Petro Poroshenko is a Ukrainian oligarch who sees more money for his conglomerate and himself in greater ties with the E.U. Does it matter what the majority of the Ukrainian people want? NYT
Friday, December 6, 2013
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Lincoln's address was so short that the photographer only caught the president as he was returning to his seat. In the photo, Lincoln's head (below the leafless tree, just above the crowd-level, and facing the camera) is down, perhaps because he was already not feeling well. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
In terms of the mix, as 2012 and 2013 already demonstrated, the increasing number and intensity of Arctic forays southward have been outpacing the general warming of the areas subject to the Arctic air in the winter. In Chicago, for example, the growing season increased just a couple of weeks as suggested by the zenith of fall colors shifting back a week. This change was both more gradual and less dramatic than the enhanced shots of Arctic air a month or two before January.
During the first week of December 2013, for example, a “bitter blast” of “frigid weather pushed southward far into the United States. “This [air] comes directly from the Arctic,” according to Jon Gottschalck (head of forecast operations at the Climate Prediction Center). Already a heavy dose or two of Arctic air had gripped many states in November. This is not to say that the two months were nothing but a succession of sub-freezing days; rather, within a slightly shorter winter, the elongated troughs in the jet stream made it more likely that the crisp Arctic air would be carried further southward and more often.
Where the colder-oriented change is both quicker and more dramatic than the more general warming, people may be lulled into supposing that global warming must be some hoax by loner scientists with a strange sense of humor. Adding to the confusion is the scientific realization that climate change does not necessarily happen gradually, on the watch of some distant generation.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
At the time, a local franchisee (who referred to himself erroneously as "the owner") of a hardware store in a nice area of town hired an off-duty policeman as a security guard not just to contend with shoplifters, but also to intimidate customers whom "the owner" personally disliked by accosting them in order to force them out the front door without any warning or justification.
Enabling both the hardware and department store managers to over-reach by distending police authority, many of the locals had come to believe that police could legally enforce company policies that prohibit conduct that is nonetheless legal.
Being an ethicist rather than a lawyer, I was on more solid ground conversing with the ex-policewoman cashier at Target on business ethics.
"I just can't enable the mentality here by handing over money," I resolved.
Even at the local “colleges,” ignorance that can’t be wrong lords itself over naïve and sycophantic students and even a general public too easily intimidated by people flexing power under the rubric of positional or organizational authority.
At one local "college" serving as a high school extension, discovered while visiting that one associate "dean" had a squalid habit of eves-dropping while crouched behind a partial book shelf and another such "dean" had a policy of not speaking to students (only administrators). A full-time manager of one of the computer labs felt at liberty to march up and down the aisles at regular intervals without hiding by any means her invasiveness and disrespect for the users' privacy. That the IT department had a record of any porn or gambling sites visited by user-id did not matter; it was felt that students must see the enforcement, even if it suffered from the fact that users could easily minimize open windows as the bull approached.
Ironically, even at purported colleges, ignorance in the height of its pretentiousness can recognize neither itself nor its nemesis. Clutching at control cloaked by excessive, and thus ill-fitting "professional"-speak, stems from an exaggerated and erroneous set of negative assumptions regarding other people's intents. In actuality, the assumptions are projections of the control-obsessed person's own internal state.
Let's look at another example from a rather anti-intellectual setting in the city. While visiting a few summers before my adventure at the local Target, I was surprised to find hard-copy academic articles relevant to my research in the library of the local college that has since decided it is a university, if only on parchment, so to enable more foreign students to attend the over-priced institution. I must compliment the locals, as few non-alumni were fooled thanks to the elongated noses of the puppets selling the school.
One Sunday afternoon, I ventured over to the college's library to pull volumes of the journal, laying open each of the desired articles on a table. The normal research routine (at least before the onslaught of electronic versions) was so apparently so foreign to the old security guard (research being exogenous there) that he followed me around and finally stood outside the bathroom stall for several minutes while I was inside. According to a student with a clear view of the bathroom door from the outside, the security guard emerged from the bathroom and briefly talked with the reference librarian—a heavy-set man with the sort of mid-fifties look you might expect to find in a porn movie theatre rather than a "college" library. The "librarian" then hastily entered the bathroom, heading directly to my stall's door to force it open in spite of it being locked.
"Hey, I'm in here!" I exclaimed.
The "librarian" was clearly outside of his domain, for he weakly offered an excuse. "I didn't know anyone was . . ."
Instinctively, I interrupted, "But the door was locked FROM THE INSIDE!"
As if suddenly caught with his finger in the cookie jar, the otherwise phlegmatic "professional" quickly spun around and fled from the bathroom. He proceeded directly to ran out of the library!
"On a Sunday afternoon?" I fronted to the student working at the front desk. "Nothing is open here. How could he be in such a rush to get to another building? Maybe he ran back to his room." At the time, the reference librarian lived (or was staying) at one of the seedy, drug-infested motels nearby.
At the time, I thought of my recent conversation with a family friend who worked as a social worker. She had mentioned that a pediphile priest had comfortably resided and worked at the largest Catholic congregation in town until "relatively recently." What sort of mentality would at the very least not keep an eye out for priests who rape kids while firing a mature music director for being gay? The retrenched "social conservatism" that so resists change and giving some control to the younger generations (including 30s and 40s!) as evinced at one of the local country clubs cannot fully explain the strange priorities of people in authority in my hometown.
As for the gray-haired guard at one of the local colleges, who was probably protected because he was married to one of the history instructors, he would not be fired for his role in the intimidation (neither would the librarian). Instead, the guard was fired two years later, and then only because of his "lack of social skills," according to the college's director. It was clear to me that the guard had either been rude to paying students or, more likely, to other staff. He had not been fired for turning the lights off on a young foreign student late one night on the otherwise deserted second floor of the pretentious library. Scared in the dark with only her and the guard on that floor, the student easily saw through to the sordid old man's motive; he sought to intimidate her merely because she refused to leave thirty minutes before closing time. I suspect that he and/or the student workers on duty wanted to go home early. Laziness backed up with presumptuous aggression is unfortunately no stranger in my Heimstadt.
A bus driver known for verbally attacking passengers for years had allegedly beat up a passenger walking away from the bus more than a decade before Thanksgiving 2013. According to my source, the driver repeatedly smashed the passenger's bloody head on the cement sidewalk before warning, "I'm gonna call the police so you better get outta here." To his superiors, the driver would claim he acted in self-defense (the buses not yet being equipped with cameras). To his colleagues (including a future supervisor), he brazenly bragged of his aggression, providing the municipal mass transit with one hell of an open secret.
Hearing the account, I wondered about the absence or irrelevance of any witnesses. This struck me as odd. When the same driver allegedly refused to continue driving an early-morning bus carrying people going to work because a boarding passenger refused to throw out an open soda can (only the drinking being against the company's policy), the other passengers must surely have complained about the driver threatening to call the police (as if police enforce company policies in addition to laws) and then demanding that the managers at the base send out a security guard to remove the "offending" passenger. Did the mass transit managers ignore the complaints or treat the incident as minor? Would anyone of sound mind conclude that making people late to work because of an open soda can is in any way normal rather than pathological?
According to my source, the driver did not resume the route until the guard arrived and threw the passenger off. Presuming an equivalence between (actual rather than Bieber-like) police arresting shoplifters (i.e., thieves) and police responding to a breach of a company's policy suggests a power-trip that overstates the legal status of policy and therefore the driver's own authority. Ignorance that can't be wrong, backed up by whatever authority it thinks it has, is very dangerous, especially when mixed with anger and invasive arrogance into a potent cocktail. Welcome to my hometown, in a nutshell.
More than a decade after the bloody head-bashing crime, another driver made fun of a disabled passenger boarding, and still another driver would awkwardly (i.e., to evade the camera's view) push along a mentally challenged black man of college age because the driver was 15 minutes late; the managers would not accept the testimony of a witness (since everyone knows that witnesses lie), so both drivers evaded being fired and arrested; unlike a "ghetto" driver whom the supervisors had pushed out informally so as to cowardly avoid resistance from the union, the boorish, aggressive drivers "follow the rules to a T" and do not complain about the management, so the supervisors protect them. That those drivers and no doubt others too feel sufficiently protected to make up their own rules and threaten police action to enforce the "company policies" against passengers who dare question the "new rules" points to the existence of a culture of disabled (or pathological) accountability and a related presumption of impunity.
In the remainder of this essay, I apply and build on the philosophy of Fredrick Nietzsche, a late nineteenth-century European philosopher. The bestowing enablers as well as their store clerks, "college" employees, and bus drivers in my native city are illustrative of what Nietzsche refers to as the weak who seek to dominate by substituting cruelty for innate self-confidence. Ignorance that can't be wrong is backed up by whatever little plot of authority it has to lord over other herd animals and even subdue the strong. The rouge rage rioting just below the surface in the troubled abusers and even their feckless accomplices "higher up" is actually pent-up resentment of the strong as if strength could be weakness. The passive-aggression of over-kill on whatever control can be mustered on a little turf of authority enables the dwarfs on stilts to punish the strong for being strong (e.g., looking beyond, rather than acknowledging the presumed importance of, the weak).
Nietzsche contends that the strong are gullible to the "Thou Shalt Not" of the new birds of prey wielding modern (i.e., Judeo-Christian) morality as a velvet weapon. How the self-confident strong could be vulnerable to the herd animals whose instinct for power easily outstrips the weakness within is difficult to fathom. So I submit a more direct way in which weak birds of prey can gain a momentary advantage by bending the self-confidence of the strong by means of actual and even invented power. By leveraging any actual authority to invent even more and then insisting that the "new rules" must be obeyed "or else," the bloated arrogance on stilts presumptuously looks down on the strong and intentionally treats them as still more herd animals. In positing this dynamic, I am attempting to answer Nietzsche's unanswered question of how the strong could ever compromise their innate self-confidence and thus strength due to pressure from the weak who seek to dominate. Weakness over strength would seem to violate some natural law.
That the strong are indeed subject to the actual authority of the weak birds while remaining on their tiny turfs is the key point here. The strong must come to view the various turfs as dispensable to deprive the angry weak of their snare. How is it that the noble strong find themselves suddenly subject to real and purported-as-real binding authority from below? Perhaps the strong, being human too, must go to Target to buy a desired electronic accessory at a sales price available only at Target. Perhaps a self-confident student must attend a college run by dysfunctional administrators to get a scholarship sufficient to enable the student to go to college (given parental financial problems). Perhaps an corporate executive must either take a bus to reach a meeting in time (or otherwise walk five miles) because no taxi will be available for an hour. The strong can indeed find themselves at the mercy of psychological dwarfs not equipped for their own domain of power.
Even so, I suspect that the strong could do more to seek out viable albeit less convenient alternatives. Where circumstances do not present the possibility of alternatives, the strong could do more to avoid the pungent terrain of the cruel yet smiling pit-bull dogs by deciding to do without desired things that are only obtainable by going into the small pens. Being more willing to sacrifice so as to steer clear of the new birds of prey may require recognition that weakness can indeed inflict itself on the strong in spite of the nature of weakness to undercut itself. The strong may naturally resist according the weak birds of prey with even the respect entailed in recognition, for it is certainly not deserving of being rewarded at all from above. Yet the power that the strong give to the aggressive, over-reaching functionaries in expending effort to avoid their feudal lands is only to be rid of any further acknowledgement, not to mention whiff, of the bad air.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The New York Times reported in mid-November 2011, “Major chains like Target, Macy’s, Best Buy and Kohl’s say they will open for the first time at midnight on Thanksgiving, and Wal-Mart will go even further, with a 10 p.m. Thanksgiving start for deals on some merchandise. . . . To be at or near the front of the line, shoppers say they will now have to leave home hours earlier — in the middle of the turkey dinner for some.” Of course, Wal-Mart stores would be open all day, as usual; the significance of midnight lies only in terms of the sales; the stores would still need to be staffed all day. In 2012, 10 p.m. became the new normal. Two years later, 8 p.m. (20:00h) earned the distinction. Four hours into Thanksgiving was apparently enough for Kmart to “go all the way,” opening at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving. Old Navy extended back to 9 a.m. It is amazing how fast a trickle from a few cracks can turn into a deluge, especially when profit is the force beckoning the water down-stream.
Resisting the smooth flow in 2011, an apparent anti-entropic energy-attractor was on track to blaze a new path. Bill Gentner, senior vice president for marketing for J.C. Penney, refused to go along with herd down the easiest path of energy transduction, which can paradoxically render the person, species, or human organization less fit to adapt via natural selection. “We wanted to give our associates Thanksgiving Day to spend with their families,” Gentner said just before Thanksgiving in 2011. In standing on this principle, the management group at J.C. Penney voluntarily resisted the “quick buck” (i.e., pulling in money as soon as possible) and perhaps even held business calculation at bay in the face of a normative societal “constraint.”
Lest I am “gilding the lily” (i.e., painting a halo around Bill Gentner’s head), J.C. Penny’s management may also have been seeking to amass reputational capital with the intent to “spend” it to increase sales revenue beyond 2011. The company could then be fitter in adapting to a nonlinear (i.e., chaotic) business environment, and thus more likely to survive through the cumulative cascades of natural selection. Linking evolutionary theory to thermodynamics and applying the fused thrust to business, I contend that capturing and concentrating energy in the battery, or storage cell, of reputational capital enables a company to survive under the pressures of natural selection by functioning as a transductor of energy along a high energy gradient.
Unlike floating down-stream with the other fish, adding to the swirling force of an eddy enables an enterprise act as a conduit on a much steeper energy-gradient. Concentrating acquired energy rather than merely passing it through as though a digestive track is requisite to taking the road less travelled down steeper energy-gradients than those in the status quo. Similar to the time value of money, the delayed gratification enabling an enterprise to ski on a steeper slope renders the organization more fit or adapted to its environment and thus profitable beyond tomorrow. In other words, functioning as an energy-conduit along a steeper gradient profits a business in terms of natural selection, and thus a more secure continued viability.
Alternatively, taking the alternative route, the more convenient one, ultimately leads to extinction. Typically, convenience knows itself as a lie. For example, Holly Thomas, one of Macy’s spokespersons, wrote in an email in 2011 regarding employees working on Thanksgiving, “There are many associates who would prefer to work this time as they appreciate the flexibility it affords their schedules for the holiday weekend.” As if referring to a summer baseball team rather than employees, Molly Snyder, a spokesperson at Target, said that her company does its “best to work around the schedules of [its] team members.” Nevertheless, a Target employee told me that the store managers do not in any sense do their best to accommodate exogenous schedules of the underlings. In going with a bland subterfuge rather than adapting to societal norms, Target's management put the company at odds with the principle of natural selection.
The lure of instant gratification in lieu of reputational capital and fitness to survive the accretions of natural selection over time can easily short-circuit efforts to charge the battery at the expense of increased sales revenue in the short term. Sadly, the management at J.C. Penny succumbed in 2012 to opening stores at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. The following year, the company joined many others in opening at 8 p.m. (20:00h). Nothing punctures a pressurizing balloon quite like that the piercing edge of hypocrisy. Put another way, having stores open on Thanksgiving evening not only cuts into or even eliminates Thanksgiving dinner (i.e., in the evening) for many store managers and non-supervisory employees, but also sends the passive-aggressive message that they don’t count after all. Actions speak louder than words.
So J.C. Penny’s management wimped out, or lapsed back to the bottle yet without hitting bottom. Being less fit than otherwise to navigate the turgid currents in natural selection over the long term, the retail giant risked being caught unaware should a careening stone hit a sweet spot from a smaller foe releasing a burst of (stored) potential energy to take advantage of a steep energy gradient. From this tale, we can now recognize the tyranny of the road most travelled as a well-worn, deep-rutted path of self-destructive (i.e., dysfunctional) business strategy. In other words, business as usual is woefully far indeed from good business management. Nevertheless, the vast majority of management groups in companies are under the false impression that scientific management has optimized modern management. While technical coordination aimed at the perfection of efficiency is important to a business functioning as an energy-attractor and transductor along a steep slope, the size and depth of the shared blind-spot bewilders me and beguiles the pro-business American society at large. If I am correct, business could be done much, much better.