Friday, June 25, 2010

Our Leadership At Work

Two conjoined headlines from today's Washington Post:

Senate again blocks jobs aid

Move leaves more than 1.2 million people without support checks, millions more could lose benefits.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

McChrystal Clear

This should have been easy. General mouths off publicly about the Commander-in-Chief, he goes. Only in Washington could this become a soap opera over the course of a couple of days.

Without getting too far into the weeds, McChrystal was wrong. The Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically forbids comments such as his. One of the first lessons recruits are taught is that they have given up some of their Constitutional rights by enlisting, key among which is freedom of speech. The debate about whether this is a good idea can be held another time. (I happen to think it is, on several levels.) Given the facts as they exist, McChrystal was out of line; the only relevant question is what to do with him?

He can't stay where he is. No Commander-in-Chief can have a subordinate commander in the field treat him with such open disrespect; I'm sure McChrystal wouldn't stand for it from one of his men. You can't transfer him, for the same reason.

So, McChrystal has to go. How to do it? There should be no need for Obama to fire him; McChrystal's service to the country has earned him the right to resign, which he should have done the minute the story broke, thus allowing the offended party (Obama) the opportunity to either accept it (as he has done), or to make a magnanimous (but misguided) gesture and allow him to stay. Letting it linger for a few days did nothing to enhance McChrystal's reputation.

As for Republicans who argue he can't be replaced at this juncture: grow up. The military is based on the idea that anyone might have to be replaced on a moment's notice. If McChrystal had died in the middle of giving an order, his second-in-command would be expected to step up and finish it. It's true everywhere, but nowhere more so than in the military: no one is indispensable.

It's a shame, though. No one gets to be a four star just because he's a master schmoozer; McChrystal had to be good, especially to make that rank with some of the blemishes he has on his record. So we lost a good warrior today, but we can't say we lost a good soldier, or he wouldn't have been in that situation to begin with.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Another MBA Sighting

General Motors finally means business about turning the company around; employees have been requested no longer to refer to the Chevrolet Division as “Chevy.”

“We’d ask that whether you’re talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward,” said the memo, which was signed by Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the G.M. division’s vice president for marketing.

“When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding,” the memo said. “Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer.”

Apparently neither Mr. Batey nor Mr. Campbell is aware that “Coke” is a nickname for Coca-Cola. Assuming it was the soft drink they were referring to, and not the substance that apparently fuels decision-making at GM.

Carly Fiorina Gets Serious

The California senate campaign is getting nasty fast. Yesterday, Carly Fiorina made this comment about her opponent, Barbara Boxer:

“Laura saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone said, ‘God what is that hair?” Sooooooooooooo yesterday,”

Yes, it was an unguarded comment, and she probably wasn’t aware the microphone was open. Later, CNN’s Great van Susteren gave Fiorina a chance to step back graciously.

VAN SUSTEREN: You said.. you're giving [Boxer] a little problem for her hair. You know, it's -- what do you got -- what do you have to say about that one, having -- all of us have suffered from the old bad hair...

FIORINA: Oh, you know, I was -- I was quoting a friend of mine. My goodness, my hair's been talked about by a million people, you know? It sort of goes with the territory.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, OK...

FIORINA: Especially when you don't have any. As you remember, I started out with none.

California politics, aka Mean Girls 2010.

Carly for CA

It’s fashionable for contemporary Republicans candidates to tout their business acumen in tandem with the mantra of “government should be run like a business. The argument about whether government should be run like a business is for another time; it’s their credentials we’re concerned with here.

Carly Fiorina has one qualification as a candidate for public office: she was once the CEO of computer giant Hewlett-Packard. Since Republicans also believe the market is never wrong, here’s what it had to say about her tenure, from a CNN article in April, 2005:

Hewlett-Packard Co. Chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina, one of the most powerful women in corporate America, is leaving the troubled computer maker after being forced out by the company's board.

Shares of HP (Research) jumped 6.9 percent in heavy trading on the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday on the news. But at one point, the stock was up as much as 10.5 percent.

"The stock is up a bit on the fact that nobody liked Carly's leadership all that much," said Robert Cihra, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners. "The Street had lost all faith in her and the market's hope is that anyone will be better."

California Republicans elected her as their candidate in November’s senatorial election, to run against incumbent Barbara Boxer. Apparently the federal government isn’t going broke fast enough to suit them.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Lowering the Bar

It’s not worrisome enough that people can “earn” a four-year college degree in two years, or work on their Bachelors and Masters at the same time, as some otherwise respectable schools claim. Now you can get college credit while working at Wal-Mart. I don’t mean by taking classes after work; I mean just doing your job.

Here’s my favorite:

Daniel Soto of Hardeeville, S.C., works full time at Wal-Mart as a zone manager supervisor, lending a hand in several departments. He had to give up college to work, but said he could see some of his duties translating to academia, such as the algebraic equations he uses to figure out how much merchandise will fit on a shelf or how much of a product to order.

"I do math all day at Wal-Mart," he said.

(I got that from the Washington Post, not The Onion.)

I’m not suggesting he’s anything but bright. Figuring shelf space is not what many would consider college-level math; this is ninth grade shit. Once it’s on his transcript, though, it might count for any number of degrees that could put him into a key decision-making position where someone actually does have to know college-level math.

The education bar gets lower every year in this country; pretty soon we’ll have to dig a trench for it. The Sole Heir attend the University of Maryland, not APU of one of the other for-profit “universities,” so her degree shouldn’t be cheapened much. What’s troubling is that these degrees will eventually become more commonly accepted, as people not well aware of educational standards just see “Bachelors Degree, XXX University” and think a university is a university.

You’re okay with for-profit colleges? Think about this. There are for-profit nursing schools out there, where the hands-on component of the education consists of watching someone else do it; everything else was online. These are accredited schools, mind you; the credentials of the accrediting agencies is open to conjecture. States, or groups of them, are okay with this standard of nursing, which is another argument for the nationalization of standards in some areas. Do you want to be passing through one of these states, have an accident, and find out your nurse has never actually inserted a catherter?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Well, Duh

Online magazine Slate likes to position itself as a left-leaning, hiply intellectual voice. Like a lot of left-leaning thinkers they sometimes overthink things and articles get written that make "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" downright concrete. Witness this headline:

Why Are Indian Kids So Good At Spelling?

Have you seen their names? The defending National Spelling Bee champion is Kavya Shivashankar. You think she worries about spelling "hydrargyrum"? A twelve-year-old kid named Chidhambarathan can crank out "escritoire" with no more effort than some drk named Smith spells "kat."

I'm not saying this is bad. These kids are kick ass spellers; good on them. Wondering why they're such good spellers is like wondering why Shaquille O'Neal can dunk.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

That Sinking Feeling

The Show tunes correspondent showed me this article about the sinkhole that ate a three-story building in Guatemala, and might still be growing. He asked where something goes when it drops into a sinkhole.

My guess is Texas.

Conjuring the Fifth

Most people consider me a social liberal. (“You’re saying that just to piss me off. No one’s really as liberal as you pretend to me,” can safely be described as coming down on that side.) I don’t believe in torture, and I think our Constitutional protections, and this country’s willingness to get out in front of the rest of the world in this regard, is a form of “American exceptionalism” we can be proud of. Still, common sense is in order, and the Supreme Court got one right today when it ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that a suspect must actually invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination if he wishes to take advantage of it.

Here’s the gist of it: Van Chester Thompson was arrested for murder in 2001. Advised of his rights, he said he understood them. He then sat through about three hours of interrogation, occasionally answering “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.” When a cop asked if Thompson prayed for forgiveness for “shooting that boy down,” Thompson said, “yes.”


That got him convicted, and I can see why. Thompson appealed, arguing the statement should be thrown out because he tacitly invoked Miranda by being uncommunicative. Please. All he had to do was to say, “I want a lawyer,” “I don’t want to answer any questions,” or “I’m taking the Fifth.” Anything along those lines would have compelled the cops to stop the interrogation, or this would be an entirely different case.

Invoking the Fifth Amendment is not a clever tool for cherry-picking answers. Grand jury witnesses who appear under grants of immunity must invoke their protection against self-incrimination with the first question. You’re not allowed to answer the questions you like, then dodge the ones that could get you into trouble. We can argue about whether that’s fair—I have my doubts—but it’s been established law for years.

As Chris Rock says in his priceless video essay, “How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police,” the best thing for someone in Thompson’s situation to do is to “Shut the fuck up.” But not till after you ask for a lawyer. It’s your right, you know.