Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Profit Monster is kiling us...

This morning's New York Times carries a stunning story on the struggle of Fender Guitars to stay a viable business. 

What's killing Fender? The hungry PROFIT MONSTER that leaped out from under the bed when the original owner sold his company..

"Leo Fender sold his company to CBS for $13 million in 1965, but Fender struggled in the ensuing years to maintain its identity inside a big corporation. Analysts said that Fender, under pressure to meet quarterly earnings numbers, made a series of cost cuts that caused quality to suffer and sales to nosedive. "

For the sake of profit, Fender was sold as a profit-slave to CBS where it was no longer a beloved member of the family valued for its unique contributions. The only measure of its work became its QUARTERLY EARNINGS NUMBERS and it struggled. The series of cost cuts designed to make its value visible to its captor (profits) caused its true value (quality) to diminish. 

This story is played out throughout our country.  We plebians are participants when we start to believe what the huge PROFIT MONSTERS tell us - that the measure of value is completely monetary. Many of us have ten cheap shirts, and no really good ones. We buy small appliances that look great, cost little, and function just long enough to get past the possibility of return.

Are profits necessarily a bad thing? Of course not.  But profit is the side-effect of a good business. A business that provides a desireable service/product and makes enough money to pay its employees, its light bills and set some aside for future growth and capital improvements is a successful business. The trouble comes when the business needs CAPITAL. Capital is held and kept by PROFIT MONSTERS.

Critical Elements of Scholarship - student vs scholar

Question on my mind: What are the "critical elements of scholarship"?

"Engagement, rather than skill-set and information “download” is the deeper goal of academic instruction. The ultimate measure of success is the metamorphosis of the student, an individual at the outset capable and interested only in passive, assisted knowledge activities, into the scholar, an individual engaged in independent knowledge activities. It is worth briefly examining the critical elements of scholarship. Of paramount importance is that for scholar, no “oracle” exists to provide the 6 Symposium on Free Culture and the Digital Library – Emory University answer to a research question. Peers can provide critique but not guaranteed answers. The scholar also lacks a roadmap towards a solution, and must prioritize his/her efforts, evaluate the intellectual contributions of others, and act upon their own judgments. This is the universal situation of the scholar, and it is utterly different from the environment of the formal student."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cheap Dignity .. and what it costs us

Tom Friedman of the NYTimes, in a column about Egypt, warns against some leaders' tendency to go for "dignity on the cheap." Sometimes, we Americans do not respect the tremendous drive of other countries to attain/maintain/sustain DIGNITY. We're "on top" and it doesn't occur to us that others may then feel underneath and be driven by the motivation to feel otherwise.

Friedman warns that the cheap way to a sense of national dignity is “by standing up to the foreigners,” rather than to develop educational opportunities for its young people, improve its institutions, etc.

I recognize this! In high school, we had mandatory pep rallies -- "gotta support the team!" -- and talked very much about "school spirit." Years later my sons' schools used the same diversion - identify with athletic accomplishments of the schools' teams and "have pride."

The only rebellious act of mine in the late 60s was to stop attending mandatory pep rallies in the school auditorium on Friday afternoons. I just left for the day when they began. Called into the principal's office I had no problem stating the fact that the rallies had nothing to do with my education (which I was taking good care of) and, therefore, I had no need to attend. He did not argue. I stopped attending and sold my "letter sweater." Unfortunately, I was too young to articulate for myself or others the problem with this whole "school spirit" thing. I believe now, after reading Tom Friedman and Andrew Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death), that stepping away from pride "on the cheap" is one of the most important steps I took.

In our lovely country, we are in so many ways willing to do things "on the cheap" and wind up with no satisfaction - just restless ineffectuality. A Bible verse echoes in my head through the years, especially when I see grocery carts piled high with food items designed more for entertainment than nourishment:

Isaiah 55:2 "Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfies not? listen diligently to me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Simple Denial

Life in America offers an option not available in much of the world -- we can be simple-minded in our self indulgence. Like the wars necessitated by our compulsive need for oil, we are an ocean away from the actual costs of our conveniences. It takes some intellectual, moral dilligence to build an association in one's mind between the clean, easy-to-use gas pump at the local happy filling station with the blood arms and legs of those in countries affected by strife over this precious resource we so easily expend.

Likewise, my son recently told me he doesn't eat chocolate. I LOVE chocolate so had not really given any thought to its cost to others, only to myself ($ at the store). Now I'm challenged to own the reality - can I enjoy chocolate harvested by child labor? Can I taste sweetness when it costs sweat, tears, freedom of children in the Ivory Coast? Of course not - but I have been. In a world that offers us unlimited access to information, we also have unlimited access to ample amusements with which to fill our heads so we are unencumbered by harsh realities we wish to avoid.

Shame on me. Thank you, Josh, for the wake up call. Free trade products shift more cost to me, but reduce the human cost on the unseen side of the process. That's more than fair - it's necessary.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Skin or Heart? Which will you harden?

Wayne and I were chatting about a difficult work situation and the ease with which he now is able to handle such customer problems. I noted he has thicker skin by far than when he first began as a professional. The undertow of the words leaving my mouth seemed to pull in a more important thought -- the thickening of his skin has protected his heart from hardening.

Once observed, it seems rather obvious: in life, if we do not develop thick skins to protect our soft hearts, we are in danger of our hearts, then, hardening to protect themselves.

Perhaps this thought will help change my response to hardhearted behavior, thinking of how the hardness I witness may have been formed through unprotected vulnerability, rather than intentionality.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Simple self-delusion

I'm not sure you want to read this - but it's the way my brain works. I've been thinking alot about self-delusion....and, living in the city, also thinking alot about cockroaches. The thoughts converged in my head in the shower and I realized how similar the two things are. They are both disgusting, create damage, skitter around the edges of our lives unseen (for the most part) and remain unrecognized until they are a BIG problem.

Example 1: I quit smoking three times in my life. Once should have been enough, but having successfully quit, the little creepy notion that I now had control over cigarettes and could, therefore, have just one skittered into the edges of my mind and soon propagated and .... set me up to need to quit again. Second time - same thing. Third time: DUH!! I learned!!!

Example 2: Having eaten well for the last several years (eliminating fake foods and sugars, for the most part), I let the changes of our recent move allow me to make my eating habits less of a concern than the more compelling problems of, for example, which shelf should I keep the extra rags on? We ate "out" alot...and often had dessert. I didn't see a big change in the bathroom scale, could still wear the same clothes (for the most part), could still walk and talk so it must have been OK... skitter, skitter.... The self-delusion that what I was doing had no impact crept into my consciousness without my noticing and propagated into a problem!! Back to square one.

Example 3: People we love who find their alcohol consumption getting out of hand, back off completely and prove to themselves they are in control and do not have a problem - therefore, they can have a drink because it isn't a problem for them any more - like it used to be. Skitter, Skitter, Skitter.

I'm not sure where the analogy goes from here - but in order to keep the actual cockroaches from invading your home, you have to be vigilant about anything that feeds them (and it doesn't take much nourishment for a cockroach to survive!) I'm sure it's the same with self-delusions. Really, do we think just because we don't see the plaque in our arteries building up, eating all those carbs and fats is OK? You can't feel the blood sugar rising, so it must not be a problem...

Actual little cockroaches can also creep in from neighbors' dwellings and it behoves us to seal and caulk where feasible. Probably there's a peer pressure analogy. I know with the first time I failed to remain a non-smoker, it just took one good friend and one very bad day to allow that habit to skitter back into my life.

So, hopefully, none of us will suffer from infestations of critters or delusions in 2012. If we do, the sooner we can recognize them and take steps to eradicate them, the better. One thing's certain: left alone, both only get stronger and more difficult to control.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Simple joy of family....

I don't know what is universal to share - but as a personal note I just want to say how very much I love my family. Everyone is gathering - everyone is happy to see each other. We're crowding into a 2-bedroom apartment, eschewing the opportunity to have some sleep across the street at a hotel, because no one wants to be separate. So out comes the air mattress and extra sheets for the couch!!

With togetherness our agenda, it matters little what we plan "to do". "Doing" is so very secondary to "being". The doing will include (of course) cooking and eating, waiting for the next to arrive, followed by some surprises in the stockings and one gift for/from each (drew names this year).

In wishing you a Merry Christmas, I don't choose to be politically correct in my language because the holiday is about love, by whatever construct one defines it. Setting aside time to be together creates a holiday of tremendous magnitude. Simply joyous.