Not Sure

What’s the optimal timeframe for “To Do” lists, a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime? I’m not sure. A day seems far too short, a year and lifetime unhelpfully long, unless the list is filled with BHAGs. For some people it’s all about the week ahead and the Sunday p.m. planning is key.

Maybe the optimal timeframe boils down to the nature of the “to dos” on the list. The vast majority of mine are of the daily/weekly variety and that’s probably why I get stuck in “tyranny of the urgent” mode. Of course it feels good to check off “clear my inbox,” “read papers 2.1-2.4,” and “call X back,” but only on the surface because it’s frustrating not to make progress on weightier, more meaningful medium and/or long-term projects.

If I subdivide my “To Do” list into daily, weekly, and monthly subsections, I predict I’ll still get stuck in the daily thicket. I’ve read some productivity lit and I think I need to breakdown my medium and or long-term project-related “to dos” into numerous small, specific “to dos”. I should also take more time to “plan backwards” by figuring out when I want to complete the medium and long-termers and then determine what intermediary steps and related deadlines make the most sense.

Truth be told, determining the perfect timeframe and wording my “to dos” with greater specificity probably won’t result in a radical increase in productivity. For that I think I need to combine improved “to doing” with greater self discipline to read and immediately act on email once in the a.m. and once in the p.m. Right now, there’s too much email water torture going on.

Alienation of Affection

Try to keep up. North Carolina is one of seven states that allows a married person whose marriage has ended to sue another person for what’s referred to as “destroyed affection”. I learned this when a friend in NC informed me through a newspaper link that a woman I used to work with was recently sued for allegedly breaking up another woman’s marriage. Then I heard the story on the BBC via NPR.

The woman who brought the suit was separated from her attorney husband who apparently had an affair with my acquaintance. He was one of the college’s attorneys and was co-writing a book with my acquaintance who was the Dean of Student Life. Makes me wonder if Tiger has a bunch of books coming out shortly, but I digress. The victim of “destroyed affection” argued she had a “good long marriage” until younger co-author hussy “came along and maliciously destroyed it”.

An interesting twist, in bringing a suit like this, you don’t have to show that anyone had sex with anyone else, just that he or she (joke alert—I’m betting it’s almost always “she” because we know men are much more respectful of the marital covenant, I mean no one was hitting on Elin Woods) destroyed the affection in the marriage.

Apparently, people bring about 200 cases a year of “alienated affection” and the most anyone has won is something like $1.9m. The woman in this case won $9m, thus the media spotlight. I’m guessing my acquaintance, who is now Dean of Student Life at another college in another state, makes $80-90k/a year, so good luck collecting.

A couple of implications of this bizarre legal drama spring to mind. Penelope Cruz, if you’re reading this, you should know my wife isn’t a particularly litigious person, but hey you never know. Just to play it safe, maybe you should stop making movies for awhile. And to the older guy at church, yeah you know who you are buddy, who keeps bugging the gal pal to go on a “bike ride”, don’t think I don’t know what that’s code for. In fact, to the gaggle of guys at the “Y” who constantly tweak their swim schedules to overlap with the person I’ve enjoyed a “good long marriage” with, consider yourself forewarned. Alienate her affection and I WILL go legal shock and awe on all of yous.

The Private School Myth

Consider this excerpt from a Jonathan Mahler NYT article about Tiger’s return to golf:

On six separate occasions, he (Jay Williamson, 43) has finished the season without a strong-enough record to keep his eligibility for the PGA Tour and been forced to earn it back at the tour’s grueling 108-hole qualifying tournament, known as Q-School. Williamson has never won a PGA Tour event. Nevertheless, thanks to golf’s soaring purses during the Woods era, he has managed to earn more than $5.5 million during his 15-year career. “I certainly don’t live like a king,” he said, “but I do have three kids in private school, and that’s probably a direct result of Tiger.”

Williamson’s quote is symbolic of the American public’s belief that private schools are inherently superior to public ones. As an undergrad, I worked part-time for two years in a public elementary, taught for four years in public high schools in Los Angeles, one year at a private high school in Ethiopia, and attended both public and private universities. As a teacher educator, I visit schools all the time, mostly public ones. If I’m an expert about anything, it’s secondary education. My daughters have spent 30% of their schooling in privates and 70% in publics.

It’s easy to understand why people subscribe to the private school myth, we’re conditioned to believe “you get what you pay for”. But truth be told, that’s not always true and private schools are not inherently superior to public ones. There are good, bad, and mediocre public and private schools. Good publics are better than mediocre privates. Based on my experience, you’ll find a larger proportion of  truly outstanding teachers in publics. There are  lots of solid private school teachers too, but they have the wind at their back in the form of smaller classes and often required, built-in parent/family involvement.

In fifth grade (middle schools in Olympia, WA are 6th-8th grade), daughter one made her first independent decision of consequence when she decided she wanted to attend a local private independent school for the “academically talented”. Me, “But all your friends are going to Wash.” Her, “I’ll make new ones.”

There were a few minor and one major benefit of her private experience. Among the minor benefits, she was given more writing assignments than her public peers and received more detailed feedback on her compositions. The school also did a nice job using small group projects that engaged the students. The major benefit was her five or six closest female friends all cared equally as much about doing well in school. As a result, there was serious positive academic momentum. They spent a lot of time in the evening completing projects over the phone at the exact time a lot of middle school girls are dumbing themselves down in the hope of appearing more attractive.

The downside of her experience, and many private school students’ experiences, was the homogenous nature of the student body. Everyone was high achieving, most students were upper middle class and white or Asian-American. As adults we know that our success and happiness depend as much or more from our people smarts than our book smarts. When will my daughter and her friends learn to interact thoughtfully with young people different than themselves? Isn’t interpersonal intelligence part and parcel of being well educated?

This brings to mind a related myth, that public schools are inherently more diverse than private. While probably true in the aggregate, with tracking, or homogenous ability grouping, we end up with schools-within-schools. In other words, there are multiple Olympia High Schools, one that my daughter and her friends attend that consists largely of Advanced Placement courses and another for everyone else. Some public high schools have three or more schools-within-schools.

The public-private school water is far muddier than most people realize.

Dearest Daughters

Dearest Daughters,

Wondering what all the healthcare hoopla has been about lately? Long story short, Congress just passed a law that will result in significant changes to the ways Americans pay for health insurance, pay for healthcare, and receive healthcare. Many of the changes go into effect in between 2014 and 2018.

Congress has been trying to improve our health care system—which represents one-sixth of our economy—for fifty years. The vast majority of Congressional Democrats voted for the bill and every single Republican voted against it. Democrats are celebrating and Republicans are vowing to repeal the law and win more seats in November’s election and regain majorities in the House and Senate.

Almost every Democrat supported the bill and every Republican did oppose it because they define “fairness” very differently. Their different ways of thinking relates to the “what’s fair” discussion we had a week ago about high school sports. Is it fair for schools to cut kids whose families can’t afford to pay for their children to play club volleyball, soccer, or baseball year-round? Similarly is it fair that people who make little money pay between 0-15% of their income in taxes and people who make large bank pay 28-35% or more?

Most Democrats would say no it’s not fair to cut mostly “non-clubbers” and yes it is fair to have a progressive tax system where the more you make the larger the percentage you pay in taxes. Otherwise, the gap between the “haves” and “have nots,” whether high school athletes or ordinary citizens, will widen so much that the American ideal of equal opportunity will be imperiled, and eventually, our quality of life will be compromised.

Most Republicans would contend that the only fair approach is to cut completely independent of “club status” and institute a “flat tax” so that everyone, regardless of their income, pays 18% for instance. More specifically, Republicans would say it’s patently unfair to penalize kids whose parents have worked hard, saved their money, and want to spend it to help their kids excel at sports? And with respect to taxes, it’s unfair to penalize people who have worked hard in school, excelled in the job market, and earn large bank.

In response many Ds would say people who excel in high school or life do so because of subtle and not so subtle advantages that build from birth, through school, and into adulthood. Put differently, privilege reproduces itself. More simply, well-educated, high earning families tend to raise kids who do well in school and are economically successful afterwards.

In response many Rs would argue that inequities are inevitable, equal opportunity is an unrealistic ideal, and the income gap should motivate poorer people to work harder.

Picture a see-saw with the word “EQUITY” painted in big block letters on the left-side and “EXCELLENCE” on the right. People who most value equity believe people who have not been given equal opportunities in life deserve a little extra help to make the high school team, to balance their family budgets, or to pay for health care. People who most value excellence believe “extra help” makes disadvantaged people dependent upon government assistance, fosters laziness, and results in mediocre high school teams and healthcare systems.

Most Ds in Congress sit squarely on the equity side, most Rs squarely on the excellence side. Many citizens would split the difference either sitting towards “equity” or towards “excellence”. Others who value both equally, would sit right in the middle.

Back to the new law. I have to confess, despite my education, I’ve been perplexed by many of the healthcare debate’s details. The media, like cruddy teachers everywhere, wrongly assumed most everyone was “in the know”. Add in Democrats and Republicans shouting past one another for the cameras and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my confusion.

I’ve been reading about it since its passage and will try to explain why Ds are rejoicing and Rs are threatening to repeal it. Think about America as a pyramid with 5% of very high earners at the top ($200,000-250,000/year+), 70% in the middle, and 25% of poor people at the bottom (families of four earning $33,000 and less/year). In all likelihood, the law will have the least impact on the middle 70%. In the simplest terms possible, the top 5% will pay more in taxes so that the bulk of the bottom 25% can receive insurance often for the first time and thereby have a tad more economic security.

So back to the see-saw. To R’s the bill focuses far too exclusively on equity at the expense of excellence and fairness for the well-to-do. To D’s the bill focuses on equity in the interest of fairness.

What do you think, help the poorest among us by requiring well-to-do people pay more in taxes? What’s fair? What’s in our best interest?

Peace Out,



Christopher Hitchens, prolific, ballsy writer, interesting cat. Author of God is Not Great and a top ten most influential columnist. Krugman, #1, had a good line in response, “Why would God allow that?”

A month ago he switched from religion to sports and wrote an anti-Olympics screed. Hitchens plays an important role if for no other reason than by comparison I’m nowhere near as cynical. When it comes to cynicism, Hitchens has the gold wrapped up.

Makes me wonder, given his bleak worldview, what inspires him to get out of bed in the morning? His wikipedia essay provides some possible clues: George Orwell, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Lenin, Trotsky, cannabis, and alcohol. Hard to play golf with those guys. Note to self, stay away from the cannabis and limit the alcohol.

Hitchens is busy putting the final touches on his “Summer Vacations are Not Great,” “Motherhood and Babies are Not Great” and “The Natural World is Not Great” essays.

Hitch, keep bringin’ the doom and gloom so I appear downright cheery.

Pre-Post Doodle

Except for the occasional school carnival goldfish, a kitten that almost immediately bolted, and a lost dog that took awhile to be claimed, I didn’t grow up with pets; so as an adult, I was perplexed by the relationships some of my childless friends had with their pets. Watching them take pet care to levels I was unfamiliar with left me either scratching my head or somewhat sad given the devastating effects of poverty on human beings world-wide.

Then I stopped fighting the family push to get a dog, and now, after fours years of labradoodle goodness, I better understand animal crazies. I’m not ready to label myself one yet, but the guy brings me a lot more joy than I ever would have guessed possible. Part of the joy is vicarious, seeing how happy he makes the Girls’ Club. Another part is watching him fetch the morning paper, leap, leap, leap, contact, sliiiddde, shortcut back through the groundcover, victory lap through the kitchen, and finally when the adulation dies, the drop. When we get home from church on Sunday mornings, we sometimes play a game where we purposely stand at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. He runs to mom, then sis1, then dad, then sis2, over and over.

I could go on, but you might start scratching your head and wonder if I’ve lost it.

Au contraire, it’s been all gain.

Resting Up for March Madness

Or Tomorrow's Newspaper

Dispassionate Madness

Give the debacle that was the UCLA bball season this winter, I nearly gave up March Madness for Lent. But alas, the allure of winning big bucks in the office pool (so far ten people have put in five dollars each) inspired me to fill out and submit a bracket. Despite my late-adapting techno idiosyncracies, as an experiment, I decided to go with the Wall Street Journal’s computer generated bracket from beginning to end. Regrettably, we have Puke beating Kansas in the championship game.

One thing is nagging me, how does a computer factor in game location, crowd intensity, and 20 year olds’ emotions? It’s not like swimming where the predicted finish of the finalists in any given heat is quite predictable. The tourney’s popularity is largely a result of unforeseen upsets.

If the computer could speak for itself, it would probably say that by factoring in every result from the season its accounted for home/away, crowd intensity, and emotional variables. As a result, we have BYU in the Final Four. The experiment is whether a computer can predict upsets. Hope so.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from Tuesday’s journal:

To better understand upsets, and to find the best way to predict them, The Wall Street Journal looked at the 40 biggest NCAA tournament upsets since 2004—the games where the surprise winner was seeded at least five spots below the favorite. For each upset, we compared the teams involved by their performance in two dozen categories. The majority of these comparisons were based on how the teams matched up—for instance, how well one team shot three-pointers during the season and how well their opponents defended against them. The same head-to-head comparisons were made for factors like rebounding and steals. In the end, we found a few strong similarities between all of these matchups. But there was only one unequivocal theme: the importance of turnovers. In 30 of the 40 games, the underdog “David” team had been better all season at protecting the ball and avoiding turnovers than the “Goliath” team had been at forcing them. Getting steals also is critical.

How should I spend my winnings?

Experience Required

A pro-business friend whose compensation is mostly commission and bonus-based believes every member of Congress should have to have been a business owner. In his mind I guess, we’re a business not a democracy. At the same time he’s quick to criticize and write-off the successes of Scandinavian countries even though he’s never set foot in one. Similarly, he’s quick to criticize public school teachers who prefer email to telephone communication even though he’s never taught.

Despite those inconsistencies, I’ll concede that when shaping policy, giving advice, or just plain stating opinions about something, direct personal experience makes one more credible.

But how far should we extend that notion? Should we prevent priests from doing marital counseling, preclude men from teaching women’s studies courses, not allow civilians to teach about war? In my thinking, there are meaningful, substantive forms of indirect experience that create a tipping point and conceivably qualify priests, men, and civilians to offer marriage counseling, teach women’s studies courses, and teach about war.

For example, the arts and the humanities—excellent theatre, film, and literature in particular—broaden viewers’ and readers’ perspectives about things with which they have no firsthand experience. I’ve never been to Rwanda, but watching Hotel Rwanda, even if we allow for inevitable artistic license, powerfully introduced me to the genocide citizens of that country experienced.

If perception and insight are a house, maybe the front door represents direct firsthand experience. Film, literature, and history possibly the side or back doors or the windows.

I have above-average knowledge of sub-Saharan Africa because I’ve lived and worked in one African country and traveled throughout three others. But my insights into the continent, and whatever credibility I might have as a writer or speaker on Africa, have been supplemented by non-fiction books, lots of African novels, and a fair number of African films.

The educator in me causes me to think broadly about the ways indirect experience supplements lived experience. I guess it’s the entrepreneur in my friend that causes him to think direct firsthand experience trumps everything else when determining policy, giving advice, or even at times, stating opinions.


Three things that made me laugh recently.

Everyone needs a mentor don’t you think? He doesn’t know it yet, and it doesn’t matter that his family is younger than mine, but Phil Dunphy of Modern Family is mine. Great show. I’ve been having amazing success with Phil’s “peer-enting” approach to fatherhood. In this short clip, my mentor explains how to “keep it real” and “take it to the next level” or vice-versa, not sure yet.

Even money I’m the only person who thinks this is funny. Read Tyler Cowen’s short blog post titled “Why do people ask questions at public events?” Funniest sentence, “Anecdotally, I have found that men wearing suspenders are most likely to ask longish, rambling questions.” If you watch Booknotes on C-Span like me you read that sentence and said to yourself, “Yeah, no kidding!” You can picture loquacious suspender guy in vivid detail, white hair, spare tire, open windbreaker, prone to conspiracy theories. So why is the suspender-set so loquacious? Funny!

And my next car is funny.

“At full gallop, the concept can theoretically reach 62 mph in 3.2 seconds and nip 198 mph on the high end.” Funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. As a bonus, “Porsche says it can also achieve 78 miles per gallon and emit just 70 grams of CO2 per kilometer.” On the “To Buy” list. I will laugh at Lance in his highway patrol car.

Winning Personal Finance 2

I’ve been successful for several reasons: 1) most importantly, my parents’ work ethic, saving habits, and frugality have been deeply imprinted in me; 2) second most important, I chose to marry someone who wants to live a similar lifestyle as me; 3) I’ve educated myself reading and studying lots of material; 4) I found Vanguard early on which has saved me a lot in investing costs; 5) I’ve come to enjoy managing money so I set aside a few hours every week to continue learning and make decisions; and 6) I almost always avoid impulse purchases.

What might one and two mean for you? When it comes to family history and partner, I’m a personal finance +/+. The gal pal and I have probably had as many financial arguments as the next couple, but they’ve ebbed in number and intensity over time, and ultimately, our personal financial values are very similar. What if you’re a personal finance -/+ or the dreaded -/-? While it’s impossible to completely undo a “losing personal finance” family history, financial counselors can help minimize the damage and your time and resources are probably best spent working with them on minimizing the effects of negative role modeling before turning to asset allocation, minimizing taxes, and the like. Similarly, if your partner and you aren’t in sync, financial/couples counseling is probably more important than technical financial advising. Proactively, the more premarital counseling focused on each person’s financial history, values, and goals, the better.

What about reasons three, four, and five? How much time do you set aside each week to educate yourself about saving, investing, minimizing taxes, and related personal finance topics, not counting paying bills and balancing your check book? Put differently, how much time do you spend thinking about the forest that is you or your family’s financial well-being? My guess is, on a weekly basis, the average person spends very little time thinking about where they’ve been, where they are, and how to reduce expenses. Quiz. What was your net worth, assets minus debits, on 12/31/09? Will you recalculate it at the end of this month and then every quarter? If my assumption is right, is it any surprise that so many people are unsatisfied with their personal financial situation?

Reason six leads to tip five or experiment one, don’t buy anything that hasn’t been on your “To Buy” list for at least a week. Personal example. Three plus years ago I bought eight pairs of $120 running shoes for $60 a piece. Running shoe companies “update” their shoes regularly, every year or so. As far as I can tell, “updating” shoes means “we changed the colors”. If you’re savvy, you can pick up the “old” model at half price. When the big box of eight shoes arrived, it blew the daughters away. “Dad, you saved $480!” “Tru dat.” Fast forward, I’m halfway (250 miles) through pair eight so I’ve started to shop for a similar deal. No luck until last week. I found my Mizuno Wave Creations, model 10, for $65. Model 11, $135. Only two sizes were available, one was mine. Darn if the website would only let me buy two pairs, so I called them. They said they’d investigate and get back to me. Long story short, they found a third pair and all three are in transit. Normal cost for three pairs at $135 and 8.5% taxes, $439.42. After thanking the salesperson I said, “I saw something on-line about a Costco or Triple A discount.” “Yes, what’s your Triple A number?” Cost went from $201.50 ($6.00 shipping) to $181.50. Let’s see you do that on your fancy pants iPhone with the barcode application.

Now my $9,000 loss is a mere $8,742.08.