$22 a Month – Is This the Best Way to Fight Poverty?

NPR has a story about a fascinating experiment that is taking place in a Kenyan village. There are 400 people living in this Kenyan village, living on less than $2 a day in mud-brick huts with no running water.

Instead of the usual types of financial aid given to such people – think food, seeds, cows, job training, or schoolbooks – an American charity, GiveDirectly, is giving every adult in the village $22 per month for the next 12 years.

Why $22? Because in Kenya $22 per person per month is the food poverty line — the amount of money it would take to afford a basic basket of food for yourself.

And why is GiveDirectly giving cash, and not the traditional “in-kind” type of donation, where the donors decide what poor people need most? Because GiveDirectly believes that poor people should decide how best to use donated funds, and has shown through rigorous, independent study that people don’t waste the money.

This coming fall, GiveDirectly wants to extend the monthly payments to every adult in 200 similar villages across Kenya, then compare them to 100 “control” villages that don’t get the cash.

Some of the world’s foremost researchers of anti-poverty strategies will be doing an independent study of the data that emerges, but it will take more than a decade to determine the impact.

Michael Fay, chairman of GiveDirectly realizes that this type of aid will not permanently lift people out of poverty. He thinks the experiment should be considered a success if it shows that just giving poor people cash is more efficient and effective than the traditional types of aid.

(To me, the experiment seems to have some overlap with the idea of Universal Basic Income, which I have written about before, and seems to be gaining more and more advocates.)

To make the story more personal, NPR looked at the impact the $22 has had on two different people in the village; in both cases, it has been life changing, but in different ways.

For one person, the $22 has enabled him to invest in money-making opportunities that have helped boost his family’s income by as much as 50% in some months. The extra charity money has also meant that he can now at least guarantee his children solid food for both lunch and dinner, something he couldn’t always do.

For a second person living in the village, the extra money has allowed him to buy the medication he needs to treat his epilepsy on a consistent basis. While that is certainly a great use of the extra cash, it seems as if what he did with the leftover cash has been just as life-changing.

He bought a sofa and two chairs.

He explained that in this village, when a guy reaches adulthood, it’s traditional for him to build himself a house on his parents’ land — a mud hut with a living area and sleeping nook. But he never had the money. It wasn’t until a year ago that his brothers built a hut for him. Even then he had no furniture. Buying that sofa set was so important he says, “so that when guests came to visit I wouldn’t be ashamed.”

His mother, Pamela, remembers the afternoon when a little white taxi with the new sofa set strapped on top pulled up to his hut. He carried in one of the armchairs and just sank into it, she says, laughing. Then, she says, he started calling over all his friends, saying “Come! Come have a seat!”

“Yes,” he agrees. “I couldn’t stop smiling.”

I can’t think of a better use of charitable aid than restoring someone’s dignity and putting a smile on their face.

I wish GiveDirectly and the villagers the best with this experiment, and I hope to keep an eye on how it progresses over the next several years.

P.S. Thank you to Nurith Aizenman at NPR for writing about such an important topic, and for Marzia for making me aware of it!

I’m Glad That I Don’t Work in an Open Office Environment

According to an article in the WSJ, recent research seems to indicate that people who sit closer to a star performer at work are likely to show improved performance.

According to a two-year Northwestern University study of 2,452 help-desk and other client-service workers at a technology company, simply sitting next to a high achiever can improve someone’s performance by 3% to 16%.

Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite, a San Mateo, Calif., recruiting-software company, often seats new employees next to a high achiever. He has noticed engineers gravitating toward their strongest co-workers, or those with the freshest skills. “You can pretty quickly figure out who’s got the extra juice, or the greatest insight. People are drawn to it. You can almost see the pathways on the floor,” Mr. Finnigan says.

My fear would be that nobody would be drawn to my desk, and if there were any pathways, they would be leading away from my desk. It would be demoralizing to be sitting in this big open office environment, and see everyone gathered at one person’s desk, while I just sit there checking Facebook.

The good news from my perspective is that another study has shown high performers weren’t dragged down by low achievers nearby, according to  Dr. Minor, an assistant professor of managerial economics at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School.

In other words the habits of a low performing employee are not contagious, but the habits of a superstar employee can be successfully transmitted, without even having to touch each other.

People have strong opinions about open office work environments, some claiming that such layouts increase collaboration and creativity, while others say such floor plans lead to more distractions and lower productivity.

For the vast majority of my career (31 years out of 32), I’ve had a private office. Perhaps that’s the nature of higher ed; students likely prefer the privacy of such an office layout, instead of having to share their stories of woe in an open office environment.

It’s funny that in academia, at least business school academia, we are always urging people and companies to be innovative, and yet we ourselves as an industry are among the least innovative.

I would be curious to see what would happen if colleges adopted an open office floor plan for faculty.

But based on the research noted above, my fear would once again be that no one would want to be near my desk, despite the fact that I do take a shower every day.

 

To My Three Sons: Take My Keys, Please

I, James P. Borden, being of sound mind and body, hereby give my three children the right to take my car keys away from me as soon as they feel I should no longer be driving. If I protest your decision, simply show this post to me to remind me of this decision I made when I was more rational regarding such a decision.


This post was motivated by an article that was in this past Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer that talked about how hard it is to get certain elderly drivers off the road, even if there is evidence that those drivers are putting themselves and others at risk.

The article talks about how little power the police have to take an elderly person’s license, and how insurance companies are often hesitant to get involved because they don’t want to lose the premiums associated with insuring such drivers.

I think one of the best ways to manage the problem is to have a required full driver’s test every year, once someone reaches a certain age; 60 seems like a good number. Such a test would include a written portion, a vision part, and a driving portion. Currently, only one state, Illinois, has a driving requirement for elderly drivers, and that doesn’t take effect until a driver reachers the age of 75. Many states do require a vision test as part of the license renewal process for older drivers, but to me that only focuses on one aspect of what may hinder an older person’s ability to drive effectively.

There are a couple of forces acting in direct opposition to each other regarding this issue. First, there are more and more people becoming “older” drivers every year, which to me increases the likelihood of a greater number of driving accidents. However, to counter this, there has been the advent of technologies that make it easier for people to get by without cars. First, services such as Uber and Lyft  can provide seniors the help they need to get around if they no longer have their own car. Second, service such as Amazon make it easy to get many of the items we may need without ever having to leave our house. I would have no problem using such a car service if I no longer could drive, and my wife and I already use Amazon on a frequent basis.

I think another solution is to choose your retirement locale carefully. My wife and I have already talked about wanting to live somewhere where we would be within walking distance to just about everything we would need, which would once again lessen our need for a car.

While some may protest such recommendations, claiming that when you are living on a fixed income, you may not be able to afford using a car service, or to move somewhere that enables you to walk to where you need to go.

That may be true, but some of those costs would be offset by having no car ownership costs – gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs, parking, license and registration fees, etc.

So bottom line, I think older drivers need to think about this issue before it is too late, and before you and your loved ones get caught up in an highly emotional argument on the issue. Start planning now for what your life would be like without a car, everyone will be the better for such forward thinking.

 

 

 

My First Binge-Watching Experience

Last week our oldest son told us about a new Netflix series called Ozark, and said that the first episode was quite good.

Normally I don’t like to start watching a new TV show, since I don’t want to make a commitment to watching it all of the way through. However, as soon as my son mentioned that Jason Bateman stars in, and directed a few of the episodes, I was in. He’s also the executive producer.

The first season consists of 10 one-hour episodes, and all 10 episodes were available when the show debuted on July 21.

My wife and I watched the first episode just two days ago, and we watched the final one tonight.

The show is great, despite Jason Bateman not being his usual comedic self. Bateman plays a financial adviser who has inadvertently gotten caught up with a Mexican drug cartel. There is a fair amount of violence, but the story line keeps the viewer interested, and rooting for Jason and his family.

Here’s the official trailer:

It’s the first time I’ve indulged in binge-watching, and it certainly is a different way to watch a show. It was nice not having to wait a week for the next episode, and certainly a nice relaxing way to spend a weekend.

I’m not sure if and when I’ll do it again (maybe if there is a season 2), but at least now I’m part of the 73% of Americans who have binge-watched a TV show.

I’m usually a little behind on what is happening entertainment-wise.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why I never have anything interesting to talk about at a party (that and the fact that I teach accounting and enjoy doing math problems).

But that could all change now; I need to find an outlet so that I can tell everyone I’ve seen the entire season of a just released Netflix series. I’m sure that would give me instant street cred if I could start a conversation like that.

Too bad our neighborhood block party is still a month away; until then I guess I’ll just have to use a blog post to get the word out.

I’m just not sure what the rules of etiquette are in terms of revealing how the first season ends…

 

Dear President Trump and Attorney General Sessions

I think I’ve found a solution to the leak problem at the White House.

President Trump has been complaining that leaks are very damaging to him and the White House, and has publicly stated that Attorney General Jeff Sessions needs to get tougher with the leakers.

“I want the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like rarely have they ever leaked before, at a very important level. These are intelligence agencies we cannot have that happen.”

I’m not even sure what President Trump is saying in those two sentences, but based on what all of the online pundits are saying, it seems like he wants the leaks to stop.

Well, I’m here to help.

Actually, American Leak Detection is here to help.

I first heard of this company the other day while driving down the highway, and one of their vans drove past me.

amleakvan

My first thought upon seeing the van was, ‘Our problems are over.’

So as soon as I got home, I went to the company’s web site, and became even more encouraged when I saw their tag line:

WE ARE THE EXPERTS IN LEAK DETECTION. 
YOU CAN TRUST US TO GET THE JOB DONE RIGHT THE FIRST TIME.

It then goes on to state that “if leaks are not properly handled in a timely manner, they can cause serious damage to your property and your health.” (No wonder the President wants the leaks stopped so quickly. I think the leaks are putting too much stress on both him and the White House. That may be why he recently referred to it as a “dump.”)

“At American Leak Detection, we have the skills and tools to find the cause of the leak and can create customized solutions to address the problem.”

The web site also notes that the company is internationally recognized, which could be helpful if the leak investigation needs to go beyond the borders of the U.S.

But I think the following quote says it all:

Dealing with a leak can be stressful. When you hire our leak detection experts, you not only receive quality work, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing your leak will be located quickly and effectively.

So I think the solution to the leak problem is as simple as placing a call to American Leak Detection; I’ll even save you the trouble of finding the location nearest to the White House:

amleakdetwashdc

I think I’ve done my civic duty for the day…

You can thank me later.

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears a Crown

This saying is a line from the play King Henry the Fourth, Part Two, by William Shakespeare.

According to dictionary.com, the meaning of this line is that a person who has great responsibilities, such as a king, is constantly worried and therefore doesn’t sleep soundly.

As so often happens, Shakespeare’s words are timeless.

While to outsiders it may appear that those who are at the top, CEOs, Presidents, Kings, Owners, etc., have it easy, the truth is that such individuals are usually under tremendous pressure.

A clear example of this surfaced this past week when Elon Musk opened up on Twitter about some of the struggles he has had, even suggesting he might be somewhat bipolar.

One person had tweeted about how great Musk’s life appears based on his Instagram posts, but then Musk replied that while there are great highs associated with what he does, there are also terrible lows and unrelenting stress.

Musk hasn’t always met with success. According to an article on Marketwatch, Musk has had his share of business failures, nearly died from malaria in 2000, and has been divorced three times.

While it seems that most of his stress-related problems are self-imposed, I am sure there are many people who contribute to that stress by placing unrealistic demands on Musk, demands that they would not place on themselves.

So yes, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways for such a crown to be less heavy.

Perhaps the weight of the crown can be shared with others. But doing so will be a matter of both the crown holder asking for help, and for his or her followers offering their help.

So I wish Musk continued success, but more importantly I hope that he is able find some balance in his life, and can take the time to enjoy his success.

And the Winner Is…

The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.

The sentence above was the winner of the thirty-fifth Lyttoniad, a contest that challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. The contest was conceived to honor the memory of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton and to encourage unpublished authors who do not have the time to actually write entire books. Bulwer-Lytton was selected as patron of the competition because he opened his novel “Paul Clifford” (1830) with the immortal words, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lytton’s sentence actually parodied the line and went on to make a real sentence of it, but he did originate the line “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

The contest receives thousands of entries, and I thought I would share a few of my favorite opening sentences with you.

  • The familiar cleaning ritual now complete, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Christopher P. “Hondo” Holdsworth carefully reassembled his Brűgger & Thomet APR308 7.62x51mm sniper rifle, mounting the matte-black Leupold 8 3.5-25x56mm optic with the splined 5mm Allen wrench that ensured it would stay put and retracting the Harris S-BRM 6-9 Notched Bipod, the way a character in a Tom Clancy novel would.
  • In the predawn mist nothing was quite so satisfying as dawdling across someone else’s morning paper, so thought Sally B. Slug on her early morning glide
  • The warehouse was completely empty except for the mutilated corpse wearing a tuxedo covered with bloodstains, and a Mortimer Snerd dummy lying nearby on the floor, and Detective McIntosh knew Snerd wouldn’t talk.
  • The church was deathly quiet: suddenly a shot rang out, a woman screamed, and somewhere in the back, a baby cried because that baby hadn’t been taken to the nursery, even though the sign on the door clearly states that babies should be taken to the nursery.
  • Detective Robertson knew he had Joyce Winters dead to rights for the murder—at the crime scene he had found Winters’ fingerprints, shell casings matching the gun registered to her, and, most damning of all, a Starbucks cup with the name “Josie” scrawled on it.
  • Captain Duke Ellsworth of the Poughkeepsie Police Department wondered, as he stood in the brightly lit room and stared at the gun lying on the floor, if its barrel were still warm, and what his wife was making for dinner that evening, which he would no doubt have to eat cold when he finally finished up here, especially if he paid his mistress in Fishkill a visit on the way home.
  • It was said among the Khalid of the western deserts that a woman should be a hyena in the kitchen, a giraffe in the garden, and a pelican in the bathroom, although nobody now knew what this was supposed to mean.
  • Like the smoke from a cheap corn cob pipe, the tragic events of the past week descended into Lloyd Mounser’s brain and stubbornly clung to his memory the way those little white styrofoam peanuts get stuck to your hands you when you’re opening a box of soft-white light bulbs that you got online with free shipping.
  • Dean had everything she’d dreamed the perfect boy would have: hair as soft as a baby bunny’s, dimples like the marks you could make pressing your thumb into unbaked cookie dough, eyes as beautiful as a thousand Thomas Kinkade paintings, and the smile of the male lead in an early Olsen-twins comedy, plus he smelled pretty good, too.

Reading through all of the award winning entries got me in the mood to try one of my own:

A hush fell over the crowd as QM, international man of mystery and currently in last place, walked to the end of the 10-meter platform wearing his trademark zebra-patterned Speedo and visualizing the surprise cannonball he was about to perform that would soak the Russian judge, knowing it would spark an international incident with far-reaching repercussions.

I’m thinking about entering it in next year’s contest; after all, I’ve got a lot of time to make it even worse…

“I have heard all of you loud and clear, and I apologize.”

On June 21, Dear Abby published a question from a reader who identified as “first-time mom in New Jersey.” The mom asked how she can ask other parents whether they had guns in their homes before allowing her child to visit for playdates.

Dear Abby suggested that bringing up the topic was “off-putting.”

Well that advice apparently went over like a lead balloon.  Dear Abby received a large number of responses to her advice on this matter, with a significant number of the comments criticizing her response.

One reader wrote: “I’m concerned your response will encourage other mothers to buy into the incorrect assumption that it’s “impolite” to ask questions that ensure their child’s safety.

Here was part of Abby’s response:

Of course you are right. The woman’s question wasn’t about etiquette. It was about child safety. A large number of readers besides you agreed my perspective was off. I have heard all of you loud and clear, and I apologize.

I should have advised: “You are responsible for your child’s welfare. Part of assuring her safety involves asking whether weapons are on the premises and, if so, what safety precautions have been taken. (The same is true for prescription drugs, swimming pools, caustic chemicals and foods to which your child is allergic.) You should also ask if the children will be under parental supervision at all times. If anyone feels concern for your child’s safety is presumptuous, do not allow your child to play there. Suggest instead that the children play at your house.”

Here’s another reader comment: “Your advice to “First-Time Mom” about gun safety runs counter to the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as numerous gun violence protection groups.

And here’s one more reader comment: “All of the major national health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have defined gun violence as a public health epidemic. The protocol for health care providers is to teach parents to ask about guns when children are going to another home to visit. Please educate your readers that asking is critical. This is a public health issue, not a political one!”

I am not a regular reader of Dear Abby; in fact I probably have not read one of her columns in over 10 years. The story about the guns just happened to pop up in my email today, and so I decided to take a look into it, and the above is what I found.

I’ve always considered the willingness to admit you’ve made a mistake and to apologize for doing so one of the best attributes a person can have.

But it also seems like it is a trait that is in short supply.

Of the many things I dislike about President Trump, I would put his unwillingness to admit that he was wrong about something along with his inability to then apologize for such an error, right at the top of the list.

We all make mistakes; why is it so hard for many of us to recognize that fact? And I’m sure it is even harder for those who are in the public eye.

That’s why I was so impressed with Dear Abby’s apology.

Maybe others (hint, hint) can follow her lead…

 

I Need to Go Back to Third Grade

My Calc III final was today, and after spending the weekend at my office reviewing my notes and doing problem after problem, I was as ready as I would ever  be.

You name it, I had probably done a problem (or two or three) on it. Double and triple integrals, cartesian, polar, cylindrical and spherical coordinates, mass, moments, centroids and density, reversing the order of integration, Riemann sums, to name just a few of the topics that would be on the test.

And when I sat down to take the test this morning, I paged through it and felt confident. At least this time I recognized most of the problems.

But as I was to find out after the test, sometimes the devil is in the details, or to use a sport analogy, it’s all about the blocking and tackling.

There was one problem that required some calculus, and I’m fairly certain I did it correctly until I got to the end, and something about the answer just did not make sense.

When I turned in my test, I asked my teacher about it, and he took a quick glance at it. Everything was good until the end, at which point I had to evaluate a fraction conceptually similar to the following:

  1
3+4

For whatever reason, I decided to split this into two separate fractions, as follows:

1  +  1
3      4

The teacher said something like, “You can’t do that” (while somehow keeping a straight face), and before he had finished the sentence, I saw my mistake.

Of course you can’t do that. I learned that in probably third grade, and it was probably reinforced every year for the next nine years of school.

It was a careless mistake, and fortunately this time there were no serious consequences (except my brooding over it for the rest of the day).

Maybe it was because my blood sugar level was running a little low after a couple of hours of doing calc problems; I’m just not me (or my third grade me) when I’m hungry.

snickers

But it’s over for now, and I am looking forward to doing lots and lots of reading and relaxing over the next couple of weeks.

There’s also a lesson here somewhere; something along the lines of:

Me, in third grade: “This fraction stuff is useless; I’ll never need to use this again…”

A Great Springsteen Song – How’d I Miss This One?

I was chatting with our administrative assistant today at work, and she was telling me that she had just bought the Amazon Echo, and was enjoying listening to music on it.

She told me some of the songs that she had played, and then she mentioned a Springsteen song that I had never heard of – “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”, saying it was probably her favorite Bruce song.

So natually I couldn’t wait to get home and check it out, and here is what I found (courtesy of Wikipedia of course).

“Girls in Their Summer Clothes from Springsteen’s album Magic. Matched with a pop-oriented melody, Springsteen’s full-throated singing, and a pop-orchestral arrangement, the lyric portrays a series of warm small-town vignettes:

“Girls in Their Summer Clothes” has been cited as a singularly “breezy” song on the album, though A. O. Scott of The New York Times notes: “Not that ‘Girls in Their Summer Clothes’ is untouched by melancholy. Its narrator, after all, stands and watches as the girls of the title ‘pass me by.'” Jay Lustig of The Star-Ledger writes that the song “unfolds gradually and at its own eccentric pace, with the music, and Springsteen’s vocals, getting progressively more intense.”
The song garnered two nominations for the Grammy Awards of 2009, Best Rock Song and Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance, and ended up winning for Best Rock Song. (Again, how did I miss all of this???)
The music video (shown below) for the song was directed by Mark Pellington. Filmed on the Jersey Shore on a cold winter day, it showed girls and women of various ages, interspersed with shots of Springsteen strumming his vintage Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar. The backing E Street Band was not shown. Parts of the video mirrored the song’s imagery, especially the diner scene.
So here are some videos related to this song. The first is the music video mentioned above, followed by a video that offers an interesting behind the scenes look at filming part of this video. It’s kind of boring, but I guess that’s what makes it interesting, finding out how much work is involved for just a few seconds of video (like the jukebox in the sand).
The third and final video is a live performance of the video, because like with most things Springsteen related, you’ve got to see him live to really appreciate him and his music.
I’ve also included the lyrics at after the third video.
Watching the video makes me want to got to the shore!
Enjoy…

Lyrics

Well the street lights shine
Down on Blessing Avenue
Lovers they walk by
Holdin’ hands two by two

A breeze crosses the porch
Bicycle spokes spin ’round
Jacket’s on, I’m out the door
Tonight I’m gonna burn this town down

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

Kid’s rubber ball smacks
Off the gutter ‘neath the lamp light
Big bank clock chimes
Off go the sleepy front porch lights

Downtown the store’s alive
As the evening’s underway
Things been a little tight
But I know they’re gonna turn my way

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

Frankie’s Diner’s
Over on the edge of town
Neon sign spinnin’ round
Like a cross over the lost and found

Fluorescent lights
Flicker above Bob’s Grill
Shaniqua brings a coffee and asks “fill?”
And says “penny for your thoughts now my poor Bill”

She went away
She cut me like a knife
Had a beautiful thing
Maybe you just saved my life

In just a glance
Down here on Magic Street
Love’s a fool’s dance
I ain’t got much sense but I still got my feet

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by