Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Give to Caesar What is Due Caesar

Some people (like me) can get a little excited when discussing (yelling about) tax policy in America.  I believe that it is equally important to remember that the rate is not as important as the amount of tax you actually pay.  Rates come and go, but the smart ones (cheaters?) understand the loopholes.  In preparation for the forthcoming debate on tax rates, tax extensions, and/or tax cuts (call it what you will), I found the information below to be of interest.  The summary comes from First Read on MSNBC.com:

Is any provision in tax law “permanent”? And can any specific tax rate be extended “permanently”?  No, not if one takes a look at income tax rates, thresholds, and other provisions since the income tax was created in 1913.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute has prepared an enlightening chart showing how income tax rates have changed since 1913.
  • They’ve never stayed the same for more than ten consecutive years.
  • The top tax rate has been – at different times – 7 percent, 67 percent, 25 percent, 91 percent, and so on. Congress has changed the top rate, on average, every 2.5 years since 1913.
  • Right now the top rate is 35 percent. It applies to taxable income over $373,650. Obama wants to increase that top rate to 39.6 percent, which is what it was in 2000.
  • The lowest income tax bracket has also varied widely, from a low of 0.375 percent in 1929 to a high of 23 percent in 1944.
The only permanent fact when it comes to the income tax is that its provisions have changed every few years.  And yet for the past 40 years – despite the changes in tax rates – the amount of income the Treasury collects from the income tax has stayed in the range of 7 percent to 9 percent of national income.

Since 1970, revenue collected from the income tax has averaged 8.25 percent of national income, or Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Not surprisingly, when the economy is growing robustly, the amount of revenue collected from the income tax increases. And in recessions – such as in 1958, 1983 and 2009 – income tax revenues have declined.  The high point came in 2007 when the Treasury collected $1.16 trillion in income tax revenue; when the recession hit in 2009 that revenue plummeted by more than 20 percent.  Last year, the amount collected from income taxes was well below the 40-year average: only 6.4 percent of GDP.

So let the tax debate of image and marketing over substance begin.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mensa Invitational

In a shameless display of extended holiday weekend cut and paste, I offer the following for your entertainment (thank you, BB):

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax-refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to begin with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.
11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right?  And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido : All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider-web.
16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and can't be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are
asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. And the winners are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
4. Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.
6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle, n.  Olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence, n. Emergency-vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.
11. Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer-shorts worn by Jewish men.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Justice Merely DeLayed

What if...

Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- once one of the most powerful and feared Democrats in Congress -- was convicted Wednesday on charges she illegally funneled corporate money to California candidates in 2002, which could send her to prison for decades.

Jurors deliberated for 19 hours before returning guilty verdicts on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to California candidates in 2002. She faces up to life in prison on the money laundering charge, although prosecutors haven't yet recommended a sentence.

After the verdicts were read, Pelosi hugged her daughter, and her husband. Pelosi whispered into her daughter's ear that she couldn't get a fair trial in Sacramento. Pelosi had unsuccessfully tried to get the trial moved out of Sacramento, the most conservative city in one of the most Democratic states.

Pelosi's lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said they planned to appeal the verdict.

"This is an abuse of power. It's a miscarriage of justice, and I still maintain that I am innocent. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system and I'm very disappointed in the outcome," Pelosi told reporters outside the courtroom.

She remains free on bond, and several witnesses were expected to be called during the punishment phase of her trial, tentatively scheduled to begin on Dec. 20.

Prosecutors said Pelosi, who once held the No. 1 job in the House of Representatives and whose tough tactics earned her the nickname "the Hammer," used her political action committee to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations into 2002 California legislative races through a money swap.

During her tenure leading House Democrats, Mr. Pelosi established a new low in ethical conduct among Congressional leaders. She put family members on her campaign payroll, took lavish trips paid for by lobbyists and twisted the arms of K Street lobbyists to ante up and donate to her party's candidates and hire more Democrats. But her conviction on Wednesday came from something else entirely, a scheme to steer corporate contributions to Democrats in the California Legislature.

California bans corporations from giving money directly to state candidates, just as federal law does at the national level. But Ms. Pelosi figured out a way around that barrier: In 2002, she used her state political action committee to channel $190,000 in corporate contributions to the Democrat National Committee, which then donated the same amount to seven California House candidates.

The scheme wasn't lacking in ingenuity. California had completed its post-2000-census redistricting, but Pelosi wasn't satisfied with the way in which state lawmakers had drawn the lines. So she hatched a plan without modern precedent, deciding to pursue re-redistricting. But in order to hatch her gambit, she'd need some more Democratic allies in the California legislature, so she arranged to launder some corporate money into the accounts of seven Democratic candidates.

Six of them won; re-redistricting occurred; and the Democratic majority in Congress grew, just as Pelosi had planned.

The minor flaw in all of this is that Pelosi's scheme happened to be a felony, at least according to prosecutors and the members of a California jury. Pelosi's defense was largely built around the notion that she didn't know about the money-laundering until after it had occurred, but prosecutors pointed to a 2005 interview with investigators in which the left-wing lawmaker said she was aware of the plan in advance. (Pelosi later said she misspoke.)

Pelosi and her attorneys maintained the former San Francisco-area congresswoman did nothing wrong as no corporate funds went to California candidates and the money swap was legal.

The verdict came after a three-week trial in which prosecutors presented more than 30 witnesses and volumes of e-mails and other documents. Pelosi's attorneys presented five witnesses.

"This case is a message from the citizens of the state of California that the public officials they elect to represent them must do so honestly and ethically, and if not, they'll be held accountable," Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said after the verdict.

Pelosi chose Priest to sentence her rather than the jury. She faces five years to life in prison on the money laundering charge and two to 20 years on the conspiracy charge. She also would be eligible for probation.  Pelosi contended the charges against her were a political vendetta by Ronnie Earle, the former Republican Travis County district attorney who originally brought the case and is now retired.

Craig McDonald, the director of Californians for Public Justice, a conservative watchdog group whose complaints with the Travis County District Attorney's Office helped lead to the investigation of Pelosi's PAC, said he was pleased by the verdict.

"We can't undo the 2002 election, but a jury wisely acted to hold Pelosi accountable for conspiring to steal it."
The 2005 criminal charges in California, as well as a separate federal investigation of Pelosi's ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ended her 22-year political career representing suburban San Francisco. The Justice Department probe into Pelosi's ties to Abramoff ended without any charges filed against Pelosi.


I’m sorry.  Didn’t you hear about this?  You didn’t?  That’s because it didn’t happen exactly like this, and Pelosi was not on trial.  Former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was, and he was convicted by a jury of the crimes listed above.  I substituted Pelosi for DeLay, Democrat for Republican, and California for Texas; otherwise, the story is the same.

That deafening silence you hear is the far right talking up this story of political corruption at the highest levels of government.  This isn’t a murky conspiracy theory – this is a conviction in court.  Had any of this happened as I have imagined to Nancy Pelosi, the “lame stream” media, led by Fox News, would have made this campaign fundraising commercial Exhibit A.  I know that American memories are short, so here’s a gentle reminder about life in Washington with the GOP in charge.  There’s a word for strong-arming the political process through illegal means to create a one-party system…what word could that be?  Here's a hint - the far-right has been throwing it around about the current state of affairs lately.

Welcome back to power, GOP House members.  Welcome back to "The Swamp that DeLay Built."

My original source material for this post:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

If the ERA Had Passed

Boehner Takes Speaker’s Chair
Promises to balance job with family responsibilities

By L. Ledbetter
Style Columnist for MSRP
January 10, 2011

His ascension to the Speaker’s chair ushers in a new era of conservatism inside the Beltway, but will his influence also usher in a new world order of power fashion?  Mr. Boehner promises to offer substance over image but his fashion choices to date foretell a legislative direction that bears closer scrutiny.

Rep. John Boehner, 10-term Congressperson, father of two, was sworn in as Speaker of the House of Representatives today, becoming the first male to hold the post in 4 years.  The face of the historic GOP midterm victory is unquestionably new House Speaker John Boehner’s —and the outfit is a dark blue pinstriped Armani suit, with cordovan wing tips and silver cuff links.

On this historic occasion, Rep. Boehner had his hair freshly trimmed and shellacked to his scalp, not one hair allowed to compromise in even the most persistent gust of wind.  He selected a tailored dark blue single breasted suit for the ceremony, and the fresh coat of hair dye with chestnut highlights emanating just so, neatly from the center of his scalp.  His daring hair color choice at once announced his embrace of change and his reluctant to let go of the past.  The subtle pinstriping projected more banker than gangster, and his deft use of the three-point pocket square demonstrated a quiet self-assurance that should serve him well during the upcoming policy debates that are sure to come.  His cufflinks flashed sparkles of light to the crowd as he waved, emphasizing his savvy at accessorizing with a purpose.    His black wing tip shoes shone in the light, and close-ups showed a perfect manicure.  The only time we heard the word “liberal” was when describing his generous use of Bronzer #6. 

The look was remarkably on trend, if inadvertently so. For their fall collections, many top designers showed versions of the traditional power suit, deconstructing and re-imagining that old career-guy standard into something with a little more personality.  Boehner played directly to today’s runway style.  He eschewed the traditional white shirt for the day, opting instead for soft tangerine and a bold light blue tie, the double Windsor comfortably pressed against his prominent Adam’s apple.  We applaud his ability to combine the suit of Wall Street with the shirt and tie of Main Street, in what could be considered his first reach across the aisle of the fashion world.  “Ermenegildo Zegna, meet J. Crew.”

Boehner’s aesthetic has barely changed over his tenure in public office. That Armani suit has made dozens of appearances. The new Speaker doesn’t have a stylist, according to a close confidante.   Too bad.  A stylist might caution him that his spending freeze mentality should not extend to his wardrobe.  As we all know, “Clothing makes the man (or the woman).”

He spoke to the assembled crowd of family and well-heeled supporters, but kept his remarks brief, not wanting to sound shrill or nagging on his first day in power.  With his subtle, paternal sense of style, Boehner is helping to create a new archetype of sophisticated masculinity, in Washington and around the country. Come September, all the most fashionable fellows will look a little like the speaker of the House.

In more relaxed settings, Mr. Boehner has been photographed in his signature pastel Izod short sleeve shirts, bearing his once prodigious arms and biceps.  We would recommend he consider switching away from size medium, which only accentuates his expanding waistline.  The large belt buckle, a symbol of his commitment to a Southern Strategy for 2012, does not help.  It only draws your eyes to one of his less than flattering attributes.  In fact, he might consider staying with long sleeves this year.  In an arms race against Michelle Obama, he is sure to lose.  At least he has the good sense to spare us views of his unshaven calves.

That said, it’s a historic moment for the working man, the one who hustles night and day to wrangle votes for a sweeping legislative victory and also those who struggle toward marginally less stratospheric goals, like cooking for his spouse or taking the time to cuddle without being asked.

Boehner has long built his public image around an understated elegance, a look that is grownup and masculine, and this look will only be enhanced when he has that big gavel in his hand.  We look forward to his contributions to Washington fashion society, and maybe some legislative obstructionism along the way.  It’s never easy to be a trendsetting man, but the days of tall, dark and frumpy may be over with Big John in charge.

Next Week:  Sen. Scott Brown celebrates the 10th anniversary of his historic nude photoshoot, Rahm Emmanuel discusses back hair removal by force, and Sarah Palin outlines her theory of multinational arms control.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Top Ten Greatest Movies That I’ve Never Seen

When, for the first time from beginning to end, I finally watched Goodfellas last year and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington this year, I felt as if I had climbed the cinematic mountaintop. Once Goodfellas and Mr. Smith were off my movie bucket list, I could relax. I could relax, of course, until I remembered all of the other movies that were left unviewed by me. I have posted below this week’s Top Ten (13) Movies that I Am Embarrassed to Admit I Have Not Seen in Totality, but Plan To Real Soon.  Since this is a 4-day weekend for me (how about you?), maybe I'll find the time to cross some of these off the list.

The list is a moving target, as long forgotten film treasures that show up suddenly on the TCM late night rotation nudge my memory, and get added. I recorded Judgment at Nuremberg a few weeks back to watch ‘real soon’. That did not make my Top Ten, but perhaps in some other incarnation of the list it would have. I can only list movies that I know that I want to watch; I can’t list movies that I am not aware of. The Departed was never on my list, but thank you, AJ. I watched it earlier this year, and it was AWESOME. 12 years ago, The Shawshank Redemption was not on my list, but thank you, Scott. You guilted me into seeing that classic, and you were right - it is better than Brubaker as a prison movie. 10 years ago I hadn’t even heard of Kingpin, but thank you, brother Ed. Great comedy, Munson.

I am quite certain that several of these movies on the list I pretended to have seen, in order to avoid public embarrassment and ridicule. I freely admit that I have never seen Braveheart. 3 hours is a commitment level to one movie that I seldom make. I do not admit to never having seen This is Spinal Tap. Not only that, but I have quoted the movie, giving the impression that I HAD seen it.  It's on the Tivo, ready for me at a moment's notice.

So, here's the list:
  • The Natural - As big a baseball fan as I am, I should have seen this.  I know that Roy Hobbs hits a home run that shatters some lights.  Otherwise, I have no idea what happens in this movie.  Guessing there's a love interest thing, so that could be why I have procrastinated on this one.  Could be that I am still scarred by Robert Redford's performance in An Indecent Proposal, and can't bring myself to look at him again.
  • Raging Bull - I have seen bits and pieces of this winner of Best Picture 1980.  I know DeNiro gained a lot of weight for the role.  I know there's boxing and domestic disputes.  I need to see this.  hey, it's black and white by choice, so it must be good.
  • On the Waterfront - I think it's a top 10 of all time, as rated by people that are paid to know these kinds of things.
  • Police Academy (never saw any of the series) - I may never see any of these, as I am certain that the jokes are no longer funny (if they ever were), and the clothing and haircuts too dated for modern viewing.  If they made 6 of them, doesn't that count for something?
  • Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2000+) - I read The Hobbit in high school.  That should count for something. 
  • Gladiator - No excuse on this one.  It's on cable almost as often as A Few Good Men.
  • Mad Max - Anti-semite travels across the desert protecting gas truck, right?  Maybe I don't need to see it after all.
  • The Manchurian Candidate - According to my conservative friends, we are living this movie in America today.  In that case, I should understand what the heck they're talking about.  Pretty sure watching the movie won't make their conspiracy theories any more palatable, but Sinatra's in it.  If it's half as good as Von Ryan's Express, I should see it.
  • Slapshot - I have committed to watching this one over this holiday weekend.  I'm playing hockey twice a week, so I need to know what getting the "tin foil" means in pre-game prep.  Paul Newman stars.
  • Dumb and Dumber - I am curious that people tell me that this movie is PERFECT for me.  Given the title, I find it hard to imagine this is a compliment.
  • Braveheart -Mad Max puts on a Scottish accent and a skirt, and wins Best Picture.  Some day, some day.
  • This is Spinal Tap - I am so embarrassed that this movie is on the list, I have delayed writing this blog so I could watch it first.  I have pretended to have seen this Rob Reiner classic on so many occasions, I sometimes think "Maybe I did".
  • The Usual Suspects - I have yet to meet someone who has seen this movie and doesn't include it on their list of favorites.  Could be the most recommended movie on my list.
I never seen Star Wars episodes 1-3, either.  No big deal, though.  I saw 4-6.

As a bonus for those of you with no better plans this weekend, here's my Top Ten (or so) Underappreciated Movies I Love:
  • Better Off Dead: John Cusack being chased by the paper  boy, Asian Howard Cosell impersonators, and feelings of inadequacy.
  • Dog Day Afternoon:  Pacino was never better.
  • Fargo:  "What's your fee?"  William Macy is perfectly cast.
  • Sicko:  I still wonder why the heroes of 9-11 need to have fundraisers to meet their medical needs.  Biased, yes.  I like it.
  • Galaxy Quest:  Only if you watched the original Star Trek series as a kid.
  • Cable Guy:  Rubber-faced comedian Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick star in this black comedy classic.
  • Night Shift:  Gave birth to the great line, "Barney Rubble - what an actor!"
  • The Good Girl:  Jennifer Aniston, in an acting role.  Who woulda thought.
  • Collateral:  Even though Tom Cruise is in it, I love this movie.  I bought the soundtrack, and that's saying something.
  • Slingblade:  Mustard and french fried potaters.
Happy Thanksgiving.  Now stop reading and go watch cable TV.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

If Arthur Murray Wasn't Dead Already...

I don’t watch Dancing With the Stars (or as it is affectionately known in puff print articles, DWTS; apparently, the title is too long to type).  The fact is, I watch very little reality TV, except sports, of course.  I did watch Season II of Survivor just to see what all the excitement was about (Tina won).  I enjoy Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, or its companion post shark-jumping version, The Celebrity Apprentice.  Being in human resources, I rationalize this guilty pleasure as work-related.  I’ve never watched an entire episode of American Idol.  I do keep up with happenings in the reality genre by reading about the shows online or in magazines or newspapers.  I stay abreast of pop culture, but frankly, I don’t really get the reality TV craze.  I get the psychology behind its popularity and the socio-economic pressures that make a successful vehicle.  I just find most of it too formulaic, slow moving, and unwatchable.

Cherie joined me in the basement man-cave yesterday, and during a routine channel surf, DWTS became the eddy from which we could not escape.  We know the show is popular, and I have been reading about Bristol Palin’s surprising run through the competition.  In the spirit of marital compromise, I didn’t surf on to either Lifetime or ESPN.  I decided that on this night, Cherie and I would wade into the shallow end of the cultural pool together.  On this night, we will watch ballroom dancing on TV.

My first question about the show involves the title.  “Dancing” makes sense.  “Stars”?  I need some help here.  How does a unwed teen mom from a small town in Alaska qualify as a star?   I have to admit that I smile at the irony of Sarah Palin cheering on her daughter as young Bristol shakes her booty in a cage, then rhythmically thrusts her unmarried pelvis into her dance partner’s crotch for all of Real America to see.  Is this an example of female empowerment, Sarah, or sexploitation?  Is cage dancing in revealing outfits and being rated on a scale from 1-10 based on the level of sexual tension expressed just wholesome Monday night fun?  Too bad Katie Couric will not have the opportunity to ask the GOP contender that ‘gotcha’ question.

Lest you think I’m one of the ‘haters’ picking on Palin family values hypocrisy, next up was Jennifer Grey, a real star, albeit 30 years and one nose ago.  She could really move those hips.  The highlight was her dry humping her partner while they were standing on the judges’ table.  The audience snapped to attention (pun intended) at the climax of her performance.  I instinctively turned around to be sure that my children were protected from the act and not in the room.  Ms. Grey was not as concerned as I was, since her 6 year old daughter (at least I think it was her daughter, and the age estimate is mine) was in the live audience, applauding her mommy, and the strange man that had just simulated sex under the hot studio lights with her.

On days like this I feel that having a teenage daughter myself is turning me into Tipper Gore in full revolt against the entertainment media.  There is innuendo and sexual double entendre everywhere I look, and no longer in a good way.  From what I have read, and what I have now seen once for my own eyes, this particular popular program has climbed in the ratings to new heights while dragging the viewers to a new low in values, and I wonder if I am the only one concerned.

Robin Givhan wrote a great piece in the October 17, 2010 Washington Post about the double standard of moral outrage at the early sexualization of America’s youth, and the shoulder-shrugging affirmation of a show like DWTS.  She points out that critics of Miley Cyrus, who is working to shed her squeaky Disney image and appeal to a new demographic, should take a closer look at America’s #1 show (on ABC, a Disney property):

“Cyrus once again has demonstrated that she is a performer and a businessperson -- not the protector of childhood innocence. Parents are distressed because she recently released a music video for "Who Owns My Heart" in which she is dressed skimpily, made up heavily and, at a certain point, dancing enthusiastically -- but not vulgarly -- in a crowded nightclub. Her movements are sensual and suggestive, but they are less provocative than the grinding rumbas that are regularly showcased on an evening of "Dancing With the Stars," during which contestants -- some of them teenagers, some senior citizens -- are vehemently admonished by the judges for not being sexy enough. Cue to the audience's applause.”

The entire commentary is worth a read, especially her admonition of 76 year old Florence Henderson’s attempt to evolve into the more lecherous version of Betty White, but this is the best line of all:

“…our popular culture is known for neither nuance nor subtlety; we require a smack over the head -- a Lady Gaga-size, meat-dress drubbing -- before we start paying attention.”

Maybe that’s what this is all about.  We as a nation can no longer be shocked.  We should have realized this once Dennis Franz’s bare bottom made its' network debut on NYPD Blue.  The moral lines that we thought were permanently drawn were actually drawn in sand, and sand lines can be changed without anyone noticing.    Perhaps Sarah Palin will draw new ones during her 2012 campaign for legitimacy.

That’s reality TV to me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Q & A

I changed jobs recently. It was not an easy decision or an easy process. I had almost 10 years tenure at my job, and I soon realized that I had little concept anymore of what it was like to be on the other side of the desk during an interview. Interviewing candidates had become second nature for me, and I wrongly assumed that interviewer skills meant that I had interviewee skills. I needed to prepare to be interviewed.

Part of my preparation was practicing questions that I might get during an interview. For my loyal readers who may be looking, or may find themselves looking for employment in the future, I have listed the questions that I prepared for. Some are standard, some a bit more in depth. I knew that if I had answers for these, I would be prepared for just about anything that might come my way.
  • Why should I hire you?
  • What have you learned in your last job?
  • What is your management philosophy?
  • What is your human resources philosophy? Can you give examples of how you applied that philosophy in your workplace?
  • Give me an example of a mistake that you made, and how you corrected it.
  • Give me an example of a project you led from inception to completion.
  • Give me an example of how you have adapted to changing circumstances at work.
  • Tell me about a vendor negotiation that you have had, and how it turned out.
  • Describe your ideal supervisor.
  • Describe your ideal employee.
  • Tell me about someone that you developed in the profession.
  • In what area do you need the most development?
  • In what area are you the strongest?
  • How have you managed change within your workplace? Examples?
  • Describe your personal brand.
In 1987 during an interview, I responded to a question with the classic line, “I like working with people.” The interviewer (Megan Lord, for those that remember that name) threw it right back in my face. She said, “Everyone tells me that, but what does it mean?”

Good question. Confidence destroyed, thank you. I learned from that interview, though. First, NEVER answer any interview question with “I like working with people.” It’s a dumb answer. Second, be prepared. I hope some of these questions help you to be prepared when it’s your turn on the other side of the desk.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Political Football

It’s been a tough year for Redskins’ fans.  Seems like every year is tough for Redskins fans, and they do not hide their displeasure very well.  Kevin Sheehan, a radio host on ESPN 980 here in DC took Redskins fans to task this week during an on-air rant.  I cannot find the transcript, but the crux of his commentary went something like this:

It’s been a tough first 8 games this season, but for those fans out there calling for Shanahan’s head because he’s “lost the locker room” and “he hasn’t been the same guy we thought he’d be”, I say to you – did you forget the mess that he inherited here in Washington?  Did you forget the dysfunction that permeated the organization?  Vinnie, Zorn and Co. had run this proud franchise into the ground, and they did it over a 10 year span of time.  The old guard mortgaged the future time and again, and left the cupboards bare.  To expect that Shanahan could come in here and fix that dysfunction and change the culture of the organization overnight was pure folly, and has no basis in reality.  

In fact, be careful what you wish for.  The owner listens to the fans.  The owner is impetuous, and he just might decide that you are right. What if he says, “I’ve made a mistake, and we need the old regime back.”  Is that what you really want?  We have got to be realistic, and allow Shanahan the opportunity to fix the 10 years of disastrous decision making, and the 10 years of thinking only about the next day, and never planning for the next year, or the year after that.  Patience, people.  It will take time, it will take work, and he will make mistakes.  But in the same way that the organizational infrastructure and culture was chipped away at and turned into a laughingstock over a period of years, the rebuilding will take sustained effort and time.  No, I am not saying we should wait indefinitely for results.  What I am saying is that 8 games is far too soon to render final judgment on Shanahan, and to scream for a course correction.  

I am not a Shanahan apologist.  When he has made mistakes, I have called him out.  Some of you were not in favor of hiring him in the first place, and you may have legitimate reasons.  But if you are true fans, and Shanahan is here, you have to give him a chance to drain the swamp that he walked into.  He'll have successes and failures, and we as fans will have to ride those ups and downs.  It is the consequence of the disaster that was here before he arrived.  So quit whining, prepare yourselves for the hard work that it will take to support this team while it first, plugs the leaks, and then starts the ship sailing in the right direction. 

After hearing his passionate argument for patience, and taking ‘Skins fans to task for their fickle nature, I thought to myself, “This all sounds familiar."  So, here is the same rant, but I made some substitutions:
  • Obama = Shanahan
  • Fans = Citizens
  • Owner = Voters
  • Vinnie, Zorn and Co. = Bush and the GOP majority
  • 8 games = 2 years
Here's the new version:

It’s been a tough first 2 years this season, but for those citizens out there calling for Obama’s heads because he’s “lost the locker room” and “he hasn’t been the same guy we thought he’d be”, I say to you – did you forget the mess that he inherited?  Did you forget the dysfunction that permeated the organization?  Bush and the GOP majority had run this proud franchise into the ground, and they did it over a 10 year span of time.  To expect that Obama could come in here and fix that dysfunction and change the culture of the organization overnight was pure folly, and has no basis in reality.

In fact, be careful what you wish for.  The voters listens to the citizens.  The owner is impetuous, and he just might decide that you are right. What if he says, “I’ve made a mistake, and we need the old regime back.”  Is that what you really want?  We have got to be realistic, and allow Obama the opportunity to fix the 10 years of disastrous decision making, and the 10 years of thinking only about the next day, and never planning for the next year, or the year after that.  Patience, people.  It will take time, it will take work, and he will make mistakes.  But in the same way that the organizational infrastructure and culture was chipped away at and turned into a laughingstock over a period of years, the rebuilding will take sustained effort and time.  No, I am not saying we should wait indefinitely for results.  What I am saying is that 2 years is far too soon to render final judgment on Obama, and to scream for a course correction.  

I am not an Obama apologist.  When he has made mistakes, I have called him out.  Some of you were not in favor of hiring him in the first place, and you may have legitimate reasons.  But if you are true citizens, and Obama is here, you have to give him a chance to drain the swamp that he walked into.  He'll have successes and failures, and we as citizens will have to ride those ups and downs.  It is the consequence of the disaster that was here before he arrived.  So quit your whining, prepare yourselves for the hard work that it will take to support this team while it first, plugs the leaks and then starts the ship sailing in the right direction.

Perhaps it is time that fans and citizens both take a deep breath and relax regarding these two Washington institutions.  Things might actually work out.  I know that would disappoint Cowboy fans (replace with "Republicans") who open cheer (replace with "obstruct") to bring about Shanahan's (replace with "Obama's") failure.  Sometimes progress requires a patience, and the ability to take the long view.

Note:  Skins win today in OT.  Could this be a positive omen for the other team in town?


Kicking the Habits

I type primarily with my two index fingers. I’ve gotten pretty fast this way, after 30+ years of practice. There are many days when I think back to my sophomore year of high school and my boring typing class, wishing I had paid more attention to the QWERTY keys and finger exercises than the clock on the wall. At the time, I was filled with the hubris of youth and fairly confident that I would someday have a secretary (that’s what we used to call them in the 70s). All this typing would be done by someone else as I spoke the words. Why burn out on typing when typing would be obsolete in my lifetime? Now I use a keyboard and MS Word instead of a Smith Corona and carbon paper, but my preferred typing technique hasn’t changed.

As anyone reading this on the Internet already knows, times have changed. A mouse is now a necessity, not a nuisance, and rebooting doesn’t mean buying new shoes for Christmas. Times change, seemingly without effort, but our accumulated habits die hard. Technology marches on, and yet all we do is use it in our familiar, and sometimes inefficient ways.

As I watch employees deal with virtual information, I make note of their point of reference in the history through the window of word processing. I work with one individual who prints every email received so it can be filed and saved. Estimated year of birth is in the 1940s. Another younger co-worker copies each email into Word, and stores the file on the network, nicely labeled for future retrieval. She’s a product of the 50s. A third still younger co-worker does not print or re-copy the email. She drops and drags it directly into an Outlook sub-folder by category. She came of age in the early 70s. I am involved in a project identifying metatags within documents that will allow search by keyword through a range of documents, thereby eliminating the needs for the traditional file structures. Those born post-1980 will recognize the similarity to Google searching, and adjust their methods accordingly. My first employee example will continue to suffer the agony of a thousand paper cuts, but it works for her.  She's comfortable with her system.  Efficiency is in the eye of the beholder.

Advances in cellular phones follow this same generational pattern. We all know people who use cell phones for one thing – phone calls. We call these people “Ma’am”, or “Mister”. Some folks make calls, text and send emails. The youngest are making and sending videos and paying their bills (or charging purchases, since they have no money). We all have the same technology, but we adapt it to work within our own comfortable generational habits. We call this “change”. (Side Note: I love listening to my mom’s spoken name on her voice mail box for her cell phone, with her clearly articulating – “Mary Sherrier…press pound.” Makes me smile every time.)

It is in our nature to resist the unfamiliar and strange with something familiar and safe. It reminds me of the story about the introductory scene for the Star Trek TV series. As I hope you are all already familiar, during the opening credits after Jim Kirk’s legendary voice over (“Space – the final frontier…”), the Starship Enterprises rushes towards us, and then whooshes past as the iconic theme music plays. Smart people recognized that there is no “whoosh” in the vacuum of space, and deleted the ‘whoosh’ noise track…until focus groups demanded that the noise be added back in. Viewers couldn’t relate to the spaceship cruising past silently. The viewer’s point of reference was the atmosphere of the 3rd planet from the sun, so physical laws be damned. We need to hear that ship. We are products of the unique world and times in which we have lived, and we have yet to live in space.

My high school age daughter finds reading a book frustrating sometimes, because if she doesn’t know a word or concept, there’s no search bar on the page. She’ll adapt by reading nearby a laptop with Internet access. I am certain that my youngest daughter will not have that problem. She won’t use paper books, and search will be embedded in her chosen e-book device. That will be the normal world in which she will live, and she’ll develop her own habits to match that reality.

I won’t get there. I’ll continue to read paper books, read paper maps, and type with two fingers. I may never hire that secretary I expected some 30+ years ago, but perhaps voice recognition technology will finally achieve its promise and my grandchildren will be spared the boredom of high school typing (keyboarding) class.

Maybe we still send kids to high school today only out of habit.  After all, they seem to be set up to teach kids in assembly line fashion, to prepare them for jobs in factories with shifts and breaks.  Hasn't the world of work changed since that model was created?  Shouldn't we evolve the way in which we organize high school to match modern realities, instead of doing it the same way we did xx years ago?

Maybe we just need the break.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Black and White Issues

Come visit me at my new home, www.TheMSRP.com 

According to The New Republic Online, in this month’s congressional elections, 60% of white voters cast their ballots for Republicans, and 37% voted for Democrats. This was the largest percentage of the white vote attained by Republicans in recent decades, including the 1994 year of the Republican Contract with America.

So, what does this mean? Discuss.

The liberal viewpoint would hold that this outcome demonstrates the tangible success of the GOP’s systematic campaign of race baiting. It is the divisive rhetoric, and the unapologetic whispers about Obama being “different”, that was used to activate white fears about blacks. It represents the rebirth of the Southern Strategy that worked for so many years.

The conservatives would object to the tracking of this voter statistic in the first place. If liberals were really interested in a color-blind society, they’d say, they wouldn’t market these statistics that encourage mistrust and division between races. Further, it demeans blacks – “Don’t you think that white AND blacks can think for themselves, and make an independent, educated choice for the candidate that best represents their concerns, without regard to race?” Stop talking down to people, and looking for the worst!

The statistic I quoted in the beginning is a factually true statement of how the electorate voted, but it may not reveal a truth about the electorate. My raised eyebrow is especially arched with suspicion, as I am currently reading Super Freakonomics, the follow up book to the bestseller, Freakonomics. According to the authors, two contrarian economists, the book uses economic data to challenge readers’ acceptance of conventional wisdom and societal assumptions. It is also an examination of the universal law of unintended consequences, which makes it abundantly plain that nothing is as clear cut as we like to think or argue. That’s a topic for another day. Statistics never tell the entire story. The authors use the statistic that the average human being has one breast and one testicle. Factually true, but obviously only “half” of the story. I suspect that the exit poll numbers above paint an incomplete picture, and the omissions are colored in with our own preconceived notions of racial preferences in America.

…and then I come across this not-so-secretly-coded tidbit from the self-proclaimed voice of conservatism, Rush Limbaugh:

"This guy is an utter wrecking ball all by himself on the world stage to the point now of getting embarrassing.  This presidency of Obama’s, it doesn’t take much to irritate the left. Try this:  “Barack Obama’s presidency is graffiti on the walls of American history.”  That’s what his administration is.  No more than graffiti on the walls of American history.  We have a juvenile delinquent for a president who has ruined so much public and private property, not even his gang is making much of an effort here to protect him.  It’s an utter disaster."

Nice.  He mentions "graffiti", "gangs", and "juvenile delinquent" along with Obama.  No decoder ring needed here.

This is the picture he had posted on his website:

Distasteful? Yes. Racist? Probably. Effective? One plausible conclusion from the exit poll numbers is that elevating white anxiety wins elections (and listeners). If that’s true, I am beyond discouraged, and I am beginning to question if the “will of the people” isn’t a not-so-secret-code for strong trumps weak, loud defeats righteous, and ends justify means. I like to think we as a nation are better than that, but we seem to be a few decades shy of a post-racial period in America.

Statistics may not tell the whole story on white voter preferences, but Limbaugh’s rant tells me all I need to know.

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” - John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

Dear Family Members,

Let me first state for the record that I do not suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Wanting clean, well organized dishes is not an illness to be treated.  I will admit that on occasion, I may exhibit symptoms of OCD, but one symptom does not a diagnosis make.  I just happen to have specific, inflexible ideas about how a dishwasher must be loaded.   I do not bend, because I love.

It is the height of naiveté to think that the designers of dishwashers did not conduct years of thoughtful analysis about the optimum load sequence to maximize interior space, reduce rattle and breakage, and insure the ultimate clean for fine Chinette.  The research surely exists, and I don’t think it is obsessive or narcissistic to believe that I, and I alone, have mastered the dish placement secrets for our model.  There must be a best way, and allow for a moment that way just might be MY way.

I have the most experience in cleaning dishes in our family.  I’ve loaded industrial sized dishwashers and the antiquated top-load models.  I’ve been paid to wash dishes.  I have past job performance reviews that can attest to my talents in this area (well, I could get the reviews…I don’t have them handy.  It was, after all, 30 years ago.  "Joe handles the sprayer with gusto, and his rinse technique is a thing of beauty.").  I have seen firsthand the unfortunate results of a poorly loaded Kenmore.  We’ve all been victimized by saucy plates stuck together, upside down plastic cups filled with filthy, soapy discharge water, and dried cheese pasted in between the tines of a favorite fork.  I even recall once a melted Tupperware lid wrapped around the lower heating coil.  That can’t be fixed.  That lid was lost forever that day.  These are all avoidable circumstances, but you’ll have to DO WHAT I SAY.

I am willing to reload a full dishwasher, if that’s what it takes.  I will accept your explanation that you are not loading the dishes incorrectly on purpose, just to make a point that misloaded dishes can get just as clean as perfectly loaded ones.  This can be a teachable moment, and not a moment of rage and discouragement, like the last time.  Focus, people, on the benefits of a successfully loaded dishwasher.  Don’t you want the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly where to find the glass measuring cups or the medium sized plastic colanders?  Lord knows I do.  

For my sake, and the sake of the dishes we love, alternate the glass and plastic on the top rack.  Don’t stack the spoons together.  Commit today to putting the tall glassware in the deep row, and the short cups in the shallow row.  And never allow the thin blade of the paring knife to slip through the bottom silverware holder and scrap the door. Ever.

I ask so little.  Please grant me this wish, and learn how to load the dishwasher correctly, and stop fighting my proven methods.  If you do, I'll try to stop sighing loudly whenever I open the dishwasher door and see the disorder and inefficiency of your misplaced cups and bowls.  I think you'll be glad you did.

As my good friend, Lloyd Braun once taught me, "Serenity now, serenity now."


One more thing - when the dishwasher has run its cycle, the magnet on the front should read "Clean" facing up.  Once the dishwasher is emptied and ready to be refilled with dirty dishes, the magnet on the front should be rotated to read "Dirty".  It's not that hard.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I've read this week that the GOP now has a mandate for something.  They ran on some very generic platitudes, so I am unsure of the specific policy prescriptions that they are about to feed to the ailing patient, our struggling economyI think we are in store for low taxes, reduced spending, more guns, fewer Muslims.  Beyond that, their mandate as legislation is a bit vague. 

I question how this mandate differs from the 2008 mandate, which according to the Republican Party, was not a mandate.  2010 is completely different from 2008, right?  So let's look at the numbers:

After the 2008 elections the Democrats had control of:
59% of the Senate (up to 60% after Arlen Specter switched.)
59% of the House
100% of the White House

How did the Republicans treat the Democratic mandate of the 2008 election? They accepted the will of the people, worked with the majority to find common ground, and reached across the aisle to save our economy.  Not exactly, if you recall.  As John Boehner said “Hell No.” The Republicans obstructed and demagogued.  Death panels and socialism became the GOP talking points for cooperation. 

After the 2010 elections the Republicans have control of:
47% of the Senate
55% of the House
0% of the White House

When comparing 2008 to 2010, I have to ask - why would the Republicans think they should get to call the shots with a just a House majority after they blocked everything the Democrats tried to do with a greater House majority, a big majority in the Senate and the Presidency? 

I believe that the GOP is interested in following the will of their people, not the will of all the people.  That's just politics, I guess, but one only needs look back 2 short years to see the blatant hypocrisy rattling around the echo chamber.

This "mandate" period in history could be just the fertilizer that feeds the growth of a third way.  So now I ask: how long before Michael Bloomberg shows up at an event in Council Bluffs, Iowa?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Station Break

My daughter is one year away from getting her driver’s permit, so we’ll have many moments together in the car fighting over the radio station selection. She has reached the age where her after school activities and budding social life mean that I have reached the Age of Chauffeur. Challenge Girls Club, winter swim, dance class, study groups…did I mention shopping? All this travel needs a soundtrack, and we are desperately seeking middle ground.

I thought that I had anticipated this coming culture clash, and raised (brainwashed) her right. By the age of 7 she could differentiate between John and Paul’s voices on a song (identifying Ringo was too easy). By 2nd grade, I had explained the “Paul is Dead” urban legend, pointing out the clues on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. She proudly displayed the framed cover of Squeeze’s 1980s album, East Side Story, on her bedroom wall. She preferred Daddy’s music. I burned mix CDs for her. I was her DJ, and she was my groupie.

I’m not sure exactly when HOT 99.5 FM entered her scene. I know that once she achieved the proper weight minimum and age requirement to move from the back to the front seat, she was eagerly lunging for the dial on the car radio, slapping my hand away from my AOR presets. HOT 99.5 must have already infected her bloodstream by then. I resisted, as any concerned father and dedicated audiophile would, for as long as I could. I argued.  The talk on her station was too vulgar, the commercials too suggestive, and the target audience more ‘open-minded’ than I was prepared for my groupie to be. On moral grounds, we had to listen to Elvis Costello and Talking Heads instead of Rihanna and Katy Perry. I needed to protect her.

Then she hit me.  “Dad, every song you like was written by some guy who was drunk or on drugs.”

Ouch. This was going to be a tough argument for me to win. Of course she was correct. Keith Moon, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison were not exactly the role models for my daughter to idolize. Many of their songs glorified deviant behaviors and contained lyrics with dual meanings.  Listening to my music today, I sometimes forget how the words gave life to my teenaged angst and my quest to defy the authority figures in my life.

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone.
In time, I have come to enjoy some of the HOT 99.5 FM playlist. How could the songs not get stuck in your head? The same 5-10 are played in heavy rotation for hours and hours, in between Geico commercials and Lady Gaga Twitter updates.  I like that Jay-Z song, Empire State of Mind.  Some of the song lyrics still confuse me, like the new Far East Movement tune,  Like a G6.  I had to ask (with genuine interest, mind you), “Why do the cheesesticks make her feel so fly?”.  That was embarrassing.

I like the new Eminem song, too.  I actually listened to that one when Marra wasn't still in the car with me.  I finally listened to the words yesterday.  It's something about a break up, and at the end, Marshall Mathers ties his girlfriend up and sets her on fire.  WHAT??!!!??

All my fears about HOT 99.5 were confirmed.  Satan rules popular music, Satan has penned this song, and Satan must be stopped at all costs.  I switched back to one of Daddy's favorite stations, and exhaled a sigh of relief.  Back to the Beatles, and the calming guitar strings of Norwegian Wood.

I once had a girl, or should I say
she once had me.
She showed me her room, isn't it good?
Norwegian wood...
She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh,
I told her I didn't, and crawled off to sleep in the bath.
And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird has flown.
So I lit a fire, isn't it good? 
Norwegian wood.

Apparently, arson bridges the musical generation gap.  From now on, I'll just tap my fingers to the beat on the steering wheel, and enjoy my driving time alone with my daughter.  Like I have a choice anymore.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The WaPo 5

I rarely get the opportunity to read the paper every morning as much as I would like.  For one thing, mornings are hectic with 3 kids, 3 different schools, breakfasts, lunches, the search for missing shoes (truth be told, I am a big fan of sleeping until the last possible second, so I miss the majority of hectic...OK, I miss all of it).  Yesterday, I did read the paper in the morning.  I am glad I did.  It expanded my thinking while confirming my underlying opinions.  Exactly what I want out of a newspaper.

We have considered cancelling our Washington Post subscription.  We could read it on the Internet for free.  So far, we have decided to continue our subscription, for several reasons.  First, we like that our kids read the news.  We like that when their eyes on in the newspaper, their eyes are NOT on a screen.  We encourage the quiet of family reading.

I personally view my monthly subscription payment as my contribution to a vibrant 4th Estate.  I support our tireless journalist class, at least who practice actual journalism (i.e. confirm facts first).  It is healthy for our nation to have a thriving, professional press corps to question, challenge, and investigate.  It builds public accountability - not as often as I'd like, however.

Now that I have made my case for newsprint fingerprints all over your kitchen, I will direct your attention to the 5 links below.  Click and read, or better yet, buy a copy of the Tuesday, Nov. 9th Washington Post.  While it is rare that I get to read the paper, it is even more rare that every A17 editorial reflects my own opinions with such clarity.

Here are the links, and my brief summaries.  Choose wisely, but choose:

Boehner's health mirage by Richard Cohen

A succinct summary of all of the sad facts surrounding health care in our country compared to the world, and it leaves me wondering, "If not the ACA, then what?"  It helps that Cohen quotes my favorite health care author, T.R. Reid (see my blog entry dated June 12, 2010).  "Repeal" is unrealistic at best, absurd at worst, and while that debate rages, our nation will continue to spend more health dollars chasing inadequate health outcomes.

The GOP's tax-cut tactical edge by Adam Serwer

Serwer's op-ed spells out the Kobayashi Maru (the No Win situation) faced by Congressional Democrats.  All tax cuts made permanent?  GOP wins.  All tax cuts allowed to expire?  GOP wins - because "Obama raised your taxes."  This article reminds me of the tactical stupidity of the Democrats.  I still don't know why they didn't force this vote before election day, and I still don't know why Obama continues to offer concessions before negotiations begin...on everything.

Alaska, the land of GOP hypocrisy by Anne Applebaum

Alaska, the land of the rugged libertarian-leaning individualist myth, owes one-third of its jobs to federal dollars.  Given a choice between unbalanced outsider, Joe Miller and establishment career politician, Lisa Murkowski, it looks like they chose federal largess.  Applebaum uses this example to illustrate new Speaker Boehner's upcoming conundrum - feed the enthusiasm of the Miller-ites while attempting to govern with the Murkowski-ites.  Which side will rule the day in Washington when it is time to make decisions on the record, and not on the stump?

Where's Obama's mojo? by Eugene Robinson

Why won't Obama lead?  Why did he outsource health care to Pelosi and Reid?  I've said this, and I've heard it said.  He could use some of GW Bush's stubbornness and Reagan's belief in himself.  If he has doubts sometimes or feels discouraged, too bad.  You wanted the job.  Tell me all about it in your memoir in 2017, but not now.

Heavily armed realists by Michael Gerson

The re-ascendency of the GOP and the emergence of the Tea Party sympathizers could have a lasting impact on the world stage, depending on whether the isolationist or interventionist wings win the debate.  Obama cannot allow foreign policy to get caught in the swirling currents of the recent domestic political tidal wave.  He'll need a philosophy, and pragmatism, while understandable on paper, leaves a void for a compelling vision narrative.  The GOP could fill that void, but look what they did for world affairs from 2000-2008.  Uh oh.

If you don't get it, you don't get it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Social Contract

My 14 year old daughter went trick-or-treating this Halloween.  I reminded her in my matter-of-fact, fatherly way that this would be her last door-to-door Halloween celebration in the neighborhood.  She disagreed.  She believed that her experience of begging for candy from strangers had no expiration date, and even if it did, it wasn’t this year.  I disagreed with her, and I educated her on the unwritten rules of the Social Contract.

The rules of the Social Contract are unwritten because they are unconsciously accepted by most everyone, and passed from generation to generation through looks, glares, and well-timed throat clearings.  Violators are punished behind their backs, in ways that they may never know – a lost invitation here, a kindness withheld there.  The message seeps through our thick skulls somehow, and the lesson is learned.  This seemingly random method of extending the terms of the Social Contract makes its rules and guidelines no less rigid.  For Halloween, we all know them:
  • Trick-or-treating may not commence before twilight, although minor exceptions are made for those under 5 (close neighbor’s homes only).
  • Trick-or-treating ends at 9 PM on weekend nights; 8:30 PM on weekday nights.
  • You may not knock on the door if the porch light is turned off. 
  • You may not visit the same house twice.
  • You may not ask for candy if you are not in a costume.
  • You must say “Thank you”, even if you receive an apple or individually wrapped, year-old Now and Laters, and the thank you is insincere.
  • You may no longer trick-or-treat door-to-door after completion of the first year of high school (what I call “The Logan’s Run” rule).
With the exception of some regional differences, these rules are universal, aren’t they?

No one knows where these rules originated.  No one knows the logic that formed the basis of these standards of conduct, although we can all make up our own justification for their enforcement.  The Number One enforceability clause for the Social Contract?  Because.  Just ‘because’ (Editor’s Note: “Because” is the contracted form of “Because I said so.”)

“Because” has a simplicity and a finality to it.  It’s open-ended, yet cuts off further discourse on the subject.  “Because”, literally translated, means “This (rule) conforms to my pre-existing biases, morals, and upbringing, and enforcement allows me to feel safe and in control, and it delays or eliminates any threatening change from my life.”  “Because” says all that so much more succinctly.

With every passing generation, however, the Social Contract evolves, sometimes in subtle ways, and sometimes in seismic shifts.  All in the Family altered the list of acceptable topics for prime time network TV overnight.  Madonna pushed the Social Contract's acceptance of underwear as outerwear.  Mr. Mom reflected the changing roles in the modern American family.  Skirts get shorter, polite manners fade away, and people call later at night than we'd like (past 9 PM for a couple with children is a violation).  The Contract bends, and it breaks us.

The Social Contract that is imprinted in our subconscious mind does not change readily.  We will fight those changes to the Contract with intrafamily, multi-generational warfare, using the conventional weapons of yelling or punishing those who dare violate the terms of the Contract.  We may even employ the WMD of family hostilities, the Silent Treatment.  In this way, things can change around us, while we never will.

Marra may trick-or-treat in the neighborhood next year.  Who am I to fight the annual $5.2 billion US Halloween industry?  But I will always shake my head at her flaunting of accepted convention, knowing in my heart that I am right.  I am always right in contractual matters.  At the tender age of 48, I have earned that right.

I will, of course, continue to steal her Almond Joys and Mounds bars from her stash.  That, too, is part of my unwritten, and secret, Social Contract (Appendix A).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Orange You Glad You Voted For Us?

An Open Letter from House Speaker Boehner on the second anniversary of his ascension to the Speaker's Chair.
November 2, 2012

Dear Fellow Americans and Democrats:

Now that Campaign Season 2012 is upon us, it’s time to look back and bask in the glory of our legislative accomplishments.  You voted for us to take action and we did.  In our first 2 years in power, we:   
  • Repealed the Kennedy Center Honor given to Barbra Streisand in 2008.
  • Renamed California “New Reagan”. (HR 1984, approved by voice vote)
  • Defined personhood in the law as beginning with “the twinkle in your father’s eye.” (HR 1973, sponsored by Michele Bachmann)
  • Privatized the Food and Drug Administration (“If a company produces food that kills the consumer, that company will not be in business for long – the survivors will take their food purchasing power elsewhere.  That, my friends, is the market at work!”  Rep. Paul Ryan, during the memorable floor debate.)
  • Required that activist judges wear a scarlet letter “A” on their robes during public hearings.
  • Added the first 5 of the Ten Commandments to the Constitution (unfortunately, we couldn’t get the second 5 Commandments out of Rep. David Vitter’s committee).
  • Lowered the tax rate for individual earners making over $500,000 per year to 0%. “These are the small business professionals, the entrepreneurs, the plumbers who took the risks to create jobs in this country.  They deserve the reward and the incentive to continue their pro-growth ways.  Anything more would be anti-success.” - Rep. Mike Pence
  • Designated the months of March through December as White History Months.
  • Repealed DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) in a demonstration of bipartisanship, and replaced with “Let Me Be Frank with You”, named after Sen. Barney Frank.  The new regulations allow openly gay individuals to serve their country with honor, assuming they agree not to make eye contact with fellow soldier and only participate in peace-keeping assignments.
  • Defunded the National Endowment for the Arts, and reallocated to where the money can work for you, the citizens - the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
And our signature achievement: Construction of a border fence along our Southern and Northern borders has been completed.  The fences are 15 feet high, topped with barbed wire and fully electrified, guaranteed to keep out global warming from the south, and global cooling from the north.

The deficit continues to rise, unemployment remains dangerously high, and spending has grown these past 2 years, but we will not take the low road and blame President Obama and his Socialist agenda for destroying the very foundation of capitalism and freedom.  While we fully recognize that economic conditions in this country are still below our lofty expectations, we also acknowledge that things will continue to deteriorate until the GOP has control of the Senate, White House, Supreme Court, and quite possibly Mexico.  We can say with pride, “We took your country back", just like you asked.  We look forward to more political power in the future so we can to help you, the little people who do all the work in our great nation, do more for yourselves while we help ourselves. 

That's America to us.  Thank you for your votes, and your freedom.


John Boehner
Speaker of the House of Representative

Please forward your comment and ideas to improve America to our website, www.foxnews.gov

Monday, November 1, 2010

Paradoxical Unity

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

I read something about the second verse of the Tao Te Ching from Dr. Wayne Dyer’s “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life”.  The verse describes the idea of paradoxical unity, contrasting sides. There is an apparent duality in the world where we’ve been conditioned to believe that everything is separate from each other. Things are either good, or evil, tall, or short, beautiful or ugly. What the Tao Te Ching explains is that one does not exist without the other.  It is neither good nor bad, it just is.  You can’t appreciate the good moments in life without the hard times, as you can’t understand what is beautiful for you unless you know what you think is ugly. That is the paradoxical unity, the tough experiences are there so we can better enjoy the highs in life. 

And someone made money with that idea?  Personally, it sounds like the philosophical equivalent of the Pet Rock (kids, ask your parents).  Painfully obvious, undeniably silly, yet oh so profitable.

It did, however, make me think about one of my personal quests, which I could sum up by saying, "There cannot be winning without losing."  I am looking to build a collection of sports photos that capture not only the moment of joyful victory, but the simultaneous searing pain of loss.  Actually, it's not as twisted as that sounds.

Here's my Wish List:

The Miracle on Ice – The epic USA Hockey team victory over the indestructible Soviets was a crushing loss for USSR.  Little did they know that the game would lead to a chain of event culminating in the election of Reagan and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  What I want is the shot taken after the game from the far end of the rink.  It shows the Soviet team lined up along the blue line in the foreground leaning on their sticks watching the exuberant USA amateur team celebrate what many consider to be the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.  The gravity of the Soviet loss crushed an empire.  The euphoria of the US victory saved a nation.

Pittsburgh in 7 – The Yankee dynasty was in full bloom in 1960.  They won the World Series 6 times in the 1950s, and 1961 and 1962, just to prove a point.  The team was anchored by some of the most famous names ever to play the game - Mantle, Berra, Maris, Ford.  In the greatest baseball Game 7 ever played (with apologies to Jack McDowell and the Minnesota fans out there), the Pirates won what they should have lost.  The Yankees outscored the Pirates 55 to 27 over the course of the Series, and still lost on defensive specialist Bill Maseroski’s unlikely home run in the bottom of the 9th inning.  The picture I want is the one of Yogi Berra’s back looking at the ivy covered fence, watching the ball just clear the wall.  I don’t need to see Maseroski circling the bases.  Yogi is slightly beginning to slow as he approaches the wall, and the body language captured in the photo says it all.  The Yankees lost.  It’s a minor plus that it is the Yankees losing.

The Giants Win the Pennant – Bobby Thompson’s Shot Heard Round the World off Ralph Branca in the 3rd game of the 1951 playoff has been immortalized as perhaps the most dramatic single moment in baseball history.  The Giants and Dodgers owned the greatest rivalry in sports, and fought for the loyalty of all the New Yorkers who were not Yankee fans.  The picture I want is taken from center field towards home plate, just as Thompson is about to be absorbed by his cheering teammates.  In the foreground, however, is the immortal Jackie Robinson, frozen in his position at shortstop, soaking in the pain of loss.  Ralph Branca is also in the shot looking at the ground and walking alone towards the dugout, before he has fully comprehended the enormity of the moment and the change in the trajectory of his life.

What’s My Name? – It's a popular picture, but I still love it.  Every Man Cave needs either "Dogs Playing Poker", or this iconic photo.  Muhammad Ali towering over Sonny Liston in Miami, taunting him to get up and accept more of a beating.  The story leading up to this fight is a book in itself.

Thanks to a generous sister and brother-in-law, I already own a large color photo of Mookie Wilson motoring up the first base line as the hopes and dreams of Red Sox fans everywhere skip under Bill Buckner’s glove.  The photo is autographed by both Buckner and Wilson, who were certainly paid for their signatures, proving that the scapegoat can turn lemons into lemonade, and public agony into profit.

I will still laugh at the concept of paradoxical unity ("without up, there’s no down"), but realize that I appreciate the concept on a deeper level than I realized.  Any other photos to recommend?

Congratulations to the S.F. Giants, by the way.  Now, if I could get a shot of that bearded closer leaping in the air with G.W. Bush headed for the exit in the background...