Archive for April, 2015

Baseball

As a baseball fan, I am a constant viewer of the Washington Nationals games. We have even been to a few games. In time, I go back to the Washington Senators when the same mediocre team assembled every year with the same losing season.

 I can’t remember what newspaper columnists had to say about them. I do remember that there were few columnists and I took them to be authorities about what was happening in the current season. The crowd that writes for the Washington Post now has taken to managing the team. They began during spring training writing about the various players whose contracts would expire soon and what would happen to them. It seems none of them will be retained. It finally sank in with me that if a writer said player X would be a target for retention by team management, there would be no need for more articles about this person.

So, the articles roll on and next years’ team will be a shadow of this years’. Unfortunately, when you have five or six writers pontificating on who will be here next year and who won’t, it gets pretty irritating. This morning, April 21, another article providing an answer to a question about whether a particular player will be here next year. (Probably not.)

Unfortunately the team has not performed as well as expected, having lost its last five games. How could this crowd have so impressed reporters with a team that produces few wins, few hits and lots of errors.

Whether anyone else is as irritated as I am about this running speculation about next year, I don’t know. Maybe if we had fewer columnists, they would feel they could write about this team and its games and let next year work out through the season.

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BOOKS

In my life as professor, I had to read – a lot. So, it’s time to share some I found interesting. One of the problems with a number of new, interesting and readable books is that they have apparently had little or no editing and go on for 800 to 1,000 pages, so I will try to keep with the readable.

1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History, (2009) by Charles Bracelen Flood is the latest in the long list of books about Abraham Lincoln. It deals with his involvement in the events of 1864 which was the year in which both Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were appointed to command the armies that defeated the Confederates. This story, plus all of the others the author weaves into his story, are interestingly told. Although my memory is suspect, I felt he included information I had never read before. It was certainly worth my while.

Ancient Inventions, (by Peter James and Nick Thorpe has been sitting on my shelf since shortly after it was published in 1994-I suspect because it is 620 pages long. It is, taken in short doses, fascinating. Our brains are not nearly so technically advanced as we boast. It reports on a Greek steam engine, Aztec chewing gum and electric batteries in ancient Iraq. I have been reading in it largely in an effort to retain and make modern associations. We moderns are not nearly as smart and inventive as we think ourselves to be when compared with our ancestors.

The Generals, by Thomas Ricks. American military doctrine was revised in the 1930s from Indian fighting to a strategic doctrine involving war with a foreign power. The book takes us from it’s implementation in WWII through our subsequent wars to Afghanistan and the struggles military leaders have had in making alterations to suit different situations. This is not a problem limited to the military. In the public sector, schools have the same constantly changing environment and expectations. High schools with up two thousand students have little in common with those of 400 to 500 in which I worked. In the private sector, GM met the changing environment for automobile sales (increasing competition) by pacifying unions and management with constant wage increases which did not address their problems. This book was the essential assignment to Cohort 25 and it would be interesting if any from that group would respond in comment about their assessment of whether we were able to move beyond the military to the larger society. In any event, a book worth reading.

On Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurt. “Harry Frankfurt, a Princeton philosophy professor, presents a scholarly and formal essay on inflated truth, purposeful obfuscation, and pretentious duplicity. . . . I’m sure he had a blast writing it, and the droll prose is a tasty treat.”–Richard Pachter, The Boston Globe. Short and definitely worth reading! (When it first came out, I used it in several classes to mixed reaction; some loved it, some were aghast, and some were puzzled about why they were reading it. Class discussions became strongly fixed; very few changed their opinion.)

Finally three books I was stirred to read about George Washington after reading The Age of Federalism, a 700+ page book about the early American republic from 1788 to 1800. George Washington ran through the entire process of establishing a national government, but I never got a unified picture of the of the man. (My son-in-law read the book in less than a week, I am still plowing through dense prose in smaller than usual type and haven’t finished after six.)

The three biographies each deal with different ages in his life. I have flipped through all three and found that the prose moves right along and to the point of their particular part of his life.

Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader, by Robert Middlekauff

The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789, by Edward Larson

Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President, by David and Jeanne Heidler.

With these books in hand, I am picking up speed in the dense Age of… by hopping and skipping.

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Is It Progress or Decline

There are some things being reported in newspapers that cause me to wonder if what we call social and economic progress is final. The thing that caught my eye recently was an article in the New York Times. It reported that a student at UCLA was denied a position on some student/university committee specifically because she was Jewish (later reversed) and had divided loyalties between the university and Israel. The article went on to say this was not uncommon. If that is so, then the speech by the Israeli prime minister before Congress to influence members to support the Israeli policy toward Iran rather than that of the American administration seems likely to reinforce the attitude of the UCLA students.

Having grown up in the rural south during the depression, my family thought all of the federal government programs to alleviate poverty and malnutrition were progress toward a better, more equal America. It was the economic side of WWII that set the stage for progress to the more equal America we live in today. And it was equal rights legislation passed by congress that seemed to set us on a plateau of equal opportunity. The Supreme Court added some decisions that supported equality.

I could go on, but this makes the point that we seemed to have progressed to endless social and economic equality. While there were exceptions, rejection by social class, race or religion seemed to be a thing of the past.

However, the story about the Jewish student above, the continued reporting from Ferguson Missouri and the actions of a judge in Alabama directing county officers not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples have brought me up short. There is a lot of discussion in newspapers about these situations and what needs to be done to put them on the right track. For me, the question is what I regarded as progress in my lifetime about to be undone?I

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Who Makes The Decisions?

Who Makes the Decisions? In moving some of my books around recently I came across Beetle, the biography of Walter Bedell Smith by D. K. R. Smith, which provoked thinking about leadership. General Smith was Chief of Staff for General Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of European armies in World War II. Being Supreme Commander not only of American armed forces, but also of British and other allies was a tremendous job. Beetle held all the parts of this byzantine operation together. If Eisenhower was being pressed by for a promotion to command a large, disparate force, Beetle would supply Ike with the information to be able to provide the officer with a promotion and titular command, but actually no more control than he had previously had. Without General Smith neither the organization nor its operation would have been able to stage the invasion of Normandy. Without General Eisenhower’s social and political ability, the allies could not have worked together. Without his ability to keep his eye on the purpose of assembling and moving this massive armed force, there would have been no successful African and European invasions.

Another is Admiral Iwamoto for the Japanese, who commanded the Japanese navy and designed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He had Admiral Matome Ugaki as Chief of Staff. Ugaki kept a very interesting diary, Fading Victory, in which he mentioned his work and Iwamoto only a few times. But, other sources identify him as the designer of plans for Iwamoto.  For the military, chiefs of staff are the basis for controlling their designated unit and these two examples are representative of the lot.

In the civilian world the top of the organizational world is less clear cut. Large school systems seem less clear because there are few chiefs of staff who have their hands on all the facts and figures and operate in a defined hierarchical organization. In addition, those who do have the information have been in the same system for some time and owe no allegiance to a new superintendent. Thus, it is not unusual that people interviewing for a superintendency will sell the school board on a plan to introduce something new in the district. When they are hired, the new program will be introduced and before it can be evaluated, use it as the basis for a new job in another district. School politics, district politics, parental pressures, and most often, teacher difficulties in implementing the new program all encourage limited tenure for superintendents.

Business organizations have come to have their chief financial officers as the essential source of decision making. Using money has been essential to the development of the organization. However organizations like IBM are unable to manage rapid changes in technology, and money is becoming less of a basis for decision making.

As you can see, this blog started out trying to identify people who make organizational decisions and we failed. It depends on the situation and the people. What a finding!

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