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Wal-Mart: The New American Dream

The recent Wal-Mart television commercials strike me as ironic. They tout Wal-Mart as a company where people can have rewarding careers. I agree that tens of thousands of people spend a significant portion of their working careers as Wal-Mart employees, and that's fine by me, but I object to two things in these commercials:

  1. Misleading employee portrayals. They spotlight the one employee among thousands who climbs the ladder to a high level job after 15 or 20 years with the company. What kind of high level jobs, you-who-haven't-seen-the-commercials ask? Oh, VP of the stationary department, for example. I'm not kidding. Took her 18 years to get there, and she's one of the lucky.

  2. The tagline of the commercials, in which Wal-Mart claims to help its employees attain "the American Dream." I realize television is the great mind-killer of our time, that it somehow manages to slip crap into our heads and bypass that critical information processing phase known as independent thought, but has anyone else found themselves in a state of shock as Wal-Mart proclaims itself the American Dream?!

Perhaps I'm being too hasty and forgetting the millionaire Wal-Mart employees who've benefitted from the 401k plan. But then again, Wal-Mart culture seems to have changed since Sam died; it's a company where employees may be pressured to work off the clock as long lines of waiting customers stare at banks of unstaffed registers, blood roiling. No one who joins the Wal-Mart team today and works in a store will become a millionaire from Wal-Mart benefits.

That is the post I intended to write after seeing the VP of the stationary department during Meet the Press this morning. Then I came home and read this article. Costco has come under fire from stock analysts, who say the warehouse club is overcompensating employees and short shrifting stockholders as a result. Costco maintains its strategy has been to attract better employees and enjoy lower turnover and higher productivity, which ultimately benefits both customers and stockholders. That's certainly a dilemma Wal-Mart -- self-professed carrier of the torch of the American Dream -- has never faced.

:: Bryan Travis :: 03/29/2004 @ 00:00 :: [link] ::

Life As a Primetime Drama

What if weblogs were like primetime television dramas? Then we could engage one another with promos for future episodes. For example, the announcement of my new season would go something like this:

Bryan reveals a year-long secret in an all-new season of funtongue scatterplot premiering June 15! Set a reminder and bookmark this page now. It's a confession you don't want to miss!

(Actually, you could probably care less, but saying such things would kill my ratings.)

:: Bryan Travis :: 03/27/2004 @ 14:34 :: [link] ::

Attention Tyco Shareholders: Vote on Tyco Incorporation Proposal at March 25, 2004 Annual Shareholders Meeting

To my fellow Tyco shareholders: at the 2004 annual meeting, Tyco shareholders will vote on a proposal to move Tyco's incorporation from Bermuda to Delaware.

Tyco's board of directors recommends against the change because the board believes Bermuda's laws of incorporation require Tyco to provide adequate visibility into its financial reporting and corporate governance practices.

Before voting on this proposal, I plead with shareholders to listen to this segment by Nancy Solomon from NPR's Morning Edition March 16, 2004 broadcast reporting on the trial of former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski and CFO Mark Swartz, and decide for themselves if incorporation in Bermuda is best for Tyco:

The board often met in what they called "huddles," because if they called it a board meeting, they would have to travel to Bermuda where Tyco is legally incorporated. Minutes were rarely kept, so it has come down to the word of board members against executives.
:: Bryan Travis :: 03/16/2004 @ 11:01 :: [link] ::

Human Activity and Global Warming

So let's talk about global warming: is it, or isn't it? I'm pro-environment, drive a Prius, support alternative energy research, resource conservation, pollution control, and the like. Global warming was something I've been undecided on, however, because the question I couldn't answer was, We have climate records for only a couple hundred years. How can we be certain recent global warming isn't part of a long-term, heretofore unknown climate cycle?

Good question, and one for which I've been searching for a satisfactory answer. Now I have it: tropical glaciers. The middle troposphere (the troposphere is the lowest layer of the atmosphere where virtually all weather occurs, extending about 10-12 miles up) in the tropics is a calm area of the atmosphere. Temperature and humidity remain fairly constant all year long. If something changes in the mid-troposphere of the tropics, it signals a significant change. Scientists noticed glaciers on mountains in the tropics began melting in the last century for the first time in thousands of years. Ice core samples in now-retreating Tibetan glaciers show the temperature in that part of the world is the highest it's been in 14,000 years. Such rapid change in the tropical atmosphere suggests there truly is gathering momentum behind recent climate change.

So to answer the question, is human activity partly or largely responsible for global warming during the last 150 years?, I say most likely yes.

:: Bryan Travis :: 03/13/2004 @ 14:18 :: [link] ::

Bush Administration's Misuse of Science and Other Ironies

The Pentagon recently conducted a study on the effects of global climate change to U.S. national security. In general the media has distorted the story by focusing on results of the worst case scenario and not giving due attention to the rest of the report. It's been fodder for the anti-Bush camp, who point out the irony of Bush, Jr. dismissing the effects of human activities on the global climate even as his advisors consider the effects of rapid global climate change. They argue it's just another sign of how out of touch our President who doesn't read the newspaper is with his advisors, constituency, and the rest of the world.

Okay, in actuality, the Pentagon report considered several global climate scenarios, ranging from very slight and gradual to several and rapid. The Pentagon constantly considers "what if" scenarios - they do it to minimize the changes of being taken by surprise. These scenarios are hypothetical; for many of them, the odds of them occurring are very small, the worst case global climate change scenario included.

On the other hand, you'll be hard put to find a scientist who doesn't think human activities are having an effect on earth's climate. In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists has protested the Bush Administration's distortion of scientific research to agree with its policy on global warming, reproductive education, healthcare disparities, HIV/AIDS, and forest preservation.

Twelve Nobel laureates signed the protest petition. These aren't fanatics, people - I encourage you to listen to what they are trying to tell you. They've served on the scientific advisory committees of several presidents, but they're blowing the whistle on Bush, Jr. for unprecedented manipulation of scientific research. These people include the president of Caltech (David Baltimore); Mobil Corporation board member and former Director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at Harvard (Lewis Branscomb); Director of the Cornell Institute for Research in Chemical Ecology (Thomas Eisner); 2 of 3 Nobel laureates who discovered destruction of the ozone layer by CFCs (Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland); a pioneer of superconductor research (John Robert Schrieffer); and several other Nobel laureates who, among other things, led research in the origin of cancer and "electroweak" unified field theory, which are obscure and mundane to most, but fascinating to me personally.

:: Bryan Travis :: 03/10/2004 @ 02:10 :: [link] ::