Quote of the moment: Reorganization creates illusion of progress, and demoralization – Charlton Ogburn

May 31, 2013

Historian and birder Charlton Ogburn, right.

Historian and birder Charlton Ogburn, right.

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

This quotation is often misattributed to one Greek philosopher or another, or to the Roman Petronius.

Cover of "The Marauders"

Cover of The Marauders

Ogburn’s magazine article became the basis for his book, The Marauders. In turn, that was the basis for a movie, Merrill’s Marauders.  In the book, the quote is different:

As a result, I suppose, of high-level changes of mind about how we were to be used, we went though several reorganizations. Perhaps because Americans as a nation have a gift for organizing, we tend to meet any new situation by reorganization, and a wonderful method it is for creating the illusion of progress at the mere cost of confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.

  • The Marauders (1959), chapter 2, page 60 (attributed)

My old friend Frank Hewlett had been a correspondent in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, including Burma, during World War II.  Frank told me that he had been the first to call the American group “Merrill’s Marauders” in a war news dispatch on the progress the group made.  He did not get any credit for the book or movie title, but he said it was great that any group of soldiers that worked that well got popular attention for their work.  I’ve never found Hewlett’s dispatches from that period, but I’ve never found anything else he told me to be inaccurate.

In serious corporate reorganizations, or in corporate culture change operations, this quote is usually trotted out in opposition to whatever the proposed change may be.  Generally reorganizers will dismiss the thing as fictional, in at least one case claiming that renegade corporate leader Bob Townsend made it up.

In our work at Committing to Leadership at American Airlines, CEO Bob Crandall actually read the full quote (misattributed at the time), and observed that it was probably true — but not a good reason to stop a needed reorganization.  Crandall pointed to the last sentence, and said that a good manager’s job is to make sure that reorganization creates real success, not just an illusion of action, and that any good manager will recognize that reorganizations offer the danger of demoralization and confusion.  Those are problems to be managed, Crandall said, not fates that cannot be avoided.

Do you find Ogburn’s snippet of wisdom to be true? So what?

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Merrill's Marauders (film)

Advertising poster for Merrill’s Marauders; Wikipedia image


“Rise Again”: How a sea chanty saved a sailor, and why government regulation saves lives

May 30, 2013

Stan Rogers?

P. Z. Myers was feeling a tad puny, though he’s in Minnesota where that Texas phrase might not win understanding.  In any case, he queued up Nathan Rogers singing his late father’s most famous tune, “The Mary Ellen Carter.”

That was Stanfest, an annual music festival dedicated to Stan Rogers, who died tragically trying to put out an airplane fire, in 1983. (Stanfest is July 5, 6 and 7 in 2013. Actually, Ricky Skaggs kicks it off this year on July 4, a day early.)

The Mary Ellen Carter” is a bit of an odd song, probably best performed where a bunch of people can join in, obviously fueled by a few pints to the guitar players, and seemingly not correct if not done with at least one twelve-string in the band. More, it’s a song with a story that you may not get the first time through, but you should get.  Stan Rogers’s poetry is not simple.  He tells complex stories.

Home in Halifax, one of three albums by Stan Rogers on which “The Mary Ellen Carter” appears. The song is also on Between the Breaks . . . Live! and The Very Best of Stan Rogers.

It’s a song about a group of men who were aboard the Mary Ellen Carter when that ship scuttled.  The song describes their work to patch her up, to raise her from the depths and make her “rise again.”  But we never learn whether the ship was refloated.  That’s not the point of the song.  It’s a song about getting back up when you’ve been scuttled, when you’ve got holes punched in your side, and you’re under water.

That doesn’t get lost on fans of Stan Rogers, nor others who listened to the song over the years.

The song has become a classic of the genre and many artists covered it even before Rogers’ death, including Jim Post who began performing it in the 1980s, as did Makem and Clancy, and the English a cappella trio, Artisan, who went on to popularise their harmony version of it in UK folk circles throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and Portland, Maine-based folk group Schooner Fare. Ian Robb recorded it with the other members of Finest Kind on his album From Different Angels. It was also recorded by the seven piece Newfoundland band The Irish Descendants as part of the tribute album Remembering Stan Rogers: An East Coast Tribute performed by a large number of acts at Rogers’ favorite venue in Halifax, Dalhousie University; the album is out of print though occasionally available from online sellers; the track does not appear on any of the band’s own albums.

It was also recorded by Williamsburg, Virginia-based Celtic rock band Coyote Run as part of their self-titled Coyote Run album. According to liner notes with their 10 Years and Running retrospective album, Coyote Run‘s recording of the song was done with the same 12-string guitar that Stan Rogers himself had used when recording the song.

As a tribute to Stan Rogers, “The Mary Ellen Carter” has been sung to close the annual Winnipeg Folk Festival every year since his death.

Surely you’ve heard it, no?

English: Winnipeg Folk Festival 2006.

Winnipeg Folk Festival 2006. “The Mary Ellen Carter” is sung to close this festival, each year since 1983. Wikipedia image

According to the lore, the song actually saved a sailor’s life once, in 1983, with the sinking of the Marine Electric.  The pedestrian version of the story:

So inspiring is the song that it is credited with saving at least one life. On February 12, 1983 the ship Marine Electric was carrying a load of coal from Norfolk, Virginia to a power station in Somerset, Massachusetts. The worst storm in forty years blew up that night and the ship sank at about four o’clock in the morning on the 13th. The ship’s Chief Mate, fifty-nine-year-old Robert M. (“Bob”) Cusick, was trapped under the deckhouse as the ship went down. His snorkeling experience helped him avoid panic and swim to the surface, but he had to spend the night alone, up to his neck in water, clinging to a partially deflated lifeboat, and in water barely above freezing and air much colder. Huge waves washed over him, and each time he was not sure that he would ever reach the surface again to breathe. Battling hypothermia, he became tempted to allow himself to fall unconscious and let go of the lifeboat. Just then he remembered the words to the song “The Mary Ellen Carter”.

And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Rise again, rise again—though your heart it be broken
Or life about to end.
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

He started to sing it and soon was alternately shouting out “Rise again, rise again” and holding his breath as the waves washed over him. At seven o’clock that morning a Coast Guard helicopter spotted him and pulled him to safety.[1] Only two men of the other thirty-three that had been aboard survived the wreck. After his ordeal, Cusick wrote a letter to Stan Rogers telling him what had happened and how the song helped save his life. In response, Cusick was invited to attend what turned out the be the second-to-last concert Rogers ever performed. Cusick told his story in the documentary about Stan Rogers, One Warm Line.[2][3]

Truth is stranger and better than fiction once again. You couldn’t convince me that story was plausible, if it were fiction.

Cusick’s story has a coda, though, and it’s an important one.  From the survivors come not only tales of the trials, but information that, if listened to, can prevent future tragedies.

In a 2008 story in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot, Bob Cusick related just how close and hard death breathed on him that night:

Bob Cusick is “still kicking.” That’s no small feat for any man about to turn 85. It’s especially notable when you are one of only three sailors to survive what was among the nation’s worst maritime disasters.

Tuesday will mark the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the coal ship Marine Electric in a blizzard off Chincoteague. Thirty-one sailors died.

Cusick was the ship’s chief mate. He still has nightmares about how the rusted relic of World War II rolled before the crew could launch its lifeboats. He can still feel the water swallowing him and hear the men screaming for help in the darkness.

But the nightmares aren’t as frequent now.

“It’s really been a long time,” he said from his home in New Hampshire. “And evidently, a lot of good came from that ship’s sinking.”

Most of it because of Cusick and the other two survivors’ testimonies.

Before we hear the good, let’s get the facts:

The Marine Electric was what mariners call a rust bucket. Its huge cargo hatches were warped, wasted away and patched cosmetically with putty and duct tape. The deck was cracked, and the hull even had a hole punched through by a bulldozer.

Still, inspectors cleared it to sail, and it routinely hauled pulverized coal from Norfolk to a power plant near Boston.

Its last trip was into the teeth of a violent nor’easter. The aging ship was no match for the weather. For more than 24 hours, the Marine Electric was battered by swells that stretched 40 feet from trough to crest.

For part of the trip, the ship had been diverted to escort a trawler into Chincoteague.

Not long after resuming its course, the Marine Electric started taking on water.

Seas crashing over those corroded decks rushed inside the hatches, mixing with the powdered coal to create an unstable slurry.

The water couldn’t be pumped out, because the ship’s owners had welded covers over the drain holes.

Cusick was lucky. He had just come off watch and was wearing an insulated coat his wife had insisted he buy and a raw wool cap she had knitted for him. They would eventually make the difference between life and death.

Cusick swam for an hour in the tempest before finding a swamped lifeboat. He climbed inside and wedged himself beneath the seats, slipping under the 37-degree water, to escape the howling winds. He gasped for breaths between waves.

Cusick found strength in a song about the shipwreck of the Mary Ellen Carter, and folksinger Stan Rogers’ refrain to “rise again, rise again.”

Cusick would spend 2 hours and 45 minutes in the frigid water, nearly double what Navy survival charts claimed was possible.

It was after dawn when a Coast Guard helicopter from Elizabeth City, N.C., running on fumes, dropped a basket into his lifeboat and Cusick was hoisted to safety.

Rogers’s song, and Cusick’s story, were put to great use.

As a result of this accident, and the detailed records of neglect Cusick kept, the Coast Guard launched its renowned rescue swimmers program. Ships sailing in cold waters are required to provide survival suits to their crews; safety inspections are more rigorous; lifeboats must have better launching systems; and rafts must have boarding platforms to allow freezing sailors to climb inside.

We lived on the Potomac when the Marine Electric went down.  We had the daily, sometimes hourly updates, and the growing sense of tragedy.  I well recall my amazement that anyone survived in the cold water.  In the 30 years since, I had never heard the full story.

This is why we study history.  This is why we write history.  This is why we revel in history, even faux history, being turned into art by the poets and troubadors.

Knowing history, and knowing the art, we can stand up to demand that money to inspect ships for safety be restored to the federal budget, that money to build safe air transport be revived, that politicians stop blocking the doors to the hospitals and clinics (Rick Perry, Greg Abbott), and that justice be done on a thousand other scores where cynics and highway robbers tell us it cannot be done or it’s too expensive.

And then we all may, as the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.

Marine Electric sank on February 12, 1983; Stan Rogers died less than four months later, on June 2, 1983, returning home from performing at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.  Listen to Mr. Cusick’s story, and listen to Mr. Rogers’s telling of his:

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Texas, “Go fish!”

May 28, 2013

No, this isn’t a comment about the Texas Lege.  That I have to tell you that is comment enough.

Texas Parks and Wildlife notes:

Catching a fish is fun for kids, but many families have questions about how to get started. That’s why some state parks are offering free fishing classes. They’ll teach you the basics through fun, hands-on activities. Texas Parks and Wildlife has this report on a program called “Go Fish” as the June Outdoor Activity of the Month.

To find places to fish and events near you, visit texasstateparks.org/fishing

Doesn’t seem that long ago, but he’s grown, graduated from college and moved 2,000 miles away; heck, both of the boys graduated and moved away.  We started our romancing of Texas State Parks at Ink’s Lake State Park, in one of the hottest Augusts I ever would wish to see.  We got a new tent, big enough for a family and bigger than the pup tent Kathryn and I used on the Atlantic Beaches (never did get that hurricane smell out of it . . .).  I worried about older son Kenny.  Little patience for anything not electronic.

The rules were they could play handheld games until we got there, in the car, but not once we got down to camping.  When we got to Ink’s Lake it was 105º F.  Kenny decided he’d rather stay in the car with his games.  Eventually the batteries died.

It was a fun, but not necessarily easy first day.  We had Disney TrueLife Adventure watching a wasp and spider fighting.  We had deer wandering through the site, including one with a deformed mouth (we named her Celeste, but don’t ask me why).  Deer would do almost anything for a bite of cantaloupe.  Swimming, rocks to jump off of . . . Kenny was bordering on crabby.

I never took to fishing.  That’s Kathryn’s bailiwick.  She got poles for the kids.  The whole point of the trip was to get back to fishing for Kathryn.  Kenny complained about the hot son on the end of the pier, about the worms, about the lack of video games.  He complained about everything until he got that pole in his hand and dropped the hook in the water.  I wish we had it on video.  Instantly, he became a man of patience.

Caught his first little fish that day, too.   Bluegill, or crappie — I don’t remember.  The next few days brought quite a bit of adventure — small boat tour of Ink’s Lake, big tourist boat trip on nearby Lake Buchanan (” . . . this is Texas, Honey. It’s pronounced buck-CANnon. Don’t forget.”).  We froze in Longhorn Cavern.  We found magic, and five-foot catfish, at Hamilton Pool.  The catfish were larger than James, but he took great delight in watching them in the bottom of the supernaturally-clear pool.

English: Photo taken by Reid Sullivan during d...

Hamilton Pool, near the Pedernales River – photo by Reid Sullivan during drought conditions 1/2/2006, via Wikipedia

Both boys got great at camping, both had long periods with Boy Scouts after YMCA Guides (Kenny got Life; James got Eagle).  I think both of them got the fishing merit badge with help from the Mighty Fisher, Eddie Cline.  We have thousands of photos, lots of great memories, and for our family, it started with that trip to Ink’s Lake.

The good stuff all started with fishing.

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President Obama, a man of grace and encouragement

May 27, 2013

Consoler and Encourager in Chief:

Note President Obama left at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma

Caption from Pete Souza‘s slide show: A message from President Barack Obama is seen on a Plaza Towers Elementary School sign, at Moore Fire Department Station #1 in Moore, Okla., May 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Pete Souza‘s work as White House photographer will ultimately make historians’ work much richer.  He’s got a great eye for a shot that needs to be snapped, and a great sense of art on the fly.  If you’re not a regular watcher of Souza’s work, you probably should be, especially if you’re teaching history.

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Flags flying on Memorial Day, 2013

May 27, 2013

Certainly you’ve remembered to put your flags up for Memorial Day.

This is what it looks like at Officers Row, at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park:

Flags on Officers' Row, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone National Park “On this Memorial Day, American Flags are proudly displayed on Officers’ Row in Mammoth Hot Spring as we remember those who gave their lives in military service to our country. (dr2)”

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May 25, 1961, 52 years ago: John Kennedy challenged America to go to the Moon

May 26, 2013

President Kennedy at Congress, May 25, 1961

President John F. Kennedy speaking to a special joint session of Congress, on May 25, 1961; in this speech, Kennedy made his famous statement asking the nation to pledge to put a man on the Moon and bring him back safely, in the next ten years.

It was an era when Congress would respond when the President challenged America to be great, and Congress would respond positively.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy delivered a special message to Congress, on the challenges facing the U.S. around the world, in continuing to build free market economies, and continuing to advance in science, as means of promoting America’s future.  He closed with the words that have become so famous.  From the Apollo 11 Channel, excerpts from the speech, via Fox Movietone news:

History from the Apollo 11 Channel:

In an address to a Joint session of the United States Congress, Kennedy announces full presidential support for the goal to “commit…before this decade is out, to landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” and urges Congress to appropriate the necessary funds, eventually consuming the largest financial expenditure of any nation in peacetime.

Though Kennedy had initially been convinced that NASA should attempt a manned mission to Mars, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans spent three days and nights working, ultimately successfully, to convince him otherwise.

The complete speech is 46 minutes long.  The JFK Library has a longer excerpt in good video I haven’t figured out how to embed here, but it’s worth your look.  The Library also features the entire speech in audio format.

The complete copy of the written text that President Kennedy spoke from, is also available at the JFK Library.

NASA has a good site with solid history in very short form, and links to a half-dozen great sites.

Can you imagine a president making such a challenge today?

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Memorial Day, May 27 – Fly your flag, at half-staff until noon

May 24, 2013

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder continued the program started by his predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, to send out notices electronically of occasions to fly the U.S. flag, and when to fly flags at half staff.  Michigan honors every soldier who dies with a day of mourning, with half-staff flags.

Notices also go out for things like Memorial Day.  Here is the e-mail the system sent out today, a notice to fly the flag on Memorial Day, and how to fly it:  Half-staff until noon, full staff from noon until sunset.

So now you know.

Flag Honors banner

FLAGS ORDERED LOWERED ON MONDAY, MAY 27

LANSING, MI – The flag of the United States has been ordered lowered to half-staff in Michigan on Monday, May 27, 2013 in honor of Memorial Day. This recognition is asked to be observed until noon of the same day at which point it should be raised to the peak.

“It is a great honor to join with fellow Americans in paying special tribute to the selfless individuals who serve and protect our country,” said Gov. Rick Snyder. “On this day, and every day, we say ‘thank you’ to the courageous and vigilant men and women who sacrifice much to ensure our safety, and we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in carrying out their sworn duties.”

Michigan residents, businesses, schools, local governments and other organizations are encouraged to display the flag at half-staff.

When flown at half-staff or half-mast, the U.S. flag should be hoisted first to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff or half-mast position.

###

You may fly your flag all weekend if you wish, of course.

Different activities honoring fallen soldiers are scheduled through the weekend.  What’s going on in your town?

33,000 flags on Boston Common for Memorial Day 2013

“A garden of 33,000 flags was planted by city officials and members of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund this week, and will cover part of the Boston Common near the Soldiers and Sailors Monument through Memorial Day, in honor of fallen soldiers from the state. Each flag put in the ground near the monument will represent a service member from Massachusetts who gave his or her life defending the country since the Civil War to the present day.” Photo via Lorie Jenkins on Twitter, in Boston Magazine.

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