Harvard blog

Here are articles on Harvard blog

The Gay Agenda and the Destruction of Marriage

The Gay Agenda and the Destruction of Marriage
… get over it

[Note: this was written the day before Pres. Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address, in which he suggested a constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage.]

A lot of people have been afraid that letting gay people get married will result in the “destruction of marriage.” I just don’t buy it.

My Big, Fat, Obnoxious Fiance

The committed, same-sex couples I know are married for all practical purposes. Several have kids. They’re really typically domestic. As far as I can tell, they basically want hospital visitation rigts and the right to take each other’s kids to the doctor if the kids get sick.

Married by America

But will they destroy marriage? The question doesn’t matter. Gay people don’t need to destroy marriage; the media is doing a fine job of it. Popular culture is doing it for us. Our own lack of good role models, healthy relationships, and communication skills is doing it for us.

Bachelor & Bachelorette

Have you noticed our culture’s great line-up of role models for forming solid, stable, happy marriages? The line-up must be working: the divorce rate has been 40-50% for decades(*). Purely heterosexual marriage is about as stable as a coin toss.

Joe Millionaire, I and II

So before we worry too much about whether giving gay couples the same civil rights enjoyed by other couples, let’s look long and hard at what it means to be a couple.

Ben and J-Lo

Let’s see some role models for what it takes to form a stable, long-term, loving relationship between two people.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

Bizarrely, last year’s surprise hit was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where a group of gay men help straight men become physically and emotionally attractive to their girlfriends. One early episode even featured the Fab Five helping a young man propose to his girlfriend in an evening so romantic it belonged … well, as a role model!

Unfortunately, that’s the only time I’ve seen positive relationship images on national TV. Positive images just don’t sell. So it’s up to us!

Rather than worrying whether someone or something out there will destroy marriage, let’s put our efforts into strengthening relationships of all kinds! You can be a role model. Do you have a happy, stable marriage? Make sure your kids see it. Let them know how to work through disagreements. Demonstrate how you keep love alive and growing over time. Talk with people about how to balance conflicting needs as a relationship changes over time. Because no one can make or break a relationship but the people in it, and if two people can make it work, I say more power to them!

(*) Source: 2002 CENSUS BUREAU REPORT ON MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE, http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p70-80.pdf.

Tax cut obsession is absurd; vote for tax increases!

Tax cut obsession is absurd; vote for tax increases!

The paper was full of Democrats promising middle-class tax cuts yesterday. I really don’t understand why the national obsession with tax cuts. People seem to think about taxes as if the government is stealing from them. As much as I believe the government does steal on occasion(1), mostly, the money is going to needed common goods and services.

We’d love to believe that cutting taxes makes the government efficient. Nonsense. If a simple lack of money could make an organization efficient, then increasing taxes would make all our families more efficient because we’d have less money. It doesn’t. It just means we feel more pain, can do less, save less, and live our lives at poorer quality.

Do we want an efficient government? If so, we need to train people how to be more efficient! Government employees have neither the training nor the incentive to streamline their operations. In fact, exactly the opposite: when running on less money this year means you get less next year (often the case in government), “lean and mean” becomes a recipe for waste. But money cuts without adequate training and reorganizing won’t do much except kill the quality of the services that remain.

Of course, it would sure help if those cutting the budget demonstrated some money-savvy themselves. They don’t. The Bush Administration granted Halliburton several billion dollars worth of contracts in a no-bid decision. Halliburton promptly spent an extra $61 million on gas, either through incompetence (paying a supplier twice the market rate) or through willfull overcharging. Either way, the message to the rest of the government employees is clear:cost-cutting and efficiency aren’t the measures that matter in doing a job.

And by the way, people, cutting your income taxes won’t even make a big dent in your tax bill. If you make less than about $200,000, your social security (FICA) taxes make up as much or more of your tax burden than your income taxes. And while your employer pays half of your FICA, it’s still taxes being paid that could have been money in your pocket instead if your employer didn’t have to pay Uncle Sam.

Your overall tax bill is probably higher after the tax cuts. Do you own your own home? The federal tax cut meant Massachusetts got less federal aid. The state promptly raised property taxes to help close the gap. My property taxes went up more than I saved on federal taxes, and we still laid off teachers and cut services like graffitti cleanup. And oh, yes, subway prices took a 25% hike as well. Nice. I’m now paying more in taxes overall and receiving fewer services.
(If you rent, don’t gloat too much. Your landlord will be passing through that tax increase momentarily.)

I’ve had fun with all this, of course. We’ve seen an unusually large number of teenagers begging for money for their sports teams, uniforms, etc. this year. I educate them. Their parents got a $300 tax refund. That’s the money that would have paid for their school programs. If their parents chose to blow the $300 on something else, rather than saving it to make up for the services their kids lost, then it’s kind of silly for me to show more care, love, and financial commitment to these kids than their parents showed. It’s a cold, cruel world out there. And taxes are how we join together as a community to make it a warmer, friendlier, and happier world for humans.

Let’s have clean streets. Let’s have decent schools that prepare our kids to succeed(2). Let’s have food inspection that can afford to use “healthy for you” as a standard! That all takes money, and that’s where our taxes go. Instead of blindly voting for tax cuts, think for a few minutes about which services you benefit from. Street cleaning, perhaps? Sewer systems? Water treatment? Toxic waste cleanup? Because when services get cut, the military and terror budgets stay steady and it’s the quality-of-life budgets that get decimated.

(1) See http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/news/news-iraq-halliburton.html?ex=1075349072&ei=1&en=763f8032abf2c364

(2) Except for graduates of 4-year colleges, the U.S. ranked near list in the world in terms of literacy. See the National Institute for Literacy resources: http://www.nifl.gov/nifl/facts/reference.html#sum2002

Getting older is just fine, thank you!

Getting older is just fine, thank you!

I was shopping for a birthday card for a friend today and was struck by the sentiment on virtually all the cards: “you’re getting older, how sad for you.” Of course, I nodded sagely, wouldn’t it be great if he were turning 30 instead of 40?

But wait a second. My 20s, by and large, sucked. My 30s have been a much better decade, and all indications are that my 40s will be even better. I’ve actually learned a bit about saving money, I know more about living a happy life, and frankly, the older I get, the more I just chill out. So much of what seems important is really just minor, ten years down the line. And many of today’s crises will seem just as silly a decade from now.

And growing older brings experience. I’ve actually learned something about the world. My predictions get better. Sometimes that depresses me. But I’ve also learned to change what I can and accept what I can’t. (Well … some of the time. The current political climate is pushing the edge of my coping ability.)

Of course, the shocker is that as you get older, you realize some choices really are permanent. At my age, it’s too late to pursue a tenure-track career at an Ivy-league quality university. And some of my early career choices have had long-term implications–both positive and negative–that have shaped life in unexpected ways. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? By the time you have the perspective to make some of the most important choices well, you’re 10 years past the decision.

But you can learn from others’ experience. That’s what old people are for! They’ve been there. They’ve seen it. They have perspective. Once upon a time, families lived in close community, and what wisdom there was could get passed down from older generations to younger. These days, we pretend old people don’t exist, and we certainly don’t listen to them very closely. After all, they’re no longer beautiful, so they couldn’t possibly have anything worthwhile to say.

Frankly, many of them don’t. Many people aren’t very reflective, and as soon as they leave school, they stop learning and reflecting on the world. At age 60, they have 40 more years of experience, they’ve learned the same lessons 40 times and called it wisdom. Those aren’t the people to hang out with.

The ones to hang out with are the ones who learn, grow, and change. I met a woman in her 80s who was proclaiming her 80s her best decade yet. She was starting her third company and loving every minute of it. She traveled, she knew all kinds of people, and she knew more about the world than many people ever learn.

Next time you have a birthday, celebrate! You’re building a foundation. You’re having an impact. And you’re becoming a valuable part of the human race’s wisdom. You can help it along by encouraging those around you to learn and grow with you. Seek out older people, hear their stories, and where it makes sense, bring their experience to bear on your life.

Now I’ve got to head out. I’ve a birthday party to catch…

Time planning your life is NOT time off!

Plan to Keep Achieving Your Dreams!

Have you ever noticed how many people stop dreaming once they hit 30? The daily grind just sort of becomes habit, and they develop into a comfy routine, where the familiar settles in where the dreamer once lived.

I spent yesterday working through the book, “Your Best Year Yet” (by Jinny Ditzler) with a group of friends. It’s a great little book, that helps you review your past year, get back in touch with your dreams and values, and put together goals for the new year for each major area of your life.

Does it work? I’d love to say every goal comes to pass. They don’t. But the process keeps me focused. My #1 2003 goal was to join the National Speakers Association, an organization with tough membership requirements. Twelve hours before starting my 2004 BYY, the acceptance notice arrived. Woo hoo!

What’s odd is that the whole process only takes a day. Yet how very, very hard it is to set aside those six hours! People had to get time off work. One friend kept his laptop by his side, with email and instant messenger open—just in case. Just in case something important needed his attention.

But you know what? Spending a day redirecting your life is something important. It’s probably more important than anything that could happen at work. Planning your life isn’t “time off”; it’s time ON.

Reflecting, learning, and setting direction can change the entire trajectory of your life. Rather than assuming you’re getting you where you want to go, stop and ask where you want to go. You may not know! The answer you found compelling at age 23 may still be driving your life 20 years later. It’s worth asking.

Then ask if you’re truly making progress. Are you 40? At current life expectancies, that’s about middle age. Are you halfway to where you want to be? At the age when I finally started pursuing my passion, Mozart had been dead for four years. Take a good look at where you are, and give yourself a good kick in the pants if needed to get those dreams back in gear.

There’s an old Chinese saying:

“If we don’t change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are going.”

Take the saying to heart. Block out a day for reflecting and planning. This is more important than your job. This is more important than family time. This is time ON, and it’s time ON that only you can spend making sure your life is going in the right direction.

Go do great things! I’ll meet you there.

AOL Censors Free Speech

AOL Censors Free Speech

I was trying to tell a friend about http://www.BushIn30Seconds.org, a site airing commercials summarizing what the filmmakers think is wrong with current administration policies. My message to my friend at AOL bounced with the message:

    (reason: 554 TRANSACTION FAILED:  (HVU:B1) The URL contained in your email to AOL members has generated a high volume of complaints.??)

In this particular case, it’s hard to imagine who would complain about it other than people trying to get the page banned because it doesn’t agree with their political views.

This means that if a group wants to suppress access to and discussion about web sites that present opposing points of view, they need only complain to AOL and AOL will no longer deliver messages to any AOL subscriber that contain a mention of that web site.

This may be motivated by a desire to cut down on spam, but it’s doing it in a way that can be used to censor a site, and then make discussion about that censorship impossible!

I suspect if we complain to AOL management, they’ll simply say, “We didn’t intend to censor the site. It was just our spam filtering.” So rather than complaining to AOL about their policy, complain about CNN.COM, NYTIMES.COM, and MICROSOFT.COM. Once enough complaints get registered, those sites will be added to the blackout lists and maybe AOL will rethink their policy.


“We make change for customers only…” Bad business … bad society?

“We make change for customers only…” Bad business … bad society?

I had to take the light rail today from Newton Center back into Boston. Newton Center’s small subway depot has since become a chain coffee store. Although this subway stop requires an unusually large amount of change for a single trip ($2.50), the cash register proudly proclaims, “No change for subway customers.”

I guess I just don’t understand the business rationale. Most retail businesses would kill for an entire community’s worth of foot traffic each day. You want change for the subway? Sure! Just wait by our warm, delicious impulse-buy products and we’ll make change once you’re at the register.

Maybe the store is afraid it will be hard to supply the change. How hard is it, really? They get change regularly from the bank for their register. Next time, just stock up on quarters. It really isn’t that much additional trouble. Two additional customers a day (at gourmet-coffee prices) would pay for a part-time employee whose sole job is to do the subway change run every morning.

But to me, there’s a deeper issue: it’s one of community and friendliness. When a store only gives change to purchasers, neighborhood residents and regular travelers won’t stop in. That means they won’t interact, and that much more community gets lost in the race to make Economic Decisions the Be-all and End-all of our existence.

Why not give change because it’s a nice thing to do? Because it’s the only way for your clerks, who must work 60 hours a week to pay their rent, to meet other people from the neighborhood face-to-face.

It’s the little courtesies, the little interactions, and the smiles as we join each other in our daily business that tie us together as a community. Between our walkmans, net connections, and other “time saving” devices, we’ve eliminated much of the casual communing people once enjoyed. Rather than hanging signs rejecting our community members if they won’t buy from us, why not seek to build a community where people like each other so much they want to do business?

Just a thought…

Political correctness gets silly in Ben Franklin’s America

Political correctness gets silly

Political correctness in Ben Franklin’s America. … say what?

I was watching an excellent documentary on Ben Franklin’s life last night. At one point, an academic expert was talking about why Franklin become a slavery opponent late in life. It seems in France, he saw black children being schooled with white children and realized that “these African-American children” were every bit as smart as the caucasians.

Um, excuse me, but that would be “African-French children.” American didn’t really exist at that point.

(Let’s not even start on why “African-American” is a silly term to start with. My Jamaican friend Robert has black skin, but comes from Jamaica. And my white-skinned friend Matthew is from Africa and is an American.)