I always cringe a bit when I read a news report that refers to "informed sources."
Often, it seems, it's only one informed source and we never know exactly who informed the source about whatever he or she or they are informed about. Sometimes, there are two informed sources, but it’s possible that both received their information from the same person, so they really should count as one source.
When the source is a few levels down in the food chain, it's like a game of telephone, where the story changes just a bit with each retelling. It can make a huge difference if the "informed" source was the actual doer or six steps removed from the scene of battle.
Worse, there is a pathology I noticed in my days as a news reporter and, later, as a consultant, that can skew the story significantly. This isn’t about bias or agendas; it’s about life.
When we interview people for insights, the best informed people will often be the ones who say the least. Perhaps they give us the smallest amount of time or they are more circumspect about how they speak. As rule, people whose words are impactful will be careful in their choice of words.
That means, often, that the guy who gives you the best quotes and the largest amount of time might also be the least informed or least connected or least powerful person on the interview list. Of course, that person might have tons of spare time to spend as a source.
There’s a difference, of course, between least connected and least powerful. The most connected and powerful person might be in the best position to see the big picture, understand the competing issues, and deliver on his claims, or he might be out of touch with the daily details or too protective of the status quo. The least powerful person might be a whistleblower or most familiar with the way plans are actually implemented. Other times, the least powerful person turns out to be a crank.
It doesn’t matter if I’m reading something from the right or left, about business or art or politics, simply calling someone an informed source doesn’t do it for me. Of course, if the person is referred to as a well-informed source or a senior-level source, that changes everything. Those are the people you just know you can trust.
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With Father’s Day coming up next week, we can look forward to the annual media blitz about abusive fathers, fathers in prison, absentee fathers and generic baby daddies of all sorts. Just in case people were still feeling familial warmth after Mother’s Day, the third Sunday in June is the perfect time to balance the scales.
Oh, well. It’s not that the world is filled with inspirational stories about nurturing dads who helped their children to thrive. More common are the tales, often told by successful entrepreneurs, about being left destitute by drunk/absent/philandering/abusive fathers. That’s probably the reason that nobody looks into the TV camera at the football game and yells, “Hi, dad.”
This is incredibly surprising to me, because being a good dad is such an easy job that you’d think more men would give it a whirl. I’m not talking here about guys who don’t have kids. Nope, I’m focusing on the men who have children and are missing out on the honors, accolades and pedestal-upon-putting that comes with being even a moderately engaged dad.
Because, let’s face it, men benefit all the time from the incredibly low expectations that people (read: women) have about us. We can get major points for washing our own underwear, or even for putting it in the hamper. Our wives will brag about us if we make dinner once a month, and we qualify for a medal if we remember to put down the toilet seat. The bar is set so low for us that we almost need to dig a tunnel if we want to limbo under it. And yet... so many guys go the extra mile to give 110% and leave it all on the field in order to throw the game.
I supposed at one time that the era of unengaged fathers was over, a relic of my parents’ generation, or maybe mine, but certainly not a Gen X or Gen Y or Millennial thing. But the tradition seems to continue in many households where the sperm donor declines the opportunity to change diapers, bathe, clothe, feed or, in many cases, be alone with their children. (Yes, I have met men who are unwilling or unable to spend time with their own flesh and blood, unless mommy is there to make sure everything is fine.) I don’t know whether it’s fear or rigid gender roles, but it is insane on many levels.
First, it’s ridiculously easy to change a diaper. You can’t stab a baby with adhesive strips and, even if you put the diaper on wrong, you can blame the baby.
“Look at that mess. Zelda is already an overachiever in at least one area, hahaha. But I changed her last time, hon, so it’s your turn now.”
Second, you don’t have to change the diaper frequently; 5-10% of the time is enough to win awards for your commitment. And, if you “admit” to changing diapers with poop in them, you’re halfway to Dad of the Year. Still, so many dads refuse to change a diaper filled with doody balls that the guys who do the dirty work can qualify for pretty much anything except a hall pass.
Being an engaged dad takes some work, but the rewards are unbelievable, including a potential room over the garage when you get old and your wife finally evicts you. In the meantime, minor tasks like changing clothes, feeding, and reading bedtime stories are a piece of cake for real men. We’re the ones with the can-do, take-charge, problem-solving chromosomes.
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Whatever you do, don’t file your request with the Etymology Department on a Monday morning or a Friday afternoon. You’re bound to be disappointed.
As we all know, the bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Etymology are a hard-drinking bunch who arrive bleary-eyed on Monday and race out the door on Fridays at 2:30 p.m. sharpish.
All day on Thursdays, our national wordsmiths are giving 110%, assigning names like yellow crested songster and lilac breasted roller to the birds and passion or mango to the fruits. On Friday afternoon, though, they phone it in.
“This bird? Blue. That bird? Black. That flower over is a violet. Are we done yet? Happy hour just started.”
“No, we still need a name for this fruit.”
“That’s an orange.”
“Hey, don’t forget this pepper.”
“Green. Done. Time to party.”
Even worse than the slapdash effort on Friday afternoon, the bureaucrats who come up with these names are demons on Monday mornings, when everyone shows up with a hangover and intense hatred for the week ahead.
You know what got named on a Monday? Kumquats, that’s what. Also platypus, cucumber, squash and vacuum. If you find a word that has at least five letters, plus “U,” it’s a Monday word. They’re ubiquitous.
These decisions have real-life impact, even if it’s invisible to most people. Imagine the embarrassment at all those networking events in the animal kingdom.
“I’m a Madagascar flying orbital squirrel. What kind are you?”
Frankly, it’s a wonder that some animals get any dates at all.
You wanna know a word that got its name on a Tuesday? Buzz. Great word. Easy to spell. Sounds like its meaning. Yeah, it has a “U” in it, but it’s less than six letters, like hum, which should really be humm, but why quibble with near perfection?
The worst offenders are the college interns, all those library science majors who want to make an impression by inventing creative spellings. They’re the eager beavers who come up with all those words that have extra letters, like the silent “H” in khaki and rhyme and ghost and gherkin and rhubarb. Honestly, it’s exhausting.
At least we’ve escaped the Brits’ insufferable insistence on adding extraneous letters to colour, humour, flavour, and labour. If you ever wondered about the decline of the British Empire, look no further. In the States, we fixed all those pretentious spellings and productivity soared, while the Brits got Spotted Dick and Brexit.
That doesn’t mean we get off without at least a slap on the rist in the States. While we don’t have a Royal Etymologist to screw things up, we do quite nicely with our free-market coinage. The Big Apple, Motor City, Big Easy, and Lost Wages are all Tuesday words. On Friday at 3:30 p.m., we got Frisco, Big D and Chitown.
It’s the same situation with euphemisms, which are quaint inventions that let us call someone a *$%^*)*&%$# without actually needing to say *$%^*)*&%$#. During the middle of the week, we get terms like downsizing, vertically challenged and negative earnings, but on Fridays they don’t even bother to think about it before heading to the tavern.
“Just call this the A-word. This will be the J-word. That’s the Z-word. Enough of this!! It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
How can we repair some of the damage that’s already been done and avoid future catastrophes? As always, I am looking to Millennials to bail us out. Yes, I’m talking about the same people who gave us emojis, but hear me out on this. Besides adding a picture of poop to all their texts and abbreviating everything nmhotwopi*, Millennials also have a powerful disregard for traditional spelling.
I estimate it will be less than three years before tomorrow is tmoro and neighbor is nabr and we’re all texting the deets to our frenz. All the abbreviations will reduce our need for paper, ink, data farms, and electricity. Global warming will reverse itself and the shorter words and sentences will free up an extra hour or two each day for sharing fraudulent memes.
Clearly, it’s time for the Millennials to take charge of this whole wordy thing and for the Feds to “rightsize” the Etymology Department. It’s too late for the platypus, of course, but perhaps there is still hope for tmoro’s anmls.
Meanwhile, it’s time for me to pour myself a brown and chow down on some purples. All this writing can drain my taupe.
Wasn’t it clever of us to explain the asterisked item (nmhotwopi*= no matter how obscure the word or phrase is) in the same place where we beg you to subscribe? Don’t you think this kind of ingenuity deserves a click on this link and signing up for our weekly rants? Uh huh.
Every few days, the Commerce Department threatens to send armed thugs to my apartment to torture me, unless I give in to their demands for my most intimate secrets.
Okay, they didn’t say “armed thugs” exactly, but you know how those jackbooted government agents get, um, overly enthusiastic in their missions. It will all start out nice and friendly, but then I’ll hesitate just a bit too long when they ask about my outhouse and…bam.
In the latest installment of our charmed lives, the Census Bureau selected Jill and me to take part in the American Community Survey, a seriously intrusive census given only to the elitest of the elite. Technically, it is our apartment that is the real honoree and we are just “the resident of,” but why quibble when the fickle finger beckons you to determine the future of the nation?
While the decennial census gets all the hype, the people who fill out the ACS are the real power brokers in the US of A. The regular census next year will ask a few basic questions, but the ACS does all the heavy lifting, including:
The questions kept coming for more than a dozen pages, although my confidence in the entire process took a nosedive at question four, where they asked me for both my date of birth and my age. If they cannot figure out my age from my birth date, the Census Bureau needs a more powerful computer, or a pocket calculator.
Still, we trudged on, describing our condo fees and our internet service and whether we had gotten married or divorced, or both, in the past twelve months. As we worked our way through the labrynthe, though, the reasoning behind the questions got curiouser and curiouser.
Why do they bother to ask if we have indoor plumbing when they already know that 99.5% of households are so equipped? Why do they ask if we can both make and receive a phone call in our apartment? Perhaps there are phones that only receive calls but cannot make them, or vice versa. Why do they ask about babies born to women aged 15-50, but ignore births to females outside that range?
By the time we finished this hours-long exercise, I couldn’t help but think there’s a better way to collect this information. Perhaps, for example, they might buy all of it (and more!!!!) from Facebook or Google—if only they could convince those companies to make our private info available to outsiders.
Worse, I can’t believe these are the most meaningful questions for identifying status and trends across the nation. Many questions seemed to be continuations of past inquiries, but newer shifts appear to be unaddressed.
For example, the survey includes a ton of questions about commuting, including the time people leave for work, how many people are in the vehicle and how long the commute takes, but they don’t ask about ride-share usage or Divvy bikes or whether people have changed jobs or moved in order to reduce their commuting time.
Similarly, we’re bombarded by various stories about the growth and size of the gig economy, but the ACS doesn’t delve into that topic. I didn’t find, for example, a question about whether I have more than one job.
Ditto for the kind of business where I work. While we live in a service economy, the boxes for “type of business” include manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade and “other.” I can’t help but wonder if 70% of us aren’t in the “other” box.
Jill and I trudged through the pages, but I became increasingly convinced that the project included too many vague questions and too much guesswork to be definitive. As I struggled to recall whether I worked for money last month or the month before, a visit from those armed thugs started looking better and better.
Still, we persevered and completed the assignment, because that’s what true patriotic Americans do. And, on the upside, this whole process made our income tax forms look much simpler than they did before.
Even better, my self-esteem grew dramatically as I realized I could come up with a more relevant series of questions than all the people at the Census Bureau. Stay tuned for a preview in next week’s post.
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The mysteries of business meetings, thriving on jargon, and the most thankless job in the world are all top of mind this week, among other cautionary tales…
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Lots of strange thoughts pop into my head while I’m listening carefully to the menu options that have changed. Submitted this week for your consideration…
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.