Tiberius Gracchus 168BC – 133BC

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This post is part two in a timeline series of posts.  The goal of this post is to examine the impact of Tiberius Gracchus on the republic of Rome.  His life would forever change the complexion of Roman politics as he was the first person to really recognize and leverage the power of the “mob mentality” upon the Senate.  We will also draw some parallels to our American republic as there are some definite similarities.  In the end, as you will see, it is very difficult to ever discern whether a human being’s actions are rooted in evolutionary morality or their self-serving lust of power guised as such.  Although all evidence points to the latter, I have this naïve hope that human beings will one day treat each other ethically, coexist peacefully, and be prosperous.  In that spirit, I choose to believe that Tiberius Gracchus was a man of nobility and magnanimity.  But in truth, we’ll never know and logic tells us that this is unlikely when considering his species.

Timeline Part 2 – Tiberius Gracchus 168BC – 133BC

Like many of his era, his birth year cannot be confirmed.  Tiberius was born sometime in the 2nd century BC.  He was old enough to fight as a junior officer in the third Punic war (149 to 146 BC) pitting Rome against Carthage.  Tiberius was born into political power and influence as was any Roman you will ever read about.  If you were not born with the proper pedigree, you had no chance of being “somebody” in the Roman historical record.  And if you were, your chance of being somebody usually rested on your military success.  Your political success was also hinged upon your military success.  So to recap, your chance of being written about in Roman history rested on 3 basic criteria occurring in this specific order:  1)born into the right family  2) successful military career  3) successful politician.  Each criterion’s opportunity was predicated upon the previous criterion’s occurrence.  Most people were disqualified at step one which is out of their control.  My friend Kirk and I have always referred criterion #1 as “the lucky sperm club” of which, unfortunately, neither of us are members.  Let’s begin with Tiberius’ military career to understand his rise as a politician.

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Loss Gravitas

The Hamburg plant is closing June 8, 2010 and 126 people (white & blue collar) will be let go.  They will be released into the Michigan unemployment ranks in one of the toughest job markets our state has seen for a long time.  This is another bellwether event for our state and our union:  a plant, after existing for 40+ years of prosperity, has lost its way.   Design engineers, manufacturing engineers, quality engineers, managers, administrative clerics, CNC operators, supervisors, human resource personnel, maintenance managers & technicians, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, et al, will be unemployed.  There were over 240 people that worked at this plant as little as 2 years ago and that is a more accurate number of people unemployed as a result of this closing.

The employees of this plant are productive members of society.  These people exemplify what hard work in our American factories and markets mean to the health of our society as a whole.  There was never a time when there wasn’t a struggle at the Hamburg plant, but as I have said about markets and life before, there is always a struggle.  But, this time it’s different.  This time, the struggle will end for this plant that has seen 20% margins for decades.

Why did the plant die?  What are the internal and external factors that rang the death knell for this plant?  Our markets today are subjected to a confluence of events that make it impossible to name one cause to any one event.   We have to look at the prevailing head winds facing our manufacturing industry in America and our economy in general to understand the basic root causes.  That is to say, things like the export of labor to “low cost” nations.  And, the global purchasing strategies of our global business models that leverage the lowest possible price for any and all components in any given bill of materials.

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The Communist Manifesto

I’ve spent a good part of my life talking about how great it is to live in America and how Communism is bad.  I studied sociology and knew that there were different political systems and different economic systems, but I never really ventured to study them in depth.  I never contemplated a bigger meaning of it all or how it all fits together.   One day, while talking smack about Communism and the Communist Manifesto I was asked “have you ever even read it?”  Ah, such a simple question.  It was hard to make an argument about something I hadn’t even read.  The answer was obviously no;  I had not read the Communist Manifesto.  Now that I have read it, I’d like to give my take on it.

There is a fundamental flaw in the Communist Manifesto in that it is not a stand alone idea.  It is not an idea conjured from a blank sheet of paper.  It is born as an “Anti-Capitalist” philosophy.  In order to succeed, a philosophy should fundamentally parallel a natural process in some manner and be able to stand alone.  This is no different than the evolutionary principles of natural selection in the wild:  those which are not best adapted to succeed eventually die off.  A sociopolitical philosophy based entirely on unnatural principles while intoxicated with a hatred of Capitalism is one that is destined for failure.   It’s not entirely difficult, however,  to see the seductiveness of a “new” concept when the discord of the “old” concepts are described so accurately and succinctly.  But, the Communist Manifesto does not do much more than describe the struggles of previous ruling class / working class dichotomies.  I find weakness in this document in its utopian sales pitch even as I cannot find much argument in the cycle of proletarian uprisings and revolutions that are evidenced within it.  My belief is that the struggles and revolutions of all the societies that have gone before us are perhaps better viewed as part of our natural evolution as human beings.  An analogy comes to mind to describe what I think I would say to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels if they were alive today:  don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

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Bill Watterson & Your Kids

Bill Watterson is an artist.  He is one of my favorite artists.  He is the creator of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes.  We can be thankful to have enjoyed his art while we were growing up.  I can remember waking up each morning, going through my morning ablutions, getting dressed, grabbing a bowl of cereal, and heading straight for the Calvin & Hobbes strip while sitting across the breakfast table from my mom while she worked on her crossword puzzle.  These are the kind of memories that are some of the fondest.

When you’re a child, this comic strip isn’t ‘art’ or political or sage, it is just fun.  You don’t really know as much as you think you do at that age, but you generally know what’s the good stuff and what sucks.  And, Calvin & Hobbes was the good stuff.  I can honestly say that reading the those three blocks of this comic was the best thing about my morning routine.    This activity that took less than thirty seconds was something to be looked forward to more than anything else each waking day as a child.  It would be a bummer on those off chance days that the paper didn’t come or was soaked with rain or what-have-you.   Saturday’s where extra special because the comics were in color and it was generally a six-block strip.  Although Watterson was one of the first artists to turn his six-block real estate into one drawing or two normal size blocks and one taking up four spaces or any combination he felt like, he would sometimes do the customary six block strip.

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Culture of Fear in the Workplace

Surprise

Why is there a culture of fear in the workplace?  Why do the people that generally rise to the top of the managerial org chart happen to be people who keep their disciples in line by keeping them fearful of retribution for breaking their rules?  Why do those who rise up the corporate ladder tend to exhibit sociopathic tendencies?

 The example I’m thinking of for this blog post is this:  I went back to ask a girl in accounts payable for some office supplies.  When I showed up at her desk and spoke her name, I had surprised her.  The look of surprise and fear on her face was so genuine.  It was if I had ‘busted’ her.  What was she doing wrong?  Nothing really.  She was surfing the internet which is done by everyone, but not condoned by management.  The look of surprise and fear stems from the usual judgment handed down by the very same people who practice the very same behavior.

In many companies, people have some liberties with regard to surfing the net, checking their facebook page, and reading a news story on the internet.  But there are still many companies that have access to many of those same things because business requires it, but at the same time are policing any recreational surfing.  And, it’s understandable that managers don’t want people to abuse their privledges, but management that does one thing and says another breeds contempt and gives people the jitters.  A lot of people can’t afford to lose their job, and it stinks to see people sweating the same behavior that their bosses are comfortable doing.  We all need a break sometimes and it’s healthy and actually boosts productivity.  And, as said earlier, there’s a fine line between a productive break and abuse, so it’s not easy to draw the line sometimes.  It’s just a little bit of a shame to see people so jittery about behavior that is not that out of line with what managers are doing too.  If someone is not getting their work done, that’s another story.  That’s when reprimand should occur.

 If someone that surfs the net in their free time punishes someone else for doing the same thing he’s a hypocrite.  There are many managers in many companies that breed this culture of fear to discourage people from doing the same things they do.  By doing this, they create employees that are unhappy, jittery, and unproductive.  Those managers are cowards.  Those managers are everywhere.