Archive for January, 2012

01/30/2012

Why Joy isn’t Always Amusement…

“While the laughter of joy is in full harmony with our deeper life, the laughter of amusement should be kept apart from it. The danger is too great of thus learning to look at solemn things in a spirit of mockery, and to seek in them opportunities for exercising wit.” Lewis Carroll 1832-1898

01/29/2012

Capitalism at Work: “Everybody’s Gotta Eat”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/business/ieconomy-apples-ipad-and-the-human-costs-for-workers-in-china.html?pagewanted=7&ref=technology

Similar articles to the ones above has been in the news all last week and after reading this one in particular, I couldn’t help but wonder about a few things.

Anyone who was ever listened to any US election has heard the old phrase of: “we need to create more jobs” or to “stop American jobs from going overseas” out of the mouths of every presidential candidate over the last 20 years in some shape or form. Particularly in sectors such as manufacturing, the whole “made inAmerica” moniker that was once a sense of pride is now seen as a product filled with expenses both from the lens of the sellers and consumers. Ask the laborers in places like Pittsburgh and Detroit and they know exactly what I mean.

It was interesting to hear though that Steve Jobs had told President Obama flatly in 2010 that the manufacturing jobs attached to making Apple products would not come back to the US. On the one hand, you cannot blame American companies who find the cost to manufacture overseas and import into the US is cheaper than making goods in the US. The goal after all is to make super profits, often done by keeping expenses as low as possible – with wages being one of the primary culprits that cut into the company bottom line.

On the 9-5 last Friday, I had a lengthy conversation with one of the youth I talk technology regularly with about Apple’s profit margins and why employers and employees will always look at the words salary and pensions from different lenses. I passed along the advice that was given to me when I was 18 and in college: “make yourself very marketable – have your education and skill set high enough that employers will find it hard to underpay you if they want to hire you”.

Let’s look at Apple’s business practices a bit closer for a moment. We have seen exposés on big companies with somewhat questionable working conditions before –GAP and Nike come to mind. But when it comes to a uber-successful company like Apple, people get extra defensive on both sides. The figures Apple released for Q4 2011 (October – December) are staggering: US$46 Billion in sales, US$13 Billion in profits – much of those driven by iPhone 4S and iPad 2 sales. Apple is NOTORIOUS for controlling all levels of their production process, including the stipulation that once a new device goes to production the supplier cannot divulge its existence until Apple makes the official announcement.

Even the idea of jailbreaking an iPhone is something Apple has stated and argued in the courts to be “illegal”; if a legal amendment here in the US that protects consumers’s rights to do so set to expire in a few weeks doesn’t get renewed, Apple will be right.

So how can a company like Apple “get away” with such a closed ecosystem in every sense of the word, especially in light of the facts stated in articles similar to the one above? Why do people buy products from a company that wants to dictate to the consumer how to use their product after we have shelled out our hard-earned cash for it? Simply put, they use the “everybody’s gotta eat” defense.

Yes, the same line of thought that former NBA player Latrell Sprewell used when he turned down $21 million contract while holding out for a bigger payday: “that’s not enough – I got to feed my family”.

Manufacturing in China allows Apple’s suppliers to have access numerically to a larger labor force than here in the US. Such a move allows the suppliers to have a virtually expendable labor pool for which wages can be kept lower. If HR depts here in the US have headaches reviewing tons of resumes, they should take a look at a picture recent job fair held by Foxconn (a major Apple supplier). It was a sea of folks and resumes ready to overwhelm the recruiters. Due to the nature of the contracts written, suppliers must keep their production output high order to keep up with the insane consumer demand. All the while, Apple’s head office rakes in the cash.

Apple makes money from: pushing for lower order costs from suppliers, percentages from content manufacturers, (music, videos, apps sold via iTunes) and carriers who heavily subsidize the iPhone knowing they will recover subsidies from consumers in the form of their monthly cellphone service. The forced ingrown capitalist in me says, “I want a piece of that action as an investor”! However, the human in me cannot help but think of those faces who help to make Apple’s products a success who don’t get a fair taste of the lion’s share of those super profits.

One can only begin to imagine the 60+ hour work weeks by these factory workers, the constant standing and running, working with hazardous chemicals, the little sleep, possible health and mental risks. People have been fired for losing iPhone prototypes, and workers testing prototypes that were lost have committed suicide in China. Many folks in the US seem to be unable to relate to such things as they play Temple Run on their way to the nearest coffee shop hangout. But there is one local company that has its own well-documented issues with worker treatment: Wal-Mart. People still shop at Wal-Mart in the same way that people still buy iPhones and iPads – much of those consumers shop in both places.

Perhaps these folks have good reason not to care as much where and how the products they depend on get to them; after all, it aint easy making that American green to pay for them. Therein lies the ugly beauty of the successful capitalist: you get each person connected to a product or service to focus on HOW to remain individually connected to that product/service, not the collective human cost all the people who want that product or service endure.

Am I hating on Apple? Of course not. I do own an Apple device that I find myself using less and less these days. My gripe isn’t necessarily with Apple – even though they should really do a better job of policing the habits of their suppliers. How can they do such a thing? The same way consumers do with a company that they don’t like or have issues with their business practices: take their business elsewhere.

Yes, my biggest gripe is that as consumers we allow many of the brands we “trust” to feed  our dependence on these products in seemingly blind manner. While some companies have started to conform, we need to push for a systematic level of compliance to true consumer wishes and ultimately, real better business reforms.

Yes, everybody has to eat. From the factory worker in China, to the trucker who transport the goods to the Apple store, to the Sales clerk putting the device in the hands of the public. Yes, even the CEO and investors need to eat too. Still, it is how we do business that really defines what are our “food choices”. Shouldn’t the factory worker have the same opportunity for an improved level of access as the trucker driver, sales clerk and the fat cat CEO? Perhaps – but I can clearly hear a penny section of society cry such a thought being “Communist” in nature.

Guess the power of choice is quite clearly defined by the power of the wallet. That’s why for foreseeable future, conglomerates and multinational corporations will continue to dictate to us “what we are allowed to eat”.

01/28/2012

The Power of Encouragement

“What men and women need is encouragement…instead of always harping on a man’s faults, tell him of his virutes. Try to pull him out of his rut of bad habits. “Eleanor H. Porter 1868-1920

01/27/2012

Pseudo-Facts in the Face of Wisdom

At the beginning of the blog I wrote about an experience with a guy on the bus in take to work that went after a woman about her hair. For those who want to try the archives, Hair and the Makings of a Black Woman is the first memorable encounter with this pseudo-sage that I had.

I’ve seen him a few times since then, and I usually turn my music up to tune his out his nuggets of fool’s gold. But coming home on the bus on Tuesday, he was back to his old tricks again. It was so funny because I saw him and I guess I had the look on my face – “not this cat again”. Sure enough, he ended up standing near where I was sitting and started to spew forth new pearls of pseudo-wisdom.

Now, my aim here is not to make fun of him. In fact, some of the things he says out aloud on the #25 bus are things worth thinking about. Still, there are times when it is more about not what you say, but how you say it. Encounters with him have often reminded me of the song Wisdom by Bob Marley & The Wailers. Specifically, the opening lines pop readily into mind:

“The lips of the righteous teach many, but fools die for want of wisdom”.

So can you spot that real pseudo-sage in your life? You know, the same one who knows the answers to everything but has nothing tangible to show for such knowledge in their lives? As in, the fact that they are still in the same place that they were many years ago and cannot turn this mound of wisdom they’ve acquired into something more tangible and uplifting?

Something I realized a log time ago is that the elders were right: when one chases after knowledge to try to know everything, you end up knowing less than you did at the beginning of your journey.

Some of us like to collect facts and hidden gems. I personally can appreciate those tidbits that people often take for granted, and I am known to drop an unusual nugget here and there in conversation. Still, the intent is to genuinely share what I have come across and found to be interesting, not to hoard knowledge and use it as a platform to look down upon others.

Information is constantly changing; knowledge is being rewritten as you read this. It is virtually impossible to keep up on the trends of every happening out there, as you head would explode. Still, there is nothing that can piss me off further than when people share a nugget with you and lace it with the “oh, you didn’t know about that” look of judgment. Much of that still stems from the ideas of in-group vs out-group; some of us who cannot be in the in-group based on ethnicity and socioeconomics (among other markers) may try to be in the in-group based on knowledge. Or more importantly, what “facts” they have been exposed to, and walk around with them proudly like an unflappable religious edict. Yes, in their attempts to fit in, such folks are very adept at confirming one supposition:

knowledge itself is not dangerous; it is facts in the hands of fools are the most destructive.

It is hard to dispute wisdom when we see it. In fact, the pseudo-sages will either bellow louder to drown it out or will fall silent and pay their proper respect. An empty barrel can indeed make the most noise; often times people lack the time and patience to listening to a stone rattling in an empty barrel. Yes, it gets tiresome to be your brother’s keeper when all he wants to do is point out your faults and listen to himself talk.

The wise will tell us readily and in a humble manner: it’s not what you know; it is how you use what you have learned to uplift others that makes what you’ve learned true knowledge. If we wise up more readily and seek the true understanding with such great humility, perhaps these pseudo sages will get back to being real students to the lessons that are found in life and the true uplifting of others.

 

01/26/2012

Taking Your Own Advice

“She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).”Lewis Carroll 1832-1898

01/25/2012

Baggage Handling 101: Claiming Ownership

Here’s a new entry in the Baggage Handling series…

“I don’t want someone with a bunch of drama in my life!”

Every time I hear a guy or a girl say this when talking about the pursuit of a partner, it makes me laugh uncontrollably. before you go off thinking that I am being mean, hear me out for a sec. I’m not laughing at the person, just the nature of the implication of how unrealistic that expectation can be,

Even though I’m not a relationships expert, it sounds like a mild case of glass house syndrome to me. While I will let the more adventurous of you hit the archives for the “Glass House Syndrome” entry, I will say this: unmet expectations can create the most enormous forms of luggage in life, especially in relationships.

Every time I hear people talk about “drama” like this it reminds me of one of my favorite dating shows: Baggage – hosted by Jerry Springer. Basically it was a dating show where the catch/person looking for a date has to pick through the baggage of 3 persons to find the one that has the least amount baggage they can handle. Here’s the twist – at the end of the show that final person chosen gets to see that one large piece of baggage that the catch is carrying. So they get the ultimate choice as to date them or not.

Now, I never caught an episode where the catch in the end got rejected, but it got me thinking. Firstly, it’s seems like a violate mix of expectations ready to collide: who would you feel if on national TV someone rejected your baggage? Secondly, how wise it is to know SOME of these things at the outset? Shouldn’t you have the right to “ease” someone into certain parts of your life, deciding if they get to know certain things about you along the way?

It’s not really about lying or keeping secrets. Sometimes there are legit reasons for the experiences we have had, and the bags that have created from them. Truthfully enough, if we took a moment to look at the “drama” in our lives and then, we might stand a better chance of being what we want, and knowing when to let some one see what baggage we have in our emotional closets.

Dare I say that at times we are even the own architect of the same drama that we seemingly do not seek from others.

Personally, I love drama in my life. I don’t like things too quiet and I don’t like it too spicy – as I still believe that there is a time and place for everything. Still, the type of drama I like is usually the stuff around positive achievements. So yes, I like the drama of chasing my goals, cheering my friends onwards to success and standing behind a family member or partner as they achieve a dream. I like the thrill of laughing in the face of adversity and that moment of triumph that makes the feeling of accomplishment taste so much sweeter.

The type of drama some say they don’t want in their lives is really extra stressors. Stress and adversity are as a part of life as are death and taxes. There is no way getting around them. What they could be saying is that they want someone who copes better under stress, who knows how to hold their own in the face of adversity and not buckle under the pressure. This is all fine and dandy, but where are you in this picture? Are you standing on the sidelines, idly waiting by for the person to clear the way for you? Or are you knee-deep in the muck and mire with a helping hand outstretched or some sort of words of encouragement?

With all the glitz and glamour and instant gratification running around in society, many of us have gone away from rolling up our sleeves and handling our own baggage by claiming ownership. We are seemingly too quick to dump things off onto others and one of those things is our unrealistic expectations in the twin pursuits of attention and affection.

So are you saying that it is OK for your partner not to have any drama but they need to be able to put up with your shit quite readily too? What if you’re the one bringing in the heavy expensive designer emotional bags to the relationship? Sometimes people are lugging around with some heavy bags and they chose to either minimize or ignore them, fully believing that the other stuff they bring to the table will outweigh those bags.

If you’ve never supported your self in chasing after your own goals, you will never know how to really support a partner. If you’ve never really learned from your own mistakes and are stuck in an unhealthy cycle, you cannot pull anyone out of their own ruts. If you’ve never taken the time to really love yourself, then all you will know how to do is love and exploit what people can do for you, and not love them for who they are.

It’s not enough to know what your baggage is when it comes to relationships and other aspects of life. If you don’t take ownership of your bags, it makes it harder for those around you to uplift you in times of need, and to fully love you for who you are. Heaven knows we all have our own bags to carry. It just makes things easier when we don’t have to carry the burdensome pieces of someone else who doesn’t true take ownership of their shit. While the process of ownership can be difficult, you would be surprised of what happens when you show someone you care by helping them carry their own bags and by how you carry your own.

01/24/2012

Life’s Not So Hidden Fees

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali 1942 –

01/23/2012

The Work of Being My Brother’s Keeper

Yesterday as I’m watched the coverage of Joe Paterno’s passing, it struck me at how sad a moment it was all around. What also stood out for me was the inherent lesson in the last few months of the life of such a legendary sports figure and humanitarian:

The cost of doing good for humanity is great, and the consequences of crimes against humanity are utterly disastrous.

I did an entry a few months back on the Paterno saga that I will not fully rehash here. But in summary, Joe Paterno was a legendary college football school at the university of Penn State in Pennsylvania. He was the winningest college football coach and worked at Penn State for over 60+ years, 46 as the head coach. He was fired in November due to allegations made that one of his former coaches sexually abused young boys while on his staff in the 1990s and after he retired in the early 2000s on campus grounds. The allegations are that Paterno was informed by one of the graduate students of such an incident on campus grounds, and while he reported it to his bosses, Paterno didn’t call the police himself.

As with the last time I wrote on this issue, I’m not here to shift through the information on this case to separate fact from allegation. Still, such a story highlights the fact that as people we often focus on the negatives and the screw-ups in life and never give the positives and uplifting stories the same level of credit and acknowledgement. It seems that there is an implicit expectation of those who were on behalf of others that all they can do is good, and that mistakes are not possible.

It says something how hard those who work on behalf of others, whether they be coaches, priests, program coordinators, foster parents or doctors. People involved in the business make such far-reaching impact that cannot be quantified. I’m sure everyone can think of at least one person who they may have admired from afar or someone who directly impacted their life in a positive manner. Many of these folks are often selfless, helping others not for the glory, personal benefit or the fear of failure, but because it is the right thing to do.

Still, as I watch the overwhelming yet tempered public support and remembrance of Joe Paterno unfold all morning, I found myself reflecting on a forgotten comment that popped immediately into mind. My mother shared this thought once when I first visited the US that has stuck with me since:

“This country prides itself on legacy and reputation. Be careful of what you do and who you lend yourself to. It takes a lifetime to build a reputation that can be gone in the blink of an eye at the slightest misstep.”

Of course this statement knows no bounds of culture, race, or socioeconomics. It just goes to show you how hard it is to be our brother’s keeper. But when living it a place where the intangible such as reputation and legacy matters the most, people never truly recover in the face of a misstep.

To me, it’s often a lie to stay people can fully bounce back from their mistakes in the eyes of others.  The former shine on a legacy and the glowing endorsement of a reputation can go the same way as broken trust in the face of any scandal or wrongdoing – lost forever, never able to reclaim that indelible and so-perfect luster. What we should be telling folks is the truth: once you pay your penance, there is a good chance for you to shape a new perception of folks in more positive light in the aftermath of any scandal or mistake made. Yes, there will always be those who will believe that the person who did the screw-up is a true internal reflection of the individual’s persona, but by and large most people will show forgiveness.

I am not condoning the error that Paterno made at all, because abuse of any kind is still abuse. That, like many other crimes against humanity can never be overestimated or swept under the rug in the face of doing good for others. In reference to the accused coach Jerry Sandusky, one might say that there are those who have committed the worst crimes against humanity were as equally honorable to those they cared about were as equally horrific to their victims. At the end of the day, the survivors of crimes against humanity are the ones sentenced to bear life long scars and the emotional burdens that come with such violation. We should never lose sight of what has happened to the victims of the alleged sexual abuse in this case.

To me it was a pity that Paterno was never afforded the opportunity to do so. Between the decline in health and the horrific nature of the allegations, we will never know what he really knew. I know there were brief interviews and statements leaked before he got ill, but it is shame to see that he didn’t have the opportunity to use this tragedy as an avenue to show no matter how much good you do, there is still more that can be done. It wasn’t about salvaging his reputation, but showing the local community at large that still held him in high regard by responding in that iconic classy manner which made him so beloved at Penn State.

Yes, those who truly try to uplift others carry a heavy burden. Doing good is often taxing on them and when they fail, the consequences are far-reaching. Still, we must not shy away from being our brother’s keeper, as in the time of tragedy is when he will need us the most.