Big things matter. Ask an employee what he wants from his employer, and you'll likely—and rightly—hear about salary, benefits, and a workplace that is physically and emotionally safe. He probably won't think the little things are worth mentioning, but businesses need to be more aware that small investments in employee relations often have a disproportionately large impact.
Back in the days when long-distance telephone charges were a significant item in a family's budget—I know that for many people that sets the time back in the Civil War, but it wasn't—one of the benefits we enjoyed from Porter's job with AT&T was a $35/month credit for long-distance services. In strict financial terms, it was a pittance, and hardly could have made much of a difference to the bottom line of such a big company, but what it bought in feelings of goodwill toward AT&T on the part of its employees' families made it one of their better investments.
When corporations start feeling a financial pinch, however, those whose job it is to find ways to save money do not always see the whole picture.
I'm currently reading Highest Duty (by Captain Chesley "Sullly" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow; thanks, DSTB!), the book on which the movie Sully is based. This is not a review, though I will say that so far I'm enjoying the book. But one incident haunts me, unexpectedly.
Captain Sullenberger was a pilot for USAirways, but I've no doubt that with all the financial problems of the industry, other airlines were and are no better. Indeed, the financial story is true for industries across the board, and mirrors the experiences we had with AT&T and IBM. Pilots' salaries were slashed, and their pensions gutted—but that's not what haunts me. It's the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Airlines once provided their pilots and flight attendants with free meals on long-haul flights. A small enough service, surely! But that, too, was cut, and Sullenberger began brown-bagging his lunches. Ask a pilot his priorities, and safety, salary, and benefits will top the list. But we should never underestimate the corrosive power of eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich whilst inhaling the scents of beef tenderloin that waft in from First Class. Providing a few extra meals on long flights would seem a prudent investment in employer-employee relations, with the potential return in good will and good feelings disproportionately high compared with the cost.
I can't change corporate culture, but I wonder: What small investments of our time, money, and attitudes can we, as individuals, make that carry the potential for high return in someone else's life?
For those of you who think I'm just a classical music snob....
I don't remember where I came across this beautiful country song—odds are it was somewhere on Facebook—and I hesitate to share it, since embedded YouTube videos are no longer working for me. But you can click on the image to hear John David Anderson's haunting Seminole Wind. (That's fixed now; see below. I've also made minor changes to the lyrics transcription.)
It's a song to tear at the heart of a Floridian, even a semi-native such as I. In addition to all the other emotions it evokes, it takes me back to the days when the YMCA wasn't ashamed to call its Parent-Child programs "Indian Guides" and "Indian Princesses." Now it's "Adventure Guides" and the Native American connection is lost. Back then, the Florida Indians—who at that time preferred "Indian" to "Native American"—welcomed the Y tribes to their own pow-wows. I can still hear the drums, the voices, and the prayers, and taste the fry bread....
Not to mention that a love of wilderness areas was bred into my bones, whether New York's Adirondacks or Florida's wetlands, scrubs, and hammocks.
And I'm a sucker for Dorian mode.
Ever since the days of old,
Men would search for wealth untold,
They'd dig for silver and for gold,
And leave the empty holes.
And way down south in the Everglades,
Where the black water rolls and the saw grass waves,
The eagles fly and the otters play,
In the land of the Seminole.
So blow, blow Seminole wind,
Blow like you're never gonna blow again.
I'm callin' to you like a long-lost friend,
But I know who you are.
And blow, blow from the Okeechobee
All the way up to Micanopy.
Blow across the home of the Seminoles,
The alligators and the gar.
Progress came and took its toll,
And in the name of flood control,
They made their plans and they drained the land,
Now the Glades are goin' dry.
And the last time I walked in the swamp,
I sat upon a cyprus stump.
I listened close and I heard the ghost
Of Oseola cry.
So blow, blow Seminole wind,
Blow like you're never gonna blow again.
I'm callin' to you like a long-lost friend,
But I know who you are.
And blow, blow from the Okeechobee
All the way up to Micanopy.
Blow across the home of the Seminoles,
The alligators and the gar.
Songwriter: John David Anderson
Seminole Wind lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Here's the video now; thanks to Lime Daley for fixing my problem.
I came upon the following in a book I'm reading:
During the 1800s, a person got from one place to another one of four ways: by foot, animal (usually a horse), ship, or boat. By the second half of the century there was a fifth option—train.
The nautical people in my family would not have been surprised, as I was, to see "ship" and "boat" listed separately. Wikipedia starts its entry for Ship with "Not to be confused with boat. Which I do, a lot. And the nautical people in my life feel insulted, especially if they have boats of their own—or ships, or something else that usually floats and costs a lot of money.
Here's a summary of some of the differences between a boat and a ship. It's not so much that I don't know, as that I don't care—which is probably still more offensive to those of the sailing persuasion.
On the other hand, I suppose that in the 19th century, along America's eastern shoreline, the difference between "boat" and "ship" was as significant as that between "pistol" and "rifle," or maybe "rifle" and "cannon." And I have at least one friend who would no doubt be similarly insulted if I called his 1899 Swedish Mauser a "gun."
Still, I was surprised enough to go back and reread the sentence, convinced I'd read it wrong.
When you are young you write either romantic or depressive poetry or both. When you are older, you write stories of whatever genre. But you know you are really getting old when you start writing essays!
— Anaya Roma, The Mindverse Chronicles, "Going to Hell."
I am officially old, and have been much of my life.
Not because of the grey in my hair;
Not because I'm on Medicare.
Not for the wrinkles on my face,
Or because my grandson can sing bass,
And today my granddaughter is turning ten.
No, I am marked by the strokes of my pen:
Sad poems and novels were never my art;
The essay's the form that speaks from my heart.
My muse was set in the days of my youth:
To seek, and ponder, and write the truth!
I don't care if your question is about climate change or about your niece's latest romance, I can answer it with two words: It's complicated.
Simplistic answers to complex problems sadden and infuriate me. That's how we end up leaping from one problem to another, from one error to a different error.
My father always greatly admired people who, when seeing a job that needed to be done, just did it, without debate and without complaining that it was really someone else's responsibility. I mostly agree with him, and when our kids were growing up, we had something called "Grandpa's Award" that I gave out when I observed such behavior.
While that philosophy works heart-warmingly well on smaller points, such as washing dishes, changing a diaper, or running an errand, most larger issues are not well managed without research, thought, and debate—yet we still jump on simplistic answers, embarking on pathways that accomplish little at high cost, or even result in great harm. Out of compassion, we are quick to donate money to what appear to be good causes, not seeing in the end the food rotting in port instead of being distributed to starving people, the books mouldering in a forgotten storage closet, the money enriching the coffers of corrupt politicians and businessmen. Dreaming of an end to poverty, we pass laws providing for the needs of indigent single mothers and children, only to find that we've created a culture in which it is to a family's financial advantage for the father to be absent, and young girls seeking independence have an incentive to get pregnant. German chancellor Angela Merkel, responding to an urgent, growing, and heart-wrenching refugee crisis, quickly opens the doors of her country without consideration for those who warned that there should first be put into place a workable plan. Now both Germany and the refugees are suffering from the inevitable consequences of trying to absorb a large influx of people with great needs and a markedly different culture, and of a significant portion of the population who feels unheard and unrepresented, and can rightly say, "I told you so."
All this came to mind because of the recent outcry against plastic straws. I am certainly appalled at the waste produced by the restaurant industry, but what does banning plastic straws really do? It seems we've once more jumped on a feel-good bandwagon without actually researching the problem. In our house, replacing plastic straws with something biodegradable would create a good deal more waste, since we wash and reuse plastic straws hundreds of times—we are still less than halfway through the package we bought four years ago. What waste is created, what environmental damage done when a company retools its system to create a substitute for its plastic straws? Is the good accomplished commensurate with the cost incurred—especially since the biggest man-made contaminant of the world’s oceans is not plastic straws, or even plastic bags, but cigarette butts?
You will understand, then, my appreciation for a recent post by my friend Eric Schultz on his Occasional CEO blog: Food Foolish #8: What About the Birds? As co-author of Food Foolish: The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change, he might be expected to endorse uncritically any attempt to reduce the large quantity of food that ends up in our landfills. Inspired by a listener's question at one of his lectures, however, he decided to investigate this problem: How dependent are birds on human food waste, and what happens if we reduce it—as so many individuals, corporations, and governments are now committed to doing?
That turns out to be a complicated question with not enough data for a clear answer. It's worth reading his analysis.
If even something as obviously good as reducing food waste has unintended consequences to consider, surely our thornier environmental, social, and political problems could benefit from more research and thought and fewer highly-charged emotions, from a lot more light and a lot less heat.
As usual, jet lag is kicking me on the return trip. (The outbound trip is much easier, for several reasons.) I had thought I was over it the first day—but it turns out I was only so exhausted that sleep came at any time, any place. :) But it's getting better. Gradually, my wake-up-and-can't-get-back-to-sleep time has stretched from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to this morning at 4:30 a.m.—almost normal. I knew there was no hope of getting back to sleep today, because I woke up thinking about how far away our children and grandchildren are, and how much that not only hurts now but potentially makes life difficult years from now if we don't get hit by a truck but have to face becoming too old and infirm to live independently. a sad situation many of our friends are currently going through with their parents.
Lying in bed awake was not producing any solution to that problem, so I got up and went to work. And one of the first things I ran across, on a totally and completely unrelated search, was this song: "The Missing Piece," by Cherish the Ladies.
Yes, I cried.
There's a sadness woven throughout Irish music, despite the gaiety of many of its songs. Naturally, this song of family far away and of the expat's dilemma—homes in two countries and yet a stranger to both—moved me especially this morning. Like most music of this sort, it also dredged up other sorrows, present and ancient, from family visits recently postponed to the loss of loved ones almost half a century ago.
We need such moments of grief and remembrance, and that's one of the strengths that make Irish music what it is.
Then it's time to move on and get to work. (After writing about it, of course. That's how I cope.)
I first noticed it when Porter was working with coworkers from India, part of the great outsourcing/offshoring boom in the early part of this century. He had discovered that he could never make more than one point in an e-mail. If he asked two questions or brought up two subjects—let alone a list of several—his correspondent would respond to one of them, usually either the first or the last, and completely ignore the rest. At the time, I blamed it on the language barrier.
Now I don't know what say, because it happens all the time, with people for whom English is as native as language can get. Over and over again people seem to be missing everything after the first paragraph of an e-mail.
Could it be a Twitter Effect, and people just can't take in more than 140 characters at a time? Have our attention spans degenerated so drastically? Are we perhaps just so busy, hurried, and harried, trying to accomplish too much in too little time, that we can't take time to read carefully? I think of doctors, nurses, teachers, and others who complain that they are so rushed they can no longer do their jobs properly. It may be those in the helping professions who feel it first and foremost, but it's no doubt true of us all.
Should we, perhaps, call ourselves a post-literate society? Once upon a time, not that long ago, literacy was not taken for granted. It wasn't until 1940 that the U.S. Federal Census stopped asking people if they could read and write. But thereafter, every schoolchild was expected to learn to read and to write, and libraries flourished.
Now, I'm not so sure. Schools still teach reading and writing, but are we now creating graduates who can read, but don't? So many people never touch a book after leaving school! We've gone from reading solid, well-written, even scholarly books, to "beach reads," to newspapers and magazines, to USA Today, to blogs, to Facebook and Twitter, click-click-click. From long, newsy letters to e-mails to Instagram and Snapchat.
Certainly, there have been gains with each step. But we've also lost something important. I know people who can read very well, but have no patience with an e-mail that is longer than a few sentences. At least I don't need to worry about offending anyone with this blog post—the guilty won't get this far. :)
Ah well, one must move with the times. Pardon me while I go snip an e-mail into bite-sized fragments.
I try hard not to judge a president, for good or for ill, until years after his term has ended. History does much to clear the clouded lens of the present, and more than once a person I've judged as good has turned out to be a lousy president, and vice versa. But I think I can say that if Americans, and the American media, are waking up to the fact that danger from Russia did not go away with the end of the Cold War, that's a good that might last. We need do the same with China and a few other countries, too.
Does that mean we should hate these countries and view them as our enemies? Of course not. On the personal level, meeting, loving, appreciating, and valuing other people and cultures is the road to peace—not to mention to learning, growth and a lot of fun.
But at the political level, it's important never to forget that other governments, even at their best, have the interests of their own people in mind, not ours. And that's a good thing; that's their job. It's our government's job to look to the interests of our country and our people, and that is the messy business of diplomacy—including but not limited to economic policy, military strength, espionage, cyber security, foreign aid, political rhetoric, looking for the win-win even with our enemies, compromise, and all the complex art of statecraft.
Does that mean we should give our government a free hand to use whatever tactics will get the job done? Absolutely not. Free and democratic countries must face the world with one arm tied behind their backs, not resorting to immoral behavior even if it's used against them, just as the police are not allowed to use criminal behavior to catch criminals. It does mean, however, that we must be the more vigilant and active to use all legitimate means to further our goals.
It is what Scottish author and philosopher George MacDonald called, "sending the serpent to look after the dove," a reference to Jesus' admonition to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). Innocence with knowledge and wisdom is strong.
As you can imagine, two years after the event there has been a lot of action here recently, memorializing the Pulse nightclub shooting and the tragic loss of 49 lives. But the death toll at Pulse that night was not 49. It was 50.
I understand the visceral response that wants to leave the the attacker, who was subsequently shot by police, out of the picture. It's a completely natural reaction and I don't hold anything against those—especially of the victims' friends and family—who limit their compassion to the 49.
What I don't understand is why churches are following the same path. The natural way is not the Christian way. It is very, very clear that we are to love our enemies, which at the very least means mourning the violent, if necessary, death of this angry and unstable young man. He, as much as any of the other victims of this tragedy, was someone's son, someone's brother, someone's father, a human being, created in the image of God—no matter how distorted that image had become.
Churches, when you ring out the memory of the lost from the Pulse tragedy, remember that you are to be in the world but not of it. Don't take the natural course, but the supernatural: Let your bells toll the full 50 strokes.
So, a handful of people have gotten sick recently from eating salmonella-contaminated eggs from a farm in North Carolina. Salmonella, of course, can be a serious infection and is certainly not one even a healthy person wants to encounter. But who is writing the advice we are being given on how to handle these eggs should we be unfortunate enough to find them in our refrigerator?
Do not eat, serve, or sell these eggs; throw them away or return them for a refund, and be sure to disinfect the shelf on which they were stored.
Really? That kind of overreaction can only have been designed by hyper-sensitive doctors under the advice of their lawyers and malpractice-insurance companies. Why not just hard-boil the eggs? If you cook them until the white and yolk are both hard, you've killed the salmonella bacteria. Maybe I'd give them a couple of extra minutes, just because I can be a little paranoid that way.
And unless you're crazy enough to take your eggs out of the handy carton they come in and store them directly on your refrigerator shelf, I can't imagine why a shelf would need to be especially sanitized.
But hey, what do I know? I'm not a doctor, a biologist, a lawyer, an insurance company executive, or even a helicopter grandparent, so don't take this as advice.
Take it as yet another sign that common sense has been thrown out the window, and scare tactics rule the day—making us more and more inclined to miss the signal of an important warning amidst the noise of constant overreaction. Aesop warned over 2500 years ago of the dangers of crying "wolf."
Warning: sex stereotyping ahead. It's supposed to be funny, folks; don't take it too seriously.
How can you tell that men, not women, designed the birth control pill? Simple. I figured it out after reading Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw, in which he comments that it is not biologically necessary that birth control pills have an "off" week to induce menstruation; it was part of the design so that the woman's cycle would be more normal. But what is "normal" about menstruating every month? Young girls don't, older women don't, some top athletes don't, and more importantly, women who are pregnant or intensely breastfeeding usually don't, either. Here's the scenario as I see it:
Male researchers Let's see. Women who are pregnant don't ovulate, so if we manipulate a woman's hormones so that we mimic pregnancy, she won't ovulate, and can't get pregnant. This means we could have sex whenever we feel like it, without any sacrifice on our part, leaving the entire responsibility on women for whether or not they get pregnant. Yee-haw! But we won't really mimic pregnancy, in which a woman doesn't menstruate for at least nine months and sometimes two years or more, because, well, because it's natural for a woman to menstruate every 28 days.
Female researchers Let's see. Women don't menstruate while pregnant, and often don't while lactating, so if we manipulate a woman's hormones so that we mimic pregnancy, she need only menstruate once every year or two. Yee-haw! This means could go two years without experiencing the mood swings, intense pain, and mess? Bring it on! Wait, you say we ought to design this pill so that the fake pregnancy miscarries every 28 days? You must be C-R-A-Z-Y!
Rules are good. Rules are helpful.
But a random Facebook ad reminded me how false is the human hope that we can create a set of rules that will apply at all times and in all situations, the following of which will guarantee that we will always do the right thing and receive in return a good outcome. We want protocols for lasting marriages, for starting a successful business, for rearing happy, healthy children, for running a democratic government, for winning a war, for handling a customer service call, for getting into heaven. Such protocols can be very helpful indeed—but as anyone knows who has tried to get computer help from someone in a far-off land who is obviously only following a script, they're not sufficient. Without knowledge and wisdom outside the protocol box, such rules can be downright dangerous.
This one isn't dangerous, but the lesson is clear just the same. The Rule: In English, use "an" as the indefinite article before a word that starts with a vowel. The result? Trying to sell a mug that will only be purchased for a laugh.
Of course, this wouldn't have happened if the designer had used a better rule: In English, use "an" as the indefinite article before a word that starts with a vowel SOUND. Human beings are always hoping to find a better rule, hence the popularity of all those self-help books, and cult-like movements that purport to have the best rules.
But if God had wanted us to live by a script, he wouldn't have bothered with all that free will business.
It's no secret that my husband and I bit the bullet and jumped into the genetic DNA testing arena, having finally decided that the information benefits outweighed privacy concerns. But of course, when we sumitted our samples, we were "speaking" not only for ourselves but for our blood relatives everywhere, since we share DNA, albeit in varying amounts.
So, family, this is your fair warning to keep your lives clean and stay on the right side of the law. As you can see from this New York Times article (or just Google for it if you can't get in to the NYT), police in California have apprehended a man who they believe is a notorious serial killer/rapist/burglar who commited his crimes in the 1970's and 80's. They cracked the case by matchng a sample from one of the crimes to DNA some of his ftamily members had submitted to a genealogical database.
Sure, it tweaks my privacy-concern buttons a bit, and even more so my Big-Brother-is-watching-you fears, but I sure am glad the guy was finally caught. But this is what concerns me most of all:
Mr. DeAngelo will not be charged for a series of rapes authorities believe he committed in the Sacramento area in the late 1970s because the statute of limitations has expired.
There's a statute of limitations for rape? How can that possibly be?
I love Florida.
Though I spent the first 32 years of my life in the Northeast, I grew up vacationing every other year in Daytona Beach, where my grandparents lived a short walk from the "World's Most Famous Beach." It was wonderful.
When we first considered moving here, however, I was hesitant, full of the anti-Southern prejudice that is the sea in which Northeasterners swim. Not that Florida is Deep South—we have too many immigrants from every state and myriad countries for that—but it took me a few years not to automatically associate a southern accent with ignorance and prejudice. But life has a way of bringing humility, and now I treasure the Sunshine State and its people, defending them ardently against those (northern) folks who say our state is crazy.
Now I wonder if they were right all along. This week, Florida did a crazy thing.
Crazier even than the state constitutional amendment mandating correct treatment of pot-bellied pigs. (Not necessarily a bad idea in itself, but very bad as a change to the Constitution.)
Our legislators voted to remain on Daylight Saving Time all year. Thank goodness, it requires an Act of Congress to put that into effect, but Congress has shown it is not immune to Crazy, and Florida legislators have now trumpeted their madness to the world. Overwhelmingly. Democrats and Republicans. Bipartisan lunacy.
They hope to start a movement that other states will follow and force Congress to act in their favor.
Florida has just fired the first shot in a Civil War reenactment, from the Yankee side.
I completely understand why people living in the North like Daylight Saving Time. Living for 18 months in Boston, much further north than Orlando and on the eastern edge of the time zone to boot, made me realize why New Englanders appreciate the time change, in both directions. But here in Florida, much closer to the equator, our seasons are more nearly constant, and changing the clocks is more annoying than useful.
If America were to stay on Standard Time all year, I would like that. Let noon be the time when the sun is highest overhead (or as close as time zones will allow) and be done with it. But to stay on Summer Time year 'round? Let's not mock Mother Nature more than we must.
I always admired—though never emulated—our daughter's steadfast determination not to change her clocks away from "real time" but make in her head the necessary adjustment to the crazy world. But if the Florida legislature had voted to stay on Standard Time year 'round, I would still oppose it, unless the rest of the country followed suit. Aren't we divided too much already, without having to suffer a time change while crossing the Florida-Georgia border?
I wouldn't blame the Bostonians if they objected to year-'round Standard Time. I'd prefer it myself, but will put up with the semi-annual changes for their sake. But Daylight Time forever? Never! I'm frustrated enough that they have extended the weeks of DST, putting us out of sync with Europe.
And even in Boston, do we really need DST any more? We fool ourselves with idyllic pictures of children in their backyards, kicking around a ball in the extra hour of evening sun. But is that how most of us improve that shining hour? Aren't we, and our children, much more likely to be inside staring at a screen?
In any case, if we go on DST and never return, we will have permanently lost an hour of life. Today I grudgingly suffered a 23-hour day, filled with the hope of receiving a 25-hour day in the fall. I want my hour back!
Everywhere I go, I leave part of my heart behind. Every place I've lived is dear to me, every place our children have lived, many places I have visited. I live in Florida, but there's a bit of "home" scattered all over the world.
The High Peak Region of New York's Adirondack Mountains holds one of the deepest and dearest places in my heart, though I never lived there and have no family near there anymore. Early memories are strong.
Hiking in the Adirondacks was one of my father's favorite pasttimes when he worked for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York. He often went with his colleagues from work—Ted Dietze, Howard Kasch, and Gabe Kron come to mind—and once marriage and children entered the picture, we were swirled into the mix. Some of my best memories have the Adirondack Mountains stamped indelibly upon them.
Hence my excitement when a Facebook friend posted this trailer about an upcoming film, Heaven on Earth: The Adirondacks. Following the link led me to realize that the film is being made by renowned nature photographer Joe LeFevre, one of whose Adirondack photographs graces our wall, thanks to a mutual friend.
Well, grrrr. The two ways I know to embed a video in my blog have failed me. What works for YouTube should also work for Vimeo, but I can't make it do so and am out of time at the moment. But the links work.
The trailer itself is beautiful; the whole film will be stunning, I'm sure.
What I'm not so sure about is how great an idea it is to give the Adirondacks more publicity. Even 50 years ago the mountains were having a hard time dealing with the tramp of so many tourist feet, and I understand that hikers are no longer able to enjoy what I consider to be one of the best parts of hiking there, second only to the views. We always brought canteens of water with us, but once we were up on the mountain took the earliest opportunity to dump the contents and fill up with water from the mountain streams—the very best water I've ever tasted. Maybe I miss that even more than the scenery, since photography can capture something of the latter.
Well, even though you can't taste the water, be sure to take three minutes and taste LeFevre's artwork.