Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Game Within the Game

Can adult attention deficit disorder be a learned behavior?

I sat back in my man cave with a cold beer and turned on the Mets-Yankees game Sunday night on ESPN. It's a guilty pleasure (the beer and the game and the alone time are all part of the guilty pleasure experience - ask a man if you're confused), and this should relax me. As I watched for a few minutes, however, it was hard to relax. No, not because the Mets bullpen is a disaster this season. I began to realize that a visual assault was being perpetrated on my innocent, slightly intoxicated mind, and the experience of soaking in some late night baseball became a video game instead with me at the center without a joystick (insert your own joke here). In summary:
  • Behind home plate, there were advertisements for the next program, or the newest ED wonder drug, since baseball apparently attracts the impotent, or causes impotency;
  • Across the bottom of the screen, there was the ever-present scroll, constantly providing the updated scores and written highlights on every other sporting event that I did not choose to watch that evening;
  • Player's statistics - the batter's, the pitcher's, the man on deck - some numbers only a mathematician could love. Numbers about the current game, the last 10 games, career, day games vs. night games, ESPN televised games...should I continue? These flash and pivot and fade in and out, in case the game pace is too low (perhaps added to telecasts after a particularly long Boston-NY playoff marathon to encourage consciousness);
  • Programming logos that appear like ghosts in the lower left corner at inopportune moments and block part of the frame on my mini-32" screen, telling me about the season finale for (fill in the blank) later that week, starring (fill in the blank), who recently graced the cover of People after a stint in rehab;
  • Let's not forget the upper right corner for information designed to simultaneously inform and distract - the game score, inning, balls, strikes, pitch speed, outs, information that an announcer used to provide before visual outsourcing;
I almost forgot the game action. That was somewhere towards the center of the screen, but I needn't worry about missing anything. Every pitch, spit and scratch is replayed and dissected, with a Telestrator yellow line, or another sponsored gimmick ("The K-Zone, sponsored by K-Tel!"). This is a lot of stimuli for a Sunday evening at home after the kids are in bed.

I've become immune to most of this. The barrage of statistics and advertisements has been going on for years, and I rarely object, at least not in an economic way, by boycotting any product or program. ESPN makes money, I'm pretty sure, since there are now 20 ESPN channels ("Did you catch the dodge ball tournament on the Ocho - ESPN 8?"). In fact, I mostly like the changes, dare I say "enhancements" to the viewing experience. And if the price I pay for information on the screen is more commercialism, that's a fair trade. I can pretend we don't see them, and that my buying habits are unaffected.

I do believe that the book is usually better than the movie, and that games on the radio can be more enjoyable than on TV. A world where Vin Scully's description of the action is obsolete doesn't sound better to me. Too much information can distract from the main event. But I will continue to watch and be distracted, and buy the products whose ads I have chosen to ignore.

Because somewhere, there is game in that TV, and I'll be damned if I'm going to miss it.

What was I talking about?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reason #1 to Love Baseball: No Clock

The Northwestern varsity baseball team led the Michigan Wolverines 14-0 in the 3rd inning on Monday.  To add insult to injury, it was Michigan’s Senior Day, a chance for the home fans to honor the graduating members of the team.  I can sympathize with any Michigan booster who left the game early, believing a 14 run deficit too great to overcome, and a 14 run home loss to much to bear…but I can never forgive.

Michigan rallied back to win 15-14 in 10 innings.  Northwestern had to play for all 27 outs before the celebration could begin.  They couldn’t run out the clock, and they lost.

The truth is that in most team sports (football, basketball, soccer, hockey), the final minutes of the game do not allow for a comeback.  There simply are not enough ticks remaining.  In baseball, with 2 outs, 2 strikes on the batter, bases empty, bottom of the 9th, down by 10 runs, you still have a chance.  You play until your opponent gets 27 outs, no matter how long it takes.  A 4 goal deficit in hockey in the final 20 seconds in insurmountable.  A 3 touchdown hole with 27 seconds remaining cannot be overcome.  The beauty of baseball is that it ain’t over til it’s over.

Sometimes I wish life were more like baseball.  A single shift in momentum, a few lucky breaks, and everything could change.  Time would never run out on you.  You could always achieve exactly what you had always dreamed of achieving, and tired bones or fading eyesight wouldn’t matter.  That final out may not come until you’ve won.

Maybe life is already like baseball.  I’ve got a few more at bats in me.  What about you?  Thanks, Big Blue, and congratulations on a stunning victory that inspires us all. 

Unless you’re a Northwestern fan.  In that case, the lesson is different.

Friday, May 21, 2010

One Nation, Two Sides

In August 2001, the President of the United States received an intelligence briefing entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US". Within 3 weeks of this stark warning, almost 3,000 people were killed in New York and Virginia.

In the aftermath of these heinous attacks, the country rallied together and demonstrated its' unified support for our President and our government. George W. Bush's approval ratings soared above 90%, and anyone who openly questioned our government during this vulnerable period was accused of providing aid and comfort to our enemies. We were one nation, and we deferred to our democratically elected leaders. The citizenry gave our President more than just the benefit of the doubt. Dissent disappeared (for a few months, at least, and some would say longer).

Almost a decade has passed. We have either prevented or luckily avoided any massive, coordinated attack since that fateful day. We have been vigilant, but mostly, we've been lucky.

I wonder if the electorate would band together again, as we shared our grief and anger and determination in 2001, if we were to fall victim to a similar attack during the current administration's stewardship. This would be a true measure of the depth of our political divide.

Bush came to power after a protracted and contentious election. Bush had prior warning of the threat that we faced. The people, red and blue, rallied behind him at that critical time. Obama's term has been contentious, and some question his legitimacy to hold the office, as some question Bush's legitimacy. Obama knows the severity of the threat. Would the people rally behind him?

I hope I never know the answer.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Contingent Workforce Trends and Challenges - Part III

The final Chapter of my summary of last week's keynote address at the Contingent Workforce Fisk Forum:

New Labor Law Landmines: President Obama has appointed former labor leaders to the National Labor Relations Board, and they are sure to take an extremely pro-labor stance on issues, including the growth of contingent workers. Labor tends to take a dim view of independent contractors, as they are more difficult to organize collectively than traditional employee groups. It remains to be seen how the NLRB will handle this new workforce, but it is safe to assume that union leaders will argue that contingent workers and independent contractors should no be excluded from any collective bargaining units.

Global Legal Issues and the Global Contingent Workforce: According to Mathiason, many assumed that the global downturn would stall the growth of contingent workers. The opposite, however, has occurred. The recession has accelerated the pace of the transition to independent workers into the labor pool. In fact, the post-recession business environment will require a global use of contingent workforce solutions. In the US, we have already seen the addition of 330,000 temporary jobs (26,200 in April 2010 alone), and experts predict that by 2020, professional skill sets will represent 2/3 of staffing spend by companies. One of the drivers of that trend is the loss of math and science expertise to global competition. 18% of college students are enrolled in math and/or science disciplines. Half of these students are from foreign countries, and most will get their education here, and return to their home countries, taking that expertise with them.

Employment Law Challenges of the Virtual Contingent Workforce: Technology is changing faster than employment policies can keep up. New issues seem to appear in the newspaper daily. Students are suing a school system because laptops have webcam installed and active. Employees have been terminated for text messages sent over private networks, but using company equipment. Phones are now cameras, and GPS devices can double as performance management tools. Most of these were not anticipated 5 years ago, and no one can say for sure what challenges (and benefits) technology will provide over the next 5 years. It is safe to assume that potential, as yet unknown employment law fears will paralyze some business owners from moving quickly into the use of contingent workers, however.

Protection of Trade Secrets and Non-Compete Issues: Quick question – who owns the LinkedIn network group that you developed during your employment at Acme Computers? You or the company? This is but one of the questions being asked by today’s employment attorneys.

Disgruntled workers have always had the ability to steal customer lists or financial data from their employer, usually by sticking papers in their briefcases. That risk is now greater since that stolen customer list could now be posted on a blog, or put to music and uploaded onto YouTube. With contingent workers who by definition have no specific loyalty ties to the client business, the risk is perceived to be greater. Contracts will need to be written with care, and enforceability cases will end up in the courts. Access to computerized databases from remote locations over secure networks will continue to be viewed with suspicion, as will the storing of confidential information on laptops that sometimes get “stolen”.

Building a Flexible 21st Century Workforce: Many of the regular full-time jobs that our parents raised us to take are gone. Our children are likely to work in jobs and careers that do not yet exist, participating in groups that form and storm, and then dissolve until the next project. They will work to live, not live to work. They have evolved beyond work-life balance issues, to work-life integration issues. The Information Age has given birth to a nation of free agents and micro-businesses. Large companies will operate with a lean infrastructure, adding expertise and talent only when needed to handle upticks in the economic cycle or projects outside of their core competencies. Businesses will need HR leadership that can understand and manage this new world of work. Who will train these HR professionals?

Mathiason closed his presentation with a final analogy. When speeding down the highway, we race towards our destination, but we do so with a keen awareness of our surroundings and the road conditions. We are ready to tap the breaks whenever conditions dictate, and accelerate when conditions improve. If we floor the gas pedal without regard for the traffic around us, we crash. If we ride the breaks, we may never reach our destination. We don’t always know what is around each curve, but if we proceed cautiously, we’ll arrive safely. The point of the story is meant to illustrate how easily we could be slowed or stopped by legal paralysis when analyzing contingent workforce risk; however, we cannot be cowed into inaction by these risks. The workforce roadmap is changing, and we need to carefully move forward at a safe and reasonable speed. Just as with driving, it is impossible to eliminate every risk. We can, however, stay vigilant and move confidently ahead towards the future of work.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Contingent Workforce Trends and Challenges - Part II

Part II of my summary of the keynote address from this year's Contingent Workforce Risk Forum.  Interesting stuff about future trends in the world of work:

While Mathiason made a compelling case for the continued growth of the contingent workforce, he listed Top Ten Legal Challenges to continued growth of the segment:

Health Care Reform and the Contingent Workforce:  It appears as if the current law will begin breaking down the employer based health care system, and that is good news for workers who want the freedom to move from assignment to assignment.  The challenge for employers will be in defining whether or not contingent workers should be included in their headcount for the purpose of calculating potential penalties for not providing coverage for those workers.  Someone will have to pay as health care becomes more portable, but the question remains who that will be.

Legal Attacks on Independent Contractor Status:  There is a perfect storm in place.  Tax revenue is down because of the recession.  More benefits are being paid to the unemployed, further reducing state coffers.  More workers want their independence.  More companies want workforce flexibility.  The government needs the money that regular full-time workers provide, in way of payroll taxes.  For these reasons, 24 states have already increased their level of enforcement on misclassification of workers, and passed laws to require greater penalties for those who misclassify workers.  This will have a significant impact on the growth of this segment.  Contingent workers already represent 8% of the total US workforce and the numbers are growing.

Wage and Hour Misclassification Challenges:  Between 2008 and 2009, there was a 40% growth in wage and hour claims.  Some of this is to be expected, given the downturn in the economy and a more labor friendly administration in power.  Of concern for those involved with contingent staffing, however, is the fact that independent contractor misclassifications were the fastest growing segment.  Many employers will tell you that workers prefer the perceived status and security that comes with being classified as exempt (salaried).  That is true, unless of course, the job goes away, and the need for income becomes more important than “status”.

The position of Recruiter deserves special mention here, since it is a job ideally suited in many ways for the contingent worker world.  It can be done remotely, requires little face-to-face interaction, sometimes odd working hours, and tends to have high peaks and low valleys of activity.  The courts have delivered conflicting decisions regarding the exemption status of Recruiters as a classification, and Mathiason believes that this will be an area of focus for auditors in the coming years.

Managing Co-Employment Risks:  The law continues to evolve in this tricky area.  The very nature of the contingent workforce requires some duel control.  Many suppliers of contingent workers do not see the client face-to-face, and many never see the contingent worker either!  To manage this risk, and to provide security to the buyer of these services, compliance certification reports will become mandatory.  At this time, Mathiason says that the laws are changing to recognize what it calls primary and secondary employers.  The hope is that these designations will provide some clarity to these fluid situations.

Allocating Legal Risks between Providers and Users of Continent Workforce Resources:  After the legal risks are defined, businesses, suppliers and independent contractors need to determine the best sharing arrangement for those risks.  Simply put, who will be responsible for what in the eyes of the law?

Part III next...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Contingent Workforce Trends and Challenges - Part I

When the Great Recession ends, more than 50% of new workers will be contingent workers – independent contractors, contract workers, free agents, business consultants, temps. By the end of 2012, more than half of the total US workforce will be contingent. This could be the beginning of the end of the regular full-time employee workforce, according to Garry Mathiason, Vice Chair/Senior Partner of Littler Mendelson. During his keynote address at the 2010 Contingent Workforce Risk Forum in Washington, DC, Mathiason detailed the extent of the workforce changes that are occurring today, and outlined the potential roadblocks to continued expansion of this vital workforce resource.

The demographics of the US workforce have been evolving for years, accelerated by technological advances, generational shifts, and economic necessities. Mathiason explained that the average US worker today is 42 years old, and has held 10.2 jobs in his lifetime. In many ways, this worker has already been contingent, shifting jobs and company loyalties as business requirements changed and work assignments did not suit his strengths and interests. The growing economy made these job transitions easier, and the Internet brought new career opportunities to the worker’s attention with the click of a mouse. Turnover went up, but this suited the business needs of many companies. Businesses found that during times of dramatic and accelerated change, the need to maintain a flexible workforce is not just a key competitive advantage, but a requirement for survival. As evidence, look at Microsoft, the company known for its’ software, and its historic settlement of a worker misclassification claim to the tune of $98 million. Its’ workforce today breaks down into 96,000 regular employees, and 88,000 contingent workers. Microsoft, with a legitimate reason to fear an aggressive foray into the world of contingent workers, has not only embraced the concept, it has become a leader in the movement.

In place of the traditional, hierarchical business model is a more fluid type of organization, with core personnel and ever-changing pieces to meet fast-changing market demands. The gathering of specific skill sets for the completion of a finite, well-defined task is not new, Mathiason said. Construction projects are accomplished in this manner. Movies are made in this manner. The project is conceived; the experts are sourced; tasks are assigned; accountabilities are established; project is implemented; assignment completed, and the team members go their separate ways in search of the next job. The 21st century workforce will operate in a similar fashion. Hard to imagine? Sound too “futuristic”? Last month, Inc. magazine published the entire monthly edition of the publication without ANY of the contributors (writers, editors, advertising executives, printers, photographers, etc.) ever setting foot in the office together. The workplace of tomorrow is here today at Inc. magazine.

Up until now, two major obstacles have stood in the way of an accelerated transition to a majority workforce of contingent, project based workers. According to Mathiason, these are:
Health Insurance: As long as health insurance remains tied to regular full-time employment, worker mobility will be restricted. With the passage of the recent health care reform package, this dynamic might be changing. Mathiason predicts that for many companies, paying a penalty instead of offering an employer health care benefit will be more cost-effective, thereby driving more Americans into the health insurance exchanges, scheduled to be in place in 2014. If this proves to be the case, this could announce the death knell for employer sponsored health insurance programs, thus removing one significant barrier to the expansion of the contingent workforce.
Need for Community: At our core, we are social beings. Employees crave meaningful work, but also a sense of connectedness to others. We make friends at work, share stories around the proverbial water cooler, and participate in brainstorming meetings. Workers need to gather together from time to time not only to get things done, but to satisfy their social needs. The explosion of social media and communication tools appear to have solved this problem. Now, we can tweet, Skype, collaborate and “friend” one another, all while never leaving our virtual home office or the local coffee house. If today’s trends hold, by 2020, 44% of US workers will be distance workers, having no regular face-to-face contact with their co-workers. The itch for community bonding seems to have been scratched by Facebooking.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Law and Order - (SKU) Special Kindergarten Unit

In order to enroll my 5 year old in kindergarten in the fall, we had to complete the following questionnaire regarding her activities up to this point in life:

Section 22.1-3.2 of the Code of Virginia requires that parents/guardians provide upon
registration of students in public schools:
A sworn statement or affirmation indicating whether the student has been
found guilty of or adjudicated delinquent for any offense listed in subsection
G of Section 16.1-260 or any substantially similar offense under the laws of
any state, the District of Columbia, or the United States or its territories.
These offenses are:
o A firearm offense
o Homicide
o Felonious assault and bodily wounding
o Criminal sexual assault
o Manufacture, sale, gift, distribution or possession of Schedule I or II controlled substances
o Manufacture, sale or distribution of marijuana
o Arson and related crimes
o Burglary and related offenses
o Robbery
o Prohibited street gang participation
o Prohibited street gang activity
o Recruitment of other juveniles for criminal street gang activity

The last one on the list is borderline (she is quite the leader on the playground), but I think we’re safe on the rest – never convicted.  

I'm not sure, but I'm thinking the lawyer who recommended this language for kindergarten admission is laughing his/her ass off.  Just a hunch.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Do As I Say

I get a certain pleasure out of seeing my children struggle. Life has become more complex as it has become easier. Sustained periods of work and effort seem to have been replaced in the 21st century by short bursts of left clicks, downloads and Google searches. Life experience has taught me that sometimes the Internet will be unavailable, the cable lines will be accidentally disconnected, or friends wouldn’t return our text messages in time. It won’t always be easy, and it will always be complicated.

A touch of moderate sadism in parenting might actually be a good thing. I come from the generation that coined the phrase, “No pain, no gain.” Make it burn, kiddies.

So go study something - I’m watching the game in HD.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

“This is a tough room.” – Arthur Bach

The doctor’s examination room is the worst place in the world.  It is here, in this chilly, stark 8 x 12 foot box, that I come face to face with my own mortality and loathe the imperfect mechanized nature of the brittle human body.  Time for my bi-annual physical.

The environment is cold and the color scheme, selected no doubt for its’ clinically tested calming affect on gullible minds, is painfully neutral and lifeless. The fung shui of the room provides an experience designed to suck the joy of living right out of my carcass.  Ironically, the same space simultaneously houses the tools and information to help extend my body’s limited warranty.  My muscles tighten from the cold, or is it premature rigor?

The muffled sound of voices coming from the other cells helps shift focus onto someone else’s condition, which I am sure is more dire than my own.  That cheers me momentarily.  Then I remember that red spot on my right shoulder.  Probably nothing, but I should mention it.  

The medical announcements on the wall for smoking cessation and proper form completion to insure accurate billing and payment are blunt and unyielding.  I begin to hope that the doctor’s demeanor, once he finally arrives to distract me from my wallowing in self-pity and imaginary aches, is warm, his touch filled with confidence.  His first task will be to undo all of the damage done to me by the room.  That task would be easier if I knew that I could remain fully clothed for the entire exam. 

There are contradictions aplenty here in Room #3.  You can enjoy some light reading on the healthy functioning of the atria, ventricles, and interventricular septum, reading that increases the pounding of my pulse on my eardrums.  If it’s your outside that needs work, peruse this week’s Top Ten beauty secrets to eliminate crow’s feet forever, in a germ-infested, dog-eared copy of Glamour (if crow’s feet were renamed to something more pleasant, do you think we’d tolerate them more?  How about “Love Creases’?  “Genius Lines”?).  I relax as I stare at the gray flip top trash receptacle and wonder, ‘What the hell could be in there???”   That thing is a bacteria trap, literally.   I think I’ll hold my breath for a couple more minutes, just in case.

We’ll all die sometime, but in the doctor’s exam room, do you have to rub my face in it?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Phone Phears and Phriending

Thanks to Facebook, I found one of my good friends from high school.  He wasn’t actually lost.  I just misplaced him for the past 27+ years.  Rick and I shared limos rides to proms, crushes on unsuspecting girls, and the occasional Miller pony(s).  There’s a good chance that we’ve seen one another throw up from some ill-advised self-inflicted behavior.  I’m not sure.  After high school, we went our separate ways, as commonly occurs.  I headed south to become a Fightin’ Blue Hen at the University of Delaware, and Rick headed north to Ithaca College (“It’s Gorgeous”).  I visited him there once with another misplaced friend, John, and I remember eating the best deep-dish pizza of my life at The Chariot in downtown Ithaca.  The rest is pretty sketchy, but the remaining pixels of memory from the trip are all positive.  We had fun, that’s for sure (two words: Utica Club).

After recently friending one another, Rick posted a note on my wall.  “Call me to catch up at 732-555-5555”.  The note sparked a level of excitement at reconnection, but also the impending dread of performance.  The 27+ year catch up conversation can be an exercise in self-analysis, not unlike the process of choosing your own tombstone inscription.  (“This is Joe.  He worked, had a family, people tolerated him most days, and he sometimes tolerated them back.”)  This exercise forces one to sum up their life’s accomplishments and purpose in a mere 10-15 granite etched words.  Our final tweet, if you will.  In a similar fashion, the 27+ year catch up conversation forces one to sum up their life’s accomplishments and purpose in a mere 10-15 minutes of digital chatter.  In preparation for the call, we are required to take inventory of our adult lives, condense it to the big chapters, sprinkle in some highlights and key disappointments, and then shift the camera seamlessly to our opponent with the stock closing question, “So, what have you been up to?”  Have notes ready.

Did I just say ‘opponent’?  Perhaps this is why the feeling of dread comes into play.  The anticipation feels like the jitters before an important game.  Will my big chapters, highlights, and disappointments be bigger and better than his big chapters, highlights, and disappointments?  Scarier still, has my life for the past 27+ years matched the hopes and dreams that I revealed to my long misplaced friend while sitting in limousines and dorm rooms, around kitchen tables and bar stools?

Now I remember one of the reasons that I delayed joining the Facebook community…

Don’t get me wrong – I am happy with my choices and the results.  I have a loving spouse, 3 healthy kids, interesting work, fenced yard.  I’m not sure, but 27+ years ago when engaging in late night talks, laughing and daring one another about our futures, I don’t recall wife/kids/house/work as the stated pinnacle of my life’s ambitions.  Maybe it should have been, because this reality more than measures up to any youthful goals I might have set.  When I look at my kids, any potential inferiority I may feel headed into this digital steel cage match melts away.  I am up to the challenge.

‘So, what have you been up to?”

Friday, May 7, 2010

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money

Can someone explain the actions of the GOP to me, as described below? 'Cause I do not get it.  I just do not get it. 

From The Washington Monthly (
'TERRORISTS AND GUNS'.... Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has been pushing a bill that seems pretty reasonable -- if you're on the FBI terror watch list, you should be ineligible to buy weapons in the U.S. Law enforcement has long supported the proposal, but Congress keeps rejecting it.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on the subject yesterday, and as Gail Collins noted, it didn't go well.

"I think you're going too far here," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. He was speaking in opposition to a bill that would keep people on the F.B.I. terrorist watch list from buying guns and explosives.

Say what?

Yes, if you are on the terrorist watch list, the authorities can keep you from getting on a plane but not from purchasing an AK-47. This makes sense to Congress because, as Graham accurately pointed out, "when the founders sat down and wrote the Constitution, they didn't consider flying."

The subject of guns turns Congress into a twilight zone. People who are perfectly happy to let the government wiretap phones go nuts when the government wants to keep track of weapons permits. A guy who stands up in the House and defends the torture of terror suspects will nearly faint with horror at the prospect of depriving someone on the watch list of the right to purchase a pistol.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said, "Let me emphasize that none of us wants a terrorist to be able to purchase a gun." She then proceeded to explain her opposition to a bill that would prevent those on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.

The NYT's Gail Collins added, "There seems to be a strong sentiment in Congress that the only constitutional right suspected terrorists have is the right to bear arms."

That's a good line, but it's also an important point. Conservative Republicans have spent the week reminding us of their firm belief that terrorist suspects should be afforded no rights at all. Miranda? Don't bother. Citizenship? Probably not. Due process? That's pre-9/11 thinking.

But if you're on the terrorist watch list and want to stock up on automatic rifles, conservative Republicans will do whatever it takes to make sure you can do just that.

Keep in mind, the terrorist watch list is admittedly flawed. But Lautenberg's proposal would allow those on the list to challenge their inclusion, and if cleared, to then be able to purchase firearms like everyone else. For the GOP, that's asking too much.

Even now, when a given a choice between being "tough on terror" and offending the NRA, Republicans are loath to consider the latter, even at the expense of the former.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Creative Mind

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sylvia Plath

Nice thought, but what we really want to know is the enemy of self-doubt. If we could conquer self-doubt, then we’d all be creative.

This quote doesn’t explain Emily Dickinson for me, the great American poet who lived a reclusive life, wrote extensively about death, and only had a few of her 1,800 poems published before she died. Her sister found the poems amongst her personal effects, and brought them to the light of day. I think it’s a fair leap to say that Emily had some self-esteem issues. History is replete with highly creative self-doubters. Good quote otherwise.

I have no doubt that this is a creative entry.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Band Identity

“Are you a Beatles person or are you a Rolling Stones person?”

I was recently asked this question during an otherwise forgettable conversation, and I responded reflexively.  I knew the answer in my heart, and any momentary internal processing was imperceptible.  I answered with conviction, even though I had no way of knowing if my interpretation and personal definition of a “Beatles person” was the same as my questioner.  I had never considered the idea prior to this inquiry.  But I knew my answer.  Why was this so easy for me?

There are layers upon layers of meaning associated with these two iconic bands.  Beyond their musical legacies, consider the line-ups, the politics, the relationships, the drama.  Both were bands that came of age with the British Invasion in the 1960s, and both were unafraid to sample inventive musical styles and the occasional inventive pharmaceutical.  The band personalities diverge in subtle ways after that, ways so subtle that I knew what they were without thinking.

There are obvious differences, of course.  The Beatles have already lost 2 founding members, and their last new song came out 40 years ago.  The Stones represent a longevity, band loyalty and to some degree, consistency, that the Beatles sacrificed in 1970.  The Beatles catalog has been repackaged and adapted for the ears of children, and many toddlers have come to recognize and love Yellow Submarine and I Want to Hold Your Hand as readily as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  Very few of the parents buying Baby Einstein DVDs are adventurous enough to expose their little vessels to Beggar’s Banquet before naptime. 

But the subtle differences, the differences that I cannot trace back to their source within my psyche, are the ones that have the most clarity in my mind.  These subtle tracks are buried somewhere within me, hidden, but came into crystal clear focus once I was asked the question.

Here’s my list of what I know to be true:
A Beatles person experiments; a Rolling Stones person takes risks.
A Beatles person has a dry sense of humor; and chuckles; a Rolling Stones person enjoys a more boisterous, physical comedy, and laughs out loud.
A Beatles person has relationships with drama; a Rolling Stones person has relationships with passion.
A Beatles person prefers red wine; a Rolling Stones person prefers amber ale.
A Beatles person, when alone in his car, will try to sing the harmony parts in Eleanor Rigby; a Rolling Stones person, when alone in his car, will try to sing all the whoo-whoos in Sympathy for the Devil.
A Beatles person is smart and knows it; a Rolling Stones person has more common sense.
A Beatles person exudes warmth and inclusiveness; a Rolling Stones person exudes heat and competition.
A Beatles person will try new foods; a Rolling Stones person likes what he likes.
A Beatles person tells you that his political affiliation in Independent; a Rolling Stones person votes that way.
A Beatles person has the greatest hits compilations; a Rolling Stones person has the individual original albums.

I am sure that I have some of both qualities within me, and that’s great.  We all need balance, and few of us are defined solely my one extreme or another (except perhaps Glenn Beck).  I answered that I am a Rolling Stones person. 

What are you?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The HIRE Act – Political Misdirection

Did your local representative vote against the HIRE Act last month? During a period of entrenched unemployment, how could anyone be against more jobs and more hiring? In an era of hyper-partisanship, it was passed by a near unanimous consent (78-12 qualifies in 2010 as near unanimous). After implementing the guidelines personally, it is hard to believe that the measure passed for any reason beyond its’ positive sounding name.

The HIRE Act provides a Social Security employer payroll tax holiday for this year (6.2% of the employee’s gross wages) to any employer who hires a qualified individual. An individual is “qualified” for the credit if he/she has not worked more than 40 hours for any employer over the past 60 days, and he/she is not related to the hiring business’ owners (to prevent fraud). If the qualified individual is still in the hiring companies’ employ after 52 weeks, the business receives an additional $1,000 tax credit.

The newly hired employee signs an affidavit (Form W-11, brand new from the IRS!) to certify that they meet the Act’s conditions. The employer can then start taking the tax credit against their payroll tax liability immediately. A simple reward and incentive for businesses that put hard working Americans to work.

If only.

Here are my problems with the Act:
1. Rewards business to hire people into existing job openings, not to create new jobs. If someone quits a job, that business has an open position. That business fills the job opening. Explain to me why the business deserves a tax credit for that activity. Is the theory that the job would not have been filled if the credit had not been in place to encourage this hiring? I doubt that is part of the business owner’s decision process.

In order for the Act to spur hiring that would not have occurred otherwise, the business would need to place classified ads that read something like this:
WANTED: Qualified, unemployed workers. Candidates who have been out of work for less than 60 days need not apply. Must be detailed oriented, have strong computer skills and be willing to sign IRS Form W-11 upon hire.
Seriously, a business owner, one who plans to remain in business, will hire the best individual for the job, not the one who has been unemployed the longest.

2. There is no mechanism for an employer to verify the validity of the signed employee affidavit. New employees sign a variety of forms on their first day. Now companies will include IRS Form W-11. What happens when the employee signs it without completely reading it (that never happens!)? What happens when new employee signs the affidavit, but in reality, they have only been out of work for 55 days? The employer has no way to verify if the affidavit is correct. If the affidavit is incorrect, will the business be penalized for underpaying their taxes? As an employer, we are taking the signed affidavit on faith, since the employee has signed it under penalty of perjury. I believe that many companies will use this signed form, take the tax credit, and either later be held to account for false forms, or receive a credit when one was not deserved.

3. The Act demonstrates a government with little idea on how business decisions are made. You can’t decide to hire more people on the assumption that you might receive a credit…because you might not. Should we be surprised that the bill had bipartisan support? Should we be worried? The Act seems to have only one redeeming quality: everyone who voted for it can claim to be “pro-job creation”.

The HIRE Act should help create jobs that would not have existed without the Act. Instead, it created 535 pats on the back, but not much else.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Crosseyed and Painless

For those of you who commented on my Fox News related blog entry, this one’s for you:

From The Week:
The Atlanta Progressive News fired Jonathan Springston for trying to be too objective in his reporting.  The editor was quoted saying that he was let go for clinging to “the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively.”

As Talking Heads said so succinctly:

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jefferson: Dead or Alive?

My son, Thomas, has the gift of being a voracious reader. The fact is that all of my children (at least those who have learned to read) enjoy spending extended periods of time reading for pleasure. As long as there is not a test or written report required to measure their reading comprehension afterwards, they derive peaceful pleasure from exercising their imaginations with a good book. While we as parents have modeled reading for pleasure and enjoy a Saturday visit to the library, their love of books must also have a genetic component to run so deep in their personalities.

Thomas always reads for at least 10 minutes, usually longer, every night before bedtime. One night when he was about 8 years old, I passed by his open bedroom door. He was sitting on his bed, propped up with that evening’s selection, a biography on the life of Thomas Jefferson – inventor, writer, patriot, president. I was proud of his choice of historical non-fiction for pleasure reading – like father, like son.

Thomas, on this occasion, was crying – really sobbing. Red eyes, tear-stained cheeks, and the intermittent heaving chest gasping for more air. To say that I was caught off guard would be an understatement. For a moment, witnessing such a dramatic, emotional display was scary for me. What could have happened to my innocent boy to evoke such an outpouring? School bullying? Teacher reprimand at school? Guilty feelings about who-knows-what?

“Thomas, buddy, what’s the matter?” I tried to be calming, while inside I was preparing myself for any situation that he might share. I was ready to lift his burden, solve his problem, be the pillar of strength that a vulnerable boy needs.

He didn’t hold back. “I was reading about…Thomas…Jefferson,” he forces out through the tears and the overused Kleenex. His face was spotted red and his eyelashes were stuck together. He was, in a word, a mess.

“I didn’t know that he died at the end of the story.”

His cries came rushing out now, freed of this terrible news. I did the only thing I could do in the situation. I hugged him close, told him that everything was going to be OK, and snuck his copy of Ben Franklin’s biography under my arm and out of his room.