Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More Surgery

Having some surgery tomorrow so I'll be out of circulation for a week or so...you know, undernourished and over-medicated. Probably will be feeling like crap so it's best that I don't try to engage anyone on a social level. While you're waiting for my return you might want to read some of my former exploits in the hospital. I'm already practicing pick-up lines to use on the nursing staff.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS

Meseret Defar of Ethiopia gives thanks after winning gold
in the women's 5000 meter race in the 2012 Olympics in London.



I take a certain pride in watching great Olympic athletes like Usain Bolt and David Rudisha make the sign of the cross before they compete. Even more satisfying perhaps was watching Meseret Defar take a picture of the Blessed Mother and Christ Child out from beneath her jersey and hold it up to the sky in celebration of and thanksgiving for her victory in the women's 5000 meter final in London. It makes me feel good to have something in common with them, even though, while they represent the pinnacle of athleticism, I have trouble getting up out of a chair.
The same is not true for other notable Catholics, especially the ones in politics. For example, I get no pride, take no pleasure, and feel no commonality with Nancy Pelosi or Paul Ryan. That either of them is Catholic is a source of embarrassment for me. Not so embarrassing as pedophile priests and cover-up bishops, but troubling nonetheless. They too are at the pinnacle of their game, while I, thankfully, am not capable of the Machiavellian twists of moral rectitude required to ever excel at politics.
I don't think Pelosi and Ryan are whole Catholics. I don't think they 'get it' in the sense of being in full communion with the Church and her teachings. I think Pelosi slept right through everything having to do with the sanctity of life, and Ryan was somewhere else when they covered social justice.
Both of them apparently think of themselves as devout. Meanwhile 50 million dead babies churn in Pelosi's wake, sacrificed on the altar of Choice, and Ryan would have millions of the impoverished and disenfranchised lift themselves up by their own mostly non-existent bootstraps while he strips away the programs that might actually give them a leg up.
I can't see either one of them making the sign of the cross before a session of congress, or even asking God to bless their deliberations and sanctify their thinking. If they do, I'm pretty sure that He hasn't answered.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

TEN BITS OF WISDOM THAT NEED TO BE RETIRED



I spent 14 years in public accounting practice, 20 years in manufacturing management, and 2 years operating my own business. I learned a few things along the way. I learned some things that can't be put into textbooks, and some others that shouldn't be discussed in polite company.
Since I learned a great deal of it at the hands of fools, charlatans, thieves and pirates, not very much of it is stuff that I can mention in an interview—not that I'm ever likely to score another interview. You're not supposed to say negative things about your former employers in an interview. Sounds like sour grapes. Brands you for a bad attitude.
Be that as it may, it's all still useful information. It's part of a body of experience that enhances my acumen and gives me a basis of reference in which to frame sound decisions. It makes me valuable, even if my value is, by force of circumstance, lusterless. My worth is not readily apparent, nor even much in demand. It is real.
Too bad, really. I think a lot of organizations could profit from my experience. Knowing what not to do, how not to proceed, is more than a little useful when some young whippersnapper MBA sets out to shake things up based on what he learned in school...or even worse, when some overwrought executive tries to manage a unique organization in a unique situation using platitudes he read in Business Week.
Platitudes are the death of creative thought. Platitudes become rules that govern behavior that ought to be governed by circumstances. Platitudes are buzzwords of the mind. Platitudes are conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom begets conventional results.
Some platitudes spill over into life outside of work. They take on a broader, more pervasive, and more dangerous life. They end up fueling the kind of mind-numbing mediocrity that makes reality TV possible, the kind of wholesale disregard for accuracy and truthfulness that characterize the current presidential election cycle where candidates can say virtually anything that they think will advance their cause and a good 98% of voters will either believe or not believe based solely on what makes them feel better.
Here are some bits of conventional wisdom that need to be retired because they've either lost their meaning or didn't have much to start with:

  1. It is what it is. Really? This is the business equivalent of Que sera sera. Usually uttered as a kind of lament that things have come to this sorry pass, and it's time to deal with it, what is left unsaid is that, most often, things should never have got to this point. It's because somebody didn't do their job early on that hard choices have to be made now. If you do actual productive, value-added work, you understand that hard choices mean somebody is going to lose their job, and it's not going to be the fool that screwed up in the first place. Stop saying 'it is what it is' because what it is is something it didn't have to be.
  2. Think outside the box. This is never a good place to start thinking. Stuff is inside the box for a reason. Somebody else has already given it a lot of thought. The stuff inside the box usually works quite well. Sometimes it's been working so well for so long that people have forgotten the reason for it. This does not in any way diminish its usefulness. It's okay to think outside the box, but you shouldn't start there. You shouldn't think outside the box until you have exhausted what's inside the box.
  3. Bring a sense of urgency. Managers who say this want you to treat everything you do as if your job depended on it. Sadly, if you work for one of these managers, it just might. Urgency ought to be reserved for urgent matters. Bringing a sense of urgency to the mundane just increases the likelihood that you will screw up. Slow and methodical wins the race because you don't have to do anything twice...or thrice. The problem with urgency is that the more you expend, the more is required. The faster you go, the more undone and incorrectly done things pile up on your plate. Urgency is like a fuse. When it's burned to the end, something blows up.
  4. The higher the risk the greater the reward. This probably used to be true, but the Wall Street compensation model has turned it on it's head. Wall street has insulated itself from risk. Speculators can take spectacular risks, reap spectacular rewards, and when they screw up they are backstopped by the government. This means the taxpayers. That's bad enough, but the risks they take on Wall Street are often taken with investor money. This also means taxpayers. The taxpayers are at risk twice, and all the money—both times—goes to pay big Wall Street bonuses. Just last week, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate got burned to the tune of $700 Million in it's derivatives portfolio. Buffett is thought to be the savviest investor on the planet by many. Buffett doesn't even like derivatives, so his exposure was on the light side. Still, somebody got Warren's money because in every derivative contract there is a winner and a loser. Except of course when the loser can't pay. (Remember AIG?) Then the taxpayers have to make up the difference so that the winners don't suffer. After all, they won, didn't they.
  5. Sometimes you are the windshield. Sometimes you are the bug. This little ditty is so completely meaningless that it begins to sound like wisdom. 'Sometimes you are the driver, and sometimes you are the bug,' makes much more sense. The windshield is just there. Sometimes it gets bugs on it. This is especially true in May and September in Florida when the love bugs are out in force doing what they do. As a way to die, this one is as good as any—in flight and getting your freak on. In terms of platitudes, this one is like a pair of bugs splattered on you windshield. If you're the driver, you're going to have to clean up the mess. The problem is there's no real upside. Bug, windshield, or driver, it doesn't matter. You're screwed.
  6. There's no such thing as a free lunch. Oh yes there is. Just ask Mitt Romney. He gets a lot of free lunches. He's trying to arrange it so he gets even more. Rich people get away without having to pay their own freight. This has been true forever. Mark Twain's delightful little short story, “The £1,000,000 Bank-Note,” is proof enough. If people think you're rich, they cut you slack they would never cut for regular folks. They give you free stuff. They curry favor. They suck up. After a while the rich begin to feel like they have done something to merit all the deferential treatment. They begin to believe that they are somehow better than the rest of us. They let their sense of entitlement grow unchecked. Sooner or later they get the idea they would make a good president, or, as I like to call it, Oligarch-in-Chief. Better yet, they get the idea, not unlike the Koch Brothers, that they can buy a president and as many legislators as it takes to permanently rig the game in their favor. There is this much truth in the platitude, though. Somebody still has to pay for the lunch. It's just not the guys who eat it.
  7. You make your own luck. Not so much. You can be more or less attuned to your fortune according to the dictates of your personality. You can even change the number of bars in your 'good fortune' signal with forethought and focus. What you can't change is the fortune that actually comes your way. Some of it is completely arbitrary—capricious even. Some of it is sponsored by the guys above who are eating free lunch at your expense. If you are having a run of good luck, recognize it for what it is. Do not nurture the notion that you probably had it coming to you because if you do that, when you then consider the plight of those who have not been so fortunate, you will likely have become a dick.
  8. There's no I in TEAM. Well, there's no TEAM in innovation either. Just try to think of one really great idea that came out of a committee.
  9. Time is money. This has been crap since its inception. Time is way more valuable than money. It always has been. It always will be. You can earn money with time, but you can't buy time with money.
  10. Give 110%. Can't be done. Everybody know this, so why say something this stupid? Maybe it's just the precise nature of my accountant's dark heart that finds this so objectionable. I prefer to think it's because even in the purely metaphorical sense, this is just bad advice. The best you can hope to give to anything on a consistent basis is about 70%. The rest of your systemic capacity is taken up with staying alive and working out your next meal. If you are still single, you lose another chunk of fundamental effort, both voluntary and involuntary, to the search for a satisfying relationship...however you choose to define it. So,  realistically, you've got somewhere between 40 and 70% of usable productive capacity left over to devote to the dumb ass who's asking for 110%. If you give everything you've got left, you're going to burn out, and sooner rather than later. Then you'll have even less juice than you've got now. You need to hold something in reserve for when you really need it. Whoever is asking for 110% will not know when that is. They have let their sense of urgency overwhelm their faculties so they are useless to the rest of us. This is why they are in management...or consulting...or politics...instead of doing anything productive. Chances are pretty good that whoever first came up with this 110% idea did it in a committee.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

THE GRAND IRONIES OF MODERN POLITICS



Rex W. Huppke lamented the death of Facts on April 18th of this year in an obituary in The Chicago Tribune. He cited Florida Republican Representative Allen West's assertion, “without a scrap of evidence or reason”, that as many as 81 Democratic members of the House of Representatives were communists.
While West's assertion seems an egregious example of abandonment of the truth to make a point, it is by no means the most dangerous kind of lie. The kinds of people who would believe such an assertion are probably not capable of getting themselves into a voting booth with a proper ballot come election day, even if they manage to remember that it's the day they are supposed to take America back—whatever that means.
No, the truly dangerous non-facts are the ones that persuade otherwise intelligent citizens to embrace positions and policies that are in their own worst interests. Here are a few examples:

  1. Wall Street only needs Main Street
    until they have ALL the money.
     
    Working stiffs in the Tea Party who have been persuaded that more tax breaks for the rich and another round of gutting banking regulations will somehow make us all more financially secure. These poor schmucks still believe, after 30 years of contrary evidence, that the Laffer Curve works, and that supply side economic policies are good for the middle class. How they can still believe this after their wealth has been stripped and redistributed to a handful of Wall Street pirates is a mystery to me, but believe it they do...and with passion.

  2. So...if there weren't any guns
    we'd all be dead?
    Gun nuts in the NRA who get apoplectic the moment anyone suggests imposing some restrictions on access to combat assault weapons. These bozos think they are protecting the 2nd amendment and ensuring that a well-armed citizenry is able to keep an over-reaching and ambitious government from enslaving us. Meanwhile, we've all been enslaved by a handful of banks without a shot being fired. Instead of protecting their right to own firearms, which has never actually been under attack as near as I can tell, the rank-and-file, touting the NRA's official line, have made it not just possible but easy for true nut cases to arm themselves to the teeth with lethal firepower. The only reason we need guns to protect ourselves is that we have willfully and without much forethought armed the people we need to protect ourselves from.

  3. Capitalism doesn't bankrupt nations.
    Capitalists do.
    Humanities majors who have been persuaded by the more strident voices of the Occupy movements that the same corporations that have brought us automobiles, computers, wireless communications, high definition TV, instant hair color, and Oreo cookies are in fact a monolithic cabal of evil that ought to be eradicated as soon as possible. Proving that ignorance and illogic are at home in both ends of the political spectrum, these lunatics want to scrap Capitalism wholesale because a few bad actors were greedy and unethical. That they don't have any viable system to replace the Capitalism that has served us so well on most fronts for so many years does not seem to damped their enthusiasm for its dismantling. There are many things in the various and nebulous Occupy manifestos that need to be addressed, but overthrowing Capitalism is not one of them.

  4. I don't know who could object
    to being prayed for, but this gives
    you a pretty good idea where
    these women are coming from.
    Choice advocates who believe that a pro-life stance is a stand against women in general and women's health issues in particular. They want to make the debate about women's health rather than what it is really about, which is when does life begin. That the issue is not women's health is, I think, adequately demonstrated by a Finnish study that shows that women who have an abortion are 4 times more likely to die in the year following their abortion than women who carry their child to term. The difference is so statistically significant that it can scarcely be denied, yet Planned Parenthood and other abortion-on-demand advocates have tried to suppress the information, maintaining, among other things, that the study does not prove causation. This reminds me of the tobacco lobby denying any causative link between smoking and lung disease or the coal lobby's claim that global warming isn't real. The sad thing is that it is women with real difficulties who will suffer most from framing the debate this way.

  5. Whoops! Sometimes scripture cuts both ways.
    Conservative Christians—usually also evangelical fundamentalists—who actually believe that they can make a cogent and persuasive argument with an agnostic or atheist by quoting Scripture. There is a logic and symmetry to all God's laws that exist separate from and independent of the Christian understanding. It is embedded in creation, whether or not you accept Creation, and is accessible even to science, although it often takes a metaphysical poet to understand the connection. This is where people of faith need to go to prove their points, because faith has to stand up to a certain amount of scrutiny to be valid. There are an awful lot of well-meaning Christians, I think, who need to read more than just the one Book.