Part of the 2 Percent

artworks-000049373797-uapeq3-t500x500 (1) (1) (1).jpgI’m part of the 2 percent. I work for the tiny fraction of U.S. companies that offer unlimited paid time off (PTO). That’s right, I get to watch The Price Is Right live as much as I want! Or something like that.

Are you jealous? Don’t be. You’re probably taking more vacation than I am — because workers under traditional use-it-or-lose-it policies usually take off more time than we 2 percenters.

At every organization, regardless of PTO policy, people feel reluctant to take days off. One study showed that 41 percent of Americans don’t take any vacation days at all. At. All.

Is that you? Are you someone who thinks your company is overpaying you so you choose to reject part of your compensation? (That’s what PTO is, after all.) Or do you fear that work will build up? (Don’t worry. Your plate will be full no matter what you can’t accomplish today, tomorrow, and many tomorrows after.) Or maybe you think your department will collapse if you’re not there for a few weeks? (The whole company, probably. Maybe even the country. The planet.) Or do you simply agonize over the optics of potentially taking off too many days? (Whatever “too many” means.)

The last concern is especially relevant under an unlimited PTO plan. At my company, I’m told that, really, no really, no but for real, really, people may take PTO as they wish. That’s why, after starting my job this past June, I’ll be taking the next six months off.  Continue reading “Part of the 2 Percent”

Can Emphysema Buy Happiness?

Sharone Stone SmokingHow much is your happiness worth? Can you put a dollar amount on it? I can on mine.

$6.25. That’s the cost of a Butterfinger shake at vegan fast-food haven Blossom du Jour. Seriously, it’s better than porn. Of course, Uncle Sam’s sales tax chips away at my joy, but then, who said the government was ever in the business of happiness?

The government did, in fact, when not long ago it released its latest proposed tobacco regulations. The New York Times reported that the new guidelines included “a little-known cost-benefit calculation that public health experts see as potentially poisonous: the happiness quotient. It assumes that the benefits from reducing smoking—fewer early deaths and diseases of the lungs and heart—have to be discounted by 70 percent to offset the loss in pleasure that smokers suffer when they give up their habit.”

In other words, happy smokers mutate into miserable quitters—at least temporarily after puffing their last plume. Put more simply, the health gains from quitting smoking aren’t as great when balanced against the unhappiness quitters feel.

Put even more simply: What good is not getting emphysema if you’re just going to complain about your good health?

On one hand, it’s nice to see Big Bro considering the happiness of its millions of little brothers. Ultimately, the whole point of government is to ensure the happiness of its citizens, something I especially believe as an advocate of utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number (an over-simplification of the ethical theory, but you get the point).

Plus, the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By now, we all know that tobacco kills the first part of this trifecta, is an impetus for debate around second, but we rarely—if ever—think about smoking in terms of the third.

Well, the government’s been thinking, and some say thinking about it all wrongly. Continue reading “Can Emphysema Buy Happiness?”

The FDA Should Ban Black Blood

I recently committed an act of civil disobedience. I donated blood. But before I get to that, I realize that it seems as if David Duke had written the title of this post, but consider this: Black people accounted for 44% of all new HIV infections among adults and adolescents in 2010 (the last time such stats were available), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Given the relatively small size of the U.S. black population, that means that the rate of HIV infection among blacks is eight times that of whites.

The Food and Drug Administration should reject black blood,  just as it shuns gay blood.

Blood SplatterYou might be thinking that black people aren’t responsible for the high HIV rate so much as black gay men are. You’d be right. In fact, men accounted for 70% of all new HIV infections among black people; most of these men were gay or bisexual—or as health agencies commonly put it, “men who have sex with men (MSM).” So, it really is a gay problem.

A big one. In 2010 gay and bisexual men between ages 13 and 24 accounted for 72% of all new HIV infections in that age range. Which is partly why the FDA continues to uphold its ban preventing blood donations by men who’ve have sex with men since 1977.

Of course, the FDA also won’t allow donations by those who’ve had a quickie with a prostitute or intercourse with an IV drug user within the last year. So if you’re a straight married man who’s screwed a hooker a few years ago, your blood’s OK. If you’re an openly gay married man—even with an HIV- test—you’re just screwed. Forever.  Continue reading “The FDA Should Ban Black Blood”