Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Bureaucracy, Business on September 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Restaurants do more than serve food. In fact, serving food is simply the final product of a complex management process. And students of bureaucracy can learn a great many lessons from a successful executive chef.

Such a chef is Spencer O’Meara, who has run San Francisco’s Paragon Restaurant snce July, 2000.

Those who work in restaurant kitchens need a thick skin to cope with those moments when they will inevitably make mistakes–and will be brutally called to account for them.

“It’s the whole chef mentality,” explains O’Meara. “One minute you’re joking and talking a lot of crap, slapping each other on the ass, and then the next minute it’s like, ‘Here comes the buzz saw, what just happened here?’ All of a sudden something happens and it’s like ‘Bang!’ you want from the top of the mountain to under the mountain.”

Nor does the gender of the chef make any difference: “My girlfriend’s a chef. I might be a little more abrupt than her, but if you push her buttons good enough she’ll turn on you. I believe that, either male or female, we’re all in the same boat: Get the product out, make the customers happy, and let’s get through the day. You’re only as good as your last plate.

“Everybody I know—we’re all pretty similar,” says O’Meara. “You’re demanding, because you have to be. You hold huge accountability on everybody. You’re stern because you can’t let anybody get sideways on you. You’re forceful, too—if you don’t want to do what I want you to do I’m going to force you into it or I’m going to get you out of here.”

For Spencer O’Meara–and every other executive chef–there is one factor that overrides all others: Keeping costs in line.

And for this he holds himself alone accountable: “If costs aren’t in line, then the only person who needs to go is me, ‘cause that’s my responsibility.

“My line cooks do not design dishes. They don’t put a steak dish on the menu that is making no money. I put the steak dish on the menu. And if it’s not making any money, then I’m the dumb-ass who put it there. So I need to go.

“If you burn it, then I have to throw it away. So if you’re repeatedly torching stuff up…. But if you’re doing the dishes the way I showed you to do ‘em, and you’re keeping your station clean the way I want you to, there’s no reason for you to go, you’re a quality employee.”

O’Meara believes the makeup of the restaurant business has changed radically–and not necessarily for the better: “I think that now what fuels the restaurant business more than ever is people thinking they’re going to go to culinary school, come out and be huge and be a celebrity.

“The Food Network has instigated so many cooking schools in the world it’s ridiculous. And I love the Food Network and watch it all the time. But it is such a high profile job now, whereas before, back in the 70s, 80s, 90s you were just the guy in the back yelling at everybody. Now you’re the star.”

Nevertheless, there are celebrity chefs that O’Meara respects. One is Mario Batall: “He seems extremely knowledgeable and passionate about what he’s doing. I’ve eaten at several of his restaurants and thought they were all delicious.” Another is Bobby Flay: “I’ve never eaten at a Bobby Flay restaurant, but I like him as a personality and respect him as a chef, thinking he can cook.”

Usually, celebrity chefs who own restaurants hire an executive chef who is responsible for everything. “And the celebrity chef puts his name on it and then works with that chef. But on a day-to-day basis, the celebrity chef is not responsible for it.”

With so many stresses to face, who should become a chef? According to Spencer O’Meara:

“Just because you like to cook at home doesn’t mean you’re a chef. Just because you go to culinary school doesn’t mean you’re a chef. Just because you like to cook at home doesn’t mean you should go to culinary school.

“If you like to cook at home, go work in a restaurant for six months. If you like it, go to culinary school.

“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I love to cook for my family. I’m going to culinary school.’ Culinary school is $60,000.” There’s a high washout rate in culinary schools. And if you graduate you may decide, “‘Holy shit, I never wanted to do this.’ And you’re on the hook.

“You’d better know what you’re getting into,” warns O’Meara.
“And you’d better go out and experience it before you drop the money. And it’s hard to get into it because nobody wants to hire you because you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

“You have to go to a chef and say, ‘I think I want to go to culinary school, but I’m not really sure. Is there a way I could work with you for a little while, even if it’s for free?’

“Everybody always says, ‘Mom’s pot roast is always dry.’ You can’t say that in this business. And nobody ever looked at Mom and said, ‘Hey, my dinner’s supposed to be on the table at six o’clock—where in the hell is it?’ She’d be like, ‘Go clean the bathroom—it’ll be ready in awhile.’ So it’s different pressures.”


In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on September 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Here’s an intriguing truth about repressive bureaucracies: They like to portray themselves as defenders of freedom–at least, as far as their official propaganda is concerned.

A modern-day case in point: The Republican Party–and especially its latest “Values Voter Summit,” held in Washington, D.C., on September 17-19.

Attendees included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Congresswoman Michele Bachman (R-Minn.) and former governors Mitt Romney (Massachusetts) and Mike Huckabee (Arkansas).

Others included anti-ERA and -abortion activist Phyllis Schlafly and Christine O’Donnell, who upset Congressman Mike Castle (R-Del.) on September 14 to win the Republican Senate nomination in Delaware.

The purpose of this summit: To provide a showcase for those Republicans who want to seek the Presidency in 2012.

To learn the priorities of those sponsoring–and attending–the Values Voter Summit, you need only look at its website (at http://www.valuesvotersummit.org/):

• Protect Marriage
• Champion Life
• Strengthen the Military
• Limit Government
• Control Spending
• Defend Our Freedoms

All of this sounds positive—until you realize this is coded language which actually means:

Protect Marriage: Legally ban gays from marrying.
Champion Life: Legally ban all abortions–including those for victims of rape and incest. Imprison doctors who perform them and women who receive them.
Strengthen the Military: Turn the national budget over to the defense contractor industry.
Limit Government: Cut funding and/or powers of those agencies charged with protecting consumers–and the environment–from predatory businesses. (A more honest way to describe “business de-regulation” would be: “Let criminals be criminals.”)
Control Spending: The sky’s the limit for wars and military spending. Programs to address poverty, protect consumers and the environment go into the garbage can.
Defend Our Freedoms: Civil liberties are for the Radical Right–not its critics. It’s patriotic to support George W. Bush’s false claim of WMDs in Iraq; it’s treason to publicly criticize him (as the Dixie Chicks found out).

Seventy years ago, members of another repressive political organization styled themselves as champions of freedom.

Consider the following lyrics from “The SS March”:

Clear the streets, the SS marches.
The storm-columns stand at the ready.
They will take the road
From tyranny to freedom.

The men in the black uniforms who

• swore unquestioning obedience to Adolf Hitler;
• demanded unquestioning obedience from everyone else;
• murdered men, women and children in the millions–

these were the defenders of freedom?

Yes, in their own eyes, exactly so.

They believed that by serving a “higher purpose” and acting in the cause of Germany’s “salvation” they were given license to commit any act–no matter how brutal. For them, there was no thought of breaking the law, because they were the law.

Thus, the SS could arrest, brutalize and/or murder

• anyone deemed an enemy of the Third Reich;
• anyone who violated the Third Reich’s strict anti-abortion laws;
• anyone who violated Germany’s harsh laws against homosexuality.

Like today’s Republicans, the Nazis had their own coded language:

Protective custody meant arresting the Reich’s political opponents.
Self-Defense meant Germany’s unprovoked invasion of another country.
Aggression meant resistance to Germany’s unprovoked attack.
Resettlement meant arresting and deporting tens of thousands of Jews to Poland, where they could be slated for elimination.
Special handling meant the machinery of selecting and mass-murdering the Jews and other “undesirables.”

A final note: It’s commonplace to believe that evil dwells only in a handful of supremely ruthless predators–like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay. And they, in turn, corrupt their otherwise saintly countrymen into following their demonic and disastrous path.

But the ugly truth is that dictators–whether Nazi, Communist or Republican–depend on millions of ordinary men and women for support. They do not rise to power or remain in power except for the continued support of those who enthusiastically support their policies.

More than a half-century ago, the famed journalist, Edward R. Murrow, warned Americans of this truth at the height of the Joseph McCarthy “Red scare” hysteria:

“No one man can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices….We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.

“Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular….We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.”

Joseph McCarthy is dead, but his repressive spirit–wrapped in the false patriotism of hatred and fear-mongering–remains as alive today as it did in 1954. So do the politicians who embody that spirit. And so do the voters who actively support those politicians.


In Bureaucracy, History on September 11, 2010 at 2:39 pm

“I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one,” warns Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, in his monumental work, The Discourses.

“For neither the one [threats] nor the other [insulting words] in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy—but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”

Terry Jones clearly hasn’t read Machiavelli.

Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., sparked an international uproar when he announced his church would burn 200 copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

American political and military bureaucracies immediately responded.

President Barack Obama condemned the plan. General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, warned it could endanger American troops. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates telephoned Jones and urged him to reconsider.

Then, on September 9, Jones announced that he would call off the Koran burning.

Instead, he would fly to New York on September 11 to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Rauf is the Muslim cleric who wants to build an Islamic center a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.

Jones said that he had received “a sign from God”–Rauf had agreed to move the Islamic center.

Officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon heaved a sigh of relief.

But Rauf said there was no such deal, and Jones later said he was having second thoughts about burning the Korans.

Then Jones did another about-face: He might decide to burn the Korans after all.

Finally, on September 11, Jones announced: No, he was absolutely not going to burn the Korans.

“We feel when we started this out that one of our reasons was to show, to expose that there is an element in Islam that is very dangerous and very radical,” Jones said on the “Today” show. “I believe that we have definitely accomplished that mission.”

Jones said the fact that he has received more than 100 death threats without yet burning a Koran was proof of his views.

Yet the fact remains: Burning the Koran–or the Bible, or any other religious book–does not in any way weaken anyone who believes in its tenets.

On the contrary, as Machiavelli warned: Insulting an enemy only “increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”

And what applies to Americans threatening to burn the Koran applies equally to Muslims who regularly burn the American flag.

Unfortunately, we have entered the age of symbolism, where destroying a symbol is seen as the same as achieving all-out victory.

It is not.

During World War II, American and British cartoonists and comedians regularly jeered at German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. But it was not those jeers that rolled back Nazi armies, freed their captive peoples and ended the Holocaust.

It was the courage, patience and dedication of millions of soldiers on the Western and Eastern fronts. Soldiers who realized that destroying symbolic objects does not win wars.

What wins wars is destroying the will of the enemy to resist. And that usually means destroying vast numbers of enemy lives and conquering vast amounts of enemy territory.

Burning countless numbers of Korans will not achieve victory for us. Nor will burning countless numbers of American flags achieve victory for our sworn enemies across the Islamic world.

%d bloggers like this: