The Myth Of "Procedure"

I laughed out loud when I read that, last Monday, The New York Times (which may be the most overvalued brand out there in news — but that’s another post) had egg on its face when it admitted that it had published a fake letter to the editor.

A big boo-boo in the newspaper world, but it gets worse: the letter purported to be from the mayor of Paris and it criticized the Empire State’s possible next Senator, Caroline Kennedy. AP reports:

“What title has Ms. Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton’s seat?” the letter in Monday’s editions said. “We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling.”

Seems that the letter had been emailed to the paper and an editor had replied to the author with some queries — but had not heard back. Rather than calling Paris, the paper ran the letter.

The Gray Lady has rightly apologized and says it is reviewing procedures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

It’s a refrain we’ve heard before. In cases where it is clear that someone simply bungled their job, often there is a call for a “review” of “systems” and “procedures,” as if the fault must be that no one had thought to set up the right rules ahead of time. But, no, like many such public mistakes, the problem lies with someone’s poor performance.

A new system won’t fix the problem — better employees (and possibly better management) will.

The Myth Of "Procedure"

I laughed out loud when I read that, last Monday, The New York Times (which may be the most overvalued brand out there in news — but that’s another post) had egg on its face when it admitted that it had published a fake letter to the editor.

A big boo-boo in the newspaper world, but it gets worse: the letter purported to be from the mayor of Paris and it criticized the Empire State’s possible next Senator, Caroline Kennedy. AP reports:

“What title has Ms. Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton’s seat?” the letter in Monday’s editions said. “We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling.”

Seems that the letter had been emailed to the paper and an editor had replied to the author with some queries — but had not heard back. Rather than calling Paris, the paper ran the letter.

The Gray Lady has rightly apologized and says it is reviewing procedures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

It’s a refrain we’ve heard before. In cases where it is clear that someone simply bungled their job, often there is a call for a “review” of “systems” and “procedures,” as if the fault must be that no one had thought to set up the right rules ahead of time. But, no, like many such public mistakes, the problem lies with someone’s poor performance.

A new system won’t fix the problem — better employees (and possibly better management) will.

Inauguration Day Should Not Be A Holiday

The other day I got a letter from my daughter’s school describing a dilemma that the headmaster had faced, one that his counterparts in many other schools faced too: Whether to close up shop on the day Senator Barack Obama takes office as president of the United States. The school has not in the past taken the day off.

The letter described a number of rationales for doing so this time, all couched in a bunch of “learning about political responsibility” language. Shortly after the letter from my daughter’s school, I got word that the local public school system (along with others in the greater DC area) will be shuttered that day.

These schools all say that, from now on, Inauguration Day will be a holiday.

It’s obvious that these schools and school systems are making this move because they are pleased with the choice America has made. There is no way that, had Sen. McCain been the victor, any school would be pondering a day off. This is one in a series of examples of schools and educators applying their political biases to their pupils, while professing neutrality. In order to maintain the charade, the schools must turn a one-time event (Obama’s ascension) into a policy (every Inauguration Day is a holiday). [UPDATE: See comments below; there is more nuance to this that emerges.]

The beauty of experiment in self-rule we call the United States is that there is a mechanism in place for power to change hands without bloodshed, without coup, without drama. If anything, Inauguration Day is remarkable because it is so unremarkable. Yes, this is an historic rise of an African American to a the highest elected office in the land. But to institute a holiday across the board based on it is wrong headed. While we may be excited about one particular office holder, we may be just as alarmed by the next – the point should be, instead, that daily life goes on. We go to work or school just as before.

Instead, we are treated to a day off because our guy won.

My Posts Are Too Long

My posts have been getting longer and longer.

Must. Stop.

Why? Because people want things in bites! Half the time, my ideas are only worth a bite anyway. More to the point, blogging traffics in speed, snark, and brevity. I can do two out of three (I’m not into snark).

So I need to get shorter. I thought, as I started this, that the amount of time I was allowing myself to do each post would push me to write briefly. But I am finding what (I believe) E.B. White said, which is that it is easier to write long than short. If he didn’t say that, then it was someone as cool as him.

I am going to have to try to focus in a little more.

And keep it brief.

Watch Where You Stay

My friends at the Silver Spring Penguin have a great recap of the complaint filed against a pair of hot-sheet motels in Silver Spring that truly seemed to be dens of iniquity. We’re talking rampant prostitution, drug overdoses and sales at a Days Inn and a Travelodge.

One commenter says they “feel bad for out-of-towners who book rooms there not knowing any better.” I can relate. It happened to me once.

I was on doing some lobbying work a decade ago for the electric bicycle industry. Yes, there was such a thing. I was trying to convince the New Jersey legislature to create a new category of vehicle — an “electric assisted bicycle.”

I was young, had no capital, and this was my first business. I needed to save every dime. So I booked what I thought would be an inexpensive chain hotel in Trenton. Well, it sure was inexpensive — but it was a Den of Iniquity. Bulletproof glass in the lobby to protect the desk clerk. Cigarette burns all over the bedspread, with a dried pizza crust sitting in the middle in case I needed a snack.

I did not even unpack. I went downstairs to get my money back, which of course did not happen and I left anyway. As I left, I saw people all around the courtyard, leaning over the railing and giving me the fisheye, like it was a prison wing.

Since then, I have learned to be careful when staying in urban environments. Trying to save a buck can backfire! Even so, that was money that, at the time, I could not afford to throw away.

How did the trip go? Well, I was shaken down for campaign contributions to a staffer who was running for city council and my proposed bill never went anywhere. (I was successful in Washington, Oregon, and California though, so there.)