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Questions with Only One Answer

Why is it: When grown men report sexual assaults (by priests or athletic coaches) 30 years later, there is public outrage (in favor of the reporting men), but when women report sexual assaults 30 years later, there is public doubt (against the reporting women)? The public might not doubt the actual sexual “encounter,” but there are always other shadows of doubt following these women, such as their memory accuracy, their conduct (like, they asked for it!), their “timing” of the reporting, or the actual identity of the perpetrator.

If the “failing” New York Times only publishes “fake news,” why was the article on Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s proposal to wire tap and to evoke the 25th Amendment on Mr. Trump taken so seriously by the White House?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell openly vowed to make President Obama a one-term president, right after the election of 2008, and stole a Supreme Court seat in 2015; he now promised the conservatives that the senate will “plow right through” Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But House Minority Leader, Ms. Pelosi, is the devil incarnate?

What happened to the deficit scolds who were so vocal all through Obama’s eight years of presidency? Now, we are facing $1.5 trillion deficits, thanks to the tax cut that was plowed through without one hearing, and the GOP wants more tax cuts (for the 1%). The same scolds are silent; why?

There was a lot of anti-establishment/anti-elite sentiment in the 2016 election, especially among the Trump supporters … a sentiment to which I am not unsympathetic. But in what universe is Mr. Trump not one of the elites? His world is one of the mainstream establishments and his whole life has been defined by nothing but privilege. How does he sell himself as, and how do his supporters view him as, one of the “everyday” crowd? Much of the anti-Hilary sentiment was based on her “entitled” attitude. Again, I am not unsympathetic to anti-entitlement sentiment, but in the current Judge Kavanaugh carnival, how is he not the poster boy for “entitlement?”

The answer to these questions is: HYPOCRACY! Or, as the Chinese saying goes, 不要臉, bu yao liang, “Don’t want face.” A subordinate answer: White men are allowed to enjoy entitlement privileges but not women or minorities.

And the world is truly laughing at us now, at Trump’s latest UN speech … as he was reading from the teleprompter.   Speaking of teleprompter, didn’t the GOP (Trump included) criticize President Obama mercilessly for using teleprompter too often? Seriously, though, Trump should only read from teleprompter, at least he sounds more coherent (but not necessarily wiser).   At his post UN press conference, absent his teleprompter, he was borderline incoherent for 80+ minutes. The President of the United States of America!

If Trump supporters still think his words are pearls of wisdom and long-suppressed truths, I have but one question to ask: Would you feel the same if the identical words had come from President Obama?

I am an agnostic, but god help us.

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What Happened To That Easily Winnable Trade War? – Ignorance, hypocrisy, incompetence and incoherence do not make “policy”

If you have some issues with your closest and oldest business partners, do you try to discretely discuss the issues with them? Or, do you publically insult them, slap them with unilaterally determined fines, and say, “Now, negotiate with me on my terms”? Further, if you have a track record of multiple bankruptcies, including failing a casino (think on that), stiffing your partners, having difficulties securing bank loans, retaining competent lawyers, etc., then, by definition, you are not a successful businessman. Can someone with such a background make deals on the international stage, without any considerations of, nor desire to learn about, the usual geopolitical morass? Would you trust buying/selling a house with such a person as your realtor? Would you hire such an individual as your CEO? Why would some people believe that Mr. Trump, representing USA, has some kind of master plan of using tariffs to motivate other countries to sell their products here? – or to stop selling their products here?

If anyone thinks that in 21st century we can build a successful closed economic system, just look at Cuba and North Korea. Sheer madness.

 

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The nature of any multiple-partners trade treaty is that no one will be totally satisfied, and every player will have some features to complain about. Creating and maintaining these treaties is a balancing act. By upsetting the balance, there are predictable chain effects. Throwing a temper tantrum in a china shop is bound to break things. We may not predict which pieces will be broken, but breaks there will be. We may think we’re invulnerable to the consequences of breakage, but history teaches otherwise.

Do Trump supporters recall his justification for making some of his products in China, such as the MGMA hats and Trump ties, that he was responsible to his investors and family? So why is Harley-Davidson, using the same justification to move some of its manufacturing operations overseas to fend off the tariffs from the “shoot-your-own-foot” trade war, accused of betrayal?

Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, a Harvard professor no less, seems to have caught the “making no sense” virus. Navarro claims that China’s bad-faith trade practice is responsible for “stealing” millions of jobs from US. When our unemployment rate is at all time low, a trend started by the Obama administration’s efforts in rescuing us from the 2008 economic Recession, where did these stolen jobs go? Further, the illegal immigrants are also have “stolen” millions of jobs from us. You’d think our unemployment rate would approach 8% owing to a lack of jobs, with so many millions having been stolen. Nonsense is ok now that ideology trumps everything.

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New York Times columnist Bret Stephens sums it up well: “It’s fair to say that the U.S. could use its leverage to negotiate more advantageous trade deals. It isn’t fair to insist on politically untenable trade concessions he [Trump] knows other countries won’t make — a sunset clause for NAFTA, for example — in order to destroy these agreements permanently while blaming the other side… America First is America Feared. But it is also America hated, and hated with justification. Where’s the upside in that?” But Trump supporters confuse “being hated/feared” with “being respected.” Nuances are lost on Trump, and nuances are lost on his supporters.

Just look at the TPP, Trans Pacific Partner Agreement; it is about opening markets as it is about intellectual property. It is a way by which to contain some of China’s egregious “intellectual theft” acts. It shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone that the treaty is not perfect, but it’s a mechanism that carries some weight. However, Mr. Trump and his lieutenants simply pulled the US out of the agreement, for what? Spite? Ignorance? Campaign promises? Which are probably the same in Trump’s case. The resulting hole made by American’s departure has given China a golden opportunity to step in and assume the leading position, which means that they now can ignore international intellectual property laws (i.e. treaties) with impunity. And if that was not bad enough, Trump then started adding tariffs willy nilly. Tariffs are about goods, and so will not themselves resolve issues of intellectual property theft. By all historical and economic perspectives, tariffs generally hurt the economy more than boosting it.

People least able to afford the extra costs resulting from tariffs will be affected the most. Since most of these affected are farmers overwhelmingly voted for Trump, he offers them $12 billion in aid. But this is only the latest. As the toll from other tariffs grows into additional sectors, are we going to keep bailing them out as well? So, in addition to paying higher prices for imported goods due to the trade war, we will now incur additional taxpayers’ money to compensate for the lost revenue for our exported goods. Wouldn’t buying votes be cheaper? Illegal? Since when would that bother Mr. Trump and his supporters?

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I share two readers’ poignant observations: “Remember when we had a President interested in solving problems he didn’t make, instead of making problems he is incompetent to solve?”

And to tie back to my opening critique on (the lack of) business acumen in negotiation, I thought the following list is very revealing, don’t you?

Bankruptcy = 6 times
Trump University = Failed
Trump Fragrance = Failed
Trump Coffee = Failed
Trump Shoes = Failed
Trump Home Mattresses = Failed
Trump Urine Test = Failed
Trump Airways = Failed
Trump Steaks = Failed
GoTrump.com = Failed
Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel = Failed
Trump Vodka = Failed
Trump Mortgage = Failed
Trump Marina Hotel Casino = Failed
Trump the Game = Laughably Failed
Trump Magazine = Failed
Trump Taj Mahal = Failed
Trump Ice = Failed
New Jersey Generals Football team = Failed
Tour de Trump = Failed
Trump on the Oceans Resorts = Failed
The Trump Network = Failed
Trump! Radio Network = Failed
Trump Pillows = Failed
Trump New Media = Failed
Trump Ice spring water = Failed
Trump International Hotel and Tower (Dubai) = Failed
Trump tower Baku = Could be the worst failure

Given such a background, why does Mr. Trump still have so many faithful followers? Once again, that “cult personality” comes to mind. So, is it America first? Or Trump first?

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead

(Part II) Immigration: compassion and logic are not mutually exclusive

Political dialog often goes hyperbolic, either using blatantly made-up scenarios or blowing things out of proportion. For example, there is no crime wave perpetrated by immigrants; neither is it sensible to abolish the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agency. The former is a trumped up fear-mongering tactic that doesn’t jibe with facts, and the latter is a reactionary posture to the current brutal treatment (not always, but often) of the asylum seekers at the border.

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As I mentioned in the last post, Mr. Trump stokes the fears of some Americans against South American immigrants, legal and otherwise. During the 2016 campaign, his proposal to build a wall across the southern border was wildly popular among his supporters who seem to have a very short-term memory. Trump famously bragged that he was going to build a “beautiful” wall, and “Mexican will pay for it.” But nowadays, he essentially holds children, separated from their parents who came to our country seeking asylum, as bargaining chips to bring the Democrats in the Congress into the negotiation of a bill that would give him the money to build this wall. Really?! Seriously?! And his supporters cheer on.

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Is building a wall across our southern border a wise way of spending money? It bears repeating what I once wrote: Rome tried that on its northern border in Britain, China tried that on its northern border in Asia, Russia tried it on its western border in Berlin, France on its eastern border with Germany. Admittedly, nobody seems to have tried it on its southern border, so maybe that will work better. (Addendum: The wall built by Israel on, and often beyond, its western border, has brought lasting peace and prosperity to the region and generations’ worth of security for Israel. Yeah.)   Strangely, these days, it seems the comedians have a better grasp of the nuances of public policy. For another perspective on building this wall, please take some time to view John Oliver’s delivery on the topic; he provides comprehensive estimates, logistics, and pragmatic considerations.

National Security

However, objection to building this wall is not equivalent to “open border”…yet another hyperbole/lie. How we want to secure our border is a topic worthy of intelligent conversation, which seems to be in severe shortage in today’s political environment. More importantly, though, is the fact that while we are obsessed with spending money on this useless symbol, China is building its 21st Century empire by not focusing on border walls (perhaps they learned from their own history?) but instead investing in technological domination on several fronts. One of the major reasons why the Soviet Union collapsed was that they were weighted down by the arms race. Money that could help build the country and feed the people largely went into building military armaments that went unused. The Soviet leaders also discovered, belatedly, that holding onto Afghanistan was futile, money and lives poured down the drain without desired effect. So we took over pouring money into Afghanistan, 17 years later with no end in sight.

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The argument for building this wall is to stem the tide of immigrant flow; also, by implication, it would reduce the crimes committed by the immigrants. Elevating the influx immigrant to “national security” threat is simply laughable. It’s very doubtful that immigration would make it to the list of top 10 threats to our national security, not by DOD, DHS, CIA, or NSA. And here are some more hard and cold facts, curtsey of a New York Times reader:

Number of convicted terrorists (number of deaths) by country, since 1975 (from The Atlantic):

Saudi Arabia: 19 (2,369)
UAE: 2 (314)
Egypt: 11 (162)
Lebanon: 4 (159)
Cuba: 11 (3)
Pakistan 14 (3)
Trinidad & Tobago: 2 (1)
UK: 3 (0)

Iran: 6 (0)
Iraq: 2 (0)
Libya: 0 (0)
Somalia: 2 (0)
Sudan: 6 (0)
Syria: 0 (0)
Yemen: 1 (0)
North Korea: 0 (0) – No Data
Venezuela: 0 (0) – No Data
Chad: 0 (0) – No Data

Please note that none of the countries on Mr. Trump’s ban has caused any deaths. Here is an interesting read from a conservative columnist, Bret Stephen.  And for comparison:

Gun Deaths in the US 2005-2015 (Politico): 301,797.

School Shooting Victims Post-Sandy Hook 2012-Feb 18 (NYTimes): 438 (138 killed).

Right-Wing Terrorist Attacks 1993-2017 (ADL): 150 attacks, 255 killed.

Finally, just for perspective, lynchings in the US 1882-1968 (Tuskeegee Institute): 4,743.

Crime

Several of our southern border towns have seen an increase in border patrols and national guard members; their presence has created more tension and fear in these towns than what the desperate immigrants and their families have brought. For one Texas border town, even a study from the CATO Institute, a conservative think tank, ranks the town way down on crime statistics: “The Cato Institute’s research consistently shows that immigrants, both legal and undocumented, are markedly less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

Not only has Mr. Trump used imaginary numbers and contrived narratives to paint immigrants as “rapists and murders,” he has also sensationalized some of the crimes in Germany. What’s more, Germany’s crime problems are not brought about by immigrants or refugees; if anything, Germany is currently experiencing one of their lowest crime rates. This doesn’t excuse the reported 8,000 or so sexual assault in Germany, but that has nothing to do with immigrants. I learned from one reader: In US, we had almost 432,000 sexual assaults in 2015 according to the 2016 National Crime Victimization Survey. Should we not allow any American male past US borders? Of course that is ridiculous. The majority of sex tourism involves men from wealthy nations, preying on children and vulnerable women and using them as amusement. Should men from wealthy nations be banned from travel? We can sensationalize anything to promote fear and hatred.

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good friends…95lbs & 10lb…it can work

Humanity

For those who regularly use the Bible as guidance, does Jesus’ teaching stop at national borders? Are “the least of my bretheren” only US citizens?

What can be done about the undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers? For those who complain that it’d be unfair for them to jump the queue ahead of those who have been patiently, and legally, waiting their turn, we can speed up the process for those already waiting, and we certainly can also process the asylum seekers’ requests with more humane treatment. (And it would cost less than a wall.) When the desperate need help, kindness would go a long way to win their hearts and souls. Most refugees and asylum seekers are desperate women, children, and families. This is the demographic that is most likely to succeed and put down strong roots. The US travesty at the Mexico border is doing just the opposite; it is victimizing the most vulnerable. It is a fascistic response by a deliberately cruel and ignorant administration. Of course, rejecting asylum seekers is within our national prerogative, but dehumanizing them is sowing the seeds of resentment, building yet another reason for future generations of foreigners to wish – and do – us harm. How is that a winning strategy?

And oh, by the way, a few thoughtful politicians from John McCain to former President Obama had proposed and supported guest work permits, biometric ID, and other saner and safer initiatives. It was ALL Republicans blocking these publically approved measures every step of the way.

We need to be reminded of George Washington’s words on “tolerance:”

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…”

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

 

Immigration: compassion and logic are not mutually exclusive

Americans like to say: This country was founded on immigrants; immigration is the bedrock of American democracy. Yet, throughout our history, we’ve repeatedly, without seemingly learning a lesson, used various immigrant groups as scapegoats for whatever collective insecurity we feel at the time. Italians, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Jews, and now Mexicans. And of course there are the equally suspicious people from certain Islamic countries.

What was said about the Jews fleeing Europe in the late 1930s are the same complaints we lay against the current influx of South Americans: “We can’t afford them.” “They bring problems here.” “They won’t assimilate.” During WWII, without some of those Jews, we’d not have made the atomic bombs (whether that’s good or bad is a different topic). So now we demand “high skill” for the latest immigrants. Is practicing humanity based on hierarchy of skills? When we finally allowed the fleeing Jews to immigrate into this country, we didn’t know that some of their backgrounds and skills could have become important assets. Many of the descendants of the Chinese coolies are now scientists, doctors, lawyers, professors, etc. Desperate people don’t usually dress properly, speak our language fluently, or score high on SAT.

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Mr. Trump won the presidency largely by stoking some Americans’ fears of immigrants and then amplifying these fears to encompass all refugees. Mr. Trump is not one for nuances, intelligent analysis, or facts; nor is he known for compassion. His policy – and yes, the separation of the asylum seekers’ families is ALL his – of taking children away from parents at the border is the apogee of 21st Century ugly Americanism. Compounding this was his lie that Democrats started this “policy.” During the short period of separating families at the border, the officials defending this policy changed positions/stories 14 times!

“We are not taking children from their families.”

“We are doing it, but the Democrats made us do it.”

“We don’t want to do this, but the law makes us do it, we cannot stop it.”

“We are doing it, and it’s ok because of what the Bible says.”

“When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away,” (Trump).

“I want to stop this but the Democrats aren’t letting me, it’s their fault.” (Trump).

Remember when Trump said that he knows the best and he “alone can fix the problem?” For those who support him and like his “telling like it is,” accept his words at the face value. Now, explain why he can’t fix this problem…

In the end, magically, Trump found power to sign an executive order to stop the separation. But because of the lack of forethought, or any thoughts, the families that are scattered all over the country are not likely to be reunited anytime soon, despite a judge’s order. This chaos stems from the lack of coordination and procedures among agencies involved in this operation. Staff members or advocates have been severely strained to trace and connect these broken souls. Read Jonathan Blitzer’s first-encounter reporting in the New Yorker, or, listen to the interview on Fresh Air.

indian painting brush 1According to the latest survey commissioned by CNN, two-thirds of the Americans overall object to the policy of family separation while the majority of Republicans supports it. Let. That. Sink. In. Even the outgoing Republican senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker said, “This is cultlike.” Once again, New York Times’ Charles Blow’s eloquence speaks to me: “Not even the sight of devastated families could move the party that once called itself the party of family values. Not even the idea of ‘tender age’ internment camps for babies could move the party built on the protection of ‘unborn babies.’”

Why do immigration issues feel so raw for so many people? It’s scapegoating combined with fear-based assertions; it appeals to people’s emotions rather than reasons. I would like to unpack some of the tangled web using facts and logic.

First and foremost are the issues of jobs and economy.

The jobs typically filled by “unskilled” immigrants include farm labor (formerly called “stoop labor”), cleaning, or odd jobs for construction. So far, some of the farms that have relied on low wage labor have experienced damaged produce owing to lack of laborers.  Have we seen a rush of Americans filling these jobs?

There is a severe shortage of truck drivers, and companies even offer higher wages, often with sign-up bonus, and/or other perks, yet cannot fill the openings. Of course, no illegal immigrants can apply without a valid driver’s license, so where are the Americans crying for better-paying jobs?

Some tech industries are looking for skilled workers, but most Americans don’t seem to possess the required skills. Whose fault is that? (Related question: “How is Trump’s Department of Education driving improvements in the skill set of our future workforce?” Answer: “Gutting our public school system.”)

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In a “true” market, to attract Americans to their jobs, companies would adjust their wages – i.e. raise them high enough to be attractive. To use either “illegal” or “e-verify” is a strategy to suppress wages. From another perspective, why do we allow companies to cross the border to seek low-cost production means but cry foul if people try to cross border to seek better economic opportunities? This is simply “corporate welfare” to which we’ve been blind.

Once again, it’s much easier to scapegoat “others/outsiders” than to confront the big corporations who happen to have much more control over our social narratives through their political beneficiaries, i.e. local and national politicians, and media. The illegals just want to work, and they have to remain silent.

As for how immigration affects the greater economy: An internal government report, commissioned by the Trump administration, states that refuges brought $63 billion more tax revenue over the past decade than they cost the government. I wonder why that report hasn’t been tweeted about? or, widely circulated? Previous economic studies all point out that immigrants may cost more during their first year in the States, but they contribute significantly to the economic growth during the subsequent years.

In the next post, I will touch upon issues of: Border (including walls), National Security, Crimes, and Moral Standards/Humanity. Till then,

May the 4th of July bring you peace and joy.

Staying Sane in the Age of Crazed Politics

I scream silently every day. I have struggled to compose coherent frameworks under which to discuss politics and management. The constant barrage of political dramas – which often are non-issues – hit us every day. It’s exhausting and maddening; the majority of them are based on lies, baseless claims, or twisted logic. Clearly, and sadly, if the king yells loud enough and often enough, his believers take his lies as facts.

Indeed, this was foretold by Joseph Goebbels, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” I weep silently every day; I weep that such a monster’s prophecy could be realized, and that so many of my fellow citizens choose to deny his monstrosity.

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I have taken digital reams of notes on my computer. I have attempted several drafts on various topics…and quickly abandon them because I cannot write fast enough to keep up with the latest outrage; that is, outrage on my part. Most important is that I take pride and caution in my use and choice of language. And I object vehemently that somehow adhering to professional standards is dismissed as “elitist,” and being courteous is to be a “snowflake.” Yet, there have plenty of moments where I feel torn between just blurting out my frustration and disgust and holding on my core belief of being a decent human being. While my daily private language has been horribly corrupted, I ultimately hold that without observing norms in the public discourse, we are no different from our barbaric forefathers, and not that much different from the baboons and chimpanzees with whom we share common ancestors.

Of course, I am referring to Mr. Trump, his defenders and sycophants, including Fox “news.” When opinions, let alone reporting, ignore factual information, the conversations are one-sided. When a person in a leadership position chokes off all dissent as “fake,” that person is deemed dictatorial or authoritarian. In the business world, such a leader might get away with said behavior, as long as she scores good profits…for a while. However, ultimately and eventually, there would be enough of a public outcry that the organization would have to take corrective action. With public figures, the consequences, at times, can be much quicker. Roseanne Barr’s show was cancelled for racist rants and Samantha Bee was admonished for grotesque choice of words.   Not for Mr. Trump, though.

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If Mr. Trump has one “achievement,” it is in the domain of winning applause for figurative murder, mostly from his base, not just voters but more disgustingly, most GOP officials and public figures. From the perspective that nothing Mr. Trump can say or do is ever wrong – and whoever criticizes him is absolutely wrong – Mr. Trump’s devoted followers are quintessential cult members. “ … the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

But, to admonish the Trump followers who occupy public offices or prominent positions in the society with, “History will not judge you kindly,” is to miss the point: These people are a-historical; they are, and choose to remain, dismissive of history as too distant and immaterial. Like followers of Mao Tse-Dong, Stalin, or Hitler, the people doing Trump’s bidding care only for the present, the opportunity to exploit power to accumulate wealth or wallow in gratification of poking their “enemies.” And presently, they feel as if their up-the-establishment is the revolution that will be recorded as such in history. Like the previous followers of dictators, these people care mostly about upsetting the apple cart; the goals of building a different apple cart are much less important, and that’s adequate excuse for promised goals that are unfulfilled or altered.

Try such approaches in the business world. Ironically, the business world in the States is enjoying some loosened regulations but also has to contend with chaotic national politics and growing hostile international environment.

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The most recent tax cut largely benefits the very rich; that’s ok, the rest get some anyway. (Even though their share of the tax cut, small to begin with, will disappear in a few years. In fact, for many, the minuscule tax relief is about to be consumed by increasing fuel prices.   But it’s the here and now that matters.) As regards immigrants being chased away or frightened into hiding, having their lives upended, the followers apparently cannot grasp the ramifications for industries that rely on immigrants. And when retail price increases hit them, they will find other targets to blame. History means nothing.

Yet, it isn’t right or sustainable to feel outraged all the time. We have to eat; we have to tidy up the house and wash dishes; we have to tend to our children or elderly parents. We still have to go to the grocery store just to get some ketchup; we still have to pay rent or mortgage. So, we oscillate between normalcy and mad sadness (per our predictable reaction at the next mass shooting).

As Dahlia Lithwick captures well our “collective madness:”

We are trapped in a kind of national collective madness, where lies are truth, truth is derided as fake news, corruption is cleansing, and cruelty is good governance. Suddenly the adults are children and the Parkland, Florida, kids are adults, and every time you think it can’t get madder, it just does. It’s a world in which the mere act of declaiming, “This isn’t normal,” or “They’re not telling the truth” is dismissed as hysteria and overreaction. Jokes can hurt feelings, but ripping children from their parents leaves no lasting moral footprint.

And this last point, ripping children from their parents as the administration’s latest immigration policy, Mr. Trump tweeted that it is Democrat’s fault.

Perhaps our collective madness is tantamount to a collective opioid crisis. We know better, but we cannot help ourselves. We kind of know we are wrong, but we cannot possibly admit our misjudgment to ourselves, let alone to others. For those of us who think we are the sane ones, how do we know that we are not the crazy ones? the ones with the addiction? or, the cult members? Against what do we ascertain reality?

In my last post, by now long ago, I mentioned that exit is often the strategy for coping with an intolerable organization, but not so for an intolerable society or country. In Ms. Lithwick’s piece, she employs a symbol from a fable by which we might learn to identify for each other the sane ones. Perhaps. But then, the next question is: how do we know that the very symbol we use for sanity check isn’t the hallmark of an echo chamber?

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In the end, I have to insist on facts, verifiable facts. Opinions based on facts have more legs to stand on, and opinions based on out-of-thin-air assertions are still hogwash. Or, BS. We don’t like political correctness? Then, let’s call bullshit “bullshit.”

I learned, from a recent New Yorker article these principles, by French “thinker and activist,” Simone Weil in her 1933 journal:  “Never react to an evil in such a way as to augment it.” And, “Refuse to be an accomplice. Don’t lie—don’t keep your eyes shut.”

So, after months of gnashing my teeth and feeling too immobilized to write for the public eye, I decided to assert my voice again.

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com

 

When Tough Men Can Cry Openly…

Why do we take our emotional well-being for granted? We talk a lot about “taking care of” it, but do we do as much about it as we talk? The phrase “mental hygiene” is apropos, but the premise of this metaphor conjures up a gross feeling, like, flossing teeth or basic grooming (yet, what’s wrong with doing these acts?!). (The phrase also belittles the complexity of our mind, as if it could be cleaned in a quick ritual act after each meal.) Of course, someone’s emotional/mental mess may be something easily shrugged off in another person. I think that’s part of the problem; the yardstick against which we evaluate our emotional situation and mental state is a fluid measure. When do we know we really need to do some serious mental flossing? When can we get away with a little tooth-picking? Gross…well, we’d better deal with it.

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Thanks to a friend who sent me a link to an Invisibilia” episode in which the focus was on suppressed emotions and forced “positive” attitude. According to the program’s website, “Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and emotion.” The two stories in this episode explored whether it’s possible to change habits of an entire group of men and to alter a deeply-rooted cultural behavior. The former story took place on a Shell’s deep-water oil drilling rig, Ursa, the size of about two football fields. The latter took place in the first McDonald’s in Moscow.

Most of us are probably ignorant of the nature and degree of danger for oil rig workers. Seeing deaths of colleagues is not uncommon, while physical challenge and injury are common. The culture among oil rig workers is one of ultimate stoicism and hypermasculinity. No show of emotions, even upon witnessing a death; keeping the work process uninterrupted is the key. Most men carry the same bottled-up emotional practice at home as well. Would the practice for regular oil rigs work just as well for an unprecedented deep water drill? In 1997, the first deep water drilling, 4,000 ft deep, even for the experienced oil workers was “like going from Earth to Mars.” The typical 20-person crew for a regular rig would swell to more than a hundred for Ursa, with all the potential hazards and dangers increasing exponentially.ursa-1_custom-8358af5fba589f61d21864036b6ce4551c33fa4b-s900-c85

The main character in the oil rig story, Rick, was put in charge of Ursa. “He was stressed at home, barely able to speak to a son who was about to leave for college. He was stressed at work, in charge of a giant, really complicated venture that he didn’t know how to tackle. Things felt like they were spinning out of control.” Rick’s saving grace was that deep down he suspected and sensed that something was out of kilter and that he didn’t know what to do.

When the student is ready, the teacher will come.

Out of blue, a “crazy one-eye lady” made a cold call to Rick and offered to work with him on leadership issues. Claire Nuer, now deceased, heard about Ursa and thought that she could offer something useful. Rick accepted a meeting and they talked, through an interpreter mostly since Nuer spoke little English; her native language was French. Rick began the meeting with the typical business of scheduling, planning, production, etc. Claire cut him off with “…if you just don’t tell people you’re scared, you’re not going to create safety together.” That caught Rick’s attention. One can bottle up one’s emotions, fears in this case, only for so long. It would work well…only for so long. One might even coast along on another smaller rig, the old familiar environment…only for so long. When all emotions have no outlet for relief, something has to give. At home, Rick was risking losing his emotional ties with his family, and at work, the risks wouldn’t just be Rick’s “incompetence” in managing, but the potential injuries and/or deaths of some colleagues.

So, who was Claire Nuer? She was a leadership coach, founder of Learning As Leadership. Based on new age Est’s method, popular in the 70s and draconian to many, digging deep into one’s emotions to lay the foundation for healing and emotional well-being. The typical Est experience was a day-long encounter (well into 10 or 11PM) that often made grownups cry (by itself, there is nothing wrong with that). Claire and her husband fashioned something similar in their business, mostly breaking down business executives.

Eventually, Rick joined Claire’s sessions, usually conducted through translation. Since Rick’s motivation was largely his broken tie with his son, he even persuaded his son to join him for an encounter session. That session lead to a 180-degree turn for Rick and his son. That was enough for Rick to get his men from the rig involved.

Now, when a boss wants you to do something outside of work, in this case personal development for the better productivity of the team, even when the offer is on a voluntary basis, you take it, however reluctant and dubious you may feel. So, most of the rig workers went; a few refused to do some of the exercises, and remained skeptical. However, those who were more willing to participate ultimately learned to show their vulnerability, and couldn’t say enough good things about the outcomes, not just about work, but more so about their personal lives. Most of these sessions took place while they were waiting for the completion of the rig construction that took 18 months.

During the few long days of sessions (from 6AM – 11PM on some days), these super macho tough guys gradually broke down, cried, shared their stories and feelings… Even the ones who thought “I’ll just reveal a little…” couldn’t stop once they began the process. I understand these principles, but it did creep me out a bit when I read that they eventually managed to overcome revulsion and massaged each other’s feet, demonstrating deep trust. (Author’s note: In many of these intense workshops, participants are required to do things they would normally eschew. Breaking down old boundaries is an important foundation. While I am not totally against some of these exercises, I always find it obnoxious that participants have to behave according to the program’s demands. I mean, there have to be other ways of showing trust. Yes?)

The efforts and money paid off. The accident rate at Shell fell by 84%, and the productivity exceeded the previous industry record. The energy that formerly preserved the hyper masculine norm was now invested in working together, sharing technical information. Instead of fearing to show lack of knowledge or admitting mistakes, the new refrain of “I need help” made the work process much smoother.

All the converts to the new culture openly admitted that as they become more themselves, they like themselves better. “The old way is no fun.”

Darn it, when it comes to story telling, I just cannot economize and fit all the themes and nuances in one post. I will conclude in the next post the changing cultural habits for some Russians who wanted to work for McDonald’s. Till then,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

Some People Are Very Certain About Their Doubt

This American Life,” a weekly public radio show, not only presents interesting human stories, but also often provides insightful social commentaries and analyses. NUMMI of pre-bankrupt GM is a good example (read here, here, and here). And the episode with the intriguing title, “Anatomy of Doubt” still lingers in my mind. While remembering all the key facts, I nonetheless reviewed the show’s transcript to erase all doubts before writing the following.

The “Doubt” episode is yet another reminder that “common sense” can lead us astray. It also reminds me of the classic exercise for communication, or miscommunication, that some of you might have done. This exercise asks groups of five to seven people (or more) to relay a simple message within each group; by the end of the relay, the message can sometimes be unbelievably garbled. It’s a lesson, or a warning, about the reliability of our memory, our tendency to rewrite messages according to preconceptions, and unintended consequences. Yet, we keep doing this on a regular basis…because we are humans.

pattern

There are two stories in “Doubt,” and they are convoluted, as life often is. The stories are based on crimes made more gripping because the doubts that seemingly inevitably surround sexual assaults. (Now, why does sexual assault elicit more doubts, especially from those who are close to the victims?) I am sure that I will not be able to capture all the twists and turns in this short space; however, I will sketch out the essentials; of course, that reduces the mystery and suspense. So, I urge you to read the transcript or listen to the episode.

The first story took place in 2009, in a Seattle suburb, Lynwood. An 18-year old Marie found herself tied up, under threat of a knife, and raped in the middle of the night. Afterwards, the assailant, still wearing a mask, took a picture of her and threatened her with publicity if she reported. She reported.

Marie grew up through several foster care homes; one caregiver, Shannon, became close to Marie even after she moved out. Marie’s last foster mom, Peggy, a teacher, also kept in touch with Marie. Because Peggy lived closer to Marie, she was by Marie’s side when the police were still processing Marie’s apartment. They did a rape kit, documented various bruises, especially around her wrists, and found all the materials the assailant used, his mask, knife, and the shoelace. No fingerprints were found except one set on the sliding glass door.

Peggy recalled her doubt about Marie’s story from the get-go. “ I was like, oh, my God. She’s telling me that she got raped. But I felt–I just felt horrible. I felt horrible that I didn’t believe her.” Later, Peggy called Shannon who shared the same doubt. The basis for their doubt:

  • Marie called too many people the next day to tell her story.
  • Marie had a tendency to seek attention.
  • Marie was surprisingly un-emotional when she related the story, as if “she just made a sandwich.”
  • All the materials used by the assailant belonged to Marie, and Peggy wondered if shoelaces were strong enough to stop someone’s struggling.
  • Days later, Marie was her giggling self, rolling in the grass, and flirting with her apartment case manager who was trying to help.

Peggy eventually let her doubt take over. She called the investigative detective and shared her doubt, and that began Marie’s nightmare. Both of the detectives on the case were men, and the senior one had had little experience in sexual assault cases. Marie’s case was his 2nd or 3rd one.bridge

After Peggy’s call, the detectives brought Marie in to the police station for further interviews, though this time, it was clear that they treated her more like a criminal than a victim. They saw inconsistencies and suspicious points in Marie’s story. Another round or two of more interviews later, Marie broke down and agreed to recant her story. Though when she wrote, “I dreamed…” she was forced to rewrite, “I lied about…I made up this story.” At one point, the police threatened her with a polygraph test, which should have raised a red flag but the detectives later claimed that Marie herself brought it up first. Regardless, Marie eventually was charged with false reporting, for which she had to pay $500 court fee, go through mental health counseling, and meet other conditions for a year.

When the news broke that she lied, it was all over the local TV stations. Marie got hate mail and was crucified online. This was an 18-year old woman who was trying to be independent, with her support network faltering around her. She was alone; she needed help; she needed a lawyer. Her subsidized apartment, housing recently independent former foster children, would normally provide assistance. However, the case manager called the police station and was told that there was no rape.

Later, the case manager called a residents’ meeting, without revealing the purpose of the meeting, and exposed Marie’s situation. Needless to say, the majority of the residents were hostile to Marie. (There was one young woman who saw Marie’s tone and posture as those of someone who was traumatized…this young woman had a similar experience.) After this public shaming, for the first time in her life, Marie thought about suicide.

The false reporting charge meant that Marie’s rape case would be officially closed. The physical evidence police had gathered at the scene was destroyed except for a single fingerprint card that was left behind. Everything else– the rape kit, the bedding, the DNA swabs– they were never even tested in a crime lab, never analyzed.”

Two months after Marie’s case, Shannon saw on TV a news story of a rape case in a neighboring county with the exact same M.O. as Marie’s. Shannon realized then that her friend probably was a true victim. Shannon contacted the detective in charge of the new case and told him about Marie’s story. The current detective called Marie’s case detective and was told that she lied and there was no rape. The current detective never followed up with Marie.

Years later, there was an outside review of the case by a police investigator, a sex crime specialist named Sergeant Gregg Rinta. His report said, quote, ‘The manner in which she [Marie] was treated by Sergeant Mason and Detective Rittgarn can only be labeled as bullying and coercive.’” 

You didn’t really think that I could finish this story in one shot, did you? And I promise there are implications for social psychology and management. Till next time,

 

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com