Friday, April 29, 2011

The Real World Business School

About a month ago, a LaSalle University professor of business was suspended for hiring strippers to give lap dances during an extra-credit seminar. Jack Rappaport was apparently trying to teach a class in business ethics, and has tried to use rather unorthodox means to teaching business concepts in his class, such as using horse better to illustrate the real world application of statistics.

No, I'm not going to defend the hiring of bikini-clad women in miniskirts dancing seductively on a desk, but I would say that Rappaport may very well have exposed his students to more realistic and practical examples of everyday business life than his students might have received in 90% of their other classes.

For example, in my two years in business school, I can (not proudly) say that I'd be hard pressed to identify the application of 10% of my coursework in my current job. Specific to the example above, I'm going to say outright that virtually none of my classmates are applying Heather Haverman's "Leading and Managing Organizations" class (which was also known by the unfortunate acronym "LAM-O") and probably not many more are really applying David Juran's statistics course during the course of their day. In contrast, I know many of my Cluster G mates visited Scores on more than occasion both during and after graduating from business school. No, I wasn't one of them, and no, I won't divulge the names of my friends who are now happily married.

When I worked for a consulting firm in my previous job, we had a "Community Service Day" where everyone in my 300+ person office were distributed to a number of projects. I was sent out with a handful of individuals to a public school in Harlem to teach them some business concepts to sixth graders. At some point, I came to the conclusion that what we were doing was not only completely uninteresting to the class, but had nothing to do with the real business world. So I hijacked the program and taught everyone how to give a proper handshake and introduction in a business setting, and had them practice it with the student next to them in front of the class. We then got a series of kids standing up with increasing confidence giving firm handshakes to their classmates saying (for example), "I'm Jesus Flores from Deloitte Consulting. It's great to meet you and I look forward to our collaboration together." The energy level completely spiked.

Am I advocating classes on giving proper handshakes and how to order the proper lapdance when entertaining clients? No. But it might be refreshing if we started to see more curriculum in our business schools that reflected the reality of the lion's share of the work day. Classes along the lines of:
  • Managing Upwards - how to survive and prosper in a matrixed organization where your upper managers have vastly different goals but refuse to acknowledge this or work to bridge the gap. Also in the course we will cover how to drive improvements of your boss without jeopardizing your own career
  • Managing Downwards - how to keep both your high performers and low performers motivated despite human resource policies which restrict you from adequately differentiating the rewards your top performers and make it a logistical nightmare to fire low-performers.
  • Teflonizing Your Career - how to effectively take credit for successful programs that you had very little to do with while deflecting the blame on fiascos which were clearly the result of your own poor decision making.
  • Business Linguistics - how to use proper buzzwords to create a false aura of intelligence.
That'd be a school I'd like to see.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Democracy, Even for Idiots

I was surprised when progressive columnist LZ Granderson wrote recently that the government should strip the right to vote from people who are "ignorant". Granderson argues that the political process is way too important to put into the hands of a electorate who lack a basic understanding of the legislative process. In a time of "at least two wars, a budding energy crisis, a growing trade deficit," Granderson argues that if a person is unable to pass the U.S. Naturalization Test required for immigrants to pass to gain citizenship, this person should be barred from potentially upsetting th democratic process. Why? Because otherwise ignorant voters will sway election due to their vulnerability to be manipulated by political machine-driven catchphrases such as "Obamacare" and "War on Unions".

Granderson laments about the pejorative lens upon the "elite" and argues that "the Founding Fathers were not a bunch of average Joes with gripes about England; they were elite thinkers and philosophers. James Madison attended what is now Princeton. John Hancock went to Harvard. Thomas Jefferson enrolled at the College of William and Mary when he was 16." That may be true, but they weren't the only people who were allowed to vote. The reality is that we have a representative democratic government which still very much ensures that highly intelligent and qualified individuals are in the best position to serve in public office. In fact, given the importance of political allies, personal connections with high-net-worth individuals and a war chest in winning any election, it's hard to argue that political power still very much resides with the elite. That's not necessarily a good thing.

The representative government nature of American democracy also serves to prevent the "ignorant" population from doing too much self-inflicted harm. As opposed to decision making by referendum (one vote per person, majority choice gets put into law). The population elects representation in Congress who write and vote on laws on a populations' behalf. Heck, there has been more than one occasion where the guy who got the most votes in the country ended up losing the Presidency. If anything, the single (ignorant) voter might argue that there isn't enough power in his or her vote.

Granderson is also wrongheaded in his belief that knowledge of municipal and civic protocol somehow makes people less "vulnerable" to political campaigns, advertising and, yes, catchphrases. People don't believe in the concept of "Obamacare" or "death panels" or "illegal wars" because they don't know that two senators serve from each state, they resonate with that "rhetoric" because they actually believe that those ideas. I'm not saying that there isn't objective and absolute truth, what I'm saying is democratic government is about the exchange, debate and promotion of ideals and opinions which are passionate and personal. You can't legislate this out of the political process.

Lastly and most importantly, is seems to me that the measure of true democracy is to allow participation unfettered. The onus is for those involved in the political process to present truthful facts and opinions and all sides and let people - as misguided, imperfect and ignorant as we are - to make a decision according to our respect consciences. I don't think voter hurdles are the answer - greater openness, debate, communication and deliberation to create a more informed and engaged population might better serve that end.

I frankly think that the bigger problem is the anemic numbers around voter participation. If anything, we need more voters, not less.

Friday, April 22, 2011

To Lose Everything to Gain Everything

One of the foundational elements of the life of the Christian is to die to self, the seemingly paradoxical call to surrender one's life to save it, or from the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 16:25-26, ""If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

The teaching is a difficult one. When I was a young Christian in college, the image in my mind that helped capture this call was to picture ourselves as carrying a large box on a mountaintop which needed to be carried two hands - within the box contained all the idols and baggage of our "old life", which included our own agenda-driven perception of what life ought to be, including nice house, nice car, spouse, kids, lots of friends, well-paying job, etc. Most of these things in the box weren't bad, mind you, it's just that it represented my vision for my future based upon what I thought I was entitled to.

There was another large box to be had, and within it contained items which might be similar to the contents of the box currently held - or not. All that was certain was the the Giver of the box was perfect in love, wisdom and power. The Giver had a plan of purpose and joy which would be perfect for me in the context of redemptive history, but there were no promises around specific contents of the box.

The rub was this: If I wanted to take the box from the Giver, I needed to let go of the box I was currently carrying. The boxes were simply too big to carry simultaneously and too heavy to stack. I would need to either accept the box offered by the Giver and drop my own box down the side of the mountain or cling on to my own box at the expense of the one being offered to me. It was a mutually exclusive choice.

The choice is a hard one, and there is no sugar-coating the price. You can't accuse Jesus of deceptive sales practices here - it's not "You'll get to have you cake and eat it" or "There's no cost here worth mentioning"; your life as you know it is on the line. So you agonize and you consider the cost... is it worth it?

We get a reminder on Good Friday that the answer is yes. We see a reflection and a foreshadow of our invitation when we observe and remember Jesus Christ's journey to the cross where he endured the wrath of God, judgment and shame of our sins - the cost of everything. But on the third day, he rose again and sits in glory at the right hand of the Father having conquered death and having ransomed His people. The greatest comeback the world has ever known, and the greatest illustration that can be given around losing everything to gain everything.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

To Be Enjoyed Responsibly

Speaking of growing up to early in my earlier post, there was this odd story out of Detroit where a 15-month old toddler was mistakenly served alcohol at an Applebee's. Apparently, the mix-up occurred when an alcoholic mixed drink concoction was mislabeled "apple juice" and a poor waiter ended up pouring the contents into a kid drink where the child imbibed and subsequently began "acting funny." The fact that it's really tough for me to ascertain the profile of "acting normal" for a 15-month old is besides the point.

I can understand the mislabel leading to the pouring of the wrong drink, but I'm more surprised that junior didn't spit the concoction out. Even as a middle-aged man I don't like the taste of alcohol, but you can chalk that up with my Asian-low-tolerance genetic profile. Heck, on one of my first outings out with Daniel when he was around a year old, I gave him a taste of a taco sauce packet at Taco Bell and he proceeded to make a face that still cracks me up to this day and spit it out. In any case, the important thing is that the child is apparently fine, and police are investigating to see if this was somehow a deliberate and deplorable prank gone wrong.

It does get me thinking about how parents ought to introduce alcohol to their children. It's been said that in Europe, it's common for parents to have children partake in wine served at the dinner table, and the line of thinking there is that if children are reinforced with positive and responsible experiences with alcohol, they'll be inclined to enjoy alcohol as an adult would - in moderation and responsibly. There's also the "forbidden fruit" argument that posits that when you zealously deprive people of anything, you somehow increase the intrigue and attractiveness of that item.

At least for now, it looks as if my children aren't particularly interested in alcohol. It helps that we don't have a lot of it around the house, and when we do, it's not as if we make a big deal about it. As far as getting my kids to try a small sip of wine, I can't get my kids to try Sprite, which they somehow think smells "spicy" (I suppose they haven't picked up the descriptor of "carbonated" or "fizzy"), and they recoil from the wine glass in disgust as if it's been filled with dog poo.

Perhaps at the right time, my wife (the wine connoisseur of the family) will teach them to appreciate a fine glass of merlot, but for now we'll gladly accept their utter distaste for alcohol. Thankfully, I've been able to get Daniel back to Taco Bell, though he predictably stays away from the taco sauce.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Growing Up Too Fast

It's great fun to see the blessings of extended family, especially when it takes the form of young cousins playing with each other. We were paid a visit from my brother, sister-in-law and two nieces recently, and I watched my three year old daughter Sophia playing with my almost three-year old niece Audrey in the basement.

Sophia, being the older kid, was clearly the "ringleader" and she had gotten my niece to wear one of Daniel's old backpacks, the contents of which were a plush block, a couple of plastic fruits, and a handful of wooden trinkets. After a few silent minutes of watching and listening, it was clear what they were playing... or at least Sophia was playing.

"Hurry, hurry, catch the bus!" Sophia ordered Audrey, coaxing her across the basement to a small futon.

They did a couple of rounds of this, and Audrey was generally a good sport around running to the futon with a backpack full of toys, though on occasion Audrey would instead sit down, unzip the backpack and dump the contents of the backpack on the floor, at which point a frustrated Sophia would prod her to pack up and playfully scold her that she was going to miss the bus and be late for school.

It's obvious that Sophia picked this up from my wife and her constant battles getting my son in his "getting ready for school routine". What's interesting is that she finds this activity worthy of playtime and imagination. Alternatively, my wife has found this routine so frustrating at times that she'd probably rather eat glass, particularly on days where my son goes into irrationally-difficult-and-willful mode which causes him to lie prostrate on the floor wailing about something or another with his jacket only half-on, while the school bus can be heard pulling up to the street corner.

I can appreciate that playing "grown up" is a favorite pastime of kids. I do think it's funny that sometimes the episodes of adult life that they choose are utterly unenjoyable and unpleasant. I get playing "grown up" if it means driving, shopping or going on a trip to a resort. But getting your kid ready for school is a scenario with just as much appeal as "doing your taxes" or "unclogging the toilet".

If this is what they think adulthood is like, I'm not sure they'd be that excited to get there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Unhealthy Singular Focus on Shareholder Value

I was having dinner with some colleagues to bid farewell to a peer who was taking a leadership position in a small biotech. While we ate Asian fusion food and reminisced about war stories of old and the changing landscape of our own company, we also talked more broadly about the growing power of “the corporations” and how the leverage seems to have tilted overwhelmingly towards one end. One colleague joked that with shrinking benefits to employees and companies largely getting sweetheart deals to absolve them from paying taxes, there might be a time where we see a revolt along the lines of Libya (though the French Revolution might be a more appropriate reference).

For example, it was revealed recently that both Blackstone and General Electric paid obscenely small amounts of taxes in light of their massive profits. In their defense, it’s certainly their prerogative to limit the amount they give to Uncle Sam, in the same way that each of us as individual taxpayers tend not to volunteer to give up our tax return to support our public schools. But given the volume of lost tax revenues of these highly profitable corporations, there clearly will be an impact upon public, municipal and social services. These services will be cut, curtailed or the burden for these will come in the form of property taxes or other taxes placed upon ordinary citizens.

Traditionally, the dance has been that companies will use local employment as the carrot (or more accurately, loss of local employment as the stick) to broker these tax deals, or put another way “Either you give us a tax break, or else we’ll find another state that will – leaving your local community picking up the pieces in the wake of lost jobs and lost income and resulting sales tax revenue. Oh, your local commercial and residential real estate market will also plunge like a lead balloon. Have fun with that.” More often than not, the local government will fold like a cheap suit and accede to any demand.

As far as the benefits, the fightin’ words go along the lines of “We’re going to cut benefits, stop pension contributions and reduce total pay. If you don’t like it, leave. And if the whole bunch of you doesn’t like it, we’ll find another state or country who would love to have these jobs.” In both the tax and employee benefits examples, you could view these as shrewd business or extortion – depending on how you look at it. Corporations argue that it is compelled under the principle of “maximizing shareholder value” to maximize profit, and that includes not paying a single dime more in taxes than it needs to or a single dime more in employee costs than it needs to.

It might be me, but the concept and focus of “shareholder value” seems to have evolved over the past fifteen years into a buzzphrase which could otherwise be translated to “let’s maximize profits at the expense of all else”, including what is traditionally considered, along with obligation to the shareholder, the accompanying obligations of companies: (1) the obligation to customers, (2) the obligation to employees and (3) the obligation to the community.

Who benefits most from the most popular recent tactics which have boosted “shareholder value”, after all? It’s not the janitorial person, mailroom worker, assembly line worker or the computer help desk guy who gets outsourced – it’s not like they have the discretionary income to have a position in a hedge fund or any substantial stock holdings which will get the lift. Seeing their company’s stock go up 5% is of little comfort as they trudge over to the unemployment line.

I’m no socialist and I’m not, by any stretch, a union-lover, and I don’t profess to have any easy answers. But I do worry about the continued slide towards the continually widening gap between the haves and have-nots (even if I’m on the more favorable side), the increasing downward pressure on municipal services and the spoils of “shareholder value” being almost exclusively given to the richest of the rich of society. Unless this gets fixed, all of us will lose.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Only Relevant If We're Good At It

There's an interesting human phenomena which we learn early in our youth as "sour grapes". This is usually introduced in the Aesop fable, "The Fox and the Grapes":
A famished fox saw some clusters of ripe black grapes hanging from a trellised vine. She resorted to all her tricks to get at them, but wearied herself in vain, for she could not reach them. At last she turned away, hiding her disappointment and saying: 'The Grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.
In an nutshell, it is the marginalizing of anything that we personally find unobtainable. The fox couldn't get the grapes, so the grapes are deemed sour. We do so all the time when we marginalize or show disdain for anything and everything that we have an inability to do, get or achieve. It often originates from our own pride which refuses to applaud the very real talents and accomplishments of others which we cannot match. It is our own arrogance which fails to accept and appreciate that there we are not the best at, well, pretty much anything and everything. It is a pride which says, "If I cannot be the best, then it's not a worthy talent after all."

This happens on a national scale, as well. Take sports, for example. One commentator lamented on the future of women's tennis in a post-Serena and Venus Williams world. The article wasn't jingoistic, but it clearly alluded to the health of American tennis and how that highly correlated with the health of the sport overall. That theory isn't necessarily wrong on the surface. It would be ignoring economic reality to state that having strong American players in any sport doesn't reap rewards in terms of American interest and investment. Many argue, with data, that investment in women's golf has lagged without American winners. They argue that Americans won't really get behind a sport where they don't win - perhaps we're a nation of front-runners.

What concerns me is how far people will take this. An old commentary from Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette inexplicably took that point of view defending an ill-fated attempt to force English proficiency a requirement to play on the LPGA tour. The argument? It's good for American interest in the game, which is good for the game. So let me get this straight, we want to destroy the sanctity of the game by creating false criteria in order to save it by positioning more Americans to win. Ridiculous.

What's next, banning Kenyans from the Boston Marathon to ramp up more American interest? Why don't make passing an American pop culture quiz a requisite for eligibility for the FIFA World Cup? Do you think Ronaldo, Messi or Kaka could correctly identify the cast members from Glee?

By the way, soccer (football to the rest of the world) is doing just fine without without our undue influence or money. I'm a proud American, and what captures the American spirit the best is preparing and competing to win, fair in square. Otherwise, I'd rather us lose.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Suburban Family Guy's 2011 MLB Preview

It's that time of the year again, and instead of selling an overpriced trade magazine for $8.99 with half the pages dedicated to advertisements of auto parts and gambling websites with scantily clad models, I'm going provide everything the casual fan needs to know about this upcoming baseball season for free.

American League East
The division often coined as the best division in professional sports will send its requisite two teams to the playoffs, but the storied Yankees-Red Sox rivalry will clearly swing to the Red Sox's favor. With stellar top to bottom pitching from the rotation to the bullpen complimented with new arrivals Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the Sox will run away with this division early and make a chase a the best single season record with 114 wins. The Yankees will hold on to the wild card after outlasting a surprisingly good Toronto Blue Jays squad. The Rays will take a step much further back than most expect due to a young pitching sophomore slump an frequent bullpen implosions. The Orioles show signs of life under Buck Showalter but can't overcome the talent gap.

American League Central
The Twins, keeping their division champion team mostly intact, ride the momentum of an increasingly healthy Justin Morneau to take the division, but barely edge out the Chicago White Sox, who enjoy an offensive revival with the addition of Adam Dunn, but lose ground due to surprisingly bad years by starting pitchers John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Jake Peavy. Despite some marquis names in Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, the Tigers woefully underachieve, prompting GM Dave Dombrowski to consider a fire-sale by the trading deadline. The Royals mirror the Orioles season except with more talent upside, and fans of Cleveland Indians suffer through such a bad season that they yearn for the good old days when LeBron left their team, stabbing themselves with kitchen utensils every time C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee throw a stellar game.

American League West
The Angels, due to some mind-boggling offseason moves (losing out on Carl Crawford, trading for Vernon Wells and his historically bad contract), further cede the division to the now resurgent Rangers, who weather the loss of Cliff Lee surprisingly well. The Oakland A's show signs of life with a handful of shrewd signings plus a stellar young pitching staff which begins to looks strikingly similar to the one across the Bay. Seattle, initially gleeful after trading flotsam to the Phillies for Cliff Lee last year and then flipping him in the midseason for "can't miss prospect" Justin Smoak, sadly realize that Smoak isn't much better than the flotsam they traded to the Phillies. Karma further rolls in when Felix Hernandez develops elbow trouble and has to be shut down with two months left in the season.

National League East
Contrary to what some in the Philadelphia metropolitan areas believe, the "four aces" actually lose a few games... and they'll actually lose more than a few, disappointing many with a good, but not great regular season. Offensive woes and "merely pretty good" starting pitching prevent the Phillies from running away with the division, but they manage to edge out the Atlanta Braves, who fare just fine in their first year of life after Bobby Cox. The Marlins young pitching shows the potential to dominate, but fizzles due to a collection of injuries. The Nationals and Mets dual in a feisty battle to not finish in last place, with the Mets pulling it out with a late season win in which they allow Bernie Madoff (wearing an ankle bracelet) throw out the first pitch.

National League Central
The Cubs show signs that this could be the year, barely hiding their glee around the a series of arch rival Cardinals injuries (e.g. Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter) and the prospect of poaching "greatest player in the world" Albert Pujols away from them. Unfortunately for the Cubs, the opportunity slips them by as offensive ineptitude led by Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano dooms them to mediocrity. The Cardinals also stumble, unable overcome the injuries and distractions of a potential Pujols departure, after he rejects an offer giving him half the city of St. Louis, plus his choice of waterfront towns across the river in Southern Illinois. The Astros surge to surprising contention until realizing that it's been 12 months since they've traded a star player to the Phillies (see Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt), decide to yet again "build for the future" by trading Hunter Pence for two minor league prospects. Cincinnati will fall back to earth after their banner year last year. The Pittsburgh Pirates, sensing chaos in the division consider seizing the opportunity until they realize that they're the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Brewers, despite mediocre initial results from newcomers Zach Greinke and Shawn Marcum take the NL Central behind huge offensive years from Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Fielder dampens the celebration by continuously saying things like, "When I'm out of this godforsaken place next year, I'm really going to relish this run..."

National League West
The Dodgers have the talent and are positioned to ride emerging superstar pitcher Clayton Kershaw to topple the defending champion Giants, but are doomed by rookie manager Don Mattingly's inability to manage a bullpen effectively, largely due to Mattingly's mentor's inability to manage a bullpen effectively. The Padres find themselves irrelevant again, with the fans realizing that with beautiful weather and great beaches, there's no need to pay money to subject themselves to lousy baseball. The Rockies stay competitive due to great years by Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, but lose too many 10-8 and 15-7 games with no pitching outside of Ubaldo Jimenez. The Diamondbacks suffer under regressions by Chris Young and Stephen Drew, and are saved from the basement only by the Padres. The Giants enjoy a fairly clear ride to another division crown, save for another marijuana-possession incident from Tim Lincecum, leading to an unintentionally hilarious MLB public service ad where Lincecum looks into the camera after throwing a pitch and says, "If you want your stuff to stay hot - keep away from pot."

Division Series: Red Sox over Twins
Yankees over Rangers

Phillies over Dodgers
Milwaukee over Giants

Championship Series: Red Sox over Yankees
Phillies over Milwaukee

World Series: Phillies over Red Sox

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools Blogs Posts Gone Bad

About a year ago, my buddy the Urban Christian posted a April's Fool blog breaking the news that despite his moniker, he would be moving his family out to the suburbs after years of holding out. It was pretty convincing, and not being cognizant of the date, I dropped him a phone call and asked him what in the world was going on. I gather that some of his readers realized right away that his post was a just a big of good creative writing. It was all in good fun, and I acknowledged to my buddy that I had been punk'd.

It did get me thinking: what are some April Fools blog posts that would cross the line and simply wrong to publish? So, I give to you a series of opening sentences of April Fools blog posts the Suburban Family Guy editorial staff rejected as being inappropriate, offensive, or worse:

There is weariness in my bones and I need to cling on the the truth and hope that Jesus is the Great Healer. This is all that I could think about upon hearing the news from my physician that tests had returned with the news that I had been dreading - I have a malignant tumor lodged in my brain the size of a plum and I have but months to live.

There is something to be said about the truth setting you free - the elimination of lies, pretense and the hope that you can be completely honest and stop being exhausted being someone that you're not. Life is just too short to be fighting all the time with something that is inevitable, and so it is with great sadness that I announce that my wife and I are getting divorced.

Where is God when it hurts? How to you make sense of the incomprehensible? This is not just a title of a Philip Yancey book - this is what my wife and I are struggling with as we cope the sudden and tragic death of our child.

I'm a big believer in confidentiality when friends talk about their addictions which they're ashamed about. That's why I promised my friend John that I wouldn't tell anyone about his addiction to hardcore, barely-legal pornography. It's a good thing that nobody in my church reads my blog. I think.

I recently read an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer about a community's search for a missing teenager. The more I read about the family's anguish and the palpable pain felt by a shocked neighborhood, I couldn't help but be haunted by the secret that has haunted me all these years - that many years ago I had killed a runaway drifter to win a bet with some college friends.

It's funny, but something you think you know people and then 'bam' - you get blindsided. At my last men's accountability group, I confessed that with the lust in my heart, I had committed adultery. What was of odd comfort to me was hearing that pretty much everyone else in that same accountability group literally committed adultery - not in a Matthew 5:28 way - I mean, they really had physical affairs with other people, mostly co-workers. Who knew?

I can't lie to myself anymore and speak of hope when I have none. I feel like I'm trapped with no place to turn, and the walls close in and the air gets thin. Life has no meaning. It's time to pull the curtain down and end this show.

I recently went to a parenting conference with my wife, and I learned some really important principles about how to avoid spoiling children and creating a culture of self-entitlement, laziness and complacency. I couldn't agree more, and it's time that I stood up to all this "self-esteem" garbage. That evening upon learning that my son had misidentified a rhombus on his shapes quiz, I told him that he was useless and threw his favorite Lego set in the garbage, telling him that "Legos are only for winners."

It has been said that the most precious things are family and family memories. Sadly, these are all that we have after our house was consumed in a fire. Yesterday my daughter wept as she clutched at the charred remnants of a stuffed animal that used to be her favorite, while I tried to convince her and myself that everything was going to be all right.

Somehow, following any of these with a post the day after stating "Oh yeah, about yesterday's post: April Fools!" would seem somehow inadequate, wouldn't it?

As I look at the above, there's a couple of themes which align well to the old Saturday Night Live "Comedy Killers" skit. The lesson is, never ever joke around about a friend's or your own personal experience around:
  • Sex
  • Death or Dying
  • Marital Infidelity
  • Child Abuse
  • Committing a Felony
  • Being a Victim of a Felony or Tragedy
But making up a story about moving to the suburbs is totally fine. Also safe topics are joking about taking a new job as a professional poker player, that you've won the Powerball, realizing that you have a peanut allergy, getting backstage access to the U2 concert and telling people that you're going to discontinue your blog.

Just to be absolutely clear for those of you who are poor readers, we're all fine. Please don't send me e-mails asking me about my divorce, tumor, burned down house, dysfunctional, sick or dead family or friends.