Intuition and years of experience.”
In addition, the company’s ill-fated Christmas 2013 initiative to install self-destructing RFID sensors in every gift delivered worldwide resulted in an avalanche of contradictory and confusing data that the firm was ill prepared to tackle. Insiders say that it was never clear if the company had the legal right to collect the data and to transfer it to the North Pole – a legal jurisdiction that does not align with tougher privacy protections found in many jurisdictions, including the European Union.
Critics of the program pointed out that it was also unclear what the company intended to do with the data.
Company spokesman Aegnor, son of Finarfin, claims such data is only used to “to serve our community better, by bringing joy and love to the world.”
Critics do not mince words about UCCC’s well-known motto, “We Put Evil on a Toboggan and Push it to the South Pole,” dismissing the claim as a hoary chestnut.
While UCCC will not confirm reports of a full-scale elf rebellion and attempted coup d’état, Mr. Aegnor did allow that workforce productivity been negatively affected by the company’s efforts to transform itself.
Several of UCCC’s contract workers have been injured in ongoing civil strife over the future of its data center operations. Older manufacturing workers in the Western sector, rallying behind their apparent leader, See Eye Oh, are fiercely opposed to moving core systems to the cloud. The Eastern sector, populated by a younger and more hirsute demographic and dominated by artisanal egg nog shops and Whitmanesque locavore hotspots serving grass-fed reindeer and organic heirloom lingonberries, favors a transition to systems focused on mobility, access, and collaboration.
Mediators from UCCC’s legal department have held high-level talks between the two factions with little progress.
@2014 North Pole Business Insider, not a real thing and certainly not a division of Barclay T. Blair LLC.