Tuesday, March 31, 2009

530 The HR Deptartment

530 The HR Department

Anyone who works in a company that has one will be quick to agree and most HR professionals will huff and puff and feign insult. But facts are facts.  And there's a terrible disconnect between what a company does and its personnel department.  The HRs don't know what goes on beyond the world of hiring and firing and the mounds of paperwork that goes along with it.

So who picked Rick Wagoner as the head guy at General Motors?  His reign was a disaster.  The stock dropped by more than 90 percent since his elevation to the chair at the head of the table.  And the company's market share fell from about 28 percent to about 18 percent.

So the real head of HR, Barack Obama, fired Wagoner, a big and available target of opportunity to put a face on the failure of this once great industrial power.  Don't be feeling too sorry for Little Ricky.  He's 56 years old and leaves with a $20 million retirement package.  That's a million a year if he lives to 76.  And he did fail.  And so is the company.

But throwing the guy out the door without notice (and without severance,) is, well, gauche.  Wagoner humiliated himself adequately by his actions and inactions over the course of his tenure.   There was no need for a quick public execution.  Should he have been canned?  Certainly.  But let the guy do it with a little grace.  He may be the wrong guy for the job.  But he's still a human being.

Which brings us back to the Human Resources industry.  Personnel used to be a side issue, a support function.  But it's grown into a monster and often the tail that wags the dog.  Personnel policy has become a world of its own, often a world run and populated by Masters of Business Administration (who confuse themselves with Masters of the Universe.)  At GM, they declined to put a car guy in charge of the car company.  Instead, they put in a Harvard MBA.   The good ole "B's" network.

The New CEO?  Fritz Henderson, five years younger than Wagoner.  But they have at least one thing in common:  A Harvard MBA.


Shrapnel:

--Merrick NY gets goats.  They've been hired to cut the grass at a park.  The same community recently hired a border collie to keep geese off a golf course, and that worked, so why not this.

--Merrick, my home for about 40 years, is the model for Moote Pointe, NY.  It is a place where all the fast food joints were built in a row.  And they are all served by a joint pipeline that provides supplies of fats and cholesterol (but no trans fats!)

--And Merrick is where we'll be heading late next month.  A reunion.  And, of course, a chance to scope out the goats, the dogs, the geese and the cholesterol pipeline.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

529 Irving R. Levine

529 Irving R. Levine

They did a lot of writing about Irving R. Levine this weekend.  But they left some stuff out.   About Irv and about news.

What they left out was the guy's personal warmth.  And they only hinted at his keen intelligence and his ability to slice through twisted concepts and pretzel words and phrases to come up with reports -- decades of reports -- that no one could misunderstand.

Think about this:  here was a bald guy with a bow tie, who looked old even before he was old, and who talked like a rabbi on national television where the template for correspondents includes Ken Doll hair,  square shoulders, a health club physique, chiseled facial features and a smooth baritone.  If Irv ever walked into a health club, other than to do a story about health clubs, he kept the information to himself.

His years in NBC's Moscow bureau at the height of the cold war told of life in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, when none of us at stateside had a clue about what really went on there.  He'd later write an op-ed piece for the New York Times, in which he described attempts to recruit him as a spy, talking into the chandeliers at hotels to make sure the people who were spying on him heard him clearly enough.

He and Khrushchev weren't exactly best of buddies, so when he was "invited" to leave the USSR, NBC made him chief of the Rome bureau.  And, yes, in those days, they had a Rome bureau.

But Levine shone most brightly in describing the economy to average Americans.  This was at a time when there was no CNBC or Bloomberg.  It was at a time when the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune and The Economist were written for traders and scholars.  Irv changed all that.  And he did it with grace and clarity that made this important subject real to truck drivers and farmers and electricians and, yes, even professors of economics.

And here's another little quirk.  When it was common among NBC correspondents to ignore radio and concentrate on television, Irv Levine still did radio.  In the waning days of the radio network, we could always count on Irv to do a radio version of his television report.   And we could always get a "yes," when we asked him to do a report for radio that WASN'T going to get on TV.  A cool head and refined (if rabbinic) thirty seconds, after listening to which you knew what the story was and why you should care about it.

He didn't talk much about his younger days with International News Service, which was known in the trade as where the good writers worked.  But you could hear it in his his words, and later see it in his choice of pictures.

If you wanted to know about his schooling, you practically had to pry it out of him.  Brown and Columbia.  Two ivies.  He never bragged about it.  It would have been, he'd say, unseemly.

This was a guy who connected.  With his colleagues and more important, with his listeners, readers and viewers.  And we are all poorer for his passing.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009

528 The Conversation

528 The Conversation

Hanging out in strange places can change your perspective.  If you spend an evening hour dawdling in a saloon, on a subway platform or in a traffic jam, you sometimes come away with new ideas, or, maybe, revived old ideas.

This happened the other night in the lobby of an assisted living home.  The destination wasn't random.  But the reason for being there's irrelevant.

Settling in with a cup of coffee and a dime novel,  the plan was to read and think for the hour.  This was not to be.  People kept interrupting without meaning to and without knowing it.

A knot of people began to form a few feet away, but in easy earshot.

First to arrive was a young girl, maybe 80, with one of those rolling walker things with the big wheels and the small basket attached.  Handy if you need help walking and your hands remain strong enough to grip the hand brakes -- same thing they have on bicycles.  She sat.  Then a few more similarly aged people arrived.  They began to chatter.  Most remained standing.

It's rude to eavesdrop.   But not having heard a conversation like this one in ages, it was impossible not to.

The first thing that caught attention was that the people talked one at a time.  No one interrupted anyone else.  In New York it's a cultural thing, and not the best cultural contagion we have to offer.  That didn't happen.  The sound of one voice talking.  Then another and another.  Spaces between sentences and no overlap.

The women were talking about their favorite dime novels, for the most part.  They were talking about sentences and choices of words, with praise here and criticism there.  But it wasn't like listening to a convention of retired English teachers.  It was just a small group of mostly women talking about what they liked and what they disliked about books.  Not great literature, just books.

One was a fan of John Le CarrĂ©.  And she had reasons.  Another preferred Tom Clancy.  And SHE had reasons.  If this conversation had taken place in a saloon, the participants would, by the middle of the second drink, be at each others' throats.  If it were on a subway platform it would have been much harder to hear, even though it would have been at a greater volume.

As they got ready to leave -- apparently they were being met by one of those small buses that take people to and from events or medical appointments or, well, saloons, their listener flagged their attention and confessed to listening in, and telling them he hadn't heard a conversation of this kind in decades, and "thank you."

The Le CarrĂ© lady replied "Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed it.  Eavesdrop any time.  Come back again."  And she seemed to mean it.

And I will.

Shrapnel:

--Good news and bad news about the The Kingsland Report, 
must reading for investment pros, especially these days.  The good news is it's back.  The bad news is Jim's figured out he can sell it instead of giving it away and it's the best bucks you'll ever spend on such a newsletter.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

527 Call Out the Riot Squad

527 Call Out the Riot Squad

Roving bands of right wing wackos, having exhausted themselves beating up the President about the mess at AIG, are turning back to one of their top ten greatest hits.  Yes, the English Only crowd is back.  They worry that when you see signs in English, Spanish and Arabic, the country will be taken over by hoards of invading savages, who will destroy God and Country.

Ain't gonna happen.  Not via their scenario, at any rate.

There's a strong link between a national language and national values, for sure.  But the destruction isn't coming from Lithuanian sign painters, terrorists from the middle east or the Great Red Menace.  (We should re-think this last phrase, lest we misspeak  about Republicans rather than Soviet Communists.)

Within the above parentheses lies the real menace to language, a word like "misspeak," which has become so common, spell check ignores it.  "Misspeak" takes the wind out of the language and out of the concept it really describes: the lie.  Or, more charitably, the mistake.  You don't need another dozen examples of weightless words.  You see and hear (and we all probably use) them every day.

But what about this: inflated language leads to diminished concepts.

A long time ago, a lovable and super talented colleague passed away young and after a slight heart attack.  Because he was fairly well known in his trade, the story was pretty public.  By the time it made the papers, the heart attack had become "massive."  It wasn't.  Unfortunate, yes.  Fatal, yes.  Massive?  No.

In a small college town, recently, there was a comparatively large celebration over the winning of a football game, which turned into a relatively large and hard to control disturbance.

Publicity hungry public officials and local media immediately declared it a riot.  Which can mean either or both of two things:  (a) the publicity hungry public officials and local media had never seen a real riot and (b) there's an insurance benefit to someone if it's called a "riot" rather than a "disturbance."

Best get the language mavens together and form a riot squad.

Another piece of inflating language deflating concepts:

Is it a war in Iraq?  It certainly seems so.  But in America, Congress declares war.  So what is it then?  A "Police action" as they called the fighting in Korea?  An "undeclared" war?  What.

Worry all you want about the raging hoards of Spanish or Korean or Chinese or Russian speaking legals and illegals. They're not the ones destroying the culture by destroying the language.  You are.


Shrapnel:

--Traffic control here in Moot Point is no control at all.  Combine that with some of the world's worst drivers and what do you get?  A need for more one-way dead end streets.

--Don Rickles has written a new memoir.  If you're a fan you'll get more warmth from Mister Warmth than you'd expect.  If you're not a fan, you won't become one by reading the book.

--Speaking of aging celebrities, Mr. T did an interview the other day.  Said all he really wanted in life was to be able to buy his mother a house and pretty dresses.  As the "old" Mr. T would say "very sentimental.... fool!"


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

526 When the Phone Rings at 3 am

526 When The Phone Rings at 3 am

The phone doesn't ring around here at three in the morning.   That's because we disconnect it out of habit.   Every night, unplug.  Every morning, plug back in.  The cell phones?  Awake when we're awake.  Asleep when we're asleep.

Five decades of being rung awake at heaven knows what hour.  Bobby Kennedy is dead.  The NYFD is at a ten-alarmer.  There's a riot in Newark or Harlem or Hempstead or somewhere.

It took awhile to figure some solutions.  The first, the earliest and the most important was to be up at those kinds of hours as part of the daily routine.  A couple of years of overnight newscasts at WOR.  Eight or so years of working on the "Today Show," whose news staff starts its day around midnight.  Fooled them.  They couldn't wake you up if you were already awake and on the job.

The second solution came later:  take the phone off the hook.  Unplug.  Turn off the cell.  But by the time that idea presented itself, no one was calling at odd hours, anymore.

Still, the habit persists.  Most of the time.  But sometimes, one forgets.

And sometimes, in forgetting, the phone will ring at some ungodly hour.

But this time it's not for a reporter to jump into uniform and head for the latest disaster.  It's for the nurse/health aid/spouse sleeping peacefully on the other side of the bed.

We've learned our lesson.  The phone is unplugged every night now.  We never forget anymore.

Around here, when the phone rings at 3am, we don't worry.  Leave that stuff to the President.  And the news director.

At least the few calls we get are not death threats.  That's something that's going on with some of the people who're getting bonuses (boni?) from AIG.  And that's just plain wrong.

Whatever the end result of those bulging budget busters, we're talking about human lives here.  The bonus-ees may be undeserving.  They may be guys you'd want to string up.  They may be guys who SHOULD be strung up.  But that's a matter for the courts.

Here in America, we pay our debts and honor our contracts, no matter how distasteful.  We don't do the vigilante act -- with some notable exceptions.

Rewarding incompetents and incompetence with large sums of cash is both distasteful and wrong.  But threatening violence is wronger still.






Shrapnel:

--We're bailing out the auto parts makers.  So, you get to buy your new shocks and struts twice.  The first time is at retail, the second is when your taxes pay the factory.

--Actually, you're getting to pay for the new car itself twice for the same reason.  But you can fool 'em.  Don't buy the car at all, and that way you only pay for it once.

--Bernie Madoff's going to share a jail cell with a doctor caught drug dealing.  They'll do business together behind bars.  Bernie gives the doc phantom stocks; the doc gives Bernie placebos.


I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

525 Thirty Minute Meals?

525 Thirty Minute Meals?

Ever catch those cooking shows on TV?  Rachael Ray?  Iron Chef?  Emeril?

Amazing how they whip up those wonderful meals in no time at all.

Rachael in particular, with her "30 minute meals."

Of course, she has all the stuff at hand and well in advance of the taping.  And indications are she does her own shopping, which is pretty unusual if you have a hit show.  In a half hour of TV, which is actually only about 22 minutes, she puts together some of the most interesting and delicious stuff you can either imagine eating or actually eat. 

What we never see on any of these shows is what happens after the meal's done and eaten.

Someone ought to do a cooking broadcast called "The 30 Minute Cleanup."  Except it wouldn't be 30 minutes.  It would be much longer.

Thirty minutes to prepare, another 30 to eat.  And the rest of the night you're taking Brillo to pots and Dawn Foamy to plates and heaven knows what to ovens and stoves and flatware.

Of course, every stove in America doubles as a storage space.  It's where you keep the pots and pans and bowls that don't fit anywhere else.   So to use the oven, you have to first unload it.  (This doesn't count in the 30 minute prep time.)

Then, when finished, you have to let the thing cool down (it doesn't get cool enough during the length of time you're eating what you cooked, no matter how long you linger at the table with your demitasse or brandy.)  Then there's cleaning the oven.  Then there's re-packing the oven with the pots and pans and bowls that don't fit anywhere else.

Dishes?  We've all learned not to use the dishwasher in these days of high energy costs, so that, too, serves as storage space.   Plus loading and unloading it is almost as time consuming as hand washing the stuff.

Do Rachael or Emeril clean their own messes?  Of course not.  First, there's likely a contract with the stage hands that barely lets some of the TV chefs cook.  Cleaning?  Out of the question.  If Food Network is a non-union shop, there still are people cleaning up after the stars.

At home, you are both the star and the stage hand.


Shrapnel:

--Is everything out of Bernie Madoff's mouth a lie?  Apparently so.  Latest bean counting indicates his fortune is not 800-million as claimed, but something like, well, zero.

--Bernie should have taken a part time job with AIG.  Then he would probably be worth more than zero.  Maybe as much as 4 million more, or even six.

--At least there's something of an upside to being burned by Bernie.  You get an extra tax break.  And you get a free dinner at Nino's, which is worth more than the latest reading of Bernie's assets (but, of course, some restrictions apply-- when don't they?)

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

524 The $15 Scare

524 The $15 Scare

The paycheck was a few bucks bigger this time.  Fifteen dollars.  Didn't make any sense.  

At first, comparing the various statistics on this stub and the previous one didn't do much to help figure out why.  Same rate, same hours, different result.

Then, the "ahah!" moment.  They forgot to take out federal withholding.  

In the movies, this is where the scary music would start.  Like when someone's about to get murdered or the hatch on the flying saucer that landed in Jersey City begins to creak open.

Okay, what does one do when the payroll company forgets something major, like, say, taking out federal taxes.  Several phone calls later, mystery solved.  The boss says "you voted for the right guy.  This is the Obama stimulus plan in action. They skipped withholding this time and you have all that extra money to spend."

They what?  They skipped federal withholding? On purpose?

Which raises a quandary.  What to do with that extra 15 bucks.  

It's not a tank of gas.  It's not a meal for two.  It's certainly not enough to start a "small business" and hire some out of work types.

The bribe from the Bush administration was $600, and that was spent before it came in.  Spent twice, in fact.  Fifteen bucks?  Stick it in a certificate of deposit?

Um... the banks probably won't sell you a CD for 15 bucks.

Of course, a 15 dollar windfall is better than no windfall at all.  And it's certainly better to have an explanation than it is to worry about some IRS clerk catching the mistake a year from now and hauling you in to see what other nefarious deeds you've done or that have been done in your behalf.  

So it's come to this:  getting a fatter paycheck without getting an actual raise has become a source not of prosperity but of fear, even if temporary.  and getting a fatter paycheck has become a reason to start an investigation of your payroll outfit to make sure they're on the up and up.  

Okay.  Cue the scary music and let the saucer hatch creak open.  Fifteen bucks is enough for a couple of movie tickets.

Shrapnel:

--Maybe there IS a reason for the AIG bonuses.  Maybe the recipients were rewarded for good performance.  For that to happen, the goal must have been to destroy the company, at which they did an unquestionably brilliant job.

--Many in the radio biz have no use left for John Donald Imus.  But he cleared the way for the rest of us to be funny and silly and sometimes slanderous on the air, which counts for something.  Get well soon, you idiot.

--New food labeling laws have taken effect, so we know which country shipped us the slop from which we catch some dread disease.  Handy datum, this.  It'll give our surviving relatives something new and different to be mad about.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

#523 Money Saving Gardening

523 Money Saving Gardening


How many decades married to a gardener and picked up nothing?  This would be the year to remember if there were anything to remember, but there isn't.

This would be the spring and summer to grow tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, peppers, kohlrabi, turnips, peppers and rhubarb.  But, no.  No expertise, even with the bountiful soil of central Pennsylvania, so much more fertile and farmy than the sands of Long Island's south shore.

This would be the spring and summer to grow all that veggie stuff, with the guidance of the farmy types who inhabit this region.  A big saving over the stupor market, a pleasure, getting dirty in God's green earth.  a matter of pride.  Not to mention nutrition.

There have been some trial runs.  A "snake plant" which grows anywhere and under any circumstances is not growing.  A hydrangea brought back from the dead last autumn? The jury remains out and probably will for a month on whether it'll come back to life yet again.  But statistically, the likelihood is not great.  Both the plant and the planter were in bad shape last summer.

And then, there's Randi Cohen.  She's been a gardener for 70 of her years, which is most of them.  She says gardening is not what it's cracked up to be.  She says "you know, there's more nutrition in a can of corn than in an ear of corn?"  Don't believe it?  Look it up.  Randi says "grow a bunch of tomato vines.  See how many hours you have to weed and feed and water and then tell me if 'Hunts' is any more expensive."

So does grow your own save money?  Only if you don't count your time as worth something, evidently.  Yes if you don't, no if you do.  Does grow-your-own mean better nutrition?  Farmer Randi says "no."  Is that the final word?  No, but close.

Randi holds up a Mickey D wrapper.  She asks "What's worse than reading the nutrition label on a McDonald's Double cheeseburger?"

The answer: "reading the nutrition label on a McDonald's double cheeseburger after you've just finished three of them."

Maybe there's something to growing your own turnips.  Or maybe there's more in reading labels before you order.

Shrapnel:

--How do they know?  You buy stuff.  Soon thereafter, you find a coupon for the same stuff.  By the time you need to buy the same thing again, the coupon will have expired.

--We're hearing more and more reports of people going on shooting rampages and killing family members and random strangers.  It would be nice to know whether this shows an increase in this kind of crime or whether we're just getting better at reporting.  Not that either answer would solve anything.

--AIG, the failed and bailed insurance company got $170 billion-and-counting from us taxpayers.  About $165 million is going for bonuses.  You suppose any of the folks planning to off their kinfolk can think of something better to do with that shotgun?

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009


Friday, March 13, 2009

522 Counting

522 Counting

Having lived though 17 presidential elections, it's possible to conclude that America is a nation that can't count.  

Inaccurate?  Unfair?  Maybe.  But there's an awful lot of evidence, especially around election time.  As of this writing, they still haven't figured out who will represent Minnesota in the US Senate, for example. Here's another:  was the Bernie Fraud $50 billion or 20 billion or 17 billion or -- and this is a relatively new version 65 billion?

Why can't we count?  Maybe it's because we rely on perfectly good people and often perfectly good machines, well meaning folk and hardware that break down under critical conditions.

In a nation larded with bean counters, we still don't know how many beans there are.  Especially when there's more than one variety of bean to count.

Alright, how does this happen.  Elementary school kids can count.  By the age of four, most kids can count to at least five.  Often, they can count in fractions.  ("I'm NOT four.  I'm FOUR AND A HALF!")  By age ten, they have the whole thing down pat.  There's probably something in the child labor laws that would prohibit ten year-olds from counting ballots.  But if it weren't illegal, they'd probably do no worse and probably do a whole lot better than what we have now.

Or maybe we should try outsourcing.  We outsource everything else, after all.

If your "Detroit" car was made in Mexico or Canada or Japan or Korea or Germany or Sweden, why not your vote count?  They can count is Australia and Europe and Asia and South America.  In Greenland and Iceland and all those other lands.

Well, there's a move afoot to keep American jobs in America.  So how about this idea:

Bookies can count.  Hire bookies.  Or family farmers, such as there are of them, where an inability to count is a life-threatening condition?  Or seniors on Social Security.  They can divide a bunch of small numbers into a larger one.  Failure to do so also is a life-threatening condition.  It's a matter of survival.  As it is with piece workers in sweat shops.  They know exactly --exactly!-- how many shirts or shorts or dresses or pants they've sewn or cut.  It's a matter of survival.

Or toll takers on the country's highways.

Or maybe the IRS should take on the responsibility.  Who argues with an IRS count, argues at his peril.

What is truly amazing about this is that the so-called most advanced nation in recorded history can't get it right the first time.

Sure, it's more complicated than using fingers and toes.  But it's STILL just counting.


Shrapnel:

--To bad about Bernie.  He pleaded guilty to eleven charges.  One too many for Letterman's Top Ten List.

--Light at the end of the tunnel or just a glitch?  GM says it doesn't need it's March feeding, two billion federal dollars.  See how long that lasts.

--Note that you can link to John Wydra's website from here and from the right side of the page.  Note also that the site is again active after a brief absence.  Note also that the guy makes a lot of sense and we need more more more of that.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009





Wednesday, March 11, 2009

521 Habit

521 Habit 

Some habits are not habits at all.

Smoking, for example.

That's either an addiction or something buried deep in the genetic code.

You watch.  They'll eventually find that out, the genetic part.

Only a non-smoker considers smoking a habit.

Some habits are simply matters of practicality.  Let's take something harmless, like you always park your car facing out of the driveway instead of in.  Makes for a quick escape if you need one or better visibility when kids are playing in the street or there's a foot of snow on the ground.

Or you empty your pockets into a tray or a plate each evening so you'll know where everything is in the morning when you have to make your quick escape in your out-facing car onto your street full of playing kids or snow.

But does this really explain some of our quirky behavior, the stuff we silly critters do?  Maybe yes, maybe no.

How about this:  most of us don't buy the top copy from a pile of newspapers -- those of us who still buy newspapers.  What are we thinking, that a lot of people have glanced at that front page already and that makes it a used paper?  But still, that's what many of us do.

Or this:  there's a knot of people waiting for an elevator.  You are the fifth person to arrive.  The call button is lit.  But you still push it.  So has everyone who came before you even though only one push was needed.

Take a look in your closet.  Is everything facing in the same direction?  Probably.  If you hang a shirt up in the wrong direction, do you rush home at the end of the day and before turning your car backward in the driveway you run to the bedroom to reverse the wrong-way shirt because it's been bothering you all day?  (If the answer is "yes," you need serious help, seriously soon.)

Your correspondent has a lifelong habit of punctuality.  The self-justification, the official reason is that time is valuable and that lateness is 
a way of telling someone that one believes his time is more valuable than yours.  Showing up late for work one day in a snowstorm induced an irrational tailspin of guilt, worry and distraction.  (NOW who needs serious help?)

Go on, take the pledge.  You will take the top paper on the pile if it's not visibly damaged, will not push the elevator button if someone else already has, put the right shoe on first if you normally start with the left.

It's good training.  But for what?

Shrapnel:

--A company claiming to make paper clips, ACCO of Illinois disputes our theory that they just recirculate.  Okay, that's what THEY say.  But we know better.

--ACCO owns the Swingline brand now.  There's something wrong about a Swingline stapler not made in Long Island City.  Anyone who has ever ridden the Long Island Railroad after dark knows what I mean.

--Citigroup turns a profit?  For two consecutive months?  Be still, our hearts because this may be a sign that Bush's stupid bailout is starting to work.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, March 09, 2009

520 Knowing What You Don't Know

520 Knowing What You Don't Know

Sometimes it helps when you ask for help.   If you're moving a piano, say, and you don't know much about moving a piano, might be a good idea to get hold of a piano mover.

Thing is, these days, we all seem to think we should be able to do absolutely everything.  Move a piano, paint a house, put on a new roof, perform microsurgery, write a symphony, invent a better mouse trap.

Some people -- even some micro-surgeons -- can't color inside the lines.

We guys -- and it's mostly guys -- think we're born with a do-anything gene.  There's no beast we can't tame; no situation for which we are unprepared.  And technology sometimes reinforces this idiot notion.  Case in point:  the GPS direction finder.  No guy ever asks for directions.  It's... well, it's un-manly.  With our handy-dandy Nextars, we never have to.

We are told that there are no limits, except when we self-limit our imaginations.  If you can see it in your mind's eye, you can do it.

Yeah, right.

This is how all KINDS of terrible things happen.

Back to the micro-surgeons.  Some people just ain't cut out for it.

Some people are just no good at deep sea diving.

Some people just shouldn't ski.

Some people who've never been in a war zone shouldn't start wars.

And some people who never saw a down-market should get out of the trading business. 

Sometimes we learn this early, which is a good thing.

Touch a hot stove once, you probably won't do it again.

When they throw you out of the Karaoke bar, you might learn that you ought not sing in public.

On the other hand, most of life is not that simple.

Developing your talent is noble.  Realizing you do not have that particular talent is equally noble.

Schooling sometimes helps, but often not.  Auto body repair men and women are born, not made.  So are makers of ukuleles and painters -- both house and portrait.

Dr. Peale would not approve of this.  He'd say "follow your dream."  Others might say "follow that dream even if it leads you over a cliff."



Shrapnel:

--Scientists at MIT have confirmed the Richards Theory of Paper Clips.  This theory states there is a finite number of them and they just keep recirculating.  They are not an endangered species, at least not yet.

--Scientists at Wonderland University have confirmed there's no such thing as cancer.  It's all a myth, they say.  They're now working on the possibility that this also may be true of heart disease and maybe even paper cuts.

--Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have confirmed that what goes up doesn't necessarily come down.  Just most of the time.  Someone gave the Director of the Up And Down Project some stock charts, which modified his view, but only slightly.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, March 06, 2009

519 The Warning Note

519 The Warning Note

Back in junior high school, when you were in danger of flunking a course, the teacher would mail home what they called a "warning note."  A dreaded warning note may be a better way to put it.

The note would tell you that you were in danger of flunking English or algebra or some such, but that there remained hope that with diligent work ("apply yourself!") you might still reach a passing grade for the academic quarter.  By the time it was time to issue the warning note, you pretty well knew you were going to get one.  But when it came in the mail, you had confirmation of your fears.

Sometimes you COULD get back on track in time to earn at least a "D" for the quarter.  Mostly not.

The biz world equivalent of the junior high warning note is called a "going concern notice."  A going concern notice comes from your auditors and they send it when they think you're in such deep yogurt that you might not make it.  A passing grade for THIS warning note is survival.

This week, the auditors sent a going concern note to their client, General Motors.  GM is in danger of flunking the quarter.  Maybe in danger of flunking out, entirely.

And like the kid in junior high, the company knew this thing was likely to come.  But also like the kid in junior high, their hearts no doubt sank when they got it.

So should yours.

You get a warning note in junior high, you maybe find some extra help.  Same with GM.  They knew this was coming, and to their credit (to use a dubious word,) they have been seeking extra help.

From you.

Thing is, even with extra help, in this case, billions of dollars in loans, you sometimes can't pull out of the tailspin.

They're not going to fold tomorrow, exactly.  Maybe not at all.  But everyone learning of this condition will assume they will and act accordingly.  Which in this case is to not buy their stuff.

This creates further downward pressure and likely speeds any eventual bankruptcy filing.

Unlike junior high, when you flunk at this level, you don't get to simply repeat the class until you get it right.  When you flunk at this level, you're toast.



Shrapnel:

--Times are tough, so municipalities across the land are skimping on pot hole repair.  It's not that they don't fill 'em.  It's just that they fill 'em with watered down goo that means they come back soon.

--Westchester Johnny loves the old pop standards.  Complains you can't get that on the radio, any more.  Won't learn to use a computer, so he remains stuck.

--What to ask the doctor on entering the waiting room?  "How late is he or she running."  It's a good question, even at 7:30 in the morning.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

518 Hold On, Gordie

518 Hold On, Gordie

Maybe the recession really IS over.  Prime Minister Brown of the United Kingdom is here in the Colonies, urging Congress to "have faith" in the free market.

Kind of an odd sentiment, since (a) faith is confidence based on no evidence and (b) "faith in the free market" is what got us where we are today, and that's the financial version of the weather on Downing St.  Or, to be a bit more British about it, the weather IN Downing St.

Why do we need translation when listening to someone whose native language is English?  Rhetorical question.  But if you read between the lines, what you see is a guy from "the" former world power telling us not to get too protectionist in our trade policies, lets Britain and the whole EU suffer from our economic prowess.

That we HAVE any economic prowess left is easier to see from the London Observatory than it is from the corner of Broad and Wall.  But if Gordie thinks we do, maybe we actually do.

The Obama administration is trying to bring jobs back to America.  And it's moving to stop rewarding American companies that ship jobs overseas.  And if this has Prime Minister Brown in a twist, there must be something to it.

In his visit here, Brown is also playing to the crowd back home, where he's not exactly king of the popularity polls.  He doesn't want his administration sunk in the mire that Tony Blair created when he put on that Chihuahua suit and jumped into George Bush's lap.

Brown is angling for more sensible and accessible banking rules world wide, and a world wide stimulus for economies large and small.  Pretty good idea.  But, to quote the long ago slogan of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, "America First" this time.  

We need to tread a fine line.  We can't fully alienate Europe.  Or Asia, for that matter.  But by the same token, how did we manage to make shipping jobs overseas a fringe benefit for American business.  That's gotta stop.

You have heard or seen in this space many times a call for more smokestacks, farms and mines.  That hasn't changed.  If we're to meet our  own minimum expectations, we have to resurrect ourselves as an industrial monolith.  That's the only way it's going to happen.  Sure, make the 'stacks green.  Green sells.  But make 'em.

Meantime, hold on, Gordie.  We won't let you down.  Just keep that free market bear crap to yourself.


Shrapnel:

--Who is running the Republican Party, the elected chairman or some radio talk show maniac?  The answer:  it doesn't matter.  The party is DOA -- but expect a resurrection, eventually.

--Some Deep Thinker thinks he's come up with a brand new brand for the GOP.  They're calling it "the party of 'no.'"  Earth to Deep Thinker: It's always been the party of "no" and the party of punishment.

--J.P. Morgan Chase got a 25 billion dollar federal bailout.  Here's how that's made them more efficient: for the month of March, the bank delayed distribution of AFTRA pension fund checks, for which it is being handsomely rewarded, and may get to keep part of the float.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, March 02, 2009

517 Paul Harvey 1918-2009

517 Paul Harvey 1918-2009

The temptation to avoid saying anything about Paul Harvey's death was great.  After all, the bios and obits were everywhere.  And there were several recent references to the guy in this space.

But none of these captures the man.  So, here's an attempt from a stranger:

We met twice.  Once was at ABC Radio headquarters at 1926 Broadway in the final days of 1975.   It was a small meeting.  The participants were Charles P. Arnot, an ABC News executive, Paul Harvey, Harry Reasoner, Howard Cosell, Roger Grimsby and Wes Richards.  The presence of the last guy seemed irrelevant.  Perhaps the invitation came as a sop to a network beginner.  The topic of the meeting?  How to survive as a news network if Paul Harvey quits.  Harvey was 57 or 58 at the time.  He announced to the room that he wasn't going anywhere.  But even then, ABC, one of the "big three" broadcast networks depended on him.  He knew it.  They knew it.  You'd have expected him to hold it over them.  He did not.

Harvey had come in from Chicago just for this meeting.  It took about ten minutes.  Then, we watched him work.  After all, he did have to do his programs, right?

He took the same AP, UPI and Reuters teletype copy all of us in the newsroom received.  But when it came out of Paul's Olympia Large Type office typewriter, it had a life of its own.  All the while, the guy's joking with the rest of us.  Asking questions, answering questions.  We all made carbons of our scripts at ABC in those days.  Reasoner took one of Paul's and read it and put it down and said something along the lines of "how does he do that?"  Reasoner's impressed?  So should be the rest of us.

Even Cosell, who refused to seem impressed by anything but Cosell was impressed.

Richards looked at the script, too.  And he asked Harvey "How do you do that?"  And Paul Harvey said "think about telling the story to some hard of hearing woman in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.  She's listening to you, but she's also doing the laundry or cooking dinner and she's not so smart and she doesn't follow the news every day.  Remember her, he said.

The second encounter was in the studios of WOR radio at Broadway and 40th and was in 1990.  WOR carried Paul's shows at the time.

WOR's General Manager, Bob Bruno, told us that Paul's shows on WOR had more listeners in New York than Rather at CBS and Brokaw at NBC combined.

One early morning, there's Paul in the newsroom and then in the studio.  Now,  he's 72 years old.  The hair is thinner, but still that reddish brown.  We say "You and I met in 1975 at ABC.  He says "I'm sorry, I don't remember, I hope you can forgive me."  Still so much milder than his broadcast image.  Still the gentleman that the listeners don't hear -- not the assertive, confident guy they DO hear.

So what was so special about this guy?

He was a doctrinaire conservative, at least most of the time.

You may disagree with his politics.  But you couldn't disagree with this:

Paul Harvey could tell a story of great color and significance or minuscule color and significance and make you want to listen and it was impossible to misunderstand. 

Now, about that meeting in 1975?  We came to no conclusions about how ABC was to survive without Paul.  But only one of the participants is still alive.  And he was and is clueless.

I'm Wes Richards.  Good day.