Friday, December 21, 2007

'Twas the Day Before Christmas: More Office Space Doggerel

... 'Twas the day before Christmas
And all through the halls,
nothing was stirring,
not even Nerf balls.

... The copier was quiet,
the phones silent too,
in hopes that soon the boss
would proclaim the day 'through'.

... The decorations on fake trees were drooping,
as glitter breezed through the cube farm,
not a worker was stirring,
ending the day early brings no harm.

... Now we are done for the day,
to enter early rush hour a-fright,
with a Merry Christmas to all,
and to all a good night.

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas": Office Space Version

Although I just started a new job two weeks ago and am swamped with tons of information on a new industry, I still have time to devote to this blog.

With an hour drive each way to work, I also have a lot of time on my hands--as you will note from this oddball version I composed on my way to work this morning.

It actually fits the tune "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!"

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Empty chairs at every desk.

Take a look in the corner cube
there is the Jewish rube

His dusty menorah eight lights all aglow...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
co-workers jam the halls.

No work is getting done
everyone's having fun

With talk of vacations topic number one...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
secret Santas abound;

And the prettiest sight you'll see
is when the cars from the lot all flee

Released from work early!

Happy holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"I'm Shocked I'm Pregnant!"

By the time you're 16--especially with Generation Click--you kind of understand the pregnancy process:

1) Boy meets girl
2) Boy sleeps with girl

So why exactly is Jamie Lynn Spears so "shocked" by the fact she got pregnant?
For years she's been "hanging out" with her boyfriend Casey Aldridge. Apparently she has not been the only thing hanging out.

Do as I say, not as I do...

The message Spears communicates to other teens about premarital sex? "I definitely don't think it's something you should do; it's better to wait," she told OK!magazine. "But I can't be judgmental because it's a position I put myself in."

How about she thought about the various positions she didn't have to put herself in to get to this position?!

But we're talking about the Spears clan, perhaps the oddest and most pitiable celebrity family ever. Older sis Britney has gone from star to oddity to simply sad; it's unfortunate that her sister appears to be following closely in older sis' footsteps.

When it comes to premarital sex, Spears the Younger said in a recent AP interview that she has no steady boyfriend. "I kind of just keep my options open," she said. "I have a bunch of friends that I always hang out with, a bunch of guy friends."

Her options, it seems, are not the only things she keeps open.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's No Coincidence That His Name is Spelled AhMADinejab

If you want proof there is a God and that He appreciates irony, embrace the fact that He put the world's most valuable resource in the hands of the world's most unstable people.
In a hotbed of instability, the King of the Unstable Rulers is Iran's Mahmoud AhMADinejab. Were it not so frighteningly appropriate, the irony would be delicious.
Today, Reuters reports AhMADinejab as declaring victory in his increasingly bellicose war of words with Washington--indeed, with the Western world. On Sunday, AhMADinejab said the publication of a U.S. intelligence report declaring Iran had halted a nuclear weapons program in 2003 amounted to a "declaration of surrender" by Washington in its argument with Tehran.
AhMADinejad, who often rails against the West, told a rally earlier this month that the December 3 publication of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate was a "victory" for Iran.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and designed to make electricity. It says it has never had a nuclear weapons program.
We've heard this tired rhetoric before, in 1980, from Iran's unstable neighbor (and former enemy) Iraq. Saddam said it before the Israelis bombed his Osirak Nuclear Power Plant. We've heard it more recently from Syria before the Israelis bombed a suspect facility deep inside that unstable country.
Sensing a pattern here? These unstable Middle Eastern countries have nuclear aspirations. Soon they're going to have nuclear weapons--despite our best attempts to keep from their hands the most destructive weapons ever invented by man.
You'd have to be MAD not to be afraid.

Friday, December 14, 2007

'Roid Rage

Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Marion Jones. The best hitter of our generation; (arguably) the best pitcher of our generation; one of the most dominant female track and field athletes of all time... Guilty of bangin 'roids.

Forget the other bit-players implicated in the Mitchell Report (Yankees fans, your mid-90s titles now appear to require asterisks), now I have 'roid rage.

No wonder Bonds grew from a scrawny singles hitter and swift base runner to a muscle bound home run hitter; no wonder Clemens was such an overpowering pitcher well into the years when most professional athletes do their best pitching on TV commercials.

The message this sends to aspiring professional athletes--indeed, to all athletes--is "Succeed. Whatever the cost, succeed. Do whatever it takes to succeed." Similar reasoning pervades the once-hallowed halls of academia, with cheating rampant: "Even if you have to cheat, even if it ruins your body, tarnishes beyond repair your reputation, or jeopardizes your career, succeed."

In their untramelled pursuit of success, athletes like Bonds, Clemens, Jones and others reinforce these messages and sacrifice on the altar of success far more lasting characteristics like honesty, integrity and fair play.

Shame on them. And shame on us for lauding them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More Business Blunders in Auburn

In my previous entry, you discovered two reasons why you should not establish or relocate your business in Auburn, Taxachusetts. I'm still incredulous that the Chairman of Auburn's Board of Selectmen simply "solved" the problem of excessive commercial taxes by encouraging businesses to "go to Millbury" (a neighboring town that is far more favorable to businesses).

There is another chapter to this story, though. This chapter is especially relevant to me and my profession (Public Relations and Marketing).

It starts a few months ago, with the Auburn Chamber of Commerce's search for a marketing communications firm to help it build awareness of the benefits of doing business in Auburn and increasing the Chamber's outreach and PR profile. My consultancy was one of three firms interviewed for this important contract, along with Penta Communications (a full-service firm in Westboro) and a firm in Sturbridge called Smith & Jones. The Chamber's Business Development Task Force--seven prominent Auburn businesspeople--interviewed each firm.

I prepared rigorously for the interview, recommending to the Task Force a series of PR and marketing initiatives designed to meet their goals as I understood them. Working to my advantage were the following factors: I live in Auburn; I know three people on the committee (one of whom is a client); and I addressed every single aspect of the RFP. I told them how many hours I felt the effort would require and my hourly rate. I assume Smith & Jones did the same. That's the way these interviews go in the normal world outside Worcester.

Penta Communications received the contract.

I later learned that Penta Communications received the contract because they offered to do the work pro bono. Well, you get what you pay for.

Penta Communications did what most of the firms in this area do when they give away or discount work: They redesigned the Chamber's logo, provided boilerplate guidelines on how to use the logo, and submitted some rudimentary marketing ideas. Nothing substantial, because they have to devote their resources to paying clients. The mentality: "We're the experts, we have all the answers, you should listen to us."

As far as I know from my sources, Penta didn't take the time necessary to understand Auburn's unique challenges. They didn't interview business leaders. They didn't provide a PR plan or suggest any concrete measures to address Auburn's core problems. They redesigned a logo. As if a simple redesign were the answer.

Penta hasn't responded to the unfavorable article in this week's Worcester Business Journal--not a letter to the editor, not an op-ed, nothing. I don't expect they will.

Why should they? They're not getting paid. You get what you pay for.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Two Reasons Not to Move Your Business to Auburn, Massachusetts

Folks, there's a reason why they call the Great Commonwealth of Massachusetts Taxachusetts. That's reason number one why you should not move your business to Auburn, Taxachusetts.

Commercial taxes in many townships like Auburn are prohibitively and (as you'll see below) unapologetically high. While the taxes do in fact subsidize decent residential services, when taxes on businesses are so onerous, business leaders and entrepreneurs naturally look elsewhere to reduce their tax burden and thereby increase their bottom lines. Hence the flight of businesses from my adopted hometown of Auburn, Taxachusetts.

There's another reason, though: One far more insidious and pervasive to this area of Central Taxachusetts. It's an anti-business attitude, an attitude of "let's keep things the way they are because we like them that way". It's not necessarily The Old Boys' Club but rather a completely understandable (though lamentable) desire to stay within a long-established comfort zone.

But as shrewd and savvy business leaders know, staying within your comfort zone doesn't get you ahead.

Despite their claims of embracing new businesses, of repeatedly subsidizing sophisticated and costly marketing campaigns to attract new businesses, of redesigning logos and chasing ever-dwindling consumer dollars, in reality many civic leaders are content either to maintain the status quo or to actively discourage businesses from relocating to their little fiefdoms.

Nowhere is this more evident than in an article on Auburn highlighted in the December 10 issue of the Worcester Business Journal. (

The article features remarks from Matteo Gentile, head of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce's business development task force, and owner of One Star Realty on Route 12, just over the Worcester line in Auburn. Route 12, he says, should be a beacon for businesses. The road gets a lot of vehicular traffic on its route through Auburn to Worcester.

Rather than flocking to Route 12, businesses are migrating away, leaving empty storefronts and contributing to the broken-down look so endemic to Worcester and the surrounding region.

The reason behind the business exodus? Auburn's dual-rate tax system. Currently, the rate for commercial property is twice the rate for residential property and higher than that of surrounding towns like Millbury.

Auburn's government has for the past 25 years blithely assumed that the town's proximity to major highways would be enough to attract businesses, business owners said.

Those same town officials - like many in the region - say they're doing the best they can to balance the need to support economic development, while keeping taxes low and quality of life high for residents.

But perceived favor to residential taxpayers means "businesses along Route 12 are leaving and they're not coming back, or they're not being replaced by anything else," Gentile said.

Auburn business owners have brought their case to Auburn's Board of Selectmen, a group of "townies" currently chaired by Elizabeth Prouty. Prouty said the board's responsibility is solely to the town's residents and keeping the residential tax rate low trumps all else.

"We are unwilling to change that system," she said. She said the board of selectmen asked the town accountant to figure out how much the average residential tax bill would increase if a flat tax were implemented and the board was told $900.

"It isn't worth it, and it isn't more fair to everybody," she said. "I know (commercial property owners) want a flat tax rate. Go to Millbury."

She actually said "go to Millbury."

You want to do business in Auburn? Go to Millbury. Reason Number Two. Case closed.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Writer's Strike Apparently Extends to The Hired Pen's Blog...

As many of my devoted blog groupies have noticed, I have not blogged for almost a week. This is not by accident: In sympathy with my fellow writers in Hollywood, I am on strike.

I wonder if my strike will gain as much public notice as that of the Hollywood writers.

I somehow doubt it.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Soccer Field: Where Teamwork Matters More than Nationalities

This weekend I am visiting my (former) hometown, Washington, D.C. This city is known for its cosmopolitan and international flavor, as it is the center for hundreds of embassies and numerous other internationally-oriented companies, organizations and think-tanks.

These organizations are staffed by large contingents of foreigners who bring to this country a love of and passion for soccer; you can drive around the city and the suburbs with your cleats in your car and generally find a pick-up game you can join. Your skills and teamwork matter more than where you're from, what language you speak, your level of personal hygiene, etc.

On fields throughout the region, Greeks play with Turks, Muslims with Jews, Germans with French, Peruvians with Chileans, you get the idea. Soccer games around here are the great melting pot and the universal equalizer: The winner isn't one nationality or one country, but the virtual UN of countries that managed to communicate and to play better together than the other side.

For example, today I played with a group of guys I used to play with when I lived here: On my team were Ziad (Palestinian), Mohammed (Saudi), Tariq (Armenian), Mike (Greek), Carlos (Venezuelan), and Thanos (Greek). Against us were arrayed six or seven guys from other countries, including Russia, Spain, and even a few American citizens (we have to work extra hard to get the ball, since our soccer skills--and our national team--are routinely maligned).

In light of the recently concluded talks in Annapolis, I thought, "wouldn't it be great if instead of gathering around a table to discuss the agonizingly minute details of international relations and the Middle East's history of bloodshed, violence and hopelessness, the delegates could just find a field, throw out a soccer ball, and play a game? No referee, everything on the honor system.

They'd split the teams evenly (easier because no one would know who's good and who stinks), making sure the people from countries that purportedly hate each other are on the same team. They'd play the game, work together, sweat together, laugh, curse and yell at each other (and of course make fun of the guys on the other team); argue about the score and complain about their wives and/or kids...

At the end of the game, I'm sure they'd know each other better, feel more comfortable with each other, and be sufficiently motivated to continue working together towards a genuine agreement that works for everyone.

A pipe dream, maybe. But this morning it happened on a smaller scale, and it was fun.