When Fame and Honor Collide

You probably see things named for famous people all the time. In our area, there’s a Nimitz Freeway and Macarthur Boulevard named after the WWII warriors. For the most part, localities or organizations assign these names to honor people who’ve done something duly important.
In most cases, localities choose these names upon the namesake’s death. The ubiquitous Martin Luther King Boulevards around the country are an example.

However, some entities choose names ONLY after death. For example, the US Postal Service requires stamp subjects be tits up before they can adorn a stamp. These laws and ordinances help save potential embarrassment when the locality chooses a living person who later turns out to be a lying chump. One example is Cincinnati.

That city amended its charter to allow living honorees so they could feed baseball player Pete Rose’s mammoth ego. The Pete Rose Way signs went up and a few years later, Pete Rose himself crashed down. Charlie Hustle turned out to be a compulsive gambler and was banned from baseball. A controversy ensued when the pro-Pete/anti-Pete lobbies squared off to argue about the propriety of naming something after a disgraced baseball player. The argument, much like the ban from baseball, probably smolders to this day.

It seems this idea of naming things after living famous people is out of hand. The last in the current class of Navy aircraft carriers has George HW’s name all over it. Washington National airport became Reagan National when the Republicans swept in – along with the Contract on America – and needed to “honor” the incontinent old fart. We expect the ruling party will push to name the replacement for the World Trade Center something like “The George W. Bush Freedom From Terror Building“. We’re sure his outsized ego will be touched at the gesture. Heck, he’ll even start trying to convince people it was a bipartisan move because Democratic loon Zell Miller backed it.

We work just down the street from Mineta International airport, named after Norman Mineta. He got the nod because he was a congressman who brought home the pork for his district in Supersize Me portions. He’s also the only Democrat cabinet Secretary on Team Incompetent. Yes, he’s still alive, although probably embarrassed at having to serve under the Moron-in-Chief.

So now that the “honor” gloves are off, how about naming a bridge to nowhere for Ted Stevens of Alaska. Or how about the new Tom Delay Home for the Criminally Insane? I know I’d vote for the Scooter Libby Chair on Ethics at Pepperdine University or naming K Street in Washington for Karl Rove.

Come on people! Let the love flow! Give these richly deserving citizens their due before the whole damn lot of them shuffles along to the afterlife they dwell on so often.

Valley of the Nerds

“High school is neither a time nor a place, it’s a state of mind.”
– Musician, Frank Zappa

Nearly all of us have heard of Silicon Valley. For the geographically uninitiated, the words conjure up a nice peaceful valley, filled with smart people, and tucked away in some vague corner of California. However, the real Silicon Valley is a little different.

For example, Silicon Valley has no silicon as far as we know – unless you count the stuff trucked in to make microchips. For those frequently mistaking the two, there’s no silicone either – unless you count the boobs of sunglasses-bedecked trophy wives who cruise around in a large-scale Mercedes or the occasional high-end sports car.

Neither is it a geographical place, except in the broadest sense. First, there’s no real valley. It’s is a loose description of the southern San Francisco Bay where high-tech companies have congregated. It is a place of cookie-cutter, low-rise office buildings and clogged freeways. Most buildings sit surrounded by acres of parking lots that don’t fill up until 11 am and are far from empty on weekends and late at night. There are big, toilet brush-like palms around many to reflect the new age spirit of California. Unfortunately, they look out of place betwixt all the native redwoods and live oak.

Silicon Valley even has its own local annexes. The “I-680” corridor runs nearly 50 miles north and is scattered along its length with high-tech companies who’ve moved to the burbs. Other companies congregated in San Francisco where there is a section called, “Multimedia Gulch”.

But at its most powerful, Silicon Valley is a state of mind. It was the scene of the Great Dot Com boom where every idiot with a hare-brained idea was showered with money by rookie venture capitalists who hadn’t yet learned the concepts of profit and loss.

During the height of the boom, high tech workers moved effortlessly from one company to the next. Back then – eons in gigafast Internet time – breathing was a more important job skill than an actual ability to do something useful. Software developers sat for 16 hours a day – typing code like demons and kept awake with massive infusions of gourmet coffee – as they created the next “killer app”. They were the masters of the universe…with stock options.

The Valley also ushered in peculiar changes in corporate culture. Gone were the shirts, ties, and pocket protectors of previous geekified generations. In were the green spiked hair, ripped jeans, and shoeless grads and dropouts of nearby UC Berkeley. The venture capitalists all came from more tony Stanford and wore chinos, knit shirts, and Rockports – the newly established fashion of “business casual”. No use being uncomfortable as you make your first million they said.

In exchange for the 16-hour days and lack of a social life, companies reformed the corporate experience to provide facsimiles of those things to avoid “useless” time off.

Instead, there were party nights, movie nights, and ice-cream socials. Workers no longer needed to leave work to care for those pesky details of everyday life. Companies offered on-site dry cleaning, car detailing, oil changes, haircuts, and windshield repair. If all that not running around overstressed you, most companies offered chair massages by licensed massage therapists.

No time for exercise? Companies built onsite swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, and gyms.

Hungry? Endless supplies of free gourmet coffee and soda gushed forth. Companies offered fruit or bagels at least once per week and opened subsidized cafeterias where employees ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner featuring items like Mushroom and Eggplant Ragu over Creamy Herbed Soft Polenta with Parmesan and Chopped Basil.

Then the bust hit.

All those stock options – in some cases paid in lieu of living wages – were worthless paper. When the end came, the spoiled wunderkinder of the Valley did what any rich, spoiled kid does…they packed up their laptops, looked for a Starbucks with a free wifi hotspot, and planned for a year off to cycle around France. Most figured things would rebound as they always had in their twenty-something experience.

When they returned from France – mostly broke, but confident of the next big payoff – many found things had changed. The hare-brained idiots were gone. The 25-year old Stanford biz grads no longer had money to lend (or in some cases, eat with). The car-detailing business had closed and many developers found their formerly high paying jobs had moved to Bangalore where a princely sum is a damn sight less princely than the Valley.

Today, the Valley is a more mature place. Actual adults head most of the companies now. With a glut of workers, they no longer find it cost-effective to offer chair messages and bagels on Wednesday. And, no more six-month paid sabbaticals every five years either. That shit costs money and Dubya and the boys have yachts to buy and dividends to reinvest.

Some things remain the same. People still work 16 hours a day. Now the companies don’t watch over their social well-being like a fraternity housemother. Most places told the green hairs to get a haircut, but most drew the line at “business casual” because even CEOs don’t like wearing a coat and tie. There’s big work these days for business analysts to do cost projections and business cases. Back in the boom days, a developer wouldn’t have known what these bean counters were doing if one came along and amortized his ass.

So, Silicon Valley is like lots of other places, neither a time nor a place, but just a (downsized) state of mind.

The CEO President

There are managers and there are leaders, but they couldn’t be more different than night and day.

A Manager is the titular head of a group of people. In today’s world, companies encourage the use of the word “resources” in place of “people”; because that’s exactly how Managers must perceive those they manage to survive.

Managers assign tasks to “resources” – who they combine with other resources – to create, in most cases, an unholy mess. The Manager monitors the progress of the mess, submitting the proper paperwork, nodding at the right places, and kissing the proper asses to smooth the way. At the end, and if the mess hasn’t been too catastrophic, the Manager gets some sort of reward for managing all those “resources” in a relatively benign way. Frequently, the reward is a disproportionate “bonus” based on the work of those who got squat in return. Sometimes the reward is more “resources” with which to create even larger messes.

By contrast, leaders are anti-managers. They have ideas and they invite people (never resources) to journey with them to some shining new place. They do as little paperwork as possible and they most assuredly don’t kiss anyone’s ass or nod when they don’t have a clue what’s going on. While a Manager takes refuge behind the failure of a subordinate “resource”, a leader says, “Get off their back. If there’s a mistake here, it’s my fault.” Exceptionally good leaders learn from those failures and use them to create even shinier new places.

Our current Tree Stump-in-Chief fancies himself a “CEO President”. This oxymoron is the most dangerous hybrid of the concepts of managing and leading. CEOs, most of them anyway, are managers. Their work consists chiefly of delegating work to others and watching them do it. They are nearly always blind to the difference between two other key concepts – delegation and abdication. Presidents simply lead.

In Shrub’s case, this is best shown by our crisis du jour, Iraq.

Commander Bunnypants listened to some loony neo-con Managers tell him that if we mugged Saddam and took over Iraq we’d been in ass-deep clover. Not once did he question this advice. Not once did he become curious enough to ask how we would do it. Not once did he ask who would do it, how much it would cost, or what would happen if he got exactly what he asked for and won the war.

He then delegated the doing to incompetent bunglers like Rummy, Dick, and Condi. At least he thinks he delegated. In fact, he abdicated. That means he turned over the whole damned thing to someone else, save for the early-going photo ops where he could take credit for how swimmingly he’d done – and headed off to clear some Crawford brush. He abdicated every detail to the bunglers, proving himself a more incompetent than usual Manager, let alone a competent Leader.

Now that a thousand “you’re doing a heckuva jobs” are dirty water under a bombed out Baghdad bridge, he’s not sure how to act. First, he claimed we were all blind and stupid. “OF COURSE! Everything’s finer than fine.” Then, he alluded to some vague notions of possible errors, the infamous “mistakes were made”, small and infinitesimal though he swears they may be. He even threw in some “accountability” by jailing a few hapless Army privates for hooking wires to Iraqi “privates”.

A Leader would likely have never gone to the God-forsaken sandpit to begin with and if they did, they’d sure as hell would have noticed something wrong before the three-year mark.

When watching this cluster-fuckbomb, we find ourselves wondering where the hell all the Leaders are. George Marshall was able to rebuild all of Europe quicker and cheaper than George has mucked up Iraq. George Washington managed to whip the British despite the fact his “army” was less than half the size and composed of men who knew about as much about warfare as Dubya does about the National Guard. For centuries it seems, we’ve always been able to find a Leader when we needed one, but no more.

There is not a single Republican or Democrat we’d trust to plan a birthday party for the Omnipotent Daughter, much less lead a country. Instead of Leaders, we have a Congressful of bribe-taking, forked-tongued, asshats who can’t agree on a single thing – no matter how small or trivial. They’re backed by a Judiciary of troglodyte nutcases bent on ushering us into the 18th Century. And the Executive – Big Giant Stupid Head at the helm – is the worst of the bunch. They couldn’t figure out how to use a phone and call a terrorist even if they had his data-mined phone number.

We’re sorry to say that about the only thing our current “Leaders” can lead is a slow-tramping death march right into the bowels of the outhouse. It stinks to high-heaven and there’s no end in sight.

As Shrub might say, “That’s some damn fine leadin’ we’re a-doin’ here!”