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Week of 5/19/19

PUBLISHED: May 28, 2019

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.   


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Ronald Reagan famously quipped that “it’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?” Beyond a certain level, extra effort seems to be self-defeating. Studies suggest that, after 50 hours a week, employee productivity falls sharply.

But that doesn’t stop some managers from demanding that workers stay chained to their desk for long periods. At the blood-testing firm Theranos, Sunny Balwani, then boyfriend of the founder, Elizabeth Holmes, had an obsession with employee hours, and would tour the engineering department at 7:30p.m. to check people were at their desks. All those hours were wasted when the company eventually collapsed (prosecutors have charged Ms Holmes and Mr Balwani with fraud).

But presenteeism has more serious consequences.

As well as reducing productivity, this can increase medical expenses for the employer. According to a study in the Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine, these costs can be six times higher for employers than the costs of absenteeism among workers.

[M]odern machinery like smartphones and laptops is portable. It can be used as easily at home as in the office.

To be productive you need presence of mind, not being present in the flesh.

Associate Editor Alex Brock 
Excerpt from “The Joy of Absence” in the Economist


In August 2018 then-County Executive Alan Kittleman announced a five-year, $50 million master plan to protect the town from flash flooding. That plan called for the complete demolition of 10 buildings on the lower east end, the heart of the historic district. Another seven homes would come down on the west end, and two new culverts would be built along the Tiber Branch. The overall idea: Retain more water farther north in the watershed and widen the channel through which the floodwater could flow, easing the catastrophic funnel effect. That, according to the county, would bring the level of potential flooding down to four or six feet. Many residents and fans of the town, however, were horrified by the prospect of destroying the character of old Ellicott City. “The architecture, the building, and the fabric is rooted in its past,” says Nick Redding, president of the advocacy group Preservation Maryland, which strongly opposed Kittleman’s plan.

By October 2, the county council approved a budget of nearly $17 million to begin the mitigation.

In the November 2018 election, however, incumbent Kittleman was unseated by Democratic challenger Calvin Ball, one of the two council members who’d voted against the spending bills. The new county executive halted Kittleman’s plan and, in December, released his own, dubbed “EC Safe and Sound.” In it, he directed the public works department to explore options outside of demolition. “It’s important not to use a sledgehammer when only a scalpel is necessary,” he said in his announcement.

Graphic Designer Jenn Boggs 
Excerpt from “In a Town Shaped by Water, the River Is Winning” in CityLab


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