Clash – The Unofficial and Completely Unsanctioned 2016 Presidential Debate Drinking Game

 

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Downloadable (with the adult options feature enabled) from Drivethrucards.com

I am pleased to announce that a game that I was one of the designers of is finally available as a downloadable printable PDF.  Yes – you will need to print your own deck.  Clash is the first product of Shock Monkey Games (which I’m a proud team member).  Working with Brent Evans (of BattleTech and Shadowrun fame) and Ryan Zimbelman and the rest of the Shock Monkey team, we put together something that is quick, easy and fun.  We had to keep the rules easy – because you may be consuming alcohol.  

Let’s be honest – this year’s Presidential debates are going to be the most watched in US history.  They are destined to outshine even the Lincoln Douglas debates in terms of outright debauchery (by both candidates).  You know you’re going to be watching the debate, much like a slow-motion train wreck.  And if you’re going to watch the debates, getting drunk during the process seemed as American as apple pie – especially given the two debaters.  Alcohol and politics go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Drinking and politicians are the foundation on which the US has thrived for centuries (which explains a lot I might add.) 

Some Sample Cards…  Kinda cool eh?

You can play clash without watching the debates too.  Just turn on Fox News or MSNBC — every night until November is a new session.

So I crafted a very simple (since people will be drinking) card game based on key words or phrases that are destined to come up in the debate.   Of course with each passing day, new phrases are coming up.  Who would have thought that “pneumonia” or “deplorables” might be possible words to pop-up?  So we made some expansion packs – which we add to every other week or so. 

The first three expansions are up too – 18 cards each.  Expansion one – Post Convention Blues; Expansion two – This time it’s personal…; Expansion three – Basket of pneumonia. If you haven’t figured out – this is a sarcastic/snarky game you can play.

We did a few high quality decks just for our friends.  Because of the constant change, we ‘re doing these as printable PDF files available through Drivethrucards.com.  Note:  The game is listed as adult content (hello…there’s booze involved), so you have to set up an account first and make sure you are approved for adult content.  All you have to do is give them your email and password – and enable “Adult Content.”  

Hey, it’s cheap ($4.99 for the starter set and rules and $1.99 for each expansion) and

bound help kill the painful and highly entertaining moments during the Presidential Debates.  I encourage folks to go out and download the game – and share the news with your friends. 

In a blatant bit of self-promotion, I encourage you to share this with your politically charged friends – regardless of their party.

Cheers!

Movie Review – Sully

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“Houston we have a…oh, wait, wrong film…”

Tom Hanks finally shakes his string of travel films gone awry – having nearly died in Apollo 13 and being stranded on an island in Castaway.  Hanks, playing Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, does what we all expected in the film – making a water landing on the Hudson and saving the lives of all his passengers and crew.

We all think we know the story.  We don’t.  This film does an absolutely fantastic job of opening the curtain and taking us behind the hell of a man suddenly thrust into the media spotlight while being drawn into the bureaucratic scrutiny of his peers.  What we see, when the curtain is pulled back, is an outstanding acting performance by a seasoned veteran, well worthy of Oscar consideration.

What makes this movie work is that we all know the story.  Rather than lead off with the 208 seconds that made Sullenberger and his co-pilot heroes, this film tells that story throughout.  The viewer is given many different perspectives of this crisis, each one rewarding and satisfying on a whole new level.

When the movie was over – there was applause in the theater.  Seriously.  Not since Joy have I heard that in a theater.

In a summer where Hollywood has struggled to get our attention and keep it – with retreads of old films, Sully is a solid feel-good film.  There are moments of humor that shatter the thick underlying tension of the movie.  We are sucked into one man’s personal hell, and he emerges on the other side an even greater hero.

Sully is a five out of five stars.  Go to it.  Take your kids.  You’ll be gripping your hand-rests and your eyes will water at all of the right times.  #Sully

My Secret Identity…

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“I am Ironman…”  Naa, but at times it kind of feels that way.

Many of you know this but for those that don’t – I do actually have a full-time job.  I am an Associate Director at Ernst & Young (EY) working in organizational change management.  At night and on weekends, I am an author.  In many respects, it’s a slightly schizophrenic lifestyle.  The Blaine Pardoe that works 45+ hours a week at one of the Big Four professional services firms is different from the Blaine Pardoe that is the New York Times Bestselling Author.

I’ve had people Google me and compare photos.  Seriously.  Trust me – I’m me.

The Blaine Pardoe that is the author does do his part fighting crime – writing about true crime cold cases.  That Blaine gets to go to sci-fi conventions and sign books and play games.  He has been a speaker at venues such as the US National Archives and even a few times at the US Naval Academy.  He has been mentioned on the floor of the US Congress for his military history books.  The author Blaine Pardoe does TV and radio interviews on his works.  Hollywood is looking into one of his books for a possible movie deal.  That Blaine Pardoe has reinvented himself many times in his writing career, exploring new genres.  The writer known as Blaine Pardoe is actually pretty cool.  His wife likes to compare him with Castle – profession-wise anyway (I apparently lack Nathan Fillion’s good looks.)

My day job allows me to have my secret identity.  Being a successful writer doesn’t necessarily come with bags of cash.  I’m still trying to crack that proverbial nut.  At my day job, I have a flexible work arrangement so I do work at home most of the time.  EY provides me the kind of work-life balance that allows me to huddle in my Fortress of Solitude/Batcave and go out at night and fight crime.  I respect that from my employer. That respect is paid with hard work and long hours (when necessary).

A few years ago I met an internal auditor who had the task of purchasing my books and reading them to make sure I didn’t misrepresent the firm.  That was two steps past awkward.  A part of me was mad, but then I realized that EY was buying my books – so the mercenary in my soul kicked in and the anger washed away.  Still, the thought of Big Brother watching me was creepy.  It was also pretty funny.  That was years ago though…I’m sure they aren’t still monitoring me…right?

In my writing-alter ego, no one ever really asks about my day job.  However in my day job, from time-to-time, people find out that I am also a writer and it comes up in conversation.  For example:  This week I was in a meeting in McLean and one of the first introductory questions that came up was, “What do you do outside of work?”  Nice icebreaker, but there’s no good way to dodge that kind of question.  As such, I always handle it awkwardly.  It’s like Bruce Wayne talking about Batman…you have to choose your wording really carefully.  I don’t deny that I’m the author, but it is sometimes a little strange discussing it with people out of context.  At work the typical topics are not very exciting…not true at all when you are researching and writing a book.

I’m also quite sure that being a successful author has hurt my career.  One senior leader told me once, “I just don’t see how you can be dedicating yourself 100% of the time to your job when you are off doing this stuff on the side.”  Ouch.  The implication was clear, I was somehow cheating my employer – that was his explanation for why I was a successful writer in the “real world.”  The fact that I have two careers wasn’t an accomplishment to him, it was a ding on my work ethic at the only job he chose to acknowledge.  Sadly, over the years, he’s not the only person to cast dispersion’s about how I manage my time.  They seem to ignore how I consume my vacation time to do book tours or conduct interviews. I am sure (though unproven) that behind closed doors, this aspect of my life has held me up from promotions or other opportunities.

You would think they’d make me a poster-child for flexible work arrangements.  Instead I’m a suspect in crimes that are unspoken or unknown.  I accept that my having a life outside of work is a CLM (Career Limiting Move). I don’t like it – but it is a small price to pay.

Whispers of “He must be hiding something…” nag me at times.  But the answer is simple.

I am hiding something.  My not-so-secret identity douchebags.

The War on Employee Loyalty

Eyes
Beware the Corporate Overlords are watching!

Labor Day seems appropriate for my latest observation about corporate culture.  The Corporate Overlords, the mysterious demigod (in their mind) leaders have been fighting a titanic global war in the last few years – one that has hit thousands of organizations.  This is a comprehensive all-out war on employee loyalty.  This undeclared war, while somewhat unintended, is still being waged and will have long-term implications on the workforce, productivity, and the very survival of some organizations.

At a time when businesses increasingly demand more from their people, they actively take steps to drive them away.  Organizations expect long working hours, demand their staff stay connected 24×7 (even on their private mobile devices), and set output expectations that often require extended working hours and weekends just to tread water.  The war on employee loyalty would be comical if it wasn’t so funny.

Loyalty is a fickle thing.  In this context it is the commitment of the employee to the organization.  That can reflect itself in several ways; an employee’s willingness to work more hours, their ability to handle more workload, a desire by the employee to provide exceptional service or quality, the drive to do better, etc.  At its most basic level, it can be defined as employees simply remaining at the organization.  Above and beyond that, it is the employees taking extra measure, working harder or longer, or exercising exceptional effort to improve quality, productivity, and workplace culture.  These are all things that any leader or organization should value.  It’s all about commitment.

You would think organizations would place a value on loyalty…that there would be Directors of Loyalty or Loyalty Czars (or my suggestion “Lord of Loyalty.”)  You would also be delusional.  While organizations want (or outright demand) loyalty, they believe it should be unconditional.  In other words you have it and the company doesn’t want to invest in getting it. It’s as if your paycheck alone should garner your unswerving and undying support…as mere thanks for the opportunity to perform above-and-beyond.

Just typing this last sentence I threw up a little in the back of my mouth – no joke folks.

One reason that many organizations don’t place any importance on employee loyalty is they cannot tangibly measure it or its benefits.  It’s a lame excuse at best.  Oh sure, you can look at staff turnover rates, but most managers scoff at such numbers with the whine, “well, that’s not uncommon for our industry.”  This leads to employee satisfaction surveys.  These surveys don’t directly reflect the bottom-line profits, so leaders feel free to disregard the findings of such surveys.  The mentality is “if I can’t measure it, it must not be important.”  Even more entertaining is when results of such surveys are presented, leadership can twist the results to fit their own agenda.  “Oh, they rated us low there because they were confused by the question?” or “That only was rated low because the week before the survey we did X.”  Rather than own the results, leadership blames the results on the suspected ignorance of their staff.  Winning!

Jim
Survey results obviously are the staff’s fault…

There is also the misguided belief that an employee’s level of satisfaction/loyalty is their problem. “I can’t make my people more loyal or happy,” is the war-cry of the insipid and incompetent leader.  That is true. At the same time what leaders can do is create an environment where employees have the opportunity to be satisfied – thus generating loyalty.  To take the stand of, “there’s nothing I can do,” is a cop-out.

Another factor that comes into play is an assumption that staff are content and thus loyal.  Complacency and organizational “quiet” is considered by leadership as the byproduct of a happy and loyal workforce.  In reality, some organizations have little employee noise and friction because the free will and souls of the employees have already been crushed.  Those that speak out are often publicly punished.  Teams that stagnate or show signs of resistance are reorganized, merged, or disbanded.  Leadership takes on a Michael Vick role with the employees being their dogs.

Also chiseling away at loyalty is easy when you take away personal space in an office, going to free-roaming office space or open office spaces.  People used to have a place at work, even if it was a mauve burlap padded cubicle.  Companies have opted to strip that away with hotelling of office space to save real-estate costs.

Employees struggle to build meaningful relationships with each other as well. With more workers being virtual, their physical ties to their organization or their colleagues are stretched thin.  You can work with someone for years and never meet them face-to-face.  Same with your leaders.  Virtual teams need to connect physically from time-to-time to help establish stronger interpersonal relationships.  Many companies have deliberately assumed that because people are working virtually that they don’t need to get together live occasionally.

Another factor chipping away at employee loyalty is the abundant use of antiquated performance review systems/approaches.  The majority of organizations still rely on performance review systems dating back to the 1980’s.  These backwards looking systems based on numeric ratings, bell curves, and often spotty feedback are more of an administrative burden than performance growth process.  Many organizations have tried to divorce salary increases from performance discussions, despite the fact they are intertwined.  For experienced employees, performance reviews have become more of an ordeal than a true chance to talk about careers.

The sourcing of labor; or rather that out-sourcing of labor, also contributes to a dip in employee loyalty.  With organizations seeking low-cost labor solutions, employees can often feel their jobs are constantly at risk.  Some companies generate a culture where segments of their staff are forced to deal with the threat of outsourcing as a daily occurrence.  While this career-equivalent of the Sword of Damocles hangs over their head, ready to sever it from their bodies, they are expected to work longer hours and be more committed to the organization that is threatening them.

Technology also plays a role.  Companies, attempting to curb costs, have flirted with BYOD – bring your own device.  So now the company expects you to bring your own computer or pad rather than provide you one.  They invade employees phones with apps that the employee doesn’t want, but is required for work.  The icing on the cake is that they set rules and policies about the use of your own personal mobile device because they require you to use it to connect to work.  Imagine your organization telling you what features you had to have on your private car simply because you use it to go to work.  That is exactly what is happening in many organizations when it comes to the mobile device you bought and paid for.

One might argue that this is not a war against employee loyalty…that these are merely cases of unintended consequences.  Oops – did we jump up and down on your loyalty – our bad! I understand that and I’m not implying that leaders are huddle off somewhere plotting to take down morale by coordinating these various initiatives and directions.  Let’s be honest, most leaders aren’t capable of this level of coordination or even devious thinking (wink).

Milton
You’re talking about my office – aren’t you?  How did you know? 

My counter to that is that all of these are based on leadership decisions; right, wrong or moronic.  The fact that leadership did not factor in the impacts on employee loyalty, or that they simply don’t care, essentially places the blame at the top levels of organizations. All of these strategies and impacts were chosen directions on the part of upper management.  They simply did not care about the impact on employee loyalty – or worse, presumed that the staff were so enamored with their leadership that it didn’t matter.

Uh oh, I threw up a little bit in the back of my mouth again.

Some organizations deal with poor loyalty as if it were a cancer to be cut out.  Their solution is to drive out the long-term employees and replace them with new staff from the outside.  Rather than cure the problem, they opt for amputation and limb replacement.  In such organizations staff is a commodity that one purchases like office supplies.  Ironically, the result is more reduced loyalty (duh!).

Where can workers turn to mount a defense in the war on loyalty?  If they are US workers – nowhere.  Many HR departments over the year have been effectively neutered; reduced to the role of mitigating lawsuits rather than defending the staff from the mindless onslaughts of senior leadership.  The war against loyalty is a lonely one, fought in stark mauve-colored cubicles under bland florescent lights and in dreary battered conference rooms in glass-windowed hells all across the globe.

I fully understand that companies have to manage costs and address shareholders profit worries, blah, blah, blah.  At the same time leadership has to look at the impacts on its workforce of strategic decisions and plays some weight and value on their people.  Loyalty is a precious commodity.  Without it you have less commitment – a feeling that individual contributions are unappreciated or disrespected.  Whittling away at employee loyalty destabilizes the staff and kills productivity – and even causes them to begin to question the legitimacy of their leaders Sacrilege!  You kick morale hard enough and you get staff that won’t spring in the air the next time you yell, “jump.”  They will simply glare at you with a glazed expression of remorse, emptiness, and only having fond memories of why they used to care about their jobs in the first place.

The war is being waged out there…and many of us were drafted without even our knowledge. To you, out there in the trenches, all I can say is you are not alone!  I’m not with you – my company is great – but I hear your cries from the trenches.  Soldier on!

For more on my twisted views of the workplace, check out my books – Business Rules and Cubicle Warfare.

New true crime book is out…Pump Arnold The Original Battle Creek King of Crime

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The Original Battle Creek Crime King: Adam “Pump” Arnold’s Vile Reign is finally out.  My daughter Victoria Hester and I penned this book and it is a neat Victorian-era look at a small city boss – Pump Arnold.

The idea for the book came to us from the folks at Heritage Battle Creek.  Mary Butler and Elizabeth Neumeyere suggested that Pump Arnold was worth looking into.  They were right.  Arnold was far from being a criminal mastermind…if anything he was very public and downright flaunting of his criminal escapades.  For several years it was rare that he was not in the newspapers for either going to court or being arrested.  His criminal enterprise was diverse – everything from illegal liquor sales, to arson, to bank fraud, to prostitution.  He ran a bar/casino in the “bad lands” of Battle Creek Michigan – clashing with the mayor, the press, law enforcement, and even his own lawyers. 

Ironically, the biggest seller of illegal hooch in the city was married to a member of the Women’s Christen Temperance Union (WCTU).  Arnold’s life was chock full of strange twists and irony.  His son, George, was essentially the town drunk, a very public drunk – like a violent version of Otis from the Andy Griffith Show.  Like Otis, George even showed up at the jail to check himself in!  The Arnold Clan’s clashes with the law all have a Keystone Cops feeling about it, set in the “wild west” era of Michigan’s history.  Arnold was so crafty that upon his death, he tricked the WCTU to erect his tombstone.  A man that wily practically demanded that a book be written about him.    

And while parts of this book are humorous, others are quite serious.  Pump Arnold murdered his own son George.  There is a Greek tragedy tone to their relationship and the fact that the father was the purveyor of what turned his son against them.  Their clashes were public; played out in the streets and in the press.  When George’s body was plucked from the frozen Battle Creek river all eyes turned to Pump as the perpetrator.  The trial was the “biggest in the history of Battle Creek.”  Citizens packed the street just to catch a glimpse of Arnold getting a shave. I have to admit the man was a true character.    

This is more of a traditional fare for true crime readers.  For me it was a break from writing about cold cases which tend to be emotionally and mentally exhausting.  The real challenge was to paint a picture of the setting for readers.  This is not the Battle Creek of “Cereal City” fame.  This was the era before Kellogg’s and Post when BC was more of a frontier town.  It’s a period that rarely gets written about. 

In writing this we had to delve into some interesting side journey’s as well.  For example:  I spent one entire week researching prostitution in early Michigan.  I got to work with historical societies in New York as well while on the trail of Pump’s earlier life.  As with any good story, you have to go where the research takes you.  Sometimes those places can be pretty strange.

The title – well, that’s the marketing staff weighing in.  I like having the word “vile” in there – you don’t see that on many books. I’m more of a fan of three word title books…but these allegedly know more about book marketing than me…  

It is always a treat to write a book with my daughter Victoria.  We kind of enjoy our status of being the only father-daughter duo writing true crime.  She tackled the hardest part of this project – Pump’s trial for murdering his son George.  We easily could have written another 15k words about the twists and turns of this almost comical trial.  I think my favorite part is that they brought a couch into the courtroom for Arnold to rest on, and that he verbally clashed with witnesses and his own defense team.    

Many of you probably think I have something against my hometown given the number of true crime books I’ve writing about mid-Michigan (Secret Witness, Murder in Battle Creek, The Murder of Maggie Hume, this book).  That’s not true.  In fact our next true crime book is not in Michigan but in my birth state – Virginia.  More on this in another blog post I promise!   

We are planning to go to Battle Creek mid-October for a few book signing events and lectures. 

Obviously I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Original Battle Creek Crime King: Adam “Pump” Arnold’s Vile Reign. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it. 

Book Review – The Lafayette Escadrille – by Steven A. Ruffin

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With the centennial of the Great War upon us I expected more books and interest in the Lafayette Escadrille.  This was, after all, a pioneering group of Americans that flew for France years before the US even declared war.  Most of its surviving members went on to be the nucleus of the American Air Service.  Without the Lafayette Escadrille and its larger fraternal organization, the Lafayette Flying Corps, the US Air Force might have begun as a debacle.  Instead it was seeded with these combat veterans.

When I heard Steve Ruffin had a book out on the subject I was excited.  In the last few years Jon Guttman and I both had written books on the Lafayette Escadrille – albeit mine was a biography of one of its more “unique” pilots, the rogue Bert Hall.  I had to wonder…would Ruffin’s book really be able to stand out?  There are a lot of books about this unit out there over the century since the war.

This one does stand out.

First, it is a photo history of the unit.  Ruffin hit some of the same places I did for photos of the unit.  What he brought to the table was context.  Paul Rockwell’s photos are in boxes down at Washington and Lee University.  Ninety-percent are unlabeled.  Steve Ruffin dove into that treasure trove (and others) and not only identified the men, but where they were and when they were there.   This book is chocked full of photographs, many of which we simply haven’t see.

Some of my favorite images Ruffin included were side-by-side shots of the men and machines, then a modern shot to show the same camera angle at the same locale today.  I loved these then-and-now images.  It is a testimony to how he must have buried himself in the research.

On top of that there are a lot of color images of the aircraft.

On the history itself, Mr. Ruffin did his work too.  He did not give us a glossed-over summary of the unit but instead went to archival sources to tell the story.  This is always a favorite of mine.  Let the men speak in their own words – with their own letters.

My only critique of the book, albeit minor, comes purely from a historian’s slant only.  It’s not footnoted.  I would have liked to know where the sources of some of the quotes he had came from.  And yes, that’s me being nitpicky, but I often find footnotes useful (and in some cases even entertaining).  On a personal note:  He dug up material that I missed in my own research when writing The Bad Boy, and I want to see where he found it!

Does Ruffin break new ground with this book?  Yes.  Some of the letters he has here have never seen the light of day in a century.  He gives us some new tid bits that will appeal to WWI aviation historians.

The Lafayette Escadrille – a Photo History of the First American Fighter Squadron, is available from Casemate Publishers for $37.95.  It is well worth it if you are an aviation enthusiast of the era.  If you are a buff, make sure you join the League of WWI Aviation Historians as well, www.overthefront.com 

Book Review – Failure of Justice – John Ferak

 

Failure of Justice

True crime is a genre with a lot of sub-categories.  There’s serial killers, non-murder crime books, mob/gang crime, cold cases, and most recently miscarriages of justice.  John Ferak’s book Failure of Justice falls into that latter category.

It is almost like a twisted season of Fargo (which is a compliment).  A woman is brutally raped and murdered in a small Nebraska town (Beatrice).  It is every small town in America.  The crime goes unsolved for four years.  Then deputy of questionable reputation (a failed pig farmer) picks up the case.  Through deception and coercion, one suspect after another is forced to turn against others, confession and implicating the others.  Only one of these alleged perpetrators digs his heels in and claims his innocence.  It is a spiderweb of unfounded accusations and confessions that have nothing to do with the physical evidence.  Soon the “Beatrice Six” are convicted on their own mutual words and sent off the prison.

And that’s just the start of the story!

What Ferak does is untangle this complicated plot, one spiderweb strand at a time.  What the reader comes to see is that these people, in some cases virtual strangers, have been manipulated by the legal system.  It is raw and unfair – and downright scary.  This could happen to anyone.  When you watch HBO’s outstanding “The Night Of…” it is a mirror of what the Beatrice Six went through.

John Ferak kept me in-line as a reader as he unravels this story – no small task given the complexities of the case and the number of characters involved.  Outstanding work here.  He takes us through the eventual release of these perpetrators and the pursuit of the real killer.

This is a story of horrific miscarriages (multiple) of justice – of small towns, bitterness, nepotism, and the gritty underbelly of almost every community.  I was riveted through the entire book and the level of detail provided is outstanding.

The only thing I can compare this too is Mardi Link’s Wicked Takes the Witness Stand, a similar story in the same sub-genre of true crime.

Failure of Justice should be required reading in law schools as a lesson in what not to do.