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Leadership

What Lily Tomlin Taught Me About Pilot Projects

September 12, 2006 | By | One Comment

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Your (very young) Business Blogger

and Lily Tomlin Big Shows always start small. Lily Tomlin would test her acts, not on an off-Broadway hide-a-way in New York City — not even another country, like say, New Jersey.

No, Lily would test her lines and the script in another world: Branson, Missouri.

A few decades ago, Your Business Blogger — that’s me, the dork on the left — caught up with Tomlin backstage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. During the run of her solo — one woman performance in The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe.

It was no secret that Tomlin is the consumate professional whose presentations seemed effortless. Yes, she and her team practiced with military precision.

But she knew to do a bit more. One of her secrets was to practice in front of a live crowd. To test her timing. For the laughs and special effects. Practice and pace. To hit the marks and watch the sparks.

Her testing would require stops and starts and direct interaction with her Branson audience — which was a test market for her new show; her new product her new production. She would be a wizard alchemist reformulating as she observed and assessed her focus group’s response. And the laughs.

Comedy is hard work.

The challenge of conducting the practice, the dry runs, was that the critical, cynical New Yorker would not sit still through trial run. Tomlin as magician perfected her act behind the curtain, away from the show-bizzie chattering classes. So Lily would go to ‘fly-over country’ where normal people live, to hone her act.

To Branson, Missouri, the Show Me state where over 100 shows play in over 40 theaters. Branson is called “The Live Music Show Capital of the World.”

Lily Tomlin and her crew would then take her perfected, polished performance back to the Big Apple and the rest of civilization.

Her business lesson from show business was to quietly introduce a pilot show, a pilot project. Gauge reaction and launch a high percentage deal. And practice to a small sample size.

Because you will screw it up. And it is best to screw up on the farm team than before the big league crowd.

Do you have a pitch to practice? Find a small group who loves you.

Practice your sales pitch to a live audience. And ask for feedback.

Looking to flog your product on national television, the cables and network? Start with small radio wattage. Then take your show on the road.

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Getting Business Done On 9.11.01

September 9, 2006 | By | No Comments

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Dad & The Dude

prepared for war

September 11, 2001

photo credit:

Charmaine Yoest, Ph.D. Just after 9am on 9.11, I was doing what all business owners were doing: selling something. I was on the phone with a client. Making a pitch to attend a series of seminars, with CNN on in the background. I was a bit distracted by the live feed of a burning building.

While making ‘the ask,’ it was clear that my customer was not aware that we had just been attacked. I wanted to say something, like, Turn on your TV and stare at real pain. It just didn’t look real. I continued instead with the conversation. Your Business Blogger is not normally so focused. In denial, perhaps. Disasters are not normally good for business.

There was work to be done. My next class was on September 19.

And I didn’t want the customer on the other end of the phone distracted until the sale was closed. Then we could go to war.

The deal done, I noticed my boy, The Dude, was concerned that the attacks would continue down to us in Charlottesville, Virginia. “We got to get ready!” he shouts and scampers around digging up my old uniform, boots, saber and his grandfather’s bayonet. (Old soldiers never die, they just file away. Apologies to MacArthur.)

The Dude spent the rest of the morning marching outside our front door. Looking out for terrorists. It must have worked.

Charlottesville was not attacked.

But we were affected. Everyone was. But I wasn’t sure that the bank was going to delay getting their money over a pesky act of war. I still had to earn a living.

How would the war affect business? Not the macro, but mine? I had a seminar and clients coming into town in little over a week and the world was on fire. Would anyone show up? Would anyone care?

We North Americans do business like we do war. We win. Donald Trump becomes Victor Davis Hanson. At 8 am on 19 September 2001, 86 professionals showed up and got down to business. A packed room.

The free lunch helped.

Even my business partner, Faisal Alam, came down from New York City to join us. He is Muslim.

The country was mourning, but on the move.

I started with a minute of silence in remembrance of those lost in the World Trade Towers.

Then we all got back to work. Each making the world a better place. Even with a war on.

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Basil’s Blog has open trackbacks.

California Conservative has Open Post 9.11.

Why John Kerry Lost the Big One & The Big Question For Political Scientists

September 4, 2006 | By | No Comments

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John DiIulio, Ph.D. Looking for answers, Your Business Blogger packed up kith and kin and headed to Philly.

To sit at the feet of John DiIulio, Ph.D., Harvard. Teaching now at the University of Pennsylvania, a former aide to President Bush.

John began by positing the central question for any political scientist visiting the home city of Ben Franklin:

Who has the best Philadelphia cheesesteak?

John was addressing a packed ball room at the American Political Science Association annual meeting this past weekend (yes, Labor Day, every year).

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The Dude & Diva

at APSA The question got a laugh, but I think Professor DiIulio was on to a smaller truth.

After the conference, Charmaine and I loaded up the Suburban and decided to load up with Philly cheesesteaks. And to teach a basic political lesson and business lesson to the Penta Posse. We drove to South Philly to the famous eatery where John Kerry lost the election.

Pat’s King of Steaks open 24 hours. Where we joined the queue snaking around the old joint built in 1930 and not upgraded since. And no one cares.

We avoided the 3 errors John Kerry committed at Pat’s: Parking, Table, Cheese.

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The Dude at Pat’s Error #1) Parking. Pat’s is located on a busy intersection with some five odd parking spaces. We did not find a space. No one does. But when John Kerry came to chow down, his able advance staff staked out a spot for the limo to glid into. The Very Important Presidential candidate got a parking spot.

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John Kerry ties on

the feed bag Error #2) Table. There are about 5 tables for the dozens and dozens of customers. We couldn’t get a table. And no one cares. But the Kerry Advance Team, on that fateful day, nailed down a table. Even the reporters were beginning to wonder. There was no standing around for the Elite. No slopping steak grease in the car, no sitting on the low brick wall next to the basketball courts across the street. Nosiree. The sitting Senator had a seat saved. And didn’t have to wait on no man.

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The WhizError #3) Cheese. The Philadelphia Cheese Steak from Pat’s is ordered, as everyone knows, Wiz Wit. Every one knows but Kerry, that is, who is not Everyman. Translated, this means Chees Whiz With onions, if you please. John Kerry ordered his steak sandwich with Swiss cheese. Swiss. I didn’t know Pat’s would inventory Swiss: Why bother with slow moving sku’s? Even the lapdog liberal reporters snorted. Ordering is simple and fast — making my offer of queue management consulting moot. A business process needing nothing more than processed cheese.

Just like politics.

Even the Penta Posse understood this.

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Thank you (foot)notes:

Charmaine and I talked with John D. after his presentation. He tells us that the best cheesesteak in Philly is from Tony Luke’s. Most Democrats, like John, know cheesesteaks and politics.

This is an unpaid endorsement.

I cite has more on the APSA experience.

17 Aug

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2 Comments

Hiring Super Stars vs Tolerating Turkeys

August 17, 2006 | By | 2 Comments

Microsoft has one real point measurement for hiring.

IQ

Your Business Blogger has hired (computer) coders, sales reps…and government bureaucrats.

When given the option of head count and budget flexibility, I always recommended to my managers to hire the most expensive talent possible — the Super Stars.

Even when hiring government workers.

Into Good and Evil reminds us that when talent really counts, when talent determines life and death, who would get hired? He points us to Professor Kingsley Browne in The Ace and the Turkeys,

“Given the cognitive and temperamental patterns required, it is not surprising to find that the ability to fly aircraft successfully in combat is an ability that not many have. Indeed, it is not an ability that even all combat pilots have. Aviation analysts recognize that the majority of combat kills are scored by a small minority of pilots. Mike Spick has observed: “The gulf between the average fighter pilot and the successful one is very wide. In fact it is arguable that there are almost no average fighter pilots; just aces and turkeys; killers and victims.”

Fighter pilots, like sales guys in a role playing exercise, can practice and give a passable presentation, but,

As one Air Force pilot stated, “Most guys can master the mechanics of the systems, but it’s instinctive to be able to assimilate all the data, get a big picture, and react offensively. Not a lot of guys can do that.”

But the Air Force has a challenge most sales managers don’t: Separating the Aces from the Turkeys,

Ideally, one would have only “aces” or “killers,” leaving the “turkeys” and “victims” to another career path. The difficulty lies, however, in the fact that there is no known way to separate the aces and the turkeys prior to combat. Unfortunately, many of those who will end up being turkeys often do not know what they are getting into. These pilots may have the ability, intelligence, and know-how to fly the plane well, but they ultimately lack the “fighting spirit” that they will need in combat. ”

(Buffalo Law Review,Winter, 2001, 49 Buffalo L. Rev. 51,Women at War: An Evolutionary Perspective By Kingsley R. Browne)

But the hiring manager does have an advantage over an Air Force Wing Commander, the civilian Ace has a track record of Kills.

The best indication of future performance is past performance. Our armed forces are hampered by looking only to recent combat or aerial engagements — and there aren’t that many of those dogfights. The hiring manager has different metrics of combat measures for top business talent. Eat what you kill. Who had produced the best numbers?

In this human resource practice and strategy, there are down-sides as Anita Campbell, my editrix at Small Business Trends citing the Trizoko Biz Journal mentions. She and others make the valid point that Super Star and Aces are nearly impossible to manage. And, indeed, can only be managed by Super Star managers.

But if these crazy iconoclasts can be harnessed, a big ‘if’ to be sure, big numbers are sure to follow. For example, when I had a modest software company, I learned the hard way that a one genius coder was worth a half dozen coders. And not because he (and he was usually a ‘he’) was faster, but that his work was nearly bug-free. Which saved me from hiring three coders just to patch.

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With my sales teams, Pareto’s 80/20 Principle always played out. But the top guy, usually a deviant was always a standard deviation above the norm. My #1 sales guy was sometimes double the sales of #2, the rest of the sales team on the long tail. That #1 guy drove me nuts. But I loved his numbers.

And government bureaucrats? Goodness. I once had an agency head ‘lose’ a $100 million department. It was necessary to find it for obvious political reasons, but we only became aware of the lost unit because I was working the Y2K rollover and really needed to find all the laptops. We finally found it. Hidden away, quietly working away. And there were lots of good excuses why it was floating alone off on its own org chart, in its own universe. How they got paid is outside the scope of this post. I was assured that it was not illegal.

So Anita and Trizoko Biz are right, Super Stars are a pain.

But I wonder how many $100 million business units are lost. And could be found with a few dozen more IQ points.

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Your Business Blogger’s columns appear in Small Business Trends on Tuesdays and Small Business Trends Radio on Fridays. Please tune in.

17 Aug

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2 Comments

Leadership and Follow Through

August 17, 2006 | By | 2 Comments

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Maintaining trust is the first characteristic of effective leadership. Early this year President Bush gave a terrific State of the Union Speech. He gave an excellent review– I cheered through most of it. But. CQ ran a story the about the State of the Union with a graphical illustration of the number of times the President mentioned certain issues. (Subscription required — it’s on page 25.)

Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, had an interesting suggestion: add social issues to the graph; let’s see what happens.

The result was incredible. The graph you see above powerfully illustrates empirically, exactly what many of us felt after watching the speech.

Click on the image for Tony’s comments — thanks to Andy McDonald for the graphic and Dawn Marie Powers for the research. Cross-posted from FRCBlog.com.

The ‘values voter’ didn’t get much attention back then. The ‘values voter’ is being ignored today. The Bush personnel policy that pushes Democrat-donating-liberals into substantial positions, such as Andrew von Eschenbach and Janet Neff would not help future get-out-the-vote strategies.

No one would question George Bush’s leadership integrity. However, it might be helpful to acknowledge the customers who bought the conservative agenda of Bush.

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Full Disclosure: The wife of Your Business Blogger, Charmaine, is Vice President of Communications at the Family Research Council.

Cross Post from Reasoned Audacity.

Three Duties of a Mentor

August 14, 2006 | By | One Comment

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Jesse Brown A mentor, like a good Board of Directors, offers the CEO (that would be you, the mentee) three talents:

Contacts

Consulting

Capital

Black Belt Productivity reminds us that,

The word “Mentor” originally comes from Homer’s epic The Odyssey. When Odysseus went to fight in the Trojan War, he handed the reigns of his kingdom to Mentor. One of Mentor’s most important duties was to oversee the education of the king’s son, Telemachus.

So what does this education look like in today’s business climate? How can you help your mentor help you?

A seasoned mentor has a fat rolodex (whatever that is) and an extensive list of contacts and links in the good ol’ boy network. A phone call or two and the best mentors can introduce you to anyone, anywhere you need. If an advisor won’t open his data base — he is not a mentor. I’ve dealt with this; the non performing mentor, as you will also someday. Don’t bother to train. Leave.

A wise old man, an experienced guide makes the best teacher. I like my mentors old and gray and grizzled. If your company or personal data-base doesn’t have one of these, go buy yourself one. Warning: They are frightfully expensive, if purchased on the open market. Try exchanging favors in your warm body network. For example, one of my mentors served on the Board of Avis in its early days. His advice was so good, I married his daughter. What a deal. Now I get free consulting.

Access to capital is a necessary trait for a board member — especially a start-up. But a mentor doesn’t necessarily mean money; a direct cash transfer. What a competent mentor does is to guide the mentee on the strategies on how to get bigger bucks: How to earn W-2 $’s. And how to negotiate the office politics to get a bigger budget to advance your agenda within your company.

Your Business Blogger has been blessed with a number on mentors and advisors over the decades; some were paid, most not.

One of my all-time favorite mentors was Jesse Brown.

Jesse Brown, passed away 15 August four years ago. He was my friend and business partner. He was only 58. I dedicated my inaugural post on Labor Day 2005 to honor his memory and his work.

He was wounded by enemy fire in Vietnam leaving his right arm and hand partially paralyzed. This never slowed him down. A Marine who knew how to make a buck.

I once asked him when he was at the pinnacle of his career what drove him to work so hard. Money, I thought; status, celebrity? No. “I just want to help my friends,” he said.

His passion for service helped him become the Veteran’s Affairs Secretary for Bill Clinton.

And yet he helped me, a nobody who worked for a Republican governor.

Jesse is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not far from my dad. Two warriors to whom I owe so much.

Semper Fidelis

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See Reasoned Audacity for more on the Arlington National Cemetery.

Is John McCain Courting the Religious Right?

July 19, 2006 | By | No Comments

Your Business Blogger was strolling through Washington, DC and decided to step into an old building to escape the July heat. The Dirksen beckoned. If it’s named after a Republican, then it’s got to be cold.

So I wander into Room 106 and eavesdrop on a confirmation hearing. John Warner from Virginia chaired. He is a real gentleman. Handling the hearing and the nominees with grace and diplomacy. I almost forgot he voted against impeaching Clinton.

Anyway, I happen see my old friend Anita Blair being questioned, and I mean questioned by Senator Levin. And she did outstanding. She’ll make a great Assistant Secretary for the Air Force.

But what I was interested in was listening to the crowd talk about another John, another member of this committee: John McCain. One observer near me in the peanut gallery said that, “McCain was sucking up to the religious right wing-nuts.”

That’d be me.

And he continued, “I hate that.”

Goodness, Liberals are capable of ‘hate.’ Alert the media.

However, is McCain really sucking up to the religious right? I wish he would.

But I think not. For two reasons.

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on left: Bauer, Falwell, McCain on far right

at Liberty University

#1. Charmaine and I saw McCain at the graduation ceremony at Liberty University recently and watched McCain up close. Our good friend, Gary Bauer was also giving a speech and praised McCain no less that three times from the pulpit. Gary is a long-time McCain supporter and looked like an excellent candidate for Secretary of Education in a McCain Administration. (Well, actually, I would be honored to work for Gary in any capacity, but I digress.)

McCain glowed and smiled at Gary’s compliments. But McCain turned dark when Bauer talked about gay marriage or abortion. McCain would fidget, pick lint off his pant legs and stare off in another direction when abortion and babies were mentioned. McCain is a master politician, but not a master of body language.

At Liberty, Falwell did the courting, not McCain.

#2. John McCain was on the invited list for the Family Research Council’s annual briefing coming in September. McCain is “unavailable.” A very polite Code word. (But Ann Coulter and Newt Gingrich are coming!)

John McCain is not courting, nor counting on, true-blue red conservatives.

He should. If he wants the nomination.

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Register for FRC’s Washington Briefing!

Greg Tinti at Outside the Beltway has Traffic Jam.

When Men Outnumber Women

July 19, 2006 | By | No Comments

An Alert Reader, Martha, a former Air Force enlisted, who has been following the thread on women in combat with concern, writes to explain the “Abracadabra” issue:

I have heard horrid stories from deployed friends about the attitude toward women in the ranks. Even unattractive girls have a throng of men around them all the time when they are in “Bad Guy Land”. The names they give those women is crass. “Golden P**sy Syndrome” and similar things.

Then, on the flight home, “abracadabra” they are ugly again. The rejection is as sudden and violent as an IED attack. How can men be allowed to treat fellow soldiers like this, then turn around and treat them with respect on the battlefield?

Sadly, I didn’t have to go further than today’s New York Times to get a real-life illustration of why this kind of thing is no small matter. In an article, Behind Failed Abu Ghraib Plea, a Tangle of Bonds and Betrayals about Lynndie England, Charles Graner and Megan Ambuhl, the reporter, Kate Zernike lays out a tragic story that puts an even sorrier twist to the already sordid tale of Abu Ghraib.

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Lynndie England and

Charles Graner

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Credit: L.M. Otero/A P

Megan Ambuhl,

Graner’s new wife

The short version of the story is that Charles Graner was treating the United States Army like his own personal harem, carrying on overlapping affairs with both Lynndie England and Megan Ambuhl. Then, when Lynndie got pregnant, and sent home, they broke up. Graner sent an email to his father: “I stopped seeing her back in january but when all this garbage came out i started seeing her again,” he wrote. “chances are very good that it is my child….o well….daddy what did you bring home from the war????”

That’s some war souvenir.

With Lynndie sent home, Graner focused on Ambuhl. The two co-conspirators recently married at Ft. Hood, a surrogate groom standing in for Graner, who is already in prison.

A few quotes from the NYT piece at the jump.

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Cross post from Reasoned Audacity.

Full Disclosure Your Business Blogger also serves as Vice President for the Center for Military Readiness, a non-profit think tank in Your Nation’s Capital.

Mudville Gazette has Open Post.

Read More

The Devil Wears Prada and Alan Greenspan: Nuance and Silence

July 5, 2006 | By | No Comments

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Charmaine and

Your Business Blogger

President’s Box

Kennedy Center

ca 1988 Your Business Blogger once sat near Alan Greenspan with his hot decade-long date, Andrea Mitchell in the President’s Box in the Kennedy Center. He didn’t say three words all evening.

Not a snub; but simply silence. Alpha Male silence.

Some called Greenspan circumspect. All I heard was silence.

George Will reported on his marriage proposal to Andrea. She said that Greenspan had to repeat his marriage proposal three times before she understood what he was getting at.

Subtlety. Silence.

I was once coached by a headhunter. To keep my mouth shut. To use silence. The recruiter instructed me to use silence as a tool.

Silence…

[1,001; 1,002; 1,003; 1,004]

…commands attention.

A confident quiet, ….of four seconds…

commands.

Economy of words. Economy of movement. The subtle seen in the movie The Devil Wears Prada by Miranda Priestly. Meryl Streep acting out Anne Wintour the former editor of Vogue Magazine.

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The Devil Wears Prada Charmaine and I previewed the movie for our girls. Meryl/Anne was perfect.

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Vogue MagazineCommanding leadership that was understated. And sociopathic.

Meryl Streep expressing disapproval would (barely) purse her lips. An eyebrow raised a millimeter.

An inverse ratio: Small movements/Big command.

So. If you want to command and communicate. Be quiet. Be still.

Nuance and Silence.

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PS I didn’t get the job, although it was not the headhunter’s fault. Your Business Blogger is such a slow learner…

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Full Disclosure: Charmaine once made the pages of Vogue. Described Fully Dressed.

Dream Logic has Maureen Dowd link.

Redux has YouTube clip.

Larry Summers Speaks Up for ROTC; Gets Fired

July 5, 2006 | By | No Comments

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Harvard ROTC

CommissioningThese two events are not connected. Directly.

Causation? Maybe. Correlation. Certainly.

Your Business Blogger was recently reminded that it is possible to get an army commission at Harvard.

Lefty gentleman Jody Wheeler writes/links in Fluke that it is not impossible these days to get an ROTC commission at Harvard.

Sort of.

Raphael C. Rosen, co-authors Profile in Courage in Jim Glassman’s TCSDaily. Rosen notes about Harvard President Summers that,

Yet another controversy has been the place of the military on campus which, in Harvard’s case, is effectively non-existent.

But Wheeler is right.

But.

The military program is effectively non-existent; is a head fake. For two reasons:

1) Cadets drill at nearby MIT, so as not to infect Harvard with any sense of patriotism, and

2) The ROTC program is supported with private funds.

Harvard lent only the logo to the commissioning. And its hated president, Larry Summers. The commissioning was cheered by the hated Rumsfeld.

Richard Posner writes on the Summers Resignation,

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Larry Summers at the commissioning

A few comments portray Summers as a political reactionary, noting for example his effort to bring back ROTC to Harvard. Summers is of course a Democrat who served in the Clinton Administration. He recognized that it was not good for Harvard to be monolithically left wing. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, a person’s critical faculties are apt to atrophy if he is surrounded by like-minded people who do not question his ideas and opinions. Nor would it be inappropriate for Summers to believe that Harvard’s influence on public policy is needlessly diminished by unpatriotic institutional decisions, such as excluding military recruiters and instruction from the university.

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Fem-FearBut the Harvard ROTC commissioning ceremony is a start to bring back the Old School into the new world. If the feminists can be beaten.

After all, John Harvard was a Jesus-loving, Bible-thumping Puritan.

Harvard as a Divinity School. Now that would be Progressive.

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Read more on the Fem-Fear at Khankrumthebulgar

See Advocates for Harvard ROTC.

Also see segal org for ROTC funding at Harvard.

See Nothing on Harvard.

Full Disclosure: Your Business Blogger’s education was partially funded by the Army’s ROTC program.

Mudville Gazette has Open Post.