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Thursday, July 29, 2010

5 Reasons Rand Paul’s Beliefs are Bad for Business

20 years ago when George H Bush uttered the words, “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” I doubt he envisioned that 20 years later his own son would be campaigning for a candidate eagerly wishing to rebuild them. Since Rand Paul can’t be bothered to clarify his position on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on his website and was apparently MIA during Monday’s ADA Anniversary festivities (no doubt a sign that Rand Paul’s PR people have managed to find his leash this week), here are his own words on the subject:

“Right. I think a lot of things could be handled locally. For example, I think we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps. You know, we do it in our office with wheelchair ramps and things like that.

I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who's handicapped, it might be reasonable to let them have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator.

And I think when you get to solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions.”

As a marketer in the disability industry, to say these statements are discouraging would be the understatement of the year. I could parse through the more offensive parts like the uses of the terms “handicaps” and “handicapped”. (Pssssst. We don’t say “handicapped” anymore.)

I could also point out the cringe-worthy phrase “allow for people with disabilities”. Allow for what? Allow for people with disabilities to gain access to public buildings? Allow for people with disabilities to have a voice? Allow for people with disabilities to exist in your world, Rand? This phrasing makes it sound like we’re considering shipping people with disabilities to another planet, and Rand thinks we should do “everything we can” to “allow” them to stay on planet earth….within reason of course.

I may even be tempted to point out the obvious, which is that if you are going to purport to support Veterans, now might not be the best time to go criticizing the ADA. America finds itself in the midst of the largest wave of returning veterans with physical disabilities, and a staggering 1 in 5 returning soldiers said to have mental disabilities such as PTSD. So if you truly believe that “the men and women of our armed services deserve to be treated like the heroes that they are,” and indeed they do, you can start by supporting any means of removing obstacles in their way.

While there is much that could and HAS been said about Rand’s now infamous remarks on the ADA, in light of this week’s festivities I feel like one more frightening observation should be made before we put this one to bed.

Rand Paul is not alone in his beliefs.

Sadly, despite his stunning remarks on the civil rights movement and his strange alliance with an ever more ludicrous Tea Party constituency, his attitude toward people with disabilities is not uncommon. So for those of you who nodded in agreement when you read his quote, or protested having sidewalks on Tates Creek Road, or have ever parked in an accessible parking space without a placard, here are 5 reasons why Rand Paul’s and your attitude are bad for local businesses:

1. Your beliefs encourage ignorance and fear among business owners

The concept that a local business owner should not have to make economically unfeasible structural changes to a building to accommodate one person is not an illogical statement. And guess who agrees with that statement? The ADA!

The truth is the structural accommodations required under the ADA mostly apply to new businesses and businesses being renovated. Existing businesses are only required to remove architectural barriers, and even then only if that removal is “readily achievable”. That means it must pass a sophisticated test to make sure that the cost of the proposed fix is doable based on the size of the business.

2. By alienating people with disabilities, you alienate 5.3 million potential customers

People with disabilities shop. In fact, as a person who markets products exclusively to people with disabilities, I can tell you they are some of the most savvy and self-qualifying consumers out there. There are very few industries that could not benefit from an extra 5.3 million potential customers, regardless of the fact that they may have a range of disabilities.

Not everyone has children, so restaurants don’t HAVE to invest in high chairs, children’s menus, and Koala changing stations in their bathrooms. They make those accommodations, because they want to expand their market reach to families with young children. Similarly, as a business owner, if you tell me that putting in a curb cut is going to pay for itself in new business revenue, I’m probably not going to have a problem with that.

3. People with disabilities constitute one of the largest untapped talent pools in human resources

One in five people in this country have some type of disability. As an employer, simply making minor changes in how inclusive your business operates can open up a tremendous talent pool to you. In fact, the younger professionals entering the workforce constitute the first group to have fully benefited from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. So again, comparing the cost of making my building accessible to the cost of losing out on 20% more talent in a time where talent shortage is becoming a larger threat seems like a no brainer.

4. Making reasonable accommodations has proved to be fiscally conservative in the long run

Clearly, the amount of money spent to make our communities a little more accessible pales in comparison to the prospect of having to support 5.3 million people without jobs, and who cannot therefore put money back into the economy. One of the many ironies in Rand Paul’s stance is the fact that he believes the ADA and programs like it are exclusively federal weapons. The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act established one of the most beneficial state run programs to date for people with disabilities: Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). VR is NOT a welfare program, but rather a state-run program that’s sole purpose is to get people with disabilities back to work no matter what it takes. They serve ALL people with disabilities regardless of family income.

It’s not socialism, Rand, it’s good conservative economics.

5. According to statistics, you are temporarily-abled

It’s sort of inside joke in my industry that many of the more hardcore disability advocates prefer not to refer to people with disabilities as “disabled” or “handicapped”, but would rather refer to everyone else as “temporarily-abled”. It’s true that you may be one car accident away from these issues hitting closer to home than you ever thought possible.

Furthermore, what is true for the majority of us, hopefully, is that we are going to live longer than our parents and their parents. Making our communities accessible today is not about charity or avoiding legal liability. It is about investing in our local economy and selfishly in our own personal futures. It is virtually inevitable that you or someone you love will need to use accommodations that may not otherwise have been made without the ADA.

For whom does the wheelchair ramp slant? It slants for thee.

So while you should certainly do as Rand Paul does and make sure that your business has “wheelchair ramps and things like that”, don’t buy into the propaganda that the ADA is out to bankrupt businesses for the good of the “few”. Providing accessible accommodations is not charity or welfare or a legal obligation. It is a business and a community imperative.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Food, The Evil Power of Ritz Crackers, and Why I’d Rather Talk About Genital Herpes

“What have I told you about watching that crap?”

Even as I approach 30, my Dad still monitors what I watch on television. In his defense, I have always enjoyed what he refers to as “bizarro world” subject matter. As a child one of my favorite movies to watch was King Kong circa 1933, because, as my five year old self put it while demonstrating with miniature marshmallows, “I like when he squishes the lady and her baby.”

As a teenager, I developed an insatiable love for the provocative, creepy, offensive, controversial, and just plain disgusting.

“Mom, did you know that the human body was never meant to metabolize human flesh, and so cannibals in prison give off a really strong, foul smell?”

Cue my mother slamming her silverware down on the dinner table and storming out of the dining room.

Naturally despite years of adolescent therapy and anti-depressants, my poor parents were unable to cure my taste in media. So as an adult, when left to my own devices I will consume all manner of the macabre, disturbing, or depressing. Film, documentaries, books, TV shows, articles – I gobble them up as long as they leave me just a little more cynical, melancholy, or amused by the absurdity of the human species.

There are subject matters, however, at which I respond by waving my banner of avoidance. Not just because I am likely to get either “What have I told you about watching that crap?” or “What have I told you about reading stuff on the internet?” from my dad, but because I know they will evoke one of the three emotions that I lack the coping skills to handle in healthy ways: stress, guilt, and/or powerlessness. Some of these subject matters include: hell, the apocalypse, PETA, prison rape, and the Church. (And, yes, my therapist does have a copy of that list in my file.)

Another subject I avoid like the plague is food: where it comes from, how it’s made, who or what died so I could eat it, what it’s doing to my body, and what axis of evil is benefiting from my consumption of it. I know with one hundred percent certainty I am going to eat bacon. I’ve seen me do it. I don’t need to watch hundreds of pigs screaming like a herd of great aunts being stunned with captive bolt pistols and being exsanguinated, while all the baby piggies watch in horror.

Sooner or later, though, the guilt over being apathetic and hypocritical overpowers the avoidance of guilt over something else, and I peek through my fingers clutching the covers to throw over my head if necessary. So after reading Ace Weekly’s blog about the politics behind “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” and the subsequent reading of Ace’s review of Food, Inc (a movie I avoid like genital herpes) where I was assured the movie contained nothing as a graphic as what PETA wants to show me, I went spiraling into the dark place where pubescent self-injury with a razor blade has been replaced by feverish internet research and a marathon of opposing documentaries.

Le sigh.

Sorry, Dad.

I am totally on board with eating healthy. Approximately six weeks after giving birth, I presented this diagram of my post partum self. Not. Pretty. I would never say weight was really an issue for me before pregnancy. Sure, I was always 10 to 15 pounds fluffier than I wanted to be, and, of course, I had my celebrity bodies picked out that I wanted to emulate, but never could with my hardy Irish stock. But pregnancy causes changes in a woman’s body that NO ONE tells you are going to happen. Women worry about their breasts being saggy after breastfeeding. Ladies, plop those things in a push up bra and pull your head out of your ass. You’ve got bigger problems to worry about. The Gaggle, Uber Fupa, Double Knee Chins, Swimmie® Arms, Saddle Bags, Muffin Top, and The Stalker Butt to name just a few.

My glorious ride of unlimited amounts of Indian food, store bought cake, and hormone-revenge eating things I don’t even like of my husband’s to get back at him for breathing too loudly has come crashing to a hault. I look around and find myself in the company of most Americans. Well above a healthy body mass index, lethargic, broken out, and STILL HUNGRY. The only way to feel full all day is to eat all day. The only way to eat all day without getting fat is to only eat healthy foods. It is as simple as that.

As simple as that concept is, the implementing of that concept is extremely difficult. We have our ancestors to thank. The caloric density of food that was readily available to our ancestors and the caloric expenditure involved in wrestling the other half of their food to the ground meant a biological imperative developed: “If you find food – EAT AS MUCH OF IT AS YOU CAN”. So to say that overcoming an innate instinct to hunt and gather as much as possible with as little caloric expenditure involved as you can is easy, is to greatly over simplify things.

Then add our modern economics into the hunter gatherer equation. If I take my dollar to the produce section, I can “gather” about 250 calories max. If I take my dollar to the snack aisle, I can “gather” about 1250 calories. That’s a tough sell to a caveman, and it’s an even tougher sell to a working mom trying to feed a family of three. That said, the long-term healthcare and environmental costs associated with those snack aisle purchases make the extra four dollars for the same amount of calories in the produce aisle pale in comparison.

However, if you are not in the upper middle class and above, liquidity is a real issue for your family. My husband and I work 50-60 hour weeks, live in a modest home in a decent neighborhood, drive used cars, and know that our daughter will be attending public school whether we (or she) like it or not. We live neither beyond our means nor neglecting to think about the future of each member of the family. So liquidity – the ability to have enough cash on hand to clothe, feed, and house our growing family – makes it very difficult for us to justify spending an extra $200-$300 a month to eat ONLY health food.

Then comes the guilt parade from the Locavores, Organibals, and Wholey rollers. They introduce a whole new set of complex issues with the food we eat. Now, not only do I have to figure out the balance between my family’s health and our economics, but I get to add a third, fourth, and fifth spinning plate to the balancing act: morality, politics, and environmentalism. These could each be their own blog, so how about an example to keep things concise?

Corn. Yummy, delicious corn. Pop it, grill it, boil it, sauté it, butter it up and suck it down. Why God even made those little kernels gold so we would know how valuable they were. Right?


Apparently, with every new corn field being planted on American soil we are slowly and assuredly constructing a massive doorway to hell through which Satan himself is going to spring in a blaze of burnt Orville Redenbacher.

Farmers need to be able to make a living, especially farmers whose crops they can no longer grow competitively (i.e. tobacco). So the government decides to subsidize a crop that will be easy to grow and highly profitable. They didn’t pick rhubarb or broccoli or onions or cane sugar. Nope, they picked corn. Why? Because corn can be used to make anything. Synthetic sweeteners, preservatives, dyes…you know…everything between the produce section and the dairy section. Corn doesn’t stop at the food aisles either. Batteries, toothpaste, cleaners, fuel…they all contain corn. You thought you were in love with your girlfriend, didn’t you? WRONG. That emotion was manufactured from CORN.

So what’s wrong with the government keeping farmers in business by making products and food that we all use and eat? Apparently, just about everything. Over production of corn is hurting the environment. It is also making life unpleasant for our little furry friends who would rather be eating grass, instead of CORN, making them so fat so fast that many become lame and deformed, which makes standing in the two feet of their own corn waste even more unpleasant before they are hauled off covered in poo to be slaughtered where the corn poo will contaminate the meat giving us salmonella and e-coli poisoning.

We overproduce so much corn in fact that NAFTA opened a flood gate of cheap exported corn to Mexico (see oil companies perform jig on stage left), putting Mexican corn farmers out of business. Those Mexican corn farmers have to work somewhere, so the big five food manufacturers recruit them as illegal labor and strike deals with immigration to only arrest illegal immigrants at a particular rate so as to not adversely affect production. We then buy all those corn products, which make us fat, give us high blood pressure and diabetes, and send us running to the pharmaceutical companies who are happy to dole us out expensive prescriptions. Paying for said prescriptions makes us even more likely to purchase more cheap corn products.

So basically, if I buy a box of Ritz crackers, I have hurt the environment, kept the local farmer poor, made the evil axis of pharmaceutical companies and Big Oil more money, screwed an immigrant, made school lunches less healthy, supported socialism, hobbled a furry friend, and poisoned my family. Everyone believes the line between personal responsibility and government intervention is really hard to figure out. Not really. I’m pretty sure that my box of Ritz crackers should not wield that kind of power. There you have it. The line. When Ritz crackers are bringing about the apocalypse unabated.

Obviously, there are enough subjects to cover here for fifty blog entries. So here is my question. What can I do?


Seriously. As a working mother who is the main bread winner in my family, I cannot take on immigration, politics, farmers’ rights, the FDA, the USDA, the Ozone layer, and cafeteria food this week. My husband and I do buy the majority of our produce at the farmers market, but beyond that we’re you’re typical Kroger automatons. I’m a marketer so I respond to numbered lists. What are five things I can do differently right now to help the food crisis our nation is facing, keep my daughter healthy, and still be able to pay for her college education? Let’s see what you’ve got to help allay the guilt so I can get back to my Jeffrey Dahmer biographies and Real Housewives franchises where I feel safe and warm.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Art of an Apology: A Modest Essay on Councilman Doug Martin

In life we all have...moments. How could we not? We spend the majority of our time sleep deprived, waiting in lines, over-caffeinated, malnourished, overweight, pissed about our childhoods, hating our jobs, wishing we were somewhere else, and just barely clinging to the will not to stab in the nipple the next anonymous person who asks us a meaningless question like "how are you today?"

To add insult to injury, we are a species cursed to cleave to social norms. We desperately grasp at social cues and behavioral expectations like a two year old to a blanky. "How are you?" is met with "fine", "So sorry for your loss" is met with "Thank you for your concern", and "Lovely weather we've been having" is clearly understood to mean "do not ask me about politics, religion, or my mother issues". If I get on the bus and there is only one other person boarded, I know to go to the furthest seat away from that individual, and I fully expect the next person to board to extend me the same courtesy. It's how we successfully navigate our precariously high strung daily lives without spooking the sheep.

Sheep are cute and furry. But not when hundreds of their cloven hooves are flaying the flesh from your torso.

We have entire branches of psychology and sociology devoted to social normatives, and, yet, to understand them or even simply be aware of them cannot elevate anyone above them. They happen organically, over hundreds of years, with millions of cultural variables influencing them and somehow amidst that chaos we all fully agree on what they are.

Like this:

Local politicians should not scream obscenities at private citizens or members of the press when people are watching.

And this:

If they do, and more than one person saw them do it, they have to apologize.

Ahhhh, proscriptive social norms.  Magical little things aren't they?

But, again, in life we all have...moments.  Those unexpected times when all the facade and expectations of appropriateness and excruciating effort to suppress the primal urge to shred the veil of trite and politically correct oratory evaporate, and we find ourselves bitch slapping our fellow man in the face with awe inspiring behavior in the name of "telling it like it is".

I've been known to have a moment or two.  Once, I found myself calling a man on a scooter an asshole in the produce aisle, because I didn't like the tone he was taking with his wife.  On another occasion, I loudly told a customer service representative at a security system call center that if his security system was the only thing standing between me and a terrorist attack I STILL wouldn't pay for his product.  And these are just a few examples I am willing to commit to print.

Breaking our agreed upon rules for keeping things peaceful and orderly in the face of a tremendous amount of doucheyness on the part of society is seen in different ways depending on a number of factors, including but not limited to the following: how much money you have, how much power you have, your agreed upon role in our society, and how funny you look doing it.  In some cases you might be considered a visionary.  In other cases a radical.  In some cases, perhaps even an artist.  But, more often than not, you are just perceived as a frightened, insecure, stubborn asshat.

Enter Doug Martin.

The mayor-appointed 10th district representative on the Lexington City Council had.... a moment.

Let's look at what we know to be true:
  1. There was a council meeting.
  2. During said meeting, local political blogger Joe Sonka referred to Doug as a "clown" on Twitter.
  3. The Lexington Herald Leader reported that "The committee voted to adjourn, but Martin returned to the conference room and directed a string of obscenities at Joe Sonka".
  4. Doug declined to comment on the incident.
  5. The incident went viral on Twitter.
  6. Natasha Collier, a local Transy student and active volunteer at several downtown Lexington historical buildings, retweeted someone else's tweet regarding the incident and was subsequently direct messaged by Doug Martin asserting that there was more to the story.
  7. Ms. Collier asked Doug for his side of the story, to which he replied that he could not give her the full story because to repeat what Sonka had said to him would require him to use too much offensive language.
  8. Ms. Collier sent this line of DMing to Joe Sonka for further explanation and Joe posted the Direct Message screen shot on his blog.
  9. Doug blocked Ms. Collier on Twitter (as he has done with countless other concerned Lexingtonians that he doesn't agree with)
  10. After giving councilman plenty of time to consider the incident (10 days in fact), Doug's opponent Kevin Williams called for an apology for his behavior.
  11. Doug issued a statement Tuesday night that read: "[Joe Sonka's] account of our conversation on July 1st is grossly exaggerated and offensive. As to Mr. Williams, I would certainly have been surprised if he hadn’t wanted to make a little political hay with this story.”
Let me be clear about my position.  I am not angry that Doug Martin subjected Joe Sonka to a fuckyouapalooza.  1) I collect public figure outbursts of actual humanity the way some people collect stamps and 2) Barefoot and Progressive is a very loud, very opinionated blog and there are probably a line of people who'd like to do more to Joe's face than scream "fuck you" at it (Sorry, Joe).  I do not share in the belief that Doug's...ahem.....moment...jeopardizes the sanctity of our local political system.  Our local political system does that enough all on it's own.  I also don't believe that even politicians are not allowed momentary lapses in oral judgment in situations that warrant it.  War time.  Unwarranted attacks on one's family.  Victimization of people who cannot defend themselves.

Being called a "clown"?  Not so much.  I've called my grandmother worse than that.  To her face.

No, what I am angry about is having the type of person serving on the council, not even elected to the position, who is so egotistical, stubborn, self righteous, and smug that he thinks he is ABOVE apologizing.  It is Doug's JOB to apologize.  Doug is a city councilperson.  He is representing people who may not even want him representing them.  It is his duty to obey social norms AND oblige the consequences when he breaks them.

Furthermore, there is a mysterious and wondrous language known as Public Relations.  Having spent the last 8 years working in Public Relations, I am willing to set aside my feelings about the cocky councilman and give him FREE advice.  Here is how you reattach the torn veil, calm the frightened sheep, and (here comes the "wondrous" part) make yourself LOOK GOOD:

"I would like to sincerely apologize to the city of Lexington for my behavior at the July 1st council meeting.  I have very strong feelings about the importance of the work we do as a council, and when I felt my dedication and commitment was being questioned, I let my emotions get the better of me.  Even though I am human and make mistakes, it is always my intention to act professionally and courteously and with grace under fire."

What?  Still not comfortable with admitting you were wrong?  Don't you worry, my friend.  There is more PR juju where that came from:

"I sincerely apologize if anything I did on July 1st caused people to question my dedication or commitment to the city of Lexington.  Lexington deserves council people who are passionate about what they do.  I am ready to put this incident behind us and move forward."

See?  Not really admitting you did anything wrong, but enough of an apology that no one can say you "didn't apologize."  It also makes your opponent look like he's playing politics if he keeps bringing up.

See.  Magic.

Unfortunately, I am profoundly certain that Doug Martin believes he was not in the wrong.  I also come from a family of judges and lawyers and know that admitting a mistake is not in Doug Martin's job description in his private life as an attorney.

But we are not talking about that life.  We are talking about the Councilman life.  The one where you aren't allowed to be drunk in public, have an affair, get caught with drugs or prostitutes, raise your voice, or direct "a string of obscenities" at a private citizen or member of the press.  Maybe that's unfair, but those are the rules we've all agreed to.  We endow you with power.  You follow the rules.  Simple as that.  Doug's unwillingness to apologize tells me he thinks he is better than the position in which he is serving, but more importantly that he thinks he is better than me or Ms. Collier or any of the other Lexingtonians that have voiced concern or outrage over his behavior.

He believes that he is simply above it.  And us.

Here's hoping I don't run into Doug Martin near the bananas.