A Business Lesson From Microsoft

Long, long ago, when there was a stock market boom, lots and lots of people wanted to work at Microsoft. Its stock was going ever higher, and the company was famous for its generous stock options. True, there was the dreaded “stack rank” review procedure that turfed out a lot of good people, but, hey, the stock! Look at the stock! People signed on for the ride and enjoyed it greatly.

Then, the stock market turned. MSFT was no longer synonymous with magic or even growth. Microsoft had become a mature industry, and its stock price leveled off after dropping hard in early 2000. Microsoft kept its stack rank procedures, but now, there wasn’t any options fun to balance out the terror of a policy in which a certain percentage of the workforce was to be fired each year, usually because they didn’t have good relations with managers they didn’t report directly to.

Without the incentive to stick around in the form of stock options, a lot of talented people left the company. A LOT. Not all of the talent, but a significant chunk of it. New talent didn’t gravitate to Microsoft. Now, I hear people talking about it they way people used to talk about Novell… how it’s a shadow of what it used to be. It’s not the big industry mover that it was in 1999, that’s for sure.

What could turn the company around? Ideas. Where do ideas come from? Bright people that don’t want to be massacred by a stack rank policy in a car accident. The problem is that the policy is entrenched, the management doesn’t really listen to the workers when they complain about it, and the company as a whole suffers.

Moral of the story: don’t fire people for the sake of firing people in order to create a false sort of competition between workers. It doesn’t work.

Hungarian Rock and Roll

I love finding music that I like. The latest round of searching took me to Hungary, in the 1970s. There was some great rock and roll there and then. I’m enjoying the bands Locomotiv GT and Skorpio. I’ve even learned some Hungarian so I can know the titles and sing along.

The best thing I take away from this is the joy of self-directed learning. Assign yourself homework to not just enjoy something, but to learn about what you enjoy so you can enjoy it even more.

The Tragedy in West

Yesterday evening, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas exploded as a consequence of a fire there. The tragedy is real, and it is bitter to see.

My heart and prayers go with the injured and survivors. For those not from this part of the nation, under normal circumstances, West is a beautiful, happy town famous for its Czech culture and food. If I’m ever on I35, I always try to find a reason to stop by and share in the joy that town produces. I know they’ll recover and rebuild.

Bůh s vámi, krásné město, West. Bůh s vámi.

An Italian Military Hero

There’s a glib line that “there are no Italian military heroes.” It’s completely wrong. There’s one who stands out in my mind as the epitome of the soldier, a man willing to lay down his life to protect those of others.

His name is Salvo d’Acquisto. After Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, the Germans took over administration of Italy from Rome northward. In the area where d’Acquisto was stationed, a bomb went off and the Germans didn’t like it. They gathered 23 people to be killed in reprisal. d’Acquisto offered himself in their place, claiming responsibility for the bombing and letting the innocents go free. I must recognize the valor of men and women of Italy who fought against the Nazis and Fascists. Salvo d’Acquisto represents but one story of many, and although people may joke about the Italian army in WW2, the sacrifices of d’Acquisto and others should not be taken lightly, which is why I happily submit this to you all.

In measures of fame and popular acclaim, d’Acquisto has schools and roads and stuff named after him, had movies made about him, and is up for sainthood – I checked at the Vatican website myself. More than that, though, we see a man that realized a solution to a problem was not in killing the enemy, but in allowing the enemy to kill him as a sacrifice to protect others. As I observed Easter services today, my mind went over to how d’Acquisto’s sacrifice was in the manner of Jesus’ sacrifice. He died that others might live. The popular acclaim is there, yes, but what truly makes Salvo d’Acquisto a hero in my eyes is in the way he was able to drink from a bitter cup of sacrifice when there was no other way to save lives.

He was, and is, a true hero. I salute him.

Where Left Meets Right

At the extremes of freedom and authoritarianism, the “left” meets the “right”. As long as a nation exists in the middle, there is plenty of room for variance between the leftists and the rightists, but when certain basic notions are challenged, the two antagonizing sides have to choose to either hang together or hang separately.

The economic situation in Cyprus is one of those challenges to basic notions. One of the basic notions of freedom is the right of property ownership. Even if some people steal, cheat, or otherwise come across their property in unethical ways, not all people come into property ownership that way. For the European Central Bank to say that the solution to Cyprus’ economic woes lies in seizing the property of individuals means that the ECB has challenged one of the basic notions of freedom.

For those on the left and the right that now find themselves uncomfortably close together on the issue of property rights, let me make a suggestion: drop your other quarrels and unite on this one. Get to know each other. Get used to working together. Remember, we have to hang together if we don’t wish to hang separately. Property ownership is important, and there will be more conflicts in this area as governments seek to turn to financial repression in order to solve their economic problems.

The Search for Truth

I search for truth. That means I have to wade through a lot of stuff that falls in the category of “mistaken, misguided, or misleading statements.” No matter what the cause of the error, error is error. Seeking truth means humbling myself when error is found within and then seeking to know better.

Even if I believe to have found the font of eternal wisdom and perfect knowledge, I can still form my own erroneous impressions or heed the misjudgments of others as I sip from that font. Hence, the necessity of humility.

Pride in my knowledge means I cannot allow it to be corrected. That leads to arrogance and worse. Humility in my knowledge means I know that I must be corrected, that I am not yet perfect, that I *will* be corrected, and, ultimately, that I must be thankful for the correction that I receive.

So what is truth? That part is surprisingly simple, and I suspect that the greatest errors are made when we humans choose to overcomplicate things. Truth is this: God is Love. If we seek to be Godlike, we must love, and love with purity. We must have compassion, unselfishness, no desire of reciprocal utility, and so on, in our pure love. When we hear or think things that interfere with that purity of love, there is something of untruth about those influences.

The search for truth, therefore, is not so much a discovery of the simple fact that God is Love, but is instead the process of removing the errors in our own lives that we might be ready to not only better know the truth, but to be able to live that truth more perfectly.

Foreign Film Roundup

Just watched “Il Divo”, an Italian political thriller about Giulio Andreotti. Fantastic, mesmerizing portrayal of the seven-time PM of Italy, complete with his alleged ties to the Mafia, neo-Fascists, the Vatican, crooked bankers that wound up murdered, and even a goodly dose of clandestine Masonic lodges. Crazy thing is, this ain’t no Dan Brown novel: this is reality in Italian politics. “Il Divo” thrills all right, but it’s a biopic, not a fiction created from whole cloth.

The acting is top-notch, the soundtrack frequently delights, and the suits are AMAZING. First rule of Italy: look fantastic. Morals and ethics can come after that… The cinematography deserves a special mention for its stylization. It creates the proper feel for the film and never lets up. As a whole, the film is immersive, compelling, and – at the end of the day – great entertainment.

I had the film on my shelf, but hadn’t watched it until now, when the Vatican came under fire in its latest scandal, coupled with the election turmoil in Italy. I can’t say that I totally understand Italian politics now, but the insights from this film are most welcome and relevant.

Democratic Society or Constitutional Republic?

Which do we live in? Apparently, according to the Texas state standards for social studies content taught in the classroom, or TEKS, we no longer live in a democratic society. It’s a constitutional republic. The word “democratic” has been scrubbed from much of the TEKS, to be replaced by the word “republic.” The partisanship behind this change is obvious. And while students still need to “analyze and evaluate the validity of… information… for bias, propaganda, point of view, and frame of reference”, every previous mention of “propaganda” has been struck from the TEKS. Are we to apply the study of propaganda to the TEKS themselves, then?

Given that the TEKS ask that we study the “leadership” of Nixon and Reagan and only the impeachment of Clinton, I think there are grounds to view the TEKS as a platform for right-wing propaganda. In them, America was never imperialistic and McCarthy was spot on in his witch-hunt… even though Americans previously decried our imperialistic adventures and the Venona documents show that McCarthy was dead wrong about most of his charges.

My biggest question is if I have to teach that we have always been at war with Eastasia or that we have always been at war with Eurasia.

Where Was the Outrage Then?

Benghazi was a debacle for the Obama administration: of that I have no question. But I find the GOP’s outrage over Benghazi, no matter how appropriate for the moment, to be arriving a little late in the day. The same senators that are not allowing Obama to have his appointments go forward over Benghazi were more than willing to give Bush a pass over the falsehoods of our invasion of Iraq. They did not pry into 9/11, which was an even bigger intelligence failure than Benghazi. To all the conservatives that are delving into the truth of Benghazi, I invite you to dive into Iraq and 9/11. I’ve been there for quite some time, and it would be good to have some company there.

People ask me why I don’t support either major party and I can point at a history of betrayals of our Constitutional principles, time and again, from either side of the aisle. I see myself as a seeker of truth: when a historical figure makes a hypocritical stand, I notice it and make remarks. I don’t let partisanship blind me. Believe me, it was a big blow to me mentally when I discovered that Jimmy Carter’s administration both triggered Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and supported the Khmer Rouges in Cambodia. I had thought of him as a principled, if not accomplished, president. Those revelations proved my view to be false.

But the sins of Obama, Carter, and Clinton – oh yes, Mr. Clinton… – do not excuse those of Nixon, Reagan, or either Bush. Those who only see the errors of one side of the aisle are part of the coverup of the travesties and miscarriages on their own side. We’re not getting a fair shake from either side. We need to be outraged at all gross errors of government, not merely when it is politically convenient to be outraged.

It’s the Articles, Again

Remember the Articles of Confederation? How they resulted in an unworkable government because they required a 2/3rds majority to pass laws? Guess what… they’re here again! Don’t believe me? Well, just look at the Senate. No matter what the President wants or what the House does, all bills have to go through the Senate. And what happens in the Senate if a Senator doesn’t like a bill? He can filibuster it. The filibuster blocks the bill – without debate or discussion – and only 60 votes can block the filibuster move. That’s just seven shy of a 2/3rds majority.

Like I said, we’ve gotten back to the unworkability of the Articles of Confederation. Ironic, I know, since the Constitution was supposed to fix the problems of that older government. Well, looks like we need to try again.