Friday, June 27, 2008

Oprah's puppets are taking over the country



I was recently watching the Today Show (there goes any shred of credibility I had left) and a Q&A piece with Today Financial Editor, Jean Chatzky, caught my attention. It involved viewers e-mailing questions to Ms. Chatzky and her responding to those questions on the air. Below is a question from one of the viewers followed by Ms. Chatzky's response:

Q: We are in so much debt — first and second mortgages credit card debt, son going to private high school. We are so overwhelmed, it is taking its toll on our relationship, kids and life. Any help would be appreciated. — Marie, Malden, Mass.

A: Marie, we talk a lot on this show about making small choices — cutting out things like lattes and premium cable — in order to find money to pay off your debts. But sometimes small choices aren't enough and you need to make some larger, tougher ones. This may mean moving from a larger house to a smaller one; it may mean selling a car or taking on a second job; or it may mean either finding enough financial aid for your son's tuition or pulling him out of private school and putting him in public school. I'm not saying that this is an easy decision, because it's not. But think about it this way: If you are unable to support your family when he is in high school, there is no way you'll be able to contribute to college. I also think you should share with your son enough about your situation so that he understands the pressure you're under, and how hard you have tried to make this work for him. Teenagers can be tough, but yours may surprise you with how he steps up to try to contribute to the family.

I was struck first by the stupidity of the question and second by the stupidity of the response. Let me get this straight. Marie from Mass is buried up to her eyeballs in debt, her husband is curled up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor rocking back and forth, and she decides to turn to The Today Show for help? Are you kidding me Marie? What, do you think Jean Chatzky has some enchanted wand she can wave to make all your debt magically disappear? I'm sorry to be the one to break this to you Marie but that's not how reality works. What followed (Jean Chatzky's on air response) was equally brilliant in its ineptitude. She basically advised Marie to (drum roll please) cut back on her spending. Simply profound - now I see why Jean Chatzky landed this on air gig in the first place. If she had more time the next piece of ground breaking advice she probably would have doled out to Marie would be to (wait for it) make more money. Unbelievable. And I'm guessing all the while Marie was sitting at home on the couch she can't afford watching the television she can't afford listening proudly as Jean Chatzky so eloquently delivered her pearls of financial wisdom. I understand the stupidity of Marie's question because the general public is generally stupid. But I have a hard time understanding the stupidity of Jean Chatzky's response because after all she is on TV and you have to be smart to be on TV right? So this got me thinking.

I started to wonder if this was an isolated incident or if the advice of all financial experts is as ridiculous as Jean Chatzky's. And to be fair I have nothing against Jean Chatzky. I'm sure she's a very nice lady. My intention was not to single her out but unfortunately she's the lightning rod that started this rant. So I google "financial experts" and three names immediately pop up: Jean Chatzky (of course), Ric Edelman, and Suze Orman. Hmmm... that's strange. Just three names. I wonder what these three people could possibly have in common that has led them to the forefront of financial advising? So I do a bit more research and soon discover the common thread behind each of these financial giants. Any guesses? Yup that's right, Oprah f-ing Winfrey. Why am I not surprised? Just like Dr. Phil they each gained celebrity status following appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show. So there you have it. In order to be an expert in any field (finance, psychology, fitness, interior design, rocket science, whatever) you don't necessarily need an education, or experience, or even intelligence. Those things can't hurt but it turns out what you really need is something that can't be learned in a University, or earned through a life of hard work, or even given to you by God. No, the thing that matters more than anything else is Oprah Winfrey's stamp of approval. Barack Obama -welcome to the White House. It seriously keeps me up at night thinking about how much power that woman wields. If Oprah's people read this I will likely be smothered in the night so this could very well be my last post. Good health and God speed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Short people of the world unite



Heightism is a form of discrimination based on height. In principle it can refer to unfavorable treatment of either unusually tall or short people; however in practice discrimination against shorter persons and in favor of taller persons is much more common. What a surprise.

Heightism starts in childhood as research shows that shorter people are more likely to be victims of bullying. Because bullying during childhood and adolescence often undermines the victim’s self-esteem, some researchers speculate that the lower levels of achievement of shorter people (particularly men) in later life may be partly or largely explained by this lower self esteem rather than by discrimination. The message here is this: If you have a short kid and you want them to have even a fighting chance in life you've got two options: 1) Load them up with growth hormones, or 2) Teach them how to kick a tall person's ass.

Heightism continues once short people enter the workforce. Some jobs do require or at least favor tall people, including some manual labor jobs and many professional sports. These exceptions noted, in the great majority of cases a person’s height would not seem to have an effect on how well they are able to perform their job. Nevertheless, studies have shown that short people are paid less than taller people, with disparities similar in magnitude to the race and gender gaps. A survey of Fortune 500 CEO height in 2005 revealed that they were on average 6 feet tall, which is approximately 3 inches taller than the average American man. Fully 30% of these CEOs were 6 foot 2 inches tall or more; in comparison only 3.9% of the overall United States population is of this height. Equally significantly, similar surveys have uncovered that less than 3% of CEOs were below 5′7″ in height. Ninety percent of CEOs are of above average height. Some people believe that this data is purely coincidental (tall people of course), but others believe that height has a significant independent impact on economic success, pointing to specific instances of height-based discrimination. Surveys of attitudes do reveal that people both perceive and treat people of shorter stature as inferior, and that economic differentials exist which may be the result of height discrimination. The relationship between height and discrimination based on height remains a subject of great debate. But I think everyone can agree that a majority of the time short people get stuck sucking the perverbial hind teet in the workforce.

Heightism also plays a role in government as taller candidates have a proven advantage in electoral politics, at least in the United States (where statistics are available for study). Of the 43 U.S. Presidents, only five have been more than an inch below average height. Moreover, of the 54 U.S. presidential elections only 13 have been won by the shorter candidate, and only 11 times has the shorter candidate received more popular (as opposed to electoral) votes. Quantitative studies of U.S. Senators and Governors have shown that they are on average several inches taller than the U.S. population at large. During the 2004 election, some anti-Bush artwork and political cartoons depicted him as much shorter than he actually stood, favoring Kerry, who was taller. Clearly heightism is a real issue in the United States. So what is being done to deal with it? Not much. Currently, there is one state in the United States of America, Michigan, that prohibits height discrimination. There is pending legislation introduced by Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing which would add Massachusetts to the list. Two municipalities currently prohibit height discrimination: Santa Cruz, California and San Francisco, California. The District of Columbia prohibits discrimination based on personal appearance. And that's it. Surprising? Not really when you consider that tall people are running this country.

Adding insult to injury heightism also seems to be a factor in dating preferences. For most women, the height of a man is a major factor in sexual attractiveness. The greater reproductive success of taller men is attested to by studies indicating that taller men are more likely to be married and to have more children, except in societies with severe gender imbalances caused by war. Quantitative studies of woman-for-men personal advertisements have shown strong preference for tall men, with a large percentage indicating that a man significantly below average height was unacceptable. It is unclear and debated as to the extent to which such preferences are innate or are the function of a society in which height discrimination impacts on socio-economic status. Whatever the case may be if you're a short guy fighting for the affections of a woman, and your adversaries are tall, you're pretty much f-ed.

So what can be done to reverse the plight of the short man? Things don't look so good I'm sad to say. If it seems like people are getting progressively taller its because they are. In the 1920's @ 70% of the U.S. male population was under 5'9" tall. By the 1990's just 46% of the U.S. male population was under 5'9"(a decrease of 24%). It appears that we short men are a dying breed. Natural selection has been slowly weeding us out of the population for the past century now. But all hope is not lost. By uniting against the tall man to fight heightism, together we can make a difference. Solidarity my short brothers and sisters. Below is your call to action:

First off when you come across a tall child say something to demean or humiliate him in front of his friends. Call him gigantor or freakboy or some other moniker that will stick with the other kids to help damage his self-esteem. This will level the playing field for all the short kids with height related self-esteem issues.

Secondly, if you're ever in a position to hire someone and the qualifications of the candidates are comparable - go with the short guy. Hell - even if the short guy's less qualified hire him anyway. It already happens all the time with affirmative action so where's the harm?

Thirdly when it comes time to vote don't worry about the political affiliations of the candidates or where they stand on the issues, vote purely on their stature. Pretty much all politicians are unscrupulous liars anyway, so vote for the short guy. Do you think Ross Perot would have taken us to war in the Middle East?

Lastly when it comes to dating and marriage don't put so much emphasis on height. Take the time to get to know us and you'll start to see that short guys are no different than tall guys except we wear smaller clothes and tend to get lost in crowds more easily.

Short people of the world unite. Together we can help end heightism and create a better country for future generations of the vertically challenged.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Don't pimp your religion here



I'm not sure if it's just me or if this happens to other people too, but at least once a month somebody invites me to attend their church. Neighbors, customers, parents of my kid's friends, complete strangers... they all seem to think I'm in need of salvation. Religion pushers of the world listen up. I don't care how fun your church is, or how great the parishoners are, or how dynamic your priest is, or even how tasty the post mass doughnuts are. The answer is and always will be NO. On principle alone I will not go to your church, ever. Why? I'll tell you. Faith is an extremely important part of most people’s lives. It can create comfort in times of uncertainty or pain. It can give life purpose when you’ve lost your way. And it can help ease your mind about death and the afterlife. Therefore I'm a big proponent of religion and religious freedom. At the same time religion is an extremely personal matter and should be respected accordingly. People have individual reasons for choosing what religion, if any, is right for them. When you recruit someone to join your church you disrespect the decision they've aready made and you damage the credibility of the decision you've made. Seriously, if you're brainwashed enough to think that other people need your faith in order to be saved it's time to check yourself. You might actually be part of a cult masquerading as a church. In my opinion religion is not a thing to be pedaled door to door like magazine subscriptions or frozen meat, religion should not aggressively recruit new members to strengthen its reach, and religion should not advertise on TV like a corporation trying to create brand awareness. By definition if you truly have faith you shouldn’t feel compelled to grow the member base of your religion in order to validate its beliefs. By all means use religion to improve the overall quality of your own life, just don't try to sell yours to me because I'm not buying it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"Reply To All"... don't do it



A lot of times at work (or even at home) you’ll be on a large distribution list for an e-mail. While a response to the individual who sent the e-mail or to the individual who is the subject of the e-mail might be warranted a response to the entire distribution list who received the e-mail almost never is.

For example a vice president sends out an e-mail to the entire company announcing a promotion for Joe Smith. So you “reply to all” congratulating Joe for his well deserved promotion. I’m sure Joe appreciated your congratulatory note but the other 10,000 people you responded to don’t give a rat’s ass what you think. Like your validation of the promotion somehow makes it more meaningful. Unless you’re the president who approved the promotion you have no business “replying to all” in this example. And even if you are the president who approved the promotion you’re probably too smart to “reply to all” anyway. A “reply to all” in this example makes you look a) stupid because you were too careless to realize that you were “replying to all” or b) self-absorbed because your “reply to all” implies that you actually think other people care what you have to say about the promotion. Either way you come out looking bad.

Another example comes from my own personal life. I live on a block that likes to get together often... too often. Friday night happy hours, Saturday night poker, Sunday barbeques, Memorial day block parties, July 4 block parties, Easter Egg Hunts, etc. etc. But that's not the annoying part, well it is but read on. Every time an event is planned someone sends out an e-mail to all 30+ families on the block announcing the event and asking for a head count. One person "replies to all" and it inevitably sets off a firestorm of responses announcing that someone will or won't be there, and most include some form of a futile attempt at humor (a childish ribbing of another neighbor, a cryptic reference to something that happened at a previous get together, or some other benign comment that makes me wish I lived on another block). The proper action in this example would be to a) respond to the original sender only - after all they're the only one who really needs to know the head count anyway, or b) not respond at all (eventually they'll get the hint). The problem is that most people don't do the proper thing and bad judgement seems to be contagious. Hasn't anyone on my block ever heard of an Evite? Maybe my neighbors are unique in their inability to exercise discretion when it comes to e-mail, or maybe I'm an asshole for being annoyed by their mindless fodder clogging up my inbox. Whatever the case may be I can't possibly be the only one who sees it this way.

Please help end "reply to all" abuse. Whenever you get the urge to "reply to all" slow down, take a deep breath, and think long and hard before proceeding with caution. As a general rule of thumb if a distribution list contains more than a single digit of recipients you’re always better off replying to the sender only. I personally think that Exchange and Notes should come up with a way to remove the “reply to all” button from the systems of those who chronically abuse the use of this function. Bill or Steve - clearly you guys can whip something up.

Man Massage... just say no



Long before the horrific event ever took place I was skeptical about getting a massage from another man. It’s not that I’m homophobic, quite the contrary. It’s just the thought of another man rubbing his hands all over my body isn’t very appealing. Subsequently whenever I’ve scheduled a massage I’ve always been very careful to ask for a female masseuse. Then one foul day circumstances conspired against me. I was on my company’s annual performance club trip at a resort in Arizona. It’s one of those deals where a company rewards the sales rep’s who make their quotas by taking them on an all expenses paid trip. One of the complimentary activities on the trip was a deep tissue massage for me and my wife. We’ve always enjoyed getting massages so we looked forward to this activity. The only problem was that the massages were scheduled by my company in advance so I didn’t have the opportunity to request a female masseuse. No big deal – I figured I could just as easily make my request when we arrived at the spa. The minute we walked through the door I approached the receptionist and told her I preferred a female masseuse. Bad news – she informed me that the only massage therapists available were male. Apparently I wasn’t the only homophobe who wasn’t keen on receiving his massage from another man - proactive bastards. I had to act quickly. I promptly asked the receptionist if I could reschedule my massage for a different time. Perhaps there was a female masseuse available later in the day? SOL – she explained that they were completely booked for the remainder of our trip due to the large scale of our corporate function. So I was left in a quandary. I could pass on a completely free massage and risk being tagged a homophobe or I could bite the bullet and take the man massage. Being the fiscally conservative and socially conscious person that I am I decided on the latter – after all how bad could it be? Getting a massage from a woman is a peaceful, relaxing, and enjoyable experience. How much of a difference could the gender of the masseuse really make? I soon found out the answer to this question: A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT! For the next 45 minutes I would partake in perhaps the single most unpleasant experience of my entire life. And I wish I was exaggerating. As I laid there helpless and vulnerable I experienced new heights of discomfort I never knew possible. Large man hands rubbed purposefully and methodically up and down my torso, arms, then legs. Hairy man forearms rolled deeply and slowly across my upper and lower back. Strong man fingers squeezed carefully and firmly on my shoulders and neck. And all the while a deep man voice, sensing my uneasiness, coaxed for an approval that could not be found. Throughout the encounter I tried various mental exercises to focus my attention away from the gender of my masseur. Mind over matter I told myself. But all attempts at distraction were futile. Time stood still as I pondered if life would ever be the same. At one point I wanted to throw myself off the table and run. At another point I thought I might cry. Then finally, after my senses grew numb and my spirit shaken, the horror came to an end. As I walked back to the locker room at an uneasy gait, unable to look my masseur in the eyes, I felt a strange mix of relief, nausea, and shame. I proceeded to take a long, hot shower to wash away the remnants of oil from my skin. Unfortunately no shower could have been long or hot enough to wash away the remnants of the experience from my mind. For the remainder of the day I was restless and anxious. I also felt a compelling need to share the grim details of my ordeal with anyone who would listen. Perhaps the salvation of others might help to ease the burden I now bared. To this day I’m not sure if my extreme reaction was due more to my own personal insecurities or to the event itself. Whatever the reason I strongly urge any man who reads this to never ever get a man massage, regardless of the circumstances. If this advice spares just one innocent soul from an experience similar to mine, I will consider this blog a huge success.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Graduation Speech for the Class of 2008



This speech was inspired by Mary Schmich's essay entitled "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young", which was published in the Chicago Tribune as a column on June 1, 1997. In her introduction to the column, she described it as the commencement address she would give if she were asked to give one.

The column soon became the subject of an urban legend, in which it was alleged to be an MIT commencement speech given by author Kurt Vonnegut in that same year (in truth, MIT's commencement speaker that year was Kofi Annan).  Despite a follow-up article by Mary Schmich on August 3, 1997, in which she referred to the "lawless swamp of cyberspace" that had made her and Kurt Vonnegut to be "one", by 1999 the falsely attributed story was widespread.

In 1999 the essay was set to music, renamed "Baz Luhrmann Presents: Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen): The Sunscreen Song (Class of '99)", or in short "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" and released on an album by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann.

When the column became a song, Schmich's "wish" came true when Zagreb's Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing started to play the song "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" at every graduation ceremony.

Below is the commencement address I would give if I were asked to give one. The majority of the content in this piece comes from an unpublished book I wrote entitled: The Do's and Don'ts of an Essential Life: One man's slightly eccentric guide to happiness, self discovery, and making the most of average. Feel free to attribute this speech to anyone you want, so long as I receive all the royalties.


Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2008… it’s hard to see it now but eventually you’ll come to realize that life is precious and short. No matter what happens along the way be sure to live yours accordingly.

Maybe you’re scared about what lies ahead. Maybe you’re too naive to be scared. Maybe you feel nothing at all because you believe that the outcome of your journey has already been predetermined by an inevitable course of events called destiny.

My first piece of advice is to embrace fear. The boldest and best decisions you’ll make in your life will be inspired by fear.

My second piece of advice is to pull your head out. If you’re not scared you should be. You have no idea how unprepared you truly are to deal with the world outside the confines of this institution. The things that matter most in life cannot be found in any textbook I know of. Your real education begins today.

My third piece of advice is to completely ignore any notion of destiny because it simply does not exist. You alone will control the outcome of your journey and the sooner you accept this responsibility the better off you’ll be.

The rest of my advice follows in no particular order of importance.

Always show respect and compassion to those in need. You never know when you might be one of them.

Be honest with yourself and other people. No one will trust you if you’re not.

Remember that good looks don’t last but good character perseveres.

LAUGH.

Learn to share in other people’s joy. Jealousy will make you do regrettable things.

Avoid conversations about religion and politics.

Take the time to form opinions but keep them to yourself. Most people don’t care what you think.

BREATHE DEEPLY.

Don’t make any big decision without sleeping on it or with it first. It’s amazing the clarity a good night’s sleep can give you.

Have faith, practice faith, but respect the choices other people have made by not pushing your faith on others.

Don’t do anything that will give you a guilty conscience. Life’s hard enough with a clear one.

EXHALE.

Practice moderation. Don’t let any one thing dominate your existence. Well rounded people are always more interesting than those who are not.

Keep a positive attitude, always, even when you have nothing to be positive about.

Don’t ignore your ethnic background but don’t let it define you either. Other people are not as consumed with your appearance as you are.

Make time to CELEBRATE even the smallest victories in life.

Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. Unlike moral victories, self-fulfilling prophecies actually do exist.

Find an outlet for PASSION. Untapped passion dissolves into apathy.
Never underestimate the importance of personal hygiene.

EXERCISE.

Live within your means, don’t carry credit card debt, and invest in real estate as early and often as possible. If you’re able to succeed at just one of these tips you’ll have succeeded at one more than I have.

Believe in yourself. If you don't nobody else will either.

Work hard at being a good friend, but if a friendship ever feels like work end it. Unlike your family members you actually have a choice when it comes to your friends.

RELAX.

Use people’s first names on a regular basis. Behold the power of acknowledgement.

Build a portfolio of unique experiences. Just because you’re an average person doesn’t mean you have to live a life full of average experiences.

Don’t ever use your appearance to make a statement.

LIVE IN A CITY WHERE THE SUN SHINES OFTEN.

Realize early on that it is important if you win or lose and how you play the game is only secondary to winning.

Never use what happened in the past as an excuse for failure in the future. Some of the most successful people I know had lousy childhoods.

No matter what you do for a living take pride in your work. If you do other people will notice and respect you for it.

THANK YOUR PARENTS.

Remember that the decisions you make today will affect the choices you have in the future.

Learn not to fear death. We were all born into this world, we will all spend a finite amount of time living and breathing, and we will all die at some point in the future. Death is the single most definitive truth of our existence. The sooner you embrace this truth and come to terms with it the sooner you can begin to live your life at peace.

Maybe you’re six foot five, weigh 240 pounds, and run a 4.3 forty. Or maybe you’re five foot nine, 160 pounds, and slow. Maybe you have the perfect mix of good looks, intelligence, and personality. Or maybe you’re a regular looking introvert. Just because you’ll never be a professional athlete or a movie star doesn’t mean your life can’t turn out great. Regardless of your individual circumstances play the hand you were dealt. Stop dwelling on the things you don’t have and start enjoying the things you do.

Lastly don’t always be in such a hurry to reach your destination. When it’s all said and done the majority of your life will be made up of the stuff that happens along the way. If you don’t slow down you might miss it.