30 November 2007

Why Not Call it Disgusting Delirium

Does anyone else see something fundamentally wrong about this?
Taser International and another company closely linked to the manufacturer have paid the way for Ontario's deputy chief coroner to lecture at their conferences on the phenomenon of "excited delirium," a medically unrecognized term that the company often cites as a reason people die after being tasered.
Of course the man in question has demonstrated tremendously good judgement relative to the public good in the past: "at an inquiry in Ontario, [Dr. Cairns] admitted to shielding disgraced pathologist Charles Smith."

Participating in a symposium that seeks to create a convenient medical excuse for the police's excessive use of force in inappropriate circumstances is morally and ethically wrong in my book. Dr. Cairns' participation in such a cynical enterprise should disqualify him from giving any future testimony or opinions with regard to Taser-related deaths. Talk about conflating private business interests with the public good. (And Dr. Cairns: Since when is accepting an expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas from a company against whose product you might be called to testify not a conflict of interest? What the heck is going on in the coroner's office?)

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27 November 2007

Organizational Therapy and Healing

Although I can't claim the term, "organizational therapy," I can claim a unique approach to an emerging practice in organizational change and enterprise strategy. It's an approach that brings a therapeutic model to organizational healing.

Many organizations today have a sense that things are not quite right, that the constant pace of change is both wearying and not really changing anything (at least, for the better). There is a sense of general malaise in the enterprise, and the favourite spectator sport seems to be schadenfreude (or here for a more musical explanation). Organizations be experiencing tremendous trauma after org-chart re-orgs, mergers, divestitures, large-scale layoffs, or other similarly disruptive changes.

Part of the problem in getting out of the mire is how to find processes that are neither blame-shifting exercises nor superficial, rah-rah whitewashing of deeply entrenched, systemic issues. An even bigger part of the problem is that conventional management lexicons don't really have a good vocabulary of organizational dynamics that are consistent with the times in which we live. Let's face it, most informal management experience and formal management education are solidly based in Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, Hierarchical - BAH - organizations.

That's where I come in. Using the constructs of my Valence Theory of Organization, and using engaging and energizing facilitation tools, I can help create venues of culture change (scroll down to the section on "Effecting Organizational Transformation") in organizations that will help to enable the emergence of that elusive condition of success in the contemporary world, organization-ba (here, four paragraphs from the bottom, and here, in the section on "The Nature of Leadership").

Like any good therapist, I can't solve your problems. What I can do is facilitate your organization's members to collectively understand, and collaboratively begin a process of transformation towards solving those problems. Help is close at hand.

Update (31 July 2010): Here is the how-to guide for what I do.

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24 November 2007

Hope for a Troubled World

This is perhaps the yang to the yin of the previous post. Paul Hawken describes how the largest movement in the world came into being, and just how large it is: a movement with no name, no particular location, no ideology, and "not led by a male vertebrate." After watching, head over to WiserEarth.org, to connect with organizations, people, resources and more.

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23 November 2007

Unsubscribe Me: Disturbing Video and Campaign Against Torture

Among the insidious aspects of government-sanctioned torture are the euphemisms used to describe it. Softening the citizenry against its outrage is almost as important as "softening" detainees to reveal information that may or may not be accurate - and usually is not. (And note even the use of the word "softening" as the euphemistic substitution for "torturing.")

Two campaigns have begun to enable people to know precisely what is being done in their names: informed consent of the public is, after all, a requirement for democratic governance. One is waterboarding.org that explains,
Waterboarding induces panic and suffering by forcing a person to inhale water into the sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and lungs.

The head is tilted back and water is poured into the upturned mouth or nose. Eventually the subject cannot exhale more air or cough out more water, the lungs are collapsed, and the sinuses and trachea are filled with water. The subject is drowned from the inside, filling with water from the head down. The chest and lungs are kept higher than the head so that coughing draws water up and into the lungs while avoiding total suffocation. "His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown."
Especially have a look at this brief analysis on why waterboarding can be considered as the ideal torture.

The second campaign comes with a warning: the video is extremely disturbing, and is not recommended for viewing by those who are easily traumatized. Unsubscribe-me.org is an organization that is calling for people to unsubscribe themselves from supporting government-sanctioned torture, effectively withdrawing the democratic mandate that a government enjoys to perpetrate such atrocities.
Waiting For The Guards is the first of 3 films commissioned by Amnesty to highlight the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the “War on Terror”.

The Directors approached the making of the film in a way that has never been done before, choosing to show the reality of Stress Positions in as authentic a way as possible. They filmed a person being put into Stress Positions over a 6 hour period. There is no acting on the part of the “prisoner” – his pain and anguish is for real.

This powerful film shows without doubt that what the US administrations say is interrogation is in reality, torture and must be stopped.
Additionally, there is an interview with the director, and with the "prisoner" about their experiences. In addition to seeing the actual effects of a so-called Stress Position, what is almost as disturbing is what can only be described as the banality of evil in the torturer, juxtaposed with the horror. After the film, you can unsubscribe yourself from giving tacit approval to torture. As of today, over 125,000 people have unsubscribed. Count yourself in, by counting yourself out.

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"Getting Paid is the Name of the Game"

Not the Daily Show has a great take on the Writers' strike that has sent all the late-night talk shows and much of daytime TV into reruns. Watch for a bunch of wintertime lameness on the tube as well as new episodes of top shows aren't being written. The issue is, of course, money - the media companies say they don't know how to value Internet content in order to pay the writers fair residual fees, while at the same time... well, watch the video for the creative spark, and great satire, of The Daily Show.

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19 November 2007

Shocking Denial

An item caught my eye today in the Globe and Mail concerning the tragic death of Robert Dziekański, the man who was effectively executed by Taser, courtesy of RCMP officers at Vancouver Airport. The Globe published a statement attributed to Tom Smith, the founder and chairman of Arizona-based TASER International Inc. Among other things, Smith denies that the tasering was the cause of Dziekański's untimely demise, saying,
The video of the incident at the Vancouver airport indicates that the subject was continuing to fight well after the TASER application. This continuing struggle could not be possible if the subject died as a result of the TASER device electrical current causing cardiac arrest. His continuing struggle is proof that the TASER device was not the cause of his death. Further, the video clearly shows symptoms of excited delirium, a potentially fatal condition marked by symptoms of exhaustion and mania such as heavy breathing, profuse sweating, confusion, disorientation and violence toward inanimate objects.

We are taken aback by the number of media outlets that have irresponsibly published conclusive headlines blaming the TASER device and/or the law enforcement officers involved as the cause of death before completion of the investigation. These sensationalistic media reports completely ignore the earmark symptoms of excited delirium shown in the video. TASER International is transmitting over 60 legal demand letters requiring correction of these false and misleading headlines and will take other actions as appropriate. These unsubstantiated, false headlines mislead the public and could adversely influence public policy...
As most people know by now, the RCMP were neither completely truthful, nor forthcoming, about the incident until the video surfaced, and they made every attempt to make the video disappear from the public eye until the videographer, Paul Pritchard, went to court to rescue the only real piece of hard evidence. There is much to be said about the RCMP officers' culpability in the death: from the near-immediate use of what has turned out to be deadly force, to the duration of the electrocution, to their reluctance to call for medical assistance until after they were sure the man was dead. But I'll let others discuss the police response.

Mr. Smith's response is another matter altogether. He assigns the cause of death by what he calls, "excited delirium." Of course, Mr. Smith is not medically trained. So-called "excited delirium" is a completely fabricated, and not medically recognized, condition that has been applied exclusively to deaths of people who are in police custody, typically when excessive force is being used. In most cases, it is a pseudo-medical, postmortem descriptor that is most frequently hung on death associated with Taser. That the press is all over this apparently excessive use of force is neither irresponsible nor "sensationalistic." Reporting on what might be inappropriate use of force resulting in death is what the press is supposed to do so that the public, represented by elected officials and duly charged civil servants, can appropriately decide public policy.

How dangerous is the Taser? Despite the fact that it has been tested many times on police officers who will ultimately administer the electroshocks, the fact is that all human tests have been done under controlled conditions, with the victim being prepared for the shock. Clearly, the only tests that appropriately mimic field conditions are those that have resulted in several hundred deaths throughout North America. How lethal is it? According to the Wikipedia article on Electroshock Weapons, "M-26 Taser models produce a peak current of 18 amperes in pulses that last for around 10 microseconds... Electrical current above 10 mA at 60Hz AC is considered to be potentially lethal to humans..." The Tasers in question apparently deliver this current at 50,000 volts. The article goes on to describe that the actual current flowing through the body depends on a number of physical factors relating to conductivity - suffice it to say that when someone is excited or in distress, their physical conductivity of electricity increases, thereby increasing the weapon's lethal potential.

It is not surprising that Mr. Smith is taking an aggressive legal stance against those who cast his product as an aggressive, offensive weapon, thereby stirring a review of public policy. Indeed, the Toronto Police and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary have put large orders of Tasers on hold. Mr. Smith's business stands to lose a tremendous amount of revenue if a public outcry against the Taser takes hold. However, I would say that this is largely a problem of Mr. Smith's (company's) own making. They have marketed the Taser as being relatively safe, and convinced police forces around the world that it is a better alternative for subduing a non-compliant suspect. If police officers were re-educated to place the Taser alongside their service revolver in the hierarchy of force, and required to document its use as rigorously as they must do when they fire a bullet, the public would be better served and better protected. And, Mr. Smith's protests notwithstanding, serving and protecting is the business of the police, and therefore, the business of the public.

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18 November 2007

Managing Without Managers; Leading Without Leaders

I had a minor epiphany recently regarding the BAH-ness of action items (or if you like your jargon just a little more obfuscated, “actionable”). One of the key characteristics of the BAH organization is that it is primarily and predominantly focused on functions, outcomes, responsibilities and accountability. Essentially, bureaucracies are defined to accomplish the instrumentality of the system for which it is formed, that instrumental purpose being of paramount importance. Administrative procedures are installed to ensure that the system accomplishes that purpose. The people become interchangeable parts in the machinery of the system, with a hierarchy instituted so that communication can be both efficiently disseminated (going down), and efficiently concentrated (going up). Hierarchies are also good for establishing responsibility and accountability – in other words, who gets blamed when something goes wrong, since, in a well designed system, the system itself is never to blame. It is only when people deviate from the established administrative procedures that things go wrong - ideally, speaking, of course.

What this means is that when a group of people come together to analyze a situation and come up with new and potentially more effective approaches, that session must always end with a set of action(able) items for which somebody, or bodies, must take responsibility. After all, without someone responsible, who will ensure that the items “get actioned?” There’s also the little matter of who to blame when little happens. Or something goes wrong. Or both.

Last spring, our department had a strategy retreat. All faculty, staff and a representative contingent of students were invited off-site for a full day session to reconsider our department’s vision. This day was a culmination of an extensive amount of research undertaken by our then-new Department Chair, with a student research assistant. Our new Chair had interviewed every member of the faculty and staff, and (together with the department student association) conducted a series of focus groups with students. The data was collated and compiled, and provided a number of themes for our department that were hashed through using a World Café format.

By the end of the day, a large number of recommendations and undertakings were created for each of six overarching themes, ranging from the way we see ourselves, through environmental issues in our physical surroundings, to communication, and internal bridging of our two programs. The Chair asked for each group to appoint a person who would take responsibility for following up on the various recommended undertakings. The answer was a resounding NO! Everyone had quite enough to do, thank you very much. Although the day was unanimously hailed as a success, and everyone was keen for another similar event, no one wanted to take on the additional workload of being responsible for yet more items added to their personal to-do lists. Thanks for the conversations, but no thanks for the increased workload. Somewhat chagrined, the Chair reluctantly but wisely deferred to the wisdom of the crowd.

Fast forward six months. At the beginning of the second World Café session, this time in our large lounge area, the student facilitator asked for those who had attended the prior session to report on anything that might have happened to be accomplished in their thematic area. She expected this to take perhaps 10 minutes or so for the six groups. Forty-five minutes later, the list of initiatives that had been accomplished or at least started was startling for its breadth and depth. This was truly remarkable, if not somewhat confusing. No one apparently had time to be willing to take responsibility for any of the action items six months prior. Yet most people had, in some smaller or larger way, contributed to an extensive list of successful undertakings.

Startled by this result, I asked myself the obvious question: Would the accomplishments had been the same if certain people actually had responsibility for project managing the various thematic groups? Of course, it’s impossible to say what might have happened, but I think not. Since no one person had responsibility, everyone became responsible. The nature of the day’s conversation was sufficient to create a common contextual awareness and gain an agreement on some fundamental aspects of the department’s culture. This allowed people to align their priorities with a common awareness of what was important, thereby enabling them to direct their non-instrumental efforts (i.e., activities that were not necessarily part of their official job requirements) to accomplish those things that contributed to the common culture, those items that were identified during the retreat day.

How did this happen? I'm guessing that in a UCaPP organization, the cultural ground becomes what is commonly shared because of the emphasis on creating relationship in the ground, rather than superficially as figure. Contrast this with a more conventional BAH organization that has a shared mission, vision and purpose – all figure items that pay little heed to the context that gives them meaning to individuals. In a UCaPP organization, people can manage themselves for the effects that they create in the total environment; in a BAH organization, people must be managed to accomplish the organization’s objectives that might not align well with the valence relationships that are supposed to tie people together in a cohesive organization.

A common ground of valence relationships may well be the secret to managing without managers, and leading without leaders.

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17 November 2007

For Whom the Bell Tolls... or Doesn't , As the Case May Be

Leigh relates her tale of woe concerning her last hurrah with Bell Mobility. Very short version: Leigh is a long-term, high-spending Bell Mobility customer. She dropped her phone. Phone broke. Goes to Bell Store, but is not ready to make a long-term decision about her next phone. "Will you do something to retain me as a customer (i.e., with a temporary phone) until I decide on my next permanent phone?" "No, because if we do we'll lose money (potentially $70 in the short term, ignoring the fact that Leigh typically spends about $300 a month)." Upshot: Goodbye Bell, hello Telus.

Leigh spends some time on her blog talking about "co-investment" - the idea that companies and customers "co-invest" in each other over time, thereby solidifying a long-term relationship. She quite reasonably asks,
If companies are not willing to invest in me then why should I be willing to invest in them? It’s not short term thinking. It’s not the old world of command control and creation…..but a new model of symbiotic marketing (or what I call Green Man marketing) that sees customers as part of the ecosystem. Similar to James Locklock's Gaia Theory blowing the philosophical door open on the way we viewed ourselves as controllers of the planet, new approaches that view our relationships in terms of our mutual contribution, our mutual roles and our mutual investments and gains, becomes a new basis for an changing business, management and marketing landscape.
In relationship marketing terms, they speak about customer loyalty that suggests trust, that leads to advocacy, the holy grail of RM.

I see Leigh's point, and I think she's taking a slice through one aspect of what I would call Valence Marketing, that derives from the foundation of my Valence Theory of Organization. Traditional marketing practice, even all gussied up with relationship talk, and vocabulary like "co-investment" and "symbiosis," still has a predominant focus on manipulating consumers to spend money for goods and services. In critical marketing discourse, such as that suggested in Gee, Hull, and Lankshear's 1996 book, The New Work Order: Behind the language of the new capitalism, companies sell a lifestyle, and then provide the goods and services to create that lifestyle. It's all about the manipulation, and control of the customer, whether it is expressed in terms of "mind-share," "share of wallet," or "owning the living room." In my conversations with organizations, there seems to be the sinking feeling among some executives that this sort of mentality is becoming less effective when implemented in campaigns.

In Valence terms, customers become part of the organizations with which they do business not only through economic relationships, but equally important, through relationships of identity, knowledge, socio-psychology, and ecology. In the case of Leigh and the Bouncing Bell, Leigh had a strong(-ish) identity relationship with Bell as a Bell customer, particularly through the economic (i.e., value) exchange that she enjoys every month (and Bell probably enjoys even more). Had Bell realized the importance of both the knowledge valence (their mutual knowledge of Leigh's spending and long-term Bell experience), and the socio-psychological valence (bad word-of-mouth is a bitch; bad word-of-mouse is a persistent bitch), not to mention Bell happily rending asunder her identity relationship as a Bell customer, the potential loss of $70 is a pretty darn cheap bet.

To me, this isn't just a simple matter of how decisions are made. Rather it is a question of how the organization self-conceives, and on that basis, how decisions are able to be made, all the way down to the retail clerk.

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16 November 2007

The Agenda on Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur

Yes, I'm behind. Way behind. I was on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin last week, on a panel that followed a feature interview with author Andrew Keen talking about his controversial book, The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture. I was reminded of it when a friend asked me if I support, or not, the premise of Keen's book.

I responded by telling her that I unequivocally reject Andrew Keen's premise. Essentially, he sets up a strawman (strawperson?) argument that talent is scarce and must be appropriately nurtured through a series of sanctioned and authorized gatekeepers that comprise the various, interlinked hierarchies of knowledge (and culture) authority. Thus, publishers, boards of university regents, music companies, producers and the like serve to identify so-called raw talent, provide the resources to nurture that talent and expose it to appropriate opportunities, and develop that talent into those who ultimately contribute to the compendium of wisdom that we call knowledge, and to the larger culture in general. The entire enterprise is, and should be, governed by market forces that are so effective in determining merit, worth and value, dontcha know.

Among many other claims, Keen's primary claim is that the Internet, in its non-discriminating, supposedly egalitarian access-for-all that does away with traditional market forces, eliminates the ability to relatively assess what is of value to the culture and what is dross to be shucked off. What we are left with, according to Keen, is a morass of user-produced artefacts without any way of determining what is of value, so that base populism rules the day, creating the titular Cult of the Amateur.

This argument is problematic twenty-five ways to Sunday. I'll touch on three aspects, without getting deep into the critical (ie. power, voice, marginalization, control, resistance, exclusion) considerations that are probably the most troubling. Suffice it to say that whenever one has gatekeepers who get to decide what comprises knowledge and who has the opportunity to contribute, critical considerations allow us to readily identify the relations of power, from which one can assess the intrinsic values of the society in question.

First, Keen's argument is based on the assumption that the Internet eliminating authority is a new phenomenon. It's not. The generational rebellion against authority goes back 3000 years, and continues to replay regularly throughout the ages.

Second, his argument supposes that modernity (i.e., late 19th and 20th century) got this whole business of creating culture and knowledge right, and that we are at the pinnacle of our ability to produce cultural and knowledge artefacts. That is a type of arrogance that we have also seen over the past 3000 years - at every age, the privileged have assumed that they are at the zenith of advancement and enlightenment. And every time, they are wrong (and if you watch the Keen interview, you'll see precisely what I mean about privilege and arrogance).

Third, what Keen decries about the Internet has infested the traditional mass media, and arguably academic publishing. It is causing far more damage to the level of discourse, democratic participation, the evolution of the culture and the enlightenment of the masses (to be entirely arch about it) than the Internet is able to do, at least now and for the next decade or so. Although I half-facetiously claim that American Idol is indicative of the most profound cultural change to occur to Western society in nearly 150 years (since it flips mass media from being media FOR the masses to media BY the masses), it also extends and enhances populism to an extreme (which forces the reversal in mass media), obsolescing the very gatekeepers to which Keen would otherwise appeal. It also retrieves the old fashioned talent show - we used to have a TV show in Southern Ontario the '50s and '60s (which apparently ran through the 90s, too - who knew?) called Tiny Talent Time.

Finally, (and this is point four of three :) Keen ignores the entire issue of epochal break boundaries that is the foundation of McLuhan's work, and the Toronto School of Communication. In doing so, he ignores history and the (perhaps not so) simple realization that whenever we changed the dominant mode of communication in Western culture, all of its structural and founding institutions have gone into reversal, obsolescing (among other things) the former institutions that defined knowledge and knowledge authority. As we are now traversing the third cultural break boundary (a process that I claim takes about 300 years), we should expect to experience what appears to be a breakdown in knowledge and culture authority. But then again, as McLuhan observed, "breakdown is breakthrough."

The video with the panel I did about Keen's book is posted on TVO's site for The Agenda with Steve Paikin. Keen is interviewed for about 30 minutes - you'll get a good sense of the man from the interview - and then the panel starts.

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09 November 2007

Justice, American Style

This article from the Globe and Mail speaks for itself.
A never-before-disclosed American eyewitness to the furious battle in Afghanistan where Omar Khadr allegedly tossed a grenade has cast doubt on whether the teenager was an “unlawful” combatant, his defence team said Thursday...

“It is totally outrageous that the prosecution would try to push ahead with a hearing on whether or not Khadr was an unlawful enemy combatant, while all the time withholding from the defence potentially exculpatory information,” said Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch. “Anyone who has ever gone to law school knows the fundamental legal and ethical rule: The prosecution cannot withhold exculpatory information from the defence.”

If he is acquitted, senior Bush administration officials have said he might remain detained indefinitely at Guantanamo anyway.

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04 November 2007

On BAH and Counter-BAH

An associate from my department wrote and asked me:
I am speaking to the way education seems to be veering more rapidly from the path that society is taking. I have singled out BAH as one of two issues that need addressing.

Do you feel that a person working within a strong BAH can actually develop structures that are counter-BAH? Is it within their thinking to see how they cannot be in control? Is BAH not a manifestation of a left brain dominated world? How do you see BAH and "the other" co-existing?
Here's my response:

You ask some very good, and very large questions. There is a lot of background that I can share with you that might help frame and contextualize your thinking. Much of it is contained in my paper, Why Johnny and Janey Can’t Read, and Why Mr. and Ms. Smith Can’t Teach (and echoed in How Do We Know: The changing culture of knowledge).

I see the change in education as inevitable, because historically, change has move through society as inexorably as a glacier, and left a corresponding reshaping of the cultural terrain. Societies take a very long time to recognize that change is occurring, and to adapt: Most people are vested in the world to which they have been born, and the unique reality that such a world constructs for them. As I describe in Johnny and Janey, each subsequent generation is born into a world that is ever more foreign to the progenitor generation – especially now, in our time, that we have passed what I call the break boundary of the current cultural epoch. As my children become educators, managers, politicians, policy makers, and even butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, and their children replace them, and so on, each subsequent generation will have an increasing number among them that see the inadequacies of older structures and norms. The relative rate of change will appear to increase as Western society moves toward the completion of its systemic reversal, a reversal for which structural evidence is historically clear.

In the same way that Antonio Gramsci (inspired by Lenin) describes “organic intellectuals” from whom a counter-hegemony emerges that reshapes a culture, so too do a different sort of organic intellectuals emerge from among the BAH-ness to achieve what McLuhan describes as integral awareness of the total environment – simply put, what is occurring right now that is unnoticed and effectively invisible to the majority of society. I do not think that it is a matter of left-brain thinking, primarily because both left- and right-brain thinking in the modern age were structured by the lineal effects stemming from the Gutenberg era (at least according to the discourse of the Toronto School of Communication). On the other hand, there is an awful lot of both left- and right-brain stuff that emerges from the UCaPP world that we would consider to be truly innovative, wondrous and amazing. And, of course, because we have only just passed the break boundary, we really ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

When you mention control, you have hit the nail on the head. Whereas BAH is all about control, the UCaPP world recognizes the dominance of complexity principles; in the words of a good friend of mine, “you might be in charge, but you’re never in control.” It is supremely difficult for anyone who is ensconced in a BAH organization to effect the types of changes that would truly reflect and inculcate a UCaPP culture. But, surprisingly, there are some who are effecting it naturally, as one might expect from an organic, but perhaps unwitting, intellectual. I have found several organizations, some of which might be participating in my research, that are precisely making that transition from the BAH world into becoming an organization that is more consistent with the UCaPP world. They may express themselves using different vocabulary than I have chosen, but that does not diminish my observation that they do indeed seem to be quite consistent with a Valence Theory orientation.

As the language we choose defines the world we experience, I hope that some of my vocabulary will find its way into management, education, and political psyches. With an increasing number of people beginning to learn, and use, a new vocabulary, perhaps those of us who become somewhat fluent in the new language can contribute to creating a new way of being, learning, and playing joyously in the world. If history is indeed a teacher, the period of co-existence of BAH and UCaPP will indeed continue to be uncomfortable for both generations, until a future generation looks at their fully-formed UCaPP world and proclaims, “it’s always been this way; it’s just human nature.”

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Calling a Spade a Spade

Much debate in the land of the declining dollar about the confirmation of GWB's next nominee for the role of Euphemizer General. Apparently the confirmation hearings are held up over the issue of whether Michael B. Mukasey considers the practice of waterboarding as torture. Torture, of course, is illegal in the United States and when performed by Americans against those in American custody. Today's L.A. Times has an article (behind a paywall, but shared with me by a friend) that criticizes the mass newsmedia for its euphemistic treatment of the dubious practice. It also has an explicit description of what happens during a waterboarding session, provided by "Malcolm W. Nance, a veteran special operations consultant to various U.S. intelligence agencies and a master instructor in the U.S. Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program in San Diego. Nance also is an experienced Arabic-speaking interrogator."

Upstanding journals like the New York Times reported that Mukasey's confirmation is "in doubt over his refusal to state a clear legal position on a classified Central Intelligence Agency program to interrogate terrorism suspects." Nance, on the other hand, is far more explicit. Here's Nance's description of the euphemistic, sanitized and quite digestible-with-your-cornflakes "classified Central Intelligence Agency program to interrogate terrorism suspects," courtesy of the L.A. Times:
Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word. Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim's face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

"Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration -- usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right, it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threatened with its use again and again.
The question about whether torture should be used is not a question: torture is illegal in the U.S. Period. The question for both the Administration and Mr. Mukasey to answer is, does the above description constitute torture?

And the question for me: How has the mass newsmedia become so complicit, and therefore chosen to obsolesce itself?

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