What’s Bugging You? Is Parental Spying Increasing Millennials’ Tolerance for Surveillance?

It’s the sort of thing we would have expected the Soviets to do if they had survived into the new millennia: intercept laptop deliveries   and install malware   so they can spy on users. For those of us Baby Boomers who grew up during the cold war when we condemned the enemy for spying on its citizens,  intrusions of this nature are  untenable. However, I wonder if the millennials have been partially inoculated against feeling that same level of rage when they’re being monitored. A growing number of parents are keeping a close eye on their teens by installing camcorders in their rooms, tracking their every movement by way of their phones’ GPS devices, and demanding their children’s Facebook and E-Mail passwords so that they can read what they’re posting and what they’re receiving.


A teenage boy and longtime family friend recently posted a plea on his Facebook page for his friends to be careful with their comments.  “My parents read everything I post and if they don’t like it they make me take it down. If they don’t like what my friends write, they tell me to unfriend them.”

Some parents have even installed  the same type of spyware on their children’s computers that the NSA is installing on  computers-in-transit: a program which allows the voyeur to monitor what is being typed on the user’s screen in real time.  These young people will either become anaesthetized to those in power looking over their shoulder  or they will find ever newer and more creative ways to elude surveillance.

When I recently had lunch with a university student who is majoring in a foreign language, she told me she would   eventually like to work for U. S. intelligence. “Maybe I’ll become a translator and I’ll get to be one of those people who listens in on everyone’s phone calls. I know it’s wrong but it would be an interesting job.”


What’s bugging  you and your office these days?  It might just be the NSA. Good luck finding a pest control company to take care of that.

(Photo courtesy of pdphoto.org)


The Ceiling May Have Been Cast from Glass, but The Women Had the Floor.


Today my husband had one of the best ideas I’ve heard yet for solving the ongoing crisis in the Middle East: provide all the women with arms so they can take over their societies. Then they’ll work together for peace.

While he may be accused of reverse gender-discrimination, there is an element of truth behind his idea. In fact, we recently experienced the power of women to set aside conflicts and promote peace right here in the U.S.  Last October, jeopardizing re-election in their home districts, women senators from both parties joined forces to break through the  partisan impasse that was on the verge of shutting down our country. Their “negotiating framework formed the centerpiece of a tentative Senate deal to reopen the federal government and avert a disastrous default.

As Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) put it, “The truth is, women in the Senate is a good thing. We’re all just glad they allowed us to tag along so we could see how it’s done.

I’m still trying to figure out precisely why the women were more willing and more successful at working towards the common good than so many of their male colleagues.  Are women, as a gender, more concerned with the good of the whole than with stoking their own egos or pursuing their own ambitions?  (Certainly I have known many women for whom this is not true!). Could the very characteristics which make women more effective peacemakers or, at least, more inclined to take personal risks to promote peace, be the reason  they do not move up corporate and political ladders with the same speed and alacrity as men?

When Business Executive Jack Donaghy (played Alec Baldwin  in the sorely-missed television show, Thirty Rock), is passed over for a promotion to CEO, he sadly proclaims, ” I cannot go to another business school reunion and sit at the non-CEO table with the women and nice men.”

I would like to think that one’s ability to move up  the ranks of power (be it in business or in government) and one’s ability to work for the good of the whole are not mutually exclusive.  But the truth is I’m not so sure.

Noblesse Obligé – France Institutes a 75% Tax on High-Earners’ Incomes

Have the French been drinking a little too much wine over their two-hour lunch breaks?  Polls show that the majority of French citizens approve the country’s recent decision to collect at 75% tax on individuals whose earnings exceed  1 million euros  (1.37 million U.S. dollars)  per year. The tax will be collected not from the earners themselves but from their employers.

Businesses  and wealthy individuals have protested the tax, “including film star Gerard Depardieu, who left the country in protest.” French soccer teams are threatening to boycott matches and say the tax may kill French soccer.

The new tax will be in place for two years and is intended, along with some spending cuts, to bring down the nation’s deficit. One can only imagine the discussions this is sparking between  The Gipper and The Iron Lady in the Next World, the two of them having become political soul mates after attending the G7 Summit in Versailles in 1982.

As Romain Gubert, Deputy Economic Editor for Le Point Magazine has put it, “The difference is that in France, the rich are expected to carry a heavier burden. There is greater acceptability of taxes in France than in other countries, because it is in the [French] DNA that the word equality is a reality.”

In the meantime,  France’s Robin Hood tax  makes China looks like a right-wing capitalist nation by comparison.

In 1789, the French proletariat stormed The Bastille.  Afterwards they took down the French elite by sending thousands to the guillotine.  It seems they’ve now found a far less messy, far more  profitable way to revolt.

When Smartphones Aren’t So Smart

Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse has just posted an article on “Why Successful People Never Bring Smartphones into Meetings”. 

While Kruse’s first three points state the obvious (lack of respect, lack of attention, lack of listening), I found his fourth point the most interesting: lack of power.  As Kruse puts it, if you frequently check your phone, “You are like a modern day Pavlovian dog who responds to the beck and call of others through the buzz of your phone.”

The reason I always  wear a watch when I’m teaching a class or attending a meeting is so I can glance at the time (especially important when I am pacing a lesson), without “checking my phone.”   This works for me even if some people make fun of my anachronistic accessory!

Foot-in-Mouth-Disease – The Benefits and Pitfalls of Maintaining a Presence on the Web


Shortly before boarding her flight out of London’s Heathrow Airport,  IAC Director of Corporate Communications  Justine Sacco tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

By the time Ms. Sacco landed  in Cape Town,  her words had gone viral, sparking thousands of  tweets worldwide.  Or should I say thousands of angry buzzes? It seems  Ms. Sacco had become the Girl Who’d Kicked a Global Hornets’ Nest, as well as the poster face for over-privileged-white insensitivity.   The next day, IAC announced that Justine Sacco was no longer employed by them.

While I have no sympathy for Ms. Sacco, her story reminds me of the delicate balancing act we must all perform in today’s social media engulfed world.   An ever increasing number of employers now Google job applicants as part of their initial screening process. If you don’t have a ‘presence’ on the web, many prospective employers will not consider you, based on the assumption that you are not technologically savvy and that you lack twenty-first century social networking skills.

However, it’s not simply enough for just your name, photo, and a few dull facts to show up on LinkedIn or Facebook. A lot of employers are specifically seeking out employees who are a cultural fit, meaning they are looking at your hobbies, the type of volunteer work you do, the groups you belong, and the social and political comments you make to determine whether you are a good match for their organization. Career-minded job applicants are learning they have to brand themselves through their online image in order to sell themselves to employers.

At the same time, the more we reveal about ourselves  online, the greater the risk that we will commit some faux pas. It may not go viral as Ms. Sacco’s did, but it may linger on the web for years, readily accessible to anyone who Googles our name.  In fact, some employers are actually contracting firms to run Social Media Background Checks.

This, in turn, has spawned yet another type of business. Repplers,for example, now offers  a ” a tool for scrubbing your social networking accounts of job-damaging material.”

By the way, Ms. Sacco’s viral tweet does not mark the first time she’s shown a lack of judgement in the world of social media. Last January she tweeted, “I can’t be fired for things I say while intoxicated right?” Sober or otherwise, she has much to learn about public relations.

In the meantime, what do you bet that IAC will be scrupulously vetting the social networking history of its next Director of Corporate Communications?

“Merry Christmas” the man threatened.


Kudos to the Paris Review for publishing this Christmas card which sums up the ludicrous controversy surrounding Christmas greetings  in U.S.

The State of Texas has just passed a Merry Christmas Law protecting the celebration of Christmas and other religious holidays (such as Chanukah) in its schools.  The Texas law drafted as a backlash after schools in some other states banned all references to Christmas (including Santa himself) and replaced the traditional holiday with non-religious “Winter Festivals.”

As Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the bill into law, a group known as the Lone Star Santas (ten men sporting long white beards) cheered and rang bells. Students of all faiths, including Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, can seek support under this law if their own expressions of faith are censored.

Texas students and teachers can now sing Christmas songs, decorate their classrooms with Christmas Trees and menorahs and red-nosed reindeer and wish each other a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Chanukah” without fear of retribution.

Attack of the UFO’s


Sadly, in the world of Human Resources,  UFO  no longer stands for Unidentified Flying Object but for something far more pedestrian and, some might say, more sinister. Union Front Organization.  Just what is a Union Front Organization?  I just read a five page spread on the subject (“Leading from Behind?” HR Magazine, December 2013) and I’m still trying to understand it.  The best I can make out is that a UFO is a non-union union. It does not have to gain approval from the majority of the workers it purports to represent.  It’s not subject to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) nor the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).   Even so, these UFOs (also known as “Work Centers” or “alt-labor” groups) are providing their members with all manner of services including worker advocacy, lobbying, legal advice, and training and many of them are initiating class action lawsuits.

Perhaps the most newsworthy of these UFOs, of late, has been the  Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) and its ROC affiliates in other major cities throughout the U.S., as they have joined the fight to increase fast food workers’ wages.

As memberships in traditional, regulated unions decline (having  lost 4,000 members in 2012 alone), many labor relations professionals view UFOs as union wolves in Martians’ clothing, on a mission to beam  working class earthlings on board. Union activists are creating or joining  these so-called work centers  as a means of gaining the  support of and, ultimately, inducting more  earthlings into their unions.

It’s possible that some of the recently sighted UFOs are as benevolent Our Favorite Martian from the black and white days of yore: that they have only the safety and the most basic rights of their members in mind and that they have harbor no ill will towards employers, the free-market, or capitalism.  At the same time, I suggest that employers listen carefully to what these UFOs are saying. If their rhetoric bears  a strong resemblance to the Klingons’ sayings  ( “If you are sad act!” “Choose to fight, not negotiate.” “To survive, we must expand.”), we must take care and beware.  The last thing our economy needs is an attack from a fleet of UFOs.

Photo courtesy of Stefan-XP (WikiCommons)