Sunday, March 18, 2012

What happened at Goldman Sachs......

Greg Smith's letter of resignation from Goldman Sachs has created quite a stir on the web and throughout the business world this week.  The surprise was that an insider would leave the firm in such a public and even petulant way.  It should come as no surprise to anybody that he was pointing to a burgeoning culture of corporate greed and cynical attitudes towards the clients whose money they use to make their millions.

The question that immediately came up for me was: "How did this transition from serving the clients to using and even abusing them happen so quickly?"  Greg Smith was only at Goldman for 12 years, but in that time he saw a shift of attitudes and ethics of 180 degrees.  So, what propelled this rapid transition towards greediness and total disregard for the clients?  It's almost as if Ayn Rand had arisen from her grave and been appointed CEO of the company.  Suddenly, everybody is on board with calling customers 'muppets' and selling them lousy investments or at the very least putting the customers investment goals last.

My best guess is that such a total and sudden transformation can only come from the top down.  This kind of shift doesn't come from the ranks; it comes from the managers and executives who set the tone for how the account execs operate.  The new 'wunderkind' who arrive, fresh out of Harvard Business School, or Wharton, or--nowadays--from elite computer science programs at top universities, come on board with dreams of multi-million dollar bonuses, making their fortunes before they're 30, having a Gulfstream parked out at Teterboro, ready to whisk them off to Aspen, Barbados or Paris on a whim. No doubt about it. They have been carefully 'chosen'--in the true sense of the term, 'chosen few'-- from a bumper crop of brilliant achievers to become the Elite.  And, they arrive ready to take whatever cues and pointers will help them to fulfill this dream.

So, when the middle and upper levels of management model a financial philosophy that says, in essence, "anything goes, just make us a ton of money", the result is easy to predict.  The young Turks of Wall St. bend to the task of skirting inconvenient regulations...what few are there....and become ingenious at creating such things as 'Credit Default Swap' instruments that allow them to pre-package lousy mortgages and pawn them off to even their best clients as solid investments.  Well, we all know how that worked out.  But, we also know that nobody has been held accountable for all of this 'creativity' either.

If Ayn Rand really was sitting in the top floor corner office...the one with a good view of the Hudson....she would be feeling very pleased and proud of her new crop of brokers.  They have learned what she wanted them to, and they are applying the ruthless principles of the pseudo-philosophy that she created: Objectivism.  The essence is not difficult to grasp.  It simply says that getting what you want, the practice of unbridled greed, is a superior path in life, and one for the strong and ruthless, who are destined to become the ruling elite.....because they have the power that only great wealth can buy.

The traditional approach to business was just so much foolishness, a path for the weak.  Offer a good product or service at a fair price and stand behind it.  Practice personal and professional integrity in all matters.  Really? Why would I do that if my intent is simply to amass wealth in the quickest and most efficient way possible?  Such a code of conduct is not merely inconvenient; it's a real impediment to my goals, therefore must be ignored.  The practice of greed, at its most advanced levels, is not for softies who care about others. It is for the strong and requires that one be willing to do whatever is necessary.

And, it was the exact same essential concept that Himmler preached to his legions of SS, in order to get them to go out and perpetrate the Holocaust.  He actually sympathized with them having to take on such an odious task as the murder of millions.  And, he asked them to 'steel yourselves' because it had to be done for the Fatherland.  To this day, people wonder what was in the hearts of people who could act so utterly without conscience.  And, now we are seeing the culture of me first, to hell with you, rising again.  This time it's intent on having--and already has--the vast majority of the wealth in our society...worldwide.  It's a different kind of hegemony....but it's domination all the same.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Great American Petrie Dish is Showing Some Virulent Colonies.....

In the last few years, I have noticed a distinct degeneration in the quality of posts that people put up on the web. It hardly matters what blog or news site is involved.  About 80% of the comments that people make on a given story or blog posting, are either off topic or simply toxic. It feels like there is a vast pool of people--most of them seem to be either young or astonishingly immature adults--who read damn near anything and react to it by dumping not merely critical opinions but blatantly nasty, even vicious comments.

Here's a link to a news story on this topic on CNN:

When I pause to wonder why this should be the case, nothing springs immediately to mind, other than the notion that these people seem to be driven by a world-view that is so toxic that one shudders at the thought of what it must be like to see life through their 'shit-colored glasses'.  Apparently, the anonymity of the web does encourage people to act-out at their lowest level. Under the cloak of remaining nameless, their worst tendencies just come roaring out. But, I get a sense that it is an obnoxious but powerful form of honesty these individuals are practicing. They aren't faking this; they really do feel this way. Ouch!

Many of them present as low-brow people who have no clue as to the corrosive nature of what they are posting, while others seem to be simply lost souls who have way too much time on their hands.  Many are so limited in their use of the English language that I have to wonder if they are early-life failures in the educational system, and are feeling rejected. Of course, it's possible that their the abuse of their native language is just another way of acting out.

I just keep wondering why any person would feel so compelled to dump poisonous sentiments into a discussion?  Maybe it serves as a catharsis that hopefully lowers the pressure of the inner seething that they carry through their daily lives?  Is this lowering the frequency of school shootings?  If so, then let 'er rip kids.

Another train of thinking leads me to ask if we're developing such a shattered sense of our society that these individuals feel cut-off, disenfranchised.  Maybe they see themselves as 'outliers' and are reacting to feelings of being rejected.  What is particularly troubling about this is the apparently vast number of such souls out there across the land.  How do these individuals survive?  Are they able to lead anything resembling a normal life, or are they just stewing in their own poison, breeding negativity on a level that renders them partially or completely incapacitated?

This coterie of people has a descriptor that is beginning to be used to identify them:. They are 'The Haters' and they don't have to look further than Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter or Glenn Beck to find role models. This term serves as an indication of how many and how noxious they are.  My thoughts turn to questions such as: "What will be the impact on society at large of having an apparently significant portion of us so dysfunctional?"  Or, "How will these people ever manage to have happy lives?"  "Does life really suck that badly for so many people?"  Am I just motoring along here with a completely false sense of what life is like for so many?

It's becoming apparent that far too many young people are marinating in a toxic stew of nastiness, viciousness, separation and hopelessness. I do not have any answers. I am not sure anybody else does either. But, if you know a young person, or several, who seems to be caught-up in this mode of being, I hope that you will feel that it's at least worth trying to reach out to them and let them know....that they're not alone.

Or can it really be that these young people are just harbingers of where our society is headed when we have so much hatefulness and disrespect being broadcast non-stop by people like Rush Limbaugh?  Is this who we are becoming?

If so, I want to get on the first train out of here.  Is it too late for me to sign-up to get hoovered when the Rapture comes?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An article worth reading....if you are puzzled by the anti-intellectualism of Santorum

"What really aggrieves right wing conservatives is that professors of "The Liberal Arts" actually teach the "liberal" arts and so promote a way of looking at the world in which "truth" is derived through research and reason rather than by mindless adherence to the ancient scribblings of some book.
The gripe that conservatives like Rick Santorum have against higher education, in short, is not that liberally-biased faculties are forcing their students to think like Democrats. Their real complaint is that college professors are teaching students to think for themselves."
This is an excerpt from an article on by Alex Pareen.  It is a very clear explanation of how the far  right conservative element got to the point where having an education, learning to think, has become a liability.

The Awareness of not ours alone

Well, I was back at Portland Head, which is also the location of Portland Head Light, a magnificent lighthouse that was built when George Washington was president. And, this time I had my Nikon spotting scope with me. This optic is tripod mounted and offers magnification from 15x to 45x.  In other terms, it is up to 4.5 times as powerful as my binoculars and needs to be on a tripod because at the higher magnifications it would be just too shaky to be useful.

I set up the scope and was looking at a sizeable flock of Common Eiders that were working their way along the rocky outcropping that forms the shore of most of Maine, in fact.  I glanced a bird in the small cove just below me and saw that it had a lot of white but was certainly not an Eider.  So, I moved the scope and when I finally got on this duck, I saw a stunning creature.  His eye was bright yellow, placed on a smashingly irridescent green head, with a large white spot on his cheek. I knew it was a Goldeneye, but without a birdbook in hand, I guessed it was a Barrow's Goldeneye, and didn't realize I was wrong until I got home and looked him up.  It was indeed a Common Goldeneye.
But, despite a name that would lead one to believe this duck is like some kind of Mallard or the ubiquitous Black Ducks we have all over this region, this little duck is far from ordinary.  He's another example of how amazingly Nature can design a creature.  See the photo to know what I am saying; he's just a jewel with feathers and a truly golden pair of eyes.

When I come across another reminder of how Nature combines color, design and an overall package that works so perfectly, it often makes me wonder about the reason that Beauty is so consistent in the natural world. I have no idea that the birds and flowers, the clouds and waves, the light phenomena, and Nature in its entirety were created by chance.  Nor do I sense that an anthropomorphized deity created all of this for our amusement or benefit in any way.  Nature--all of it--has evolved over the millions of years since this planet was a hot roiling mass of elements careening through space, because it has self-selected the qualities that it needed to continue the process of 'becoming'.  Each species--in whatever kingdom--has continually refined and evolved as it needed to in order to persist.

But, the real take-away from this scientific reality, is that Beauty is an integral part of the entire process.  It's not here for us...most certainly not....although there have clearly been legions of humans who have erroneously assumed that Nature is only here for us to use and to amuse us.  This is an unattractive artifact of the human ego, but it's been given a great assist along the way by the anthropocentric aspect of much religion too.  A male Goldeneye--or name your species of bird--became the stunning creature who now represents his species as a way of attracting a mate.  It needed to be ever more appealing in order for the species to propagate.

What this is telling us, is that birds, and a plethora of other species.....RECOGNIZE BEAUTY.  A particular bird of paradise from Papua New Guinea--it could easily be argued--is perhaps the most over-the-top beautiful creature on the planet.  When I saw such a bird on video, it almost took my breath away.  And then this 'bird-brain' put on a mating display that had me totally and utterly GOB-SMACKED.  And, it was indisputably all done to attract a female of his species.

So, what I am coming to here is this: we are not the only species on this planet that is aware.  If a simple duck or warbler can recognize beauty and respond to it, whose to say it cannot also respond to other forms of beauty in its environment.  We insist on holding ourselves up as so vastly superior, that we must be the focal point of all the natural world.  Well, the times are sending us the contemporary version of the same message that has been coming for several millennia now: we are not doing a very good job of being the 'smartest and only self-aware' beings on Earth.

In fact, we pretty much suck at it.  We are creating almost all of our own problems by means of our own arrogance, selfishness and stupidity.  Perhaps it's time we backed-off a little on the idea that God put us in charge and gave us permission to fuck everything up if we wanted to.  Doesn't that sound like a teenager who has burned down the house because he wanted to have a fire in the livingroom?