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October 29, 2001—How It Gets Better

As Good As It Gets. In the vastly amusing As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder -- and several other social/psycho afflictions that pervade society in the 21st century. The movie answers how sweet things can happen in a disturbed world of tormented people.

Obsession Is What It Takes. You probably know some obsessive people, and most likely you are one. Oddly enough, these pests, when at their best, are the origin of perfection or, as near as we come to it on earth. Obsessive-compulsives, you see, can produce pervasive order out of the disorder and chaos that surrounds us. In other words, they are the wonder boys of quality. That's how things get better.

Getting a Garden Out of a Truck Driver. Listen to friend Roger Holloway of River Edge Farms, who tells me what it takes to get something worthwhile out of technically competent but visually impaired crafts people:

"Not only are all tree men not gentlemen, all tree men are not tree men.
Beware the pick-up truck bearing shovel and chain saw and keep a close eye on overzealous undocumented workers. They can do more damage in 5 minutes than you can undo in 5 years!
I know a guy who is the absolute best at taking a landscape crew and transforming a bramble into an oasis in a remarkably short time but after 15 years or so of knowing him I have discovered that the only way to get what I want is to tell him to do the exact opposite. Never in that period of time have we ever had a dialog. He always acts as if everything I say makes perfect sense when I cannot for the life of me comprehend his train of thought.
You may have a similar situation. The difference between a wildlife habitat and a garden is very subjective and I have found that no amount of verbal communication is adequate to achieve your goal. You must stand watch, preferably with heavy weaponry and even then there are going to be casualties. Think about an industry where the low bid contractor gleefully proclaims 'I can keep my price low because my truck is paid for!'"


As you can see, Roger is a piece of work, and I love him for it. You must pour over every nuance if you want a tree to grow, a flower to turn into a painting.

Coffee and Wine. On the Global Province this week, we includes notes on Dr. Ernest Illy, who produces great expresso coffee with "114 quality-control checks." We also extract a few thoughts about Bernard Ginestet, Bordeaux's wine merchant extraordinaire whom New York Times columnist Frank Prial took to be "Bordeaux's enfant terrible." The fact is that quality does not come from Deming's statistical quality control, but from charming, broadly informed, terrible pains-in-the-neck like Illy and Ginestet. If you are trying to recapture quality in your life, look for some of these fellows.

Ahab. Andrew Delbanco, now writing a book entitled Melville's World, in The New York Times Book Review (October 28, 2001, pp. l3-14) portrays for us what it took to make Moby Dick happen. Melville had dozens of writing projects on his mind, but Ahab slowly pushed all others aside. Melville became as possessed by Captain Ahab as Ahab was by Moby Dick, the white whale. Herman was driven to elbow everything out of the way, especially his family, to get Ahab and the whale down on paper.

The book, incidentally, was a commercial failure, and Melville never recovered real popularity during his lifetime. At a certain point, the Melvilles and Ginestets turn out ambrosia and nector too rich for the palates of their countrymen.  To their annoyance, such pests of quality often are at odds with the populace whose acclaim they think they are seeking. In truth, they really want to be immortals. They are tiresome perfectionists often bound to die broke, bequeathing a fortune to all.

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