Category Archives: Random Musings

Autobiographical Musing on Music

We all have a special place in our hearts for the music we listened to as young people.  Broadway Showtunes, Rock and Roll, Jazz, Gregorian Chant, and the occasional Classical piece were part of my DNA from the beginning.  Folk music, old and new, took its place while I was in high school and college.  And I’ve been pretty happy with that mix for a long time.

As a young person, my parents thought it would be good for me to learn to play the piano, more specifically my grandmother’s Steinway which had taken up residence in our living room.  So, when I was old enough, I began years of piano lessons from the good Benedictine nuns.  Piano seemed an especially great instrument to me because I could sing as I played.  And I enjoyed that.  I also enjoyed learning fast, complex pieces because, when you play like that, your fingers actually blur before your eyes and it has a sort of psychedelic effect with the music and all.  In time I moved out of my parents home and pretty much let piano playing drift away.  I tried a guitar for a bit, and again found a delightful

instrument that could be played while you sing.  I  played a steel string Goya, and I did love it, but I never considered myself a musician.  And my fingers never seemed to retain the requisite calluses for a steel string guitar.  (It looked a bit like the one above.)  Another brief attempt at keyboards involved a

KORG 01/W which I bought in 1993 along with a super little plug-in cartridge that could change the sound from a concert grand to an upright to a honky tonk, and several other very cool alternatives.  (I have always wished that Frank Zappa had stayed around long enough to play with the next generation of electronic instruments, but it was not to be.)  The KORG is still in my basement.  That didn’t “take” either. So today I play the radio.  And my iPod.

To quote Dennis Miller: “How many times am I going to have to buy the White Album?” I have lived through several music formats and find myself switching pretty much – make that completely – to digital these days.  Digital takes less storage space.  It’s hard to abandon the old vinyl or cassettes or CDs.  But vinyl singles and albums sit in the basement taking up space alongside cases of cassettes and CDs and the “massive” electronics that support them… including an imposing set of Advent speakers.  Can’t even move those things at a yard sale these days.  An MP3 player is just so much lighter and easier to manage.  (Then there’s the battery operated boom boxes without which we would be completely cut off during power failures.)  I think the family at one time had 3 Sony cassette based Walkmans (all Sport models).  Nobody’s touched them in years. They were great for skiing in their day.  Huey Lewis is the best ski music, IMHO.  You do your turns with the beat.  Yeah.  (Toto’s AFRICA will also get you moving to the beat.  Heck, R&R just does that.)

That reminds me, housekeeping note, while vinyl and CDs are fairly long lived media, cassettes need to be played or wound and unwound every now and then or they get muddy.  The IRS learned years ago that the magnetic media they stored tax information on would bleed ones and zeros into each other after maybe 10 to 25 years.  If you have something you love on tape, either convert it to digital or do the wind and unwind thing to keep the tape alive.  Or, of course, you can keep buying the White Album.  But often things we all have on tape or even vinyl aren’t available digitally, so keep your own counsel on that matter.  Once a tape is gone, it’s gone for good.  (The same is true for old family videos on 8mm film.)

Now then, hubby claims that guitars are going out of favor these days because rap music doesn’t use guitars.  That would be sad.  Music keeps evolving, so I hope something musically interesting will develop to replace rap.

Which brings me to the point of this post: something I read once  left more of an impact on me than I anticipated at the time or I would have made a note of who wrote it and where I found it.  (Sorry.)  The underlying message was that music has evolved around the increasing dominance of rhythm.  I liked the Roman High Mass, Gregorian Chant, and all manner of simple, ancient music with minimal melodies and gentle rhythmic chanting.  Secular folk music evolved melodies more complex than that of Church music, still a gentle rhythm. Then there’s so called classical music with the exploration of more complex melody and rhythm by folks like Vivaldi, Mozart, Hayden and so on. This traditional music has strict underlying rhythms to coordinate musicians and choirs.  Jazz is a melodic riff on traditional melodies but uses similar disciplined rhythms I think.  (I have a serious fondness for the orchestral version of Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.)  Showtunes have strong melodies and simple rhythms.  The goal was to have folks leave the theater singing, after all.

Eventually we come to Rock and Roll, the heart of which – according to both The Beatles and Huey Lewis – is the beat.  Melody and a strong back beat.  If music truly evolves to stronger rhythms, is it only natural then that the next step would be rap…. mostly beat and modest if any melody?  Maybe it had to progress that way.  What’s interesting to me is that African drums, and music derived from them, are wildly physical and wonderful.  Drums are all beat, and

the beat makes you move.  African drums (and Mickey Hart) make the very bones in your body vibrate.  You have to move to drum music.  It’s not optional.  But loud rap music is boring and flat.  Why is that?

PS:  I wrote the above on May 23, 2011. Very shortly thereafter my 2001 Prius blew its big battery, prompting me to evaluate spending as much as the car was worth to repair it and knowing this would have been the beginning of several expensive repairs to come. Long story short, I now have a Nissan Cube. It is a great deal of fun.  And it came with a 3 month free subscription to XM Satellite Radio.  Although this is not something I normally would have considered, I chanced upon a series of radio stations, one of which plays music from the  1950’s, followed by one playing 60’s, then 70’s, then 80’s.  There may be more in that vein, but it’s been very interesting switching between them and listening to samples from the playlists. I can hear jazzy swing influences in the 50’s and am surprised to discover it’s my favorite station.  I’ll partly explain that by admitting to a secret love for doo wop music.  60’s are a real grab bag of different influences,  the 70’s often have a hard heavy metal sound, and the 80’s get very whiny at times.  Well those are observations from flipping through XM’s playlists, so take it for the simplistic statement it is.  I listen to see where melody begins to fail and the beat takes over.  It is there.  I don’t know if I would have stated it that way had I not read that article some time back. Interesting.  I’d love to hear the opinion of somebody who knows more about music and music history than I do.

Updogs, Downdogs, Marketing, and Politics

Yoga gives you time to think. And updogs and downdogs get me thinking. Thinking about optimism and pessimism.  Thinking about how we view the world, ourselves, and each other.

Mothers are traditionally considered nagging, restrictive, etc. by their children. All of that is true, of course, and the species benefits by the concern of the mother (and father) for the welfare of their offspring.  “Look both ways before you cross the street.” “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Wear your coat.”  “Be careful.”  Sometimes negative sounding words are said with love and concern.  On the other hand, mothers cheer their children on, applauding every step forward, marveling at their beauty and cleverness. Downdogs and updogs?

When we are an updog, we bubble humor and positive vibes, let’s say. We look to the sun as we bend upward. We’re optimistic. Then we have to do something nearly the opposite, designed to stretch an entirely different set of muscles and ligaments. The downdog brings blood to our head, focuses our attention on the ground, and might be considered the narrow, pessimistic, protective position.

Actually both positions remind me of the Village People making large letters, but that is neither here nor there. (Peter Minister gnomes below)  Yoga is fun and I’m easily amused.

So, my thinking drifted towards the difference between blogs that are light and amusing and those which are serious and about subjects which are important to the future of life as we know it.  Various marketing analytics have proven pretty conclusively that the most popular blogs are positive.  Let’s restate that to simply upbeat and downbeat posts: updogs and downdogs.  We all have enough stress in our lives, it seems, that we do not actively go seeking more.  So it would appear that the best advice for bloggers and marketing folks is to emphasize the positive.  Dwell on the solution, not the problem so much.  And, whatever you do, do not disparage the competition.  Ignore them.  Point out how your product is strong in an area, not how theirs is weak.  Your customers aren’t dumb, they’ll figure it out.  Know what?  It works.

But this is an election year.  And while it’s true that gunfights and fisticuffs rarely break out on the floor of the US Congress today, the verbal equivalent is everywhere, all the time.  The scandals that arise, the anger expressed on all sides are amazing to me.  I’m wondering how anyone can conceivably consider THAT candidate when they are obviously a perverted, arrogant tool of corporate interests with a massive negative advertising budget.  How can that be?  In the political world, “going negative” is done repeatedly, because everyone believes it works in the political sphere.

Why would “going negative” work in the political sphere but not in business to business sales and marketing?  Even consumer products rarely go “very” negative.  A taste test, perhaps, but Tide would never say that Arm & Hammer is terrible laundry soap and just plain doesn’t work.  (And it makes you fat!  Actually I recall a beer company years ago that set up a hotline phone number you could call and they would say things like that about their competition.  It was a hoot, but it was traded virally, under the table, not advertised. It was funny because it was snarky and underground.) That would be foolish.  Hardly anybody would believe a blatant lie about a commercial product.  But people will believe mudslinging charges thrown back and forth regarding political candidates, according to studies. I don’t find negative ads engaging or educational, but that’s me.

I am much more reminded of Adolf Hitler’s Big Lie Theory, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”  I read that many years ago and rather hoped it was not true.  But time has shown that it is, in politics.  Hitler is also known for having said: “It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.” And “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”  Big, simple, lies, often repeated. Sounds like a description of political ads this time of year.  So how is it that so many people vote against their own best interests?  How do we allow some of these horrible human beings to run for office and actually elect them?

Tis a puzzlement to me. Updogs and downdogs are both designed to do us physical good.  Optomistic and pessimistic blogs may not be equally successful, but they can each have been written with good intentions.  Not every product review on CNET is a glowing tribute.  We seem to have invested so much emotion and faith in our political views, that a party which aligns itself with one important political view of yours would appear to capture your heart without your brain considering ALL the views of that party.  Belief is strong.  And unquestioning.

There is a 2004 book (with an awful cover) called Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate — The Essential Guide for Progressives by George Lakoff,  Howard Dean, and Don Hazen.  They raised questions about how the right was so successful in framing the debate and winning the hearts and minds of Americans.  Well, it seems simple enough.  When you control the media, all the media, you are likely to be able to get your point of view across better and more persuasively than any other view.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Lucy were shows of another, more restrained age.  I’m not arguing for their return.  Far from it.  In recent years I’ve enjoyed Chuck, 30 Rock, Psych, Burn Notice, Glee, and bits and pieces of other shows.  I can’t abide the bad manners, anger, and side of humanity I see in so much of TV: reality TV, Fox News, and so on.  These are values we’re transmitting to our children.  We’re teaching them that those behaviors are acceptable…. or they wouldn’t be shown on TV as part of our commonly shared (accepted?) culture, right?  Tipper Gore wanted warning labels on rough rock lyrics.  The  poor woman must faint dead away if she listens to what passes for some “rap music.”  Why do people watch these things?  Why do people listen to these things?  They presumably reflect something already in their lives.  Or their lives come to reflect them.

Is there a conclusion here?  The same one that’s been around for hundreds if not thousands of years: we are each responsible for our vote.  That people are trying to manipulate us and make finding “truth” very difficult is pretty much the human condition. The search for The Truth is an arduous, but worthy goal.  I can’t help but believe that a strong vision of the future and an expression of specifics the person would fight for makes better political advertising than mudslingging.  Or do I mean “better” in terms of how I would like to think of our society, as opposed to what constitutes effective political marketing?  Which is why I like business to business marketing, and not political marketing.  Please vote next Tuesday.

It Takes a Village and an English Teacher

I just finished reading Alexander McCall Smith’s book Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. I see on Amazon that he already has another book in that series (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) out: The Double Comfort Safari Club, which I look forward to reading. I dearly love these books about Botswana. The main characters are good people trying to do their best in a difficult world. As such they encounter good and not-so-good people and challenging situations, not unlike what you encounter yourself. In these books everything eventually works out, good is rewarded, evil punished, and we close the book feeling good about our shared humanity.

By the time I reached the middle of this particular book, I was thinking about how one could use this book in teaching a high school English class. There was a time when I wanted to, and expected to, be an English teacher. Life is what happens while you are making other plans, as John Lennon said. I remember as a child, teenager maybe, realizing to the pit of my stomach, that I had only one lifetime and that seemed likely too short to do all the things I (or anyone else) might like to do. It seemed to me that reading books would give me a condensed experience of other lives I would not be able to, or have time to, live. I have always judged a novel as “good” if I felt it expanded my reach beyond my daily world in some dimension. Suffice it to say I tend to look at just about everything through several different lenses. I think we all do that as time goes by. And that’s a good thing.

Garrison Keillor plays with the tremendous value of being an English major. And he’s right, of course. Not only does an English major learn to communicate clearly, but they learn to observe, predict, and not only experience the fictional world, but examine it as it is experienced. That is good practice for leading a closely examined life, by the way. (Assuming you agree with Socrates that an examined life is worthwhile and not with Kurt Vonnegut who fears it might a clunker, also.) So the function of an English teacher, and what I wanted so much to do, is to teach young people to communicate in written and verbal modes, recognizing the way the human mind is structured to perceive things. Equally valuable and even more fun is reading books with a class. We tell young people that you can’t write well if you don’t read a lot. Vocabulary and sentence structure are learned through broad exposure to reading.

Cultural and social concepts are explored in reading, also. I fear for our world that so much of today’s media is worthless garbage. But then again, that thought has been around since TV first squatted in our living rooms. TV and video games have huge impacts on our children, especially where both parents are working. The impact is largely driven by commercial interests which do not have either the child’s or the society’s interests at heart. (And that’s why Sesame Street was shown on PBS, not on a commercial station.)

The fun in teaching a good novel is that it provides the opportunity to discuss the values, assumptions, and judgments in the story. The opportunity is there for an English teacher to guide students to think about cultural and social norms: what they are, why they are, what results from such norms being accepted or rejected. A novel depends on conflict. Life is full of conflict, real and imagined. Learning to recognize conflict, understand it, and see that we have options when faced with conflict are important things for young people to learn.

I started dropping bookmarks into the story at points where I could see an opportunity to confront a lesson with a class full of hormonal teenagers.  Let me share a few with you.  From Chapter 11:

Mma Ramotswe sensed that Mma Tafa was glad of the company. She knew that it was not always easy for women in such places, where the easy companionship of the village had been replaced by the comparative anonymity of the town. Such a woman might spend much of the day without any contact with other women — an unnatural state of affairs, in Mma Ramotswe’s view. We are born to talk to other people, she thought; we are born to be sociable and to sit together with others in the shade of an acacia tree and talk about things that happened the day before.  We were not born to sit in kitchens by ourselves, with nobody to chat to.

This could be an opportunity to ask whether Mma Ramotswe, the detective, is right or not. Do they agree or not? Does being sociable mean something different today in their world than they might imagine it meant to their parents and grandparents? What is it about human social behavior that is nourishing to the human spirit?

A few pages further on, as the two women are talking:

“So it is the job of women — and that means you and me, Mma — to find out what our husbands really want to do, and then to tell them about it. That is our job, I think, Mma.”

Mma Ramotswe wondered about Mr. J.L.B. Matekone. He was a mild man — famously so — and she had never heard him speak about the things that he wanted to do. Did he have ambitions? He must at some time have wanted to have his own garage, and he must have worked towards the achieving of that goal. Then he had wanted to marry, and had proposed — eventually — which suggested that he must have nursed matrimonial ambitions. But apart from that, she wondered what unfulfilled desires lurked in his breast. Did he want to learn to fly a plane, as the owner of another garage had done? She thought not. He had been terrified on that occasion when Mma Potokwane had lined him up to do a charity parachute jump, and so it was unlikely that he wanted anything to do with aeroplanes. Did he want to learn to cook? Again she thought not; Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni had shown no interest in doing anything in the kitchen. Or did he want to go somewhere, perhaps to Namibia, to the sands and dunes of the coast down there, to the sea itself? He had never spoken of that.

The thought of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni nursing secret, unfulfilled ambitions saddened Mma Ramotswe, as did the thought of people wanting something very much indeed and not getting the thing they yearned for.  When we dismiss or deny the hopes of others, she thought, we forget that they, like us, have only one chance in life.

How much this differs from the modern media experience of being able to restart a video game after “dying”, or replaying a favorite TV show, or seeing a favorite actor who dies in one show resurrected in another. The fragility of human life and its ambitions, happiness and unhappiness are worth discussing. It is valuable to bring such matters to conscious discussion with young people. Otherwise the lessons of our modern culture mostly downplay the importance of these ancient human truths. Basic human truths rarely have commercial value. And commercial value is what drives our media. Even NPR must appeal to its audience enough to stay in business. (Awareness of commercialization and how marketing drives consumption is something that is taught, for the most part, only in English classes at the high school level.)

There’s an old saying about plays and movies, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” We know it’s an OLD saying because it’s all about telegraphs, but it is also about direct and indirect communication, which is also worth discussing with young people. So many lessons, so little time. A paragraph in Chapter 14 would be fun to discuss:

She returned his glance. A year ago she would never have imagined that either of the young men — Charlie or Fanwell — would understand such feelings. They liked speed and noise and loud music; they liked talking about girls and bars and football teams. Now it was different, and she realised how easy it is to misjudge the young, to imagine that they share none of the more complex emotions that shape our lives as we grow older. Well, they do, she said to herself; they have those feelings too, and suddenly they become capable of seeing them in others.

What a great opportunity to have a class write about a time when they felt they suddenly understood something new or to discuss how something might look different to a young person than to an older person.

When I was young I did a few weeks of student teaching in a high school, thinking I would become a teacher. I remember talking with the class about something and how their parents were once their age, too. We kept exploring that idea for a few minutes and I could absolutely see a wave of understanding wash over the whole class. Something in their eyes, their whole expressions just changed. They had a thought they had never had before. For a moment they recognized that their parents really, honest to God, were their age once. They had heard that statement many times, I’m sure, but never connected with it. What a rich experience for both students and teacher!

I don’t want to give away the story line, but there are a couple instances where the detective, a traditionally built woman, describes how she believes she can always trust the truth and observations of small children. That would be fun to explore with young people who are old enough to have opinions on the matter themselves.

HBO and the BBC have done a TV series based on these beautiful stories. Although I haven’t seen the videos and will probably prefer the books when I eventually do see them, I expect that video is the Classic Comics of the 21st Century. The story might be there, but I wonder about the lessons. An English teacher could help transmit awareness and cultural tradition, regardless of the media under consideration. It does take a village to raise a child, to transmit the cultural norms of the society. On the other hand, it takes a great teacher to have a lifelong impact on a person. English teachers are in a rare position to do that.

While we’re discussing rare teachers who impart life lessons to their classes, kindly allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Elvoid “Ellie” Mayers who taught History in the Rockland, Massachusetts school system for many years. She is currently the chairman of the Norwell Town Democratic Committee. And she is exactly the sort of person you would want to transmit the best of our cultural values to your children. If you watch these flash videos done by some of her former students, you can see the obvious love and respect for her along with a sense of fun. And here’s Ellie at a more serious moment with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick:

I continue to believe that the Village, electronic and otherwise, presents a set of social norms to our young people based on consumption and capitalism. A good teacher, on the other hand, can guide young people to examples of our culture that explore not just the best of human nature but the richness of its complexity. An English teacher’s tools include great novels. A History teacher’s tools are pretty impressive, too. Just saying.

Live forever?

I came across an interesting blog post entitled  NSFW: Sorry Deathhackers; Life Is Short, And So It Should Be.  The article discusses an assault on aging and death with the poor weapons currently available to mankind and the possibility of living an indefinitely long time.  The author concludes that is not such a good thing.  He questions whether we are driven by a desire to avoid death or a desire to accomplish more in our alloted time.

Throughout recorded history, people have lived to their 80’s, 90’s, and over 100.  You can find them buried in old graveyards and inside old churches.  Living a long life naturally has much to do with genetics and good luck.  Once upon a time, when I was in my 20’s, I had the opportunity to walk around London (in mid-high heels) until my feet were ready to give up.  Yes, you can take the underground or a cab or a bus, but I really like to walk and look around.  So I did this to the point of incapacity, at which time I searched for something that would enable me to enjoy London, just not on my feet.  And so I discovered brass rubbing.  You can happily spend hours in Westminster Cathedral rubbing away at Sir John Harpedon.  Or Alianora de Bohun, Duchess of Glouceser who died in 1399, depending on your persuasion.  (I see on the Westminster Abbey website that you can no longer rub brasses there.  On the other hand, you are more likely to be wearing comfortable shoes on your travels than I was then.)  My point, and I’m sure I had one, is that death has been in our thoughts for a very long time.  Monumental brasses (1300’s through 1800’s) were essentially the photographs of their day and were made to hang around the castle until required at one’s final resting place.

If we were to live essentially forever (without the fangs and light sensitivity that normally accompany such a possibility), quality of life would become increasingly important.  If we could have the mind and body of a 30 to 50 year old person forever, that would be fine.  If we were to have the body and mind of today’s 90+ year old, that might be something quite different.
The financial ramifications might not be so bad if we were forever young and able to work, to learn, and to re-invent ourselves as time passes.  We could, of course, plan to meet for drinks in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe and pay for it by depositing a small coin in a bank early in our lives.  I don’t think the financial side of things would be as challenging as the genetic and wellbeing aspect of it all.  If you are “young”, strong and healthy, you can figure out a way to survive.  As you become older, slower, and more frail, your options are more limited.
Deathhackers are trying to defeat the narrowing of human options.  That’s likely to happen only slowly and over many years of research. As you can imagine, this would not be simple science.  It would require stumbling upon many infinitesimal details completely explaining aging.  And this is likely to be a hugely expensive endeavor which, deathhackers to the contrary notwithstanding, is not adequately funded.  Nor is it likely to be.  If we can’t manage to support universal healthcare in the United States, we are unlikely to support funding the exploration of eternal life.  Although the British might.
On the other hand, we might someday support the science of Silent Running where we launch Earth seed stock into space as a safety measure.  That is much simpler science involving a completely balanced ecosystem.  We could probably do that with today’s science.  Silent Running speaks to man’s basic need to ensure the preservation of life as we know it (or as we once knew it), as best we can.  Even in Silent Running, there is a recognition of the cycle of life and death for all living things.
As we look into the eyes of Death (WHO SPEAKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS, REMEMBER), most of us would like a little more time.  Those who are old and sick, in pain, or oblivious to the world, do not feel the need to evade the Grim Reaper.  Sometimes the Reaper is welcomed as surcease of sorrow.
Personally, once I turn 400 I either want my OWN teeth or a set with enhanced canines.  You?

The Trap Door on the Road to Change

In March of this year, the McKinsey Quarterly interviewed Chip Heath about his book  Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. This being a fascinating topic to any marketer, I hastened to read the interview, and I’ve put the book on my TODO list.  Business is about change.  Marketing is about change.  Heck, life is all about change.  And change is hard.  People are wired to pretty much keep doing what they’ve done in the past.

What interested me most in the interview was a description of a graph:

“In Switch, we discuss the design firm IDEO, which deals with this problem a lot because it often tries to train entrenched bureaucratic organizations to design more innovative products. An IDEO designer sketched a mood chart predicting how employees feel at different phases of a project. It’s a U-shaped curve with a peak labeled “hope” at the start and a peak labeled “confidence” at the end. In between is a negative valley labeled “insight.” In IDEO’s experience, there is always a moment when an innovation team feels demoralized. Yet eventually an answer will appear, so if the team keeps working through that frustration, things will get better. Every manager in a change process should steal IDEO’s chart because every change process goes through that same sequence of mood changes.”

To which I responded:

“I remember a consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation drew a graph similar to what you are calling a “mood chart” above. It was more of a stretched out U shape with a “neutral” dotted line maybe half or two thirds of the way down. What always stayed with me is that successful projects (and the successful integration of new employees) climbed the graph upward, while there was a trap door at the bottom for projects that failed. ”

While I have no idea who the consultant was or whether I still have a copy of the original graphic, it looked something like this (annotations are mine):

I share this with you because I have found it a useful meme to keep me going through difficult times and projects.  It also helps me support others struggling with a new venture.  This diagram is probably why I firmly believe that Nobody can stop you but yourself. And once you get past a the hard part, whatever that might be for you, things really do get easier and better.

Admiral Grace Hopper, who often spoke at Digital Equipment Corporation, is famous for having said “It is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.”  She was, and remains, a gleaming beacon who achieved success by continuing to do what she knew in her bones was right, regardless of the entrenched system around her.  Success has a way of confirming and supporting change.  Another Grace Hopper quote:  “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.”

Humans have a conflicted relationship with change.  We want it.  We need it.  But we really don’t want it to alter the way we do things.  As Albert Einstein pointed out: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  We humans are such interesting creatures.  It seems to be the case that for an individual to change they first must want to change, spend some time waiting for the change to magically happen by itself, then begin the tedious job of effecting change.  Leadership can help.  Some systems that support the change process can help.  In the long run, we just have to keep at it.  Nobody can stop you but yourself.

Would you crash an airplane or vote your stock proxy?

A programmer named Joseph Andrew Stack crashed his Piper plane today into an office building in Austin, Texas.  Prior to that he reportedly set his house on fire and posted a suicide statement on his own website.  His website has been taken down, but the letter can still be read on NPR and Huffington Post websites.

This is very sad. From the headline (Austin Plane Crash Pilot’s Apparent Suicide Note), I expected the ramblings of a crazy person, one I would not  –  most likely –  relate to.  Instead, what I read reflects the experience of a generation of tech workers.  This was one member of the former American middle class who found himself squeezed out while the management of so many companies was giving itself multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses.  This fortunately was not my story, but I recognize exactly the IRS ruling he references because I knew people who complained bitterly about it at the time.  Every sitting congressperson should read that letter and consider the desperation driving this man to do what he did.  Joseph Stack may not have been the strongest person among us, but his experience reflects the middle class’s feeling that they have been cheated out of everything they thought they were promised for their hard work. This is surely something for all of us to think about.

That was pretty much what I posted on the NPR website immediately after reading the letter.   Upon later consideration, it is especially sad that this man retaliated against a random (albeit local) IRS office.  The people working there are just everyday grunts, like the rest of us. However much they may have implemented this man’s torture, they did not cause it.   The problem lies with the unholy alliance between American politics and capitalism.  Our system is broken, guys.  Our system drove this person to madness.  Politicians and fat cats benefited from that specific legislation that unfavorably impacted “independent consultants” and they have much to answer for.  They were nowhere near where this poor man crashed his airplane in frustration.

As emotional as we become in this country, few of us would crash an airplane to register our frustration.  I can’t help but remember the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK Jr. and the attempted assassinations of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.  This is no way to solve a problem.  Death and destruction can never make things better.  They can only register our discontent.  Ultimately, don’t you think we can elect officials and vote for Boards of Directors who will perform their functions with honesty and integrity?  I personally vote against every single company employee who is currently or aspires to be on their company’s Board of Directors.  I urge you to do the same.

My point in that last paragraph, in case it is misunderstood, is that those who manage companies are paid to manage them, not to plunder and control the distribution of profits to their own advantage.  Peter Drucker in his last book pointed out that the natural lifespan of a corporation is usually about 25 years…. that being the length of time the original founder builds and runs the company.  After that, the going concern is taken over by “managers” who put their own interests ahead of the corporation’s future.  I saw it up close at DEC, Prime, and Wang.  You’ve seen it, too.  Unless new legislation is passed, corporations which are controlled by their plundering CEOs will be able to blatantly pay for political ads favoring those politicians who vote as they are told.  This is not a good road for us to travel as a country.

MSNBC’s Today Show carried a detailed article posted Friday, February 19, 2010 with links to related material.  I haven’t changed my mind about the underlying cause of this tragedy.  The French Revolution, after all, was the result of a thwarted middle class.  This sort of action is a serious message.