Thursday, December 31, 2009

Calling all Mac users--any idea what this means?

I've gotten these files before. Can't get rid of them; don't know what causes them. But when I brought this problem to the Apple Genius Bar, the person who addressed the problem suggested a wiping-out of my computer and a restore based on Time Capsule. (And I've alluded to the results of that suggestion in an earlier post, here.)

So if anyone knows what causes this problem or how to fix it (or even how to delete these files), I'd sure appreciate your ideas. Thanks!

For those writers with spelling "issues"

See this. Hat tip to my buddy Scott Chase for sending it to me.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A true leadership opportunity for our government.

As we've all recognized, the system failed (see this editorial from today's New York Times, here). Here's what I think should happen next, if we are going to see true leadership from the top down.

1. Find out which people made tragically bad decisions about Mr. Abdulmutallab's ability to travel here, given the numerous "do not let this person on a plane to the U.S." clues that we managed to miss. Look for the actual people who made the actual decisions.

2. Ask them why they made those decisions. Find out why they didn't, e.g., share information among agencies, act upon the signals that Mr. Abdulmutallab should not fly, or become more proactive about our nation's safety.

3. Evaluate their decisions, not just in the light of 20/20 hindsight but in terms of what information and incentives they had while they were actually making their decisions. If their decisions were bad in light of the information that they had, then take all appropriate action (in other words, fire them). If their decisions were reasonable--and I'm having a hard time figuring out how that possibility might be true, but I'm willing to keep an open mind--use their decisions to fix the holes in our system.

4. Do not fire Janet Napolitano as a knee-jerk reaction before investigating the causes of our security failure. Personally, I believe that this failure is systemic enough that she should step down voluntarily, but not before she takes with her (on a non-voluntary basis) all of those people who made bad decisions notwithstanding good information. Even though she didn't personally cause the failure in the system, it did occur on her watch.

Accountability starts from the top down. I don't believe that all heads of organizations should commit virtual seppuku every time the people who report to them (or the people down the chain of command) make bad decisions. But sometimes those decisions are of such a magnitude that there's real value in the head of the organization stepping down as well.

Firing Napolitano without investigating the causes of this failure makes a mockery of accountability because it eliminates the incentives for the actual decisionmakers to act with care. They can fail without consequences if only the head of Homeland Security suffers. ("Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.")

Only if accountability permeates all the way through an organization does a culture change.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Watch Jeff & Priscila on this LVAC webpage.

Jeff Monroe (our personal trainer) and his wife, Priscila Monroe, are two of our favorite people. If you're ever just feeling blue, just click on the Las Vegas Athletic Clubs website (here), then click on "Guests," and then don't click on anything else until you watch all of the ways that Jeff & Priscila try to entice you into clicking on any of the options. Totally great!

A tale of two customer service philosophies

On the "best of times, worst of times" list, Apple Care has to stand out as one of the best examples of good customer service, and Handango has to stand out as one of the worst.

I've had some hiccups with my MacBook Pro, and the good folks at Apple Care have walked me through a total of 2-1/2 hours of "um, where's that button?" and "can you please repeat that?" Luddite comments on my end, with infinite patience and kindness. I've finished each of two conversations with the folks at Apple Care completely confident that, should my problems recur, they will take good care of me. How do I know that? At the end of every conversation, I've gotten a case number; at the end of the first conversation, the person helping me gave me his name and telephone number.

Handango, on the other hand, has sold me about seven products recently that don't work with my BlackBerry Tour and has refused simply to refund my money, choosing instead to repeat, ad nauseum, that the products do work with my BlackBerry. Unfortunately, no matter how many times Handango sends me the same instructions, the products don't load. Handango makes it almost impossible -- well, so far, actually impossible -- to get closure on my problem. No, Handango Customer Service: trying to load the programs again doesn't work, and clicking my heels three times and wishing for the programs to load doesn't work, either.

Now, I have no idea whether the customer service people at Handango would like to help me, because the format of getting help at Handango is so cumbersome. But I do know that the folks at Apple Care want to help me.

So what I need to know now is how Apple Care hires and retains such great people. We obviously can learn a great deal from Apple Care. Gosh, if we had Apple Care types running our homeland security, perhaps we'd be even making better decisions about how to protect our country effectively.

Why someone should nominate me for the Disney board of directors, part n

See here. Seriously--shouldn't I get a chance to do some good for shareholders, at a company I actually love?

And now, some common sense from one of my heroes

This op-ed today (here) from Clark Kent Ervin.

Here's what we're not realizing: there probably were some procedures in place for homeland security folks to use to keep Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from getting on that plane to Detroit. I don't know if the procedures were the best ones we could have developed, but I'm going to guess that if (1) someone's own parents call and say, "watch out for our son," and (2) that son is already on a watch list, and (3) he checks in for a flight with no luggage and pays cash for his ticket, there were probably some procedures that could've kept Abdulmutallab off that plane. So what happened?

Procedures don't matter one whit if the incentives for following them (or the incentives for violating them) don't work. Whether it's travel security or corporate governance, all of the regulations in the world are worth less than the paper they're printed on if the people who have to execute them, day-to-day, have no accountability for performing them correctly.

That's why--and no, this is not a non-sequitur--I'm so pleased that Morgan Stanley's going to include clawbacks in the salary provisions for its top executives (see here). Clawbacks = accountability, at least if they're carefully applied.

So all of those idiotic new rules for airline travel, which aren't even designed cleverly enough to catch Abdulmutallab's plot,* mean exactly zero, compared to the incentives for the people creating no-fly lists, the people issuing or revoking visas, and the people working at TSA. Figure out the right incentives, while paying attention to the way that people make basic cognitive mistakes, and you might get some results. It's the people, not the regulations, that matter most.

*Let's see . . . . Nothing on our laps for the last hour of a flight, because terrorists never ignite bombs earlier? Check. No accessing carry-ons for the last hour, because terrorists never plan ahead? Check. No asking the type of security questions that, say, the Israelis ask before someone's cleared to fly? Check. Paying zero attention to behavior and plenty of attention to silly rules? Check. Yep. We're safe now.

Some common sense about cybertalk

See here. Great editorial!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wow. Check out this great investigative reporting by Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story.

See here. One of my law students has been working on a case involving these allegations. Fascinating.

Update: Thanks to my guru, Jack Ayer, some other thoughts (here, here, and here). Thanks, Jack!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Classic exam bloopers (and a rant)

I'm working my way through grading my PR exams, and one blooper (well, two, actually; but they were actually the same blooper) cracked me up last night (see here).

On a more serious note, although I don't count off for bad writing on exams--and maybe I should, given that my exams are 72-hour take-homes, with plenty of time to proofread the submissions--I'm stunned by the sheer illiteracy of some of these exam answers. Some of the answers are riddled with the sort of mistakes that even fourth-graders shouldn't be making. And Boyd School of Law students are smart.

I refuse to believe that bad writing can go hand-in-hand with clear thinking. How difficult is it, really, to learn when and how to use commas, to maintain a consistent tense within the same sentence, or to understand the difference between "it's" and "its"?

Let's assume that someone managed to get a high school degree without learning any basic rules of writing. Let's also assume that he got a college degree without learning any of those rules. When he goes to law school, knowing that his livelihood will consist of analyzing problems and communicating that analysis, isn't it time for him to take the time to learn the rules that he missed, or at least to develop a checklist to catch his known predilections for errors?

The refusal to learn to write decently while in law school strikes me as unadulterated laziness. In my first year of law school (yes, a long time ago), my Criminal Law professor, who had taught English in his former career, told me that my writing needed improvement. He spent time with me to rid me of passive voice and some funky usage, and I worked hard to fix my bad habits. (And I wasn't a particularly bad writer before he started working with me; Bob Weisberg just wanted to make me a better writer.)

So, Boyd students who don't write well, here's an offer for you: Take our comments about your writing to heart, and offer to work with a professor to improve your writing while you're in school. Your future clients will thank you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Guilty pleasure: I Can Has Cheezburger

I'm totally addicted to And this picture just takes the cake:

Dear Government of the State of Nevada: here are some revenue-raising ideas

Dear Government of the State of Nevada:

As Nevada slips ever further into a budget deficit, and the Governor seeks proposals for up to 10% cuts from state agencies (see here), it's time to consider options for raising revenue, rather than simply cutting further. Some combination of revenue-raising and cutting may be in order, but if we persist in the Governor's cut-only plan, we're going to ruin any hopes for economic recovery.

Here, then, is my list of proposals to help Nevada through this crisis. I'm no genius, and I don't make any claim that my ideas are the best ones out there. I just want to start the ball rolling.

1. California's loss can be our gain, part 1. Both today's New York Times (here) and the Wall Street Journal (here) report that Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants to protect more than one million acres of the Mojave Desert from being used for solar power. Hey, we have desert land--lots of desert land. And even though most solar power uses a lot of water in its processing, there are technologies out there that use less water (see, e.g., here). Why don't we consider becoming the nation's preeminent source for solar power? (Of course, we'll need to build ways of transmitting that power, or it'll be useless. But wait! That will . . . create jobs.)

2. California's loss can be our gain, part 2. California's going through an unprecedented economic crisis, and among other problems that it's facing is the draconian budget cut of its flagship university system (see here). Take a look (here) at what the UC system has achieved, even during a financially disastrous year. I'll bet that some professors in the UC system might be open to coming to Nevada, if Nevada would be willing to invest in what makes professors happy: money to do research, money for travel, money to support students. In the "it'll take spending some money to make money" category, investing in luring some top brains to Nevada--especially if Nevada leverages the new relationship with the Brookings Institution and UNLV (see here)--could create a think tank to solve problems (and . . . create jobs) out here in the desert.

3. McCarran is a good airport, so why isn't Las Vegas a shipping center? When you think gateways, do you think Memphis? (See here.) FedEx did. I like Memphis as a city--loved visiting Graceland, love the music scene--but Las Vegas makes perfect sense as a business-friendly shipping hub. Heck, we're suffering so much economically that if we could give a nationally based business some decent tax breaks, there would be a reason for that business to come here. Oh, and that would . . . create jobs.

4. Go easy on the tourist industry, and make the tax base more even. In a great interview (see here), UNLV Prof. Mary Riddel has pointed out the danger of being a single-industry town. Well, Las Vegas seems to be a single-industry town, and Nevada sure seems to be a single-industry state. And that industry is based on attracting people with discretionary income--income that's increasingly rare these days. Raising the costs for tourists to come here by, say, increasing taxes on them, is not helping our single industry. What would happen if we lowered those taxes, while replacing that lost income for the state by a smaller, broader-based tax generally? I know that increasing taxes is anathema for Nevada politicians, but Albert Einstein (as usual) was right: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Refusing to reconsider our state's tax system and expecting to come out alive from this recession are mutually exclusive actions.

5. Don't get me started on how many different ways Nevada has gotten Yucca Mountain wrong. (See here.) Here's a riddle for you: why is it safe to store nuclear waste above ground in every other state but not even reasonable to consider storing it on and near the Nevada Test Site (one of the most contaminated areas in North America)?

6. Don't cut the budget across the board. Think about budget cuts this way: when you're facing a personal budget problem, do you cut everything by 10%, or do you figure out which parts of your budget are discretionary and which parts are necessary, so that you can leverage your cuts for the maximum effect? Smart people don't say, "Hmmmm. I need to cut my food intake by 10%, my housing by 10%, and my entertainment budget by 10%." Smart people keep the necessary spending and jettison the discretionary spending.

7. Find a group of smart volunteers who aren't dependent on re-election to do some of the heavy lifting for the politicians. I get it: politicians really can't make the hard decisions, because too many voters have short memories and will resent economically expedient measures if those measures affect their own interests. (Don't gore my ox!) So why can't politicians gather together some smart Nevadans--especially those who own small businesses, the mainstay of any economy--to provide good ideas and political cover? Again, I'm not the best person for the job, by any means, but I'd sure be willing to help if asked.

I keep using the quote that Michael Douglas said in The American President (1995): "We've got serious problems, and we need serious people." We don't need partisan politics; we don't need grandstanding. We need smart people of good will who want to make Nevada thrive. I know that there are such people in our state's government, and there are such people in our state generally. Let's use those brains and, to quote the great Gene Kranz, as played by Ed Harris in Apollo 13 (1995),* "Let's work the problem, people. Let's not make things worse by guessing."

*Wow. 1995 sure was a good year for movies.

Monday, December 21, 2009

R.I.P., Joe Hunter Reynolds

The world lost a truly great human this week: Joe Hunter Reynolds (see obituary here). Even this obituary doesn't do Joe justice. His word was gold--no one ever needed a "this is to confirm" letter from him, because once he said something, he followed through. His Marine career was outstanding: he survived both Iwo Jima and the frozen Chosin. He served the state of Texas with all of his heart, and he was the quintessential family man.

Susie and their family have our deepest sympathies. Jeff & I loved Joe, and we will always be grateful that we knew him. The world is worse off with his passing. The last time we grieved this deeply was when we lost Ron Bliss, whose passing we still mourn.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I told you that judges and lawyers care about good writing....

See here. Bravo, Judge Kressel! And a hat tip to one of my best friends (who's going to be unnamed in this post) for pointing this notice out to me), and to the Wall Street Journal Blog, for the whole story (here).

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

State governmental math

Because Nevada was running a deficit on, oh, day 2 of our fiscal year, the governor has come up with a new plan to deal with a potential $53 million shortfall: layoffs of state employees (see here).

Now, I believe that the state should close the shortfall. (I'm a big fan of income being larger than spending.) But I don't understand why the governor persists in thinking that cuts are the only way to make the income/spending equation balance. We have one of the narrowest tax bases in the country--basically building our income on the backs of the tourism industry. In a recession, that income base will inevitably decline with discretionary spending.

I'm not seeing the governor or the legislature come up with ways to make our tax system sustainable, or even more fair.

And don't get me started about how much money Nevada has lost by not accepting federal Yucca Mountain money while it studies (or should have studied) whether the license for Yucca should be (or should have been) granted. We threw away jobs and money because the state didn't even want to consider putting storage of nuclear waste NEXT TO THE NEVADA TEST SITE, which is not exactly pristine land now. Because the state had a knee-jerk reaction (and I understand: the government told the citizens of this state that above-ground nuclear testing was safe, all those years ago) to the plan, we've lost serious revenue here. Ask all those folks in Summerlin and Pahrump how they feel about Yucca being stalled.

Look, Nevada: I like living here (although I bemoan the lack of infrastructure). I want this state to thrive. We cannot thrive on the backs of tourists. We need someone with the political cojones to say that it's time to rethink how Nevada gets income, and not someone who recites the mantra of cutting without thinking about all of the consequences.

Either Nevada becomes a place that has well-educated citizens with skill sets for employers, or it devolves into a state rather like the one portrayed in the movie Idiocracy. California's also facing severe budget issues, and its "tax everything" approach isn't working, either. Let's figure out a sensible middle ground and stop posturing for the news media.