Monday, August 24, 2009

Lost Again

I'm a big do-it-yourselfer at my house. I've done pretty much everything related to building or maintaining a house with the exclusion of laying bricks. I've built my own wiring closet with an independent cooling system. I've installed whole-house audio, video and networking systems. I find a lot of pleasure and relaxation in doing this work. It starts with not being afraid to screw it up.

One day I was running some wiring to one of the bedrooms upstairs in the house. This required fishing a couple of cat-5 and a coax cable up and between the walls from my downstairs wiring closet, up to the attic and then down between the walls in the target bedroom.

I successfully got the wires up to the attic and had to determine where, exactly, to drop the wires down to the bedroom.

It was quite hot in the attic, I was covered in insulation and just wanted to get out of there so I called on my lovely wife, Wendy, for help.

She was in the upstairs hallway next to the target bedroom and the following conversation really happened as I knocked on the ceiling drywall:

Me: "Do you hear me knocking?"
Wendy: "Yes."
Me: "Can you tell me where I am?"

This silence continued so I started knocking louder. Finally a response from Wendy, "You're in the attic."

Now it was my turn to be silent. Was she serious or just joking? I already knew the answer because I certainly recognized the different tones of voice that were uniquely Wendy's.

More silence from me as I tried to figure out just how to respond to the answer but it didn't last long as Wendy broke the silence, "Are you alright?"

Me: "Yes."
Wendy:"I thought you had a stroke because you didn't know where you were."

Me: silent

Me:"I know I'm in the attic, dear. Can you please use my knocking to help me determine where, exactly, I am in relation to the bedroom."
Wendy:"Oh," followed by giggling.

And my dear Wendy wonders why I won't ask anyone for directions. I'd just as soon not know where I am and stay lost.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bright Lights

There's a never-ending supply of disturbing tactics being uncovered every day in the health-care process. Remember, the original plan was to get a health-care bill passed by congress and signed by the president in only a few short weeks. There was considerable concern within the administration and the democratic party that if congress went into recess that they wouldn't be able to pass a bill.

Why? Because the American people would read the bill, unlike members of congress, see what the bill contained and rebel.

There was one particularly egregious action taken by members of congress and a news summary that shows what's been going on for the past two years. Both actions should give one pause and cause great consternation as to how these massive government programs get passed.

The first is coercion, pure and simple. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak have sent a "demand" letter to the health insurance companies asking for two types of information. One type has already been provided to the government through regulatory filings. The other type of requested information is internal and is related to how the companies compensate and reward employees. The health insurance companies aren't against reform but have publicly opposed certain components of the proposed legislation. It is clear that this is an intimidation tactic designed to silence opposition. Silencing opposition is about as "un-American" as one can get. Our republic is based on honest, open debate. It should concern every one of us deeply whenever one side attempts to silence the other.

The other issue, outlined quite well in an article talks about the many proposals made by both democrats and republicans regarding health care going back two years. These are proposals that will never see the light of day because an individual chairperson has the power to prevent the proposals from ever being discussed in committee.

It's disturbing enough that two individuals control what gets discussed regarding health-care reform but it's beyond the pale that those same individuals claim that no other proposals have been made.

I, like most Americans, am not opposed to health-care reform. However, we deserve full disclosure and an open, honest debate of the merits. The folks wielding the power today are afraid of the bright light and don't want to have an honest debate. They wonder from where the anger originates. It is the process. We don't want to be told what's going to happen to us and that's it's going to be for our own good. We want to be part of the process and we want to have a say in how it happens.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Goal Setting

One of the most important steps towards success in any endeavor is to identify the goal. What is it that you want to achieve?

This is harder than it sounds and appears to be nearly impossible with regards to the current health-care debate. Both sides of the debate use this difficulty to distort the other side and to sell their side harder. "Pulling the plug on grandma" is a theme that is misused by both sides with apparent glee and faux displeasure and anger.

Apparently, you either want everyone to die or you want the government to have complete control over your daily life. There is no in-between in the debate. Therefore, there is no give-and-take.

But, wait a minute. How can this be in a civil society? Easy, that's how they want it. If we were actually told the end-goal and the proposed methods of getting there then we could actually have an intellectual debate about it. Instead, we're told the methods of getting there, wherever there is.

The president has said that we need health-care reform and the way to get health-care reform is for the government to enter the market and provide competition while establishing new rules on how everyone should be handled in the market.

But what's the goal in that? Health care reform? That's not a goal, that's a means.

How about a goal of decreasing the number of un-insured? Perhaps even setting a goal of having everyone insured while lowering the overall costs of buying insurance would be reasonable.

There are lots of ways of doing that. One study done in 2008 showed how to decrease the number of individuals who make less than $45,000/year who are un-insured by over 70%. It didn't involve creating a new government program. Instead it focused on getting the government out of the way.

The president talks about increasing competition by getting the government into the program. The way one creates competition is getting the government out of the way. Almost all of the "issues" with the marketplace of health insurance are created from government regulations, including the lack of interstate competition because of the McCarran-Ferguson Act.

I get very nervous when someone tries to sell me a solution or a means as a goal. I get extremely nervous when that someone is the government. The same government that brought us Medicare (bankrupt), Medicaid (bankrupt), Social Security (nearly insolvent), the US Postal Service (in debt and running a deficit), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (colossal failures) doesn't have a lot of credibility with me when it comes to fixing another problem by jumping in feet first.

Why are people angry? Because they don't know what they're being sold.

Whatever it is, I ain't buying it and they shouldn't be selling it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Logic Of It All

Years ago in a former life I was in a meeting that seemed to drag on forever. We were debating 'round and 'round without any end in sight. I finally had enough and spoke up, laying out in what I thought was a very logical argument on how to proceed.

There was one fellow in the group who disagreed with me quite strongly and pushed back rather vociferously.

We went back and forth for far too long as I patiently answered his concerns and convinced the rest of the group to back my position. But he was going to have the last word.

"It's not fair for you to use logic," he said.

I was stunned. I thought the entire point of an honest debate was to use logic. I didn't, no, couldn't see any other option. His argument relied on emotion and what would "feel right" and I was countering his arguments with logic. He was incensed and he stormed out of the room.

I've always felt that one should be willing and able to lay out their arguments regarding any particular issue and convince others, with logical reasoning, on why their position is the best. Of course, after that virtually everyone should agree and move forward.

I just read this headline, "Obama Rethinking Health Care Pitch - More emotional appeal may surface..."

I guess that logic isn't working for him. According to the article, Obama is "expected to present a more emotional appeal" regarding his health care proposal.

There must be something fundamentally wrong with a proposal if one has to muddy a debate with emotion rather than clear benefits and costs in order to win.

Where's Mr. Spock when you need him?

Monday, August 17, 2009

80/20 rules

I don't know why the 80/20 rule is specified for so many things. I'm not sure if it's just convenient or if it has some instinctive feel that rings true for us.

I used to have an 80/20 rule when I was working and used it extensively when working with the people who reported to me and was especially fervent in communicating the rule to the managers who worked for me. It was based on something that came up during a leadership/team-building exercise when someone asked a very simple question.

It was during a discussion on how to identify and promote the next set of leaders within the organization. Someone asked me, "Where do you spend 80% of your people time?"

At first I didn't comprehend the question. So the person asked me more directly, "Do you spend 80% of your time with your bottom-20% performers or your top-20% performers?"

I hadn't really thought about it before but it generated quite the discussion. He asked me, "If you doubled the performance of your bottom-20% what would you have vs. doubling the performance of the top-20%?"

It was a no-brainer. I knew what the right answer was. I needed to concentrate my efforts on the top-performers in order to increase the productivity and effectiveness of the entire organization. Most importantly, I couldn't disrupt the entire organization in order to help the bottom-20%. Doing so would simply turn things topsy-turvy in the organization and make things worse for the rest of the group.

I think about that lesson often and it's very difficult for me not to think about it amidst this current carnival-like debate on health-care. Approximately 85% of the people in the United States have health-insurance, either through private providers or the government. After dissecting the numbers of those un-insured, it's only about 5% of the people in the states who are chronically un-insured. That is, they don't have insurance, can't afford insurance and don't currently qualify for government insurance.

Do we really need to completely re-invent the entire system to help the 5%? Do we want to change things for everyone or just find a way to insure the chronically un-insurable? It seems to me that the latter would be much easier to do than the former.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I'm a bit hard-headed and that probably explains, more than anything else, why I didn't finish college. I used to get in arguments with professors and students alike about the role of the university and what I expected for my money.

College, to me, was all about getting an education and then using that education, along with all of my other resources, to make something of myself and contribute back to society. Many of the other characters in the university system thought college was for something else entirely.

I was in the computer science program at the University of Maryland and one of the required course tracks was Calculus for math majors. The first day of class the professor told the class that only 20% of the students would get a grade of C or better, the required minimum grade to advance to the next class. I raised my hand. I don't remember if I used the words "how dare you" or not but I was furious. I explained that I had paid good, hard-earned money to get into the class and I presumed that the vetting process I endured along with my previous education had prepared me to sit in a college-level Calculus class. I pointed out that a success rate of 20% represented a dismal failure on the part of the school and this professor in particular. The explanation was that this was a "wash out" course in order to weed out, apparently 80%, of those who wished to be engineers, mathematicians and scientists.

I didn't have a problem with the course being difficult or the requirement that we were expected to build a strong mathematical foundation in order to be considered computer scientists. I had a problem with the guild-like mentality of controlling the number of entrants into the field.

On the other hand, I also got into arguments with the students who were there for something other than an education. In one computer science class, again on the first day, a student asked if the examinations would be cumulative. I couldn't contain myself and yelled out, "No, you're expected to forget everything once you've been tested. What a moron."

Alas, college just wasn't for me. I took as many of the computer science classes I could and left the school to make a living and did fairly well in the job market.

Then, just this morning, I read this article. A woman is suing her school because she graduated and is unable to find a job. She feels that her money and time were wasted in college and the college has failed to live up to its side of the bargain and find her a job.

I don't know this woman and it would be unfair of me to call her a moron but it certainly is tempting. I can understand her frustration in not being able to find a job but I am completely unable to comprehend the sense of entitlement she apparently feels her degree bestows upon her.

If she went to college to get a job then she got in the wrong line; she should have queued up with the job applicants rather than at the admissions line.

I find this story particularly galling because it shows just how far askew we've become in our expectations of guarantees of success rather than guarantees of opportunity.

Welcome to the school of hard-knocks.