Saturday, September 29, 2012

In Praise of Music Posted Online

Musical performances on YouTube represent humankind at its finest: gifted musicians spending a lifetime mastering their instrument, coming together to coordinate a masterwork, and then through the miracle of technology, making it available for all of us to see and hear, for free.

Susan Boyle's audition on Britain's Got Talent. This is the most inspirational thing I have ever seen on the Internet. And I suspect that many of the 104 million other people who have watched that video feel the same way. 

This is a close second. It's The Hallullejah Chorus as it's never been done before or since.

And this is a close third. You really have to listen to this: Charlotte and Jonathan, also auditioning for Britain's got Talent: 

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Arturo Toscanini conducting

Hit the Ground Running, Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band. I normally don't like jazz solos but listen to Eric Marienthal's sax solo on this. 

The Overture to the iconic 1994 Barbra Streisand concert. I believe that overtures are underrated music.

Debussy's Clair de Lune, David Oistraikh, violin, Frida Bauer, piano.

High Iron Mama, Tom Brigham and his band. This is just an audio sample but I really like it and it's very different from everything else in this post, so I decided to include it.

He's the Greatest.  John P. Kee and the New Life Choir. I'm an atheist but I find music like this to be an antidepressant...and it has no side-effects.

The Way You Look Tonight, Beegie Adair trio. It's easy to dismiss easy-listening music. I don't. This is a good example of why.

Chopin's Polonaise (Heroic): Evgeny Kissin, piano.

A Few Good Men: Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band.  This contains another amazing solo: Karl Verheyen on guitar. It starts at 1:47.

Beethoven's Piano Trio Op.70 (The Ghost): Emanuel Ax, piano;, Isaac Stern, violin;, Yo-Yo Ma, cello.

Overture to the Fantasticks

The Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations: Glenn Gould, piano. I think this is the music I'd want playing on my deathbed.

By the way, I highly recommend Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 computer speakers: about $75 used on Amazon.

Friday, September 28, 2012

How to Cold-Contact Employers...Even If You're Cold-Call Reluctant

The most potent way to land a job is cold contact. Here are my thoughts on how to do it and to overcome cold-call reluctance.

How to Network: An advanced lesson in networking for naturals and introverts alike

Here's my current thinking on the art of networking. It contains fresh ideas that should be of value both to natural networkers and for others.

Should You Be Living With More Integrity?

Is this too sanctimonious?


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Slacker Jobs

For most people, the career holy grail is influence, money, power, and/or security.

But others' main priority is that their work be easy. This post is for you.

Of course any job can be easy or hard depending on how demanding your boss is, but these jobs, on average, are slacker-friendly.

Note: If you're in one of these jobs and you find it harder than I think, do let me know.

Some require little training or education, others a lot. Some pay little, others quite well.

Accent neutralization tutor.  I have an executive client from France who pays someone $20 an hour just to converse with him and correct his pronunciation. He simply, on a digital recorder, records his mispronunciation and her correct pronunciation. Then he practices.

Fitting-room clerk.  You just count items and hand out tags with numbers of them. When people bring the clothes out, you count 'em to make sure they're not wearing one under their clothes. On weekdays, business is usually slow, so you could probably write War and Peace between customers.

Process server. Drive around saying, "Joe Jones?" He says yes and you hand her his court summons or whatever. If he starts to runs away, just drop it at his feet.

Optician. Helping people pick eyeglass frames, adjusting them to fit.

Signature gatherer. A large number of signatures are needed to get people or initiatives on the ballot. A caller to my radio show said he earns $50 to $100 an hour doing it.

Health educator. Teach people the joys of broccoli instead of bacon cheeseburgers, exercise instead of couch potatoing. Easy to explain, harder to get people to change.

Security guard for office building/TV station, etc., especially the night shift. One wrote, "I work overnight in a warehouse and play on my laptop and Nintendo all night long." Another wrote, "I wrote a fair chunk of my last novel on a building site, sitting in half-finished luxury apartments, surrounded by coffee and sweets."

Political sign placer and remover. Especially as we enter election season, candidates from school board member to President of the United States want to post a zillion signs. Sad because all those signs do is boost name recognition--hardly a valid basis for choosing our leaders. The law requires that the signs be removed after the election.

Big-ticket item salesperson: Flog boats, yachts, RVs, planes, pianos, etc. Every time I go into a piano store, the sales guy is sitting around, chatting, or playing the piano. With big-ticket items you make a few sales a month and you're solvent.

A low-level job in the government. For example, when I'm driving, there so often are three or four CalTrans workers standing around watching one work. Or when I went to the palatial Federal office building in Oakland, there were desk after desk, perfectly clean with admins "working" for agencies no one has ever heard of, literally or figuratively polishing their nails, surfing the net, or reading a fashion magazine. I had a client who worked for BART who proudly reported that she gets away with working only one hour a day to get her $90,000 salary.

College student adviser.  You tell students what courses they still need to take and maybe help them pick a major. If they have a serious problem, your job is only to refer them elsewhere.

Food sampler.  These are the folks that give you a free meatball at Costco in hopes of enticing you to buy ten pounds worth.

Window glass replacer.  Without having to work too hard, you get a lot of grateful customers.

Retail store merchandiser. You put out the stuff out so it looks pretty. You might also put "sale" signs in the window, coupons on the counter, etc.

Flyer distributor. Despite this being the Facebook Age, many event promoters still like to paper the locale with flyers. Great for people who like traipsing around the city.

Real estate sign post placer, remover. When a piece of real estate is for sale, a for-sale sign on a 4x4 post often is planted and is removed after it's sold--or these days, often pulled off the market.

Line sitter. When the iPhone 5 came out, some people earned as much as $1,500 holding the place in line for a busy person.  More often, line sitters wait in line for the opening of a hot movie, game console, etc. Some lawyers hire (or could be convinced to hire) a line sitter to wait in line for filings, hearings, etc.

Auctioneer. It's easy, especially if you're entertaining. Great gig for out-of-work comedians. It's not hard to learn to talk fast enough and use that auctioneer pattern. I know. I do it, as a volunteer, for charity auctions.

Personal shopper. They don't work only for snooty department stores. They're hired by corporations and individuals, often to buy gifts or for fundraisers.

Mystery shopper. Pretend you're a shopper, write a little report. Eazy, peazy.

Driver. Personal driver, valet parker, cab driver, delivery driver, fork lift driver, courier. I drove a cab and enjoyed the conversations, listening to radio, and driving around.  And no education required. Just need a drivers license.

Admin or library job at a college. These are often cushier than you might imagine. Plus, you're working in a pleasant, stimulating environment.

Hotel night auditor. Reconciles the books each night. A caller to my radio show says he works a half hour a night and can do what he wants the rest of the night--I'm guessing, including sleeping.

Night shift bellhop. Few people check in or out after 10 pm.

Hotel front desk clerk. The night shift is better for slackers.

Tutor.  Teaching Johnny how to subtract or Mary to read for $20-70 an hour doesn't sound bad to me. To get clients, I'd put an ad in a upscale school's PTA newsletter--those parents can afford to hire tutors. Or in low-income areas, schools often offer free tutoring. I'd see if the school would hire me. And if I were a college or grad student, I'd get my tutoring gig there--colleges hire lots of students as tutors.

Cosmetologist. Put makeup on people at a department store, TV studio, etc.

Building inspector.  Every time a property gets a significant renovation or expansion, someone's gotta approve it. And every time a piece of real estate gets sold, one or more inspectors are hired to say what's wrong with the property.

Image coach.  "You're a 'Winter," so you should wear these colors."  "I think an A-line skirt is flattering." "Hey, let's go shopping."

Neon sign maker. Bending glass into signs that say Bud Light or whatever.

Trend spotter.  Corporations send you out to the mall to see what the teens are buzzing about.

Copier or ATM repairperson.  They generally seem relaxed on the job and I'm guessing they make good money.

Sell and/or arrange flowers at a flower stand or cart.

Park police/ranger. I hike around the Lafayette Reservoir every day and it is amazing how many EBMUD employees and East Bay Regional Parks Police patrol that utterly safe area. I''d guess that if it was  completely self-run by the patrons, it would be just fine and taxpayer would save zillions. Mainly the park employees stand around chatting with each other or the patrons or, okay, occasionally picking up trash. And I'd bet that as government employees, they're paid quite well, with lots of benes, paid holidays and sick days. But with a job like that, no one would need a "mental health day."

Statistician. Yeah, I understand that it requires lots of schooling but once you have it, it's usually a pretty kick-back job that pays well. Mainly you tell folks, "Okay, use analysis of variance." Or "give me your raw data in this form and I'll enter it into the computer and email you the results."

Bartender/budtender. Even if you're working a busy bar, it ain't rocket science, it's fun, and tips are good . But it's not a job for addictive types.

Bouncer. Yeah, occasionally, things aren't so calm, but usually, you're just watching the hotties, listening to music, and looking intimidating.

Sex worker. True, some hate it but others find it a pleasurable, easy way to make a ridiculous amount of money per hour.

Exotic dancer.  While many guys look like they're having a root canal on the dance floor, some women look like they're having an orgasm. If you're in the latter category, exotic dancing is probably the most likely way to get paid to dance.

And of course, the iconic slacker job:

Wal-Mart greeter. It's not only easy, Wal-Mart actually gives good benes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

US Spending and Debt Truly Threatens Us

I rarely post others' work but this Wall Street Journal article on the magnitude of our financial crisis, so hidden by our Obama-protective media, presents it magnificently, albeit frighteningly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Things That Are a Mystery to Me

I think that every one of my 957 previous blog posts presents something I know or believe.

So I thought it would be fun to write a post listing what I don't know, some things that are a mystery to me:
  • There is no God, so what created the first particle? How did the amazing wonders of nature and of birth come about?  Evolutionary theory doesn't, for me, come close to explaining it. Or do we simply call the currently unexplainable scientific phenomena, "God?"
  • Why are some people so kind and others so cruel?
  • How could I become a professional pianist with virtually no practice yet I draw horribly no matter how hard I try?
  • Why do so many people trust an entertainer's political opinions more than an intellectual's'?
  • How can peaceful music so calm us, cheery music so uplift us?
  • How did Google, SmartPhones, YouTube, even television get invented? They are true manmade miracles.
  • How can "greedy" corporations make a profit when their products cost us so little. Just a few examples: a can of Del Monte peaches: $1. A gallon of corporate-farmed milk: $3.00. A pair of Hanes socks: $2. A Foster Farms fresh chicken: $1 a pound. A gallon of Exxon or other gas $4. A pound of corporate-farmed apples: $1.  2 1/2 pounds of Quaker oatmeal: $5. A can of Bumble Bee tuna: $1. A bountiful, healthy buffet at Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes restaurants: $10.  An Oral-B toothbrush: $2. 2 pounds of Best Foods mayonnaise: $4. A bottle of Two Buck Chuck wine for $2.49. A safety pin: a penny. I can't even see how they can produce the product and ship it for that, with no profit for the manufacturer or retailer. But obviously, they can and do.
What's a mystery to you?

My Speech and Introduction of the Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Gary Johnson

I had the privilege today of giving a speech that introduced the Libertarian candidate for President of the United States at a well-attended rally at U.C. Berkeley.

While I ad-libbed the talk, here's a slightly longer version of what I said.

I am moved to be here, not just because Sproul Plaza is one of America's launchpads of social change but because I've spent years here at Cal getting my PhD. 

And you can't spend years at Cal without hearing so much rhetoric that makes you resonate with President Obama's core beliefs in bigger government, which is symbolized by his focus-group tested words, "Change" and now, "Forward." After all, who would want to go backward?

And indeed, part of me is sympathetic to the idea of having government provide for society's have nots, here and around the world. But I've become convinced that big government actually is a net negative and encouraging America's decline and fall. Can anyone honestly believe that a $16 trillion debt now growing at $3 billion a DAY is good?

To pay even our interest, we have to keep printing more dollars, a form of which the Democrats hide by calling it "Quantitative Easing." That means that each of our dollars will buy ever less. And because so much of our debt is to foreign countries, if we're unable to pay our debt, our government, our nation, our future, especially that of our children and grandchildren, is in true jeopardy.

What we need now is not a leader who's like a kid in the candy store, who wants his parents (that is, the taxpayer) to buy everything that looks good without regard to whether it bankrupts his parents. What we need is a president who will pull on ropes of restraint and be the responsible adult who will lead us to live within our means. Governor Gary Johnson is that responsible adult.

President Obama claims to have, with $60 billion of our taxpayer dollars, "saved" GM, a company notorious for making cars far inferior to Japanese ones. In fact,you and I were forced to buy that $60 billion in stock at 34. President Obama assured us we'd at least break even, which would be at $53. It's now $23. You and I lost $16 billion trying to save an inferior car company. A President Gary Johnson would not have bailed GM out. He is the responsible adult.

Gary Johnson is calling for an immediate end to the War in Afghanistan. America's military adventurism in the Middle East has been a failure: Iraq, Afghanistan, IranLibya, Syria. It has not only been a wildly profligate waste of billions of taxpayer dollars, not to mention death, mayhem, the mass murder of innocents, destroying lives, families, and neighborhoods. The Democrats and Republicans military adventurism shows a hubristic ignoring of history. From Alexander the Great who met his downfall in Persia, through Churchill's time. Churchill was one of the great military leaders and politicians yet when he took the allies into the Dardanelles, the gateway to the Middle East, the Allies lost a terrible defeat: 140,000 men killed. And now our recent string of Middle East boondoggles that mainly has made us millions of Muslim enemies. Throughout history, Western efforts to change the Middle East have failed. A President Gary Johnson would not have demonstrated such hubris. Gary Johnson is the responsible adult.

Gary Johnson is also the responsible adult regarding our freedoms. Unlike Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson realizes that a woman, not the government, should determine when she wants to have a child. Unlike Mitt Romney, a president Gary Johnson would not prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying. Unlike Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, a President Gary Johnson would not prohibit a person in irreversible severe pain from choosing to end his suffering. Gary Johnson is the Responsible Adult.

Governor Johnson is the responsible adult on education. I've been a consultant to 15 college presidents and that helped me realize the boondoggle of increasing financial aid. You think that benefits you the students? Hardly. Every time the government takes more of your and your parents' tax dollars to increase financial aid, behind those Ivy-covered walls, college administrators are saying, "Good. Now students have more money so we can raise tuition more." So that increase in financial aid doesn't mainly help you; it mainly lines the pockets of college administrators or allows them to replace old but functional buildings with  opulent ones, monuments to themselves. The increase in taxpayer-funded student aid is a reason colleges have increased what they charge you well beyond the inflation rate. Gary Johnson would not fall for that. He's the responsible adult.

Governor Johnson is the responsible adult when it comes to jobs. You students work so hard, spend so much, borrow so much, and reasonably would expect a decent  job--And Gary Johnson is the most likely candidate to build the three-legged stool that's the foundation of creating jobs: lower taxes, fewer regulations, and a pet idea of mine: more entrepreneurship education. Our taxpayer-funded education seems to emphasize everything but entrepreneurship. And as a career counselor, I can't tell you how many people say they couldn't start businesses or went out of business at least in part because of the truly onerous burdens on business: There's the paperwork, especially and ironically if a business wants to hire someone. And then there are the financial disincentives for businesses to create jobs--everything from the much abused Workers Comp to the much abused Paid Family Leave and now ObamaCare. And that's not counting business taxes!  Nor does it count the regulations. Let me give you just one example of how over-regulation can kill jobs: A client of mine wanted to open a wine bar and she felt it could only make an acceptable profit if it also served paninis--sandwiches made on a simple little grill, like a George Foreman griller. Alas, to make those paninis in her wine bar, the government is requiring her to have a full commercial grill, two sinks, and the ceiling which had a beautiful 1/8" raised pattern had to be replaced with a completely flat ceiling because the pattern theoretically might attract dust and if it wasn't dusted every few weeks and a dust mote might conceivably drop into someone's food  And she's been waiting six months now for the government's Alcohol and Beverage Commission to grant her a permit. The cost of regulations are so onerous that she's now unsure she can open her wine bar. Many jobs would be lost and she'll stay unemployed. Gary Johnson would take a hard look at the cost-benefit of regulations. After all, he's the responsible adult. 

I want to tell you the story that made me, instead of someone likely to be a liberal--a Jewish child of immigrants and who went to Berkeley--someone who leans libertarian. My father, like countless other Holocaust survivors who immigrated to America, never took a penny of government money. He arrived in New York City without a penny to his name, with no English, no family, no money, no education, only the scars of the Holocaust tortures. But he felt no job was beneath him, so he sewed shirts in a factory in Harlem for a few dollars an hour, 10 hours a day. And on Saturdays he bought the shirts he had sewn for $1 and sold them for $1.50 out of a cardboard box on the streets of Harlem. And what did he do with the money? He saved up for the first and last month's rent on the only store he could afford--the worst imaginable location: 105 Moore St in Brooklyn. That enabled my dad to make enough money to move my mom, my sister and I from the Bronx tenement we lived for my first five years, with the elevated train roaring 24/7, to the bottom half of the  duplex in blue-collar Flushing Queens where I grew up. The punch line of this story is that my father was not unusual. I got to know dozens of Holocaust survivors and not one took a dime of government money and every one of them made a living on their own. Indeed, I believe that they would have been worse off if they had been on government programs--it would have been disempowering, creating a sense of dependency, the well-documented welfare mentality. And their children wouldn't have had the can-do role models that helped them become today's doctors, lawyers, teachers, and businesspeople

So it is my great pleasure to give you the presidential candidate who would make possible the most success stories like my dad, the Responsible Adult, the person I believe most likely to truly move America forward, the Libertarian candidate for President of the United States, Governor, Gary Johnson. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

How I Learned to Play the Piano by Ear

Many people take piano lessons in hopes of being able to entertain folks with a song, perhaps a sing-a-long, maybe even take requests.

Key to that is being able to play by ear, to play, in full arrangement, any song you can hum. I can do that. Here's how I learned.

Ironically, it's because I can't read music well at all. You see, when you play from sheet music, it goes from your eyes to your fingers, no ears required. Your ear never develops.

Instead of learning a song by reading music, I started, by trial and error, trying to plunk out, with one finger, a tune I could hum: Chopsticks. That trial-and-error process developed my ear. Each note I played gave me feedback: "Whoops, that's not what that note should sound like" or "Yes, that's what it should sound like." After learning to plunk a very few songs, I developed a sense of how far up or down on the keyboard the next note should be.

When that got a little boring, I added one harmony note to the melody, again by trial and error. I induced how far away the note from the melody would likely make a nice harmony note.

I simply kept building on that, adding more notes to the harmony of those songs and adding new songs. That constantly developed my ear further until I was able to play any song I can hum in full arrangement. It really was as simple as that.

Here's me playing a few things, all by ear. I've never seen the sheet music for any of it..

"Disparate Impact" Has Bad Impact on Society

Disparate Impact is yet another example of a well-intentioned government  initiative whose side effects are more damaging than its main effects are beneficial.

The Disparate Impact theory of law, being aggressively used by the Obama Administration's Dept of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC,) asserts that even if intentional discrimination is not found, if a racial or gender group is underrrepresented, it's prima facie evidence of discrimination.

For instance, the EEOC and Department of Justice are arguing that employers may be discriminatory if they use credit checks or criminal record as a hiring criterion. For example, Pepsi recently had to pay more than $3 million plus offer jobs and training mainly to African-Americans because Pepsi's background checks would not give full-time employment to applicants with a pending criminal prosecution.

Disparate Impact's intent is reasonable: Because racism is often unconscious and no employer would admit to being racist, the theory says, "Let the proof be in the pudding." For example, let's say 30% of the African-American local population meets the basic requirements to become a manager but only 15% of the hired managers are African-American, that's evidence that the employer is guilty of racial discrimination unless the employer can prove the validity of his hiring criteria.

The problem is that it's very easy for a plaintiff to prove he's underrepresented--the EEOC requires all but the smallest employers to collect and make public those statistics. In contrast, it's very difficult and expensive for an employer to prove that all its employee selection criteria for all positions are predictive of job performance. For reasons too complicated to explain here (restricted range and sample size, for example) it would require a team of expensive psychometricians  to develop instruments sufficiently valid to hold up in court. And without such custom-validated instruments, the employer risks being sued, That's true even if the instrument is a highly validated national test of reasoning (e.g., SAT, LSAT, IQ, etc.) Even though reasoning is critical to all but menial jobs, plaintiffs have been able to argue that tests of cognitive ability are insufficiently related to the job to allow their use if, as there almost is, an adverse impact on underrepresented minorities.

Making employers' burden of proof even more onerous, Roger Clegg, president and chief counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, points out that the employer can prevail only if he can prove a “business necessity” for the practice and even then can still lose if the plaintiff can show an alternative with less disparate impact.

Plus, a lawsuit would have to (expensively) resolve such questions as "What constitutes the pool of qualified applicants?" For example, let's say I run a business in Oakland, CA, where I live. Oakland's population is 35% Black,  15% Latino. Using the government's 4/5 rule, if I had fewer than 30% Black executives or 12% Latinos, the EEOC could make me prove my selection criteria were valid. I'd likely respond, "But wait. The pool of people that are qualified are graduates of highly selective institutions such as Stanford or Harvard, and there are fewer minorities in that pool." The EEOC or court could deem that discriminatory unless I proved that that level of employee really was necessary and  that it would be an undue hardship to have to use all the other criteria needed to find people of Ivy caliber and that there was no more race-neutral such screening device. Months or years of expensive, stressful legal arguing could be spent merely on that.

In fact, few Disparate Impact lawsuits are filed, and most of those are won by the employer. But the fear of such lawsuits is significant and increasing because of the Obama Administration's recent actions. So employers are ever more likely to move merit toward the back seat in favor of selection criteria that are less predictive of job performance but that don't reduce the percentage of Blacks or Latinos selected in favor of whites and Asians.

Net, of course, when less predictive hiring criteria are used, we get worse employees and, in turn, worse products and services for all of us. That is hardly a formula for American success in an ever more competitive global economy.

Alas, the Obama Administration is extending Disparate Impact's use well beyond employment. For example, the U.S. Office of Education's Civil Rights division is investigating school districts in which African-American students are disproportionately disciplined. While  it's possible that racial discrimination is causal, it's more likely that, because of, for example, historical, cultural, and socioeconomic factors, African-American kids simply misbehave more often.  But because school districts fear having to defend an expensive and difficult burden-of-proof lawsuit, they're ever more likely to establish racial "targets" for discipline thus having to discipline more White and Asian students than they would have and/or to discipline fewer African-American students. Even more likely, they'll keep in school African-American students who deserved suspension or expulsion to protect innocent students from violence. They'll also reallocate yet more resources from the students with the greatest potential to profit to those students, in the form of yet more counseling and other programs. It seems clear to me that, as in employment, the Disparate Impact theory applied to the schools, will, net, do more harm than good.

As I've written before, decisions should more often be made on a cost-benefit basis, considering all the likely short- and long-term outcomes. I believe that if we did that, most of the redistributive "justice" laws and policies would be rejected or modified in favor of policies that distributed resources more purely on merit.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thoughts On Attending a Classical Concert

I was reading Vigilance by Julian Barnes and encountered this: "When you're in a concert hall, having paid money and taken the trouble to go there, you listen more carefully...However the state-of-the-art your system, nothing can compare to the reality of a hundred or more musicians going full tilt in front of you."

That motivated me to, this evening, replace my listening to a CD or YouTube video through my wonderful Klipsch computer speakers with a live concert. 

Here are my notes:

I arrive at 7:55 and the orchestra is tuning up and practicing: Cacaphony, loud cacaphony. It's wrong that they should subject an audience to that. Tuning up for a moment is one thing but they should be practiced before they come on stage. I needn't listen to that when I listen to a CD, and that's free and in the comfort of my home. We were subjected to that until 8:10, when the 8:00 concert began.

Another concert ritual I don't understand: Why do the musicians all wear tuxedos, black and white suits, etc? Unnecessarily stuffy if you ask me. Classical music is stuffy enough as it is.

Reading the program reminded me of how academics can destroy even music by overintellectualizing. Here's a quote from the program notes: "Unabashed chinoiserie is heard from the outset, in the form of a pentatonic scale whose properties as a subset of the diatonic and octatonic scales Stravinsky exploited to create an ingeniously shifting polytonal landscape."

The first two pieces on the program were Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale and Bartok's Dance Suite. As far as I'm concerned, both could be accurately described as interesting but annoying tonalities amorphous. Yet somehow I liked them.

The quality of the orchestra--which consisted mostly of UC Berkeley students--to my professional-pianist ear--weren't that much worse than the professional recordings of those pieces I listened to before I went to the concert. Much credit must go to David Milnes, the conductor, who does have a killer resume.

Listening to the Brahms 4th Symphony reminded me that the classical orchestra is a manifestation of humankind at its finest: 150 people having worked for years to master their instrument, weeks together to coordinate their playing of masterworks, all so we audience members can, for a pittance ($5-$16,) experience all of that live in a beautiful venue, or free on the Net. Speaking of which, here are links to YouTubes of the concert's three pieces, performed by professional orchestras:

Song of the Nightingale  (Berlin Radio Orchestra, Lorin Maazel conducting)

Dance Suite by Bartok (Dresden State Orchestra, Bernard Haitink conductor)

Brahms Symphony #4 (Vienna Philharmonic, Istvan Kertesz, conductor)

I came away glad I went and sad that classical music isn't more popular. At the risk of sounding like an old fart and, heaven forbid, a judgmental one at that, most classical music that has stood the test of time,  is simply better, yes, better, not just different, than so much of the currently popular music.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What Might the World Be Like 100 Years From Now?

I wrote a recent post, Musings on Mortality. A reader, Jeffrie, commented, "May I ask what you would expect and/or hope the world would be like if you got to see the world 100 years after you die? And how would you live?"

Predictions beyond a year or two are notoriously invalid because too many factors can render them wrong. But for the fun of it, I'll take a shot here.

I'll get the bad news out of the way first. My guess is that 100 years from now, we'll have suffered a near Armageddon. The dramatic miniaturization of weapons of mass destruction make it too likely that a solo actor will have, for example, opened a vial of mutated highly communicable, deadly smallpox virus in the lobby of the international terminal of a major airport, infecting hundreds of people who are headed all over the world. Before a cure could be invented (Remember it's mutated and so no vaccine would exist), much of the world's population could die. Of course, almost no one would be crazy enough to do that. But among the billions of people on the planet, it only takes one person, for example, one disgruntled, demented scientist. 

Because of that and advances in clean-tech such as truly safe nuclear power, we'll worry far less about environmental degradation. 

I'd imagine we'll be transporting ourselves in nuclear-powered flying cars that can take off vertically from whatever parking spot we're in. 

We will have determined what gene clusters cause the major characteristics in humans: intelligence, impulse control, predisposition to cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Prospective parents will, at their election, choose to ensure their children have good genes for such characteristics. Most parents will eagerly take advantage of this. Government will make that option available free to the poor as part of its Single Payer health plans. Life Expectancy will be 110, nearly all of it spent in good health. The right to assisted suicide will be ubiquitous and widely used among those in severe, likely irreversible pain. 

Because nearly all people will have high intelligence, greater efforts will have been made to automate menial tasks. So robots will replace humans in everything from busboy to janitor, ditch digger to cab driver. (You'll enter a cab, enter your desired address, and be flown directly to your destination. Sensors will prevent crashes.)

Asia will become dominant, America just a large midlevel player, exceptional mainly for its diversity. There will have been minor civil-war-like skirmishes but America will have become the true salad bowl envisioned by today's diversity activists. Privately, people will still choose to socialize mainly with people from similar socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds but, in the workplace, differences will be grudgingly accepted as "just the way things are."

The academic side of education will occur outside of a school. Each student will use his SmartPhone with a screen that folds out to 8 inches to take mini-courses taught online by dream-teams of the world's best instructors. These will be interactive and simulation-rich. Testing will all occur online, of course. Students will sign-in using iris-recognition technology. Small-footprint schools will exist but mainly for extracurricular and socialization activities. 

Politically, the world will have continued its leftward move. National sovereignty will be giving way to one-world government, with much redistribution from wealthier regions to poor ones. I believe that because the Have-Nots have more babies than do the Haves and they vote for liberal/redistributive governments. Also, many of the Haves feel guilty about their wealth and the media and colleges exacerbate that with such theories as "white male privilege," which implies that sexism and racism significantly affect people's success. 

How would I live in this new world? I'd probably choose to earn my living as a physician. I've always been in awe of the miracle of the human body and value life immensely. I'd consider it a privilege to help people extend the quality and quantity of theirs. My career counseling clients consider me a good listener, which is critical in a physician. I'd be additionally attracted to the medical profession 100 years from now because science will have advanced enough that so many currently difficult-to-treat conditions will have ready cures. 

Avocationally, I'd, as I do now, look to champion causes for making the world better that are not widely supported. That way, I'd feel my individual efforts would make more of a difference than if I simply jumped on an already large bandwagon. For example, I'd guess that 100 years from now, a commonly supported cause would be calls for yet more efficiencies. Because of that, I'd probably be a counter voice: reminding us of the importance of kindness, of smelling the roses a bit, and of pets. Indeed, one thing I wouldn't change in my life, even if it were 100 years from now: I'd try to find a pet as sweet as my doggie Einstein. 

A Busy Person's Guide to Great Gardening

Bougainvillea Spectabilis framing my home's entrance
Despite working 80 hours a week, I manage to have created and personally maintained, without a gardener, quite a garden. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Here are the keys:

1. Of course, there's the obvious: Everything's on an automated watering system and I place nine-month formulation time-release fertilizer under each emitter.
Chrysanthemum Fruticosum in my garden

2. I plant things that require no spraying or pruning and which are long-blooming or fruiting.

Six-packs of annuals are great because they're cheap and you can pop one in the soil in just a minute: Spade one shovelful of dirt out, dig a little compost into the hole, mix some more into the soil you removed and replace it. Then stick the plant in, sprinkle a bit of fertilizer around its perimeter, water, and voila:  Annuals grow quickly so you'll soon get full-sized plants that will bloom for months with no more care.
Bird of Paradise in my garden
My favorite annuals are Impatiens Xtreme Lavender and Accent Lavender for shade, Zinnia Magellan Coral, Zinnia Short Stuff Deep Red, Chrysanthemum Fruticosum, and Chrysanthemum Pink Comet for sun, and Viola Penny Denim (a wonderful miniature pansy) for the winter months. 
  • Orange and lemon trees. I live in almost-no-frost Oakland, CA. Citrus trees are attractive even without fruit or bloom but, in bloom, the fragrance is wonderful, and few plants are as ornamental as an orange tree full of fruit. I don't get enough heat for the oranges to taste great but they deserve prized spots in my garden merely for their ornamental value. I have a Trovita orange and a Meyer Lemon. The former makes a particularly ornamental tree and the latter produces gourmet, less sour lemons in great quantity. 
  • Bougainvillea Spectabilis, Bouganvillea James Walker, Pandorea Rosea, and Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia Reginae) are my core shrubs. If I didn't live in a frost-free climate, I'd more liberally use Camellia Buttons and Bows, Camellia Shishi Gashira, and Encore Azalea Autumn Royalty and Encore Azalea Autumn Twist. 
  • Zinnia Short Stuff Deep Red in my garden
I have a red, fine-leafed Japanese red maple tree (Tamukeyama) and a green-leafed Japanese Maple (Sango Kaku). The latter's bark is bright red, providing winter interest at a time where little else (except my Denim violas and Camellias)  provide color.
3. I use general purpose fertilizer for everything--it works well enough, and I save time and money. 

4. I don't have a lawn--that saves lots of time, money, and water.

5. I've paved over my parking strip. Parking-strip plantings take a lot of work but little reward. 

6. Sometimes while on the phone, I get on my cordless or cell and pull weeds, remove spent blooms, or provide supplementary water. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Making This The Best School Year Yet

Twenty-six years ago, I wrote the cover story of Family Circle's back-to-school issue. It was called something like, "Making This the Best School Year Yet."

If I were writing such an article now, here would be its main points:
  • No parental action can improve a child's school year more than ensuring s/he's in a well-suited teacher's class. If your child is unhappy with the teacher, visit the class. If you agree there's a problem you think the teacher could address, tactfully ask.  If not, visit the other classes in the same grade. If one seems a better fit for your child, ask the principal for a transfer. Don't criticize the teacher. Just say s/he's very unhappy and having visited another class, you sense s/ he'd fit better in that class. 
  • Ritualize homework: It's non-negotiable, to occur at a fixed time each day, and you can be called on to help only when s/he's really stuck. 
  • If your child's social life is poor, play diagnostician. Watch him on the playground and/or when you invite (good) kids to your home for play dates. Offer feedback.
  • For most kids, school is boring. Your child is not wrong in asking, "Why do I need to learn (geometric theorems, the causes of the Peloponnesian Wars, etc.) The right answer is, 
"You're right to wonder about that. The question is whether, in exchange for studying less, you're willing to pay the price: a lower grade. Plenty people with not-great grades succeed in life, but it's a bit harder. I can support your decision to accept lower grades but only if you spend the time you would have spent studying on something constructive: learning something you care more about, starting a business, tutoring a child, but not watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out with your friends."
  • If most of the kids at your child's school are functioning at too low (or even perhaps too high) a level, consider changing schools. Peers may have more influence on your child's development even than you. 
  • A word about students in college and graduate school. My best tip here is that you usually needn't accept the education provided as-is. Adapt it to fit your interests and strengths: Choose your courses and instructors carefully: read reviews on websites such as or ratings published on your campus newpaper's or student government's website. Ask permission to do papers and projects of interest to you instead of the regular assignment. If there's a topic you'd love to learn about that isn't available in a course, ask a wonderful instructor if you could do an independent study with him or her on that topic. 
School and college can be so much more or less valuable depending on whether you make the most of it. Hopefully, these tips will indeed help make this the best school year yet.

Why No More Career Advice for a While? An Explanation/Apology

I don't like to count my chickens before they hatch but it appears that starting in November, I'll be writing a career blog for US News.

They require that my posts be original to US News. (A week after it's published, I can post it on this blog.) I don't want to use up my best new career ideas between now and November, so until then, my posts on this blog will be on topics other than career.

For those of you who read my blog for career advice, I've already written much on the subject. Just click on "career advice" in the label cloud on the right side of this blog and/or visit my website: They contain hundreds of my articles on career issues.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Musings on Mortality

Although I'm healthy, as a 62-year-old male, I'm thinking more about mortality. Here are my current musings:

Awareness of mortality reminds me to make each hour as productive as possible. I really wonder why so many older people fritter away their time on things like golf and TV. Why don't they spend more time, for example, mentoring, blogging, and/or tutoring.

I reduce my fear of death by remembering that it's just a long sleep. And if the dying is too painful, I'll off myself using the Final Exit method.

When I do start to worry about death, I immediately distract myself. The more I think about it, the harder that is--the worry gets more hard-wired in my brain.

There is no afterlife--I'm convinced that's a fable people have created to blunt their fear of death.

I've signed up with Alcor Cryonics to be frozen upon my death in hopes that medical science will advance enough, say in 100 years, to bring me back to life, healthy. Of course, that's a true long shot but it's a balm, another way to reduce my fear of death. And I sure would love to see what life on earth will be like 100 years after my death.

Perhaps all this nice calm talk is rationalization and if I got a terminal diagnosis, I'd be scared shitless.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'll be on KGO's Ronn Owens Program this Friday

This Friday from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM, I'll be back on the Ronn Owens Program, one of the most listened-to radio shows on the West Coast.  You can hear it on 810 on the AM dial throughout the greater San Francisco Bay Area or on the Internet at

I've been on Ronn's show for 25 years now, so I have a pretty good idea of what he'll ask me about. He'll probably ask me to suggest some good but not-obvious careers, advanced strategies for landing a job, and ideas on self-employment. Ronn tends to probe me for what to do in difficult situations: soft-skilled clients, older workers, etc.  In between his questions, I'll offer callers specific advice on their career conundrum.

Tune in. Call in. The price is right.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I'll be Introducing the Libertarian Candidate for President

I will have the privilege of introducing the Libertarian candidate for President of the United States, Gary Johnson, at his campaign rally at the University of California Berkeley's Sproul Plaza on Sep 25. Meet and greet is 11:00 to noon. Speeches are from 12:00 to 1:00.  300 to 1,000 people are expected to attend.

Regular readers of this blog know I'm not a pure libertarian. I believe government has important roles. But I do believe that, for most things, the private sector does a better job than does government. Also, I believe government should have no role in people's personal decisions: a woman's right to choose, the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, and a person's right to die.

I'm particularly pleased to be introducing Gary Johnson. Twice elected in a landslide as Governor in a Democrat-dominated state, he moved New Mexico from deficit to surplus.  He was term-limited and thus could not run for a third term. In a presidential debate, Johnson delivered what the Los Angeles Times and Time called the best line of the night: "My next-door neighbor's two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this administration."[60][61]

Johnson, who by the way, climbed Mt. Everest in 2003, has called for major cuts in government spending, anchored by an immediate end to the War in Afghanistan. America's military adventurism in the Middle East has not only been a failure (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, etc) and a wildly profligate waste of taxpayer money, it shows an utter ignoring of history. From Alexander the Great through Churchill's time (Remember the Dardanelles) through today, western efforts to change the Middle East have yielded failure. A President Gary Johnson would not have demonstrated such hubris.

I was asked to introduce Johnson because my core expertise is jobs, which these days is, of course, Job One, for America  I believe that Johnson's core values: smaller government, less burden on the backs of employers (e.g. ObamaCare), and encouragement of entrepreneurship is the most likely route to creating more jobs or at least to slowing America's decline and fall.

In addition to attempting to give Johnson the inspiring introduction he deserves, I will try to do my part to make the case for why, at this point in American history, the most beneficial, if not sexy, thing our leaders could do is to pull on ropes of restrain and to replace hubris and profligate spending with responsible money management and stewardship, yes, for ourselves but also for our children and grandchildren.

I hope to see you there.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How Much is Your Procrastination Hurting You? Five Questions

How much, if at all, is your procrastination hurting you? These questions can help you decide if you need to try to improve:

1.  How often does your procrastination increase your anxiety in excess of the benefit derived?
A) Often
B) Sometimes
C) Rarely
D) Never

2. How often does your procrastination significantly hurt the quality of your work products?
A )Often
B) Sometimes
C) Rarely
D) Never

3. How much has your procrastination hurt your career?
A) Greatly
B) Moderately
C) A bit
D) Not at all
4. How often does your procrastination frustrate your family and friends?
A) Often
B) Sometimes
C) Rarely
D) Never

5. How much has procrastination hurt your performance in school and college?
A) Greatly
B) Moderately
C) A bit
D) Not at all

Should You Start a One-Person Business?: 14 questions

Today, it seems that more people than ever are considering starting a one- or few-person business. Perhaps that's because, in this terrible job market, ever more people can't land a decent job.

These questions may help you decide if you'd be wise to start such a business.

1. Running your own one-person business means you must be a self-starter: structure your days, and keep working hard, even in the face of setbacks. How confident are you that you'd work hard and well enough?
A) Very
B) Quite
C) Moderate
D) Minimally

2. How confident are you in the viability of your business concept or your ability to find a viable one?

A) Very
B) Quite
C) Moderate
D) Minimally

3. How confident are you in your ability to create an excellent (if brief) business plan that will address funding, cash flow, and marketing?
A) Very
B) Quite
C) Moderate
D) Minimally

4. How confident are you in your ability to persuade people to buy, invest, sell to you, calm down customers, etc.
A) Very
B) Quite
C) Moderate
D) Minimally

5. If you were buying furniture for your business, you'd mainly buy:
A) used items from Craigslist ads, garage sales, etc.
B) used items from a used furniture store
C) new items from Office Depot, Target, Ikea, etc.
D) new items from a higher-end furniture store

6. If you owned a store that sold eyeglass frames, you'd most likely buy them from:
A)  a manufacturer(s) in a low-cost country
B   a U.S. manufacturer(s)
C)  a wholesaler whose sales rep called and then visited you.
D) Costco

7. How confident are you that you would devote the usually-required 10-30 hours a week on marketing, especially in the business's first year or three.
A) Very
B) Quite
C) Moderate
D) Minimally

8. Even one-person businesses usually require significant paperwork: bill paying, bill collecting, answering emails, government forms, etc. How likely are you to keep up with it and/or to afford hiring someone to do it:
A) Very
B) Quite
C) Moderately
D) Not

9. Every business has problems that arise: technical, human, logistical, mishaps of all stripes. If you too frequently have to hire someone to solve them, your profits can erode quickly. How confident are you in your ability to solve such problems by yourself in a timely manner:
A) Very
B)  Quite
C) Moderately
D) Not

10. Many one-person businesses, especially service businesses can be started for under $2,000, especially if it's a home-based business. Of course, the business you choose to start could cost much more--opening a cafe, for example, usually costs six figures. How confident are you that you have the capital to start your business, plus the operating capital to keep it running for the months or even year or two it may take to become profitable? (You needn't have the cash yourself: You could borrow on your no-interest credit card, borrow from Uncle Ernie, and/or get an SBA loan, especially if you're a woman or minority.)
A) Very
B) Quite
C) Moderate
D) Minimally

11. Many one-person businesses operate at a loss or minimal profit for months or even a year. Can you afford that?
A) Yes
B) With modest strain
C) With serious strain
D) No

12. If your business ended up generating little or no profit and you lost all the money you invested in it:
A) You'd still be able to essentially retain your lifestyle and financial security.
B) It would hurt your lifestyle or financial security but you'd probably be okay.
C) It would hurt your lifestyle or financial security but it wouldn't be devastating.
D) It would be devastating

13. Facts aside, how worried would you be about your business failing?
A) Very
B) Quite
C) Somewhat
D) Minimally

14. Overall, how excited are you about the prospect of starting and running a one- or perhaps two- or three-person business?
A) Very
B) Quite
C) Moderately
D) Not

SCORING: For all items A=3 points, B= 2 points, C=1 point  D=0 points.
Obviously, no set of questions can definitively indicate whether you should start a business. But the closer you scored to the maximum of 42 points, the more the indication you'd be successful and enjoy running your one-, two-, or three-person business.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Case for Candor

I believe that our lives and the overall society would be much improved by an increase in candor.

So many people wonder why they were "laid off," not hired,or unsuccessful in romance. And don't we all wish our politicians were more candid with us?

And might not America be more successful in competing in the global economy if employers and co-workers gave more candid feedback?

Yes, criticism hurts but would we not be better off, as individuals and as a society, if our friends, bosses, and leaders gave us honest feedback, positive and negative?

And when we get criticized, if, after the unavoidable reflexive sadness or anger, instead of wallowing or lashing back, we forced ourselves to fairly assess if the criticism is deserved and worth the effort to try to improve, and if so, fighting to improve?

Perhaps in urging more candor, I'm being unrealistic--most people don't want to give nor get more feedback.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

TODAY, Marty Nemko talks about his book, "What's the Big Idea?"

Today, Sep 8, from 2:00 to 3:15 pm, I'll be speaking at the legendary Kepler's Books near Stanford to present some of the ideas in my newest book, What's the Big Idea: 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. I'll be answering questions and autographing my book. Hope to see you there.

Kepler's has hosted many of the world's leading intellectual luminaries. For example, next week it's Salman Rushdie in conversation with Tobias Wolfe.

Kepler's Books is at 1010 El Camino Real in San Mateo.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Proposal for an Almost Anarchist Small Government

I've listened to enough of the Democratic and Republican conventions to make me wonder if we'd be better off in a near-anarchist, truly small government.

So as a thought experiment, here are some of my ideas on what a minimalist government would look like. Some of this is adapted from my new book, What's the Big Idea? 39 disruptive ideas for a better America. 

Retain public schools but eliminate all district, county, state, and federal education bureaucracies and rules. Give teachers freedom to teach what they're passionate about and what they think their kids need to and want to learn. I would emphasize education for citizenship: ethics, empathizing with others, communication skills, and encouraging a cosmic obligation to care about people other than yourself.

Eliminate preventive policing--e.g., cops patrolling the streets. To deter crime significantly, you'd need five cops on every block, roaming through buildings, regularly invading privacy. Feasible-level preventive policing doesn't work well enough to justify the cost to the taxpayer. I would retain a streamlined police force to apprehend criminals.

Cut the defense budget by 80-90%. I'd guess that the additional safety that accrues beyond the most beneficial 10-20% is too small to justify taking all that money from the taxpayer.

Retain government's role in commandeering the building and maintaining of the infrastructure.

Eliminate government "investment" in energy and other technologies. If all companies, with all their brilliant scientists and bean counters, have all rejected a technology, it is too unlikely to be worth taxpayer money, even in the long-term. Examples: ethanol, a nationwide network of electric car plug-in stations, bus lines that traverse empty. In Napa, taxpayer money was used to create gorgeous trolleys that ran for years from Napa's periphery to the downtown. They were always empty, a moving monument to the absurdity of so much of government's spending of our money.

Eliminate all social programs that haven't demonstrated even marginal cost-benefit. Those include such media and liberal darlings as Head Start, job retraining, and even extending unemployment checks. (That results in so many people saying, "Good. Now I don't have to look for work for another 26 weeks.) Similarly, every time government increases financial aid, colleges think, "Good. Now we can raise tuition more."

Reevaluate well-intentioned but side-effect-ridden government programs. Few could argue with the intent of affirmative action. Yet the result has too often been to move merit to a back seat. That causes enormous damage to America. Increasing home ownership is a reasonable goal but government policies to encourage that triggered the financial meltdown. Banks were pressured to give loans to people who couldn't afford to buy a home and so created Stated Qualifications loans, the so-called "liar loans." It's no surprise that many of the borrowers defaulted.

I believe government should not restrict gay marriage nor a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. I'm ambivalent about legalizing marijuana--Its use would increase, which would take a devastating toll on motivation and memory, and increase traffic accidents. For the same reason, I am ambivalent about alcohol being legal. Of course, prohibition would result in a black market but I'd guess that the horrific societal effects of alcohol abuse would be significantly reduced.

Allow the right to die. It's crazy that millions of dying people must live their final weeks in agonizing (and expensive) pain because the government says they can't ask a doctor to painlessly end their irreversible misery.

My intuition says that those proposals would lead to a better America. But no one could assert that with confidence...except for a politician.

What do you think?