Paid Sick Leave

I was sick this week.  A non-serious, but icky, kind of sick.  I won’t go into the details here.  But, I stayed home from work for a couple of days.  I believe very strongly in not infecting others when I’m sick.  I don’t send my kid to school when she’s sick either, even if it means I have to miss work.  The weird thing about all of this is that I can’t help but feel a little guilty whenever I miss work.  Why do I feel guilty about doing something that is not only good for me, but good for business and society as a whole?

Like most people of my class, I first entered the work force with part time, contingent and temporary positions in restaurants and retail.  I had little, if any savings, and if I didn’t show up to work, I didn’t get paid.  As a result, I didn’t take my first sick day for many years after I started working, and that one was only because I vomited at work just before my shift started.  There was no way to pretend I was fine.  It’s not that I never got sick.  It’s because I was broke and the money was more important than whatever ailment was bothering me.

The jobs I had used to encourage this kind of behavior.  Since I was there all the time, I heard the way the bosses complained about anyone who missed a shift.  And in my reviews every year, they would praise my attendance.  It got to the point where I internalized this mentality.  I was proud of myself for never taking a sick day.  I felt like it showed me to be strong and dedicated.

My attitude changed completely when I got promoted to management in a corporate retail store.  I realized very quickly that employees who show up no matter what are bad for themselves and bad for business.  They are less productive and they spread their sickness to other employees and customers.  It is unbelievably obvious that it is better to have one employee miss a few days than have all of your employees be at 50-75% of their usual capabilities.

The problem is, a huge chunk of those employees were part time, contingent and temporary, just like I was.  They needed every dollar of their paychecks, just like I did.  So, I couldn’t insist they stay home even though I wished they would.  Needless to say, I was very happy when Connecticut, my home state, passed a mandatory paid sick leave law.  While it doesn’t go far enough*, it is great for everyone in the state.  Now there is less reason for people to have to choose between getting paid and getting healthy.  It makes for happier and healthier citizens and more productive businesses.  But, this shouldn’t be a big surprise, many business organizations hate it.

I believe the reason for the hatred is that the business culture as a whole has internalized the attitude that still causes my guilt when I miss a day of work.  The economy is not made up of rational actors no matter how hard the free market advocates try to say otherwise.  A shocking number of business decisions are made because that’s the way it’s always been done.  It is one of those things that’s just passed down from person to person that a business doesn’t want to pay a person who isn’t doing work.  But, actual economic analysis shows that companies save money with paid sick leave (The Bureau of Labor Statistics says businesses save $1.17 per employee per week).  The opponents can’t seem to do any better than surveying managers who say they don’t like it.

It would be great if the rest of the country would catch up with Connecticut, and the rest of the civilized world, and pass their own mandatory paid sick leave laws.  And I need to get over my guilt when I take a day off.  I am helping myself, my family, my employer and society as a whole.  There is certainly no reason to feel guilty about that.


*The law only covers businesses with 50 or more employees and it doesn’t cover temporary or day labor.

Commercials Are Good For You

I don’t hate commercials.  I know that makes me a freak and you probably don’t want to be my friend anymore, but I don’t hate commercials.  As a matter of fact, I often kind of like them.  I really think you should give them a chance.  If you think about them, I’ll bet you’d like them, too. First, I should say that I’m thinking about television commercials, but really this can be applied to any advertising, print, radio, internet, etc.  At their worst, they are a relatively painless way to lower the price of things I enjoy.  At their best, they are as entertaining as the show I’m watching.  I know, the second one is too obvious.  If all commercials were entertaining, everyone would like commercials.  So, I want to focus on the first one.

I was born in the 1970’s.  Cable TV was a thing, but not ubiquitous.  It was in the late seventies and early eighties that cable really exploded with CNN, ESPN, MTV and TBS.  My family didn’t get cable.  I was sort of jealous of my friends who had cable, but not really.  And the reason I wasn’t really jealous is I never felt like I was missing anything.  I’d watch when I had the opportunity, but more as a novelty than as something I wanted.  All of the shows that I cared to watch were on broadcast TV.  24 hour news coverage has always been a bad idea.  ESPN didn’t show any real sports.  I enjoy lumber jack competitions, but not enough to pay for it.  I wasn’t a fan of 80’s pop music, even in the 80’s, so MTV didn’t do much for me.  I would’ve enjoyed being able to watch Braves games, but, again, not enough to pay for it.

By the time I got out of college, things had changed dramatically.  In the nineties, cable showed real programming.  The only way to watch baseball was with a cable package.  ESPN started showing baseball, basketball, tennis, and eventually football.  Cable only stations started developing their own content instead of just recycling old broadcast shows.  It got to the point where I decided I wanted the cable only content badly enough to start paying for cable. I was never really happy with this.  Frankly, NESN and the Red Sox are mostly responsible for all of my cable bills.  The reason I’ve never been happy with this is that I feel like I’m being ripped off.  If broadcast TV can have better shows with better production values and basically the entire cost is covered by commercials, then why am I paying a monthly fee and still sitting through just as many commercials?  It just feels wrong.  But, I love my baseball, so I keep doing it.

Things are changing again.  Cable is losing its dominance, but not in the way I had hoped.  There is all this talk about cable cutters, which sounds great, but it is really moving in the direction that cable started anyway.  There are now a bunch of online TV services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon and they are all developing exclusive content.  And, from what I understand, this content is really pretty good.  So, if I want to watch it, I need to start subscribing.  But by the time I’ve subscribed to all of them, it will cost me as much as cable.  And they still don’t have live TV, so no sports.  Then, there is Sling TV for live television and supposedly Apple and Google are developing similar products.  These are supposed to be part of the cable cutting movement, but they require subscriptions to watch live TV, so how are they different than cable? What I’m getting at with all of this is there has been a constant march away from the old broadcast TV model that was funded by commercials, and every change has been bad for the consumer.  It makes it harder to get the content you want and more expensive.  And people act like each new development has been great, but why do they think it’s great to have the same product that’s less convenient and more expensive?  It doesn’t make sense.

Now, I’m not saying things should never change.  The internet is a great way to provide TV service.  I remember rabbit ears and fuzzy reception (and no reception) and I don’t want to go back to that.  What I want is for Yahoo’s model to be the one to catch on.  I knew nothing about Yahoo Screen until they signed “Community” for its sixth season.  I was a fan of “Community” on NBC (which is most likely why it always got bad ratings and NBC was constantly messing with their best show).  If I didn’t pay attention to news about the show, I’m sure I never would have heard of Yahoo Screen.  But, last week when “Community” aired, I downloaded the free app and watched the show.  It was great.  In exchange for sitting through a couple Honda commercials, I got to watch a TV show I enjoyed and didn’t have to pay or subscribe or anything.  Anyone with an internet connection can do the same.  This is how television should work.

So, to get back to my main point, I’m grateful for commercials.  I hope they make a comeback.  And I hope others will support them.  We can start a movement of true cable cutting rather than cable switching.  Then everyone will be happy.

Anger

I hate anger.  Of all the emotions, it’s my least favorite.  I’d rather feel sad or guilty than angry.  Of course, as a human being, I do feel angry from time to time, but I’m not prone to it.  I think most people who know me know that I’m calm most of the time.  That natural calmness is probably a big part of the reason I hate anger so much.  Of all the emotions, it’s probably the most passionate.  Anger just has a way of sweeping everything away to the point of the angry person losing agency.  When love or grief takes over, two of the other most passionate emotions, agency is retained and can even feel stronger.  I know who I really am when I love and I feel a change in myself when I grieve.  But with anger, I am lost.  It is this lack of agency that makes anger ethically tricky.

I say that anger is ethically tricky, but I do not think that it is wrong.  It is a brute fact.  Commanding someone to not be angry would be about as effective as commanding someone to not be hungry.  In fact, I often think that I could use a little more anger.  But, to get at why, we need to know what anger is.  As I said, everyone has felt angry, but what are we feeling?  Unlike fear, it is not a response to something potential.  It is about something actual or at least something perceived to be actual.  No one gets angry at a person that might cheat.  We get angry at a person who does cheat or who we believe is trying to cheat.  It seems to be violations that make us angry.  Anything from violating a social norm to violating a person’s body can be cause for anger.  There are all kinds of reasons we dislike things, but a feeling of violation seems to be necessary for anger.  That would make anger a defensive emotion.  We feel anger over perceived violations as a way of protecting ourselves, either from the current violation or future violations.

This also helps explain why different people get angry over different things and to different degrees. What counts as a violation is different for different people and in different situations.  Insults are a good example.  They often cause anger, but it is easy to see how the people and situations matter.  Siblings can call each other names with no anger resulting, but say those same things to someone at work and the anger will be swift and obvious.  If an opponent in a tennis match says you’re too weak to hold the racket with one hand, you’ll probably get mad.  If your coach says the same thing, you will not as she is just trying to help.

Anger can be anything from mild annoyance to blind rage.  It all depends on the severity of the violation that causes it.  Forgetting to say, “Thank you,” is going to be considered a minor violation by most people most of the time.  So, the resulting anger will be closer to the mild annoyance end of the spectrum.  Being robbed at gun point is going to be considered a major violation by most people most of the time.  So, the resulting anger will be closer to fury.  At least that’s what it should be.  Not to sound too Aristotelian, the key to being angry ethically is to be angry at the right things and in the right proportions.

But, if anger makes a person lose agency, how do we control it?  How do we make sure to be angry at the right things and in the right proportions?  This seems to be related to outlook and temperament.  When I say that I could use more anger, I think it is because I always try to look at things from different perspectives.  That tends to diffuse anger.  If a server gives me poor service, rather than getting angry, I imagine that he was being monopolized by another customer.  If a cashier overcharges me, I assume there was a problem with the bar code and it was an honest mistake.  The fact that I never assume the waiter is lazy or the cashier was trying to rip me off means I lose a valuable bit of self defense.  It is easier for people to take advantage of me than it should be.  I’m not saying that I should always get angry, but sometimes, I should assume that my own point of view is the best one.  This way, I can hold people accountable for the real violations.

People who have the opposite problem, who get angry too easily, seem to have trouble seeing things from opposing viewpoints.  It seems to come from a kind of selfishness.  Their own point of view is their default standard.  If someone is late to a meeting, it is a violation of an agreement and that is it.  The angry person’s perspective won’t acknowledge traffic jams or car trouble and broken cell phones.  Without the natural inclination to look at things a different way, everything becomes black and white.  Either you are on time or you are late.  Either you are polite or you are rude.  Without the middle ground, occasions for anger, violations, are seen everywhere.  But, anger, when directed at an innocent, is itself a violation.  So it creates a viscous cycle.

The best approach is a little self reflection.  We need to look at ourselves first.  If we are easily angered, it makes sense to make an effort to see things from other perspectives.  If we are rarely angered, we should prioritize our own point of view.  This balance will help create a just environment where fewer unjust things are done and when unjust things do happen, the perpetrators are more likely to be held accountable.

I Wish It Would Rain

I heard “I Wish It Would Rain” by the Temptations at the cafeteria at work today.  It is a truly spectacular song. If you have three minutes, I can think of no better way to spend it.  When it was playing, I couldn’t help but think how well everything works.  The performance and the arrangement and the lyrics are perfectly in sync. And, naturally, the song was stuck in my head the rest of the day.

It’s an unusual song for popular music in that it is so very sad. It’s about a man whose woman left, but there’s no, “I’m gonna get you back,” or, “I’ll find another girl.” It’s just bleak. He can’t stop crying and can’t leave the house. I think that’s part of the magic of the song. Most won’t go that far, but this is as cathartic as pop songs get. I get the same feeling listening to it as I get from Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem.

As I’m apt to do, I looked up the song and confirmed that it’s a Whitfield/Strong composition. But I learned that the lyrics were written by Roger Penzabene. It turns out, according to various blogs and Wikipedia, that the song is autobiographical. His wife was cheating and left. He wrote the lyrics, but didn’t get any catharsis. He killed himself a week after the song was released.

This new information left me feeling strange, but I can’t quite explain why. It doesn’t change the quality of the song, but it does add kind of a real sadness to it. Artistic sadness is one thing, but this is real despair. I listened to the song again when I got home. The catharsis was still there for me, but it was accompanied by some real sadness. It’s just strange, and seems wrong, that I get something from the song that its author could not.

Re-de-segregation?

Today, as I do most everyday, I was scrolling through 3 Quarks Daily.  In case you don’t know, it’s an excellent site.  Once a week, on Monday, they have a collection of original essays.  The rest of the week, they are a high quality aggregator.  Instead of the usual headlines, they tend to feature longer works dealing with politics, the arts, philosophy and science.  Today they had a piece from Salon called “The 1 Percent’s White Privilege Con” by Corey Robin.  When I started reading the piece, I thought it was the standard liberal handwringing about the lack of diversity in schools.  I almost stopped reading, but I have a compulsion to finish what I start, so I discovered it was much worse.

The gist of the piece is that since the peak of desegregation things have regressed.  We now have a duty to start desegregation over again.  At least, that’s the most likely point.  He isn’t exactly clear and seems to change his stance throughout the piece.  But, aside from the bad writing, the first red flag for me was a paragraph about Hannah Arendt.  I will quote it in full:

In 1959, Dissent published an article by the German-Jewish émigré philosopher Hannah Arendt. A criticism of desegregation and a defense of states’ rights, “Reflections on Little Rock” was controversial, offensive and wrong-headed in almost every way. But one point—beyond the immediate question of integration, about which she was wrong—Arendt got it right. Why, she wondered, do we “burden children, black and white, with the working out of a problem which adults for generations have confessed themselves unable to solve?” It’s an age-old dream, she acknowledged in a reply to her critics, that “one can change the world by educating the children in the spirit of the future.” But doesn’t that dream just shift “the burden of responsibility from the shoulders of adults to those of children”?

Now, it had been a while since I read Arendt’s article, but I didn’t recall anything “offensive” or “wrong-headed” about it, let alone it being those things “in every way.”  So, I pulled my copy of The Portable Hannah Arendt to reread her article.  Then I reread Robin’s piece and what I found is that either he has not actually read Arendt’s article or he completely misunderstood it.  Arendt’s main point was that forced desegregation of schools by the federal government was wrong for three reasons.  The first is that it is morally wrong to force black children into a position where they will be bullied and traumatized.  And it’s immoral to prevent their parents from protecting them.  The second is that it is morally wrong to force children to deal with the problems that adults cannot fix, as Robin noted.  The third is that the basic difference between the North and South in the 1950’s wasn’t that one was segregated and the other wasn’t.  The difference was that in the South, segregation was part of the law.  She argues that the proper thing to do is to make sure everyone has equal protection under the law, not to force people who do not want to interact to interact.

If Robin read Arendt’s article, I would imagine the place where he misunderstood her is when she gets into a theoretical discussion of the differences between the political, social and private realms.  In the political realm, equality is paramount.  But, in the social realm, people choose to segregate themselves all the time, and the government has no business interfering.  “Without discrimination of some sort, society would simply cease to exist and very important possibilities of free association and group formation would disappear.”  If the VFW were forced to allow non-veterans in, they would lose their reason for being.  This discrimination allows a group to exist which benefits its members who have benefitted society.  When she says that society would “cease to exist,” she is saying that a society without discrimination would be no more than a mob.  And in the private realm, “Here we choose those with whom we wish to spend our lives. . . and our choice is guided not by likeness or qualities shared by a group of people – it is not guided, indeed, by any objective standards or rules.”  I can see where this may sound bad, but it is simply saying that the government has to stick to the political arena.  People may be completely wrong in their choice of society and friends, but the government is not there to fix these mistakes.  She no where says that the plight of blacks is anything but bad.  She actually refers to it as the, “original crime in this country’s history,” and believes that all laws that encode segregation are perpetuating that crime.

The other thing that Arendt talks about in her article is the fact that there are other, better places to fight for equality than the schools.  The ones that she is focused on are the right to participate fully in government, from voting to holding office, and the right to marry whomever one wishes (she was talking about inter-racial marriage, but the principals would transfer to gay marriage).  The first violates political equality, which is paramount.  The second violates privacy. “If legislature follows social prejudice, society has become tyrannical.”  These are two ways in which our society was tyrannical, and are therefore more important battle grounds.

I know I’ve been talking at length about Arendt rather than Robin.  I want to make it clear that she was neither offensive nor wrong-headed.  And her arguments are still sound.  Robin is talking about a new wave of forced desegregation when he says, “lobby for better state and federal laws, and more liberal courts, to reintegrate the public schools,” or, “schools could organize workshops to teach students how to lead a mass movement that would divest private schools of federal tax benefits.”  If I’m being generous, this is a failure to learn from history.  Forced desegregation didn’t fix the problems before and it will not fix them now.  Segregated schools are the result of a bad system.  Redlining, voter ID laws and gerrymandering are the causes. You can’t fix the roots by messing with the fruit.  Focusing on desegregation is at best a waste of time and effort.  It is still putting an unfair burden on children.  It is still confusing the private, social and political realms.  Robin and most liberals need to get past their clichés and platitudes to focus on the root causes if any progress is to be made.

Blurry Lines

A couple years ago, I discovered that Kirk Cameron’s father in “Growing Pains” had a kid who had a hit song.  I’ve never heard the song, but I read an article about the fact that he was pre-emptively suing Marvin Gaye’s estate so that the courts would certify that he had not stolen one of Marvin Gaye’s songs.  This seemed like a really strange thing to do if it was an original song.  And the courts came back this week and announced that Robin Thicke did, in fact, steal one of Marvin Gaye’s songs and ordered more than $7 million paid to Marvin Gaye’s estate.  This got me thinking about something I have thought about off and on for years.

I don’t usually talk about this because there is no way to talk about it without sounding incredibly snobby.  That is not my intention, and I’m hoping Robin Thicke will help me.  Since he stole the biggest hit of his career and his defense basically boiled down to, “It’s not my fault, I was really high and didn’t contribute much of anything to the song,” I think it’s safe to say he isn’t exactly overflowing with musical talent.  The music industry discovered a long time ago that musical talent isn’t really important for making a singer popular.  Marketing is important.  Exposure is important, that’s what the whole payola scandal was about.  Image is important.  But, musicality isn’t that important.  Sure, the record has to be competent, but anyone can sound competent in a professional studio with professional musicians.  This is where I get confused.  What value does Robin Thicke, or others of his ilk, bring?

The first thing that comes to mind is he is attractive.  Although, most of any celebrity’s attractiveness comes from the fact that they are celebrities.  And, I’m doubtful that he is attractive enough to make that the deciding factor.  Next would be charm, personality and charisma.  But he seems to lack all of those.  He comes off as a douchebag.  So, I’m left with the thought that someone at a record company knows and likes Alan Thicke and decided to make Robin Thicke a star.

But what does the record company get out of this?  Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to make the actual musicians the stars?  Why hire a vaguely pretty, no talent front man?  That’s just an extra person to pay.  Are they afraid that making the real musicians popular would give the musicians too much power?  Maybe Robin Thicke was made a star because he would be compliant.  I don’t know, it’s as good a theory as any.

I wonder what would happen if the real musicians were the stars.  Would there be different and interesting music on the radio?  Would we discover another Marvin Gaye?  It’s a nice thought.

I am sorry, I know this sounds snobby.  I’m not trying to say that all music stars are no talent hacks.  But, it’s undeniable that a noticeable percentage of them are.  I’d love a good explanation.  If anyone knows, please leave a comment.

My Semi-Annual Daylight Saving Rant

I hate Daylight Saving Time.  I hate everything about it.  It makes my electric bill go up.  It means I have to try to wake up and wake my daughter up while it is still dark.  It means I have to try to put my daughter to sleep while it is still light.  It takes me a full week to adjust.  The days we switch are two of the most dangerous days for drivers and pedestrians.  I hate the fact that the commonly accepted reasons for it don’t make sense.  People talk about farmers, but farmers will work with the sun whether we call it 8 or 9.  They talk about saving energy, but at best it’s a wash and many studies show that it wastes energy.  Everything about it is awful, terrible and makes me a less happy person.