Monday, March 31, 2014

What happened to the cream….?

My trusted personal advisor shared this insight about inspired management and charismatic leadership:

An acquaintance who had worked at Walt Disney World during most of the 1970s recalled that each area of the park and each attraction had a daily designated "Lead," that is, an hourly employee who was temporarily paid $1 extra per hour and had limited authority and responsibility to make on-the-spot decisions regarding any facet of that area's or that attraction's immediate need.

The “Lead” was particularly focused on the “magic,” making sure that the guests had a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious experience. If you were at Disney at that time, as a cast member or guest, you know what I mean.

This system worked pretty well, and a "higher up" manager was rarely ever called in to make a final decision.

Fast forward to 1993. Disney had eliminated its reliance on a designated “Lead” hourly worker, and, of course, stopped giving extra pay to the designees. The expectation in the executive suite was that when an on-the-spot decision needed to be made “the cream would rise to the top," in Disney management's exact words, and that a self-motivated employee would step up and make the call.

Overall, it was a huge failure. Disney execs couldn't understand why the areas and attractions fell so quickly into mismanagement, why there was extensive down time, why the "good people" quit, and why there was a notable loss of "magic" in the Park….

….ummm, d’ya think of any possible explanation?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dawn, again….

“Nearly dawn, I’m watching the trees
march out of the night . . .

 . . . the dogs
twitch in final dreams . . .

The tea leaves in their white paper pouch . . .

the taste of the leaves
hot on my tongue.”
Excerpts from “Tea” by Leslie Harrison, , from Displacement: Poems. © Mariner Books, 2009.

As posted by Phyllis Cole-Dai on Mar 20, 2014, on her blog:

You can say, hey, the trees, the dogs, the tea….yeah, same old, same old….but I don't mind feeling the solitary thrill, at dawn, again….

Friday, March 28, 2014

Almost nobody watches cable TV news

Full disclosure: I stopped watching TV in 2009. Lots of reasons, including the insanely biased, hyped and superficial news coverage of the political scene, especially the trash, tripe and tasteless stuff offered by the cable news talking heads.

Now I see that the Pew Research Center says the prime time audience for the three big cable news channels—Fox, MSNBC and CNN—is only about 3 million people, and the daytime audience is only about 2 million.

Wowee. Roughly speaking, 99% of American adults don’t watch those cable channels.

More or less, almost nobody is paying attention to Rachel, and Joe, and Al, and Charles, and Bill, and Megyn, and Gretchen….

There are about 242 million adults in the United States. As a very rough approximation, only 1 per cent of adults are watching any of the three channels at any particular time.

For most of us, the grotesque power, pride and prejudice of cable TV news is only hearsay.

I’ve stopped listening.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

That shell you found on the beach....

On finding a shell at Bethany Beach

You’ve seen one like this, the one that isn’t “just” a shell….

This post has been moved to my website:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mobile home: the rich man’s toy

The derogatory epithet “trailer trash” didn’t exist in the 1920s when the first mobile homes—“trailers”—became popular in the U.S.

In fact, the trailer initially was a rich man’s toy in the then-blooming Age of the Automobile. The first trailers had a lofty price tag, often came with amenities like wood paneling, and were designed to be towed (hence, “trailer”!) by folks who could afford to travel for private pleasure, and wanted to travel in comfort before there was any blooming of motels and other modern roadside accommodations.

They really haven’t been "trailers" for almost 75 years.

GIs returning home after World War II helped fuel the demand for moderately priced, simple-to-build homes that could be moved around as their owners were re-assigned, thus, the “mobile home”….but many of them ended up on blocks.

Beginning in 1976, when federal safety and design regulations kicked in, the accepted nomenclature became "manufactured homes."

And by the way, there are about 8.6 million of these babies in the U.S. now, and most of them never move from the spot where they were first delivered.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Let’s hear it for mass transit

You have to be surprised by this factoid:

Last year nationwide usage of mass transit was the highest since 1956—a recent New York Times report gives credit to improved service, local economic growth in some areas and the folks who don’t grab the car keys when they head to work in the morning.

But then took the bloom off the rose:

Transit use expressed as “trips per capita” is actually declining when you factor in population growth, and in fact, mass transit use is tanking everywhere except in New York City.

The Times said there were 10,650,000,000 passenger trips on buses, trains and subways in 2013, yes, that number is 10.65 billion….

It said an encouraging item is that the volume gain in mass transit use wasn’t significantly driven by high gas prices—prices at the pump were well under $4.00 a gallon.

The American Public Transportation Association noted “We’re seeing that where cities have invested in transit, their unemployment rates have dropped, and employment is going up because people can get there [to their jobs].”

Yet, the declining number of transit trips per person calls into question our public funding policies that give 20% of U.S. surface transportation subsidies to mass transit, which accounts for less than 3% of passenger trips and passenger miles.

The Washington Post writers go deeper:
“So there is no national transit boom . . . Resting our hopes on a transit comeback distracts from our real transportation problem, which can be summarized in four words: Driving is too cheap. 

Drivers impose costs on society — in delay, in pollution, in carbon, in wear and tear on our roads — that they don’t pay for. As a result, many of us drive more than we otherwise would. Ending this underpriced driving — through higher fuel taxes, parking and congestion charges and insurance premiums based on miles driven — is a central challenge for local, state and federal transportation officials . . . Increased subsidies for public transportation have neither reduced driving nor increased transit use. But ending subsidies to driving probably would do both.

Ending these subsidies will be hard work, politically. Yet we will have no incentive to do this work if Americans continue to believe that transit is making a comeback on its own. It isn’t. Transit, like the rest of our transportation system, is in trouble. We need to act quickly to save it.”

We need to cut our use of private vehicles that burn fossil fuel. More usage of mass transit—and the accompanying reduction in carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere—is a step in the right direction toward mitigating the dangerous impact of human-caused global climate change and global warming.

Monday, March 24, 2014

How cold was it?

An historical tidbit from an unknown source:

In the heyday of sailing ships, all warships carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon.
 How to prevent them from rolling about the deck?

The best storage method devised was a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four resting on nine, which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon. But, you see the problem: how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling from under the others?
 The solution was a metal plate called a “monkey” with 16 round indentations.
 However, if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it.
 The solution to the rusting problem was to make “brass monkeys.”

Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped abruptly, the brass with its circular indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would roll right off the plate. Thus, it was literally “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.”

I offer this instructive item purely in the interests of scientific lexicology,
                    and certainly not from any prurient motivation…..

Friday, March 21, 2014

The wisdom of Dilbert (part 2)

“Employee engagement was never a real thing.”

The other day my trusted personal advisor mentioned his unrequited desire that annual performance reviews could be something positive, or at least constructive….he mentioned that he had recently been purified in his annual performance review, with the prospective new goals and objectives “eerily similar” to last year’s version, and he summoned the grit to mention “only 364 days until my next annual performance appraisal”….

We agreed on these obstacles to the imminent transmogrification of performance appraisals into workplace interactions of beauty and substance:

·        almost every manager loathes the obligation to give negative feedback, and therefore never does so
·        it’s an “annual” performance appraisal when it should be a “weekly” performance reality check, in a less formal and more personal way
·        the purpose of the performance review is ill-defined, too often it’s the pro forma rationale for a pay increase, and too often there isn’t any real purpose related to performance improvement and skill development – if you would ask every manager in the world why he/she does annual performance reviews, roughly 98.7% of them would say “because I am required to do so,” and most of the others would be lying about their motivation
·        candid performance reviews are sometimes used by the organization as the start (or part) of a paper trail in the event of some impending unpleasantness, such as termination….hence, the consequent auras of distrust and abuse

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

If you’re a man, you deserve a pay cut!

OK, OK, I’m making a point here, and I hear you, Stu, you’ve got 11 reasons why you’re worth every penny, and probably six of ‘em are pretty good reasons….

But if you were a Sue and not a Stu, doing exactly what you do, it’s a real good bet that your paycheck would be smaller.

We all know that, in general, women get paid less than men. We have good Census Bureau records going back to 1955 that prove it, and we all know it was true before then….

Sure, the gap between women’s pay and men’s pay has been getting smaller in the last 60 years, at a too-slow pace, but still getting smaller—last year the median paycheck of women working full-time was 82% of the median paycheck of full-time men. And of course there are some structural, non-sexist reasons for the gap (different types of jobs, the “baby break” in women’s careers, etc….)

Still, you know and I know that there is pay discrimination against women—if you’ve worked, you’ve experienced it or seen it. You know it’s true….

And here’s the thing: pay for men has been shrinking since 1999, and that’s the main reason that the gender pay gap has been improving. If men’s pay had risen about 7% during that time, as women’s pay has done, there would have been no improvement in their relative earnings.

It’s men who decide to pay the gals less than the guys, and that’s piggery.

To be fair about it, if you’re a man, you should take a pay cut.

That would work.

Here's another take on gender bias in the workplace

Monday, March 17, 2014

" . . . history that didn't happen . . . "

Book review:
Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
261 pages

Dowd's A Spirited Resistance provides some examples of considering "history that didn't happen."
For every account of "history that happened" there might be a complementary book of "history that didn't happen."

It's important to emphasize that people and groups in the past continually faced decision options and critical choices and conflicting imperatives to act, as we do now. People and groups in the past continually made unique decisions in the face of uncertainties and competing exigencies, as we do now.

The "history" of an individual or a group is a distinct track, forward in time, of decisions and choices and events, some discretionary, some imperative, some unavoidably random. This process continues through a welter of known and unknown alternatives. This ever-changing process of life is unique in retrospect, but it is increasingly, incomprehensibly variable and complex as we consider the prospects for the future at any point in time.

Thus, the "history that happened" is one of the possible histories that could have happened. It never was inevitable. There is difficulty enough in reconstructing, analyzing and understanding the actual "history that happened." The discovery and illumination of the course of history, however well done, is profoundly insufficient for the student of history.

Any possible, speculative scenario of historical events is a "history that didn't happen." Any version of the "history that didn't happen" is potentially a compelling object of interest, and there are limitless different versions. There is an effectively boundless scope of interest in such histories, and a wide range of probabilities that they might have occurred.

To be clear, popular accounts of so-called "alternative history" or "what if?" history are not suitable exemplars of this theme. An historical treatment that focuses on a single, arbitrary "what if?" scenario for a known historical event or extended historical process is of course a "history that didn't happen," but it is a special case. For example, a speculative presentation of "The South Won The Civil War" can be entertaining overall, even instructive in detail, but it is flawed. The author has the benefit of hindsight and cannot avoid using it. Of necessity, the author must repeatedly, expansively and arbitrarily choose alternative versions of what actually happened; the probability of occurrence of such a single, massively multi-variable alternative actually is vanishing small. Why bother writing or reading it? One may imagine that simultaneous nasty influenza outbreaks might have sidelined all the generals in both camps on July 2 in Gettysburg. The probability of such a scenario is vanishingly small. This scenario may be entertaining, but it does not merit serious consideration. It is imaginable, but it adds little to our understanding of history. The popular "what if?" approach to history is almost always arbitrary, eccentrically narrow and overwhelmingly improbable.

A structured, exploratory consideration of "history that didn't happen" could be useful. Such a structured approach, for example, could include:
·                     examination of the knowledge, values and motivation of historical actors;
·                     identification of realistic, feasible alternative decisions and reactions that might have
            occurred at specific points in time or throughout an event in process;
·                     analysis of decision factors that were considered or ignored by the historical actors.

This approach envisions a retrospective presentation of history that illuminates reasonably feasible alternative courses of action, and clarifies possible explanations of why the actors did not make such decisions or pursue such courses of action. This concept does not assume and generally would avoid any attempt to prove that any particular alternative decision or action would have been better or should have been chosen. The point of this essentially objective reconsideration of history is to clarify the motives and expectations of the actors, and to gain a broader and deeper appreciation—in analytical contexts framed by hindsight—of what they thought was happening, what they wanted to happen and what they thought was possible or probable, all without the benefit of foresight.

A poignant example is Jared Diamond's question in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It includes a chapter on the almost complete deforestation of Easter Island and the cultural decline of its people who had depended on the trees for canoes, construction material and fuel. Diamond asks: "What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?" (p. 114). By extension, what did the rest of the Easter Islanders say while he was doing it? Of course, with hindsight it's obvious that cutting down the last tree was not a good move. Was it obvious in the 17th century on Easter Island?  It would be interesting to attempt to reconstruct the ax-man's knowledge, values and motive: could he have not known it was the last tree? Was he concerned about preserving his essential environment? Did Easter Islanders desire a tree-less landscape? 
Was the last tree worth a million bucks? Forward-thinking, environmentally sensitized Easter Islanders could have started planning earlier to figure out how to conserve a minimum number of trees or develop substitutes for transportation, construction and fuel. What are some possible elaborations about why that didn't happen? Was any such attempt actually made? Was tree-cutting strictly a commercial activity? Were there any social/religious/cultural imperatives regarding tree cutting? Was that ax-wielding Easter Islander a hero or a villain?

Now, back to Dowd and A Spirited Resistance. Apparently, a fundamental constraint to the success of the 18th century pan-Indian prophets on the East Coast was the persistent obstruction of many neutral or accommodationist chiefs who rejected their prophets' call for both violent and spiritual resistance to the Anglo-American authorities and settlers. These neutral chiefs sought to co-exist in relative peace with the Europeans. This internal division among the native Americans and the longevity of the ill-fated nativist movement suggests many questions.

In hindsight, it seems, at least superficially, that the ultimate dominance of the Europeans was inevitable. Did none of the chiefs in the late 18th century recognize this imperative? What arguments did both the nativist and neutral leaders use in their private councils to minimize their prospects for failure? How did their knowledge, values and motives sustain their doomed objectives for decades? Is it possible that the prophets might have been substantially successful if no internal Indian strife had existed?

Dowd says the inter-tribal and intra-tribal conflicts in leadership actually bolstered the motivation of the nativists, who argued that the neutral chiefs' failure to respect Indian cultural and spiritual values was partly to blame for the degradation of their culture and way of life. Did the neutral chiefs make the same criticism of the prophets? By implication, Dowd suggests that most nativist and accommodationist chiefs were doing their honorable best for their people. This viewpoint should be challenged; can it be confirmed? What was the motivation of the prophets and nativist chiefs? Did Tenskwatawa share personal attributes with Martin Luther King? with Billy Graham? with Elmer Gantry?

What primary military, political, economic and cultural factors were important to the neutral chiefs and to the prophets? Was their strife righteously motivated and conscientiously implemented? How much of it, if any, was simply opportunistic, localized internal wrangling for political power and personal prestige? Did the warriors and the people and the clans who actively supported the chiefs fully understand the implications of their commitments? Did the warriors follow Tecumseh for glory or for their informed vision of a better future? Did any Indian chiefs believe there was a third version of doing "the right thing"?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book review: The Climate Casino

Book review: The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World
Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2013
378 pages

I think Prof. Nordhaus has given us a remarkable achievement: a solid, sobering, stimulating, scientific, scary book on human-caused global climate change, that leaves no room for doubt about the prospect that climate change deniers are going to sweat more, like the rest of us, in coming decades.

This is not a book about Apocalypse. If anything, the Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University writes with an even temper and drily matter-of-fact language that is a teensy bit annoying, given the massively dangerous, initial impacts of climate change and global warming that are already unavoidable.

I think the principal value of The Climate Casino is that Nordhaus lays out the economic (cost/benefit) framework of policy considerations and possible remedial steps that the nations of the world, and mankind, can take to deal with the fact that we’re putting too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In simplest terms, he says there are many things we can do to mitigate global warming….some are more costly than others and some are very expensive….some folks and some companies and some countries will have to pay more of the costs than others.

I was surprised to read his conclusion that humans can likely survive the initial moderate impacts of global climate change/warming without substantial social and economic disruption, if we start seriously working on it now—there is a big pricetag, but we can tolerate it.

(I mention, for the record, that Nordhaus carefully discusses the unpredictable, and more than trivially possible, catastrophic “tipping points” in climate disruption that might occur regardless of what we do or don’t do—think Dennis Quaid and “The Day After Tomorrow”).

We’re going to have to stop using coal around the world, or figure out how to burn it cleanly. And more generally, we’re going to have to figure out how to require companies and individuals to pay the true cost of burning fossil fuels, that is, the present and future cost of the damage those fuels cause to our environment and to our grandchildren’s prospects for survival.

It was remotely heartening to read Nordhaus’ estimate that we have a reasonable chance of dealing with global warming if we get the ball rolling now, and make sure everyone pays the price.

This is the only planet our grandchildren will have to live on. We must do the right thing for them.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014 All rights reserved.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Obamacare enrollments were UP in February

Inconvenient fact:
Obamacare enrollments actually were UP in February.

Yeah, yeah, the total number of enrollments was down from January....but February has only 28 days.

Turns out, the daily average of
Obamacare enrollments was higher in February than in January.

If February and January had the same number of days, the February monthly total would have been higher, too.

The news media and the cable TV talking heads should be reporting on the policy and health issues that are pertinent to Obamacare, instead of blandly reporting politically-charged mudslinging about "the numbers."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I am not invisible….

“This Old Man” by Roger Angell, in The New Yorker

This is a beautiful ramble through the mind and world of Roger Angell….you don’t have to be old to be thrilled and soothed and jacked up by his insights on life and death and, most importantly, not being invisible.

Just start to read it—I think you’ll rush, with careful attention to every word, right through to the end, as I did.

I am fortified in my resolve to be engaged with the ones I love, as fully as I can, for the remainder of my span on this earthly coil.

And I’m gonna channel Roger Angell whenever I need to:  if you don’t listen when I talk, I might start talking a little bit louder.

In a nice way.

Hear me when I say “I love you.”

(Thanks to my sagacious personal advisor for putting a sticky note on this one in The New Yorker)