Wednesday, July 15, 2015

JAG AND JAGGED EDGES

“Should you find yourself the victim of other peoples bitterness, ignorance, smallness, or insecurities, Remember this, things could be much worse. You could be one of them!” - Author Unknown




One of my guilty pleasures is watching reruns of JAG, which was a cross between "A Few Good Men" and "Top Gun". The NCIS franchise was a "spin off." Ten years on after the final episode, the JAG groupies ("shippers") are still online pining for resolution of the ever abortive romance between the show's main characters played by David James Elliott (Harm) and the recovering OT 7 Scientologist Catherine Bell, (Mac) . (Bonus: Ms. Bell is featured in this cultic classic from the Tom Cruise cult. )




One lesson encountered by watching JAG is how similar the plot lines are to real workaday lives.  I read these anecdotes and realize that real civilian life is not exempt from the same brand of toxicity that the fictional Navy Judge Advocate General Office experienced with the infamous Lieutenant Loren Singer, USN. As an ambitious JAG advocate, Singer (Nanci Chambers) was defined by a scorched earth campaign to further her career by any means needed. She was in a protracted battle with the other characters, who did not trust her, and were horrified by working a case on which she was lead chair. My favorite Singer moment was when she falsely claimed to be Jewish to win a case involving a Marine who went AWOL to serve in a kibbutz. More infamously, Singer attacked a pillar character (Harriet) in court by leveraging her miscarriage. (In a very popular later episode, Harriet got to punch out Singer..)





The writers implied that Singer had an excuse - she had allegedly been abused as a child. As it transpired, she had an active social life, having affairs with Harm's Russian half-brother, the smarmy CDR Theodore Lindsey, and a third unidentified man who was the father of her baby.  Singer was killed off, falling into a river and eventually drowning. After a few months on ice, her badly decomposed body ended being "up a tree" in Potomac Park, thus providing the backdoor pilot for JAG's spin-off series (NCIS).  

Most of us do not get to have a screenwriter balance our scales. We all have horror stories.  They may range from trivial offenses to the good old outright evil like that epitomized by the toxic Lt. Singer.  The following anecdote comes fresh from my inbox, and come with the usual disclaimers: names and places are obscured , and are not auto-biographical (thankfully) in this case .

ASCENDANCY OF AN UNCLUTTERED MIND

Taffy has mere months in hospitality, but has prospered by power in a vacuum. Due to a succession of short-time managers. this "jewel in the rough", is hardly ready for Tiffany's. Facilitated by a broader dysfunction,  this "indispensable employee" has leveraged her unique combination of cornpone and BS  to garner yet another ill advised promotion.

Allegedly "overworked" by inevitably "lazy" bosses, and  chronically underwhelmed by her co-workers, "Taffy's" personal ailments and drama have become the property's center of gravity.  In the litany of the evangelical world "Taffy" inhabits, reference is occasionally made to those souls possessing a "sweet spiritual fragrance". My correspondent makes a convincing case this self proclaimed secular saint carries a spiritual fragrance more conversant with roadkill on a hot Texas road.

One person undermining each manager and co-worker they encounter is often only the start of the damage. Hannah Arendt and others have written of the "banality of evil", in an attempt to explain Nazi-ism. In this case, there seems to be an ad hoc and feral leadership structure,  and this has had the effect of potentially good team members turning into bullies by one unchecked bad example.  Or as my opening quote cautions against, they have chosen to become "one of them." 

Buzzards feast on the carnage created by their destruction. In this case it's vacancies on the organization chart. As can be surmised, an exodus has begun of the quiet and professional team members.  When certain inmates are given free reign over the asylum,  things disintegrate as mob rule trumps all reason. Obviously this property is the victim of a leader, who has delegated power to someone who is unsuited by experience and character to have authority. While "Taffy" has risen on the organization chart, so have her sycophants. Though the  hotel metrics have crashed, and the Trip Advisor reviews make for surreal reading, the next most toxic team members are now anticipating impending promotions. For now they are reaping the benefits of being "one of them." 

WHAT WOULD THE ADMIRAL DO?



From a decade or more of watching JAG reruns, I became an admirer of Admiral Albert Jethro Chegwidden. The "Old Man" was both the Navy's top uniformed lawyer, and a hands-on manager. As a former SEAL, "A.J." came across as "hard-nosed" and as the Navy's JAG, "followed the book". But he was both loyal and fiercely protective of those under his command, and as the stereotypical "hard nosed boss" with a heart of gold, had ample occasion to demonstrate his caring.

Like "Taffy", Loren Singer sacrificed all integrity in the name of trying to get ahead.  Over the years the Admiral had to have seen seen those types of people come and go, and certainly showed his chops as a SEAL. Though Singer was an archetypical character, the Admiral seemed unable to assure this evil character left the JAG Corps, even after several seasons of toxic games. Singer being found hanging from a tree may have taken care of her bad karma on the show,  but it always seemed like a leadership fail on the series. (At least until one considers that Singer's demise on JAG opened the door to the NCIS franchise.)

Chances are, if the Admiral was advising us about real business life, he would advocate a culture of zero tolerance for those inherently dishonest, disloyal, and otherwise despicable. Those who are insecure, or ignorant, or bitter and entitled would be given orders to serve as an officer aboard a garbage scow, or be sent to the brig. In a trade defined by an officer's honor,  especially in the Navy of A.J. Chegwidden, integrity is forever.  It should be that way in the places where we as leaders have influence too. 

Gandhi wrote that the way of truth and love always wins. Even absent the talents of great screenwriters, the truth always does come out. Though both fictional characters and real people believe they are getting away with it for the moment (or a season or two),  Karma always does catch up, though sadly the timeframe may not be to our liking. But like the other characters on JAG who endured Loren Singer, and unlike those following "Taffy" into the abyss, we have the choice to not be "one of them!”


MANY BLESSINGS- NOEL

PS--- BONUS JAG CLIPS FOLLOW.



THE ADMIRAL SAYS FAREWELL



HARM AND MAC FINALLY GET TOGETHER AFTER 9 SEASONS


THE FINAL SCENE