Friday, April 28, 2006

The First Amendment Protects Idiots, Too

A lot of press was devoted recently to the research done by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum called "Americans' Awareness of First Amendment Freedoms." The part that got play was that while 22% could name all five of the primary characters in the Simpsons only 1/10% (.001) could name all five First Amendment freedoms.

While I find that distressing, I'm appalled at some other points in the survey:

21% believe that the First Amendment guarantees the right to own and raise pets.

17% believe that the First Amendment guarantees the right to drive a car.

38% believe that the First Amendment guarantees the right to "take the Fifth Amendment."

Now I can excuse a lot but anyone who believes that the Fifth Amendment is a First Amendment right is, in the words of Rebecca Howe on Cheers, "too stupid to live."

Then I have to remind myself that the constitution protects idiots, too.

Keep the faith...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Phone Surveys

I got a call last night from one of those election cycle survey groups. It took a lot longer than it needed to.

It was obvious that this was about the likely candidates in our upcoming Senate race in Minnesota. I know who I like and who I detest. I could have dealt with the survey in thirty seconds. I could have answered each question in a heartbeat. I wasn't allowed either choice. "I need to read the entire question, sir!" And with a haughty tone to boot.

So on we trudged. Question after question was asked and answered for nearly twenty minutes. We need a survey option at the top of these things like:

"I'm firmly in favor of Candidate X. Nothing you can spin will dissuade me from what you might think is my idiotic position. I'm hopelessly lost to you. If you take any more of my time I'm likely to volunteer more of my time than you can imagine to defeat your candidate. Have a nice day!"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Gutting of Ethics Reform

When I was a classroom teacher I wouldn't have given a moment's thought to accepting lavish gifts from my students' parents. The appearance of impropriety would have been enough to cause the well-deserved loss of my job and license.

Now I read that the ethics reform bills have been gutted so that lavish parties and private jets are acceptable behavior under the rules.

Come on! Even if one granted that no improper behavior or influence would occur as a result, those in the public eye are called to a higher standard where the appearance or likelihood of impropriety needs to be avoided with the same energy as actual misdeeds.

We call it the Public Trust for a reason. The public must trust that their interests are central.

Gutting a bill that was already fairly weak is not the answer.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Three Random Thoughts

I just want to share three thoughts I had:

1. I heard a radio ad for a portable GPS system called the Tom Tom. According to the copy a friendly voice helps me with directions. The example they play is "You are now at your destination." If I need a machine to tell me that I've gotten where I wanted to go, don't I have larger problems?

2. I heard another radio discussion. The question was whether there were states of "nudidity." It occurred to me that I may be attracting less attention now than thirty-plus years ago because all potential dates see is "oldidity."

3. The New York Times (among others) reports today that Airbus is promoting a standing room section on planes where the passengers would be harnessed to a padded board. I used to excuse passenger behavior by saying that if you treat people like cattle they'll act like cattle. I suppose now that they'll put people on pallets the excuse will be if you treat people like freight...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cosmic Alignment

God's sense of humor continues to amaze me.

According to the news today:

  1. The F.D.A. dismissed the medical benefits of marijuana even though that conclusion contradicts a 1999 scientific review.
  2. Stephon Marbury says that the New York Knicks are "a really good team." This after finishing the season 23-59.
  3. Today, April 21, is the anniversary of Mark Twain's death.
I think that Twain would have roared at either of these reports.

I think God did. Jesus might have wept.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Caring for the Wrong Babies

Cruise and Holmes, Pitt and Jolie, the Trumps all have or are about to have babies. Good for them and health and happiness to all. Let's be clear,though. I don't care.

There is a photographic bounty (what else can one call it?) on the newest of these babies and speculation that while the Cruise/Holmes child's first picture will bring $1,000,000, the Pitt/Jolie child's might bring more. I wouldn't even notice if millions of other children weren't left in want. By the way, I don't blame the celebrities, photographers, or the press. I blame those of us who wait breathlessly for the pictures, looking at the shows, magazines, and papers they're in like Holy Writ. As Pogo used to say: "We have met the enemy and they are us."

How many children were born into want on the same days as these babies? Are we, as individuals or a society, doing anything more than blissfully ignoring them and their parents? Is that either ethical or moral?

Imagine what could be done if just the price of the fan magazines and tabloids we purchase about the baby boom were directed to those needy children instead. Hey, we'd still see the baby pictures on Entertainment Tonight!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Is there ever enough?

I read in the New York Times that the average pay for the now-departed chief of Exxon was a bit over $144,000 a day. At what point does an ethical individual say: "Enough!"?

Shareholders, employees (laid off and otherwise), customers, clerics, legislators, et al. seem to have largely resigned themselves to the unbridled engorgement of the few at the expense, and to the detriment, of the many. Are we to believe that compensation at this level has no impact on the wages of the average employee, the price of goods and services, and the economy at large? Comparing this compensation to a minimum wage of $5.15 per hour shows that this one man made the same amount in an average year as just under 5000 minimum wage workers. Is anyone worth that?

Too much separation between the top and the bottom is not only unethical and immoral but ultimately counterproductive. If those at the top have no common experience with those at the bottom, they can't have much understanding either. Remember the incident when Bush pere discovered the grocery scanner?

Concentration may be OK in orange juice but it is absolutely un-American in money and power!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Aloneness and Loneliness

Easter weekend made me think about the difference between being alone and being lonely.

There's an old saw that you can be alone without being lonely. True. Also, someone who's always lonely when alone has a problem. True.

What some folks derive from these sayings is that anyone who's ever lonely has a problem. FALSE!

I realized this weekend that sometimes circumstances beyond one's control make one alone when one doesn't want to be alone and loneliness is the inevitable result. One is not always in control of any part of life including whether one is sailing through that life solo or not.

The loneliness passes; the aloneness doesn't. In the end we learn to deal with the latter and to endure the former as long as it happens infrequently and briefly. What in unendurable is the foolish suggestions from those who are not lonely that something is wrong with those who are.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Word on Loyalty

I hear a lot of whining about the lack of employee loyalty these days. It seems to me that loyalty is, and ought to be, a two-way street. You watch my six and I'll watch yours. The minute that I'm on my own I must tend to my own issues and abandon some of my concern for yours.

This "lack of employee loyalty" is the inevitable result of downsizing, outsourcing, reduced or eliminated benefits, flat pay (in real terms), et al. while the boardroom flourishes. Tripling the gap from 50 times to 170 times average pay for executives without regard to their performance broke the company to employee loyalty path. Told that they were on their own employees began to act like it. It can be no surprise when company loyalty is an early victim.

The necessary attitudinal change appears to be beyond the horizon.

I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Ethical Social Contract




There've been stories in the press of late lamenting the lack of loyalty from workers to the corporations for whom they work. There have been few mentions of the lack of loyalty from the corporation to the employee.

It seems to me that the old contract wherein at least five sides had ownership (see diagram) has been shredded. Corporations tell vendors where to buy or manufacture goods. They tell government that any regulation or disclosure is bad. They tell employees that, while pay and benefits must be slashed and jobs eliminated, they should look out for themselves. Shareholders see their values diminished by rapacious executives. Society is the worse for all of this.

Aren't we all better off when employees are well paid so that they can buy goods and pay taxes, shareholders value is looked after, vendors mind their own businesses, government sets boundaries, and corporations prosper? Take any one out of the equation and disaster looms.

Doing what's right is ethical. Looking out only for number one is nearly always not.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ethics and Easter

One of the things that I do for a living is speak on ethics so it shouldn't come as a surprise that this week before Easter makes me even more aware than usual of the ethical "state of the union."

I suppose that you might expect me to vent now about the state of ethics in politics. I could but it seems to much like shooting fish in a barrel to write about DeLay, Cunningham, et al. and their increasing claims to piety as more is revealed.

No, what made me think of this topic was the report in yesterday's New York Times on executive compensation and the increasing gap between the executive suites and the shop floor. I'd pose the question of whether it is ethical to spike one's own income by eliminating thousands of jobs and reducing the income and benefits of thousands more but the answer is a self-evident and resounding NO.

I once heard that when Andy MacPhail was with the Minnesota Twins and negotiating a contract he said that he understood needing to provide for one's family but for how many generations? The amounts made by athletes pale when compared with the numbers in yesterday's Times and athletes and their salaries are connected to performance while, according to the Times, executives are getting bonuses even while augering their companies into the ground.

Ethics and business are linked. One either leads an ethical life or not. One cannot be personally ethical while committing ethical atrocities at work.

I can only hope that, should they find themselves at a sermon this weekend dealing with a great and selfless sacrifice, these executives not only fell shame but set about correcting the behavior.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Sharing the Burden

Question: What do you have when only one rider is pedaling on a tandem bike?
Answer: It depends on your point of view. One person has a burden; the other a free ride.

What brought this on? I read about a website that tracks executive pensions (http://www.paywatch.org). Many of the same companies that are slashing workers and eliminating defined-benefit pensions under the notion that they must to stay in business or that workers "should" provide for themselves fund "top-hat" pensions for their executives that guarantee annual pension income in the millions of dollars.

This is neither fair nor just. It is, in fact, reprehensible. Put those ideas aside, though, and the shared burden argument remains. How can one justify these exorbitant amounts for a small group while destroying the lives of those who rely on that money to live? Since the "top-hat" pensions are often not tied to performance it can't be that these people are needed for the company to survive. They get the money no matter what.

The simple answer? They're taking it because they can. Is that a moral stance? Is it an ethical one?

If you need to think about your answers, you're probably part of the problem.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

So where've I been?

I've been busy, pre-occupied, and had potential topics wash over me tsunami-like.
Politics local and not, religion, culture or the lack of it, mankind and the bottomlessness of the contempt it has for itself barely scratch the surface of what's crossed my mind as potential topics.

Just when I'm about to vent about the public frenzy over the Vikings "Love Boat" scandal (Is this really so important that it requires all this attention?) then Whoosh here comes some souless indicted public figure wrapping Jesus around him like armor and decrying a "war on Christianity." (By whom? Christians are the majority!)

Whoosh again! Breaking news! Anna Nicole Smith at the Supreme Court! (Who cares other than Ms Smith and her late husbands son? Oh, yeah, all those lawyers!) Whoosh! More breaking news! An hour report! Still nothing new on Natalie Holloway! (When did the absence of news become news?)

And on and on (whoosh, whoosh, whoosh) ad nauseum. I couldn't choose.

Well, discipline is a virtue and I pledge to give it a try.

I'll try to pick topics on a regular basis. I'll try to write about them. If I can just get this whooshing sound out of my ears!