Saturday, February 28, 2009

You All

To all of you from other parts,
Both city folks and rural,
Please listen while I tell you that
The phrase, "you all," is plural.

When we say, "You all must drop by,
Or we all shall be lonely,"
We mean a dozen folks, perhaps,
And not one person only.

If I should say to Mr. Jones
For instance, "You all's lazy,"
Or, "Will you all lend me a hand?"
He'd think that I was crazy.

Now, if you'd be more sociable
And with us often mingle,
You'd find that on the native tongue
"You all" is never single.

Don't think I mean to criticize,
Or act as if I knew all,
But when we speak of one alone,
We all say "you". . . like you all.

-Betty McLarin Burks, 1945

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fido, fetch my Kindle

Read a good newspaper lately?

Read any newspaper lately?

If not, you might want to hurry.

Newpapers are dropping out of sight.

The deadly combination of global recession and the digital age are about to wipe this institution off the map of history.

Much like network television. You may remember the time when there were the big three. Now, they are just one more stop on the multi-hundred channel merry-go-round of television.

Newspapers are incredibly expensive to operate. The news gathering piece is perhaps the least expensive part. Buying newsprint and ink by the train car load, running huge presses with highly skilled technicians, delivering the finished product via truck and home delivery. The efficiency of digital communication and the willingness of consumers to get their news via the internet is doing the newspaper in.

Once, owning a newspaper was like owning your own mint. It was as close to printing money as the government would allow. Now, newspaper holding companies are trying to shed their operations or shut them down as fast as possible.

Get ready for one more memory to share with your kids and grandkids.

"Pops, you mean you rode your bike and threw paper onto people's lawns? Wasn't that littering?"

A way of life, thousands of jobs, and franchises that were built over hundreds of years are are about to be as meaningful as rabbit ears.

Hearst built a castle from the profits. Today, they will give you The San Francisco Chronicle if you will take it.

The ripple will be huge. The newspaper industry supports thousands of related industries and jobs. The paper industry. The ink industry. The newspaper recycling business. The newspaper insert business. Printing press manufacturers. The railroad industry. The plastic bags that wrap your paper. Computer companies, including Apple, that have digitized the production process.

Indirectly, newspapers have supported large local businesses because newspapers were the means of advertising their wares. Department stores. Furniture stores. Car dealers. All, by the way, sucking wind themselves. Their jobs are about to get harder without newspapers.

I had the pleasure of working in the industry when it was vital. I delivered the newspaper with help from my sweet dad in our neighborhood. I sold advertising. I covered high school sports on the weekend. (I saw the future Heisman winner George Rogers run over the future comedian Jeff Foxworthy while covering a playoff game.)

Later, I managed the advertising account of The Dallas Morning News. Was there during a nasty fight with, believe it or not, a second newspaper in Dallas. The Dallas Times Herald. The Dallas Morning News won. Put the other guy out of business with a brilliant business plan.

I recall the day the Times Herald folded and sold their remaining assets to The Dallas Morning News. Was in the headquarters building with the victorious publisher. From the window, you could see the Times Herald building.

The publisher said, "Folks have been asking me what I am going to do with that building. I'm not going to change anything. Just going to add one word to the outside just below The Dallas Times Herald sign. Museum."

That was a classic line. Wonder who is going to hang that word below The Dallas Morning News?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The end of beginnings

My 7 year old daughter rode her bike on her own yesterday.

It all finally clicked.

Two days ago she claimed she couldn't, wouldn't, didn't want to.

Yesterday she jumped on it and took off.

This morning she rode it to school.

I think I see my little girl riding away. I see her gaining independence. I see her seeing that she can fly on her own.

What a passage.

And for me, a touch of sadness because I realized I will likely not get to do that again. The blessed father of 5, I remember each of them taking that first spin on their own.

The most memorable was my oldest daughter. Miss Independent. When she was 4, I recall coming home from work and being unable to get into the garage because she was riding her bicycle in there. Which wasn't all that unusual for her as a practice area with her training wheels. Then I noticed the training wheels were off.

"Who took them off?", I said, jealous that someone else had helped her accomplish this amazing feat.

"I took them off myself." She hasn't looked for much help since.

Oh well, I'll just have to look for new beginnings. Being a grandpa now, I can teach the grandkids important things. Spitting for distance. Lighting a fart. How to smoke ribs. The fine art of making faces. How to annoy their mother who is my daughter.

Life is grand. And weird. Nobody prepares you for these precipices.

Maybe there should be a class in school about becoming a grown up.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hope springs eternal

Spring training has started.

I wandered over to Camelback, Arizona to see the new state-of-the-art complex shared by the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox.

Just watching practice in the warm sun is enough to make all in the world seem right.

So I'm sitting there 5 rows up about halfway down the third base line all by myself. Not many folks around. And a stranger comes and sits down next to me.

Tall, lanky, in-shape guy. Requisite sunglasses and a Sox hat. Looks sorta familiar. A retired shortstop I wonder? Must be a scout.

"Morning", he says.

"Perfect day to be out of the office and in the sun", I replied.

"Man, you got that right. I just needed some air", he said. He breathed in deep and let out a long sigh. Saw him visibly relax as he exhaled.

"You seem kinda stressed."

"You might say that. Got alot on my mind and my plate right at the moment. That's why I needed to escape out here."

"Where's home?"

"Well, I guess Chicago is home. At the moment, I'm in D.C."

"You look really familiar. Are you with the Nationals?"

He smiled big. Pulled the sunglasses down so he could peek over the top.

"Holy smokes. Mr. Pres .....?"

"Sssshhhhhhhhh. Keep it down."

"What an honor, sir", I whispered.

"Look. Got to cool it with that kind of talk. I just need to be a regular guy for a couple of hours. What's your name?"

"Just call me A.B."

"Then, just call me Big O."

"So, how do you feel about the Sox this year?"

"Hated to lose Crede. But, feel good about the depth. If the pitching stays healthy, we'll be there in October. Then we'll have to deal with the friggin' Yankees."

"I'm a Braves fan myself. Our two organizations are alot alike. Mix of vets and young guns. Gotta love Bobby Cox and Ozzie. Who wouldn't want to play for them?"

"Agree. Wish they were in Congress. They know how to lead people and how to win."

"Thought you didn't want to talk biz."

"My bad."

"So, what's your biggest worry right now?"

"Hard to say. The economy, Iraq and Afghanistan, getting the girls settled, trying not to let my folks over manage me."

"Well, here's some advice that's worth what you paid for it. Write down your biggest worries on a sheet of paper. Look at the list in six weeks or six months. Bet you'll laugh at the list because they will have disappeared, but you'll have a whole new list."

"Man, I hope you're right. What are you worried about?"

"Much the same. I would put Iraq at the top of the list because I have a vested interest. My son was KIA there 15 months ago."

"I am so sorry. I can't imagine the pain."

"No, you can't. And I hope you never experience it. But unfortunately, you will in a way because all those good men and women in the military are under your command."

"Yep. Already had to write several letters to families. My least favorite part of the gig."

"So, what do really think about Iraq?"

"We were fools to go in. We were fools to so poorly plan it. General Petraeus saved our butts. The American people want us out of there."

"Don't disagree with you at all. But, we are there. We broke it, so now we own it. I know you want to get out. But is that the real objective?"

"Yes, my promise to the American people was to get us out."

"But, what is our objective for Iraq?"

"The Iraquis have to take care of themselves. We have done our part."

"What if it disintegrates into civil war. What if Iran gets more aggressive and starts to unify with the Shias to take over?"

"We're thinking about all that. Lot's of different points of view. You got any big ideas?"

"Reinvent Tito."


"Look at the history of Tito and Yugoslavia. He put together I think 8 different country states with different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds and made it work. They weren't aggressive toward their neighbors. They resisted the Soviet Union. He educated his people. He put down insurrections. Yugoslavia was not a problem from 1945 until 1980 while he ruled the place."

"A benevolent dictator. . ."

"Yep. Maybe Ozzie would be a good choice."

"Oh, he's too hot-headed. He would find some way to piss off the whole Middle East."

"You know what I mean. Somebody smart, tough, will run it his way, but will have his people's back."

"Kinda like that. Let me talk to my folks. Yikes, I gotta run."

"Go get 'em, Big O. Hope to see the Sox and the Braves playing in October."

And with that, he disappeared. I followed him just long enough to see him light up a Marlboro under the stands before he got into the black Suburban.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I have a recession, depression, inflation proof business idea.

Let's say you are rich. As in stinking rich. As in couldn't spend it all, couldn't screw it all up even if you tried.

And let's also say you are lonely. Or bored. Or both.

Welcome to Al's House of Lunch.

With just one phone call, you can arrange to have lunch with a group of people that will charm you, make you laugh, pay attention to you, have smart conversation, make you feel welcome and warm, and take your mind of your worries.

Nothing illegal offered. No sex. No drugs.

Just great food, big laughs, lots of hugs, and total merriment.

You just call me and I will take it from there.

Your lunch buddies are likely to include the following personalities.

Queen Cotton. Southern, blonde, beautiful, smart, hilarious. A major creative powerhouse who once described the secret to her success as, "Leading with her hips and wearing dangly earrings." Imagine Mae West with a Kentucky accent, who thinks orange juice and dark rum are a fine way to start any lunch. Just to take the edge off of conversation she is likely to ask about nicknames, as she did once upon a time with a major client. When the client naively said, "Bet you'll never guess mine", the Queen responded with, "Needledick."

Hardtail. Athlete, coach, entrepeneur, historian, and five point Calvinist. Will argue with a fence post. Hopefully will refer to you as Mullethead throughout lunch. That means he likes you. He can discuss the merits of the single wing versus the spread, how to throw a two-seam fastball, the history of the world, or his least favorite group of brothers. The Less brothers. Hap, Wit, Clue, Hope, and Meaning.

Rip Van Winkle. The world's oldest 20 year old. Looks 20, acts 20, actually is 40. Has traveled the world. Has photographed much of it. Once paid a man to take him outside in sub-zero weather and teach him how to sleep in the snow. Somehow seems to know every person in every city in the world. Especially attractive women. Doesn't drink, but is higher than a kite on the latest technology. Which means he will teach you things about your phone that you would never, ever know.

The Reverend. A real Reverend. Worked in the corporate world for years before he felt the calling and became a preacher. Real. Honest. Funny. Struts a bit like George Jefferson when he is feelin' it. If needed, will humble you by saying, "You think you're all that and a bag of chips." A fierce competitor, may well challenge you to a putting contest before the event is over.

The Scotts. A couple. Both named Scott. Designers, architects, decorators, cooks, gentlemen. Will be the best dressed folks at lunch. Will teach you secrets such as, "Dimmers on every light switch will change your life." Can discuss antiques, film, music, and Georgia football. Likely to rearrange the table, and perhaps your hair.

Ruth. Because she is Ruthian. Large in stature, wisdom, wit, and experience. A good counterbalance to Hardtail. Slightly right of Rush Limbaugh. A lawyer, a business woman, the mother hen of a number of women that she has mentored on to greatness.

And, me.

Where? Well, we don't own a restaurant. That would be too boring. We just move in and take one over.

We pick based on what mood we're all in. Might be at Club Macanudo in New York so nobody whines if we smoke while we eat red meat and drink big red wines. Might be Adair's in Dallas, the best beer joint in Texas with arguably the best cheeseburger on earth. Might be at Miss Margie's, one of the Scott's mom's who makes the prettiest plate of Southern food ever. Might be Marin Joe's in Corte Madera. Best mesquite grill in the world. Been there since 1954. Not much has changed including the patrons, the staff, the bar decor, or the great Italian food.

We'll arrange for a comfy limo to pick you up, fly you to the location by NetJets, and when the chauffeur delivers you to the restaurant, we'll be ready for you. We'll get you home just the same way.

Just wire $750,000 to A.H.O.L.'s account at the Butterfield Bank in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. Once your deposit is confirmed, we'll call you to arrange the best three hours of your life.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thinking big

We have an economic crisis.

We import too much oil.

We have a worldwide battle with radical Islam going on.

We are losing manufacturing jobs because we can find cheaper labor outside the U.S.

Russia is re-asserting itself as a power state run by criminals.

The U.S. is the only power capable of dealing with these issues.

Maybe, it is time to think bigger.

As in, more states.

Fifty is not a magic number. It started with 13. It then became economically and strategically attractive to both the U.S. and some nearby geographical territories to increase the size. Why have we stopped?

Alaska and Hawaii prove that being contiguous aren't necessary for statehood.

For all the funding we have given a number of foreign countries, we might as well get the benefit of owning them.

Here is a starter list.


We have bailed them out a few times before, so why not let them join the current party?

There is a joke that Mexicans tell on themselves. God was creating the earth and he said, "I am going to create a country with two beautiful coastlines. Mountains. Every natural resource man could ever need including gold, coal, and oil." An angel said, "Lord, isn't that too much for one country?" God said, "Don't worry, I will put Mexicans in the middle of it". They know they can't manage what they have, so let's help them out.

We could choke off the drug trade that is threatening our southern border states. We don't have to worry about a long border at all. All we would have to do is build a wall between us and Guatemala.

Mexico has lots of oil and coal that we need.

We could let them be a manufacturing state by not imposing minimum wages and not allowing unions.

We would no longer have to wring our hands about immigration. We could get over our guilt of stealing the land from Texas to California from them.

Just think of how much better our national soccer team would be. Think of the NFL, MLB, NBA and NASCAR opportunities.

And, New Mexico would have a name that makes sense.

The only requirement is that Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona be made crime czar to clean the place up.


This doesn't need much explanation.

We have been involved there since WWII to protect the flow of oil. We need to show Iran that they can't shove us around. It would be alot cheaper than finishing the current fiasco.

And, it would give us lots of room to build inexpensive federal and state prisons.

Three strikes and Iraq. I like the sound of that.


We've done it before, and they still like us. We have given them billions of dollars in support, and continue to do so.

Their form of government is almost identical to ours.

They have lots of natural resources.

We could prevent the spread of radical Islam from neighboring island states.

And it would give us an outpost in the South China Sea to let our friends in Beijing know how much we love the area.


Heck, they are broke. We could pick it up as a short buy that would be less expensive than the latest request from Chrysler.

It would piss off the Russians. And, it is one of the most developed civilizations in the world. We could learn a thing or two from them.


The Russians won't stop screwing with them, and we will have to continue to show support for them. The Russians are cutting off their gas supplies. We will have plenty to ship them from Iraq.

Nobody knows if Georgia is in Europe or Asia. So, why don't we claim them? Then they wouldn't have to deal with all the EU crap. Just Washington.

And it would give us another lovely strategic outpost to monitor our friends in Moscow and the Middle East.


Rich in natural resources.

Being de-forested. This would give many well meaning Americans a place to go and fix this. Like, everyone in Berkley.

The source of much of the drugs and crime in the western hemisphere.

We are already spending lots of money and resources helping them in the drug wars.

Neighbors the country of Hugo Chavez who needs to get his ass kicked.

There you have it. The 55 states of America.

President Obama, as soon as Secretary Clinton gets back from begging the Chinese to keep buying our bonds, you might have her get started on this.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Where is the middle?

There are well-meaning folks that are proud to call themselves liberal, far left thinkers.

There are well-meaning folks that are proud to call themselves conservative, far right thinkers.

My sense is both are minority groups.

My sense is that most Americans, yes, most humans are in the middle.

Politically, it seems that only the far right (Nazism, Fascism, Neocons, etc.) or the far left (Communism, Socialism, Bleeding hearts, etc.) seem to be able to grab the attention of the media, people's emotions and gain power, however fleeting it may be.

Seems to me the middle is unrepresented. Probably because those of us in it don't make good news. We are boring. Normal. The dreaded "middle of the road".

So, we end up with polarized political parties lead by idealogues from the far left and the far right. Eventually, those on the edge fall off into neverland and the world swings hard the other way. I would predict that in eight years we are going to have a swing back to the new versions of Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay.
Who knows, maybe even the old versions of them.

Who represents those of us who don't line up with either bunch of goofballs? Who speaks for common sense and practicality? Even the media now proudly identify themselves with the left or right.

Think maybe I will move to Omaha and start a movement of Middlism, and hopefully it will ripple out from there.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A nation of cowards

Eric Holder, the new Attorney General of the United States, said in a speech yesterday that we are a "nation of cowards" because we don't talk enough amongst each other about things racial.

Mr. Holder added that our society is "voluntarily socially segregated".

Mr. Holder made these statements during a speech to honor Black History Month.

Mr. Holder, my pastor is African American. The church I attend is 99% African American. So, am I right for attending that church? Are my Black friends at church wrong because they choose to worship there? What would you have us do?

Mr. Holder, to make change in our cowardice, why don't you do something that you may well have the power to do as Attorney General. Outlaw Black History Month. Is there any more divisive, racist, separatist event in our country than Black History Month?

We don't have Native American History month, and they have been abused much worse than Black America. We don't have Hispanic American History month, and there are many more Hispanics than African Americans. We don't have Left-Handed American month, and Lord knows those people have suffered from the bias of right-handed thinking all of their existence.

Come on, Mr. Holder. Let's see some courage.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WARNING: Four letter word coming

If you think you might be offended, click away now.

Paul. There, I've said it. Paul as in Begala. As in Paul "Fuck 'em" Begala.

Paul uttered those great words when advising President William Jefferson Clinton. When discussing a tax plan that would be harsh on those earning more than $200,000 per year, that great business man, that great leader, that creator of jobs and opportunity, that great patriot, that inventor of important things, that dedicated public servant said "Fuck 'em."

Well, Mr. Begala, I have been waiting for just the right opportunity. And I am in a foul mood today. "Fuck you", Mr. Begala.

Fuck you for never having had a real job. Fuck you for helping other people that have never had real jobs (read Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Biden, Barack Obama) get elected so they can decide how to spend my money. Money that I earned. Money that came from no government entity. Money that wasn't granted. Money that wasn't inherited. Money that I earned because I helped companies grow and therefore they were willing to pay me. Because we made profits. A concept you have never had to deal with.

Congratulations on your amazing business career. So far as I can tell, your only experience in the "for profit" sector (that means not sucking off the public teat)Mr. Begala, was your fine contribution to George magazine. How's that going? Oh.

Can you read a P&L? Do you know where real jobs come from? Can you make a product or provide a service that anyone wants to buy? Have you spent any time in the military? What qualifies you to advise anyone on anything?

I read recently where you suggest that we re-institute public stocks. The wooden kind where we put scoundrels so that they can receive public shame. Mr. Begala, I think that is a fine idea. Now, be a leader for the only time in your life and stick your pointy head and un-calloused hands and feet in their first. Fucker.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Brain drain

Was visiting with a friend today that is an M.D. A neurologist to be specific.

Had my 7 year old daughter with me. He asked her what she was going to do when she grew up. She said "Maybe a doctor. Maybe a veteranarian."

Without missing a beat he said, "Be a vet. You'll make more money and won't have the government telling you how to run your practice."

I asked what he meant. He said if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't be a medical doctor. He said the hassles of insurance, Medicare, workers compensation claims, and ever increasing government rules make it a bad business.

This astounded me. I have always thought of this guy as being on top of the world.

He explained that the government has no problem adding work, forms, etc. to his practice that waste time, add cost and at the same time, refusing to allow him to cover those increased costs with increases in his fees.

This guy actually understands how brains work. And his brain is saying treat dogs and cats. Yikes.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Staring death in the face

My oldest son was killed in Iraq in November of 2007.

Pete replaced a Lieutenant who was being promoted to Captain and moving up in the brigade.

Ryan knew Pete for a month. Ryan trained Pete. Ryan rode with Pete in his Stryker alternating stints standing in the right rear hatch of the command vehicle.

Ryan turned the troop over to Pete on a Monday. On Tuesday, Pete took the 17 soldiers and their three vehicles for a 24 hour mission to maintain security at a combat operating post in Baghdad. On the way back to the Green Zone, Pete's vehicle was blown apart by an array of Iranian made EFMPs. They were 100 yards from the entrance to the Green Zone.

Ryan heard the explosion and heard the chatter over the radio. He rushed with another Captain to the scene to check on the group that had been Ryan's responsibility just 48 hours before.

They then rushed to the combat hospital to check on the wounded. They learned then that Pete didn't make it.

Ryan knelt in the street with anger. He was angry that his men had been attacked. He was angry that some of his men had been hurt. He was angry that his new friend was dead.

He had his weapon with him, and wanted to use it on the Iraqi policemen that had allowed the bomb to be placed, and may well have set it off.

I met Ryan yesterday for the first time. I took him to Pete's grave today. Ryan wept as he said, "Mr. Burks, it should have been me." I hugged him and gently disagreed. "Ryan, it was Pete's turn. God has other plans for you."

I got back in the car and allowed Ryan time with Pete. I can only imagine what was going thru his mind. There but by the grace of God he lay buried.

Ryan snapped to attention and saluted Pete.

Ryan, I love you son. I hurt with you, son. I realized today that as hard as it is for all of us left behind, you may have the hardest job of all.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Follow the yellow brick road

Backward. To Munchkin land.

That’s how we solve ALL of our problems.

Little people. Height challenged. Elves. Dwarves. The future is right below our eyes!

Just think if we were all three feet tall and weighed 80 pounds.

Less of everything would be required.

My son’s feet grew three sizes in one baseball season. Think of the reduction in the size of Nike swooshes. We could even get by with two cleats per foot.

Smaller houses. Smaller carbon footprints.

Smaller bathtubs. Less water consumption.

Smaller feet. Think of how many fewer Australian sheep we would need for UGG production.

Smaller vehicles. The friggin’ Smart Car would be the new Hummer!

Less is more!

And let’s not stop there. Let’s think nano. Get really small. Talking Horton hears a Who here.

Since we would use less, we would spend less, so we would have plenty of money. Heck, we really could wallow in it. We could stuff it all in our mattresses and to hell with the banks.

Come on G7, UN, Trilateral Commission, Gates Foundation, Brookings Institute, Al Gore (Al, you’re going the wrong way).

This is it. This fixes everything. This is big.

Once you've said it, you've said it forever

"I will say then, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them to marry with white people. I will say in addition, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which, I suppose, will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality; and inasmuch as they cannot so live, that while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, that I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man."

These shocking words were spoken by a politician during a Presidential debate. This politician is viewed not as a racist, but as President Obama's inspiration and historical mentor.

These words were spoken by then candidate Abraham Lincoln.

President Lincoln did sign the Emancipation Proclamation. This was done in two executive orders that he wrote and signed. The orders eliminated slavery in the Confederate States, which had seceded from the Union. Meaning, it had no power unless the Union won the Civil War. It specifically did not free slaves in the states of Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

So, why did he sign the order if he held the views quoted above?

It was a practical military decision. The South was dependent on slave labor to fuel its economy and war machine. By freeing slaves, the South was crippled. The Union states where slavery was prohibited by state law saw a large infux of slaves who wished to be free. And with that migration, the Union gained an estimated 200,000 additional black soldiers.

President Lincoln saved the Union. He freed slaves.

But his views on racial equality are forgotten in our hazy history. "The older he gets, the better he was."

President Lincoln gets too much credit for racial progress in this country.

His motivation to save the Union led to the freedom of slaves, and with that, the beginning of the long struggle for racial equality in America.

Happy Birthday, President Lincoln. Oh, what would you think of us now.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Performance Art

Henrietta Hughes and Joaquin Phoenix.

Both created images yesterday that will not soon be forgotten.

I pray that Henrietta's was not a performance. Not staged. She was a very sympathetic, unnerving character.

I pray that Joaquin's was a performance. He was a very unsympathetic, unnerving character.

The sad reality is that they will now both be treated much the same by the media and the leering public. They will be over inspected. Over admired. Over hyped. Over interviewed.

Oprah is probably working to line up both. As is Larry King. As is O'Reilly.

Books, movies, tours. All will be offered because of their unscripted, unimaginable telegenic performances.

President Obama and David Letterman were perfect foils. Both did their jobs admirably.

President Obama showed sympathy and got her in touch with the local housing authority. He didn't give her a house. He didn't give her anything. However, a myth is now being created that he did. And too many people will believe it. Some will belive it because they want to tear down the president. Some will believe it because they are ignorant and believe he has almost magical power and their free house is soon to come. Both groups will be severly disappointed.

David Letterman upstaged the brilliant act and kept it funny.

Henrietta, may the good Lord bless you and keep you.

President Obama, don't let the unrealisic expectations build.

Mr. Letterman, keep it weird.

Joaquin, can't wait for the next show.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On a clear day

Transparency. Accountability.

President Obama, those are good words and even better actions.

So, how far does that go?

You have signed three executive orders in your first three weeks in office that strongly encourage the use of union labor for projects that the federal government is about to launch, assuming this “stimulus” bill passes.

You recently invited labor and union leaders to the White House as you introduced Vice President Biden and the “middle-class task force”.

At that gathering on January 30, this is what you said. "We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests," Obama said during a signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

"I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, it's part of the solution," he said. "You cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement."

The New York Times reported “Mr. Obama's and Mr. Biden's remarks pleased union leaders. ‘It's a new day for workers,’ said James P. Hoffa, the Teamsters president, who attended the White House ceremony. ‘We finally have a White House that is dedicated to working with us to rebuild our middle class. Hope for the American Dream is being restored.”

So, you want the unions to be in the lead of this economic recovery. Billions of dollars in new jobs would be funneled to union labor to rebuild our infrastructure. Taxpayer money would be going to unions.

Under the transparency and accountability doctrine, will the American taxpayers be allowed to see how much union leaders are paid? Like, James Hoffa? The son of Jimmy Hoffa?

If you put limits on the incomes of executives at banks and auto companies that take federal funds, why not the union leaders who stand to take in millions of new dollars in dues?

And, by the way, I grew up as middle class as it comes. My dad banged away running a barbecue restaurant and then became a residential real estate agent. My mom worked as a secretary for the school board. I don’t recall “a strong labor movement” helping my pop hump sales by sitting in cold open houses on countless Sunday afternoons. I don’t recall a “strong labor movement” helping my mom get a job typing letters on that good old IBM Selectric.

President Obama, transparency and accountability are two themes you have introduced that will define you. Please make sure you carry thru. We will be watching.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A stimulus plan that worked

No buyers.

Declining revenues.

An unhappy board of directors.

Malaise. Dreariness. Threats of layoffs.

Such was the situation facing an enterprise in the early 1960s.

You can't get the news if nobody pays for you to receive it.

What you pay for your news covers, oh, maybe 10% of the cost to deliver it. The rest is paid for by advertising. This is true for newspapers, magazines, television, radio, internet, you name it.

Our precious NPR? Yes, your subscriptions mean alot. And foundation giving is crucial. But without the increasingly unsubtle "commercial supporters", NPR wouldn't survive.

A new magazine launched in 1954. Sports Illustrated it was called. The first issue was launched on August 16, 1954. It featured the good, strong, clean Eddie Matthews of the Milwaukee Braves at bat.

Sports Illustrated was conceived as a visual showcase of sports. Using the best photographers of Time, Life and the rest of the world, amazing pictures of amazing athletes was the strategy and the execution. And it worked.

Except for February. The sports world stops in February. Especially in the early 1960s. There was no Superbowl. The Pro Bowl had been played in mid-January. Spring training didn't start till the end of the month. No golf majors. No tennis majors.

So, the enterprising editors at SI sat on the floor with their shoes off and pondered a very long month with nothing to sell their readers or advertisers.

And then, the swimsuit issue was conceived.

I know quite alot about this because I wrote a lengthy research paper on it in 1975 at the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. Our topic was "An event that changed the nature of journalism".

I could have studied the invention of broadcast journalism. I could have studied the H.L Mencken's of the world. I could have researched the future and how the internet would change everything.

But no. The swimsuit issue was my topic.

Oh, the hours spent in the library going thru all those back issues. The crawling thru newsstands looking for lost covers. This was real research. And it paid off. Beautifully.

Not only did I get a glowing review by my professor, I became the envy of my roommates and peers in class.

The swimsuit issue became a huge hit. The largest revenue producing issue for Sports Illustrated. A huge profit maker for Time-Life. It has funded that magazine and kept it on the forefront of sports journalism.

No government monies were relied upon. No laws were bent or broken. No Ponzi schemes. No derivatives. Just good old American entrepeurship.

Thanks, Sports Illustrated. You saved yourself. You showed the world. You saved February.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What I want to do with my American Express card

I can’t do. But I can dream.

I have been on the phone and their website for SIX hours. That’s six hours of my life I can’t get back.

All I want to do is redeem some “Membership Points” for travel. Having been a “Member” since 1978, I have a few.

So I go thru the machinations of finding the flights I want and try to book it. Here’s their little trick. You first have to pay for the trip on your card. Then, they promise to credit your account with the points by your next billing statement. That way, they get to carry the charge on their books and make money. After they have already made the money off of me for the past 31 years.

Oh, but there is a problem. There was a fraudulent charge on my account last May. A big one. Thousands of dollars. That’s ten months ago. We have had an election in the meantime. Children have been conceived and born in the meantime. But, American Express can’t seem to resolve this charge. (Something tells me they sent the money to the Eastern European scumbag, and they don’t know how to get it back.)

They agree that it is fraudulent, but for some reason it still shows as an outstanding balance on my card. And since American Express decided last fall to establish a credit limit on their “Members” for the first time in history, the fraudulent charge counts against my credit limit.

So, when the nice man with American Express Travel (“Clark” in Mumbai) tried to book my travel, it wouldn’t go thru. I explained the situation to “Clark”. And to the nice folks in Florida at American Express “Cardmember Services”. “No sir, you don’t owe us that money, but we can’t put the charge thru.”

“So, how can I use the bajillion “Membership Points” that I have paid you for that are in my account?” I ask. “You can’t”, they reply. Then they ask, is there anything else we can do for you today?

That wasn’t the deal we made 31 years ago, pal. The reason for having American Express is no credit limit. So if I am traveling in say, Mumbai, and the hotel gets attacked by terrorists, and I have to buy new clothes and a catheter, my card will work. Because I am a “Member”. Or, don’t you remember that promise you made me 31 years ago.

American Express, here’s what you can do for me today.

Take your member and place it in the paper shredder. Take your member and pound it with a meat tenderizer. Take your member and put it in a woodchipper, and I hope it drags the rest of you and your company with it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


The Hammer turned 75 today.

Henry Aaron, the man who is baseball’s home run king, is still alive.

And still, perhaps our most unsung sports hero.

Hank Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama. Overcoming poverty and racism with dignity and hard work, he followed the trail blazed by Jackie Robinson to Major League Baseball.

Without batting gloves or an elbow pad, without performance enhancing drugs, against undiluted pitching staffs that included Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal, playing the outfield everyday, he hit 755 home runs in 23 seasons.

Eighteen seasons with 30 or more home runs, eight with forty or more, and four seasons in which he hit his beautifully symmetrical retired number, 44.

As he closed in on Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714, Aaron received racist hate mail from around the country. Racist jeers in every park at every at bat. He quietly had to maintain security protection from the many death threats he received.

Growing up in Atlanta, I had the honor of watching him play in person. I still have grass clippings I pulled from the left field of Fulton County Stadium. The same left field over which his 715th homer flew. I pulled those clippings on Opening Night for the new Turner Field. There was a party on the field at the old park across the street. The folks at the party were focused on the bar and each other. I headed for the outfield where my hero had lived for so many years.

"As far as I'm concerned, (Hank) Aaron is the best ball player of my era. He is to baseball of the last 15 years what Joe DiMaggio was before him. He's never received the credit he's due." - Mickey Mantle

Hank was and is what we should all strive to be. Real. Honest. Unselfish. Concerned about the good of the game more than the good of himself. Competitive. Team player. A gentleman. A role model. An inspiration. Let his actions do the talking. Unchanged by his success or his fame. Or, the lack of appreciation he is due.

Happy birthday, Mr. Aaron. Happy birthday to a good and righteous king.


W. has become the logo for the years 2000-2008.

What comes to mind when you see it?

War? Waste? Wicked? Waterboard? Wyoming? Worst? Wrong?

Wonderful? Winner? Wisdom? Worldly? Warrior? Warmth? Worthy?

Whatever it means to you, remember.

We elected him. Twice. The royal We. The people of the United States.

Won the first time as a reaction to a Womanizer. Won a hotly contested election over a Wonk for global Warming.

Won again over a Wooden soldier that married a Wealthy Widow.

Will be defined in history by World Trade Center. WMD. War in Iraq. And the introduction to most of us of Wahhabism, a very Warped form of Worship.

While We continue to Waste time yakking about the positives and negatives of the past, Why don’t We focus on what counts. The future.

Week ago, Iraq held free democratic elections. Was that Worth the lives of 4300 U.S. soldiers and counting? What if democracy does take hold in Iraq? What if they become our ally in the region? What can We do to help make sure it Works? Remember, Japan and Germany hated us and vice versa as recently as the time us baby boomers came into this World. What if We can Withdraw with some real form of victory?

What if W. becomes synonymous with Wow. What if all of this calamity, thru some miraculous serendipity, becomes the World’s greatest happy accident.

Whew. I feel better just Wondering.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Planet flu

Last Thursday at 3:30 in the afternoon, I lifted off.

“Ground control to Major Tom”.

“But, I didn’t sign up for this”, I replied.

“Take your protein pills and put your helmet on”.

And so, I’ve been floating in my tin can. Or on the can. And, there was nothing I could do.

I didn’t leave the house for 5 days. I missed the Earth so much. I missed my wife. It was 75 degrees outside. But in fact, I was cold as hell.

How does some invisible organism cause so much agony?

I Googled “how much snot can the body produce”, and I have some new information for them.

It felt like the worst red wine hangover in history whilst climbing Mt. Everest. My hair hurt. Couldn’t breathe. Just wanted to sleep . . .

Waterboarding may or may not be torture. The flu damn sure is.

That’s it. Let’s put those terrorists in a second grade classroom. Let them experience the exquisite awfulness of flu, head lice, and A.D.D. that they are sure to catch. After that, they will be pointing out bin Laden’s location on Twitter and will call al Zawahiri on his iPhone in Monaco.

“al”, they’ll say. “It is over. The great Satan is not the United States. It is Orthomyxoviridae”.

After five days worth of bed head, I did look like Ziggy Stardust. But unlike Major Tom, I did get to return to Planet Earth. And it is blue. And green. And beautiful.

Goodbye planet flu. It was a very lonely trip. And yes, you can see Uranus from there.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tale of two photos

2LT Peter Burks, U.S. Army, photograph taken September 2007, KIA within a mile from where this photo was taken on November 14, 2007.

Iraqi Army takes over the Green Zone on January 3, 2009.

Obama, where art thou?

Brother, week two hasn’t gone so well.

Three nominees for cabinet positions are vetted by your team, and THEN they have to withdraw due to “tax problems”. With you standing in the background of the photos while they withdraw.

A fourth nominee withdrew because of a pending grand jury investigation.

You have thrown Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid under the train (that’s a good thing) by agreeing that their John Goodman sized House version of the stimulus plan needed to be stripped down to something we could digest. So now you are totally dependant on the Republicans in the Senate to rewrite the stimulus plan.

You first order of business was ethics and transparency. Then you selected two lobbyists to fill key posts.

You even got trapped into saying something about Jessica Simpson’s weight. You know how to handle that kind of crap.

What happened to No Drama Obama?

I liked it when you were riding such a wave that comedians were afraid to mock you. You had such political might. You were untouchable. Now, you are writing their material for them.

You promised change. What we are getting is Bill Clinton III. Where are the Washington outsiders? Where are the change agents? A bunch of lawyers from Harvard and Yale aren’t what we need to get out of this muck. We need fresh thinking.

For example, how about some really new faces and some really new functioning in your administration?

My recommendations.

Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, as the new Secretary of Figuring Things Out.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, as Secretary of Not Being Stupid.

P.J. O’Rourke and Al Franken, as Co-Secretaries of Calling Bullshit on Washington. (This way, both Mr. Franken could have a voice and the good people of Minnesota could have a Senator to represent them.)

Herb Kelleher, retired Chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines, as Secretary of Motion. He never sits still. He moves people, freight and governments efficiently. He drinks and smokes, often at work and often at the same time.

David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the at Stanford, as Secretary of Creative Thinking. He designed Apple’s first mouse as well as KickStart water pumps for developing countries. Imagine a cabinet meeting with all of you sitting on the floor with your shoes off. You might actually come up with something worthwhile.

Muhammad Ali, as Secretary of Peace. He understands that if you can’t get people to love you, then you just whip their ass. But, who in this world doesn’t love Ali?

President Obama, it is not too late to correct your ways. You still have prospects. Don’t listen to the sirens song from Capitol Hill. Follow a new track. You are our leader because you have the capacity for abstract thought.

You still have the chance to be a bonafide hero.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I'm from the government, and I'm here to help

A full life

An empty life is not caused by giving it all away. An empty life is caused by keeping it all.

A full life comes from giving it all away.

We have all been to lots of funerals. Too many, and unfortunately, too many more to come.

You get a clear sense of a person by their funeral. Not so much by the official ceremony as by the feeling among the people and how they speak of the deceased.

I had the honor of working for a special company for many years. It was special because of the people that worked there.

One of the most special was Hugh Bray. Hugh was a man in full. Big in stature. Big in accomplishments. Big in joy.

Hugh was also afflicted with ALS, commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”. Hugh was one of, if not THE, longest living survivors of the disease.

But to be around Hugh, you would never know he had an ailment. Hugh was too busy wanting to know how he could help YOU. Be it business or personal, Hugh was there for you. In full. Not part of him. All of him.

And Hugh was busy giving himself to the United Way, his grandkids, his charities, his church, his family, his friends.

I wasn’t able to attend Hugh’s funeral that took place on January 6. I am still feeling the love and awe that radiated from this man’s passing a month later. The attendees can’t put it in words. They just know their lives are better for having known this man. And, they see how many others he touched.

I want “Hugh Bray’s Disease”. The one that causes us to give it all away.