Saturday, August 27, 2016

Too Organized

"Organization" is one those words that we live by these days, one that gets used and overused, like "simplify" and "connected" and "balance." It's a mantra that can be applied to just about anything. You can organize for something (Greenpeace), against something (Occupy Wall Street) or just to share ideas and approaches with like-minded individuals (National Association of Professional Pet Sitters).

It's also a guiding principle that you can practice individually. There are best sellers aimed at helping you figure out how to do it ("The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up") and retail stores to sell you stuff to make it happen (The Container Store). There are products to help you organize your desk, your closet, even your handbag. And then there are tips, more than you can count. Buzzfeed offers "52 Meticulous Organizing Tips To Rein In The Chaos," Entrepreneur has "10 Simple Productivity Tips for Organizing Your Work Life," while Style at Home has "99 Low-Cost Organizing Tips." With all that you actually need a way to organize the ways to organize.  

As for me, I try to keep most things in their place. Not everything: my dresser is a mess and so is the garage. But you never know when you need to be able to find the instructions that came with the microwave, or the American Express bill from December, or the checking account statement from last May. And so I had file folders for everything: receipts, taxes, insurance. I had a box for maps and one for manuals. And I had place to put bank statements, one to put retirement account statements and one for credit card statements.

And I just loaded all of it into the car, and took it to the recycling and shredding center.

That's because that was then. And while it might have made some sense whenever "then" was, "now" it really doesn't. Anything and everything is available digitally. True, it's an acquired skill to know exactly what to type into the search field. But once you get the hang of it, it's like having a master key to the kingdom, with access to everything in the known and even unknown universe. And in that light, the best organization might be no organization.  

Or at least that's the conclusion to which I came. You see, even in this electronic world I can't break old habits. And so I set up electronic folders and organize computer drives into projects and interests and needs. In some cases it's by date, other times by type of file. I have groups of photos I took last year, or tax info from the year before that. And yes, if for some reason I want to take a trip down memory lane, and relive those great restaurant receipts from June of 2014, I know just where to look.

More likely, though, I want to find one. Or more specially, I want to recall a restaurant at which we ate. Or know the type of filter I bought for our well, or find the note from my old high school buddy. And it turns out that all that organization is not only unnecessary, but actually a hindrance. With the ability to search the haystack, all I have to do is type in a few words describing a particular needle, and up it pops.  

It's even starting to happen proactively. When a friend sent us a note with the address of a restaurant, my computer quickly informed we had been there two years ago. It reminded me of the directions, updated the hours and told me what we paid last time. All I was left with was to remember not to order the baked clam appetizer. Too much breading.

That's what computers do best, and so we're better off letting them do it. Whether on a keyboard, a pad or a phone, all it takes is a few taps to dig through piles that would take humans years to tunnel through. Google's says its mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." A minor quibble: they actually catalog it more than organize it, but the effect is the same. But they do make it accessible. I'll leave it to you to decide the usefulness of being able to easily retrieve a list of the "Top Five Crimes Committed by Squirrels."


Marc Wollin of Bedford is cleaning out his office. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Go To Your Corner Kicks

The executive had a long and distinguished 20-plus year career with his company, rising through the ranks to become a senior executive and president of a major division. He was being interviewed in front of a group of employees, and the floor had been opened for questions. He got a few on strategy, a few on business outlook, and the inevitable ones on career guidance. What, he was asked, would he have done differently in his career? Without hesitation, he said he would have learned more about soccer.


Asked to explain, he said that if there was one area he thought he lacked experience on early in his career, it was international. Companies and customers cross borders all the time; even those living in one country can have deep roots in another. If you're going to try and understand their point of view, you have to have a better grasp of their background. And as you talk with almost anyone outside the US or who grew up there, the one common touch point is what the rest of the world calls football.

As the Olympics have unspooled from Rio across multiple nights on multiple channels and platforms, I thought about this point of view. It isn't the idea of building an appreciation of soccer/football per se, though there's nothing wrong with that. It's that especially in the middle of an election campaign where we place ourselves in the center of the known universe, it helps to be reminded that there is a universe. That while what we think and do do matter, there are a lot of people who look at things differently. And Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are not necessarily their point of reference.

In fact, the Olympics is the one time where Americans get to see what else the world watches. If you flipped to some of the secondary channels, you saw big crowds at rugby and badminton, volleyball and field hockey. That said, trying to rank the "most popular" sport is difficult. After all, what metric do you use? Most fans? Highest TV Viewership? Number of professional or amateurs? Most headlines? By any one or combination of those measures, some sports that we are ravenous for on these shores have indeed gained considerable followings worldwide. Basketball and base are close to the top, while tennis and golf are also up there. But you can't leave out boxing and track, as well as non-Olympic contests such as cricket and Formula One Racing.

Of course, the 500-pound gorilla on these shores is American football as practiced by the NFL. Because of its popularity here, interest is growing worldwide, aided and abetted by the once year pageant that is the Super Bowl. That said, use almost any combination of those aforementioned measurements and you still come to the same conclusion: soccer beats them all handily. It has over 4 billion followers, with the World Cup being the most watched contest in the world. Another way to look at it: between winnings and endorsements, LeBron James may be the highest paid athlete on these shores and a magician with the ball. But he's bested worldwide by two guys who never touch it with their hands, Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

You got a taste of why that is watching the crowds in Rio. Brazilian fans know how to party, and soccer is their game; what the rest of the world calls football is really the only sport that counts in that country. And so as they did in 2014 for the World Cup, the crowds packed the men's and women's matches, and put their passion on display. True, they brought that same level of intensity to swimming and gymnastics, and to the consternation of competitors used to a quieter approach, also to table tennis and fencing.

But let's circle back to the beginning. The next time you want to relate to someone you meet from Spain, or try to get to know someone better from Argentina, or want to make small talk with someone from Uruguay, ask about their family. Inquire about their kids. See what movies they like or their favorite type of music. But if you ask them about corner kicks, odds are better that even that you will be on the same pitch. And that will help make it a level playing field. Literally.


Marc Wollin of Bedford always played goalie. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Never Mind

Considering all that's happening in the world, it wasn't an unusual opening for a newscast. Lester Holt, the anchor for NBC Nightly News set up a report this way: "Now what might be the most controversial news of the day. It has people divided on social media, some saying 'I told you so.' It's a debate that's dividing the nation." Are we talking politics? Or maybe one of the hot button issues like gay rights or race? No, in a breath of fresh air, Holt's tongue-in-cheek teaser wasn't about any of those; not the election, not social issues, not the Supreme Court.

It was about flossing.

Since 1979, daily flossing has been a recommendation from the Surgeon General, as well as the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Dentists, dental trade groups and manufacturers of floss have also promoted it as part of a regular regime of healthy tooth care. In fact, since dentist Levi Spear Parmly invented flossing in the 1800's, it's effectiveness has become such an article of faith that when Asahel Shurtleff of Boston patented the first floss dispenser in 1874, he noted in his application that "For removing foreign matters lodged between the teeth, dentists recommend the use of thread."

There's just one problem: there's no proof it makes a difference.

In order to be included in the national guidelines, there has to be research that backs up any particular recommendation. In a complete random happenstance, Jeff Donn, a national writer at the Associated Press, decided to do a little digging about that research at the urging of his son's orthodontist. He sent some emails, made some calls, all aimed at trying to find the factual basis for that guideline. Unable to nail it down, he filed a Freedom of Information request with the government. Radio silence. But recently when the updated guidelines came out, Donn noticed that flossing was nowhere to be seen. Seems that when the folks in Washington started looking, they realized that they didn't really have anything solid to back it up. Numerous studies had been done, but none of them actually proved that flossing makes a difference. And so they quietly dropped the recommendation. Oops. Sorry. Our bad.

Is this one of those situations were further study changed what was taken as gospel? After all, there are numerous cases of this reversal of course, where something bad was determined to be good or the other way around. Chocolate, coffee and wine were all things deemed to have detrimental effects at one point. Now all, taken in moderation are considered to have bountiful benefits, from antioxidants to lowering of cholesterol. Conversely, tobacco, mercury and heroin were all lauded at various times as being miracle cures for everything from coughs to syphilis. Now they are right up there with tapeworms, bloodletting and lobotomies, each of which was also considered to be the height of medical sophistication at a certain time.

In the case of flossing, it's not really a reversal: it's just that there is no proof. According to the AP, "the evidence for flossing is 'weak, very unreliable,' of 'very low' quality, and carries 'a moderate to large potential for bias.'" Still, the change carries more than a hint of "Sleeper" in it. In that Woody Allen film from 1973, a man is frozen for 200 years, and when he wakes, requests a breakfast of wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk. "They were thought to be healthy," says one doctor." Another: "You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or hot fudge?" Says the first, "Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true." They both shake their heads: "Incredible," they agree.

Maybe someone someday using the large Hadron collider will determine that flossing really does help or does harm. Until then, score one in the quest for less regulatory overreach. We will continue to debate the right to bear arms and the proper balance between responsible gun ownership and restrictions on purchases of weapons. We will argue over the roll the EPA has and as to how far it should go in insuring clean air and water. But you wanna floss? Go ahead. You don't wanna floss. No problem. It's your call either way. Because at least for now, the government is out your mouth.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is a brusher, not a flosser. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Master of Disaster

Michael Bay, get a cold drink. Steven Soderbergh, take the day off. Roland Emmerich, head to the beach. You guys think you've pushed the envelope to the limit, that there's no one better at creating angst for humanity. But in spite of your collective body of work, from "Armageddon" to "Contagion" to "The Day After Tomorrow," you don't hold a candle to what has to be the best practitioner of the disaster genre wherein mankind is about to be obliterated.

That's because the scenarios represented in those films are just a few ants at a picnic compared to the tale being spun in my inbox. The subject lines tell the story, always in breathless all caps: "ALL HOPE IS LOST." "WORSE POSSIBLE NEWS." "TRAGIC LOSS." If I'm smart, I'll take my lead from Lars von Trier and his apocalyptic film "Melancholia." Not to give away the story if you haven't seen it, but with the end of the world approaching Kirsten Dunce decides the best way to greet it is to have a picnic with her nephew. Thankfully, our nephew is a chef, so I'll ask him to cater a party on the evening of November 8. For that's the night the world will come to an end, or at least that's what will happen if I don't give a dollar to the Democratic Campaign Committee.

Let me say this very clearly: I'm not here to debate politics. For sure, I have a point of view, and indeed, most of those I talk with do as well. Nor am I talking about the systems in place. Let the party loyalists on both sides decide if things worked as they were supposed to, or it all reared up to bite them in the ass. But while the outcome may have been more unexpected on the Republican side than on the Democratic, events actually followed procedures put in place years ago. One by one, Clinton and Trump triumphed in certain individual state contests, amassed more votes and delegates than any other contender, and were awarded their respective winner's cups. When you strip it down to that essence, both went the way they were supposed to go regardless of your perception of the victors.

What I'm talking about is the money race. At least up to this cycle, cash has always been as important as policies, and maybe more so. You can deride the impact of dollars on the political process, but it's utilitarian nature is undeniable. It determines where and when a candidate can communicate with voters, hold rallies and print signs. More money simply means more exposure. And so candidates and their surrogates spend as least as much time raising funds as they do developing position papers and maybe more.

In that light, if cash is king, Hillary is emperor. While he has nearly caught up in the most recent period, reports to the Federal Election Commission detail that through the end of June she raised $386 million as opposed to $94 million for Trump, a differential of more than 4 to 1. And yet Trump rendered that mostly moot. Through his command of social media, and his ability to attract the more traditional type, he dominated the discussion. He garnered untold amounts of free airtime, enabling him to spread his words at a fraction of the cost vs. any other candidate. You can argue with his message, deride his simplistic slogans, scoff at his lack of detailed plans, but you can't dispute the effectiveness with which he was able to disseminate all of them for a relative pittance.

Hillary's campaign, by contrast, is a more traditional model, albeit one outfitted with modern trappings. That means huge amounts of cash for the media buys and associated costs. And so while Trump's campaigning style is "any way any time" in the most over the top fashion, Hillary's fund raising uses that same approach. During the two weeks when the conventions were going on, I got a relative few from Trump. I got 5 fund requests a day from the Democrats, sometimes more. And hyperbole was the operating motif.

Again, political outlook aside, there are plenty of underlying possible reasons: his lack of operation or her institutional support, his unusual campaign or her grassroots organization. But whatever it is, it seems I've finally stumbled upon an area where, at least compared to the competition, the Donald is demure.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is as distressed as many about the state of political affairs. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.