Saturday, October 29, 2005

#206 - Anonymity vs. False Identity

Very interesting implosion over at Banner of Heaven. Just scroll through various posts and you'll quickly see what I'm talking about. Apparently several of the regulars were posting as characters they had made up, presumably to add a little "spice" to the discussions over on the Bloggernacle. Many of those regulars are now feeling a need to apologize for allowing the schtick to get out of hand, and perhaps discredit one family in particular.

Actually, I've not kept up much with BoH since joining the LDS ring myself. Every once in awhile someone would surf over here from BoH out of curiosity, but I've never had any steady interest from anywhere in the so-called "Bloggernacle." Truth is, I never should have put the Woundup on their lists because I rarely deal with spiritual matters here, except to complain whenever someone pulls a stunt like "designer scriptures." The Inner Dad deals much more with family and religion, but doesn't get much play time on the Bloggernacle. Go figure.

But my primary purpose for this post was to point out that while I never (or, at least, extremely rarely) use my real name, it's only because there's a difference between anonymity and false identity. The bloggers of Banner of Heaven are finding themselves in the awkward position of having to apologize (or at least explain themselves) for having misled their readers and for giving false impressions of the intent of their blog. I would like to hope that I don't have that problem in either of my blogs.

"Woody" is an old nickname that began more or less while I was on my mission. I also went by the moniker of "Dr. Ply," but that's a story for another day. "Woody" is also the name I was using when Mrs. Woody and I found each other - online - after a protracted absence of fifteen years during which I had been married and divorced. Having become addicted to MOOs and MUDs and their chat-room mentalities, I quickly realized the benefit of using an anonymous identity on the internet.

Now, once upon a time, back in the bad ol' telnet days, I did try a false identity or two. I did it mainly to do a little sleuthing at a time when my life was in tremendous upheaval, and I didn't like what I saw. Rather than allow myself to glory in such nonsense, I abandoned the identities before they did any real harm (as far as I know), and returned to the business of trying to get on with my life.

After Mrs. Woody and I married, our life together quickly became a whirl of newlywed activity and preparation for a new family. There was little time for anything but growing together and dealing with all the day-to-day family matters that always occupy large chunks of our time and thought. When I became aware of blogging as a potential outlet for my creative writing abilities, I quickly jumped in and started pounding away on the keyboard, but with a greater sense of purpose than I ever had when I was MOOing or MUDing.

I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating in the wake of Banner of Heaven's growing pains: Both the Woundup and Inner Dad need to be taken with requisite grains of salt. I would like to think that it's relatively easy to tell when I'm being serious (like now) or when I'm pulling everyone's leg. Sort of. I have two blogs so it becomes easier for me to keep my ranting and complaining separate from my family-oriented writings.

I use the anonymous IDs for the obvious benefit of keeping my real life as private as possible. It's not that I'm hiding anything; regular readers of either blog know how I live. They know enough about me that if they ever met me in real life there would be no surprises. I even use my real photo, for Pete's sake. I just don't want identity thieves to get too much info and give me more trouble than already appears occasionally on my credit cards. Also, I have four children and their lives to consider and protect. With all the predators running loose in our increasingly "progressive" society today, that's a concern I will never violate. My girls will always be "Woodyettes" until the day they are ready to announce themselves to the world in whatever manner they choose. And not until they're old enough to handle it. Mrs. Woody and I can look after ourselves.

I feel for the Banner of Heaven writers. It's an uncomfortable thing to have to apologize like that. I applaud them for doing so, and hope they'll continue to contribute to the discussion. For the record, I never once worried about their opinions, except to occasionally clarify my own position on one or two of the thornier questions that were raised. And I always did so by way of comment on their space...

...anonymously, of course.

Friday, October 28, 2005

#205 - Exxon Profits From Creative Management

During the energy crisis of the 70's, Exxon was widely viewed as the Great Satan of corporate profiteers. They were the smelly pirates with bad breath and worse hair who raided our pocketbooks and shoveled our money directly into Swiss bank accounts, all the while refusing to apologize for their lack of corporate citizenship and common decency. When the Valdez dumped so much oil into one of the most pristine ecosystems on earth, their corporate image was lower than President Bush's current approval rating. Throughout the entire crisis the company merely sneered at our whining and carping, and rode out the storm in their plush offices while the rest of us rode it out in line at the gas pump.

Flash ahead to our current crisis where prices dance around either side of $3 a gallon at the pump. Once again Exxon executives refuse to acknowledge that their current record-setting profits are any indication whatsoever that they may be sticking a very sharp implement into very sensitive regions of our national psyche. "Consumers don't get it," they pontificate. "They can whine all they like, but we will continue to make money as long as there's oil in the ground. If they don't like it, they can kiss our balance sheet." Executives from Shell and Chevron could be seen snickering behind the curtains.

Being the dumb consumers that we apparently are, we make the false assumption that their obscene profits have something to do with supply and demand. For most of my adult life I've just assumed that whenever the oil companies wanted to make more money they would blow up a refinery somewhere (or, to throw us off their scent, generate a category 4 hurricane in the Gulf), then sit back and watch us pay through the nose to keep gas in our cars and generators.

What a fool I've been.

Turns out that it is not merely through a calculated reduction in our fuel supply that the oil barons fatten their collective pork (although it certainly helps!), but also through some very creative internal management which drives down their administrative costs and widens their already overlarge margins. In fact, I'm surprised this technique hasn't been widely touted in MBA programs across the country by now.

Actually, I can see how this might have come up in some executive's MBA studies. In any such program there are requisite (read: necessary but excruciatingly dull) courses that deal with internal management. This is where they learn such things as how to save money by reducing the amount of office supplies you have on hand, or cutting back on employee recognition programs so there will be enough money in the budget for executive bonuses at the end of the year. Most executives tend to sleep through these classes because they already instinctively know these things. Look at Michael Ovitz, for crying out loud. You think he got that $140 million by being Employee of the Month?

Just for a joke, one instructor - probably looking to see if any of his students still had a pulse - said something like, "Hey, you know those flu shots that so many companies offer every year? Wouldn't it be a hoot if, instead of flu shots, you gave them injections of saline or something?" Then he laughed to show that he was, after all, just kidding.

Unfortunately, an Exxon exec who was in that class snapped out of his torpor and somehow thought he'd just been given a project to do and report back on later in the class. So, in Baytown, Texas some "fake flu vaccines" were offered to participants in a health fair sponsored by the company. About 1,000 employees participated. Fortunately, no one seems to be permanently injured, and the company is already levelling blame at the doctor who supplied them with the vaccines; but, let's be honest, who's going to believe them after they posted over $25 billion in profits in just the first nine months of the year?

So, I'm guessing that this Exxon exec is now on the company's fast track. He'll score high on his final in the class. He'll get the bonus, the penthouse, the corporate jet, and the Ginsu knives. The employees will be offered free counselling and blood tests. It's another win-win scenario for the world's most successful gentlemen of fortune.

Make that: "Fortune" with a capital "F."

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

#204 - Get Rich Or...

In the ever-sarcastic "color me surprised" category, we present the story of a clueless major entertainment studio and its ability to advertise its diverse films with tact and sensitivity.

I don't normally get too worked up over local protests since I rarely know enough about either side of the issue to offer an opinion of my own. In this case, however, I have to side with the protestors.

Paramount has made a film. No big deal, since that's one of Paramount's alleged core competencies. The film is called "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," and it has a decidedly street-violent theme. In fact, nothing I've read about the film so far compels me in any way to go see this one. Having seen some of the advertising for the film I can assure you that neither I nor my family will be subjected to this glorification of gangsta life. But it is the advertising that the protestors are targeting.

Specifically, protestors in South Central Los Angeles - an area especially prone to gangs and their attendant killing lust - are complaining about the presence of a billboard for the movie showing a microphone in one hand and a gun in the other. As I heard it on a local radio report, the billboard is highly visible from a day care center, and in an area where gun-related homicides have occurred recently. The protestors represent those few people still living in South Central who understand all too well that movies like this will do nothing to alleviate the problems they face every hour of every day. They'd like nothing better than to see the gangs go elsewhere, but know they're fighting a seemingly insurmountable evil. The gangs want us to believe that this movie means there's always hope. No one besides the gangs and liberal apologists buys into that argument.

Paramount, being in favor of making money on their projects, has declined to comment thus far on this little hiccup. Needless to say, they see no correllation between the billboard and violence in the streets of Los Angeles. It would only be the tiniest of coincidences that some hood gets tanked up on the substance of the day, sees the billboard, and decides that a shooting spree is just what the doctor ordered to relieve his stress. Yessir, and serves 'em right for being on his turf in the first place. Paramount will argue that the violence is always there, and that in no way was the billboard intended to glorify senseless violence. Except for the fact that the movie fronts the idea that (as most of us have long suspected) many rappers probably get their starts by being gangsta drug pushers before becoming millionaire recording stars, I might agree with them. As it is, I'm not quite convinced in this case.

You see, the movie's appeal will be largely to the hip-hop/rap crowd, not a few of whom seem to find street violence as a perfectly acceptable way to express their inner feelings. Paramount knows that it would be throwing away perfectly good advertising dollars to mount such a billboard in your average conservative community. Any first year marketing student knows that you target your advertising where it's most likely to sell, and the gangstas live in communities like South Central.

That's who's going to see the movie, and that's where I have absolutely no plans to be any time soon. Especially not after this movie opens. In the meantime, I'm hoping Paramount will find some semblance of a clue in the future.

I won't hold my breath.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

#203 - And Now for Something Truly Ineffective...!

By way of a homeschool news list to which we subscribe comes word of a falling out between American Girl™, and conservative activists. Interestingly, the article is published by "The Capital Times" which bills itself as "Wisconsin's Progressive Newspaper." This might explain why the headline reads "Conservatives diss American Girl" (emphasis mine). I would like to think that this is primarily why these "conservative activists" come off as pompous baboons in the article, but there's a fundamental truth that needs to be addressed in any case:

Conservatives make lousy boycotters.

The idea here is that American Girl, which creates and markets a line of dolls and the historical fictions that accompany them, is in league with Girls, Inc., which states that at least part of its objective is to promote the idea that girls should be allowed to choose what's best for their lives (read: abortion and lesbian rights). This, the conservatives say, is unacceptable. They're "not ready" to call for a boycott of American Girl products yet, but they'd sure like us to tell American Girl how displeased we are that they "support" this subversive group by sponsoring some of Girls Inc's worthier pursuits. In other words, American Girl indirectly supports abortion and lesbian rights by sponsoring Girls Inc's math and science programs for girls.

Okay, fine, I'm displeased. At the same time I see very little to get excited about in all this.

While conservatives (and remember, I consider myself to be such) talk themselves into a dither about liberal flag issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc., etc., etc.), they've done relatively little to protect their own positions politically and legally over the past several decades. It forcibly reminds me of a statement made in the play "1776!" when Robert Morris of New York describes a meeting of the New York legislature. "Everyone talks very loud and very fast, and no one listens to anyone else; with the result that nothing ever gets done. Beg the Congress's pardon." This perfectly describes the state of American politics today. Nothing ever gets done.

A prime example of this is every boycott ever called for against Disney and its theme parks. This happens every time the company announces "appreciation days" for diverse groups of people, or refuses to bar entrance to those people at the behest of whatever religious council is calling for it at the time. The council gets its collective noses bent out of shape and immediately calls for a worldwide religious boycott of all Disney theme parks and (by extension, of course) every Disney product ever created. Just as immediately, thousands of people who can't afford to go to the theme parks anyway boycott them, and Disney continues to make money hand over fist.

Think about it: what was the last successful boycott you ever heard about? The only one I personally remember was the boycott called for against California grape growers by Cesar Chavez to protest the working conditions of immigrant farm workers back in the early 70's. That one worked because it had an immediate impact on farmers' bottom lines. The workers were able to force better working conditions (at least in part), and organize themselves against future problems. Some might argue that the fight continues, but at least they won the right and ability to do just that.

Since then, however, I can't think of a single boycott that was called for that actually worked. Conservatives, in particular, just can't pull it off. I think it's because we're far too dedicated to capitalism to allow the flow of money in this country to be disrupted on mere principle. Smacks of anarchy, that does. If we boycott American Girl, we also impact the poor publishers, toy manufacturers, web designers, and other down-stream suppliers that support them. Chaos would ensue, and the terrorists would win. Can't have that!

For my part, I will continue as a parent to supervise my children's education. I will make sure they have a well-rounded understanding of the issues that they will face as adults when it's their turn to run the world. I will help them take full advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. I will continue my own boycott of Carl's Jr. because their advertising continues to be offensive and immature.

I will also continue to buy American Girl books because my girls like them so much. With apologies to the activists.

Friday, October 14, 2005

#202 - Entitlement Amok

Surfing through Joanne Jacobs' wonderful blog this morning yielded this little piece of incredulity. An 18 year old woman in New York moves out of her mother's house because her rules are too restrictive, then turns around and sues her parents for child support.

Why? Because she can.

Apparently, in New York (q'eul surprise!) a young adult is considered old enough to be on their own, yet young enough to still be entitled to support from their parents. I'm guessing the ACLU-happy legal beagles in New York had several field days dreaming this one up.

The daughter had problems with, among other things, a restrictive curfew and a no-tolerance policy of budget for such things as restaurants and a fashionable wardrobe. "Fashionable" isn't defined in the article, but in my mind it would be equated with "expensive." Her mother does not work, according to the article, so I'm guessing that any money she felt was due to her would have come from her father. For his part, he was probably looking forward to her 18th birthday (I know this feeling) so he could put that money to other uses. Finally the girl becomes an "adult," moves out, and is on her own. She lands a part-time job and (my guess here) realizes that living on one's own is expensive fashionable. How to get Mom and Dad to pay for her heart's desires?

Sue 'em.

Ostensibly she wants to use this money to go to college. She's attending a community college, so expenses would be minimal, but her job won't pay for tuition and living expenses. Most kids would deal with that particular pressure by living at home while attending college. But she "didn't feel right" living there, and now feels that her parents should simply shoulder the extra burden of paying both for college and her living expenses while she figures out what being an adult is all about. This, she says, is "only fair."

Assuming the facts in evidence to be essentially correct, this is a powerful demonstration of the entitlement mentality under which so many of our kids are growing. The basic premise of the entitlement mentality is, "you owe me everything I want, or I won't be happy and it will be your fault." All that's lacking in this case is for the girl to stick her head in the oven, a la "Bye-Bye, Birdie!" and claim that her parents never loved her.

If I were her mother I'd offer to turn on the oven for her.

My Dad was a tough old bird, but he loved his kids. His toughness was born of a post-Depression existence being raised by a very strict and thrifty mother and having to make his own way in the world, including two stints in the military. He made no bones that personal integrity was the human value he most treasured both in himself and in others. When I was a newly licensed driver I had an accident. I was so scared of facing Dad's wrath that I hid the fact for several days, until the other guy started calling the house looking for insurance information. Once my cover was blown, Dad went through the anticipated steam-blowing exercise, then sat me down and taught me an important lesson about accountability. The bottom line was covered by this statement: "If you land in jail, kid, you can expect to be there for a few days." The implication being that I would be allowed to suffer the consequences of my stupidity before eventually being bailed out. That thought sobered me up pretty quickly, and I was little more circumspect in my activities from that day on. Oh, I was still a squirrely teenager, to be sure. But I understood Dad and took his meaning.

This new generation I'm not so sure of. They don't seem to get "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit (not the "entitlement") of Happiness."


Monday, October 03, 2005

#201 - Poor Babies!

Kimberly Swygert of Number 2 Pencil neatly summarizes an LA Times article showing that nearly 20% of California high school seniors have failed California's graduation exit exam. Not good by any measure, and the rationalizing is already in full swing. Assuming you can handle the smell of decaying trout, surf on over to the Times and check out the full article.

The key word here is "entitlement." Social and educational apologists seem determined to show that we simply can't expect our kids to pass tests geared to at least two grades lower. We need to give the poor dears their diplomas so they can get into colleges that accept substandard skills. The usual excuses apply:

  • Overcrowding.

  • Inadequate materials.

  • Underqualified teachers.

  • Unmotivated kids.

  • Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I really hate to say it (since I'm no fan), but Jack O'Connell has probably the most cogent statement in this article:
"It's important to keep one core principal front and center: awarding a student a diploma without the skills and knowledge to back it up does the student a disservice," said O'Connell, who added that his staff would study the options spelled out in the new report.

(Quick note: Could it possibly be that a Times staff writer goofed on the proper usage of "principal" vs. "principle?" Just askin'.)

The thing that really galls me is that these kids should have been preparing for this test for twelve years. What have they been doing all that time? According to the apologists, they've been sitting in overcrowded classrooms with no materials and underqualified teachers. Which is why they have no motivation. Which explains why we need to give them more money, I guess.

Or not.