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Saturday, December 16, 2006 -- 8:14 pm

I wonder whether anyone else bristles at how virtually everything available in the market economy is suddenly characterized as "the perfect gift" come December. I can't imagine that anyone takes such comments seriously anymore, considering how much of a cliche this has become -- and they really mean little more than "buy our product!" I suppose you can't fault them for trying.

Do some people really think of holiday giftgiving as an exchange of commodities? I've always -- always -- seen it as an expression of the relationship between giver and recipient. If it's not something the recipient wants or needs, it should at least be something that reflects his or her tastes and interests. The people we choose to give gifts to aren't total strangers, after all. And that principle excludes the vast majority of items that happen to be for sale.

Saturday, December 16, 2006 -- 7:56 am

Surfacing again from another stretch of continuous urgency at the office. Which raises a number of obvious questions. I have to imagine, based on my own workplace and the workplaces of others that I've seen, that most human institutions are profoundly disfunctional in a variety of ways. You'd think it would be a relatively simple proposition to establish rational decision-making mechanisms for all but the most extraordinary events, to organize and systematize acquired information so that people wouldn't need to reinvent the wheel, to establish clear lines of communication so that expectations, directives, and instruction are transmitted in a straightforward manner, and so on. But this simply doesn't seem to be the case.

A particular pet peeve of mine is training. I fully appreciate that not everyone may share my particular need for concise expression, or my relative facility, if it is that, with expressing complex ideas in straightforward language. But in an economy that is increasingly verbal and information-based (as opposed to, say, based on manual labor and physical know-how), you would think that people would be able to transmit their knowledge and expectations in a way intelligible to their subordinates. I have trouble accepting that people just don't know how to do this, or that the notion doesn't occur to them -- although people (managers and subordinates) seem to require formal instruction in shockingly elemental things these days. It seems more likely that they just can't be bothered to do it correctly, because it takes time and effort.

This also has serious repercussions for quality control and customer service. I get the impression that when managers don't spend time managing and guiding their employees, employees are left with the impression that the work they're doing, and its quality, do not matter. Morale declines and you end up in situations where it is simply impossible to deliver a package reliably from one office to another in a major metropolitan area. It shouldn't be difficult to find competent people to perform these basic but essential tasks.

I see no reason to speculate, at this time, on the broader sociological impact this decline in worker morale has on the welfare of the republic. But it worries me.