Saturday, April 21, 2007

Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities

I have always been fascinated by what lies beneath. I love caves. I have also been pleased on several occasions to have had the opportunity to explore the tunnel system beneath my campus. And during my Dungeons & Dragons days, my favorite adventures happened far beneath the ground in the "underdark."

Not surprisingly then, I really enjoyed Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities by Alex Marshall. The description of the book notes, "The pulse of great cities may be most palpable above ground, but it is below the busy streets where we can observe their rich archaeological history and the infrastructure that keeps them running. In The Secret Lives of Cities journalist Alex Marshall investigates how geological features, archaeological remnants of past civilizations, and layered networks transporting water, electricity, and people, have shaped these cities through centuries of political turbulence and advancements in engineering — and how they are determining the course of the cities' future.From the first-century catacombs of Rome, the New York subway system, and the swamps and ancient quays beneath London, to San Francisco's fault lines, the depleted aquifer below Mexico City, and Mao Tse-tung's extensive network of secret tunnels under Beijing, these subterranean environments offer a unique cross-section of a city's history and future."

What is beneath cities? Well, there may be catacombs, sewers, subways, utility lines and tunnels, water lines, secret bunkers, tombs, mines, etc. Many of these connect forming a vast undercity which is rarely visited except by city workers, the homeless, criminals, and explorers.

Marshall does a good job of connecting the history of a city with the landscape beneath. Projects relating to sewage, water, transportation, and mining always impact the city above. The growth of the undercity allows for the growth of the city above. Marshall includes a time line with each city he covers showing how underground developments connected with the history of the city above.

I found Beijing to have an interesting underground city. While the sewers and water lines have been neglected until recently, the city has a large underground city which was built to house millions in case of a nuclear war with the USA or the Soviet Union. This undercity is still in use in some places but is mostly abandoned now. I will be in Beijing in June and July this year and I bet my imagination runs "deep" when I visit Tienanmen Square.

This is an easy to read and colorful book. Although it is not a classical history text, it is indeed a history book. I enjoyed it and I think it is worth a look.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Using Caesar to Teach About Leadership

I believe that biography can be a useful tool for understanding complex organizations from a variety of perspectives. In many cases, certain people have been able to achieve considerable success despite complicated organizations and multiple internal and external challenges. By examining the lives of these people, it is often possible to take what these people have done and apply it to organizations today. This can become a powerful teaching tool.

I believe Julius Caesar is such an example. He lived a remarkable life and is probably the person most responsible for the destruction of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire even though the death of the Republic would have probably happened at the hands of someone else had Caesar not been around. Although he was never technically emperor, his was the first of what would be a long line of military rulers who brought Rome to greatness and then centuries later to an eventual decline and fall. Caesar accomplished one of the most impressive feats in human history by doing this and as a result is one of the most written about men in history.

I believe that we can classify Caesar as a middle range leader. He was always scanning his environment and using the most appropriate strategy necessary to solve a problem. In many cases, he would appear to be subscribing to the theory X model postulated by Mac Gregor (1960) but in other cases he was showing characteristics of someone following Theory Y. Caesar’s choices were contingent on the situation.

I think a good illustration of this is in how Caesar ran his campaigns in the Gallic Wars and later during the Great Roman Civil War between him and the forces of the Roman Senate. Roman legions were tightly structured. They were drilled in formation and tactics so that every legion and Roman soldier could accomplish tasks in the same successful way. Taylor (1911) argued for this approach in his approach to leadership via scientific management. He believed that every task should be measured and made uniform so that employees could have the most productivity. This was the same of the Roman legions. They were uniform in behavior and this resulted in continued victories over barbarian armies in Gaul and over lesser trained Roman legions during the civil war.

However, at the same time, Caesar recognized that he could not tightly regulate the behavior of his generals. Communication took weeks in many cases. Caesar’s generals did not have time to wait for his orders as they often had to make quick tactical decisions in the midst of battles and in suppressing guerrilla engaged in harassing supply lines. As such, Caesar empowered his generals to act. This is a transitional theory method of management which allows employees to motivate themselves and trusts them to make the right decisions. It is also shows that he understood what Kotter and Cohen (2002) listed as one of the steps in their change management approach to empower action.

This use of two very different organizational approaches is very instructive today. Caesar successfully regulated the behavior of his soldiers while at the same time was more open and supportive of the leaders of his legions and allowed them wide latitude in making decisions. There may be situations when a leader needs to do this today. For example, a leader in a fast food restaurant may need to make sure that the average workers do all tasks in the same way. The preparation of the food should not vary and the procedures for opening and closing, taking orders, etc. should be uniformly standard as well. At the same time, the managers in the restaurant need to have the ability to make quick decisions when dealing with personnel problems and customer complaints. Both the classical scientific management approach and the transitional theory approach to management can be used in the same organization.

Caesar also understood the role of informal power in an organization. Barnard (1938) wrote that power was not always top down as represented on the organizational chart. Often times, informal leaders without line authority had a great deal of power in an organization. For example, the office manager may be in charge but it may be his secretary who actually rules. Caesar recognized this early on in his career by his cultivation of the support of Crassus. This man had no formal power in the Roman Republic most of his career. Yet, he was considered by many to be the most powerful man in Rome because of his vast fortune and the fact that many politicians owed him huge amounts of money. Crassus responded to Caesar’s overtures favorably and it may well have been his support which keep Caesar from falling to political enemies in is early career.

Leaders today can learn from this. If a leader needs support, he would be well advised to look for people like Crassus in his organization. Who does not appear on the organizational chart but holds power? Are decision made in the staff lounge which may hinder a leader? It is very important for the leader to find out who wields the actual power in an organization and gain their support.

Another area that Caesar understood well was the culture of the Roman state. It had flourished for almost 500 years before Caesar took power. As such, it had developed a complex set of traditions that were not to be trampled upon. As Deal and Peterson (1999) noted, every organization has a long past which has shaped its vision, purpose and values, rituals and ceremonies, stories and history, and artifacts and architecture. This was true of the Roman Republic as well.

As such, Caesar did not visibly change the Roman Republic when he took charge. He refused the title of king. He kept the Roman Senate intact (stuffed with his supporters of course) and he kept the appearance of the system of rulership of having two annual consuls intact. The pomp and ceremony of the Roman Republic stayed intact even after the Republic ceased to exist. Caesar successfully connected his changes to make them appear to be a continuation of the past and as such he made use of the existing culture of Rome to change it dramatically.

Getzels and Guba (1957) wrote that successful organizations often have areas that die out and are then reborn. This as well can be seen in Caesar’s restructuring of the Roman state. Many of the institutions of the state (the Senate and the consulship for example) literally died and were reborn as the same entities with new roles. This regeneration may have been bad for democracy but it was highly successful in allowing one man to rule the state for centuries to come. As such, it can be seen as a successful example of what Getzels and Guba were referencing brought about by Caesar’s actions.

I think Caesar’s organizational changes to the Roman state are instructive to leaders today. Both Deal and Peterson (1999) and Getzels and Guba (1957) have points that are important to ponder today for leader’s and studying Caesar can help them understand. How can a leader alter an organization and yet recognize that the culture of the organization values its past, its ceremonies, its rituals, and other expressions of what the organization has become over time? Caesar shows that change is possible and the best way to do this is to make the changes mesh with and seem to be a continuation of where the organization has grown over time.

I also believe that Caesar made good use of strategies that Machiavelli (1532) would advocate for 1500 years later in The Prince. Caesar was a forgiving man with countrymen. He tried to communicate for buy-in to get his fellow Romans to accept his rule. To do so, he would forgive those who took up arms against him and allow them to serve him. He often pardoned rebel senators as well often right after he had defeated their troops in battle. By doing so, he did a good job of turning enemies into supporters.

However, Caesar did have his limits. He was willing to kill unrepentant enemies. Caesar in many cases acted in a way that Machiavelli (1515) referred to as “entering into evil.” At some of the final battles of the Roman Civil War, he refused to accept the surrender of his staunchest enemies and he had them killed instead. Caesar believed the war would never end unless he removed certain people who could not accept the new organizational order of the Roman state. Several of Pompey the Great’s sons meet their fate in this manner. However, after “entering into evil” he left it as quickly as possible and returned to his policies of keeping the peace with his former foes.

Although it is inappropriate for leaders today to kill opponents, there are examples here that can be used by leaders. Caesar can be useful in understanding this Machiavellian idea. If all other options fail, and the organization is in danger, when is it appropriate for the leader to do something that they might not normally have done and might even be considered to be wrong? And, if the leader chooses to “enter into evil,” how does he get out of it as soon as he can?

Thousands of years have passed since Caesar lived. Yet, I feel he is a good example of a leader who understood his organization well and was willing to use multiple perspectives to achieve his desired ends. While I do not claim that Caesar was a moral man by today’s standards, I do think he was a successful man and his actions can be very instructive to leaders today.


Barnard, C. (1938). The functions of the executive. Boston: Harvard University Press.

Deal, T. and Peterson, K. (1999). Shaping school culture: The heart of leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Getzels, J. and Guba, E. (1957). Social behavior and the administrative process. School review, 65, 423-441

Kotter, J. P. & Cohen, D. S. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

McGregor, D. (1966). The human side of enterprise.

Machiavelli, N. (1515). The Prince, Retrieved 9 January 2007, from

Taylor, F. W. (1911). The principles of scientific management.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

History of Kyrgyzstan

History of Kyrgyzstan. This is a brief history of the Asian nation and former Soviet state of Kyrgyzstan. It is hard to pronounce and even tougher to spell!

The Encyclop√¶dia Britannica notes, "Officially Kyrgyz Republic , Kyrgyz Kyrgyz Respublikasy , formerly (1936–91) Kirgiziya , or Kirghizia , or Kirgiz Soviet Socialist Republic country of Central Asia. It is bounded by Kazakstan on the northwest and north, by China on the east and south, and by Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on the south and west. Most of Kyrgyzstan's borders run along mountain crests. The capital is Bishkek (known from 1862 to 1926 as Pishpek and from 1926 to 1991 as Frunze)."

From the site:

According to recent findings of Kyrgyz and Chinese historians, Kyrgyz history dates back to 201 B.C. The earliest descendents of the Kyrgyz people, who are believed to be of Turkic descent, lived in the northeastern part of what is currently Mongolia. Later, some of their tribes migrated to the region that is currently southern Siberia and settled along the Yenisey River, where they lived from the 6th until the 8th centuries. They spread across what is now the Tuva region of the Russian Federation, remaining in that area until the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, when the Kyrgyz began migrating south. In the 12th century, Islam became the predominant religion in the region. Most Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school.

During the 15th-16th centuries, the Kyrgyz people settled in the territory currently known as the Kyrgyz Republic. In the early 19th century, the southern territory of the Kyrgyz Republic came under the control of the Khanate of Kokand, and the territory was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover instigated numerous revolts against tsarist authority, and many Kyrgyz opted to move into the Pamir mountains or to Afghanistan. The suppression of the 1916 rebellion in Central Asia caused many Kyrgyz to migrate to China.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Deadliest Massacre in American History

I was shocked and horrified yesterday as I watched the news reports of the massacre at Virginia Tech. The death of 33 people in such a senseless act is horrible to contemplate. I can only wonder if such an act could occur at the campus where I work. What would I do if someone started shooting?

The media is reporting this as "the deadliest massacre in American history." Some examples of this:

MonstersandCritics - "Police said the shooting - the deadliest massacre in US history - began with a 'domestic dispute' at one of the college's dorm rooms."

Cincinnati Enquirer - "Hours after the deadliest massacre in the country’s history, safety directors at local colleges and universities were thinking about their own safety and crisis procedures, waiting for the dust to settle in Blacksburg to see if they could have prevented a similar incident on their campuses."

CBS - "A student gunman originally from South Korea was behind the deadliest massacre in U.S. history, killing 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech, before taking his own life, police said. "

However, despite the news reports, this is not the deadliest massacre in American history. It is not the largest act of violence at a school either. That dubious distinction goes to Bath, Michigan.

In 1927, 45 people were killed when a deranged farmer blew up the school house in Bath Michigan with dynamite. Wikipedia's account starts, "The Bath School disaster is the name given to not one (as the name implies) but three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan, USA, on May 18, 1927, which killed 45 people and injured 58. Most of the victims were children in second to sixth grades attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constitute the deadliest act of mass murder in a school in U.S. history. The perpetrator was school board member Andrew Kehoe, who was upset by a property tax that had been levied to fund the construction of the school building. He blamed the additional tax for financial hardships which led to foreclosure proceedings against his farm. These events apparently provoked Kehoe to plan his attack."

This event happened 80 years ago. It is an unfortunate reminder that violence directed at students at their schools is not a new event nor is it tied necessarily to guns. I will try not to be too hard on the media for forgetting about the Bath School Massacre. I note the TV networks were originally reporting the Virginia Tech massacre as the deadliest massacre in American history but they switched to calling it the worst mass shooting in American history in just a few hours. It is nice to see that someone did some research to correct this.

My sympathies to those who lost loved ones in Virginia. I hope Virginia Tech finds some ways to find peace again. And I hope this never happens again.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A History of Autism: A Summary of Some of the Best Known Research

It is well known that October is breast cancer awareness month and February is black history month. Lesser known is Autism awareness month, which occurs in April. It is important that people become aware of the disorder because more and more children are being diagnosed with the disorder everyday. The Center of Disease control recently reported that 1 out 150 birth are affected by autism. Autism is a complex neurological disorder that affects speech, motor skills, and social interactions and is often accompanied by sensory problems. There is no known cause but there has been plenty of research.

Although, it is believed that autism has always existed in our society, autism as a disorder did not get recognition until the twentieth century. Autism, as a word, was first used by a Swiss Psychiatrist named Eugene Bleuler in an article appearing in a 1912 issue of the American Journal of Insanity. At the time autism, was confused with schizophrenia. Autism comes from “autos,” a Greek word for self. Bleuler at the time had studied a group of “Schizophrenics” who had difficulty making social connections.

Autism became officially recognized as a disorder in 1943 when Dr. Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, discussed observations he made of eleven children that “seemed to lack interest in other people.” His article “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact," appeared in The Nervous Child, a now defunct journal.

A year later, a scientist unaware of Kanner’s work, also used the word autism to describe a group of children he had observed. Hans Asperger, an Austrian, published a paper titled “Autistic Psychopathy in Childhood.” The paper was nearly lost during World War II. However, in 1981, English Psychiatrist, Lorna Wing, wrote a paper titled Asperger's Syndrome: a Clinical Account which popularized Asperger’s work and gave a name to a syndrome that set a group of people apart from the group studied by Kanner.

Asperger’s Syndrome is associated with high functioning people with average to above average intelligence who tend to have some difficulty with social and motor skills along with sensory problems. Most people known to have Asperger’s Syndrome grow up to be self sufficient adults who may be seen by other people as odd. Asperger’s Syndrome, along with autism, now is classified in the DSM-IV-TR as two of five pervasive developmental disorders. Kanner’s autism includes people who have speech difficulties and who may or may not have mental retardation. The range of severity autism varies amongst individuals from severe to mild.

Research into autism faced a setback as the result of the work of American Bruno Bettleheim who also worked with children in the 1940s. Bettleheim, who spent some time in a Nazi concentration camp, believed that he saw parallels between autistic children and some of the prisoners he observed. As a result, he mistakenly believed a child’s environment was to blame. He removed the child from the mother as part of the therapy he administered. His work, which has since been discredited by various studies, was embraced by the medical community in the 1950s and 60s and led to the infamous phrase “refrigerator mothers,” which alluded to a mother’s failure to bond with her child. A film titled “Refrigerator Mothers” first aired on PBS in July 2002. It tells the stories of mothers (some of whom successfully raised other children) who faced that term with guilt and despair in the 1950s and 60s.

An improvement in the approach to autism occurred when the Autism Society of America was founded in 1965 by Bernard Rimland. His book, Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior, was one of the first of its kind. According to the organization’s website, “during the last 40 years, the Society has grown from a handful of parents, into the leading source of information, research, and reference on autism.” Today the organization boasts thousands of members and publishes a magazine titled Autism Advocate.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tax Day 2007

Today is April 15th, which means taxes are due in the United States. OK, actually, they are due tomorrow as today is Sunday. However, April 15th is the traditional date for tax filing. Work out thine own taxes with fear and trembling...

On AOL, I found the following on a list of bad ideas for tax claims:

"Don't believe these outlandish claims: the Sixteenth Amendment concerning congressional power to lay and collect income taxes was never ratified; wages are not income; filing a return and paying taxes are merely voluntary; and being required to file Form 1040 violates the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court."

The anti-federal tax crowd has lots of websites and documents "proving" how they are historical and legally correct and that Americans do not have to pay a Federal income tax. Heed these sites at your own risk! Despite their claims of illegal taxation, no court has ever ruled the current Federal income tax to be illegal. Hence, it is legal. It is the courts which decide what is or is not legal rather than finely crafted websites.

Consider this in comparison. There are lots of sites and documents out there claiming that Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, and every state that was part of the Confederacy are illegally occupied and not "legally" part of the United States. The "scholars" and "historians" behind these have lots of convoluted legal analysis "proving" their claims. Yet, no court (American or international) has ratified these claims. Quite the contrary, the courts refuse to hear the claims or rule against them. Hence, despite the highly refined sophistry of these separatists, their claims are legal baloney.

Do you believe that large portions of the USA are not really legally part of the USA? No? Then why would you also believe the equally absurd claims that the Federal income tax is illegal? Do not risk your home and your freedom on risky legal and historical claims.