Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hazing Is Perverse

You are out camping with your family and you hear a growl. It is a bear. What do you do? Run away? Grab something to use as a weapon? Play dead? Fight back?

Don’t run. When you run, the bear thinks you’re prey and will continue chasing you, so stand your ground. And don’t think you can out run a bear. Bears are fast. They can reach speeds of 30 mph. Unless you’re an Olympic sprinter, don’t bother running.

Play dead. Bears will stop attacking when they feel there’s no longer a threat. If they think you’re dead, they won’t think you’re threatening. Once the bear is done tossing you around and leaves, continue to play dead. Bears are known for waiting around to see if their victim will get back up.

Fight back. If a bear thinks you are food and continues biting after you have taken a defensive posture fight back as best you can. If the black bear actually attacks, fight back. Use anything and everything as a weapon - rocks, sticks, fists, and your teeth. Aim your blows on the bear’s face - particularly the eyes and snout. When a bear sees that their victim is willing to fight to the death, they’ll usually just give up.

I am suggesting the same attitude in regards to how to deal with Hazing.

Fraternities cannot run away from the resurgence of hazing. To pretend that hazing is an isolated event which occurs only in extreme and unusual circumstances is dangerous. The recent death of a FAMU band member spotlights that hazing is still prevalent. Hazing is a violent tradition enforced by older members who want to “test” an incoming member’s dedication, desire, or “heart” to join the group. Since the act of hazing is no longer sanctioned by fraternities it has now gone “underground” and occurs out of view of college administrators or fraternal officers. “The reason hazing is so pervasive and so hard to stop is that it’s clandestine,” according to Dave Westol, an Indiana-based consultant for national fraternities and sororities. “It’s done at night. It’s done on campus. It’s done off-campus. There’s a code of secrecy that goes along with it.”[1] Many students agree to be hazed because they believe they must live up to a challenge.

Fraternity members can’t play dead. Hazing is illegal and as such creates a surge of lawsuits whenever it is uncovered. Earlier this year, a family of a hazing victim at Cornell University sued for $25 million after their son died in an incident. Insurance may cover the Fraternity’s legal exposure, however insurance premiums cost money, divert money away from the Fraternity’s programs, and hampers the Fraternity’s mission. There is always a victim when there is hazing and protecting the individual from physical or psychological harm is a responsibility the fraternity members cannot delegate to insurance companies or morally evade.

Fraternities must face the issue and fight back. Hazing is bullying. It is a rogue member who believes that hazing will prevent members from joining who are not worthy of membership. The argument that hazing is the best test to determine if a potential member will uphold Fraternity standards is outdated. Hazing can not determine who will remain active over their entire lifetime. Hazing can not identify leadership. Hazing can only test how much pain or punishment a person can inflict on another human being. Members who haze are sadists.

Members who haze recklessly endanger the Fraternity’s reputation and treasury. Members who haze are outside of the mainstream of the membership - they are usually non-financial and are not active members in good standing. Members who haze are morally and intellectually corrupt.

Organizations must and should immediately expel members who haze. Fraternal societies should promulgate the view that the act of hazing is the most dangerous, anti-social, anti-fraternal act a member can perform. Hazing does not improve the intake process. A potential member’s worth is best measured by his commitment to community service, his excellent study habits, and his academic record of achievement.

Members should support expulsion as the best method to change the culture of the “wink-nod” regarding hazing and acknowledge how perverse the act of hazing is now and in the future.

[1]

Read more on Legislative news and anti-hazing law:

Statement on Hazing:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gays and Greeks: Fraternity or Sorority Life should aim to integrate LGBT members

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, The Towerlight

When Steve Crudele graduated high school, he almost immediately formed a niche for himself in the Towson community. He held a Student Government Association position, worked as a Community Center worker, and participated in several student organizations, all the while harboring what he said was his secret: he is gay. “I was over-involved,” he said. “I used it as a way to try and meet people, but not get close to them. I did it as a way to distance myself from reality.”

But Crudele avoided one aspect of campus life — he chose to distance himself from Greek organizations. He said he thought no one would give him a bid because of his sexual orientation. In his sophomore year, Crudele was made aware of Pi Kappa Alpha, a new fraternity on Towson’s campus that recruited brothers based on the principles that everyone is important and everyone has experiences to contribute. Crudele was impressed and secured a bid.

He returned home for winter break, still wrestling with the idea of revealing his true identity. But some news put his life in perspective: Sandi Vanderpool, his high school mentor, had cancer and would likely die within the year. “I found out she’d known that I was gay the entire time, but her yearbook message to me was to ‘live to free up my anxieties and live life and enjoy it,” he said. “I took that message with me, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it.”

More than a year later, Crudele took Vanderpool’s advice. The senior functions as an out gay man in his fraternity and formed the Greek Alliance Program, an organization designed to educate Greek community members about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. “We want this to be a nationally recognized benchmarking program,” Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Matthew Lenno said. “It is needed in the Greek community and the community at large. In general, I have seen many atrocities done toward or against students/people that are LGBT. I believe it is horrible to not be accepted for who you are and for people to pass judgment on others for what they believe on or what they feel about themselves.” Crudele said that PIKE has the most out gay members in fraternity life because the brothers uphold the idea that members should not be chosen based on their identity, but rather what they could contribute to the fraternity. “We were formed from a different angle,” he said. “PIKEs were brought from different parts of campus, and since we all came from these different areas, we bred a more accepting environment.” Those values are what originally attracted Crudele, he said, as well as PIKE Vice President and Jon Lagnese, who said two of his closest friends and brothers identify as gay. “Education is limitless,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from them, proper terms, things that annoy them about the heterosexual community, judgments and how that hurts them.” Lagnese said that sorority members have responded well to the Alliance’s attempts to educate those in Fraternity and Sorority Life about LGBT issues, but most fraternity members have yet to participate on a large scale. “We’re open to everyone,” he said. “It’s like other chapters are recognizing the alliance … but they’re not taking part. The Greek community could grow more if people took part in it.” Dan Hirsch, president of Phi Sigma Kappa and executive board member of the Greek Alliance, said he tries to influence his brothers to attend Alliance events and that other chapters have not been as respectful of the organization. “Because I’m the president, they respect everything I do,” he said. “When the Alliance had aworkshop, 10 of our members showed up to it – the other chapters not so much.”

Hirsch said that PIKE isn’t necessarily the only “diverse” fraternity on campus. “To be honest, it’s not [PIKE] making great strides,” he said. “I would say it’s because two years ago, anybody who wanted to join that fraternity could. I wouldn’t say it’s not so much recruiting a diverse community as having diverse people sign up two years ago. You can pinpoint that on recruitment. I think my fraternity is pretty diverse, too. Every fraternity is diverse in some shape or form.”

Not everyone is accepting in PIKE, though, according Justin Schwendeman, a gay sophomore who rushed PIKE his freshman year, but said he refused the bid because of the underlying hostility he felt from his pledge class. “Beforehand, I heard PIKE was all about not drinking and all that stuff,” Schwendmenan said. “But then going through rush, it seemed like a lot of different groups I can describe as like an all-boy’s school, where it was very divided,” he said. “The pledge class didn’t seem open to it because they didn’t know me. But all the PIKE guys were all very open.” Towson’s Fraternity and Sorority Life needs to make major improvements in terms of accepting LGBT members, Schwendeman said. “I know for a fact that there are other guys in fraternities who are afraid to come out because they’re afraid of their brothers judging them,” he said. One of the missions of the Greek Alliance Program is to promote acceptance and assist other Greek members in the coming out process, according to Crudele. “It’s a cultural change that’s going to happen over time,” Crudele said. “If 10 percent of the population is gay, then 10 percent of Greek life is gay, and with 1,300 students in Greek life, that’s 130 gay members.” Crudele said he hopes to help others avoid the trauma that was his coming out. “We don’t expect people to just come out all over campus,” he said. “But hopefully we can change the attitude and make people feel more accepted, make them feel like the eyes of the world aren’t on them.”

The take away from this article should help you understand that we gain nothing by discriminating against the LGBT community. We should articulate a policy of non-discrimination and never denied the prospect of membership into our Fraternity/Sorority to an individual or expelled an individual based on their sexual orientation.

Not only is this a violation of our own national non-discrimination membership policy, but it also goes against the standards set forth by the majority of state and federal laws against discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation. All BGLO members should believe that all persons regardless of age, sex, race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect.

Until we are willing to have a healthy and honest dialogue on this issue, we fail to uphold our Founders’ vision for a organization that services our entire community.

this article appears in its entirety, The Bulletin, November 2011 issue

The Cost of Education vs. Prison

To underscore an issue long raised by criminal justice advocates, the study, entitled Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate, uses data from leading researchers to illustrate how neighborhoods with high rates of incarceration also have a prevalence of woefully-funded, low-performing schools.

Misplaced Priorities, which was released in April 2011 and took one year to produce, maps out the funding disparities in six cities: Jackson, Miss; Houston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and New York. Among the figures: Pennsylvania reportedly spends about $33,000 per prisoner annually compared with $4,000 per college student per year. And nearly 70% of Philadelphia’s low-performing schools, based on math proficiency, are located in or adjacent to areas with the highest incarceration rates.

Nationwide, about two million people are incarcerated in correctional facilities, the largest prison population in the world. Last year, the Pew Center on the States, a research group in Washington, DC, found that the number of prisoners statewide decreased slightly for the first time in nearly 40 years. But with some 200,000 people under federal custody, most of the incarcerated are housed in state facilities at a cost of more than $50 billion annually.

Marc Mauer, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group in Washington, DC states, “If we don’t invest enough in education, that may lead to more incarceration down the road.”

Reprinted from The Crisis, Fall 2011, p.56

“Hitting Budapest” wins Caine Prize for African Writing

Review by Ariana Austin

NoViolet Bulawayo won the Caine Prize, Africa's highest literary honor, this past July for her short story, "Hitting Budapest". It was announced at a dinner in Oxford, England, where she received a monetary award in addition to a future residency at Georgetown University. Authors often gamer considerable attention after winning what's known as the African "Booker" Prize. Hisham Matar, a Libyan author and chair of this year's committee, praised the rich language of Hitting Budapest and Bulawayo's ability "to refrain from moral commentary."

Bulawayo grew up in Zimbabwe and came to the United States shortly after high school. She describes herself as being of the "born free generation," those children born just after Zimbabwe's independence from the United Kingdom when unprecedented opportunities were supposed to exist. Instead Zimbabwe's economy collapsed under the weight of rogue leadership. Today there are more than 3 million Zimbabweans living abroad and seeking "promise" elsewhere. After relocating to the U.S. Bulawayo began to realize she was a writer, formally studied creative writing and recently completed an MFA at Cornell University. In addition to writing, she is exploring making films and plans to teach as well. She believes artists have to be engaged with their worlds, especially where social justice and human rights issues are concerned.

"Hitting Budapest" was first published in The Boston Review and follows a group of children who live in a shantytown called Paradise and travel to a wealthy neighborhood, Budapest, to “steal" guavas. Darling, the narrator tells us, "right now I'd die for guavas, or anything for that matter. My stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and dug everything out." As the story approaches its climax, the children make a violating and desperate choice. The setting of their ordeal is intentionally ambiguous. "The story," Bulawayo told The Crisis, is "uniquely Zimbabwean but a universal story. it could be in Europe or the U.S. It's about marginalized communities and how they articulate their desperation."

In many ways, Bulawayo's story combines two classic archetypes - the coming-of-age and journey stories - forming a meditation on poverty, boundaries and the state of the have-nots in a postcolonial world. Understanding one's place, it seems, figures prominently in the main characters' contextualization of their own poverty. The questions Bulawayo poses relate directly to the present condition of many developing countries. Her admirable restraint allows readers to make the connections themselves and draw their own conclusions. When a group of children are hungry enough to make hardened choices like those presented in Hitting Budapest, who or what is to blame? Is it the woman whose "Save Darfur" t-shirt in no way informs her own humanity when it comes to a group of small children; is it the president of this unnamed nation, an international body, or is it irresponsible individual choices?

NoViolet Bulawayo provides no easy answers, but she does make a point about names. As she explains, "they are ‘parents' prayers' for their children" - so readers get main characters with names like Darling and Godknows. She has recently completed a novel manuscript tentatively titled We Need New Names. Perhaps, new names and new prayers can shed light on the essential questions posed in her work.

Ariana Austin is a freelance writer based in Washington D.C. and currently a graduate student in the fiction program at Johns Hopkins University. She is the founding director of Art All Night DC; the first overnight arts-and-culture festival held last September in the nation's capital.

Reprinted from The Crisis, Fall 2011, p43

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

John le Carré and the rise of George Smily

Review by Anthony Lane

The opening sentence of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," a 1974 novel by John le Carré, runs as follows: "The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn't dropped dead at Taunton races, Jim would never have come to Thursgood's at all." The tone is instant and unmistakable, with our narrator buttonholing us like a man who, having overheard our conversation in a pub, is leaning across to join in, or to contest our version of events. We are plunged in medias res, but what are the res? Taunton is a town in Somerset, in southwest England, but who, pray, is this defunct major? And what might Thursgood's be? It turns out to be a prep school-a private establishment, for boys up to the age of thirteen, and a likely seedbed for some of the future spies, at once clubbable and closely guarded, who bestrew le Carre's work. Hence the dash of genius in those first three words, enough to show that we are already in the hands of a supreme ironist: "The truth is." It never just is. Truths are misty and multiple, like ghosts. Believe in them all you like, but you won't pin them down.

Then, there is Jim, poor Jim Prideaux, lately a stalwart of the Secret Intelligence Service, or S.I.S.-known to the public as M.I.6, or, within the pages of le Carre, as the Circus. The nameless old ringmaster of the place, referred to only as Control, was privately convinced that one of his senior figures was a Soviet-run double agent-or, in Circus patois, a mole. Jim was dispatched to Eastern Europe on a solo mission, to discover, from a contact, the identity of the traitor, and report back to Control. Whoever the mole was, though, he knew all about Jim's venture and set a trap. Jim was snared, shot twice in the back, tortured until there was nothing left to confess, and then sent back to England, broken and bitter, where he took Major Dover's old job, teaching foreign languages to the pale boys of Somerset. Jim feels half at home there, for what does a boarding school resemble, with its cryptic slang, its awkward alliances, and its arcane regulations, if not the Circus?

That, at any rate, is le Carre's vision of the spying game, and it is one that has enveloped readers ever since "Call for the Dead," in 1961. At the age of eighty, he is still writing, with a disappointed fury that seems to have heated up, rather than cooled, over time; last year saw the publication of his twenty-second novel, "Our Kind of Traitor." Le Carre's characters have roamed across the map, from Panama to Israel and the Caucasus, while leaving certain territories, notably North America, uncharted. There is no doubt, however, that his favored stalking ground is Europe, East and West, and that the era that most consistently arouses his imagination, and to which, with a twinge of pardonable nostalgia, he occasionally harks back, is the Cold War. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" creaks and glistens' in the bleak midwinter of that epoch, throughout which, to borrow a beautiful phrase from Coleridge that sums up le Carre's achievement, "the Frost performs its secret ministry."

And so to the snowman-in-chief. Think of a superhero, cross to the polar opposite, and you bump into something like this: Small, podgy and at best middle-aged, he was by appearance one of London's meek who do not inherit the earth. His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill-fitting and extremely wet.

That is how readers of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" first encounter George Smiley, the puzzled problem-solver of the novel’s maze, as he hastens along a rainy London street. It is by no means his first appearance in the pages of le Carre. He was in "Call for the Dead," and then in "A Murder of Quality" (1962), in which he is somehow transfigured into a detective, and asked by a friend to investigate a murder at a public school. (In English parlance, that means private. Le Carre based it on the school that he had attended and despised. I went there myself) The following year, Smiley slipped into "The Spy Who Came In from the Cold," which remains le Carre's most celebrated work, partly because it scraped every lingering speck of James Bond from our understanding of what spying might entail. Smiley is compared to a "surgeon who has grown tired of blood," thus yielding the odd, Prufrockian sense of a man whose great days, as a hopeful human, are already behind him, even though his finest hour, as a spy, may be yet to come. He is said to be "a kindly, worried little man," and the diminutive marks him as a bit player: an impression confirmed by "The Looking-Glass War" (1965), where he is granted a wretched and thankless minor part, pulling agents out of a job near the East German border, and leaving another man at the mercy of the foe. All of which is grist for the mill of contrition and regret that grinds within Smiley's conscience, and which accounts for the weary but determined air with which he shuffles, "with a lumpy skip," onto center stage, in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," and finally assumes his rightful role.

From the start, Smiley has a habit of being dragged out of retirement, like a badger from hibernation, to inspect the Circus, and, if required, erase disorder or rot. Even in "Call for the Dead," we learn, he has already done his undercover duty in the Second World War, and withdrawn into scholarly quietude at Oxford; then comes the summons. So it is with "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Control has died, taking his fears of betrayal to the grave, and unmourned except by Smiley, who lost his job not long afterward. Now the murmured possibility of a mole has emerged once more, and the list of suspects has been narrowed to four wise men, each with a code name culled from a nursery rhyme: Percy Alleline, Tinker; Bill Haydon, Tailor; Roy Bland, Soldier; and Toby Esterhase, Poorman. Smiley himself was once the fifth man-labelled Beggarman, which is no surprise. As an ex-spy, he is in the clear, and ideally placed to come in from the cold, at the invitation of the Cabinet Office, and find the culprit. Jim Prideaux tried, and took two bullets for his pains; now it is Smiley's turn.

Still, this hunt is a ponderous and twilit matter, much of it conducted amid files and archives, and Smiley's most energetic act is to polish his spectacles on the thick end of his tie, so what is the appeal? One answer came in 1979, when the BBC screened a seven-part adaptation of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," directed by John Irvin; and now the same tale, with the same title, has landed on cinema screens. The director is Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish master of slow-release dread, whose vampire film "Let the Right One In" seeped into our consciousness in 2008; that alone seems ample preparation for the bloodsuckers of British intelligence. As for the leading role, battle is summarily joined. In the new corner, we have Gary Oldman-tight and trim, a Smiley who keeps in shape with regular dips in the river. And, in the ancient corner, Alec Guinness, in a performance no less Buddha-like, in its opaque yet disarming sagacity, than it seemed thirty-two years ago. Time doesn't fly. It freezes.

I was not the only one chained to the couch by the TV series, when it originally aired. Millions watched and waited, over six weeks, for the mole to be unearthed. The production was one of those lavish, patient affairs which flourished in the heyday of British television drama; its span reached from "The Forsyte Saga," in 1967, to "The Singing Detective," nearly two decades later, upheld at its midpoint by "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and, in 1981, by "Brideshead Revisited." The fact that most of these narratives grew from good books mattered less than the honor and the esteem in which they held their viewers, presuming that we were literate and curious enough to dig in for the long haul, and to stay with the talkative tangles of the plot. That level of fixation was well suited to "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," whose shabby domestic stillness was not so different from the lives of the people watching-as if our TV screen were a net curtain or a half-drawn blind, and we ourselves were spying on the spies. In "Brideshead Revisited," with its roster of sumptuous locations and the wattage of its supporting stars, beginning with Laurence Olivier, you could see how the budget had been expended. Look at the scroll of actors' names, however, in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy": Terence Rigby, Michael Jayston, Bernard Hepton, George Sewell. I admired Jayston, in particular, who had been a dour but dashing Mr. Rochester in a 1973 version of “Jane Eyre"; he thus made a perfect Peter Guillam, Smiley’s sidekick, a fellow of comparable timbre. None of these solid souls, though, were hired to set the screen ablaze. They were there to simmer.

It was left to Guinness, of course, to insure that the excitement never quite boiled over. Even the glasses he wore became an item of armor instead of a visual aid. As Smiley donned them, the thickness of the lenses made him downright scary, whereas when he took them off he was left blinking and exposed-could he, we wondered in a burst of heresy, be the mole, after all? In the new movie, the glasses become time frames: Oldman has one pair, horn rimmed, to show that we are in flashback, with Smiley still working for Control, and another, larger pair to make it dear that we have skipped ahead. That is typical of Alfredson's film, which is obliged, by its two hour duration, to keep things crisp.

Here's the strangest thing: the television series, lasting more than five and a quarter hours, was bovine of pace, often ugly to behold, and content to meander along byways that petered out into open country or led inexorably to dead ends, yet I was tensed and transfixed by every minute, like a worshipper at a familiar Mass whose mystery will never abate. The new version, by comparison, feels purposeful, unbaffled, artfully composed, and lit, amazingly, with hints of jocularity. (There is even a Christmas party at the Circus; imagine what Guinness would have made of that.) But something in the drama has been dulled, and I was almost bored. Irvin's end credits rolled to the sound of the Nunc Dimittis and a shot of Oxford's golden stone, mischievously hinting that the whole palaver had been nothing more than a donnish diversion. Alfredson, on the other hand, doses with "La Mer," which I last heard sung at the end of "Finding Nemo." As for the denouement, we have had too little room, in so cramped a space, to spend time with Tinker, Tailor, and the others, and to scrutinize each man in turn, and therefore, at the end, our overwhelming reaction is: Big deal. We got the mole, but do we get the point?

To an extent, this is not Alfredson's fault. Some of his choices are perverse, like the decision to rehouse Smiley not in the tragic cubbyhole of a hotel, near Paddington Station, to which le Carre rightly consigned him but in a loft like affair with sizable windows, through which far too many outsiders could peer. Other shifts are more ingenious; where the small screen was ashen and gray, in tribute to the atmosphere of exhaustion that pervades le Carre's novel, cinemagoers must brace themselves for an explosion of brown. Welcome to the fashionable nineteen-seventies, where your walls matched your sideburns. The sealed, podlike chamber in which the high priests of intelligence convene is a nightmare of muddy orange, and Guillam, the resident cavalier of the Circus, drives not a sporty MG, as he did on TV, but a Citroen DS the color of light manure. One change wrought by Alfredson strikes me as inspired: where Guillam, on the page, was a practiced ladykiller, running a string of girlfriends as if they were foreign agents, we see him now, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, breaking up with a male lover-a secret demanding to be tucked away, in the mid-seventies, far more than it would these days. The question of sexuality barely touches the hem of the Smiley books. "It saddened him to witness in himself the gradual death of natural pleasure," we read in "Call for the Dead," and he himself is presented as the simplest of fools-married to the lustrous Lady Ann, who dispenses her favors to almost anyone who asks, including Tailor (Colin Firth, in the new film). Cuckoldry has been a comic standby since Aristophanes; in the person of Smiley, I would suggest, the joke, at last, ran out.

When Guillam is left by his companion, he cries: one of a handful of weepers in the new film, which feels more emotionally stricken than its predecessor. The struggle, back then, was a moral one against a nagging dread that the West had nothing more to offer, apart from the satisfaction of greed, than its sterner rival in the East, and that what might remain, between spies, was a pure exchange of tactics, ungilded with sentiment or faith. On TV, the mole, once revealed, declared, "The secret services are the only real expression of a nation's character," which is not a bad motto for the whole story. As for his own nation, his main grievance was aimed at its dreamy pretensions of power. "Britain-oh, dear," he said, with a sniff, adding, "No viability whatever in world affairs." When you scanned the backdrop of the drama, it was ominously hard to disagree. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” began with a band of colorless colleagues, either smoking or carrying cups of foul coffee, entering a dingy room, scarcely bothering to greet one another, and expert only in a life of professional pretense. It didn't seem much to fight for. Yet I have often thought, If only the mole had burrowed down and clung on, he would have seen the land he had loathed and betrayed taken over by a woman who shared every inch of his frustration at its lassitude and pitiful want of pride. Could the double agent not have turned triple, and become a rampant Thatcherite?

In all its forms, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" strikes the eye, and other senses, as demonstrably real. You can taste the "half-eaten food, over which white flakes off at had formed like seasonable frost." That is Smiley, dining on the rations of the Cold War; Graham Greene would have smacked his lips. But is any of this true? Is the Circus, as spun into being by le Carre, the sheerest fiction, completely unconnected to the authentic labors of spying, in Britain or elsewhere? "Oh, not completely." Such was the careful answer proffered by an acquaintance of mine, who knows the Secret Intelligence Service as well as anyone alive. He made three pertinent points. One, that le Carre himself whose actual name is David Cornwell served in the S.L.S. for no longer than five years, from 1959 to 1964, and that all his subsequent fables are founded on the template of that distant time. Two, that the sly, sour infighting that leaks through the novels does an injustice to the congenial conduct of most officers in the Service, who are, as my acquaintance said, "notably good company"-as they have to be, given the demands of their trade, which would unsettle lesser or more divisive folk. Three, that le Carre has reversed the polarities. Where there is trust (and espionage, like the military, cannot hope to function without trust), he finds only treachery. Hearts and minds are not to be won, in his world; they are for sale.

That belief, it goes without saying, is his privilege as a writer. We may carp at the veracity of what emerges from his near-paranoid dismay, but we are also the beneficiaries of its thrills. Just as we turn to Dickens's prisons not as documentary testaments to Victorian penal practice but as iron-tough metaphors for the dreadful tethering of free play in every sphere of human action, so the Circus speaks to our profound unease in the face of all secrets. We love to lurk in their midst, to learn their codes, and to be initiated into the circle of their charm; hence the delicious slang that salts the Smiley books, and that every reader quickly comes to relish-all the ' moles, lamplighters, scalphunters, babysitters, reptile funds, mothers, Cousins, inquisitors, and joes. At the same time, the secrets that lie beyond our field of vision are a wellspring of great disquiet; they tell at best of unknowable national security, at worst of unreachable loneliness, or of a kingdom that has been hollowed out, like a marriage, without our even noticing. Hence the inventory, in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," of all the minutiae that have never ceased to encircle Smiley, and to menace his peace of mind: The creak of a stair that had not creaked before; the rustle of a shutter when no wind was blowing; the car with a different number plate but the same scratch on the offside wing; the face on the underground that you know you have seen somewhere before: for years at a time these were signs he had lived by; any one of them was reason enough to move, change towns, identities. For in that profession there is no such thing as coincidence.

The echo, here, is of Freud, who writes, in his great essay on the uncanny, about "the sense of helplessness" that is caused by such unsettling repetitions. What on earth would an entire life be like, composed of such rustles and creaks? And where do we wind up, once all the secrets are out? With "a fat, barefooted spy, as Ann would say, deceived in love and impotent in hate, clutching a gun in one hand, a bit of string in the other." That is le Carre's portrait of Smiley, in a Circus safe house, unable to find his way in the dark. Compare the finale of "Smiley's People," the dense and compulsive sequel published in 1979, and televised, again with Guinness, in 1982. This finds our hero pursuing Karla-his lifelong nemesis, the fanatical head of Moscow Centre ("Seemed to be head boy," in the words of Jim Prideaux), and the former controller of the mole. Tracking Karla, Smiley crisscrosses the flatlands of northern Europe in a quest that is momentous to both men but whose grail would mean nothing to others; we are almost in the realms of Beckett. With a dose of concentrated blackmail, Karla is finally lured across a Berlin bridge and into the West. But, again, what figure is cut by the evil mastermind when he appears? “He wore a grimy shirt and a black tie: he looked like a poor man going to the funeral of a friend." Le Carre has never written a better sentence, one so impatient of ideology and so attentive to what he, following W. H. Auden, describes plainly as “the human situation." The television series of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" has lost none of its grip, and the new film will recruit new friends to the cause; but if we seek George Smiley and his people, with their full complement of terrors, illusions, and shames, we should follow the example of the ever-retiring Smiley, and go back to our books. That's the truth.

reprinted from The New Yorker, 12 December 2011, p.84

Monday, December 12, 2011

It Could Be Old Age, or It Could Be Low B12

As we age, our ability to absorb B12 from food declines, and often so does our consumption of foods rich in this vitamin. A B12 deficiency can creep up without warning and cause a host of confusing symptoms that are likely to be misdiagnosed or ascribed to aging. Interesting article by Dr. Jane Brody.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Is OWS still relevant?

by James Surowiecki

The protesters at Occupy Wall Street may not have put forth an explicit set of demands yet, but there is one thing that they all agree on: student debt is too damn high. Since the late nineteen-seventies, annual costs at four-year colleges have risen three times as fast as inflation, and, with savings rates dropping and state aid to colleges being cut, students have been forced to take on ever more debt in order to pay for school. The past decade has seen a student-loan binge, so that today Americans owe well over six hundred billion dollars in college debt. That's a burden that's hard to carry at a time when more than two million college graduates are unemployed and millions more are underemployed. Some of the boom in student debt can be chalked up to demographics: in the past decade, the number of college-age Americans rose by more than three million and the proportion of eighteen-to-twenty- four-year-olds enrolled in college went from thirty-five per cent to forty one per cent. Still, the piles of student loans are due largely to the fact that the cost of a college degree has been going up much faster than people's incomes. And that has raised the spectre that we might be living through a "higher-education bubble," in which Americans are irrationally borrowing money to spend more on college than it's actually worth.

We've just endured two huge bubbles, which sent the value of stocks and then homes to ridiculous levels, so the theory isn't implausible. Of course, a college-education bubble wouldn't look exactly like a typical asset bubble, because you can't flip a college degree the way you can flip a stock, or even a home. But what bubble believers are really saying is that young people today are radically overestimating the economic value of going to college, and that many of them would be better off doing something else with their time and money. After all, wages for college graduates actually fell over the past decade, and the unemployment rate for recent grads is close to ten per cent. That's hardly a ringing endorsement of the economic value of education.

There's a big flaw in the bubble argument, though: things may look grim for college graduates, but they're much grimmer for people without a college degree. Though recent college grads are having a hard time finding a job, it's much harder for recent high-school graduates, who have an unemployment rate of nearly twenty-two per cent. And the over-all unemployment rate for college grads is still, at 4.4 per cent, very low. More striking, the college wage premium-how much more a college graduate makes than someone without a degree-is at an all-time high. In fact, the spira11ing cost of education has to some degree tracked the rising wage premium; as college has, in relative terms, become more valuable economically, people have become willing to pay more for it. It's telling, in this regard, that the one period in the past sixty years when college-tuition costs flatlined was during the seventies, which also happened to be the one period when the college wage premium fell.

This isn't to say that eighteen-year-olds are perfectly rational economic actors. Most obviously, many of them borrow a lot of money and then don't finish college, ending up debt-laden and without a degree. But there's little evidence that kids are systematically overestimating the value of college, the way homeowners systematically overestimated the value of homes during the bubble. Nor is there much reason to think that a degree will matter less in the future: the demand for college grads in the workforce has been increasing steadily for sixty years.

The bubble analogy does work in one respect: education costs, and student debt, are rising at what seem like unsustainable rates. But this isn't the result of collective delusion. Instead, it stems from the peculiar economics of education, which have a lot in common with the economics of health care, another industry with a huge cost problem. (Indeed, in recent decades the cost of both college education and health care has risen sharply in most developed countries, not just the U.S.) Both industries suffer from an ailment called Baumol’s cost disease, which was diagnosed by the economist William Baumol, back in the sixties. Baumol recognized that some sectors of the economy, like manufacturing, have rising productivity-they regularly produce more with less, which leads to higher wages and rising living standards. But other sectors, like education, have a harder time increasing productivity. Ford, after all, can make more cars with fewer workers and in less time than it did in 1980. But the average student-teacher ratio in college is sixteen to one, just about what it was thirty years ago. In other words, teachers today aren't any more productive than they were in 1980. The problem is that colleges can't pay 1980 salaries, and the only way they can pay 2011 salaries is by raising prices. And the Baumol problem is exacerbated by the arms-race problem: colleges compete to lure students by investing in expensive things, like high profile faculty members, fancy facilities, and a low student-to-teacher ratio.

The college-bubble argument makes the solution to rising costs seem simple: if people just wake up, the bubble will pop, and reasonable prices will return. It's much tougher to admit that there is no easy way out. Maybe we need to be willing to spend more and more of our incomes and taxpayer dollars on school, or maybe we need to be willing to pay educators and administrators significantly less, or maybe we need to find ways to make colleges more productive places, which would mean radically changing our idea of what going to college is all about. Until America figures out its priorities, college kids are going to have to keep running just to stand still.

- reprinted from the New Yorker, 21 November 2011, p50

Monday, December 05, 2011

Understanding FOX News

by David Frum

EXTREMISM and CONFLICT make for bad politics but great TV. Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment-and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel). As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much. As a tool of political mobilization, it backfires, by inciting followers to the point at which they force leaders into confrontations where everybody loses, like the summertime showdown over the debt ceiling.

But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama-whatever his policy errors-is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he's a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) "the only place in the world where it doesn't matter who your parents were or where you came from."

We used to say "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.

When contemplating the ruthless brilliance of this system, it's tempting to fall back on the theory that the GOP is masterminded by a cadre of sinister billionaires, deftly manipulating the political process for their own benefit. The billionaires do exist, and some do indeed attempt to influence the political process. The bizarre fiasco of campaign-finance reform has perversely empowered them to give unlimited funds anonymously to special entities that can spend limitlessly. (Thanks, Senator McCain! Nicejob, Senator Feingold!) Yet, for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they're gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base. In funding the tea-party movement, they are actually acting against their own longer-term interests, for it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable. If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair.

excerpt from "When Did The GOP Lose Touch With Reality?" New York magazine, 28 Nov 2011, p.50

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Romney touts his business experience - but does it really matter?

Before Herbert Hoover was president, he was a successful businessman, and so popular for organizing humanitarian relief during and after World War I that both parties were hoping he'd run for office on their ticket in 1920. The historian David M. Kennedy, who wrote Freedom From Fear: The American People in the Great Depression 1929-1945, says Hoover was a "visionary" secretary of commerce under Harding and Coolidge, and calls him “the most accomplished and competent man of his generation." But, as Kennedy notes, the skills that made him successful in those domains didn't translate into his presidency; he didn't have what it took to grapple with the Great Depression.
“Not because he didn't understand the system," says Kennedy, “and it wasn't for want of knowledge about it. He wasn't pig-headed, or a moss-backed conservative. Hoover was more of a technocrat than FDR was." But it wasn't enough. “He understood a lot about policy issues, but working the Congress, working public opinion and the levers of the political system, were not his skills. They were Roosevelt's."
Romney's love for the private sector is beyond doubt. But as is the case with just about any relationship, love may not necessarily be enough.

by Megan McArdle, The Atlantic, December 2011 issue, p.38

Monday, November 28, 2011

On the wrong side - Principals Protest Role of Testing in Evaluations

I can remember testing and test scores as long as I was part of the public education system, starting back in 1963 at P.S. 37 in Queens. I find it most interesting that 654 New York Principals have determined that Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) regulations which are derived partly from student test scores are flawed.
I don't understand how student test scores used as a PART of the evaluation is detrimental. In their open letter, they state "There is no evidence that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement. In order to determine if there is a relationship researchers recommend small-scale pilot testing of such systems. Student test scores have not been found to be a strong predictor of the quality of teaching as measured by other instruments or approaches."

I have to disagree and believe that without student test scores we are unable to hold teachers or principals accountable for their poor performance.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Grade your knowledge of political economics (ANSWERS)

Grade your knowledge of political economics. Regardless of your political identity, you either have a good or a bad understanding of economics. Here are a few simple questions that have complex answers.

TRUE/FALSE: Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services.
TRUE - This of course ignores the price to you when an unlicensed and incompetent lawyer drafts your contract, closes your transaction or defends your court case. Or the price to you when an unlicensed and incompetent doctor operates on your brain or performs your plastic surgery. Thus the assumption is that removing licensing will introduce more competition and lower prices. But monetary costs are not the only relevant costs if you actually want competent professional services.

TRUE/FALSE: Overall, our standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago.
FALSE - Standard of living is inevitably linked to the cost of living. When we try and see whether we’re better off than we were 30 or 100 years ago, we immediately have a problem. Our incomes are higher which suggest a higher standard of living. But we know that the general level of prices has risen over time, what is called inflation. So you can’t look at the growth of income alone to measure the growth in material well-being. You have to take account of the increase in prices to accurately measure how much more stuff we can have now compared to before. In practice, measuring the change in prices is quite difficult. Some of the difficulty is because the mix of goods and services—the "basket" of goods and services as it is sometimes called—isn’t really the same as it was a year ago or ten years ago. One reason is that people will tend to substitute toward goods that have become relatively cheaper and move away from goods that have gotten relatively expensive. Surely, the average American is many times more comfortable materially than in 1900 and even perhaps compared to 1970, but the measurement of income does not prove it so.

TRUE/FALSE: Rent control leads to housing shortages.
TRUE - Rent control, like all other government-mandated price controls is a law placing a maximum price, or a “rent ceiling,” on what landlords may charge tenants. If it is to have any effect, the rent level must be set at a rate below that which would otherwise have prevailed. In a competitive market and absent controls on prices, if the amount of a commodity or service demanded is larger than the amount supplied, prices rise to eliminate the shortage (by both bringing forth new supply and by reducing the amount demanded). But controls prevent rents from attaining market-clearing levels and shortages result.

TRUE/FALSE: A company with the largest market share is a monopoly.
FALSE - It is usually assumed that the company with the largest market share could be a monopoly, however there are companies that control the price of a specific item due to their longevity and stature in the market, re: Heinz and catsup, or Coke and cola.

TRUE/FALSE: Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited.
FALSE - All employers, by some definition, exploit their employees to get tasks done. Likewise, employees exploit opportunities for employment and advancement provided by their employers. But even if we assign a negative connotation to "exploit," that still doesn't get us anywhere. It's a defensible belief to say that Third World workers are exploited compared to the treatment that would be required of employers elsewhere. It all depends on context. One might also reasonably argue that US minimum wage employees are exploiting their employers by accepting an unfair wage.

TRUE/FALSE: Free trade leads to unemployment.
FALSE - Free trade leads to change and that change leads to overall higher employment. But Free Trade also brings about pain and turmoil. A country’s wage and unemployment levels depend fundamentally on the productivity of its labor force, not on its trade policy. As long as American workers remain more skilled and better educated, work with more capital, and use superior technology, they will continue to earn higher wages than their overseas counterparts. If and when these advantages end, the wage gap will disappear. Trade is a mere detail that helps ensure that American labor is employed.

TRUE/FALSE: Minimum-wage laws raise unemployment.
TRUE - It's called the "spill over" effect. Especially small firms are in equilibrium at a certain wage price. When the government comes in and artificially raises that equilibrium via a higher minimum wage, it changes the labor demand curve for firms and they have to fire some workers because they can't afford to keep them. It mostly affects mom and pop shops.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Grade your knowledge of political economics

Regardless of your political identity, you either have a good or poor understanding of economics. If you think you can - correctly answer the following questions:

TRUE/FALSE: Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services.

TRUE/FALSE: Overall, our standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago.

TRUE/FALSE: Rent control leads to housing shortages.

TRUE/FALSE: A company with the largest market share is a monopoly.

TRUE/FALSE: Third World workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited.

TRUE/FALSE: Free trade leads to unemployment.

TRUE/FALSE: Minimum-wage laws raise unemployment.

(Correct answers will be provided tomorrow)

Friday, November 11, 2011

How Beautifully Blue the Sky

How Beautifully Blue the sky
The glass is rising very high
Continue fine I hope it may
And yet it rained but yesterday
Tomorrow it may pour again
I hear the country wants some rain
Yet people say
I know not why
That we shall have a warm July
Tomorrow it may pour again
I hear the country wants some rain
Yet people say
I know not why
That we shall have a warm July

Did ever maiden wake from dream of homely duty
To find her daylight break with such exceeding beauty
Did ever maiden close her eyes on waking sadness
To dream of such exceeding gladness!

Ah yes, ah yes,
This is exceeding gladness

How Beautifully Blue the sky
The glass is rising very high
Continue fine I hope it may
And yet it rained but yesterday
Tomorrow it may pour again
I hear the country wants some rain
Yet people say
I know not why
That we shall have a warm July
Tomorrow it may pour again
I hear the country wants some rain
Yet people say
I know not why
That we shall have a warm July

Did ever pirate roll his soul in guilty dreaming
And wake to find that soul with peace and virtue beaming!

How Beautifully Blue the sky
The glass is rising very high
Continue fine I hope it may
And yet it rained but yesterday
Tomorrow it may pour again
I hear the country wants some rain
Yet people say
I know not why
That we shall have a warm July

Did ever maiden wake from dream of homely duty
To find her daylight break with such exceeding beauty
Did ever maiden close her eyes on waking sadness
To dream of such exceeding gladness!

Did ever pirate loathed
Forsake his hideous mission
To find himself bethrothed to lady of position!

Ah yes, ah yes,
Ah yes, ah yes,

Stop This World

Stop this world, let me off
There's just too many pigs in the same trough
There's too many buzzards sitting on the fence
Stop this world, it's not making sense

Stop this show, hold the phone
Better days this lad has known
Better days so long ago
Hold the phone, won't you stop this show

Well, it seems my little playhouse has fallen down
I think my little ship has run aground
I feel like I'm in the wrong place
My state of mind is a disgrace

Won't you stop this game, deal me out
I know too well what it's all about
I know too well that it had to be
Stop this game you know it's ruining me

Well I got too smart for my own good
I just don't do the things I know I should
There's bound to be some better way
I just got one thing more to say

And that is
Stop this game, deal me out
I know too well what it's all about
I know too well that it had to be
Stop this game you know it's wrecking me

Friday, November 04, 2011

Real Answers to Unmotivated Chapter Members - The Apathy Myth

Chapter leaders say that member apathy and lack of motivation are the issues that plague them the most. How can they get their fellow members engaged? How can they get all of their officers motivated? How can they get people to give a damn?

Unfortunately, too many respond to the apathy challenge with fines, mandatory attendance requirements and negativity. Ultimately, these leaders hit a wall, alienate their members and suffer from frustration and burnout. There is a better way.

What if you were told that what you think is apathy is actually the result of poor leadership that is unresponsive to the needs of the members in your organization? Would you open your mind to the possibility that there are ways to motivate your group’s members that don’t require making every event mandatory?

T.J. Sullivan has authored a new book, "Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations", which offers leaders a workshop that focuses on practical ideas—evaluating their events, changing their approach to meetings and redirecting their management of their people—attacking apathy head on. It’s about shaking things up, with an eye to re-igniting passion within their organizations. Fraternal leaders have the power to eliminate apathy if they take specific steps to improve their organizations and approach to serving their members.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Confronting the Idiot in Your Chapter

Every fraternity and sorority chapter has at least one member whose behavior causes tensions and problems for everyone. The out of control roommate. The brother who gets in fights. The sister who won’t pay her dues. Bad grades. Hazing. Abusive drinking. Promiscuity. Drugs. Embezzlement. Bad eating habits. Violent relationships. Damage to chapter property.

Wouldn’t our chapters be much happier and healthier if we could confront the members whose bad behavior is bringing everyone else down? Don’t we have the responsibility to confront the “idiots” in our chapters? We often allow our friends to risk their own health, safety, relationships or grades with idiot behavior. We are afraid to confront because we fear losing a friend, losing respect or being judged.

In this situation, T.J. Sullivan, challenges all fraternities and sororities to step up to the plate and find the courage to confront negative actions and attitudes from their fellow members. He offers practical strategies for increasing the effectiveness of constructive confrontations. Additional information can be found in his new book, "Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations".

By encouraging members to confront each other, T.J. gives students a powerful opportunity to put the values of their fraternity or sorority into action. Regardless of the issues facing your Greek system, this keynote will challenge everyone to take responsibility for building a better, more responsible community.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Frustrations of Student Leadership

Student leaders have challenges coming at them from every direction. Sometimes, it’s enough to drive you to the edge of sanity! Have you ever found yourself losing sleep because too few members are coming to meetings? Too few officers and chairs are doing their stuff? Too few people are coming to events? Too few members are paying their dues on time or meeting deadlines?

Have you ever just felt exhausted from the whole “leader thing?”

There’s hope. Your Regional Director can help you put things into perspective and offers tactics to immediately transform frustrations into possibilities. A well planned Regional Leadership Conference can be conducted as a keynote for a large group, or an interactive workshop or a breakout session for smaller groups. Successful regional conferences can offer perspectives and then facilitates dialogue where student leaders can help each other generate solutions and strategies for coping with their most draining challenges.

Making Chapter Meetings Matter

It’s okay to admit it. Sometimes meetings suck. Attendance is low and those who do show up talk around in circles, achieving little. Or maybe you’ve just got a nagging feeling that your meetings have some extra hidden potential.

A Regional Leadership Conference should offer hand-on workshop or breakout, where hard-earned insights from corporate consulting and student organizational leadership can be introduced to transform your meetings forever. There are practical, how-to tips spanning the whole meeting process. Student leaders will leave better able to:

  • Determine if a meeting is the best means of achieving their immediate goals

  • Establish meeting objectives

  • Ensure ample attendance

  • Gain broad participation

  • Think effectively as a group

  • Have fun while building camaraderie

  • Follow up on individual commitments toward action items

Monday, October 24, 2011

Best Practices Are Stupid

40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition
by Stephen M. Shapiro

This unconventional guide provides strategies for fostering innovation. Stephen Shapiro, formerly of Accenture, says most leaders inadvertently suffocate creativity by following tired formulas. His suggestions? Hiring people you don’t like, not asking for ideas, and going above and beyond thinking outside the box. Doing the unexpected is the key to bright ideas, he says. Each chapter concludes with statements like, “When the pace of change outside your organization is greater than the pace of change within, you will be eaten.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Walk In The Park

by Hendrick Hertzberg

Everything else is made in China, so why not pithy aperçus about Occupy Wall Street? "A revolution is not a dinner party." Or was it a Tea Party that the murderous Communist Mao Zedong (still officially revered in the most populous, most fearsomely capitalist nation on earth) declared that a revolution isn't? Either way, Occupy Wall Street -- O.W.S.? No, let's just call it OWES, in honor of its sympathy for tapped-out debtors over bailed-out creditors-is hardly a revolution. It is a dinner party of sorts, albeit one with donated, often organic food served on paper plates. There's tea, too, of course, mostly herbal-rooibos and camomile, though, not that other herb. (The distinctive aroma that the "straight press" of yore invariably called (“the sweet smell of marijuana" is noticeably absent.) But, whatever OWES is, what will it become? Where is it headed? Will it dazzle or fizzle? Will it catch fire or backfire? Will it end up helping the Democrats or the Republicans? In short, what's the meaning of it all? So far, the best answer is the one that Zhou Enlai, the Great Helmsman's great henchman, supposedly gave when: President Nixon supposedly asked him i to assess the impact of the French Revolution: it's too early to tell. At the moment, all that can be said with certainty- even if Mayor Bloomberg disagrees- is that OWES has become one of the city's most interesting bargain tourist destinations.

Occupy Wall Street does not occupy Wall Street itself, which is narrow, easily cordoned off, and unsuitable for sleeping. What OWES does occupy is Zuccotti Park, a roomy rectangle of trees, benches, and open space two blocks up Broadway from Wall Street and about the same short distance from the 9/11 site. Zuccotti Park-formerly and, by its new residents, still informally dubbed Liberty Plaza-is privately owned but open to all, the result of a zoning deal between the city and a real estate company. The OWES event, which began on September 17th with a minimum of attention from the straight press (now known as the mainstream media), soon got three shots of adrenaline, one small and two big. A false report that Radiohead would serenade the plaza drew a larger than usual crowd. A cellphone video of an N.Y.P.D. deputy inspector spritzing strong pepper spray into the faces of three apparently in offending female protesters, who fell to the ground blinded and screaming, went globally viral. And a Brooklyn-bound march over the Brooklyn Bridge ended in confusion and rancor, with some unnecessary police roughness and seven hundred peaceful marchers carted off to be booked, their wrists bound behind them, uncomfortably and egregiously, in plastic handcuffs. By last week, OWES was soaring. On Wednesday, some of the most powerful unions in the city transit workers, teamsters, teachers, communications workers, service employees- helped pack Foley Square with fifteen thousand people for a rally in support. Afterward, it took them three hours of chanting and sign-waving to shuffle their way through a half-mile police corridor to Zuccotti Park. And OWES has gone national. There are now spinoffs in more than a hundred cities and towns from Atlanta to Anchorage, with plans for more.

At first glance, Zuccotti looks to a casual visitor like a crowded, messy homeless encampment. But it doesn't take long to discern an earnest, underlying orderliness. The plaza is loosely divided into "centers/' each watched over by members of its own "working group." A sizable corner, the Camp, is a jumbled welter of blue tarps, blankets, and stuffed shopping bags, and sleepers--hence the impression of homelessness, though in fact nearly everyone who chooses to spend the night has a home, often just a subway ride away. Next to it is a Comfort center, with piles of sleeping bags and warm secondhand clothes. Elsewhere in the park, there's a Medical center, a Library, a Kitchen (actual cooking has to be done "offsite"), and an Art/Signs center, where people make their own, ranging from the strident ('Jail Corporate Criminals") to the winsome ("I Bailed Out a Bank and All I Got Was a New Debit Card Charge"). The only spot with access to electricity is the Media center, where a portable generator powers the laptops of volunteer programmers. There are many OWES-related Web sites; one, is entirely produced and beamed to the world from Zuccotti Park.

The "ga" in that domain name stands for General Assembly, a daily mass meeting, open to all, which is the closest thing OWES has to a governing body. Because any kind of amplified sound is forbidden, bullhorns included, the meetings are conducted in an ingenious way. A speaker says a few words, then pauses; the audience repeats them, loudly and in unison; the speaker says a few more; the chorus repeats; and so on. If the group is unusually large, the repetitions radiate out, like a mountain echo. The listeners register their reactions silently, with their hands. Four fingers up, palms outward: Yay! Four fingers down, palms inward: Boo! Both hands rolling: Wrap it up! Clenched fists crossed at the wrists: No way, Jose! There's something oddly moving about a crowd of smartphone- addicted, computer-savvy people cooperating to create such an utterly low-tech, strikingly human, curiously tribal means of amplification--a literal loudspeaker.

What OWES doesn't have-and is under some pressure1internal and external, to formulate -- is a traditional agenda: a list of “demands" a set of legislative recommendations, a five-point program. For many of its participants, this lack is an essential part of the attraction. They're making it up on the fly. They don't really know where it will take them, and they like it that way. Occupy Wall Street is a political project, but it is equally a cri de coeur, an exercise in constructive group dynamics, are lease from isolation, resignation, and futility. The process, not the platform, is the point. Anyway, OWES is not the Brookings Institution. But its implicit grievances are plain enough: the mass pain of mass unemployment, underemployment, and economic insecurity; the corrupting, pervasive political influence of big money, the outrageous, rapidly growing inequality of wealth and income; the impunity of the financial industry scammers whose greed and fraud precipitated the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; a broken political system hobbled by a Republican right willing and usually able to block any measures, however timid and partial, that might relieve the suffering. If Occupy Wall Street can continue to behave with nonviolent restraint, if it can avoid hijack by a flaky fringe, if it can shake the center-left out of its funk, if it can embolden Democratic politicians (very much including President Obama, who, lately and belatedly, has begun to show signs of fight), then preoccupied Main Street, will truly owe OWES. Big ifs all. It's too early to tell, but not too late to hope.

reprinted from The New Yorker, 17 October 2011, p.25

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why does processing a check cost $18 ?

I am very good about paying my mortgage, but for the first time in five years, I let a payment slip by mistake. The bank quickly demanded $165 in late fees. When I called the bank, the person I spoke with wouldn't budge on the late fee and told me that there would be an additional $18 fee to pay by check. This is one of the biggest banks in the country, and it could afford to cut me slack this one time. I'm a good customer, so why are they punishing me? And why does processing a check cost the bank $18?
R.E., Atlanta, Ga.

Dear R.E.,
They are punishing you precisely because you are a good customer, and because – unlike the bank – you are not too big to fail. You are, in fact, the perfect size to fail. Moreover, your excellent payment record suggests that you will pony up whatever they tell you to pony up. You have three choices in this situation: go on a public campaign of shaming, understanding that banks are incapable of embarrassment; withhold the payment, and watch your credit score go into the toilet; or pay the fee with equanimity, secure in the knowledge that God loathes bankers. As for that $18: the first 52 cents goes to the actual cost of processing the check; $5.70 covers shipping and handling; $2.90 pays the universal connectivity charge; $4.27 goes toward exotic dancers; $1.25 is for a new pole for the exotic dancers; 75 cents pays for chlamydia-detection kits; 40 cents is for baggage fees; and $2.21 goes into an escrow fund that will be devoted to recruiting unqualified borrowers as soon as the government forgets what happened the last time lenders recruited unqualified borrowers.

by Jeffrey Goldberg
The Altantic, November 2011, p160

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Attica is all of us

Another September anniversary just came and went-less noticed, and perhaps harder to talk about, than the famous one. The uprising at Attica Correctional Facility, a New York State maximum-security prison between Buffalo and Rochester, happened forty years ago. Disturbances in A Block began on September 8th, spread through three other blocks on the ninth, and ended on the thirteenth, when state troopers, guards, and others stormed the prison and tear-gassed and shot prisoners and their hostages. Thirty-two prisoners and eleven hostages (all of them prison employees) died. Dozens more were wounded or injured. Subdued by the police, prisoners then suffered beatings and torture.

Many of those who survived the events are now old men. On a mild evening when the setting sun lit the white, multi-steepled main tower of Riverside Church, a panel of seven former Attica prisoners sat on a row of chairs before the altar and talked about the uprising. The huge uptown church was packed; on a weekend of September 11th remembrances, two thousand or more came to this memorial, called "Attica Is All of Us." In the bright lights, each panelist's face shone a different shade of brown, and in the pews, where the overhead chandeliers had been dimmed, audience members who rose to applaud stood out as silhouettes. Jama Joseph, a film professor at Columbia, who presided, tried to get the panelists to talk about Attica as a "people's victory," but they described it as more spontaneous and chaotic-"a ball of confusion," one said.

One panelist's voice was high and soft, like Michael Jackson's, another's was raspy, another's was brisk and deep and confident. "After the one guard, Quinn, was stomped down, I knew they was gonna kill a lot of people, and they did"; ''There was no plan, no plot, no scheme"; "A number of correction officers locked themselves inside a cell block-I walked by, and it was like a different transference of identity"; "People was breakin' into the pharmacy, doin' unbecoming things"; "The Black Panthers and other groups wanted to kill the hostages, but we Muslims was the most disciplined group in the prison, and we took the hostages and protected them with our lives"; 'When the helicopters came in, they started shootin', and this one man I saw, they shot his head off. His head went one way and his body went the other." A panelist who wore a Peruvian-type hat with earflaps took the microphone and then could barely speak. The seconds went by. A weighted silence rose to the church's vaulted ceiling.

After the prisoners' panel, Amiri Baraka, the poet, who lives in Newark, recited the poem that had caused New Jersey to abolish the post of poet laureate out from under him. The poem asks which race has caused the greatest amount of human misery and consists of repeated sentences beginning with "Who." It touched on subjects from the destruction of native peoples, to the "4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers" who were told to "stay home" on September 11th, to the origin of AIDS, to the deaths of Lenin and Princess Diana. It ended with a long, shouted, window-shaking ''Who-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o?"

During a second panel, the Princeton professor Cornel West gave a short oration. He was wearing a three-piece suit with a watch chain across the vest and gleaming white cuffs. As he gestured, the right cuff made emphatic calligraphy in the air: "The Attica brothers who spoke here tonight consecrated this evening! ... America has been niggerized by September 11th, and we have become willing to consent to our own domination! ... Back in '71, the Attica brothers told the truth, but they weren't the only ones, you had a whole cacophony of voices! ... Today that kind of courage is in short supply! ... You better keep love in your heart for the people! ... A new wave of truthtelling! A new wave of witness-bearing! We might get crushed, too! ... But then you go down swinging, like Ella Fitzgerald and Muhammad Ali!"

Earlier, the Reverend Stephen H. Phelps, the interim senior minister at Riverside Church, asked all the members of the audience who had any past or present Attica connection to stand. Then he asked those who knew someone who had been in any prison to stand. Many hundreds of people-perhaps two-thirds of the assembly-were on their feet. Then he said, "Attica is all of us," and asked everybody to stand.

by Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, 26 Sept 2011, p56

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just remember, if you and your chapter

are not servicing your community, you are not fulfilling the Founders' mission.

The Founders deeply wished to create an organization that viewed itself as "a part of" the general community rather than "apart from" the general community. They believed that each potential member should be judged by his own merits rather than his family background or affluence... without regard of race, nationality, skin tone or texture of hair. They wished and wanted the Fraternity to exist as part of even a greater brotherhood which would be devoted to the "inclusive we" rather than the "exclusive we".

From its inception, the Founders also conceived Phi Beta Sigma as a mechanism to deliver services to the general community. Rather than gaining skills to be utilized exclusively for themselves and their immediate families, the Founders of Phi Beta Sigma held a deep conviction that they should return their newly acquired skills to the communities from which they had come. This deep conviction was mirrored in the Fraternity's motto, "Culture For Service and Service For Humanity".

Fraternity mission statement

The brothers of Phi Beta Sigma are the Fraternity's most valuable resource and strength. They are the primary means by which Phi Beta Sigma objectives will be achieved. In Order to accomplish the Fraternity's objectives, it is essential that systems are instituted that effectively embody "Culture For Service and Service For Humanity" and promote Brotherhood Scholarship, and Service.

To optimize Phi Beta Sigma's effectiveness, the Fraternity will:

  • Ensure that the Fraternity programs are focused and committed to serving humanity.

  • Create an environment that respects the dignity and worth of each brother.

  • Exhibit integrity and ethical behavior in conducting the Fraternity's business.

  • Serving as a model for all Greek-letter organizations.

  • Maintain and improve the Fraternity's technological literacy in order to better service its members and the community at large.

  • Foster and nurture our constitutional bond with Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.

  • Encourage a closer and mutually beneficial working relationship with fellow Greek-letter organizations, other community service organizations, business and government.

  • Strengthen and serve proactively, the Brotherhood. as a supportive resource that positively impacts the Fraternity's growth and financial solvency.

  • Reaffirm and maintain a strong commitment to Brotherhood. Scholarship and Service.

  • Select leaders who are committed and have demonstrated the ability to "lead".

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sept 15, 1963

48 years ago today, four black girls were killed when a bomb went off during Sunday services at a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, in the deadliest act of the civil rights era.

They would be in their mid-60's had the terrorist's bomb not exploded. Cynthia Wesley, 14, would be 62 today. Denise McNair, 11, would be 59 today. Carol Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, also 14 would be 62 today. Johnny Robinson, 16, and Virgil Wade, 13 were killed by the Birmingham Police while restoring order. They would be 64 and 61 respectively. Their deaths and lives lost were one of the many tragedies which was a part of the Civil Rights Movement.

The right to vote was not gained without sacrifice and loss.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A President Takes on the Establishment

Just months as after James A. Garfield was sworn in as president he was shot in the back by a deranged political enemy. The bullet didn't kill him but the archaic treatment worsened matters considerably. From the best-selling author of The River of Doubt comes Destiny of the Republic, the dramtic story of Garfield's battle to reunite a country torn apart by civil war and the battle for his very life. Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, the Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.

Destiny of the Republic (Doubleday) by Candice Millard

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Need A Dollar

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me?

Bad times are comin and I reap what I done sow
hey hey
Well let me tell you somthin all that glitters ain't gold
hey hey
It's been a long old trouble long old troublesome road
And I'm looking for somebody come and help me carry this load

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
Well I don't know if I'm walking on solid ground
Cause everything around me is falling down
And all I want - is for someone - to help me

I had a job but the boss man let me go
He said
I'm sorry but I won't be needing your help no more
I said
Please mister boss man I need this job more than you know
But he gave me my last paycheck and he sent me on out the door

Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
hey hey
Said I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
hey hey
And I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me?
Well i don't know if i'm walking on solid ground
Cause everything around me is crumbling down
And all I want is for someone to help me

What in the world am I gonna to do tomorrow
is there someone whose dollar that I can borrow?
Who can help me take away my sorrow
Maybe its inside the bottle
Maybe its inside the bottle
I had some good old buddy his names is whiskey and wine
hey hey
And for my good old buddy I spent my last dime
hey hey
My wine is good to me it helps me pass the time
and my good old buddy whiskey keeps me warmer than the sunshine
Hey Hey
Your mama may have, bless the child that's got his own
Hey Hey
if God has plans for me I hope it aint - written in stone
Hey Hey
because I've been working working myself down to the bone
and I swear on grandpas grave I'll be paid when I come home
Hey Hey

Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
hey hey
Said need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar that is what I need
hey hey
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me?
come on share your dollar with me
go ahead share your dollar with me
come on share your dollar give me your dollar
share your dollar with me
come on share your dollar with me

"I Need a Dollar" is a song performed by American singer Aloe Blacc, with music and lyrics by Leon Michels, E. Nathaniel Dawkins, Nick Movshon and Jeff Dynamite

Friday, August 19, 2011

How to Cook a Lobster

Use water that's as close to seawater as it can be - extremely salty or, better yet, seawater itself. And don't use that much: put three or four inches in the pot, and when the water is steaming like mad, add the lobster. A pound-and-a-quarter lobster takes about nine minutes. Afterward, don't shock it in ice water. That makes the meat tougher. Just let it cool down.

- Dave Pasternack, Esca, NY

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Can We Learn from the Megachurch Phenomenon?

By Scott Thumma

At its most basic descriptive level, a megachurch is a congregation which has two thousand or more worship attenders in a week. However, size alone is an insufficient characterization of this distinctive religious reality. The megachurch is a new structural and spiritual organization unlike any other. In order to understand fully the dynamics of megachurches, they must be seen as a collective social phenomenon rather than as individual anomalous moments of spectacular growth or uniquely successful spiritual entrepreneurial ventures.

Although variations exist, most megachurches have a similar identifiable pattern and share a common set of organizational and leadership dynamics. The rise of hundreds of these large churches in the last several decades implies that this new pattern of congregational life has a particular resonance to and fit with changes in modern American society and culture. Most importantly, this analysis offers a possible explanation of the symbolic significance of the megachurch phenomenon both for the spiritual lives of its members and its relationship to modern society.

The most overt characteristic of megachurches is their size, the number of persons attending in a given week. Although some disagreement exists over what size attendance should constitute a megachurch, this study uses a minimum weekly attendance of 2,000 persons. The size of some megachurches can be deceptive, however. A count of thousands of attenders is seldom completely accurate to the person. More often churches estimate their attendance based on the number of people their sanctuary holds. This is relatively easy to do if a sanctuary has individual seating, but pews complicate the estimation process considerably. Often megachurches report a cumulative attendance for multiple services based on the assumption that no person attends more than once. Given these issues, any reported attendance should be treated as an estimate, accurate to within several hundred.

This large number of worshipers creates several distinctive dynamics. Once a congregation reaches a critical mass of around 2,000, its numeric strength alone becomes a powerful attraction. One megachurch member astutely commented on this fact. “You hit a certain size and you can become self-generating. You attract people by your sheer size. People know that you are on TV and that this is that big place....There is a sense of something going on here...and size itself begats more growth.”

A congregation this large creates a social vortex which draws others to it. A Sunday morning stream of cars on an otherwise quiet street piques the interest, and perhaps ire, of the neighborhood. In addition, acres of parking lots and massive buildings capable of handling several thousand persons have a distinctive presence on the horizon.

Of course, as will be seen below, this size also produces difficulties to which the church must respond. Many megachurches work hard at justifying their large size for potential members. Roswell Street Baptist Church of Atlanta provides a perfect example of this. The church publishes a pamphlet which declares church growth to be a Biblical injunction and "the American way."

Big is Beautiful.... Any church in a large, growing community that is practicing the 'Great Commission' cannot keep from growing. To criticize a church for being big is to imply disbelief in Christ's commission.... A church gets big because its spirit is big.... Nobody ever started a business without hoping that someday, if he or she worked hard enough, it would be a big success. That is the American dream, isn't it?

In addition, newly established congregations have a considerable advantage in becoming megachurches. They are able to build their structures and institutional forms along with the growth, not following it. More established congregations must undertake the painful task of discarding or revising many of their traditions, habits, and old organizational forms in order to keep pace with the growth. New churches, however, have no set patterns to struggle against.

Three Expressions of One Basic Message

If there is a common message shared by all megachurches, it is that they want to portray what they do as more vital than other congregations, somehow better than "ordinary" Christianity. Megachurch pastors can often be heard commenting that they are "not just playing church."

Willow Creek Community Church, arguably the largest church in the country at present, epitomizes this form. The church's minister, Bill Hybels, characterized the intent of this approach in his neighborhood survey done prior to organizing the congregation. He went door-to-door asking residents what they disliked about church and what they would want in a church. From this, he constructed a "user friendly" worship service with sermons oriented to practical life and devoid of appeals for money, religious jargon and "heavy guilt trips." The worship is laid-back, but the message remains solidly conservative Christian. The church's web site describes its efforts,

We may use up-to-date language, music and drama to communicate God's Word for today's culture, but our message is as old as the Bible itself. We embrace historic Christian teachings on all doctrines, emphasizing Jesus Christ's atoning death, salvation through repentance and faith as a work of divine grace, and the authority of the unique, God-inspired Bible.

Willow Creek "seeks to attract those who are probably uncomfortable in most churches" with its Sunday morning "seeker services". As Hybels himself stated, "We're on the verge of making kingdom history, doing things a new way for a whole new generation.... [The] neutral corporate setting [is designed to] impress seekers with excellence, but not ostentatiousness".

Willow Creek is not the only shape this nontraditional approach can take. Crenshaw Christian Center, perhaps the largest sanctuary in the United States and one of the largest African American congregations, seats 10,400 in a huge geodesic "FaithDome" structure. This replica of a sports arena has a center stage platform with stadium seating 360 degrees around. In Atlanta, a similar structure resembling the Houston Astrodome and seating 8000, was recently completed for the World Changers ministry, also an African American congregation.

A Distinctive Visionary Identity

Within this message of originality and uniqueness, resides another common characteristic of megachurches. Many of these large churches describe their mission in terms of a distinctive visionary identity or purpose. Given that most megachurches are at least functionally nondenominational, they must intentionally construct their congregational identities rather than rely on a traditionally-ascribed denominational label. Megachurches must create for themselves a unique identity. This congregational self-concept must be broad enough to appeal to a wide range of persons. Yet it must also be firm enough to define its position, offer a cohesive world view, and totemically unify a large and diverse gathering of participants. As a result, megachurch ministers often shape their church's identity to reflect a particular mission to a target audience, whether this be "seekers," "unchurched Harrys," "Saddleback Sams," young families, recent northern transplants, those who need healing, alienated teens, or retired adults.

Lakewood Church of Houston, Texas characterized itself similarly as "the oasis of love in a troubled world." A pamphlet of Valley Cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona portrayed the church's revealed vision as being "a forgiveness center, and not a guilt center, a city of refuge, where many who had been injured by the organizational machineries and other religious groups could gather and be healed."

Willow Creek Community church has even been described in terms of being a refuge for those who have given up on religion. Robinson argued that megachurches are unique in that they realize persons have a high degree of emotional broken, individual uncertainty, and family dysfunction. Their success comes as they respond to and fill this need for personal healing (1991:69). Pastor Tommy Barnett of First Assembly of God Phoenix, Arizona summarized this strategy, "When you help people, your congregation grows"

Something For Everyone

The programs and specific ministries of megachurches are shaped by the context in which they reside. Yet even with the potential diversity of programs, one common characteristic underlies the efforts of all megachurches and that is choice. A congregation of thousands encompasses many diverse tastes and interests which must be addressed. Not only does this need for choice affect the array of ministries offered, but it also influences the style of worship, preaching, and music exhibited in megachurches.

A number of social observers have suggested that megachurches resemble shopping malls in their wide array of consumer-driven ministerial offerings. The megachurch functions like the mall owner providing stability and a common roof under which diverse ministries, seen as specialized boutiques, can operate. In addition several core ministries, like anchor stores, offer a continuous draw to this spiritual shopping center. This organizational arrangement allows the larger church structure to remain unchanged while the lay-driven specialized offerings rise or fall depending on changing needs. This system provides the entire membership with a continuous supply of appealing choices that fit their tastes. It also offers the highly committed members their choice of places to serve. Finally, it ensures that the church as a whole appears relevant and vibrantly active (a seven-day-a-week church) at a minimum of cost both structurally and financially. This mall-like approach enables the megachurch's leadership to maintain a stable worship environment and yet exhibit flexibility in serving a changing clientele by continuously altering their ministry choices. As one megachurch member explained, "It has everything I need in one package."

Worship is one of the central drawing cards that anchors the church. The worship service in megachurches is a high quality, entertaining and well planned production. Given the congregation's size, this service cannot be left to "the flow of the spirit," especially if there are multiple services on a Sunday morning. As a megachurch grows, worship becomes more professional and polished, but also more planned and structured. Many megachurches offer a diverse array of additional religious services of differing styles throughout the week. They hold prayer services, Bible studies, singing services, and perhaps healing or Charismatic praise services. Several megachurches have Saturday evening youth-oriented services, or beginner courses in basic Christianity. The diversity offered at a megachurch extends even to the choice of the style, form, and time of a worship event that best fits one's needs and tastes.

Many megachurches have ten to twenty assistant ministers, from 30 to 250 full-time staff members, and up to 2,000 volunteers. In addition, the budgets of the smallest of megachurches are at least two million dollars per year. Willow Creek, at the other extreme, had a 1995 budget of $12.35 million dollars, 63 percent of which paid the 260 full and part time workers with the rest being used for operating expenses and the mortgage on a $34.3 million dollar building.

This business may be led by a powerful senior minister but most megachurches also operate with a Executive Board which is said to oversee business affairs. For instance, Crenshaw Christian Center's board has 12 members: the pastor who is president of the corporation, three elders who are also assistant pastors, six deacons who are elected church members, each serving a maximum of four years, a board secretary, and the church treasurer. Ideally, this board, in conjunction with other assistant pastors, church elders and the congregation as a whole, acts as a check to any imbalance of power that may result from the concentration of authority in the senior minister. This may be the ideal, but it may not work as such in reality. For instance, one megachurch minister was quoted as advocating a strong singular authority saying, "A committee run church is a dead church"

The approach taken in many large churches is to preach the message of active involvement and high commitment, provide the structures and ministries to support that involvement, and then allow members to choose how committed they want to be. Earl Paulk, senior minister of Chapel Hill Harvester Church, spoke of this model as "preaching the standard but ministering to the need." These large churches, by allowing for anonymity and choice, draw some persons to church who never would come otherwise. As one writer said about Willow Creek, "seekers can be anonymous here. You don't have to say anything, sing anything, sign anything, or give anything". In fact, many people want to remain anonymous. Hybels' survey found this to be one of the primary components unchurched persons wanted in a worship service. Other members use the private space to recover from burnout or over commitment. Several megachurch members echoed one woman's comment about her involvement, "I hung around for several years, just resting, before I got involved."

Many of these megachurches intentionally try not to leave their uncommitted members in that noncommittal state for long. Some, such as Willow Creek and Johnson Ferry Baptist Church of Atlanta, have explicit steps toward increasing new members' involvement in the congregation. Saddleback, likewise, has a system that it calls the "baseball diamond strategy" for "moving people from unchurched and uncommitted to become mature believers who fulfill their ministry and their life mission in the world." The components of this system are: first base - committing to membership, second base - developing spiritual maturity, third base - empowering for service, and home base - fulfilling a life mission to the world.

Megachurches, like all other congregations, must constantly try to reduce their attrition rates. They must also compete with the strong societal norm that justifies sporadic attendance and marginal participation. In addition, all churches have to deal with people who feel that they can drop in, enjoy the show, and ignore the threats to give or be involved, even at the cost of possible eternal damnation. Unlike many other congregation, however, megachurches often spend much more time attracting those who choose to be committed rather than trying to coerce marginal members to change their minds.

Every successful organization has to attempt to weed out its free-riders either by encouraging them to leave or by getting them involved. Megachurches contain large numbers of new, non-contributing, and marginal members, often as many as half the congregation. The percentage of such persons in megachurches may be greater than it is in smaller churches precisely because of the anonymity of size and the fact that these large churches often intentionally "cast their nets" upon an "unchurched" constituency. At the same time, these megachurch "free loaders" might not tax the institution to the extent they do in a smaller church. Several church researchers argue that even though the large churches require more money to maintain themselves, percentage-wise they are more efficient and generate considerable amounts of additional revenue. Megachurches have a greater surplus of resources to compensate for the marginal participants.

The large number of minimally involved persons may, in fact, actually be an asset to the megachurch organization in a way they are not for smaller churches. Several thousand free-riders are crucial for the megachurch to maintain its large congregation, a "critical mass," of worshipers which help attract others to the church. These large numbers help the church stand out in the religious marketplace. Therefore, whether the free-riders are committed or not, their presence alone contributes significantly to the draw of these massive churches.

Of course, megachurches also make use of their media resources to spread their influence and extend their advertising budget. Tapes, printed materials, conference announcements, and radio and television broadcasts often cover the continent. Many churches televise their services, even if it is just in the local area and many use video presentations in worship as well. Willow Creek is a notable exception here, having intentionally chosen to avoid television entirely. Within the last few years an additional medium, the Internet, has captured the attention of some megachurches. At present dozens of congregations, including Chapel Hill Harvester, Willow Creek, Saddleback, and First Baptist Atlanta, have very professional, and quite extensive pages on the World Wide Web.

The cumulative effect of the mass gatherings, the giant structures, and the local and national influence which these churches have is to create a powerful symbolic presence of a publicly vital and influential congregation. The message offered implicitly, and occasionally explicitly, by these congregations is that they are not, as one pastor explained, "just a local church on the corner, but a world missions outreach center." These megachurch pastors and their congregations see themselves, in the words of this same pastor, as "World Changers - changing their worlds in their homes, workplaces, and communities."

Whether these churches actually will change the world remains to be seen. However, both their presence and their power in shaping their immediate surroundings have been actualized. The implication of this success can be seen as an unstated but real challenge to the impression that religion is impotent in a secularized society. For members of megachurches, as it is for many modern Americans, the influence of religion, and specifically Christianity, has been perceived as declining at an alarming rate. The powerful influence of their congregations provides considerable evidence to the contrary. The successful megachurch, with its thousands of vibrant committed Christians, offers the message to America that religion is alive and well, at least in this place.

Excepts from “Beyond Megachurch Myths” by Scot Thumma and Dave Travis, 2010.