Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween... or Attack of the Kandy-Kraving Kostumed Kids

Tonight my house was held up for candy by a "ghetto clown". This too-old-to-be-trick-or-treating dandy was dressed in a clown hat (tilted of course in true ghetto style), pants that sagged well down his waist, and his ensemble was completed by a surly attitude of entitlement.

When my wife (God bless her, she still watches Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin and hearkens back to the idealized days of her youthful Halloween activities) answered ghetto clown's banging on our screen door, she optimistically asked, "and what are you?" To which ghetto clown churlishly responded, "I'm a ghetto clown."

So naturally I said, "what's a ghetto clown?" I know a little about clowns, and I know a little about ghettos, but I have never heard of a ghetto clown. Alas, my inquisitiveness was rewarded only by the gaping maw of a huge pillowcase, bulging with candy. Ghetto clown was obviously not yet satisfied with his take for the evening and demanded more.

Here I must confess that I am not really into Halloween. Don't get me wrong: I like tricks and I like treats. I like costumes, pumpkins, haunted houses, and the chill in the air that seems to mark the beginning of fall and the rapidly approaching holiday season.

Here's what I don't like about Halloween: I don't like the way kids showed up and demanded candy. Many of these candy cravers didn't even bother with the traditional statement of trick or treat; they merely held out their bags and waited for the candy to be inserted. Some even had the audacity to reach into the candy bowl and remove overflowing handfuls.

Maybe I'm reading more into this than is warranted (and I am now stepping onto my soapbox), but it strikes me that these actions represent some of the truly offensive attitudes manifested by many of today's kids: A sense of entitlement, selfishness, lack of consideration for others, gluttony, poor manners. Most of these kids are overweight, so they certainly don't need more candy. They definitely don't need handfuls (now stepping off my soapbox)...

Thank goodness for their adult minders, who in most cases stood unobtrusively on the sidewalk, reminding their little ghosts, goblins, witches, princesses and Tom Bradys to say thank you.

I just wish ghetto clown had been escorted by an adult; perhaps then I wouldn't be closing my door on tonight's Halloween with a nagging sense of annoyance.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Baghdad Diaries": As Scandolous as the Generation from Which It Came

Writing in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan comments in her very erudite and no-holds-barred fashion about the now-famous and scandalous "Baghdad Diaries".

To remind you, the venerable New Republic magazine earlier this year created quite a stir when they ran the "Baghdad Diaries" series by soldier-writer Scott Thomas. The series portrayed soldiers in Iraq as morbidly witty, pitiless, and ultimately (to paraphrase Noonan), nihilistic. In left-wing intellectual circles, the "Baghdad Diaries" added fuel to the anti-war fire.

Turns out that the "Baghdad Diaries" are yet another case of journalistic license. As in, completely fake. Shame on the New Republic for not thoroughly fact checking and shame on Thomas for casting aspersions on our soldiers--his comrades in arms--serving in Iraq.

The backstory: "Thomas", as it turns out, is actually Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a U.S. Army private serving in the Iraq War, and a member of Alpha Company, 1/18 Infantry, Second Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division.

Immediately after the publication of "Baghdad Diaries", several conservative publications and bloggers questioned Beauchamp's statements. The New Republic investigated and concluded the statements were true, except one entry that was later said to have occurred prior to combat in Kuwait instead of during combat in Iraq. The U.S. Army investigated and concluded the statements were false.

And here, my friends, is where the story gets interesting...

New Republic editor Franklin Foer disclosed that Beauchamp is married to Elspeth Reeve, a former New Republic reporter and fact checker, and that his relationship with Reeve was "part of the reason why we found him to be a credible writer." Accused of insufficient fact-checking, the magazine had, according to Foer, planned to "re-report every detail", but the magazine later stated that their investigation was "short circuited" after the Army severed Beauchamp's communications with anyone overseas.

As of August 2007, both parties are holding to their respective conclusions.

Noonan approaches the Baghdad Diaries scandal from a sociological perspective; that is, how the background and upbringing of the people who now report the news influences their actual reporting.

Noonan writes: "... This new leadership class, those roughly 35 to 40, grew up in a time when media dominated all. They studied, they entered a top-tier college, and then on to Washington or New York or Los Angeles. But their knowledge, their experience, is necessarily circumscribed. Too much is abstract to them, or symbolic. The education establishment did them few favors. They didn't have to read Dostoevsky, they had to read critiques and deconstruction of Dostoevsky.

"I'm not sure it's always good to grow up surrounded by stability, immersed in affluence, and having had it drummed into you that you are entitled to be a member of the next leadership class. To have this background in the modern era is to come from a ghetto, the luckiest ghetto in the world, a golden ghetto beyond whose walls it can be hard to see.

"There's much to be said for suffering, for being on the outside or the bottom, for having to have fought yourself up and through. It can leave you grounded. It can give you knowledge not only of the world and of other men but of yourself. In some ways it can leave you less cynical. (Not everything comes down to money.) And in some ways it leaves you just cynical enough."

I admit that to some extent my personal background is of that "golden ghetto" origin. Yet I have had the benefit of a religion (Judaism) and a formative education (at Northfield Mount Hermon Prep School) that taught me the importance of service, sacrifice, and humility. During my military service as an officer, those traits were further drilled into me. So I know a little about suffering; I know a little about fighting up and through.

This knowledge has enabled me to empathize and sympathize with others. It has taught me not to feel or act entitled; to not act arrogantly or pridefully. Those lessons have helped me to deal with the many challenges and obstacles life has placed in my path, as well as to understand the challenges confronted by others.

I agree with Noonan, which is why I am a very strong proponent of compulsory national service. National service is the ultimate equalizer: Whether it's the military, Americorps, Teach for America, or a national service program yet to be conceived, these programs help to break down the "golden ghetto" walls that separate the "entitled" class from those less fortunate.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gen Y: Are They Creating a Revolutionary or Ridiculous Work Environment?

Although I am not a Human Resources professional by trade, I do have a Master's Degree in Systems Management (with a focus on Organizational Behavior) so I am always interested in discovering and understanding the "bleeding edge" of trends and developments in workplace cultures and management. To stay current, I read many HR publications, both print and online.

One of my favorite such publications is Business and Legal Reports' HR Daily Advisor ( Yesterday's edition was particularly interesting, with its discussion of the new trend in management: ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment).

As reported by HR Daily Advisor and according to the website, Best Buy's ROWE program allows employees to set their own hours and decide whether to work at home, at the office, or at Dunkin' Donuts (or their coffee shop of choice).

Meetings aren't optional, but they are virtual: Participants can attend in person, from home or from their coffee shop of choice. Exempt employees have few restrictions on how much they work—-as long as they get the job done. (Nonexempt employees do have to track hours for Fair Labor Standards Act pay purposes.)

So far, the program applies mostly to staff workers, who (in a blinding flash of the obvious) seem to like it. They say they don't have to spend any energy appearing to work--a la George Costanza appearing uber-busy in his Yankee Stadium office. No more surrounding themselves with random piles of paper or making sure the computer screen always shows complex charts whenever the supervisor walks by.

Astonishingly, managers also like ROWE. They say their job is now actually management—-that is, measuring results and assisting, training, and mentoring as needed. No more policing whether people are on time, how long they take for lunch, or when they leave. Management says the system works: Turnover is down and productivity is up.

According to, ROWE participants especially appreciate that they have time for family obligations without looking like they are shirking work. Thanks to ROWE's flexibility, a manager who was going to quit over conflicts with family obligations, has been able to remain at Best Buy.

Attention "old-school" managers... Here is the 4-1-1: As increasing numbers of Gen-Y'ers enter the workforce, leaders had better change their management styles to adapt to the priorities of new workers, new technologies, and more fluid organizational structures.

Born between 1977 and 1997, Gen Y is the first to have grown up with the internet, be technologically savvy, and have career ambitions that go well beyond earning a high salary. (Business Week, 2005)

As these "youngsters" penetrate the workforce, well established corporate cultures are being forced to change: Not only the way employees are recruited, but also the way new recruits are treated. Gen-Y'ers expect to be treated with respect, be constantly challenged with new and innovative tasks, and have the freedom to set their own schedules.

As Duane Paris, president of Eastern Consolidated points out, “They want to be able to create their own situations and do it their way.“ Gen Y'ers don't feel obliged to stay working for a company that makes them uncomfortable or that doesn't suit their own particular needs.

Though deemed self-centered and self-interested by former generations, Gen Y has a strong desire to help and protect the larger community; ranging from environmental concerns to human rights activism. (Business Week, 2005) They consciously seek jobs that allow them to work toward these larger causes while simultaneously satisfying their own personal growth needs.

What exactly does this mean in terms of corporate culture? In Management (2005), Stephen P. Robbins and Mary Coulter cite nine criteria that comprise a successful work environment for Gen Y:

Assertive - High: The ability to be confrontational and tough, particularly with higher-ups, is an essential component for Gen Y. They want their opinions to be heard and respected, as well as for their ideas to be taken seriously.

Future Orientation - High: Gen Y'ers are highly motivated by organizing, planning, and creating “the next new thing”.

Gender Differentiation - Low: Growing up on the heels of the 1970s feminist movement, Gen Y believes that gender should NOT be a factor in the workforce. Both genders should be equally heard and represented.

Uncertainty Avoidance - Low: Gen Y'ers enjoy breaking and opposing social norms and conventions. They hold innovation and change above tradition.

Power Distance - Low: Although there may be “leaders,” everyone’s ideas should be taken seriously, and a friendly (rather than respectfully reserved) work environment should be fostered.

Individualism/Collectivism - Both Low and High: Although highly individualized in the sense that they value personal success over company loyalty, Gen Y'ers are largely collective in their desire to work toward larger societal causes such as environmentalism.

In-Group Collectivism - High: Gen Y'ers value being part of a “team.” This can be leveraged through group projects and a strong company culture. They want to be proud of where they work and what they stand for.

Performance Orientation - Medium: Although it is important to be successful in the end, Gen Y'ers also believe that how they get achieve success is also important. Tryingis considered just as valuable as succeeding.

Humane Orientation - High: More than previous generation, Gen Y'ers are concerned with being fair, tolerant, and embracing diversity. They believe equality is crucial to success.

If your organization is trying to attract and/or retain Gen Y'ers--and as more Baby Boomers leave the workforce, most organizations are competing vigorously to replace these workers--your leaders should carefully consider each of these attributes.

Because Gen Y'ers have grown up in a culture where job and family stability is a thing of the past, they don't think twice about leaving jobs they dislike. Catering to their expectations--rather than trying to impose existing company values upon them--is vital for companies seeking to reduce turnover and increase new employee retention.

Writing in, Danielle Sacks offers this commentary about Gen Y:

"Gen Y'ers are disruptive not only because of their numbers (76 million children of baby boomers, born between 1978 and 2000) but because of their attitudes. Speak to enough intergenerational experts who study such things (and we spoke to more than a dozen of them), and you begin to get the picture: Millennials aren't interested in the financial success that drove the boomers or the independence that has marked the gen-Xers, but in careers that are personalized.

"They want educational opportunities in China and a chance to work in their companies' R&D departments for six months. "They have no expectation that the first place they work will at all be related to their career, so they're willing to move around until they find a place that suits them," says Dan Rasmus, who runs a workplace think tank for Microsoft.

"Thanks to their overinvolved boomer parents, Gen Y'ers have been coddled and pumped up to believe they can achieve anything. Immersion in PCs, video games, email, the Internet, and cell phones for most of their lives has changed their thought patterns and may also have actually changed how their brains developed physiologically.

"These folks want feedback daily, not annually. And in case it's not obvious, millennials are fearless and blunt. If they think they know a better way, they'll tell you, regardless of your title."

You "old school" managers--you're out there, you know who you are, how you treat your employees, and what they say about the work environment you've created--you're going to have to change your ways.

And if you don't want to, you're betting on the future of your company: Because this is our future workforce. Over the next 25 years, 80 million boomers will retire. And with only 46 million gen-Xers to fill half of those spots, Gen Y'ers are set to dominate the workforce for the next 70 years.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How Job Searching and Dating Are Alike

For those of you who have been following this blog, you probably know that while I own and operate my own business, The Hired Pen, I am currently seeking a full-time position in an organization that will benefit from my more than 15 years of accomplishments in marketing, communications, public/media relations, and customer service.

That's part of my standard "elevator pitch", which--as any savvy job hunter knows--is a powerful weapon in the job hunter's arsenal. As a marketer, I know that I have a very limited time to summarize and communicate my unique value in a compelling and memorable way.

The "elevator pitch" is the key that opens the door to sending a potential networking partner or employer my "networking one-pager". That particular document whets their appetite to see my resume, and thus the dance begins.

Which leads me to the subject of this entry: The similarities between job hunting and dating.

Similarity 1: Like dates, there are plenty of jobs out there. Job searching is a numbers game. To successfully find employment, job seekers need to target a wide range of employers. The more résumés you distribute and the more you network, the better chance you have of landing interviews and a job.

It's like dating: To successfully find a date, single people need to target a wide range of potential mates. The more you "put yourself out there" (that is, networking), the better chance you have of landing a suitable mate.

Similarity 2: Desperation in job searching, like desperation in dating, can only lead to a bad end. Pursue too much and you seem desperate. Pursue too little and you seem indifferent, lackadaisical, uninterested. Desperation, they say, is the world's worst cologne.

Similarity 3: Like dating, the job search process is almost always done independently. You scrutinize the want ads, reach out to potential employers and target companies, get turned down for a job, and wonder why. Likewise, in dating, you look at and reach out to the universe of potential mates, get rejected, and wonder why.

Similarity 4: Like dating, job searching involves similar questions that eat at your ego... To wit: Why didn't they call me? Should I call them? How long should I wait before I call them? What's taking so long for them to get back to me? What did I do wrong? Aren't I good enough? Everyone else has a job/date, what's wrong with me that I can't get a job/date?

In these kinds of situations, without relevant information and feedback, it's easy to project the wreckage of the future. It's not easy to wait, which brings me to the next similarity.

Similarity 5: Job searching and dating are really matters of timing and waiting. If the time is right, the job (or the date) will come. If it isn't, you wait and repeat. Ultimately, you'll get it right. The process is as much about the journey as it is the destination.

During my own job search journey, I'm learning a lot about my professional goals and personal attributes. I'm also discovering a lot about people with whom I've been networking, about my friends, and about the organizations where I have applied for full time employment. That's another similarity between job searching and dating.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Massholes": Do We Deserve the Moniker?!

Ever since I moved to Massachusetts, I have grappled with a term used to describe the erratic (that's being generous) habits of Massachusetts drivers: Massholes. I don't like the term, and I especially don't like how cavalierly the term explains poor driving by anyone with a Massachusetts license plate. People equate 'Massholes' with road rage, aggressive driving, and exorbitant insurance rates.

Is this definition legitimate?

A 2007 study of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas concluded that the cities with the least courteous drivers (most road rage) are Miami, Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. The cities with the most courteous drivers (least road rage) are Minneapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, Seattle, and Atlanta.

In 2003, Commonwealth and local police issued approximately 148,000 citations related to aggressive driving, 17,950 of which involved a crash (the Governor’s Highway Safety Bureau defines aggressive driving as two or more violations of an aggressive nature, such as speeding, tailgating, or improper lane changes).

The study Controlling Road Rage: A Literature Review and Pilot Study defines road rage as "an incident in which an angry or impatient motorist or passenger intentionally injures or kills another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian, or attempts or threatens to injure or kill another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian."

"Road rage" and "aggressive driving" are not synonymous. Road rage is uncontrolled anger that results in violence or threatened violence on the road; it is criminal behavior. Aggressive driving does not rise to the level of criminal behavior. Aggressive driving includes tailgating, abrupt lane changes, and speeding, alone or in combination. These potentially dangerous behaviors are traffic offenses, but are not criminal behavior.

When you're driving on the Mass Pike and you witness any of the latter, it's aggressive driving. It's annoying, it's dangerous, it's inconsiderate... But it's not road rage.

Definitions of road rage vary and often go unstated. In the aforementioned study, road rage is defined as an incident in which "an angry or impatient motorist or passenger intentionally injures or kills another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian, or attempts or threatens to injure or kill another motorist, passenger or pedestrian." In this sense, road rage incidents can be distinguished from other traffic incidents by their willful and criminal nature. They are serious crimes that just happen to occur in the roadway environment.

Not surprisingly, road rage incidents are most commonly reported to have occurred on urban freeways. Urban area non-freeways follow closely thereafter; the fewest reports of road rage are from rural non-freeways.

More and more drivers contribute to worsening traffic and more congestion. Behind the wheel, people are increasingly stressed. This leads to acting out behavior that can, if combined with other instigating factors, lead to aggressive driving and potentially road rage.

If you are confronted by an aggressive driver:
* Control your anger to avoid escalating the situation.
* Attempt to safely get out of his or her way.
* Avoid eye contact or obscene gestures.
* If a serious incident occurs, contact the nearest police agency.
* If using a cell phone, pull over at a safe location and dial 911.

Each of us has a responsibility to drive carefully and considerately. We have a long way to go before we unearn the 'Massholes' moniker.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What is Truly Meaningful: Navy SEAL Posthumously Awarded Nation's Highest Military Honor

To give you some perspective on a item of news unfortunately overlooked in today's frenzy over the Red Sox victory, in the more than 140 years since the U.S. Congress ordained the establishment of our nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor, 3,463 medals have been awarded to 3,444 different people.

In that time, millions of men and women have served in our nation's armed forces. A tiny fraction of a percentage of these soldiers conducted themselves in combat in such a way that earned them our nation's most prestigious award.

Most Medal of Honor winners receive their awards posthumously; it is the very selflessness of their actions that earn them this award.

Today, President Bush bestowed the Medal of Honor on Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy of Patchogue, NY. Twenty-nine years old at the time of his death in Afghanistan, Murphy is the fourth Navy SEAL to earn the award and the first since the Vietnam War.

Lt. Murphy's heroism is clearly and brutally described in Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and The Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell. Here's how Luttrell, the sole survivor of a mission gone horribly wrong, describes his Team Leader (and his best friend):

"Then there was my best friend, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, an honors graduate from Penn State, a hockey player, accepted by several law schools before he turned the rudder hard over and changes course for the United States Navy. Mikey was an inveterate reader. His favorite book was Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire, the story of the immortal stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae.

"He was the finest officer I have ever met, a natural leader, a really terrific SEAL who never, ever bossed anyone around... He simply would not tolerate any other high-ranking officer, commissioned or noncommissioned, reaming out one of his guys.

"He insisted the buck stopped with him. He always took the hit himself. If a reprimand was due, he accepted the blame."

Slowly, painfully, Luttrell's book takes readers through rigorous SEAL training, on missions in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, and then deep into the Hindu Kush mountains on "Operation Redwing," a mission to find and apprehend a particularly vicious Al Queada terrorist. Luttrell's book is a riveting must read for anyone who wants to better understand the training and mentality of our nation's finest and most potent warriors.

Coming from a guy who went to Ranger School, these guys are truly our nation's warrior elite.

Luttrell relates in his book how not killing a few Afghan goat herders who stumbled upon his team's overwatch position set in motion the tragic sequence of events that led to Murphy's death.

The firefight went on for two hours or so, a running gun battle between four SEALs and some 200 well-trained Al Queada operatives. Two of the team members were shot and slowly bled to death; though shot in the stomach early in the battle, Murphy maintained leadership over the team as they gradually got boxed in by a numerically superior force.

Surrounded by enemy fighters, in a hail of AK-47 bullets, with dwindling ammunition and badly wounded, here is how Luttrell relates what Murphy did to earn--at the cost of his life--the Medal of Honor:

"... He groped in his pocket for his mobile phone, the one we had dared not use because it would betray our position. And then Lieutenant Murphy walked out into the open ground. He walked until he was more or less in the center, gunfire all around him, and he sat on a small rock and began punching in the numbers to HQ.

"I could hear him talking. 'My men are taking heavy fire... we're getting picked apart. My guys are dying our here... we need help.'

"And right then Mikey took a bullet straight in the back. I saw the blood spurt from his chest. He slumped forward, dropping his phone and his rifle. But then he braced himself, grabbed them both, sat upright again and once more put the phone to his ear.

"I heard hims speak again. 'Roger that, sir. Thank you.' Then he stood up and staggered to our bad position, the guarding our left, and Mikey just started fighting again, firing at the enemy.

"Only I knew what Mikey had done. He'd understood we had only one realistic chance, and that was to call in help. He also knew there was only one place from which he could possibly make that cell phone work: out in the open, away from the cliff walls.

"Knowing the risk, understanding the danger, in the full knowledge the phone call could cost him his life, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy walked out into the firestorm.

"... The final, utterly heroic act. Not a gesture. An act of supreme valor. Lieutenant Mikey was a wonderful person and very, very great SAL officer. If they build a memorial to him as high as the Empire State Building, it won't be high enough for me."

Here is part of Lt. Murphy's award citation:

Demonstrating exceptional resolve, Lieutenant Murphy valiantly led his men in engaging the large enemy force. The ensuing fierce firefight resulted in numerous enemy casualties, as well as the wounding of all four members of his team. Ignoring his own wounds and demonstrating exceptional composure, Lieutenant Murphy continued to lead and encourage his men. When the primary communicator fell mortally wounded, Lieutenant Murphy repeatedly attempted to call for assistance for his beleaguered teammates. Realizing the impossibility of communicating in the extreme terrain and in the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into an open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call. This deliberate heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire. Finally achieving contact with his headquarters, Lieutenant Murphy maintained his exposed position while he provided his location and requested immediate support for his team.

In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom.

Thank you, Lt. Murphy, for your service and sacrifice.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Taking Care of Professional Athletes Sometimes Requires Disappointing Fans

Water Problems Cancel Celtics-Nets game at Halftime

WORCESTER— Some 10,000 angry fans saw only half the Boston Celtics-New Jersey Nets preseason game tonight at the DCU after condensation from the ice rink below the basketball court seeped through the floor and the game was canceled.

Dozens of police officers were ordered to the arena after numerous fans stormed onto the court and voiced their anger with the situation. At least one person was arrested, according to initial reports.

The game began at 7:30 p.m. and was called about 9:15 p.m.

Police said numerous fans rushed onto the court after the game was called. DCU officials turned off the lights in the facility and fans were directed to leave the building.

To appease unhappy fans, an autograph session was held, but players seemed uncomfortable and the session ended quickly.

The much anticipated game featured the Worcester debut of the Celtics’ Big 3, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Fans paid as much as $48 for tickets to the contest.

The game marked the first time the Celtics had played in Worcester in seven years.

I attended tonight's game (or half game) at the DCU Arena in Worcester and agree 100% with the decision to cancel the game. I applaud the Celtics players for agreeing to a impromptu one-half hour autograph session, and absolutely deplore the actions of the irate crowd.

In fact, my wife and I left the DCU Arena precisely because I knew, from experience, that ANY unscheduled event involving professional athletes (or politicians) is bound to result in chaos and anger. Which is precisely what transpired.

I'm appalled at the ire displayed by fans who just did not seem to understand the dangers posed by the unsafe floor.

Folks, promising professional basketball careers have been RUINED by this phenomenon.

Christian Welp is a 7 foot German who was the University of Washington's all-time leading scorer. He was the 16th player taken in the 1987 NBA draft. Selected by the 76ers for his soft shooting touch, the 76ers picked Welp to man the front line alongside Charles Barkley.

Welp made good progress and broke the Sixers starting lineup as a rookie. Playing in a December game in Chicago, Welp tore up his knee, slipping on a wet floor. A Blackhawks hockey game had been held in the arena the night before and the weather was unseasonably warm, lending to risky conditions on a court placed on top of the ice.

"There was condensation on the floor and the ball boys were mopping the floor the whole game," he said, recalling that Michael Jordan scored 56 that night while his Sixers won. "It was so severe, my knee never got back to the level it was before." After reconstructive surgery, Welp spent one more year in the NBA before his injury forced him to retire.

How Does it Work, Anyway?
Believe it or not, the technology that makes placing a basketball court on top of an ice rink is pretty simple: Directly under the basketball court is Arena Deck, which separates the ice from the basketball court. Arena Deck is a lightweight material of fiberglass and plastic.

Arena Deck is put over the ice and holds the cold air down while making sure the basketball court stays dry from any condensation. Depending on the time frame of the back-to-back events in the arena, the basketball court can be assembled over the ice in as little as three hours, using a staff of 35 to 50 workers to accomplish this tremendous task. The 94-foot long and 45-foot wide court is made up of more than 200 pieces.

In older facilities like the DCU, the process doesn't always work as well as designed. Plus, unseasonably warm conditions--along with rain--increased the humidity inside the arena, exacerbating the problem.

Officials made the right decision to cancel this virtually meaningless preseason game. Fans were wrong to protest and even more wrong to besiege the court. Another black eye for Worcester.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why Do People Call Worcester Wormtown?

Here we are, folks, in scenic Worcester, Massachusetts: The town that in its infinite wisdom decided that the Mass Pike passing through town really wasn't a good idea...

But bashing Worcester--as prevalent as that seems to be (both inside and outside city limits)--is not the topic of today's blog entry. Instead, we're going to examine the obscure origins of "Wormtown", one of Worcester's lesser-known nicknames.

From the research (primary and secondary) I have conducted, "Wormtown" is apparently a regional nickname associated with Worcester. Originally used to refer to the ethos of Worcester's underground musical subculture, "Wormtown" has recently become applied to the entire city itself.

Over time, city leaders and other talking heads (popular or not, known or not) in Wormtown imported the term, positioning it as a ironic slight against Worcester. I know, that doesn't quite make sense to me, either, but self-deprecating humor is a common virtue around here.

People from Worcester tell me that WCUW Disc Jockey (and newsletter writer) L.B. Worm coined the term some twenty years ago. He allegedly said, "This scene is so dead, maybe I should call it Wormtown." The term caught on, leading my sources to explain that "Wormtown" was the flag under which the region's underground music subculture rallied. And so a movement began.

The "Wormtown" movement eventually replaced the "rock-as-usual" broadcasts on local radio and in bars and clubs. Local stations WCUW and WICN (now all jazz) flourished. Nowadays, followers of The Worcester Phoenix gladly call themselves Wormtowners, as does the T&G's Scott McClennan. Vincent's, whom some believe to be Worcester's most popular club, is regarded as 100% Wormtown, having taken the title from Ralph's, the eighties most popular establishment. The success of these establishments is attributable to the Wormtown movement.

Citing the term's 'elitist' origins (using the term 'elitist' very liberally), people who have worn and now wear the "Wormtown" mantle are very proud and protective of it. They say that "Wormtown" was never meant to be another name for Worcester, that the term only describes the music scene of the late 1970s and early 80s.

They take great umbrage at the fact that politicians have expropriated the term; that the Worcester Rugby Club has adopted the nickname "Wormtown" and sports the logo of a feisty, rugby-playing worm emerging from a rugby ball; music festivals; and various commercially-oriented and self-serving websites (,,,, etc.).

So there you have it, friends: Why Worcester is often referred to as "Wormtown."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Marketing and Advertising Industrial Complex

In his exit speech on January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the nation of the growing influence of the military-industrial complex. While he was not the first to use this term, his powerful words resonate today... In a different context--as you'll discover below--but certainly no less alarming.

Let's go back to 1961 and review President Eisenhower's words:

"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Today, my friends, I believe we face a similar challenge: One I refer to as the Marketing and Advertising Industrial Complex.

We all know that technology, media segmentation, and expanding distribution channels have transformed the marketing and advertising landscape. It's nearly impossible for individuals to keep up with the exponential speed at which the online marketing industry alone is progressing.

Writing in SearchInsider, Gord Hotchkiss says: "It's not easy being a consumer. Current estimates indicate that the average urban dweller is exposed to between 3,000 and 5,000 advertising messages every day. That means, settling on the middle number, that every waking hour you're presented with an ad every 14.4 seconds. That's every 14.4 seconds, every minute of every day you're alive. The frequency of this advertising barrage has doubled in the past 30 years."

It's not just advertising that has proliferated, it's invasive marketing as well.

Every time you complete a warranty card, get divorced, buy a home, get listed in a school directory, enter a sweepstakes, purchase an item from a catalog, file an insurance claim, or perform a myriad of other everyday activities, some company somewhere makes a record of this fact and sells it--and your private information--to marketers for profit.

I could go on with data that supports my contention that the proliferation of advertising and marketing has reached alarmingly intrusive and influential proportions. The most frightening fact about how pervasive advertising has become in our consumerist society: Our children are exposed to about 50,000 ads a year.

A major problem with advertising today is that there is simply too much of it. Being exposed to more than 3,000 ads a day means that these ads increasingly encroach upon our public space--our schools, our public transportation, our buildings, our elevators, and even our beaches (a new technique enables the advertisers to stamp their ads onto the sand at beaches) and sidewalks (same method).

Another problem--at least for advertisers and companies trying to build a brand--is that globally, corporations spend more than $620 billion each year to make their products seem desirable and to get us to buy them.

According to Jean Kilbourne (quoted in an interview by Nan Knutsen), who has been studying ads' cultural impact for almost 20 years: “We believe we're not affected by advertising because it is so often silly, trivial, and something we don't pay conscious attention to. We flip through ads in magazines, speed by billboards, zone out during TV commercials. However, advertising's influence is cumulative and primarily unconscious. The less consciously we watch ads, the more deeply we are affected."

In response to encroaching advertising and intrusive marketing, When Corporations Rule the World has become a modern classic whose message seems increasingly prophetic. The book suggests that the global economy has become like a malignant cancer, advancing the colonization of the planet's living spaces for the benefit of powerful corporations and financial institutions.
The global economy has turned these once useful institutions into instruments of a market tyranny that is destroying livelihoods, displacing people, and feeding on life in an insatiable quest for money. It forces us all to act in ways destructive of ourselves, our families, our communities, and nature.

This destructive process is driven by a combination of institutional forces and an extremist ideology of corporate libertarianism that invokes the theories of Adam Smith and market economics to advance policies that systematically undermine both the market and democracy.

When Corporations Rule the World is a powerful and (to my tastes) radical indictment of the role played in our lives by the world's most powerful corporations.

The book says these corporations are active in shaping public policy in ways that virtually force us into a pattern of overconsumption that yields large profits to the corporations at the expense of our quality of living. Evidence is mounting that to make our societies sustainable we will have to restructure our systems of production and consumption to largely eliminate:

* Dependence on personal automobiles;
* Long distance movement of goods and people;
* The use of chemicals in agriculture; and
* The generation of garbage that we cannot immediately recycle.

Hearken back to President Eisenhower's words and, in light of the aforementioned data and insights (whether you agree with them or not), we may very well be able to rephrase his forceful remarks thusly:

"This conjunction of an immense advertising and marketing establishment and a large consumer-based industry is unparalleled in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every home, every city, every State house, and every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

"In our households and in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the supremely powerful and influential corporations that produce such advertising and marketing materials. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Monday, October 15, 2007

E-mail Etiquette: Think Before You Send!

A few weeks ago I had a disturbing email exchange with a person to whom I was referred during my networking and business development efforts. I began the exchange with a routine follow-up from an initial phone conversation this person and I had. Our initial half hour conversation was lively, illuminating, and--I believed at the time--mutually agreeable. Naturally I was utterly shocked when I received his response to my follow-up email.

In a moment, you'll read the original emails that resulted from the phone conversation (names and details omitted, out of respect for this person). You'll see

for yourself how potentially dangerous emails can be and how very careful you should be before you hit the "Send" button.

Speaking of hitting the "send" button, when I shared the email exchange with a member of my personal "brain trust", he recommended I read a book by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe called "Send."

"Send" should be required reading for those of us (and that's most of us) who send innumerable emails a day. This blog entry features some of the highlights from this entertaining and enlightening book.

But first, here is the email exchange:

From: Bruce R. Mendelsohn []
Sent: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 5:49 PM
To: '---'
Subject: Follow Up from Bruce Mendelsohn re. Introductions

Hi ---. I hope this note finds you well. I am following up on the email I sent to you after our conversation two weeks ago. You will recall you mentioned the potential of referring me to some of your colleagues. Hopefully you have had a chance to do so, and can provide their respective contact information so that I may follow up accordingly. If you have not, I certainly understand, and am providing you (attached) my networking one-pager in the hope that you will find a moment or two to position me as a favor to these folks. Thanks in advance.


Here is the response I received.

From: ---
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 7:25 AM
To: 'Bruce R. Mendelsohn'
Cc: '---'; '---'
Subject: RE: Follow Up from Bruce Mendelsohn re. Introductions


First, as you can see, I've copied both --- and ---. I trust their judgment and they know me. If they like you a lot and they think that I'm being too direct with you, they'll probably reply with something like, "Come on, ---. Cut him some slack." If not, you've got some work to do.

I don't react well to your style. (Notice the way that's phrased. It's my deficiency, not yours. However, I choose not to fix it.)

You sent your first email to me on 8/15. (21 days ago) I spent 12 of those days at my house in Kennebunkport. I think that it's interesting that your first followup to that original email and conversation happened 11 days later, after you returned from DC.

I recognize that you may be under-employed forcing you to be more proactive, but that doesn't fix your style and I'm definitely not under-employed. I will probably still introduce you to --- and --- because they may be able to use you, (notice the phaseology: they use you vs. you help them) but I will definitely make sure that they understand that it's an introduction and not an endorsement and I will surely not give you their contact info.

I don't need a response.


Note his curt, sanctimonious and condescending tone, his inappropriate CC, his criticism, and the misspelling. This is clearly an example of someone not thinking--or even proofreading--before sending a clearly unkind email.

Shipley and Schwalbe say it is absolutely essential to think and proofread before you compose and send your email. I hope my "friend" is reading this blog entry, because I am sure that like me, like you, like all of us, he could well benefit from some of Shipley and Schwalbe's other points:

Pages 10-11: "We also email fast--inevitably too fast... To complicate matters, the speed of email doesn't just make it easier to lose our cool--it actually eggs us on. On email, people aren't quite themselves; they are angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded, even more gossipy and duplicitous. Email has a tendency to encourage the lesser angels of our nature.

Pages 24-25: "Email is both so intimate and so easy that it makes unwise actions far more likely: Once you have someone's email address, you can contact that person any time of the day or night from your very own office or bedroom...
"This once unimaginable access clouds our ability to discern who we are in relation to the person we're writing. Consequently, people issue wildly inappropriate requests to their correspondents that can damage their relationships and derail their careers."

(Crackberry addicts: NOTE!) Page 32: "Much has been written about handheld etiquette (about people who check during dinner, on vacation, at a concert, in a meeting, at the park with their kids). All we have to add is this: handheld checking is not all that different from any other sort of behavior that demonstrates you aren't paying full attention to the people you're with.

Page 35: "The value of a letter--be it a thank-you note or an apology or a condolence--easily exceeds that of even the most effusive or abject email. A handwritten note makes it personal; a typewritten letter on company stationery makes it official. Each in its own way comes with a weight that email will never have."

Page 82: "... Asking people not to read the email you just sent them--Subject: Recall Last Message--is an invitation for them to read it and then to disseminate its contents as widely as possible. In fact, a friend deliberately marketed a book by sending out an email blast about it, followed immediately by an email requesting, in its Subject line, that people not read the initial message. It worked like a charm. Book sales surged."

Page 138-139: "Given that email is written remotely and can be endlessly revised, there is the temptation to be less than honest, in ways large and small. In the end, this is a losing strategy. The more we try to be who we aren't, the less interesting we are to other people.
"The urge to misrepresent oneself can be extremely strong, especially when writing to strangers. Resist. By being dishonest about yourself, you're setting yourself up, in the end, to lose track of who you are.
"You will also be found out. Truth in writing shines through--as does falsehood and phoniness. If we had to choose one hallmark of the phony email, it would be excess. Too much politeness, too many big words, too much of anything means that someone is trying too hard."

Page 170: "If you find yourself apologizing for something serious on email (or by letter or phone call), you'll get a lot farther if you use the active voice (I made a mistake" is much more effective than "Mistakes were made") and take responsibility (I'm sorry I hurt you" is far stronger than "I'm sorry you feel hurt")."

(Attention jokesters!)Page 208: "If you're looking for a list of what not to joke about on email, look no further than the nondiscrimination policy of your company or an organization you admire. For starters, none of the following is an appropriate launching pad for a comedy routine: race, creed, color, national origin, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, physical disability, or mental illness."

So there you have it, folks: The "Cliff's Notes" version of a professional development book that every one of us should read... "Send" by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Promotional Copy I Developed for the Father-Daughter Summit

Because I enjoy sharing my knowledge, energy, passion and expertise with organizations in whose missions I believe, a few months ago I connected with a group called is actually the website for the National Center for Fathering. The NCF's mission is to improve the well-being of children by inspiring and equipping men to be more effectively involved in the lives of children.

In response to a dramatic trend towards fatherlessness in America, the Center was founded in 1990 by Dr. Ken Canfield to conduct research on fathers and fathering, and to develop practical resources to prepare dads for nearly every fathering situation.

My own fathering situation is unique in that I am what the NCF classifies as a "Non-Custodial Dad." NCF has various categories into which they group fathers; each category on their website contains resources and information pertaining to that particular classification.

Because I am not around every day for and with my child, I regard my volunteer efforts on behalf of NCF as a way for me to express my love for my child. I find that this powerful emotion sparks the development of truly compelling content.

The two programs for which I have developed content are "Championship Fathering" (see the online brochure at and a new program called The Father-Daughter Summit. The copy below represents my first crack at promotional content for The Father-Daughter Summit program.

* * *
Once upon a time there was a Prince who could do no wrong. In times of good, in times of trouble, in joyful and painful times, he rode alongside his little princess on a brilliant white horse: She comforted and strengthened by his love and presence, he confident in his role.

His little princess adoringly called him “Daddy” and for many years they lived together in mutual love and happiness.

But time passed, and Daddy’s little princess grew up. The love they shared seemed to subside; a gap opened between them.

Where once upon a time Daddy rode to the rescue, now others appeared, marginalizing Daddy and sometimes even unsaddling him from his brilliant white horse.

Daddy grew confused, anxious, upset. He didn’t know how to respond, how to react, what he could do to repair his relationship with his now not-so-little princess.

Friends, our roles as fathers aren’t the stuff of fairy tales. Every day our growing daughters face real challenges and tough choices. As they mature, our daughters need us to help them overcome these challenges and make the right choices.

“Every daughter deserves to hear from her dad how he feels about her. Thank you for giving me that opportunity. It means so much.”

Now more than ever, our daughters need their daddies to seize and maintain an irreplaceable role in their lives.

That’s why you’re invited to devote one day of your busy life to attend the Father Daughter Summit in . The Summit is a day-long experience where practical and honest instruction is tied to interactive one-on-one sessions between dads and daughters.

At the Father Daughter Summit, you and your daughter will be immersed in a truly transformative experience. In separate and joint sessions, each of you will get proven tips, tactics and techniques you need to shepherd and sustain your relationship. Each session is carefully tailored to help you explore, understand, and work toward the relationship you want to have with your daughter.

You’ll hear from your not-so-little princess what their lives are like and what they need from you to move forward with confidence. Your daughter will learn some of the challenges you face as a father and the trials you confront in helping your daughter enter adulthood.

“Knowing that she not only needs me but also wants me in her life has changed mine.”

During your time at the Father Daughter Summit, you and your daughter will create new memories that will last a lifetime. You’ll also emerge with a concrete action plan to build and strengthen your relationship with your daughter—on terms she needs today and in the future.

“Now she knows how important she is to me. Not just the sacrifice of a day but after the Summit, the knowledge gained made her realize really how much I love her.”

By investing just one day of your busy life, you’ll lay the foundation for a lifetime relationship of loving, caring, and mutual respect. You’ll realize you don’t need to ride to the rescue on your brilliant white horse, but rather simply to be at your daughter’s side, boosting her, loving her, and giving her the confidence and strength she needs to confront the challenges ahead.

Register today for the Father Daughter Summit. Go to

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Fitting In" at Work: Overlook This at Your Own Peril

Currently in the throes of a highly targeted job search, I have focused a great deal of energy and concentration on figuring out a organization's culture and where I might fit into that culture.

Organizational culture has long been overlooked as a vital component in the employment process. From what I have read and personally experienced, employers and potential employees who don't consider "fit" may very well set themselves up for a mutually unsatisfying relationship.

Basically, organizational culture is the personality of the organization. Culture is the assumptions, values, norms and tangible signs ("stuff on the walls") of organization members (employees) and their behaviors. Members of an organization soon come to sense the particular culture of an organization.

Human nature dictates that we over time mold our personalities to fit the culture in which we live and work. Fitting in is always easier than standing out. After all, the lone impala on the plain is very attractive to the hungry lion...

The notion of organizational culture is tough to define, but everyone seems to know it when they've been in the organization long enough. For example, the culture of a large, for-profit corporation is different than that of a hospital which is quite different that that of a university.

There are a few things I observe when I first am exposed to a potential employer's workplace: How furniture is arranged... What people are wearing... Whether or not employees have family photos or "tchotchkes" in their work areas... If office doors are open or closed... If the break room and bathroom is clean or messy... If employees tend to congregate around certain offices or work areas... These details can reveal much about the culture of the organization.

When a potential employee doesn't take you into their "house", you will have a very hard time discerning the organizational culture. For example: I once accepted a senior-level position without walking through the company's workplace. My first time I saw the office was my first day on the job. Had my former employers opted to take me through their offices before offering me the position, I would have noticed certain troubling aspects of the company's organizational culture.

My keen eye for recognizing organizational culture "cues" may have deterred me from accepting their offer... and certainly would have helped me to avoid a relationship that very quickly soured.

Just as there are different types of personality, there are also different types of culture. Researcher Jeffrey Sonnenfeld identified the following four types:

Academy Culture
Employees are highly skilled and tend to stay in the organization as they work their way up the ranks. The organization provides a stable environment in which employees can development and exercise their skills. Examples are universities, hospitals, large corporations, etc.

Baseball Team Culture
Employees are "free agents" with highly prized skills. They know they are in high demand and that they can easily get jobs elsewhere. This type of culture exists in fast-paced, high-risk organizations such as investment banking, advertising, etc.

Club Culture
Fitting into the group is the most important requirement for employees in the club culture. Usually employees start at the bottom and remain with the organization. The organization promotes from within and highly values seniority. Examples are the military, some law firms, etc.

Fortress Culture
In the fortress culture, employees are perpetually under siege. They don't know whether they'll be laid off or not, and hence the culture is hushed, stressed and edgy. While these types of organizations often undergo massive reorganization, there are many opportunities for those with timely, specialized skills. Examples include savings and loans, large car companies, etc.

Like a poker player, every culture has certain "tells". These tells are very difficult to discern based on one or two brief visits (such as those to which potential employees are exposed during brief and structured interviews).

I have found it immensely enlightening to complement these "tells" with rigorous due diligence: I speak to former and current employees, I speak to employees of competing organizations, I conduct research on Google, Lexis, LinkedIn and other online tools. I bring to bear the full range of my investigative journalism expertise to understand the organizational culture because I realize that if the fit isn't right, no amount of hard work, charm or compensation will make me happy in the organization.

That said, I believe employers have a responsibility to give prospective employees a tour of their potential workspace. Prospective employees have a responsibility to pay close attention to certain organizational culture "tells" and determine whether or not their personality type would thrive in that environment.

If you're currently employed, walk around your office and see if you can notice the "tells". What do they reveal about your workplace?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Antagonists Add Spice To Our Lives

Harry Potter and Voldemort.
Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
Snoopy and The Red Baron.
Jean Val-Jean and Javert.
The Redskins and the Cowboys.
Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
The Red Sox and the Yankees.

These are just a few prominent examples of arch-enemies and antagonistic relationships without which life would be, well, boring. I mean, imagine Harry Potter without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Or the white-robed Luke Skywalker without the Master of the Dark Side. Or the Red Sox without the Yankees.

Without the one, the other simply is not as exciting or compelling. Without the one, there is no real story, no conflict that keeps us us interested, that commands our attention, that forces us to choose sides.

Which is why, now that the Yankees have been unceremoniously dropped from their annual pursuit of a World Series crown, I feel somehow that the excitement has gone out of the baseball playoffs.

Without the Yankees, I don't have a true antagonist at which I can direct my ire. Of course I'm still pulling for the Sox, but a defeat over the Indians just won't bring the same joy, the same sense of triumph, that would a victory over the Yankees.

I believe humans need antagonists to experience our full range of emotions. We need antagonists to grapple with and try to solve vexing challenges. We need antagonists to grow, emotionally and psychologically. Antagonists not only add spice to our lives, they also help us to reach our full potential as individuals.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

More Lessons on Customer Service: Southwest Airlines

A lot has been written about Southwest Airlines: The carrier's quirky corporate culture, its David versus Goliath origins, the fact that it is one of the very few airlines in the industry to consistently turn a profit (Southwest turned its first annual profit in 1973, and has done so every year since — a record unmatched by any other commercial airline). It's one of the world's most profitable airlines and in January 2007, posted a profit for the 34th consecutive year.

In other areas, Southwest also sets the industry standard: For on-time departures and arrivals and baggage service... It is the largest airline in the United States by number of passengers carried domestically per year and the second largest airline in the world by number of passengers carried... In several other categories, Southwest sets the standard.

Which brings me to a story my grandfather told me many years ago: A pioneer in the advertising industry, Grandpa Murray was probably one of the world's first frequent flyers. He always traveled in a suit and tie and later in his life bemoaned the fact that "the masses" did not regard air travel as the "transportation experience" that he always did. The fact that he was almost a contemporary of Wilbur and Orville Wright instilled in him a deep respect (and fear) of traveling at tens of thousands of feet in a cigar tube. He told the most marvelous stories of the luxuries he enjoyed during his air travels; he also related some truly frightening tales of terror at twenty+ thousand feet.

Nowadays, most airline travelers don't expect much, given the reduction in amenities, services, and civility that has occured over the past twenty years in the airline industry. Southwest's model fits perfectly with our hurried and harried age: Get us out on time, get us there on time, and do it safely.

Which brings me to what is the most important component to customer service in the airline industry: Safety. Just six years after 9/11, we take airline safety for granted.

But the fact is, the popularity of travel by air, larger planes with more passengers and hundreds of daily flights have all led to a dramatic increase in the number of accidents and deaths since 1970. That trend will no doubt continue with larger aircraft coming online--the mammoth A380 and the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" to name two that have recently been in the news.

That makes the following fact even more impressive: In its more than 35 year history, Southwest has had three major incidents of note, one involving a passenger fatality caused by other passengers providing assistance to the in-flight crew, and one involving a ground fatality. Southwest Airlines has never had a passenger fatality due to an accident. That's the most important customer service category, and clearly the one that means the most to anyone who flies.

I'm not shilling here for Southwest; I write this blog after having taken yet another flawless flight from Baltimore to Providence, and am reflecting on the smoothness of the entire experience. I've flown USAir, Delta, Continental, Northwest, Czech Air, Aeroflot, El Al, China Air, Korean Air, Austrian Air, Singapore Air, and on and on, but if I had my choice, I would fly Southwest everywhere.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Help Me! I've Caught Red Sox Fever!

Dear Mom,

Since I left Washington, DC for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I have had this strange, tingling feeling. It starts in March, as the brutal and gray winter recedes, and the news reports reach us from a faraway place called Florida, where (we're told) the grass is green and Spring training is about to begin.

The tingling feeling intensifies as news organizations across the Commonwealth provide excruciatingly detailed reports about pitchers pitching, catchers catching, and prospects, well, prospecting. Strange names blare from the TV and radio: Big Papi, Papelbon, Manny, Youk, cereal ads for Coco Crisp?!... I think I am hallucinating.

March gives way inexorably to April, and the tingling climaxes on a hallowed mark in the Commonwealth's calendar called "Opening Day." While the remaining snow clings stubbornly to the sidewalk and the nascent buds hide on the trees, awaiting the inevitable April freeze, Fenway's pristine infield and immaculately raked dirt beckon; sirens drawing sailors to their doom. Play ball! they say, and my fever becomes a constant companion over the ensuing months.

April, May, June, July and August pass in a pennant-race induced haze; I grow familiar with the names and they become part of my daily ritual, background noise and visuals to the mundanities of daily life. The All-Star break arrives: If we are in first my fever subsides for a few days, only to return with the games--for as long-suffering Sox fans have told me, we always collapse after the All-Star break.

August eases lazily into September; people return from The Cape and the yellow buses once again parade the streets. Summer clothes reluctantly return to the basement; fall and winter clothes take their place. I see my breath sometimes during my morning runs, and there's a foreboding chill in the air. Days grow shorter and the lights brighten Fenway's still-green fields ever earlier.

Our lead dwindles and my fever heightens. The virus from the South--the dreaded Yankees--inch closer, and my anxiety spikes. Finally we win the division, narrowly avoiding snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and enter the playoffs.

Beckett throws a shutout and for one glorious October night, my fever is gone. I sleep and dream of one, two, three, ten more victories until I finally rid myself of the fever... Until next March, when I know it will return.

I miss DC and the odd sense of security that comes with pulling for a perennial cellar-dweller. I happily trade that for pulling for a winner, yet as I have discovered The Cause comes with The Curse and other peculiar insecurities.

I have become what I have long mocked: A Red Sox fan, and to my surprise, the name seems to fit.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

October Fools' Day, Part II: Our Government Pays Blackwater Mercenaries More than Its Own Soldiers!

In this second, bonus installment of The Hired Pen's blog, here is an excerpt and commentary from today's Wall Street Journal:
"... In 2001, Blackwater received just under $1 million for its services from the U.S. government... The company's U.S. government contracts rose to about $350 million in 2005 and have been rising dramatically each year since. The total tally, according to a committee report, tops $1 billion.
"The report said the State Department is being charged $1,222 a day for each Blackwater security guard, or approximately $445,000 a year for each employee. The committee contrasted that figure with the pay of an Army sergeant's $140 to $190 a day in pay and benefits, worth $51,100 to $69,350 over a year."

According to Wikipedia, Blackwater USA is a private military company, security firm and mercenary company, founded in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark. It is based in North Carolina, where it operates a tactical training facility that it claims is the world's largest. The company trains more than 40,000 people a year, from all the military services and a variety of other agencies.

The company markets itself as "The most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations company in the world."

Blackwater is currently the biggest of the U.S. State Department's three private security contractors. At least 90% of its revenue comes from government contracts, two-thirds of which are no-bid contracts.

Blackwater operatives have also been accused of randomly shooting Iraqi civilians (with or without provocation) on the basis of carrying out their duties and responsibilities. These shootings have been a disaster for U.S. policy in Iraq (whether or not you agree with that policy) in too many ways to list here--not the least of which is how said policy is viewed by the rest of the world. These shootings have significantly worsened the already tenuous situation in Iraq.

Blackwater's operatives may be necessary in Iraq. But as a former U.S. Army officer who has been trained by and served alongside many NCOs (non-commissioned officers), I find it unbelievably insulting that Blackwater's "hired guns" get paid more than our own servicemen and servicewomen.

October Fools' Day, Part I: A Respected Take on "e-Taggers"

My friend Jonathan Bernstein, who publishes a very interesting e-letter on crisis communications (subscribe at had this to say in today's issue:


"The Internet has spawned a new breed of taggers who insist on making their mark on any blog that will have them, just to see their own words in print. They typically persist in disrupting otherwise civil discourse through obnoxious and often incoherent rambling, secure in the delusion that they are merely exercising freedom of speech."

e-Tagging is the equivalent of the random graffiti we tend to see on many flat surfaces, mobile or immobile, urban, suburban, or rural. People defend the affixing of tags to physical structures with the same reason for e-tagging: They are merely exercising their right to free speech.
Jonathan's "thought" sparked in me a long-remembered free speech quotation from my seventh-grade civics class: "What this country needs is more free speech worth listening to." (Hansell B. Duckett)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Customer Service: Some Days You're the Pigeon; Some Days You're the Statue

Yesterday we discussed integrity, which I believe to be one of the most important characteristics in any relationship, be it business or personal. Today I want to talk briefly about customer service.

To me, the two are inextricably linked. After you read this blog entry, you'll see why.

I conduct many transactions online, frequently doing business with unseen people on eBay and through my pal William Shatner at Priceline. Almost every single transaction I have conducted with sellers and buyers on eBay has been flawless (with the exception of the unscrupulous and often hilariously transparent scams); every time I have conducted business with Priceline (usually via the man-magnet "name your own price" function) the website has delivered on its promises.

eBay and Priceline make it clear and easy for their customers to follow through on their unique brand promises. They've staked out virtually unassailable market positions and defend their positions not through traditional advertising but rather through the immensely powerful tool of "word of mouth" marketing. Every chance I get, I laud eBay and Priceline for their ease of use, their depth of service, and their follow through.

That's customer service in the Internet age. Tell us what you're going to give us, make it convenient for us to get it, and then--if we really need help--make it easy for us to access customer service. Every once in a while--not every day, please God--send us informative and interesting notices about what's new on your site or in your business. Smooth out the path for your customers and let'em run. Put out some signs to keep'em headed in the right direction.

Of course, on the other hand (the "Some Days You're the Statue" part of the title, above), you've got businesses like Jiffy Lube, where I went today for an oil change. Jiffy Lube has also carved out a highly profitable niche in the oil change and car care market. They charge a premium for fast, convenient, consistent and predictable service, and most people appreciate it. I know I do; having changed my oil myself a few times, I happily (and cleanly) pay more for Jiffy Lube's fast, efficient service.

But here's what I don't like about Jiffy Lube: The knowledge most Americans have about their cars boils down to "insert key in ignition and turn" and "fill with gas when necessary." To their credit--and profit--Jiffy Lube has conditioned us to "every 3,000 miles just bring it in to Jiffy Lube."

The fact is, most cars today don't need to have their oil changed every 3,000 miles. With normal use, most new cars don't need an oil change until 10,000 miles or beyond! When you do bring your car into Jiffy Lube--lured, perhaps, by the $5 discount coupon you received in the mail (or found online)--you get what Jiffy Lube has promised. So far, so good.

You also get up-selled. There you are, in the waiting room, and a uniformed manager sticks his (or her) head from inside the service bay and calls your name. You dutifully follow him into the service bay to arrive before a computer that displays your car's entire service record--whether or not you have ever been to that Jiffy Lube branch (that is only if you have taken your car to any other Jiffy Lube). There you are, fully clothed, your car is digitally exposed.

The manager proceeds to tell you about your oil change, recommending a higher quality oil--"because winter's coming and the oil in your car will work harder... Less viscosity, you know." OK, at an extra $5 that sounds reasonable. Then he shows you your car's air filter, casually flicking a finger over the dirt lodged therein and saying, "We recommend you change your air filter; it'll improve your gas mileage and engine performance." That's another $19.99. Then he says, well, you're due for a change of wiper blades: Another $15, should you say to yourself that winter's coming and you really do need to see out that windshield.

Then he hits you with the fuel injection cleaning, the air conditioning ("also puts out heat, and winter's coming"), et cetera, et cetera ad nauseum. Abracadabra alakazam! What was going to be a $30.00 oil change has suddenly turned into a $100 repair job.

Since you know very little about your car, you trust the Jiffy Lube professionals to help you: Why, if they recommend it, my car must need it. And I need my car, so I better take care of it. I'm here, after all, so let me just get it done and not worry about it later.

Knowing this psychological dance, you can bet good money that Jiffy Lube's senior managers strongly encourage their branch managers to push these ancillary--often unnecessary (at the time)--services. I'd like to see their demographic studies: Ladies, you'll forgive me here for generalizing, but you are sure to be a "goose that laid a golden egg" at your local Jiffy Lube. It's good marketing and great salesmanship. But it's somehow... duplicitous.

After all, do you really need what they say you need? Is your car really going to stop running without that fuel injection cleaning system overhaul? And couldn't you just go down the street to Advance Auto Parts and buy that air filter (still easy to install in most cars) and those wiper blades (again, a five-minute installation)?

There are those who will argue that Jiffy Lube provides an indispensable service to our harried, auto-ignorant society. I understand their perspective. What bugs me about Jiffy Lube is that I don't think they really care about my car and how things are working under the hood... They just care about my wallet and how they can get at what's inside. And that, to me, is false customer service.