Saturday, February 28, 2009

All Role Models Are Not Equal … Not Even Close!

You’ve probably heard about the Miami banker, Leonard Abess, who sold the bank he owned, then turned right around and gave $60 million in bonuses to his 471 employees … averaging $127,000 each. Didn’t have to … wanted to.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, which he gave very reluctantly, Abess said he had always wanted to surprise the employees who had been loyal to the bank over the long haul “with no promise of equity.” Besides, said Abess, he personally didn’t need the money.

What a contrast to the arrogant, greedy bastards who ran their banks into the ground, then took stimulus money and used it to pay executive bonuses or throw lavish getaways for themselves and their sycophant cronies.

For far too long, role models in this country have come wearing cleats or spikes or Reeboks and followed around with an entourage of hangers-on. Well, stand aside, fellas, and make way for someone who truly deserves to be a role model.

If you don’t think so, just ask his entourage.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

“Hello, Bobby? It’s Your Lucky Day!”

The circus played our town one day,
Three Bengal tigers got away.
The manager looked straight at me
And said, “Son, here’s your opportunity!
‘Cause the man who catches these cats
And brings ‘em back to me alive,
A real hero is gonna be.
Oh, it’s a wonderful chance for somebody,

Somebody else … not me!”

I thought about that little ditty the other day when the Republicans trotted out poor Bobby Jindal to offer a response to Barack Obama’s powerful address to the joint session of Congress.

Can’t you just see those Republican big shots sitting around trying to figure out who they could send up against this intelligent, confident, articulate and charismatic young president and tell a worried nation that the GOP is better able to get us out of the mess they got us into?

“Hey, how about Bobby Jindal?” says one. “He’s young ... and he’s even kinda dark, too!”

“Yeah,” says another, “and he can use the exposure!”

It’s astonishing that the little sap actually went for it.

And anyone that dumb sure as hell ain’t qualified to be president.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How Much Value Do We Put On Information?

There has been more and more talk – including a feature story in a recent issue of TIME magazine – about the plight of newspapers in this country. Almost all are struggling and some of the more venerable ones are either facing the prospect of bankruptcy or are already there.

This has been a topic of conversation for a while around our house because directly and indirectly I’ve been involved with the media for many years and my daughter is a staff writer for The Maui News, our local daily newspaper.

The problem is that more and more people are getting their news from the internet … and they’re getting it for free. So, they ask, why should I pay 50 or 75 cents a day for the print version when I can get all the same stuff and a lot more on line for nothing?

Good question.

The trouble is, someone has to pay for the gathering of all that news, and those costs keep going up along with everything else.

Meanwhile, because of the free internet access to their content, newspapers are losing subscribers and, as a direct result, revenue from advertising is declining.

There’s real irony in all this because the demand for news and information has never been greater … and the internet is the reason for that, too!

An interesting (though probably unrealistic) idea has been floating around media circles: What if every newspaper in the country shut down its on line edition for a solid week? Wow! In my case, that would mean losing access to articles from the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Honolulu Advertiser. And I wouldn’t be getting anything from Google News or Yahoo or even the Drudge Report, because all their news comes from the newspaper web sites.

Do you suppose that would induce enough of us to pay a modest fee for daily access to some of these newspapers?

I’d sure like to think so.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Re-discovering Quality Television... and Dick Cavett

You would think that with several hundred TV channels available to us, there would be more than one or two with something worth watching. I spend so much time searching through all the available offerings I'm beginning to worry about carpel tunnel syndrome of the thumb.Outside of The News Hour and a few of the other offerings on PBS, the only other 'live' TV we watch are the the Boston Red Sox games. (Well, OK ... I'm the one watching those.)

Over the past year or so, most of our viewing has been DVDs, which are started or interrupted or ended whenever we want. NetFlix has been a boon, with movies of our choice to watch 3-4 nights a week. The cost is less that what I had been paying for HBO/Cinemax combo offered by DirecTV. (Would you believe there is actually a film titled Bikini Chain Gang??)

We also bought the complete series for both The West Wing and Cheers, each brilliant in its own way. But the best purchase by far has been a four disk set of The Dick Cavett Show, featuring interviews with many of the giants in the entertainment field: Katherine Hepburn, Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Marlon Brando, Orson Wells, Fred Astaire, Mel Brooks, Frank Capra ... and on and on. It's wonderful, brilliant, hilarious, challending, insightful ... and on and on.

Isn't it amazing that, with so much programming on so many channels aimed at much smaller niche audiences, no one seems interested in programming for people would hunger for a little intellectual stimulation?

Friday, February 20, 2009

American Pols: Some Admired and Some Not

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about the reaction to some U.S. politicians I received from non-Americans on my recent train travels across Australia. Many were Australian, of course, but there were also Brits, Canadians, New Zealanders, a couple from Scotland, another from Norway, a Pakistani living in Singapore, and a woman from Estonia ... and a few more I've forgotten.

First of all, I was quite surprised to discover that most of these people were not only interested in American politics and government, but they were also quite well informed … at least as much, I would say, and many Americans.

Generally, President Barack Obama was considered very favorably, and people gave U.S. voters high marks for electing an African-American. I was quite surprised, by the way, to discover that several of my fellow passengers had read Obama’s first book, Dreams From My Father, and gave it very high marks.

Former President Bush, on the other hand, was not thought of very favorably, with the most common criticism being his apparent lack of both awareness of and interest in other countries and their cultures.

But the clear ‘winner’ in the Least-Admired-American Sweepstakes was Sarah Palin, with reactions ranging from hilarity to outrage … which was, I hastened to point out, pretty much the way 70 percent of Americans react to her.

One man, an attorney from the UK, said, “I thought it quite amazing that one of your entertainers used the silly woman’s very own words in a parody of her. I would imagine,” he added, “that you have seen the last of dear Mrs. Palin.”

With more than a little embarrassment, I informed him that Palin has formed an exploratory committee with an eye to 2012.

“Good God,” he said. “We shall have to share in some mutual commiseration over two stiff whiskeys.”

And we did.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Best Ideas Are Always the Obvious Ones

We've all experienced the annoying problem of people hacking and coughing during plays and concerts. Usually it's contagious. Someone coughs, then others start to feel the tickle, and before long ...

On my last night in Australia, I went to see The Magic Flute at the fabulous Opera House in Sydney. While waiting to go in for the performance, I notice large wooden bowls placed on more than a dozen tables throughout the entire lobby area. In the bowls, there for the taking by anyone, were cough drops!

Smart, those Aussies, eh?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

These Clowns Must Think We’re Stupid!

During the recent campaign, the political polls and the focus groups told the Republican political consultants that a preponderance of the American public was sick to death of the political partisanship and wanted the two parties to start thinking about the common good. It couldn't have come as a surprise to them because that’s what the published polls were saying.

So speeches by John McCain and other Republican candidates were suddenly laced with all the right words and phrases: 'non-partisan' … 'reach across the aisle' … 'work together' … blah, blah, blah.

And, yes, we did indeed hear the same thing from Barack Obama. The big difference? Apparently he meant it.

As an example, take the stimulus package that became law with Obama’s signature this morning. When the bill was being drafted, he took the unprecedented step of going to the Capitol to meet with Republican leaders and hear their views. After that, members of each party met in both House and Senate to work out the details.

And when the bill came up for a vote, 38 out of 41 Republicans in the Senate voted against it. And so did every single Republican in the House.

So the next time you hear Republican members of Congress talk about the need for the two parties to work together, give ‘em a long, loud, wet Bronx cheer. Because they’re full of crap.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Aussie Justice Is Rolling and It's In High Gear.

I’m sure you have read about the terrible brush fires here. They have occurred in southeastern Australia, obliterating entire communities and killing a couple of hundred people.

After spending the better part of six days and five nights on the train crossing this vast continent, it’s easy to see why fires in the outback are a huge potential hazard. This place is hundreds of thousands of square miles of hot, very dry country, much of which is covered with brush and scraggly trees.

This story has dominated the media for days, as would certainly be expected, and the tales of death and destruction are heartbreaking when reduced to the family level.There are more than 150 cops on this and there has already been one arrest.

News reports today say that authorities have charged a 39-year-old man with starting one of the fires. For good measure, they also got him for possession of child pornography.

This low-life’s name has not been released, and a good thing, too. The prevailing attitude here is, Give the bloke a fair trial ... then hang ‘im!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quick Snapshot Impressions of Oz and the Aussies

Australia is an interesting place. Very much worth a visit. I've been particularly struck by how open and friendly people are. And how casual. I have one last night in Sydney before I head back to Hawaii and bought a ticket to the opera. I asked a friend here if the dress code would permit an open-collared shirt and sportcoat. He scoffed. "You'll be fine in jeans if ya like. It's very, very casual."

It's casual, all right. And -- to my eye, anyway -- a bit off kilter. I've often seen women wearing what I can only describe as adult-sized versions of cutsie little dresses suited to 3- or 4-year-old girls. And guys -- big, rugged-looking guys -- walk around in pants that are peddle-pusher length, halfway down the calf. That's odd-looking, but the look is really completed with dark-colored dress socks and street shoes ... sometimes work boots.

There's no contest for favorite expression here: "No worries!" But it often seems to be used out of context, at least out of my context. For instance, over dinner here in Darwin last night ...

Very cheerful waitress: "And would you care for some cracked pepper?
Me: "No, thank you."
Waitress: "No worries!"

(I was so relieved!)

Dinner was quite good, by the way. It was a difficult decision, but I finally opted for the linguini with mushrooms and chicken instead of the smoked crocodile.


Friday, February 6, 2009

What Some of the Rest of the World Thinks

I have spent the past three days crossing the continent of Australia on the Indian Pacific, a train that makes the journey between Sydney and Perth twice weekly in each direction.

As with any long distance train ride, much of what's most interesting about the experience is meeting different people over meals in the dining car. Most of my fellow passengers on this train were not Americans. There were Australians, of course, plus New Zealanders, Brits, a Danish couple, some Canadians, a Indian who lives in Singapore, and other non-Yanks, I'm sure, whom I simply didn't get a chance to meet.

Barack Obama was the hot topic of conversation, but most of these folks also had opinions to offer on George W. Bush. I must tell you that among the non-Americans I met, the man is universally scorned. What seemed to bother them most is their common perception that W had little understanding or appreciation for anything not American.

"You know," said a 50ish woman from New Zealand, "the man never seemed to grasp that people in other parts of the world occasionally have ideas worth considering."

These folks think Barack Obama shows some real promise and are feeling a lot better about us Americans now.

"I can't understand," said a retired farmer from Queensland, "how you people can elect a man like George Bush, then turn right around and elect Obama."

I was trying to think of a response when he added, "But it looks like you got it right this time." And he insisted on buying me a beer.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Six - Or Maybe Just Two - Degrees of Separation

SYDNEY -- I took a wine tour today, riding in a bus for three long hours to the Hunter Valley, the wine producing region north of Sydney. At one of the wine tastings arranged for our group of thirty, I struck up a conversation with an attractive and exotic-looking woman. It turned out she's Tahitian, visiting Australia with her husband.

I was delighted to chat with her because at one time I was visiting Tahiti on business fairly regularly and still have a great affection for the place. Of course, I couldn't resist asking her if she knew an aquaintance of mine from those days ... and indeed she does. Further, she promised to call him upon her return to Papaete and pass along my aloha.

I had heard about the Six Degrees of Separation theory, but never really took it seriously. I am starting to change my mind, however. This kind of thing has just happened too often. In fact, I have discovered that, as much as it's possible to do so, the theory has come close to being proven.

What I believe to be true without question, however, is that there are followers of the Boston Red Sox everywhere in the world. It's been sunny and very hot here, so I've been wearing my Red Sox cap whenever leaving the hotel. It's not fancy or even particularly distinctive: Navy blue with a red "B" above the bill. But it's instantly recognizable by other Red Sox fans and so far I have been hailed three times by fellow citizens of Red Sox nation in the two full days I've been here in Sydney. I'm not even surprised any more when it happens! Oh, and one Yankee fan -- at least I presume it was a Yankee fan -- who muttered "Red Sox suck" as he passed by me in the street.

Ten years or so ago, my wife and daughter and I were in Hungary in the town of Pecs. Walking along a side street one afternoon, I was startled to see a large decal in the rear window of a battered Skoda: "BOSTON RED SOX, 1986 AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONS."

I wish I could have met that guy!


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rudy: Going Once, Going Twice … GONG!

The recent news that some 18 billion taxpayer dollars were used to pay bonuses to Wall Street fat cats has outraged just about everyone.
But not Rudy Giuliani, the lolo* who always has simple answers to complex problems. Rudy thinks those billions should have been used to pay bonuses to those executives. Furthermore, Rudy decries talk that the bonus money should be given back.

“Those bonuses, if they are reversed, are going to cause unemployment in New York,” says Hiz-former-Honor. Huh? Well he says it will mean “less spending in restaurants, less spending in department stores …”


His comments are so out-of-touch they’re absurd. But here’s the really scary thought: Some people actually wanted this guy to be president!