Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What I've Learned in Six Decades

In his play, Broadway Bound, Neil Simon wisely said, "Wisdom doesn't come with age. Wisdom comes with wisdom."

With that caveat, as I approach my seventh decade, here is the wisest advice I can muster:

On career: If I haven't acquired wisdom in this area, I'm in trouble. I've been a career coach for 25 years. Here are some things I've learned:

¨ For most people, there is no one best-suited career. They could be equally happy and successful in many careers as long as it met their non-negotiables, for example: using your head vs. your hands, people-centric vs. isolated, employed vs. entrepreneurial, artistic vs. scientific, plus a decent boss, pay, commute, learning opportunities, and workplace ethics.

¨ It's wise to hire an inexperienced smart hard worker over an experienced person of average intelligence and drive.

¨ Procrastination is a career killer. Avoid those psychotherapist-concocted excuses for inaction, for example, "fear of failure," and "fear of rejection." Feel the fear and do it anyway; the fear will dissipate. And if you're lazy, recognize that you pay a price far greater than any benefits you derive--not only lack of success but ultimately feeling like a parasite on others, or at least having made far less of a difference to your family, community, and world than you could have or your peers have.

On money: Only fools chase money beyond a moderate income. After taxes, your quality of life's improvement is too small to justify what it often takes to get big bucks: a career you enjoy far less than a less remunerative one, inordinate stress, ethical compromises.

On friends: They're more important than family. Other than your spouse, you don't choose your family. You do choose your friends, so you're more likely to be compatible. I have seen so many family members cause each other misery. Compatible, close friends are a treasure. If you have such friendships, nurture them. If you don't, prioritize making one.

On marriage: A good marriage should get a passing grade on all these characteristics:

¨ enjoying each other in bed

¨ enjoying each other out of bed

¨ respecting each other deeply

¨ no fatal flaw in either of you (for example, chronic addiction or violence)

¨ that ineffable thing called love--in which you feel warm whenever you see the person, and you care as much about the other person's wellbeing as your own.

Of course, no marriage scores a permanent A on all those factors but if, for an extended time, your or your partner rate the marriage as a C or lower on two or more of those, you may be better off single or with another partner.

Few people fundamentally change and even fewer change because of another person's attempt to make them change. Sure, encourage tweaks but key to a good relationship is accepting each other for who they essentially are. If you can't, consider separating.

On sex: The key is to find a partner with a compatible sexual appetite and to communicate your desires to your partner, verbally if necessary.

On politics: Liberal ideals appeal to the hearts of all good people but fail to adequately consider how most humans behave: that handouts and other compensatory programs reward incompetence and laziness and thus encourage more of it while punishing the more worthy. Liberals, who ever expand government, fail to accept that the security of government jobs causes government services to be of low quality and to cost the taxpayer vastly more than they should. Also, liberals seem to care about everyone but the taxpayer, who usually gets terrible value received for the amount paid. Government must take much more seriously their responsibility to steward taxpayer money as though it was their own.

Conservatives fail to realize that people's failures are often beyond their control: the genes and environment bestowed by their parents. It is government's (as well as individuals') responsibility to help compensate those who lost in the genetic and environmental lottery. Conservatives also fail to acknowledge that unbridled capitalism does lead to excesses requiring regulation, although only a non-onerous and realistically enforceable level of regulation.

On faith: There is no God worth praying to. If there were, s/he wouldn't have allowed billions of people, including infants, to suffer weeks or months of horrific pain only to die of diseases such as cancer or AIDS, leaving bereft family members. "A loving God," hmmph.

The potential for holiness resides within each of us: the impulse to do good. We should keep that impulse top-of-mind.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"A Nation of Cowards?" Toward an Honest Conversation About Race and the Achievement Gap

In June, I posted a teacher's sobering, indeed stunning account of his experiences teaching in a heavily African-American urban high school. It generated an unprecedented 473 comments.

I have just finished writing an article that includes the most interesting quotes from those comments, spanning the ideological and political spectrum. I conclude the article by proposing what I believe is a bold yet realistic blueprint for reducing the achievement gap.

The article is too long to post here, but if you're interested, here is the link to it.

Feel free to post your comments on that article here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Is Watch-and-Wait A Wiser Strategy Re Global Warming?

With so many compelling problems facing the world--from cancer to world poverty--I cannot understand why liberal leaders such as President Obama are so eager to immediately start spending so massively in perpetuity in an attempt to cool the planet when average global temperature has gone up just 1/2 of one degree since 1880 and flat or declining for the past decade, even if we don't count the aberrantly warm year of 1998. Here's another chart, this one from MIT, reporting that there's been essentially no increase since 1995!

Insisting on immediately and massively spending to try to cool the planet seems particularly foolish because key evidence suggests that even that 0.5 degree warming since 1880 is at least partly natural variation, not man-made. For example, there has been a major CO2 increase during most recent decade, a period in which temperatures have been flat or declining. Atmospheric CO2 is a proxy for man-made hydrocarbon emissions. If man-made behaviors were causing global warming serious enough to justify the world making massive efforts to cool the earth, global temperatures should not be declining. Even if other factors are masking the man-made contribution to global warming, the amount and rate of global warming is small, far less than predicted by Al Gore and his anti-corporation-motivated allies. And remember the climate change alarmists' data is based heavily on highly conjectural computer models: garbage in-garbage out.

Another untested assumption: Even if, over the next 50 years, average global temperature were to reverse trend and rise, would the net effect be so negative as to justify an immediate and massive indeed quixotic effort to slow it? For example, many areas, for example in Canada and Russia, previously too cold to grow crops, would become farmable. An article in Germany's leading magazine, Der Spiegel makes the case that it's impossible to predict whether global warming, if any, will yield a net positive or negative effect on the earth.

Perhaps the most dispositive reason to watch-and-wait instead of, right now, spending massively to try to cool the planet, is the extraordinary difficulty, indeed unrealism, of trying to get the worldwide spending of incomprehensibly large amounts of money, curtailment of development and of travel in perpetuity that would be required to possibly achieve even a one- or two-degree decline in average global temperature.

Charles Siegel of preservenet.com commented on today's New York Times editorial that said:
"The hope is these [Copenhagen] talks will produce commitments from each nation that, collectively, would keep temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. That will require deep cuts in emissions — as much as 80 percent among industrialized nations — by midcentury." Siegel commented, "In reality, it requires at least an 80% cut in emissions in the entire world by 2050, not just from the industrialized nations." Is it realistic to do that?

There are only so many fiscal and human resources to go around. If we immediately and forever spend so massively on trying to cool the globe, we will have to shortchange initiatives with a higher probability of improving humankind--such as a true war against cancer or world poverty.

Of course, some efforts to cool the planet also facilitate energy independence, for example, nuclear energy and conservation efforts that minimally impinge on our freedom such as higher CAFE standards. I support both of those measures. But the sorts of permanent massive spending and incursions on our freedoms (for example, restricting road building thereby encouraging gridlock, and eliminating already scarce city parking spots, forcing us into inevitably time-wasting mass transit) being proposed by President Obama and other liberal world leaders is incomprehensible to me.

It seems to me that in light of the 15-year flat global temperature and below-average extreme weather such as hurricanes despite the CO2 increase (the opposite of what Al Gore and the IPCC's politically stacked panel predicted,) and that the money and effort could be diverted to better address the world's enormous pressing needs, a few years of watch-and-wait, accompanied by continuing, non-politically-motivated research on the above questions, along with private-sector research into improved alternative energy sources is a wiser path than immediate massive spending to try to cool the planet. What am I not understanding?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Two Ideas for Career Websites

Despite the plethora of career-related websites, I believe that creating these could enable someone to do well by doing good:

APlayer.com.
Many sites attempt to match employee with employer but none use the most potent predictor of how well an employee will do on the job: simulation.

APlayer.com would make it easy for an employer to upload a simulation of a task(s) the employee must do well on that job.

Candidates whose resume and application match the job description would be invited to participate in that online simulation.

High-scoring candidates would be invited to in-person interviews.

InterviewFinder.com.
Nearly every job seeker hates looking for a job: networking, cold-calling prospective employers, creating resumes, filling out applications, getting letters of recommendation, etc.

Career counselors looking for more clients would, on interviewfinder.com, offer to handle the entire job search except for the interview, of course.

A Blueprint for Long-Term Prosperity

This wonderfully centrist article in The Economist perfectly defines what I believe to be the ideal roles of business and government. The article's major contentions are:
  • Entrepreneurship is the key because only new products and services can keep quality of life improving.
  • Non-entrepreneurial businesspeople, such as corporate raiders, arbitragers, financial instrument brokers (e.g., those exotic CDOs and CMOs that helped trigger the financial crisis) are the bad guys.
  • A modest amount of government regulation is needed to control the aforementioned bad guys.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why Double-Digit Unemployment will be Permanent

This week's Time magazine cover story asserts that double-digit employment is here to stay but, true to its ever more liberal bias, the article avoids the most potent reasons why:
  • Government, advocacy groups, and the media pressure employers to hire candidates based not purely on merit but also on race, ethnicity, gender, and age. For example, courts are increasingly using the "disparate impact" standard to judge racial discrimination. If, for example, a smaller percentage of African-Americans pass an employee-selection test, even if no test items were evaluated to be biased against African-Americans, the test's disparate impact on African-Americans would be legally admissible evidence that the employer was discriminatory. Being pressured to hire on non-merit-based criteria, of course, reduces employers' desire to hire at all.
  • Government has vastly increased the dollar and human costs of hiring people. Of course, there are the employer-paid payroll taxes: unemployment tax, Medicare, Medicaid and half of Social Security plus all the associated paperwork. But mandates such as the Family Leave Act, which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of leave every year(!) with guaranteeed rights of return, imposes onerous demands on employers. And President Obama has proposed making that leave paid! And for the coup de gras, health care cost, already a huge employer expenditure will grow far larger under ObamaCare, under which employer taxes will be used to subsidize the poor's health care.

  • Living-wage laws, for example, those in San Francisco, require employers to pay all workers $11.54 an hour (usually plus benefits). Employers who could use an employee that would add any less value than $11.54 an hour plus benefits won't hire anyone at all--few employers want to take a loss in hiring an employee.
    • The hassle factor. Many American employees, especially in liberal cities, and especially young employees, feel a sense of entitlement and litigiousness. They view employers as necessary evils. Many employers find the hassles of dealing with such employees outweigh the profit they would generate.
    • Increased government worker protections create yet more disincentives to hire. For example, California law requires that even if a non-exempt worker works only four days a week, if an employer wants an employee to work a 9th hour on even one day, the worker must be paid 50% more for that one hour. Another example: sexual harassment laws have been so liberalized that, for example, if a person merely perceives a coworker to be making unwanted advances or is offended by a photo of a sexily-dressed person in an employee's cubicle, s/he could have grounds to build a case against the employer for condoning a "hostile environment," even if the employer was unaware of the photo!
    • It is very difficult to fire an unsatisfactory employee, especially if the employee is in a "protected class:" woman, minority, person over 40, person with a disability (everything from cancer to depression.) Many such employees file wrongful termination actions and the rate is growing. Those suits are not only costly and can take many years, they take a great psychological toll on employees being accused of or deposed about alleged racism, sexism, ageism, or a hostile environment.
    • The overall cost of regulation is enormous. A study by California State University economists reported today by Governor Schwarzennegar finds that the regulations cost the average small business and $134,000 every year, a total cost of $493 billion and 3.8 million jobs. And, of course, President Obama is calling for yet more regulation.
    Those are potent reasons why employers are ever more likely to not hire U.S. employees but rather to offshore or automate jobs, or simply to calculate that there's too little profit to justify the disadvantages of hiring. And to the extent hiring is necessary, employers are ever more often hiring workers on short-term contracts to reduce payroll costs and the risks of lawsuits.

    Time magazine proposes the typical liberal solutions that have already been tried and failed: funding colleges more and job retraining. We already have the highest percentage of college graduates in American history and as discussed earlier, employers are yawning at them because all we've done is taken weak high school students, lowered standards in college, but radicalized them to demand the moon from employers. So employers offshore, automate, or temp as many positions as possible. Regarding job retraining, it's been tried and tried, and those federal training programs fail: cost a fortune per trainee and most trainees don't land a job in their new career or don't last.

    In my view, two changes would have the biggest long-term impact on decreasing the unemployment rate:

    Training more entrepreneurs, starting in elementary school. That would yield more successfully self-employed people, more new ideas for products and services, which would create the need for more employees.

    Freeing business from most government regulation.

    Fat chance.
  • Friday, September 11, 2009

    The ObamaCare Questions I'd Ask at a Town Hall Meeting

    President Obama, you've said, again and again, that ObamaCare would not cover illegals. Yet ObamaCare has no money allocated to verifying that a patient is a legal resident of the U.S.

    And to the extent illegals wouldn't be covered under ObamaCare, you have repeatedly said you plan to make all illegals legal: the so-called "path to citizenship." So won't all these 13 to 20 million illegals become legal and thus covered under ObamaCare?

    And is that fair? Today, every year(!), medical errors result in more than 100,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of additional people who stay sicker or get sick because of those errors.

    Indeed, two months ago, a dear friend, a healthy 54-year-old woman, went in for routine surgery and came out a near-vegetable--the surgeon nicked a critical blood vessel.

    With the same number of doctors, nurses, MRI machines, and operating rooms, ObamaCare will attempt to provide health care for 47,000,000 additional people--a group with high health care needs and low ability to pay. Thus, many more medical errors will occur and so, many legal residents who took care of their health and paid into the system will die, get sicker, or stay sicker because you, Mr. President, are forcing us to share our health care with a cohort of 47,000,000 high-use people, whether they are legal or not, whether they pay or not.

    I ask you, Mr. President, what would you say to those countless people who unnecessarily will get sick, or to the family members of those who die because you decided to provide health care without regard to people's legality or whether they paid their fair share?

    Isn't it fairer to have a basic public plan for the poor and a much higher-quality plan for those who pay into the system? Isn't it unfair to make legal residents pay for illegals, thereby endangering those legal residents' lives?

    And a final question: Do you really think that ultimately, we will have a more just country, a better life for our residents, when you force the responsible taxpayer to reward the lawbreakers (the illegals) the wild-risk-takers (people who borrowed beyond their means and the banks that lent to them) and the incompetent (the US car makers)?

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Battery Stations Instead of Gas Stations?

    Imagine if instead of pulling into a gas station, you pulled into a battery station that quickly swapped out your nearly empty battery for a fully charged one?

    Those stations are being created now in Israel, with plans in place for Denmark, Australia, California, Hawaii and Ontario, Canada. The initial demonstration proof-of-concept took place in Japan.

    With the already available lithium-ion batteries, fully electric cars (or perhaps with a range-boosting generator added a la the Chevy Volt) would be practical, affordable, and much less polluting than a traditional car powered by an endless series of little gas explosions.

    I love that solution. Cars give people freedom impossible to match using mass transit, even at mammoth cost. And even though it's unclear how manmade and controllable global warming is, certainly air quality would be improved and the world would be freed from having its behavior dictated by oil-producing countries such as Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia.

    For more on this, see the report in today's Economist. And here's a link to a video that explains how the Israeli company, A Better Place, is planning to implement the idea.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    The World's Shortest Course in Time Management

    Write a personal mission statement. That helps you decide what prioritize.

    My personal mission statement is "Make as big a difference as possible regarding career advice, education advice, men's issues, gifted kids, exposing higher education as America's most overrated product, and encouraging an honest national conversation about race."

    Have a time-conscious voice on your shoulder. I'm always asking myself, "Is this a good use of my time?" and "Am I doing this in the most time-effective way?"

    Avoid time sucks. For example, could you get out of attending that meeting, especially a standing meeting? Also, of course, watch for after-work time sucks: TV watching, golf, trekking to a relative's bar mitzvah.

    Delegate. It's often worth delegating even if the task won't be done as well. That frees you up to do other more profitable or pleasurable activities.

    Hire a personal assistant. Even a few hours a week at $10 an hour will buy you significant time you could use more profitably than doing your laundry or getting your car's oil changed.

    Get observed. Not sure how to get more time-efficient? Get someone who gets a lot done to watch you for an hour or more.

    Class dismissed. Anyone wish this "world's shortest course" were longer? Want to suggest a tip I should have added?

    All Influential Political Plays are Leftist

    I just realized that all of our influential political playwrights are anti-capitalists.

    Did they become the most influential because no right-of-center playwrights were worthy? More likely, leftist playwrights have been boosted because conservative plays (or books for that matter) rarely get selected for review let alone praise in such publications as the New York Times.

    I worry about a society with inadequate intellectual checks and balances. Nearly all of society's mind-molders are leftist: the colleges, Hollywood, and the news media. And don't tell me about Fox News and right-wing talk radio. They have but a tiny mindshare of the public, especially among the intelligentsia--the people most likely to vote and to create policy.

    Here is a list of the political playwrights I believe to be our most influential. All are leftist, what the media prefers to call "progressive."

    Clifford Odets--e.g., Awake and Sing.

    Sam Shepard-- e.g., Buried Child

    Neil Simon--Where he is political, he is always anti-capitalist. For example, in Broadway Bound, the wisest character is a socialist.

    George Bernard Shaw--e.g., Man and Superman

    Lillian Hellman--e.g., The Little Foxes

    Bertolt Brecht--e.g., Good Person of Szechuan

    The current playwriting stars--e.g., Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, Moises Kaufman, David Hare.

    Even musicals have become infected. Leading musicals of the 21st century, Rent and Urinetown are both anticapitalist as well as my otherwise favorite musical of the '90s, Little Shop of Horrors.

    And most famously, Arthur Miller--e.g., the ultimate anti-capitalist play: Death of a Salesman.

    I cannot think of one influential playwright who wrote pro-capitalist/anti-socialist plays. Can you?