30 June 2010

New Scrutiny for a New Age

While the fiasco that was G20 policing only seems to be getting worse, and those who claim legitimated public authority, like Mayors, Premiers, and Chiefs of Police (not to name names or anything) are finding that unquestioning respect for their authority is diminishing among those who are most aware, astute, and thoughtful, AND the credibility of those who claim said authority is - how can I put this delicately? - in the dumper, perhaps it's time for a new approach to the entire problem.

The Royal Society for the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce - the RSA who is also responsible for the delightful and thought-provoking series of RSAnimates - has an interesting post from their Executive Director on Accountability and Public Scrutiny. Although Matthew Taylor is referring directly to the current situation of "hung Parliament" in the UK, some of his ideas apply equally well to a reconsidered analysis of how the G20 weekend in Toronto went horribly wrong (at least from the perspectives of preventing vandalism, enabling legitimate protest, and quelling some brutish police officers overstepping their legal authority). Taylor lists four elements of what he calls "post-bureaucratic" public scrutiny:
First, a much deeper and more imaginative commitment to public and user engagement in scrutiny. Like for example the award winning panel in Cheshire West and Chester which put huge efforts into engaging young people themselves in an assessment of services for ‘looked after children’.

Second, scrutiny has to offer a different order of evaluation – more rounded and in depth – than can come from other forms of performance assessment. Local government Secretary of State Eric Pickles has talked about ‘armchair auditors’ using new data sets like those now available on central and local public spending. Scrutiny has to show it can complement these forms of DIY accountability.

Third, scrutiny needs to spend less time on exploring whether policy solutions work and more on whether agencies are defining the problem adequately. A focus on problems inherently leads to a viewpoint which is both more ‘joined up’ and which sees the vital importance of public mobilisation.

Fourth, this focus on problems builds a bridge from scrutiny about the past to deliberation about the future. If scrutiny is going to be seen as relevant and worth funding it has to as much about getting policies right for the future as about reflecting on performance in the past.

I think the key for Canadian public policy - especially with respect to future engagements between the forces of authority and the forces of the public - lie in items three and four. ensure that the right questions are being asked, and deliberate about the future of policy rather than on defending or justifying past performance (which, one must emphasize, cannot be sloughed under the proverbial carpet). Very few of the right questions were being honestly asked by those in authority who held a primary focus on control (rather than enablement). Very few of the right questions were being honestly asked by those in the public who held a primary focus on speaking out (rather than being heard).

The result was clear: those who wanted to speak out were effectively, if brutally in many cases, controlled. No one was enabled to be heard. Sadly, the powers that be are not only unwilling to engage - in the attributed words of Police Chief Bill Blair, "I couldn't care less" - they are unable to engage. Equally sad, those who need to be heard have only learned to shout into the air; they too are unable to truly engage those with whom they disagree (largely because of their learned behaviours of confrontation and dialectical revolution, coming as they do from Marxist epistemology and ontology).

These are 20th century (and earlier) behaviours. It is long past time for all constituencies to come into the contemporary world and start to learn how to be effective today.

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29 June 2010

First-hand Testimony of Sunday's G20 Corral at Queen and Spadina

This first-hand account from my friend, Terra Dafoe, who was detained with her boyfriend at Queen and Spadina for four hours in the pouring rain. They were heading home and were among the hundreds of innocent bystanders rounded up for allegedly "breaching the peace" by, you know, walking home. Here's an excerpt:
At this point it began to rain and thunderstorm. Like most of those around us, we were in shorts and t-shirts so it didn’t take long for the pellets of rain to drench most of us to the core. A handful of people, including some elderly huddled underneath shelter next to the McDonalds. Police promptly ordered them to stand in the rain instead. We waited for hours in the cold intense rain; rain so hard the nearby DVP flooded. Some police joked about being cold too, even though they were in full riot gear, and told us to ‘stop pretending,’ as we shook violently from the cold. At least one man right beside Lucius collapsed and was promptly dragged out of the crowd by police. We were offered nothing in the way of comforting words and one officer told a group of people to use their body heat to keep each other warm, telling a distasteful joke about who stays warmer, a naked farmer or one in full clothes. Some officers who interacted with us, also used this time to belittle us...
Despite Police Chief Bill Blair's protestations to the contrary, this was not warranted. They weren't looking for any sort of criminal conspiracy, nor were they protecting the peace. The police had been embarrassed the day before and this was their last opportunity to retaliate. "Charter rights? Not on my watch!"

By the by, Terra isn't some activist flake, by any stretch of the imagination. She's doing a PhD in Counselling Psychology, and her research involves new methods to assist the rehabilitation of particularly egregious criminal offenders. Her boyfriend, Lucius, is a CBC producer. Not to equate Chief Blair with the egregious criminal offenders with whom Terra works, but it occurs to me that the Chief could probably benefit from some of Terra's methods.

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Understanding Bill Blair, Dalton McGuinty, and David Miller

I love it when current events validate my research, and theories of organization and leadership. I have often been left with a sense of wonderment at people whom I would expect to be basically ethical when they act in sometimes egregiously unethical manners. How could Dalton McGuinty claim that draconian, anti-Charter regulations are in keeping with the values and standards of Ontarians? Why does David Miller deny that we need an independent investigation into the countless allegations of police excesses during the G20 weekend - an investigation that would vindicate his Top Cop if indeed, as the powers-that-be claim, there was no wrongdoing? And why oh why does Police Chief Bill Blair step deeper and deeper into the muck, and then proceed to stick his mucky foot deeper into his mouth? (Yeah, I know, big yuck factor there, but this whole mess is pretty yucky. Here's a clue: pink-washing isn't an all-purpose cleanser.)

Would you be surprised if I said that Valence Theory offers an explanation? I didn't think so...

It's all right here, under the section "Coordination":
When a person’s Identity-valence relationship to the organization is predominantly fungible, there is, by definition, a tradable value associated with the status, class, and privilege that the Identity connection conveys. It becomes difficult for that individual to separate a personal view from that of the organizational role since it is nearly impossible for someone so constructed to publicly separate his or her self from that f‑Identity-valence connection. Thus, it is not uncommon for an individual to feel compelled to assume either an untenable, illogical, seemingly irrational, or unethical position with respect to a particular issue because s/he presumes – often incorrectly – that is the appropriate position for the Identity-role to assume. Because the person cannot separate him/herself from that f‑Identity-valence connection, s/he (to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan) loves her/his label – Identity – as her/his self. Amidst the dehumanizing influences that characterize BAH organizations, a strong, extrinsically created, f‑Identity-valence connection helps to disconnect the individual from acting on personal judgements, feelings, and core values...

...Put another way, a BAH manager will ask him/herself the f‑Identity question: “What decision would a manager in my position take; how (that is, through what defensible process) would s/he come to that decision?” In contrast, a UCaPP manager would ask an Identity-ba question: “What decision accurately represents the collective values of this organization to create the intended effects – the tactility – to which this organization aspires?”
Considered in a slightly different way, understanding the action of f‑Identity can help explain seemingly arbitrary, onerous, or self-righteous decisions that occasionally occur in BAH organizations.
So the solution to this sort of behaviour is really very simple. If you hold high office or a position of responsibility, all you have to do is - as my grandmother used to say - settle down and act like a mensch!

Update (30 June 2010): Jon Stewart has noticed exactly the same phenomenon with Candidate Barack Obama becoming President Barack Obama. (Linked clip from June 15 available only in Canada; Americans must visit Comedy Central's site for the clip).
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28 June 2010

What is Democracy Without the Rule of Law?

It is a very simple principle, one that dates back to the earliest document that began the entire experiment in rule by the people in the 13th century, the Magna Carta. The basic premise upon which our country is based is that no one is above the law of the land. We all, each and every one of us, those with power and privilege and those without, are all subject to the same supreme law of the land: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is most especially true of those who are empowered with the ability to detain and arrest, and to carry and use weapons that can inflict considerable injury and death. Those who are charged to protect life and property must not be allowed to abuse the trust that we have vested in them to behave with exemplary adherence to the law of the land.

This weekend, seemingly charged with the heady power of secretly passed new regulations of arrest, and the apparent freedom inherent in a lack of scrutiny and oversight, some individual police officers and commanders overstepped their powers. Some perpetrated untoward and unprovoked violence against journalists and private citizens seeking to exercise their Charter rights to voice their opposition to political policy enacted by their, and other, governments. These violations that may be tantamount to illegal action must be investigated by an independent tribunal, and those who may be guilty of such violations must be held accountable under the law.

It must be said, and I will happily acknowledge, those officers who exhibited considerable restraint when being deliberately taunted by some protesters who sought only to provoke a confrontation. There is no condoning such provocation, even in the name of free speech. If one's objective is to be heard on issues like poverty, homelessness, water rights, aboriginal rights, oppression of women, or a hundred other important causes, it makes absolutely no sense to distract from those important messages. Equally, kudos for the officers who arrested would-be members of the so-called Black Bloc early Sunday morning to prevent additional violence and mayhem akin to the shameful display of Saturday (and where were the jackbooted hoards with their shields and riot batons during the car burnings and window smashing?).

However, Bill Blair's insistence that his troops were enabling free expression and lawful dissent seems considerably disingenuous in the face of Saturday night's abuse of demonstrators and journalists in front of the Novotel Hotel, Sunday's mass arrests of innocent bystanders, and the unlawful detention of hundreds for four hours in the pouring rain. This last hurrah seems like a collective "Fuck You, Civilians" - a parting shot by the Integrated Security Unit's less-than-finest. A truly sad display of collective arrogance among those who are licensed to perpetrate violence at their leisure.

And so, a Call for Accountability. Click on the link, join the group, and invite your friends. It is important that there is a precedent set; that no person, even empowered by secret laws and regulations, can violate the law. If individual police officers know that they can be held to account for their collective action as a mob of thugs, they may think twice about such actions the next time. And, with a taste of the power of a police state, you can be sure there will be a next time.

Unless, of course, we all act to hold them answerable according to the Law.

Update (28 June 2010): Steve Paikin, host of TVO's The Agenda, is one of the most credible, honest, and upfront journalists I have had the pleasure to work with. Here he is with his first-hand, eyewitness account of police excess and unprovoked violence on Saturday night.

And, for those who do not believe that Toronto Police could possibly be behind the torching of the cars and the smashing of windows as agents provocateurs, here is video proof of a someone dressed in Black Bloc garb, being protected behind police lines, with threatening actions towards citizen videographers by plainclothes, undercover agents.

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26 June 2010

Dark Days for Toronto, and for Canada

The G20 summit was touted by its supporters as an opportunity for Canada, and specifically Toronto, to be spotlit on the world stage - as if that in and of itself should be considered a virtue. However, what has indeed been held under the bright lights are the excesses of privilege, and the sad reality that Canada is more plutocracy than democracy. Much has been written questioning the unimaginable amount of money that has been spent on these few days. I'm waiting for the exposés that reveal which contractors-linked-to-Harper-Conservatives have newly lined pockets as a result of these wasteful expenditures, but that's for another day. My immediate concern is the glibness with which the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has so casually been thrown under the police van, and truncheoned into submission under the heavy hand of pre-fascist tendencies.

Some may accuse me of hyperbole and over-reaction. However, consider this completely disrespectful - dare I say shameful - riposte proffered by our provincial premier, Dalton-the-Glib:
“I just think it’s in keeping with the values and standards of Ontarians,” McGuinty told the Toronto Star on Friday amid a battery of complaints from opposition parties, city councillors, civil libertarians and regular Torontonians that the new rules were kept secret and, some say, may go too far.
 Secret regulations that reverse the rights of citizens? No notice, signs, or warnings of new rules of arrest and search and seizure without cause? These are supposedly "in keeping with the values and standards" of the citizenry? In whose wet dreams would those be, Dalton-the-Self-Exalted? It almost goes without saying that no-notice-change-of-law are not in keeping with the values of ANY citizen with whom I am an acquaintance!

Quite a while ago, I posted two references to the creeping infiltration of a police-state mentality into what are otherwise democratic societies governed by rule-of-law. These are well worth reviewing now. One is Dr. Lawrence Britt's Fascism Anyone? The other is a reflection on How Police States Begin. It is important to say that I do not believe that we are YET living in a police state. However - and this is a HUGE however - what Police Chief Bill Blair, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Prime Minister Harper all have in common is a sometimes not-so-tacit desire to eliminate that pesky inconvenience, the supreme law of the land, the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. With their demonstrated attitude that so profoundly violates the fundamental, espoused values and standards of Canadians none of these men deserve the offices, nor the trust and responsibility, that have been vested in them.

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23 June 2010

From Hyper-Consumption to Collaborative Consumption

Those who have attended any of my keynotes over the past few years will know that I always find a way to introduce collaborative construction as one of the dominant effects of the UCaPP world. This is the idea that people with whom we are in pervasive proximity - and therefore in relationship - collaboratively construct the various and sundry cultural artefacts that populate our lives and help us to create meaning in a complex world. This, of course, includes collaborative construction of identity, among the most interesting aspects of the collaborative construction phenomenon.

Rachel Botsman offers a brilliant observation of how the idea of collaborative construction can be extended by graphically noting how hyper-consumption that characterized the 20th century has given way to collaborative consumption in the contemporary world. Even if you have already heard of Zipcar, or Freecycle, or Couchsurfing, (and there are many more mentioned) - and especially if you haven't - watch the video. It will expand your mind.

Collaborative Consumption Groundswell Video from rachel botsman on Vimeo.

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22 June 2010

If you find a lawyer with a sense of humour...

...you'll have to kill him. Being able to perceive humorous parody and being litigious are apparently mutually exclusive. Just ask the purveyors of "Unicorn - the new white meat."

Note to lawyers: the suggestion to perpetrate any sort of violence on lawyers with senses of humour is itself a parody of lawyers without a sense of humour; to understand said parody one first requires a sense of humour which itself precludes the understanding of such understanding, to wit, the requisite sense or perception of humour being a necessary prerequisite to the perception or sensing thereof, thereby comprising an act analogous to that of begging the question in the first and second parts of said understanding of the understanding of the prior understanding.
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Look Ma: No Audience!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting beautiful, downtown Cornwall, Ontario (yes, it is pretty nice) to muse about the disappearance of “audience” at the annual conference of alPHa—the Association of Local Public Health Agencies. The issue arises from the observation that, although very few seemed to pay attention to the admonition to go and get vaccinated during the H1N1 flu-foorah, we all seemed to get the message that the flu potential was pretty serious and we seriously changed our behaviour with respect to public hygiene (among the key elements, I think, was the loosening of absentee policies for businesses – that is, not treating their employees like naughty schoolchildren – enabling people who were sick to stay home and get well, rather than feeling an obligation to either come to work thereby infecting transit users and office dwellers, or traipsing off to the doctor’s office to get a “please excuse Janey from office today because she’s sick” note; ditto).

The answer to alPHa’s question about how to better reach audiences today – at least the one the conference wanted to explore – is “social media.” However, I sensed that much of the default discourse wanted to focus on can those who have legitimated authority co-opt and subvert the complex effects of contemporary, massive interconnectivity, and turn it back into television, radio, and the printing press—broadcast media run by central authorities which have the effect of hypnotizing audiences into compliance. This is a tough mindset to break, especially for those who are necessarily tied to governments that are used to broadcasting, if not spinning, a message. There was considerable focus on YouTube’s ability to disseminate humorous and clever, if a bit shocking, health-message videos, and a few of us presenters attempting to convey the idea that it’s all about engaging, not messaging (Twitter notwithstanding).

After describing my 3,000-years-of-Western-history derivation of UCaPP and the historic generation gap through which we are all now living, I suggested that one of the effects of UCaPP is that (informal and non-formal) information and knowledge is environmental. Consequently, this means that truth no longer conforms to the post-Enlightenment notion of an absolute truth that exists outside of us that can be determined by direct observation, scientific experimentation, and statistical analysis. Truth is no longer exclusively that which is codified and endorsed by institutions that convey Knowledge authority.

Rather, truth in the UCaPP world is understood as being highly contextualized by the juxtaposition of diverse cultures, histories, and lived experiences. Thus, truth and knowledge can only be expressed in relative terms, that is, relative to the human systems that produce them. And, as I have described extensively in my doctoral thesis, those systems are generated, in large part, by the conceptions we have of these human systems, and those models are not merely descriptive, they are also generative. In particular, this notion speaks directly to positivists’ inability to see the limitations of science—namely that, when it comes to human and social systems, there is no objective truth that lies outside of human experience; that knowledge, understanding, and hence, responsive behaviour among social groups, are the result of a complex process of sense- and meaning-making, having only little to do with authoritatively transmitted information.

Social media create environments of conversation and engagement from which individuals immersed in interlocking social groups create sense and meaning out of an often confusing, contradictory, and complex world. This means that social media cannot be co-opted as the new form of broadcast. That strategy is doomed to failure at the cost of the credibility of legitimated authority. If we think strategically about it, social media are the means through which so-called experts may be invited in to participate in collaborative construction of knowledge. It means that the hierarchical structures of knowledge authority, and specifically the paternalistic model of public health education is rejected out-of-hand by those formerly known as “audience.” The good news is that social media provide a tremendous opportunity to use the relationships created as a result of UCaPP to empower each member of society individually, to imbue them with a sense of personal responsibility among all to whom they are connected. And that enables us all to collectively and collaboratively do the Right Thing, based on the emergence of shared values, and personal ethics in a pervasive knowledge environment. In effect, we can consider the society in a particular community as a valence organization.

Many thanks to the organizers of this year’s alPHa conference for inviting me, and to those with whom I had the opportunity to interact.

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12 June 2010

And The Doctorate is OVER!

Yesterday was the day of my doctoral defence. As of 12:30 p.m., I became the very proud and grateful owner of a shiny new Ph.D., based on the defence of my research on organization theory, in Adult Education and Counselling Psychology. Notably, I earned a pass "as is" (the highest ranking) of my thesis, From BAH to ba: Valence theory and the future of organization. My external examiner was Dr. Brenda Zimmerman from York University's Schulich School of Business, whose research specialties include Healthcare Strategy and Leadership, and - most appropriately for my research - organizational complexity and emergence. Here's what she wrote in her appraisal of my thesis:
Mark Federman’s thesis is a comprehensive, well written document. It is a bold, ambitious undertaking and he makes several contributions to organization theory.

First, he makes a compelling case of the link between historical contexts and dominant organizational forms. Classical economic theory and the Industrial Organization school have dominated the literature which serves to explain organization forms. Both of these fields are ahistorical. Business historians rarely look to a time frame beyond decades. This thesis extends the temporal frame of business historians by reviewing the period from 500 BC to contemporary times. This thesis may serve as an impetus for business historians to extend their temporal frame and for organization theorists, particularly those versed in structural contingency theory, to look more deeply at historical factors that influence organization forms.

Second, the lens of the five valences will help give a more nuanced understanding of the nature of relationships in organizations. Relationship centred literature for organizations is extensive. This thesis provides researchers with a more nuanced understanding of a set of five relationships. A further differentiation between fungible and ba aspects for each of the five relationships should also be helpful in helping researchers discern the nature of the challenges facing organizations.

Third, the empirical research provides a rich comparison across the typology and in particular how the leadership co-evolves with the organization form. The transformation from one end of the continuum to the other provides insights into some of the challenges of transitions which is now becoming more prevalent in understanding scalability.

Fourth, he very effectively weaves the artistic self-reflective mode with the more analytic academic mode. By doing so, he more authentically demonstrates the challenges of writing about a subjective experience while maintaining academic rigour.

Fifth, the cargo cult phenomenon is well documented in Organization A and could be a standalone piece of work after the thesis. Mr. Federman both articulates the concept and demonstrates empirically well.

In short, this is an excellent thesis. It is thought provoking and I look forward to an interesting conversation at the defense.
The conversation at the defence was indeed interesting, wide-ranging, and challenging at times. However, according to Marilyn Laiken, my supervisor, there was no debate whatsoever about the final decision.

Let me once again offer my sincere gratitude to: my research participants and those in the five participant organizations who helped facilitate their participation; and to all of you who read this blog who contributed your comments, ideas, suggestions, and questions.

If your organization is seeking guidance in issues relating to leadership, or organization development, dynamics, change, or culture, and you would like the assistance of what is literally the very latest research in the area provided by an experienced consultant, facilitator, and organizational therapist, let's talk.

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10 June 2010

Jeremy Rifkin on The Empathic Civilization

It’s always nice to read an article or book, or hear a talk, that expresses one’s own ideas in a slightly different way, coming from a completely different ground. There’s an affirmation there—I’m not the only one who sees this phenomenon; I’m not just making it all up. And so it was with that sense of “yes, someone else gets it,” not to mention the brilliant presentation of RSA, that I thoroughly enjoyed the animated treatment of Jeremy Rifkin’s Empathic Civilization.
When we talk about building an empathic civilization, we’re not talking about utopia. We’re talking about the ability of human beings to show solidarity not only with each other, but with our fellow creatures who have a one and only life on this little planet.
Rifkin traces a history of human development similar to the story I tell about organization over three millennia. He then asks a provocative question:
Is it possible that we could actually extend our empathy to the entire human race as an extended family, and to our fellow creatures as part of our evolutionary family, and to the biosphere as our common community?
Essentially what Rifkin describes, albeit briefly in the animation and in far more depth in his massive book, is the creation of civilization-ba, and the types of connections that are consistent with Valence Theory. He describes how the technologies that create UCaPP – ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity – also enable the “empathic embrace” of Haiti among the entire human race mere hours after the disastrous earthquake.

At the Enlightenment, we were “materialistic, self-interested, utilitarian, and pleasure-seeking,” according to Rifkin’s reading of the philosophers of that time. But no longer: a UCaPP world means we are bound in relationships that enable Rifkin’s empathic civilization, and define my Valence Theory. I agree with Rifkin: we have to extend our identities to realize that we are all – as I express it – members of one organization, and to rethink the human narrative, as he expresses it. Only this fundamental reconception will save us from the worst aspects of what we can be: narcissistic, materialistic, violent, and aggressive.

Take ten minutes and watch the video. It’s well worth it.

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04 June 2010

BAH Can Be Hazardous to Your Company's Marketing Health

Telecom giant, AT&T, has been in damage control mode over the past several days, after a major customer service mishap spread all over the 'net and media like a Gulf of Mexico drilling rig blowout. It seems that customer Giorgio Galante wrote two emails concerning service pricing and phone upgrade eligibility to AT&T CEO, Randall Stephenson in two days. In response, one of AT&T's "$12/hour “Executive Relations” college students" called Galante to say, in effect, "Thanks for the feedback, and if you bother our CEO again, we’re going to send you a cease and desist letter."

Clearly, the internal manual on responding to email-to-the-chief nuisances procedurally directs the ER flaks to serve notice of legal action against harassment. In this sense, the respondent was merely "doing his job" (and how many times have we heard that excuse?). But, in doing said job, one of the founding principles of the BAH organization is clearly revealed: bureaucratic, administrative procedures are designed to eliminate human judgement from decision-making. BAH organizations systemically rob the "doers" of the ability to think - especially about consequences - for fear of losing their employment over "what part of the policy don't you understand?" Little wonder that if you look behind any sort of disaster, there's a BAH organization and individuals with BAH mentalities just doing their jobs (and no, my earlier reference to BP, the US EPA, and Congress was not simply snarky and gratuitous!).

Yes, AT&T did their damage control thing and had someone with a legitimated title attempt to smooth over the faux pas. That, of course, is not the point, as the genie is already out of the oil rig (sorry). This episode should rather serve as an early warning that a BAH organization places itself at risk in the contemporary world. Not only is it at risk of these sorts of marketing malfunctions; the simple reality that a BAH organization can neither innovate nor perceive quality suggests that BAH is indeed hazardous to an organization's health.

(Thanks, Michael!)

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