Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Service of Blowing Smoke

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011


I haven’t smoked in a dog’s age and yet I empathize with New Yorkers who can no longer smoke in Central Park or at city beaches and even in some cooperative apartments if their boards so vote. I could be next: I eat and serve ice cream that could kill me, my family and friends.

Anyway, if someone is smoking near you outdoors, it’s easy enough to move under another shade tree or to a different patch of sand. If smoke seeps from one apartment to the next, isn’t it the fault of shoddy construction and shouldn’t there be rules/laws about this as well or instead?

smokingIt can be touchy for one New Yorker to tap another on the shoulder when one of them flaunts the law, whether they don’t pick up after their dog or smoke where they shouldn’t. Years ago a skuzzy looking youngster lit up his cigarette in the subway tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. He looked so angry and fierce that I didn’t dare point out to him that there was only a limited amount of air down there and should the subway stop for a while, we could be asphyxiated by the smoke. Laws don’t make confrontation any easier.

Aren’t there more harmful sources of pollution than cigarettes such as cars? Will NYC soon forbid all of them? The country has done a great job of eliminating harmful fumes from manufacturing since we don’t do much of that anymore.

I remember an instructor in freshman year of college describing an example of an unenforceable and therefore, not a very good law: Contraception, illegal in some states. Imaginations went wild: “Excuse me sir and madam, but…..”

musiciansinparkAt the same time, the city is making into quiet zones certain places where musicians are known to play. Now they are silenced. Ironically, one of the zones is Strawberry Fields in Central Park, the tribute to singer, songwriter, musician and Beatle, John Lennon. [There must be some very influential neighbors with infants who don’t sleep soundly nearby. Could music from, say, 11:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m. be a bother?]

How do you feel about smoking and quiet zone regulations in open spaces– cared for and looked after? Is micro-regulation appropriate in some instances but not in others? What else do you think we should be forbidden to do for the public good?


Service of Compassion in Medical Care

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010


Just how much empathy and compassion should a doctor feel and exhibit? I’m of two minds.

Dr. Sally Satel, who wrote “Physician, Humanize Thyself” in The Wall Street Journal, spoke of the White Coat Ceremony for medical students that she claimed Dr. Arnold P. Gold of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons popularized. The symbolism of the ceremony, according to the Columbia University chaplain, is for doctors to consider their coats “cloaks of compassion.” Medical schools all over the country now conduct these ceremonies.

And I’m all for it. Having witnessed a top-rated specialist [according to a yearly listing in New York Magazine] treat my husband, who was suffering and weak, with less compassion than a plumber would feel for a pipe, I question the man’s reason for becoming a doctor. We see misfits in all sorts of professions, which is no excuse, but this fellow was all sorts of things he didn’t have to be: Rude, offhanded and wrong to the extreme in his approach to a diagnosis. Turned out my husband did have something in this person’s specialty, generated by a nasty tick bite, causing two+ months high fever and eventually the inability to get out of bed. [Husband is fine now.] A person like this doctor wouldn’t understand the significance of this or any other kind of compassion-related ceremony.

wheelchair1On the other hand, when confronted with horrendous disfigurement and frailty or facing a tricky operation with scalpel in hand, a doctor whose empathy makes him fall apart isn’t of much help, either. Referring to “respectful attentiveness and a genuine commitment to a patient’s welfare” Dr. Satel wrote: “It happens not in the classroom, of course, but ideally on the wards and in clinics under the watchful mentorship of seasoned physicians.” Maybe the nasty doctor spent all his time in the classroom.

Dr. Satel points to government intrusion, at junctures in recent history, as the cause for lack of compassion. As doctors are increasingly robbed of options by insurance companies and/or time–because of paperwork required by government regulation in combination with the numbers of patients they must treat in order to meet budgets and satisfy what Medicare will pay for-they can’t squeeze in anything else, much less compassion. [Medicaid seems to have an unlimited bank account and my advice is if you get really sick, sell everything and go on Medicaid, but I digress].

jugglingSatel concludes: “Juggling the timeless injunction to all doctors-be a mensch-with concepts like ‘Medicare metrics’ and ‘standardization’ (the new watchwords in health reform) will make it even harder for the newly coated students to become the kind of doctors that they themselves would like to have. An induction ritual acknowledging as much wouldn’t hurt.”

Wouldn’t a compassionate person still be compassionate under any circumstances? Is it the patient’s fault that a doctor must see 30 patients in the time she/he used to see eight to 10 or that the doctor has a pound of paperwork to fill out after every visit?

What can the public do about changing this increasingly unreasonable turn of events?


Service of Forgiveness

Thursday, June 10th, 2010


I have a hard time forgiving people who lie to me–although I’ve done so.

Public figures are another thing again. With them, it’s not about my forgiveness but about my actions: My vote or support in some other way, holier-than-thou1by buying their book or newspaper, watching their movie or keeping on the channel when they step up to the plate–or not. Those who are holier than thou and turn out to be bigger sinners than anyone else, Eliot Spitzer or John Edwards, for example, get my goat most of all. It’s too soon to tell how the public will treat them in future. Neither is old enough to pack it in.

The Helen Thomas resignation, after she told the Jews to go home, got me thinking of forgiveness. She apologized immediately. Didn’t matter: Out! Maybe her bosses wanted an excuse to get rid of her for years and what she said was unforgivable.

Yet there doesn’t seem to be any consistency with the public’s loyalty or a company’s perception of what public opinion will tolerate and therefore how it will affect their bottom line.

fishinpondA real estate agent told us the name of the person who owned a house we’d always admired. Turned out it was one of the people convicted of securities fraud in the 1990s; a smaller fish than Michael Milken, though nonetheless a swimmer in that pond. Her reaction: “We welcome him to our community because he paid his debt to society.” Good for her; don’t know about me.

Baseball player and manager Pete Rose bet on games he was involved in and it seems will never again be considered for the Hall of Fame nor can he go near the game while George Steinbrenner confessed to committing several felonies and was allowed to keep the Yankees.

Americans have voted for politicians convicted of drug charges while they previously held office-and they won a subsequent election. I can think of one caught red-handed for non payment of taxes yet he won as well.

Why do you think the public forgives some people and not others? Does a public apology matter?


Service of Weight

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

One of the questions a regional radio talk show host asked Chris Christie in a brief morning interview was whether he thought his weight would be a factor in his winning the election. Christie didn’t think so. A substantial physical presence, Christie is in a race for Governor of N.J. I don’t recall anyone asking a candidate that question that way before–though maybe they did mention losing weight to Bill Richardson of New Mexico when he ran for President and notice Al Gore’s weight gain after the 2000 election.

Four month old Alex Lange’s parents had to fight for his health insurance coverage because at 17 pounds, their insurance company considered the infant to be obese. [He looks cute and healthy to me.]

Fillipa Hamilton, a Ralph Lauren model, was fired for being too fat. At 5′ 10″ she weighs 120 lbs the New York Daily News reported on October 14.

Some of us grew up with the “you can’t be too rich or too thin” mantra associated with Truman Capote, Babe Paley and Gloria Vanderbilt and repeated by thousands since the 1960s. There are those who take the advice too seriously and have disorders like bulimia and anorexia that render them emaciated. According to obesity studies, too thin is not the problem of most. Could it be that since so many have lost the battle with wealth they’ve said “to heck with it” regarding the thin part? Or that stress has driven them to crave comfort food that includes cupcakes and pizza  rather than  apples and asparagus vinaigrette–using lemon juice and herbs not olive oil? Or that suddenly people don’t know what’s fattening and what’s not?

There is an ad in the NYC subway showing a bottle of what looks like Snapple ice tea [my favorite]. A hand covers the brand. The bottle tilts towards a glass with an ugly glob of fat inside. The copy recommends that the reader switch from high-sugar/calorie drinks to seltzer or skim milk.

Have you seen mid-last-century models in vintage ads or movie stars like Esther Williams, the swimmer, in 1940 and 1950 movies? They are much heavier than today’s ideal women. I wonder if the image of the perfect woman or man will revert as we get used to seeing heavier people and average clothing sizes increase. 

What dilemmas: we’re a country of crackerjack marketers and super salespeople and we keep targeting products that are bad for us and that we shouldn’t buy. But do we want anyone, such as the government or insurance companies, micromanaging our choices and determining our silhouettes?


Service of Medicine

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

We felt Jeremiah’s response to a comment Matt Mecs made on July 23 deserved more air. Matt brought up healthcare in light of the timliness of the issue in his reaction to the post, “Service Beyond the Call.”

Jeremiah wrote:

I saw my dentist today who for two decades has kept me happily chewing. I, and not some insurance company, pay him. In other words, he works for somebody he knows, and I think, trusts.

He told me that the very complicated and sometimes risky things he does (he is a surgeon) don’t make him anxious, it is what goes on when he does not have a patient in his chair that causes him to worry. Since he was a young dentist, he has had sufficient confidence in his skill and knowledge to operate pretty much on “automatic pilot,” to use his words.

I asked him if he had ever made a mistake. He replied, “No. I’ve done the right things, followed the called-for procedures even in the most complex situations, but the consequences haven’t always worked out well for my patients. That’s inevitable. We can’t possibly always predict the unpredictable, and humans are the most unpredictable of creatures.”

I think most, but by no means all, doctors are like my dentist. They do care and like what they do. It’s the other “stuff”–insurance nonsense and obnoxious patients, for example–that causes them angst. If we reduce the other stuff, we’ll get better medicine.

Let’s weed out the doctors who don’t care and are in it for the buck. We’d all be better off if they did something else for a living.

Let’s let each patient, no matter how rich or poor, know what the treatment they are getting really costs and why. Then let’s have each patient pay at least something towards the expense of the treatment. In other words we should put the human back in the relationship between patient and doctor. Both are too detached from reality now. Maybe people will think twice before agreeing to having the most expensive pill or undergoing the most expensive procedure, when far less expensive options might also succeed.

Lastly, let’s get the lawyers out of medicine. I think it is precisely an adversarial attitude that good lawyers (and good football teams) thrive upon. This is a big part of the problem, and it brings so much grief to a business meant to make people well. In health, there should be no losers. To win, some drug companies “cheat” on testing to get their new product to market first. Insurance companies try to get out of paying for necessary medical care. Doctors perform expensive procedures to make up for the costly time-consuming, [if done properly], patient examinations for which they are inadequately paid under insurance plans. Nurses get sloppy because somebody yelled at them unnecessarily, and so forth, almost to infinity.

I’m grateful to my dentist, and he’s grateful to me, if only because I pay him. I’m not his enemy, and he is not mine. That’s the way it should be.

Do you think that a healthcare system as Jeremiah describes it is viable?


“Get to Know Me” Internet Services

Friday, June 12th, 2009

A former civil servant and a friend, WY, wrote this guest post that was inspired by an e-mail scam. It made him think of the broader implications of online meet and greet sites. [I got the same troublesome offer that he writes about from four people.]

WY submitted this post on the same week I wrote one on social networking as it applies to business. It  appeared on Christine Whittemore’s blog, “Flooring the Consumer.”

WY writes:


A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a friend, which when I opened it displayed his picture and a message saying that he’d like me to share in seeing his photo album by clicking an icon and registering to be part of his network.

I didn’t press anything, but I did write him saying that I’d be delighted to see his photos. It turned out to be spam, or a scam, or a virus, or something. We were both embarrassed: I because I had fallen for the “come on,” he because he had also and because whoever dreamed up the thing had high-jacked his e-mail address list.

It got me to thinking. We all know that there are no secrets on the Internet or even inside our own computers. Anybody in the world, if they want to, can collect virtually every kind of detailed information there is about us just by clicking their mouse a few times. But how many of us remember this when we use our computers to send messages, or to buy things, or to do research, or to be entertained? Indeed, I am appalled at what I find each time I “Google” myself! 

In light of this, I do not understand why on earth so many people recklessly subscribe to internet services that often publish quite personal data for others to read. I understand loneliness and the need to make new friends or business contacts, and I recognize that the traditional ways that people meet other people are no longer adequate, but is nobody else worried about their privacy?

Even more frightening is the thought that our government could, if it chose to, use all this information for its own purposes — like controlling us if we don’t do what it wants!

Would somebody explain to me why so few of us are not alarmed by all of this?


Service and the Business Cycle

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

In today’s guest post, Frank Paine a retired international banker, regulatory official, and the author of “The Financing of Ship Acquisitions,” tackles a thorny issue. Do those who lead the institutions that serve us–corporate, philanthropic, and governmental or otherwise–properly prepare themselves to address the inevitability of downturns in the business cycle?

He predicts that, “There may even come a time when organization directors will be held personally responsible for the adequacy of the analysis underlying their decisions.”  And adds, “That wouldn’t be such a bad thing…”

Do you agree with his analysis, and if so, with his conclusion?

In one sense or another, every organization exists for the purpose of giving service.  Corporations exist to provide goods and services desired by the market place: auto companies to provide the cars that we all know and love; electric utilities to provide the “juice” for all the appliances that we can’t seem to do without; ships, trains and trucks to transport those goods; “head hunters” to help companies staff themselves;  insurance companies to help everybody manage their risks; non-profits to raise funds for good causes and support the arts, and industry associations to promote their industries and provide networking opportunities that would not otherwise be possible; and schools and universities to provide educational services for our next generations.

The beneficiaries of these services are always multiple. Business organizations service their customers, their shareholders and their employees. Non-profits benefit their members, their particular causes, and, yes, their employees.  Educational institutions benefit their students, their faculties, their administrations, and everybody depending on them to provide well-educated people to the market place, and conduct vital research.  I could go on…

I want to make a plea to anybody directly or indirectly involved in providing service (and that should be pretty much everybody) to think seriously about the impact of the business cycle of the sector they are involved with.  We are now going through the worst recession that many of us have ever seen, and so the evidence of failures to understand business cycles are all around us.  We may be close to seeing the death knell of American automobile production.  We are seeing our banking system being challenged as it never has been in our time.  And non-profits everywhere are seeing their fortunes suffer from whatever is affecting their largest sources of funds.  And so on…

I am getting very tired of hearing organizations acknowledge their failure to see it coming, usually with very self-serving explanations.  I remember having a major oil company acknowledge that throughout its history, it had failed to properly understand when it should order tankers.  Over 30 years ago, I myself correctly analyzed the forces that would cause General Motors to be on the brink of bankruptcy today.  I also correctly predicted the failure of a Brazilian bank two years in advance.  There were plenty of people that foresaw the current banking “crisis” several years in advance.  Etc., etc., etc.

Trust me, I am not a genius-I simply had my eyes open.

It is not true that business cycles cannot be analyzed and understood, but it does take patience and time.  And much of the expertise can be bought-there is an army of analysts, many of them very good that are begging for work.  And there is the body of research provided by universities.

The people who most need the benefit of this analysis and understanding of the business cycle are the Board of Directors/Trustees (or whatever), and the most senior management.  How many times have you found that investments, projects, etc. can only get board approval at the top of the cycle?  It’s so easy to say, “This is a hot market and we need to be in it,” without taking the time and trouble to determine when the investment will actually produce results.

And so, in order to preserve service capacity, boards of organizations should be “opening their eyes” further to fully understand their business cycles, and make decisions in accordance with that understanding.  Who knows? There may even come a time when organization directors will be held personally responsible for the adequacy of the analysis underlying their decisions.  That wouldn’t be such a bad thing…

Service Cut Short by the Clock

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

In the first post of the New Year, Lucrezia poses an important question. A business manager and former newspaper reporter, she frequently shares her thoughts on this blog and many others.

New York State Chief Justice Judith Kaye must retire because of age (70), as per NYS law.  

Is mandatory retirement constitutional?  Is it discriminatory? 

In this age of increasing life spans, is putting people out to pasture right?  Many of our US Senators hit the 90s and they are not thrown out of office.  Why should this happen to anyone else? 

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