Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Professor Vic - Nominate the Hatcher!

I know I've been derelict in my blogging duties of late. Traditionally, and it is a tradition that as far as I know goes way back to at least 2003, December is a month that many bloggers choose to take a step back from the day to day demands of blogging and, in the spirit of this holy season, reflect on what they want others to buy them for Christmas. The Hatcher is no exception to needing this time to reflect on this same important topic.

I will be posting this year's Christmas card probably next week after I think people will have received it in the mail. Don't get your hopes up - the idea was good in concept but the staging didn't go well, due primarily to the fact that the Hatcher, as artistic director, was also a key actor in the scene, and had to delegate artistic direction duties to the Wife of Hatcher who is less gifted in this area (though more gifted in most others). Other problems included an egotistical 9 month old baby who insisted upon his own interpretation of the character I had scripted for him. Actors!

Anyway, I just have one observation, consistent with reflecting on what other people should get me for Christmas. With the death penalty being applied to Tookie Williams yesterday, and all the commentary surrounding the chance for clemency, it was often noted that his redemptive efforts in prison secured him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. What was left unsaid was the process for being nominated. Apparently, any professor of a social science (and other various fields), or any elected official in any country can nominate someone for the Peace Prize. So, here is my Christmas wish - I want Professor Vic to nominate me. Being nominated alone will be an excellent marketing tool for me in my business - it must at least be a tie breaker. And frankly, marketing myself as a guy who was taught by a Nobel prize winner hasn't had the effects I had hoped. So how bout it Professor Vic? It will cost you nothing. And it's not even like you'd really be honoring me - Stalin, Hitler, and Castro have all been nominated in the past. And even if I won I wouldn't necessarily consider it an honor to be grouped with Carter or Arafat.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Jagger Can't Get No Satisfaction - And That's a Good Thing

I’m in the SF airport and Bill Clinton is being interviewed by Cooper Anderson about his efforts to combat AIDs in Africa. Now what do you want to bet that Clinton will add his celebrity to the cause to the point that those inclined to view him well will someday consider him a great champion of the cause, and that likewise they will think the opposite of Bush. Eight years as President, full possession of the bully pulpit, and he did very little when he could have arguably done the most. Even Richard Gere, not so inclined to compare Bush favorably to Clinton, said that Bush has done far more for the cause than Clinton ever even attempted. Clinton does provide a great pitchman for a commercial that would shamelessly steal, with a little twist, the old catch line used to encourage seatbelt use: "contribute to AIDS research - the life you save could be mine." Although that might make some less inclined to support the cause.

I also saw a recent interview of Bono on 60 Minutes, where to my great disbelief they did not edit out his praise for the administration on this issue. Beyond that, he had said he had made an appeal specifically to the religious right within the party, who responded very positively to the challenge. So there you have it folks – the evil George Bush and the religious right elements of Congress – providing aid that in the words of Bono have lead to 200,000 Africans being alive today because of America. But the Nobel committee will always give the prize to the Carter; a guy like Reagan has to live only with the gratitude of all of Eastern Europe. It’s always the guys who talk the talk, and never the guys that walk the walk.

And by the way, the interview with Bono was done by Ed Bradlee. At what point will the baby boom generation grow up to the point that they will lose the infantile desire to be cool, which Bradlee displays by piercing his shriveled ear? On a related note, at what point will aging musicians be greeted with laughter when they belt out tunes intended to appeal to the angst of the teenager? How old, for example, does Mick Jagger have to be in order for people to cringe when he sings that he can’t get no satisfaction? At some point (probably long since past), isn’t the image of Jagger getting some satisfaction the larger cause for dismay among his listeners? A world where he gets his satisfaction is more distressing.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hatcher Solves Race Problem

If everything was determined by the common human condition, by social and cultural categories, and by chance, it would be useless to reflect on ways to make one’s life excellent. Fortunately there is enough room for personal initiative and choice to make a real difference. And those who believe this are the ones with the best chance to break free from the grip of fate.

That is a quote from a book called Flow, which reports some of the research done by a psychologist into what types of activities promote happiness. The basic thesis is that those activities which promote “flow”, a feeling that has you absorbed in the moment and not looking ahead or behind, are those that produce feelings of happiness. Most flow activities require some degree of challenge, so TV watching is considerably low on the flow meter. They also require some activation energy – planning and set up; unlike TV, for example, they are not just there at the click of a button. The author has done research on Nobel prize winning scientists, who interestingly enough share the view that one could say they’ve worked hard every day of their career, or alternatively one could say they hadn’t worked one day of their career. Such was the “flow” they experience in their work that it was more like play for them.

But what strikes me about the quote above is the last sentence – those who believe personal initiative and choice matter have the best chance to break from what social and cultural categories might otherwise condemn them to experience. It is consistent with the old sports cliché, if you believe you have no chance of winning you are right. Which brings me to some random thoughts on race relations.

There are certain people, specifically civil rights leaders and the faculty of African-American studies programs in the nation’s colleges and universities, whose demand stems from pushing the opposite view: that unless society or the government changes x, y, or z, all the personal initiative and choice matter little for their constituent population. Without saying that racial discrimination has been eliminated, it is nevertheless still possible to say that the barriers have been lowered enough to suggest that the efforts of someone like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton do more to impair the prospects of blacks than they do to enhance them. Because if you inflate the injustice (or even, possibly, if you don’t inflate it, but you command such media attention that in effect you do), and by doing so young blacks underestimate the power of personal initiative and choice, you contribute to their belief that what they do doesn’t matter – the system is against them. This of course contributes to the power, influence, and compensation of guys like Sharpton and Jackson.

It seems to me that this has two very pernicious effects: 1) it draws attention away from the most severe problem in the black community – father’s who abandon their responsibility to their kids; and 2) even when young blacks have made it to college, where arguably they have a wonderful opportunity to be in the clear, they are often sucked into a pseudo academic pursuit that tells them they are in fact far from being in the clear. And if they should be so influenced to the point that they choose to major in such drivel, they have probably succeeded in killing their own opportunity by choosing to invest in an education that provides them little more than a historically informed case for a grievance of discrimination in the event that they have a useful employable skill that goes unrewarded due to their race. But unfortunately by majoring in African-American studies, their race becomes rather irrelevant to the fact of their unemployability. They mistake getting sucked into four years of amassing a chip on their shoulder into an education that prepares them for the real world.

Of course there is a tradeoff – I am not in any way saying that Martin Luther King’s struggle wasn’t extremely beneficial – I am only saying that as the situation improves, there is a large incentive for some to paint the picture as always being worse than it is, and that at some point the inflation of the problem harms the people it ostensibly serves. If MLK inflated the issue, it would have been justified; when jokers like Jackson (in fairness, I do like the stand he took with Schiavo) and Sharpton pull away from their sales job of trying to convince everyone that whitey lives to get them, and they pull away in their limousine to attend some event where they stuff themselves with shrimp and an open bar surrounded by white liberals who look up to them and support them, you have to wonder about their own degree of cynicism.

My honest view is that those whites racist enough to discriminate on that basis are precisely those who will never be in a position to give their discrimination any bite; a neo-Nazi living off the grid in Idaho won’t be making hiring decisions for IBM.

In my graduate school days, I befriended an African American student in his 30s who took a class I taught. The guy was from California, and had 2 children by his girlfriend via the wonder of conjugal visits while in prison. He turned his life around, and started attending a community college in Fresno when he was released from prison. Upon the recommendation of an African-American advisor at his school, he chose to go on for a bachelor’s degree 2000 miles from his kids. Now you tell me what his childrens greatest obstacle was in life – a father who was encouraged without reservation to move 2000 miles away from them – or a guy like me ready to unconsciously be institutionally biased against him in my hiring decisions.

The attitude almost seems to be – if you got screwed by your father growing up (as he did) – you don’t owe anything to your own kids. Now what do you want to bet that there is not one person majoring in African American studies in the great universities of the land who has learned one lick about the problems of illegitimacy in the black community, but I would also bet a substantial proportion of them could write a memoir testifying to the problem at a personal level.

Sign up for my Notify List and get email when I update!

powered by