July 29th, 2013

A Purple Straw Hat

Mailing Paper

I was foolishly reading this:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/28/opinion/greene-cluster-post-office/index.html

And the comments associated with it. It's foolish, because the change isn't likely to happen, any more than Saturday delivery is at real risk. It's foolish, because most addresses and most people in the United States lost door-to-door delivery a fucking long time ago anyway. This paragraph is particularly offensive:

"It's hardly wild speculation to predict that people will not relish having to go out into the weather every time they want to retrieve their mail. Some won't trust the security of the group mailboxes, no matter how many assurances they receive. They'll be especially vexed on rainy or snowy days when they make the trip to the cluster boxes, only to find that the carrier hasn't arrived yet. For those accustomed to door-to-door mail service, the act of picking up and sorting through the mail in front of other people may feel less private."

OMG! It would be like _living_ in an _apartment_ or a _city_!!! People! Yuck!

The security of group mailboxes is sort of an interesting issue and will probably require some additional solutions. Lumping it in with weather -- most people with curbside have to go out in the weather, altho a few drive out to their box -- and being seen getting the mail seems like a failure to prioritize.

The comments thread included the usual: Important Stuff Comes in the Mail! Like social security checks!

Wait. Really?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/26/should-grandma-still-get-her-checks-in-the-mail-the-paper-lobby-thinks-so/

In addition to the people who filed waivers to continue paper service, some people (millions?!? http://www.lowcards.com/social-security-paper-checks-mailed-for-10363) missed the deadline for switching or filing a waiver request. They are, indeed, still getting social security checks in the mail. The WaPo article is Elizabeth Warren (who I love) objecting to a threatening letter the SSA was proposing to send. I think her idea of including information about how to file a waiver is a good one. On the other hand, when I got married the first time and changed my name, I sort of did not file a name change with SSA, and I got a whole series of escalating letters from them about the failure of my name to match on SSA paperwork and IRS paperwork. I did eventually do something about it, possibly even in advance of the second (and last) name change when I got divorced. Those letters are often quite scary, unless you read them really carefully, at which point you realize that they can't actually do much to you if you just ignore them. (It's entirely possible they have more recourse these days than they did back in the '90s.)

When we were gone for a couple weeks end of June/beginning of July, we put our mail on hold, which I always do when we are out of town, because it's easier than having someone pick it up for us and we don't have pets or particularly sensitive houseplants. Nice service! Over the years, we've ended magazine subscriptions, moved bills, statements and so forth online, used various services to put a stop to catalogs and so forth. The result was that two weeks of mail -- including the junk mail and advertising that is resistant to stoppage -- fit _easily_ into our relatively ordinary mailbox. Our probably unattainable goal is to have a normal day involve no mail at all, however, we almost never have such days.

I'm a little bummed that while many non-profits/charitable operations have _added_ email and other online solicitation, they have lagged in the process of making it possible to completely quit receiving paper from them. Altho CSPI is close.

ETA: With more benefits online, thieves are going after the online stream of money. Thus far, the amount of money they are getting this way is tiny, both in comparison to previous fraud with paper checks or versus the cost of delivering benefits the old way vs. the new way -- never mind both. Still, it's nice that there is recourse (you get your check, and the wait isn't too bad; you can block your account from online changes so it can only be changed if you show up in person at an SSA office).

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/28/social-security-benefits-scam/2594675/
A Purple Straw Hat

_In Mixed Company_, J. Dan Rothwell, Fifth edition

I bought this a few years ago (not able to find the Amazon order record, so either I'm doing the search wrong or I bought it somewhere else), when I was serving as first an alternate then a Trustee for a library. The process that led to me participating in the board, and the experiences I had previously had on my condo board (3 years, and then another year later on, stepping in to replace someone who moved -- you would think I would learn) convinced me I should make an effort to study communications and working in small groups in the hopes that I would enjoy the process more should I be so foolish as to do so again.

I'm perfectly happy with the _outcomes_ I have, in terms of what the group accomplishes during the period of my participation. I just find it a really painful to participate. I have more recently reframed this as not a skill problem on my part, but a disability. That is, I _can_ do it (I can even do it well), but it hurts, and I need to respect that, and respect my limitations.

With this new frame in mind, I made one last effort to read this book, which I found profoundly disappointing (it's way up on the list of textbooks if you're trying to study this kind of thing) and annoying. And I still don't care for it. Textbooks in general tend to belabor the obvious and then mention in passing something really interesting and give the reader no easy way to pursue it further. So that's frustrating. In the "Closer Look" sections, the author frequently refers to "A friend of mine" (I sort of wish I had the e-version, rather than the p-version, so I could search on that phrase) and the experience they had, and some of those stories are the sort of thing that make you think maybe the friend was misrepresenting their experience, or that the wrong moral was drawn. In one case, it's not that the boss was a bad leader, per se, it's that he wasn't actually working. At all. Like, not present. A better "bad leader" example would have been someone who was actually trying to do the job, but doing it terribly. Then there are just odd examples, like the I-statement example.

"2. Make your descriptions specific, not vague. "I feel weird when you act inappropriately around my boss," is an inexact description. ... "I feel awkward and embarrassed when you tell my boss jokes that ridicule gays and women" is much more specific."

Gaaah! Why is the boss in this example? "I feel awkward and embarrassed when you tell jokes that ridicule gays and women.", maybe, but I don't think this should actually be about descriptive communication. I think maybe there should be an action component here. Like, "I am not okay with jokes that ridicule gays and women. What is your plan to stop yourself when you feel the impulse to tell them?" Seriously. Book's copyright is 2004. That is some creepy shit, right there. It should have been in the "Control versus Problem Orientation" part, or maybe the "Strategy versus Spontaneity" which Rothwell interprets as straightforwardness, directness and honesty.

There's actually a huge amount of good information in this text. Like this:

"This doesn't mean that you can never raise your voice, express frustration, or disagree with other group members. Conflict can remain constructive even when discussion becomes somewhat contentious." That is an awesome and helpful thing to point out in the context of how to determine whether an interaction is constructive or destructive conflict. However, the rest of the discussion is surprisingly empty of discussion (beyond are you doing juvenile stuff to win, getting physically aggressive, etc.) of _how_ to tell that you're heading into destructive conflict -- and we know a lot about self-analysis of physiological indicators and that those can be helpful.

Every page or chapter I sample, I run into this problem of much to like -- but crucial things that are missing and poorly chosen/presented examples.

I want to like it. But I cannot. I've tried. YMMV. I think it should be possible to learn a lot from this book, particularly people who have never had good success (outcome or pleasurable experience) in group efforts.

This is technically NOT a book review, because I did not read the entire book.
A Purple Straw Hat

_The Red Book of Groups_, Gaie Houston

Subtitled: and how to lead them better

I have the 3rd revised edition, 2004 printing ("impression"). I bought it in March of 2006. I think I was talking to someone about holistic peer counseling, and this book came up, not because it was about holistic peer counseling, but because it was a really good book for thinking about support groups and how to run them/how they function.

A couple of obvious points to make: author is _very_ British, and Americans are treated almost as another species. Which is interesting, but not necessarily disastrous. More problematic is the uniformly positive light in which Mao Tse-tung is considered. I'm not sure that's a frame I'm happy with for running groups, and I'm not even getting into the communism or the dictatorship. More the oppressive, relentless focus on purity and self-criticism. Houston gives no indication that she is taking that into consideration; presumably her perception of things like the Cultural Revolution is/was a lot different from mine.

It's thin. It's chatty. It has some nice, concrete examples which support the points being made. On the other hand, I probably should never have bought it, because it's not something I participate in on any level. There is a very limited amount of what she talks about that applies to things like the book group I participate in, but it's so limited I just don't see the point. Some of the content applies to peer counseling (which is a lot more interesting to me), but again, very limited.

Out of print, as near as I can tell, after a long life. Not horrible, but no reason for you to seek it out.

I'm apparently reading and reviewing books that have been sitting on the shelf for a long time, so I can get rid of them. That's something, I guess, altho I wish I had the energy to concentrate on the central banking book, because I think I would like it better. But I just don't have it in me right now.