Friday, January 30, 2015

Ground Hog Day and Super Bowl Too? What's Not to Like

Groundhog Day is Feb. 2.

We won’t know exactly what Puxsutawney Phil will show us until Monday morning, but I lay odds on six more weeks of winter. 

I was in Puxsutawney, Pa. for Ground Hog Day, 1977, covering the big fun of the annual festival for a Pittsburgh NPR station. 

Besides consuming copious amounts of beer, I got to listen to the locals swap all sorts of lore about the over-sized ground squirrels and how they’ve come to represent our hopes for an early spring. 

Seems we owe it all to the very practical Germans who had no interest in butchering livestock so close to the beginning of Lent. Pass around enough beer or schnapps and if someone has a little woodland skill or a bored hound, guys can do the craziest things. 

Drag a sleeping hedgehog from its burrow, grab a club,  and if you work fast--protein problem is solved! The American equivalent to the European hedgehog is Phil, or a member of his family.

This year, we have the convergence of Groundhog Day and the Fortnight of Deflategate—or as some would prefer Super Bowl 49!

We don’t make these things up, so if you haven’t settled on your Super Bowl menu, Woodchuck Stew might be memorable for your guest and a culinary adventure for the cook:

 Either way, as you enjoy the memories of your Super Bowl Feast, look forward to some cold weather, ice, snow or a wintry mix on your way to work, Feb. 2. Here's the outlook for Monday, Feb. 2, from our friends at Accuweather.

Super Bowl prediction? Who lost the game will be one of those difficult trivia questions only Seattle folks and real sports fans will confidently answer within 10 years, and I will be one of the viewers who ate and drank with prudent moderation.

And in case you didn’t get the message, “I’m only here so I don’t get fined.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Not Our Brand

Let's review:

1) The American subsidiary of an international corporation headquartered in Tokyo decides to take on a project that lampoons a the head of state of a hostile nation with an outsized military.

2) The uniformed leaders of that hostile nation consider the project a propaganda assault on the dynastic leader they are sworn to protect. They respond by devoting unknown resources, including their cash to a preemptive intelligence and digital infiltration campaign against the global corporation involved.

3) Using their own resources and the skills of unidentified global techno-mercenaries, they hack into the communications of the high-tech global company and dig up dirt. Then they tell the world about some of what they found, damaging the corporate brand, to the embarrassment of some of the top officials of the company's American subsidiary.

4) They then threaten to do more damage to the company if the lampooning project ever sees the light of day. That damage could include attacks on the exhibitors and their audiences during the most lucrative period of their marketing year.

5) With the possibility that even more damaging information on the global giant might be leaked, and with its strategic partners distancing themselves from the fray, corporate leaders roll over and throw the project back into the vault.

Now, in case you think I'm off-base, this is how Sony USA self-identifies: "Sony Corporation of America, located in New York, NY, is the U.S. headquarters of Sony Corporation, based in Tokyo, Japan."
My point, if this were Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, or Toshiba, would the U.S. government be obliged to respond?

Japan is a high-tech leader with ample defense capabilities.and a keen geopolitical interest in what happens on the Korean peninsula. Despite its global reach, Sony is one its most important businesses.

The USA does a lot in the world, and we may eventually help out here because cyber-terrorism and state cyber-warfare are huge issues, but the Sony attack is one of those world problems that may not have an American solution.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Make A Sandwich and Go to Work-- You Want Cranberries with That?

There are lots of essential jobs that must be done on holidays, but is sales clerking one of them?

We need utility service, public safety, health care staffing and even news and information, fuel, travel and last-minute dinner ingredients.

There are types of entertainment we now consider part of our Thanksgiving holiday traditions, like sports, movies and night life. 

Recognizing that a full third of the year's retail sales are tied directly to thee holiday shopping period, I can appreciate the need to wring out as much profit as possible during that period. 

BUT, Thanksgiving worked well as a marketing day for decades, and turning it into a half sales day is a slippery slope. 

In less than ten years we have gone from 4 a.m. or 6 a.m. openings to Midnight Black Friday sales. We now are rolling back to pre-Black Friday, Thanksgiving night door busters. 

Soon this could be bumping up against the late NFL game, then the early game, then competing with dinner prep and by the time today's toddlers celebrate Thanksgiving as young parents with their families, the holiday meal will be a brunch.

The Thanksgiving holiday marks the beginning of a very busy time for service workers who will open early close late and restock shelves and mark down prices incessantly through mid-January.

Snatching up, for many what will be their final day off for nearly two months is just plain insensitive. This is not last minute dinner prep, public safety, health care staffing, broadcasting, travel or hospitality.  This is a mixed bag of locked and open doors at malls, town centers, and shopping strips.

We have options, and I admit I may make a purchase or two on line sometime Thanksgiving Day. With automated order taking and offshore call centers, there are ways to move merchandise that do not involve Americans in great numbers giving up Thanksgiving and acting cheerful about it.

But for families that depend and need retail income, I do hope adding this extra Thanksgiving night shift (stores open at 6 p.m., staff needs to be there by 4:30), is not another sign of a disturbing trend.

Retailing is changing, the shopping experience and the way goods actually get to the gift giver are rapidly evolving and we could see big box stores go the way of Blockbuster Video or Photomat.

As traditional storefront operators fight for ways to maintain their market shares, they will sacrifice the family time of their staffs. For increasingly limited gains the pressures to man the sales floors and monitor the self service checkouts will continue to grow.

This could eventually come down to choices and trade-offs for some desperate last minute push to fill out schedules during the predawn hours of Christmas Day.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fear, Hype and Chicken Little

For Newsers, Journalists, Bloggers and Assignment Editors:

This may not warrant "Top Story Status," but in thousands of communities across the country, including dozens of major media markets.
Biohazard decontamination unit set up outside of Fairfax Innova Hospital, Fairfax, Va.

Someone is publicly displaying symptoms of nausea, vomiting, weakness, and perhaps a need to find the closest restroom.


Now, I know you may want a good lead, but it is October, there are colds, flu, allergies, and a bunch of worried people out there.

Let's tone it down people. If the idiots on the desks are not cooler heads, call someone in who thinks responsibly.

--- What the hell do I know? I'm just a retiree! ‪#‎PandemicsWarrantPerspective‬

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ebola: What We Have to Fear is Hysteria

When the hysteria begins, it will be far too late. The whispers are slowly building to a roar.

Although no Ebola suspected patient has flown directly to the United States from Africa, the railing about banning flights is building among the angry voices and disaffected.

There is an undercurrent of noise that would stop U.S. citizens and legal residents from seeking medical treatment in their own country just because they have traveled abroad.

That those flights are coming from Paris or Brussels or London needs to be considered because that amounts to bans on international air travel. I remember how silent the skies were after 9-11 and personally, I never want to go there again.

EBOLA IS NOT NEW. Yes, it is new to the civilian world in the United States, but U.S. military, foreign service workers and some journalists have been dealing with the risk and building awareness for more than a decade.

When we start denying Americans opportunities to come home from business trips or vacations, we will become victims of the fears we have refused to surrender to during decades of international terrorism.

People are now listening to and believing hearsay from unidentified callers who get through on talk radio stations. I spent enough time doing radio to have a few names for such attention seekers.
Veteran broadcasters call them squirrels or trolls.

The day I leave this country and find myself in need of help as I try to get back in only to be denied is the day everything I've ever been taught about my country becomes a lie.

Read, learn, take precautions... but never let fear change who we are.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Can You Spare a C-Note for a Poor Journalist Down on His Luck

When journalists lose their jobs, it does not always happen in ones and twos. Sometimes people are informed by the dozens.

One irony of this new age is that even as the world has more access to information than ever before, the people best equipped to cast aside the nonsense are being jettisoned in favor of sub-par content from unknown or unqualified sources.

In the world of the Internet, there is no system in place to sort the facts from the fantasy. Consumers accept what they choose and too often allow a contributor to declare opposing views as invalid.

This is not an age of reason. Let us hope that it becomes something more meaningful than garbage in and garbage out.

Truth has value and compiling it is neither cheap nor free.
Forty-seven very talented people lost their jobs, Oct. 8. This time it was an all news station in Houston, Texas. Just weeks ago it was dozens of editors, journalists and production specialists at Gannett's flagship outlet, USA Today.

A couple of months earlier, it was Bloomberg News.
What is a viable business model for news and information? What is the break even? Like print, radio is struggling to figure that out.

These are very tough time for talent.

At some point, the public will begin to ask questions.  Among them, who wants me to believe this and why is this true. 

There have always been differences between entertainment, advertising and news.  We are losing that and marketing messages are influencing what we think and accept as facts.

There is a danger there. When you throw all information into the same bucket, the result is propaganda. In an age of unlimited access, who decides what matters, and who pays them for that?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Guilty of Adolescence and Executed Without Trial

Thinking about the Loud Music case and the 1st degree murder verdict for Michael Dunn in the Jacksonville, Fla., death of 17 year-old Jordan Davis, I remembered this guy.

At 16, he played his music loud. Hung out with his friends, was outspoken, mouthy and opinionated.

There were many words used to describe him, but scary and threatening were not among them.

Had some idiot gunned him down and claimed "the scary black man" defense, things might be different.

Michael Dunn did not shoot into a car "full of blacks." He shot into a car full of teenagers who were African-American.

These unarmed children were doing what teenagers do. Hanging out, listening to music.

The "myth of the scary black man" defense is a worn and tired throwback that refuses to die.

It is a reality that governs day to day relationships, creating an artificially aloof decorum in the work place and often slashing like a knife to legitimize some slight or reason for exclusion.

In schools, churches and even some social circles the threat of the "scary black man" is spoken in terms from whispers to roars or communicated with glances or body language exchanged silently.

There is a disconnect in the United States.

We speak of children who die violent deaths for acting like kids as victims and their suspected killers as predators, unless those left dead are black.

Then they are thugs who surely must have done something justifying deadly force.
Michael Dunn shot into a car filled with people, unarmed CHILDREN.

I know little of Jordan Davis, aside from the fact that he hung out with his friends, listened to his music loud and had an encounter with Michael Dunn in a parking lot in Jacksonville, Fla.

At 17, he does not appear to be much different from the kid depicted in the photo at the top more than 45 years ago.

Like Trayvon Martin, 17, or Michael Brown, 18, 17 year-old Michael Brown is dead. Each of these young men were taken out by gunfire at a time evidence shows they were unarmed, and doing things teenage boys have always done.

Walking from a store, talking to a girl on the telephone, or hanging out listening to loud music with friends in a parked car. None of these acts warrant a summary execution on the street.

Those who point to political change and rail against what they see as the failures of an elusive "post racial society," should ask themselves how they justify in their minds that "the blacks" must be controlled in 21st Century America.

Respect for authority does not equate to surviving encounters with armed and distrustful police or private citizens determined to dominate encounters with "angry black males."

Adults with morals and conscience should have little difficulty seeing the evil and the tragedy of young people being cut down for simply being kids.

Our system supports innocence until proven guilty, yet these young are dead in part because to some they were considered suspicious and in death they remain suspect.

The young man pictured at the top has survived for many decades. At times, an awareness that some people on the streets would distrust him, detain him, hurt him or try to kill him was an instant reality.

Knowing and understanding the meaning and the culture of the "scary black man" defense was something the elders imprinted in me before my teenage growth spurt.

It is something that mothers, fathers and grandparents teach to this day. It is also something the parents of some biracial children worry about in the night. 

That President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, the young Derrill Holly, pictured above and hundreds of my friends understand it is based upon our individual life's experiences. That others may not get it means that as a nation, we are simply not there yet.