Monday, June 22, 2009

Conspiracy Theory? Maybe...

I remember it pretty vividly... was 1994, the Bulls were playing their first of two seasons without Michael Jordan, the two seasons that make up the filler for the Bulls 3-peat sandwich in the 1990s. It was game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, this was to be Scottie Pippen's coming out party, the year in which he stepped up to become Batman instead of his usual role as Robin to Jordan's Batman. The Bulls were up with no time remaining late in the game. The defense was well-planned and fierce, preventing John Starks from driving the corner for another "poster dunk". Starks passed off to Hubert Davis at the top of the key, Pippen moved from the middle of the lane. Davis raised up for a jump shot, released the ball and as the ball rattled off the rim, Pippen brushed by Davis, a defensive occurrence that is as regular as the shots themselves. The Bulls were about to win Game 5, but...was that a whistle? Yes, a whistle it was, and an awfully late whistle at that. Hue Hollins had called Pippen for a foul...hacking is the technical term, though an actual hack it was far from. A caress, perhaps, but even calling it a high five was a stretch. Hubert went to the foul line, sunk two shots, and the Knicks won Game 5, eventually defeating the Bulls in seven and going on to lose to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.

Was it a foul? Technically, yes, it was a foul...Scottie had made contact with the shooter, contact initiated by Pippen while the shooter was in the act of shooting. See, therein lies the problem that I have always had with the NBA, and one which makes the league constantly smack with conspiracy theories...there is too much judgement allowed by the officials to render the game without bias. Did the league want to see the Knicks make it to the Finals? Why not? The Bulls were missing their superstar...their marquee draw in Jordan, and the Knicks play in the largest city and media market in the country. The Bulls were tough to some degree, but the Knicks were tougher. Could one assume the better match up for the networks was Ewing vs. Olajawon...big Mano v. big Mano? I think one could assume that.

Do I think there exist conspiracies that control the outcome of NBA games? I will, with some trepidation, say no. I will suggest however that on more than one occasion, in fact, with some regularity I have personally witnessed horrendously inconsistent calls by NBA officials, and indeed, sometimes even coaches, that have affected the momentum of the game, and even for some short period of time, swung the advantage over to one side...often the side of the more famous team or player.

And what was Jordan doing out of the NBA anyway? Making a serious run at becoming a baseball player? A golfer? Please...he was terrible. Didn't he have some ridiculous gambling debts? Wasn't his father murdered in cold blood while resting at a roadside stop? I am not suggesting that this was all connected, and I am certainly not suggesting that Michael Jordan had any direct involvement in his father's murder...but you can understand why more information was desired by the public, right?

So, am I a conspiracy theorist? Well, no...not exactly. I think that generally things that happen, happen the way they do because of an individual's or a team's proficiency at what they do...along with a little bit of fortune to make sure their talents are the key component of the outcome. I will confidently suggest however, that there are A LOT of people in the world, and a good number of them suffer from greed, a desire that if not controlled by checks and balances, can make people do some crazy ass things, and make groups do some things that are downright evil.

I believe that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a part of a large conspiracy that may very well have involved some members of our federal government. Given just the last 15 or so years of government cheaters and frauds, are we supposed to be so daft as to believe that there is no way that some bad seeds in our own government could be capable of an act so despicable as that one was? Do those who deny the possibility of a conspiracy just oppose conspiracy theories in general, or do they truly believe that nobody in our huge 1960's Military-Industrial Complex shaped government could possibly have gotten together with a handful of other powerful people to make sure that Kennedy didn't make it through his term in office. If it is so easy to think that Lee Harvey Oswald acted on his own, then why not just open up the Warren Report to the public to let us decide what happened just like any other murder case through proper forensics and a true court of law? And why was Oswald shot only two days later before any trial could happen, and by a local strip club operator who, oh wow, was born and grew up a troubled youth in Chicago! Even as a proud Chicagoan I smell trouble there.

Look, all I am saying is that we need to stop blindly supporting the status quo, and sometimes question things further when we see or smell smoke. I completely understand that it is hard to admit when we support something so fervently, that it has gone bad, or that something has intentionally changed the course in "our" favor...but we can only grow as a community, really, a world community, when we recognize, and speak out when something just doesn't make any sense.

So, what do you think? Was it the official, or the defense who committed the foul? Penny for your thoughts...

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Gun Control or Hate Control?

So, today brought the sad news that 88 year old white-supremacist James W. von Brunn stormed the entrance the the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and opened fire with a shotgun. He wounded a security guard who would later die from those wounds. This is a man who has long been associated with anti-Semitic rhetoric, and was even arrested and served 6 and a half years in prison for pulling out a sawed off shotgun and threatening to take members of the Federal Reserve Board hostage back in late 1981.

This tragedy just 11 days after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, KS allegedly by anti-abortionist Scott Roeder of Kansas City as Dr. Tiller attended Sunday morning church services.

Upon hearing the news today, I felt the need to write about lots of things I had been planning for this blog. Everything from racism to fundamentalism to tougher gun laws crossed my mind. Then, as I sat down to write, I found that I was struggling to begin the post. As I thought longer, I realized that these topics all shared the same theme...hate.

I think back to one of the first televised debates of the Democrat Party's primaries. Sen. Clinton was lecturing Sen. Obama about his assertion that the American public was angry. She was suggesting that he was stirring the pot and using it as a ploy to get elected. This was, of course, before the "Great Recession" of 2007-present day. I had been leaning toward voting for Mrs. Clinton until that day. Her remarks struck me as so far from the reality of our society that I felt she was unfit to lead our nation until she was able to recognize and admit that it is indeed the truth. Americans are angry.

I am angry. I am angry that President Clinton allowed his name to get so tarnished by "having relations" with Monica Lewinsky. I am angry that a special prosecutor investigating a completely different charge was able to discover and reveal this piece of information as if it were somehow relevant that he cheated on his wife, then lied about it. I am angry that we watched George W. Bush effectively "win" the 2000 election despite losing the popular vote due to our continued use of an outdated and confusing electoral college system and technologically backwards voting methods. I am angry that we were attacked so callously on 9/11, then galvanized around finding the monster who organized the attack, then ditched our search for him to start a second battlefront under false pretenses that were far worse than lying about a hummer in the White House. Someone please explain to me how Bill Clinton was impeached, and George W. Bush has never even been legally questioned. I am angry that despite what we knew, Bush was elected for a second term...seriously! I am angry that the destructive and irresponsible behavior of a select few of the wealthiest people in America were allowed to bring about an economic downturn that has cost many thousands their jobs and livelihoods. My anger, however is tempered by long stretches of optimism, pride in my family, happiness, and laughter...but that is me, what about you?

Bill Clinton was the first President I ever was able to vote for, and vote for him I did...twice. There are many people who are older than I who are likely angry at the things I list above plus so much more. Clearly, James W. von Brunn was angry, and his anger either came from or produced overwhelming feelings of hate. So, I ask, how is a man convicted of an armed act of terrorism able to get his hands on essentially the very same weapon and kill a freaking security guard? Could stricter gun control laws have stopped this man from committing this act? I think that is VERY debatable.

I do want to debate gun control...I really do, but I do not believe that is the central issue in these crimes. Rather, I think that our culture so steeped in anger and hatred is really the root cause, and something we should truly be spending our time trying to solve. What allows a person to believe so strongly that another group, be it either race, faith, or gender based is so wrong that they need to kill to solve the problem? Is it simply mental illness? Bad parenting? High-fructose corn syrup?

Obviously, I don't know the answer. What I do know is that for the billions of us on the planet who haven't and won't ever take an other's life, isn't there more that each of us can do to help prevent these tragedies? Perhaps we need to be less self-absorbed (written by the guy who regularly has his head buried in a crossword puzzle, iPod blaring music in his ears, sunglasses on as he rides the train and bus to work and back) to notice signs of trouble before they explode? Are we to believe that nowhere along Mr. von Brunn's journey to the front entrance of the National Holocaust Museum could someone...anyone have noticed something amiss and said something or done something to stop him? He was 88 years old for crying out loud! Who sold or gave this man a shotgun? Did he "saw it off" or did someone help him?

How can we work together to begin to change the culture of hatred in which so many people are simply raised? Can we do it through education of our youth? Can it be done in school, or does this have to happen in the home...or both? How about across the world? What to do about places like Korea where they quite literally have taped down a "my side/your side" line in a potentially vain attempt to avoid conflict?

Yes, this is meaty. Yes, this could get a whole host of replies blaming everything from organized religion, to separation of the classes, to battles over resources and land, but I can't wait to hear what you all think?

In the meantime, let's consider the families of that security guard in Washington, and Dr. George Tiller and hope that they have it in them to use the energy of their anger to produce something positive rather than continuing the cycle of hate.

Be well.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

The MBA and Corporate America

OK, slow early traffic combined with a bit of a weak first topic has limited the early banter. So, let's try something a bit more juicy, shall we?

I'd like to address the post-graduate degree officially titled Masters of Business Administration, and most commonly referred to as the M.B.A.

Disclaimer -- this is most definitely not intended as a slam or knock on those of you who have achieved this degree. In fact, in general I applaud the desire and drive to set aside time in one's life to further their education to grow one's knowledge and ability in a particular field. I have more than a handful of friends and family with M.B.A.s, and hope that they will participate in this discussion without the need to feel defensive, but rather to share their viewpoint on the subject.

This specific topic has simmered in my head for years, really since the day about nine years ago that someone strongly recommended that I get an M.B.A. to help ensure my success in the business world. How could I ever have so innocently thought that one could achieve the same success through their prior education, hard work, on-the-job training, natural ability, and common sense?

What caused me to think of it as a debatable topic for this blog was a conversation I was having with a co-worker last week as he was trying to decide whether or not to pull the trigger on an M.B.A. for himself. What struck me as odd was not that he would consider or even make the decision to go for it, but rather that "where" he chose to get your M.B.A. was relevant.

Please, allow me to clarify "where". I will acknowledge that there is probably a difference between the quality of education at say Harvard University Business School and Wright State University's Soin School of Business in that Harvard's reputation allows it to draw the most talented professors to share their knowledge. Does it immediately stand to reason that a person holding the Harvard degree will be a more successful business-person than the one holding the Soin degree? I think not. Does it mean that they will have a better chance to prove it...indeed, it likely does. Does it mean that one will be able to command a higher salary that the other with no different relevant background to deserve it? Yes, it does.

But, that is not all. The items I describe above have been known by me for many years now...really since graduating college back in 1993. The new revelation that struck me as entirely ridiculous is that certain highly ranked M.B.A. programs hold significantly more prestige in their geographic region, as if the business principals and tools learned at The University of Illinois are somehow more useful in corn belt states than they are east of the Appalachians. Or that a University of Washington degree is optimally effective in the moist cool air of the Pacific Northwest. The last time I checked 2+2 = 4 in every one of the 50 states as well as Puerto Rico AND Guam. Are you serious?

So, to add to the debate, I have heard many times in the past that where you get your M.B.A. should depend on what your career goals with it are. Essentially, getting an M.B.A is buying your way onto a more rapid career path with a higher ceiling, and the more prestigious the school awarding your M.B.A. the more rapid and higher you can climb. Additionally, you will have greater opportunities to network with the "right" people who can lead you to the doors concealing that rapid climbing ladder from most others.

So, in this Land of Opportunity of ours, is this really a level playing field? With the cost of a "Top 20" M.B.A. breathing heavily on the 6-figure range, is this not a system of business that assures the rich getting richer? Isn't the continuance of the belief that hard work alone (possibly even with the assistance of a "low prestige" M.B.A.) will only get you so far in corporate America potentially ignoring a large percentage of the population, and thus many potentially great leaders of American business?

I do not have an M.B.A. I am not currently planning to get an M.B.A. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University. I majored in History (highly underrated degree as it pertains to business & politics, but I will leave that for a later blog topic). I took many classes in Psychology, Economics, Philosophy, and even peppered in some advance math, writing, and photography courses. I went to Benet Academy in Lisle, IL for high school, an excellent and well respected college prep school that taught me well. I consider myself intelligent, well-educated, decisive, well-written, well-spoken, business savvy, and a strong leader. I do not think that I want to be a CEO which is one reason I have chosen not to pursue an M.B.A. at this time, but I do think that I could be a CEO without that top tier M.B.A. -- a good one at that.

So, is it a shame that unless I make that decision I may never even have the opportunity to find out, or is that the way it should be? In order to reach the top, you need to pay your cold cash!

Please talk amongst yourselves...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Obsession of America...Reality or Tragedy?

Welcome to my newest of what I hope will be several more blogs. Over my 16 years since I graduated college, I have found myself becoming more and more private about my passionate opinions, though I suppose my closest friends might disagree.

The fact is that I would once share any opinion with anyone at any time, and now I limit most controversial discussions to times with my closest friends and family. I fear that has caused me to lose perspective somewhat, so I would like to use this blog as my outlet to hear other's opinions. With that said however, I do have limits to my personal acceptance of freedom of speech, and will not accept hateful or threatening remarks on this blog. If you want to participate in thoughtful and potentially passionate arguments on many important topics, then by all means participate...the more the better. If you just want to spew hateful rhetoric however, please take it elsewhere. From the looks of things, there are plenty of places on the web that are home to that kind of banter.

So, I thought I would lob a softball out there for my first topic, one which comes up for discussion often with my friends at work..."REALITY TV".

Over the last decade or so, what began with MTV's Real World, and CBS' Survivor has developed (or incubated) into countless shows claiming to be "reality" based, but are really a collection of circus characters displaying all the worst personality traits that people can possess. Many of these people are truly despicable, but many others appear to have been lured, exploited, embarrassed, then left for the second hand media to chew up and throw away.

Almost everyone I talk to about these shows agrees that it is sad, but WE (note the "BIG WE") continue to EAT IT UP!


Well, it seems obvious that Americans (and probably other nations -- though I have only lived in America so can only comment on that) are obsessed with the tragedy of our own. Yes, there is something cultural or even in our species that enjoys watching others suffer. Perhaps that would also explain how crowds gather around an injured person, or gaper's delays on the roads, or how crowds would gather in 18th century England and France to watch hangings and beheading like it was a football game (or dare I say NASCAR race) today.

Personally, I find this to be a sad commentary on the human race in general, but I am assuming that I am in the minority. I do watch some reality TV. I enjoy The Amazing Race, and have watched at least half of the seasons of Survivor, but will not tune into The Bachelor, WifeSwap, or - God help us- Rock of Love???

I am interested to hear what others think about this, so please join me in this conversation while I prepare a juicier topic for next time.

Game On!