Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thanks, J.R.

Like most who found themselves watching the Indianapolis 500 race last Sunday, I could not believe my eyes, as rookie driver J. R. Hildebrand drove his million dollar race car into the wall on the final turn of the race.  "What a looser," I yelled at the screen.  "The fix is in," screamed my more synical friend.

Uncharacteristially, I was watching the race only because my friend, who still believes Lyndon Johnson was behind the Kennedy assassination, revels in the world of auto racing.  Whether it is Indy cars or the more popular NASCAR circuit, I find watching a bunch of cars drive around in circles while creating a collosal din, to be unbearably boring.  I prefer the edge-of-your-chair excitement of golf.

However, last Sunday, this kid named J.R. rewarded us all with a reminder of a reality that I have preached for years.  The best way to face the music, is to face the music.  And that is exactly what this rookie driver did.

After seeing the coveted 500 win slip away within view of the checkered flag, J.R. stepped from the twisted metal that skidded him to second place and showed a poise and maturity way beyond his years.  Hildebrand, is no dummy (he was accepted for admission at MIT).  This bright young man, first sought out his crew and apologized to each and everyone of them. 

He then submitted himself to the scrutiny of a critical press, answering every question, while being forced to watch the replay of his crash over and over.  He had the presence of mind to thank fellow driver Paul Tracy for his sympathetic remarks after the race.  He congratulated winner Dan Wheldon.

In other words, J.R. seemed to have this all in the proper perspective.  Sure he was disappointed.  But, he is only 23 years old.  There will be plenty of races, and more chances at Indy.  But if he never wins a race, he has proven himself a winner in a much more significant way.  He has provided us all with an example of how we should behave when faced with a major setback or disappointment. 

Thanks, J.R.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Halloween for the Lazy

So, let me say at the outset that I have some serious skin invested in the subject I wish to address today. At issue is the way the government hands out that little blue placard with the “stick” rendering of a person sitting in a wheelchair.
On February 29, 1996 my wife hit a substantial bump while riding on a snowmobile in Utah.  The little mogul she hit threw her in the air and when she came back down the impact forced her T-7 vertebrae into her spinal cord.   The resulting 70% compression of the cord immediately rendered her paralyzed from the waist down.  A simple quirk of fate handed her to a life-sentence of limitation and challenge she could never have imagined.
The way she responded has made her a hero to family members and friends.  She has reclaimed her life with a strength and dignity, that even she did not know she pocessed.  She has overcome the challenges that come with such a life-altering injury.
But there is one constant obstacle she struggles with most days when she climbs into her hand-control equipped car and drives off to the mall, the grocery, the theatre or any other public place.  Where to park?
This brings me to the question at hand; why does the State of Ohio hand out disabled parking placards like Halloween candy?  The laws of the state indicated that you are eligible for a placard if you:

• Can't walk 200 feet without stopping to rest.
• Can't walk without use of a brace, cane, crutch, another person, prosthetic device or wheelchair.
• Are restricted by lung disease.
• Use portable oxygen.
• Have a cardiac condition that limits activity.
• Are severely limited by arthritic, neurological or orthopedic conditions.

• Are blind.

That’s it.  That’s the short list for those who qualify for the blue-and-white placard hanging from the rear view mirror that allows one to park in those close-to-the-front-door spaces reserved for people with disabilities.  Nowhere does it include the “20-something” that can leap the five feet from the cab of his jacked-up pick-up truck and sprint in front of oncoming cars in the Kroger’s parking lot.

Research indicates that between 2000 and 2006, the number of placards assigned annually by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles increased by more than 80 percent.  Almost half of the more than 800,000 individuals with active placards possess multiple copies, according to BMV records. More than 3,500 users possess five or more placards.  In 2008, more than 1.2 million placards -- or roughly one for every 10 Ohioans – were in circulation.  Halloween for the lazy?
Clearly there is abundant abuse.  Of course, if being 50 pounds overweight is a disability, then I stand corrected.  For it seems to me, as a subjective observer, the preponderance of those waddling from the special parking places into Costco day in and day out are those who are most in need of a good healthy walk.  Rest assured when they get inside the store they will avail themselves of those free scooter carts.  And when they finish with the cart, they are highly likely to park it in the one available handicap spot unoccupied by a car.
Who is to blame?  Who are the enablers?  Well, certainly those doctors who write prescriptions for the lazy instead of telling them to go for walk, are culpable.  The State of Ohio is obviously so deep in bureaucracy that it is unable to effectively monitor and enforce its own guidelines.
But isn’t it really the fast food, entitled, self-absorbed “lazy is my right” mentality of our own citizens that is the real culprit?  We simply do not care enough for each other.  Why else would a perfectly healthy person borrow grandpa’s placard for that trip to the mall?  Why else would the folks that plow the snow at so many parking lots consistently dump that snow in the disabled parking areas?  Why else would anyone stop their car in the fire lane while their relatively fit friend runs into a store to buy a pack of cigarettes?  Perhaps if they had to experience a single day of paralysis and had to try to transfer from a car seat to a wheelchair within the limits of the standard parking place in the middle of a cold Cincinnati rain storm they would rethink their behavior.
I am practical enough to know that this rant will change nothing.  And I also know that this is not limited to the great State of Ohio.  During my research I discovered that in 2009, 4,340 dead people applied for disabled placards in Scotland.  That’s right - dead people.  “The bad news is Grandma died; the good news is we get better parking for the next five years.”  Fraud is a creative art.
All right, I got that off my chest.  I think I'll go for a walk.
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Trade Shows and Chopsticks

I have just returned from Las Vegas and, yet, another trade show. Had I saved the badges from all such events I have attended over the years, I would have more than enough to wall paper my entire house plus the one I am shopping for in Florida.

What were once called conventions, and later trade shows, are more commonly referred to today as exhibitions. Since I entered the business world during the “Trade Show” era, I still use that designation. Now, at the end of my career, these events seem to be a colossal waste of time and money. And I’ve been some doozies. They are generally filled with a great deal of posturing, bluster, back slapping, insincerity, heavy drinking, and too much food; and for some, well, as they say, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

I must admit that they clearly have their place in the business world. About 15 years ago I was told by the General Director of an Italian company I represented, that his firm wrote more than 50% of their annual business over four days each autumn at the Cersaie Ceramic and Stone Exhibition in Bologna. So, despite how I feel about the subject, they will not be going away any time soon.

Therefore, may I suggest that since we cannot outlaw these events, we should consider making the proper use of chopsticks a part of our elementary school curriculum?

Let me explain. Like all things, trade shows have changed. Twenty years ago one would make appointments ahead of time and stick to a pre-determined schedule. Ten years ago, with the gaining popularity of cell phones, one might say, “I’ll call you at the show and we will get together.” Now with the social media in full bloom, one might make, change, and eventually cancel an appointment without ever speaking a word.

In similar fashion, the tradeshow dinner might well find one taking a pass on the still popular prodigious portions of red meat and the $100 bottle of Cabernet for the healthier and highly fashionable Asian cuisine. Sushi, Sashimi, Pan Asian, Fusion are terms bandied about these days when planning a tradeshow meal. And with that comes the dreaded need to be chopstick proficient.

The mere mention of dinner at The China Café or Okata still strikes panic in the minds of many. Visions of fumbling with those tiny drum stick gadgets and accidentally flipping a shrimp in to the abundantly exposed cleavage of the boss’ wife can bring quick beads of sweat to many a crack V.P. of Sales. These days one dare not book a flight to these events without first mastering the dexterity needed to maneuver the “sticks”.

I submit that today’s world demands that we teach our kids this critical skill. Sure, at first, they will want to stick them in their ears, in their nose or under their upper lip, fang style. But years from now when the job interview includes the question, “Are you dining bi-tactile?” (can you use chopsticks as well as knife and fork?) they will thank us.

Just one more thought; if we don’t reverse the thirty year dumbing-down of our great country, vis-à-vis fast food, news by sound bite, brainless couch potato sitcom viewing, Sarah Palin worshipping, gun toting, “we are a Christian country” mentality, it is highly likely that chopstick proficiency will take on a practicality well beyond the tradeshow dinner.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Democrats and the Deficet

Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John Kennedy as well as the second anniversary of Barrack Obama taking the oath of office. So, it seems like an appropriate time to jump into the crazy world of politics.
As a member of the business community over the past 30+ years, I have taken great pains (biting your tongue hurts) at business meetings and client dinners to keep my liberal leanings well hidden.
But now that 2010 has wound to an end and my retirement approaches, I thought it time I respond to all of the angry vitriolic rhetoric that my conservative friends have collectively steeped on me over the past two years, since the election of that Muslim foreigner, Barack Obama.
First, let me say I come in peace. I simply wish to share some well researched liberal food for thought. Therefore, let me say at the outset that I do agree with some of the conservative dogma out there that argues for a decrease in the size of Government. That debate usually gravitates to the subject of spending and its influence on the deficit. And, of course, a constant thread in the Republicans dogma is that they are the voice of fiscal responsibility.
As I look at the numbers I am struck by a great irony. How can it be that the National Debt as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product has clearly been consistently better under Democrat Presidents since WWII (see, I know the rules – I’m not allowed to say “Democratic”). Now, if you are not sure how to score this, keep this in mind - a negative number is good and a positive number is bad.
That said; let’s take look at the actual statistics:
 The great peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter lowered the deficit by 3.1% = GOOD (However in the spirit of full disclosure we did have double digit inflation during his last two years in office).
 The Great Orator – The Gipper, Ronald Regan, in his first term raised the deficit by 11.3% = BAD
 In his second term President Regan was able to raise the deficit an additional 9.3% = BAD
 Then, a really nice guy, George Herbert Walker Bush took over and in one term raised the deficit by 15.0% (this is not a misprint) = BAD.
 Then we elected Wild Bill Clinton, or Slick Willy as some like to call him. Facing a 3 trillion debt left to him after 12 years of Raganomics (it really didn’t trickle down so well) the Slickster, in his first term, somehow was able to lower the deficit by a very tiny but significant 0.7% = GOOD
 Wild Willy got reelected. And low and behold, even with a Republican Congress (compromise is a powerful tool) and despite being pre-occupied by the girl-in-the-blue-dress, he lowered the deficit by a whopping 9.0% in his second term. But wait, there’s more – he BALANCED THE BUDGET!!! Sorry to report this all = GOOD.
 Then in a barn burner GWB beat Al “Mr. Environment” Gore and in his first term awarded the balanced budget he inherited by raising the deficit by 7.1% = BAD
 Term number two certainly benefitted us all. (?) President Bush II increased the deficit by an astounding 20.0% (also not a misprint) = Real BAD. War is an expensive enterprise. See ya later retirement account!!

So, my friends, there are the numbers. Not my numbers – the Government’s numbers. And, of course it is more complicated than this. But it is fascinating.

We could debate other things like health care, John Boehner’s tan and unpatriotic determination to see Obama fail at any cost, stem cell research (better to throw them out than use them) or whether the recent compromise by Obama on tax issues is weakness, failure or pragmatism.

But it is better to concede that all of my conservative friends are good patriotic Americans. I know they all want the best for our country, for our kids and especially for our grandkids. Please keep in mind that we liberals are also patriotic and really do want the best for the country. It’s simply a difference of opinion – not a battle between good and evil.

So I raise a cup of “tea” in thanks for your kind attention, and may 2011 be a banner year for my many, many conservative friends and their retirement accounts (a subtle dig at W). Mine has improved immensely in the last two years. Who knew?

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It's Howdy Doody Time

So, now I join the world of blogging. Why today? Why not?

Like so many people my age, I continue to try to grasp this great cyberspace thing. As a person who well remembers when the communication of information came from the perfectly folded newspaper thrown at our front door every afternoon or the delicate turn of a radio dial, I do appreciate the vastness of today's information vehicles.

Why anyone would be interested in my view of the world, I cannot imagine. But, now in the autumn of my years, I have decided to throw my thoughts out there anyway. This blog will be called From-the-Peanut-Gallery. The term Peanut Gallery dates back to the heyday of Vaudeville and referred to the cheap seats in the theater. This, ostensibly, is where the most raucous of the audience sat. The least expensive, and thus, the favorite snack of those seated up in the rafters, was a bag of peanuts. As the master hecklers, this not so auspicious group would often throw their treats at the performers; food for thought – so to speak.

Clearly, the real fun resided in the Peanut Gallery. So, in much the same fashion, I hope to take a critical and perhaps cynical, look at those things that interest me – business, politics, art, literature, sports and life-its-own-self - and throw a few peanuts.

And, I have a personal connection with the Peanut Gallery with which many of us are most familiar. In 1949, thanks to my mother’s cousin who worked for NBC, I found myself one August afternoon, forcefully seated in the second row of the Peanut Gallery on the Howdy Doody Show surrounded by Dilly Dally, Mr. Bluster, Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring, Chief Thunder Thud, the honking irrepressible clown Clarabelle, the fatherly Buffalo Bob Smith, and, of course our freckled wooden friend, Howdy. For a less than confident 6 ½ year old it was a scary place. But I survived.

So now I have decided to take a swipe at another scary place – cyberspace. And it is with the same trepidation I had seated in the Peanut Gallery over 60 years ago - do I really belong here? We’ll see.

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