A Link in the Chain

I never served in the military, and I am glad I didn't. The reason is because I know that I cannot tolerate the madness that this insitution is known for. If I had served, I would undoubtedly be sitting in a stockade or a brig somewhere at this moment. That is because I like to speak my mind. This is not allowed in the military. You are supposed to do what you are told without question. This is all conveniently forgotten when something like Abu Ghraib becomes public. Then, you are guilty for not questioning your orders. Amazing, eh?

I work with a lot of ex-military people on my job, and I often ask them how they handled being in the military and some of the stupidity they had to put up with. Here are some chesnuts I have received:

1. "Never volunteer."

Leaders will lie to you and try to get you to do things that you would never normally do if you knew what the duty entailed. Then, when you complain, they pull a little switch on you saying that you volunteered for the duty. Therefore, you have to do it and not complain. Besides, you VOLUNTEERED for this. You learn pretty quickly to never trust these fuckers ever again.

2. "Do what the fuck you are told."

This is straight from the mouth of a twenty year veteran. Ultimately, this is the essence of doing well in the military. It is stated as three rules- 1. Do what you are told. 2. Do what you are told. 3. Do what the fuck you are told.

The military does not reward critical thinking or creativity. It values performance and obedience. Just do it.

3. "I'm just a link in the chain."

This is also from that twenty year veteran, and it is my favorite saying. Ultimately, the only thing you can do is not be the weak link in the chain. If the chain breaks, make sure you're not the broken link.

This may all seem cynical, but what are you going to do? Despite the fact that there is no draft, your time in the military is largely compulsory. Once you're in, you're in. Officers have the option of resigning but not the rest. Their asses belong to Uncle Sam. That is the difference between the military and the private sector. You can quit a job. You can't quit the Army.

There is madness in Corporate America but not nearly as much as in the military. That's because capitalism works by punishing stupidity. In the military, stupidity can linger for decades. In fact, some would argue that it never ends. Only a handful of companies remain from the S&P 500 that existed a century ago. The free market is relentless in this regard. It has no pity. The military is still here and always will be.

But there is a universal in government, business, and the military. People in power rarely listen to common sense. I've never seen it happen in my lifetime. Just look at the clusterfuck known as Iraq. Empirical evidence and the opinions of an entire nation haven't made a dent in the thinking of Bush and Cheney. They will go down in history as shit-for-brains idiots. But they won't be alone.

This is why I take so much from the link in the chain analogy. At the end of the day, that's all I am. No matter what organization I am in, I am only responsible for my end. I will speak up against the government because that's my right. But I have found that whenever I speak up in any company, the retort I always get is a listing of my failures as an employee. This is nothing more than an ad hominem fallacy and usually without any merit, but hey, why should I care? I have been told to quit caring, so that's what I will do.

I have already been through this scenario once before on the job, so there is no point in repeating it. In my twenties, I went on a crusade to try and change a company I was working for, and I lost. It was a waste of time. But capitalism being what it is, those changes got made. That company moved on.

I am reminded of a principle of Edmund Burke that states that we accomplish more with our patience than with our efforts. Ultimately, the reason we go on these crusades is because we are afraid that we will be overlooked in our brilliance. Somehow somewhere someone will fail to recognize how clever we are. I'm older and wiser now, and I have learned to live with being overlooked. The itch of my ego no longer needs the scratch of recognition. In fact, the same thing that motivates leaders is often the same thing that motivates criticism of those leaders--hubris. We all think we can do it better.

Do I think I can do it better? That depends. I know I can do better than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I doubt I could do it better than a Bill Gates, a Jack Welch, or a Warren Buffett. But I look at how I manage my own life and wonder why I can't seem to do it better.

To me, being a link in the chain means doing your job as well as you can do it and trusting other people to do their jobs. If everybody did this, the chain would be just fine.

Random Thoughts on Various Subjects

1. Ann Coulter shoved her foot in her mouth all the way to the knee by claiming that some 9/11 widows had made out well from their husbands' deaths. What can I say? Coulter is a skank.

2. A co-worker gave me a copy of Penthouse, but it was extremely disappointing. The July 2006 issue did not have the quality of smut that I have grown to expect from that mag. There was no lesbian spread. There was no hot nubile blonde taking it from some well hung stud. The centerfold lacked the gynecological eye view that is the staple of being a Penthouse Pet.

What gives? I suspect Penthouse is trying to broaden its audience being savaged by the likes of Maxim and FHM. What a waste. The publishers should start a new mag targeted at this demographic and leave Penthouse alone. As it stands, I'm switching to Hustler.

3. Another accusation against Lance Armstrong. No big surprise. Folks, I truly believe that Lance is dirty. There can't be that many people willing to risk his litigious wrath by fabricating this shit. Lance believers should be lumped in with the folks who refuse to acknowledge that professional wrestling is fake.

4. People can't understand why I support Andre Bauer. Bauer is a gift from God Himself. You have a politician who is totally addicted to his perks and abuses them, gives constant examples of what a slimebag politicians are, and he has no power whatsoever as lieutenant governor. How can a libertarian not like this guy? He is the gift that keeps on giving.

5. Congess is debating raising the minimum wage. Economic illiteracy triumphs once again. Why not raise the minimum wage to $1 million per year, and we can all be rich? Fucking idiots.

6. The Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. Not a single sportsfan at work made a comment about this. Not one.

MEMO TO THE NHL: Go back North. You're losing money down here.

7. CURRENT READING: Give Me a Break by John Stossel.

The Demise of Dan Rather

Dan Rather has left CBS. Good riddance.

It's time we got a few things straight about Dan Rather. He was not beloved at CBS. There were those who believed that Rather should never have succeeded Walter Cronkite at CBS, but the job should have gone to Bob Schieffer. I am in agreement with those people. Schieffer is a classy guy, and his improved ratings in Rather's absence indicate what could have been.

Rather likes to think he is a newsman in the Edward R. Murrow mold. Well, Mr. Rather, you are no Ed Murrow, and you certainly aren't a Walter Cronkite. Dan Rather injected himself into the news. He clearly had an axe to grind against people he disagreed with politically, and this was his undoing. It wasn't Rather's mistake on that news story about Bush's military service that torpedoed his career. It was the cover-up. The man stood by a story that he knew was flawed, but his hubris and hatred of Bush fucked him up. He couldn't admit the error until he had made an ass of himself.

Don't get me wrong. I have no love for Bush. But I believe that journalists should adhere to a certain code of professionalism which Rather lacked. People have decried the "voice of God" nature of the evening newscasts, but as ratings indicate as well as the recent lineup changes at ABC News, people want the voice of God. Ultimately, they want an anchor that they both respect and trust.

I don't know how Katie Couric will do in her new job, but she won't do any worse than Dan Rather. That's for sure.

Bad Management

I'm 35, and I've been working since I was 13. In that time, I have had bad bosses, good bosses, and one great boss. I've also been a boss and read a lot about management, leadership, etc. Does this make me an expert on this? Nah. Yet, when I talk about what separates a bad boss from a good boss, everyone tells me I get it right. It must be my relentlessly analytical nature.

So, what are the signs of a bad boss? Here's a list:
1. Bad bosses lose good people on a regular basis.

This is because bad bosses don't know how to manage. To make up for their ineptitude, they take their star performers and work them into oblivion. The result is massive turnover of good people while bad people accumulate. The only thing that keeps a bad manager afloat is the sheer luck of hiring a few new unsuspecting star performers who become fodder. A good manager reverses this pattern. He or she will retain good people while eliminating poor performers.
2. Bad bosses make everything personal.

The employer/employee relationship is a business relationship. This calls for a certain amount of professionalism. Like it or not, management means making hard choices or telling people things they don't like to hear. It also means tolerating people you might not like on a personal level but produce exceptionally well on a professional level. A bad boss can't deal with this. He has no concept of what it means to be professional. The result is that he will often cut his own throat by alienating or even firing a star performer for personal reasons while tolerating dirtbags simply because he likes them.

I can understand why bad bosses do this sort of thing. They don't want to be cold and impersonal. But I would rather work for a cold and calculating boss with an eye on the bottom line than for a person whose feelings or moods might lead him to fire me. I can't count how many times I have seen managers make clusterfuck decisions because they let their feelings get in the way of their good judgment. In addition, these bad managers are prey for the Machiavellians who use "friendship" as a means of advancement as opposed to merit. The result is a lot of office politics, betrayal, and even paranoia. Yet, all of this could be eliminated by an appraisal of objective facts. If an employee produces you reward and retain them. If they don't, you get rid of them. This may seem cold, but it is fair.

3. Bad bosses threaten and punish.

If you feel like you are back in grade school while on the job, you are working for a bad boss. I must admit that this was a mistake that I made but corrected. For some reason, new managers believe that what a business needs to succeed is heavy doses of discipline. Hell, even bellyaching employees think this is what is needed. I don't think there has been a day that has gone by on any job that I've had where someone didn't say, "They need to crack the whip around here."

Folks, I have cracked the whip, and it doesn't work. In fact, it makes you look stupid, and people lose respect for you. These methods might work in the military or prison, but they do not work in the business world. That is because people have the option of quitting, and they often go on to find better jobs because you motivated them to go find them instead of remaining in the comfort zone of their present job.

My advice to managers is to remove the threat of termination from their toolbox. Threatening to fire someone or write them up makes about as much sense as telling your wife you will divorce her if she doesn't cook dinner tonight. You might get what you want in the short term, but you will have fucked yourself in the long term.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are times when you have to fire people or at least write them up in order to eventually fire them because of stupid labor laws and the threat of litigation (a topic for another post.) But in those instances, you should just do it. Don't wave the big gun around. Pull the trigger. Remember, you should never threaten because threats imply a trade. Do this, and I won't do this. But it behooves the manager to not get caught in this scenario. This is not the way to relate to employees. It is a business relationship not a power relationship. You fire because it makes financial sense to do so.

4. Bad bosses use bribes.

I've already discussed the stick, so I might as well discuss the carrot. I've seen some bosses take the opposite tack and try to bribe people into doing the jobs they are paid to do in the first place. These bribes may be real or imaginary. Extra cash bonuses, contests, and the like have no place in business. That is because employees are already paid to do their jobs. I've never seen where more pay has ever made an employee do a better job. There are superstar athletes who make millions every year and are still worthless lazy pieces of shit.

When it comes to motivating people, I have found a universal truth. You really can't make people do anything. But I have also found another truth. There are always those willing to do what it takes. I can only speak for myself, but what really motivates me as a worker is simply the pleasure of doing the job. It is a mixture of pride and intellectual amusement. I really like working. The only time I don't like work is when I am doing a job that has no point or which I am no good at. Ask me to sit in a room and idle or paint the Mona Lisa, and I will find a way not to do it. I tend to prefer something slightly above my skill level but which I can attain. It's no different than playing a videogame or solving a puzzle. In short, I do these things because it is fun.

I don't know if other people are motivated by the same things I am. I suspect that they aren't. But I have found that people respond poorly to external motivators like bribes or threats. Instead, they follow their own internal motivations, and a good manager merely reaps what he has not sown. If left to themselves, good workers will perform more and better while bad workers eventually fire themselves because they can't even be bothered to leave their beds. A good manager can supercharge this natural phenomenon by retaining and recruiting the good while eliminating the bad. But even if he leaves well enough alone, it will work itself out. I have seen areas improve dramatically in the "vacuum" when a bad manager leaves.

5. Bad bosses are intolerant of candor.

I have had one great boss, and the one thing I notice while working for him was how much trash talking everyone who worked for him did. It didn't take long for me to fall into the habits and mores of his group and do my own trash talking. We talked trash to the boss, and he talked trash back, too. Plus, we talked trash to each other. The only thing we respected was merit, and we ruled. But if you sucked, you were going to hear about it.

I don't believe in punishing people, but I will tell them if they suck or not. Honesty can sting at times, but it is essential to good management. Good managers tolerate this honesty. This doesn't mean tolerating racial or sexual insults or any of that. But it means letting people know where they stand. This is the philosophy of former GE CEO Jack Welch who was no slouch in the management department. His no bullshit style made GE one of the greatest companies in America for the last two decades. And the man is honest with himself. He will tell you of his own mistakes. The man has no sacred cows.

Bad managers are always caught up in issues of respect. They make employees fearful to speak their minds. This goes back to making business personal. But the cornerstone of an effective enterprise is relentless honesty. You can never go wrong with having a rigorous fidelity to the truth. In addition, you will find that people don't lie to you anymore because you can handle the truth.

I have found the best way to encourage candor is to be self-deprecating. Don't take yourself too seriously. If you can be honest with yourself, others will do the same. That's because you have no pride to offend. The irony is that you will take pride in this. As I like to say, I never brag. I'm the most modest man I know. Heh heh. . .
6. Bad bosses lose sight of the bottom line.

As my final point, I have to say that bad managers simply have no clue about what a business is all about. In these days of corporate mission statements, "core values," self-actualization, tolerance, and giving back to the community, some managers seem to have forgotten the chief and only purpose of business which is TO MAKE MONEY.

A business is not a charity. It exists to make money for the owner or owners of that business. Yet, in these days of neo-Marxist claptrap, people seem to have lost sight of this as if there is something immoral about capitalism. There isn't. Making money and being moral are not antithetical. In fact, they are joined at the hip. The only moral duties of a manager is to make money for the company. By doing this, he will have served everyone's best interests including his own. And if you're some leftist shithead, I can tell you that you don't make money by defrauding the public or fucking over your employees. Remember, Enron went bankrupt.

Because I am a capitalist, I treat customers as well as I possibly can. Hell, I lick their asses. And why do I do this? Because I want their money. The same applies to workers. I treat good workers well because they make money for me. I get rid of the bad workers because they lose money for me. And as an employee, I work hard because I want to make money, and I find I get more opportunities to make money as a result.

Don't get me wrong. Money isn't everything. There are some things I won't do for any amount of money. There are other things I pay to do which look suspiciously like work. But I believe in money because money is what keeps the system honest. And as much as I enjoy working, I still won't do it for free. I expect to get paid, and I see nothing wrong with this. But for that pay, I guarantee to produce value for the dollar. To do less is to be a thief.

My best advice for being a good manager is to be a good capitalist. Do what is in your long term financial self-interest and expect others to do the same. This is moral and right. Plus, it gives an objective yardstick by which to measure the worth of an employee beyond your whims and feelings. No one has the moral obligation to pay someone to not work or to work for someone without pay. As for the worth of a person's work, this is determined by the only mechanism that matters--the market. People are always free to seek a better deal elsewhere. This applies to both employee and employer.

In the way of a conclusion, there are other things bad bosses do that I can point out. But these are the ones I find most universal. At this stage of the game, I just focus on being a good employee and try to keep in mind that the boss is the one the owner chose to put in that position. As I like to say, the customer is always right. On the flipside, I have heard a lot of complaints from coworkers over the years about this, that, and the other, but most of it amounted to a lot of whining about comfort issues and not much else. I have personally learned to discount any sort of business advice or bellyaching unless it relates to making money for the company.

Random Thoughts on Various Subjects

I've been in Charlotte this week for a job assignment which is why my blog has become so neglected. I'm trying to remedy this. Here's some bullshit. . .er, commentary for the week.
1. I had to laugh about the gay marriage flak Bush created this week as if this is a pressing matter. The bottom line is that the Republicans need to turn out their base in strong numbers this fall if they hope to keep the House and Senate. This means throwing something to religious conservatives. In non-presidential election years, this is a smart strategy. Shore up your base. It may seem stupid now, but it will look like pure genius in November. It has Karl Rove's fingerprints all over it.
2. The New York Times reported this week that the CIA has been aiding warlords hostile to Islamists in Somalia. The result was a typical CIA clusterfuck which actually ending up bringing support for the Islamists. Will these idiots ever learn?
The best foreign policy is to mind your own business. I am not an isolationist. I believe in open borders and free trade. But I resolutely believe that the United States should stay out of the political affairs of other countries unless those countries directly threaten us. A direct threat would have to be on the order of a Nazi Germany or the USSR. As it stands, the CIA is an organization of shitheads who don't know when to leave well enough alone. They'll probably be bugging my phone lines now because I wrote this. Oh, well. . .
3. Abu Musab al-Camelfucker Zarqawi got himself killed this week. I must admit this pleases me. Operation Clusterfuck aside, that was one raghead that I was glad to see die. Now, we need to get Osama.
4. Recent articles have led me to conclude that performance enhancing substances are a permanent part of sports, and the public is starting to look the other way. For instance, Albert Pujols isn't getting the same treatment that Barry Bonds has been getting. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi has been bulking up again.
The bottom line is that sports is entertainment, and athletes are not heroes. They never were.
5. The truth about the Duke lacrosse team rape scandal is finally coming out with the other stripper at the party saying that the "raped" stripper at the party was full of shit. Nothing happened. Combined with the lack of physical evidence, those guys are innocent. So, why is the case being prosecuted? Because prosecutors are political scavengers looking to feed on any shit they can find and which will get them time in the spotlight. Nevermind that they ruin lives and waste taxpayers' dollars for the sake of their egoes.
6. The NHL is drawing record low ratings for the Stanley Cup. Here in SC, I know of virtually no one who cares that the Hurricanes are actually playing for the championship.
I can give a lot of theories about why I think the NHL is doing so badly, but they are all variations of "the customer is always right." Critics say that the NHL screwed up by trying to expand beyond its fan base. But that strategy is working very well for NASCAR. There's simply no accounting for consumer tastes.
The bottom line is that people outside of the Northern USA and Canada just don't go for hockey. The best thing for the NHL to do is retreat. If the Rangers or the Red Wings were playing for the Cup, ratings would be much larger than what they are now. The folks in charge at the NHL will probably realize this and decide to eliminate teams like the Hurricanes (who'll probably be Cup winners), the Dallas Stars, and the Florida Panthers.
7. Al Gore has a movie which can only mean he'll be running for president in the near future. The movie is called An Inconvenient Truth which will prove to be quite convenient for his second shot at the presidency.
So, what are we to make of global warming? Personally, I think it is all much ado about nothing. As a survivor of the depleted ozone layer, Mad Cow disease, SARS, the ebola virus, and an impact from a global destroying meteor, I think we'll make it through this crisis, too. But chances are, we'll be wiped out by avian flu long before we get flooded out. I'm just going to focus on what matters most to me--having a good time and burning lots of fossil fuels in the process.
8. I just signed up for an account with Netflix, and I am very satisfied with the service. It is way better than going to Blockbuster. Plus, they have a much wider selection. If it's on DVD (and not porn), chances are they have it. Now, if only the postal service was faster.

Haditha

Recent news coming out of Iraq indicate that US Marines killed a bunch of a civilians in a style reminiscent of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. This comes as no surprise to me.
 
Haditha is merely a symptom of what all Army and Marine Corps personnel are experiencing over there--frustration. And I am not going to be critical of this decision to kill these people because those Marines understand there are only two solutions to the problems over there. Genocide is one. Total withdrawal is the other.
 
The future of Iraq is clear. It is a divided country, and new borders will be drawn to reflect this reality. It was true in Yugoslavia. It is true in Iraq. The only way to avoid this outcome is kill a lot of people and commit atrocities on the scale of Saddam Hussein, the only man who seemed able to keep that place in one piece.
 
It violates conscience and the values of this country to commit Haditha on the large scale. The best thing the US can do is broker a peace agreement among the various factions and allow them to go their separate ways. Then, we should leave. A unified Iraq makes no sense, yet our insistence on it is what is killing us over there.