Category Archives: Alas Babylon

Sorry, I’m a PROFESSIONAL Victim

A guy registers for my new Power of Personal Worth program to begin in September. He did this when I had a discount offer a couple of months ago. But his credit card was denied. We sent him a notice and told him he’d have to resubmit.

He wrote me two days ago to say the notice was just found in his spam folder, and he’d like to know how to get the original, expired, discounted price. So: He sends a credit card that isn’t honored by  his bank, doesn’t check his own mail or has the wrong filters, and wants me to make an allowance for him.

That’s not self-worth, which involves accountability, that’s victimization as an art form. None of it’s his fault, so I should make it up t0 him.

There’s a free lesson if you want to take control of your life.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Shadows of Schadenfreude

 Shadows of Schadenfreude

(Stuff I Should Probably Feel Bad About But Somehow Don’t)


• I want the kids in the surf who scream like banshees with every wave to get a mouthful of seawater until they stop, and for good measure I want their parents’ food to be stolen by seagulls.

• I love it when the moron tailgating me on a city street can’t make it through the light after I do.

• It’s rewarding when the cool dude who wanders into the bar to see if anyone in there is worth his precious time trips over a table leg on the way back out.

• Makes my day when the people who ostentatiously arrive at their front row seats at the theater late are mocked by someone on stage.

• It’s nice when a braggart “instructing” people about how to enjoy Italy based on his one trip there for a week learns he’s speaking to people who were born there.

• I’ve had it with people in church who allow their kids to scream during services so that nothing else can be heard, even though there are private rooms they can use and still hear the service.

• If you’re going to stop in a doorway to chat leaving a theater, you deserve to be trampled underfoot.

• People on motor scooters doing 20 in a 45 zone, refusing to move over for other vehicles, should run out of gas in a deserted area with no cell phone reception 50 miles from home.

• Servers who introduce themselves at length, offer gratuitous opinions about food and wine, and constantly ask how you’re doing should be caught stealing food and spend the rest of their employment washing dishes.

• The person talking to you but looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anyone more appealing to talk to should miss Bill Gates and Diane Sawyer departing right behind her.

• The people who insist on saying, “No problem” should have some problems.


© Alan Weiss 2014

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Dumb Ass Stupid Management: Capital Zero

At 8:30 on Sunday morning, our home phone rings. It’s someone from Capital One asking for “Mary Weese.”

“If you want Marie Weiss, that’s my wife and she’s sleeping. Why are you calling on Sunday morning?” (And how is it you can’t read or pronounce her name?)s

Of course, it’s the fraud (fear) unit, and they can only speak to Maria, can’t talk to me. The woman reads me a script. I stop her and stay, “Just give me a phone number.”

Maria calls back later, and it turns out they were questioning a $4.50 (you read that correctly, four dollars and fifty cent) charge that she made on the internet. They thought it was a convenience store (so what?). That took care of it.

What did that cost the oafs at Capital One? Maybe a thousand dollars to take care of? Over $4.50. That’s what happens when you have looney, zero-tolerance policies and you’re scared stiff of someone stealing a card number.

What do you think the paycheck is of the guy heading Capital One? It’s more than he deserves, you can bet on that.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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What? Who’s Where?

Beware, the Who’s Who scam is back with us lately, telling you you’ve “qualified” to be listed, meaning that you have enough money to buy the book they produce. Who’s Who books and listings with rare exception are ego-oriented nonsense. I placed my dog, Trotsky, in one, once. That’s how strict the vetting is!

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A woman tries to register for my upcoming series on personal fulfillment and self-worth. Her credit card is rejected by her bank on my terminal. This happens perhaps five percent of the time, and 90 percent of those are quickly corrected by the purchaser. As you know, banks are ridiculously paranoid about charges, security, and so on. People generally apologize for the inconvenience, resubmit, and we’re all happy.

This woman, however, writes me back: My card WAS and IS valid!! She screams at me as if  it were my fault the bank didn’t accept the card. (We attempt all charges three times to ensure the error isn’t ours.) I told her that her response was unacceptable and I doubted that she could get anything out of a series on self-esteem, since hers had gone missing entirely. Killing the messenger is the age-old symbol of insecurity, not unlike putting your hands over your ears, closing your eyes, and yelling.

Some people are too far gone. She’s the kind who, if honked at on the road, goes into road rage.

The bank is simply rejecting your attempt to charge something, not your worth as a human being. You control your destiny by correcting the bank, not screaming at the message.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Poverty of Imagination

A woman I don’t know wrote me as part of a mass email this morning asking me to promote her new book to my entire mailing list. I was to include some “offer” so that someone buying the book would receive a zillion dollars in “bonus” value from all of us patsies. The last time I took a look at this, the “bonus” was pure crap, people’s articles that couldn’t be published and audio that couldn’t be sold—a scrap heap delivered to your door.

If you can’t figure out how to promote your work, and it doesn’t have enough value to stand on its own merits, and you have to engage in this kind of amateur behavior, you are not in a position to tell anyone anything in a book, a conversation, or a rune. But this is the latest fad, going into bookstores and turning the books face-out, providing extra (worthless) stuff with it, and so on. Of course, everyone is a “best selling” author today, with an award from some outfit that just gives out awards.

This idiocy makes trodding on hot coals seem useful. I mean, at least you might be able to cook a burger.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Where’s the Delta Here?

McKinsey-speak, courtesy of David Alexander:

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Hide! The Typo People Are Coming!

Some guy who identifies himself in his signature file as an “English language coach” writes me to try to get the discount of my new Self-Fulfillment Series, but asks if he has to subscribe to all three of my other newsletters or just one for the discount. He said I had an “and” instead of an “and/or.”

I told him any one would do, but it was interesting that his email was punctuated incorrectly as an “English expert.” (It was ridiculous.) He went berserk. He sent 10 emails assailing my use of language and claiming that his clear errors were, in fact, correct.

I told him that my series couldn’t possibly help him, since it’s intended for people who want to create a better future, not defend an insufficient past.

May those trolling for typos and insisting on their own punctiliousness forever bring up the rear of the parade, where they belong.

© Alan Weiss 2014


PS: The four typos above are deliberate.

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The Esteem Regime

“Democracy demands that all of its citizens begin the race even. Egalitarians insist that they all finish even.” — Roger Price (Class)


Recently, a school nearby had to reverse its decision to discontinue awards night for academic achievement, because parents—to their credit—were overwhelmingly in favor of acknowledging those whose performance was laudable. (School authorities are still thinking about whether they should hold the athletic achievements awards night.) The original decision was based on the belief that those who did not receive awards would not feel good about themselves (rather than want to do still better in the future, I might point out). This is an odious philosophy.


Many years ago, the Oakland, California school system contemplated formalizing “Ebonics,” which legitimized vernacular and incorrect English (“axe” for “ask”) on the basis that so many inner city kids used it. Only a public uproar moved them back to the position of trying to teach the English that might actually result in acceptance to college or qualifying for a job. As Bill Cosby pointed out, no one is getting hired as an air traffic controller who begins the interview with, “Whassup?”


This isn’t a gender or race or ethnicity issue today, because the current movement toward a crazed egalitarianism is gaining momentum all over. Kids are awarded simply for showing up or trying (or trying to show up). In an attempt to build everyone’s self-esteem, we’re actually undermining it, because in the competitive world of capitalism the people who are actually rewarded are those who do the best. You might get a watch and modest pension for showing up for 30 years, but you don’t get a very nice life style if you’ve performed in a mediocre fashion. An “A” in attendance does not equate in importance with selling, creating, or leading better than others.


When I taught MBA and PhD candidates in 600-level courses at the University of Rhode Island, an assistant dean told me quietly in the hall, “We give everyone an “A” or “B” here, unless there is some very strong reason not to.” I promptly flunked a kid the first semester who had claimed ADD as an excuse to do no work, but didn’t have a shred of  medical evidence and was clearly just a slacker. A full-time faculty member told me, “You’re the only one with the guts to do that because you’re not a permanent professor here.”


I believe in a fair start and a level playing field, but where does is say that we should all be guaranteed an equal finish? Do we want an airline pilot who is barely competent, or a doctor who couldn’t pass the boards, or a bus driver who has emotional problems? Do we want help from people who achieved their status by merely being “present”? Trying is nice, but succeeding is better. (“Coach, I should be the starter, I struck out but I was trying to hit a home run!”)


Why are we so intent relatively recently on not rewarding the best, but rewarding everyone and actually subsuming the best?


One might ascribe it to a radical, liberal philosophy of not only redistributing income but also redistributing talent (or the recognition thereof, despite the actual amount). Or one could make the case that people insecure about themselves are pushing this agenda to atone for the credit they never received because others were better, or faster, or stronger, or smarter.


But it just might be that people are hungry for what others have, and are seeking to shortcut The American Dream instead of work to attain it. I remember when airlines invited only their best customers to use their air clubs (early 70s and prior). But then someone filed suit, and now everyone who pays the tab must be admitted. I recall when the best athletes started the game and, in tough competition, played the entire time. But now, some contests have rules that everyone must play. (Legendary basketball coach Adolph Rupp at Kentucky once said, “If playing the game is what’s important and not winning, why does anyone bother to keep score?”) Of course, that doesn’t apply in professional sports, where people are paid to win, not merely participate.


The American Dream’s access road was once one that required hard work, discipline, resilience, and the realization that one might fall short of one’s goal, but the attempt alone would still be an improvement. Today it seems as if no one wants to wait on line, everyone wants immediate entry into the ride at Disneyland. I’ve seen people board a plane early when the agents call “those who need some extra time boarding,” with a limp and a groan, only to watch them race out the jetway when we disembark, miraculously cured. People sprint into stores from reserved spaces, having affixed a handicap sticker to their windshields. Everyone wants to cut the line, to cheat the system.


The problem is that we’ve substituted rules for judgment and crazed egalitarianism for freedom. Just recently a boy was sent home from school for bringing in a small toy soldier carrying a rifle. That’s not zero tolerance, that’s zero intelligence. Do we really believe kids will be better able to cope in the world faced with that kind of witless, insensitive reaction? Do we want to create a nation of unthinking rules on the one hand, and guarantees of equality despite talent and achievement on the other?


Here’s William Graham Sumner on the topic (The Challenge of Facts and Other Essays):


“Let it be understood that we cannot go outside of this alternative: liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest; not liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.”


When I was graduated from high school, I was named “Most Likely to Succeed.” No one protested that only two dozen of over 200 seniors received awards, and no one had a problem with a king and queen of the prom, nor that some kids were more popular than others.


I’ve succeeded so well because I learned early what I had to do in a highly competitive world. (In an inner city school, we were bullied all the time! We either gave the kid a quarter to leave us alone, or we fought him. If we had tried to complain to school authorities, there would have been a line two blocks long. I learned that I had to take care of myself, and that I could.) And I had to learn to read, write, and speak English correctly just to pass the course, let alone excel. I don’t recall any of us being cut any slack in high school or college. You did the work and were given a grade (not pass/fail) and if you didn’t, you received no credit.


Self-esteem is a vital trait for success, perhaps the absolute key. But falsely created esteem will always eventually collapse, because the world isn’t run by people assuring an equal finish, it’s run by people who reward excellence and results at the finish. We need to stop pretending that poor performance is still a fine job and that showing up is the equivalent of doing well.


Take it from the guy who received that very prescient award, which probably couldn’t be bestowed today without hurting everyone else’s feelings. At the time, I never thought about whose feelings might have been hurt, I was simply happy that I merited the recognition. And I’ve tried to live up to it.


© Alan Weiss 2014

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People Who Won’t Go Away

I saw a clip of the latest person who never seems to go away, Jill Abramson, fired by the New York Times, making a commencement address at Wake Forest. She was utterly without gravitas, spoke in a squeaky voice reading her notes verbatim, and came across as highly unimpressive.

Years ago at my club, the woman who was then president of the Times spoke, and she was dreadful—a canned speech from index cards with no regard for where she was or why. The club management got an earful from sophisticated people who didn’t need to waste an evening on the insipid.

Maybe the Times’s problem is the women they hire and appoint to these positions.

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