Friday, July 11, 2008

I Almost Expect This To Really Happen

(CNN) – The Democratic National Committee resolved the nagging question of who should be the Democrats’ nominee for the White House, as well as ensuring the continued presence of their favorite target, by nominating President George W. Bush as the Democratic nominee for President.

The compromise came as democrats wrestled with the clear fact that Senator Hillary Clinton possessed formidable ability but an uncharismatic image, while Senator Barack Obama possessed tremendous charisma but absolutely no relevant experience. Partisans of each candidate had become impossible to reconcile, despite Clinton’s endorsement of Obama. Rumors that the Illinois Senator would receive an “experience transplant” from Senator Clinton in exchange for the resolution of Clinton’s 80 million dollar campaign debt could not be confirmed at this time. A DNC spokesman, however, was overheard suggesting that a ‘Howard Dean Mind-Meld’ had been considered, a technique which would likely be both safer and more effective if delayed until 2012.

The decision to nominate President Bush was explained by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Speaking through spokespersons, the Speaker and Majority Leader released the following statement:

“Americans have come to understand that everything wrong with America is the fault of President Bush. Unfortunately, if Bush is allowed to simply go home next year, the shock of having to find a new cause for everything which goes wrong would make it difficult for the Democratic Party to properly govern this great nation. Accordingly, the Democratic Party of the United States will serve the people to its utmost ability, by making sure this most invaluable of targets remains in range for the next four years, ready to be blamed for anything for which we decide he should be blamed.”

Pelosi and Reid explained away the restrictions of the Twenty-Second Amendment, by saying “everyone knows Bush was not really elected in 2000. He’s only been elected once. So, no problem!”

In order to avoid the President declining the nomination, the Congress has passed bills in both chambers of Congress designating George W. Bush as the National Target for Recrimination. The title includes prohibitions against declining nominations for re-election, even if he has no intention of running. It also blames Bush for tooth decay, bad hair days, and Senator Obama’s inability to remember his own past political policies.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

HR: Waste of Time or Plague on Modern Business?

I was watching Miami:CSI earlier this week (it just wouldn't be Monday w/o Caruso quipping bad one-liners and striking a profile pose), and it was an episode dealing with IAD - the scourge of many a good cop show. Know about IAD; all the cops hate it, good cops as well as bad ones. IAD never really does anything useful, it just gets in the way, sucks resources that could be much better used somewhere else, and it harasses honest folk to no end. Which made me think about Human Resources.

I have been in business for a quarter-century, and while I have great respect for administrators who handle records, enforce policy, and can point out the most intricate points of the law on employment matters, especially as I have done a lot of such work myself, as a unit I can find no justification for the existence of a Human Resource department. They do not hire anyone, they do not develop employees, they do not fire or discipline anyone. They do not produce revenue, they do not recognize achievements of an employee or group, they do not develop solutions for problems and constraints. What's worse, they uniformly hinder those who actually do those things. The real business people do that. Asking around, I have never found any experienced businessperson who thinks an HR department makes his company more effective, or a better place to work.

How about you? What's your HR experience?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Moral Authority

President George W. Bush is a good man, and has been a very good President for America. I wrote that not only because I believe it to be a true statement (and one too often drowned out by the Bush-hate in the media and current political climate), but also because such a statement is likely to provoke a strong emotional reaction. Those who agree with the statement are likely to resent all the unwarranted attacks on the man, and those who disagree with the statement are likely to disagree strongly, given past such occasions where someone dared to support Bush. The reason, I think, for the force of such emotions is that people feel a strong moral conviction in support of or in anger against the man. Bush is one of those rare individuals who acts in accordance with his beliefs, which cannot fail to produce a reaction. Another example would be Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul, whose convictions have done more in the last generation to raise the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church around the globe than all the circulars and reasoned doctrines. Or consider Mahatma Ghandi’s political crusade in India, or the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights campaigns in America. The significance I see in these people, is that when you look closely, you see that each of them is imperfect, flawed in this point or that, but it does not diminish their integrity one bit, because their core mission carries a level of moral authority which makes the flaws inconsequential. Authority, in this sense, is a force which compels obedience to varying degrees, through the absolute admission of moral sovereignty. To wit, the object of attention complies through akcnowledgement that the person in authority holds indisputable right. Resistance may – often does – occur, but ultimately fails. It is the sovereign right of parents, teachers, mentors, and of just governors.

I will take up this discussion later on, but must stop at this point while I figure out the implications of this fact.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Fear Of The Good

Terrorism is essentially stupid. While I can understand the emotional desperation that leads a losing cause to consider radical action in hopes of destabilizing the government they oppose, it’s a losing game. Every terrorist group meets one three fates – they are destroyed, the disband, or they reform into a legitimate political group which renounces the tools of terrorism. There is no terrorist organization in history which has avoided that resolution. The most successful examples of terrorist groups today, are those which have become tools of governments and those which have co-opted governments. The basic premise of terrorism, deliberately targeting known innocents, makes such groups unpalatable as legitimate authority, regardless of how much power the group may hold at one time.

This is no grand revelation, of course. It’s simple common sense, but it reminds us that those who belong to such groups think in a way very different from the common consensus, those who would make use of such groups are fundamentally corrupt, and those who would excuse or ignore such groups are foolish to an extreme degree. For example, while the losses in those countries were due to a number of causes in total, the corruption of the South Vietnamese government worked against building popular support for it, corruption which made tolerance for the Viet Cong a genuine demographic condition. Shah Rezi Pahlavi made late efforts to reform Iran, but the behavior of the Savak helped build support for the insurrection of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Ironically, both Vietnam and Iran later suffered from the same sort of terroristic behavior. Vietnam has only been able to emerge as a functional nation, by repudiating the violence and terrorist behavior of its own revolutionary guard, while in Iran the government lacks support from many Iranians, precisely because it rules through fear rather than political consensus.

With that said, I now bring up the title of this article. As a Christian, one of the stranger images from Scripture which I have trying to sort out, is the Army of God discussed in the book of the Revelation to John. Basically, the Lord Christ saddles up in heaven with an army of angels and every one of His believers. This army then descends to the earth and removes Satan and his angels form all remaining power, and all Mankind is forthwith submitted into judgment. Strange, that image. Some folks have made a great deal of noise, by saying that this shows Christ as no more than another man-made idol, a god who would destroy all who do not surrender to him. But I think that is incorrect; there is something more to the image than such a mundane explanation. After all, the Army of God includes every single one of Christ’s disciples, apostles, followers, and believers. People like Mother Teresa and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, and John the Baptist. There were warriors in Christ’s service to be sure, but most are lambs in spirit and children at heart. More, this is how God wants us to be. Consider Simon Peter, once a zealot but who served Christ as a man of peace, an exemplar in love and humility. This transformation would not be meant to be undone for the sake of destroying evil. A different sort of weapon would necessarily exist for that mission.

When I became a sports official, I was impressed with how much authority is assigned to such people. Athletes hold themselves to a high standard of conduct for the most part, and they accept the jurisdiction of officials as a requirement of the contest. The ones who would try to break rules, to ignore the spirit of fair play and an even playing field, soon find themselves outcasts in the society of sport, with only few exceptions. Those who are malicious and foul fear the good. This is obvious even from the fact that the rule breakers try hard to present the image of compliance and support for the integrity of the game. The same thing happens in business. Most people I know work hard at their job, and try to be honest and follow the law. The ones who do not are the exception, and in the end will be found out and ostracized, in addition to the penalties of law and professional governance. Evil fears good, because there is an innate quality to goodness which cannot be portrayed convincingly for very long, and which quality is essential to the human condition.

In my next article, I will examine this quality in some greater depth.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Few Thoughts On The Current Oil Crisis

Every so often, someone comes up with a new crisis to scare us. A lot of the time, it’s some con artist who has figured out that scared folks may be more willing to spend money without making sure they are not getting fleeced. Al Gore’s carbon tax and credits scam comes to mind, for example. Anyway, the most current fright ride is the oil crisis. All sorts of crazy and – frankly – dishonest screams are going on out there, demonstrating how little the general public understand how oil is produced and used, and how we can resolve our energy needs in a functional and realistic manner.

Oil is useless to Nature, first of all. Finding a way to use petroleum does not take it away from animals’ food supply, nor does it necessarily endanger the habitats in which they live. What causes problems are spills, and the pollution caused by burning it, especially in inefficient engines and furnaces. That is, as nations become more advanced, the less likely they are to contribute to pollution, even though most advocates never admit that fact. The Exxon Valdez spill, after all, is notable for the unheralded fact that Exxon has not had a repeat of it in decades, a claim many other companies – notably Chinese companies – cannot make.

Oil is also a popular fuel, because it has generally been cheaper and cleaner than the available choices before it. If you have ever seen one of those quaint coal-burning train engines, you may wonder about the black smoke belching into the sky. Oil-burning engines may be less romantic, but they were worlds better for the environment. Oil also replaced burning wood, because oil burned more cleanly, was less expensive, and because a tank of oil was far easier to acquire than cutting down a grove of trees. This is important, because the transition from oil to something else depends on the usefulness of the substitute. Simply demanding that we stop using oil is stupid; people will use whatever fuel best meets their needs, and that’s simply not going to change.

To the present problem, though, just why is gas $4 a gallon? There’s plenty of blame to go around, largely based on three key facts:

Nations like China and India are using a lot more petroleum than they ever did before, as their economies rapidly industrialize. This means that significant pressure upwards , permanent pressure, is being exerted on the demand curve;

Domestic oil options are not allowed to be used. At least by American companies. Chinese companies are known, for example, to be drilling 75 miles of the US coast, where US companies are prohibited from drilling. There is no acceptable honest answer as to why Congress deliberately works against American interests. And that includes Republicans.

And for more than a generation, there has been massive resistance to building any new petroleum refineries in the United States. Environmentalists lie about the effects of building refineries. Oil companies have seen their needs ignored in lean years, and punished in good times, so that they have no stomach for building expensive and capital intensive refineries that will not bring in profits but will bring tons of headaches. Governments have ignored the need to think in terms of long-time infrastructure, and to put American needs first. No one is willing to tolerate the risk and expense of building the refineries which would immediately and significantly improve supply of gasoline to Americans, let alone encourage it.

Many argue that we are running out of oil. That is both true and untrue. Certainly, the amount of new oil deposits being found each year is less than the oil being used. However, the technology exists to make use of a number of types of oil not considered economically viable before, such as shale oil. Many argue that oil is ecologically bad, but this is generally true in emerging nations, which would use the oil for their needs no matter what other nations said; Oil is essentially a strategic commodity. Developed nations, however, have developed many ways to reduce oil consumption and to operate oil engines more and more cleanly.

What is certain, is that oil will continue to be relatively expensive. I think the price at the pump will go down a bit, but in general the trend will continue to be rising prices. This will force a change in both short-term tactics and long-term strategy. Historically, when such things happen some very good ideas have been provided. But just as good medical ideas come from doctors, and good military ideas come from soldiers, the solution to how to address the changing needs and use of oil will come from the people who work with oil, who find it and make it useful. Looking to Washington is looking the wrong way.