Posts Tagged ‘board’

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Who’s Not Getting It?

2008.December.15

The parents at Rowlett High School who got Rent cancelled, that’s who.

I mean, I don’t know whether the “it” is the importance of learning other perspectives (even if you disagree with them), the importance of artistic expression that pushes boundaries so their children don’t end up stale and on stronger antidepressants than they take, the fact that lines like “hating dear old mom and dad” are jokes, or – yes I’ll say it – sex. Maybe they need to get laid. Maybe those parents just need to get tied down and something stiff extracted from (or inserted into) places they’re not supposed to be.

In case you haven’t heard, I’m talking about Rowlett High School’s recent cancellation of its student production of Rent, the hit Broadway musical set in mid-90’s East Village of Manhattan (“New York City?!”“Get a rope.”).

Forget that the show’s depiction of drug use is anything but positive, or that its representation of gay lifestyles is anything but simple, or that the musical was made into a PG-13 movie just a couple years ago, or that some of the offensive material was pared down for the school version (which had already been approved by administrators who were very unlikely to be hippie liberals), what bothers me is that the kids are going to miss out on putting on a good show with a good message. Rent celebrates friendship, creativity, critical self-determination, and even monogamy and presents life as ambivalent and complicated.

Guess it’s better if the kids learn that on their own when they go away to college (not knowing how to put on a condom) or take a monotanous job down at the cubicle farm.

Honestly, I was surprised the cancellation came so slowly once the local news started to report, but the administrators were wiley. They got the theater director to cancel the production “for the good of the school” rather than cancelling it from on high. This way, not only is the director responsible for ever suggesting such a barbaric notion, it also keeps angry protesters from harassing the board and other administrators. “Well, we were taking it under serious advisement, but the theater director made the final decision before we had made up our minds.”

The theater director takes the fall, before the students or all of the parents could speak.

The noisemakers win this round.

I have an idea I would love to see happen for a reaction from the community. On the date when the play would have opened (or possibly the date of the next board meeting), gather as many local defenders of Rent and of student expression as possible outside the building and sing the soundtrack from the sidewalk, beginning to end. Show them what the play is really about: people coming together (Hell, if the musical glamorizes anything, it’s how absolutely lonely NYC can get when you haven’t found a community there, and that’s antithetical to the plot).

But I believe in grassroots starting locally. Such a protest should originate with members of the Rowlett community (preferably students and parents), and the only family I knew there moved elsewhere earlier this year (which is too bad, too, because the kids – ages 14 and 11 – know the Rent soundtrack by heart!). But if my idea happened to be picked up and promoted by a student, parent, or teacher in Rowlett or the greater Garland ISD, I would be happy to attend and invite all my friends and allies. Maybe they could tie it to Prop 8 protests… those folks are still trying to figure out what to do with all their anger.

But in the meantime, I hope a rebellious teacher will at least show the crappy film version on movie day. It’s a Christmas story, too, you know.

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What’s with Corporate Capitalism?

2008.November.20

Back in grade school, even high school, capitalism seemed like a pretty straightforward concept: If you made a decent product that people needed and sold it at a decent price, you’d make a good living for yourself.

The simplicity seemed to encourage long-term strategy and thoughtful improvements. Specialization was important. You wouldn’t cut back on quality unless you had to, because the name on that product was probably your name or the name of someone whom you respected and you didn’t want to see it tarnished. Customers would know their role in this system.

But that isn’t really how American capitalism works, now, is it?

The rule of the day is corporate capitalism, since those small businesses politicians love to court account for less than half of private payroll in the U.S. (and keep in mind that payroll does not even include investment income).

Corporate capitalism makes money for investors by doing whatever makes the most profit. It doesn’t have to be a product, sometimes it’s not even much of a service. Profit cannot be allowed to level out, it must increase each year, by leaps and bounds, to remain competitive. That means unrestrained, unyielding growth. Specialization means you’re not thinking big. Brand names are frequently exploited to promote something unimpressive, and if you’re not growing fast enough, you use advertising to create the demand. Urgency encourages short-term strategy and artificial innovation to fix what ain’t broke. Good products are lost because the business model is not sound, or they get corrupted by overreach and their quality declines. Market share is more important than customer satisfaction, and if you can’t beat your competitor, you should buy them.

And in case you haven’t picked up on this little nuance yet, for most publicly-traded companies, you are not the customer. Many corporations actually have it in their mission statements that making money for their stockholders is a higher priority than most, if not all, other goals. These guys believe strongly in spending money to make money, so it’s the investors’ money they’re after, not yours. The investor is the customer. You are the product.

Well, what’s wrong with all that? Unhinged growth can’t be all that bad, can it? Well, let’s just ignore the moral ambiguities about how much (money, debt, conspicuous consumption) is too much and ask ourselves, logically, where does it end? How big is too big? If the goal of every company is continuous growth, eventually that company could (in logical extreme) eventually reach every human being on this planet and sell them more than they possibly have time and energy to use. Unless we find extraterrestrial life by that point (and they’re big on bling), where does the market go? Sure, the market will correct itself; businesses will fail, people will lose their jobs, and good products with bad business plans will get lost.

In more realistic terms, every market has a limit (it’s the law of supply and demand), and you can only push it so far artificially before it stalls. The larger any institution becomes, the slower it is to respond to change, even though that’s how growth happens. Business models that depend on new funding get into trouble when the new funding isn’t coming fast enough. An economy based on continuous growth can’t just slow down. Deceleration is negative growth; it’s shrinking your profit margin and maybe even losing money, so your stockholders sell. Deceleration is death.

The reason so many people get angry at corporations is that the people most vulnerable in a situation like bankruptcy will be those who were furthest from the planning. Enron was the exception, not the rule, for sending a couple of executives to jail for clear violations of the law. Our country is usually forgiving to money-masters who can afford a good accountant and twelve good lawyers. They just get a bonus and an offer for another corporate leadership position – it doesn’t even have to be in the same industry! – and the rest are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, not ask for unemployment or non-corporate welfare, and get out of the way of those who are still living the American Dream.

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What’s Your Stake?

2008.November.13

All other things equal, would you rather have an insider or an outsider representing you on policy matters?

John Steele Gordon, a commentator on NPR’s Marketplace, today contended that for Treasury Secretary, President-Elect Obama should select “a fox who knows the weak spots in the hen house”… someone like Henry Paulson. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have someone who knows a security from an exchange. (Gordon’s delivery was so dry it sounded like satire until he cited founding SEC Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy as an example of someone whose success came because he “knew where the bodies were buried” and “what reforms were needed”.)

Meanwhile in Texas, we have a member of the Texas State Board of Education who has taken it upon herself to warn America that the president-elect is not an American and will institute martial law. A little out of her jurisdiction, yes, but not much more than her position on the board – where she helps develop the public school curriculum – considering her side work developing a curriculum for “church study groups, home schools and private school classrooms” that her own children have only attended home school and private school.

Is it too much to ask that officials elected or nominated to serve a specific sector (such as education, FEMA, energy, international relations…) have some direct experience in that sector? Even if you believe in changing a system as it exists, you can’t (well, shouldn’t) just make an immediate and unmitigated 180 turn away from established policy. You probably don’t want to turn your car around on the highway without slowing down and exiting. You probably don’t want to put a communist in charge of trade (despite some of Obama’s frothier detractors’ certainty that very thing will happen). You probably don’t want a vegan as your butcher, a Mormon in your porn, or a misanthrope as your spokesperson.

Look for someone who has at least some vested stake in the work ahead. Even if they aren’t a member of your political wing. The party operatives might do more harm than good. Sometimes intentionally.

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