Category Archives: Culture

The Road to Damascus


For those unfamiliar with the business case teaching method, it is grounded in similar training in medical and law schools.  Students are presented with the facts surrounding a management decision, analogous to intern rounds or moot court.  They analyze the situation and recommend a course of action.  From a grading perspective, there is no single right answer.  Assessment is based on the extent to which a student’s preferred option is supported by the facts.

Teaching case method is particularly rewarding if you have the principal, e.g. owner or executive, in the classroom for questions and answers following the Socratic debate over the possible options and analysis.  In one case during my years as a professor of entrepreneurship at Miami University, a student proposed a solution which had never crossed the business owner’s mind.  In response, the head of a product marketing company told the student, “I sure wish you had been there at the time.”

About Us - Johnsonville Foodservice

One of the most popular and illuminating cases about business management is “Johnsonville Sausage Co.” written by Harvard professor Michael J. Roberts.  Owner and CEO Ralph Stayer (photo) is faced with a decision whether to take on a new customer despite the current lack of production capacity.  While addressing the opportunity, Stayer has an epiphany about his management style.  Previously he considered such judgments to be executive prerogative.  However, in this case the decision process was more inclusive, from which he realized his history of micromanagement was holding the company back.

I never had the privilege of Stayer’s presence in my own classroom, but Harvard produced a video of questions and answers in one of Roberts’ classes.  During the give and take, the following exchange occurred.

STUDENT:  At what point did you become so enlightened?  Pre-1980, it seems like you had a pretty authoritarian shop there.  And now it appears you are diametrically opposed to your previous management style.  What caused your shift?

STAYER:  It’s a great question.  It really is.  I was on the road to Damascus and lightning hit me.  Knocked me off my donkey.  And when I came to, I was enlightened.

[Class laughs]

For those unfamiliar with Stayer’s reference to Damascus and the donkey, it is attributed to the conversion of Paul the Apostle described in The New Testament.  Prior to the crucifixion, Paul had been among those who persecuted early Christians.  On his way to Damascus, Paul (then known as Saul the Pharisee) was blinded by a light from heaven and heard a voice which asked why he would persecute the Lord.  Once in Damascus, his sight was restored after which he was baptized and became a follower of Jesus.

Why, this morning, did I choose to school readers on the likes of Ralph Stayer and Paul the Apostle?  Because modern day epiphanies do not require being thrown from a donkey by a bolt of lightning or hearing unseen voices.  More pedestrian omens serve the same purpose.  For example, following a heart attack, the patient makes significant lifestyle changes in diet and exercise.  Or the announcement by one’s own child to being gay precipitates a change of heart about marriage equality and LGBTQ rights.

Which brings me to 1:45 a.m. this morning when the news broke Donald and Melania Trump both tested positive for COVID-19.  As an agnostic, I cannot believe this was an act of God.  With adequate contact tracing, epidemiologists can pinpoint the source of transmission. Like any compassionate individual, I wish the first couple a quick and complete recovery.  But that does not stop me from questioning whether the White House responds to this medical event as a conversion opportunity.  Will Trump’s own experience deter him from further ignoring the experts and putting his own personal political fortunes ahead of the nation’s well being?

The choice is simple.  Trump can either be Paul the Apostle.  Or the jackass from which Paul was thrown.  As with any crisis, one can hope for the best, but must remain prepared for the worse.


Trump “psychophants” have flooded social media with calls for Joe Biden to immediately suspend his campaign while Trump is in quarantine.  How ironic this comes from the folks who have spent the last six months suggesting, just because blue states have had to lock down, there is no reason for red states to follow suit.

Or imagine the situation where one restaurant ignores CDC guidance and is closed down by local officials.  Under the above “Trump campaign principle,” all complying restaurants and bars should also suspend operations.

In which case, I have no doubt the Proud Boys would all come to D.C. armed to the hilt to “Liberate The Dubliner.”  For those unfamiliar with this Capitol Hill landmark, should you ever have the occasion to be on the corner of North Capitol and F Streets, stop in and order the fish and chips with a stein of Guinness.

For what it’s worth.


Mr. Spock v. Dr. Spock


Every child has strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges. Loving means adjusting your expectations to fit your child, not trying to adjust your child to fit your expectations.

~Dr. Benjamin Spock/Baby and Child Care

You may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting.  This is not logical, but it is often true.

Mr. Spock/Star Trek, “Amok Time,” Season 2, Episode 1

The current divisions in America are much less based on a cancellation of culture as they are a clash of cultures represented by the above quotes.  Democrats and liberals are criticized for coddling behavior, or as Dr. Spock suggests, letting each person set his or her own agenda and priorities.  In contrast, Republicans and conservatives, more consistent with Mr. Spock’s philosophy, argue progressive goals may sound good but will lose their sheen in practice.

267 Benjamin Spock Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty ImagesThe irony, of course, is this applies to everyone but (drum roll) Donald Trump.  Consider the story posted yesterday by the Associated Press, “Debate commission considering ‘changes’ to structure of debate after chaotic first.”  Instead of telling the petulant man-child who occupies the Oval Office, “Play by the rules or we’ll put you in time-out,” they must have consulted their copy of Baby and Child Care.  Their response could not be more Dr. Spock-like.  Since we cannot get the child to adjust to our expectations, let’s lower our expectations and adapt to the child’s behavior.

ISN'T IT DELICIOUS!: DELICIOUS Remembers: Our beloved Mr. Spock - Leonard Nimoy (1931 - 2015)In contrast, the proponents who have been saying “let Trump be Trump” got exactly what they wished for.  And what is their morning-after assessment?  Even though spineless Republican senators danced around Trump’s responsibility for the fiasco, they found, as Mr. Spock warned, the debate was not as pleasing as they wanted.

  • “It was awful.”/Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski
  • “It was exhausting.”/Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer
  • Trump needs to “restrain himself a little” in the next debate./Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe
  • “An embarrassment.”/Utah Senator Mitt Romney
  • “It was the least educational debate of any presidential debate I’ve ever seen.”/Maine Senator Susan Collins

Of course, Trump “psychophants” (term coined by former GOP strategist Steve Schmidt),  played the both sides card.  Yet, the record does not validate their opinion.  Joe Biden had previously appeared in two vice-presidential debates (2008 and 2012) sponsored by the commission.  And neither of those events were described with the same level of disgust expressed above.  The difference on this occasion?  The opponent.

But the Dr. Spock approach is not practiced solely by Trump apologists.  In August Real Time host Bill Maher closed the show with the following “New Rule.”

If Trump’s going to try to scuttle the Post Office, we need to fight back.  Don’t use the mail for anything but ballots until the election is over.

I agree we need to fight back.  How about demanding Congress provide the postal service with funds to upgrade services throughout the election cycle?  Or impeaching postmaster general Louis DeJoy for perjury?  Instead, Maher, a self-proclaimed bachelor-for-life with no children of his own, became a product placement for Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care.

Let’s not expect the post office to do it’s job as it has for 244 years.  Let’s inconvenience everyone else because the crybaby-in-chief is doing everything he can to suppress the 2020 turnout.  Maher would rather deny a birthday card from a grandchild to an elderly shut-in who has already suffered enough during the pandemic .  Or discourage an Ohio voter from sending a letter to Rob Portman demanding he grow a pair and denounce Trump’s assault on the integrity of the election.  In that case, it is time to change the title of the HBO program to Real Capitulation with Bill Maher.

If you don’t want to lie in the bed one of Trump’s undocumented immigrant employees has prepared for you, do not patronize one of his debt-ridden, bedbug-infested resorts.  Or as Mr. Spock said in “Errand of Mercy” (Season 1, Episode 26), “Curious how often you Humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.”

For what it’s worth.


The Conversation


Millions of Americans are in danger of being infected by a rampant contagion which is spreading rapidly throughout the country–polling fatigue.  Almost every website includes a paid banner or pop-up asking your opinion about the presidential race, which issue is most important to you, would you take a COVID-19 vaccine, do you feel safe sending your children to school, etc.  I have received three phone calls this month from survey research firms (or so they say) wanting my opinion on similar issues. A clearly biased group texted me on Monday asking if I approved of the violence in cities like Portland, Kenosha and Minneapolis to which I responded… (My wife would not have approved of my finishing the sentence.) The people conducting this last survey must also believe the “scientific method” is a form of birth control.

Yet, no one has asked me the two questions about which I am most curious.

  • Have you and your family had a conversation about leaving the country if Donald Trump is elected to a second term in office ?
  • Does it matter whether you believe his victory was legitimate or not?

The only statistically valid data related to these questions come from a January 2019 Gallup report which compared the propensity of Americans to permanently leave the U.S. under the last three presidents.

George W. Bush/11 percent
Barack Obama/10 percent
Donald Trump/16 percent

Among those potential emigrants, the largest demographic subset was women under the age of 30.  And the number one desired destination was Canada.  In the case of Donald Trump, the percentage jumps to 22 percent for those who disapprove of his performance in office.

My own research, admittedly anecdotal based on discussions with family and friends, suggests those who would answer yes to the first question is consistent with the Gallup findings, if not higher.  And of course, there is a difference between those who would act on their preference and others who make idle threats.  For example, Susan Sarandon infamously said she would emigrate if George W. Bush won re-election.  Sadly, she did not.

When I receive a positive response, the obvious next question is, “Where would you go?”  On this matter there is a wide range of opinion.  Canada. The Cayman Islands. Costa Rica.  Portugal.  Israel. The reasons also vary.  We already have friends or family there.  Such and such website says it is one of the top choices for American ex-pats.  The cost of living and amenities make it a great place for retirees.

The FRONTLINE Interview: Barton Gellman | United States of Secrets | FRONTLINE | PBSHowever, we never get to the second question for which I take personal responsibility.  Probably because I had not given it much thought until Trump’s recent comments and Barton Gellman’s article in The Atlantic, “The Election That Could Break America,” which documents the ways Trump and the GOP might claim victory despite a vote tally in which Joe Biden wins both the popular and electoral votes.  These new data points make the nature of Trump’s continued occupancy of the Oval Office a legitimate criterion in the conversation about staying or leaving the country.  And perhaps, the one deserving the most weight.

Why?  Because a legitimate Trump victory is not an indictment of Trump who we know does not care about democracy or the Constitution.  It would be the American people who are guilty of the crime of violating their oath of citizenship.  Renunciation of their pledge of allegiance to the flag.  If a majority of Americans either vote for Donald Trump or sit out the election enabling his re-election, those individuals are signaling, in the strongest of terms, they too do not care about democracy, the Constitution or the rule of law.

Like many, I fear if Trump circumvents the will of the people in November, there will be chaos, mass protests and the inevitable violence that accompanies societal unrest.  If a meaningful majority of Americans feel the cause is just, I would be proud to stand with them.  However, if Trump and Trumpism is the will of the people, one must seriously re-evaluate the options.  The proposition becomes, “Do I want to live in a country where a majority of the citizenry no longer is willing to stand up for the ideals on which the union was founded?”

Sadly, that makes the choice unquestionably easier.  It’s time to pack the belongings and start combing the MLS listings outside the U.S.  I am optimistic the voters will not let us down.  But we do not need 20/20 hindsight to know it is a possibility.  We have 2020 experience.

For what it’s worth.



DEPROGRAMMING 101 is one person’s attempt to encourage others to open their minds and challenge the status quo. I do not pretend I have all the answers nor do I want you to take my positions as gospel. The blogs on each topic are presented as food for thought and stimuli. Each ends with the tagline, “For what it’s worth,” which in some cases may be zero. The ultimate goal is not to find RIGHT answers, it is to promote the asking of BETTER questions.

Dr. ESP/October 28, 2015

John W. Gardner - WikipediaGo into any bookstore.  There are shelves upon shelves of volumes in the “Self Help” section encouraging individuals to “reinvent themselves.”  My personal favorite is Self-Renewal by John W. Gardner, founder of Common Cause and former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under Lyndon Johnson.  The main thesis centers on the impact of change on individuals and societies.  Gardner observes, throughout history, failure to recognize and respond to natural and man-made metamorphoses has led to the decline and fall of great civilizations, but such outcomes are not inevitable.

However, there is an alternative route to survival in difficult times.  I became aware of this option as the result of a marketing exercise I began in 2012 to find potential clients for The ImagineIt Project, a company I joined in 2005 and took over as CEO in 2011.  I Googled the term “reinvent” in corporate annual reports and in CEO presentations to stockholders.  While this research identified several potential targets, the source documents contained another equally intriguing phrase.  “We need to go back to our entrepreneurial roots.”  In other words, what did we do at the outset which made us successful?  And where might we have gone astray?

Which is why I began this post with the first words I ever wrote about the philosophy and mission associated with this endeavor.  But more importantly, I wanted to assess whether I had violated them, spending more time trying to explain what was happening rather than looking for “better questions” which would encourage others to join in the search for new knowledge and enlightenment.  Therefore, on the the occasion of this milestone, post #600, I decided to circle back to the roots of Deprogramming101 and present a series of questions which deserve more thought and new perspectives.

  1. Why do politicians and the people who vote for them have such short memories?  Example : In a monologue about mascots, comedian Costaki Economopoulos (real name) reminds us, “The Republicans have the elephant, who never forgets.  But Republicans can’t seem to remember what a bad idea supply side economics is.”
  2. Why do Catholics who represent 22 percent of the U.S. population currently hold five out of nine seats on the Supreme Court, soon to be six?  One would think white Evangelicals, who are the most loyal Republican voters beginning with Ronald Reagan, might ask, “When are you going to appoint one of us?”
  3. If the 1962 Supreme Court decision in Baker v. Carr affirmed the concept of one-person-one-vote, why shouldn’t that apply to the election of the president?  Prior to the decision, states could apportion seats in their legislature’s upper chamber based on geo-political boundaries (i.e. counties) which gave undue power to voters in rural, less populated jurisdictions.  You know, the equivalent of Wyoming having one electoral vote per 195,000 residents while Florida has one electoral vote per 741,000 residents.
  4. Why is there still no available ala carte cable or streaming television service?  A related question:  Why don’t the major broadcast networks and their affiliates stream programming for free since their main source of revenue, advertising fees, increases based on the number of viewers?
  5. What if black lung disease prevents COVID-19 related fatalities?  West Virginia ranks 44th among the states and Washington, D.C. in number of COVID-19 deaths (Reuters) although residents have the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure in the United States (AP News/December 18, 2018).
  6. Why was only one American (Kareem Serageldin) sentenced to prison for his role in the 2008 financial crisis?  According to the Financial Times, 47 bank employees and directors worldwide received jail terms, led by Iceland with 25 convictions.  Serageldin was sentenced in 2013 to a term of two years and six months. In 2011, Oklahoman Patricia Spottedcrow was sentenced to 12 years in prison for selling $31 worth of cannabis (Source: Tulsa World).  Justice may be blind, but she has not lost her sense of smell.
  7. Why does a single Ace pocket comb at Walmart cost $2.22 and the 2-pack costs $6.98?  Perhaps this is a means of assessing the quality of math instruction in K-12 education.
  8. Why do successful young golfers feel the urge to change their swing when the old one is still working?  Cases in point, Jordan Spieth and Ricky Fowler.
  9. Why would director Gus Van Sant and Universal Pictures think Americans would pay to see Anne Heche instead of Janet Leigh in the shower scene in the 1998 remake of Psycho The same goes for updated versions of The In-Laws, The Out-of-Towners, King Kong (1976), Death Wish and Footloose.
  10. And finally, a question raised by the late Glenn Brenner, sportscaster on WTOP television in Washington, D.C from 1977 to 1991.  Why do squirrels risk getting run over to gather acorns on the other side of the street when there are just as many on the side where they already are?

This list is far from exhaustive.  I encourage readers to add their own.  Who knows?  Maybe some of them will be  topics of the next 600 posts on this site.

Thank you for being there for the past five years.  For what it’s worth.


Timber Land

NOTE:  Today’s post is the 599th since I started this project in October, 2015.  I have spent much too much time thinking about the focus or subject of #600.  I want it to be memorable, if not monumental.  Maybe an update on past topics.  Or a mea culpa reminding readers “FWIW” was occasionally zero, considering all the things I got it wrong over the past five years.  Or a philosophical piece questioning whether there is blog-life after Trump.  Or even an announcement that I am passing the torch to a new generation of bloggers when my GoDaddy hosting contract expires next spring.

But today I am inspired by former RNC chair Michael Steele, who yesterday reminded us the key to November 3rd is focus.  Make the election about Trump’s apocalyptic failure to address the pandemic.  All his “dumb ass comments” are noise which do not deserve our attention.  They should be ignored by Joe Biden and the media.  A clarion call to a frustrated satirist turned blogger.  If not Trump, someone else needs to step into the arena and produce “dumb ass statements” worthy of note.  Challenge accepted.

Do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave to a certain extent, as it put me, and I think lots of White, privileged people in a cave?

~Bob Woodward/Rage

In the ultimate example of Donald Trump’s ability to project his own attitudes and behavior, he responded to Woodward’s question by accusing the Pultizer Prize winning author of being a captive of the “woke” movement.  “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you  Just listen to you.  Wow.”

Certainly not what I would have said.  But Woodward’s question made me wonder if I too sported a pair of white privilege blinders.  While I have yet to come up with a definitive answer to that specific query, I did learn something else this week.  I definitely have a mental blind spot which demonstrates how cultural experience and references affect how black and white Americans might view the same situation differently.

This epiphany followed a September 17, 2020 story in Footwear News about Kamala Harris’ choice of (drum roll) footwear during a trip to California to observe the wildfire damage and efforts to bring the disaster under control.

For a visit to one of the sites of California’s wildfires near Fresno on Tuesday, Harris was seen talking with Governor Gavin Newsom wearing a pair of Timberland boots.

The TwittterSphere and other social media sites heralded the story as an iconic cultural moment, something I did not understand until reading Brooke Leigh Howard’s column in The Daily Beast.

Timberland boots have come to be an emblem of the Black community, and this week—after a much-buzzed-about photograph of her stepping off a plane in California—vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris has owned that statement.

The move was unapologetically Black. For me, it is the kind of move that signals that I can be Black without having to code-switch.

NOTE:  Code-switch is a term used to describe the need for a person of color to tone done appearance or behavior in the company of whites.  Example:  Switching from urban radio to a Top 40 station when carpooling with white co-workers.

I had no idea.  My first inclination?  What was she supposed to wear to a wild fire?  Stilettos?  But it did not take long before I came to the conclusion this fashion statement fell within a more familiar cultural context.  As I so often do, I reverted back to the white person’s handbook Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Seinfeld.

Of course, my last cultural recollection of Timberlands was from the November 20, 1997  Seinfeld episode “The Betrayal.”  Seinfeld fans often refer to this unique story about the gang traveling to a wedding in India as “The Backward Episode.”  Jerry introduces George to his platonic friend Nina, after which George asks Jerry to “fix me up with her.”  There is only one hitch. George is wearing a new pair of Timberlands when he first meets Nina, which make him look taller. The following conversation ensues.

GEORGE:  Wait a minute.  Nina just saw me in my Timberlands!  Now I have to wear them every time I see her.


GEORGE:  In any other shoe, I lose two inches.  I can’t have a drop down.  We were eye to eye.  I can’t go eye to chin.

Kamala Harris and her trending shoes: VP candidate makes Timbs trendThat must be it.  Kamala Harris is five feet two inches tall.  Her Timberlands make her look taller, especially knowing she would be photographed with California governor Gavin Newsom (6’3″).

Except it wasn’t.  So let me take this opportunity to thank Ms. Howard for this moment of cultural sensitivity training.  The only question left is how Donald Trump or his campaign will use this information to smear Harris.  I expect they will flood social media with ads suggesting Senator Harris is unfit to be vice-president because she is “lifting.”*

*For non-Seinfeld aficionados who may not understand this reference, check out the Wikipedia article titled, “The Stand In (Seinfeld).”

For what it’s worth.