ASK Musings

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Monthly Archive: April 2013



April 2013



Complicated Thoughts on Boston

Written by , Posted in Politics

After the events of last week I was reading through Twitter and saw an old classmate of mine posting about it. We ended up having a somewhat heated exchange after I interpreted a tweet of his as a suggesting that the Boston ‘man hunt’ was motivated primarily by American blood lust. Instead of asking for clarification or perhaps an article he could link to that matched his thinking, I somewhat flippantly said that the search for the Boston suspects may have just been motivated by people not wanting to get blown up anymore.

That was not the best response to his tweets. It would have been much better if I’d asked him to tell me how he thinks Boston should have been handled. Was he suggesting that the pictures of the suspects should not have been made public? Was he suggesting that this was acceptable because the U.S. government has employed explosives in other countries? Or was he saying that we should not be upset when those same countries come after our military, because those situations are similar to Boston? Even with a few qualifying tweets from him I still am not clear on what his overall thesis is, and I don’t feel like Twitter is the best place for that discussion anyway.

So, why am I sharing this? Well, in addition to it being a great reminder of how (not) to interact with others on Twitter, that exchange also got my mind going to a more philosophical place than it was the week of April 15. Between the Boston marathon bombings and the West Texas explosion, my brain was mostly focused on the emergency management response. An unfortunate side affect of my work is that instead of viewing these incidents ‘as a human’, as one kind co-worker said, I ended up viewing them as an emergency manager. How quickly were patients distributed to hospitals? Did they set up a reception center for family members who couldn’t find them? Did they have a phone number for the public? What were they telling them? And who was providing that information?

But now that I’ve had some time to reflect and read some of the articles out there, I am becoming more aware of my own thoughts about the incident itself and what it says (or maybe doesn’t say) about our society and what we value. I am interested in how we make our decisions about what is unacceptable (a bomb that kills three people) and what is a seen as a legitimate cost of living in our society (assault weapons being available). If someone kills three people and injures 200 more, the city is shut down and people are calling for the arrested suspect to be treated as an ‘enemy combatant’ and denied rights, and holding them up as a reason why we should not allow immigration to this country (or something – sometimes it’s hard to follow the ‘logic’ of people like Lindsey Graham). Meanwhile, if someone kills 27 people (including 20 small children), he’s just ‘mentally ill’, and there should be no action taken at all to try to prevent someone’s ability to replicate that act.

How can we rationalize the willingness to lock down neighborhoods in an attempt to stop someone who has killed three people while simultaneously suggesting that it’s too invasive to require background checks before people can purchase guns? To me it seems ideologically inconsistent. And meanwhile, the West explosion in Texas killed 14 people and may have been caused by lack of regulatory inspection and corporate negligence, but there’s been no manhunt for the owner of that facility, no calls to properly fund the government oversight organizations that could best regularly inspect such facilities.

When I was in school in London one of our areas of study was perceived versus actual risk, and to me that seems to be pretty clearly in play with these issues. For example, people fear flying even though statistically they are more likely to die in a car crash than an aviation accident. When someone dies at a train crossing, people clamor for more barriers no matter the cost, even though few people are dying that way. And yet, when precautions that could save literally tens of thousands of lives are suggested, people shy away from them. It’s also interesting to think about how we view lives close to us (whether in our towns or country, or if they look like us) versus lives across the ocean. Peter Singer wrote about this extensively in “The Life You Can Save”; I highly recommend it.

Many people wiser than me have written much more interesting articles about this issue. I’m going to keep reading their articles and really thinking about what happened last week – the bombings, the West explosion, the gun vote and the suspect detention. If you have any further interest, below are some articles I found really interesting.

Rania Khalek:

Glen Greewald:

Michael Cohen:

Owen Jones:–some-deaths-matter-more-than-others-8581715.html



April 2013



Girl Walks Into a Bar

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Reviews

Girl Walks Into a Bar

I see two fellow Cannonballers have reviewed this book so far; their reviews actually reminded me that I wanted to pick up this book. Once again I chose the audio book route (at the end of the year I should put together a post comparing all the female-written and -read memoirs I’ve listened to this year) and am really happy I did.

As the other reviewers have pointed out, the focus of the book isn’t so much a behind-the-scenes SNL expose; yes that gets coverage as it is part of her life but it’s only part of her story. It’s interesting, it’s well-told, and it provides some insight into that world, but it was only about seven years of her life, so it makes sense to not spend the entire book on that time period.

Ms. Dratch strikes me as pretty laid back, cool lady. She’s funny, entertaining, and can write really well. She also strikes me as one of the most self-aware humans on the planet. Pretty close to the beginning of the book, she starts talking about the 30 rock ‘incident.’ I could hear the exhaustion in her voice, and I don’t blame her. I cannot imagine how frustrating and annoying (not to mention hurtful at times) it must be to be responsible for some hilarious roles and yet have her still most talked about role be ‘getting fired’ from 30 rock.

And to be clear – she’s really not hung up on it. She talks about it because we’re interested in it. But because the implication, the suggestion in hushed (and not so hushed) tones in the celebrity media, is that she lost out because she is not as attractive as Jane Krakowski, it’s repeatedly mentioned when Ms. Dratch’s name comes up. Can you imagine that something that was a bummer for you (losing a job because of a decision to have a different type of character in that position) becomes some giant (celebrity) news story about how you aren’t pretty enough? Ugh. She’s gracious in telling the story, and while others might be skeptical, I believe that she’s made her peace with it and really wishes the rest of us would just move on.

Some of the best parts of this memoir are her discussions about the types of work she is now offered and about her relationship with her son’s father John. Seriously, the entire final third of the book, while not really talking much at all about SNL or 30 Rock, is some of the best writing and the most interesting. I had dinner plans Monday night and was pretty annoyed that my friend showed up just as Ms. Dratch narrated that she’d just checked the pregnancy test and there were two stripes. I knew what was going to happen next (I mean, I knew she had a kid so assumed this was the start of that story), but the writing and the delivery of the words was so compelling I really did not want to turn it off.

I’d definitely recommend this book to others. It’s not particularly long (5 1/2 hours on audio; most of the books I’ve listened to have been between 6 and 8 hours) but it’s interesting, clever and sweet.



April 2013



I Can Barely Take Care of Myself

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Reviews

Full disclosure: when I first heard about this book I got annoyed for two reasons. The first was jealousy – “Oh man why did she get to write this book? I so could have written this book. Damn it.” The second was annoyance at the title – saying “I Can Barely Take Care of Myself” seems to play right into the stereotypes so many of those with children have about us childfree folks. I can take care of myself just fine and I STILL don’t want children. But as the author so kindly reminded me herself on twitter when I made such a comment, you really shouldn’t judge a book by its title.

I Can Barely Take Care of Myself

Well, I’m no longer annoyed by the fact that she wrote this book before I could – because is it GOOD. Ms. Kirkman (a writer for Chelsea Lately) did a much better job with this material than I could have done. The book feels honest, self-aware and not obnoxious. Of course I’m probably her target audience (happily committed to the childfree life [link to my post on it here]) and I’m not sure what the Eileens of the world (Chapter 11 – man I’ve met many of them) will think of it. But screw that – who cares? It’s nice to read a book that doesn’t assume that every woman in her 30s without kids is just waiting to get pregnant.

I’m still annoyed at the title a bit to be honest, just because even though she spends a lot of time explaining why she really wouldn’t be the best parent, and even though this is (cringe) her truth, it’s still sort of frustrating that such an awesome book’s first impression is “No, you’re totally right, people who don’t want children are a little broken and just recognize that we aren’t as good at life as you parents are.” But that won’t keep me from recommending the content to all my friends (the ones with kids and the ones without).

The book gives us some of Ms. Kirkman’s background, although it doesn’t feel like a full-on memoir. I bought the book on Thursday and read about 40 pages. I wasn’t able to pick it up again until today (Sunday), and I basically read through the last 160 pages in one sitting. While the early chapters were interesting, she really gets into the meat of the different ways childfree folks find themselves in uncomfortable situations. So many people say (sometimes in the comments of articles Ms. Kirkman herself has written) ‘why do you non-reproducers feel the need to talk about your choice?’ We really, really don’t. But because (some, many, a lot of) people won’t accept no for an answer, we’re repeatedly ‘defending’ a position that is really only our (and our partner’s, if relevant) business. Sometimes it’s easier to just preemptively strike.

I don’t want to take away from the joy of any potential readers by spoiling too many of the great insights Ms. Kirkman shares, but here’s one of my favorites. She spends the better part of one chapter talking through this idea that having a child somehow makes someone selfless (the opposite of us selfish childfree folks) and this whole “I really didn’t know the meaning of life until I had a child” concept. I can’t do it justice here but she basically points out that all of these parents making those claims are essentially suggesting that they had no moral compass until they reproduced, which – huh. Interesting thing to admit. She also points out that many childfree folks are contributing to society in a selfless and meaningful way, such as contributing to charity and doing all sorts of things that people with young children may not have the time to do.

She also takes on such fun responses to “I’m not having children” as “But you’d be such a good mother!” and “It’s all worth it!” while addressing how amazingly insulting it is for some people to just assume they know someone better than they know themselves (the “you just think you don’t want kids” condescension). The liberties people take when they hear ‘no’ in response to ‘are you having children’ is mind-boggling, and Ms. Kirkman does a pretty great job in the Eileen chapter of pointing out how horrible and violated it can make us childfree folks feel. We actually DON’T owe anyone an explanation, and yet somehow we always end up having to defend our choices to people at cocktail parties and weddings even if we really would rather be talking about literally anything else. We also really don’t like being forced to essentially lie to try to make small talk easier for the person with the child who cannot understand

She does veer a little into a sort of ‘huh’ realm with what I think might be an ill-advised analogy in the last chapter but I do get what she’s aiming for. And it doesn’t take away from the rest of this well-written book. If you’re interested in hearing her perspective before committing to buying the book, check her out on the April 18 episode of Citizen Radio – it’s what convinced me that I really needed to read this book.

One last quote I’ll be keeping in my back pocket in case I find myself facing boorish folks at a cocktail party thinking I just rolled out of bed at noon: “I get up at seven on weekends because I love my free time. Not every childfree person sleeps late and parties all the time. I am still a grown-up.” Preach it.



April 2013



We Do Not All Work the Same Way

Written by , Posted in Politics

Time for me once again to jump into a discussion about a month (or three) late. And before I get into this, I want to point out that I recognize that this discussion comes from a fairly privileged place – one where we’re talking about office workers who generally have (physically, if not mentally) comfortable jobs where they can sit or stand, take a bathroom break when they need it and are paid something more than minimum wage. Concerns related to that type of labor are beyond the scope of this discussion.

You’ve probably heard about the policy change, or even read the memo []. If you’ve managed to miss it, in one of her acts as CEO, Marissa Mayer decided that Yahoo employees will no longer be able to telecommute. Whether the employee had an agreement to work from home one or two days a week, or was permanently operating out of a home office, from now on everyone will need to report daily to one of Yahoo’s offices.

The Arguments

Some are in favor of this decision because they assume that most anyone who works from home is lazy and/or unproductive, or is of the personality type that should not expect to be involved in any innovative or interesting work. For example, there’s this article that showed up in my Facebook feed soon after the memo came out (trigger warning: may cause SEVERE eye-rolling and sadness that this person has a widely-read blog) []. The line that kills me the most is the one where, right after she acknowledges the argument I will make below, she states “But there is also evidence that top firms don’t need to accommodate those people.” Awesome.

Some are in favor of seeing how it goes, because Ms. Mayer needs to do something to save Yahoo, and this might do it. [] I take exception to the idea that’s in the title – that the CEO doesn’t have an obligation to her employees. I’ll get to that below.

Now I do not know anything about being a CEO, except in the U.S. you apparently get to make literally hundreds of times what your employees make []. I do, however, know what I value, and I believe that actions like this – saving a company by treating its employees like children – go against what I value and what I hope others value as well.

A Caveat or Three

1. I will say up front that I am confused as to why Yahoo’s employees can’t just sign into a Google Hangout or a Lync meeting if they want to involve people in a face-to-face discussion. Will that work every time? No. But the people you need in your meeting are rarely all going to be available at the drop of a hat, whether they are in the office or not.

2. I am not going to support Ms. Mayer just because she is a woman. I am also not going withhold support because she is a woman. I will support her or not support her based on how her actions work to improve the lives of others, understanding that she comes from a different perspective and has determined she has certain duties and responsibilities.

3. I do not accept the premise that the purpose of any organization is to make as much money as possible for shareholders. I recognize that this means some people will stop reading now because I ‘don’t understand capitalism’ or the way the ‘real world’ works. But here’s the thing – I’m actually very interested in how the ‘real world’ works. I’m interested in how the actions we all take actively impact the real world. And I refuse to accept that we’re stuck with this broken system simply because we haven’t found anything better. That’s just uninspired thinking. That’s the kind of thinking that leads a feminist to say it isn’t Ms. Mayer’s job to make life easier for working mothers.

What’s the Big Deal?

Ms. Mayer sent out a memo that made it clear that everyone must work from the office because that is the best / only way for innovation. Perhaps this is actually true for Yahoo specifically; it might help explain the company’s poor performance over the past years. Additionally, numerous articles have cited a Harvard Study about workplace productivity and the benefits of working together.

But these articles often don’t seem to touch on the problem of expecting the exact same work environment to work work for everyone, or at least everyone of value to an innovative company. The ‘then don’t work there’ retort to the idea that someone might perform better working remotely demonstrates fear, unjustified defense of the status quo, and a willingness to forsake innovation and increased productivity to help make people who fit the status quo feel better about their own life choices.

Sweeping statement, I know. But stay will me.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Do you know those people who wear their work hours as a badge of pride? They may also be the same people who have ‘never taken a sick day,’ (thus being responsible for most of the colds that spread around your office) or who roll their eyes if you leave at 6:30, since they plan to stay until AT LEAST 8. Interesting fact – working longer than eight hours a day might actually kill you [] and it doesn’t make you more productive []

But Yahoo’s decision isn’t necessarily about longer hours, is it? No, but I shared those articles to point out that the status quo – working long hours and putting in ‘face time’ so your boss knows you are in early and leaving late – not only doesn’t achieve what people claim it does, but can actively hurt both the worker AND the employee. You’d think companies that claim to be so efficient and interested in making money would wise up. But no, instead you have people like Ms. Mayer who seem more interested in regressing so that they can send a message and look like they are doing something productive as opposed to … actually doing something productive.

In addition to removing the ability of some people to work in an environment that works best for them, the implication is that the job is what matters the most.

I disagree.

Because here’s my not-at-all-novel or radical idea: work is not all that matters, and while society should not actively punish people who live to work, it also should not punish people who recognize that work is just one part of who we are as people.

I’m not suggesting that people who are in the midst of a very busy time at work should just get up at 5 p.m. and leave. But these same people shouldn’t expect a cookie if they stay an extra two hours every night during regular operations. If they have too much work to do in the allotted time, then that means the company has more work than employees and needs to hire more people.

What? Hire more people? Please.

I know. But really, it’s only an absurd notion if you accept the premise that we should all just accept that we’re going to have work 10 hour days with an hour-long commute each way. It happens because enough of us allow it to happen. It happens because when Ms. Mayer makes this kind of move, people applaud her for ‘taking decisive action’ instead of encouraging her to look for ways to include diversity in the workplace.

Yup. I said it. Diversity. Not just talking about men and women, or racial, ethnic or economic diversity. I’m talking about diversity of work styles. I’m talking about the people who get energy from being in groups and talking things out AS WELL AS the people who think things through, sit and reason, and get energized when they are able to work alone. The idea that there is more value in the former is preposterous and should be discarded by people as high up as Ms. Mayer.

Why do we value the people who are outspoken over the people who are introspective? In the comments section of the hideous article I linked above, the author says that no innovative company wants an introvert working for it. Um … I call bullshit. They may not be the workers who fit the CEO’s ‘vision’ of how everyone should work just like them, but they are ones doing work just the same. If whole swaths of the population are disregarded because they aren’t as vocal or as in-your-face as others, then as a society we are really missing out on the innovation and creativity those people could bring to the table. Not to mention that the percent of introverts in the population varies from 25%-50%. Can any CEO claim that it makes sense to disregard up to 50% of the potential workforce?

But what about the lazy people taking advantage of telecommuting policies?

Direct them to different work or, if they really can’t be trusted to do work from home or in the office, fire them for performance issues. There are going to be lazy people everywhere and it’s bordering on the absurd to suggest that a lazy person will stop being lazy once they are in the office. Perhaps for the first few days or weeks they will be on their best behavior, but it’s pretty easy to waste time while looking busy. If a specific employee is not performing as expected and directed, the manager should speak with that employee. If there’s any laziness here it seems to be with the CEO, who is trying to do with one memo what management should have been doing with people individually.

But no one has a right to telecommute, so isn’t this kind of a silly discussion?

No. Because while no one has a ‘right’ to telecommute, how companies chose to treat their employees affects us all. I don’t use any Yahoo products, but I know people who do. I might even know people who work for Yahoo, or who have family or friends who work there. And while some jobs do not lend themselves to flexibility in terms of where the person can do their job (hello, bartender), society should embrace the ones that do, because we are not all the same, and we shouldn’t all be expected to work in the same way.

I have a job that allows for some flexibility. I can adjust my hours so that I have a day off every two weeks. It’s pretty amazing, and allows me to focus while at work and get errands, appointments and other tasks done on that day off. Our office also allows for some limited telecommuting. That helps when I have an appointment that can’t be changed that is three blocks from my house at noon on a Wednesday. Instead of wasting an hour going back and forth to the office, I can work at home, maintain nearly regular hours (instead of staying at work until 7 or 8), and still fulfill my obligations as an employee and a member of society. Because I don’t just work for my organization – I also am a member of the community, the partner of an awesome man, a caretaker to my cats and a friend and relative to others. What I do to earn money is part of how I contribute to this world, but it is not the only way I contribute. I think corporations forget that some times.

At my office no one works from home all of the time, but many are able to work from home one day a week. And you know what? We do pretty fantastic work there. Hopefully you won’t ever have to encounter it, but I can say quite honestly that what we do will matter to you if you live where I live and a disaster strikes. And we’re able to do that because we are able to hire great people who do not just live for this job.

That’s right! People who DO NOT live for work are actually making amazing contributions. They are able to see the bigger picture, not just how their one little piece of the puzzle matters. It’s fantastic how someone who has a child to pick up after school or a cat who needs to go to the vet learns over time to cut to the chase. To be efficient with their time while allowing others to work in the way that works best for them. We should value those qualities in not just our colleagues, but in our fellow humans.

But what about the shareholders?

Stop it. I own stock (actually, I own mutual funds, so I guess it is possible I own 1/1000 of a percent of a share of Yahoo). And as much as it is within my control, I try to invest responsibly, with companies and organizations that are interested in more than just money. Companies that are interested in the employees – the people doing the work – as much as the shareholders. It’s not an absurd concept – what should matter is how what a company is doing affects us ALL. Not just the customer, or the employee, or the shareholder. A company can survive and actually THRIVE by treating its employees well, producing a quality product or service, and not fucking up the environment. I don’t tolerate companies pouring sludge into the groundwater – why should we tolerate companies who pour that same metaphorical sludge into their workers?

As I state above – I’m not a CEO, or even a senior manager. I have witnessed the tough decisions that need to be made in the private sector, with senior and executive staff feeling the stress of the desire to GROW MORE FASTER FASTER. I see it with the organizations some friends work at, where what matters is not the quality of the product but the deadline that has to be met so that the people who own the stock can see that percentage point tick up slightly. It’s not cool, and if more of us who can afford to used our wallets to buy from the companies that treat their employees, or (if its possible given our financial situation) turned down jobs at companies that think employees are children to be managed and not contributing adults, maybe we could start to make a dent. Maybe. At the very least, we should stop acting like the only employees who matter are the ones who are able to work in one specific environment.



April 2013



Official Book Club Selection

Written by , Posted in Reviews

I’ve had to stop running for awhile, so I finished up this audio book while cleaning my apartment last weekend (ah, the miracle of those noise-canceling ear buds).

I’m a fan of Kathy Griffin. I think she has a different way of making people laugh, is shameless in a way that doesn’t make me cringe as much as, say, your average episode of “The Office,” and (despite some of her jokes) seems like a genuinely nice and caring person. I picked this audio book because I figured hearing her tell these stories would probably be more entertaining than reading them.

I was right.

Official book club selection

She is such a natural storyteller that I didn’t really ever feel like she was READING to me. I’m wondering how much was faithful to the written book and how much was changed for the audio version; she’d stutter, get lost mid-thought and switch gears (in a non-annoying way) and just generally sounded like someone I know sharing a story, not an author or comedian reading from their memoir. That was nice.

If you aren’t familiar with her work, Kathy Griffin started out as a comedian and actress, doing bit parts (including a memorable appearance on Seinfeld) until she was cast as the sidekick in ‘Suddenly Susan’, the Brooke Shield sitcom. Griffin is very up front about her understanding of her skills – she’s not a traditional comedian (she doesn’t excel at 10-minute stand-up spots relying on the set-up and punch line), and she was never going to be the ingénue in a blockbuster film. What she can do is be a funny sidekick, and tell some killer stories. If you’ve ever seen her live (I did, back in NYC), hopefully you know that she’s this high-energy person who can spend 20 minutes telling a story that is funny the whole way through but doesn’t rely necessarily on one big HA moment. I like that kind of comedy, but I realize it isn’t for everyone.

This memoir is really a memoir, not just a collection of some essays that tell her story. It really differs from other comedian memoirs (like “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”) in that it has some pretty dark moments. It’s a bit like “Bedwetter” in that aspect. For example, Griffin talks about one of her brothers, who she suspected of being a child molester.

You read that right. A child molester. And she deals with that in like the second chapter, so you know that this isn’t just going to be about some hard-scrabble times at The Comedy Store.

But there are those stories, too. Griffin’s exploration of how she found her place in the comedy world by setting up comedy nights with her friends that focused on storytelling and not repeating material is really interesting, as is her struggle with parlaying her success on “Suddenly Susan” into her own series (“My Life on the D List”). She talks about being repeatedly banned from talk shows, the Dakota Fanning awards show ‘incident’, and the suicide of a colleague. It’s not all laugh-out-loud funny but it’s all really interesting.

She also talks about her marriage, and what lead to it ending. It’s a fascinating section of the book that really had me riveted and annoyed when I had to turn it off because I’d gotten to work.

This is a good book. I probably won’t listen to it again, but if it’s possible to lend audio books then I’ll definitely be offering it up to friends.