Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Don't Shoot . . . Sanction

Let's see now . . . Vladimir Putin couldn't wait until May 25 for a scheduled referendum that probably would have paved a peaceful and fairly acceptable way for the Crimean Peninsula to leave Ukraine and return to Mother Russia, its home for much of modern history. For reasons unclear, Putin decided to strong arm his way in with a show of military force to back a puppet Crimean Premier who obligingly rushed a vote with predictable results.

A solid majority of  residents of Crimea are ethnic Russians who speak Russian. Most of the minority Tatars and Ukrainians refused to vote as a protest of the Russian power play. The vote was overwhelmingly pro-Russia. Surprise! The process of incorporating the peninsula into the Russian Federation has begun.

It is unlikely that Ukraine will make any military response. Crimea has provided bases for Russia's Black Sea Fleet for
200 years. A recent estimate put the force at 24 warships, two submarines, and 16,000 sailors and marines. On top of that, Russia has sent several thousand more troops, with insignia removed, into the peninsula since its power play started. Ukraine has nothing in the area to match that sort of strength. Taking on Russia in a full-scale attack along its lengthy border to the north would be suicidal.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama informed the world that if what has happened were to happen, Russia would face "serious consequences." Lots of people, apparently including Putin, aren't taking that message very seriously. So far, the consequences have been freezing bank accounts of a few dozen individuals who promoted the Crimean spectacle. The U.S. seized some assets, the European Union froze more.

What more-serious actions are likely to take place? Not many. The parties involved are entirely too much involved in the world of business to take a dive into the world of war. They depend on each other.

Nearly two thirds of Russian exports are gas and oil, and about half of that is sold to European Union countries. France has lucrative contracts to build Russian ships. Germans have some $22 billion invested in assets within Russia. British bankers profit handsomely by serving as a financial center away from home for Russian billionaires.  The unhealthiest U.S. symbol, the Golden Arches, appears across the Russian landscape, as do other American corporate logos.

It looks like a classic standoff. It probably will stay that way unless the few observers who think Putin has lost his mind are right. Could it be world leaders finally will act with wisdom rather than playground bravado that in the past has escalated into wars bringing misery to millions? Lets hope they continue to fire off sanctions, not missiles.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Are We Out of Respect?

A Facebook group amuses members by posting historic photos from my hometown of Tomahawk, Wisconsin. Each post usually touches off a string of comments. Most of the writers are men and women who were in grade or high school in the 1960s or 70s.

A picture of a grade-school classroom in a rural school appeared last week. It touched off a lengthy discussion of people known to have been on the faculty. The 60- and 70-year-olds writing comments referred to the teachers this way: Mr. Obey, Mrs. Leverance, Mrs. Sparks, Mr. Schindler, Mrs. Jackson, and Mrs. Wurl.

Notice anything? An old friend once told me that growing up in a small city in Oregon he and his friends seldom knew the first names of adults--because it was completely unacceptable for kids to use them. I'm told that was true elsewhere, and it was in my hometown, especially in the schools. If we knew the first name of a teacher, we did not use it, at least openly.

As youngsters, we often created derogatory nicknames for other kids and a few adults. It frequently was a form of bullying among school children. But in the case of adults, the labels stayed just between us kids. We were extra-careful about using the names in the grown-up world.

Teachers got an extra measure of respect. Beautiful wife Sandy and I carefully searched our memories and could come up with only one case in each of our school experiences where a nickname was coined for an adult. One of Sandy's teachers got the honor. In my school, only one administrator was tagged. Both insulting labels had to do with a shortage of hair on the heads of the victims.

The geezer no longer is in direct contact with practices in our schools, but a brief internet search reveals differences, and some controversy, about how students address their teachers. Apparently, in the early grades some teachers encourage use of their first names by the kids. That practice continues into the higher grades in some systems. Other school districts change the protocol as students advance.

Several stories spoke of  school districts changing policies to force a return to the old "Mr., Mrs., Miss," or perhaps "Ms." titles of respect at all times. I didn't find any accounts of school administrations endorsing, "Hey, Dude."

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Old Dad Was No Dummy

My father's formal education ended after the fourth grade, yet he had plenty of smarts. He was fluent in two languages, was capable of running a small business well, served his community in many ways, and presided over a successful family (men were in fact the authority figures in most American families in his day).

Dad didn't spout a whole lot of advice about how other people, including his children, should live their lives. I've only carried a handful of his thoughts on my journey. One guideline goes like this, "In any business deal, make sure you hold the money if you can."

That wisdom about putting yourself in the power position has worked for me for a long time. This morning, it came to mind once again.

A computer message advised that the local electric company was about to make its routine monthly charge to my credit card---for $631. My typical bill in winter months is $80 to $90. Yikes! I was on the phone in a hurry. The message said the charge would be made in two days.

Some 15 minutes on hold while various irrelevant recorded messages played gave me time to calm down and assess the situation. Because I had agreed to an automatic credit charge, the company in effect would be holding my money until the situation was resolved. By automating a monthly task to avoid paying a bill with an envelope and postage stamp and to collect a one percent cash-back bonus, I had put the wrong party in control.

When I finally got through to a service rep, I was assured that someone would be out today to reread my meter. "Then what?" I asked.

"The charge to your account probably will be adjusted in about a week."

I asked the rep to cancel my automatic payment authorization and have the corrected bill mailed to me. She reluctantly agreed.

Now I'm in the power position. It will be a cold day in you know where before that company gets a $631 payment from me. Dad would be proud.