Using polls on WordPress

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on political organizing, environmental policy, and sustainable living.

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on political organizing, environmental policy, and sustainable living.

As many of you know, I (Meg) recently worked on a campaign where our strategy focused in large part of massive amounts of data. It’s incredible how much data can be collected over time and through various sources. So, to try my hand at “data collection,” I put together a poll last week asking you your opinion about what issue facing the country you think impacts you the most.

WordPress has many functions for its bloggers, from media integration, sharing ability to other sites, word clouds….there are quite a few features to use to tailor your blog. I had never used the poll feature before, so I decided to try it.

To create a poll: Go to Dashboard. Click on “Feedbacks” on the left-hand side. Then click on “polls.” From here, you can both create a new poll, edit existing polls, and check results from existing polls.

To adjust poll settings: Go to Dashboard. Click on “Settings,” and then click on “polls.” This allows you to adjust the general settings of your polls, including the style, format for displaying results, and how the answer choices are arranged.

Results from our poll on Issues: “What issue do you feel impacts you the most?”

Answer choices: Sequestration, Gun Control, Climate Change, Immigration, Women’s Rights, and Education.

Top answers: Sequestration and Women’s Rights

I thought this was interesting, because I was under the impression many of our readers would be focused on issues like Education and Climate Change. However, I am also encouraged by the responses, because it suggests our readers are very attuned to the most pressing issues currently being addressed in Washington.

“What is your professional association?”

Answer Choices: Business, Healthcare, Law, Labor, Student, Artist, Other

Top answers: Business and Healthcare

We will be sure to use the poll feature again in the future, and hopefully we will have an even better response next time. Again, our poll results only show us the responses, and not the person giving the response, so you can be sure we will not share your name with your answer. And, if you have any polls you’d like us to do, please let us know!


“Great By Choice” Uncertainty, Chaos, And Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All


Good luck.  We talk about it. We wish for it.  We blame our failures on lack of it.  Malcolm Gladwell, one of my favorite authors, focuses on it as a significant factor in the success of individuals like Bill Gates in his book Outliers[1].  Gladwell’s insights have been valuable to me in understanding how and why individuals succeed.

Nothing in Great By Choice changes my belief that factors outside our control significantly influence our success.  However, Great By Choice is a reminder that luck alone does not control our destiny.  We are reminded, throughout the book, that we have significant control of our lives, our successes and our failures.

“Are you Amundsen or Scott?” is the question raised in Chapter 2.  In Oct. 1911, Rould Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott led similar expeditions to the South Pole.  Amundsen reached the Pole and returned safely home.  Scott and his team died in their unsuccessful quest.  What separated the two adventurers?  Both faced the same  1400 mile round trip journey to the South Pole in brutally cold weather, ice, snow and limited supplies.  What made the difference?  According to New York Times bestselling authors Jim Collins[2] and Professor Morten T. Hansen[3], the difference was planning, intensity of preparation, constant vigilance and remaining constantly focused on the goal.

They describe characteristics that enable us to maximize the benefits of our good luck while minimizing the impact of our bad luck.  The authors studied highly successful companies, called “10Xers” ie, companies that beat industry indexes by a minimum of 10 times over a 15 year period, including Microsoft, Progressive Insurance Company. They compare 10Xers to Amundsen, and for good reason.

The book is, fundamentally, about excellence, preparation, and discipline.  The research identifies attributes that 10Xers[4] share with each other (and with Amundsen) that are less likely to exist in less successful companies[5].  A fundamental premise is that luck, good and bad, happens to all of us, and that how we respond, and are impacted by our luck is dependent on preparation, discipline and determination.

By the authors’ definition, luck incorporates chaos and uncertainty, is described as involving events largely outside our control that are unpredictable and have potentially significant consequences.  Factors such as economic downturns, rising interest rates and other economic factors are factors which impact us all.  These are factors the others would incorporate in their definition of luck.  Fanatical discipline, mental independence, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia, are considered by the authors to be essential to success in a world of such economic (and non-economic) chaos and uncertainty.  Specifically, these attributes are considered essential to getting the most from good luck and being harmed the least by bad luck.

Great by Choice identified 3 core 10X behaviors:

1)   Fanatical discipline and mental independence;

2)   Empirical creativity, including reliance on empirical evidence, and direct observation

3)   Productive paranoia, including always planning, and preparing, for the worst case scenario.

1)   Fanatical discipline involves what they label “20 mile marches”.[6]  Differing in every way from frantic forward movement followed by complacency or sliding backward, the focus is on taking measured steps toward success.  It involves the expectation that goals will be clear, that consistent forward movement toward the accomplishment of those goals should be required and that the entity will not indulge in fads or overextend.  Consistent progress, rather than erratic gains and losses, is to be the goal.

2)   Empirical creativity involves individual research and hard date.  Much is made in the book about the importance of “shooting bullets and then cannons”.  The significance of this message is that in taking any risk, it is important to determine, through firing metaphorical bullets, the probability of success.  A bullet is considered low risk, low distraction, low-cost. When such a low risk experiment reaches the target, then it is time to throw significant resources at the target.  The initial example of the concept is based on the idea that if you are on a ship being approached by an enemy ship, you should shoot bullets at the ship until a bullet actually reaches the target ship.  Only then is it prudent to use the resources necessary to shoot a cannon at the ship to destroy it.

3)   Productive paranoia deals with the critical importance of anticipating disaster, i.e. bad luck. Disaster can come in any sources.  It can result from a fluke of nature, a massive recession, a competitor whose product development surpasses the product of another company.  By constant vigilance, preparation, protecting and saving resources an enterprise can maximize the likelihood of working through disaster and moving toward success.

But there is more.  In addition to the uncertainty around us, Great By Choice reminds us that we must always remain above the “death line”.  The death line is identified as an event  under the entity’s control that will destroy the endeavor.  Comparable to corporate death, these are described as risks that can severely injure a company; asymmetric risks (where the potential downside dwarfs the potential upside); and uncontrollable risks, (risks that cannot be controlled or managed.)  Examples of such risk include making financial gambles on products or processes that have not been determined to be likely to be financially successful.  By firing bullets rather than cannons, the authors believe an endeavor can minimize the chances of falling below the “death line” where it cannot survive.

Great By Choice repeatedly conveys to the reader the challenges (“bad luck”) faced by 10Xers and describes how these companies responded to what sometimes seemed to be impossible circumstances.  How they minimized the resulting damage or turned adversity into opportunity.

Whether you are a student, a professional, an entrepreneur or in any other field of endeavor,  spending the time to read books such as Great By Choice can be invaluable in understanding  your “luck” and how to use it (or avoid it!) to be great. 


[1] Among other factors, he argues effectively that the month and year an individual is born, his/her opportunity to have effective mentors, supportive parents, and (often) access to significant financial resources, technology and specialized training, significantly influence an individual’s likelihood of success

[2]  Formerly on the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business, author of Good to Great, as well as other notable books focused on business success (and failure), Collins consults with businesses and operates a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado

[3] Management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and author of Collaboration, Hanson also consults and speaks to and with companies worldwide.

[4] 10Xers studied included such companies as Southwest Airlines, Progressive Insurance and Microsoft

[5] Apple (during the period of time it was not under the leadership of Steve Jobs), Safeco Insurance, and PSA airlines

[6] From childhood I remember the adage “slow and steady wins the race”.

“Equal: Women Reshape American Law”

IMG_0287Until the late 1960’s law schools were almost exclusively a bastion of white, male students.  By the late 1960’s, law schools saw themselves with empty seats when, during the Vietnam War, male students lost their selective service deferments, were drafted, and unable to enroll in or finish their legal studies. Unwilling to accept the lost enrollment dollars, In Equal: Women Reshape American Law, Fred Strebeigh opines that the very schools that had rigidly limited enrollment to white males in the past, began to enroll women and people of color to fill those empty seats.[1]

Strebeigh tells the story of how a rapidly increasing cadre of women, on completing their legal educations, found that they were not welcome  in the profession for which they had prepared.  Law firms, law schools and the courts did not want to hire them, regardless of the strength of their academic credentials.  He describes the willingness of these talented women to challenge the institutions and laws that perpetuated discrimination against them.  But the strength of Equal is based, primarily, on the story of the dedication of women, and often their male allies, to search out cases to litigate that would, systematically, rely on the language of the U.S. Constitutional to break down the barriers to full equality between the sexes.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, women made up 47% of law students, 35 % of the law faculty, 30 % membership in the American Bar Association, 23 % of federal judgeships. But it is not just the number of students, it is also the impact of the litigation by this new generation of lawyers that is the core of this book.  Strebeigh tells story after story of the people behind the most significant cases of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  He describes the impact of sex discrimination on individual men and women. He explores the inability of women to obtain scholarships to pursue their legal studies, the inability of an Army nurse to continue her military career after becoming pregnant, giving birth and giving her child up for adoption.  He describes discrimination against males in the receipt-or inability to receive–government benefits available to women.  He describes violence perpetrated against women, including rape and other sexual harassment, in circumstances in which employers, universities or the courts refused to hold their male abusers accountable.

Last month I wrote about the struggles endured by women leaders who led the fight for the Nineteenth Amendment, ie. the right to vote.  Their struggle made possible the successes of the more recent past.  Strebeigh repeatedly returns to the stories of the 19th century to explain the history that had to be overcome for the equality of the sexes to come to fruition.

A special hero in Strebeigh’s book is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  After graduating from Columbia Law School [2] she served on the faculty of Rutgers Law School from 1972 until 1980 and the faculty of Columbia Law School.  During her academic career she became deeply involved in researching and litigating on behalf of victim’s of sex discrimination, both male and female.  Highlights of her career as an advocate are Supreme Court cases that extended the protections available to women, and eliminating barriers to equal treatment on the basis of sex.  She researched and argued before the Supreme Court: Reed v. Reed, [3] Frontiero v. Richardson, [4] Weiberger v. Wiesenfeld [5] and Duren v. Missouri. [6]  

Equal begins in 1967-68, and continues into the beginning of the 21st century.   Strebeigh tells is the story of the impact of women at a national level.  He describes successes as well as failures in the period of his studies.  It is, in some fundamental ways, the story of my generation of women attorneys.  The story of Meg’s generation, what I call the Title IX generation, remains to unfold.

[1] Enrollment by African-Americans and other people of color also slowly began to increase.  However the opportunities and challenges of these groups are covered in other books and only briefly mentioned in Equal. 

[2]  Justice Ginsberg began her legal education at Harvard Law School.  In 1960 she graduated from Columbia Law School where she tied for first place in her class. She served on the law reviews of both schools.  Despite being denied a position as Law Clerk to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter due to her sex, she excelled in every future aspect of her career.  While at Rutgers she became deeply involved in the women’s rights movement.  She co-founded ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and served as ACLU’s General Counsel before being first appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980 and thereafter moving to the Supreme Court in 1993.

[3]  In 1971 the Supreme Court held in Reed v. Reed that Idaho’s law that case mandatory preference to males in selecting administrators for probate estates was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourth Amendment. 

[4]  In 1973  the Supreme Court held in Frontiero v. Richardson that  the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause prohibited discrimination between men and women in distributing military benefits to dependent family members.

[5]  In 1975 the Supreme Court held in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld that gender based distinctions under 42 U.S.C. 402(g) gender-based distinction in the distribution of special child care benefits violated the right to equal protection under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

[6]  In 1979 the Supreme Court held in Duren v. Missouri that Missouri’s statute making jury service optional for women violated a criminal defendant’s right to a fair cross-section requirement of the Sixth Amendment.


The opinions on this blog do not represent the opinions of our family, our friends or our employers.

Want To Make A Difference? Join A Board

For months our national focus has been on the elections.  Now, whether your candidates won or lost, the elections are over.  The campaign focused on issues important to all of us:  job development, improved education, better and more efficient health care, services to those in need. While we may still be deeply divided politically, these issues unite us as we search for brighter tomorrows.

In the next weeks and months, Congress and the President will conduct serious negotiations on issues such as the budget crisis and the “fiscal cliff”.  Most of us will have no role in those negotiations. But we can all help.

As individual citizens, we can participate in significant ways in improving our corporations, educational system, delivery of health care, and searching for local solutions to national problems. So, do you want to make a difference?  Consider joining a board!

Colleges and universities, charities, corporations, banks, even neighborhood associations are generally governed by boards of directors.  There are a wealth of organizations with a need for educated, committed board leadership.  My personal board involvement has focused on education and the legal/judicial system. Whatever your particular passion: providing food for the poor, adult literacy, you name it, there is an organization just waiting for your help. Are you focused on business, entrepreneurship, job creation?  Join a board.  Is your interest related to health, the needs of the poor or the needs of neighborhoods and communities? Join a board. Businesses, civic and charitable organizations everywhere aalways on the lookout for highly skilled and motivated individuals who will “answer the call” by offering their talents and wisdom for board service.

But board leadership is not just about a willing heart.  It requires wisdom, passion, and an understanding of the responsibilities and rewards of board service. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate on a board to learn about board service: what it entails and what particular challenges confront members of any board. My husband just gave me a great book, Answering the CALL: Understanding the Duties, Risks, and Rewards of Corporate Governance. It is one of many great books that can guide an individual in whether to serve on a board, as well as how to provide meaningful support with minimum risk.  Co-authored by attorneys Lynn Shapiro Snyder and Robert D. Reif, it is a helpful guide to any board member.

Answering the CALL begins Chapter 2 with a basic description of the role of corporate boards: “to promote the best interests of the corporation”, “to provide general direction for the management of the corporation’s business, to be involved in major corporate decisions, and to bear the ultimate responsibility for the company’s business and affairs.”  It distinguishes service on non-profit boards which requires directors “to remain faithful to the charitable mission and purposes of that organization.”

Because the authors are attorneys, it is not surprising that they focus on specific federal statutes that codify the responsibilities of corporate directors/board members: for example, Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, an amendment to the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and various provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.  The authors describe board members’ fiduciary responsibility to follow the law, describes what constitutes due diligence, and explains how to protect corporate funds, avoid improper conflicts of interest, and protect against violations of corporate loyalty.  While these obligations vary based on the nature of the organization, the overriding principles apply generally to both profit and non-profit boards of directors.

The book was published by Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry Foundation in 2003 and is now in it’s third edition.  While it is designed in part to encourage and support expanding board diversity, particularly for women, [2] the responsibilities of board service are “equal opportunity”.

But seriously.  If you are willing to commit your time and talents to board service, find an organization that you believe is consistent with your expertise and go to work. Be sure that as you begin your service, and through the years you continue to serve, you take to heart the wisdom set forth in Answering the CALL.  You will be doing your community and all of us a great service.

Get started.  Join a board. There is much to do!

[1]Sarbanes-Oxley was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, as an effort to prevent scandal and restore investor confidence in publicly traded companies.  Amy Borrus, Learning to Love Sarbanes-Oxley, Business Week 126 (November 21, 2005), describes Sarbanes-Oxley as “the equivalent of a root canal”.

[2] Don’t short change the discussion of the benefits of service, particularly for women as well as their analysis of the importance of diversifying boards.


The opinions in this blog are our own.  They do not represent the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

Women’s Suffrage And The Importance of Voting

Because we are on the eve of a national election, I think it is important to remind ourselves, as women, of the sacrifices made by earlier women who worked and sacrificed to secure this basic right for women–the right to vote.

My grandmother, Mary Lewis, was an early feminist and suffragist.  My grandfather, Frank Mesle, being a wise man, wooed her by respecting her beliefs and making them his own.  One of his early letters to her in 1910 included the following quote from an unknown source:  “When the husband gets ready to regard his wife as an equal partner…when he will grant her the same privileges he demands for himself; when he is willing to allow his wife to liver her own life in her own way without trying to ‘boss’ her, we shall have more true marriages, happier homes and higher civilizations.”

It was ten years later, when my own mother was one years old, that women gained the right to vote.  I was born a mere 26 years later.  Not a very long period of time in the history of this country.  But worlds apart in our understanding and expectations of women’s role in society.

Until the  mid to late 1900’s, women were, in many significant respects, under the legal control of husbands and fathers from birth to death, without the right to own property, vote or participate meaningfully in business or government.  The obstacles to equality for women are nowhere better illustrated than in the Supreme Court’s 1873 decision in Bradwell v. Illinois. [1]

Born in 1831, Myra  Bradwell’s husband was a successful lawyer, judge and member of the Illinois General Assembly.  Myra was a teacher, respected citizen and active in the community.  She founded a legal newspaper and supported women’s suffrage reforms, in addition to  engaging in a wide variety of other activities of no small import. She undertook legal training with the hope of being admitted to the Bar of Illinois.  Her application for a license to practice law was rejected by the Illinois State Supreme Court because, as a married woman, she could not enter into any legal contracts–a basic requirement of practicing law [2].  Ultimately Bradwell appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court claiming a violation of the 14th Amendment.  In writing the decision adopted by the  Supreme Court, in language feminists can quote to this day, Justice Joseph Bradley wrote: “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life…[T]he paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the creator.”

Undeterred by the Supreme Court’s ruling, and presumably rejecting the notion that  God believed women should be so limited, feminists continued to press for Constitutional protections, primarily focused on the right to vote.  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, dedicated their lives to the struggle for women’s rights: woman’s suffrage, the right of women to own property, retain their own earnings, and to have access to academic opportunities.  From as early as the 1850’s, Anthony and Stanton traveled throughout the United States and Europe in support of women’s rights.  On July 4, 1876, in Philadelphia, Anthony presented on behalf of the National Woman Suffrage Association the  Declaration of  Rights of Women of the United States [3]. Her lengthy speech, while compelling, [4] is particularly powerful concerning the denial of a woman’s right to vote:  “ Universal manhood suffrage, by establishing an aristocracy of sex, imposes upon the women of this nation a more absolute and cruel depotism than monarch; in that, woman finds a political master in her father, husband, brother, son….”  Stanton died in 1906, 14 years before her vision of universal women’s suffrage became a reality.  In 1979, in honor of her role in the struggle for women’s rights, the U.S. Mint issued a dollar coin with her image.

The final struggles and success of the so-called suffrage movement is well described in the powerful movie, Iron Jawed Angels[5].  This movie focuses on the period immediately leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment. It tells the story of the relentlessness of women leaders like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who through the early years of World War I fought tirelessly to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to endorse their right to vote.

As the U.S. was entering World War I, some 35 years after the Bradwell decision, suffragists began to picket of the White House.  Their theme was questioning why we should be fighting a war abroad in defense of Democracy when women at home did not experience Democracy.

Despite romantic descriptions of women’s delicacy and timidity, women engaged in the feminist movement behaved, and were treated, without regard to any such perceptions. Their leaders were fined and then imprisoned for 60 days for “obstructing traffic”. They continued to picket.  Alice was sentenced to 7 months in prison.  She was ultimately placed in a solitary confinement and began a hunger strike. Attempts were made to have Alice declared insane. [6] Ultimately she was  force fed by her jailers, who repeatedly fed her through a tube down her throat.  Denied access to the public, their families and even lawyers, it was the husband of one of the leaders of the movement who ultimately advised the press of the treatment of these women.

Learning of the treatment of the suffragists, on January 9, 1918, President Wilson reversed his opposition to women’s right to vote. He urged  Congress to vote in favor of a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing women’s right, stating:  “we have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”

On June 4, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote, by one vote.  On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment.  The Amendment became law.

The sacrifices of women like Alice Paul were life changing. Without her bull-headed resistance to the status quo, women’s suffrage may well have been delayed for years.  Her sacrifices and the sacrifices of women before her, secured the beginnings of real change for women’s status as full members of society.

It is important that all women honor and acknowledge the sacrifices from the past.  Please vote on November 6, and every election.  Vote for the candidates of your choice, but vote.

[1] Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130 (1873).

[2] It is not to be ignored that she was denied a license because legislatures controlled by men denied her, and all women, basic rights to own property, enters contracts, keep their own earnings and otherwise control their own destinies.

[3] The original Declaration of the Rights of woman and the Female Citizen was written by Olympe de Gouges a French patriot, in 1791.  It is modeled on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted in 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly during the French Revolution.

[4]  This speech also includes a quote from Abigail Adams, who said: “We will not hold ourselves bound to obey laws in which we have no voice or representation”.

[5]  Released in 2004, the movie starred Hillary Swank.

[6]  Historically,  male doctor, refused to find her insane, stating that bravery in women has sometimes been mistaken for insanity.


The views presented in our blog do not represent the positions of our families, our friends or our employers.

“Thinking Fast and Slow”

Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking Fast and Slow, is new to me, but not to others… In 2002 he received the Nobel Prize in Economics.  He is Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.  

Thinking Fast and Slow focuses on the mind and, in particular, on two very distinct ways of thinking.  System I is thinking that is intuitive and emotional.  System II requires complex analysis of information, requiring a series of steps to work through information to reach a conclusion.

 For those who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, the concepts of intuitive thinking are well-known.  This is fast thinking.  Fast thinking is thinking that is essentially automatic.  It may be wrong, but it involves recognition of information almost instantaneously, followed as quickly by a rudimentary analysis and application of that information.
Daniel Kahneman, ever the scientist, identifies fast thinking by a very professorial name, “Heruistic” thinking, which, essentially means an “educated guess”, thinking based on factors for analyzing data relying on such factors as easily available information and one’s own experiences.  It is apparent throughout his book, that the author is suspicious of such intuitive thinking.
There are numerous aspects to his discussion of fast thinking.  Among them is that  the type of information an individual can analyze quickly varies from person to person.  Since my own background involves legal analysis, I am more likely to make intuitive decisions when reviewing matters related to the law.  In contrast, my husband’s expertise includes accounting and economic issues.  He will deal quickly with business matters that are outside my area of knowledge.
Decision making relying on fast thinking is potentially subject to serious errors because our intuitive thinking often relies on our own biases and limitations.  In my attempt to understand this concept, I am reminded of the saying “to a hammer, everything is a tack”.

Slow thinking is deliberative.  It differs from fast thinking not only in the speed with which it occurs, but the steps and process by which it happens.  One of Kahneman’s initial examples of deliberative thinking is the process of multiplying 17 x 24.  He opines that most people can’t immediately multiple complex numbers. No question that for me, as for most of us, reaching an answer  to this mathematical process requires a series of steps. There is nothing intuitive about the answer.

Kahneman analyzes various aspects of how we think, the factors that influence the speed and accuracy with which we analyze information, as well as ways in which we can improve the quality of our deliberative activities. While academic in the detail and in the explanations of the concepts on which he relies, the studies and experiments on which he rely represent a significant leap forward in our understanding of the human mind.  He also manages to effectively wrap into this analysis a lesser analysis of the impact of fast and slow thinking on the seemingly unrelated analysis of happiness and pain.

In his conclusion, Kahneman describes the mind as an “uneasy interaction between two fictitious characters:  the automatic System 1 and the effortful System 2.”  Thinking Fast and Slow is a book to be studied, rather than merely read.  Each of us can enhance the quality and accuracy of our decision-making by studying his work.  It is more than worth the effort required.

“The Betrayal of the American Dream” by James B. Steele

The Kansas City Public Library is one of my favorite places.  While it is an incredible building on the outside, it is what happens inside the building that makes it so special. The library provides for Kansas City the kind of educational opportunities I imagine were available in the times of Socrates.  It is a place to read, study and share ideas; not for glory, grades or a degree, but for the sheer love of learning.

Last night’s lecture by James B. Steele, co-author of The Betrayal of the American Dream, presented the library at its best. The  seating areas on the first and second floors of the library were packed. The audience, while diverse by any standard, included a significant number of bankers, academics, reporters, and business and civic leaders of both political parties.  I could barely see Mr. Steele from my seat behind the second floor bannister. Despite the inconvenient seating arrangements, no one left.  The audience listened with rapt attention as Steele spoke for 40 minutes and took questions for another 40 minutes.

Steele is a native of Kansas, and a graduate of UMKC, so he is a “hometown success”.  He began his career with the Kansas City Times before moving to the national arena.  An author and long time investigative journalist, he and his long time collaborator, Donald L. Bartlett have won two Pulitzer Prizes, in addition to other notable awards.  The book, American: What Went wrong?, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, is one of the seven books earlier books they co-authored.  

Mr. Steele is a gracious and kindly gentleman, but was quite compelling in his description of the current state of U.S. economics and, particularly the destruction of the middle class; the class he identifies as “America’s Greatest asset”.  He describes ways in which he believes that the middle class has been systematically impoverished, forced to respond to long-term job insecurity and loss of income and benefits in favor of the new ruling elite class. 

His lecture moved through the impact of changing lending practices, loss of employment benefits and high levels of student debt as factors in the movement of the middle class to the status of working poor.  He is concerned that because of inadequate retirement resources our older citizens work later in life, leaving fewer job opportunities for those just entering the work force.  Like Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, Steele is troubled by the long-term repercussions on a generation unable to initially find employment at levels consistent with their skills and education.  Those repercussions can include living with parents, delaying marriage, family and home ownership, as well as lowering life-long career and income potential.

Steele does not point the finger at only one political party, but does point out, as others have, that the failure of bipartisanship among government leaders stifles effective problem solving at a national level. He also describes the negative impact of expanded globalization and movement of U.S. jobs overseas where labor is cheap and companies can often work free of regulation.

I do not presume that Mr. Steele has the answer to all of our problems.  He does, however, in a gracious, professional and forthright manner, cause us to reflect on the economic, social and cultural losses we face as a nation and as a community if we continue to move from a country with a strong middle class to a country dominated by a small but increasingly affluent upper class and a large increasingly impoverished lower class.  Food for thought for all of us.


This post does not represent the opinions of our family, our friends or our employers.  Hopefully, I have accurately reported Mr. Steele’s views and comments.

Edward Glaeser’s “Triumph of the City”

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on political organizing, environmental policy, and sustainable living.

During the second half of law school, I decided to venture outside of our building and take a few classes in the Public Administration program. I met some wonderful people, great professors, and was able to explore new ideas and approaches to looking at public issues. In one of my classes with Adjunct Professor Jim Scott, I read a book called Triumph of the City, where I explored the structure of a city and what it provides for society. At the same time, I was doing some research about micro-lending with one of my manager’s at MARC, so the idea of investing in human capital really jumped out at me.

Here is an excerpt from my 2011 paper on community development ideas (which overall focused on what tools could be used in Kansas City). This section of the paper revolves around Glaeser’s Triumph of the City, and what ideas I derived from reading the book. Enjoy!

I. The Structure of a City and its Indication for Society – A Look at Triumph of the City

In his book Triumph of the City, Edward Glaeser argues that the city is the optimal structure for human interaction because it promotes human relations, innovation, and the necessary investment in human capital to make society thrive. He argues that cities are healthier and more environmentally friendly than living in suburban or rural communities. Even for cities that have suffered economic hardship, Glaeser holds strong to the idea that the people of a struggling city have a better chance of success than those living outside of cities, because cities foster creative thinking, communication, and investment in human capital. Ultimately, human capital is an essential factor for maintaining a successful community.

Glaeser’s primary argument in this book is that the most important investment you can make for a city is in education and innovation, which ties in with his idea that investment in human capital allows the people within the community to be more productive, make more money, and even be happier than those living elsewhere.[1] Using New York as an example of the archetypal city, he shows how the cluster of human capital helped the city remain successful through several different turnovers of the primary industry. From transportation and shipping in the 1800s, to the garment industry in the 1900s, and then the breakthrough of financial entrepreneurs in the 1970s, New York has remained a successful city through constant innovative thinking and implementation of new ideas. We also see the same example of metropolitan success through the education and ideas in Bangalore, the technology of Silicon Valley, the thinkers of Athens, and the collection of scholars in Baghdad.[2]

Cities foster face-to-face interaction, which helps create an efficient means of relaying ideas and other communications by allowing people to explain things to each other in person, rather than over countless e-interactions that inevitably result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. With multiplicity of cultures mixed together within the bounds of a city, this face-to-face communication is also important to respecting each other’s customs and traditions.

One city that did not succeed the way most cities do is Detroit, but Glaeser urges that Detroit’s decline resulted from a single-industry focus and the lack of investment in human capital.[3] With a struggling auto industry, the city was doomed to decline because its leaders failed to attract new minds and innovative ideas the way New York had done in the 1970s. As a city filled with less-skilled workers focused within a single industry, Detroit had no one to pick up the slack of the declining auto industry which consumed the city. There was a detrimental lack of re-education in the community, which meant the city ultimately lacked the resources to entice new industries.

There are several reliable predictors of urban growth that Glaeser emphasizes, including education and the presence of a poor population. Education is important because the productivity of a city is dependent on the level of edUcation of the population living within the city.[4] Glaeser also points to a city’s poor population as an indicator of the city’s success. Great cities attract poor people, and therefore have a more prevalent poor population than those cities which lack public services and amenities that poor people want and need, and are unable to obtain in rural slums.[5]

One distraction I find in his text is Glaeser’s insistence that the level of education and presence of a poor population are two important indicators of a city’s success, yet he also seems to think they provide the greatest obstacles. He describes the U.S. education system as providing too little learning to too many children. He also describes the overwhelming cost of maintaining public services for cities when the poor populations are largely unable to contribute to such cost. For both of the reasons described above, the wealthier populations move out into the suburbs, where private or charter schools employ better teachers, and money put toward public infrastructure benefits those supporting the cost. It seems to me, the very indicators that Glaeser lists as the most reliable predictors of a city’s success are also the very conditions that then push the money outside of the city, which only furthers a city’s decline.[6]

A city is not necessarily the best structure for everyone at every time. While high-density living is a good structure for encouraging new ideas and innovation, there is also something to be said for the importance of fostering stronger, almost family-like relationships within a smaller community. Strong urban neighborhoods can sometimes create their own familial relationships, but that assumes the members of those communities reach out to each other in person. Some of the same problems people face with the ability of modern technology – mostly, the ability to go through an entire day without actually having to deal with anyone face to face – are the same struggles that people face in the big city. People can be anonymous, they can avoid confrontation, and they can be ignored simply because of the sheer mass of people surrounding them. In a large city, a person can become just a number, whereas in smaller communities, everyone has a name.

Overall, Glaeser’s focus on investment in human capital and strengthening urban cities is very important for halting urban decline, however, there are other factors to consider when determining what the best structure is for society. The city certainly promotes productivity, provides a centralized location for innovation and communication, and has many environmental benefits. Additionally, there are a number of reasons why a city may not be ideal, including a decreased sense of safety, rising costs to support declining public infrastructure, and the potential lack of the sense of community.[7]

However, regardless of the structure, the need for education and entrepreneurship is essential for the continued growth and productivity of any local community. Whether in a city or a rural village, investment in human capital will help society as a whole become better education, more productive, and help individuals receiving the benefit of those investments feel more responsible and accountable to their local community.


[1] Glaeser, Edward, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, The Penguin Press, New York, 2011,  6-7

[2] Glaeser, 18-22

[3] 53

[4] 253

[5] 70-71

[6] 258; He acknowledges that cities cannot and should not have to bear the burden or cost of urban poverty alone. Urban poverty and rising costs of maintaining urban public infrastructure certainly contributes to urban flight, but those remaining in the urban core should not then have to pick up the slack just because others decided they did not want to pay for or deal with urban challenges anymore. To me, this is why we need economic development tools to encourage activity and investment in the urban parts of the city. As Glaeser later mentions on p. 268 of his book, those who want to live in the suburbs should be able to do so, but not without understanding the true costs of expanding into the suburbs, and helping to pay for those costs.

[7] While I do believe an urban city is an important structure to maintain in our society, my biggest concern with the way cities work today is that they are also the biggest contributors to the suburban movement. I think suburbs as a structure are generally very taxing on society as a whole. They are great places for families to have a safe place for their children, but cause excessive strain by families living in huge houses, driving huge cars, and generally undervaluing the limited resources available. For cities to truly shine, I think suburbs need to be better controlled, and that is a problem I do not know how to solve.

Send me dead flowers

In their 1971 album, Sticky Fingers, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones encouraged their audience to “Send me dead flowers”.  Other artists also have written about dead flowers.  There are even bands named Dead Flowers–Joe Getty & The Dead Flowers, David Yellen Band & The Dead Flowers and a fun rock band simply named “Dead Flowers”.

They obviously weren’t talking about this particular flower.  But they could have been!

So dead head your flowers if its time, but don’t forget to stop and appreciate the beauty of a dead flower.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “Chasing Life”

Sanjay Gupta’s book Chasing Life, published in 2007, presents a compelling picture of the ways in which each of us can improve the quality of our lives by diet, significant exercise and other healthy life choices.  Gupta’s focus is on “extending our healthy and active lives longer” while compressing the death process.  He reminds us that chasing life means lowering our risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.  He also guides us toward health habits that reduce our risk of developing Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Much of the information in his book is information we really already know, even if we try to ignore it:  a diet of junk food reduces the quality, if not the length, of our lives.   Life decisions such as failing to wear seat belts and bicycle/motorcycle helmets increases the likelihood of serious injury and death.  Tobacco kills.  And we have all heard the statistics on obesity.

But if you go beyond the extremely obvious to the merely obvious, he has more to say.  Meeting our daily requirement of vitamins, like vitamins A and C, magnesium, fiber C, really is essential.  Fish is far healthier for us than beef.  Supplements are not all created equal.  Grain, is a great source of fiber. I love granola because it is high in fiber and includes healthy grains, nuts and olive oil. Meg likes to add dried fruit.

Not so obvious is that long-term reduction of our calorie intake, even if we are not overweight, has significant health benefits.  It can extend our productive lives–helping us to avoid significant disease. In addition, regular exercise, walking, jogging, bicycling and stretching, is essential to remaining in good shape.  Physical fitness increases our life spans, and at least as important, helps us to become biologically “younger” and happier.

There is so much more information included in Dr. Gupta’s book about aging and health.  He even includes a section on the impact of happiness in encouraging long and healthy lives.  I encourage you to study his book and adopt the life style he espouses.  In keeping with healthy living, take a walk, play tennis, golf, or be like Meg and run miles every day.

Our family didn’t need Dr. Gupta to tell us about health.  Our dad is the most health conscious person I know.  He spent the last 97 years of his life avoiding alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, limiting his sugar, eating a healthy diet, , and exercising daily.  At age 95, he was invited to throw the first pitch at a Kansas City Royal’s game.x  He practiced his pitch before the big day and even got the ball to the plate, if not over it.  Quite a testament for living a healthy life.  Gee dad.  Dr. Gupta would be proud of you.

For most of the rest of us, we need someone we admire to prod us along, encouraging to make healthy decisions in our lives.  So, I encourage you tomorrow to take a walk or a run.  As a reward for your efforts, have a healthy bowl of fruit, instead of ice cream and water instead of wine or beer.  Not the way most of us spend our evenings.  But a whole lot healthier.

Is this just a little too bland for your lifestyle?  Do you need something more exciting than–water?  How about a glass of 100 % grape juice.  You can put it in your favorite wineglass and feel as festive as your friends.

Here’s to your health.  Here’s to a long and happy life.

_________________________________________________________________________________xOn August 30, 2010, dad was invited to throw the first pitch at a Royal’s game.  He is the oldest Eagle Scout  an event honoring Eagle Scouts.  He was the oldest Eagle Scout in the Kansas City area and was among those given a Kauffman lifetime achievement award.  we all attribute his good health and longevity to the care with which he has lived his life.

I am grateful to the Independence Examiner for the photo of dad. He had lots of family in attendance and we have similar photos.  But this one is better.  I have no idea why it appears in “google” with an All-Star game logo at the bottom.