Wednesday, February 25, 2009

DelanceyPlace: Business Education

I cannot believe I am sharing an excerpt from Delanceyplace twice in one week (previous one was about The Twilight Zone). But when I consider the current shambles of our economic system, and see the hand wringing, the blame games, and the extreme politicking playing out, I have to wonder about the role of business education in this whole mess. Today's excerpt reinforces a view I've had for a while about "business" as a college major, and about going for an MBA after earning one of those business degrees (instead of first earning a degree in a more specific discipline): It's a bad idea.

In today's excerpt--writing in the late 1990s, the authors contrast the business leaders of the immediate post-World War II period to contemporary businesses leaders raised on a steady diet of business publications, management books, MBAs and consultants--and conclude that it is unadorned critical thought, not the current business fad, that brings business success. As T.S. Eliot lamented in Choruses from The Rock: Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

"During the 1990s virtually an entire generation of top executives left their businesses, retired, or passed away. Many of these executives had achieved legendary status--[David] Packard at Hewlett-Packard, [Akio] Morita at Sony, [Sir John Harvey-] Jones at ICI, [Sam] Walton at Wal-Mart, and [Jan] Carlzon at SAS, to name a few. These leaders shared some notable characteristics that differentiate them from their successors. They lived through the Great Depression, which crippled the world's economy in the 1930s; they experienced the horrors of World War II; they served their business apprenticeships in the postwar rebuilding period of the late 1940s and early 1950s. But what may differentiate them most from their counterparts of today is the issue of management.This 'old guard' was the last of a breed of executives who developed their management skills almost entirely in the workplace. They were building businesses while management 'science'--if it can be called that--was still in its infancy. "In 1948 ... the Harvard Business Review had a robust circulation of fifteen thousand. That number had reached nearly two hundred fifty thousand by the mid 1990s. The Harvard Business School itself and the few other graduate business schools in existence in 1948 awarded 3,357 MBAs--a far cry from the 75,000 MBAs awarded forty-five years later. Even McKinsey, the best known of consulting companies, was a relatively small firm with annual revenues of under $2 million, compared with 1994 revenues of more than $1.2 billion. Management guru Peter Drucker was a youngster of thirty-nine. Seven-year-old Tom Peters was probably 'in search of' a new bike. "The executives of [the immediate post-war] period were not uneducated--in fact, many were extremely well educated--but they did not learn their approach to business from a business school, a management expert, a celebrated management book, or an outside consultant. Options such as these were not generally available. These executives learned their business skills in the industrial jungle. ... "The forty-year-old executive of the 1990s, by contrast, probably holds one of the tens of thousands of MBAs awarded each year. His formal management education is supplemented by dozens of business periodicals and hundreds of management books. If, however, a situation seems resistant to even this mass of management wisdom, there are several hundred consulting firms and more than a hundred thousand consultants ready to provide additional management skill and knowledge. In 1993 businesses around the world spent $17 billion for consultants' recommendations, and AT&T alone lavished $347.1 million on outside expertise. "That does not necessarily mean that the business executives of the past were superior to those of the present. ... Still, we suspect that if those [managers] of years gone by found themselves at the helm of any of today's extraordinarily complex and competitive business enterprises, they would steer a straight and successful course." Quinn Spitzer and Ron Evans, Heads You Win!, Fireside, Simon and Schuster, Copyright 1997 by Kepner-Tregoe, Inc., pp. 15-17.

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Delanceyplace is a free service that provides a daily email with an excerpt or quote they consider interesting or noteworthy. There is no theme other than the fact that most excerpts come from a non-fiction work (usually, but not always, works of history).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Ancient Heathen Practices Do We Keep?

[The original version of this essay was submitted to my mentor in the Clergy Program. I was asked whether I could clearly state "what aspects of our ancient practices we wish to keep and which we do not? What policy would you formalize that would help you tell someone else when they should accept a practice and not accept other practices or beliefs of our ancestors?"]

What Ancient Heathen Practices Do We Keep?

What aspects of our ancient practices do we wish to keep? Which ones can we discard? How do we determine which beliefs and practices we should accept?

I have been wrestling with this set of questions for a few weeks. I must admit, however, that even after accepting the assignment, I felt that trying to work out a coherent, reasonable approach seemed far too huge a task for me. Truly, who am I to answer such questions? The first strike against me is that I have only been involved in the tradition for a short time. Other folks had been actively researching and promoting the religion, even starting organizations and writing books, well before I knew of it. Strike two is my lack of proficiency in the lore. I do work to regularly add to my knowledge, and I love to do the readings, but the simple fact remains that I am not a "lore hound" -- that is, I do not have a vast repository of lore or historical data committed to memory.

And the third strike?

I actually got well beyond a third strike against myself. But then I started to calm down a bit. I realized that, although there were others who were superior to me in knowledge, I have a sincere desire to be of service to the Gods and Goddesses and all who approach them. I have been serving in this capacity, albeit with small steps, and no one has questioned my capabilities or worthiness to do so. I further realized that the questions that lead this piece are the very questions that everyone involved in the Reconstruction must answer. And we must continue to evaluate and answer these questions as the movement grows and matures, as new folks are awakened to the path. And if I am going to be successful in my service, I must be part of the conversation regarding those questions.

Third -- and here I am continuing my previous meme of the three strikes, but now in a positive bend -- I realized that this query really boils down to a single question: What ancient practices are relevant today?

Although I have already taken a tangential path to bring several questions down to one, I am going on another slight tangent. I believe it will serve a useful purpose, and I hope that will be evident when I return to answering the question of relevant practices. During my brief forays into studying theology, and by that I do actually mean theology of a Christian persuasion, I came across an interesting approach to Biblical interpretation. I say it was interesting because I felt that the approach, although espoused by two Evangelical theologians, could be applied to the study of just about any "scriptures" -- please note the use of quotes here implies that while not all faith traditions can be said to have their own scriptures, as the Abrahamic faiths do, many of them do have writings of some form or at least some historic record to be translated and interpreted for a modern audience. I recall that one of the instructors referred to the method as a triangle because it had three points. I cannot remember what specific name, if any, he gave the triangle -- I have the lecture recorded somewhere, but cannot find it or my notes. I do, however, remember the basic gist. And it goes something like this: When considering a writing of a spiritual nature (or even one of historical record), one has to approach it in light of its literal context, historical context, and eternal context. In other words:
  • What is the literal meaning of the passage?
  • What did it mean to the original hearers?
  • What does it mean today? (The Christian approach tries to determine the "eternal truth" or meaning of the passage for all time. But I would simply look for a relevant modern meaning.)
In applying this triangle methodology to our ancestors' practices and beliefs, I would add a fourth and final context: Is it practical (feasible)? So, I have taken the triangle method of Biblical interpretation, which originally had no application to our faith, and developed a model for evaluating practices and beliefs. A visual aid for this model appears below [click image for larger version]:

Next I will show the model in use in evaluating two practices.
Ancient Practice Analysis #1: Bog Justice According to the Free Dictionary, a Bog Body is any one of the approximately 700 preserved human remains found in natural peat bogs, mostly in western Europe, from about c. 8000 BC to early medieval times. "That they have been variously found with cut throats, severed limbs, ropes around the neck, and so on suggests the possibility of ritual killings, murders, and ignominious burial (since none was found within a proper grave)" []. There is debate as to whether these bodies represent certain evidence of executions for a crime, sort of a "bog justice" if you will, or as a human sacrifice, or something else entirely. Even with the debate, the fact that our ancestors seemed to have a practice, even minimally so, of placing bodies into bogs will suffice for the purpose of analysis. 
Q1: What is the literal meaning of placing a body into a peat bog? A: It is a dead body dumped into a bog. It is not a pleasant burial. 
Q2: What is the historical meaning (i.e., what did it mean to our ancestors)? A: I will use the Free Dictionary information here and conclude that this is an "ignominious burial." While we cannot know for certain, in looking at other historical records, we can safely assume that this was not a desired end. It was likely something to be avoided. 
Q3: What is the modern relevance of bog justice? A: Modern relevance in killing someone and dumping the body? If we are to assume an historical basis of justice, then the modern relevance would be retribution, or perhaps vigilante justice. In either case, it would be an extreme punishment. 
Q4: Is bog justice practical today? A: It is neither practical nor feasible. Our modern society has a legal system for addressing grievances and crimes. And as flawed as it may be, it is a system we have to work within, otherwise our actions will be branded as criminal and then we will be subject to it (the system). Besides, depending on one's geography, a peat bog might be very difficult to find. A similar analysis can be applied to the concept of raiding, and the same conclusion can be drawn: it is not practical in today's global society. (Greg Shetler briefly covers this very topic in his book, "Living Asatru"). 
Ancient Practice Analysis #2: Animal Sacrifice  Animal sacrifice is the ritual consecration, killing, and then offering of an animal to some form of divinity. Depending on the tradition, this was (and, in a small number of cases, is still) done to appease or maintain favor with the divinities. Animal sacrifice has a long history in poly- and monotheistic traditions. [More information: Pagan Institute: Animal Sacrifice and About - Alt Religion - Which Religions Involve Animal Sacrifice.]
Q1: What is the literal meaning of sacrificing an animal to the Gods and Goddesses? A: It is a communal giving of a gift to higher powers. 
Q2: What is the historical meaning of animal sacrifice (i.e., what did it mean to our ancestors)? A: A sacrifice of this nature was not taken lightly. It was a "gift for a gift" -- a gift with a very high price. Additionally, our ancestors believed that blood was a very powerful gift because it represented life itself. 
Q3: What is the modern relevance of animal sacrifice? A: In this case, I feel that the modern and ancient meanings are roughly equivalent. However, there is little question as to which perspective placed a greater value on the sacrifice. For our ancestors, giving up an animal to sacrifice was a risky prospect and it bespoke a great trust in the natural powers to provide. Today, we have convenience stores and giant grocery outlets -- and most of us do not grow or raise our own food. 
Q4: Is animal sacrifice practical today? A: From my perspective, living and working as I do in the post-agricultural (even post-industrial) world, animal sacrifice is not practical or feasible. I could follow one of the alternative practices, such as making a bread or cake "animal" and sacrificing it. or making a work of art and offering it up. But I do not have the resources or knowledge to raise an animal for sacrifice, nor do I have the proper training do conduct such a sacrifice. There is still a minority of folks for whom animal sacrifice could be practical. As I recall from a recent interview on RavenCast, Kveldulf Gundarsson lives on his own farm and conducts animal sacrifice at the high holidays. This is entirely appropriate for him and his wife in their practice.
So, in conclusion, there are four qualifiers I use for determining whether to adopt a practice or belief from our ancient ancestors: Literal Context, Historical Context, Relevance, and Practicality/Feasibility. And, as I have shown in my second example, sometimes there is room for variance as the practice in question will be appropriate for some, but not all, the faithful. That, of course, makes perfect sense in a religion with no established dogma.

Recent "Theater Lackey" Updates

Here are the latest posts over at my theater blog, Confessions of a Serial Theater Lacky

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Twilight Zone

Delanceyplace is a free service that provides a daily email with an excerpt or quote they consider interesting or noteworthy. There is no theme other than the fact that most excerpts come from a non-fiction work (usually, but not always, works of history). Today's excerpt is about one of my favorite TV series: The Twilight Zone. And it gives a nice bit of background on host, Rod Serling, and The Twilight Zone's place in American history. Read on:

In today's excerpt-Rod Serling (1924-1975), his groundbreaking anthology science fiction TV series The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), and the unfamiliar and uneasy loneliness of the suburbs: "During the postwar years, average Americans in ever greater numbers deserted small towns and big cities to embrace the emergent concept of suburbia. Rod and [his wife] Carol Serling made that move, following commercial success, to a notably upscale aspect of the new American paradigm. But like so many other young adults of the 1950s, Serling experienced an uneasy sense of dislocation. "Something essential, however hard to define, had been lost en route; some aspect of innocence, perhaps, that at least to a romantic imagination, once existed in our towns. Each such place had been unique, organically created over decades, taking on a shape and style all its own. Suburbia, in comparison, was defined by Pulitzer-prize winning author David Halberstam as 'the new social contract according to Bill Levitt.' Reacting to rampant blandness, residents began to yearn for the good old days, if less the reality of a bygone lifestyle than what Richard Schickel called 'an imagined past.' Our growing hunger for this mythic America shortly informed 'much of the new popular culture.' What would eventually come to be called The Nostalgia Craze would prove essential to The Twilight Zone from its earliest episodes. ... "On [this dislocation, the myth of normalcy, the dehumanizing effects of commercialism, the angst of the nuclear age, and] other subjects, Rod spoke truthfully and fearlessly. One early observer of TV hailed him as the medium's 'angry young man.' The only other contender: Edward R. Murrow, whose interview show followed Zone on Friday nights (1959-1960). What Murrow achieved in CBS's newsroom--integrity!--Serling pulled off at that network' entertainment arm. "Earlier in the decade, Serling and other top talents openly addressed important issues during TV's brief 'golden age.' Colleagues included Reginald Rose (Twelve Angry Men), Paddy Chayefsky (Marty), and J. P. Miller (The Days of Wine and Roses). All turned out smart scripts for 'live' anthologies that dominated TV drama from 1948 to 1955. Then the price of sets lowered and TV became big business for mass entertainment. Serious drama was out; predictable potboilers were in. From that point on, Serling necessarily presented politics and philosophy in a foxier manner. ... "Casting a seductive smile, Serling alone continued to convey on TV what every other serious writer wanted to say but wasn't allowed to. High-profile sponsors now acted as self-appointed censors, making certain that their products were presented in a context that offended no one. So Serling 'said something' by doing so indirectly, dropping confrontational realism for parable. During The Twilight Zone's five-year run (1959-1964), he employed imaginative/allegorical fiction to comment on (and sharply criticize) postwar America. 'On Zone,' Peter Kaplan claimed, 'the nightmare side of American life was opened up,' ... all the more frightening because stories took place close to home rather than in distant Transylvania. ... What initially seemed to be out-of-this-world dreams of darkness reflected a shadow-world existing on the edge of our brightly lit suburbs." Douglas Brode and Carol Serling, Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, Barricade, Copyright 2009 by Douglas Brode and Carol Serling, pp. 1, xv-xvi.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness [Real Estate Edition]

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are among the inalienable rights of people according to the Declaration of Independence. Yes, I said the Declaration even though most people mistakenly attribute the phrase to the Constitution [1]. Still, because these rights have been mentioned in the Declaration, giving them a certain degree of forcefulness, they have been used in arguments against government regulations (particularly that "pursuit of happiness" thing [2]. Now, I actually had a reason for bringing up what is perhaps the most famous phrase of the Declaration of Independence. And that is something I have heard my father say often in reference to government foolishness: "The Founding Fathers said people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Food, shelter, clothing ... that's up to you. Period." Speaking of government foolishness, it would appear that our new President disagrees with my father:
President Barack Obama’s plan to confront the housing and foreclosure crisis is even more ambitious than first expected — committing as much as $275 billion in an effort to keep as many as 9 million Americans from losing their homes. []
Now, the Heathen perspective on this housing situation is one of personal responsibility. But, no, it's so much easier to swim with the tides of victimhood and declare, "It's not my fault. Someone has to do something to help me out of this mess!" Yes, the promise of owning one's own home was dangled in front of alot of people. Banks and other lenders pushed through huge loans to people who had no business receiving them. But did anyone actually twist the arms of these homeowners-to-be? At some point, these folks should have been able to realize that the so-called prevailing wisdom of buying "as much home as you can possibly afford" with the hope of increased income or increased property value that pays for itself down the road was simply spurious, if not completely irresponsible. Where did these people learn the basic principles of economics and budgeting? Mrs. Brainwise and I passed on a number of homes, and even dropped out of few bidding wars, simply because we were determined to not be "house poor" or overpay on the value of a piece of property. Yes, we have a smallish home, and we have had to do some work on it. But much of the work pays dividends in value. We're sitting fairly comfortably and there is very little danger that we'll lose the house. If you can't set yourself up in a similar manner, then you're probably better off continuing to rent instead of sinking money into a losing prospect and then waiting for the government to bail you out. Stop using my tax dollars to help folks who cannot handle money in the first place! --------------- [1] The 5th Amendment does offer protections to our "life, liberty, or property," noting we cannot be deprived of any of them without due process of law. (Reference: Things That Are Not In The U.S. Constitution). [2] Barron's Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed, pg.378.