Category Archives: Alas Babylon

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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How Consultants Makes Errors

The Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) just sent a promo to members for a webinar. Don’t confuse them with the Institute of Grammar Consultants.


Join us for a 1 hour webinar and discussion:
“The Market Speaks:
How Our Markets Hires Management Consultants”
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How Dumb Does It Get?

Here’s what someone sent me through my website this morning. I’ve removed his idiot name and idiot link:


Hello Alan. I am XXX, webmaster and editor of the XXXX
Dating Blog. Our blog focuses on providing dating and relationship
advice to singles and couples all over the world. We just recently
updated our list of the top 100 Google+ pages to follow for love and
relationship tips. I thought you and your site’s audience might be
interested in checking it out:
. If you do find this list to be a good resource, might you be able to
link to it from your blog or give it a +1 on Google+? Let me know if
you have any questions or comments. Thanks,XXX
I just wish I could set him up with some Indian SEO experts and Nigerian royalty who have to move millions into this country.
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Bizarro World (It’s Not Your Mother’s Fault)

For those of you unfamiliar, “Bizarro” originated in the Superman Comics and was revived on Seinfeld. Essentially, it means “polar opposite,” so there was an evil anti-Superman, an anti-Earth, and so on.

However, it may not be strictly fictional or, alternatively, I may no longer be sane.

Not long ago, I posted on social media about a woman who ordered a book, then refused to pay for it, return it, or even communicate about it. She simply took the book and didn’t pay, which is normally called theft. Yet some people castigated me for raising the issue, feeling her privacy should be protected.

Periodically, I object to senseless profanity of Facebook, and block the user. I find virulent obscenity used to express simple terms to be indicative of low intelligence and total insensitivity (outside of locker rooms and private meetings). Yet, there are always those chastising me for not being more flexible and listening to the ideas while ignoring the “innocent” expletives, or for not honoring someone’s “free speech.”

I saw two guys in business suits attempt to sneak into the United air lounge in Denver, and when turned in by someone else (not I) they became resentful and obnoxious. Some of the other guests thought that they should have been left alone.

What’s going on here? Are we a society so permissive that anything goes? It’s bad enough that ill-advised school districts have removed “top ten” lists and valedictorians in a futile endeavor to improve everyone’s self-esteem by pretending no one is performing better than anyone else, but do we now waive all the rules on civility, membership, and discourse? Apparently at Brown University we do, because it’s okay for that bastion of liberal thought to boo and harass the former Police Commissioner of New York off the stage after he was invited to speak. Free speech? Learned discourse? Not in our universities, if you please.

Society moves forward and people’s lives are improved by emphasizing the best, not the worst, and by striving for higher standards, not the lowest common denominator.

Except in Bizarro World.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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