Airing of Grievances Coming to a Commission Meeting Near You

A front page article in the July 15, 2014 Wall Street Journal makes the point that the recent SCOTUS ruling allowing prayers before public meetings is an opportunity for atheists too:

The former president of the Freethinkers of Upstate New York, Mr. Courtney says he plans to give a four-minute speech highlighting the notion that the country was founded on the authority of the people, and the importance of ensuring Americans of all types are heard.

He will be the first atheist to address the Greece town board. Before the Supreme Court ruling, the town board allowed a Wiccan priestess to deliver an invocation.

While Mr. Courtney disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling, he takes some comfort in his view that it weakened what he calls Christianity’s “de facto monopoly on invocations.”

“In a sense, it has opened the door for a bit of a free-for-all,” he says.

The article also mentions the Pastafarians who are planning to offer their own prayers. Personally I’d like to see observers of the Festivus holiday take their turn at the podium to air their grievances. Not familiar with Festivus? Check out the video clip below and you’ll get it.

Our own Forsyth County Commission’s case is mentioned in the article of course. That case has irked me long enough that I can’t stomach giving it another minute of my life to think about, but I will say this: the true test will be when the commission is faced with having to entertain an invocation from a hard core satanist. It’s one thing to listen to a non-believer offer up generic messages of inclusion and cooperation, but it’s an entirely different ballgame to listen to someone ask them to accept guidance from the devil. I wonder if they’ll take their own advice offered to the non-believers who’ve complained about the invocations in the first place – just step out of the room if you don’t like it?

Our Rapidly Changing Culture

Making the social media rounds recently was this observation shared on Craigslist by the management of a New York City restaurant who were trying to figure out why service was so much slower in 2014 than in 2004 despite a simplified menu and increased staff size. They found security footage from 2004 and compared it to current footage. Some results they shared in their post:

Before even opening the menu they take their phones out, some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).

26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.

14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another 4 minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo.

9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn’t have gotten cold.

27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another 5 minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving.

Given in most cases the customers are constantly busy on their phones it took an average of 20 minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check. Furthermore once the check was delivered it took 15 minutes longer than 10 years ago for them to pay and leave.

8 out of 45 customers bumped into other customers or in one case a waiter (texting while walking) as they were either walking in or out of the Restaurant. 

They studied 45 customers in both cases and found that, on average, the time spent in the restaurant went from 1:05 in 2004 to 1:55 in 2014. It’s fairly safe to assume that other service businesses are experiencing similar behavioral changes in their customers, and it’s stunning to think about how quickly it’s happened.

BTW, I’m a notorious food-porner, but I can’t imagine taking more than 10 or 15 seconds to snap a pic of my snapper. I like my food way too much to waste more time than necessary before I dig in.

Hype vs Hyperbole

A few weeks back the folks at the Greensboro Coliseum started hinting to the press that they would have a “historic” announcement. What was this historic announcement? That Paul McCartney would play a concert there as part of his US tour this fall. Sure McCartney’s a big act – a huge act to many folks – but is one concert date on one tour really historic?

Compare that with yesterday’s announcement that downtown Greensboro will be getting an 850-seat venue affiliated with House of Blues. Much less hype for something that will have much more impact on Greensboro in the long run.

Some local folks got their panties in a twist when other folks got a little snarky about the McCartney announcement. They took it as a slam on McCartney when really it was an indictment of the over-the-top PR push by the Coliseum folks. There’s a reason people don’t trust marketers/advertisers and the Coliseum folks provided us with a perfect example when the crossed the line from hype to hyperbole.

Measuring Success

There are many ways to measure success and/or failure, and it’s important to keep that in mind when you assess hot-button issues. For instance, this article in the Greensboro News & Record about Obamacare’s affect on insurance coverage in North Carolina:

In North Carolina, 16.7 percent of residents are now uninsured, compared with 19.6 percent before the onset of the ACA, according to a study conducted by the social network WalletHub.

 

North Carolina ranked 33 among states for its number of uninsured residents.

The Tar Heel state also ranked fourth among states with the most net new private insurance enrollees per capita.

WalletHub used data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Census Bureau to make its projections.

Those who supported Obamacare will likely tout this statistic as proof that Obamacare is working. On the other hand, those opposed to Obamacare can ask the question, “But at what cost?” That’s the crux of the issue: we can all probably agree that more people having health insurance is a good thing, but we’d probably have lots of heated debate over how much to pay for it, how to pay for it and how to structure the program. Does the phrase “socialized health care” ring any bells.

Quite frankly I think it’s far too early in the process to declare Obamacare a success or failure, but I’d say these numbers show a positive trend towards getting more people health insurance coverage. Long term who knows whether or not Obamacare will be a net success, but at a minimum we’ve seen thousands of North Carolinians moved off the roles of the uninsured and that’s a step in the right direction.

 

Basic Income Guarantee

Until stumbling across a post referencing it at Fred Wilson’s AVC I’d never heard of “basic income guarantee.” So what is it exactly? From Wikipedia:

An unconditional basic income (also called basic incomebasic income guaranteeuniversal basic incomeuniversal demogrant,[1] or citizen’s income) is a proposed system[2] of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

A basic income is typically intended to be only enough for a person to survive on, so as to encourage people to engage in economic activity. A basic income of any amount less than the social minimum is sometimes referred to as a ‘partial basic income’. On the other hand, it should be high enough so as to facilitate any socially useful activity someone could not afford to engage in if dependent on working for money to earn a living.

Interesting concept, but this quote from Wilson’s post echoes my initial reaction:

I don’t have a formed opinion on this idea. I know that welfare didn’t work out too well in the last century. So I’m nervous about any system that encourages or incents people not to work. But if we really are headed into a world where there aren’t any low skilled jobs, then I guess we need to be talking about ideas like this.

One of Wilson’s colleagues has been writing about the concept and has a couple of posts that explore how this all might work. You can read them here, but this excerpt highlights why this might be a concept worth exploring:

A higher minimum wage, as vigorously argued for in an interesting recent piece on Politico, can inject some short term liquidity into the economy and I am sympathetic to that but it is also a very blunt instrument and still doesn’t help with the many unpriced activities. The same goes for government mandated shorter working hours or longer vacations (although I am pretty sure that Google’s founders did not have a government mandate in mind)…

This brings me once again to the idea of a guaranteed basic income. This is a potentially attractive alternative for a number of reasons:

First, it sets human creativity free to work on whatever comes to mind. For many people that could be making music or learning something new or doing research.

Second, it does not suppress the market mechanism. Innovative new products and services can continue to emerge. Much of that can be artisanal products or high touch services (not just new technology). 

Third, it will allow crowdfunding to expand massively in scale and simultaneously permit much smaller federal, state and local government (they still have a role — I am not a libertarian and believe that market failures are real and some regulation and enforcement are needed, eg sewage, police).

Fourth, it will force us to more rapidly automate dangerous and unpleasant jobs. Many of these are currently held by people who would much rather engage in one of the activities from above.

Fifth, in a world of technological deflation, a basic income could be deflationary instead of inflationary. How? Because it could increase the amount of time that is volunteered.

Very interesting.

Why We Help Second Harvest

At the day job we’ve been running annual food drives for Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC for ten years. Every year we try to do better than the last and so I find myself doing what appear to be silly or crazy things to gin up publicity and interest for our efforts – things like wearing a pink tutu while jumping into a pool with the word EPIC painted on my back. You may wonder why someone would do something that odd, but when you read about some of the programs that Second Harvest supports it becomes clear that a little embarrassment is the least we can do for an organization that fills a vital role for our community. Scott Sexton’s column in today’s Winston-Salem Journal brings us the story of one of those programs:

In six short months, the H.O.P.E. truck has become a staple in neighborhoods where fresh food is often a rumor.

It is part of a larger project dreamed up by Tennille and his wife, Marty, a retired couple with hearts as big as their imaginations. When they learned that children in Winston-Salem are more likely to go hungry than kids in Detroit or Chicago, they were horrified.

But instead of wringing their hands, stamping their feet in protest or simply writing a check, they decided to do something about it…

Since it started rolling in January, H.O.P.E. of Winston-Salem has mushroomed into something of which the entire community should be proud.

The Tennilles pick up items from the Second Harvest Food Bank and 50-pound bags of fresh food donated by the Vernon Produce Co. during the week.

A small group of volunteers meets every Saturday in a retreat center at the Children’s Home, where they set up an assembly line to make healthy bag lunches for kids and to box up fresh produce for adults who come with them. Groups from a variety of churches assemble lunches at their buildings, too, and pack them into giant coolers so a volunteer can pick them up later.

Around noon on Sundays, more volunteers start to trickle in at The Children’s Home to load the truck and a similarly painted minivan. The entire operation runs like Swiss trains; it stops at the same places every Sunday at the same time. By the time it finishes, more than 700 children get to eat and a few dozen food boxes are distributed.

By the way if you want to help us support Second Harvest you can do so by making a donation at helpsecondharvest.com. Also, if you want to see me embarrass myself yet again you can drive by the Robinhood Court Apartments and Villas this Thursday (July 10) from 4-5 p.m. where I’ll be part of “Two Guys Wearing Prom Dresses” to raise funds for Second Harvest. You guessed it: I’ll be wearing a dress. Here’s a handy map for you find us:

PTAA Food Drive for Second Harvest

Each year my employer, the Piedmont Triad Apartment Association, puts on a food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC. The folks at WPTI were kind enough to have Dale Holder, our food drive committee chair, and yours truly on their Triad View Points show to talk about it. Here’s the interview: