Performing Well

 Of late, I have been deeply involved in something that is almost antithetical to my nature: analysis of performance, most specifically the components of performance that must be mastered to master the performance art. In my current brush with the performance demon – the one that studies show terrifies more people that does any other aspect of life, other than suddenly having it all end – I am concerned with one of the mundane aspects of performance, for performance is legion, that being skillfulness in  presentation.

People who make their living entirely on their design skills, like architects and fashion designers, tend to excel at doing presentations. They tend to be naturals at some of the foundational components of effective presentation, not the least of which is awareness of self.

Awareness of self is the “Y” in the road of face-to-face interpersonal communications; the junction at which things either proceed along a positive path or go disastrously wrong. Design types tend to relish that cleavage in the roadway because it is their launch pad for doing the thing that all of their efforts to this point have been building to: the chance to explain their vision. That vision thing focuses them, and often aligns rather well with their god-like visions of themselves, which is admittedly an editorial take on my part and yet illustrative of another key aspect of this story about presentation: attitude, which is like a spice, a flavor ingredient. It may help or hinder, but attitude must be present in some degree to tickle the taste buds of the receivers of our presentations and keep them engaged.

In this realm of presentation, my cross to bear (or bare, in the case of this article) is that I often work with engineers, who are quite different personalities from those one finds in the pure design fields. Where designers are all about communication of ideas and concepts, engineers are boot-on-the-ground builders and typically proud of it, which focuses them entirely on technical tasks, leaving very little time for development of soft communication skills. They are binary type communicators: Yes/No.

Engineers – even design engineers – also tend to be a little boxed in by their missions, which are largely defined by cost and schedule. These are truly mundane, though critical, subjects and the dry nature of the detail hardly lends itself to poetics, as does more aesthetic environmental and architectural design.

Then there is attitude. In an industry rife with clichés, the one most commonly heard with regard to organizing the efforts of engineers is “herding cats”. (For you dog people, herding cats is a metaphorical equivalent to expecting your canine to put away your groceries.)  It is not that engineers are difficult people – that characterization is more befitting of their brethren on the design side – but they do tend to be independent souls who are smart and analytical, have no real need to cow-tow to anyone who would never show up on a construction site, and they are frequently outside of the mainstream in their social-political perspectives. My take on the type of heavy civil and environmental engineers that I work with is that they have the skill sets most likely to survive the first several waves of human annihilation once the movie starts and the zombies show up.

As for the present, however, engineers’ issues with survival are principally economic, and there they can have some real problems when it comes to the aforementioned focus of their communication skills. Devise and construct a system to move water, generate electricity, and provide shelter from the storms: Yes. Present themselves to a group of bureaucrats and administrators to explain the details of their work and build value for their very existence: Not so much.

Where designer types will jealously guard their proposals, handle content themselves, and build everything toward their opportunity to talk about it all in a presentation to a selection committee, engineers tend to take little ownership of the details of technical proposals, often choosing to remove draft content rather than add nuance or magnification, even when page limitations would allow elucidation. In review processes, they tend to pot-shot text they have not previously read, often without awareness of thematic statements represented within the draft as a whole. Like project engineers do, they redesign the product in the field, on the fly, to deal with situations as discovered. This is value added engineering that protects cost and schedule when practiced on a building site, but it creates real problems at the selection committee client interview. Engineers have their own inner dialog in mind rather than expansion on the proposal themes that get them to selection committee interviews.

Of late, it has been my job with Rick Alan Rice Consulting, LLC to address this issue on behalf of one of my primary clients, a giant construction conglomerate that ranks near the top of the heavy civils list on Engineering News Record.

Performance Anxiety

Humans are one nervous set of animals. This is largely because we are wired that way, evolved through awareness of threat to survive by fighting for our lives or running to safety. For obvious reasons, most people – most animals, for that matter – choose the latter option. Either way, our instinct is to startle,

And people and animals of all kinds hate to be startled! It is upsetting to all but the few who respond with a welcome adrenaline rush that makes them crave the extra stimulation.

Those adrenaline junkies are the alpha members of our society. The act of embracing what most of us fear – a challenge of some kind that measures our capacity to respond, and in some sense our worthiness to survive – elevates these personality types to high positions in our society.

Who among us does not appreciate those who reap the most coveted rewards while exposing themselves to the greatest levels of risk? These people are our heroes, though we see that heroes often fail, and often disastrously, coming to messy ends long before their natural times.

Incongruous as it might seem, meeting hard endings is also why we like our heroes. They do the whole cycle for us, in vicarious ways, from striving through achieving and then on through to resolve. They are like stories that we take in from a safe distance, which open imaginative dream worlds in which we, too, do heroic things, perhaps to fail later, when it is all okay to do so, because we will have won.

But then there is reality.

Heroism, as it turns out, is an extreme form of showing up for life. Along the course of a normal day, people are faced with doing even simple tasks that feel outside of their comfort zones. Confronted with mundane challenges, people feel anxious.

Certainly part of the reason for our anxiety is that, more and more, we are a binary people, like the engineers I work with. We are Pass/Fail. And more critical than that, we are increasingly becoming a society in which Pass/Fail equates with Winner/Loser, which is a far less objective qualitative assessment and far more a subjective judgment. That, too, makes us nervous.

Within the course of our days there are scads of these Pass/Fail moments, and whether or not they add up to a Winner/Loser assessment is both social and personal.

We feel the personal first, of course, and most of us no doubt live in fear of the socialization – the wide social sharing – of our failings. Here again we have anxiety, which gnaws at our self-esteem and undermines our ability to do things well. There are tons of examples in life of peoples’ abilities to perform tasks being undermined by anxiety:

  • Sex: Men can’t gain and maintain erections. Women are “frigid”.
  • Golf: Players suddenly develop shank swings, which fester from seemingly nothing.
  • Baseball: Second basemen suddenly lose the ability to throw the ball to first.
  • Drivers: Suddenly make panic moves in busy intersections and create accidents.
  • Co-exist with Animals: Otherwise friendly pets behave aggressively toward nervous persons.

Flying Wombats

A big part of whether or not we become losers in our vicious game of critical assessment, self and otherwise, is how we respond to situations and our own instances of failure.

My personal experience with performance anxiety surfaced first when I was in grade school and would be expected to stand before the class and read a paper. My response to these challenges was to do something that I recognize now in my own son: I would reframe the assignment I had been given to suit my own comfort requirements, at least insofar as writing the paper would be concerned. Where my head was at, I have no idea, because approaching school in this way – and this became a pattern with me – was a disaster! Institutions don’t want interpretations of the instructions they give, at least not until one gets into college. And once one enters the real world, instructions are not really up for democratic input anyway, as they usually come from bosses and clients and other authority figures.

My personal disastrous strategy was to write something vaguely to do with the assignment, and then stand up in front of the class and start to giggle hysterically, until I would turn red in the face from lack of oxygen and be asked to sit down. This not only failed to meet the standards and specifications for my school work, but even failed to endear me to my classmates on a comedic level, who could never understand a thing I giggled and had no reason to imagine that it could be anything clever. Quite the opposite, I am sure I appeared to be an idiot, all because that is what I presented myself to be.

Preparation

As the graphic at the start of this article intends to illustrate, being prepared, like a Boy Scout, is the foundational component of every effective communications response. I suspect that the wisdom to be prepared is as close to truth as any other ever conceived.

Being prepared – owning your material, whatever its nature – puts all other components of communication (Pace, Focus, Calm, and Attitude) into their proper perspectives.

Life, in its daily aspects, is really quite easy if one is prepared for what one will likely experience. It only gets messy when one falls behind the pace that life sets. Scrambling to catch up is anxiety and error producing, and errors lead to little failures, and little failures may add up to loss of confidence. Loss of confidence will most certainly translate into larger, more catastrophic social failure.

But there is also attitude, which is an external portrayal and an inner voice.

Attitude as an external force on the exterior world is like raw metal that needs to be refined to suit its various intended purposes. One must learn what attitude to best portray to others, to modify communications to best address the target audience. On the other hand, attitude as an internal force is each individual’s last wall of defense between accepting what you perceive others perceive you to be, or accepting your strength as being to persist as who you know you are, regardless.

Either way, the attitude we portray depends largely upon our comfort level with our preparation for our assigned task. People who are unprepared and confronted will tend to exhibit defensive attitudes, acknowledging that they feel judged, which will be difficult to turn into a countervailing positive.

People who are prepared – who know their stuff and have anticipated the challenges and the questions they will receive – tend to perform closer to levels of excellence.

Preparation consists of immersing one’s self in the material one is given to master, organizing one’s narrative or order of expression, developing “fixes” to a range of plausible challenging scenarios, and rehearsing.

People hate to rehearse, particularly those who are uncomfortable with being the center of attention, though this is precisely the role they are given in the selection committee interview process. The other groups of people who hate to rehearse are those who are already at a comfort level with the material and just want the thrill of showing their might. Professional and even a lot of amateur musicians are this way, though in those two groups you often get wildly different presentation outcomes. Here’s why: professionals learn how to marshal their expressions (presentations) to maximum effect, often exploiting the maxim that less is more; amateurs often over play, diluting the impact of their musical statement by tossing everything they can think to play into the overall performance. In the example of the amateur player you have another layer of nuance and complexity even in an instance in which the presenter knows his or her stuff.

Getting to the Bottom Line

Owning your material is the foundational component of presentation, but it means very little if the presenter does not also master the other aspects of the “performance art”: pace, focus, calm and attitude.

Pace – the tempo at which one rolls out a statement, be it technical description of a complex process or a musical composition – is all about consistency, training the listener to accept information at a steady and expected set of intervals. Musicians have a natural advantage in this, because their content is tied to a defined tempo; they practice to metronomic click tracks, and they often have a drummer who sets the beat often while hearing that metronomic click track through an ear piece. They lock that sucker in to the benefit of the presentation and the audience, who for the duration of the composition more or less know what the parameters of this statement are, and comfortable with that can give their focus entirely to the specifics of the information being provided.

On the flip side of that, lose the pace, lose the audience. Nothing undermines credibility like inability to keep a beat, whether you are performing in a band or working in a busy office. It is all the same, the operational rhythm being the golden variable.

If getting the pace right is the golden variable, then achieving focus is most certainly the sharp tip of the spear. The focus of the presenter equals the focus of the audience, it is just that simple. For the entertainer, the musician, the ability to win an audience over is dependent upon the commitment the performer has to his or her vision (their internal focus). Lounge acts, bar bands and mediocre presenters have in common the one binomial characteristic that flips the On/Off switch, discussed at the beginning of this article, to “Fail/Loser” mode: they don’t represent any focused message. To the contrary, in their lack of focus, of purpose even, they may broadcast a range of random, possibly unintended signals that tell the audience to ignore them, because they don’t really have any value to add to the proceedings. This is really the low expectation realm in which the lounge musician exists; providing a background sound that fills the awkward silences in conversations taking place at individual tables around the room, each standing the drinks of people without commitment to the person on the stage.

In a business presentation, on the other hand, there are much larger forces at play, possibly including the livelihoods of banks of personnel. This will tend to focus the attentions of a presenter addressing a selection committee, and if that presenter has mastered the content and practiced it at the most effective pace then the audience will feel the presenter’s focus and be won over by it, at least to some degree. Business decision makers, like decision makers in all aspects of life, need the signal that tells them it is okay to say “Yes”, often called the “buy signal”. A presenter’s focus puts their audience in that comfortable place where they can consider this an acceptable alternative, a solution they can live with without the fear of being judged negatively for their decision to accept.

Finding Calm

None of the wonder that accrues from mastering content and presenting it an effective pace with forceful focus and vision happens at all if the presenter is just too freaked out to hit their marks and speak their lines. This brings us back, full circle, to how we began this piece, with the acknowledgement that nothing frightens people any more than does public speaking, or making presentations, narrative, musical or otherwise.

Singer Tony Bennett has written of his evolution to that place of calm from which a performer or presenter does their best work. Bennett credits Frank Sinatra with coaching him to relax and enjoy being on stage and performing, which for the first decade of Bennett’s career had apparently been a nerve-racking experience.

Most presenters are not entertainers, and don’t get the repetitions that the Tony Bennetts and Frank Sinatras of the world get as they advance in their profession. A person doing 300 shows a year will soon enough become acclimated to the spotlight and, to use another sports metaphor, the game will slow down for them a lot. This will be the natural evolution of achieving the ownership of their material and the pace control that we discussed earlier. Focus, for a person doing 300 shows a year, can come and go without having anything near the catastrophic potential that losing focus has for the occasional presenter who may have only a few shots each year to make or break his business.

How a person – one who doesn’t have the repetition benefits of a stage performer – achieves calm, so he or she can present effectively in the few opportunities they get in a given period of time, is probably the central emotional/psychological struggle of each of our individual lives. We all just have a few big moments in our lives that really count, when we have to stand up and be something.

This knowledge of these milestone moments, these pivotal instances of Pass/Fail judgment, is panic inducing, but they needn’t be.

Perspective is needed, because for all the scary things just stated about the costs of blowing it, few of us actually deal with fatal flaw instances that are defining and permanent. The lives of people are not typically taken because they answer a question wrong in an interview. Even in a business situation with big money on the line, survival is most likely a conceptual or abstract notion not directly dependent upon any single aspect of any presentation task. Even when we fail, the sun comes up the next day and everything starts anew; changed, perhaps, by what has transpired leading up to this new day, but change on most levels has a shelf life and the direction of one’s future can be corrected by a performance that goes well and as planned.

There are entire industries devoted to helping people achieve perspective and calm (fitness, holistic health, psychotherapy, pharmacology, Yoga, recreational drugs, alcohol), and still others devoted to catharsis (sports, entertainment, vacation). Some combination of those things will work for some people, allowing them to achieve a focused tranquility that is fungible and can be experienced by others.

Barring evolution to a Zen-like state through a well-funded, active lifestyle, there is this focus device that I picked up from a professional in presentation coaching: the ABCs.

  • A = Align your body – stand tall and balanced – so that it can circulate blood easily
  • B = Breathe deeply so you will have plenty oxygen to fuel your brain’s ability to think
  • C = Center – or ground – around what’s really important

Even if you can’t master your material, are as arrhythmic as a two-stroke engine, have the focus of a gnat, and are nervous as the shakiest gun in the west (Don Knotts), if you can follow the wisdom of the ABCs you at least won’t pass out during your big moment in the spotlight.

Rick Alan Rice (RAR) is the Publisher of Revolution Culture Journal and the Chief Executive Officer of Rick Alan Rice Consulting, LLC and the RARWRITER Publishing Group. He has had a long career as a writer and communications specialist, including engagements with top companies in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction, Information Technology, software development, academic research, commercial journalism, and corporate training business sectors.

Resurrection of the Subprime Loan

HOME FRONT: Disassociating from Financial Scumbags

Let me speak frankly, so that you may understand what I am about to say.

My family is under water on our mortgage. We bought a home in California in 2006, not so much because we were anxious to pay the absurdly overblown prices for which homes in California were going for at the time, but because our previous home had burned down in a house fire and we needed a place to live. Our options were to rent, which has always struck me as antithetical to building personal wealth, or to roll the dice on the California housing market. We plunked down $50,000 in down payment and purchased a home that, within three years, lost 40 percent of its value, a calamity from which it is not recovering.

We had been assured by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan that real estate was the one asset that Americans could feel certain would never prove to be a bad investment, and advice such as that helped to create the real estate bubble economy that would eventually take the whole world down.

Because of the way our mortgage through Bank of America was handled, we currently have a case in review with the U.S. Department of Justice; part of a sweeping investigation of lending practices by major financial institutions that led to the economic collapse of 2009.

Bank of America, Nationwide, Wells Fargo and other lenders began to come under scrutiny with the bursting of the real estate bubble in the latter part of 2006. The first wave of adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) reached their five-year maturity sending monthly mortgage payments skyrocketing out of the range of many people who been sold on these loans.

We were among those people who experienced highly questionable, but also extremely consistent, business practices, not only from the banks but from the mortgage brokers who scurried over the landscape in the first decade of the 21st Century like scorpions on the prowl.  They were looking for anyone interested in getting a home of their own, regardless of their economic qualifications, and they were armed with a bag of tricks to make loans to borrowers, including the unqualified. Liar’s loans they called them: loans based on uncorroborated statements of personal income.

The arc was pretty well established. Brokers were happy to come to wherever you lived at the time to explore your mortgage options. They painted rosy scenarios that got marginally qualified, or completely unqualified, borrowers to accept adjustable rate mortgages on the promise that these could be almost immediately renegotiated to more realistic fixed rates; that the first step was to get borrowers into the system and making mortgage payments so the renegotiation of the terms of the loan could begin.

That was a complete misrepresentation. In fact, lenders were using deception as their standard business practice. We worked with a mortgage broker who told us he was setting us up with a 30-year fixed rate loan, only to show up at our house to close the deal, revealing that we were being offered an adjustable, not a fixed rate. The explanation was that the loan was based entirely on my income, minus that of my wife, and that the ARM was the best they could get for us. Assured that we could immediately reopen negotiations, we took the deal even knowing that there had been a last minute bait-and-switch. This was the last time we ever saw or heard of our mortgage brokers, a tag-team of relatives who had perfected a routine as slick as that of any hustler anywhere.

Another of the popular ruses was selling a side insurance that would guarantee that the Bank of America would extend leniency in the event that the principal income earner in the family lost his or her job, the promise being that, should such an event occur, the family would not lose their home. People fell for this left and right, finding out when they called the Bank that the leniency program would only apply if the principal income earner suffered a catastrophic injury, like losing a limb in a factory accident that made it impossible, at least during the recovery period, to earn an income to continue to make mortgage payments. This became a huge issue in 2009, when the economy collapsed, people lost their jobs, and suddenly it behooved them to make those calls to the bank regarding those extravagant guarantees that helped sell those loans.

GOING INTO DEFAULT: Far from offering recently unemployed people leniency on their payment schedules, the Bank of America and others used another standard deception. They told caller after caller that they must first miss three months of mortgage payments to put themselves into a technical default, after which Bank of America could begin mortgage modification conversations.

That was another complete fabrication of which Bank of America now claims to be completely innocent. They don’t know where people ever got that bad advice that voluntarily put so many homes on the path to foreclosure.

Bank of America’s churning plan was chugging along swimmingly until the 2009 economic collapse, when suddenly they were faced with foreclosure situations numbering in the millions. Because BofA and the others were never running legitimate mortgage operations, always planning to bundle these bad mortgages into securities that they would sell to unsuspecting clients (unknowledgeable pension fund investors were a popular target), they didn’t bother to keep the mortgage paperwork that had always been standard in the lending industry. These loans were designed from the first to be somebody else’s problem, but when the economic disaster hit the fan BofA and others suddenly found themselves needing to foreclose on a humongous number of properties for which they had no paperwork.

Enter the robo-signing scam, in which BofA and other large lenders simply created phony paperwork with phony signatures through the use of an automated technology. It was a practice so packed to the nines with hubris that it seems impossible that they would have even attempted such a criminal scheme, and yet they did. The repercussions temporarily froze the mortgage industry insofar as their foreclosure plans were concerned. Criminal investigations will have that effect on things.

Our mortgage was sold by BofA within six months of our decision to buy. I have no idea who owns the title to our house, but I know it isn’t Bank of America because for many months we have been getting statements from BofA that are completely inaccurate, that expose them to criminal complaints, and make it pretty clear that they are struggling for ways to repossess a property for which they can show no claim of ownership.

Our position is that, given the fraudulent nature of our lender and the fact that they have no paperwork on our home, we will not honor the mortgage agreement unless we receive a modification that includes principle reduction. We would walk away from our home before committing ourselves to a fraudulent contract that would never be paid off in my lifetime and would likely saddle my children with debt once I am gone. We would be foolish to approach it any other way.

VULTURE REALTORS: The real estate community, and particularly the real estate brokerage community, was complicit in all of the lending shenanigans of the 21st Century to date – only too happy to exploit easy credit for the one time payoff of a home sale – and they are back again to exploit the new criminal conspiracy.

BofA has tried various schemes to recover their paperwork, like setting up counseling sessions and inviting mortgage holders to bring their paperwork to the meeting. Why do you suppose BofA would do that? That hasn’t worked very well as a scam, because everyone who deals with BofA knows that they are almost impossible to find to talk to, so if they make themselves available you can be sure they are up to something. You can talk to their debt collection groups, who are not authorized to do anything but collect overdue debt, but never to a BofA mortgage officer. It isn’t like the old days, with your neighborhood banker. Hell, it isn’t really even like real business, but more like one of those tricks police departments pull to get people with outstanding warrants to show up to claim a prize only to be arrested.

BofA’s current scheme is to have local real estate agents contact homeowners whose mortgages are underwater with an offer of a few thousand dollars to walk away from their home and call their mortgage issue resolved. Some people have negotiated outs for themselves of as much as $35,000, but the basic offer is around $3,000. You get $3,000 to start life over again, presumably to put down money on an apartment rental, though in California that would certainly be nowhere near enough for first-and-last months rent, plus the current month. You will likely pay at least $1,600 a month for a two-bedroom rental, and that will buy you squalor.

Prediction: this isn’t going to work. The program is on a trial basis to see if anyone bites, and only a fool would. BofA hopes to pick off the low hanging fruit with this absurd scheme.

The one thing that is talked about way too little in all of this is the willingness on the part of the mortgage brokerage and real estate sales communities to participate in these shady enterprises. That, when you think about it, is the core problem: peoples’ willingness to exploit others for personal gain, even within the communities that they live!

Who would do that? What kind of low lifes would attach themselves to such horrendous business practices? If you’d like to know, I have their names, at least of those in the Benicia, California area who call us hoping to make a buck by screwing a family out of a place to live. They should really receive all the attention they deserve.

This is the contemporary state of real estate and finance in the U.S.

And by the way, it isn’t getting better. Barack Obama and Congress have completed abdicated their responsibility for regulating the finance and mortgage industries. They haven’t fixed a thing. The New York Times is reporting – “The banks, for their part, are looking to make up the billions in fee income wiped out by regulations enacted after the financial crisis by focusing on two parts of their business — the high and the low ends — industry consultants say. Subprime borrowers typically pay high interest rates, up to 29 percent, and often rack up fees for late payments.”

You heard that right. The subprime loans that ravaged the world economy are still being made, just as if nothing bad ever happened.

Rick Alan Rice (RAR) is the Publisher of Revolution Culture Journal and the Chief Executive Officer of Rick Alan Rice Consulting, LLC and the RARWRITER Publishing Group. He has had a long career as a writer and communications specialist, including engagements with top companies in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction, Information Technology, software development, academic research, commercial journalism, and corporate training business sectors.

Whatever Happened to Win-Win?

As I have watched the negotiations taking place on Capitol Hill over the last many years, and most notably since Barack Obama took office in 2009, I have wondered whatever happened to the negotiation concept of “win-win”? Have we, as a society, given up on that now?

The idea that both parties could win in a negotiation if the needs of each were met – and that those may be met by entirely different units of measure – was hugely popular following the 1981 publication of Getting to YES by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Negotiation, which is not really native to western culture – we tend to find it a little sleazy  – suddenly  became viewed as a skill one could develop and use to great effect in the climb up the corporate ladder; to leverage the edge that positively affecting the bottom line of one’s business unit might provide. Naturally, selling negotiation skills-based training programs into corporate education catalogs also became a suddenly-hot business as soft-skill training managers seized on the potential for improving corporate profitability and eagerly sold purchase of the training packages to their corporate masters.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I worked for one such corporate training firm that sold their behaviorally-based experiential learning programs into the training catalogs of Apple, Hewlett-Packard, AT&T, Kodak and other Fortune 100 companies.

They had entered into a partnership with business Guru Richard Pascale, the former Tom Peters/McKinsey & Company associate, who was a recognized expert in high-level business management practices and at the time was on the faculty of the Stanford graduate school of Business.

McKinsey & Company has become one of the most powerful and prestigious business consulting firms in the world since its founding in 1926. Originally an accounting firm, it morphed into an all-inclusive business analysis and consulting operation with a nasty reputation for reorganization of huge corporations to improve their profitability, often downsizing work forces in the process. In that, it is an earlier version of Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. General Motors went through a notably brutal engagement with McKinsey in the 1970s, which featured restructuring and a concept that McKinsey was pushing hard at the time to sell: a cutting edge concept called offshoring. As Bob Baugh, the executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Unions Council, says – “McKinsey & Company has been extremely influential in pushing for policies that promoted offshoring. McKinsey created an entire department — the McKinsey Global Institute — in order to sell the benefits of offshoring.”

For most of their history, McKinsey & Company has been an almost-secret society. One of their few outward signs of a public face was the now-abandoned conceit in the San Francisco office, where men always wore fedoras as part of their business uniform. Recruiting only from the top one percent of the world’s seven top business schools, McKinsey is elitist by design and ultra-tight with information about their operations. I am not sure what their current practices are, but they used to decline to even itemize services on monthly billings, even while charging the largest fees in the industry. They were a place where a bright and ambitious Harvard graduate could start at a junior executive client manager level and pull down a seven-figure income to start, then if they could survive three years of 24/7 service to the firm, they could graduate up the ranks to where they could start making real money. It is a sink or swim operation. If one hasn’t made the grade after that initial steeply inclined ramp up, they are let go, not that having worked at the McKinsey level of business management doesn’t look good on a resume and serve one well, particularly if one is let go but left with a pile of cash.

I was tempted into the McKinsey fold once, not as anything more than someone who would be willing to run back and forth between the San Francisco and San Jose offices to run errands and do high quality desktop publishing, but it certainly wasn’t for a seven-figure salary and I declined the offer. I recall walking down a long corridor on the 49th floor of the McKinsey office, in the dark tower (the Bank of America building, the tallest in the city). There were people talking on telephones in every office, and as I passed they slammed the doors shut, presumably to protect privileged information from being overhead by a mud blood. It was not a warm group, which is probably to be expected from a bunch dedicated to that eye above the pyramid on that dollar. I don’t really know what that means, but then not knowing anything about what motivates McKinsey & Company was de rigueur until big producers like Tom Peters began to break the mold, forcing McKinsey to come out of the closet.

Tom Peters, a partner at McKinsey and an expert in “organizational effectivess”, published under his own name and battled for ownership of his publishing rights in the late 1970s, and thereby broke a cardinal rule within the secretive McKinsey group. He left McKinsey and soon thereafter published his hugely popular In Search of Excellence, which followed up on the examination he and Wasserman had done of Japanese management practices. This was an attempt to redirect U.S. manufacturing to a new and more efficient management model.

A recurring theme in business management is fad-following, sheep-like behavior, which I have always suspected was encouraged by the way that new information enters large organizations, often through those charged with finding valuable new ideas and then having the willfulness to sell them into company-wide training programs. These people are not typically the brightest captains of the corporate ship – in fact, work down in the bilge of corporate employ – and they typically just grab their cutting edge insights from whatever menu of options is presented. That is why marketing works, and developers of corporate training programs have marketed effectively, often piggy-backing with well -known academics and publishing celebrities, like Richard Pascale.

Another McKinsey refugee, Pascale had written a book on negotiation and during the period that I was in the training industry he published Managing on the Edge: Companies That Use Conflict to Stay Ahead (1990).  With Pascale as a partner, the company I worked for turned both of those books into training products in negotiation and contention management respectively.

My role in the company was to produce the documentation, which often involved working closely with subject matter experts from the trainer group to refine text and specify publication graphics and other deliverables.

One day Richard Pascale came to our San Rafael office for a product development meeting, accompanied by some young woman who bore the traits of a graduate assistant. She was like a maid servant, hovering at his elbow to immediately produce anything he might want or need.

The company executives sealed themselves away in a private conference room and when they came out they handed me a marked up copy of a draft training manual in which Pascale had made all sorts of indecipherable scrawls.

The idea, in those rare times when Pascale came around, was to be responsive and jump in whatever direction he demanded, which wasn’t easy because he never really said anything other than to his interlocutor. But one got the sense that he had demands.

Understanding that I was to do something with this chicken scratch that I had been handed, and probably to do it quickly, I approached Mr. Pascale for clarification. It was an affront to him, apparently, and I was immediately intercepted by his minder, who was clearly conversant with the skills required to decipher the odd scratches that Pascale had put on the pages, and she did not want me to address Mr. Pascale directly.

Besides being just disgustingly impersonal and elitist, as if Pascale required separation of the indignity of contact with a member of a lower caste, the whole incident didn’t mean all that much to me until that incident a few years later while interviewing at McKinsey. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the business world, from a humane and ethical perspective, is run by assholes.

This was not a huge insight for me, and probably does not come as a big surprise to you the reader. I had left the house once or twice and noticed a kind of an edge of indifference around anyone who seemed to be in a position of advantage, but somehow that particular window into what the act of doing big-time business produces in its practitioners was alarming. It is one thing for the local bank teller to behave in an imperious manner, but quite another for people who, due to the way people of similar character have constructed our social world, have the influence to impact the behaviors, indeed the very lives of others.

So what has become of win-win negotiation?

Why does it now feel so much as if our new dynamic is more like “win after forcing the other party into an untenable situation due to which their options are non-existent”?

This has been the model that Republican congressional leaders have embraced in recent years, and it cannot yield anything of mutual benefit, however passionately it may be sold or what promises it may be accompanied by.

To the contrary, this model is not working well at all. America is not achieving excellence, per the Peters approach, but this business model is instead creating the world we have today: the one versus the ninety-percent chasm that threatens each of our very existences, or certainly the quality of our lives.

You see, when Tom Peters was In Search of Excellence, he and all the sheep that followed his lead and packed their manufacturing concerns off to Asia for issues involving better-faster-cheaper were in service to better things, not better people.

Assholes hate people.

Rich assholes love only special things, like power, profitability, prestige and performance, the last applied primarily to others; those down in the food chain, whose sole purpose is to produce without creating overhead. And they prefer separations, provinces of privacy.

Business geniuses like Peters and Pascale have carried the day in our era of supply-side economics. Pascale has moved on to Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, where he is an associate fellow, and he continues to consult to some of the most high-profile corporations in the world. The Economist recognizes him as one of the premiere business gurus of modern times.

The real differentiator between geniuses like Pascale and regular folk like the rest of us is that they fail upward. Almost everything Pascale and Athos wrote in their influential 1981 book “The Art of Japanese Management: Applications for American Executives” turned out to be amazingly wrong. By the end of the 20th Century, Japan was in financial disaster, foreshadowing a fate that would be disastrously played out in the U.S. economy within a few years, where we fell to the same type of bubble economics and credit gluttony.

Somehow we should know, in our guts, when things feel wrong-headed. Or maybe we do, but the balance of power is so uneven now that we cannot but respond from a set of unworkable options.

The canary in the coal mine died, where Pascale and the company I was with were concerned. Around 1990 they decided to part ways, as Pascale was bleeding more money off the company’s books than his prestige in corporate consulting was bringing in. For weeks the company executives prepared for their big meeting with the guy who wrote the books on negotiation and contention management, the ones they had cribbed to create their training products. And they were going to have to face this giant among thinkers across a negotiating table and try to survive a divorce intact.

Going in, my guys were acting a lot like Don Knotts, all dodgy and panic stricken. They needn’t have worried themselves so, Pascale folded like a stadium seat. I have always suspected that he just wanted out; that he had bled these saps for as long as he could justify himself doing so and was ready to consign the whole affair to history. He gave them everything they wanted.

Or maybe it was that Pascale was just not very good at actually doing the things he had written about, a case study example of the Peter Principle at work. If the latter were the case, it would explain much of the parallel arc of the Japanese and U.S. economies over the past two decades.

And if we were listening, it should say much about entrusting our business models to people without interest in the common touch.

_________________________________________

Rick Alan Rice (RAR) is the Publisher of Revolution Culture Journal and the Chief Executive Officer of Rick Alan Rice Consulting and the RARWRITER Publishing Group. He has had a long career as a writer and communications specialist, including engagements with top companies in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction, Information Technology, software development, academic research, commercial journalism, and corporate training business sectors.

 

 

FIX AMERICA NOW

In this special feature, the RCJ traces events in U.S. history over the past 60 years that have served as catalysts for change, sometimes but not always in a positive vein.

Our ground zero is South-Central Los Angeles, the societal laboratory that during the pre-Civil Rights era was home to some of the greatest advancements for African-American U.S. citizens, but by the mid-1960s became the scene riots in Watts and some of the steepest declines in the fortunes of America’s Blacks in the modern era. What happened was that Los Angeles lost its manufacturing base, a newly affluent generation of middle class Blacks found themselves unable to transition to a new era of aerospace and defense industry-related employment, and they were, in essence, ghettoized by housing discrimination laws that restricted growing levels of poverty to a concentrated area of Los Angeles.

We use the terms African-American and Black for further historical reference, for along the way toward racial integration, particularly with regards to the promise that California held for progressive developments in the 1950s, there was a redefinition of this key American culture – a culture that must be fully vested in the future sustainability of the U.S. for the country to thrive – and it was away from accommodation and tolerance and toward an insular urban culture of violent nihilism. It was a generational thing on one level, and on another a spiritual dislocation brought on by change in circumstance and inadequate infrastructure within a society to support transformational developments.

Our intent is to create a context for understanding global events and changes over the past 60 years so that we may see the linkages and the possibilities presented by reapplication of focus, and redefinition of national purpose. With the film Made In America as our starting point, and South-Central as our study area, we propose a range of solutions, the implementation of which has far-reaching global application. - RAR

Read the chart across, left to right, considering catalysts and markers for each decade. (The “Historic” and “Marker” information is not intended to correlate on a line-per-line basis, but pay attention to catalysts and markers over the period to note broad developments.

 

Figure 1: Historical Catalysts and Societal Markers

Stability/Instability Recipe

The events listed in the graphic are largely, but not entirely, focused on developments within the United States of America over the past 60-plus years, but the theme of the last half-century has been the growing global interconnectedness in all things.  This has been made so by the impact of our human population, now totaling more than 7 billion people, and the networks of systems we have put into place to provide services to people throughout the world.

The relationships of all of those global entities are linked by language, culture, and most importantly infrastructure.

One can transact across language and cultural barriers, but if you can’t bring your product, service, or idea to the people who need it then all else is moot.

Infrastructure – the thoughtful creation of a web of systems, including physical assets and objective-oriented enterprises, to support our existence – is an entirely human conceit and in its ultimate form includes:

  • Housing and life support – shelter, water, sewerage, power
  • Transportation and communications systems – roadways, transit systems, telephones
  • Supply chains of goods and services – businesses, agencies, firms
  • Network of employment centers – industries
  • Education – public and private schools, colleges and universities, training centers

If any one of those five key infrastructure elements is missing, the result is societal Instability.

Keeping it Simple and Supportive

It feels as if policy making in the U.S. is presently overwhelmed by detail, which as former presidential candidate Ross Perot correctly observed is where the “devil” is. America and the world economy could be “fixed” through a combination of courageous policy decisions and a focus on our basic immediate objectives rather than on the minutiae of each aspect of what needs to be done.

In its most basic form, the demands of an economy charge a society with seven primary directives, all of which are aimed at sustaining and further improving the world the society has created, or hopes to create. That means providing:

  • Basic sanitary home support services
  • Public mobility
  • Marketplaces for food, goods and services
  • Education and training facilities
  • Employment development services
  • Industries in which qualified people can find employment
  • Service sector jobs in which people can find employment

Figure 1 illustrates a healthy infrastructure support system in which the entire society is geared toward providing support for seven basic functions listed above. The system has an organic nature to it, with lifeblood consisting of positive human engagement with each aspect of the system and revenues that are distributed equitably to ensure sufficient funding for each of those seven primary functions of a society.

NOTE: As the documentary Made In America shows, remove or degrade the workings of any one of these critical functions and the result is societal breakdown, which cascades to become a devastating flood wiping out portions of all the other critical systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Figure 2: Healthy Infrastructure Support System

 KEY DESTABILIZERS

 In the U.S., there are certain streams, or thematic elements, in the events of our compressed history (1776-present) that are constant destabilizing factors.

1.   Race – In the U.S., the well-being of society is integrally connected to the stability of the Black community. The same could be said of other countries in relation to other ethnic groups, and wherever institutionalized means are used to suppress un-empowered, targeted groups.

2.   Orthodoxy – Societies organize around principles, and monotheistic societies organize around specific sets of dogma. Because members of any one society more or less acknowledge the same or similar sets of dogma, the conflicts that arise are all around interpretation and linkages, justifications for the actions each member of society takes in service to their chosen ways of thinking.

 3.   Dystopia – There is an Orwellian feeling about life on Earth in the 21st Century, with three  enormous consortiums circling the Israel/Palestine conflict:

 a.       North America, Europe and Japan

 b.      Africa, the Orient, the Middle East, and Eurasia

 c.       Far East Asia

The Israel/Palestine conflict goes to the heart of human dissatisfaction, representing in the Middle East a dynamic that connects everyone who experiences roadblocks along their paths toward survival, peace and stability. In this case, the roadblocks are in the form of self-interested parties leveraging uncorroborated belief systems to gain advantage, as in “God gave this land to me…”

4.   Financial Power – Concentration of wealth does not happen naturally or in a vacuum. Those who amass wealth realize an advantage of being able to live outside of the system described in  Figure 1. Largely immune from the degradations that accompany breakdowns in an infrastructure support system, the wealthy are also in control of the society’s decision making processes. This disconnect produces policy that often exacerbates the degradation of infrastructure support systems.

EXAMPLE: Deregulation of U.S. industries paralleled business leaders’ insistence that they needed to unleash all powers at their disposal to compete in a world of expanding globalism in which autocratic governments were playing ruthlessly and without rules. A case in point would be the uneven tariffs on goods imported into China from the U.S., compared to those levied by the U.S. on goods imported from China. U.S. business leaders would also point to China’s manipulated currency evaluation as an example of unprincipled competitive behavior that must be countered by equivalent behavior on the part of U.S. capitalists. However, because the U.S. is in huge debt to China, and without leverage to negotiate effectively with China in that regard, American corporations turn their attentions to other non-confrontational strategies that enhance their competitive position to match that achieved by China through its currency and trade practices, not to mention human rights violations. Horribly, among the U.S. business communities’ strategies has been to outsource jobs to China to take advantage of those same human rights violations that are enabling profitability of Chinese industry.

Each of these elements are causing disruptions to the infrastructures of global societies, in one way or another, and creating global instability.

REVOLUTION CULTURE PLATFORM

Were the RCJ running the U.S. government, we would take whatever steps were necessary to do the following:

   1.   Sign the United Nations resolution to recognize Palestine and endorse the “two-state” solution.

2.   Reset the banking industry through reimplementation of the Glass-Stegall Act that separated daily banking from investment operations.

3.   Criminalize corporate bookkeeping practices that book income other than in the country in which the corporation is incorporated.

4.   Tie corporate tax rates to key indices, including the U.S. content of products and services, i.e., the higher the U.S. content the lower the tax rate.

5.   Eliminate the approximately $170 billion that U.S. taxpayers divvy up annually in “welfare” benefits to corporations and rich people (which, by the way, compares to $14 billion paid annually for social welfare programs, the latter of which largely represent funds that flow directly back into the economic system, lowering the actual costs of social welfare programs versus those of “welfare” to corporations and the rich, which tends to remain out of the stream of recirculating currency, thereby depriving the economic system of some portion of its lifeblood).

6.   Reset the top income tax bracket to 70 percent for those making $2.9 million or more per year, 50 percent for those making more than $400,000 per year, and 39 percent for those making more than $250,000 per year. Allow tax deductions for charitable contributions, educational expenses, and home improvements.

7.   Provide a system of universal basic health care for all U.S. citizens.

8.   End the war in Afghanistan and reduce the presence of permanent U.S. military installations abroad to bring the troops home for deployment in key locations in the U.S., including along international borders and in selected urban areas.

9.   Invest in the re-development of all five categories (defined above) of the critical infrastructure of the U.S

  • Housing and life support – Replace aging water and sewer systems, put telephone and power lines underground, modernize the power grid
  • Transportation and communications systems – Rehabilitate roadways, modernize transit systems, provide universal wi-fi connectivity
  • Supply chains of goods and services – Divert “corporate welfare” savings into low-interest loans for small businesses, agencies, and firms
  • Network of employment centers – Aggregate employment listings into easily accessible, neighborhood-focused listings of employment opportunities by industry and role description; mobilize state Employment Development Divisions toward providing personalized services to meet the needs of local employers and workers
  • Education – We need to rescue our K-12 grade students from the un-tethered floating in space that has typified American public school education for the past 100 years. Re-vision public and private schools, colleges and universities as training centers, in which:

a.   Every class, K through doctoral work, is geared toward age-appropriate skill-based training. Kindergarteners learn how to make paper dolls, PhD candidates learn how to make a fusion reaction. Every skill learned along the way should make sense, to the average person, as being a building block to some future objective, defined by the various training streams that students may be placed in based on their strengths and inclinations as demonstrated by their outputs along the course of their education. These streams should allow for crossover as students develop and possibly exhibit potential in areas other than those that were first observed. Otherwise, curriculums need to provide flexibility for students to grow in their interests and curiosities, with the goal to broaden each individual rather than to narrow their range of abilities.

b.   Reading, writing and arithmetic should be taught as disciplines adjunct to the skills being taught at every level. Students learn the vocabulary and do the math required to perform each learned skill along the way, so that each engagement with these “soft arts” of education is tied directly and relevantly to a task at hand (the skill being learned).10.   Create Emergency Community Resource Centers to provide immediate training and employment for under-served U.S. citizens. 

  • Mobilized Commitment: In targeted neighborhoods, demolish abandoned structures and temporarily replace with military tent structures. Besides providing the command center for the Emergency Community Resource Center, the mobilization will serve as an important symbol of progressive intent while providing immediate benefits in security and health care.
    • Provide 24-hour training and employment centers. 

o   Secured – Patrol streets so near neighbors can walk to facilities safely night and day

o   Staffed – employment development and healthcare personnel on site to handle walk-in clients

o   Resourced – equipment on hand to provide environmental controls and life support, manage documentation, deliver healthcare, transportation, and operations and maintenance

o   Networked – telecommunications connected to other such centers throughout the region

 WEALTH IS MINE, YOURS AND OURS

 Finally, we need to get honest with ourselves and others about how wealth is acquired. At the most basic level, we dig wealth from the earth in one way or another. We invest sweat equity – our time and labor – into trying to extract from the available resources and opportunities those carry-aways that can be exchanged for value in goods, services, and bankable coins.

 There are two dynamics at work in this simple depiction of earned income:

1.   Shared Sacrifice: There is almost no human endeavor that yields an income that is not dependent upon the contributions of other individuals in the production chain. Railroad magnates Collis and Henry Huntington, for instance, are credited with expanding the Central Pacific Railroad’s expansion across the American west, and they made fortunes doing it – except that they didn’t really do any of it.  Their fortunes were built on the backs of sledge hammering laborers and iron workers who worked for wages and actually built the rail systems with their bare hands. The Huntington’s walked away with all the money and all the glory because they already had all the money and the glory. This dynamic must be discredited and put in its proper context, including death by stabbing of the illegitimate claim that wealthy people and corporations should pay lower taxes because they are “job producers”. Much of what being a “job producer” means in practice is that some advantaged person has a team of less advantaged individuals in place so that he can profit from their labors. Rewarding that dynamic is at the heart of supply-side economics, the focus upon which has created massive inequality in wealth distribution in the U.S. and elsewhere.

2.   Virtual Assets: The power that the wealthy enjoy is, more now than at any previous time in history, ephemeral; based largely on figures on spreadsheets and nothing more. The currency that circulates through an economic system is the physical representation of only a portion of the value within that economic system. The vast majority of that value – particularly since the U.S. went off the gold standard during the Nixon Administration – is nothing more than allocations from the Federal Treasury, not of fungible currencies but of control units, like Booleans switched to “True” for those lucky enough to receive these inputs to their spreadsheets. 

What we need to understand is that the Federal Treasury may not be controlled by America’s citizens – in fact, the Federal Treasury is a consortium of private banks – but it does control the value of every U.S. citizen. And that value, measured in buying power, has remained flat since 1969, because every time the Fed dumps more Federal Reserve Notes into the system it devalues the “actual” value of our currency, because the Notes are based on nothing more than the truth of their having been added as additional numbers to the Feds’ balance sheet. This is why we have experienced 625 percent inflation on the dollar since 1960, so that the person working today would need to make around $290,000 per year to have the same purchasing power that a guy making $40,000 per year had in 1960.

The vast majority of the wealth accumulation over that period has been on the interest dividends enjoyed by those who have had wealth to loan to other parties. This is why we have seen this accumulation of the total wealth of the U.S. in the coffers of just a few.

The situation has been exacerbated by the current economic recession, as the Treasury has issued Notes for which there are no buyers, and so been forced to purchase back 80 percent of them themselves, them being the network of regional banks that make up the Reserve system. The net result is that the wealthy owners within this banking system will continue to receive interest payments on increasingly larger outstanding debts, further consolidating the nation’s wealth into the control of the few while the vast majority of U.S. citizens are becoming increasingly poor. The U.S. middle class is disappearing and being replaced by expanding middle class groups, primarily in Asia, while our top one percent of earners grow mega-wealthy.

RESET THE DEBATE: If the Federal Treasury is going to make unilateral decisions that benefit the few and weaken the vast majority of us, then they are running an illegitimate operation that needs to be addressed through tax and criminal code.

The bottom line is that we need policies that distribute wealth equitably on the understanding that no person, however resourceful, achieves anything on their own. Success is always, at points along the way, dependent upon leveraging the support of others, and it is unethical and morally dishonest for any individual to take more for what they contributed than what is apportioned to others for their contributions.

Moreover, income earned from investments and interest payments should not be viewed as productive income. It is not job creating income – if it were, Apple and General Motors and many other major corporations, which during the recession have been sitting on mountains of cash, would have never allowed there to be an unemployment rate in the U.S. – and should be taxed at the highest rate.

Income earned through the production of tangible goods and services should be taxed at the lowest rate. A person, for instance, who is making an engine part of high, sustainable quality, and doing it in a safe, energy-efficient, environmentally responsible manner, should pay next to nothing on his income because that person makes a tangible contribution.

A stock broker, on the other hand, should have income taxed at a high rate because it is impossible to correlate that person’s income to any tangible contribution to society. He may have steered your grandmother into an investment that will secure her retirement, or bilked her out of her savings. He may have secured startup funds for a new technology business, or he may have created exactly the type of annuity the next Adolph Hitler is looking for to secure the long-term commitments of his Army of I-Me-Mine. Trying to parse the value to society of financial services is tricky business, an engagement in abstractions and not, in the end, worth protected treatment.

The next time some rich person decries money taken away from them in taxes, remind them of all the workers who actually created the value of that income. There is a total value there that is not his, but ours.

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Rick Alan Rice (RAR) is the Publisher of Revolution Culture Journal, a subsidiary of the RARWRITER Publishing Group. For more information, please visit Revolution Culture Journal or our flagship Website at RARWRITER.com.

Preserve El Santuario de Chimayo

  
Santo Nino – 1985
  

As it Looks Now - "Disneyfication"

 

Dear Friends,

The front page of the 12-22-11 SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN featured a galvanizing article on recent plans for Chimayo: “Building spirituality or ruining it” (see attached pdf).  A Santa Fe entrepreneur is working with the Catholic Church to develop (one might even say “devour”) the properties and hillside in front of El Santuario at El Potrero. Their development plan calls for a sprawling, possibly 2-story complex called “Jardín de Los Niños Spiritual Retreat”  that will be built directly in front of and close to El Santuario.

The same people pushing for the retreat are responsible for turning the once somber, authentic Santo Niño chapel into what has been described as a “sanitized Disneyesque farce,” suggesting what the area across from El Santuario might well look like if they are given free rein to build a retreat center.  (Attached are three photographs of the Santo Niño chapel.  The first was taken in 1985.  The other two show the changes made to it in the last several years.)

El Santuario is listed on the State Registry of Historic properties and the Federal Registry of National Historic Landmarks. Unfortunately, Santa Fe County currently has very lax standards for property development in Chimayo. 

After several weeks of meetings with Santa Fe County and the Chimayo community we know the following:

The majority of people in Chimayo DO NOT want this to happen.  Already, their antipathy is shared by many in Santa Fe County and beyond.  

The plans for the retreat center were not revealed to Chimayo residents until the story was leaked in a 12-3-11 ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL SANTA FE/NORTH (AP) article. 

The retreat center is to be built on lands owned by both the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and an international Catholic organization called The Sons of the Holy Family.  The Santa Fe Archdiocese is allowing their land to be developed by the Santa Fe businessman, though the details of their relationship are nebulous.

The architectural plans (see NEW MEXICAN article map) ignore legal easements used by private property owners in the neighborhood.

One thing is certain: If built,  the proposed retreat center will overwhelm what many believe to be one of New Mexico’s most important and unique historic sites and will make the historic neighborhood unlivable.  The Church recently acquired 40 acres of land just south of El Potrero so more building may be in store.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

The retreat center is in the process of having their plans reviewed by Santa Fe County Zoning and Planning agencies.  Sadly, the existing rules and regulations for property development in Santa Fe County are very broad and allow properties around historically sensitive places to be developed piecemeal.   However, the County is about 8 months away from putting in place new rules and regulations that may include more restrictive “site specific” guidelines for historic areas like El Santuario.

Please send a brief email or letter to the contact names below saying that the “Jardín de Los Niños Spiritual Retreat”  SHOULD NOT BE BUILT near the Santuario and encouraging the County to halt approval of all applications for zoning changes and for new construction near the Santuario de Chimayo until a comprehensive plan is in place that will protect the lives of residents of El Potrero and the historic integrity of the Santuario.   

Second, please print out and sign the petition (see attached pdf) and mail it to the address below.  It will be included among the signed petitions that we will present to County Commissioners at a public meeting.

Strong public outcry is the only hope we have.  

Please forward this to anyone you know who can help and thank you so much!

Sincerely,

FRIENDS OF EL SANTUARIO

P.O. Box 438
Chimayo, NM 87522 

SUGGESTED CONTACTS

 Santa Fe County Commissioners:  

 Daniel Mayfield, County Commissioner
505) 986-6200
dmayfield@santafecounty.org

 Juan Rios, Constituent Services Liaison
(505) 986-6328
jrios@co.santa-fe.nm.us

 Jose Larranaga
Commercial Development, Zoning Statements, Liquor Licenses, Cell Towers
(505) 986-6296
inspections@santafecounty.org

 Virginia Vigil
 vvigil@santafecounty.org
 
Kathy Holian 
kholian@santafecounty.org

Liz Stefanics  
lstefanics@santafecounty.org

 Robert A. Anaya
ranaya@santafecounty.org

OTHER IMPORTANT CONTACTS

Jan V. Biella, RPA
Interim New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer

Historic Preservation Division505-827-4045
email: jan.biella@state.nm.us

The Spanish Colonial Arts Society
505-982-2226 
Museum@SpanishColonial.org

Rick Hendricks
State Historian
rick.Hendricks@state.nm.us

Gary Romero
Director of National Hispanic Cultural Center
gary.romero@state.nm. Us

 NEWSPAPERS: SEND LETTER TO EDITOR

 The Santa Fe New Mexican
http://www.santafenewmexican.com/SendLetter/

 The Rio Grande Sun
http://www.riograndesun.com/forms/letters/

 Albuquerque Journal
http://www.abqjournal.com/letters/new

 FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION VISIT WWW.REVOLUTIONCULTUREJOURNAL.COM AND THE SANTO NINO CHAPEL STORY

Is Belief in God a Sign of Weakness?

By RAR

 No, but it may be a signal for help, and not necessarily in a bad way.

God is a construction of peoples’ need to have an organizing influence in their lives, standards to live by, and some reason to carry on. In all of those ways, God and everything that comes with it – the afterlife, sense of well being and spiritual comfort, and purpose in all things – is truly helpful to people, as various studies have seemed to indicate. Belief is powerful, almost regardless of its details.[1]

That God, and the belief therein, is a signal for help is endemic to the genesis of the subject, if you will pardon the pun.

Tracts such as the Old and New testaments of the Bible are around in the first place because they were generated for a purpose. They are not just random scribbling on papyrus – in fact, if you think about that for more than a second you buy my point – but are really like project documents developed for certain organizations.

As the late professor of ancient philosophies Joseph Campbell often pointed out, the great religious tracts – the Bible, the Koran – are documents intended to rally people to action. He goes so far as to suggest that they are instruments of war, and likens the great religious leaders like Moses and Muhammad to War Generals.

The stories within these religious texts deal primarily with organization, and divine intervention, against threats to individuals and groups of people. And in that sense, they are like corporate statements: messaging about higher purpose and benefits of enrollment. The mission statements are all there, the means for contacting the parties responsible for administration of benefits, and the holiday schedule.

The organizing influences were the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Roman Empire, and those other people competing for the shared, native regions of largely nomadic tribes people.

If the impetus for creating such socialized documents as the Bible and the Koran were not necessarily signs of weakness, but rather signs of organizational strength, they were most certainly indicators of feeling of threat. And for good reason. The principle progenitors of these manifestos were subject to an ongoing history of violence and subjugation.

They needed help and they had these documents, which over time took on the patina of mythical truth, that told readers to believe in a supernatural realm that was accessible only to those who surrendered their fear, their weakness, to this Other power.

Under pressure, many people would surrender control, throw their fate to delusion, and take that deal, even if it turns out that there is no God to save their mortal souls; that their mortal soul was never theirs to possess, but only there to nourish for a short time before becoming untethered and migrating on to some place we could never know.

Delusion is defined as false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence and certainly any belief in God falls into that category, and yet 92 percent of American citizens profess to believe in God.[2]

Is delusion a sign of weakness? Yes, probably. It is the proverbial crack in the cosmic egg, not a bursting forth of redemptive light but a disorienting strobe of conflicting information. With one message you get “Be a Part – Organize to Fight” along with “Love One Another” and “Live Well – Die and Go to Heaven”. With another you get “Be Afraid – Be Very Afraid” and “They Are Not Us!” And you get torrents of illogic where the guiding principles seem at odds with one another.

These organizing documents have retained the power of their purposes, as witnessed by the foundations they provide to religious groups and political parties.

The irony is that the comfort they provide to true believers is countered by the threat they pose to those not of their kind. By promising spiritual comfort while promulgating negative adjurations against others (non-believers), they increase the tension of the world in which we actually live; not the world of the deceased, but the one of the now living.

In that sense, belief in God is creating a weakness in our ability to maintain civil order globally, which multiplies all sense of threat.

When people feel threatened, they often lash out at others, the beneficiaries of their rage.

Given that the believers have all been nurtured on documents designed to incite organization for conflict, is this behavior a surprise?

Somehow I suspect that delusional belief in mythologized history is a societal weakness that may well bring the end of all civilized humankind. I am not the first, though it hardly matters.

After the world we have presently crumbles, the few remaining survivors will feel the threat of uncivil society, and almost certainly they will seek comfort in their imaginations. And a scribe will come along to record their odd thoughts as ongoing history, and the cycle of delusion will be reborn yet again. There is that weakness, that ability to forget all that we have learned, at work in the human mind.

 Rick Alan Rice (RAR) is the head of RARWRITER Publications and the Publisher of WWW.RARWRITER.COM and THE REVOLUTION CULTURE JOURNAL. He is also a communications consultant and owner of Rick A Rice (RAR) Consulting, which specializes in A/E/C and IT contracting, particularly for Federal contracts. His publication and consulting operations are committed to sustainable design in all aspects of life.

 

 

[1] Sven Koenig, Duke University Professor for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health, 2005 Study cited in NIH proposal for research funding into additional studies into the physical effects of belief systems

[2] May 2010 USA Today/Gallup Poll, which also reported that 97 percent of Americans support a National Day of Prayer following a Federal Court ruling that the idea was “unconstitutional”


Open Letter to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

Congressman Weiner,

What in the hell are you doing? Were it anybody else in any other situation I would say “Get a hold of yourself, man!” But then that’s the problem, isn’t it?

You’re not supposed to be whacking off on the Internet and posing to take cell phone pictures of yourself in the House locker room. You are supposed to be fighting the good fight as a Liberal Democrat, but recent developments have led me to believe that you have completely misunderstood the meaning of the term. In investigating your activities, I have come to think that you may have intended to join the more openly weird Libertarian Party.

I don’t know how to console my wife now that she has seen your photographs. She seems to have lost all interest in anything to do with our home life. There was a time when she used to bounce around the house, after seeing you on MSNBC, shouting “I want Weiner! I want Weiner!” meaning for President, you perve, but now I can’t think of her saying that – which admittedly was a little immature for a woman of her age – without thinking of your penis!, which I have heard about but not actually seen. I saw a redacted version of one of your glamour shots, blacked out like a crime photo, I suppose, because you are involved in government, or were at one time, and the shape created by all the markovers made your naked package look like some sort of a religious symbol. I am not a religious person, but that was too much even for me.

Do you not understand that you were practically the only Democrat anyone ever saw on TV that ever made a coherent case for Democratic principles? And now you’ve smashed all that gravitas by doing things that only make sense if you are a 16-year old nincompoop! Now who do we have to flog our case?

I am of the opinion that when you’ve lost your Weiner you’ve lost your world, because having a staunch advocate willing to go to ground for the ends you seek is a basic impulse.  And now you’ve blown it! Well, actually, I don’t know if you’ve blown it, but you look like the kind of spindly, wiry type who would if he could.

Do you see how this disrespect has infected my attitude? My language? Seeing your penis has left me feeling changed, like I am not the man I want to be!

I am not a member of your constituency – not really – accept that I have been ideologically, or so I thought, and now you have flushed that all down the toilet like so much DNA evidence.

You need to pull your pants up, splash a little water on your face, and get your scrawny ass back to your congressional office to do the people’s business, by which I do not mean your staff!

We are facing serious problems in this country. How can you even get a hard on? I don’t know anyone, personally, who has struck wood since before the real estate bubble burst like some kind of a faulty condom back in ‘05. How can you?

From now on, every time you pull your pecker from your pants, I want you to think of how bad things are for the rest of us in this country. Let your penis be your guide. If it doesn’t start to wilt like a retracting economy, but instead stays hard like we know a Weiner penis to be when it is only thinking about itself, then you have lost your soul and must resign your office. And you will be asked to clean it thoroughly, at your own expense, before you go.

For god’s sake, man, think of the state of your country.

If nothing else, that should keep you at attention.

Regards,

Rick A. Rice

United States Citizen

P.S. And no, I do not want you to call and talk to my distraught and disillusioned wife.

Rick Alan Rice (RAR) is publisher of the Revolution Culture Journal and RARWRITER.com.

Three of the front runners for the Republican nomination are now just memories, pundit fodder: Huckabee and Trump, and Palin recedes into political tinnitus. But the retiring of all three has one thing in common, and it’s money. Huckabee just bought a huge house in Florida and is enjoying his  status and salary at Fox News. Trump is more at home on his reality show. And Palin is enjoying both Fox money and reality TV and will probably be the next Oprah Winfrey, although she’ll never get more than twenty percent of the viewers because only that percentage of Americans can identify with her spunky pride in her ignorance. And yes, she’s pretty.

What does it say about a party when three of its stars prefer to rake in the money than serve their country? I don’t blame anyone for avoiding the presidency, but if you claim to have the answers for the nation’s problems and have questions only about the birthright and patriotism of others, then you should show the rest of us how to love our country.

No one who is proposing the dismantling of Medicare in favor of a pitiful government voucher is worried about their own health care. If not already multimillionaires, they are serving, or have served, in one of our Congressional bodies and are now insured for life. As far as I know, none of them have publicly refused the dreaded government insurance. Yet they want you to refuse it by helping them repeal Obama’s nightmare of compassion.

Newt Gingrich just shot his own foot off by pronouncing Paul Ryan’s proposed dismantlement of Medicare “radical,” and “right wing social engineering.” The Republican House voted for in en masse, so Newt is now a heretic. What he was “trying to do” was actually pretty smart – if premature, clumsy and arrogant – because public opinion agrees with him, which means there are tons of voters out there who consider themselves conservative but don’t like the idea of Medicare’s death, either because they’re about to use or it’s just a dumb idea. Potential Medicare users are not wealthy, so it’s inarguably a good thing. Newt saw that, so his massive “intellect” “adjusted” his “philosophy” to “account” for it. When will such pandering become transparent to voters?

This is what the American voter will soon find out: Republicans are all about money, and their leaders care about the typical American family only so far as they consume and vote. Their friends are the powerful and wealthy, just as the caricature of Republicans has always portrayed them. If you’re a conservative, hate me for that. But sometime soon, as the evidence mounts and mounts, you won’t be able to ignore it. If Tiffany’s is out of your reach, your party doesn’t give a damn about you.

So who’s left? Of note are three: The improbably named Mitt Romney, a Mormon with an entire beach of flipflops who is already so incredibly wealthy that he has nowhere else to go but the White House. Too bad Obama got the idea for ObamaCare from Mitt, because he seems like a decent man who would make a less-than-horrifying president, maybe even one who sees the value of education and safety nets and the dangers of excessive greed.

Ron Paul is truly a man of conviction and has some good ideas. But this morning he said that rather than us going in to get bin Laden, we should have asked the Pakistanis to get him for us. A dreamer. They’re coming for him next.

And it looks like Michele Bachman is the new Palin. She’s pretty, too. But she surpasses Palin in ignorance: the Founding Fathers freed the slaves, and the Earth is six thousand years old. And isn’t Michele a French name? I just mention that in the spirit of Death Panels.

You have some smart people out there: Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christy and others. But their problem is that voters won’t care for what any of them will be selling. Voters want things fixed without losing what they’re used to – and have paid for. They want America out of debt, but they don’t want to sacrifice benefits that 1. they paid for and 2. arrive late in life, when they’re scared. Refusing to understand that are flaws of arithmetic and character. People want government to stop doing other expensive things that anger them. An example: they pay high gas prices, then hear that Big Oil gets more of their money in subsidies. It seems wrong, and it is. Another: They see their tax money going to Afghanistan and Iraq. That seems wrong also. Sooner or later, when they wake up, they’ll see that they’re being asked to pay for government’s mistakes. Sooner or later, the word “welfare” will be connected to the word “corporate,” and right behind that will be the forming of a thought: What are you giving up?

(Americans will blame whoever is in the White House for all this, so you should sit back and enjoy Obama getting torn up. See if he notices.)

Here’s your Party: The retiring CEO of Salinas Valley (CA)Memorial Health Care just got “nearly $4 million in retirement payments in addition to his regular $150,000-a-year pension.” Some years he hired consultants at around ten million. And they want to cut the pay of their health care workers. That’s your party pal – they want to fix problems, sure, and they call for sacrifice from everyone including the elderly and their caretakers – but not themselves. There’s your Party. Selfish and cruel, and not a little un-Christian.

They correctly recognize that our debt is catastrophic and wars have been started for less. They acknowledge that they are co-responsible for it, although they won’t admit an amount – the ideological disasters of both Iraq and the further loosening of Wall Street restraints come to mind, both of which remind me of Cheney’s “debts don’t matter” comment. Those things have been expensive, but again, Cheney didn’t pay for it.

As always, I admit that Democrats aren’t much better. Venality and worse accumulates at the top and then no one, it seems, can fix anything or adhere to any articles of common sense. Such as these: No matter its size, government should be efficient. Taxes should be simple, fair, and not regressive. Excessive greed that harms the people should be restrained. Dumb wars should be avoided. And money is a fuel, not a goal. Not that I’m terribly spiritual, but something resembling spirituality is badly missing from a leadership that values power so much that its core principle – to serve the people – is compromised. The correct thing is to compromise your ideology to that principle when necessary. Afghanistan aside, I see Obama as an adult willing to park his ideology in order to make deals that insult it, and I feel a genuine urge to shape a government for the people. I don’t see the other side doing the same – playing chicken with the debt ceiling is as asinine as attacking Iraq, and suggesting that our elderly survive on 6k worth of for-shit private insurance is phenomenally cruel – and thinking they can sell that last idea to those soon to be elderly is, again, unbelievably stupid. (For an hour or so, before he caved to the Hive Mind, Newt was smarter than all the rest of them.) How can anyone follow people who think like that? The freshman House right wing is ideologically obese and immature, so they have an excuse; their elders have none – but they’re wealthy. Insulated. I like people on occasion, so I’ve tried and tried to find another answer, another cause for such disconnected, inhuman thinking, but I never see them put their money where their mouths are – only ours. “What the American people want …” Don’t tell me what I want. I might want you to abuse yourself with a dull cheese grater.

I would like to end with some hopeful news. When our leaders find their brains and learn to follow us down here, they’ll figure out something that has plagued mankind since we appeared six thousand years ago, and they will … stop … waging … war.

It costs too much money.

TRUMPENSTEIN CREATED BY DR ROVE

 Karl Rove is bemoaning the presence of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate – odd, since Rove created him. In fact, Rove dumbed down the entire Republican Party so much that a clown like Trump now makes perfect sense to the majority of his Party.

  Everyone is missing this, and it’s so obvious. I watched as Rove and operatives like him (Frank Lentz, Arthur Finklestein etc.) enabled a political climate favorable to a man like Trump. Here are just a few of Karl’s Greatest Hits:

  He’s not one of us. Death Panels. Obamacare will kill your grandma. He’s a socialist and a communist. Big government is taking away your personal freedoms, and it’s un-American. But we’re tough, just like you, and we won’t take it. Medicaire and Medicaid is why we’re broke, not taxes, not war and rescuing Wall Street and a failed economy brought on by laissez-faire, toothless regulations and lobbyists – forget those things, because Obama, a black man, is out to get you. We’ll hold him back, keep him toothless, and you’ll be fine. We’ll save you from the boogie man, that un-American socialist who’s not one of us. Don’t worry that you paid more taxes than GE – they’re rich, yes, but their wealth will trickle down to you, just as it always has, and it will create jobs here, not overseas. Our friends didn’t really want to hire all those people who talk funny.

  The plan worked. Many frightened people fell for crap like that and voted Republican. And they’re still falling for it, thus Trump. The Shakespearean tragedy is that even though Karl didn’t misunderestimate either the gullibility or the attention span of the American public, he neglected to include the magic words to break the spell.

  Karl’s mission was to make Joe SixPlumber vote for the Party of Big Business, which ironically is not concerned with Joe beyond his role as drone and consumer, and will squeeze him dry for every penny. Joe’s health insurance rates are going up and will continue to go up, but such a financial burden goes unnoticed because Obamacare is bad, right? Does Joe have a lobbyist? Only a few, and they’re not enough. So Joe’s rates are going up – now, right now, this minute. The price of everything is going up, and no regulations will prevent that. Your health insurance will soon be major medical only; you’ll be able to afford nothing else, and then you won’t be able to afford that. And Wall Street speculation on the trading of energy contracts is adding – as Goldman Sachs admitted – about $25 to the price of a barrel of oil. And yet, if Joe’s Party has its way, he’ll have to shell out even more to keep his mother or grandmother in the nursing home, while wealthy people are asked to contribute nothing more. That is what should scare Joe, but thanks to Karl, it doesn’t.

  What scares him is that Obama is not one of us. That’s what he wants someone to fix, nevermind that Obama is half white and half black and therefore can’t be more Us. (If I were advising the Republican Party, I would suggest to Limbaugh or Beck that Obama was born in Mexico.)

  Trump has some ideas that sound nice to Joe because they’re tough, and Joe likes to think he is too. The ideas are geopolitically infantile, but Joe doesn’t pay enough attention to know that; he just wants someone to beat the crap out of China because they’re bad, they’re Chinese, and they’re manipulating … something. The last things he heard were: China’s bad, Death Panels, and Obama was born in Kenya. It’s all on Fox News, where Karl and other tough people work, so it must be true.

  Actually, Joe doesn’t know where Karl works. I accidently gave Joe enough curiosity and time in his life to catch up on such things. I should know better because I’m in the deep South and Joe is next door. Joe was very normal until he drank Karl’s Kool-Aid.

  Donald Trump is not dumb. What’s dumb is Karl and his party, the Tea Party, and the media. And Democrats are as spineless and weak as conservatives say they are – and worse than that, they don’t know how to talk to Joe.

  But I’m not stupid. I heard somewhere that the two wars are costing two billion dollars a week as well as human lives. I recall that a billion has a lot of zeroes and that weeks happen every week. And that dead is dead, and very, very sad.

  But the otherwise smart people in the media aren’t talking about that. They’re talking about Donald Trump being the frontrunner among Republican voters. About Trump maybe becoming president of the United States – Wait … maybe that’s more shocking than two billion a week and the loss of human life … maybe they’re right.

  Take a long, low bow, Karl. Very low.

Sam Broussard is a writer, songwriter and musician whose associations have included Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy. He is currently guitarist with Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.

The RCJ Posts Issues Questionnaire on Obama

Obama 2012 – Where Do You Stand?

The Revolution Culture Journal (RCJ) invites you to participate in a little experiment to help us understand public perception of President Barack Obama, particularly as it relates to enthusiasm for his re-election in 2012

We have identified 34 issues in U.S. foreign and domestic policy and devised a scale to determine how well respondents feel President Obama is doing with each. Use this link to go to the questionnaire

The results of our experiment into public perceptions of the Obama administration will be reported on the RCJ at http://www.revolutionculturejournal.com/. Watch for news and insights on a wide range of interests from politics and public policy to media, architecture and environmental design, to arts and entertainment.