Sunday, January 31, 2010

Baker/Tisei and the Public-Private Chasm

"Remember Charlie, Remember Baker." -- Billy Joel, Goodnight Saigon

Along with a half-dozen or so fellow Sam Meas supporters/staffers, I just attended the Baker/Tisei "kick-off" event at the VFW here in Lowell.

Both came off as polished speakers who had good things to say about fixing the mess on Beacon Hill. Two big feathers in Mr. Baker's cap are his track record with turnarounds -- first as Bill Weld's whiz kid back in the 1990s, and then again with Harvard Pilgrim.

One of the things he said that certainly struck a chord inside this author's rib cage related to comparisons between the public and private sector -- in tough economic times, the private sector workforce can take a tough thumping while the public sector chugs along or even grows. Specifically, Baker referenced Gov. Patrick recently filling 1300 vacancies in the State Government.

As someone in the hunt for a full-time job right now (thanks to some anticipated training courses being filled to quota and a mobilization getting 'bumped to the right') things look really good on the public side of the house and not so good on the private side.

If I had an MBA, or a JD, or a technical background (i.e. a specific skill like Accounting or Computer Science) things might be very different. In fact, the private sector might be offering double whatever I could command as a GS-11 or a GS-12.

However, I don't, and it doesn't.

So the private sector offers me entry-level type stuff that would MAYBE allow me to meet all my bills each month. But that's without even factoring in the "what-ifs" of car repair, new clothes, birthday presents to shop for, or pesky things that I always leave out of budgets like haircuts and car washes.

Meanwhile, in public sector country, it seems that my qualifications command about $30k more, which, when you divide by 12, sure makes the math work a lot better, with plenty of rainy-day contingency spoken for, not to mention those nice things people like to do, such as Roth IRA contributions or other long-term investments.

Here's why that ought to give the taxpayer cause for concern: The old tradeoff between public and private was this: If you work in the public sector, you're trading in your lower salary for the job security and benefits being offered by Uncle Sam. In other words, you were making a compromise.

Maybe this is just unique to the bad economy, to someone without an applicable advanced degree, or to a veteran who can get an automatic foot in the door on the govvie side, but at least through the eyes of this job seeker, there isn't that compromise. If you're going to offer me 40-hour weeks, great benefits, and robust pay, I'm not seeing the catch.

Things just seem a lot better in the public sector.

In the short-term, that's great for me, but can that really be sustainable in the long-term for the country?

I offer no numbers to back this up, but my hunch is to say 'no way.' The 'something' that's going to have to give is either going to be the availability, pay, pension, or benefits of public sector work.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Texting While Driving -- What I Still Don't Get

This entry is going to be sort of a rehash of comments I've already made on Choosing a Soundtrack and I rehash them, however, because the big question I have about TWD remains unanswered: How is this going to work legally?

I heard all the chatter on the radio this morning about the great triumph of common sense in Massachusetts because our legislature got together and passed some tough laws regarding Texting While Driving. There are graduated fines for repeated offenses, there's some new verbiage about minors and cell phones (they can't use 'em while driving, period), and there are even provisions about "receiving a text."

I don't disagree at all. Just like everyone else and their mother, I have long been opposed to Texting While Driving from a safety point of view. And as I've written many times here before (and will again), I am VERY opposed to the idea that a cell phone is a leash. I know the cell is relatively new technology, so I'm still hoping we can return to the days where it was okay not to answer your phone and you didn't have to apologize for it.

I also think those two things are intertwined -- people would be less likely to TWD or Jawjack While Driving if their boss/friend/spouse/partner, etc. were more understanding of the fact that it's we who own our cell phones, and not vice versa.

But off that little soapbox for a second -- What I still don't get is how you can enforce an anti-TWD measure.

Here's why: People use their cell phones, Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, or you name it for myriad reasons. Unless we make ALL of that stuff illegal while driving -- checking the weather, sports scores, news headlines, etc. it seems that anyone pulled over for sending or receiving a text could plausibly say "No, Mr. Officer, I was just sending a fax via my toaster," or whatever other neat thing their iGadget can do. See my point?

This isn't a rhetorical question.

If anyone out there knows this, or knows if it's just an issue of a police officer's discretion, or if the law is really just intended to scare people into not doing it, or for individual State Reps or Senators to say "Look! I did something to promote safety" then let me know.

Natty Guard Propaganda

A quick confession -- whenever procrastination is getting the best of me, I sometimes fall into "YouTube cycles," which involve finding something interesting, watching, and then seeing whatever else pops up afterwards -- rinse, lather, repeat.

I did a double take on this one when I saw the guy at 2:22 -- not only does he look like a son I could have in the future, but he'd be wearing the right nametapes, too..

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quick Thoughts for the Morning

I'm just getting back from a qualification course down in Bourne, but here are four quick thoughts before I head out this fine winter morning:

** State of the Union. As I've written here before, I believe our policy towards gays in the military should be "Don't Ask, Don't Care." It's none of your business whether I prefer the company of a lovely 4'11" Khmer woman, so it ought to be none of my business whose company you prefer, provided you can adhere to the standard UCMJ rules for any sexual activity, which means keeping it out of the workplace, not harassing others, not taking advantage of subordinates, etc.

** Tim Tebow, life, and choice. I heard a woman on TV the other day complaining about how the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad is an attempt to take away the right of an American woman to have reproductive freedom. Huh? I'll admit that I haven't seen the ad, but let's re-examine terms like 'life' and 'choice' for a moment -- if I understand it right, he's saying that his mother's doctor(s) advised her to terminate the pregnancy, but she listened to her heart and had Tim, who is now a 22 year-old Heisman Trophy winner and NCAA champion. In other words, she chose to have him. It's probably worth keeping in mind that if you say you're pro-choice, that choice should include the freedom to go in either direction with it. Someone reminding you how great that choice can be shouldn't be seen as an attempt to take your rights away.

** YMCAs in Mass. and RI. In Wareham on Monday, I learned about a new YMCA policy -- any member of any YMCA in Massachusetts or Rhode Island can go to any other YMCA for free. The policy is just a couple months old, and it's great for anyone who travels throughout the state for work, or even just might want to work out in both a hometown and an office town.

** On the Turning Away....from mortgages. I caught a news segment on Tuesday about people strategically walking away from their mortgages. For a second, let's put aside all the moral and ethical considerations. Besides the gem of a quote from the guy featured: "An investment is supposed be something that goes up, not down," I'm not sure his logic even made sense. The young husband featured was saying how he could walk away from his underwater house and just rent a similar one for a lower cost, and then save the money back up again to buy a little while down the road. I'll readily confess to not being a home-financing expert, but he might want to reconsider that -- he may feel let down by the real estate market, but renting during that interim period will have a cost that won't come back to help him on tax day or in terms of equity. Plus, if home values go back up, he'll be disappointed all over again, b/c he might be frozen out of the very market he wanted to get into in the first place. And that's all without even considering the seven-year whack his credit score will take if he walks away.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On Not Being 'Mikey'

Seven summers ago, I co-taught a summer school History class at Rindge with a guy named Larry Aaronson.

I haven't kept up with him since and I have no idea if he's even still teaching. (I did, however, use his real name in the hopes that he might Google himself one day and see that someone remembered this lesson for his teacher trainees). One of the many lessons of his that I still remember is about the value of not being a "Mikey."

He was describing his role in the school, but he could've been talking about what happens to any enthusiastic go-getter within an organization who is identified as such: People see someone who appears (or is) willing or even eager to take on new 'collateral duties' and then people start to see that person as a dumping ground for said duties.

"Be willing to take new things on, young padawans, but be careful to avoid the 'Mikey' problem," he warned us.

I had no idea what he was talking about.

"You know, remember that kid Mikey from Life Cereal...his brothers didn't want to try it themselves, so they just push it on him because they know he'll do it."

The lesson was learned and I haven't forgotten it since. Whatever the organization you belong to, or work for, regardless of the size, there is a Mikey somewhere. There may be several. It may be you.

If that's the case, the burden falls squarely on you to push back a bit, because whoever is tasking you may just think you're looking for more to put on your plate, or just thinks you need the work. If you think you're a Mikey, or that you're becoming one, you've got to find your way out of it before you find yourself juggling more balls than you can possibly manage.

That, and don't ever mix pop rocks and soda.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

We're Number 335!

Follow this link to see a ranking of Massachusetts' 351 towns and cities ranked by real estate value per capita.

No shocker to see the vacation spots with fancy real estate and small populations out in front, nor to see a couple handfuls' worth of former mill cities bringing up the rear. Still, a very interesting chart.

Employers, Deployers, and Ethics

WARNING: I'm about to ask a question out loud, and then answer it myself.

Is it unethical for a Guardsman or Reservist to take a civilian employment position but not mention during interviews the possibility of an upcoming deployment?

In a word, and emphatically -- NO.

Obviously, there's reason to consider it. It's expensive to recruit new people, to hire them, and to train them. From a firm's point of view, it's probably only *worth it* if they can expect some standard of continuity.

So on the one hand, it seems like being out loud and up front about the way you might see the next few calendar turns unfolding is the right way to go.

However, it's not, and for this very simple reason -- You're never really sure yourself.

You might *think* something's coming. You might plan for it. You might train for it. Shoot, you might even be foolhardy enough to make a calculated bet by *investing time in yourself* while doing some rosy scenario accounting that would make even Jeffrey Skilling or Andrew Fastow blush.

But things can change, and they can change suddenly. It might be best not to count on a C-17 going "wheels up" until the people and vehicles on the tarmac start looking really small.

See my point? If the individual Guardsman or Reservist can't even be sure where they're headed, and when, there's no reasonable expectation that every employer or prospective employer thereof should be privy to every rumor about what might happen.

Besides, you never know if an earthquake might hit in the Caribbean, a tsunami might wash over in the Pacific, or a butterfly might flap its wings in Tokyo. Or when tanks might roll over aspirant NATO members in the Russian "near abroad."

That said, speaking is best done in the conditional future, as opposed to the future perfect.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Towns He Carried -- What Does it Mean for Sam Meas?

Can Sam "play it again" in November?

All I know is there's a lot of time between now and then. I was with Sam Meas at the holiday parade in Haverhill, and when Scott Brown rolled up in his truck (yes, THAT truck) there was very little fan-fare and maybe a full-court basketball game's worth of people waiting for him. Maybe.

Obviously, a lot has changed in the last month.

Here in the 5th Congressional District, Brown carried 22 of the 29 towns and cities. The seven that went for Coakley are: Carlisle, Boxborough, Acton, Harvard, Lawrence, Sudbury, and Wayland.

Lowell was the most-populous city in Massachusetts that went for Brown.

I'll take the Captain Obvious Award for saying it, but things are about to get very interesting, as the level of national attention that'll come to House races in the state can only rise as a result of all of this.

[Full Disclosure: I am affiliated with the Sam Meas campaign, and will note that in any blog post or comment on other blogs that I make referencing Sam].

How a Conspiracy Theory is Made

Remember Richard Clarke's famous quip about 9/11 conspiracy theorists? Well, it's probably not his alone, but it was something along the lines of how most 9/11 conspiracy theories assume the U.S. government to be extremely intelligent and competent, neither of which is true.

Then there's my own take on conspiracy theories, which is that they're 'all the fun without the work.' The idea behind that is that it's REALLY HARD to sift through all the pages of books like Terry McDermott's "Perfect Soldiers" with complete bios of all the 9/11 hijackers, or technical manuals about steel and high temperatures, but REALLY EASY to watch a movie like "Loose Change," scratch your chin in a coffeehouse and spout pseudo-intellectual babble about "Cui Bono" while citing Rosie O'Donnell and Charlie Sheen's engineering expertise, or some idea about how the U.S. government fabricated the identities of 19 men out of thin air.

But conspiracy theories never look the same from the other side. I got to spend five years on the active duty side of things with the Navy, and yes, there were a couple of those 'magic moments' where one gleans insight into how a decision was made or a result spun, and then how some in the media or other forms of chatter tried to explain it as having some greater, larger meaning than it ever really did.

In my salad days as an undergraduate, I also got to see things from the inside of a daily newspaper, where I could literally hear a decision being made about which photo to print during coverage of some rally (all the photo people ever cared about were light, contrast, the other technical aspects) and then get to hear someone's interpretation the next morning about how "they" (remember, I love the mythical 'they') must have chosen to run such-and-such a picture because it showed students of [insert political or ethnic identity].

So anyway, after voting this morning at the Masonic Center, I got a kick out of this passage from Choosing a Soundtrack today, which predicted a potential train wreck that might result from poll workers' difficulty locating streets and names in a book that lists them in alphabetical order:

i can see where this is going. somewhere towards 8pm tonight, some voter getting to the front of the check-out line is going to discover that his or her name, once his or her name can be located among the seemingly-to-the-poll-worker random lists of names and streets, will already have a check in the box beside it.

how could that possibly happen?

best practice would be rulers and lines, manned (or womanned) by people with a working knowledge of the dictionary, or, at least, alphabetical order.

Besides the humor but oh-so-true aspect of people fumbling around with the alphabet or basic organization (I just took the census worker test on Sunday, which tests those very skills, and yes, there were multiple people in the room who failed), here's the next direction that could go: Someone crying 'conspiracy' based on the 'D' or the 'R' coming after his or her name, or some other part of their identity (gender, race, religion, etc.)

I don't necessarily blame them right off the bat. If I went to vote, and someone at the poll station wrongly told me I had already voted that day, I'd be pretty upset. It's very easy though, to see the next step -- rather than just assume utter incompetence (the actual culprit), instantly get on the phone with the local media outlets, get on the Internet, contact the losing side, and scream about how there's a conspiracy going on in Massachusetts to disenfranchise [insert party or other form of identity].

People love these types of things, because a 'story' about a bogeyman, or a conspiracy, or something that's really pulling the strings and causing disorder is in some ways much more comforting than the thought of various intelligence agencies not talking to each other, or the thought that the failure on the part of our government to protect us from something already spelled out in a Tom Clancy novel could leave so many of us at risk.

Or that the kid on South Park could've dropped a deuce in the urinal just because he was in a rush and didn't want to miss recess.

Or that the Army and the Navy couldn't speak *jointly* enough to tell each other that those planes on the horizon on a sleepy Sunday morning in 1941 weren't the *other guy* doing an exercise.

Or, yes, that someone in downtown Lowell has a box checked next to his or her name, not because he or she already voted, but because a little old lady wearing white tennis shoes needs refresher training on ABC order or a new prescription for her eyeglasses.

But c'mon, is that really possible? Compared to the bogeyman, that just seems like a letdown..

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Seeing the Military's Response to Haiti

Yes, the site is wholly owned and operated by the Pentagon, but is an underrated source of information about some of the lesser-known operations performed by our military on a daily basis.

I just clicked over there, as it's a stop on my "I can't sleep right now so I'll check out my standard couple dozen websites," tour. What I noticed is that it's all Haiti-focused. There are pictures front and center, as well as articles to the right, about the joint logistic and humanitarian effort going on right now.

Thank You, Caitlin Flanagan

For anyone who is passionate about education, I've got to recommend Caitlin Flanagan's piece, Cultivating Failure, from this month's Atlantic.

It's about movements in California to promote in-school gardening time at the expense of more traditional but less 'sexy' subjects like, well, reading, writing, and 'rithmetic.

You can probably imagine where she's going with it -- people just love to foist this type of stuff on other peoples' kids. Flanagan doesn't write the piece with scorn or disdain for gardening programs -- her main point isn't about whether they should exist (they should, she notes) but whether they should come at the expense of the subjects that would better prepare the kids who need it most for a shot at a four-year college degree and a cushier existence than the one they knew growing up.

Well, I can't do the article justice in that one-paragraph summary, but the link is there if you want to check it out.

The part where I laughed out loud the hardest was her debunking of someone's statement that, "There's only 7-11 in the 'hood." That blurky statement, which was made by someone who undoubtedly had the best of intentions but a total ignorance of what fruits or vegetables were accessible to certain people, is emblematic of so many well-to-do folks that are parodied so wonderfully on the site Stuff White People Like.

I put her whole response to this statement in italics below. The reason I got such a kick out of it has a lot to do with my own political evolution, which has come concomitantly with my own broadening of life experiences that tends to happen when people leave the nest, get a job, rent an apartment, and start to separate fact from fiction as they make life decisions of their own. Statements like that, which I might have swallowed up wholesale ten years ago, now don't make it through my BS filter, which I think gets a little less porous by the day. Lowell is a PERFECT example of this, as it contains every possible sliver of the socioeconomic spectrum, all of whom have plentiful access to a wide range of nutritional options. If you live in Lowell, you already knew that, but if you don't, I have a feeling you'll relate to what Flanagan writes below:

As it happens, I live fewer than 20 miles from the most famous American hood, Compton, and on a recent Wednesday morning I drove over there to do a little grocery shopping. The Ralphs was vast, well-lit, bountifully stocked, and possessed of a huge and well-tended produce section. Using my Ralphs card, I bought four ears of corn for a dollar, green grapes and nectarines (both grown in the state, both 49 cents a pound), a pound of fresh tortillas for $1.69, and a half gallon of low-fat milk for $2.19. The staff, California friendly, outnumbered the customers, and the place had the dreamy, lost-in-time feeling that empty American supermarkets often have.

But across Compton Boulevard, it was a different story. Anyone who says that Americans have lost the desire and ability to cook fresh produce has never been to the Superior Super Warehouse in Compton. The produce section—packed with large families, most of them Hispanic—was like a dreamscape of strange and wonderful offerings: tomatillos, giant mangoes, cactus leaves, bunches of beets with their leaves on, chayote squash, red yams, yucca root. An entire string section of chiles: serrano, Anaheim, green, red, yellow. All of it was dirt cheap, as were the bulk beans and rice. Small children stood beside shopping carts with the complacent, slightly dazed look of kids whose mothers are taking care of business.

What we see at Superior Super Warehouse is an example of capitalism doing what it does best: locating a market need (in this case, poor people living in an American inner city who desire a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and who are willing to devote their time and money to acquiring them) and filling it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Brown v. Coakley: The View From One Windshield

I just spent the better part of the day driving. First from Lowell to Bedford, then down to Newton, back to Bedford, and then on back to Lowell. Thanks to 95 being a parking lot today, I got to take the more interesting and scenic route.

This is of course anecdotal (and I should mention the TOTAL level of political signage and activity was very low), but the lawn signs on properties and the sign-holders at intersections that I did see along the route were all Brown.

We all know registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans here by something to the order of 3-to-1, but especially in a special election like this, turnout is the wildcard that can mean everything.

The numbers sit with the Democrats, but the passion in this race seems to be on the side of the Republicans.

Money for Haiti, Yes! Sorry? No..

So I'm one of those old school types that actually believe words should matter. I greatly prefer sincerity to politeness as I do the company of someone I deem 'sincere' far above that of someone 'polite.' (All other things being equal, of course, and yes, there can be a WORLD of difference between the two). And yes, I still keep a copy of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" on my desktop.

I have a friend who is VERY involved in Haiti. It's a passion he picked up somewhere along the way, I believe when he moved to a suburb just outside of Chicago, IL. He's visited the island a few times, he is involved with the Haitian-American community in his current home city, and he pays close attention to cultural and political developments there.

So you can imagine how much this week's news affected him. No surprise, he's sent a few *mass* e-mails to his close friends asking them to support the relief efforts and instructing them on the easiest ways to do it.

I fully believe in the righteousness of what he's doing, and have supported it with some directed text messages, as per his e-mailed instructions. The only constructive feedback I offered, however, was on the use of the word sorry, which at least bothered me enough to write back and ask that he please not use it. I have no idea if I came off sounding like the world's biggest jerk (and remember, no one likes constructive feedback as much as they say they do), but I'm not budging.

"Sorry to e-mail you guys..." "Sorry to give these gruesome details..." "Sorry for the impersonal note.." etc.

I may stand alone on this, and that's okay, but I personally believe the word 'sorry' should be reserved only for situations where some harm or offense was caused inadvertently. In other words, if we were walking in a crowd, and I accidentally bumped into you and knocked you on the shoulder, I would apologize. If I said something that bothered you, and you took the time to let me know about it afterwards, I would apologize. And so on and so on. You get the idea.

But if you're doing something you believe in, and your cause is just, go chest out and chin up. If you really believed it was somehow wrong or bothersome, you wouldn't be doing it in the first place. If you don't, then you're acting out of a sense of politeness, albeit insincerely.

I'm not sorry to have missed your call (unless we had scheduled a specific time to talk, in which case I might be).

I'm not sorry for anything I've ever e-mailed you (unless it offended you, even though no harm was originally meant).

And I'm not sorry for having written this entry -- though if it bothered you, let me know why, and I just might apologize..

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If You're in the Job Market..

"All I want in life is an unfair advantage." -- Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, former AIG CEO

My whole work situation recently got turned upside down.

The quick Readers' Digest version is that my plan for this year was predicated on two assumptions, both of which haven't exactly worked out: first, that I would be doing two lengthy Army courses; and second, that I would be mobilizing to go overseas this year.

When the floor fell out on assumption number two, I suddenly realized I had to get a full-time job, and the sooner the better. I recently got in touch with a Veterans' Job Placement office in Bedford, and yes, these people are going to bat for me. There are tons of programs out there, there's training money to be spent, and there's the five-point *preference* for all gov't work that comes with the DD-214 (hence the quote at the top of the entry).

So after a whopping 24 hours since beginning my job search, and a few phone calls leading to a few more phone calls, a potentially great opportunity is on the table: The 2010 Census. There are field jobs, there are office jobs, there are supervisory jobs, and the pay is remarkably better than a lot of alternatives. For instance, broken down by the hour, it's about 2.5 times more lucrative than the classic "in-between" job of substitute teaching. In fact, if I actually break it out by the week and the month, the jobs I'd be looking at would be more than enough to get me by without even touching the proverbial piggy bank. That's without even considering that it's a hands-on job, which means more networking, which means more job opportunities for afterwards.

But remember my two cardinal rules of blogging -- No woe is me, and no dear diary -- I want to tell you this to make sure you pass this on to friends of yours who may also be, uhh...
transitional at the moment.

The general phone number is 866.861.2010. If you're in Greater Lowell, the number is 978.905.3200. The website is

If you know someone who's temporarily out-of-work, in a transitional situation, or maybe just looking for a way to pay some bills before a deployment (hey, you never know!), tell them to at least give this some serious consideration.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Being ALL That You Can Be..

Caveat lector: This is probably the first of many entries that are going to compare Army and Navy culture, and maybe start to spill over into civil-military relations. If you're interested in following the best online debate that I know of regarding current military culture, you don't want to miss "The Best Defense," by Tom Ricks.

First, just from a military history buff's perspective, there were two really interesting things that stood out for me recently:

1. Running into TWO Vietnam-era vets in my unit still in the service. Both are SFCs. Both have had storied careers that have run across different services, different branches, and different components. But what they both have in common is that they enlisted prior to 1973. Neither actually set foot on the ground in Vietnam -- not by their choice, but by the vicissitudes of the Army personnel system that send some people to Germany and others into the bush. Either way, I never would've guessed it -- Desert Storm and Panama, maybe. Grenada? Probably not. But Vietnam-era?!?! Yes, it's possible.

2. Running into someone in my section whose father is an Afghanistan campaign veteran. It's funny, no one else's eyes seemed to double in size upon hearing this. I didn't flinch when the guy said his brother was currently in Afghanistan, and that he couldn't wait to go, but his dad? How was that possible? Looking over, I saw the guy's name ended in -kov. Turns out, the family is from the Ukraine but the kid was born and raised in the U.S. and speaks unaccented American English. Maybe for no other reason than the sheer historical quirkiness of it, I thought it was pretty awesome.

Anyway, to the service culture stuff. A major difference between the Army and the Navy is the degree of job specialization that comes with the servicemember. I know this will sound weird to most, but people in the Navy don't call each other by just their last name, or even as "Petty Officer Johnson." You'd never say that or hear it. What you WOULD hear is SK2 Johnson (Storekeeper, Second Class), YN1 Johnson (Yeoman, 1st class), EN3 Johnson (Engineman, 3rd class), etc. That changes when people advance beyond E-7, but it speaks to a major difference. In the Army, you'd just be Specialist _____, or Sergeant ______. Your job description never factors into your appellation.

Here's a reason why: Things are never that specialized. You may have multiple MOS's. You might be a cook one day, and you might be a turret gunner on a convoy the next. You might be sent to an entirely different school to change your MOS at a moment's notice.

You might train for urban operations, but then wind up being a desk jockey overseas. By contrast, you might go over expecting desk jockey/TOC monkey type of stuff, but find yourself running convoys or patrolling neighborhoods.

There's just a way bigger sense of uncertainty, and a greater acceptance of the degree of risk that might come with that.

That probably shouldn't come as a major surprise. By and large, the Navy is a bit more technical, and a bit more reliant on using things that beep and squeak in order to locate, collect intelligence on, or destroy something far away -- something over the horizon that the operator won't ever see or touch.

The Army, on the other hand, sort of gets hit with more broad-brush task of "secure and occupy this piece of land...figure out what to do and best of luck with that." That makes for a more chaotic environment, so it's natural that roles are going to have to be more fluid.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For...You Might NOT Get It

I recently got a letter from a local non-profit that offered several potential options for donations. The lowest, I believe, was about $25, but there was something hand-written on the form that indicated how appreciative they would be of any donation, and how even $10 or $15 would make a huge difference.

That's definitely the right way to do it.

If you're asking people to part with either of their two most precious commodities (money and time), I think it's important you not be a bull in a china shop when you do it.

I was reminded of this recently when I stumbled across something on Facebook that showed how a college buddy of mine who now holds elective office in a state west of the Mississippi is now running for a higher office this year.

Good for him, and I wish him the best.

However, seeing that triggered a memory of something posted several months ago by Kad Barma regarding pricing decisions and revenue optimization. The idea is that if a bar is hosting a comedy night, or an open mic night, or whatever, there's a certain "funny money" threshold, below which prospective patrons will throw the money down without a second thought, and above which people will balk entirely and not spend a single dime on either admission or drinks.

The bar ought to understand where the funny money line sits, because it might mean the difference between filling a room full of people who've paid $10 to enter (and presumably much more for drinks) and being able to hear a pin drop inside because you thought $20 was a more appropriate way to set the cost.

Okay, so back to the memory. This rising pol and I had had sporadic contact since parting ways back on graduation day in 2002. Seemingly out of the blue in fall 2007, he left an urgent-sounding voicemail on my phone. Now, this was right around the time I had gotten a short-fused notice that I would be going overseas that very week to fill a manning gap for a unit in western Iraq.

So, yes, I was quite busy packing everything up, unplugging everything in my apartment, and e-mailing close friends. Still, I made the time to call.

"What's up man? How's it going?"

"Well, I'm running for ___, and I need your support. Can you donate?"

"Sounds good, but I'm literally heading out the door ASAP on a C-17. I'd love to help but am sort of squeezed for money right now. Besides, I don't even know what the rules are on that sort of thing?" (I've since learned that UCMJ doesn't forbid political donations by active duty members, though it does prohibit certain forms of activity, but honestly didn't know that at the time).

Showing little concern or sympathy for said situation, he just offered up something like this -- "Man, that's really too bad, because I had you pegged as one of my major, $5,000 fundraisers."

I nearly hung the phone up.

I wasn't sure what he was implying. Did he think I was going to walk around Virginia Beach with a hat, raising $5,000 in small donations for someone they'd never heard of? Did he think I would be phone-banking from my apartment for that? Liquidate my entire Roth IRA on a moment's notice? I have no idea, and I didn't really ask. I politely ended the conversation, and that was about it.

Here's where he went wrong: If he had tried a much more humble approach, it might've sounded something more like this: "Hey Page, I know it's been awhile, great to hear about what you've been up to...I know times are tight, but do you think you could send me a $20 check? It would mean a lot, and it would go a long way."

An approach like that would've meant two things: First, he would've gotten the $20 (which is $20 more than $o!); and second, he would've picked up another supporter for his bid. Charities, non-profits, and politicians are all well-aware of the principle that once people have donated to you, they feel invested in you, and are thus likely to remain supportive.

Instead, just like the bar that was charging a bit too much of an entrance fee for a no-name comic lineup, he got nothing. Even worse, he left a bad taste in at least one person's mouth.

The charity or campaign that shows respect for the small donor -- much like the Ron Paul and Barack Obama campaigns did in 2008 -- earns TONS of avid supporters who are encouraged to display their fervor in contagious sort of ways.

No matter how much surplus time or money you may think other people have, chances are, they don't feel the same way. If you're going to ask others for time or money, it's best to stop and consider whether the terms you're setting -- and they way you're setting them -- might preclude you from coming away with either.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Flynn Report: Opening Salvo

When three people ask you within a one-hour span whether you've read "The Flynn Report" that probably means it's time to read it. Thankfully, both Cliff Krieger and a former colleague of mine just sent me virtual copies, nearly simultaneously.

I've given it a once-over, and it's coming with me to drill weekend for some by-the-headlamp reading on Saturday night.

Although I admit when I first heard about it I was afraid it was just more dumping on the S2 (I think the S2 is often the hardest-worked and most-underappreciated shop in a Tactical Operations Center), I think Flynn is saying more about the way S2 (Military Intelligence) personnel are being used overseas.

For starters, there are way too many top-heavy Intel shops that are too close the flagpole. I've never set foot in Afghanistan, but one thing I can say for certain is that in any part of Iraq that I saw from 06-08, there were always too many S2 personnel working at the upper echelons, while the tactical elements were starving for more.

What I believe General Flynn is saying is that it's those elements -- the ones actually doing the foot patrols and the mounted convoys -- who need people writing reports that move up the chain, and pushing other reporting and expertise to the joes.

What we certainly DON'T need are large self-licking ice cream cones of people making endless pretty PowerPoint slides for an O-6 or above, patting themselves on the back, writing up their Bronze Star citations and calling it a day.

What tactical value are those people providing?

I thought this was a particularly good nugget from the report:

"Leaders must put time and energy into selecting the best, most extroverted and hungriest analysts to serve in the Stability Operations Information Centers."

By implication, I believe that Flynn is saying this is not currently the case -- there are too many people "hiding away" without any connection to a maneuver element that can benefit from the product they're providing, or, in turn, provide them with real, on-the-ground insight as to what's going on in the towns and villages.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

$80k...for WHAT?!?!?!

This Wall Street Journal column deals with the issue of associate deferrals at the prestigious law firm of Cravath, Swaine, and Moore.

The big idea here is that the firm doesn't have the work or the money lying around to pay their first-year associates the $160k that they were offered coming through the door. The idea, then, is that the firm can cut costs by offering this deal -- We'll pay you $80k just to show us the back of your head and not come back 'til next fall.

It's an interesting proposition, especially at a time when so many talented people are unemployed or, more likely, underemployed. Where the columnist was stunned was in the lack of takers.

When you peel it back a little, however, there are very good and very rational reasons for people to NOT take the deferral offer. For one, they've just gone through 7 or more years of school, and are looking forward to beginning their careers; for another, they may have significant overhead and find that they actually need the full $160k to support some aspect of their lifestyle, which may include expensive Manhattan real estate, a nice car, private school tuition for a very young one...and that's all on top of what might be six figures' worth of student loans.

Still, I had to see the article through my own lens -- what I found most interesting about the article and all the comments on was the built-in assumptions about what it must mean for a person not to work a 9-to-5.

From the initial reference to "sleeping and loafing around Park Slope" to the comments that talk about "Well, wouldn't you get bored just sleeping on the couch and going to the gym all day?" it surprises me that people can be so myopic. I would think a properly diligent and properly motivated person could do some pretty goshdarned amazing things with that opportunity -- travel the world, read all the classics that he or she missed during undergrad, write a novel, learn a new language, do pro bono work for a legal charity, etc. To me, just thinking about the different ways you could carve out an amazing year with $80k in your pocket seems exciting.

And of course the "hits close to home" aspect to this for me is that right now I have two part-time jobs, each of which is ramping closer to full-time (even to the degree that one may have to give way for the other), in addition to exploring a range of possible grad school opportunities, which means taking an alphabet soup bowl's worth of tests, which means, which means, you get the idea -- busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking competition.

Yet even still, that can be incredibly difficult to explain in a concise way to someone who asks, "What is it that you do?" with all the tiptoeing politeness but true curiosity of a person who wonders why you're still unshaven in jeans and a t-shirt at an unusual hour. And that's the better side to it -- there's also the smarmy "must be nice" from someone implying a willful life of leisure, or the blunter, "So...don't you just get bored with daytime TV all day?" which I actually heard more than once over the holidays.

So, to anyone out there in legal land who has the chutzpah to take $80k just to walk away for a year and dedicate himself or herself to whatever great things are possible for someone with ample time and motivation, from the bottom of my heart, I salute you. I have full faith and confidence that you will do great things. I hope you never watch a single Jerry Springer episode, but if you do, I promise not to judge.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Where I'll Give Galluccio Credit

Well, it looks like "Senator Toothpaste" is finally out of a job and on lockdown. I'm still wondering, as I did in my earlier post when he first tried to make the bogus Sensodyne claim, if I'm going to be paying this guy's pension for most of the rest of my working life. My hunch, unfortunately, is yes.

Here's where I'll give him credit -- he went big. Even though the attempted defense strategy has long been discredited in courts of law, and even though this guy has shown such egregiously poor judgement so as to leave the scene of an accident after he hit a family's minivan so hard that he left an imprint of his own license plate on the side he had the nerve to try to claim he hadn't violated the terms of his probation, and that in fact it was the toothpaste that gave the reading.

And for a guy who goes from Councilor to Mayor to State Senator and then has everything fall apart like this, you might as well go down swinging.

For me, the toothpaste defense beats anything I've heard this side of "poor judgement," "temporary lapse in good decision-making," "numerous transgressions," or yes, even the infamous "wide stance" of the Honorable Gentleman from Idaho.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Leaders and Doers, Redux

My fiancee is a pharmacy technician at CVS. By way of analogy, pharmacy technician is sort of like Specialist to Colonel -- your work generally involves a lot more drudgery for a fraction of the pay, but you don't have as much responsibility, authority, or required training/schooling.

The other day after I picked her up from work, she was pointing out the difference between the pharmacists she enjoys working for and those she doesn't. The key distinguishing feature seemed to involve the way they treat "the help" -- there are certain pharmacists who, when things are busy and the staff is short-handed, will voluntarily move themselves down a rung or two on the prestige ladder and do the little things, i.e. ringing up a customer at the register, running around to pick things up from the back, etc.

Then there are those who say "that's not what I do" and just watch the techs run around like crazy while the situation gets hairier, without helping to move the proverbial chains 10 yards downfield. And if you don't believe that things get crazy, you should hear some of the stories I'm privy to about some of the surlier and nuttier regular customers that you might see at a pharmacy anywhere, let alone in Lowell.

Anyway, back to the point -- the pharmacist who just sits there insisting on not doing things outside his/her job description sort of has a point, which I'll happily concede -- there are reasons high-priced lawyers have secretaries and paralegals, reasons why doctors have medical technician staffs, and, yes, reasons why pharmacists have pharmacy techs -- their time is valuable, and it's not efficiently used if it's all spend on administrivia or other drudgery.

Got it.

In a perfectly-ordered and perfectly-stable world, that makes, well, perfect sense. But when things have to happen, there isn't always some junior enlisted or equivalent thereof standing by to help. In those times, I believe that good managers will see the need, roll their sleeves up, and dive in so that some triage can be performed on the situation at hand.

By contrast, managers who are too wrapped around their job description to engage in "the little things" from time to time are often an impediment to the entire organization, whose progress often depends on the execution of the little things.

I'm okay with the idea that a Fortune 500 CEO doesn't take out his own trash or clean the bathroom in his executive suite. I *get* that that's not the best use of his, and by extension the company's, time. I would no sooner expect a four-star General to be shining his own shoes and pressing his own uniforms.

But I'm also willing to bet that your organization is neither a Fortune 500 company or a four-star military command.

And if that's the case, sometimes a little elbow grease never hurt anybody.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Suggested PT Resolution

If you have a couple spare minutes, check out the embedded propaganda video about U.S. Army Air Assault School.

Here's why this school is so hardcore: one of the requirements is a 12.0-mile ruck with a 50-lb. pack in under 3 hours. That may not sound that hard, because going 12 miles in three hours is *only* a 15-minute per mile pace.

Until you try it, that is.

At that type of pace with that type of pack, the ruck becomes something of a walk-run hybrid.

I recently read that the most frequently-made types of New Year's Resolutions involve personal health -- physical fitness and weight loss. To anyone looking for a phenomenal combination leg/core/cardiovascular challenge, resolving to go 4 miles in under an hour might be a good vow for the New Year.