Monday, November 17, 2008

Huntington and Hollywood

It was announced today that Huntington, WV is the ‘Fattest Town in America.’ A study concluded that the fine citizens of this great American city eat too many hot dogs, doughnuts and fried chicken. That’s my kind of town. The article informs us that Huntington’s populous has a high rate of diabetes and protested loudly when laws were instituted banning smoking in bars and restaurants. They go to work in pre-dawn darkness, labor 200 hundred feet underground and come up from the pit at the end of the day as the sun is setting - all the while pulling coal from the earth – the natural resource that enables you to be warm in the winter and receive most of the goods from manufacturers that utilize that coal to run their plants. Their clothes are filthy, their incomes modest. When they finally arrive home they open the newspaper and read that some guy has won an Academy Award and The Nobel Prize for pointing his arrogant and chastising finger at their livelihood. The television news predicts that the coal industry will be annihilated by the incoming administration.  They are called hillbillies, crackers and white trash - a term as egregious as any in our society.  Is it any wonder then, why the fine citizens of Huntington may turn to a plateful of pork and sauerkraut, 6 beers and a pint of ice cream for comfort?  And so they get fat.  In fact, they become the fattest town in America - adding another scathing fact to the town's resume'.  You see, we like skinny people in this country; you know, like the ones in Hollywood; you know, like the ones that awarded Big Al The Oscar; you know, the brilliant, beautiful, skinny ones - too skinny, sick skinny, rehab skinny, does-this-dress-make-my-ass-look-big skinny, never-worked-a-day-in-my-life-that-contributed-to-the-welfare-of-society skinny. Huntington or Hollywood?  Who are your people?  Well, let me put it this way:  ‘I'll have two over easy, hash browns, biscuits with sausage gravy, coffee, a piece of pie and an ashtray, please.’

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cars, Songs & Déjà Vu

In 1992 I was given a most unexpected opportunity to run a division of a famed record label: RCA/Nashville. The task was daunting on a number of levels: I had no corporate experience; I’d never managed a large group of employees; I knew I was expected to make major changes both administratively and musically and hell, I was nervous. So I moved into this prestigious role, a big office and started to examine the landscape, with eyes on the staff and ears on the music. Within the initial 90 days I made a few significant staff changes, dropped some artists and did my best to get an understanding of the finances of the record business. In the midst of all of this I wrote a number of messages to my superiors in New York, Los Angeles and Germany expressing serious concerns about the growth of peer-to-peer trading of digital music and its potential threat to our business. Across the board I received responses that suggested I stick to my stated task (sell more records) and leave the future planning to ‘us.’ My continued protests went unheeded. RCA’s North American management – at the time owned by Bertelsmann, AG – was populated by Harvard Business School grads. They seemed to be telling me that this was their domain and they had it under control. So eventually I reluctantly backed off my posture - that it was all going to hell if we didn’t have some forward-thinking plans in place. I was reminded of this because of an article I read this morning regarding the proposed bailout of the US auto industry. In it there was the following quote from Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan:) ‘Automakers are working to adapt to a changing consumer market, but they need immediate help to survive the nation's current economic crisis.’ Draw your own conclusion.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Whose Gonna Draw the Line and Where?

The perfect storm of economic factors that brought us to this current state of deep uncertainty is far too complicated for me to decipher. Apparently I am not alone in my confusion. Those who would lead us across this raging Jordan (and, more importantly, should have seen it rising) – Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan and a host of other geniuses – seem more confused than I. This is not comforting. It continues to be most unclear exactly what is going on and which crises need the quickest and strongest tourniquets: AIG, GM, Fannie and Freddie, etc.? There are, however, two things that are very clear: $700 billion will not begin to stem the tide and the hard-working citizens of this country will be ridden hard, once again, to pay for the arrogance, disregard and ineptness of that elite group of pirates who sailed us into this dark harbor. (Please note the number of mixed water metaphors so far.) By the end of 2009 the $700 billion figure will surely be surpassed and further funds will be requested and approved by our next congress. Which leads me to the burden-bearers. I’m not going to throw down the standard higher tax argument here. That’s a given. I want to talk about something more sinister. As the ‘generous and kind-hearted geniuses of the left’ ladle out the government soup a very critical question will be: who gets to stand in line and who goes away hungry? To answer this question I’ll focus on the mortgage crisis – a significant contributor to our massive problems. The line at the soup kitchen will be very long. It will include millions of families who bought homes beyond their capacity to purchase - and the bankers who urged them to do so. They are each given whatever they need to make everything okay and, in so doing, bad decisions, debilitating debt and regrettable government policy are all forgiven. The next family in line – the first people behind the government-imposed rope - will be a family who has figured out ways to stay afloat. They have met their obligations by working 3 jobs, using one vehicle, cashing in their child’s college savings, pulling money from their retirement funds, limiting credit card debt, moving to more affordable homes, borrowing money from their parents, cutting back on every ‘luxury’ and finding any conceivable way to keep going. These folks are turned away. No food for them. By government standards they are doing just fine. So they will walk away – not only hungry – but they also have to pay for all the meals that were served in front of them. This is the Democratic Way – this is fairness! So here’s my question: what separates the last family in the first line from the first family in the second line and who is going to make that distinction? Somebody better make a very wise decision about this question or things are not going to go very well in the months to come.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ted Haggard Update

The unraveling of Evangelist Ted Haggard was repulsive. Played out so ruthlessly before our eyes on television and in print it was ugly, vile and shameful. As it always is, the period of aggressive denial is the hot point for the viewer. We love that part because we can almost see the person split in two. It is a dark carnival that appeals to our shadowy sensibilities. We can feel them lying, see it in their body language and hear it in the tone of their words. We suddenly have a free ticket to consider them slimy, dirty and sinful and feel righteous in doing so. We wish it were The Middle Ages so we could stone them or plead to the king for a justified beheading in the center of town. Sadly, we have had many opportunities in this modern age to witness such spectacles. Without making a list I would simply submit: ‘If the glove don’t fit, acquit’ and ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman.’ In this case Haggard was harshly condemning a sexual activity in which he was regularly engaged – from a pulpit in front of 14,000 faithful with a Bible in his hand. In recent days Mr. Haggard has emerged from months of healing, counseling, soul-searching, spiritual restoration and, I’m certain, heart-wringing efforts to bring his family to a place of reconciliation. He is now stating publicly that he suffered significant abuse as a child and somehow his recent actions allowed him to act on the rage he carried from those distant events. If my perception of Christ’s Gospel is reasonably accurate, it is a message of second chances and far be it from me to place any rocks in Mr. Haggard’s path to a new beginning. However, if you had serious doubts about his sincerity in the past you should know this – he is no longer a preacher – he has become an insurance man.


I can’t say I know much about those who are hired and/or appointed to be poll workers on election days. It has been my experience that many of the individuals I have encountered in this role were older, very likely retired and, for the most part, courteous, prepared and helpful. I never gave too much thought to their relationship to any political party – assuming these jobs were awarded equitably. In the previous 2 presidential elections we have become aware of the tremendous scrutiny placed on the process. This year, of course, was no different. Today I learned that actor/director Tim Robbins’ attempts at voting in New York City were foiled. It seems he had submitted an address change that, in turn, altered the precinct and venue in which he was to vote. Mr. Robbins has argued this point unsuccessfully and made the following statement: "If it hadn't been for shenanigans like this, Obama's margin would have been much, much higher.” I can only conclude that Mr. Robbins has suggested that in an election that turned out more than 120 million people only those planning to vote for Mr. Obama had their voting credentials challenged. This is from a mind that feeds our popular culture. Mr. Robbins, I have five words for you: ACORN.


As I was stumbling into mid-morning today the little television in my kitchen was tuned to one of the cable news networks. A ‘Breaking News’ event announced that Hank Paulson was about to address the nation with an update of the bailout package. As I reached to turn off the TV I noticed that the network had placed a small box on the bottom of the screen updating the Dow Industrial Average as what’s-his-name began speaking. I thought, ‘Wait, this will be interesting.’ Sure enough, with every conniving word that rolled off his tongue the Dow dropped 75 points from an already pathetic deficit of -225. As I write this it continues to dance and hover at -300. Okay class, what does this tell us about confidence in leadership?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fore More!

Many of us saw John Daly’s mug shot on the Internet last week. Apparently drunk beyond consciousness, he was treated by a medical team outside a Hooter’s somewhere in North Carolina. Reports indicate that he was disorderly, belligerent and a downright pain in the ass inside the establishment earlier in the evening. The account stated that several employees asked him to leave and he also refused to pay his tab. This is very sad, of course. But those of us who follow the game of golf have witnessed Mr. Daly’s angels and his demons. And most of us who follow the game of golf also pay close attention to other professional and collegiate sports. What makes Mr. Daly’s case so glaring is that we’re unaccustomed to seeing professional golfers unravel in front of our eyes. This is not so in other sports. The NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL provide us with all the unraveling we need. There once was basketball, baseball, football and ice hockey. Now there is bench clearing, bench clearing, late hits and ice hockey. What happened to the game? What happened to the skill? What happened to finesse? What happened to the hours of preparation on playgrounds, sandlots, frozen ponds and backyards? It seems to have become secondary to the American need to witness ‘The Brawl.’ But brawls seldom occur in professional golf. I have watched more hours of golf on television than I care to admit. I have seen mean stares, hawk eyes, celebrations, club tosses and plenty of inward-directed tirades. But I’ve never seen, for instance, Jack Nicklaus cold-cock Arnold Palmer or Annika Sorenstam bitch slap Juli Inkster after a hotly contested finish. It is a game that has mercifully avoided street thuggery. So what do we do with John? Well, as much as I ache for his personal turmoil and find his actions most regrettable, I remain a huge fan. With few exceptions professional golfers seem distant, elitist, above-it-all, pampered, flawless and untouchable. They were raised on country club grass, signed for their lunches, had all the best equipment and always had their shirts tucked in. Daly, from the day we first saw him at the PGA in Memphis, was never one of these. He was floppy, sloppy, pudgy, disheveled, aloof and excitable. But damn, he could sure as hell play. I suspect that for many of us who assemble for that Saturday morning game on hardpan public fairways and spotty greens, dressed in our madras shorts and striped shirts, John Daly is a hero with feet of clay - the same clay from which we are formed. This is why I remain a huge fan – this is why I wish for him to find his way out of the darkness.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

My Dear Mr. Alter

It is most appropriate that your Newsweek photograph is dark and sinister. The photographer is to be commended for capturing the essence of your soul. Your commentary in ‘Between the Lines’ (Newsweek, November 3, 2008) is hateful, shadowy, partisan and baseless bile. In my lifetime – which began in 1952 – the average difference in popular votes cast in presidential elections is 7.3 million. It appears that President-Elect Obama will win the popular vote by 7.2 million ballots: a very typical result. Granted, each of these 15 elections focused on current crises that arose in the ebb and flow of life on this planet. But I would point out, Mr. Alter, that there are two primary parties that make up our American political system – Democrats and Republicans. There are two parties – read carefully - because they hold different views on the appropriate way to govern. They generally differ sharply on issues of economics, taxes, welfare programs, military preparedness, the size of government and social issues – to name a few. This has been, and presumably will always be, the case. I have no doubt that votes were cast in this election based on the color of Mr. Obama’s skin – both for and against. That you would attribute any ballot not cast for him a racist vote – as you clearly did in this ‘commentary’ - is inflammatory and inexcusable. There are myriad ideological reasons that 56 million citizens voted for Senator McCain rather than President-Elect Obama. The last sentence of your article suggests that those counted in that number lack common sense and are indecent. You, Mr. Alter, are indecent.

Thomas J. Schuyler
Citizen – USA
Nashville, TN