Sunday, May 27, 2012

Baseball Uniform Numbers

If you ever get a chance to attend a game at Yankee Stadium, one thing you will get to see, in addition to all the World Series and championship pennants hanging in the rafters, is all the retired uniform numbers.  Baseball teams retire the uniform number of their stars in honor of the player who wore the number.  One thing you will notice with the Yankees is that most of the numbers they have retired are single digit: 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9 among the others. Professional baseball teams didn't start wearing uniform numbers until the 1920's. In this era, players would wear the number of their batting order. The 1920's had the famous Yankee's Murderer's Row of Babe Ruth hitting 3rd (#3 on his uniform) and Lou Gehrig batting 4th (#4). In this era the backup catchers wore #9 and the five starting pitchers wore numbers 10 through 14.  This practice became difficult to maintain because managers like to change the line-up throughout the season and fans come to identify a player with their numbers.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

CYA Culture

Imagine this scenario:

You are a professional baseball player on a team with some other incredibly talented athletes.  A ball is hit through the middle where neither the short stop or second baseman can get to it.  They try but with strained effort.  Why don't they try harder?  They knew if they got the ball, they'd never be able to make the play at first.  So they don't try harder, because they feared making an error.  As the ball goes past them, they point to each other with blame as the ball goes into the outfield.  Talented athletes with some obvious flaws.

The ball continues into the outfield but the ball continues to roll past the center fielder.  Why?  He doesn't get the ball because he isn't sure he has the proper paperwork filed to cover himself.  His manager hasn't approved his pursuing the ball.  This isn't his problem.  The other other fielders are busy on the phone with their lawyers to make sure that they are covered.

Okay, you got me, this is an absurd scenario.  Clearly if a team acted in this manner, regardless of their talent, they would never win a game.  Yet for many corporate offices this is the culture that exists. Covering yourself is king. Doing the right thing for the team, taking ownership of a situation even it would reflect badly on you, seems to be a thing of the past.  You hear often about how our society is suffering from a crisis of leadership, but it seems deeper than that.  A crisis of management is more like it.  When we work in an environment where finger pointing is more likely than collaboration, where asking for help is a sign of weakness rather than strength, then not only the team loses, everyone does the fans, the franchise, the nation.

A few years ago, I found myself in a Providence bar talking/arguing about Max Weber and goal displacement with a couple of strangers. The conversation was so intense that I looked up and noticed the bar had been closed around us.  I didn't know I was chatting with the owner.  The general feeling was that organizations are bound to lose. Their goals are eventually displaced by a sense of self-preservation. If your organization's goal is to wipe our birth defects, what going to happen to your career, if your organization succeeds. You might lose your job and your career is in shambles.  So your goal gets displaced with the goal of self-preservation.  One has to wonder if the same can be said for individuals.  Given a certain social environment or management style, do people preserve their own ass over the long term goal of their team?  Umm ... you betcha!  No biggie if you are a barista, but you are a surgeon, designing bridges, building bombs, or even supporting a database, you need to work in an environment where making an error is acceptable, admitting you made is safe and the team has your back. You don't fail as an individual you succeed as a team.  If the ball goes through your legs into the outfield, you need to know your teammates will be getting the ball not lining up to blame you for the errors.  That is the job of the fans in the bleachers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sunnis and Shias

Back in the 2000's I remember hearing, possibly from comedian Bill Maher, how President Bush (42nd) didn't know the difference between the Shia and Sunni Islam.  I don't know how true it was, but it made me shutter in embarrassment not only (for my President if it were true) but for myself because I didn't know either.  Since I am not and never will be the leader of the free world, I got over it pretty quickly.

I always assumed that the schism was over something that happened a long time ago, I just never realized how long ago.  When the Islamic Prophet Muhammad died in 620 C.E. the schism occurred over how succession would be handled.  The Shia wanted succession to be based on an election by the caliphs (basically, the leaders of Islamic communities).  The Sunnis wanted the succession to be handed down through the Prophets descendants.  This would begin with his cousin and son-in-law Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. The two sects differ in a lot other ways since then.

A majority of all Muslims in the world are Sunnis (75 to 90%).  Only about 15% are Shia.  Other smaller sects are Sufism, Ahmadiyya, Ibadi, Quaranists, Yazdânism and the newest, the Nation of Islam.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Frampton's Guitar

As a rock n' roll fan, I was excited to learn that Peter Frampton's lost guitar (a custom Gibson Les Paul)  was returned to him recently.  This is the guitar that he played on the famous Frampton Comes Alive album from 1976.  If my Junior High years were made into a movie, this album  could be the soundtrack.  You may remember this guitar from the album cover. 

In 1980, while on tour in South America, the cargo plane carrying his guitar blew up on take-off on its way to the next gig in Panama.  It was his favorite guitar.  He had it since he played in Humble Pie at San Fransisco's Filmore West in 1970.  The assumption was that it burned with the rest of the cargo.

A couple of years ago, it turned up on the Caribbean island, Curaçao.  The guy who had it in his possession for many years brought it into a guitar shop to be repaired.  The guitar was recognized by two guys who are much bigger fans than I am.  They bought the guitar, repaired it and returned it to Frampton last month in Nashville after much effort involving customs and Curaçao's tourism bureau.  Its authenticity was verified by the experts at Gibson.  It is playable but does not play with its original quality.  It was created in 1954; it is just a few years younger than Frampton.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Renter's Revolt

History is so fascinating.  I really kick myself that when I was kid, I hated it.  It was the one subject in grade school I had no interest in. This might be one of the reasons that I blog about history so often because I know so little, therefore I learn a lot about it. It is not entirely my fault. It seems that almost every year in grade school we covered just about the same history:  the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II.  The most recent event we ever got to was the Korea War and we barely touched on that.  At that point, the Korean War was 30 years old.  We didn't come close to any current history like Watergate or the space race.

We often went from learning about the American Revolution and went right into the American Civil War covering little of what occurred between these two events.  I was always more interested in the Revolutionary than the Civil War.  I grew in the American Northeast, near many of the pivotal Revolutionary events, I wonder if that is why.  I also wonder if they would have taught us more about the Industrial Revolution, I would have been more engaged.

The Anit-Rent War (or the Renter's Revolution) is one of those events that happened miles away from where I grew up in Rhode Island (among other places) that may have piqued my interest in history. Early in American history only land owners could vote. This may have made sense in an agrarian society where people owned large tracts of land and farmed them. But once the industrial revolutionary occurred, with factories requiring large amounts of people to work in small spaces, this didn't make a lot of sense. Change didn't happen because it didn't make sense, change happened because people saw the injustice and revolted.

In Providence, 12,000 workers (aka renters) had no vote while the 5,000 land owners could.  The Rhode Island Suffrage Association was formed by Thomas Dorr, a Providence lawyer, the People's Party was formed and a constitution ratified by thousands.  If I had only been taught more about how kick-ass "Little Rhody" was when I was a kid, with such awesome figures like Dorr and Roger Williams,  I might not have been so down on  my home state.  Eventually, RI's elected governor, Samuel King, declared martial law and arrested Dorr.  Dorr spent a year in jail.  That's a year of hard labor and solitary confinement.

If you look at a list of RI governors now, you will see Dorr on the list as an extralegal governor.  He never served as official governor.  RI drew up their third state constitution, while Dorr was serving his time, in 1843.  In it, universal white male suffrage was included.  Not perfect, but an improvement.  Progress comes in baby steps.