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Only the Racially Pure Need Apply

January 11, 2010 1 comment

Yaacov Apelbaum-Fritz Kuhn On February 20, 1939, over 20,000 American supporters of the Nazi party packed Madison Square Garden in New York City. They anxiously awaited the appearance of Fritz Julius Kuhn, the newly anointed Führer of the German-American Bund. The event took place two days before George Washington’s birthday and a 30-foot-portrait of the first president (who was described by Kuhn as the first fascist) hung behind the podium along with Nazi flags and swastikas.

Kuhn entered the arena together with thousands of uniformed Nazi guards. During the rally he and his fiery fellow orators held back no punches, calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Franklin Rosenfeld,” and referring to his New Deal as a "Jew Deal."

Yaacov Apelbaum-George W and Bund Being a creature of the night, Kuhn loved nightclubs, drinking, and the company of women (among them his two mistresses, Virginia Cogswell AKA “The Marrying Georgia Peach–on account of her previous seven husbands”, Florence Camp, Frau Hedwig Munx, and others). Just like many petty dictators, he was pompous, dishonest, idiotic, and didn’t understand his own limitations.

Once during a testimony before the Dies Committee, he was asked by Congressman Starnes if the reason why 23 of 71 Bund units concentrated in and around New York City was because the aircraft and naval manufacturing facilities were handy for sabotage. He replied: "That’s the same thing Lipshitz said. You know who Lipshitz is? That’s Walter Winchell [referring to Winston Churchill]. Lipshitz is his real name."  No one was amused.

Shortly after his rock concert-like appearance in Madison Square Garden, New York city’s mayor, La Guardia, who was fed up with the constant anti-Semitic and anti-American agitation, started an Al Capone-style financial investigation of the Bund’s taxes.

When asked about his relationship to Florence Camp during his trial, Kuhn denied that he had asked her to marry him and noted that Mrs. Camp was too much of a lady to accept a proposal after just a few days’ acquaintance. Herman McCarthy (the prosecutor) whipped out a Kuhn letter and read it aloud:

"Florence : I am terrible in love with you. I beg you to become my beloved wife. I will always be true to you. . . ."

In another letter to Florence he said that he loved her with his “whole soul and body and was about to have [his] teeth fixed.”

In the course of the trial, it was established that Kuhn had pilfered $14,548 from his organization ($717.02 of it having been spent on moving expenses for Mrs. Camp). Kuhn was swiftly convicted on charges of embezzlement, grand larceny, and forgery and was first sent to Sing Sing Prison.  After the war, he was deported to Germany, where he managed to get into trouble again.

Yaacov Apelbaum-The Escape of Fritz KuhnIn 1949 when he again stood trial in front of a Munich court this time on charges of escaping from jail and being a major Nazi organizer, he claimed that the Bund was strictly "an American patriotic organization," that he had used the swastika only because it was "an old American Indian design," and that he had patterned the Bund’s uniforms after the US National Guard, not  the SS. As for his 1944 meeting with Hitler he said: 

"It was purely a social call. If I went to England today, I would naturally like to call on King George." 

When the US. entered the war, whatever was left of the German-American Bund organization quickly disintegrated, however, that didn’t spell the end of Nazi activity in America. Another high profile organization waiting in the wings was the Steuben Society. In comparison to the Bund which was composed of common National Socialist riff raff, the Steuben Society represented the cream of the crop to the US Nazi aristocracy.

Although Steuben Society members avoided public Nazi displays such as hailing Hitler, the differences between the two organizations were only skin deep. When it came to hard core issues such Nazi ideology, they were indistinguishable.

While visiting the reception room of the Steuben Society in New York, John Roy Carlson observed:

“One could find a large American flag standing in one corner. On the walls were pictures of Von Steuben, Washington, and Lincoln, The Pledge to the Flag and the Bill of Rights hung framed between them. There was also no lack of red-white-and-blue. Patriotism oozed from every crevice in the room.”

True to its nature, the Society published “The Steuben News" a newspaper for Patriotic Americans which described itself as:

Yaacov Apelbaum-The Steuben News . . . a patriotic, civic and educational political society endeavoring to awaken in the hearts and minds of American citizens of German extraction the necessity for taking a more active part and interest in the political affairs of our great country.

Its program demanded "strict discipline" on the part of its members, and rejected "persons who are shifters and trimmers, or who are known to possess no race pride." The Steuben Society strongly emphasized Racial (Aryan) consciousness and political objectives.

In his 1943 investigative book Under Cover, Carlson wrote:

“…The Steuben News reprinted articles from the pro-Fascist Italian daily, Il Progress Halo-Americana. It recommended books by the notorious Ausland Institute and ran many articles by Nazi agents. The Steuben News praised as "extraordinary and valuable" the book Scarlet Fingers published by Flanders Hall, the propaganda mill financed by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck. The Steuben News followed the accepted party line of pro-Nazi isolationists. It headlined the speeches of Lindbergh. It championed the late senator Ernest Lundeen-some of whose speeches were written by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck-and on one occasion devoted eleven columns to one of his defeatist speeches.

It reprinted from Social Justice and The Herald, American Fascist weekly. It ran large advertisements for the America First Committee, reprinted its bulletins and urged its members to support it financially. The Steuben Society fought desperately all measures to arm those European Democracies which resisted Hitler’s brutality. And it also quoted liberally from the New York Enquirer, published by William Griffin, who was later shown to have associated with Viereck.”

Now, you’re probably thinking: “This is a fascinating piece of history, but what’s the relevance of all of this 1939 Nazi stuff to our current 21st century jet-set life style?” Well, wonder no more.

This past Sunday morning on our way out of our local diner, I caught sight of the newspaper stand in the entrance vestibule.  I usually don’t read printed media, but the name of the paper and the motto “A Newspaper for Americans” caught my attention. Curious about how the Steuben Society’s defines “American,” I picked up my free copy and read on. 

Yaacov Apelbaum-Steuben News

At the top of the cover page on each side of the title “The Steuben News” were the mission statements: (1) United for Common Interests and Common Needs” and (2) DUTY, JUSTICE, TOLERANCE, CHARITY.

I flipped through and read some of the articles. There was an announcement of a presidential proclamation regarding the German-American Day, a story about the treaty between German settlers of Texas and the native Comanche Indians. My first impression was that it all seemed rather banal. Then I got the last page. Under the calendar of events, I ran into some terminologies like “event sponsored by Unit #998” and “contact Brother Erick or Sister Hildegard.” That seemed a bit cryptic and militant. At the bottom of the page I saw the membership form which prompted an unexpected double-take.

The membership form, unlike any other application I have ever seen,  had questions about the nationality of the applicant’s father and mother,  political affiliation, and—most surprising of all—about naturalization. For some reason, the Steuben Society (acting in the capacity of a quasi-government organization?) will only issue membership cards after careful evaluation of the applicant’s naturalization certificate, which includes scrutiny of the certificate number and place of origin. (I’m kind of curious to know who at the INS helps them validate these applications.)

Yaacov Apelbaum-Are You Naturalized

From what I can tell, this membership application has remained consistent over the years. After conducting a quick search on-line for similar historical documents, I found one for the Silver Shirts, and as you can see from the contents, not much has changed in terms of drilling down to pedigree and other über eugenics.

Yaacov Apelbaum-Silver ShirtWhen, I checked out the Steuben Society’s website for the name and location of the chapter nearest me, I discovered that they are all named after some distinguished German American figure. I was hoping to find a chapter honoring the likes of  von Stauffenberg, but alas, no such luck.

I am not sure what to make of all this. I hold German culture,  ingenuity, work ethics, and organization in the highest esteem.  I’m an avid admirer of Handel’s music and Nietzsche’s, Kant’s, Goethe’s, and Leibniz’s  writings.  My family originated from Germany and in my travels there I have found most German people to be kind, polite, friendly, and exceedingly intelligent.

On one hand, it’s laughable that anyone would be willing to complete an application detailing his mother’s nationality or his naturalization number in order to join a civic organization. On the other hand it’s really disturbing that in 2010—the age of the internet—a nationwide fraternity that draws its philosophy from one of humankind’s darkest moments, continues to operate in the mainstream with apparently unrestricted access to leading politicians and public figures.

If you are considering joining an organization such as this, take a breather and dedicate some time to learning the German language, literature, philosophy, and music instead.  You will discover that the richness of Germanic culture has a lot to do with individuality and little with purity of blood.   

Et si omnes ego non

© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.

Drinking on the Job and Other Vices

January 1, 2010 4 comments

Yaacov Apelbaum-Drinking on the job

Working in an early stage startup can be a blast. For me, it is a most rewarding personal and professional experience. There is minimal bureaucracy to get in the way and you have the opportunity to build the product of your dreams.

True, at times a few dark clouds (like the possibility of not making payroll) may gather on the horizon, but with some ingenuity you can handle it. If you are preparing to ship version 1 of your product, the pre-launch phase or the final sprint can be an ultimate adrenaline\caffeine rush, and the chronic lack of sleep will just enhance the experience.

Working in this environment may not be for everyone. The rapid pace of change, the seemingly never ending To-Do list, and the constant improvisational nature of the work often frustrate individuals who are used to more structured development. Financial stability can be another turn-off. Most early stage startups operate on a shoe string budget using seed\angel money that has to be stretched to the limit in order to build a viable proof of concept. Once in place, the funding and development cycles are repeated in the hopes of surviving long enough to attain commercial viability. These repeating cycles, if not executed properly, can become a tiresome soap opera.

To use an equestrian metaphor to illustrate, the development effort in a large organization is somewhat similar to English-style show jumping competitions. A smartly dressed rider moves elegantly between the stations (projects), always maintaining aristocratic poise and composure (an eye on features, schedule, and budget). The same event in a startup looks more like a rodeo, where the inexperienced rider jumps on the back of a wild mustang with neither saddle nor reins and spends the duration of the ride screaming, swearing, and holding on for dear life (dwindling budget and product immaturity) while the horse (the competition) simultaneously kicks, bites and tries to throw him off. Net-net, a tour of duty in a startup can resemble the life of a Caribbean buccaneer. The risks are plentiful but the rewards of a buyout or an IPO can be glorious.

In addition to operational differences, startups also tend to have a more casual and festive corporate culture. To help recruit and retain talent it is not uncommon to offer employees various soft perks like no dress code, the freedom to play interior decorator, and access to amenities such as the latest video games, quality coffee, soft drinks, snacks, and toys like Kindles.  Some companies, in an attempt to even further sweeten the sub-par monetary compensation will go as far as to abstain from creating work policies regarding vacation, work hours, and employee conduct.

Yaacov Apelbaum-Firewater and Glass BeadsIf you are on the management team of a startup, it is tempting to convince yourself that you can make up for low base pay and a high stress work environment with theme park playfulness (a approach not dissimilar from paying for prime real estate with firewater and glass beads).  But in reality, trying to convince highly intelligent people that the privilege of working in a glorified techno-utopian commune is an adequate substitute for decent wages amounts to little more than reenacting Svengali’s operatic hypnotism.  It may work for a while, but sooner than later the effects wear off, leaving you with consequences like high attrition rates and chronically missed deadlines.

In one of my engagements, I had the opportunity to work with a late stage startup. The company desperately needed to mature and commercialize its product and swing to profitability. This had to be done rapidly in order to secure bridge funding.  When I first took over the technology and engineering organization, I discovered that the team had an almost 50% turnover rate and that my two predecessors had left on very disagreeable terms.  Initially, I was surprised that the subject of almost every staff meeting revolved around compensation, but that matter quickly came into focus. The developers were disgruntled because, in addition to being significantly underpaid, they hadn’t received their promised bonuses (which accounted for almost 40% of their salary) yet they were still being asked to work 70 hour weeks. It was evident that all the soft perks they were getting didn’t succeed in dulling their memory of the promise.

In another engagements, the CEO refused to budge on the question of base salary and missed bonuses and argued instead that work conditions (flex hours, free sporting event passes, telecommuting, and free alcohol) were more than sufficient  compensation.  On the eve of the “Mother-of-all-Sprints,” (a hellish 320 hour coding month), some team members started exhibiting disturbing behavior that included sending inflammatory emails to the entire company (see Flame Mail excerpt below), rowdy conduct in staff meetings, and calling in sick.

Gentlemen,

As part of the "Mother of all Sprints", we have been asked to go above and beyond our normal dedication. We have been asked to make major sacrifices in our personal schedules. We have been asked to work harder with longer hours. We have been asked to cancel existing plans we may have put in place with our families. We have effectively been asked to put our lives on hold until the end of the sprint. And we have been asked to do this without any advance warning.

Furthermore, many of us disagree with the exact product direction.

  1. We disagree on the functionality necessary for the company to go forward.
  2. We disagree on what the bottlenecks and limits with the current process are.
  3. We disagree on the feature focus of current efforts.
  4. We disagree with the release date.
  5. No one asked the development team what they felt was important to accomplish.
  6. No one asked the development team what features they felt were necessary.
  7. No one asked the development team what they they could realistically accomplish.
  8. No one asked the development team when the release should occur.
  9. We have no real equity in the company. We have no guarantee we will ever receive bonus payments. We have no guarantee that bonuses will be distributed fairly, if they are ever paid out.

So I have to ask myself, what is my personal motivation for doing this? What do I get out of it?

Flame Mail

Of course, it didn’t help that the company offered its employees a steady supply of beer and hard liquor, and even had gone as far as openly encouraging everyone to drink on the job (at the ever so popular “Tequila Fridays”).  HR wouldn’t implement any conduct policies because they feared that doing so would dilute the startup experience. Not surprisingly, some employees in turn responded by drinking just a bit to much, staying home sick, and reducing their productivity.

Workspace structure and policies are as mandatory as social contracts are and are designed to protect us from abuse and anarchy. Hobbes observed that life under the rule of the mob is "nasty, brutish, and short."  Similarly, life in a startup modeling its governance to resemble the “Lord of the Flies” is wretched and hardly short enough.

Unfortunately, no one has the exact formula for balancing discipline with productivity. But I have found the following rules of thumb to be an affective guide:

  • It may be contrary to your anti-establishment philosophy, but it is in your best interest to create and maintain an orderly work place.  Unfortunately, the only way to achieve this is by formalizing rules for all employees and enforcing policies like performance reviews, bonus payments, vacation and sick time without favoritism or exceptions.
  • Provide formal policies regarding company usage of licensed software.  It may be true that software yearns to be free, but unless it is properly licensed it should be kept off of company computers.  This may sound picayune, but using counterfeit or cracked software is a huge legal issue.
  • Regardless of how hip and progressive it may seem, do not encourage consumption of alcoholic beverages or drugs on company premises. Every garden has its snake and this one will bite you big time. It’s only a question of time before one of your employees under the influence of something he consumed at work will become a legal liability.
  • Do not tolerate violent or abusive behavior (such as regular use of foul language or extensive absenteeism) from any employee, including leads and management.
  • Offer your team competitive financial compensation. If you can’t afford to pay market wages, be honest and upfront about your limitations. Don’t try to renegotiate salaries down by arguing that industry wages are inflated.
  • Be creative about company spirit and culture. Offer your team as many soft perks as you can, but remember, perks are not a substitute for wages.
  • Don’t exaggerate or misrepresent bonus target amounts, stock option availability, or plans for employee profit sharing. Be forthcoming about the financial state of the company and its stability. My golden rule is “promise only what you can deliver” and in a timely manner “deliver what you’ve promised.”

Maintaining transparency and a fair work environment are two of the most important pre-requisites for a smoothly operating startup. Once these are in place, you will discover that you are well underway towards achieving your most ambitious development goals as well.

Good luck.

 

© Copyright 2010 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.