“It’s not happiness that makes you grateful,” goes one of my favorite recent quotes (thanks, Joann Lee;) “it’s being grateful that makes you happy.”
Here’s to gratitude.
For one thing, it has been raining in San Francisco. That strange wet stuff that falls occasionally from the sky – but we haven’t seen in a very long time. A planned Commonwealth Club Waterfront Walk tour, which I had earlier volunteered to help host, was advertised “Rain or Shine;” and as it happened there was both. The rain dampened all streets but no spirits, and the beauty of the waterfront literally shone.
There is something mystic about a waterfront on a dark day: an ethereal quiet hanging just below the clouds, the call of a gull who could be from another world, the scent of newness.
The waterfront in sunshine is brilliant and exciting; in rain it invites your imagination – and appreciation.
As with waterfronts everywhere, San Francisco’s is steeped in history: sailors and conquerors, longshoremen and adventurers. There is public art, and private beauty. Waterfront Walk guide extraordinaire Rick Evans covers a remarkable range of them in two hours:
The rise and – literal – fall of Rincon Hill, once one of San Francisco’s famous seven, which overlooked the Bay until the city unwisely bulldozed a street through it in the 19th century and the sandy hill collapsed upon itself. (Earthquake and fire finished the job.) Today Rincon Hill is rising again, as gleaming steel towers. The buildings that survived earthquake and fire are other centerpieces of the walk, plus the monumental artwork on the waterfront that was a trade-off for Gap tycoon Don Fisher’s corporate headquarters building when it went up – insurance of unobstructed, breathtaking views.
Some of the beauty of many waterfronts, physical and informational, is manmade, as is true of this piece of San Francisco Bay. But every waterfront has its story, and its soul.
Rain or shine. A cause for exquisite gratitude.
Arbitration Agreement: Should any dispute arise in regards to this product, I/we agree to settlement by arbitration.
Well, great, I thought, after glancing through the multiple-page document and noticing the clause. I am not a litigious sort of person, and arbitration seems far preferable to courts and lawyers and outrageous legal expenditures. A reasonable solution.
Wrong. That agreement means I signed away all rights in any future dispute involving the product, committing to a decision that will be made by the person or firm hired by the company who wrote the contract. If I complain, and the company is paying the arbitrator, guess who’s going to win? A recent study showed that 94% of the time, in cases like these, the judgment goes in the company’s favor. Appeal? There is none. The decision is binding, and I have signed away my right to appeal – that’s also in the fine print.
“Lost in the Fine Print”, an eye-opening film just released by the Alliance for Justice, explains how these forced arbitration clauses affect millions of people every day, people like you and me who assume we enjoy such constitutional rights as equal protection, the right to appeal – a voice. I could be out $699. But what if the forced arbitration clause in the small print meant you were done in by a for-profit college that took your money, gave you a worthless “diploma” and prevented you from ever getting a job because they’d already flooded the market with others far less qualified? Or suppose it meant you had no power over the credit card company that was ruining your small business with ever-increasing “swipe” fees. Or it meant that though you had been unjustly fired from your job, you were denied even a hearing? These are three of the stories told in “Lost in the Small Print.”
“It’s a rigged system that helps companies evade responsibility for violating anti-discrimination, consumer protection, and public health laws,” says film narrator Robert Reich.
Reich, a noted political economist, author and speaker who served as U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, explains how forced arbitration clauses usually go unnoticed in the pages of boiler-plate accompanying today’s contracts. But even if they do catch the eye of the signer – as happened with my recent purchase – their potential impact cannot be foreseen.
And that impact can be huge: a job lost, a business struggling, a life wrecked.
“Lost in the Fine Print” runs for just under 20 minutes. You can watch it online, or order the DVD. It’s free. Those could be the most important 20 minutes you’ll spend in a very long time.
A Solution to Poverty?
If governments can’t solve world poverty, and nonprofits can’t make serious dents in it… can the private sector be the answer? With the help of you and me and major investors?
Mal Warwick thinks so. Warwick, co-author, with Paul Polak, of The Business Solution to Poverty, spoke recently at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco about their conviction that the long-term solution to the ongoing tragedy of global poverty lies in coming up with answers that will pay off. Not just to suffering individuals, by helping lift them out of poverty, but to investors by turning a profit.
Warwick’s audience included a variety of interested individuals familiar with much of the work already being doing by nonprofits whose funders tend to seek reward through humanitarian success rather than financial return. But major infusions of capital, Warwick maintains, will be needed to continue building the ladders people everywhere will need to climb out of poverty’s depths, and that will require – business solutions.
As a shining example, Warwick cited the treadle pump. It is a human-powered device, inexpensive to manufacture and simple to use, which enables farmers to multiply the yield of their land and thus, in many cases, raise themselves and their families out of poverty. It works as a business solution on a number of levels. Factories needed to manufacture the pump were set up in villages, providing employment for people there, village shops distributed them, workers were employed to drill the wells and financial institutions made loans for purchases.
The problem, Warwick says, was with marketing – radio, TV, newspapers and traditional advertising methods weren’t available. The solution? Roaming troubadors and a Bollywood movie.
Among the facts Warwick brought to light were: One billion people lack access to electricity. One billion people lack access to safe water. One billion farms are without irrigation. The 20 million people lifted out of poverty between 1981 and 2006 by international aid programs, Warwick says, are only a drop in the bucket to the numbers who continue to suffer.
“It’s possible,” Warwick says, “to create brave new companies” with the lure of “reaching at least 100 million $2/day customers.” Some of those companies already at work include Australia’s SunWater which is developing a variety of safe-water solutions, several businesses working toward turning organic waste into affordable charcoal briquettes, and SpringHealth, which is addressing the problem of contaminated drinking water.
If governments and nonprofits can’t solve global poverty, can businesses? It might take all of the above – plus you and me, ordinary citizens.
When the Women’s Health Initiative was established more than 20 years ago, no one was talking in grandiose terms and few would have anticipated the wide-ranging health benefits (and huge cost savings) that would result in the decades ahead. Many of us were simply saying, “Imagine this. At last we’re studying women to find answers about women’s health issues.”
This writer was proud and happy to enlist in the first WHI study. I joined more than 100,000 other postmenopausal women volunteering to fill out forms, have blood drawn and answer questions over the next 15 years. That initial focus was on tracking the effects of hormone therapy, dietary patterns and/or calcium/vitamin D supplements on prevention of heart disease, cancer and osteoporotic fractures. I had not yet had breast cancer – that would come about 10 years into the study; a family history of osteoporosis added to my personal interest in WHI. Over the years I volunteered to participate in some of the wide-ranging ancillary studies looking at other health-related things like physical activities, lifestyle, tobacco and dozens of peripheral issues. (My personal favorite question appeared on one of the multi-page annual update forms. It read – Yes or No – “When you enter a room full of other people, do you have the feeling they are talking about you?” There may someday be a report on women and paranoia.)
Mysterious questions aside, WHI is serious business. Here, excerpted from the latest Extension Study newsletter are a few facts about what has been learned from the historic initiative, and a little of what is still ahead.
Those hormones millions of postmenopausal women were taking, widely thought to be miracle answers? Studies showed the risks far outweighed the benefits, and millions stopped taking them. Hormones in different combinations had been commonly taken to minimize chances of cardiovascular disease, cancers, fractures, diabetes, gall bladder disease and a variety of quality-of-life measures; quitting the hormones proved a better choice. Health benefits can’t be precisely measured, but the reduction in hormone use has led to a decrease in rates of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.
And in dollars and cents? Some $37.1 billion, (in 2012 when all costs and quality-adjusted years of life are considered, has been the total economic return of the WHI trial.
By June, 2014, over 1000 papers based on WHI data had been published in scientific journals. What’s ahead? Researchers are looking at pet ownership and risk of cardiovascular disease; physical activity during childhood and risk of Alzheimer’s disease; breast cancer distribution by rural/urban areas and geographic differences in cognitive decline/dementia.
Every year on their birthday, WHI study participants receive a card – some of us call it the “Hooray, you’re still alive” card. For women everywhere, it represents something worth more than gold.
Distracted drivers kill. Not just themselves, unfortunately, but innocent others: conscious drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, passengers. In 2012, for example, 3,328 people were killed in distracted driving crashes.
So why, some of us wonder, are today’s cars designed to distract? Touch screens for multiple uses, gadgets for audible texting, voice-activated music or phone calls, GPS instructions that can be conflicted or confusing. Aids and upgrades? Or distractions?
Even with two hands on the wheel – tough, when you’re working with a touch screen – it is not possible to have any of the above in use without being distracted from the essential goal of driving: getting from Point A to Point B without endangering yourself or others. That goal once summed up the business of driving.
But cars and driving have changed in recent years. Cars are sold on the strength of how they make you feel – free, macho, superior. Driving, at least in the ads, is not a matter of getting from Point A to Point B, but “an experience.” An enhancement of self, time and energy.
My friend Mac spends a good bit of time and energy on the 1962 Volvo which is the family transportation, not always to the delight of his wife. But a functioning car is a functioning car. My own automotive experience has evolved from a 1977 Volvo stick shift to a 2000 S40, a rather spiffy little vehicle with sun roof and great radio sound – but no computer. It is increasingly difficult to find a car as uncomplicated as a 2000 Volvo S40.
Recently I was a passenger in a new car with one of the now-standard dashboard computer screens. Traveling 75 mph on a well-lit highway we were passing an accident of some sort and a police car with red and blue lights flashing when the computer screen blinked, a beep sounded and a friendly voice from somewhere said, “Hi, I just wanted to check with you about the wine.” Happily, the driver understood the blink, knew the voice, and had earlier set the interior phone to speaker since she wasn’t using ear plugs. She was immediately able to switch from the conversation we’d been having to a conversation about buying wine for the dinner party ahead that evening – while maintaining speed and staying in the same lane. The driver is also a highly skilled multi-tasker who hadn’t had any wine at all yet.
But after the phone conversation ended (and my heartbeat had gone back to normal) the driver told me she hadn’t noticed the police car.
Suppose the flashing police light had been a warning of hazard ahead? Suppose another driver on another, more troubling, phone call had done something unexpected in another lane? However skilled at both driving and multi-tasking, could my driver have had enough remaining undistracted resources to keep driving safely?
Given my choices, I would take sharing the road with Mac and his ’62 Volvo over all these roads filled with cars equipped with audible texting devices, voice-activated music systems and dashboard computer screens.
Unfortunately, we no longer have that choice.
On arrival at JFK airport in New York I spotted two small children, cherubic blond apparent siblings about 4 and 5, who embodied what might be the gold standard for bliss. They (or their parents) had created a mini-cave on a corner bench of a fast food dining area, kid-sized backpacks serving as pillows, sweaters draped from a utility pipe across chair backs tenting them in. Some strands of Halloween faux-cobwebs were stretched loosely across the foot of the structure to complete the scene. People pulling suitcases were rattling by just a few feet away, talking in varieties of foreign tongues. Loudspeakers were announcing flights, music was blaring from several directions. They were sound asleep with – I swear – smiles on their faces.
What is it about small and cozy spaces?
Safety, perhaps. Or comfort and peace. The most basic of assurances – all is well with the world – that can be in short supply these days.
Who among us didn’t spend at least a part of childhood huddled under a blanket-covered card table with a good friend or a good book? Or snuggled, three or four at a time, into a one-person tent in the rain? The ultimate may still be the sleeping compartment on a speeding, swaying overnight train – as really was the case in the days of the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
These observations come to you from Pod51 – which, as far as is known, gives no discount for free advertising in the blogosphere. Planning a quick trip from San Francisco for a family visit, this writer Googled “mini-hotel” in search of something we’d read about not long ago. And up popped the Pods.
The pods are one step – perhaps two or three steps – above the “capsule” hotels that first appeared in Japan and China in the late 20th century and boil down to just that: an oblong capsule into which one might slot oneself for a good night’s sleep but not much standing up or roaming around, and a few too many similarities with drawers in a morgue for yours truly.
But the pods in the Pod Hotels? Snug. I went for the Full Pod, which includes a teeny tiny bathroom accompanying the teeny tiny desk and sort-of double bed in the teeny tiny room. With just enough floor space for my grown, Outward Bound employed daughter to roll out her sleeping bag – and we both have smiles on our faces.