Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Slaughter of the Innocents

The Gospel writer Matthew (2:16-18) refers to King Herod and his order to kill all male infants age 2 and under living in and around the town of Bethlehem. He had been told that a rival king had just been born there. Jesus survived the horror only because his parents took him to Egypt and away from the scene of the massacre. That infamous tragedy has haunted the civilized world for over two thousand years.

While Herod and Bethlehem seem long ago and far away to those of us living in America today, the horror we felt when reports came in from Connecticut is exactly the same. (Perhaps even more so in our case because we have grandkids living just down the road from Newtown.)  Surely parents of the 20 little boys and girls who were gunned down by a mentally ill 20 year old would have escaped with their loved ones if it had been possible for them to do so.  Oceans of ink have been poured into reporting on this disaster and even more will be written in the days and weeks ahead about what can be done to prevent another bloodbath. But with all this said we still have to express our point of view and design a game plan of our own.

My first step is to check with local school authorities to make sure they are at the top of their game by reviewing whatever security systems are already in place. And yes, we should all learn more about mental illness and how to recognize danger signs. But most of all we should lean on our elected officials to tell them they MUST support commonsense national legislation to actually DO something about the scandalous gun madness here in our United States of America.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dying for You

Mikado Bragg, was a long long way from her hometown of Longview, Washington, when she left us at 21.  Matthew Abbate, a son of Hawaii passed away at 26.  “Left us” and “passed away” do not do justice to these young people. They were taken from us. They died for me. They died for you.

Scrawled on a wall of a bullet-ridden hovel in a godforsaken zone out in nowhere there is a stark message.  It reads, “The Marines are on the front line; America is at the mall.” It's true, you know.

In earlier times young men were drafted into military service.  We had no choice. Nowadays men and women volunteer to wear the uniform and thus put themselves in harm's way by choice. Some see this as a “you asked for it” reason to distance themselves from military people. On top of that many American citizens simply do not have a clue what “freedom isn't free” is all about.

War is beyond Hell. Those of us who study military history are repeatedly staggered at the terrible cost in human life and lifelong damage to the spirits of their survivors. During World War One on the very first day of the Battle of the Somme, when Great Britain opened a massive offensive against entrenched Germans, the British casualties alone were in excess of 60,000 soldiers!

That bloodletting battle and so many others are simply incomprehensible to us, so we more or less push them aside. Individual deaths in the line of duty however have greater impact on most of us. But not all.

Corporal Brock Bucklin was one of our own killed in action. His twin brother, Corporal Brad Bucklin, escorted Brock's body back from Iraq on a commercial airline. As their plane taxied to the gate the flight’s captain came on the intercom and told the passengers, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an American hero on board with us tonight. As a sign of respect please remain seated while we honor Corporal Bucklin and his sacrifice.”
The few moments of delay where Brad Bucklin could escort his brother's remains to a waiting family were lost forever because half of the passengers on the plane got off anyway.

No doubt they were rushing to the mall.                

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spitting (Part 2)

My recent View from the Observation Deck blog posting (June 2012) spoke about baseball players and their constant spitting. It caused a bit of a stir. Some business readers defend the habit as "part of the game" where adrenalin flow plus physical effort demand immediate outlet. Many readers decried the spitting as a disgusting unsanitary habit insulting to everyone. Television viewers are victimized especially since camera close-ups accentuate every incident. The jury is still out on this one.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Message to grads: It’s your world now

Men and women serving in the military have a special bond that ties them together even after they put their uniforms aside. There is another bonding in our country which embraces young people, parents and grandparents as well as relatives and friends – to wit, the vast audience who attend graduation ceremonies.  

Graduations are rightful recognitions of past accomplishment as well as an exciting first page for a new chapter in the book of life. Each ceremony combines sighs of relief from those who have passed their finals with parental boasting about their offspring. There are other players involved

in the moment of course, particularly the teachers who have nurtured the young men and women who will now be moving on. Then there are the grandparents (many still trying to figure out where the time went when their own kids, not their grandkids, were gracing the graduation stage) relatives, friends and certainly the speaker of the day. It is no easy thing to provide guidance and inspiration to restless spirits chomping at the bit for the post-ceremony parties. It is also a lifelong lesson for graduates – don’t believe any speaker who says he/she “will just take a few minutes.” We audience veterans know those “few minutes” can stretch from here to eternity.                

There are surely electrifying speakers taking the podium at graduation day ceremonies around the world, but the fact is they are few and far between.  Most speakers are well meaning ladies and gentlemen who having drawn the assignment are doggedly determined to do the best they can. Good for them! If you have to speak at a graduation, here’s a tip: Keep it short. Like most sermons or homilies in church, shorter is always better, and shorter than short will make you king or queen for the day. Nobody will remember what you are going to say anyway, but they will remember you FOREVER if you make them suffer unreasonably. It was true this time round for Bryce, Kelly and Carolyn just as it was for you, for me, for everyone else. 

Young people today are conditioned to being congratulated for everything. From kindergarten on up, they receive a prize for something, even just being there. So if you are going for the whole package, that is both the awards and diploma events, be prepared for a very long day. 

Scattered among our ceremonies this time round were prep school graduations. I’m old school when it comes to graduations – caps and gowns for one and all because they are great equalizers. There is greater leeway with prep school attire however – and greater adventure for parents. The sea of white dresses for the young women range from Snow White to near-Hooters.  And many a parent/mother is getting an unnerving preview that the kid who almost drove her crazy is now a women not too far removed from being a bride.  As for the young men, nothing much has changed – the traditional blue blazer, the knotted tie askew, pants cascading down around the ankles.  One soul behind me murmured “for $40,500 a pop, he could at least have combed his hair.” 

Ah well, not to worry, it is their world now, not ours.  It will all work out in the end.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Like the song says, they will always be daddy’s little girls

Some songs, like some romances, are gone with the dawn of the day. Other melodies linger on forever just like the special women we associate them with.

The song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” introduced by the late Maurice Chevalier in the motion picture “Gigi,” is one such. The truth is little girls do in fact “grow up in a most delightful way.” The challenge is to steer them successfully through their tweens and high-school dating. Sons are widely considered gifts from God, but don’t you think all babies are?

Men pray for a son so that a father and a younger version of himself can go out on the front lawn to throw a football around. So here’s to all of us who have sons, and beyond that to our sons’ sons. Now hold your breath, dear reader, for I have to attempt a transition in the paragraphs that follow.

Let’s not quibble about whether you are blessed more or less by the sex of your offspring. Early on my little Susan knew how to run deep then cut to snag a pass. She was my athletic delight right up to the very moment when Susan and her pal, Jean Scribner, decided that they were going to be “girls.”

So endeth the lesson of my football-on-the-lawn drills.

Short of walking to an electric chair the most challenging 50-yard stroll in the world is a father’s trip down the aisle to the wedding altar with his daughter on his arm. This trail of tears is made worse by the certain knowledge that there is not a man on the face of the earth good enough for Daddy’s Little Girl.

The single saving grace is the near certain knowledge that your departing daughter will remain closer to your side of the family than to his.

The bond between mother and daughter is unbreakable and through no effort of his own a father gains because of this. As for newly wedded sons, we send them off with a sense of loss combined with comedy and sympathy because he will be spending most of his time with them.

Little girls do grow up in most amazing ways for in time they become young mothers and present us with that wonder of wonders, grandchildren. Happily, all the while daughters retain an inner compass that keeps steering them back to check on Daddy.

Life is good.

Monday, June 11, 2012


“Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette…” goes the song written by Merle Travis for the country singer Tex Williams.  Besides saving Williams’ waning career, the number went on to huge success on the charts and remains a catchy chorus to this very day. Now thanks to televised baseball games smoking has been replaced by spitting.  It’s just a question of time before another song is born, but how to turn “spit, spit, spit” into a memorable hit?

No one can challenge the fact that television coverage of baseball games has brought what was formerly considered a nasty and illegal habit right into our living rooms every time the batter is up. I was reminded of how far we have slipped as a society during the last division playoffs when a woman seated nearby voiced what most of us keep unspoken: ”Why do they have to spit ALL the time?” Given the multiple shots of players spitting and the millions watching them do it, this disgusting habit is well on its way to becoming the new national pastime. It is surely much more of a macho habit than a physical necessity.

There are serious ramifications here, not the least of which is endangering the health of players themselves.  We are increasingly aware of infectious disease. People are being urged to cough or sneeze into their own arms, wash their hands frequently and consider carefully if they want to shake hands with every single soul they meet. I understand that the dugouts for the teams are never going to be confused with Sanitary Central but the accumulated spittle in small areas constitute danger zones. One can reasonably assume that some players are looking to be out of the dugout and into the game just to escape puddles of spit. Youngsters mimicking their baseball heroes are certainly being ill served. All you have to do is watch Little League games where copycat spitting has become routine.

If there is a bright side to this epidemic it is decreased use of big wads of tobacco held in the check. There are one or two player holdouts of course but the danger of tongue and cheek cancer caused by chewing tobacco has surely lessened. Nowadays there are substitute cheek-fillers like bubble gum. We’ll settle for team managers popping bubbles if they’ll keep our favorite teams competitive year after year, but it’s still an odd sight seeing grownups imitating a little kid’s habit. Sunflower seeds are another ballplayer spitting choice. The flying debris reminds us of the finches sitting on our backyard feeder flicking birdseed shells to grateful squirrels gathered below. Even with all this spitting and the frequent “equipment adjustments” players make while they are on camera, the game of baseball may still live on as our national sport. But as a school of good example? NOT.

Perhaps next year we will see a change, but I don’t think so for bad habits are very hard to break.  The answer may lie in strategically placing attractive spittoons in the dugout and around the infield.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Memorial Day

                      If you close your eyes and keep your fingers crossed, Memorial Day will be here before you know it. The day is intended to honor the men and women who died in our nation’s wars. For most of us May 28 will involve parades, barbeques and perhaps briefly thinking about all deceased veterans whether they died on active service or long after their uniforms were put aside.

                       There are a handful of stories about how Memorial Day came to be, just as there are various cities around this land claiming honor as the site of its origination. The most widely accepted version however credits the ladies of the South who started to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in The War Between the States, our own Civil War. Many people confuse the purpose of Memorial Day with that of Veterans Day. The latter was originally “Armistice Day” commemorating the end of hostilities (1914-1918) between the Allied Forces and the Imperial forces of Germany during ”The War to End All Wars”. Of course it wasn’t really a war to end all wars because two decades later we had that much larger and bloodier conflict we now call “World War II”. Then there was Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and who knows what will be next?  Our young men and women will ever be in uniform manning the walls and protecting those of us at home.

                             As most of you know the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the right of anti-war protestors to show up at funerals with signs to celebrate the deaths of fallen warriors even as service members are being laid to rest eternal. The hurt of such demonstrations has been subordinated to protecting the right of free speech. I understand free speech and how important it is in a democracy; indeed I express my own opinion in this blog site every time I write a post. What I do not understand is the desecration of any person’s memory during holy final moments, particularly one who has given his/her life for our country. As for the few who choose to interrupt and celebrate the death of a service person, my editor will not permit me to use such words in this forum.

                              The legendary General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur, is remembered for many contributions over his long and distinguished military career but none more so than when he said “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” With respects to the general, old soldiers do die and in 2011 we lost the last of them from World War I. His name was Frank Buckles and he served as a corporal and ambulance driver in France. He was 110 years old.

                                   On this coming Memorial Day and on all other days of the year for that matter, don’t forget to remember the valiant men and women of our Armed Forces. As a matter of fact you don’t have to wait until May 28. Whenever you see a man or woman in military uniform, personally thank him or her for their service. I guarantee you that they will appreciate your doing so.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lend a Helping Hand

Many of us have either been fired at some point in our career or have had a close friend caught in such an unhappy situation. The message here is: if things are good for us, we should extend a helping hand to those who are down on their luck.

When I was working in New York City we used to call Park Avenue “the beach”. The avenue was studded with corporate headquarters and consequentially the upper echelons of management were buzzing about in abundance. When a businessman/woman was out of work they could walk along the avenue as if they were strolling a beach (all the while disguising anxiety under a facade of casualness.) The drill was to walk down Park toward Grand Central Station in the morning hoping to bump into someone on their way to work who could either hire you or give you a lead on a job. The process was reversed in the late afternoon, those out of work would walk up Park Avenue hoping to bump into prospective targets who were on their way down the avenue heading for Grand Central and their trains for home in the bedroom communities of Westchester county or Connecticut.

Being out of work is a brutal trial for those directly involved of course, but the misery also spills over to their families. My gut tells me that being fired or having close friends out of work will be part of this “recession” for a very long time. Look around. Remember the guy who used to be up at dawn racing to catch the early train? Now you see him shopping mid-day for specials at the supermarket. With slight variations such sad scenes are repeated time and again. One out-of-work executive told me, “I'm using my friends ruthlessly to find a job”. If that doesn't make you pause and reflect, I don't know what will. That’s not what we think our friends are for. Yet I understand exactly where he is coming from. Everything has changed in job-searching these days, including the “all purpose” resume. Nowadays your credentials have to be tailored to a specific position and fine-tuned as to what you can bring to that company. Hiring companies want to know why you are uniquely qualified and just what you will bring to the party. Anything else is more or less window dressing. In-Person Communications can help in such situations. We spend a lot time assisting professionals to organize their backgrounds and then rehearsing them on how they can best present themselves for job interviews.

If you are “on the beach” right now, don't hide in the basement hoping some miracle will get you back in the game. It's not going to happen. You have to be pro-active and get the word out to anyone who can help you. Make your family, friends and associates part of your team in the job search.

If you are lucky to be working now, don't think that “because you are doing a great job” you won't be downsized. Make marketing yourself a way of life. Solicit mentors to help you constantly improve your value in the marketplace. Remember that when upper management wants to improve the bottom line they usually do so by lopping off heads – percentages with no names attached. Saving dollars is what counts in their mind. This is particularly true when those gray hairs show up around your own temples. Years ago when the creative guru John Bergin spoke of the advertising fraternity he said, “Advertising is the only business where experience counts against you.” Well, John was ahead of his time for this applies to virtually every business these days.

The name of the game is to consistently upgrade your own skills so that you are prepared when and if there is a knock on the door.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kim Kardashian

Floating somewhere out there in the Ethernet is a television commercial about press agents and the magic of their trade.  “Trade” has always been a stretch but in an earlier age you could have made a case for press agent magic. It's my fervent hope that this TV commercial will never see the light of day for it featured a youngish Yours Truly. If this foolish footage resurfaces it could upset the serenity of my retirement, not to mention my wife; it would also provide endless opportunity for irreverent grandchildren

In that 1960s production, I was a cocky Mad Man attired in the uniform of the day - gray suit and narrow tie - smoking a cigarette, feet up on the desk, hat jauntily perched on a rack close by my office door. (I can't remember having seen a hat rack for decades.  When JFK set a new look by going hat-less, a ton of fedoras hit the trashcans.)

To be fair about it all, 50 years ago was a time of relative innocence when flair or chutzpah, or a combination of flair and chutzpah, made it possible to hoodwink the masses, or at least a significant mass within the masses. Stunts that would never make it past first glimmer today were often wildly successful in the 50s and 60s. Examples abound but in my own Top 10 was the PR guy with a soap detergent client who somehow managed to pour gallons of his product into municipal storm sewers thereby flooding the city streets with oceans of bubbly waterfalls.  Here in 2012 we are far too jaded to entertain such “successes”, don't you think?  But then again witness the plague of Kim Kardashian. Here we have press agentry in full flower.  As far as we can make out, Kim is simply famous for being famous. She is everywhere among tsunamis, wars, financial chaos; the only thing that is certain is Kim. Kim. Kim.  And then more Kim.  What have we come to with Kim, Kim, Kim to the detriment of so many serious situations around the world and especially right here at home? It is madness with a capital M.

Now comes news (by way of legitimate media channels no less) that another publicity hound, Kim's sister Kourtney, is thinking about dying her hair. In this news break, “Kourt” says she will not be using any ammonia–related products. Wow, that was a close one. 

The message, dear reader, is that the inmates are in charge of the asylum. If we don't fight against such drivel we will all be going bonkers, leaving us with careers in politics as the only way out.

It may be time for us to hire our own press agents.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

No Fear of Flying

Like Barbara Szala and many of you I sometimes feel I spend half of my life at 37,000 feet flying to client meetings. I have no fear of flying; my sole anxiety has to do with the airport itself, the mob scene and unending hassle. More about that in a bit.

For those of you who have never visited Kill Devil Hill in North Carolina, the site of the Wright Brothers historic flight in 1903, I urge you to do so if the chance ever arises.  What wonder has transpired in the century of aviation!  While I wasn’t there the day the brothers and their flimsy aircraft flew into history, I have experienced countless take offs and landings in my own time.  Do you remember your own first airplane trip?  Bet it was exciting for you just as it was for so many others and me.

My very first airplane trip took place back in 1951 during the Korean War. You have seen photographs and film footage of stoic paratroopers sitting side by side against the stark no-frills fuselage of a DC 3. You get the picture. In my particular case there were two tremendous differences: one, we were NOT going into combat and two, we passengers on board were so young and unknowing that we were oblivious to danger on a worn out charter plane. Even more important we were able to get out of the Deep South Army training camps to make it home for Christmas with our families. The old saying “youth is wasted on the young” really meant “we didn’t know what we didn’t know”.  In any case we made it north to New York’s Idlewild airport (now much enlarged as JFK International) in one piece. We returned south by train on New Year’s Eve.

My earlier flying experiences were certainly more lively than the near endless decades of droning along at 37,000 feet as a business flier. Nothing beat being an artillery spotter sitting behind the pilot of a L15 with just a belt across my lap and open sides to the left and right watching howitzer shells that looked as big as boxcars whistle past. Nonetheless there was a certain gentility to civilian flying, now long gone, that brings a smile to my face. Men dressed in business suits back then and the ladies wore gloves and hats for trips on the magic carpet. Still I do prefer the casual dress code of these times if we can somehow keep “causal” this side of outright nudity, at least in business class. Good times did roll here and there. I was aboard an Air Canada flight when they celebrated their 50th Anniversary. Those Canucks knew how to throw a party!

These are tough economic times for one and all, including the airlines. As is the case elsewhere a few professionals are now doing the jobs where many employees once covered the same bases.  By and large these men and women of the airlines are courteous and efficient in their attempts to bring a bit of sanity to the mad mad world of modern-day air travel. We can make our own journeys easier by understanding the multiple pressures on them and giving them our support.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tennis Noise

The ancient saying “Silence is Golden” still applies. Anyone who watched the Australian Women’s Singles Tennis Championship can attest to that.  Maria Sharapova, the gorgeous Russian tennis star and television ad millionaire, was pitted against her hard-hitting countrywoman Victoria Azarenka in a battle of shrieking and grunting that could shatter glass. Their on-court noise wore on the nerves of all in the stadium or watching the match via television. I spent 40 years officiating at matches and consider this high-pitched yelling as demeaning to the game. As commentators pointed out time and again, tennis management will have to address this loud noise distraction sooner or later.  Hopefully sooner.

Sporting events consistently top the ratings charts. A big part of keeping the interest in sports coverage has been the addition of former sports heroes to the commentary teams.

One of the advantages of having lived through generations of sports commentators is remembering yesterday's great athletes who moved into the broadcast booth. The immortal Red “The Galloping Ghost” Grange was one such. When he joined NBC to comment on football he was teamed up with Lindsey Nelson. The duo got off to a shaky start when Red failed to get Nelson's first name correct (Grange kept calling him “Linsley” instead of Lindsey)  To make it even more painful Red used the incorrect name abundantly during their coverage.  It was like he was hitting Nelson in the center of his forehead with a hammer.  Some duos had great success, others not so much.

Each year the “Boob in the Booth” Award goes to the biggest dunderhead in sports commentary. And once again Phil Simms of CBS Sports has won hands down. The philosophy of network sports leadership seems to be combining an inept former jock like Simms with a front runner like Jim Nance. (Likewise Verne Lindquist, who has been around the gridiron since the first football was hiked, is weighed down with Gary Danielson.)  Even Nance can't bail Simms out. Phil's style is to say things like “I agree with you, Jim” and then go droning on to nowhere. If he would just buy into “silence is golden” and let Nance fly mostly solo, all would be right again in the football world. Offsetting the idiocy of some commentating duos there is occasional brilliance. A good example here is the teaming of Joe Buck, one of the very best of the best, with Troy Aikman. The two of them show audiences how it should be done.

An advantage of old age (perhaps the only one) is that you can recall the greats of other eras.  And trust me, there were some true giants - commentators like Mel Allen, Red Barber, and (who could ever forget him?)  Bill Stern. Stern brought great excitement to his narration, and did not hesitate to make it up along the way.  Typical was his breathless call of a pass interception where he followed the runner (we'll call him “Smith”) all the way down the field.  As Smith was ready to cross the goal line for a touchdown, someone passed a note to Bill saying that Jones, not Smith, was actually the ball carrier. Without missing a beat Stern simply said “Smith laterals the ball to Jones who scores!!!!  Such shenanigans were possible on radio but not in the television age.  More famous is the Bill Stern story about a gloomy man looking out the second story window of a mansion during the Civil War.  The tall bearded figure, observing Union soldiers sitting around listlessly on the lawn below decided to create a game for them to play and ease their idle hours. Then Stern intoned in somber dramatic voice “the sport he invented was called baseball...and that man was Abraham Lincoln.”

Maybe Simms isn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It Never Ends

Barbara Szala and In-Person believe that communicating competently is right up there with putting food on the table and having a roof over our heads. Imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t call out for help, share your thinking with others, weren’t able to say “I love you’ to a dear one?

Those of us with a professional responsibility to convey our thoughts effectively know it is a never-ending chore to communicate well in every situation. For many of us communicating through the written word keeps us bent over computer screens hoping a guardian angel will swoop down, dance on the keys and make sense of our copy. There’s no wiggle room for writers because the permanency of print lets the sometimes good, more often fair, and the occasionally boring live on forever. Most of us do try hard every time out even though we know there is just no such thing as batting 1000. We are enrolled in a very tough school with plenty of homework. Beyond reviewing our own efforts we have to read the work of competitors and pay close attention to the positive or negative comments we get from our peers. I learned long ago that feedback was critical to any communicator wanting to improve. If you are thin-skinned about criticism it’s best to go work in the library putting books away.

All of which raises the question of why should YOU care since you’re not writing The Great American Novel? The short answer is just because. Just because you want to be considered a person worth considering, someone of intelligence, well-mannered and all other good things that come with being taken seriously as a person. The way you communicate says it all. So do your own homework, know what is expected, refine your vocabulary and speaking skills, observe the style of leaders, constantly raise the bar for yourself. Of course if you don’t have aspirations in that direction, simply fold this paper and take a nap. The writer’s discipline has a direct parallel to your own life, no matter what you are doing personally and professionally. This is especially true if you are a model for children and other young ones in your realm of influence. The solid “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” that served prior generations and society so well are long gone, replaced by dumbed-down statements like “Me and my girlfriend are going to the movies”. Such examples abound. Putting self before others has replaced being other-directed, AND on top of that, using “me” where “I” should be is rampant. Correct usage of the English language is a hallmark of an educated person, right?  

Nothing is more grating to the human ear that hearing a speaker repeatedly use fillers or non-words like “ah”, “y’know” and “like a” in conversation. If you want to hear idiocy in action just listen to the sports interviews on radio or television and count the number of times an interviewee uses “y’know”. Your palms will begin to sweat.  September a year ago was a particularly outstanding month for athletic activity with tennis closing out, baseball in full swing and football starting up. The sports interviews, tennis in particular, were weighed down with tons of “y’knows.” It was certainly charming to hear young Melanie Oudan screaming “ohmigod, I’m going to try, y’know, to play my very best for, y’know, myself and for the, y’know, great crowd there today”. Melanie was just 17 however and when she is decades older we will expect a lot more efficiency from her. Chris Evert, a true champion on the court never did get the junk out of her delivery and today remains incapable of delivering a simple sentence without “y’know”. None of us is perfect, but all of us have to do a better job with our primary language.

And there’s no y’know about that.