Sunday, August 25, 2013

Workplace Gender Inequality

This is an outrage! Or is it? Recently published statistics state that women, on average, still only earn $0.79 to every dollar a man makes. That is not much better than the 70s, when the feminist movement really took hold. Why has there been little to no progress in 40 years? Is it that women are the weaker sex? I doubt it. My Polish girlfriend will carry more grocery bags into the apartment than I will in one trip ( as her father said -- get yourself a Polish girl and you will never have to work hard! I digress.). Certainly not weaker physically. 

Could it be that they are not good negotiators when it comes to salary? A recent University of Chicago study implied that women are actually better negotiators on salary, when a job ad reads that the salary is negotiable. So women have savvy. No shock there.

I work in the scientific industry. It is predominately male, but I have seen progress over the last 20 years as more women choose engineering and science as a career choice. What was once a 10:1 ratio when I first started may now be a 5:1 ratio. That's a 100% increase over 20 years with women in these fields, and I mostly deal with Ph.Ds. So assume that strides are being made, at least in my little world, with women attaining high income jobs.

But what about the women who are not high salary achievers? My world consists of people who are either professors or researchers and I assure you -- science doesn't care if you are male or female, black or white or purple. Salary is solely based on knowledge and performance. So maybe my experience is a bit sheltered from society as a whole. What about retail employees? What about civil servants and other unionized workers? ( Don't get me started on why government employees don't need unions!) What about plumbers and ditch diggers versus caretakers and nurses? Nobody disputes there is a divide, but what factors are considered when creating these statistics? Is it simply an average of women's wages versus men's? Do male teachers make more than female? Of course not - they are unionized! So are they left out of the statistics, since it is an even playing field? The truth is, unless you are better at Googling than I, a real possibility, we are fed these numbers as Gospel truth, but nobody really knows where they came from. I know, "The Bureau of Labor Statistics" but really, what are the factors considered? How efficient is the government in collecting real data?

Anyone who knows me well, knows how I feel about injustice. I will spend my last breath fighting it. I am 100% on board for fairness of opportunity, but it seems like most want fairness of result. That is impossible to achieve. Any governmental action that tries to achieve that will fail, and will cost those who have dared to risk their efforts for advancement the burden of carrying those who haven't. That, my friends, is economic injustice, far more than any male/female inequality.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Boy Scout Jamboree, Obama, and Dirty Jobs

So in case you missed it, the Boy Scouts of America turned 100 this year. They celebrated this anniversary with a fantastic Jamboree over the past 9 days. A week ago, on Wednesday, opening ceremonies were held. Many dignitaries attended including Miss America and Sgt. Slaughter. The Secretary of Defense was there. President Obama was not.

Now it might be presumptuous to expect the President of the United States to attend your birthday party. Even your 100th. Maybe the most you should expect is a shout-out from Willard Scott (is he even still on TV?). A Presidential visit is not without precedent. In fact, each of Obama's three immediate predecessors made the trip during their presidency. It's not like it would be a huge undertaking -- Fort A. P. Hill is a mere 70 miles or so from the White House, so about a twenty minute ride in Air Force One. Obama did send a taped message (you can read the transcript here: for the big arena show on Saturday night. All 95 seconds of it.

This week also marked another centennial anniversary. President Obama did attend that one --on Thursday last week. The National Urban League Centennial Conference was the locale for a nearly 45 minute address. Also on Thursday was an airing of The View that featured the President. It was taped on Wednesday at about the same he could have been welcoming the Boy Scouts to the Jamboree opening ceremonies.

Mike Rowe is the host of the popular cable show "Dirty Jobs." He is also an Eagle Scout. He was the "Big Name" entertainment at the arena show and gave a very impressive and heart-felt speech about what scouting did for him. He repeated the Scout Law: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave and reverent." There was one quality he left off -- clean. He then proceeded to give a speech in defense of dirt. And it was brilliant. He spoke of his first boy scout meeting in which he found himself bruised and bleeding within the first 5 minutes. He told his father when he picked him up after that first meeting that he didn't think scouting was for him. Mike relayed many humorous vignettes of his scouting career, all with keeping in mind his premise, that "A scout is clean... but not afraid to get dirty." The essential point he stressed, though, really made an impression. He stated that what scouting gave him is "the ability to be uncomfortable. And like it." Anyone who has spent a seemingly endless damp night in a tent, frozen to the bone, and just plain miserable knows what he is talking about. He said that scouting is about being out of your element and stretching your comfort zone.

If you haven't seen Mike's TV show, let me set the stage a bit. He spends a day doing the job of ordinary men and women who have unusual and dirty jobs. In most cases there is either an element of danger or disgust, and often there is both. So he is continually stretching his comfort zone as he wrangles and tags alligators, or collects bat guano, or retrieves golf balls from water hazards. The lessons that scouting imparts on our youth do not give one the ability to do any specific job. Instead, they offer a launching pad where every job is within reach. Especially the dirty and difficult jobs.

A key component of President Obama's campaign platform and current policy has been to highlight and promote voluntary service. He credits his work as a community organizer as giving direction to his life, and cites his work in Chicago as an example of how one person can make a difference. Yet here was an opportunity to celebrate our young people who are out there in their communities and doing good turns daily. There are over 4 million scouts in the US, making the boy scouts the largest youth service organization in the country. President Obama is currently the honorary president of Boy Scouts of America and the best he can do is a video message less than 100 seconds long. Not even 100 seconds for 100 years...

I return to Mike Rowe's comments and am struck with whom President Obama chose to spend time last week: the ladies of "The View," and fellow lawyers and community activists at the National Urban League. Not exactly stretching his comfort zone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Banana Bread, Gluten-free and Tasty!!

A friend suggested that I start posting my recipes here. Here's the first:

1 cup rice flour
1 cup buckwheat flour (I used millet flour -- didn't have buckwheat)
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup margarine or butter (I used margarine)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 lb peeled bananas (I used 4 average sized ones)
4 large eggs

3/4 cup chopped nuts. The original recipe didn't call for nuts. I used walnuts. Pecans would also work.

Preheat oven to 350

Sift flours with baking powder and salt. (you'll need a separate sifter to avoid cross contamination. I didn't sift and it came out fine)
Beat the butter, sugar and bananas together until smooth (this was a bit odd because the butter was not melted so it was a bit lumpy.) and then briefly stir in the eggs.

Stir this into the flour mixture until blended. Add nuts and stir in.

Pour into a large loaf pan and bake for about 1 - 1 1/4 hours or until a skewer comes out clean and the bread is just firm.

I used a tapered bread pan that measured a little more than 8" x a little more than 4" at the top and it was too small -- the batter, which was very wet, overflowed and dripped. I'm more familiar with yeast breads that are more dough than batter. Anyway, fill a pan about 2/3 full to avoid the overflow. Also, the top was too browned. Probably should cover with foil after it has set, maybe 45 minutes in to the bake.

This recipe would work well as a muffin. We all tried it tonight and enjoyed it. Matthew had a second slice.

Also, this recipe had a lemon frosting that I omitted. 1 tbls lemon juice mixed with 4 tbls of confectioners sugar then drizzled over the loaf.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Modern Tales of The Pasquinade

This year I attended my 25-year High School reunion. As a senior in high school, and because it was more interesting than schoolwork, I created an underground newpaper, and called it The Pasquinade (pasquinade: a satire or lampoon, especially one that ridicules a specific person, traditionally written and posted in a public place. For a month I had bugged a few classmates for articles worthy of publication. Only a few responded with actual written material. Once I had enough copy assembled, I spent the better part of a weekend copiously editing, typing and laying out the four page masterpiece.

It was an instant sensation -- the lede was a serious expose' about grade swapping to maintain athletic eligibility. The inside pages were chock full of quotes from friends and teachers (taken out of context for maximum humor), silly inside jokes, and general irreverance. It had a glorious run of exactly one issue. Springtime arrived soon after the release of Volume 1, and this teenaged boy's mind turned from typewriters to tubetops. That, and being self-published meant I was out of money. A few months later school was over and it was off to college and all thoughts of The Pasquinade faded like sundrenched newsprint.

Fast forward to March, 2009, and my friend from childhood and current Facebook friend posts The Pasquinade in his photos. He mentions that since it's been 25 years the statute of limitations was up and the responsible party should come forward. So I did, to a surprising chorus of huzzahs. I really didn't think it would have been remembered all these years later, but apparently the stir it created was indelible. If I'd known the impact it made on the collective psyche of my high school classmates, I might have been tempted to include some of my admittedly unconventional political thoughts, or even to have written a second issue. Alas, that one edition will have to remain exhibit one for my Presidential library.

So in November we had our 25th reunion. I reconnected with many old friends, but was pleasantly surprised to see Ann, the star athlete and one of my few confidants from that era. We reminisced, and spoke of our common experience with a very special teacher who took a personal interest in both of our lives. And then Ann mentioned that she was currently working back at the old high school as a guidance counselor. One of the anecdotes she related was that The Pasquinade was alive and well, and now being used as a teaching tool. REALLY? Are you kidding me??!!!! My underground newspaper had been co-opted! Now, in between lessons of mainstream journalism, was my anti-establishment screed as show-and-tell! While certainly there is some ego stroking knowing The Pasquinade is still being reviewed, the dissident in me is absolutely horrified to know that my underground newspaper has become part of the curriculum.

This is not unprecedented; in fact it is the norm. Ideas of one generation that seem radical on the surface at first exposure, gradually become mainstream. By the time the next generation reaches positions of power, it's not even a second thought. Consider this: in my lifetime, there have been two black and two female Secretaries of State, two female Vice Presidential candidates, 3 female and 2 black Supreme Court justices, and of course our current, foreign-born (JUST KIDDING!!) black President. A generation ago, a woman's place was in the house and a black's was at the back of the bus. And that's just politics. Changes across the board in entertainment, sports, business and journalism have opened doors to those not born male and white, unlike during the generation of my parents. And so this is a natural progression, where the radical becomes mainstream, the avante-garde mundane, and what's left of The Who plays the Superbowl. Or even that the editor of an underground newspaper would someday be a school board member. Still, it does my heart good to know that I have never lost my snark nor my willingness to speak out, even at some personal risk.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia

Correct me if I'm wrong. I'm a salesman and a scientist, not Secretary of State, and this may seem blatantly obvious to those who work in this field so I apologize now for my amateur attempt at foreign policy, but is anyone else concerned about this so-called surge in Afghanistan turning it into a bigger quagmire than it already is? I just don't understand why Obama thinks that this time, things are going to be different.

First of all, you can't do anything toward achieving your goal without Pakistan on your side. Pakistan, being largely Pashtun, falls decidedly on the side of the Taliban, whom are almost exclusively Pashtun. These are their brothers-in-arms, quite literally. You must also understand the structure of power in Pakistan -- President Zardari has chafed the shorts of the army, which has been the historical seat of power, by increasing the executive power of the presidency, which he is scheduled to cede back to parliament in March 2010, but just like Obama complained of the Bush presidential abuse of executive priviledge, now that he's in power has found them useful for his own purposes and is not so far letting go. I doubt Zardari will either. Anyway, Secretary Clinton has already tipped her hand by dealing directly with the Pakistani Army, which is the only organization that has legitimate means of communication with the Taliban. So Zardari will have to sit on the sideline as his power is eroded by the Army. Expect heavy criticism of American policy from Zardari.
Second, the Obama plan is to establish an Afghan top-down, military/police security force that the US can hand off their role to in the Summer of 2011. But even the casual observer can see that this is a pie in the sky over-simplistic approach. Has there ever been anything even remotely like a US-style National Guard in Afghanistan? No. At best, Afghans are a loosely organized tribal nation. Currently, the "Afghan Army" consists of mainly holdovers from the resistance rebels who fought the Taliban. They are predominately Tajiks. They are predominately poor and illiterate. This is the group the administration wants to yield power to (after they are properly trained, of course, which is difficult to do when basic education is missing). But considering Afghanistan on the whole, Tajiks are a minority of the population, yet they hold an unbalanced power in the military. Has that ever worked out well? Didn't we see this same thing during the breakup of Yugoslavia, where Serbs were in the minority but had control? Didn't Saddam Hussein rule with an iron fist by populating the military with his Sunni friends? How did that work out for the Shi'a and Kurds? So ceding authority to a Afghan central security force is not going to happen anytime soon, and even if it does there will be an imbalance of power. Not an encouraging scenario.
Next, we have the Afghani president reelected under rather suspicious circumstances, but we certify the election (and sacrifice a senior diplomat in the process) because he's the devil we know. Then he picks 24 cabinet members and we reject 17 of them. We are off to a great start with our shiny new political relationship.
Lastly, back to the role of Pakistan. We are already dropping bombs on their citizens. In general, that's not a good way to win friends. A surge will push thousands of refugees over the Durand Line, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is poorly marked and approximately 1,600 miles long, not to mention the Taliban fighters who will move back into an area that is easily more friendly to them than American forces (sorry, multinational freedom restorers or whatever). We say up front that if you retreat and wait us out, we'll leave What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tim Bishop follies

I went to the Tim Bishop Health Care Forum tonight. To be fair, the Congressman was patient, and interrupted by frequent outbursts from the crowd. I got to the event nearly an hour before it was scheduled to start (6:30). I was one of the last of the 800 or so folks let in -- there were easily that many others left out. I sat next to an elderly couple Frank and Louise, both clearly against HR 3200, and a lady who jumped to her feet whenever the elderly couple sat on their hands. Unfortunately, we were all in the same row as a very rude, loud and belligerent man.

The League of Women Voters hosted the event. The format was such thay anyone who wanted to speak had to submit their question to panel. It was given the appearance that questions were screened and that the best would be read and answered by the Congressman. I assumed the League would do the screening, and considering the first few speakers were clearly against HR 3200, it seemed that they had not loaded the deck in favor of one side or the other. Later I noticed Bishop speaking off-mike to a staffer, and soon after the same staffer was shuffling through the various question cards. Obviously Bishop wanted a particular question asked and wasn't getting it from the "random" sampling.

Ok, here's the rundown: first speaker asked the obvious question, "How can we possibly afford this, and specifically how can we pull $625B from Medicare and still meet obligations?" Bishop had obviously prepared, as he rattled off a litany of numbers--$220B here, $165B there-- and TA-DA! We can't afford not to do it!! And he won't vote for a measure that isn't funded.

Next speaker was a WWII vet. He wanted to know if HR 3200 would be renamed after Teddy Kennedy. After the union (oh, they were there in great number, early to guarantee seating, and with slick posters) applause subsided, he got to his point and it was clear the union regretted all that applause because he laced into Bishop pretty good.

It only took the fourth speaker to Godwin the whole discussion, "This is like Nazi Germany! This is like Nazi Germany!" Oh boy.

Union leader from out of district was roundly booed to the point that he left without speaking. To be fair, there were 1st CD residents who did not get in, so he shouldn't have been inside, let alone given a mike.

Boy of about 12 asked if the death panels would kill off his grandmother, 71, who just had bypass surgery. OK, here is the party line: "There is no wording in this bill that would even remotely do anything like that. We have review boards right now in NY." Best moment of the night came then: "Well, Congressman, on pages 424-432, that very thing is described." I haven't read the whole bill (I have a job...), but I really admired the kid's spunk.

Not much more to report. Bishop danced around most issues. "There is no wording in the bill..." seems to be the preface for all our "misconceptions." What gets me the most frustrated is the inability to get meaningful dialogue on how they see the health care landscape 5, 10, and 15 years from now. Sure there won't be rationing (any more than we already have) immediately. But what happens if you add even more demand to the system? At some point it is inevitable that if we place government in control of health care, they will also start making decisions based on the behavior of the citizens. (Hey, if we have to pay for this, you have a responsibility to do everything in your power to live a healthy lifestyle. Put down that double cheeseburger with bacon, or risk losing your health care. And don't think you mountain climbers are safe either -- that shit is dangerous! What if you fell and survived, or got caught in unexpectedly harsh weather? Why should we pick up the tab for your reckless behavior?)

Here's an overall observation: Pimping for Obama Organizing for America definitely got the message out. There was a huge union presence, and their signs were all professionally done and matching. Planned Parenthood all had pink signs. You get the idea. The overwhelming majority of folks who were there against HR 3200 had hand made signs, with various messages that obviously were the work, and thoughts, of the people holding the signs. Astroturf my ass! More on this in an upcoming blog.

If I had been able to speak I would have asked this question: I keep hearing President Obama use the term “keep the insurance companies honest” as a selling point for the public option. Can you elaborate on that? Does he mean that they are not currently being honest? Or is the implication that a government program is needed to “keep them honest” an admission that they are not currently operating in a free market arena where the customers “keep them honest?” Wouldn’t it be better to loosen the restrictions on health insurers, for instance letting them insure out of state customers? Wouldn’t that foster more competition, and result in more honest pricing? Could we try that instead first, rather than instituting another government program that will never go away?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Health Care and Insurance Reform

My simple plan for health care reform. It’s not by any means a complete health care system, but then neither is what we have nor what is being proposed.

First, repeal the HMO Act of 1973. From their beginnings, HMOs were designed--by Democrats and Republicans--to eliminate individual health insurance. The result is a vast network of health care collectives (HMOs, PPOs, Point-of-Service plans) created by government that are destined to do harm to individuals.

Second, you are just not serious about reform unless you start with completely decoupling health insurance from employment. If your employer wants to use health insurance as a means for employee retention, he can offer to pay for your individual plan. The individual was first discouraged from buying insurance in 1942 when employee health premiums were made tax deductible to employers (as part of the war effort there was a wage freeze, so in order for companies to offer an incentive to retain employees, Congress passed legislation that made corporate money spent on employee health insurance tax deductible) --not to individuals. Think about that – corporations are not charged any tax against any health insurance expenditures, but if you want to buy an individual policy for yourself or your family, you have to do it with what is left in your net, after taxes, income. (I realize some folks can use pre-tax dollars if they are lucky enough to have an employer who participates in the Section 125 plan, but even there, the company is choosing the plan so the choice and motivation for savings is not there.) Anyway, Congress created Medicare in 1965, in effect making individual insurance for those over 65 obsolete. Subsidized, unrestricted healthcare for seniors led to an unprecedented frenzy of spending by patients and doctors. Combined with Medicare, the HMO Act eventually eliminated the market for affordable individual health insurance. If we return the buying power to the individual, we can take steps in the right direction. Every other type of insurance that I can think of is based on an individual choosing the plan/coverage that best fits the individual’s situation. Not 30 minutes goes by on any television channel I watch where I don’t see a commercial for Progressive or GEICO car insurance. A little competition for my dollars would be a step in the right direction.

Third, let the market shake out a lot of the unneeded administration of health care. I remember going to my family doctor as child in the 70s and being greeted by the receptionist, who also served as the billing clerk and the girl who would bring me to the exam room and put a fresh piece of paper over the exam bed. Now my PCP has 3 different people for each of those jobs, plus a staff of ten more who do I don’t know what. There is a huge layer of unnecessary administration. If the individual can deal directly with the provider, fair market price will eventually be achieved. I use as an example the Lasik eye surgery. When this first came out, each procedure would cost as much as $10k. Why? Because it was new and there were only a few providers. HMO’s rightly called that a cosmetic treatment and refused to pay. Wear glasses or pay for it yourself. Well now that the industry has matured, you can get Lasik done just about anywhere and what is the price? Usually less than $1000 for both eyes. Need another example? I have chronic back pain due to some car accidents and the construction industry when I was a young man. I found that once or twice a week trips to the chiropractor for a quick manipulation allowed for better range of motion and less pain. HMOs however do not get the concept of maintenance. They want the chiropractor to “fix” me, in the way a surgeon would. Instead of covering the yearly costs for my weekly trip, they pay for a maximum of 8 trips per year. All of course with the $30 co-pay for each visit. Want to know what the HMO rates as fair and competitive price for the 2 minute back manipulation? $31.35. Subtract the $30 co-pay and the good doctor gets a whopping check from the HMO for $1.35. So what did my chiropractor and I do? We arranged for unlimited chiropractic care for $45 per month. There is no reason this could be the standard rather than the exception. In fact, some PC doctors have tried this approach, only to be smacked with cease and desist orders because they are “acting like insurance companies” ( Health care costs should be coming down, not rising, as competition for individual care leads to greater efficiencies. Instead, we have a perverted market where doctors compete to obtain the biggest block of members in one felled swoop. Then the HMOs and Medicare tell the doctors what they are going to pay for a particular procedure, rather than the other way around. To make up the difference, doctors have to charge the uninsured 10x what they get from the HMOs and Medicare for the same procedure. Doctors want to make a certain salary level. It’s like squeezing a balloon – if you artificial deflate the balloon in one area, then the other areas have to compensate.

Real reform would put decision-making back in the hands of the patients. Doctors would advertise. The best doctors will command higher prices, but the poor would still have access to what they can afford. Charity will have to cover the truly indigent. My boss has a saying regarding payroll, “Leave it to the employees to notice every penny.” In other words, if your payroll check is wrong, you are going to bring it to the owner’s attention because “hey! That’s my money!” Patients empowered the same way will make the best decisions because now it will be their money. Some will want more complete coverage and will supplement with their own dollars, some will prefer to use their money elsewhere. The system will be reformed in such a way that artificial pricing structures that penalize the individual will be greatly reduced, giving greater access to those seeking doctor care.

A lynchpin of the current plan is that savings will be derived from preventive health care. There is ample evidence in the current system that preventive health care is expensive, too. By artificially lowering the cost of doctor access (co-pays), not surprisingly people see their physician for the most basic maladies. There are simple laws of supply and demand in play here. If we increase demand, supply becomes either more expensive or rationed. We have a finite number of general practitioners (many of whom are closer to retirement than they are to their med school days, with fewer med students choosing the family practice when they can specialize and make much more, or work less for the same dollars) and this is a flaw in the system that is only going to get worse. No new medical schools have been allowed to open since the 1980s. Frequently overlooked in the debate is the way the AMA cartel has kept doctor’s fees artificially high. This forces much greater cost into the system, without any improvement in care. It’s another place where free market competition could do wonders to lower costs. Expand the role of medical assistants and nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners can do many of the procedures that presently require doctors at a fraction of the cost. Allow foreign born doctors to emigrate here and just show core competency, instead of forcing them into repeating residencies. Again, supply and demand. Doctors command exorbitant salaries because the AMA imposes an artificially high barrier to market entry. By limiting the number of doctors, the AMA has reduced the supply.

So we have fewer doctors and a declining population of general practitioners. We are already in the midst of declining service (long waits at the office, coupled with long lead times for appointments). And now we want to inject another 50 million souls into the system who are presently underserved.

Lastly, if Obama fails to read this blog and we head down the road of more entitlements, I don’t know why the idea of vouchers gets so little play. If we are going to pay the way for certain individual’s health care, what’s wrong with handing them a check and saying, “Spend this wisely”? I don’t understand the idea that we should be on the hook for medical treatment on demand, regardless of cost or efficacy. They could use the voucher for routine doctors visits if they feel they are healthy enough, or they could pay for the routine treatments and use the voucher to buy insurance to cover catastrophic events. Their choice, and choosing wrong will lead to some folks not receiving the life saving treatment they could otherwise get, but it puts the decision back in the hands of the consumer rather than the government or insurance company, neither of which has the patient’s best interest as the only priority.

So if we are really serious about reform, I mean the part where we stop scratching the union’s back, appeasing the AMA with laws they help write, and stop treating the individual as too stupid to be responsible for his own well-being, if that reform is what we really want, then maybe the few suggestions I have here will get some sunlight.