Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What's Your CQ? (Communication Quotient)

I thought you might like an advance look at my next Life Well-Led column, which appears in the Mensa publication, The Intelligencer.


What's Your CQ?


Most people think they're a good communicator. Alas, even Mensans can overestimate what could be called their CQ, their Communication Quotient.


Let's measure yours. The answers and scoring key are below.


True or False?


_____ 1. Don't think ahead. Just listen to what the person is saying. 


_____ 2. Don't flatter too much. It's transparent sucking-up. 


_____ 3. It's wise to follow The Traffic Light Rule: During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: You can talk without worrying you're a blabbermouth. During the next 30 seconds, your light is yellow: The risk is growing that the other person(s) would like you to stop talking because there's something s/he wants to respond to or because s/he's bored. At the 60-second mark, your light is red--It's a conversation, not a monologue. Yes, rarely, you'll want to "run a red light" and keep talking, for example, if you're telling an engaging anecdote but usually you'll want to shut up or ask a question. If the other person wants to know more, s/he can ask. 


_____ 4. Never interrupt. 


_____ 5. You build credibility with good posture and by speaking from the lower part of your natural (not forced) pitch range. 


_____6. Effective communicators look for opportunities to make statements that move toward a person: agree, amplify, even good-naturedly tease.


_____ 7. When criticizing, don't bother sandwiching your criticism between two positive statements. That tactic has been around so long, people usually perceive it as an artifice.


_____ 8. When disagreeing, it's wise to use California couching, for example, "I certainly can understand why you feel that way but I'm wondering whether this approach may make sense (insert your idea.) What do you think? 


_____ 9. The four most important words are "What do you think?"


_____ 10. It's dangerous to be too nice, too early. You risk being taken for granted. 


_____ 11. The most important listening tool is simply to focus: Really pay attention. 


_____ 12. Be vigilant for changes in your conversation partner's body language.  


Answers


1. False. People, especially intelligent people, automatically think ahead. You probably can't and needn't stop that. Just try to also keep listening--it may change your response. 


2. False: U.C. Berkeley professor Jennifer Chatman set out to find a point at which flattery became ineffective. She couldn't find one. 


3. True.


4. False. Top sports agent Leigh Steinberg and OJ Simpson jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius believe that interrupting is the worst communication sin, but I wouldn't be that broad-brush. Especially if your conversation partner likes to interrupt, interruption can make for a more uninhibited, enjoyable, and time-effective exchange. That said, stay conscious of whether, in a given situation, the likely benefits of interrupting outweigh the liabilities. (Disclosure: I can't stop myself from interrupting.)


5. True


6. True. Of course, sometimes you'll want to disagree but your relationship pays a price each time you do. Make sure your stating a disagreement is worth that price.


7. False. Even when people recognize that you're using the sandwich technique, it tends to disarm, making the person more open to your criticism. Exception: In a complacent person, sandwiching may generate insufficient disequilibrium, so s/he'll remember that positives and figure the negative can be blown off.


8. True.  Of course, like all techniques, it can be overused but what I call California couching increases the chances that your conversation partner will consider your suggestion on its merits rather than rejecting it because s/he felt attacked.


9. True, at least in Bill Marriott's opinion. It's certainly an underused and usually helpful question. 


10. True.


11. True.


12. False. The meaning of a change in body language is too often unclear. Focusing too much on body language distracts you from the aforementioned more important components of effective communication.


Scoring key (utterly unvalidated)
     # CORRECT   LISTENING QUOTIENT (LQ)  
                <6                                               60
                  6                                               70
                  7                                               85
                  8                                              100
                  9                                              115
                  10                                            130
                  11                                            145
                  12                                            160

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Most Brutally Realistic Lyrics Ever?

The lyrics of songs tend to be more escapist than realistic. Not so with "Going Nowhere," written by Phil Cody for Neil Sedaka in 1974. It feels more relevant than ever.




Considering 
So many folks, dissatisfied with everything, 
Who need someone to understand they're lonely, they're lonely, 
And they're not alone. 

And everywhere 
They shrug their shoulders, tell themselves that they don't care, 
And all the while they make believe they're happy, oh they're happy, 
But not really. 

And they're asked to hold the world together, 
Make it happen, give it children, 
Who in turn are turning on to going nowhere. 
And all the strength they'd ever need to help them 
Has been wasted, remains hidden, 
In the confusion of going nowhere. 

And who am I 
To criticize the world that I have grown up in. 
Most of you would tell me that I'm crazy, yes I'm crazy, 
I can't help it. 

I understand 
That where you are is where you've been so many years, 
And things that tend to change you, tend to hurt you, yes they hurt you, 
Very deeply. 

And still you try to hold the world together, 
Make it happen, give it children 
Who in turn are turning on to going nowhere. 
And all the strength they'd ever need to help them 
Has been wasted, remains hidden, 
In the confusion of going nowhere, 
Going nowhere, 
Going, going, going nowhere, 
Going nowhere.

A Workaholic's Guide to Eating Well: Meal Preparation Made Very Simple

I am obsessed with being productive, so I've developed an approach to meal preparation that takes truly minimal time yet allows me to eat as healthily as I care to, while enjoying every bite.


I'll admit to having retarded taste buds--I only marginally appreciate a $50 wine over Two-Buck Chuck and enjoy the food at Red Lobster more than at frou-frou places.


But if you're looking to wring an extra hour or two from your day, you might find at least some of my minute-pinching ideas worth trying.


Breakfast
Nearly every day, I have oatmeal, although occasionally, I can't  restrain myself from running out to get a cinnamon roll from the donut shop.


While the quick-oats are microwaving, I pour a bit of frozen fruit into a dish and pull out a bag of chopped walnuts. When the oatmeal is done, I defrost the fruit in the microwave for 45 seconds. 
While it's defrosting, to the oatmeal, I add a tablespoon of brown sugar and walnuts. By that time the fruit has defrosted. I add the fruit and in three minutes, voila, I have a healthy, tasty, filling, inexpensive breakfast. I wash it down with a little nonfat milk. (Yes, I drink it out of the container to save time and having to wash a dish.)


Lunch
Some days, I microwave a piece of frozen sockeye salmon or chicken. That takes five to 10 minutes. While it microwaves, I usually make a simple lettuce and tomato salad, adding Trader Joe's taste-contest-winning non-fat balsamic vinagrette salad dressing. When the meat or fish is finished cooking, I sprinkle curry powder, garlic, soy, parmesan cheese, or seafood seasoning on top. 


Other days, I'll substitute an almond butter sandwich on whole wheat bread. Or I'll have a tuna sandwich, just mixing mayonnaise into the can and spooning it onto the bread.  I accompany it with a tomato and a pickle. 


 
Yet other days, I'll add chicken pieces, microwaved frozen broccoli, frozen leeks to ready-in-3-minutes frozen brown rice, adding parmesan cheese for flavor. 


If I'm not very hungry, I'll just microwave some frozen broccoli and throw some parmesan over it.

For dessert, I usually have a fruit. I particularly like clementines, also called mandarin oranges.  







Dinner
For dinner, I usually just choose one of those lunches other than the one I had for lunch that day. 


I do cheat--for example, the puff-pastry pizza from Trader Joe's.

For dessert, I'll have fruit or frozen yogurt. 


One or two nights a week, I have a glass of wine, usually while answering email.


Snacks
I keep a bag of peeled baby carrots and fruit at eye level in the fridge so I'm not tempted by high-calorie options, which I try--not always successfully--to keep out of the house. (Port Salut cheese is a weakness.)


And in a rather vain attempt to keep my weight down, I have a hot-pink sign at eye level on the fridge: Stay conscious! That reminds me to stop eating, not when I'm full, but when I'm no longer hungry.  That only works some of the time. I'm still trying to lose that dozen pounds. 

So You're Thinking of Starting a Business

Here's my latest column in the German magazine, Business Spotlight.  It's quite applicable to Americans. 

So You're Thinking of Starting a Business

My father was a Holocaust survivor. He was psychologically healed not by psychotherapy but by work, by owning his own small business.

Perhaps owning a business can heal you, if only financially. And in today's slow economy, many people need financial healing.

Of course, most new businesses fail, but this article can help you beat the odds.

First some reassuring news: You don't need a new idea. Indeed, new ideas are more likely to fail--guinea pigs often die, the leading edge often is the bleeding edge, choose your metaphor. Large companies have deep pockets and can afford failures but you may not have such deep pockets. If you don't, a wiser rule may be: Don't innovate, replicate

So, for example, you might pick a proven business concept. For example, in the U.S., food trucks are big--selling sandwiches, burritos, felafel, etc from a truck parked in a high-foot traffic area---A great location with no rent, a great combination. Just visit a few successful food trucks and incorporate their best features in yours. Then hire one or more of the business owners as a consultant to help you launch your business. They well may agree, even if you ask for them for free advice. Many people are flattered to be asked and enjoy sharing what they know. If they're worried about your opening up shop near their place, agree not to.
But if such an unstructured approach is not for you, it might be worth paying the usually stiff fee for the more structured handholding provided in a franchise.

Alas, the workplace battlefield is littered with dead-broke franchisees so you must be extremely careful before plunking down the tens or often hundreds of thousands of euros it costs to buy a franchise.
These sites profile some of the many franchises available in Germany: http://www.franchisedirect.com/internationalfranchises/germany/76/ and
But which, if any franchise should you choose?
According to Franchise.org, in Germany "there are no specific laws or government agencies that regulation the offer and sale of franchises." So it is wise to ask these questions.

Questions for the seller of a franchise (usually called the franchisor)
1. Describe what you'll be providing me.


2. Describe what your most successful buyers of your franchise do that average and below-average ones don't.


3. What are all the costs I'll be required to pay, both upfront and after the franchise is up and running?


If you're satisfied with the answers to those three questions, go on to these more probing ones:


4. May I see a spreadsheet showing last year's profit for each of your franchisees? Far less helpful would be a verbal representation, for example, being told the average or projected profit. Even if the seller gives you the spreadsheet, it is important to ask:


4a. May I have a copy of the current complete list of the buyers of your franchise and those who have sold or closed the business in the last two years? Of course, it's better if you can pick from the complete current list than to have to rely on a few hand-picked by the seller. The seller may reasonably withhold that list until you've demonstrated you're serious, for example, by completing a long application form.


If the seller gives you only a few names, you may find others by Googling the franchise's name.


5. What lawsuits are in process, especially, disgruntled franchisees or claims against patent.
Supplement their answer by Googling the name of the franchise plus the words "lawsuit," "complaints," "scam," and "reviews." A small amount of litigation is common even in good franchises but an excessive amount is a red flag.

Questions for people that have bought the franchise
It is critical that you speak with five to ten franchisees by phone and one or two in-person.
Tell each franchisee your strengths, weaknesses, work preferences and time availability and ask:
1. Now, knowing the franchise and a bit about me, do you think I'd be wise to buy one?
After getting an answer to that key overall question, ask about some or all of these:
a. the quality and pricing of products the seller requires you to buy b. the seller's ethics and the ethics inherent in this business. c. the accuracy of the provided estimate of costs d. satisfaction with the training provided e. satisfaction with the ongoing support f. satisfaction with the marketing support g. the typical work week, and how it's spent (including marketing) h. the skills that are critical to succeeding in this business i. Would you add another store/territory if you could?
Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Am I a self-starter, not a procrastinator? Often, long hours are required--and no one will be supervising you to make you work all those hours.
2. Am I willing and able to sell and market? For example, have you, in the past, consistently been able to close deals while remaining ethical?
3. Will I follow the franchisor's system? Everyone says they will, but many franchise buyers fail because they don't.
4. Does this franchise capitalize on my strengths and preferences? For example, cold-calling, night/weekend work?
5. Am I resourceful? Will I usually be able to solve the frequent problems that arise in running any business?
6. Am I resilient when setbacks occur, or am I too likely start procrastinating?

You're Invited to a Free, Wonderful One-Woman Show!

 I'll be the piano accompanist for Jeffrie Givens' inspiring, one-woman show, Big, Black and Shy on June 17 (Father's Day) at 6 pm at the stage at the Lafayette Reservoir, in Lafayette, CA.

Here is a six-minute sampling:


But the sample doesn't reveal her improbable but true story, which I know you'll enjoy hearing her tell. And her singing/performing is off-the-charts!

It's FREE to you and anyone you'd like to bring.

The stage and seating is outdoors but the weather is usually excellent, with temps in the 70s.

It's lawn seating so feel free to bring a blanket or lawn chairs and/or a picnic. You can come as early as you like. In addition to picnicking, there's also a lovely, albeit hilly 2.7-mile trail around a gorgeous, waterfowl-filled lake, encountering lots of people walking their doggies. There's also boat rentals on the lake as well as fishing. HERE is more information on the recreation opportunities at the Lafayette Reservoir:  And HERE are Yelp reviews about the Lafayette Reservoir.

To get to the Lafayette Reservoir from 24 West , take the Acalanes Rd/Upper Happy Valley exit. Go straight for 1/2 mile and make a right at the "Lafayette Reservoir" sign. Go up the hill to the parking lot.

 From 24 East, take the Acalanes Rd/Upper Happy Valley exit. Bear right onto Acalanes Rd and go under the freeway. Make a left at the light onto Mt. Diablo Blvd. Go 1/2 mile to the sign "Lafayette Reservoir and make a right into the reservoir area. Go up the hill to the parking lot.

You'll need to bring 8 quarters for the 2-hour parking meter. (The show is about 1 hour an 40 minutes long.) If you're planning to come earlier, bring more quarters or pay $6 (would you believe, quarters only?!) for a day pass, which is sold at a machine in the middle of the parking lot. It is possible that the meters will all be taken in which case, you will need to pay the $6. The stage is located 100 yards up the paved path at the far end (the east end) of the parking lot.

Feel free to email me at mnemko@comcast.net if you have any questions, and I hope to see you at the show.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"What's the Big Idea?"

Here's the cover of my forthcoming book, What's the Big Idea?: Reinventions for a Better America. Click on the cover and you'll be able to read all the words.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dream-Team-Taught Courses: THE Breakthrough in Education?


Education circles are atwitter about KhanAcademy.com lessons because they enable anyone to get clearly explained lessons, for example, in algebra. But they're boring. For the most part, they consist of a voice explaining the numbers and formulas shown on a blackboard. And they're isolated lessons, not a full course.
A far better approach is what I call, Dream-Team-Taught Courses. They would give every student, rich and poor, from Harlem to Beverly Hills, access to world-class courses.
Instead of high school students being taught by a random teacher, each student in the class, on an iPad or similar device would receive lecturettes delivered by a dream-team of the nation's most transformational instructors, supplemented by first-rate visuals, immersive simulations, and assessments. Each concept would be taught at three paces: fast, medium, and slow. 
The lecturettes would be subtitled and/or translated into other languages, especially Spanish.
A live teacher would be in each classroom to help each student select the right pace, to provide supplementation, and to answer questions.
How would the Dream Team of teachers be recruited?
Invitations would be issued to state and national Teachers of the Year. Also, Internet-posted videos would be reviewed to identify teachers that seem to have "the magic." And queries to education leaders would be made requesting a referral to a teacher who meets these criteria:
  • excellent at explaining concepts.
  • able to teach those concepts differently but equally well to fast learners and slower learners.
  • able to make kids fond of the subject, even kids who heretofore disliked it.
  • his/her classes' scores on standardized tests consistently significantly exceed the expected score. Each applicant would have to provide evidence that her or his students' scores did so. Applicants would also submit a video of him or her teaching the relevant subject. Finalists would be asked to submit an outline for the portion of the course s/he would teach, and give permission for us to contact their students, parents, and administrators for references.
How Would Dream-Team-Taught Courses Work in Practice?
Because some teachers would resist having someone other than themselves deliver the lecturettes, the live teachers could elect to themselves deliver some or even all of the lecturettes, and use the iPad-based Dream-Team-Teacher's lecturettes and the supplementary material only as desired. 
As a concomitant benefit, teachers watching those Dream-Team-Taught lecturettes is a just-in-time form of professional development.
Note that the Dream-Team Course paradigm has been designed with teachers unions in mind. Teachers' unions are concerned about adding workload to teachers and about any potential loss of teaching jobs. Dream-Team Courses make it easier for teachers to provide high-quality differentiated instruction, and are better implemented with a teacher than by a paraprofessional.
I am directing development of a mini-version of a Dream-Team-Taught Algebra 1 course. The pilot study will begin in Napa County's American Canyon High School this August. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Marty Nemko on the Laura Ingraham Show



Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reinventing How We Think

This is an excerpt from my just-published book, What's the Big Idea? 39 Reinventions for a Better America. 

As individuals and as a country, we make many bad decisions because we haven't paid enough attention to cost/benefit. Examples:

Anti-Terrorism

Requiring all airline passengers to take off their shoes has a near-zero chance of stopping a terrorist attack. Terrorists know that all shoes are screened so, of course, they'll put a bomb, for example, in a body cavity. Or they'll use an almost impossible-to-stop attack: Open a vial of communicable biovirus in the pre-screening lobby of the international terminal,  its parking lot shuttle, or in a sports arena. Or inject it in fruit in a supermarket or into a suburb's not-very-secure water reservoir.  Or detonate a suitcase nuke in a car trunk in a busy downtown. 

The shoe removal/re-donning ritual on top of other low-payoff, time-consuming airport screens such as double-inspecting one's boarding pass and ensuring that your toothpaste weighs less than three ounces, wastes countless hours of passengers' time and a fortune of our tax dollars in airport security personnel. 


In addition, lengthening security screening decreases demand for air travel, which hurts the struggling airlines and any employer that otherwise would have chosen an in-person meeting over a tele-or videoconference..

And more personally, it means that grandparents less often get to see grandkids, long-distance lovers to see sweetie. 


Our policymakers need to make decisions on cost-benefit.

Investing

Seventy-seven percent of mutual fund buyers choose actively managed mutual funds rather than index funds and exchange-traded funds, even though decades of data are clear that index investors do better.

Faith in God

A Google search on "Surrender to God"  yields 940,000 results. Millions of people follow the Bible's urging to be passive, to wait for God to provide. For example, 
Philippians 4:19 Be not wise in your own eyes; God shall supply all your need. 

Proverbs 3:1: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

1 Corinthians 10:17  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, 

Matthew 17:20  If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.
What are the odds that there is an omniscient, omnipotent deity who is watching the seven billion people's every move to ensure they all do okay? Forget about whether such advice will result in your landing a good job in this economy. Remember that billions of people, including newborns have died screaming in agony. And what about all those catastrophic earthquakes and epidemics? And if "God will provide," why do billions of the world's people lack basic food, water, shelter, and health care? Could anyone who makes decisions based on cost/benefit "surrender to God?" 

Global Warming

We're spending trillions to try to cool the planet. For that to be worth the costs and restrictions (e.g., pressuring people from their cars into the more time-consuming mass transit,) all of the following must be true.
1. The planet is warming. (estimated probability =.9)
2. The warming is substantially man-made  (probability = .9)
3. The warming''s net effect must be so negative as to justify the cost.  (probability = .6)
4. Here's a key one:  The world's 200 nations must all substantially comply with the severe restrictions on carbon footprint for the 50-75 years until alternatives to fossil fuels advance enough. (probability = .2)
 5. The money and human resources devoted elsewhere are less likely to do good for humankind. (probability = .2)

Of course, my probability estimates are just guesses. There are too many unknowns for anyone to make solid estimates, but I slanted my guesses toward the environmentalist consensus position rather than the more skeptical positions.  Alas, because of the many unpredictable variables, the models used to justify spending virtually without limit to cool the planet are also mere educated guesses, not solid enough to justify the massive expenditures.

The joint probability of those five occurring is 2%. In other words, the chances are 49:1 that the massive effort to cool the globe won't work well enough to justify the costs including the opportunity costs. Isn't such analysis at least worthy of a policy discussion on whether it would be wise to reallocate resources now spent on the least cost-beneficial elements of global-cooling policy? 

Unfortunately, the public and many leaders are swayed by the too broad-brush, non-analytic, "Well, what if we're wrong? Cataclysm!" Especially on issues as important and costly as this, the probabilities, the cost/benefit, deserve to be considered by the public as well as by its leaders. 

Attempting to Close the Achievement Gap

We continue to bet on education as the tool most likely to close the achievement gap. That, despite more than a half-century and trillions of dollars  (also see this) spent trying so many permutations and combinations of teaching style, curriculum, etc., and yet the achievement gap is as wide as ever. We have not been able to do better than to tout a non-replicable superstar teacher or pilot program: from Marva Collins (her school is now closed due to lack of enrollment) to Michelle Rhee's DC non-miracle, to bad-data KIPP , to the latest fad, Khan Academy. Go take a Khan Academy lesson and ask yourself if a year of that is likely to close the algebra achievement gap. They're boring. Only highly motivated students will learn algebra that way. Do you really think America's low achievers will learn algebra so much better with Khan lessons as to close the achievement gap?

Yet we continue to prefer to bury our head in the sand and bet a fortune and our children's future that the next classroom innovation du jour will close the achievement gap. Is it not time to start thinking cost-benefit: Could the enormous costs of those classroom programs, trainings, etc., be more wisely spent? For example, mightn't it be wise to accept that we aren't close to figuring out how to close the achievement gap and so rather than spending more trillions on unlikely-to-work classroom programs, isn't it time to reallocate those dollars to fundamental research aimed at figuring out the foundational bases for the achievement gap, and only then to develop programs based on those bases, and if there's money left, to return it to the taxpayer?

A Solution

The most important thing schools and colleges should teach is how to think rationally: cost/benefit, risk/reward, opportunity costs. But we're too busy teaching the periodic table of elements, the causes of the War of 1812, the intricacies of Shakespeare, and how to solve quadratic equations.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Workplace Reinvented

If you're employed, you're probably asked to do more with less: harder, faster, better.

There's no reason to believe that today's employers are crueler than past ones. What's different is that today's employers have large new costs that make it ever more difficult to stay in business: mountains of paperwork to comply with federal, state, and local regulations, more employee lawsuits, and government-required employer costs: from worker's compensation to "non-worker's comp-"-the too-often abused Family and Medical Leave Act.  

And of course, employers are ever more subject to global competition. For example, in the not-so-distant past, U.S. car makers could get away with making inferior cars using parts with deliberately short mean-time between failure/planned obsolescence, and could afford to cave to the media-abetted unions and despite mediocre work, give assembly-line workers lifetime job guarantees and better compensation packages ($73 an hour) than most professionals receive.

As a result, a large percentage of the price you paid for for a car has gone to paying for inferior parts and very expensive not-great workers. Asian car companies such as Toyota and Honda offer higher-quality-quality vehicles (average labor cost: $48 an hour)

The U.S. keeps trying to prop up U.S carmakers: for example, a 25% tariff on foreign pickup trucks and a taxpayer-funded $60 billion bailout of GM. Regarding the latter, despite statements by the Obama administration, it has failed--the bailout occurred when the stock price was $34. The breakeven price is $53 but it closed today at 22, a $15 billion loss for you and me.

Yes, a small percentage of large American corporations are doing just fine and because their stock price is up, their executives make a fortune. But more broadly, because of the above factors, to survive, American employers, from auto makers to chip makers to small companies, and, yes even government agencies, must often ask workers to work harder, faster, better.

Alas, too many employees will crumble under the pressure. If you're lucky enough to have a job in this economy, you are ever more likely to get maxed out--you have no more blood to give. 

So what's the answer? I believe the U.S. workplace can be reinvented so as to make worklife better for employees, while net, improving employers' products', services and bottom line. 

Of course, no one model will apply to all workplaces but I hope the eight ideas in this proposal will at least stimulate your own thinking on how to improve your workplace.  

1. No one-size-fits-all treatment of employees. Unions and gender/race advocacy groups often demand policies that require all employees be treated equally. Yet it's wiser to celebrate diversity: Each individual employee needs more or less supervision, more or less accountability, more or less flexibility of hours, more or less telecommuting, more or less of a workload. Employers deserve broader latitude in individualizing approaches to employees.

2. Convert at least some cubicles into officettes. The noise and lack of privacy in cubicles is draining. Employees' worklives would be more pleasant and employers would probably gain more in profitability if at least some cubes were converted into officettes: Use standard wallboard to raise the between-cubical screens to ceiling height, and add a door. 

3. Expand telecommuting. With government having decided to try to force us out of our cars and into mass transit by not building freeways and thus increasing gridlock, commute times are growing. In many metropolitan areas, by the time we arrive at work, we've already dissipated a fair amount of our day's energy. Tack on the commute home and we're ever less likely to want to finish up any work nor have the energy to be a patient parent or domestic partner, let alone to do volunteer work. So, many employees spend most of their evening exhausted in front of a TV with a beer or something stronger.

Especially with the availability of free videoskype to augment phone and internet, more employees who feel they can be as or more productive working at home (or a Starbucks) should be allowed to do so, at least for part of the week. Not only would that reduce commute times, many employees are more relaxed at home, working in their comfies, and may enjoy reduced child-care expenses. And the employer saves money by not needing to build or lease as much office space. 

4. Allow pets. Yes, I'm aware that an inconsiderate pet owner could bring a fleabag to work. Solution: After one warning to use flea remedy, Fido's visitation rights could be revoked. Too, I'm aware that some people are allergic to or terrified of Fido. Solution: If Fido's owner's efforts to keep Fido away from Fearful fail or if Fearful's workspace can't be moved far enough from Fido, the doggie could be forced to turn in his employee badge. 

The benefits of pets in the workplace greatly exceed the liabilities. According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, most people believe that pets in the workplace make people happier, reduce stress, contribute to a more creative environment, and decreases absenteeism. That makes sense to me. Besides, think of how happy Fido will be to have its owner close at hand for a hug--and a much appreciated walk. Already, 17 percent of large companies allow pets at work. More employers should. 

5. Relax the dress code. Sure, some people love dressing up every day to go to work, but many more find it time-consuming, expensive, and constraining. Personally speaking, I find a tie a mere step from a noose. And when I see someone (a lawyer, financial planner, etc) in a suit, I grab hold of my wallet--It makes me wonder if s/he didn't spend all that money on packaging himself to hide a lack of substance underneath. Dress codes should be more flexible. "Dress as you like" may sound extreme but I think that's wisest.

6. Improve the subtleties of workplace safety. Fortunately, the era of workplaces with toxic fumes and other noxiousness have largely been eradicated in the U.S. But more subtle but still very problematic safety hazards exist. For example, millions of desks/workstations contribute to repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Another example: research indicates that sitting too long can kill you. A solution: an adjustable-height desk or, less expensive, adjustible height keyboard tray and monitor arm. Those allow you comfortably to, for example, work on a computer, while sitting or standing. Improving workspaces ergonomically is a cost-effective way to improve workers' lives.

7. Make ADA requirements more flexible. As with many laws, pressure groups have filed lawsuits forcing expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act well beyond the non-controversial improving wheelchair access, to everything from celiac disease to chronic fatigue so that now, for example, a person with a psychologist's note saying the employee is depressed is entitled to so-called "Reasonable Accommodation."  

On one hand, I understand the frustration of a person with a mental or physical illness or disability not wanting the additional burden of being persona non grata in the workplace. On the other hand, if employers are forced to assume the burden of employing such people, net, that causes harm:
  • coworkers often must take on extra work to "carry" the disabled employee,
  • all of us customers suffering from worse products or services. 
  • the shareholders who have invested their savings in the company losing money, the employers. If an employer chooses to terminate any of the 43 to 54 million Americans now covered under ADA, the employer must prove that the employee wasn't fired because of the disability. As a result, many employers retain poor performing employees, make Reasonable Accommodations for them, and accept the resulting reduced profitability and increased risk of going out of business. The companies are more at risk of going broke because, in every other country in the world ("the U.S. is a benchmark",) employers are under less pressure to retain employees with serious mental or physical disabilities. And, of course, if a business goes bust, all its employees lose their jobs--devastating to their and their family's lives.
I believe that moderating the Americans with Disabilities Act would lead to greater net good. 

8. Make Affirmative Action policies more flexible. As with the ADA, no reasonable person could dispute Affirmative Action's original intent: to ensure that people of all races, religions, and sexual orientations are treated fairly.

But pressure from government and advocacy groups has converted the originally reasonable affirmative action laws and policies to, in practice, decreasing the weight of merit in hiring, promotion, and firing, and increasing the weight of non-merit-based criteria: aiming for proportionality in race, gender, age, and sexual orientation.

And government is now extending employment rights to the long-term unemployed and to ex-felons. For example, the Obama Administration has made it easier for ex-offenders to prevail in lawsuits by providing such legal weapons as the Disparate Impact Theory of Discrimination. For example, in a biotechnology company, if there is a smaller percentage of African-Americans or ex-felons in leadership positions than in the general population, that is deemed to be evidence of discrimination! There's something Alice-in-Wonderland-like about pressuring employers to not give preference to applicants who haven't been felons nor been rejected by many other employers. 

Such policies are bad for coworkers, who thereby are forced to work with coworkers who are not as competent or easy to work with as those who would have been selected if hiring, promotion, and firing were based only on merit.

They're even bad for the protected classes: minorities, women, the disabled, sexual minorities. Too often, even fully qualified people in those classes are viewed askance: that they wouldn't have been hired if it weren't for their being, for example, an "underrepresented" minority.

Nor are such policies good for employers, whether companies, nonprofits, or government agencies. Their products and services have to be worse for feeling pressure to hire, promote, and fire, based on criteria other than merit.  And such companies are more likely to fail, costing all the employees' jobs, because their competitors in other countries such as India and China are under far less such pressure. 

Of course, a few foolish employers will refuse to hire and promote the best candidates because of non-merit-based factors but, for the reasons cited, far greater ill to society accrues from the massive so-called "equal opportunity" enterprise. America would be wiser to reduce pressure to hire based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and age, let alone having been long-term unemployed or committed a felony.

Instead, American law and policy should simply encourage people perceiving discrimination to seek mediation, and, if that fails, arbitration, with taxpayer-funded subsidizing of legal fees for low-income claimants. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Worried Musings on Media Bias

From personal experience and from conversations with others, it's clear that if you want to write for major publications, you are wise to conform to The Narrative: "Women good; men bad. Minorities good; men bad---More redistribution needed

Dare you stray from The Narrative, the iron curtain of censorship will likely slam down on your fingers. Here is a recent example of today's McCarthyism from the Left: The author, a Harvard graduate and former Wall Street Journal editor, dared question the value of the Black Studies major. She got fired Monday.

Not only writers believe the media is biased. A The Hill poll of 1,000 likely voters found that 68% consider the news media biased, with more than twice as many respondents believing the bias is leftward. Worse, 57%  believe the news media is somewhat or very unethical while only 39 percent see them as somewhat or very ethical.  In a Gallup poll, only 26% rated journalists' ethics high or very high. 27% rated them as low or very low.

And UCLA, no bastion of conservative thought, conducted a rigorous study that found that the media indeed is clearly leftist-biased.

The media exerts its liberal bias in ways other than censorship, for example, a double-standard. Recall, for instance, how the media destroyed Newt Gingrich by relentlessly reminding us of an old affair and by making exaggerated claims of his pomposity while giving Obama a free pass on his hubristic certitude that massive debt increases and redistributive "justice" is wise.  When George Bush decided  "No New Taxes"was unwise, the media excoriated him as a flip-flopper. Yet when Obama changed from being against gay marriage to for it, the media extolled him.

The media also gives Obama free passes on Big Lies. For example, he forced taxpayers to spend $60 billion to bail out GM, a company that makes inferior cars, and he now claims that has paid off. In fact, GM's stock price has plummeted from 34 before the bailout to 22 as of this writing. The breakeven point is 53.  

A broader example: Obama claims he's bringing the economy back.  Well, see this chart. (Do note that the chart does not provide sources.) Obama bragged relentlessly about millions of shovel-ready jobs that weren't, yet the media has pretty much ignored that inconvenient fiction. Articles calling Obama to account are relegated to little-read conservative websites. For example, this article by a Pulitzer Prize nominee points out that the taxpayer will have spent $1 million for EACH job created by Obama's "stimulus" spending.

The media gave Obama a free pass for saying the U.S. has 57 states while destroying Dan Quayle for misspelling "potato." The media endlessly trumpets Rush Limbaugh's drug problem but when Edward Kennedy admitted to being an alcoholic and womanizer, it was downplayed, now brushed aside as ancient history.

The media exerts its bias in infinite other ways, including the subtle. For example, when George Bush was president, the media so often called him "Bush," whereas they mainly call Obama "The President."  The media has adopted the Left's focus-group-tested self-descriptor "progressive" rather than "liberal." After all, "liberal" implies (correctly) a tendency to overspend, whereas "progressive" has a positive connotation. Who could be against progress? Regressives?

The Left has appropriated the lion's share of society's mind-molding vehicles: the schools, colleges, and media. Fox News and conservative talk radio have but a sliver of society's mindshare, especially among the intelligentsia.  

Not all wisdom resides left of center but, because the media relentlessly swings its censorship scythe, I cannot envision a plausible scenario that would bring the public to question The Narrative.  

And The Narrative so warrants questioning.

Five years after writing this, in Feb. 2017, I created a little video presenting my current views on media bias. HERE is the link.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

This Obama Detractor Supports His Decision on Gay Marriage

Readers of this blog know that I have grave concerns about the core postulate undergirding most of President Obama's domestic policies: redistributive "justice."

But I want to applaud his decision today to support gay marriage. I have never understood why a couple consisting of an XX and an XY chromosome should be allowed to marry while a couple with an XX and an XX or an XY and an XY cannot.

Most of the opponents seem to draw most of their support from the Bible. In fact, the Bible includes passages both for and against.  HERE is a collection of Bible quotes viewed as pro-gay.

More important, public law should be based more on fairness than on what an ancient faith-centric text argues. After all, that text asserts that there is an omnipotent, omniscient God--which is--I'll be charitable--far from a certainty.

This straight, moderately libertarian-leaning guy believes we're wise to err on the side of equal opportunity.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Discrimination Against White Men Accelerates Yet More



From the Center for Equal Opportunity:

In case you missed it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently handed down new  Enforcement Guidance that greatly limits the extent to which employers can consider arrest and conviction records of job applicants, principally on the grounds that doing so can have a “disparate impact” on the basis of race and ethnicity...

In a press release earlier this year, the Obama administration announced that Pepsi “has agreed to pay $3.13 million and provide job offers and training”after an EEOC “investigation revealed that more than 300 African Americans were adversely affected when Pepsi applied a criminal background check policy that disproportionately excluded black applicants from permanent employment.”

This appears to be a straight “disparate impact” claim. That is, there is no claim that Pepsi’s policy on its face treated applicants differently on account of race, or was designed to exclude blacks, or was not evenhandedly applied — just that blacks were, statistically, more likely to be excluded by the policy and that Pepsi, in the opinion of the EEOC, did not have a good enough reason for thinking that people without criminal records would be better employees than people with criminal records...

Businesses are, understandably, not happy about all this: “Many in the business community have complained that the Guidance was rushed through with no public rulemaking or the associated process for public comment—a refrain recently echoed by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for EEOC funding and Commissioner Constance Barker in her dissent.” I have been a frequent critic of the disparate-impact approach, but really—telling employers when they can and can’t consider criminal records?


My thought: Is a society really better when the government pressures employers to hire more felons and fewer non-felons? Is that fair to law-abiding job applicants?  Especially with so few jobs available? Is this not another frightening example of the Obama Administration's foundational belief in redistributive "justice," in egalitarianism over meritocracy?  My view is that this is Alice-in-Wonderland: So much of what's right is now deemed wrong. 



The administration has repeatedly promised to ramp up its use of disparate-impact claims not only in employment but in other areas of civil-rights enforcement — like mortgage lending, school discipline."

* * *
The Wall Street Journal, which ought to know better, has put together a “Women in the Economy” Executive Task Force, and recently held a “Women in the Economy” conference that was reported on in the Journal. As in the past, these folks seem not to have heard of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for employers to engage in discrimination because of sex. Ignoring that little problem, the task force’s working groups included these recommendations:
  • “Hold senior managers accountable by tying promotion and compensation to meeting diversity goals and requiring regular reports to the board.” “[T]his group advised setting diversity targets and holding the senior executives’ feet to the fire . . .” “[E]xecutives whose ‘pay or promotions are at risk’ are more likely to change.”
  • “Post jobs regularly and ensure a diverse candidate slate. Hold regular succession-planning reviews and make managers accountable.”
  • “Require a diverse slate of candidates, and include women directors on the nominating committee.” “Make gender diversity nonnegotiable.”
  • “Find at least one female candidate for every technical job. Reward the C-suite for retaining and promoting women.”
  • “Government should be a role model for hiring, committing to 30% women at the top and reporting on progress.”
It cannot be argued with a straight face that these recommendations are anything but a call for companies (and the government) to set and enforce quotas on the basis of sex.

All this is particularly ironic in light of the unemployment rate being higher for men and that, per my previous post, the reasons for any gender pay gap are mainly the choices that women make.