The Problem With Following in the Footsteps of a Genius

Manchester United v Manchester City - Premier League
Sir Alex Ferguson Alex Livesey—Getty Images

There have been a some big management changes this week. In automobiles, Ford Motor Co. has apparently decided to hand the CEO job to Mark Fields, the COO, who will replace current boss Alan Mulally as Ford’s driver. In football, David Moyes was canned as coach of Manchester United after less than a year on the job, to be replaced on an interim basis by Ryan Giggs, 41, a star player who has spent his entire career at the team.

The connection between Fields and Moyes neatly describes one of the big problems of management succession. Moyes followed a legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, whose success on the field helped make Man U. a billion dollar global franchise with an enormous and almost militant fan base, particularly at home. Whoever followed Fergie was always going to be handed a poisoned chalice. Even if Moyes had been successful initially, the credit would have gone to Sir Alex for providing the horses. And given that those horses couldn’t finish this season (including the injured top scorer Robin Van Persie), Moyes get tagged as a pale imitation of the real thing.

Fields follows another star boss. Mulally took over at Ford at the worst possible time—just as the auto industry was crashing—and steered the company away from the abyss to becoming healthy and profitable. Like Moyes, Fields will take over with Ford at the top of the table. All of Ford’s major problems have been resolved (with the possible exception of its European operation), and the company is fulsomely profitable. Any slump or slowdown in the next couple of years will immediately bring out the comparisons—and they won’t be in Fields’ favor. The fact that Fields was a key member of Mulally’s team would likely be held against him.

If following Mulally is tough, following Ferguson is even worse than following a founder like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Even England’s next king will have a much easier time at succession than did Sir Alex’s successor. The “Chosen One,” a Scotsman like Ferguson, Moyes had proven himself as manager at Everton, Liverpool’s poorer cousin of a club. He was a diligent coach who got the most out of limited resources—the most typically being midtable in the Premier League. But Moyes had never been charged with winning anything at Everton. Pretty good was good enough.

Ferguson had been nothing if supportive of his countryman, showing up at games to confirm his belief in Moyes. Moyes should have banned him from the stadium. Every moment Sir Alex was visible was merely a reminder to fans that someone inferior was standing in the technical area.

Luckily, Fields isn’t going to have such problems— there’s nothing worse in the corporate world than having your predecessor hang around the boardroom to “help” you. Mulally, who dabbled with the idea of becoming CEO of Microsoft, isn’t likely to remain at Ford as chairman or even director. He may run another company or sit on corporate boards of his choosing. And Ford shareholders or car owners aren’t necessarily going to be howling for Fields’ head should the company have a couple of down quarters.

Not so in soccer, of course. “Football managers now just get tossed around, chucked about, disregarded, rubbished. Decent men, good men just get thrown away, and that’s not just David Moyes, that’s all the way through football,” noted former Man U. player-turned-pundit Gary Neville. The coaching churn remains insane. Consider that the executives of England’s top teams, including Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, Newcastle change managers the way they would their socks. Yet the same rules do not apply to the top management of these clubs, in part because they take a longer term view of things. Man U. is a publicly traded company; management turnover is not perceived as a good thing.

The bookies have made Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal as the favorite to succeed Moyes. Van Gaal, who coaches the Dutch national team and has run Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax. He’s been hired, fired, and retired enough to not care what anyone things of him, (one nickname: the Iron Tulip), which makes him a modern coach. He’s been called a slow starter. Good luck with that one, Man U.

Drugs

The Drinking Age Is Past Its Prime

The age 21 rule sets the United States apart from all advanced Western nations, and it has pushed kids toward pills and other anti-social behavior.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed by Congress 30 years ago this July, is a gross violation of civil liberties and must be repealed. It is absurd and unjust that young Americans can vote, marry, enter contracts, and serve in the military at 18 but cannot buy an alcoholic drink in a bar or restaurant. The age 21 rule sets the United States apart from all advanced Western nations and lumps it with small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

Congress was stampeded into this puritanical law by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who with all good intentions were wrongly intruding into an area of personal choice exactly as did the hymn-singing 19th-century Temperance crusaders, typified by Carrie Nation smashing beer barrels with her hatchet. Temperance fanaticism eventually triumphed and gave us 14 years of Prohibition. That in turn spawned the crime syndicates for booze smuggling, laying the groundwork for today’s global drug trade. Thanks a lot, Carrie!

Now that marijuana regulations have been liberalized in Colorado, it’s time to strike down this dictatorial national law. Government is not our nanny. The decrease in drunk-driving deaths in recent decades is at least partly attributable to more uniform seat-belt use and a strengthening of DWI penalties. Today, furthermore, there are many other causes of traffic accidents, such as the careless use of cell phones or prescription drugs like Ambien – implicated in the recent trial and acquittal of Kerry Kennedy for driving while impaired.

Learning how to drink responsibly is a basic lesson in growing up — as it is in wine-drinking France or in Germany, with its family-oriented beer gardens and festivals. Wine was built into my own Italian-American upbringing, where children were given sips of my grandfather’s home-made wine. This civilized practice descends from antiquity. Beer was a nourishing food in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and wine was identified with the life force in Greece and Rome: In vino veritas (in wine, truth). Wine as a sacred symbol of unity and regeneration remains in the Christian Communion service. Virginia Woolf wrote that wine with a fine meal lights a “subtle and subterranean glow, which is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse.”

What this cruel 1984 law did is deprive young people of safe spaces where they could happily drink cheap beer, socialize, chat, and flirt in a free but controlled public environment. Hence in the 1980s we immediately got the scourge of crude binge drinking at campus fraternity keg parties, cut off from the adult world. Women in that boorish free-for-all were suddenly fighting off date rape. Club drugs — Ecstasy, methamphetamine, ketamine (a veterinary tranquilizer) — surged at raves for teenagers and on the gay male circuit scene.

Alcohol relaxes, facilitates interaction, inspires ideas, and promotes humor and hilarity. Used in moderation, it is quickly flushed from the system, with excess punished by a hangover. But deadening pills, such as today’s massively overprescribed anti-depressants, linger in body and brain and may have unrecognized long-term side effects. Those toxic chemicals, often manufactured by shadowy firms abroad, have been worrisomely present in a recent uptick of unexplained suicides and massacres. Half of the urban professional class in the U.S. seems doped on meds these days.

As a libertarian, I support the decriminalization of marijuana, but there are many problems with pot. From my observation, pot may be great for jazz musicians and Beat poets, but it saps energy and will-power and can produce physiological feminization in men. Also, it is difficult to measure the potency of plant-derived substances like pot. With brand-name beer or liquor, however, purchased doses have exactly the same strength and purity from one continent to another, with no fear of contamination by dangerous street additives like PCP.

Exhilaration, ecstasy, and communal vision are the gifts of Dionysus, god of wine. Alcohol’s enhancement of direct face-to-face dialogue is precisely what is needed by today’s technologically agile generation, magically interconnected yet strangely isolated by social media. Clumsy hardcore sexting has sadly supplanted simple hanging out over a beer at a buzzing dive. By undermining the art of conversation, the age 21 law has also had a disastrous effect on our arts and letters, with their increasing dullness and mediocrity. This tyrannical infantilizing of young Americans must stop!

Paglia is the author of Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars.

Here’s Why This Best-Selling Book Is Freaking Out the Super-Wealthy

FRANCE-ECONOMY-PIKETTY
Thomas Piketty FRED DUFOUR—AFP/Getty Images

There are many reasons why French academic Thomas Piketty’s 685-page tome, “Capital in the 21st Century,” has vaulted to the top of the Amazon.com best seller list and is being discussed with equal fervor by the world’s top economic policy makers and middle class Americans who wonder why they haven’t gotten a raise in years. The main reason is that it proves, irrefutably and clearly, what we’ve all suspected for some time now—the rich ARE getting richer compared to everyone else, and their wealth isn’t trickling down. In fact, it’s trickling up.

Piketty 15 years of painstaking data collection—he poured over centuries worth of tax records in places like France, the U.S., Germany, Japan and the U.K—provides clear proof that in lieu of major events like World Wars or government interventions like the New Deal, the rich take a greater and greater share of the world’s economic pie. That’s because the gains on capital (meaning, investments) outpace those on GDP. Result: people with lots of investments take a bigger chunk of the world’s wealth, relative to everyone else, with every passing year. The only time that really changes is when the rich lose a bundle (as they often do in times of global conflict) or growth gets jump started via rebuilding (as it sometimes does after wars).

This is particularly true in times of slow growth like what we’ve seen over the last few years. I’ve written any number of columns and blogs about how quantitative easing has buoyed the stock market, but not really provided the kind of kick that we needed to boost wage growth in the real economy, because it mostly benefits people who hold stocks–that’s the wealthiest 25 % of us. Meanwhile, consumption and wage growth remain stagnant. And as Piketty book makes so uncomfortably clear, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. No wonder I saw an advertisement for a storage company on the subway the other day that read, “The French aristocracy didn’t see it coming, either.”

That’s one of Piketty biggest messages–inequality will slowly but surely undermine the population’s faith in the system. He doesn’t believe, as Marx did, that capitalism would simply burn itself out over time. In fact, he says that the more perfect and advanced markets become (at least, in economic terms), the better they work and the more fully they serve the rich. But he does believe that rising inequality leads to a less perfect union, and a likelihood of major social unrest that mirrors the sort that his native France went through in the late 1700s. Indeed, the subsequent detailed collection of wealth data in the form of elaborate income and tax records made France a particularly rich data collection ground for his book. (Bureaucracy is good for something!)

My feeling about this book is similar to that of New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman. It’s going to be remembered as the economic tome of our era. Basically, Piketty has finally put to death, with data, the fallacies of trickle down economics and the Laffer curve, as well as the increasingly fantastical notion that we can all just bootstrap our way to the Forbes 400 list. It’s telling and important that Piketty credits his work to the fact that he didn’t forge his economic career in the States, as so many top thinkers do, because he was put off by the profession’s obsession with unrealistic mathematical models, which blossomed in the 1980s to the exclusion of almost all other ideas and disciplines, and the false ideologies that they were used to justify. “The truth is that economics should ever have sought to divorce itself from the other social sciences and can only advance in conjunction with them,” he argues.

Indeed, had more top economists followed the lead of other social scientists and ditched their black box models in favor of spending time in the field—meaning on Main Street, where trickle down theory hasn’t ever really worked—they might have come to the same conclusions that Piketty has. We can only hope that the politicians crafting today’s economic programs will take this book to heart.

Foreign Policy

The Problem With the New Isolationism

Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russia has once again focused attention on the question of America’s international role. There is, across the political spectrum, a strong streak of anti-interventionism which holds that we should minimize our involvement abroad except for clear-cut national security purposes. In this view, the United States should avoid not only any non-defensive use of military force but any exercise of its power to influence world affairs — especially for “moral” causes such as human rights or democracy. Leftists wary of American power deplore what they see as President Obama’s continuation of his predecessors’ imperialist policies. Libertarians and libertarian conservatives wary of government power and foreign entanglements, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and his father, ex-Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, reject what they see as the mindless hawkishness of the mainstream Republican Party.

Caution about adventures abroad, which have cost the United States dearly in lost lives and morale as well as money in the past decade, is entirely sensible. But a prudent foreign policy is not the same as an American retreat from an active global role — which would be bad for the world, bad for Americans and, at the risk of lapsing into Team America cliché, bad for freedom. Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If the United States scales back its presence on the international scene, others will step up to fill the gap.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as the latest events starkly remind us, is seeking to reclaim its great-power status — under the banner of an explicitly authoritarian ideology, this time in “conservative” colors. A shadowy guru of the Putin regime, political theorist Alexander Dugin (head of a think tank at Moscow State University who has close ties to top government figures and is directly involved in stirring up pro-Russian separatism in Ukraine) speaks of Russia as a central player in the struggle against Western “liberal hegemony” with its principles of “the free market… parliamentarian democracy, human rights, and absolute individualism.” Putin may not share this messianic vision, but he is quite likely to use it purpose of maintaining his power; indeed, Dugin’s idea of an anti-liberal coalition of radical religious, right-wing nationalist, and far-left socialist forces is startlingly similar to the Kremlin’s actual alliances.

Elsewhere, there is resurgent radical Islamism, often vying for control with brutal secular tyrannies; there is China, combining capitalist-style economic success with communist political dictatorship. A world in which these forces are dominant, and able to spread their influence, will not be a freedom-friendly one.

Would this affect Americans? Even aside from the moral dimension of abandoning our present-day democratic allies — and, say, standing by while Poland is brought back under Russia’s boot — the interconnected world of the 21st Century is a reality. Anti-interventionist libertarians and conservatives nearly always support free trade; but international trade, and American business abroad, would not fare well under the ascendancy of authoritarian nationalism in other countries. At best, American companies would have to deal with repressive regimes that use the benefits of trade to solidify their power, which they may later use against U.S. interests. At worst, they may see their foreign assets seized by lawless governments, or their local employees terrorized and persecuted (like Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer working for a U.S. investment fund who died in prison after being framed for fraud).

Such abuses would sorely test the limits of American non-interference. So would inevitable collisions between American freedoms and authoritarian regimes and movements around the world — from the “corrupting” influence of American culture to the “subversive” work of émigré dissidents living in the U.S. or of American activists and private organizations promoting human rights. This factor alone makes it very unlikely that, as proponents of retrenchment often claim, anti-Americanism would wane if we only stopped “meddling” — particularly since authoritarians and extremists often assume that all private activity and expression in the U.S. takes place with the government’s blessing. Russians obsessed with American subversion barely distinguish between George Soros’s Open Society Foundation and the CIA; Islamist radicals attacked U.S. diplomatic missions and American schools over the YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims.”

To some extent, the neo-isolationist trend is an understandable result of the fiasco in Iraq, which started as a grandiose experiment in the use of American power for democracy-building. It is sobering to recall that in 2003, not only neoconservative hawks but many liberals and even libertarians supported what was officially known as “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Shortly before its launch, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “It is not unreasonable to believe that if the U.S. removed Saddam and helped Iraqis build not an overnight democracy but a more accountable, progressive and democratizing regime, it would have a positive, transforming effect on the entire Arab world.” In retrospect, it does seem vastly unreasonable to stake a war on such a big “if” — on the hope that a country with no base for democratic self-government, decades of brutal dictatorship, and deep tribal and religious divisions could be steered toward stable democratization by an occupying force.

But the Iraq Syndrome has generated its own myths and knee-jerk reactions. Among those is an oversimplification of the Iraq war itself, often portrayed (both by leftists and Ron Paul libertarians) as a criminal act of wanton slaughter by the U.S. In reality, nearly 90 percent of war-related Iraqi deaths were at the hands of other Iraqis in sectarian or insurgent violence — and numerous surveys over the years have found Iraqis themselves consistently ambivalent about the invasion, with just over a quarter calling it “absolutely wrong” and three out of four agreeing that Saddam Hussein’s removal was worth it. A similarly simplistic narrative of American evildoing shows up in denunciations of drone strikes, which even some critics grudgingly admit are far less deadly to civilians than either terrorist attacks or anti-terror operations by the domestic military in the same regions.

The anti-interventionist tendency to demonize America’s actions is often paralleled by a bias against the U.S.-backed side in foreign conflicts and in favor of the opposing side — which can lead to defending the reprehensible. Ron Paul has portrayed Iran as a victim of American bullying while casting the solitary vote against a 2009 U.S. House resolution condemning the Iranian regime’s violent crackdown on protests against perceived election fraud; more recently, he has defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea, arguing that the referendum under Russian guns was no less fair than elections in U.S.-occupied Iraq (as if Iraqis in those elections were pressured to vote for becoming an American colony). Glenn Greenwald, the lawyer-turned-journalist and crusader against America’s imperialist “National Security State,” has commented on the Russia-Ukraine crisis only to praise the Kremlin’s foreign-consumption propaganda network, Russia Today, for allowing host Abby Martin to make a brief on-air statement criticizing the invasion of Crimea — without mentioning the Putin regime’s ongoing crackdown on dissenting media at home.

Even Rand Paul, far more mainstream than his father, initially suggested that the U.S. mustn’t “tweak” Russia and should respect its interest in keeping Ukraine “within [its] sphere.” Yet, as Russian aggression escalated, he shifted to a more hardline position, calling for the U.S. to be “a global leader” in punishing and isolating Russia. While Sen. Paul stressed that our response should not involve military action, he did propose resuming the missile shield program in Eastern Europe (with the caveat that European nations should pay for it). This shift may reflect Sen. Paul’s response to changing circumstances; but it may also reflect his realization that anyone wanting to be a serious contender in American politics should have a vision for an active U.S. role on the world stage.

Obviously, the U.S. should tread carefully in using its muscle in foreign conflicts, especially when there may be no best-case scenario in sight and no minimally reliable friends. (Syria may well have been one such situation.) But prudence does not equal abdication. There are meaningful things we can do to support pro-freedom forces where they exist and to exert some check on aggressive anti-freedom regimes.

Writing recently on the independent Russian website Grani.ru, dissident writer and left-wing activist Alexander Skobov noted that today’s conflict between Russia and the West was not so much a clash of civilizations as a “clash of systems”: “The essential difference between them lies in who has ‘primacy’: the individual or the state, society or the ‘elite’? The conflict over this issue is not between civilizations but within each of them. Every state seeks to dominate the individual; every elite seeks to dominate society. But some countries have succeeded at developing a set of institutions that limit the power of the state and the elite over the individual and society, while others have not.”

Obviously, these institutions don’t always work. Yet, while the United States and the other capitalist liberal democracies may be very far from either the libertarian ideal of freedom or the progressive ideal of social justice, the unvarnished truth is that it’s only within this loosely knit global community — the “global liberal hegemony” deplored by far-left and far-right radicals — that these ideals have any chance to survive and develop. A world in which these values are on the ascendancy rather than in retreat is very much a part of our national interest.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.

Silicon Valley

Ed Norton’s Charity Company Doesn’t Sound So Charitable

Mat Hayward—Getty Images

How do you become a $23 million darling in Silicon Valley? By building a for-profit business that serves nonprofits, apparently

What’s one of the rare blessings of living in an era characterized by tremendous asset inequality and a chastened, hamstrung welfare state? Charitable giving has by some accounts reached an all-time high, both among the general public and among the American wealthy. What a time to be alive.

As has been the case with many a popular activity in our time, techies have now come along to philanthropy to offer the piggy-back ride they like to call disruption, claiming to fix something that may not have needed fixing while skimming a fee for doing business. The crowded crowdfunding field offers any number of sites that handle charitable donations, from Indiegogo to GoFundMe to Causes to JustGiving. All tend to follow the same basic formula, allowing users to register their own charitable causes and to donate to established ones. It’s hard for any one site to make a name for itself.

But on Monday one of the pack stepped forward from the others with big news: CrowdRise, a charity-specific crowdfunding venture, had landed $23 million in venture capital funding from a group including Twitter/Tumblr investors Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures, and Jeff Bezos’s personal investment fund, Bezos Expeditions. (This funding round followed an earlier seed round that included investment from Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.)

Those big names join the biggest one that had previously been attached to the site: Edward Norton, the actor and director. Norton and a band of cofounders launched the site in November 2009 after they raised a surprising $1.2 million for a wildlife preservation concern in eastern Africa. They figured, If we can raise good money like this, why shouldn’t we let everyone else do the same? That was a giving notion, and it’s of a piece with CrowdRise’s passionate and playful message. The site’s motto says its users will “have the most fun in the world” while fundraising, and little jokes pepper its official literature. To wit: “CrowdRise is way more fun than anything else aside from being all nervous about trying to kiss a girl for the first time and her not saying something like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’” Fun!

But what does altruistic fun have to do with a $23 million round of funding? That cash would do some good in the pockets of the charities CrowdRise users support. The site’s literature explains its business plan this way: “When a donation is made through Crowdrise, we deduct a transaction fee so we don’t go out of business (GOB).” No, ExxonMobil’s corporate communications team would never write such a plain thing. But perhaps what they would write would not fudge things, either. Those transaction fees not only kept CrowdRise from going under but made the business promising enough to land all that venture money. As TechCrunch put it: “[CrowdRise is] profitable and … viewed the Kickstarter goal of $1 billion raised on CrowdRise as very doable.” (CrowdRise had not responded to questions from TIME as of late Tuesday afternoon.)

Capitalist techniques have gained an increasingly stable foothold in the world of nonprofits. Universities, hospitals and big foundations are lousy with MBAs and executives who command (citing market logic) salaries close to what their for-profit counterparts make. CrowdRise’s big-bucks waltz into this moral vacuum might be a little brazen—but at least it’s clever. The opposite of clever is the spirit that accompanies any event like this. A perusal of the comments on TechCrunch’s post, and the Twitter response to the same, indicates an unflinchingly positive reaction to the news. “Great to see.” “Psyched.” “Congratulations.” That’s a whole lot of accolades for a common middleman who just got a whole lot richer.

Opinion

Americans Flunk Science—Again

The Pine Island Glacier, twice the size of Atlanta, is calving away from Antarctica.
The Pine Island Glacier, twice the size of Atlanta, is calving away from Antarctica. NASA

Misinformation about climate change, vaccines and the Big Bang is everywhere. We can't stop people from peddling nonsense, but we can surely stop buying it.

Shhh! Listen! Hear that steady thumping? That’s the sound of scientists—particularly climate scientists—across the country pounding their heads against their desks. And at this point, that’s perfectly understandable, given a new poll released by Gallup concerning Americans’ beliefs about climate change.

The United States breaks down into three camps on the question of whether the Earth is warming and human activities are playing a significant role, according to Gallup: 39% are “concerned believers,” 36% are part of the “mixed middle,” and 25% are “cool skeptics.” And the contrarian camp is growing: The 39% concerned believer figure is the same as it was in 2001; the mixed middle group has tumbled from 49% to 36%; and that 13% difference was completely gobbled up by the naysayers, who went from 12% to 25%.

Worse, the “cool” part of the cool-skeptics rubric misstates the unanimity and intensity of their beliefs. When the respondents were asked more granular questions—exactly how much they worry about climate change; if they believe that the dangers are understated, overstated or are being fairly described; if they believe climate change poses a threat to their lives—the believers and the mixed group generally had a range of opinions, but the skeptics move in lockstep. Is climate change exaggerated? 100% say yes. Does it pose a serious threat? 100% say no. That’s the stuff of a Crimean referendum.

Look, for the 12 millionth time, nobody pretends that climate science has been completely figured out—there are plenty of holes in the models and unanswered questions. But what’s settled is that the Earth is warming, the climate is becoming dangerously volatile and human activity is a meaningful part of the cause. The mere fact that the deniers are flat wrong on this score doesn’t mean that the concerned believers are entirely correct. Fully 58% of them believe that the dangers of climate change have actually been understated—a hard case to make given some of the apocalyptic visions that come out of the louder factions of the green movement. But they’re a whole lot righter than the faction that wants to put its fingers in its ears, make a cheap and easy Al Gore joke and move on.

That, frankly, is as far as we need to go down the false equivalency road—the obligatory hedge that both sides play the misinformation game. The fact is, it’s conservatives (65% of the cool skeptic group), Republicans (80%) and men (66%) who are on the wrong side of the science, and there’s no mystery as to how we’ve gotten here. Global warming denial has become one of the core beliefs of conservative and Republican ideology, along with a handful of other positions including opposition to gun control legislation and tax increases and a near-fetishistic obsession with overturning the Affordable Care Act. If you want to play in the GOP poker game, those are the table stakes.

Tuesday’s Gallup poll comes just a day after an AP/GfK poll showing even higher rates of global warming skepticism—a dispiriting 40%. Another 51% of respondents question the Big Bang, and 15% doubt the safety and efficacy of vaccines. That last is a deadly figure—literally—because vaccination rates of up 95% are required to create the so-called herd immunity that protects entire communities. It doesn’t take much math to see the harm a 15% opt-out will do.

It ought to be a poor time to have such counterfactual beliefs. Just last month, a landmark study out of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics provided some of the strongest evidence yet for the Big Bang. Just this season, New York City and Columbus, Ohio are suffering from outbreaks of measles and mumps as increasing numbers of parents refuse vaccines for their kids. And just on Tuesday—Earth Day—an iceberg twice as big as Atlanta was calving away from Antarctica, one more dramatic step in the slow thaw of the planet’s ice cover.

There’s a lot of blame to go around for our stubbornly misinformed beliefs. All it takes is a know-nothing with a megaphone like Jenny McCarthy or oil-rich sugar daddies like the Koch brothers to spread nonsense about vaccines or global warming. But it’s facile to point the finger at them entirely. Yes, they’re peddling junk, but too many of us are still buying. Until we stop, they’ll never go away.

medicine

‘Are Your Children Vaccinated?’ Is the New ‘Do You Have a Gun in the House?’

baby arm vaccines
Summer Yukata—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Most of your parenting choices don't affect me. Having a loaded weapon in your house does. The same is true when you don't immunize your children.

I try not to judge other parents. If you want your whole family to sleep together in one giant bed, it is none of my concern. If you feel like breastfeeding your kid until he’s in junior high school, go for it. If you don’t want to or can’t breastfeed, hey, formula is good too. To binky or not to binky? Maybe that is the question in your house, but I am positive you will make the right decision. Either way, I could really care less. Most of your parenting choices don’t affect me or my children. Having a loaded weapon in your house does. It has the potential to do serious harm to, and possibly kill, my child. The same is true when you decide not to immunize your children against preventable infectious diseases.

My kids are five and two. They have gone through most of their early childhood vaccinations. With all the coverage in the news lately about the return of the measles and the mumps (seriously, mumps is a thing again?), I called the pediatrician to confirm that their immunizations were up to date. I found out that I had somehow missed my two year old’s second MMR vaccination. Just in case you don’t know, those two “Ms” stand for measles and mumps! Crud… I was an accidental anti-vaxxer! It was an oversight that I quickly remedied. That was a close one! What if my little dude had come in contact with one of the unvaccinated!? Chances are, nothing. But maybe, something. And if it was something, that thing could have been catastrophic.

I’ve been wondering lately if I have any friends who are anti-vaxxers. Some of the dads in my playdate group are kind of out there: musicians, actors, and such. One is a big conspiracy theory guy. Another is active in the Occupy movement. Who knows what kind of wacky stuff they’re up to? Maybe they hopped aboard the trendy not-getting-your-kids-immunized train. I brought it up with a couple of them. Luckily, no true nut jobs. (Well, about this issue anyway. They’re an odd bunch, but in the best ways.)

There is one dad who is not fully on board with vaccines, deeming some of them unnecessary. He felt that the reason a lot of vaccines are required by schools is because the state has a financial interest in…I don’t know…their sale and distribution or something. It was the conspiracy guy, and I had kind of a hard time following his logic. He also does not agree with the recommended vaccination schedule, asserting that getting too many at a time weakens a child’s immune system. (A reasonable-sounding concern some might think, though there is absolutely no evidence supporting it.) But, even if somewhat grudgingly, he vaccinates his daughter. Whew! We can still hang out; our children can still be friends.

I’m sort of joking…but the truth is, I’m not sure what I would do if I found out that one of my playgroup buddies was an anti-vaxxer. I really like those dudes! And most of the kids have known each other so long, they view each other as second cousins.

At this point — especially since I rectified my earlier negligence — my children are out of the danger zone. Not all vaccines are 100% effective, but I feel relatively safe. Yet, I remain rankled by the anti-vaxxers. There is still a chance that my children could be a part of the unlucky few who are vaccine resistant. Though the risk to my children is small, there are other children who are too young for certain vaccines. Anti-vaxxers are unnecessarily putting those kids in harm’s way (not to mention the potential danger to their own offspring). They are, in fact, banking on others getting vaccinated to protect their own children from the spread of disease. It just seems so selfish. Of course, they believe that they are doing what is best for their kids and are likely discounting the exposure of other children.

I understand that injecting something into your child that you do not fully comprehend is scary. Most parents are not scientists or doctors. I’m certainly not. I also understand that nothing I say is going to convince anti-vaxxers that vaccinations are safe; their minds are already made up. Other people, who are much smarter than I am, have made a pretty compelling case for the efficacy of immunizations. Yet the anti-vaxxer movement seems to be on the rise. If you are on the fence, I ask only that you don’t just do your “research” on anti-vaxxer websites. That is not really research; it’s confirmation.

Not vaccinating your children is that odd family decision that has potential real life consequences outside your home. It should come with a certain set of responsibilities. If you have a gun in your house, you are expected to safely secure it. If you have decided not to immunize your children, it is incumbent on you to make sure other children are not exposed to an unnecessary threat of infectious disease. It may seem harsh to equate an innocent child with a loaded weapon, but if that child comes into contact with a virus he is not immunized against, the metaphor is apt. Most of the time, because of herd immunization, unvaccinated children are not exposed to these diseases. They are, therefore, harmless: unloaded and secured. As we have seen with recent outbreaks, however, the safety of the herd does not hold up when too many people opt out.

If you are worried about anti-vaxxers in your playgroup, you need to find out for yourself and not wait for other parents to bring it up. It is not a topic you should debate (trust me, you will not persuade your anti-vaxxer friend to immunize her child), but it is important to have the information. If there are unimmunized children in the group, consult your pediatrician about what increased risks there may be to your child. Then, you can make an informed decision about what is best for you and your family.

Lesser blogs at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter (@amateuridiot).

Opinion

Want to Heal the Planet? Make Environmental Degrees Free

A climate-themed version of the 1944 G.I. bill would send kids to college and train a generation of environmental thinkers

Charlotte Alter / TIME

Young people are facing two enormous problems: income inequality fueled by the rising cost of college, and the fact that they’re entering adulthood and will be raising their families on a planet with a climate that is growing less stable and more dangerous all the time. There’s a way to begin addressing both of these problems at once. It’s not cheap, but it’s not as expensive as rebuilding New York City, and it’s much better for the economy.

Think of it as the G.I. Bill, but for a different kind of war. Students who study environmental science, engineering, or design in college and then spend five post-grad years fighting climate change could have their tuition paid by the U.S. Government. The plan could even share the name of the 1944 bill that educated millions of post-war Americans: G.I., for Green Innovation.

Environmental science suffers from a chronic brain drought, and the reasons aren’t hard to understand: green careers don’t have a big payoff like business or engineering and they don’t set students on as secure a professional path as do, say, law and medicine. In 2012, over ten times as many students in the U.S. graduated with business degrees (almost 367,000) as with degrees that involved agriculture or natural resources (under 31,000.) Degrees in health and psychology (over 272,000) were nine times as common as green majors. Overall, environmental science is the 60th most popular college major in today’s working population, behind anthropology (#55) and music (#37,) according to a Georgetown University study of college majors and the workforce. Environmental Engineering fared even worse, finishing at #144, behind zoology (#119) and cosmetology (#115.)

Jeffrey Koseff, one of the Faculty Directors of Stanford’s prestigious Woods Institute for the Environment, said most of the students who study environmental issues are motivated by “altruism,” and a “long-term sense of social responsibility.” Those are qualities that don’t exactly translate into a big following on campus.

And no wonder, considering the amount of debt students are juggling. According to numbers recently released by the Federal Reserve of New York, student loan debt rose 300% between 2003 and 2013, to a nationwide total of $1.2 trillion, and rose 10% last year alone. People under 30 were in $322 billion dollars of student debt as of 2012. Graduating with bills like that doesn’t exactly motivate you to prioritize the welfare of the world over making money. But something’s got to give. Terrifying reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this year warned that unless we take swift and decisive action, rising sea levels, melting ice, and greenhouse gas emissions will raise the planet’s temperature to a point that threatens to destroy the world’s food supply and flood coastal communities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami.

MORE: Student Loans Are Ruining Your Life. Now They’re Ruining the Economy, Too.

“To take climate change seriously, it means we need to mobilize at a scale we cannot imagine,” said David Orr, who once taught environmental science at Oberlin College and is now in charge of its Oberlin Project, which aims to build an example of a sustainable economy in the Rust Belt. “We need a World War II-level mobilization to equip a generation with the intellectual and practical skills to fight the biggest civilizational crisis ever.”

Of course, a deluge of environmental scientists isn’t necessarily going to solve climate change. “Science by itself isn’t going to dig us out of the problem we’re in,” said Darron Collins, President of the College of the Atlantic, a small college in Maine that focuses on Human Ecology. “We pretty much know what the issues are, and we know a lot of what it takes to reverse it, but when you get down to it, it’s also going to take a very serious amount of behavior change on our own part.”

Collins is right, but if education shapes behavior, then mass education shapes civilization, and a civilization shift is what we need right now. A generation steeped in environmental science would be more likely to recycle, more likely to buy sustainable products, and more likely to elect lawmakers to pass climate change legislation. Even environmental graduates who don’t go into into the green sector would become better stewards of the planet. Imagine if the CEO of General Motors or the R&D director of General Electric had environmental science degrees. “No matter what they wind up doing, a degree in human ecology is a step towards a more ecologically sustainable planet,” Collins said.

Certainly there’s the question of whether there would be enough environmental science jobs even for the share of graduates who do want to go into the field. “Jobs in the government and nonprofit sectors are not increasing as quickly as one would like,” said Buzz Thompson, a co-director of the Stanford program with Koseff. A green G.I. Bill would thus have to coordinate its efforts with government-backed groups like the Peace Corps and NGOs like the Gates Foundation so that graduates could travel around the world, taking on such challenges as providing clean water to rural villages and low-emission or no-emission vehicles to congested cities.

But it stands to reason too that investing in young problem-solvers would likely yield creative, sustainable solutions in the private sector—generating both jobs and economic stimulus. “Whether it be green technology companies or consulting firms, there’s a real opportunity for students to be truly pioneering entrepreneurs and come up with these new, efficient, sensible solutions to environmental issues,” Thompson said. “But it’s hard to start a business if you’re loaded with debt.”

Yes, this kind of initiative is a heavy lift, perhaps even politically impossible, especially with the current Congress. But part of the reason there is so much inertia around climate change is that the problem seems too big to solve. But sooner or later the planet will make the decision for us, whether we want it to or not. Allocating some extra money to environmental education today is a whole lot easier than relocating Florida tomorrow. The problems aren’t going away. Doesn’t it make sense to motivate our best minds to solve them?

psychology

This Is the No. 1 Thing That Holds Most People Back From Success

This Is The Number One Thing That Holds Most People Back From Success
Gary S Chapma—Getty Images

What’s the number one thing that holds most people back from success?

It’s not intelligence or hard work.

It’s your attitude.

Sound like the drivel your parents told you when you were 16 that inspired eye-rolling? That’s what I thought, too.

But then I kept seeing the same thing over and over from experts and research…

The War For Talent Is a Myth

Marketing genius Seth Godin says it’s actually a war for attitude:

…it’s not really a search for talent. It’s a search for attitude. There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. Perhaps in the first violinist in a string quartet. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude.

What does Harvard tell its MBA students is the number one thing when negotiating salary?

First, they need to like you. That’s the first component. The things you do that make them like you less make it less likely that you are going to get what you want…

Now I’m not saying attitude is everything. There’s experience, education and other factors, of course, but…

…you’d be surprised how little even some of those matter.

Hard working? Meh. Overrated.

Stanford MBA school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer explains the research shows performance is only loosely tied to who gets ahead.

Via Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t:

The data shows that performance doesn’t matter that much for what happens to most people in most organizations. That includes the effect of your accomplishments on those ubiquitous performance evaluations and even on your job tenure and promotion prospects.

Studies show being liked affects performance reviews a lot more than actual performance.

Via Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t:

In an experimental study of the performance appraisals people received, those who were able to create a favorable impression received higher ratings than did people who actually performed better but did not do as good a job in managing the impressions they made on others.

It’s a Popularity Contest—And Often for a Good Reason

If you catch yourself saying, “But I’m right and they’re wrong!” — congratulations, you now have a confirmed attitude problem.

Yes, it is a popularity contest — and not necessarily unfairly.

People with more friends at the office perform better at the office.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

…when MIT researchers spent an entire year following 2,600 employees, observing their social ties, even using mathematical formulas to analyze the size and scope of their address books and buddy lists, they found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. They could even quantify the difference: On average, every e-mail contact was worth an added $948 in revenue.

The best predictor of team success is not smarts or effort — it’s how team members feel about one another.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

The better we feel about these workplace relationships, the more effective we will be. For example, a study of over 350 employees in 60 business units at a financial services company found that the greatest predictor of a team’s achievement was how the members felt about one another.

It’s Not About “Fair,” It’s About “Trust”

Don’t scream “That’s not fair!” Life is not a strict meritocracy like grade school.

School can warp our heads. In the working world there’s rarely one exam where you’re an individual contributor who gets an all-defining grade.

In the education system, collaboration is called “cheating.” In business it’s the main way things get done.

And wherever there is collaboration, there’s the issue of trust.

Does the company trust you’re on its side? Do the company’s leaders trust you’re aligned with their mission and goals?

Hard work might not always be rewarded but research shows true believers get ahead:

A recently published BYU business study finds that employees who are “true believers” in the mission of their organization are more likely to increase in status and influence than non-believers

The study found those who exhibit a strong belief in a brand’s mission or cause become more influential in important company circles, while those simply focused on punching the clock become more peripheral players – regardless of formal company position or overall performance.

Cynthia Shapiro, a former HR professional, lays things out pretty clearly.

Via Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them:

The closer you bring yourself into the appearance of alignment through your daily actions and choices, the more favorable the company’s opinions of you will be, and the more secure your job will be. How will you know? Those who are seen as being openly in alignment are the ones who gain recognition, favor, and promotions— even if they don’t have the best skills. Maybe I’d better hit you with that one again: those are the ones who get ahead regardless of their skills or performance.

Highly skilled employees, with seemingly great value to their organizations, are let go every day because they are perceived to be a potential risk and cannot be trusted. Conversely, employees are being promoted who don’t have the best skills and may even have to be taught how to do the job, at great expense and time, because they appear to be in alignment and the company feels they can be trusted over others.

What To Do Next

Keep in mind the lesson of Don Quixote:

If you want to be a knight, act like a knight.

How’s this apply to the office? Here’s my workplace equivalent:

Be the person you were in your interview.

That’s what they hired. That’s what they hoped they were getting for their money.

You were positive, enthusiastic, well-prepared and aimed to please.

What more could a company ask for?

For more workplace insights from my extended interview with Stanford MBA school professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, sign up for the free weekly email update here.

Related posts:

Checklist: Are you doing these five things to be more effective at work?

What 5 insights can you learn from the best book on management ever?

How To Go from “Good Manager” To “Great Leader”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Religion

What Americans Don’t Know About The Central African Republic

Most Americans know nothing about the Central African Republic. They guess that it must be in the middle of Africa, but that’s about it. When told where it is and the societal chaos and slaughter in CAR, they always ask why it’s not more in the news.

Although I’ve traveled to much of the world including Africa, I had never been there until this month. The U.S. State Department invited a trio of American religious leaders to travel to the capital city of Bangui to see for ourselves and to talk peace. The three included Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Muslim Imam Mohamed Magid (President of the Islamic Society of North America) and me. Why us? According to TIME Magazine, the religious composition of CAR is 52 percent evangelicals, 29 percent Catholics and 15 percent Muslims.

We met with our counterparts in CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza (the transitional president of CAR), members of her administration, and representatives of the conflicting military groups. Our meetings were at a closed mosque, the Cathedral, the president’s residence and the home of the U.S. ambassador (although there is no current ambassador since our embassy has been suspended).

It’s not easy to explain what’s been happening. And, not everyone agrees to any explanation. The best chronology begins with a corrupt and failed central government that has been accused of injustice and incompetence. A rebel group called Seleka swept across the country with brutality and established a new government with a new president. The new president didn’t last long. An anti-balaka militia organized for protection and retaliation against the Seleka and have been accused of further brutality. A transitional government has been established, but it is poor, weak and often overwhelmed.

We heard stories that break your heart. Thousands killed, often with machetes. Widespread rape. Destruction of homes, shops and villages. There were 36 mosques in Bangui; now there are seven. One man told us that 13 of his brothers were burned to death the same day. Another told about a hand grenade thrown into a group of people while they prayed.

The National Highway was closed by all the unrest, so trucks and supplies can’t access the country. Villagers have fled into the bush out of fear; their villages are empty, and no crops are being planted. One million people have fled the country or are internally displaced. There is a refugee camp at the little airport that swelled to 100,000.

Seeds for planting are not available; some will be imported from Cameroon, but they are also in short supply and giving priority to their own farmers saying that any surplus will be sold to CAR. There is threat of wide-scale famine. Before all this CAR was one of the poorest nations in the world with people living on less that $2 per day. Current shortages are inflating food prices. In Bangui, the capital of CAR, chickens are selling for $12 each. (To make a comparison: If you earn $50,000 a year in the United States, it would cost you over $800 to buy one chicken for your family.)

We were in Africa on the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. There were repeated testimonies of foreign nations apologizing for not going to Rwanda and stopping the horrors before they turned into genocide. We need to take our own apologies and advice to do more in the Central African Republic.

Some say that this is a religious battle between Christians and Muslims. It is a common assertion in our western press. I can see why they say this, since there are similar lines politically, demographically and religiously. However, the leaders we talked to in CAR insist this is not a religious war. To the contrary, the religious leaders are the loudest most courageous voices against the violence and the strongest promoters of peace.

The word needs to get out. The whole world knows about the missing Malaysian airplane with 239 passengers and crew. Forty four million dollars have already been spent on the search. But, there are thousands missing in CAR, and it barely makes the news. International troops under United Nations leadership need to establish order and rebuild infrastructure. And relief and development assistance should be immediately deployed.

As we sat in the ambassador’s residence, one of the militia representatives said that the people of CAR have not made God the priority. He said that most important in the Central African Republic is for the people of the nation to turn their hearts and actions to God. His prayer was that human tragedy would turn into spiritual renewal.

Leith Anderson is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser